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Could Working on Keystone XL Give You Cancer, Asthma?

Keystone XL protest

Demonstrators march at a Washington, DC, protest against Keystone XL in 2011 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Two prominent public health organizations are pressing the State Department to study the public health implications of the Keystone XL pipeline before reaching a decision on its approval.

“There is an increasing recognition that the environments in which people live, work, learn and play have a tremendous impact on their health,” reads a letter sent Friday to Secretary of State John Kerry by the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of County and City Health (NACCHO). “The administration will certainly benefit by having a clear understanding of how the proposed Keystone XL pipeline could impact the public’s health, including the health of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The letter asks for a “comprehensive” assessment to include a review of scientific studies regarding the health effects of processing tar sands. Those could include increases in respiratory conditions like asthma, exposure to heavy metals, cancer and occupational health and safety risks affecting workers involved in tar sands production, said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of APHA. APHA is the oldest organization of health professionals in the country, representing providers, officials, educators and policy makers. NACCHO represents 2,700 local health departments.

“It raised our concern,” Benjamin said of the pipeline proposal. “We’re not saying don’t build it, and we’re not saying do build it. We want to make sure the decision is data-driven and has a health component to it. At the end of the day, they’re going to make a decision based on a complicated set of metrics, but we think health ought to be one.”

Whom the pipeline might put at greatest risk is a question that “absolutely needs to be though about,” Benjamin added. “If they put it through communities already economically and physically, from a health perspective, devastated, there is going to be a disparate impact when something bad happens, like a pipeline leak.”

NACCHO’s associate executive director David Dyjack said health risks could arise at each step of production, from extraction to transportation to consumer use, but that how the local effects of tar sands differed from other fossil fuels production cycles is not well understood. “We are advocating for smart and informed decision making,” Dyjack said. “The uncertainty around the tar sands led us to submit the letter—why don’t we get some clarity?”

The letter from APHA and NACCH follows a similar one sent in March by National Nurses United, and a February letter from Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Sheldon Whitehouse.

“Everybody’s looking at every other issue but public health,” Boxer said on a conference call with reporters on Friday . “It’s crucial that these groups be listened to.”

Supporters of the pipeline have criticized Boxer and Whitehouse’s calls for a public health study as a delay tactic. Boxer said she wasn’t sure how long an assessment would take, but that a review of existing peer-reviewed research should be relatively simple. Whitehouse argued there is “no urgency” to bring Alberta’s tar sands oil through the United States. “The tar sands are not going anywhere,” he said. “We don’t want to be in situation where we rush now in order to regret later.”

Meanwhile, KXL’s proponent are asking the administration to speed up its decision making process. Eleven Democratic Senators sent a letter to the White House on Thursday asking the administration to approve the pipeline by May 31. The signees include Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, John Walsh of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, all facing challenging re-election races in conservative states with significant fossil fuel interests.

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Asked about the political implications of the pipeline decision, Boxer said her colleagues will “do what they have to do to represent their states well and follow their conscience. What we’re doing is just saying that, when it comes to public health and the survival of the planet, you need to pay attention to that, whether it’s an election year or an off-election year.”

“We’re already seeing misery,” Boxer said, referring to reports of high rates of cancer near production regions in Alberta, Canada, and pollution from the piles of petroleum coke, a tar sands byproduct, in several cities in the American Midwest. “There’s a lot of money and a lot of power behind [the pipeline], but I do believe at end of day people want to make sure that their kids are healthy.”

Read Next: Harvard’s fight over the university’s potential fossil fuel divestment

Why Do Bosses Want Their Employees’ Salaries to Be Secret?

Job fair

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Asking someone at a party how much they make in a year might get you a weird look. Asking someone about their salary at work might get you fired. Seem unfair? Don’t bother complaining: Washington just once again reaffirmed the boss’s inalienable right to punish workers for talking about whether they’re being treated fairly.

