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Sharif Abdel Kouddous’ Exclusive Interview with Recently Freed Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah

Alaa Abd El-Fattah

After being released on bail following a 115-day detention, Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah sat down for an exclusive interview with Nation Institute fellow and Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo on Sunday. Kouddous, who has chronicled Alaa’s persecution by Egyptian leadership for The Nation, spoke to the activist about his most recent arrest, his experience in solitary confinement and the military government's ongoing crackdown on dissent. Alaa still faces charges and tells Kouddous it's "quite likely" that he’ll be convicted and imprisoned again. "They are on a sentencing frenzy," he says, explaining that Egypt’s new protest law makes it easier to charge protesters. "It’s almost as if it’s a war on a whole generation." 
Justine Drennan

Editor’s note: The interview starts at 14:43

Under Putin, Russia Is Acting a Lot Like the US

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin in Moscow in 2012. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The punditry is having such a good time blaming Putin for war-like moves against his neighbors, one hesitates to interrupt their fun with a few hard facts. But our desktop warriors seem to be lost in nostalgic amnesia. David Brooks laments that Putin has destroyed the so-called post-Cold War peace. The guy from National Review says Putin has taken the world back to the great power wars of the 19th century. Even President Obama indulged in a bit of self-righteous forgetfulness—he found a way to say something good about our unilateral “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq.

Let’s review the bidding here. No one in the world can match our bloody record for unprovoked assaults on other nations to remove their governments (unless you count Hitler). Sometimes we invaded with armies, sometimes we sent in the CIA to topple governments we didn’t like. Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953; Arbenz in Guatamala in 1954; Allende in Chile in 1973; Hussein in Iraq in 2003.

Stephen Kinzer, former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and author of Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, counted fourteen governments that were brought down by American forces. He did not count a lot of countries like Indonesia, Brazil and Congo where US agents were involved but only played subsidiary roles. Sometimes, they assassinated the leader. Sometimes, they exiled him.

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Of all the commentaries I’ve seen, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius was perhaps closest to acknowledging the hypocrisy of Americans who beat up on Putin for doing what American presidents have done repeatedly for years. Putin grabbed Crimea. The US bombed the crap out of Serbia to make Serbians give Kosovo its independence. The Soviets imposed cruel oppression on eastern Europe. Ronald Reagan launched a semi-secret army, the Contras, against the leftwing government of Nicaragua. The US had invaded Nicaragua fifty years earlier and killed their leader Sandino. Washington did not ask for permission. Nobody apologized afterwards. The US claimed this power for reasons not very different from Putin’s.

What’s alarming to me is American hypocrisy and facile forgetfulness. A bipartisan “war party” has dominated the US government since the dawn of the Cold War but its hawks do not seem to understand that things have changed for the US, too. Like Russia, the United States is not as powerful as it used to be. Yet it still has secret agents and soldiers spread around the world in scores of countries, looking for bad guys to take out, ready to start a fight. The amnesia and arrogance are perhaps our gravest danger.

 

Read Next: Paul Rosenberg on America’s dirty little Ukraine secret

How to Vote Against the Koch Brothers

Charles G. Koch

Charles G. Koch. (AP Photo/ Mike Burley)

The Koch Brothers don't actually run for office—at least not since David Koch's amusingly ambitious 1980 bid for the vice presidency on a Libertarian Party ticket that proposed the gutting of corporate taxes, the minimum wage, occupational health and safety oversight, environmental protections and Social Security.

That project, while exceptionally well-funded for a third-party campaign, secured just 1.06 percent of the vote. The Kochs determined it would be easier to fund conservative campaigns than to pitch the program openly. Initially, the project was hampered by what passed for campaign-finance rules and regulations, to the frustration of David Koch, who once told The New Yorker, "We'd like to abolish the Federal Elections Commission and all the limits on campaign spending anyway."

The FEC still exists. But the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v FEC and the general diminution of campaign finance rules and regulations has cleared the way for David Koch and his brother Charles to play politics as they choose. And they are playing hard—especially in Wisconsin, a state where they have made supporting and sustaining the governorship of Scott Walker a personal priority.

Two years ago, David Koch said of Walker: "We're helping him, as we should. We've gotten pretty good at this over the years. We've spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We're going to spend more." The Palm Beach Post interview in which that quote appeared explained, "By 'we' he says he means Americans for Prosperity," the group the Kochs have used as one of their prime vehicles for political engagement in the states.

