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Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (8/9/12)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to look beyond the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.

Record Spending by Obama’s Camp Shrinks Coffers,” by Nicholas Confessore and Jo Craven McGinty. The New York Times, August 4, 2012.

The New York Times reports that Obama has spent more campaign money more quickly than any American president. His cash advantage over Romney has vanished and, in part because of this early spending, most believe it will never return. For the third month in a row, Obama has raised less than the Republicans, burgeoning bipartisan speculation that early donations have shrunk democratic coffers. Romney’s camp believes Obama spent too much too quickly and will thus not be able to raise a sufficient monthly allotment of cash. But Team Obama insists their money has been used to build country wide grass roots programs, whose dividends will be bountiful come election day.

Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.

For Women in Street Stops, Deeper Humiliation,” by Wendy Ruderman. The New York Times, August 6, 2012.

Though the anti-Stop & Frisk movement has admirably shed light on the policy and put the NYPD on watch, many activists and journalists have presented the program as one only targeting black and Latino men. This picture does not account for the sexual harassment that populations like gender non-conforming people and women experience at the hand of Stop & Frisk. "Last year, New York City police officers stopped 46,784 women, frisking nearly 16,000," Ruderman reports in this important piece, supplementing her research with women's experiences of sexual violation and trauma.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on the role of dissent in the contemporary United States.

Mosques, Temples, and Theaters: We Need to Change the Script,” by Falguni Sheth. Translation Exercises, August 7, 2012.

In this brilliant summation of the media response to the series of domestic traumas we have experienced of late, Falguni Sheth weaves the white supremacy of everyday life in the United States to the massive state violence of the last decade to point out that deranged gunmen and white male violence are quickly becoming, once again, essential to the national character.

Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad.

Is Texas’ Death Penalty Machine Executing the Mentally Disabled?” by Renee Feltz. The Texas Observer, August 8, 2012.

54 year-old Marvin Wilson was put to death in Texas on Tuesday, a saddening event and distressing reminder of how our criminal justice system deals with mental health issues among prisoners, from treatment while incarcerated (see a piece on a pending case here) to the standards used to identify defendants’ intellectual disabilities and sentence accordingly. In an affront to the Supreme Court’s Atkins v. Virginia decision, which reasoned that mentally retarded defendants were less culpable for crimes and less capable of mounting an effective defense, Texas moved ahead with the execution of a man diagnosed as mentally retarded by a board-certified specialist. The criteria used by state courts to identify mental disability is resoundingly unscientific, going as far as to rely on fictitious models of intellectual impairment such as Lennie Small from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to establish whether defendants should be subject to the death penalty. Condemning Tuesday’s events, Steinbeck’s son commented: “My father was a highly gifted writer who won the Nobel prize for his ability to create art about the depth of the human experience and condition. His work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability.”

Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy.

What the Mars Rover Can Tell Us About Climate Change,” by James West. Mother Jones, August 7, 2012.

This article points out one simple fact: you can't test out hypotheses about climate change on the Earth. So, unlike a science experiment in which you can adjust the variable to see the effect, you can't increase carbon emissions quickly to see how badly it damages the Earth just to prove that climate change is happening. This is where Curiosity comes in, which will study how carbon flows through Mars, and therefore help us learn more about our own planet.

Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.

White Terrorism at Oak Creek: The Paranoid Style in American Violence,” by Juan Cole. Informed Comment, August 6, 2012.

Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, analyzes the Oak Creek shooting and observes the connection between the Islamaphobic shooter, a culture of anti-Muslim hate in the US, and American foreign policy. Cole's piece is powerful and charged. He condemns neoconservative anti-Muslim bigots and claims that the actions of the racist shooter cannot be understood without analyzing the pervasive Islamophobia that has plagued US discourse. He observes, "Did Michele Bachmann, Peter King, Daniel Pipes and the others cause the Wisconsin shootings? No. Did they create an intellectual and cultural atmosphere that naturalized such violence against the supposed Other? Well, Bachmann publicly alleged that a minor aide to Hillary Clinton of Pakistani heritage is at the center of a vast infiltration of the American government by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. You decide."

Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.

City Wages War on Scam For-Profits,” by Jessica Campbell. The Village Voice, August 8, 2012.

We've all seen Garvin Gittens' face before—he's that guy sitting on a stoop in those subway ads with a caption about how he attended a for-profit college. However—for those of you who didn't finish reading the ad—it's not another true life success story imploring you to call the number below: Gittens came out of the Katharine Gibbs School with $25,000 in debt and a worthless degree to boot. The ad is actually part of the "Know Before You Enroll" campaign backed by Consumer Affairs, the Mayor's Office of Adult Education, the Office of Economic Empowerment and NYC Service encouraging awareness among prospective students, as well as victims of predatory institutions to come forward and tip off 311 about their experiences. The article goes on to reveal more of Gittens' story, as well as the efforts by legislators and the city in their crackdown of the industry. In light of the recent report by Sen. Tom Harkin, it's heartening to know that there are officials paying attention to the dangers of for-profit colleges in their current form and are in the process of providing more regulation, transparency and liability in the industry. It's still in its early days yet, but the campaign is definitely a step in the right direction.

Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.

Hate Crimes Always Have A Logic: On The Oak Creek Gurudwara Shootings,” by Hasha Walia. Racialicious, August 6, 2012.

Harsha Walia's piece begins by dispelling any notion that the Oak Creek shooting was random or senseless rather than a racist hate crime operating through the deliberate logic of white supremacy. "White supremacy, as a dominant and dominating structuring, actually necessitates and relies on a discourse that suggests that hate crimes are random," Walia writes. Some have commented on Oak Creek's media coverage in the context of Aurora's, as well as the white privilege afforded these gunmen when their actions aren't seen as reflective of their race (after Aurora, Chauncey Devega called for a "national conversation about the ties between (white) masculinity and violence.") Walia explores gunman Wade Page's involvement with neo-Nazi groups, as well as with the US Army. By looking at white supremacy as endemic to our nation's institutions—from immigration laws to healthcare, housing, education, labor and so on—Walia's piece asks that readers confront the institutionalized culture that makes hate crimes like Oak Creek possible, even probable, in contemporary America. 

Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and the movement towards a transformed and renewed access to urban life.

NYPD and Microsoft launch advanced citywide surveillance system,” by Paul Harris. The Guardian, August 8, 2012.

Looks like the city of New York has gotten into the business of developing domestic spying software. The program, called "Domain Awareness System" will be used and licensed by the city of New York, which looks to turn a tidy profit when other cities purchase the system. Remember when cities use to tax and use traditional bonds to make money? Not anymore, now you can exchange the civil liberties of your population for raw profit.

Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.

State's 'Medical Gag Rule' Called An Illegal Gift to Gas Drillers,” by Erin McCauley. Courthouse News Service, July 31, 2012.

While technically last week's news, this story has attracted hardly any press. In Pennsylvania, a doctor is suing the state for the 'medical gag rule' it imposed this year on fracking chemicals protected by trade secret law. In a quiet 2012 amendment to the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, the state ruled that if a person comes in contact with fracking fluid and is treated for a medical emergency, the doctor treating them is allowed to obtain the confidential chemical identities, but he or she cannot disclose them to anyone, including the patient. The physician bringing the case calls the rule, which carries a punishment of license suspension for an offending doctor, a "gross and content-based intrusion" on First Amendment speech. It calls back memories of the Colorado nurse who suffered organ failure after handling fracking fluid-splashed clothing in 2008. She was unable to discover the chemical identities of the fluid, and it took weeks for the doctor treating her to find out.

This is all in light of a law signed by Obama in May that gave significant ground to fracking companies regarding trade secrets: whereas the Bureau of Land Management's draft of the rules would require fracking companies to disclose (some of) the contents of its fluid before beginning to drill, Obama's recent legislation lets them disclose it after they've finished.

Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.

Afghan civilian casualties drop for first time in 5 years – report,” by Jennifer Rowland. Foreign Policy, August 8, 2012.

Numbers ahead: Be strong! A United Nations report on Afghanistan states that between January 1 and June 30 of 2012, conflict-related violence resulted in 3,099 civilian deaths. (For perspective, this is about how many people die in the US from food poisoning each year.) But with a U.S. military that is handing over more responsibility to unprepared Afghan forces, the next 16 months will be more important. The UN says that 90% of the deaths came from the record number of spectacle-seeking attacks by the Taliban while only 10% are caused by pro-government forces. But what about drones? According to the ACLU, since 2002, drone strikes have killed 4,000 people—a rough average of about 400 people per year, a significant number of them civilians. (Again, for perspective, 9,146 people died from gun violence in America in 2009 according to the UNODC.) Drones have struck Pakistan 75 times in 2011 and killed around 126 civilians. How about U.S. soldier deaths? Here's a sample of those numbers: Between 2002 and 2006 there were 7,901 total military deaths. But 34% (2,688) were considered "accidents," many of which were NOT combat-related. 33% (2,593) were from hostile fire and 10% (820) were self-inflicted.

Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy.

When philosophers join the kill chain,” by Mark LeVine. Al Jazeera, August 8, 2012.

Recently, the website of the Guardian featured the views of philosopher, Bradley Strawser, regarding the practicality and moral righteousness of drone warfare. Mark Levine responds to Strawser in this article, arguing against the philosopher's rosy portrayal of these high-tech instruments of war. The article can best be described as a comprehensive knockout blow. Levine tackles everything from Strawser's disregard for legal norms to the credibility of the evidence used to support the philosopher's arguments.

Interns' Favorite Pieces of the Week (8/1/12)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to look beyond the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.

In 2013 Races, New York Prepares for ‘Super PAC’ Effect,” by David W. Chen. The New York Times, July 31, 2012.

The largesse of Super PAC donations, currently debasing the presidential campaign, is coming to local NYC elections. Because “moneyed interest groups and wealthy individuals are watching the ‘super PAC’ phenomenon…and preparing to adapt it for local use,” as the Times reports, the city will implement mandatory disclosure of independent expenditures next year in the 2013 races. By posting spending not associated with a campaign online and archiving the advertisements run by these groups, the NYC elections will be among the most financially transparent since the Citizens United ruling.

Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.

Here’s How to Score Copay-Free Birth Control, Coming This Week to a Pharmacy Near You,” by Erin Gloria Ryan. Jezebel, July 30, 2012.

You get free birth control, and you get free birth control, and you get free birth control! August 1 marked what some activists are calling “No Copay Day”: The day the Affordable Care Act kicked in for American women, who no longer have copays on seven categories of medical services (including breast exams and birth control). At Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan explains how to get your hands on your free medical goodies as well as the exceptions to the August 1 launch date.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on the role of dissent in the contemporary United States.

Mayor: ‘We’ll Listen’ To Anaheim Residents,” hosted by Michel Martin. NPR, August 1, 2012.

This NPR interview with Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait demonstrates the effective PR campaign that Anaheim’s predominantly white elite is running in the context of mass protests against police brutality in the city. While Tom Tait attempts a listening, open posture and calls for an “investigation,” he refuses to provide any immediate policy implications—such as demanding an immediate end to police brutality in the city, placing officers involved in the shooting of children with rubber bullets on unpaid leave, or discussing any of the broader systemic issues of disempowerment that have made Anaheim the way it is today. The NPR interviewer asks one slightly difficult question, and the rest are softballs. The interviewer neglects to ask, for example, why Anaheim, in a city that is 53 percent Latino, has no Latino elected officials.

Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad.

‘Voluntary’ Work Program Run in Private Detention Centers Pays Detained Immigrants $1 a Day,” by Yana Kunichoff. Truthout, July 27, 2012.

Yana Kunichoff points out a disturbing irony in her exposé of the Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) “voluntary” work program for detained immigrants: “the unfairness of people criminalized as workers detained and then made to work.” Not only that, but detainees are denied protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act (facilities in Arizona, California, and New York pay a maximum wage of $1 per day under the program, despite the fact that federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour). Plus, the money they make circles directly back to the CCA (a private, profit-making company—see a chilling piece on the value of its stock here) because detainees usually spend their meager earnings on food and hygiene products at CCA-run stores inside detention centers. These facilities house individuals while their immigration cases are being processed—usually, detainees have “committed low-level crimes, or none at all.”

Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy.

The Power Gap Behind India’s Mass Blackouts,” by Andrew C. Revkin. The New York Times, July 31, 2012.

Power might have been restored Wednesday to the 600 million people in India who lost it earlier this week, but that doesn’t mean the problem’s gone. Andrew Revkin aggregates on his Dot Earth blog current and old news articles, videos and some tweets that are a good way to start understanding how not only a blackout like this, but a long-term energy shortage, has been in the cards for India for years. The country is developing fast, and way faster than it can support with its resources or infrastructure.

Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.

Syrian war of lies and hypocrisy,” by Robert Fisk. The Independent, July 29, 2012.

Legendary British reporter Robert Fisk weighs in on the situation in Syria. He focuses on the hypocrisy of US policy in the region, and points out that just a few years ago the Bush administration was sending Muslims to Damascus for Bashar’s torturers to tear their fingernails out for information. These torture victims were “imprisoned at the US government’s request in the very hell-hole which Syrian rebels blew to bits last week.” He stresses that the same Bashar we are condemning today “was our baby” for many years. In addition, Fisk offers a scathing indictment of the BBC for spending a week broadcasting the preparations for the Olympics and allowing the games to take precedence over the most recent Syrian atrocities. Fisk concludes that mainstream commentators are missing the “big truth” concerning Syria—that the attempt to defeat the Syrian dictatorship is “all about Iran and our desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its infernal nuclear plans—if they exist—and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies.”

Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.

For-Profit Colleges Only a Con Man Could Love,” by Chris Parker. The Village Voice, August 1, 2012.

(Shout out to Marisa for sending this one my way!) Oh boy, where to begin. I’ve been following the debate on for-profits for a while, starting with some really eye-opening Frontline programs that I highly recommend, such as “Educating Sgt. Panzke” and “College Inc.” It’s simply angering. Angering because, much like Brooksley Born’s warning in the ’90s regarding OTC derivatives that led to the financial crisis, alarm bells are going off about this parasitic industry fueled by greed and the simple dreams of those who simply want to make a better life for themselves—it’s an all-too-familiar bubble that is going to burst big time. And just how seedy are these for-profits? Parker begins his piece with a 14-year-old—a high school freshman—being solicited and eventually gouged by a recruiter. He also cites a Bloomberg story in which a for-profit recruiter visited a Wounded Warrior barracks, quoting the opening lines, “U.S. Marine Corporal James Long knows he’s enrolled at Ashford University. He just can’t remember what course he’s taking.” Hopefully Senator Tom Harkin’s recent report on for-profits will gain traction—unlike with Born, hopefully this time government will listen and take action.

Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.

Modern Love In Mumbai’s ‘Wild West’: A Critique Of Orientalist Fantasies In Contemporary Travel Narratives,” by Aditi Surie von Czechowski. Racialicious, July 31, 2012.

Columbia graduate student Aditi Surie von Czechowski briefly explores the New York Times’s coverage of India through the year-old “India Ink” blog and a recent Modern Love column, placing both in the context of imperialism, Orientalism and the history of the travel narrative. The majority of reporting on “India Ink,” von Czechowski argues, is based on a Western neoliberal discourse of rights and “progress,” portraying India as “not yet fully modern.” In Modern Love, the East/West dichotomy and “familiar eroticization” of the former work to recreate the tired trope of the traveling Westerner’s experience of the enticingly wild East, used as a tool for cultural consumption and self-discovery.

Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and the movement towards a transformed and renewed access to urban life.

A People’s Budget for New York City,” by Youjin B. Kim. Policy Shop, July 19, 2012.

Participatory Budgeting, where city council members meet with their constituents to actually decide on how some of their tax money will be spent, is a revolutionary and expanding project. It seems to be gaining substantial momentum, and as the New York City Council regains a modicum of power after Bloomberg's exit in 2013, should factor heavily in the agenda of its ascendant Progressive Caucus. Participatory Budgeting is gaining traction throughout the country, and its application in New York City could either make or break the movement. Should be an interesting few months ahead. 

Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.

Climate change study forces sceptical scientists to change minds,” by Leo Hickman. The Guardian, July 29, 2012.

Climate change skeptics are hard to come by among scientists, with the overwhelming majority firmly in the anthropogenic warming reality camp. But there are still a few who are unconvinced, and very vocal, amplified by the skeptic community beyond their numbers. This week, however, the Guardian ran a story about a new study that convinced a few scientists that “humans are almost entirely the cause” of what it identifies as the one-to-five-degree Celsius land temperature rise over the past 150 years, which is due to double over the next fifty years (or twenty, if China continues its coal use at the present rate). The physicist in charge of the study, Richard Muller, was himself a skeptic prior to its completion. Perhaps most interesting is the $150,000 in funding for the study that came from Charles Koch—certainly a spot of light in the midst of much disheartening talk of industry-influenced academic research. Meanwhile, at the Senate meeting on climate change this week (the first in almost three years), senators were told point-blank by UN scientists that our summer of drought and extreme storms is the direct result of climate change.

Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.

Afghan war: Did US commanders cover up ‘horrific’ conditions at hospital?” by Anna Mulrine. The Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 2012.

This story details testimony regarding bribes for care, surgery with no drugs and accusations of ongoing efforts by the military to manipulate public opinion. In a prepared statement, Col Schuyler Keller said, “Today, not just in 2010 or 2011, individuals wearing ANA uniforms, being paid salaries that US taxpayers support and who perpetrated or allowed to be perpetrated unspeakable abuses upon Afghan soldiers, civilians and family members walk the halls of the Daoud Khan Hospital unrepentant, unscathed, enriched and still unprosecuted.”

Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy.

Dependence on Middle Eastern Oil: Now It’s China’s Problem, Too,” by Damien Ma. The Atlantic, July 19, 2012.

A highly speculative article that features noteworthy perspectives on the future of US policy towards the Middle East. The argument, put forth by Chinese commentators, is as follows: With future technological improvements in the energy sector, the United States will likely become less interested in oil as a source of energy. However, it will take time for those technological improvements to proliferate to competing states—the commentators focus exclusively on China—who continue to grow more dependent on petroleum, as we become less dependent. Consequently, US interest in Middle Eastern oil output will not diminish until our competitors on the global scene are also weened off of oil. Damien Ma, author of the Atlantic article, dismisses the argument as “China-centric.” I disagree with that point. However, he flatly equates the US definition of Middle East “stability” with stability of oil—and on that point, how could I disagree?

What Does Low-Cost Contraception Mean to Young Americans?

On August 1, 2012, the Obamacare provision requiring coverage of contraception without co-pays or deductibles goes into effect. The provision will be phased in based on when plan years begin for new health plans. Because university health plans usually start in August, students will be among the first to reap the law's benefits. At the recent annual Campus Progress conference in Washington, DC, reporters from Campus Progress's parent organization, the Center for American Progress, asked young Americans about what no-cost coverage of birth control will mean to them. The answers are eye-opening and help give some sense of the enormity of the impact the ACA will have in many people's lives.

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (7/25/12)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election. 

Can vouchers fix campaign finance?” by Dylan Matthews. The Washington Post, July 22, 2012.

A growing number of campaign finance experts support a donation-based voucher system for congressional elections. Writing in Ezra Klein’s Wonk Blog, Dylan Matthews notes that professors at Yale and Harvard have been advocating for a scheme where every voter has a $50 voucher to give to a campaign of their choosing. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) plans to introduce legislation that would do just this. The Grassroots Democracy Act is comprised of three parts: 1. a $50 voucher program, as described, 2. a matching system where campaigns get $5 in public funds for every $1 donation if they reject PAC money, and 3. a fund that provides financial assistance for any candidate whose speech is being drowned out by super PACS. The system would expand participation in the donation process. Now, only .26 percent of Americans give more than $200 to a congressional campaign.

Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.

Pariahs amid the rainbow,” by Elly Fishman. The Chicago Reader, July 18, 2012.

The Boystown neighborhood on the Northside of Chicago is so named for its gay-friendly residents, businesses and history—it was the site of Chicago's first Pride Parade in 1970. Boystown is hailed as a place where LGBTQ people can thrive, but this Chicago Reader article complicates that narrative by profiling the queer, homeless teens who also reside there. As the national dialogue about gay rights becomes ever more mainstream (for better and for worse), this piercing look at underground Chicago is a must-read.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on the role of dissent in the contemporary United States.

With Poverty Worst in Decades, Maybe We Owe Tavis and Cornel an Apology,” by Boyce Watkins. Black Agenda Report, July 24, 2012.

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have been aggressively criticized by Obama administration loyalists by pointing out that the Obama administration has ushered in the most extreme black poverty in a generation, in addition to absolutely no confrontation to the massive criminalization of said poverty. Boyce Watkins correctly identifies that the loss of the last gains made by the War on Poverty should invite the left to listen more closely to the prophetic critiques made my Smiley and West. 

Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad.

Greg Ousley Is Sorry for Killing His Parents. Is That Enough?” by Scott Anderson. The New York Times, July 22, 2012.

Scott Anderson’s carefully reported profile of Greg Ousley, who entered the Indiana penitentiary system as an adult at fifteen to serve a sixty-year sentence for killing his parents, displays one individual’s capacity for reform and casts doubt on the rationale behind sentencing juveniles to long prison terms. While recognizing that Ousley is “an unlikely representative for sentencing reform,” given the nature of his crimes, Anderson presents an in-depth portrait that challenges what our justice system, in its current form, really seeks to accomplish.

Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy.

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math,” by Bill McKibben. Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012.

Perhaps it's a response to the Midwest's biggest drought in more than 50 years, but this week saw a flood of articles (pun intended) about the dangers and future of climate change. So if you haven't read Rolling Stone's nearly-viral piece, please do. The article lays out clearly and empirically how the amount of carbon the world is planning to burn—in the reserves of oil and gas companies, who already use the potential oil supplies as assets that are figured into their share prices—is far above the amount the planet can handle. Bill McKibben calls this the carbon bubble, because if the oil companies don't pump out this oil, their values would drop dramatically, losing an estimated $20 trillion in assets. And if we don't stop them, the results would be beyond catastrophic. (For something to lift your spirits after this article thoroughly depresses you, check out this New York Times opinion piece about there's still hope yet in the battle against climate change.)

Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.

Arab instability and US strategy,” by Joseph Massad. Al Jazeera, July 17, 2012.

Joseph Massad, Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, argues that Washington's belief that dictatorships create and facilitate stability has been challenged by the events of the past year, and the US is adjusting its strategy of regional control accordingly. In this deeply-informed piece, Massad lays out the major political issues in MENA, such as how powerful countries are going to deal with the ongoing revolts, and describes the political stance of the region’s major actors. Massad demonstrates how, since the initial start of the Arab Spring, Washington has done all it can to make sure that US interests in the region are served and maintained. He concludes by arguing that the main achievement of the Arab Spring has so far been “an instability that could end up changing the strategic rules of the game that the United States introduced to the region after World War II. And that is good news for the Arab peoples.”

Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.

The Trouble With Online Education,” by Mark Edmundson. The New York Times, July 19, 2012.

This op-ed goes into the "responsiveness" issue with online education in that, traditionally, at the heart of the learning experience between teacher and student is a dialogue. Personally, I'm staunchly against online classes for a number of reasons, including the ones Edmundson lists in this piece. As a student dealing with online education, you never get a true feel of who you're learning from, and vice-versa if you're an educator. And this is a very important factor in the learning experience because what results from this knowledge is the most important facet of the learning experience– respect. And I don't ever remember anyone saying how inspired they were by a textbook– which is essentially what online education is reducing educators in becoming.

Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.

Anaheim police on a rampage,” by Danielle Hawkins. SocialistWorker.org, July 24, 2012.

Not only did Anaheim police shoot Manuel Diaz, unarmed and fleeing, this past Saturday—first in the leg, then in the head; the sixth officer-involved shooting in Anaheim so far this year—but they opened fire on protestors in the mostly Latino neighborhood where Diaz was killed, using rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas. Then, Monday morning, Anaheim police shot and killed a man they claimed stole an SUV, reporting return-fire, which has been disputed by a neighboring resident. Racialized police brutality continues to be a serious, pressing problem. And while the federal government has been nationally investigating civil rights misconduct in police departments to push reform (with the notable exception of New York)—Tuesday, the New Orleans Police Department came to a consent decree agreement that will hopefully usher in serious reform, after federal investigations that began in 2010—one wonders how many lives will be lost before serious change occurs and police are made accountable.  

Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and renewed access to urban life.

East End Has Thousands In Illegal Squalor Near Olympics,” by Simon Clark and Chris Spillane. Bloomberg, July 25, 2012.

Before settling in to this week's Olympic opening ceremonies, letting a warm sense of Anglophilia wash over you, remember this: The English are just awful. From the poor laws, to nuclear pollution, and the deeply ingrained class-discrimination and racism, the English have made life most wretched for the disadvantaged. This article, which details how the Olympic games are being held in the middle of a first-world slum, is a great example of how a culture built on the idea of charity and mercy, instead of equality, will always remain deeply resentful towards the poor. For some recommended reading on the British "welfare state," which worked against social mobility (while posing as a benevolent, motherly program), check out Marilynne Robinson's Mother Country or Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.

Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence. 

Frackers Fund University Research That Proves Their Case,” by Jim Efstathiou. Bloomberg, July 23, 2012.

A study on fracking out of Pennsylvania State University is part of the reason Pennsylvania still has no tax on natural gas drilling—the only state in the US without one. It "predicted drillers would shun Pennsylvania if new taxes were imposed." But the study was funded by gas drillers—a fact that went unmentioned in the study itself—and was conducted by an industry-friendly economist. This report from Bloomberg articulates why these undisclosed ties are a growing problem that extends far beyond Pennsylvania, with many universities short on money to fund research. Universities defend their work by noting that fracking is criticized in other studies, and in regard to other industries, a few schools of public health (like ones at Columbia University and Harvard) now ban funding from tobacco companies. But disclosure in studies is still the central debate--if industries benefit from their conclusions, shouldn't sponsorship be plainly cited?

Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan. 

Afghan Good Enough,” by Meredith Tax. Dissent, June 7, 2012.

One senior CIA officer who worked the Middle East met with CIA Director William Casey in 1986 about Afghanistan. He asked, "What are we going to do after we [defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan]?" Casey answered, "We're not going to do a goddamn thing! Once we get the Russians out we're finished." This Dissent piece by Meredith Tax, a feminist of "Women's WORLD," criticizes this type of short-sidedness, specifically, the alliance between State Department “realists” and the antiwar movement in regards to the conflict in Afghanistan. She criticizes the eye-rolling in discussions of women in the region and urges the Left to support the demands of Afghan women and civil society. She also quotes the Afghan Women’s Network, who advocate for deeper investments for education and human rights in order to ensure peace with justice.

Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy.

The anti-war left's concerns over Syria are understandable, but ill-founded,” by Richard Seymour. The Guardian, July 26, 2012.

Richard Seymour addresses the discourse of portions of the anti-war left on US policy towards the Syrian opposition. Opening with a brief critique of international intervention in Libya, he concedes the concerns of some in the anti-war movement have some merit. However, he spends the rest of the article allaying fears about the hijacking of a grassroots revolution. The strong point of the article is the distinction Seymour makes between the self-proclaimed leaders of the opposition—typically based in foreign countries—and the activists and militias working on the ground. Localized and decentralized, he argues that these groups actually do have a fair amount of autonomy.

Occupy and the Police in Philadelphia

Despite many positives, the recent five-day NatGat Occupy gathering in Philadelphia was rife with contention. The heavy police presence, which included officers from the Philadelphia Police Department, the National Park Service, and the Department of Homeland Security, intensified the divisions around Occupy's relationship with the police.

On June 30, Occupiers were prevented from laying down any "bedding material" at the National Historic Park near Independence Mall. In defiance, a group encircled a tent and locked arms, resulting in a prolonged clash and one arrest for assaulting a federal officer. The aftermath was just as confused — some activists joined hands and hummed "ohm," while others shouted that the cops were Nazi pigs. An ad-hoc General Assembly to discuss the next step of where the activists would sleep fell apart when several Occupiers explained that they did not feel safe discussing strategy while encircled by police. On July 1, twenty-six protesters were arrested in a nighttime jail solidarity march, raising tensions and anger further.

This mini-documentary explores the internal conflict over police confrontation at the Occupy National Gathering, particularly as it relates to the future of the movement. Interviews include former Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis, Native American Un-Occupy Albuquerque activist Amalia Montoya, and InterOccupy organizer Tamara Shapiro.

Save Campus Diversity

By the end of this year, the US Supreme Court is expected to decide whether or not colleges and universities can prioritize diversity through their admissions policy guidelines. The decision could pose a serious threat to campus diversity and undermine the quality of the educational experience for millions of students coast to coast.

For students, America’s diversity can be a great advantage—it enriches the educational experience and offers opportunities to collaborate and problem-solve with people from different cultural backgrounds.  When we can incorporate different viewpoints and experiences into our lives and our work, we are all stronger.  Diversity provides students with skills necessary to flourish in the global economy. 

For the past forty years, colleges have worked hard to make sure that their doors are open to students from all backgrounds. Consequently, admissions policies that promote diversity have provided opportunities to countless numbers of college students. In 2003, the Supreme Court agreed that those efforts are critical, in a case regarding the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions policy, which promotes all forms of diversity in its student body, including racial and ethnic.  In that case, the Court re-emphasized that “the nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas...of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples.”

But the principles underlying that decision are now being challenged.  As students head back to school this fall, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the admissions policy adopted by the University of Texas.  If the Court strikes down the University’s admissions policy, the decision could negatively impact students in both Texas and across the country. 

Student activists across the country are mobilizing to not let this happen.  The venerable United States Students Association is leading the charge and has created this public petition underscoring the critical importance of campus diversity. Join your name to the call today and spread the word to friends, family and your Facebook and Twitter communities.

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (7/20/12)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.

Are Republicans Secretly Anxious About Opposing Campaign Finance Reform?” by George Zornick. The Nation, July 18, 2012. 

Senate Republicans decided twice this week that debating campaign finance reform wasn’t worth a discussion. Two Republican filibusters stymied the Disclose Act, a law that requires complete disclosure of spending on election advertising. In a column this week, George Zornick provides interesting evidence that the GOP is secretly anxious about opposing the legislation. Republicans have long sought to add transparency to the campaign finance landscape, as Lee Fang argued in a post this week, which means their decision to thwart the Disclose Act opposes party precedent. This development, like the GOP’s past support for individual mandate and cap and trade legislation and present opposition of both of them, is emblematic of the party’s move to right.

Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.

Louis C.K. on Daniel Tosh’s Rape Joke: Are Comedy and Feminism Enemies?” by Jennifer Pozner. The Daily Beast, July 18, 2012.

Over the past two weeks, there has been a lot of digital ink spilled about the ethics of "rape jokes" following an incident with comedian Daniel Tosh and a female audience member. Typifying this media firestorm have been strong and weak arguments made by both sides.  Media critic Jenn Pozner wrote perhaps the most comprehensive response by synthesizing other effective pieces on the subject, talking to a slew of feminist comedians (including several friends of The Nation), and ultimately arguing that "feminists aren't against good comedy—they're just against lazy hacks."

Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on the role of dissent in the contemporary United States.

Chicago's teachers could strike a blow for organised labour globally,” by Richard Seymour. The Guardian, July 16, 2012.

As I have emphasized in talking about a prior article about the impending Chicago teacher's strike, this movement is rapidly approaching a watershed moment where we will be able to discern whether public education can continue to exist, as we know it, in the United States. There is a rapid movement towards the broad privatization of public education, and only some form of direct action seems capable of stemming the tide. Seymour is correct to identify this strike as potentially being the most important since PATCO.

Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad.

Obama’s killings challenged again,” by Glenn Greenwald. Salon, July 18, 2012.

On Wednesday morning, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal lawsuit against senior military and CIA officials, seeking to hold them liable for the targeted drone killings of US citizens Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and AbdulRahman al-Awlaki in Yemen last year. The complaint alleges that such “killings rely on vague legal standards, a closed executive process, and evidence never presented to the courts,” and pushes for enhanced judicial scrutiny and transparency on the part of the Obama administration. Greenwald offers an insightful analysis of the case’s potential and a synthesis of perspectives on the assassination program, arguing that supporters and critics alike should be able to agree on the value of judicial review.

Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy.

Without federal recognition, tribe struggles to protect sacred sites,” by Mark Dadigan. California Watch, July 16, 2012.

This piece, part of a California Watch series that looks at neglected communities in the state, zooms in on the Winnemem Wintu tribe and its fight against a retrofit of the Shasta Dam that would damage 40 of the tribe's sacred sites. What's interesting about the story is how it reveals the lose-lose situations that “ghost tribes”—those, like the Winnemem, that are not recognized by the federal government—face when trying to secure their place in society, and those of lawmakers who want to allow the tribes access to the land for their religious ceremonies but also want to do what's best for the general public. For instance, being federally recognized would give the Winnemem more legal grounds to stand on when fighting the proposed Shasta Dam work, and the tribe's Congressman, Jim Reed, promised that he would write legislation granting them federal recognition — but only if they stop protesting the dam expansion. 

Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.

Don’t do what Allende did,” by Greg Grandin. London Review of Books, July 19, 2012.

Greg Grandin, Professor of History at NYU, demonstrates why so many powerful American right-wingers, including President Nixon, saw Salvador Allende as such a profound threat. In his review of Tanya Harmer’s Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War (North Carolina, 2011) Grandin describes and contextualizes Harmer’s lucid historical analysis. Harmer, a historian and Cold War specialist at the London School of Economics, dispels some of the most pervasive myths concerning Chilean history and the relationship between Chile and the US. She argues that Allende embarked on a project that would shatter the illusions encouraged by Cold War ideology; for example, the idea that Socialism could never be compatible with electoral democracy. Allende was seen as a threat, especially to Washington establishment figures such as Henry Kissinger, because he was a “living example of democratic social reform in Latin America.” Far from taking a back seat to the unprecedented social reforms of the Allende government, Nixon and CIA demanded that its operatives Santiago use "every stratagem, every ploy, however bizarre" to incite a coup. In addition, she debunks the falsehood that Washington couldn’t have predicted that the Pinochet regime would be so ruthless once in power. She argues that Washington “wanted authoritarian rule patterned on Brazil’s dictatorship and a war against the left as the only remedy to reverse the damage done by Allende’s presidency.” Harmer historicizes Allende's legacy and concludes that he was a genuine pacifist, a democrat and a socialist by "conviction not convenience."

Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.

Why Our Elites Stink,” by David Brooks. The New York Times, July 12, 2012.

Where to start? It's obvious Brooks didn't do a close reading of Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites—indeed, it's questionable if he read it all drawing from his conclusions in the above article. I suppose what irked me the most was this particular quote by Brooks concerning who's “really” disadvantaged when it comes to specialized exams saying, “Phenomena like the test-prep industry are just the icing on the cake, giving some upper-middle-class applicants a slight edge over other upper-middle-class applicants." [Emphasis mine.] Brooks completely eliminates the working and poverty-stricken classes in his argument, even positing that those in the lower-end of the income scale do not work longer hours than those at the top. If you're reading this right here and now, I don't need to explain why that “logic” is one of the most absurd things you've probably ever heard. What really gets my goat is the fact that when it comes to journalism, and even scholarship, there are a substantial number of people writing about topics and issues that they really have no authority on. Brooks is beyond ill-qualified and ill-read to write about elitism and meritocracy—especially in the education system. Yes, Hayes was fortunate in the meritocratic system and attended good schools, but he understands the dynamics within the system from his experience, highlighting that, as years have passed since he attended Hunter College High School, there have been fewer and fewer minorities in attendance (no doubt due in part by the aforementioned test-prep courses that more affluent, non-minority families can afford). Brooks hasn't experienced the system first hand—he seems to think only privileged children and teens are vying for these spots at specialized schools and programs, which often offer free tuition. 

Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.

On the Intersection of Race & Feminism: A Conversation With Neesha Meminger and Ibi Zoboi.” Tiger Beatdown, July 17, 2012.

In an interview about race and feminism, Haitian-American writer Ibi Zoboi and Indian-Canadian-American writer Neesha Meminger cover a wide range of topics, jumping off from their first-remembered experiences with “feminism,” and whether they embrace the term today. The Q&A goes on to explore the writers’ varying, and overlapping, experiences as immigrant women of color in both the US and Canada, breaching issues and questions like what role men of color can play in the struggle for women of color's rights, the necessity for white feminist allies to be economically invested in the well-being of all women (and the dismantling of white supremacy), the politics of help, the conflation of communities of color with homophobia, and how disability and ableism fit into the matrix of domination.

Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and the movement towards a transformed and renewed access to urban life.

Batman and Gotham: A Deeply Dysfunctional Love Story,” by Adam Rogers. The Atlantic, July 19, 2012.

A writer of Batman comics from the 70s once described Superman's Metropolis as "New York above 14th Street on a warm spring day," and Batman's Gotham City as "New York below 14th Street on a cold, rainy autumn night." Gotham is an amalgamation of all things that could go wrong in a Fin de siècle American city. This article, about Batman's relationship to the city he both patronizes and defends (knowing, ultimately, that he will lose), is a pretty fun read before we all head out to see The Dark Knight Rises (I CAN'T BELIEVE I MADE IT).

Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.

The Big Heat,” by Elizabeth Kolbert (a former Nation intern!). The New Yorker, July 23, 2012.

The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert knows how to write a lede. "Corn sex is complicated," opens her column in the latest issue, which takes us through the stunningly difficult process of corn pollination (it relies on 800 lucky microscopic maneuvers per ear)and its failure this season in drought-stricken agricultural America. As the season approaches Dust Bowl conditions and the daily experience can be described as "farming in Hell," it becomes less possible to imagine climate change as a phenomena playing out someplace far from home. NPR's recent Talk of the Nation is an excellent compliment to Kolbert's column; they spoke with several farmers, each attempting their own methods of adaptation and ad hoc irrigation. The direness communicated throughout is stunning. "I was born in a drought, and I've been through several, but this one is probably the most damaging one I've seen," says one farmer. "I've never seen buffalo grass die. And it has."

Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.

Afghanistan minerals fully mapped.” BBC, July 18, 2012.

Afghanistan's desolate appearance belies the abundance of underground minerals that have now been fully mapped. Can this mineral wealth be used to build up and solidify the role of the state—as Bolivia is investing in its lithium—or will the wealth encourage tribes to rip the country apart like the Congo?

Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy.

Why Russia Won't Yield on Syria,” Bernard Gwertzman interviews Dimitri Simes. Council on Foreign Relations, July 17, 2012.

Understanding what motivates the major actors to play their roles in the unfolding crisis Syria is the key to outlining the shortcomings of current US policy towards the tumultuous country. In this interview, Dimitri Simes provides a fairly sober analysis of Russia's stance towards the Assad regime. He makes three salient points. The first is that Russia—in particular Putin—is opposed to the principle of regime change. I am not sure how much I agree with that particular assertion. The second, more creative point has to do with Russia's reliability as an arms dealer. The final—and, I feel, strongest point—can best be summed up by the following quote by Simes: "President Putin, as did many in Russia, came to the conviction that Russia was not treated sufficiently as a great power by the United States."


NYU 2031 Approved with Modifications

Photo credit: George Brooks

Portions of this post were adapted from earlier reports by the author on the student-run alternative daily NYU Local.

New York University professors gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning, explaining to reporters for the umpteenth time that they did not want the school where they taught to build a raft of high-rise apartments where they lived. Nor did they want NYU to take on the undisclosed debt load doing so would require.

But minutes later, the City Council’s subcommittee on zoning and land use approved a version of the university’s ambitious expansion plan, now whittled down by a not-insubstantial 26 percent in overnight negotiations. The City Council will almost certainly do the same when it votes on the plan next week, ending a review process that has kept a cluster of otherwise quiet blocks in Greenwich Village embroiled in a heated land use battle for much of the past year.

We've heard some version of this story before: the biggest developer in downtown Manhattan, locked in struggle with one of the most fiercely preservationist communities in the city. But what happens when the developer is NYU, and much of the community in opposition are its faculty members? You get a university fighting itself, facing a history of neighborhood neglect to one side and a row of local politicians on the other.

As the plan crawls to City Council for a final vote, a quarter of its square feet reluctantly lobbed off, one playground passed over temporarily untouched, a look at what led to the presupposed outcome will do much to measure the worth of a public hearing process.

On an evening in early January, roughly one hundred Village residents watched an NYU representative flick through slides of architectural renderings, images of glassy buildings couched in digitally rendered greenery, until the pounding on the windows became impossible to ignore.  Another one hundred people stood outside the overflowing Community Board meeting where NYU was presenting its Village expansion plans. They made it absolutely clear they would not be leaving. “I apologize greatly for this incredible inconvenience,” then-Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman told the audience. “We completely underestimated the crowd tonight.”

After the meeting moved to a larger venue down the street, the audience swelled to something closer to 500. In the coming months, a veritable standing NIMBY army emerged that showed up repeatedly as NYU's massive expansion plan slogged through various city government reviews, to hiss and wave signs and give hours of fiery testimony as the glassy slides flicked by for the umpteenth time.

Village residents have long found an impervious foe in the university. Campaigns to stop the construction of the school library, a student center, a gymnasium and even the buildings that currently stand on the superblocks were all ultimately unsuccessful. But the difference this time around is that “NYU 2031″ represents the longest-term development plan yet brought to the community forum, and the most extensive review process to which NYU has ever needed to subject itself. For both the university and the Village residents, there is a lot more at stake than in the past.

By 2031, NYU plans to add 6 million square feet to its campus, in parcels spread out around Manhattan, Brooklyn, and possibly the heretofore public space of Governor's Island. Of that, about 2.45 million square feet of expansion was imagined in the form of four new buildings penciled into an area that encompasses roughly six square blocks. That was slimmed down today to three high-rises and one four-story building, plus a swath of below-ground development, totally around 1.6 million square feet.

Nestled just south of Washington Square, these two combined superblocks are owned mostly by NYU and are currently the sites of residential towers, where many university faculty, their families, and graduate students live. To build the new high-rises on them requires the removal of deed restrictions and an array of zoning law changes, to turn residential areas into ones zoned for mixed use that allow for higher intensity development. It also requires that NYU obtain ownership of strips of green space currently owned by the Department of Transportation. If the plan is approved, NYU will begin building as soon as 2013, and continue construction in the immediate area for 19 consecutive years.

The blocks are monuments to early 1960s urban renewal–the brainchild of controversial city planner Robert Moses–and the tall towers centered around courtyards feel wholly out of context with the the quirky low-rise hodgepodge typical of the rest of the Village.

But since the 2031 plan was unveiled in 2008, the superblocks have become the latest icon of a familiar scene: the feverish local protest that has accompanied NYU’s expansion in Greenwich Village since the 1960s. Local groups have assembled, demonstrations have been organized, and a campaign to prevent approval of a “pinwheel tower,” the would-be tallest building in the Village, ultimately led to its removal from NYU’s original plans after famed architect I.M. Pei sent a prickly letter defending the complex he designed.

The most recent bout of outrage--what has shown up in the papers these past months--is coming largely from the university's own kin. Public hearings have been filled with  testimony from professors who live on the blocks. The most vocal have formed a group, calling themselves NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan. The group, along with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, plan to contest the plan in court, now that City Council approval seems certain.

The opposition is not just about the superblocks. The economics department at NYU, home to three Nobel prize-winning economists, wrote a resolution opposing 2031, citing the "financial risks and the possibility of default" of what the professors have estimated will be a $6 billion project. The university has refused to disclose how much it thinks the plan will cost or where, exactly, the money will come from, beyond a vague nod towards bank loans and private donations. But NYU is an icon of astronomical student debt, owing to its comparatively tiny endowment, which currently sits at $2.5 billion. To put that into perspective, Columbia University’s endowment is $7.8 billion. Harvard’s is a whopping $32 billion. And yet, in a letter announcing 2031, university president John Sexton pointed aspirationally to both those schools’ physical footprints: "NYU has approximately half the square footage per student of Columbia, one-quarter of Harvard’s—the university has reached a tipping point."

In NYU’s view, the 2031 plan is already a major departure from the way it formerly did business with the community. Twenty years ago, when many of the dorms were opened, NYU typically “looked for a space on the market, bought it, and developed it as-of-right,” building to the maximum allowable dimensions, explained John Beckman, the university’s vice president for public affairs. No public hearings took place, and no approval by the city council was necessary. Often, neighbors felt they were given very little notice about major changes to their immediate landscape, and resentment was profound.

The 2031 plans in the Village, in contrast, propose building on property NYU already owns, increasing density on those parcels but preventing sprawl elsewhere. The plans hinge on winning major changes to the area’s zoning laws, which requires months of public review, but NYU is quick to point out that submitting to public scrutiny was a deliberate part of its new, neighborly plan.

“We’ve now voluntarily engaged a process that allows the community to criticize us more. We made a choice to do this,” said Alicia Hurley, the university's vice president for governmental affairs, who is effectively the face of NYU 2031 at public meetings. “There’s nothing to prevent the university from buying property around the neighborhood and building as-of-right,”  she said, a fact she expected to be–to NYU’s benefit–on the minds of elected officials when it came time to decide the fate of the plan. “You’re always going to have a reaction by the very local, affected community. It would be no different if we went back into the ‘as-of-right’ world,” said Hurley, referring to massive opposition she faced at every Community Board meeting. “You’re going to get it wherever you put it.”

