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

Students Rethink How to Build Community

University of Richmond

University of Richmond (eclecticlibrarian/Flickr)

For the past four years, I’ve worked alongside students from across the United States to build power, disrupt the mainstream policy discourse and propose long-lasting policy changes that realize a progressive American dream through the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Our coalition spent the past six months thinking through ways to reinvigorate our work in communities across the country. At the end of January, we debuted the product of those conversations: a new model for how we as progressives can rethink our relationship to each other, our movement and the environments in which we live.

The Roosevelt Institute’s new Rethinking Communities initiative is an attempt to take a closer look at questions of governance, representation and participatory power. The aim is to build stronger communities that can serve as the foundation for a more equitable economy. This means challenging anchor institutions—such as universities, hospitals, and other major local employers—to incorporate community representatives at every stage of policymaking, whether that means putting students on key university committees or having more low-income voices included in antipoverty coalitions. We believe that building networks based on mutual trust and autonomy in our local communities is the only way to build a more equitable society.

One of the initiative’s first targets is universities and colleges. Using a series of metrics generated by the Democracy Collaborative, a well-known research institute behind projects like the Cleveland model, students are working to illustrate the gap between universities’ stated goals of community engagement and the extent to which the community is actually engaged. These metrics include things like the percent of procurement dollars directed to local, minority-owned or women-owned businesses to the percentage of university employees being employed at the living wage or above to endowment funds dedicated to community impact investments, among many others. We hope that in the years to come our process of identifying the shortcomings of universities’ processes of engaging stakeholders will create a new standard for colleges across the country.

Another aspect of the initiative has been my work to institutionalize a convening space for students to come together, to dream together about how their university and the community at large might benefit from a radical rethinking of governance structures—like the board of trustees—and the management of community relations. While this convening space does function similarly to a student union in the sense that it unites campus activists across interest areas, it’s also distinguished by its dedication to the political and leadership development of students new to the progressive movement. As we continue to do the work of rebuilding these relationships of mutual trust and accountability, I’m coming to realize just how far we have to go in order to democratize our experience: as student consumers of higher education; members of a mid-sized, often overlooked city; and voters in one of the country’s most ideologically conservative states.

The Roosevelt Institute has nowhere near enough answers to claim expertise on alternative infrastructure building. I think we’d argue that very few organizers have organized on a large scale around the intersection of higher education, local economies and shared governance. We’re heartened by that challenge, though, and motivated by the demands of this process-oriented work. Our new initiative will require constant revision and active critiques from our allies. However, it’s a start, a recognition that we are only as strong as our collective voice.

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Our namesake, President Franklin Roosevelt, once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.” This new project of the Roosevelt Institute is a promise, a resolute commitment that our members are dedicated to rethinking how we build community. We invite your ideas about how to build the sort of participatory infrastructure within and outside of the system that might sustain our movement.

Read Next: the current state of the movement to forgive student loan debt

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 1/31/2014?


Macklemore performs in 2011. (photo courtesy alaina buzas from Chicago/Wikimedia)

—Sam Adler-Bell focuses on labor and mass incarceration.

In defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist,” by Bhaskar Sunkara. Al Jazeera America, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, is one of the rare American left-wing figures who managed, within his lifetime, to attain something approaching universal admiration (or at least acceptance) while refusing to shed or apologize for his radicalism. Here, Bhaskar Sunkara responds to those commentators who would seek to neutralize Seeger’s legacy—in death—from the “taint” of his communist affiliations.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

For a Cowboys Star With Dementia, Time Is Running Out,” by Juliet Macur. The New York Times, January 27, 2014

“These young players, they have no idea what’s in store for them,” said Rayfield Wright in Juliet Macur’s haunting profile of the retired NFL player affected by dementia after the myriad head injuries he sustained while playing professional football. While his comments were sincere and on point, players at Northwestern might be proving him wrong. Team quarterback Kain Colter held a press conference yesterday to announce that he and his teammates are the first college athletes to attempt to join a labor union. Comparing the NCAA to a “dictatorship,” Coulter claimed, “The same medical issues that professional athletes face are the same medical issues collegiate athletes face, except we’re left unprotected.” Viewed in this context, Wright’s story of quiet suffering is even more germane than when it was published this past weekend. College football players are left to deal with medical problems on their own after their four years of eligibility, and very few make it to the professional level.

