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Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (4/18/12)

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.

 

Laura Bolt focuses on human rights and revolution.

Revealed: CISPA — Internet Spying Law — Pushed by For-Profit Spy Lobby,” by Lee Fang. AlterNet, April 13, 2012.

While the backlash against SOPA legislation was swift and palpable, a new bill with serious implications for Internet privacy is quietly making its way through Congress without as much fanfare. CISPA, as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 is known, is actually backed by tech companies like Facebook and Verizon. This article from AlterNet details how this bill threatens Internet privacy and who stands to gain from it.

 

Zoë Carpenter focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.

A New Front in the War Against Malaria,” by Matthew Power. Harper’s, April 11, 2012.

Malaria, a mosquito-born parasite, has been our deadly companion through thousands of years of human evolution. Recently, an ambitious effort to eradicate the disease has been undercut by rising levels of resistance to artemisinin, a derivation of sweet wormwood once hailed as a "magic bullet." Matthew Power reports on the attempt to contain artemisinin-resistant malaria in Southeast Asia and the geopolitics that complicate the endeavor. (Read the complete article from the April 2012 issue if you're a subscriber.)

 

Umar Farooq focuses on the world-wide movement for democracy. 

The Movement for Peace Marches On Against the Drug War,” by Bill Conroy. The Narcosphere, April 9, 2012. 

The War on Drugs has ravaged American inner cities for decades, but its most devastating effects are saved for the countries meeting our demands for consumption.  In Mexico, furious families of the war's victims began a grassroots movement last year, calling it the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, and embarking on a goal to end the bloodshed.  This article by a long-time drug reporter summarizes two forces behind the violence: American demand for drugs, and American weapons sales.

 

Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power and political culture.

ICBM Coalition Of Rural Senators Fights Nuclear Weapons Cuts,” by Andrea Stone. Huffington Post, April 17, 2012.

On New Year’s Eve, 1983, The Nation published an article by Kurt Vonnegut in which he wrote: “If Western Civilization were a person, we would be directing it to the nearest meeting of War-Preparers Anonymous. We would be telling it to stand up before the meeting and say, ‘My name is Western Civilization. I am a compulsive war preparer. I have lost everything I ever cared about. I should have come here long ago.’” Today, almost thirty years later, the US Congress and defense policymakers remain in desperate need of such a meeting. They have become subjugated by insecurity and beholden to dealers of influence, money and industrial-military power. So it goes.

 

Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations.

Federal Court ruling could open door to equal funding for native kids,” by Tanya Talaga. The Toronto Star, April 18, 2012.

This article sheds light on some native rights issues in Canada—which are sometimes easy to forget when faced with the vast, systemic inequalities and problematic dynamics that are so prevalent in our own country. An interesting read, and an issue that needs more attention.

 

Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

Einstein on Palestine,” by Albert Einstein. Falestine via El Pias, March 15, 1930.

In a letter published in Falastin in March of 1930, Albert Einstein suggested that an even number of members of each community form a “Secret Council,” consisting of a physician, jurist, worker and a clerical man, who will hopefully lead to a “state in which the differences will gradually be eliminated.” Many activists on both sides nowadays would agree with Einstein’s conclusions that the challenges are still  “more of a psychological than an actual nature, and that they can be solved if honest good will be manifested by both sides.”

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender.

How Organized Labor Helped Win Marriage Equality in Maryland and Washington--And What We Can Learn,” by James Cersonsky. AlterNet, April 15, 2012.

"Fighting for working families, not just certain families," unions played a vital role in passing gay marriage in Maryland and Washington this year. In this article, James Cersonsky demonstrates how a unified progressive front was able to find common ground implement change and how we could recreate it throughout the country.

 

James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

Breivik's toxic legacy,” by Aslak Sira Myhre. The Guardian, April 16, 2012.

As the trial against self-confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik gets underway in Norway, international media is focusing primarily on the details of the case: the killings, the police mistakes, the suits, the uniforms, the guns, the crazed manifesto. But what about the future? This should be the time to confront the hate, to deal with a future where people of different religions and people live side by side. As Asiak Sira Myhre writes in the Guardian, "We are looking so intensely into the eyes of the terrorist that we are becoming blind."

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare.

Study suggests breast cancer is clutch of 10 diseases,” by Kate Kelland. Reuters, April 18, 2012.

A study recently published in Nature shows that breast cancer can be classified into ten different subtypes, with unique genetic signatures. One of the study's leading researchers explained that breast cancer should actually be thought of as an "umbrella term" for what is in fact a larger number of diseases. In the future, he said, treatment can be tailored to the genetic footprint of a tumor.

 

Elizabeth Whitman focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.

In ‘dream city’ for Syria refugees, hope of return dims,” by Erika Solomon. Reuters, April 13, 2012.

Described by one Turkish official as "a city," the refugee camp in Kilis, Turkey is expanding and becoming more permanent. Schools are being constructed, and instead of tents, refugees are now living in rows of identical cubicles. Some residents are growing accustomed to daily life in the camp, but all of them know why they're there and wonder how long they will be staying.

Student Activism as the Tip of the Spear: Raising the Minimum Wage in San Jose


San Jose State University in San Jose, California. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)


Given an assignment in a sociology class with Professor Scott Myers-Lipton to examine how organizing could make a difference in their community, a group of thirty San Jose State students put their studies into practice and launched a campaign that has gained the support of young labor activists, community groups and faith-based organizations—and now the city of San Jose could see a pay raise because of it.

The coalition is pushing to raise the city of San Jose's minimum wage by 25 percent—from $8 per hour to $10 per hour—with annual inflation adjustments.