AFP and its affiliates are expanding their reach this year, entering into fights at the local level where their big money can go far—and where the Koch Brothers can influence the process from the ground up.

As Walker prepares to seek a second term. AFP is clearing the way in supposedly nonpartisan county board and school board races that will occur Tuesday.

Consider the case of Iron County. Elections in the northern Wisconsin county have always been down-home affairs: an ad in the Iron County Miner newspaper, some leaflets dropped at the door, maybe a hand-painted yard sign.

This year, however, that’s changed. Determined to promote a controversial mining project—and, presumably, to advance Walker’s agenda—AFP has waded into Tuesday’s competition for control of the Iron County Board.

With dubious “facts” and over-the-top charges, the Wisconsin chapter of the Koch Brothers-backed group is pouring money into the county—where voter turnout in spring elections rarely tops 1,500—for one of the nastiest campaigns the region has ever seen. Small-business owners, farmers and retirees who have asked sensible questions about the impact of major developments on pristine lakes, rivers, waterfalls and tourism are being attacked as “anti-mining radicals” who “just want to shut the mines down, no matter what.”

Iron County is debating whether to allow new mining, not whether to shut mines down. And many of the candidates that AFP is ripping into have simply said they want to hear from all sides.

But those details don’t matter in the new world of Big Money politics ushered in by US Supreme Court rulings that have cleared the way for billionaires and corporations to buy elections.

Most of the attention to money in politics focuses on national and state races. But the best bargains for billionaires are found at the local level—where expenditures in the thousands can overwhelm the pocket-change campaigns of citizens who run for county boards, city councils and school boards out of a genuine desire to serve and protect their community.

That’s why it is important to pay attention to Tuesday’s voting in Iron County—and in communities such as Kenosha, where the group has waded into local school board races. The Kenosha contest goes to the core issues of recent struggles over collective-bargaining rights in Wisconsin, pitting candidates who are willing to work with teachers and their union in a historically pro-labor town versus contenders who are being aided by the Koch Brothers contingent in Wisconsin.

But it is equally important to pay attention to the efforts by citizens, working at the local level, to upend the big money and to restore politics of, by and for the people.

The month of March started with a grassroots rebellion in New Hampshire, where dozens of towns called on their elected representatives to work to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn the high court's Citizens United decision.

On Tuesday, the same day the Kochs are meddling in local elections in the state, communities across the state will vote to get money out of politics.

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Clean-politics advisory referendums are on ballots across Wisconsin. Belleville, DeForest, Delavan, Edgerton, Elkhorn, Lake Mills, Shorewood, Waterloo, Waukesha, Waunakee, Wauwatosa, Whitefish Bay and Windsor will have an opportunity to urge their elected representatives to support an amendment to restore the authority of local, state and national officials to establish campaign finance rules ensuring that votes matter more than dollars. The initiative is backed by groups like Move to Amend and United Wisconsin. “The unlimited election spending by special-interest groups, allowed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, has drowned out the voices of ordinary people,” says United Wisconsin Executive Director Lisa Subeck. “Urgent action is needed to restore our democracy to the hands of the people.”

That urgency is especially real in rural communities—places like Iron County. That's why the Wisconsin Farmers Union is calling for a “yes” vote. “Citizens of all political stripes—Republicans, Democrats and independents—agree that we need to curb the corrupting influence of money in politics,” says WFU Executive Director Tom Quinn. “Voting yes…will send a clear message that we the people are ready to take back our democracy.”

 

Read Next: John Nichols on New Hampshire's corporate personhood and Citizens United referendums.

Could This Tax on Wall Street Turn Back America’s Tide of Inequality?

Members of National Nurses United demonstrate in support of the Robin Hood Tax.

Members of National Nurses United demonstrate in support of the Robin Hood Tax (Courtesy of National Nurses United)

How will you honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this April 4, the anniversary of his assassination? How about by demanding that Congress get out of Wall Street’s pocket? How about by letting your representative know that you support economic equality and a just distribution of wealth in America? As Dr. King himself said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”

Still, forty-six years after Dr. King’s murder, the gulf between haves and have-nots is wider than ever. During the 2009–10 recovery, for example, incomes for one-percenters rose by 11.6 percent, while everyone else saw theirs grow by 0.2 percent. Worse still, too many in Congress are colluding with the haves to make sure things stay that way. Our nation’s capital, both political and monetary is moving in the wrong direction.