In a narrow vote this week, the Senate politely smothered the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have protected workers’ rights to compare and discuss their wages at work. Aimed at dismantling workplace “pay secrecy” policies, the legislation built on the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which strengthens safeguards for women and other protected groups against wage discrimination. Both measures aim to fill gaps in the enforcement of longstanding civil rights laws, which, half a century on, are still failing to combat the most insidious forms of discrimination—the subtle labor violations that grease the gears of economic inequality. Wage discrimination has persisted in large part because workers are routinely discouraged or outright banned from discussing compensation levels with coworkers.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would have shielded workers from retaliation if they discuss their salaries with coworkers. Employers would have had to “prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons,” according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. In addition, the bill would have closed disparities in the legal remedies available for violations of the Equal Pay Act, so workers could claim the same kinds of damages provided under other wage discrimination laws. And overall, workers would have had an easier time seeking compensation in federal court, rather than the bureaucracy of the National Labor Relations Board, which tends to yield weaker penalties.

The bill would also have directed the Labor Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to proactively gather data and investigate wage discrimination on a broader scale.

To partially offset the Senate defeat, President Obama signed two executive orders that placed similar mandates on federal contractors, but while that would cover a substantial chunk of the workforce, many millions of workers may remain effectively gagged at work.

Yet making pay fair is not just a matter of correcting payrolls. Despite all the handwringing on Capitol Hill around the oft-cited seventy-seven-cents-to-a-dollar figure, the restrictions of speech in the workplace attest to a more systemic power imbalance.

According to a 2003 study, “Over one-third of private sector employers…recently surveyed admitted to having specific rules prohibiting employees from discussing their pay with coworkers. In contrast, only about 1 in 14 employers have actively adopted a ‘pay openness’ policy,” which explicitly protects workplace discussion of wages. A 2011 survey estimated that 50 percent of workers are subject to some kind of restriction on discussing their pay with coworkers—slightly more women than men, with the largest concentration among private sector workers (about 60 percent, compared to less than 20 percent of public workers). The gaps vary along demographic lines: women workers, single parents and married childless women tend to face higher rates of these secrecy controls than do married mothers. And although civil servants generally had far lower rates of pay secrecy, the practice was more prevalent among women in the public sector.


(Courtesy: Institute for Women’s Policy Research)

Many of these workers will never even know that they’ve unfairly benefited from or suffered from unequal pay. Ultimately, the big winner in this game of secrecy is the boss, who profits directly from the ignorance and pliability of workers who don’t grasp their own economic situation.

So there’s a gap between what’s fair and what’s legal. Discussing wages in a private workplace isn’t technically covered by any First Amendment guarantee against censorship, but the issue of pay secrecy raises crucial questions about workers’ freedom to learn and communicate about their labor conditions.

In unionized workplaces, where there is additional protection for organizing-related activities, the National Labor Relations Board and the civil courts have consistently sided with workers, ruling that under the National Labor Relations Act, wage discussions should be considered “concerted activity for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

Marianne DelPo Kulow, a Bentley University law professor who has researched wage discrimination, explains via e-mail that the right to discuss pay generally hinges on federal labor law, not the Constitution, per se:

This right is premised not on the First Amendment but instead on the notion that workers are in the best position to know whether their employer is following the law and so such conversations not only protect workers but also ensure enforcement of workplace laws and regulations.

But of course, the perennial chicken and egg dilemma is that workers are reluctant to seek this knowledge, or simply are unaware, or in denial, that they might be getting cheated.

Lily Ledbetter had been a loyal employee of Goodyear Tires for nearly two decades before she discovered she had been underpaid for years. What angered her most wasn’t the lost pay but the betrayal of her economic dignity.

“When I was hired they let me know that if I discussed my pay, I wouldn’t have a job. So I had no way to know,” she said in a 2012 interview on One Thing New. When the 60-year-old Alabama mother realized (thanks to an anonymous tip) that she had been paid less as a plant supervisor than male coworkers, she recalled, “I felt devastated. Humiliated…. It just really made me sort of sick that all this time I had been getting awards and being told I was doing a great job, and no one had ever said I wasn’t making what I should be. I had no idea how much less.”

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Employers have defended their restraints on workplace speech as a business prerogative, as if payscales were “trade secrets,” or by suggesting that too much disclosure leads to “jealousies and strife among employees.”

In other words, if workers really knew what their bosses were doing, their anger would start to unravel the complacency, along with ingrained fear and anxiety, that employers use to keep their labor obedient and their production chains running smoothly.