"What’s powerful about the campaign is that it is student-initiated," Myers-Lipton says. "They're working-class students for the most part, and there's an incredible diversity in the student body. I think it's visionary to see this multi-ethnic group of students working together."

The movement has taken on a life of its own with the local labor council and community partners stepping up as the fight intensifies. Supporters of the minimum wage increase have attracted positive media attention and have stayed focused on winning a high-road campaign while preparing for heavy opposition from the Chamber of Commerce as their measure makes its way toward the November ballot.

The San Jose State students are moving this issue forward with the help of "Next Gen," a labor-inspired organization that motivates young people to take control of their future. "We want to help rebuild and reshape the economy to make it work for young people and working families," says Anna Schlotz, the 26-year-old president of Next Gen, Bay Area. "That’s what a local policy like raising the minimum wage does. It’s an incredibly exciting campaign that Next Gen is proud to be a part of."

The San Jose campaign is also part of a new wave of efforts to spread the benefits of existing "living wage" bills to a larger group of workers. Typically, when a locality passes a living wage ordinance, it requires that those doing business with the city pay workers a higher rate. But the San Jose measure that the young people are working to pass applies to all workers—constituting a minimum wage boost for the whole city. If passed, it would place San Jose alongside Washington, DC, San Francisco and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the only cities with local ordinances requiring wages higher than state minimums for all employees.

From Classroom to Practice

As part of Myers-Lipton's Sociology 164 course on Social Action, students studied President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's proposal for an Economic Bill of Rights. As student activist Elisha St. Laurent explains, "The economic bill of rights guarantees everyone a job, a living wage, a decent home, medical care, economic protection during sicknesses or old age or unemployment." The minimum wage campaign is a practical way of making some of these guarantees more attainable for San Jose residents. "We’re trying to link the economic bill of rights to inequality in the San Jose area," she says.

As the mother of a five-year-old boy and someone who is working to pay for college, St. Laurent has experienced the realities of the low-wage economy directly. "Especially as a single mother," she says, "you know I’m continually struggling. I’m always working minimum wage. Right now I make $9.25, so it would be a 75-cent increase for me. But an extra $100 or $200 in my check would make a difference. It's making sure that I have gas in my car so that I can take my son to school, and then still being able to pay my bills."

“Young workers are really struggling in the recession,” adds Schlotz. “Almost a third of young people are unemployed or underemployed and dealing with rising tuition, healthcare and costs of living. Especially in the Silicon Valley, you can work full-time and live in poverty. We threw ourselves into gathering signatures because we know raising the minimum wage could dramatically improve the lives of many low-wage and young workers."

The Mercury News recently reported, "Annual full-time undergraduate tuition and fees at San Jose State have climbed from $3,992 in 2008 to $6,840 this year." During this time, the minimum wage has not risen. The campaign website also notes that, according to US News and World Report, "San Jose is in the Top 10 US Cities where rents are spiking."

Rallying Allies

As the students moved forward with the idea, they found significant partners such as Working Partnerships USA, a think tank for public policy that affects working class families, the NAACP and the local faith-based group Sacred Heart Community Service.

Myers-Lipton explains, "Early on, there was a discussion that occurs in any campaign asking, 'Is this winnable? Is it worth putting in all the effort.' At that point [Sacred Heart Executive Director] Poncho [Guevara] said, 'You know, win or lose, we need to put forward a vision of what we stand for. We need to be putting our vision forward rather than  always being on the defensive. So even if we lose, we’re going to win in the long run.'"

"It was a decisive moment for us," says Myers-Lipton. "Because you can only do so many things in the community, and you have to decide what are you going to spend your time on. When Poncho said that, there was kind of a gathering around his vision of, even if we 'lose' with this campaign, we’re still going to win. And there's a chance that we're not going to lose."

To show that the campaign was serious, the nascent coalition raised $6,000 and commissioned a professional polling firm to gauge community support for the measure. The poll showed that public support for a $10 minimum wage was very high—high enough to quell any doubts that the campaign could win.

Following the poll, the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, seeing the distinct connection between the minimum wage campaign and its efforts to improve the lives of working families, got on board as well. "These young people had a great idea and we thought there was enough staying power for us to get engaged," said Cindy Chavez, Executive Officer of the Labor Council. Community-labor groups have provided training and resources as the campaign has moved forward.

Myers-Lipton explains, "The South Bay Labor Council has been decisive. They're not taking over from the students, but they're saying, 'We’re here. We’re in this with you side-by-side.'"

Sign for Justice

In order to get the measure onto the November ballot, the campaign, which is calling itself Raise the Wage San Jose, needed to get over 19,000 signatures by the beginning of May. They'vealready passed that mark. On March 28, students, members of Next Gen and other community organizations marched to San Jose City Hall to submit more than 35,000 signatures to the city clerk.

While unionized workers generally won't benefit directly from a minimum wage increase, Chavez says that labor council members still see this effort as critical for the city. "They see that this economy is bullying two-thirds of the people who live in it. They are not going to take it from the bully anymore. Living wage and minimum wage drives are just one way to tell the bully to back off: 'You’re not getting our lunch money today, and we are not going to let some people become impoverished in this country while others become so wealthy.'"

Chavez cites labor's engagement with students as an exciting development, describing the intersection of broad-based "horizontal" outreach and the "vertical" structures of established groups: "On the horizontal side you have youth and hope… On the vertical front though, there’s a level of expertise that [labor] institutions bring with them, along with resources that can’t be easily garnered by a horizontal group. It's exciting. In a way, the students are the tip of the spear of the new activism."

Boosting the Economy from the Bottom Up

With the signatures in, the campaign is working to make sure San Jose's City Council does not delay in putting it on the November ballot. "We are putting a lot of pressure on," says Chavez. "We turned in the signatures a full month earlier than we had to in order to make sure that we don’t get cheated out of an opportunity to go to the ballot in the fall."