On April 4, 2014, you can make your voice be heard by participating in a nationwide series of demonstrations in favor of HR 1579, Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) Inclusive Prosperity Act, a financial transaction—or Robin Hood—tax. Organized in part by National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional organization for registered nurses, the April 4th action will target twenty-five members of Congress in eleven states by staging vigils at the legislators’ home offices in their districts. The message of the vigils is simple: Pass the Robin Hood Tax. After all, Ellison asks, “Didn’t America step up to the plate when Wall Street needed help?” And as I wrote two years ago, “Wall Street owes us.”  

“We need to have real revenue, not just have one austerity measure after another,” says Charles Idelson, Communications Director for National Nurses United. “The last thing the American people need is more austerity. Much of the country is still in a recession.” That revenue might be found in a Robin Hood Tax.

Idelson points out that while you and I pay a sales tax on our daily transactions (AK, DE, MT, NH, and OR excepted), Wall Street pays nothing on speculative transactions (some of which can take as little as 3 milliseconds to complete). Robin Hood taxes those trades, to the tune of as much as $350 billion per year. Why Wall Street? Idelson invokes bank robber Willie Sutton: “A truly equitable society is the burning issue of our time. If we’re ever going to tackle this, we’ve got to have additional revenue. We should go where the money is. Wall Street was rewarded for trashing our economy with bailouts and bonuses. The Robin Hood Tax puts a requirement on them to put a little bit back into society.”

Your voice matters, and your participation can be powerful. It’s high time to question the inevitability of Wall Street and Congress’s friends-with-benefits relationship.

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And there is cause for cautious optimism. Recently, Robin Hood Tax proponents found some ammunition in an unlikely place: Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman of House Ways and Means Committee. Within his larger tax-reform plan, Camp has proposed a 0.035 percent quarterly tax on bank assets for institutions with assets in excess of $500 billion (i.e., the too-big-to-fail fraternity).

The takeaway here is not so much the tax itself (which is part of a generally undesirable slate of proposals), but the fact that it derives from a GOP congressman. “For FTT supporters,” says Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies, “this creates an opportunity to say that there is bipartisan support for taxing the financial sector.” Unlike the Robin Hood Tax, Camp’s proposal taxes assets, not transactions, but still, Anderson points out, “[I]t’s the first time we’ve had Republican support for increasing financial sector taxation.” That Wall Street hates it is a good sign: Goldman Sachs even canceled a GOP fundraiser in protest.

So this April 4, join the nation’s nurses and demand that America commit to Dr. King’s ideals. Petition your representative to support HR 1579. We can achieve economic justice in this country, but only if we put forth the same broad, sustained effort that Wall Street uses to get its way. It doesn’t have to be just the banks that are too big to fail.

Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Fearless Idealism of Jonathan Schell.

De Blasio Wins and Loses in Albany Budget Battle

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Bill de Blasio got what he needed out of the state budget that was unveiled over the weekend: $300 million a year over five years to run a universal prekindergarten program that was the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign and that many skeptics said would never be funded. He also got the state to back off a petty fight over a costless change to budget language that will allow the city to operate a housing subsidy program to begin reducing its record-high homeless shelter numbers.

But the mayor did not get all the money he wanted to get for UPK, or the dedicated tax on high earners he wanted to pay for UPK or very much for the middle-school after-school program that was part of the UPK concept. He did not get the ability to hike the city's minimum wage or the authority to install more traffic-enforcement cameras in the city, which he'd sought as part of his VisionZero initiative—his flagship public-safety program. And in the budget the state stripped the city of much of its control over the siting of charter schools—rescinding de Blasio's recent decision to deny co-locations to three schools, requiring the city to give charters space in public schools or pay for private space, giving charters the ability to challenge through arbitration the siting decisions made by the city and prohibiting the city from charging charters rent. In other words, every effort de Blasio made to wrest from the state greater control over city policy ended in failure, and City Hall lost power over charters, too.