The struggle for fair pay isn’t captured in wage statistics; it’s part of a struggle against the asymmetry of knowledge that divides management and labor—and fundamentally, a struggle for a democratic workplace. In the economic superstructure, the real depths of of the wealth gap are not between coworkers but between workers and the CEOs on top. Yet those stunning inequalities are not contemplated in any legal concept of “paycheck fairness.” Workers are, of course, trained to view such inequalities as central pillars of the corporate edifice, just as society has normalized the interlocking inequalities in race and gender that are plainly on display in our communities and workplaces every day.

Whether we’re cheated through clandestine wage discrimination, or facing institutionalized racial and gender segregation, we’re surrounded by reasons for “jealousy and strife”—all hiding in plain sight. But the core social mechanics that drive inequality at all levels of the economy are not so visible, thanks to the rules that enforce our collective blindness.

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter asks, “What’s the GOP’s Excuse for Opposing Equal Pay This Time?

Why Is Northwestern Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald Playing the Union Buster?

Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

The first thing you have to understand are the power dynamics that exist inside of a college football locker room. The football coach is Zeus, God of Thunder. He—and it is always he—does not just determine your playing time, your media exposure and your overall status in the group. He also determines whether or not your scholarship will last past the year. You go to school at his pleasure. In the best-case scenarios you are gifted a benevolent despot. In the worst, he never lets you forget the power he holds over your head.

Enter Pat Fitzgerald, the esteemed coach of the Northwestern football team. The former star Wildcats player has led his team to a 55-46 record during his time in charge. Fitzgerald has played the role of school ambassador, rainmaker and recruiter. His team wins and his players graduate. Now, however, he is playing another role, that of union buster. Northwestern Wildcat football players are due to vote on April 25 about whether to formally unionize, following the earthshaking National Labor Relations Board ruling that stated they were in fact not student-athletes but employees at the school, and Fitzgerald is on a full-court press to prevent that from happening. Although it is against the law for him and his staff to openly threaten players who want to vote union, Fitzgerald is lobbying hard to make sure that a no-vote takes place in two weeks.

As he said publicly, “I believe it’s in their best interests to vote no. With the research that I’ve done, I’m going to stick to the facts and I’m going to do everything in my power to educate our guys. Our university is going to do that. We’ll give them all the resources they need to get the facts.” [my emphasis]

It is unclear what “facts” Fitzgerald is trafficking in, but one wonders if included in his antiunion truth kit is the fact that Fitzgerald is the school’s highest-paid employee, with a salary of $2.2 million per year. He is the first sports coach to ever be the highest-paid employee in school history. Another fact is that Fitzgerald received a $2.5 million loan from the school upon signing his last contract. The players, meanwhile, are asking for a seat at the table and an extension of health and educational guarantees. Even if they vote yes, there will be years of appeals. In fact, Northwestern filed suit on Friday, to appeal the original NLRB ruling. Yet despite all of this, it is too much for the ball coach to abide.

Why is Fitzgerald, a former player, pushing back so hard against the efforts to unionize? Is it pressure from the NCAA, which sees unionization as a threat, in its own words, to “blow up” its entire operation? Is it those in power on a Northwestern University campus that has been hostile to any kind of on-campus organizing? Is it pressure from well-heeled alumni who are being very public about why the players need to vote no? Does Fitzgerald simply not want to break the time-honored power dynamic in a college locker room of Coach as God? Maybe it is as simple as the words of ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson who said, “Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald is now in the position of being an employer whose employees are entitled to vote on whether to unionize.” Like so many bosses, maybe he does not want his workers to have a seat at the table. Clearing the table, maybe, but not a seat.

Whatever the backroom reasons, they are collectively less important than his influence. Since Fitzgerald has started to flex his muscle, a team that almost unanimously signed cards to apply for union membership now has numerous players speaking out publicly against the April 25 vote. Despite this, former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who was leading this struggle before his graduation, is confident that April 25 will go their way. I was at an event with Kain Colter at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, last week. He acknowledged that the players are under pressure to vote no, but still felt a strong degree of confidence that the vote would go their way. Colter said, “I think it’s tough when you have some criticism that they’ve got. Some people came down [on the players], hollered, and even people within the Northwestern alumni base. That’s obviously tough, but I think they are strong and they still believe in the issue.” Colter believes, with unblinking self-assurance that the basic message they carried will win out over any efforts at intimidation. “I’m very confident,” he said. “All it boils down to is do you want to vote for having rights or not.”