Resistance to bringing the measure to voters would come as a result of business opposition. Myers-Lipton explains, "In any campaign there’s going to be a response from our opponents. The question is, how strong will the opponents come in against it and chip away at the lead that we have?"

With cities such as San Francisco passing higher minimum wages, corporate lobbyists created a front group called Employment Policies Institute, which promotes the message that raising the minimum wage is bad for business. Currently the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce is not taking a position on the minimum wage measure, but a spokesperson told the San Jose Mercury News March 29 that raising the minimum wage "could have unintended consequences."

In response, the Raise the Wage campaign site notes research from the Journal of Industrial Relations, the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and other sources showing that business's foreboding warnings are unfounded. "Study after study after study has shown that minimum wage increases have not led to job loss, even during the latest recession," the campaign states.

St. Laurent cites the economic benefit of the wage measure. The research regarding San Francisco, she says, "actually shows that when they raised the minimum wage to $10.25, it boosted businesses. If people have money, they're able to give back to the economy. If you don’t have money, then you’re not going to go spend."

Nor is St. Laurent daunted by opponents' attacks. "As a group, we just continue to press on," she says. "We don’t allow negativism to come against us. Our motivation comes from other people. We want to be able to live in an adequate environment—paying for our bills and paying for things that we need for our children. That's why we're coming together as a team."

Chavez believes the example of the student-labor-interfaith coalition in San Jose can be contagious. "This fall we’ll be asking the voters of the tenth largest city in the country to give people a raise," she says. "My hope is that it will happen in other cities—that this will continue to catch fire and people will try to do the same thing across the country."

165,000 Students Strike in Quebec

More than 165,000 students in Quebec, Canada have been on strike for more than nine weeks in response to a Provincial government plan that would raise university tuition rates, some of the lowest in the country, by 75 percent over the next five years. The student movement has since grown in popularity, with a March 22 demonstration drawing nearly 300,000 supporters.

This past Sunday evening, Education Minister Line Beauchamp announced that she was willing to sit down with a major student federation to discuss the creation of an independent, permanent committee for "the sound management" of post-secondary institutions. The Quebec government had already said it was willing to reform the loans and bursaries program. However, student leaders said the offer was not enough and the boycotts will continue until the government rescinds its decision to raise tuition by $1,625, or 75 percent, over the next five years.

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (4/11/12)

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.

 

Laura Bolt focuses on human rights and revolution.

Malaysia: Security Bill Threatens Basic Liberties.” Human Rights Watch, April 10, 2012.

A security bill that could "facilitate violations of fundamental human rights" has been presented to Malaysian Parliament, and is expected to pass quickly, according to Human Rights Watch. The bill, which could lessen the harshness of some current procedures (like detention periods and arrests solely on political basis), still raises concerns among activists who contend that the improvements still violate basic human rights and open the door for significant violations.

 

Zoë Carpenter focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.

Attacks on Climate Science by Former NASA Staff Shouldn't Be Taken Seriously,” by Dana Nuccitelli. The Guardian, April 12, 2012. 

Iran, gas prices, and Keystone dominate the energy conversation, but global climate change has't faded completely out of the picture. Last week, leading NASA scientist Jim Hansen asserted that climate change is a "great moral issue" akin to slavery, but he was drowned out by the climate skeptics, who have recently stepped up their public attacks on decades of science. With the "balance"-obsessed news media allowing the skeptics' untenable arguments to frame an unnecessary debate, Nuccitelli explains exactly who the latest skeptics are, and why they cannot be considered "experts" in the field. 

 

Umar Farooq focuses on the world-wide movement for democracy.

Grand Prix Dilemma in Bahrain,” by Frank Gardner. BBC, April 10, 2012.

Despite a profound lack of attention from media, the uprising in Bahrain has continued for more than a year now.  The annual Bahrain Grand Prix race was cancelled last year, not out of ideological or principle sympathy for protesters, but largely because the safety of international participants could not be guaranteed.  This time around, more participants are voicing their concerns, but as the article points out, it is unclear if the race will be postponed again this time.

 

Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power, and political culture.

Interview with General George Kenney.” The Mike Wallace Interview via the Harry Ransom Center, October 12, 1957.

In tribute to Mike Wallace, who passed away on April 7, I have selected a video this week from the Harry Ransom Center’s archives of The Mike Wallace Interview. In this edition, Wallace speaks with Retired Air Force General George Kenney, who served as commander of the allied air forces in the southwest Pacific from August 1942 to 1945, about Sputnik and the risk of a third world war. Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite to be put into orbit and was launched by the Soviet Union via an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Though Kenney’s views are very hawkish and Cold War fanatical, in this interview he offers insights into Cold War history and ways of thinking, as well as reflections that are worthy of remembering as the United States and its allies decide how to respond to North Korea’s planned satellite launch sometime between April 12 and 16.

 

Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations.

Why Conversations on Race Usually Fail,” by Mychal Denzel Smith. The Root, April 7, 2012.

This article offers a fascinating argument. Touching on the unfortunate reality that national discussions about race relations happen only in disingenuous spurts (and only when precipitated by a particularly egregious incident), the author compellingly claims that America does not do its race relations "homework." If all conversation regarding this important topic is confined to such limited periods of time, these conversations fail—and we simply cannot afford to let race relations remain a "special-interest" topic, to be explored only when particularly trying circumstances arise.

 

Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

Saudi Activists Fight Through Their Fear,” by Jeffrey Fleishman. Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2012.

This brief LA Times profile of renowned Saudi activist Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani provides a rare peek inside Saudi activists struggles and aspirations.

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender.