Some will say those high casualty numbers indicate a failure of strategy or tactics on the mayor's part, but I don't think that's the case. Winning approval for his signature policy program is a very big deal. De Blasio's UPK push has to get some credit for pushing the governor to provide way more funding than Cuomo proposed in his budget address.

On the other items, it's not certain de Blasio would have gotten more by asking for less. The governor and a state Senate effectively controlled by a small but growing breakaway group of centrist Democrats were simply never going to give him very much at all. And given the breadth of the benefits the budget confers on charter schools—a stunning act of hypocrisy, by the way, for a state that has chronically and unconstitutionally underfunded public schools and that supposedly believes in “mayoral control”—it seems obvious that while de Blasio's bungling of the PR on the co-location decisions may have provided a pretext, the charter wish-list in the budget had been drawn up a long time ago. Contrary to the way it's been portrayed, De Blasio didn't wake a sleeping dog with his co-location reversals; Cujo was already up and waiting in the bushes.

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Failure is ambition's shadow. Leaders who want to change a lot are bound to come up short much of the time. Not to equate the mayor's stature with FDR's, but in pursuing his own transformative agenda, President Roosevelt suffered a number of setbacks which must have seemed devastating at the time; the Supreme Court overturned many a New Deal program, leading to the biggest flop of them all, the absurd court-packing plan. But these losses aren't what comes to mind when we think of FDR. The successful programs, like Social Security and all the public works efforts, are.

UPK could be that kind of initiative for de Blasio, and for the city. It'll take years for us to know its full impact. Between now and then, the relationship with Albany will be de Blasio's ongoing struggle, as it has been for almost all other mayors—a place where merely getting out alive counts as a “W.”  

 

Read Next: Michelle Chen explains why privatization makes inequality worse.

Christie Makes His 2016 Pitch to Casino Magnate Sheldon Adelson

RJC

Chris Christie speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on March 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Hat in hand, three governors—and a former governor—went to pay homage to Sheldon Adelson at the meeting this past weekend of the Republican Jewish Coalition—“under the watchful eyes of a few hundred powerful Jewish donors,” as the Washington Post so delicately put it. Since the vast majority of American Jews vote Democratic, and pretty much always have, the “Republican” Jewish Coalition consists of a panoply of hawks and neoconservatives, none more hawkish than Adelson, who once called for the United States to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran to scare its leadership. But because Adelson may spend more than $100 million in 2016, the're all competing in "the Sheldon Primary."

And it was Christie, as regular readers of Christie Watch know, who had the most to prove. Christie arrived in Las Vegas for the RJC meeting following the release of a report by a law firm that he hired, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which the New Jersey governor touted as having cleared him of all wrongdoing except, perhaps, not knowing what his nefarious aides were up to.

Before heading west, Christie held his first news conference on Friday afternoon, the first time he’s met with the press since January 9, more than eleven weeks. (At the end of the news conference, Christie said, addressing the media: “I’d like to say I missed you. But I didn’t.”) From the tenor of that news conference, it’s clear that Christie believes that the path is now open for him to resume the national campaign that he’d intended to have started at the end of 2013, following his 60-percent-plus reelection win in November. Going forward, Christie said, the tangle of scandals surrounding Bridgegate and misuse of Sandy aid “will be a very small element, if it is any element at all.” And Christie added that outside of the New York-New Jersey region, where there is still intense interest in the scandal story, in the rest of the country no one cares. “There is significantly less interest around the country…than there is in this region,” he said. And in Iowa? “They love me in Iowa.”

Of course, the going is still tough for Christie, with the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finding that Christie’s personal rating is just 17 positive and 32 percent negative.

Before taking questions, Christie announced that one of the albatrosses hanging around his neck was gone. David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had resigned, Christie said. Since 2002, Christie and Samson have been close allies. That year, when Christie started as US attorney in New Jersey, Samson was New Jersey’s attorney general, and they bonded. Over the next decade, the two men increasingly drew closer, and in 2009 Samson ran Christie’s transition team, along with two other important players in Christie World: Jeffrey Chiesa, who’d been a law partner of Christie’s two decades ago at the firm Dughi & Hewit, and who’d served for years under Christie at the US attorney’s office; and Michele Brown, another assistant US attorney under Christie. Both Chiesa and Brown would get top jobs in the Christie administration, and Samson, of course, was named chairman of the Port Authority. In that post, he was able to work an inside/outside operation, overseeing billion-dollar PA contracts on projects that his firm, Wolff & Samson, represented. (Chiesa, who’d been a Wolff & Samson attorney earlier in his career, is back at the firm, along with Lori Grifa, a highly political lawyer who was Samson’s chief of staff when he was New Jersey attorney general in 2002. Grifa was a senior official in the Christie administration before going back to Wolff & Samson, where she’s been at the heart of the wheeling and dealing involving Wolff & Samson and the PA.)