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Whether or not the Northwestern football team votes “yes,” this issue is not going anywhere. The NLRB has still cleared the way to organize at other private universities. As Ned Resnikoff reported, state legislatures are at work trying to either make this ruling apply to public universities (Connecticut) or block its extension (Ohio). The issue is not going anywhere because the system itself is manifestly unjust, and Northwestern’s efforts to strangle this movement in the crib will fail. Pat Fitzgerald is a fine coach. He should stick to coaching and get out of the union-busting business.

Read Next: Dave Zirin talks sports mascots with members of Idle No More.

The World Bank’s Waste of Energy

Cambodian villager

A woman in rural Cambodia uses a wood burning stove to cook. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme—like carbon trading—to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The UN established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM. First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a UN-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013. There was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the Rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in African and “least developed” countries (LDCs) by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments”—in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the program seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families. The bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one program—the readiness fund—to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers. The initiative has a second program—the carbon fund—to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The bank says it is prioritizing support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management. Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A Better Approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

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A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind and small-scale hydropower projects. The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean. It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Read Next: Alec Luhn writes about whether the IMF bailout will turn Ukraine into another Greece.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 4/11/2014?

Vanishing ice caps

A NASA satellite image shows the state of Arctic sea ice. (Reuters/NASA)

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.

The Problem with Counting,” by Jennifer Pan. Dissent, April 3, 2014.

Jennifer Pan’s take on the VIDA count—which lists, annually, the ratio of male-to-female bylines at major publications (e.g., The Nation’s overall 2013 VIDA count was 478:179… smh)—simultaneously indicts the literary old guard (and much of the new guard) for their perennially dude-heavy mastheads, while also explaining why such inventories are an inadequate, even counterproductive, means of measuring equality in journalism. The problem with the “numbers game,” i.e., judging the media establishment’s inclusivity on the basis of the number of female or black or queer writers who have bylines, is that it tends to “transform media inequality from a structural problem to an individual one.” So long as the very lowest rungs of the publishing world—where un- or under-paid internships still reign—are only available to people with economic privilege, prestigious college degrees and access to the networks of literary power, writers with those advantages will be overrepresented in the pool of candidates for jobs, and writing opportunities, at the top. Counting bylines, Pan suggests, addresses only the symptoms of a deeply embedded institutional disease—substituting “a politics of shaming for a politics of redistribution.” Of course we should hold editors accountable for hiring a diversity of writers—just as we should hold colleges accountable for admitting a diversity of students—but we must never mistake achieving parity at the top for the real work of building fundamentally egalitarian institutions, from the ground up.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

“How Children’s Books Fuel Mascot Stereotypes,” by Aura Bogado. Colorlines, April 7, 2014.

Growing up as a sports fan outside of Atlanta, Georgia, I encountered racist images of Native Americans every summer when I would go see the Atlanta Braves play baseball: the tomahawk chop, Chief Noc-A-Homa, the war chant. These encounters informed my ideas of Native Americans and their culture just as much as the brief asides in school dedicated to versions of “American” and “European” history that were far more concerned with the accomplishments of powerful white men than with the indigenous people. However, after reading Aura Bogado’s recent piece for Colorlines, I realized that I probably encountered these images at a far younger age, while learning to read as a child. In the piece, Bogado interviews Debbie Reese, an academic, blogger and tribally enrolled Pueblo Indian from Nambe Pueblo who studies children’s literature. Reese mentions images in popular children’s fiction as fueling the same stereotypes manifested in racist mascots and sports teams. Some of my favorite childhood series were guilty: The Berenstain Bears and Clifford the Big Red Dog, among others.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

The Tipping System Is a Scam—And Here are Six Ways to Game It,” by Alice Robb. The New Republic, April 2, 2013.