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

The Rise of the Post-New Left Political Vocabulary,” by Steve D’Arcy. The Public Autonomy Project, January 27, 2014

Coming across Steve D’Arcy’s blog post this week, I found it interesting not primarily because of its conclusions (which could benefit from some deeper and more scholarly historical analysis of the movements in question) but because it attempts to situate contemporary social movements in their historical context and raises some points worth discussing. The piece compares the language used by past and present generations of activists and tries to tease out the political significance of the generational differences. Some of the more interesting things it invites us to consider: the specific ways that the cultures of social movements are adaptations to their histories of political defeat, the ways analysis of movement culture can be a window onto a movement’s larger goals and potential, and how being conscious of this relationship could (or so the author hopes) lead to more effective political organizing in the future.

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

I Wasn’t Born This Way. I Choose to Be Gay. Macklemore sends the wrong LGBT message in ‘Same Love,’” by Brandon Ambrosino. The New Republic, January 28, 2014

I cannot begin to say how sick I am of hearing about Macklemore. But out of his theatrical display of liberalism at this year’s Grammys emerged some productive discourse on gay rights issues. The song he performed, “Same Love,” has been celebrated as the 2013 gay rights anthem. In this article, Brandon Ambrosino argues that by framing homosexuality as a biological characteristic (“And I can’t change/Even if I tried”), the song adopts rhetoric used to promote racial equality. He asserts that, because gay rights and racial equality are different causes, utilizing rhetoric from one cause to further the other limits our depiction of sexuality: “I see no reason to believe that the only sexualities worth protecting are the ones over which one has no control,” Ambrosino says, citing trans activism. Although Ambrosino’s piece painfully lacks nuance, he does make a point worth considering: “One of the reasons I think our activism is so insistent on sexual rigidity is because, in our push to make gay rights the new black rights, we’ve conflated the two issues.”

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

New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid,” by Martin Lukacs. The Guardian, January 21, 2014

Rising sea levels are forcing Lagos, Nigeria to adapt—the adjacent slum of Makoko has long since taken to the sea. In his article, Lukacs makes real our stake in this proxy between two contending visions for climate change adaptation. Those disappointed by the fiercely unequal blueprint for the manufactured Eko Atlantic city, but unsatisfied with the scope of its more egalitarian alternative, might find interesting a recent study on Brazil’s municipal participatory budgeting policy.

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

China’s Wild West,” by Kendrick Kuo. Foreign Affairs, January 26, 2014

China’s western Xinjiang province has a lot of parallels with Tibet, as a culturally distinct region that’s long resisted eastern Chinese colonization-in-the-name-of-development. But Xinjiang gets less attention and sympathy than Tibet in the West, probably partly because its main Uighur minority group has been unfairly associated with Islamic terrorism. Official Chinese media, when not linking Uighurs to extremism, often portray Xinjiang as a “desolate” frontier for enterprising ethnic majority Han Chinese to expand into, overlooking the minority groups already there in favor of a Chinese version of Manifest Destiny. (Note Kuo’s title: “China’s Wild West.”) Kuo’s short piece doesn’t offer policy recommendations, but given the dearth of nuanced journalism on Xinjiang, his consideration of both Uighur and Han perspectives is refreshing.

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

Why support for Common Core is sinking,” by Carol Burris, introduction by Valerie Strauss. The Washington Post, January 27, 2014

In the corporatized, jargon-filled world of contemporary education policy, “education stakeholder groups,” including teachers, are cited again and again as being all in on the Common Core. New York State Education Commissioner John King made that very claim last week, two days before the board of the largest teachers union in the state, the New York State United Teachers, voted to withdraw its support for the standards. Carol Burris, an award-winning New York principal, explains how confusing and damaging the Common Core has been to students, in both implementation and design. To really understand how muddled these standards are, it’s best to experience it for yourself. Burris provides examples; see if you can make your way through the language of a third-grade math standard.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Hospital Chain Said to Scheme to Inflate Bills,” by Julie Creswell and Reed Abelson. The New York Times, January 24, 2014