Now that Samson is gone, Christie hopes that politicians, investigators, and the media will stop barking up that particular tree. But that’s unlikely. The current US attorney in New Jersey, Paul Fishman, has subpoenaed Samson, and there will be continuing inquiries about his role not only in Bridgegate but in the various conflicts-of-interest his firm was allegedly involved in. At least, from Christie’s point of view, Samson is out of the limelight.

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In Las Vegas, Christie and the others—Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich, plus former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who’s getting increased attention, says Fox News—all seem to have kowtowed to Adelson’s special brand of foreign policy hawkishness. But Adelson, who singlehandedly financed Newt Gingrich’s quixotic bid for the presidency in 2012, has declared his intention this time around to support a mainstream Republican candidate—such as Christie, Bush, Walker or Kasich, all of whom had private one-on-ones with Adelson—rather than someone from the GOP’s lunatic fringe: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, et al. But the acid test is for someone who’ll join Adelson on his pro-Likud crusade vis-à-vis Israel and, more generally, adopt a warlike stance abroad. Toward that end, Dick Cheney and John Bolton also had high-profile roles at the RJC event, and Bolton blasted “the rising tide of neo-isolationism in the Republican party”—a comment aimed squarely at Paul. (It might have been aimed at Cruz, too, but no one really knows what the Tea Party ideologue thinks about anything except Obamacare, which he’s against.)

Christie, who’s hawkish in his way, is hardly an expert on foreign policy. (Of course, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama did not know anything about world affairs when they were elected.) In any case, when he addressed the public part of the RJC affair, Christie committed what counts as a gaffe in the weird world of pro-Israel hardliners, when he called the West Bank and Gaza “occupied territories.” Of course, that’s exactly what they are, but pro-Likud hardliners prefer the term “Judea and Samaria” when referring to the West Bank, since they believe—or pretend to—that the West Bank was given to the Jews back in Biblical times. But, later, in his knee-bending meeting with Adelson, Christie said —according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency—that he “misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’” That apology ought to be worth at least a billion dollars from Adelson.

 

Read Next: Christie is cleared of all charges—at least according to his lawyers. 

Brazil’s World Cup Gentrification Through the Barrel of a Gun

Maré favela

Police helicopters fly over the Maré favela during it's occupation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, March 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

In traveling to Brazil to write a book about Brazil and the 2014 World Cup, I learned one thing if nothing else: a favela is not a slum. That is why the weekend’s Associated Press breaking news about major military incursions into the Rio favelas set off a carnival of alarm bells. The AP headline reads, "BRAZIL POLICE PUSH INTO RIO DE JANEIRO SLUMS." The actual deployment of 1,400 heavily armed police and Brazilian marines was into Rio’s Maré favela, home of 130,000 people.

The word “slums” conjures images of places that demand this kind of militarized presence, often in the minds of people who have never actually spent time in these communities. Yet, again, favelas are not slums. As written on the website of the Rio-based NGO Catalytic Communities:

According to the UN-HABITAT definition, a slum is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing, squalor and lacking in tenure security. This description doesn’t apply to the vast majority of favelas in Rio: the primarily brick and cement houses are built well and to last; conditions are not squalid, with running water, electricity, garbage collection and Internet access, though of low quality, reaching the majority of homes… The word ‘slum’ originated from the Irish phrase ‘S lom é’ meaning ‘it is a bleak or destitute place,’ and it is this meaning that it carries forth until today. Anyone who has visited a favela can attest that they are for the most part vibrant places that buzz with life and activity.