This article has an unfortunate title: it lays out six studies that have revealed the cruelly arbitrary factors that tipped workers’ income depends on. Among the things that will reliably and significantly increase the tips workers receive are: having blond hair, wearing red and drawing smiley faces on customers’ receipts. The idea that servers’ pay depends primarily on how competent their service is is a joke. Unless, of course, we consider the emotional labor and “beauty labor” they do to be part of their job, which, of course, it ends up being: as in many feminized occupations, much of the work that is required of the workers goes unrecognized. We should read this article in the context of the recent movement to end the “tip credit” (which allows tipped workers to be paid far below minimum wage) and also in the context of other recent work on women’s labor—I thought this article about egg donation and this one about women in the media were particularly interesting, this week. But mostly, we should focus on the first half of the title, and take inspiration from the nascent anti-tipping movement the article identifies, rather than resign ourselves to trying to game it with dye-jobs and the simulation of happiness.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

How Politics Makes Us Stupid,” by Ezra Klein. Vox, April 6, 2014.

It’s important to read things you disagree with, but also to engage with initially unpalatable ideas on a non-superficial level: this is both the thesis of Klein’s article and my reason for reading it. Data-driven news, the idea behind Klein’s Vox Media and this piece, operates under the assumption that there’s some objective truth accessible through a few uncontroversial basic axioms of thought—namely, a strong faith in the natural and social sciences. Klein’s piece is both a plug for data journalism and an attempt at explaining why people don’t use “facts” to get the right answer, but to get the answer that they want to be right. (Surprise!) For example, he cites a study that asked people whether a certain scientist was indeed an expert on an issue; and it turned out that people’s actual definition of “expert” is “a credentialed person who agrees with me.” Sure, pathos often triumphs over logos when it comes to politics and ideology. But Klein’s article is an epistemological failure—can you really prove the objectivity of data journalism by, um, using data journalism?

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

Contesting the U.S. Constitution through State Amendments: The 2011 and 2012 Elections,” by Sean Beienburg. Political Science Quarterly, Spring 2014.

In this thorough look at recent state-level challenges to federal constitutional law, Beienburg evokes archetypal questions about US federalism. The thirty-page article features sections on abortion, race and voting, eminent domain, guns, gay marriage, healthcare, religion, campaign funding and marijuana.

Should citizens be able to vote on laws if they directly challenge federal constitutional law? Can states expand positive rights? What’s a positive right? Should federal power be based primarily in commerce? (Remember, the federal government’s power to desegregate lunch counters and enforce the Clean Water Act derives from the Commerce Clause.) Will we define federal floor protections on which states can build? How will we determine if states violate those floors? When should federal law be a ceiling? What’s the difference between nullifying federal marijuana law and nullifying the Voting Rights Act?

Regarding eminent domain, it’s interesting that Beienburg labels folks who challenge the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. New London decision as conservative. Progressives too are skeptical of granting private property to developers, miners or pipe layers who profess merely to increase tax revenue. Do liberals shy away from these fights because they think challenging federal power is a slippery slope?

Surprisingly, I appreciate Representative Mike Coffman’s (R-CO) approach to legalizing marijuana in his home state. Beienburg says, “Coffman…opposed Colorado’s amendment but backed his constituents’ right to do so.”

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups’ relationship with technology and development.

What the IRS’s Taxation Ruling Means for Bitcoin and Other Digital Currencies,” by Kyle Chayka. Pacific Standard, April 9, 2014.

Some people hope that digital currencies eventually will help promote greater global equality, encouraging sustainable habits and increasing access for the poor in countries lacking stable banking and currency systems. That dream is pretty far away from realization, and certainly not all Bitcoin users have that apparently altruistic focus. But in the meantime, the US government has moved to bring Bitcoin into a more (in theory) steady system of wealth sharing: taxation. The government’s decision to treat bitcoins as a commodity rather than a currency and tax them as capital gains rather than income is not the most redistributive option. And the system also allows capital loss deductions for Bitcoin, raising the question, Chayka notes, “What happens when deductible capital losses in digital currencies start functioning as a form of money laundering?” So Bitcoin’s ultimate effect on inequality is still unclear, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

Letter from the Archive: The Genocide in Rwanda,” by Philip Gourevitch. The New Yorker, April 4, 2014.