The Department of Justice has recently compiled eight separate lawsuits against Health Management Associates, a for-profit hospital chain that is accused of admitting patients even when they didn’t need treatment in order to raise hospital profits, and punishing doctors who didn’t meet the high admission rates set for them. This New York Times piece by Julie Creswell and Reed Abeldson notes that this practice is common in the for-profit hospital sector (indeed, when speaking to friends who work in healthcare, they readily speak about the unnecessary—and clinically unsound—push to admit), and that companies simply see lawsuits like these as part of the cost of doing business. As if there was ever a question that our healthcare system is broken, its costs out of control and more regulation needed, this piece sheds light on the tricks and trades of a booming, unhinged private healthcare industry.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

The Case for Aid,” by Jeffrey Sachs. Foreign Policy, January 21, 2014

Jeffrey Sachs contends that the growing skepticism about the efficacy of foreign aid—promulgated perhaps most adamantly by NYU economist William Easterly—is based on politics and ideology rather than evidence. Indeed, demonstrably successful models of life-saving development aid abound: Sachs cites, among other examples, the mass distribution of free bed nets and medicine to combat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. According to World Health Organization figures, the program saves the lives of half-a-million children under the age of five every year. A reasoned and constructive critique of foreign aid programs is helpful and necessary (see mine of the Peace Corps here), but those calling for an end to aid altogether invite needless suffering into the world.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

College Football Players Seek to Form a Labor Union,” by Brad Wolverton. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2014

College athletes have long chafed against the restrictions of their amateur status and the power of the NCAA. This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education addresses the recent attempt by members of the Northwestern University football team to unionize. But the piece also raises interesting questions about the relationship between students and universities, especially in light of the longtime efforts of graduate students to unionize. Can any students be seen as employees? Or are they consumers, deserving of protection?

Read Next: Who are the Kiev protesters?

Student Journalists Applaud New UC Water Conservation Plan

UC Berkeley

The UC Berkeley campus (lapie/flickr)

This unsigned editorial was originally published in the January 20 issue of the student-run Daily Cal at the University of California at Berkeley.

News on the environmental front is not good. According to a leaked draft of a UN environmental report, the world’s efforts to mitigate disastrous climate change have been insufficient.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN panel that provides comprehensive assessments of information about climate change, found countries’ delay in battling climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions has increased the risk of future economic damage and reduced the likelihood that warming levels will remain below a predetermined critical benchmark level of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.

Closer to home, California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts on record. In response to the state’s third consecutive year of severely dry conditions—snowpack water content in California is only about 20 percent of its average level at this time of year—Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last week and asked all Californians to voluntarily cut their water consumption by 20 percent.

As the UN report makes obvious, inaction has put the world on a trajectory toward an environmental maelstrom. Brown’s proclamation, then, is a welcome move.

As a conglomerate of research institutions with immense scientific understanding and capacity for technological development, the UC system and UC Berkeley are obligated to take a leadership role in tackling the dire environmental challenges of the twenty-first century. With her January 16 announcement that the university will seek to reduce its per capita water consumption by 20 percent of its current level by 2020, University of California President Janet Napolitano affirmed that the UC system is willing to embrace that role and that it is doing its part to combat challenges such as drought and climate change, which will become catastrophic as a result of complacency. The university’s approach to conservation is better than Brown’s, and students should be proud that their system’s leadership has adopted these practical goals.

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UC Berkeley’s own efforts to reduce its water usage, aside from helping reduce the state’s water deficit, are important because they encourage students to conserve on their own. The campus is on track to meet former chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s 2011 goal of reducing potable water use by 10 percent below 2008 levels by 2020. But on top of just replacing old showerheads and toilets in the residence halls with more efficient ones, campus campaigns, such as those promoted through Facebook and fliering, allow students to become aware of their water use and thus adapt to using less water consciously. This will increase water conservation even when students move out of the dorms and into off-campus living.

Overcoming the vexing environmental challenges before us requires determination, accountability and action. We hope other individuals and organizations will follow the lead of the campus and the university.

Read Next: this month’s student movements.