Prominent Researcher Disavows His Own Study Supporting Ex-Gay Therapy,” by Zack Ford. ThinkProgress, April 11, 2012.

Dr. Robert Spitzer has a complicated history with LGBT history, punctuated by his 2003 study declaring the success of "ex-gay" reparative therapy, which is now widely cited by most anti-gay organizations to justify their opposition to gay rights. But in an interview this week with the American Prospect, Spitzer retracted his own study, claiming that his conclusions were largely false, and rescinding the scientific backing for this ineffective, and harmful, practice.

 

James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

How Mass Migration Cushioned the Great Depression,” by Matt Yglesias. Slate, April 3, 2012. 

We are constantly told that the current downturn has been "the worst since the great depression." But Slate blogger Matthew Yglesias, armed with a map of American population shift in the 1930s, believes that statement to be a little misleading. 

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare. 

The Impact Of Socioeconomic Factors On The Racial Gap In Life Expectancy.” Medical News Today, April 11, 2012. 

According to a study recently published in Demography, 80 percent of the life expectancy gap between white and black males and 70 percent of the gap between white and black women could be due to socioeconomic factors like income, education, and marital status. As one researcher explained, this is the first study to determine the extent to which socioeconomic disparities are responsible.

 

Elizabeth Whitman focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.

Syria's Opposition in Exile Plagued by Infighting,” by Viktoria Kieber. Der Spiegel, April 4, 2012.

"Diehard opponents of the regime... have been able to exploit [the situation] for their own political ends," Patrick Seale, an expert on Syria, told Syria Today in June 2011. This article in Der Spiegel shows how his statement is just as true ten months later. The story of one Syrian, who snuck into Turkey for supplies but heard about a conference of the Syrian National Council in Istanbul and decided to go, says it all. He had to negotiate for half an hour to be rather unwillingly allowed into the conference, where discussions confirmed how the exiled opposition remains extremely removed from—and disinterested in—events within Syria. 

Columbia Students Protest Stereotypes with "Hoodies and Hijabs" Vigil

A black boy shot because his attacker thought his hoodie made him look suspicious. An Iraqi woman brutally murdered by someone who left a note telling her to "go back to your country, terrorist." These were the incidents that led one hundred Columbia students to gather on campus on April 5 at the Muslim Students Association's vigil "Hoodies and Hijabs Against Hatred: Justice for Trayvon and Shaima," cosponsored by the Columbia Democrats, the Columbia-Barnard International Socialist Organization, the Columbia Queer Alliance, and the Interfaith Caucus. 

For an hour, students stood holding candles and taking turns speaking about race, prejudice, and injustice. The students who came out to the vigil quickly moved beyond the particular cases of Trayvon Martin and Shaima al-Awadhi to protest against the institutionalized racism and stereotypes that create the kind of legal and cultural system where an adult man can shoot an unarmed black boy dead and walk free. 

"It's about more than just these two," explained Alay Syed, a Barnard College first-year and Vice President of the Muslim Students Association. In her introductory remarks, Syed set the tone of the evening. "We're here to speak out against the hatred and intolerance that touch everyone, about the thousands of Trayvons that we will never know about." Syed's focus on the broader problems of racial profiling, harassment, and violence allowed the protestors to get past the specifics of the cases, such as recent evidence suggesting that al-Awadhi's murder was not a hate crime, and down to the more disturbing underlying problems. The murder of two individuals was tragic, but what brought Columbia out to protest with real anger was the racial motivation of the killings. Martin and al-Awadhi were murdered because of what they looked like.

Students came out wearing either hoodies or hijabs, symbolically adopting the garments of the murder victims. Columbia's vigil was just one of many at universities across the nation in which students wore articles of clothing which were blamed for Martin's and al-Awadhi's deaths in order to challenge the idea that anyone's character can be divined from their appearance. While many students explicitly denounced culturally pervasive racism when they took their turn speaking at the vigil's microphone, others felt that the issue was more nuanced. "There should be less of a focus on explicit racism," said Swara Salih, a Columbia College sophomore and member of the Columbia Democrats. Salih and instead offered an idea of intersectional stereotyping. "There's a problem in our society that we categorize people into types based on a number of factors, including socioeconomic class as well as race." 

Behind their hoodies and hijabs, a diverse section of Columbia students gathered: men and women, black, white, and brown, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and atheist. Identity was blurred, and that was exactly the students' point: no assumptions can be made from appearance, whether from race, clothing, or a combination of the two, and certainly no assumptions can be made which justify murder. 

The kind of "Stand Your Ground" laws which George Zimmerman is hiding behind in Florida disagree with this presumably basic statement that you can't judge a book by its cover - the sort of thing that the rest of us learn in elementary school. "Stand Your Ground" laws instead protect stereotyping - if you feel that you are being threatened, you are legally justified in reacting with deadly force. How might you feel that you are threatened? The law doesn't care. In Zimmerman's case, being near a large black boy wearing a hoodie was threat enough. In effect, "Stand Your Ground" laws enable and even condone prejudiced stereotyping by declaring that concepts of "threat" based in false, racist ideologies justify murder. 

Trayvon Martin paid the ultimate price for George Zimmerman's twisted worldview. Zimmerman may pay none. It is up to activists like the Columbia students who protested on Friday to continue speaking out against validations of prejudice wherever they reveal themselves. Only by showing our continued outrage will we change the culture and the system which it created. 

 

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (4/4/12)

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.

 

Laura Bolt focuses on human rights and revolution.

The World's 7 Worst Internet Censorship Offenders,” by Alex Pearlman. Global Post, April 4, 2012.