When I was in Brazil, speaking with residents in the favelas as well as community organizations, they convinced me that the World Cup and Olympics were being used as a pretext to depopulate and then develop the valuable land where the favelas sit. There is a real estate speculative boom taking place in Rio, and only so much land. Once unheard of, Rio’s wealthy are now looking at the hillside favelas and see the future of residential and commercial development. This is particularly true of areas that could be parking lots, athletic facilities or security zones for 2016 Olympic construction. The problem is the pesky people who happen to live there. Characterizing favelas as slums aids the depopulation effort. Characterizing them as festering dens of criminality aids that effort as well. Raising concerns about the World Cup provides the final justification.

None of this is to romanticize the very real poverty, crime and challenges that do exist in the favelas. Yet it is difficult to grasp how military occupation helps improve these problems or further stabilize these communities. In other words, we have another war on poverty that looks more like a war on the poor.

I spoke with Christopher Gaffney, Rio activist and former professional soccer player, who said, “The continued expansion of Rio's ‘pacification’ program in strategic areas pertaining to Rio de Janeiro's tourist, sports and transportation infrastructure has the look and feel of a counterinsurgency. While there are undeniable benefits to expelling armed drug traffickers from low-income communities, the military occupation has not been accompanied by equivalent investments in other necessary infrastructures. A military police can only treat citizens as potential enemy combatants. The World Cup and Olympics are doubling down on this model, which has tremendous human costs that are borne by those least prepared to bear them.”

Those “bearing the costs” are, ideally for developers, then compelled to leave in an act of "self-deportation." Think of it as USA-style gentrification, except instead of being propelled by Stop and Frisk police tactics, rising rents and artisanal brunch spots, it’s just done by the marines. And for all the talk that this is an "effort to push out heavily armed drug gangs," the people in the favelas have also regularly been subject to routine and indiscriminate police violence.

Theresa Williamson, the director of Catalytic Communities also pointed out to me the article’s description of the favela as a "treeless, flat area of about 2 square miles" is made by the Associated Press without any kind of reflection whatsoever. "They don't ask why an area of 2 square miles with 130,000 people has no trees? All of the areas historically denied services by the city also are bare treeless spaces. The urban heat island effect in these communities is intense, with temperatures well above the wealthy tree-filled parts of the city."

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Then there was the site of the raid itself: Maré. All you would know from the piece is that Maré is “a complex of 15 slums.” Maré may be the most politically active of all of Rio’s favelas, with, according to Catalytic Communities, “more than 100 community organizations and NGOs.” Last June, after a deadly BOPE (Brazilian special forces police) raid into Maré, a series of protests and creative civil actions took place. This is not a community that will stand by silently.

In other words, this battle for Rio is far from over. Remember when you see protests at the 2014 World Cup, it is happening because Brazil's government, in conjunction with FIFA, has chosen to turn a soccer tournament into a real estate land grab. They have done this without regard for the people who happen to be living on the land. There is an absence of justice for those in the favelas. Because of this, it is hard to imagine how, during the World Cup, there will be peace.

 

Read Next: The Northwestern University football union and the NCAA's death spiral.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 3/28/2014?

Senate floor

Members of the US Senate assemble in the Old Senate Chamber. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

This week's edition of article selections by Nation interns includes introductions written in verse.

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

Hartford, Connecticut,” by Freddie DeBoer. n+1, March 13, 2014.

I know it's not pretty
But I was born in this city
New England's Still-Rising Star

And ain't it a pity
We're not the hip kind of gritty.
Then maybe you'd get out of your car.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

"The Case Against Qatar.” The International Trade Union Confederation, March 2014.

For those who thought the Sochi Olympics were corrupt, I present the World Cup in Qatar,
an exploitative country where you can kiss labor rights and racial equality au revoir.

ITUC's report shows workers at stadium projects "living like horses in a stable,"
Threatened, robbed, confined, deported, killed or disabled.

Qatar's the most extreme example of World Cup labor abuses but it's not the only one.
The rush to complete stadiums in Brazil has death tolls rising by the ton.

As sports fans we should know about the violence behind events like these,
and demand an end to all the corruption and sleaze.

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

Gilding the Lily,” by Carina Hart. The Beheld, March 25, 2014.

Carina Hart discusses "beauty work":
the labor people (mostly women) are
expected to perform to make their bodies
socially acceptable. In this
short post specifically she asks why certain
types of beauty work are viewed as "good"
and others viewed as shameful, bad. Invoking
Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto,"
Hart interrogates our notions of
appropriate and inappropriate
distortions one can make to "natural" forms.