Genocides, Remembered and Forgotten,” by George Packer. The New Yorker, April 8, 2014.

Genocide’s aftermath draws out the extremes of idealism and cynicism: idealism in the hope that the freshest incarnation of systemic mass murder will finally give the world its “never again” moment, cynicism because I know it doesn’t work that way. The mechanics of genocide—the approval, overt or tacit, from someone, something, higher up—allow morality to be cast aside without even preliminary thought. The horrors of the past cannot sway a mind freed from considering right and wrong.

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. To commemorate the event, The New Yorker asked Philip Gourevitch to select and comment on some of the pieces he wrote for the magazine immediately following the genocide and in the decade or so that followed. The act of remembering is important. But not every genocide has made the same imprint on the public consciousness, George Packer reminds us as he writes about the trials of former Khmer Rouge officials who participated in Cambodia’s genocide.

Those that engage in the act of remembering are not always those that need it most. But we all need the reminder—even if only to balance our own moral centers—monsters often aren’t monsters, but people who give away their moral agency.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Call climate change what it is: violence,” by Rebecca Solnit. The Guardian, April 7 2014.

My take on the most recent IPCC report on climate change is a pessimistic one, albeit also probably fairly accurate: in short, we’re f*#@ed. The projections of how global warming will impact global health offer some insight into my sentiment. The World Health Organization estimates that health costs stemming from climate change will amount to $2-4 billion a year by 2030. This graphic artfully displays some other harrowing figures: 20-25 million more children will be undernourished by 2050, already 40,000 annual deaths can be attributed to climate change and one in eight deaths worldwide is linked to air pollution. Climate change is killing people, notably the poorest among us.

The IPCC report, and climate change generally, has not experienced a dearth of media attention, but no one conveys my sentiment better than Solnit. She calls climate change what it is: an egregious and sustained violence committed by the wealthy on the poor. She is angry, as we all should be: climate change and its effects are a function of inequality and corporate greed. That anger needs to be harnessed if there is going to be any movement on climate change, be it by forcing our government and industry to adopt greener technologies or pay reparations to poor countries who bear the brunt of the burden.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

How Nigeria Became Africa’s Largest Economy Overnight,” by Uri Friedman. The Atlantic, April 7, 2013.

Nigeria’s economy nearly doubled in size on Sunday, outpacing South Africa’s and catching up to Belgium. “As days go, it was a good one,” writes The Atlantic’s global editor Uri Friedman. But, as he explains, the overnight miracle has less to do with spontaneous, hyper-rapid economic development as it does with correcting for a longstanding measurement error. After twenty-four years, the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics updated its metrics for calculating gross domestic product (GDP)—a process known as “rebasing,” which in wealthier countries happens every few years. With thriving sectors like the country’s film industry, Nollywood, and the explosion of cell phone use taken into account, Nigeria’s economy is worth $510 billion, making it the twenty-sixth largest in the world. This numerical shift on paper has real world implications: a higher GDP means Nigeria is no longer eligible for certain kinds of development aid; it also makes the country more attractive to foreign investors. On the global stage, Nigeria can now contend for membership to political groupings like the G-20, the BRICS and the UN Security Council. It’s important to note that GDP only tells us so much and is far from a perfect gauge of societal wellbeing; the cheery statistical revelation about Nigeria’s overall economic health does little for the growing number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty. As the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano cuttingly put it, “In our countries, numbers live better than people.”

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

Chicago decriminalized marijuana possession—but not for everyone,” by Mick Dumke. The Chicago Reader, April 7, 2014.

In this piece for The Chicago Reader, Mick Dumke shows the failures of Chicago’s attempt to reform its marijuana laws, replacing possible prison time for possession of under fifteen grams with a ticketing system. The article makes good use of statistics and data to show how racial profiling has not diminished under these policies and has in some areas become even more severe. He also extends a sympathetic ear to the policemen and women who work these beats and who express their discomfort with the policies that they are expected to enforce. While the piece may seem like old news to some, Dumke’s mix of dogged reporting and statistics research proves a powerful indictment of superficial approaches to drug reform.