The Internet and social media have played an important role in the recent revolutionary efforts all over the world. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), many countries still struggle with online freedom and censorship. Using data from Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and the UN Democracy Fund, Global Post lists the seven countries where Internet freedom is most in danger.

 

Zoë Carpenter focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.

White House and the F.D.A. Often at Odds,” by Gardiner Harris. The New York Times, April 2, 2012.

In the run-up to the election, is the Obama administration responding to attacks on its regulatory policies by putting politics before good science? A spat over listing the calorie count of theater popcorn may seem trivial, but the independence of agencies like the Food and Drug Administration is crucial for scientific integrity and sound public policy. 


Umar Farooq focuses on the world-wide movement for democracy.

Occupy Union Square: The Evolution Of A New Protest Camp,” by Nick Pinto. The Village Voice, March 26, 2012.

Occupy Wall Street has been trying to restart its occupation, this time in Union Square, where they engage in a nightly confrontation with police dubbed Eviction Theatre.  As the piece points out, some organizers question the amount of energy put into dealing with the police, and worry that it is detracting from a larger political message from the movement.


Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power, and political culture. 

Japan Readies Anti-missile Defence for N Korea Rocket,” by Lucy Williamson. BBC, March 23, 2012.

In the realpolitik world of missiles and missile defenses, April is heating up to be quite a month. North Korea has announced that it will launch into orbit a rocket-mounted satellite sometime between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th birthday of the late Great Leader Kim Il-sung. Japan, South Korea, and the US have all expressed worry that the satellite launch is cover for a long-range ballistic missile test, which would violate a DPRK promise in the Leap Day deal to halt missile tests in exchange for food aid. In preparation for the launch, Japan and the United States are positioning missile defense capabilities and considering the option of shooting down the rocket. In other news, India is planning to test a long-range nuclear missile, the Agni-V, also in mid-April, which has a strike range of over 5,000-km. No one is talking about shooting it down. So it goes.


Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations. 

Chicago Has Its Own Trayvon Martin-like Scandal,” by Mary Mitchell. The Chicago Sun-Times, April 3, 2012.

All the attention paid to the Trayvon Martin case is great; unfortunately, it's also unusual. Violent crimes perpetrated against minorities rarely elicit media attention proportional to the coverage of violence against whites. Such is the situation regarding the case of Howard Morgan, a black, off-duty Chicago police officer who, in 2005, was pulled over by an all-white police team and shot twenty-eight times, after he allegedly resisted arrest and attempted to attack the officers. He was recently convicted of attempted murder and faces charges today. This case deserves our attention!


Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

Does International Law Shelter from Accountability?” by Sharon Weil. Jadaliyya, April 3, 2012.

Will Pinochet be the last dictator brought to justice by international law? This article explains the consequences of the recent International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on state immunity "in which a state is immune from jurisdiction before foreign national courts, even in cases involving civil responsibility for international crimes."  

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender.

What's Behind the Anti-anti-bullying Backlash,” by Katherine Stewart. The Guardian, April 3, 2012.

As the new documentary, Bully—a chronicle of school-aged bullying and its destructive effects—makes its unrated appearance in theaters, many critical eyes are on the action, and inaction, of school districts around the country to combat it. But in this heated political climate—particularly around sex and gender—this Guardian article addresses the "anti-anti-bullying" campaigns, which have conflated "anti-bullying" with "pro-gay" and are—quite successfully—blocking state efforts to provide young teenagers with protection under the guise of the first amendment.


James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

An Avoidable Tragedy.” The Irish Times, March 30, 2012.

When is one life worth less than another? Apparently when you're an African migrant adrift on the Mediterranean Sea. Based on the findings of a Council of Europe report, this op-ed in the Irish Timesreveals the horrendous truth behind an avoidable tragedy in which sixty-three people perished while attempting to reach Italy from Libya.

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare. 

Uncovering Kids: 89,000 Poor Pa. Kids Slashed From Medicaid,” Michael Hinkelman and Catherine Lucey. The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 3, 2012.

Between August and January, thousands of children in Pennsylvania "vanished" from state Medicaid rolls in what officials describe as an attempt to clear a backlog of recipients with out-of-date paperwork. However, Hinkelman and Lucey report that many of these children were wrongfully kicked out of the program, and that enrollment cuts have sparked debate about Republican Governor Tom Corbett's proposed budget, which would cut $629 million from social services. According to Hinkelman and Lucey, the governor's public-welfare official said Corbett was just trying to get ineligible people out of the program.


Elizabeth Whitman focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.

Coalition Provides Millions for Syrian refugees,” by Stephen Dockery. The Daily Star, April 4, 2012.

Supporting the Syrian opposition is not the only role Gulf countries play in the Syrian conflict. They are also funding about thirty Islamic charities in Lebanon that are providing Syrian refugees with medical treatment, food and other aid. Although helping impoverished refugees is important, the fact that this funding comes from countries who are also arming the Syrian opposition throws into question the intent of this aid and how Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar may expect such generosity to serve them later on. 

My Feminist Harry Potter Tumblr


Courtesy: Feminist Harry Potter

When embarking on a final project for my feminist theory course this semester, I decided to combine two of my passions—feminism and the Harry Potter phenomenon—and try to fuse them into a reality through social media. It turns out there are more feminist-Harry Potter nerds than I originally anticipated; my Feminist Harry Potter Tumblr quickly extended beyond my classroom and has amassed almost 100,000 views in just a few weeks!
 
People who are unfamiliar with Harry Potter often locate feminism in the series exclusively in the guise of Hermione Granger, the most important female character in the book and arguably the most brilliant character overall. But there is much more to a feminist analysis of Harry Potter than praise of J.K. Rowling’s fictional leading lady: I have written posts that discuss the oppression of Muggle-borns, House-elves, and other magical creatures, the need for Harry to acknowledge his wealth of privilege, and the complexities of gender roles when it comes to understanding multi-faceted components of both femininity and masculinity.