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

"Don’t Look Now," by Angus Johnston. The New Inquiry, March 27, 2014.

Fifty years ago, the Times published a headline we might expect to see on the Huffington Post's click-bait-ridden Twitter page: "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call Police." Kitty Genovese, a young woman living in Queens, was brutally murdered in view of over thirty witnesses in 1964; but the Times headline, and indeed the entire story describing the overwhelming apathy of all of Genovese's neighbors, was enormously exaggerated. Angus Johnston of The New Inquiry counts twenty-nine significant errors in the original times story, but that's besides the point: Why didn't at least thirty people call the police against the background of Genovese's desperate cries? "Genovese, her friends, her neighbors—all had real reasons to distrust the cops," writes Johnston. Many key witnesses, at least one of whom was homosexual and afraid of persecution, didn't contact the authorities in time to save Genovese for fear of sacrificing their own wellbeing in the process. "The Genovese story isn’t just a story of individual moral culpability, it’s also a story about malign and corrupt institutions and the corrosive effects those institutions have on our lives," and that's a story worth remembering today.

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

Section 32. Right to Local Self-Government [PDF],” proposed amendment to the constitution of Colorado, March 2014.

Can Americans be trusted to self-govern? Well, in Colorado a proposed state constitutional amendment—in response to fracking—strikes a balance between our fear of local control and a growing need for local protections. The amendment would empower local Colorado communities to eliminate the “rights, powers, and duties of corporations,” should they conflict with local “health, safety and welfare.” Though, the amendment clarifies, such local lawmaking shall not weaken or restrict the protections and rights of “individuals [not persons, which would include corporations], their communities or nature.”

Last week, the initiative passed the crucial “single subject” test. Should the initiative survive forthcoming industry appeals it will be accompanied on November’s ballot by up to three competing fracking initiatives brought by large environmental and industry groups. Looks to be a showdown in Colorado.

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

"Banks Won't Do Business With Legal Marijuana Sellers. Enter PotCoin," by Dana Liebelson. Mother Jones, March 26, 2014.

Financial firms still have their fears
about working with pot pioneers,
so weed men use cash,
which leads to a rash
of robberies, violence and tears.

But lo! Check out what PotCoin offers!
Inspired by Bitcoin, it proffers
those legal weed dealers
a tool against stealers:
the chance to use digital coffers.

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

"Report: NY Schools are most racially segregated." Associated Press, March 24, 2014.

Postracial is not
75 percent black schools
1 percent white schools
70 percent poor schools
70 percent rich schools
It is not New York
holding a title never displayed
in tourism adverts
New York state: Winner, most segregated schools
no Southern state comes close.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

On the Pain of Violent Men, or, Why I’m not Sorry about Max and Montle,” by Linda Stupart. Africa is a Country, July 19, 2013.

Last year, a social media war ensued in South Africa after two male writers, who worked for a male magazine, made rape jokes on Facebook. Thanks to the speed of Twitter, within hours the story was making national headlines, and both men were consequently fired.

I was living in Cape Town at the time and several of my friends, some of whom personally know the now-dismissed writers, asked my thoughts on the matter. I generally loathe all things stemming from social media, and so shrugged it off, but coming across this piece nearly a year after it was written inspires within me a more pointed view on the matter. The jokes were not "tasteless" or a simple mistake, as many of my friends argued—even those who considered themselves feminists didn't want to personally attack their acquaintances. They were sexist and the writers deserved to be fired. Stupart describes the pain that she felt in watching the debate unfold, and reading her account reminds me of my emotional and physical discomfort around male assertion of sexuality—cat calls, jokes at parties about who can get the most girls, being looked up and down on a run—that I encounter daily in Washington DC, just as I did in Cape Town. We continue to live in a patriarchal, sexist society, and the rapid defense of the rape joke-telling writers is demonstrative of that. Women have a right to be pissed off; men who say such comments, on any platform, need to be held to account and society should face its own ugliness, and the ease with which we dismiss it, if we're going to provoke any sort of change.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Three Myths that Block Progress for The Poor,” by Bill and Melinda Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014 Gates Annual Letter.