Read Next: Intern Sam Adler-Bell on workers and students who fought back against exploitative hotel management, and won.

Stephen Colbert Gets Letterman’s Job—and Right-Wingers Freak Out

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert at the &lquo;Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear&rquo; on the National Mall in Washington, DC (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Yes, many wanted a woman to break the old- and older-boy network late night line-up, but the news from CBS that Stephen Colbert, as rumored, would take David Letterman’s seat next year brought general applause or at least acceptance—except from many conservatives he had long parodied or mocked on his current show.

They got a true “Colbert” bump—and didn’t like it. Apparently his satire has hit too close to the bone. On Letterman’s ex-show, however, he has vowed to just be himself, not a right-wing blowhard.

Meanwhile, reacting to the Letterman news late last night: Jon Stewart opened The Daily Show with the Colbert news, a clip (the famous gay-banana crack-up), and other exclamations about this “wild” day. He recalled the difficulty in not cracking up on air when Stephen was doing his bits on Jon’s show. “The exciting news,” he concluded, “is I no longer need a cable subscription to enjoy Stephen Colbert.” (This was generous, as Stewart helped create and has a financial stake in the outgoing Colbert Report.)

Then he paid tribute to Letterman as the “best” TV host there ever was but claimed Stephen is “up to the challenge… There’s no greater joy than to see a genuinely good man get the success he deserves.” He added that he looks forward to seeing Colbert’s name on marquee of the Ed Sullivan theater.

Then Colbert opened his show by deadpanning that he’ll miss Letterman on the air now. He has watched him since college and “he influenced every host who came after him, and some who came before. And I tell you, I do not envy anyone they try to put in that chair. Those are some big shoes to fill—and some really big pants.”

Meanwhile, on the right, as Salon reported:

While many people responded to the news with pleasure and excitement, right-wing talk-radio king Rush Limbaugh was quick to offer his two cents, saying that Colbert’s hiring was a declaration of war on the American “heartland” by CBS.

And as a perusal of the right-wing Twitter community shows, Limbaugh was hardly the only conservative to greet Colbert’s promotion with anger and dismay. Indeed, the sentiment on the right in response to the news can be summarized like so: Stephen Colbert’s being chosen to succeed David Letterman shows that liberal media bias is real. And, also too, Colbert’s not funny, anyway.

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Ben Shapiro offered a typical view from those quarters: “Colbert? Really? Why not just wait until President Obama is out of office and hire him to replace Letterman directly?”

And just because it never gets old: here’s that classic Colbert putdown of the media and President Bush (to his face) at the White House Correspondents dinner:

Read Next: Stephen Colbert points out the absurdities of lethal injection secrecy laws.

Sam Who?

In a recent post we discussed using names in clues. Of course, names may also appear in the diagram, which raises more delicate concerns. Solver Alwyn Eades writes:

I concede that setting a cryptic crossword is very hard, especially when it is for a weekly, rather than one which is to be solved in a day. So I am in admiration of Kosman and Picciotto. Nonetheless, I feel that they have got steadily further off track. Too many of their clues now are not verbal games but tests of general knowledge. That is not what I want from a puzzle; I could play Trivial Pursuit for that. I am particularly concerned that the knowledge required (I would imagine, not being young myself) is unlikely to be within the memories of young people (Sam Spade, Satchmo—to give examples from the last two weeks). Surely the last thing the Nation needs is to discourage young readers.

In theory, we certainly agree with Mr. Eades that the point of cryptic crosswords is wordplay, and not tests of general knowledge. What makes this difficult to carry out in practice is that words have meanings, and not all solvers share the same cultural lexicon.

As solvers, we encountered this all the time in Frank Lewis’s puzzles. Here is one example: h expected his solvers to know that “ties pay the dealer” is a coherent phrase. We were able to solve the corresponding clue because the wordplay told us to anagram “leader.” We would have been completely in the dark about why that was correct, if it weren’t for a friend who is a Gilbert and Sullivan expert. (The phrase appears in Iolanthe.) A subsequent Web search revealed that this is the standard phrasing of a blackjack rule. Certainly gamblers would know this, but how many Nation solvers are gamblers? Still, we were not bitter about it: we appreciated the opportunity to learn something new.