It wasn’t until I learned about the Hunger Is Not a Game campaign, however, that I considered my new venture a product of fan activism. The Harry Potter Alliance--a non-profit organization that encourages people to organize their activism around their Harry Potter fandom--spearheaded the campaign to coincide with the film release of The Hunger Games in order to raise awareness about global food justice. Lionsgate initially issued a takedown notice for the campaign’s name, but after an outcry of response from fans and activists on Twitter and Facebook, Lionsgate backed down and Hunger Is Not a Game continues to thrive.

In 2011 and 2012 we've seen the power of social media--from the Arab Spring, to Occupy Wall Street and the Susan G. Komen foundation attempting to halt funding toward Planned Parenthood. The Harry Potter Alliance and Imagine Better Project extends this activist arc and demonstrates how culture and politics can be successfully combined on a social media platform.
 
There are underlying feminist messages in the Harry Potter series, but there are also a number of problematic elements that should be analyzed through a critical lens. The Tumblr is not an attempt to make complete sense of all-things feminism and Harry Potter: instead of struggling to come up with my own concrete conclusions about my favorite childhood novels, I thought it would be more beneficial to open up a dialogue and start a conversation with other feminists and fans of the series in order to collectively think about different questions and possibilities regarding Harry Potter. The conversations occurring between followers in the comment section are arguably even more valuable than my individual posts because they serve as evidence that consciousness raising and analysis are taking place.
 
It’s not just about making feminism “fun”—it’s about examining a part of pop culture that has an outsized influence in shaping our culture at large and on an individual level. Incorporating feminist theories and ideas about social change and justice into images from the Harry Potter films proved to be effective in raising awareness about both the fusion of politics and culture and the issues that I care most about. The Feminist Harry Potter Tumblr and Hunger Is Not a Game campaign are great examples of  how fan activism can influence social change aided by our passions and pursuits.

Students Push NYU to Sever Ties with JP Morgan Chase

Last Tuesday night I attended a teach-in hosted by NYU for Occupy Wall Street (NYU4OWS), with the theme “Housing is a Human Right.” Activists from Organizing for Occupation (O4O) told us about their tactic of singing at a foreclosure auction to disrupt the unjust selling of people’s homes.  I was inspired by the idea of singing as a form of resistance. I was even more inspired by the fact that it works, that this was keeping people from losing their homes. It was evidence that collective resistance against injustice can actually combat the devastation of families and their communities.

Organizers from New York Communities for Change shared their experience with foreclosures, how they are responding and how the housing crisis is connected to financial institutions.  They told us that the Village of Hempstead recently removed $12.5 million dollars from its J.P. Morgan Chase account in protest of the assault on New Yorkers’ human right to housing. I personally bank with J.P. Morgan Chase, and while I plan to soon close my Chase account, my personal act of protest would not have the same significant effect as an entire community standing together in protest.

Inspired by Hempstead's example I thought of what an enormously powerful message a large private institution such as NYU could send were to stop doing business with a bank as corrupt and unethical as Chase. Since NYU is supposed to be “a private university in the public service,” it should not maintain financial ties with the bank that has the worst track record of keeping people in New York in their homes. My fellow activists from NYU4OWS and I thus have launched a campaign calling on the administration to cut its ties with Chase until the bank stops foreclosing on families.

Still energized from our teach-in the previous night, on Wednesday, twenty members of the NYU community brought a letter addressed to NYU President John Sexton explaining why we oppose NYU’s connections to Chase and demanding financial practices that prioritize human rights. By presenting this letter, we hoped to open communication with the administration. However, we were not permitted to enter Sexton’s office or speak to his staff, but we were assured by the security guards that he would receive the letter. We will definitely follow up and continue to pressure the administration to implement just financial practices.  
 
There are currently more than five times as many vacant homes in the US as there are homeless people, and I believe we need to address this.  As an NYU student, I hope that my university reflects my ethics. I’m not okay with being a part of an institution that enables suffering in the community that it inhabits. NYU is one of the largest property-owners in NYC and it’s not fair that while our university continues to expand, we’re supporting a bank that daily strips families of their homes.

This campaign is extremely relevant, especially to NYU students, because many of us hope to make this city our home, and institutions like Chase are hurting the community we are, and want to continue to be, a part of. Even if we, as students, are not homeowners, we need to hold institutions like JP Morgan Chase accountable for its practices, which helped cause an economic crisis that, as we express in our letter to President Sexton, causes students to “face an even more insidious form of foreclosure, of opportunities, of life chances, of their future.” 

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (3/28/12)

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.

 

Laura Bolt focuses on human rights and revolution.

A New Chapter of People Power,” by Srdja Popovic. The European, March 5, 2012.

Srdja Popovic is a non-violent organizer who works with revolutionary groups all over the world. In this interview with The European, Popvic reflects on the revolutionary efforts of the past year (as he says, “a bad year for bad guys”), democratic uprisings, and the importance of “indigenous strategy” in training movements.

 

Zoë Carpenter focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.

FACT CHECK: More U.S. Drilling Didn’t Drop Gas Prices,” by Jack Gillum and Seth Borenstein. Associated Press, March 21, 2012

With the GOP hopefuls upping their rhetoric on gas prices and energy policy, Obama pushing a weak “all-of-the-above energy strategy,” and journalists crowing about impending energy independence in America, claims about the impact of increased domestic drilling warrant some scrutiny. The truth is that we’re drilling as much as we were in 2003, when gas was just over $2 a gallon. But oil is a global commodity, so aggressive posturing towards Iran and demand from developing countries plays a greater role. It’s worth noting that gas prices are really very low considering the external costs of our energy policies—particularly climate change, which President Obama appears to have forgotten about.