To understand why NYU has to seek approval to build out the university-owned blocks, it's necessary to understand Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, something that is closely bound to zoning regulations. FAR is essentially the number of times the entire footprint of a plot of land can be built on top of itself. If a plot of land has an FAR of 2, and the owner wished to build a building that consumed the whole area of that land, the structure would be allowed to be 2 stories high. If instead the owner wished to build a taller building, it would have to have a smaller footprint. With an FAR of 2, and a building footprint 1/2 the size of the land itself, the building could be 4 stories high.

The biggest obstacle in NYU’s way, legally, is the fact that the blocks are zoned residential (if zoning is your thing, they are zoned R7-2) and for university purposes, they would need to be zoned for mixed-use (C1-7). This isn’t just a matter of regulating how the space will be used–-zoning demarcations dictate how much of the space can be built, and FAR is the metric used to measure that. Right now, the superblocks have a residential FAR of 3.44. Should the zoning be changed to mixed-use, 6.5 FAR could be built for residential purposes, like dorm space and faculty housing, and the site would be allowed as much as 2 FAR of commercial space. This means, in short, open space would be reduced and more of the space in the superblocks could be developed at a higher intensity, making way for the four new high-rises.

NYU was also seeking height and setback waivers for a block-long “Zipper Building,” which, in places, is too tall and too close to the street, penetrating the “sky exposure plane,” a virtual sloping plane that begins fairly high above the street and rises inward over the zoning lot, designed to provide light and air at street level.

NYU plans to offer to seal off people’s air conditioners to reduce inhalation of construction dust and other matter, and will offer storm windows to mitigate the noise pollution. But despite building phasing, residents could be living amid a continuous construction site for 19 years.  But for Beckman, the benefits for NYU and for the neighborhood outweigh these concerns. “Look, nobody loves construction,” he said. “Sometimes you push through that period and end up with something great. One has to keep their eye on what’s going to be there in the end.”

Washington Square Village (WSV) is the superblock just south of campus bounded by Bleecker, West 3rd, LaGuardia, and Mercer streets. It currently houses two towers, each 170 feet tall, and an inner garden courtyard designed by American modernist Hideo Saske, which few non-residents have ever stepped inside. The gate and raised platform leave an intentionally less-than-public impression, and residents want it to stay that way. NYU has framed much of their plan as promoting just the opposite.

“Something that is fences and trees around it isn’t considered public open space by the EIS,” said Alicia Hurley, NYU's Vice President of Government Affairs who is effectively the face of NYU 2031 at public hearings. She is referring to the plan's Environmental Impact Statement, which was commissioned by NYU from an environmental consulting firm called AKRF.

Because NYU’s EIS does not consider the garden or a playground in WSV–called Key Park because it is used by resident families who have keys to its gate–to be public open space, it counts its own plan as adding 3.1 acres of public open space to the complex, despite the addition of two new buildings on the site.

“Even though we’re asking to change the open space ratios, we’re actually going to be improving the amount of public open space,” said Hurley, back in January. ”It’s counterintuitive, but that is going to be part of what we’re trying to get people to understand at the hearings.”

But for Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media, culture and communication at NYU who has written for The Nation and who lives in the complex with his wife and 10-year old son, NYU’s claim to be adding open space is a deeply flawed PR strategy.

“This is something that would make George Orwell’s head explode. They’re not providing green space, they’re proposing to make the type of plaza found around shopping malls. Putting saplings in urns with brick walkways is no substitute for the thriving ecosystem with old trees that we have now. Once the birds go, they’re gone, and it takes saplings a long time to grow. [NYU's message] is a bit of propaganda spin,” said Miller. “Let’s be perfectly honest about this. They’re annihilating green space to make way for huge buildings."

As with many projects of this scope, only time will tell.

A Letter From the Next Generation of Nation Readers

In this moving letter to Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, ten elementary school students from Reservoir Avenue Elementary School in Providence, Rhode Island share their experience reading a Nation editorial together in their school principal's office. Many thanks to the students for writing and to Principal Socorro Gomez-Potter for hosting the conversation

Dear Ms. Vanden Heuvel, 

We are fifth-grade students from Reservoir Avenue Elementary School in Providence, RI. Reservoir is a poor school community, but we have accomplished many academic goals. Currently we are as good or better than ninety-three schools in our state. Our school population of 312 students is made up of 75 percent Latino, 16 percent Asian, 8 percent African-American and 1 percent other.

The purpose of this letter was to share with you our experience reading your editorial. During our reading class we were discussing the word "raid" which moved our discussion to war. We posed a question to our principal. Why are we still at war even after Osama Bin Laden has been killed? She told us about you and how you asked a similar question in your magazine. The next day we were introduced to your editorial from May 23, 2011. Ten of us met in the principal's office to read your editorial and discuss the text.

Reading your editorial was challenging, but it made us feel powerful. While we read your editorial, some of us felt like low-level readers because of the many words that were new to us. In order to understand it we used our reading strategies like chunking, cause and effect, words in context, and monitoring and clarifying. After reading and discussing your editorial we felt motivated enough to write you this letter. 

We discovered that the Bush administration started a war on terror that is infinite. This could potentially cause devastation in many different countries. We agreed with your suggestions to President Obama on how to take a step on closing the "dark chapter" that this war created. We think we should reduce US forces in Afghanistan and increase positive communication between everyone.

While we were working on this letter we found out that President Obama followed many of your suggestions in your editorial. On May 1 President Obama went to Afghanistan and personally addressed our troops. It seems President Obama took advantage of the opportunity, as stated in your editorial, to take a step to close the "dark chapter in American history." He will reduce US forces and begin Peace Talks.

In conclusion, we would like to thank you for writing this editorial and challenging us to discover more about our current events. We hope that more people take your advice and increase positive communication globally to solve conflicts. 


Ivan Davila, Shyloc Ork, James Dorante Jr., Jovan Cabreja, Sergio Liranzo, Izaiha Ortiz, Elianix Lugo, D'zire Scott, Zechariah Toppin-White, Issac Bun, Jason Hernandez

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (7/12/12)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.

How to Beat Citizens United,” by EJ Dionne Jr. The Washington Post, April 22, 2012. 

This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo told New York State Public Radio he would renew his efforts to get state campaign finance reform in the coming months. “We have to get the people of this state to demand campaign finance reform,” he said. “I plan on doing that, and I think this presidential election will be the bully pulpit for this discussion.” This news reminded me of a WaPo op-ed by E.J. Dionne, “How to Beat Citizens United.” If Cuomo did pass a law requiring the government to give candidates $6 for every dollar an individual donates up to $175, as he pledged to do, Dionne argues New York could “repair some of the Citizens United damage.” The legislation would incentivize 99 Percenters to make small donations, offsetting the influence of the One Percent’s hefty contributions. America, Dionne concludes, “badly needs the example of politicians who believe in democracy enough to democratize the mother’s milk of politics.”

Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.

Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?” by Steven Thrasher. The Village Voice, June 20, 2012. 

Since Village Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher was just named the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association journalist of the year, it seems appropriate to share from his series on the so-called “Gay Nonprofit 1%.” In “Does ‘Gay Inc.’ Believe in Free Speech?,” Thrasher examines how privileged gay voices—from porn-king and Zionist Michael Lucas to GLAAD—pander to “pro-gay” corporations at the expense of queer workers, stifle free speech and, ultimately, prevent the LGBTQ movement from achieving radical change. 

Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on dissent in the US. 

Are We at a Tipping Point?” by Mark Brenner. Labor Notes, June 27, 2012.

Mark Brenner, the director of the magazine and organizing project Labor Notes, presents his view on the labor movement post-Wisconsin and post-Occupy. Brenner encourages unions to focus on building cross-union solidarity, organizing the supply chain, and making every fight about the 1%. Considering the current state of the labor movement, his injunctions provide at the very least a helpful conversational starting point for bringing back labor. 

Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad. 

Cell coverage,” by Alysia Santo. Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2012. 

This piece features Alysia Santo from the Columbia Journalism Review in conversation with Paul Wright, a journalist and former prisoner who founded the Prison Legal News—a publication dedicated to the review and analysis of prisoners’ rights—while serving a seventeen-year sentence in Washington State. “We’re advocacy-oriented,” Wright explains, “but the facts are what they are.” The PNL has helped put critical issues on the map, from censorship (the magazine has filed several lawsuits against prisons that have banned distribution), to the private use of prison labor, to unfair and inadequate treatment. Wright highlights the corporate media’s lack of ethnical inquiry into prison-related stories, suggesting that inside narrative is crucial to advancing public discourse.

Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy. 

Heat Wave Causes US Airways Plane To Get Stuck In Tarmac At Reagan National Airport,” by Timothy Stenovec. The Huffington Post, July 8, 2012.

As The Nation's only intern in DC, I feel as if I have some kind of responsibility to comment on the ridiculous heat wave that ripped through the Capitol last week. (Also, being originally from Southern California, I think any day that isn't 75 degrees and sunny is a supernatural phenomenon that must be discussed.) It reached 105 degrees on Saturday in DC— just one degree short of the city's highest temperature ever recorded— and, as this article explains, it was so hot that the tarmac at Reagan National Airport melted slightly and a plane sunk in four inches. Studies have shown repeatedly that climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent and more severe (another study affirming this actually just came out Tuesday) and I'd say this is a perfect example of that.

 Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.

 “The Great Charter: It’s Fate, Our Fate,” by Noam Chomsky. In These Times, July 6, 2012.

Noam Chomsky argues that the Magna Carta is being destroyed before our eyes. He demonstrates how President Obama's “kill list” of terrorists, which incorporates the idea that "all military-age males in a strike zone” are combatants, is the clearest example of the dismantling of the ideas ingrained in the Great Charter, such as the "presumption of innocence." In addition, he notes that the elements of the charter that required protection of common natural resources from external power has “fallen victim to the commodity economy and capitalist practice and morality.” The privatization of the commons and domination of free trade agreements has made genuine environmental protection nearly impossible. In the wake of the abject failure that was the Rio+20 Conference, Chomsky's observations are vital in order to contextualize the destruction of the commons.

Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.

Judge rules that city must reinstate staff at turnaround schools,” by Rachel Cromidas and Philissa Cramer. GothamSchools, July 10, 2012.

I've been following this story since the announcement Bloomberg made in January regarding the closures of a number of New York City public high schools, including three from Queens that are 100+ years old (my mom and several of my friend’s parents went to Newtown). At first I supported the effort given these schools are not only some of the worst performing in the city, but also some of the most dangerous. However, after the coverage provided by the reporters at GothamSchools, I've changed my position. Reading the arbitrator’s opinion in favor of the unions was evidence enough that this was yet another attempt by the Bloomberg administration to chip away at the UFT's rights because of his dislike of the way they handle terminating poor teachers—sigh, I should've guessed. I'm not partial to tenure either and do believe there needs to be a change to make the termination process less bureaucratic, but that change can only come through negotiation. Besides, the issue at hand here really should have never been about that. Last year both sides came together in an effort to receive a School Improvement Grant of about $60 million that is part the Obama administration’s efforts to turn around failing schools across the country. The city and unions agreed to adopt the less invasive models of the program for the schools that required them to devise new teacher evaluations. But by December they had declared an impasse over the union's proposal to allow teachers to appeal their poor-performance grade to a third party arbiter (in an effort to avoid “capricious” reviews like the one at the center of a scandal at Fordham HS for the Arts). I can't help but feel those negotiations were all just a show by Bloomberg to paint himself as having “tried” diplomacy with the unions. Why? Because 2 weeks after the talks broke down he was already announcing the school closures. Tsk-tsk. To quote the hysterical woman from The Simpsons: "Won't someone please think of the children?"

Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.

Courts Putting Stop-and-Frisk Policy on Trial,” by Russ Buettner and William Glaberson. The New York Times, July 10, 2012.

More than 80 percent of those targeted by stop-and-frisk in New York are black or Latino, with 686,000 stops last year and numbers on the rise. But the city's controversial policy has recently been criticized, not only on the street (as with the Father's Day March), but in the courtroom as well. Recent rulings by federal and state courts have shown judges to be critical of the practice, and from their decisions, many conclude that New York will have to redefine its stop-and-frisk policy. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, granted class-action status to a civil suit filed on behalf of people who were frisked and released, remarking on the city’s “deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.” NYT writes, “A settlement last year of a class-action case involving stop-and-frisk policies in Philadelphia laid out a model that, if followed in New York, could call for the courts to supervise an imposed system of police monitoring and accountability.” But with homicides in that city up since 2011, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Ramsey wonders how to curtail violence without infringing civil rights. Many Philadelphians report that stop-and-frisk is still used violently and irresponsibly today.

Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and the movement towards a transformed and renewed access to urban life.

Money Talks,” by Daniel Denvir. Philadelphia City Paper, July 5, 2012.

Daniel Denvir, who has been all over the corporate take-over of the Philadelphia school system (he even wrote a short piece for The Nation), keeps following the money in this article for Philadelphia's City Paper. Highlighting the often politically-motivated “generosity” of major foundations, Denvir traces how the head of the William Penn Foundation has spearheaded “an emerging corporate education-reform network” that aims to stifle dissent and end public administration of the Philadelphia school system. One of the most egregious corporate take-overs of a public good, this whole affair illustrates the insidious ways the corporate elite will work to dismantle all public goods, and with it, any chance of a true, equitable democracy.

Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.

BP Spill Workers Say Dispersant Made Them Sick,” by Kate Sheppard. Mother Jones, July 11, 2012.

Dispersants are a combination of surfactants and solvents that work like detergents to break up oil into droplets, to speed up the process of microbial degradation of spilled oil. During those three months in 2010 before the well was capped, BP applied an estimated 1.8 million gallons of two types of the dispersant Corexit in an attempt to break up the oil. Much of the Corexit was applied directly to the wellhead at the ocean floor, something which had never been done (or tested) before. Now, spill workers are sick, and the company who makes Corexit, Nalco, is trying to get out of paying damages. This Mother Jones article is chock full of excellent links that tell the complicated story of this dispersant and why our chemical approval system needs a complete revamping.

Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.

Michael Semple interviews a senior member of the Taliban,” by Michael Semple. New Statesman, July 11, 2012.

Semple (who is an excellent Foreign Affairs writer) interviewed the top leadership in the Taliban for New Statesman. Their leaders believe the following: the insurgency is futile; there is deep resentment towards al-Qaeda; they cannot militarily defeat the U.S. or the Afghan forces; and that they will need to negotiate with other parties in the near future as the U.S. withdraws.

Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy. 

Behind the Paraguayan coup,” by Nikolas Kozloff. Al Jazeera, July 8, 2012.

Nikolas Kozloff's analysis is a valuable read for a number of reasons. First, and most simply, by drawing attention to US military endeavors in Paraguay as far back as 2005, he provides a compelling counter-narrative to conventional wisdom that Bush Administration policymakers were complacent towards Latin America. He describes how the election of Fernando Lugo complicated the US military's relationship with Paraguay. Towards the end of his article Kozloff zooms out. Moving away from discussing US interests in Paraguay as a bulwark against Hugo Chavez, Kozloff explicates the trajectory of US policy objectives throughout the entire Southern Cone. Additionally, he astutely bolsters his analysis by digging deep into the diplomatic cables cache, published by Wikileaks, and unearthing several gems—like a cable from 2007 which suggested “that Washington should enhance relations with regional military leaders who shared concerns over Chávez's rising influence.”

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