Satchmo and Sam Spade are easy to confirm by asking a friend or a search engine. The key for us as constructors of the Nation puzzle is that if an entry may be unfamiliar to many, the wordplay for it should be straightforward. We can’t guarantee we’ll always get that balance right, of course, but we try. And we hope that a youngster who has never heard of Louis Armstrong but has to enter an anagram of STOMACH in a diagram given S_T_H_O will be able to sort it out by trying to get the A, C, and M into the word in a way that makes it pronounceable.

Mr. Eades is not the first to complain about our choice of cultural references. People have objected to mentions of pop music, sports and mathematics, to name three areas of human knowledge we have drawn from. All we can do is vary the references, so that we expand everyone’s horizons equally. (Or offend everyone equally!) What we cannot do is limit ourselves to a lowest-common-denominator vocabulary, as that would make the puzzle boring for The Nation’s highly literate readership.

This week’s cluing challenge: Can you to come up with a cryptic clue for HORIZONS? Please share here. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And here are four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle.

DOJ Blasts Albuquerque Police Department’s ‘Culture of Unjustifiable Aggression’

Albuquerque Police

This screenshot shows the scene at Albuquerque foothills, just moments before officers fatally shot James Boyd, a homeless veteran.

Albuquerque police officers have engaged in a pattern of excessive force, too often using firearms and tasers against people who pose little to no danger, many of whom are mentally ill, according to a scathing review by the US Justice Department released Thursday.

On top of the troubling rate of excessive force incidents, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officers involved rarely face any sort of accountability for their actions, the report finds.

A review of deadly use of force incidents found that the majority of the twenty fatal shootings involving officers from 2009 to 2012 were unconstitutional. APD officers have shot thirty-seven people since 2010, a higher rate than NYPD officers, who cover a city sixteen times larger.

Albuquerque police officers also often use less-lethal force, such as tasers and takedown procedures, in ways that are unconstitutional. The review highlights a 2009 case where officers tased a man after he had poured gasoline on himself, setting him on fire.

The report blames “systemic deficiencies” for the high rate of excessive force incidents, chiefly the Albuquerque Police Department’s “failure to implement an objective and rigorous internal accountability system.”

In reviewing 200 police reports, federal investigators found that about one-third of the reports involved unreasonable uses of force. In contrast, APD only identified one percent from the same sample as unreasonable uses of force.

Inadequate training, poor leadership and a “culture of unjustifiable aggression” also contributed to the department’s excessive force problems, the report’s authors write.

“We are very concerned by the results of our investigation and look forward to working with the city of Albuquerque to develop a set of robust and durable reforms,” said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement. “Public trust has been broken in Albuquerque, but it can be repaired through this process.”

The report comes amid mounting frustration over the Albuquerque Police Department’s aggressive tactics, erupting last month in heated protests in the city streets. Demonstrators were reacting to a video showing APD officers fatally shooting a mentally ill, homeless man who had his back turned to the officers when shots were fired.

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“The city breathes a sigh of relief this morning that the DOJ review justified a lot of community concerns,” said Patrick Davis, a former police officer who serves as executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico. “The community needs assurance that officers are trained and experienced and can demonstrate an appropriate use of force.”

Other city police departments, including those in Detroit and Seattle, have been subjected to federal oversight after Justice Department reviews. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has already asked the city for $1 million to comply with any potential reforms resulting from the federal investigation.

 

Read Next: How a receipt helped free a wrongfully convicted man after more than twenty-four years in prison.

How Likely Is War Between NATO and Russia?

Russian soldier

Armed servicemen wait outside Russian army vehicles in the Crimean town of Balaclava March 1, 2014. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Could next week’s meeting with leaders from the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine de-escalate regional tensions and reduce the likelihood of war? Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen appears on the John Batchelor Show to weigh in on the implications of diplomatic talks, Western media coverage of the crisis and Ukraine’s identity issues. “If in fact you have an ultranationalist movement taking over Western Ukraine, a pro-Russian movement taking over Eastern Ukraine, that is a kind of de facto partition of the country already,” which means, says Cohen, “the government in Kiev doesn’t control anything, neither west nor east.”
—Corinne Grinapol