Misconceptions about the volume and impact of foreign aid, and about the low-income countries on the receiving end of it, are many. Here Bill and Melinda Gates take on three of the most common: that poor countries are doomed to stay poor, that foreign aid is generally wasteful and ineffective and that saving lives today will lead to overpopulation tomorrow. They write that these are powerful untruths, dangerous memes that spread cynicism and jeopardize funding for demonstrably successful, life-saving aid programs. So long asthe average American believes that the federal government already allocates 27 percent of its annual budget to foreign aid, advocates like the Gates stand little chance of driving up the actual figure—1 percent, or about $30 in taxes for every American.

Translated into verse by Corinne Grinapol:

Untruths pile up and
Bill and Melinda Gates count the ways:
poor countries are doomed to stay poor
cynical
foreign aid is wasteful, ineffective
wrong
today's saved lives are tomorrow's overpopulated masses

Powerful untruths,
dangerous memes that
jeopardize funding for
proven
life-saving aid

Another untruth
believed by the average American:
foreign aid,
27 percent of the federal budget

How to ask for more,
to increase the actual figure:
the lone one percent
obscured in the shadow
of the obstinately solid lie

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

"The Right's New ‘Welfare Queens’: The Middle Class," by George Packer. The New Yorker, March 25, 2014.

At The New Yorker, George Packer describes the persistence of right-wing ideas about labor and unemployment in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Framed around his recent testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Packer's article shows how conservatives are now targeting the culture of middle class white people as the source of inequality, claiming that they find it more appealing to live off the government than do an honest day's work. More than just a report on a demoralizing new ideology, Packer pulls back the curtain on Washington and shows how in the theater that is politics, ideas that aren't back up by facts can become appealing and influential.

 

 

Read Next: {Young}ist reclaims the millennial narrative.

Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion

Iraq

A US Marine takes cover behind an Iraqi Army humvee in Amarah, southeast of Baghdad, June 19, 2008 (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The dangers were there from the start—and the results have been well chronicled since. But how did the media cover questions about its "embedded" coverage of the Iraq war near the start? 

As you'll recall, reporters and camera folks were allowed for the first time to sign up and travel fully with our invading (and later occupying) forces. This allowed valuable close hand reporting—although with various censorship restrictions. It also produced coverage that was, shall we say, often influenced by identifying with the troops and the mission a bit too much. Often we heard "we" are doing this or that as reporters sent along for the Jeep and Humvee rides. 

I was the editor of Editor & Publisher then and we raised many questions about the dangers of this from the start, with Joe Galloway, Sydney Schanberg and others sounding alarms.  We interviewed Chris Hedges, the longtime war reporter, three different times about this, and he accurately predicted the course of the invasion and aftermath and how many reporters, allowed to only see what their "minders" would allow, would misinterpret the quick victory.  But few others did the same.

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Here's the first New York Times report from eleven years ago that started to look at the issues, with quotes from Michael Kelly of The Atlantic, left (who would die there) and critic Todd Giltin and others. My new book on Iraq and the media covers this issue at length. It's worth remembering that the late Anthony Shadid did his greatest work there as an independent, not embedded, reporter.  Ditto for so many in the Baghdad bureau of Knight Ridder (later McClatchy).

From that New York Times story:

Bryan G. Whitman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for media relations, is in charge of making the strategy work.

''We realized early on that our adversary was a practiced liar,'' Mr. Whitman said. ''What better way to mitigate the lies and deception of Saddam Hussein than having trained, objective observers out there in the field?''

Some critics have suggested that it has been difficult to tell journalists and military personnel apart.

''I am discouraged by reporters' willingness to swallow most of what is being told to them,'' said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. ''How can they keep referring to 'coalition forces' as if there were actually some sort of coalition?''

And:

Jim Dwyer of The New York Times calls the arrangement ''professionally treacherous.''

''You are sleeping next to people you are covering,'' Mr. Dwyer said by satellite phone from his position with the 101st Airborne Division in central Iraq. ''Your survival is based on them. And they are glad we are here because no one would believe what is happening to them if they just came back and told war stories. People are willing to talk around the clock until it is time to go out and kill people. That is a very deep thing.''

And who can forget Geraldo Rivera getting booted out of Iraq for sketching troop locations in the sand.

Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Fearless Idealism of Jonathan Schell.