Forgive Student Loan Debt: Five Years On

Debt protest

A protester carries a ball and chain as a symbol of his debt burden. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Five years ago this week I wrote an essay called, “Forgive Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy,” which I posted to a new group I had created on Facebook. To my great surprise, the essay wasn’t read just by the ten friends I had expected but by hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, cutting across generational, geographical and political lines.

The message was simple and resonated with a great number of people: Rather than focus on tax cuts or more corporate welfare, why not try a new, bottom-up approach to stimulating the economy by forgiving student loan debt? Sadly, neither Congress nor the White House took this proposal seriously, and to be honest, it was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek; however, what I had written had the unexpected consequence of helping spark a true grassroots movement that continues to this day.

Within weeks of the essay, dozens of publications and news outlets were reporting on the proposal, with BusinessWeek dubbing me “a spokesman for a generation of people with student loan debt.” It was a role I never sought but one I proudly assumed out of a sense of civic duty.

Over time, I used my new political clout to work with former Representative Hansen Clarke in crafting HR 4170, “The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012.” The petition I created in support of that legislation garnered nearly 1.2 million signatures, and Representative Clarke and I presented that petition to congressional leadership at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

During the course of my advocacy on student debt, I met some incredible activists and organizers. Wanting to expand the reach of my advocacy, I teamed up with Natalia Abrams, Kyle McCarthy and Aaron Calafato to form StudentDebtCrisis.org.

Together, we at StudentDebtCrisis.org have continued to advocate for the more than 40 million Americans who collectively owe more than $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. We’ve spoken at conferences, appeared in countless media reports about student debt, worked with Representative Karen Bass to reintroduce Hansen Clarke’s bill in the new Congress as HR 1330, “The Student Loan Fairness Act of 2013,” and spearheaded the #OutWithStudentDebt video project. Meanwhile, our artistic director, Aaron Calafato, tours the country with his one-man show, For Profit, depicting his time as an admissions counselor at an unnamed for-profit university.

We’ve also worked closely with progressive youth organizations like the Young Invincibles, Our Time, Generation Progress, Demos, MoveOn.org and many others. (Stay tuned for an important announcement on that front in the coming weeks!)

On January 28, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address and touched on this topic when he said:

We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education. We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.

While StudentDebtCrisis.org agrees with the fundamental principles laid out in the president’s speech, we believe that so much more needs to be done to address the existing $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. Because of this debt, more than 40 million Americans are not buying houses or cars, starting businesses or families, or otherwise contributing to rebuilding the economy.

While I continue to believe that across-the-board forgiveness of student loans would represent a major boost to economic growth, let’s face reality—it’s a pipe dream in this political climate. That said, there’s a whole host of reforms that Congress could undertake to dramatically improve the lives of those saddled with student loan debt.

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In addition to creating reasonable and fair repayment options for student borrowers, allowing borrowers to refinance their loans and restoring basic consumer protections—such as bankruptcy protections and statutes of limitations on the collections of student loan debt—we believe it’s critical to bring defaulted borrowers back into the fold. As it stands, more than 7 million Americans are in default on their student loans, and for them, there’s simply no relief in sight.

Though I’m encouraged by the president’s words, we desperately need action. Five years ago, I came up with one idea for how to tackle the ever-growing student debt crisis; now it’s time for Congress and the president to work together to come up with real solutions that will have a real impact on the lives of student loan borrowers.

Read Next: Duke activists influence their school’s endowment practices.

This Month, Students Massed Against Stop-and-Frisk, Won on Title IX and Scared Off Tom Corbett

Philly student protest

Philadelphia students greet Governor Corbett. (Credit: PCAPS)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts ten first-person updates on student and youth organizing in the United States—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For an archive of earlier editions, check out the New Year’s dispatch.

Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with any questions, tips or proposals. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. As Strike Waters Heat Up, Portland Students Walk Out

In early January, the Portland Student Union held three days of action in support of the Portland Association of Teachers in its current contract negotiations. Jefferson and Wilson High School students walked out, while Cleveland High School student union members held three days of speakouts. Overall, more than 300 students participated in the days of action. On January 13, the demonstrations culminated in a school board rally with 500 students, parents and workers. At the board meeting, the PDXSU presented “The Schools Portland Students Demand,” a set of priorities that students see as vital to their education.