 

Umar Farooq focuses on the world-wide movement for democracy. 

Campesinos Refusing To Disappear: Guatemala’s Polochic Valley One Year After the Evictions,” by Tristan Call, Upsidedownworld.org, March 26, 2012.

The situation faced by campesinos in the Polochic Valley of Guatemala is certainly not unique, and serves as a great example of what globalization means for many of the world’s poorest. A year ago, a combination of private security guards and Guatemalan security forces evicted three thousand farmers from the valley, destroying 14 villages, to make way for an international sugar company. The campesinos, used to raising livestock and growing corn, were left to starve. Today they live next to sprawling sugar cane plantations, but cannot afford to buy any sugar.  International bodies like the Interamerican Court of Human Rights have called on the Guatemalan government to provide food and shelter for the displaced, but no aid has arrived.

 

Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power, and political culture.

Obama’s Creepy Executive Order: Permanent War Economy,” by Matthew Rothschild. The Progressive, March 20, 2012. 

Just over a week before President Obama departed for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, he issued an Executive Order that, with a hint of irony, renewed and revised authority originally granted to President Harry Truman amidst industrial mobilization for the Korean War. Today, debt and the economy have become identified as national security and defense issues, and President Obama’s Executive Order assumes the power to allocate and appropriate industrial defense resources, services, and technologies in perpetual preparation for national security and defense emergencies. As Matthew Rothschild writes: “This is the military-industrial complex on steroids, and it’s devouring our democracy.”

 

Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations.

Inside NOM’s Strategy: Race-Wedging Black And Latino Voters Against Marriage Equality,” by Zack Ford. ThinkProgress, March 27, 2012.

National Organization for Marriage, the bigoted, anti-marriage equality group, made headlines this week for an incredibly ill-conceived and badly timed boycott of Starbucks, protesting the company’s support of same-sex marriage. In short, the campaign flopped, and the media enthusiastically documented its failure. Less publicized, however, was the uncovering of NOM internal memos that detail a strategy to sway public opinion against marriage equality by “driv[ing] a wedge between gays and blacks.” With a history of obfuscating campaign finances and generally operating in a less-than-transparent fashion, NOM’s latest underhanded strategy is perhaps unsurprising, but that is no reason to excuse their dishonesty.

 

Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

"Saudi Arabia: Stop Arbitrary Arrests, Travel Bans on Opposition,"  Human Rights Watch. March 28, 2012.

This detailed report proves that Saudi Arabia is not immune from the Arab Spring. Arbitrary arrests and travel bans are clear symptoms of citizens’ discontent and the regime’s failure to deal with them.

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender. 

Far-Right Leader Jailed in Serbia for Making Death Threats Against Gays,” by the Associated Press. The Washington Post, March 27, 2012

Despite years of cultural discrimination and violence against the Serbian LGBT community, pressure from European powers has inspired significant--if sporadic--progressive decisions. This trend was highlighted this week, when a far-right Serbian leader was convicted and sentenced to ten months in prison for making the death threats that led to the cancellation of Belgrade's 2009 Pride Parade.

 

James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

Of Home-grown Terror and Islam,” Marine Le Pen. The Economist, March 26, 2012.

As France comes to terms with the horrific events in Tolouse last week, presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, is deliberately and crudely confusing terrorism and immigration. The Economist’s Elysée blog considers her attack “wrongheaded” and “out of touch” with modern France. Many commentators don’t.

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare.

"Paul Ryan's Health Care Fantasy," by Jonathan Oberlander. Health Affairs blog, March 22, 2012.

There is certainly no shortage of commentary about Representative Paul Ryan's new budget proposal, which would transform Medicare and Medicaid. But Jonathan Oberlander, Associate Professor of Social Medicine and Health Policy & Management at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, provides a particularly thoughtful analysis in this blog post. "Under the misleading rubric of 'choice,'" wrote Oberlander, Ryan's budget "would shift the burden of rising costs onto elderly and disabled beneficiaries while potentially undermining the stability of traditional Medicare."

 

Elizabeth Whitman focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.

Could the Druze Minority Tip the Scales of Syria’s Revolution?” by Mona Alami. Inter Press Service, March 26, 2012

Lacking a tipping point, the conflict in Syria has steadily worsened over the course of a year, with neither the opposition nor the regime able (or willing) to end it quickly, while sanctions, peace plans and various verbal condemnations have failed to stem the violence. This article suggests that perhaps a marginal protest movement by the often forgotten Druze minority, considered the “spiritual cousins” of the Alawites that dominate the ruling regime, could help move the conflict in favor of the opposition.

The Radicalism of the Spanish Student Movement


Credit: Zoë Schlanger

In a graffiti-tagged room on the third floor of a squatted house in Madrid, 60 or so college students sat in a circle. Two girls rolled cigarettes while another announced she had found a cheap print shop for the placards. Now who could draw Merkel's face?

This was the general student assembly of Madrid, and they were planning a protest.

University assemblies like this one have cropped up since Madrid's now-iconic 15M movement exploded on the scene last summer. The three-month occupation of the city's Puerta del Sol square was born and died before the world was introduced to Occupy Wall Street. But now, in the face of Spain's soaring unemployment and severe austerity measures, the indignados' original outcry against mismanagement of the economic crisis has grown myriad indignant tentacles. Anti-foreclosure actions and protests against union-weakening labor reforms keep the city (and the country) in a seemingly perpetual state of indignation.

The student movement, though still in its early phases, is jostling for a national voice.