—Portland Student Union

2. After Months of Student Pressure, Obama Acts on Title IX

Ed Act Now, the movement for better federal enforcement of Title IX, was thrilled by President Obama’s January 22 announcement of a new task force to combat campus sexual violence. After garnering public support through a protest and online petition, student organizers met with White House officials in July to discuss their ideas. Ed Act Now is encouraged to see many of its proposals—including stricter enforcement of existing laws and greater federal transparency—included in a public memo outlining the task force’s plans. Activists are now working to ensure that the task force calls on a diversity of survivor voices—crossing lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, type of educational institution and form of violence suffered—to inform the White House’s investigations.

—Ed Act Now

3. At Central High, Corbett Runs Away From Students

On January 17, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was scheduled to visit Central High School to award students for academic achievement, but turned tail in the face of protests. From the very beginning, we understood that his visit was not an attempt to reward students but to use us to advance his political agenda. We were told that he did not plan to take questions and would be facing the camera with his back toward us—turning our group into a multiracial backdrop of smiling faces to prop up his re-election campaign. After a long week of organizing, students came to Central early to protest Corbett’s visit in the cold weather. Our message was simple: too little, too late. Since then, we have heard no apology or acknowledgement of wrongdoing—only claims of leaving “out of respect to the students” and “adult theatrics.”

—Fofo Mahmoud

4. At 19th and Girard, Stop-and-Frisk Sparks Citywide Outrage

On January 7, a 16-year-old black boy, Darrin Manning, was sexually assaulted during a stop-and-frisk in North Philadelphia, leaving him potentially sterile from a ruptured testicle. Manning’s attorney is calling for a federal investigation, arguing that the patdown not only violated civil rights laws but also breached a 2011 settlement agreement between the city and a group of plaintiffs who claimed the police department’s stop-and-frisk practices violate the US and Pennsylvania constitutions. Techbook Online, a millennial-led news organization, organized a citywide town-hall meeting to address police corruption, brutality and misconduct, and has begun talks with the city’s Police Advisory Commission and the Police Abuse Witness Network to launch an initiative that gathers stories of residents’ experiences with police in their neighborhoods.

—Christopher Norris

5. Boycott Debate Hits the MLA

Following an overwhelming vote from the American Studies Association membership for a resolution supporting the call of Palestinian civil society to boycott Israeli academic institutions, Palestine was also on the table for discussion at the 2014 Modern Language Association convention. On January 9, one panel, “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” was attended by more than 150 members. On January 11, the delegate assembly voted in support of a resolution calling for the US Department of State to contest Israel&rsqo;s denying US academics, invited to work at Palestinian universities, entry to the West Bank. This vote came despite an FAQ sheet left on attendees’ chairs that misrepresented the academic boycott as targeting individual academics, distorting international law and inciting violence. It also falsely asserted that Israeli universities take progressive stands for peace and against inequality. The handout not only caused confusion, since there was no MLA boycott resolution, but also spread misinformation about a movement that is principled, democratic and nonviolent.

—Cynthia Franklin and Suey Park

6. Open Hillel Rises

Jewish college students across the country have begun to unify in protest of the current policies of Hillel, a Jewish organization located on college campuses nationwide. The current Hillel policies forbid students from collaborating under its name with groups that support political positions that it defines as anti-Israel. In a courageous display of defiance, the students of Swarthmore College’s Hillel voted to embrace a new set of guidelines proposed by Open Hillel, an organization started by Jewish students at Harvard. Open Hillel aims to promote free speech within Hillel’s walls, inviting students and speakers regardless of their beliefs about Zionism and Israel. As a national organization, Open Hillel has drawn supporters from across the country, as it continues to lobby Hillel to change its rigid guidelines.

—Aryeh Younger

7. In Sacramento, Students Mass for Fair Funding

On January 16, more than 200 California students bused to the state capitol to march and rally for money that is meant to go to students who are low-income, English learners and foster-care youth. The Local Control Funding Formula, passed in July, allots funding from Proposition 30 to historically underfunded schools. On the same day as the rally, the state board of education decided to maintain “emergency regulations” that give districts flexibility to use the money for any purpose as long as they can prove that student outcomes are improving—without having to spend a dime on students who not only need the money but also make districts eligible for it. This spring, students across the state are organizing to monitor how districts implement LCFF in order to provide evidence that student input needs to be written into the final regulations. The board has until September 2014 to adopt the final regulations, which will be in place for the next six years.