There was a nervous energy about the March 14 meeting. Each 20-something in the room represented assemblies of students at each of the city's five major public universities. They were in a precarious position—they planned to march through Madrid on March 27, denouncing cuts to the education budget just two days before the widely publicized general strike set for the 29th.

The strike will come a day before Mariano Rajoy, Spain's conservative prime minister, plans to announce a huge package of new austerity measures, just as the affects of the original 15 billion euros in cuts and tax raises are beginning to be felt in the education and healthcare sectors. The new budget, called for by the EU, will be more austere than those of Greece, Ireland or Portugal.

So how much attention did they want to elicit from police, two days before a national action?

Less than a month before, YouTube was inundated with videos of police swinging batons at high school protesters in Valencia, the most indebted province in Spain. Extreme austerity in the region had left Lluis Vives High School without heat or electricity for months. "They had to carry wool blankets to school," one student in Madrid told me, a particularly grim image that came up whenever the Lluis Vives story was told. "Things are about essentials now, and they were getting desperate."

The Lluis Vives students staged a walk-out and march on February 29th. Twenty-five teens were arrested and several beaten. Parents in the family-oriented province, appalled at the use of force, joined their children in a far larger protest the following day. Solidarity marches soon cropped up all over Spain, and throngs of university students took to the streets holding books and wearing green, the color that has become associated with the growing campaign.

Much like in New York, where clashes with Occupy protesters gave uninvolved citizens a new perspective on the NYPD, people in Madrid (and Spain as a whole) have become newly wary of police presence.

Some students at the assembly, aware of the viral attention commanded by the Valencia high schoolers, saw the new wariness as an opportunity. "The more the cops beat us the more people will come out for 29M. It’s the photos online that get them out," asserted a young man studying philosophy at Compultense. "But we can't all be sitting in jail for 29M, right? How would we fight for the budget?" a student from Carlos III University countered. Several hands went up in finger-wiggling agreement. There was an understanding, especially after the Lluis Vives High event, that the police would not hesitate to arrest en masse--especially if there is a chance to stymie the indignados before the general strike.

For a student in Spain, the stakes of protest are high. A university policy called 'Expediente Disciplinario,' or Expedient Discipline, could mean immediate expulsion for an arrested student, or a ban from becoming a university professor. An arrest on one's permanent record also bars one from working for the state in any capacity in Spain.

But many students say they feel they don't have much to lose. Spain's unemployment, at 23% nationally, recently broke 50% among people aged 18-26, so 'entering the job market' is something of a misnomer. Add to that new labor reforms, passed by decree last month, which ease the cost of firing employees, and the sense of insecurity is pervasive.

Many students continue to go to school, earning higher degrees (tuition in Spain is relatively low compared to its European neighbors, hovering around 1000 euros per year) while anxiously delaying the day they will need to begin job hunting.

"What you end up with is a massively over-qualified population with no opportunities," said Julia Ramírez, a doctorate student who is studying the Sol occupation in Madrid. "You end up with a lot of hopelessness."

This culture of hopelessness is deeply felt among young people in the city, most visibly during protests. Terms like "Lost Generation," and “Ni-Ni”—a disparaging title that stands for ‘Ni estudian, ni trabajan,’ a person who neither studies nor works—have been repurposed as monikers of solidarity, of belonging to a newly politicized class of economically orphaned young people.

In fact, the most powerful student organizing body in the city has reappropriated the hopelessness into a platform: Juventud Sin Futuro (literally, "Youth without Futures") is an extremely potent affinity group that began in Madrid a short time before 15M. A banner with their slogan, "Sin casa, sin curro, sin pensión, sin miedo," “without a house, without a job, without a pension, without fear,” is now a mainstay of every student protest in the city.

Juventud Sin Futuro’s actual membership is quite small—around 80 people or so, an amazingly low number given its ability to mobilize thousands of students.

Since Juventud Sin Futuro is an affinity group, its core membership, more often than not, is in political agreement. Protest-organizing happens efficiently within the group, which disseminates its calls to action through sophisticated online campaigns, prompting Juventud Sin Futuro to appear in the news on a regular basis.

"They definitely know how to use the media," Ramírez said. "But mostly it’s that they aren't lost in silly debates over small things.”

This has been a chronic problem for the university-based assemblies, which are a catch-all for most every left political preference. Things move slowly, mired in ideological conflicts and unspoken hierarchies. The Lluis Vives protest sparked a rash of activism at the university level, but the turnout is still relatively low (Compultense perhaps being the only exception). The counter though is that "without assemblies there isn't a movement. And if the assembly is too small, it isn't legitimate," said Julia Cámera, a 19-year old history student at Compultense and a spokesperson for the assembly there. She, like many others at the meeting, is part of Juventud Sin Futuro in addition to her university’s assembly.

Assembly-platform dichotomies aside, the students in Madrid have something student activists in the US are not yet equipped with. The space (both mental and physical) for radical disobedience has already been established, and the assembly that night was sitting in it: the squatted house where they held their meeting.

This okupa is one of several that dot the center of the city. These squats operate on the premise of autogestión, a word that loses key nuances in its English translation to ‘self-management.’ Based on ideas of cooperative maintenance, these houses operate as cultural centers where people give workshops on everything from bicycle repair to trapeze, cook meals and hold concerts, with little or no exchange of money. Political radicalism is central to okupa culture, and the Sol occupation of 15M was originally born from discussions held in their graffiti-tagged rooms.

The student movement in Madrid works from within that context, but has complicated the utopian trope with its own signature irate hopelessness. As precarity mounts and the “Lost Generation” struggles to find it’s footing, this combination may produce something surprising.

“They’ve opened up the possibility of collective disobedience for themselves, for their purposes,” Ramírez said. “That’s not nothing.”

 

 

 

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