—Cindy Andrade

8. In Milwaukee, Students Fight for Democracy

On January 14, we filed a complaint in the Milwaukee County Circuit Courts against the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee administration after it decided to “not recognize” the results of our student association elections. In the UW system, students have rights under state law and subsequent case law to be equal partners with faculty, academic staff and the chancellor in the immediate governance of their institution. Until Chancellor Lovell stated in a letter that he would not recognize association elections, we, the students, were actively working and organizing in a manner that we determined, working towards implementing and institutionalizing student rights and formulating procedures that would make shared governance more collaborative. All that changed when the administration asserted that without its recognition and approval we could not organize. After asserting this, the administration took action to take away our legitimate representation and facilitated the institution of a puppet government. Through this case, we strive to uphold the collaborative concept of shared governance.

––Taylor Q. Scott and M. Samir Siddique

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9. How Long Will OU “Guarantee” Tuition Hikes?

On January 23, the Ohio University Student Union held its first demonstration of the new year: a forty-student bus blockade preventing the Ohio University Board of Trustees from leaving its meeting. The union demands that the board abandon the Ohio Guarantee Tuition (Hike) Model, scrap plans to build a methane gas plant on campus and use money normally awarded for administrative bonuses for scholarships for low-income students instead. The next day, the board agreed to meet with three union delegates to discuss the demands. Though the board chair expressed an unwillingness to accede to our demands, the union intends to use this meeting to educate and mobilize OU students for future direct actions.

—Ohio University Student Union

10. Whom Does U of M Serve?

Black students announce demands to administrators. (Credit: mlive)

—Being Black at the University of Michigan

Read Next: Allison Kilkenny on education budget cuts in Anchorage.

How Student Activists at Duke Transformed a $6 Billion Endowment

DukeOpen campaign

Duke students petition their university's board for changes in investment practices. (Shayan Asadi)

Last October 4, a group of students clutching more than 2,000 petitions knocked on the door of the Duke University Board of Trustees meeting and requested an audience. Burly security guards barred the door on the order of vexed University President Richard Brodhead. Brodhead, visibly nervous, tried to usher the students out, calling their presence an “interruption.” Undeterred, the group resisted, asking for a chance to present the proposal they had spent almost a year crafting. The president, adamant in his refusal, returned to the meeting and shut the door.

Despite the hostile reception, a modified version of the students’ proposal—which called for the overhaul of the university’s guidelines on investment responsibility—had already found its way onto the board’s agenda. On October 4, 2013, the trustees voted to adopt the new guidelines, expanding the university’s investment oversight committee and establishing a special fund within the endowment—a Social Choice Fund—which will be invested only in prescreened, socially responsible funds.

Although the board rejected the students’ central request—the limited disclosure of the endowment’s investments—the new policy, in Brodhead’s words, reflects, “the most significant changes to our approach to socially responsible investment in almost a decade.” The board, in adopting these changes, not only affirmed the importance of socially responsible investing, but also revealed the tremendous power of thoughtful, impassioned and persistent student advocacy.

DukeOpen, the group that pushed the changes, formed in the spring of 2013 and consisted of just a small group of determined students for much of its year-long campaign. This group, of which we, along with Abhishek Bose-Kolanu and Lucas Spangher, were a part, conducted research on investment practices at other universities, met with administrators and investment officials, and, over the course of several months, crafted a comprehensive proposal in support of greater endowment transparency and investment responsibility. Committed to the belief that a university’s investments matter, that where Duke chooses to invest its nearly $6 billion endowment has a significant material and symbolic impact in the world, DukeOpen set out to bring its proposal to the board of trustees.

In the naïve hope that we might forestall complications or delays, we sent our proposal to the board of trustee’s secretary, Richard Riddell, two weeks in advance of the deadline for submitting material to the May 2013 board meeting. Riddell swiftly redirected our proposal to the President’s Select Committee on Investment Responsibility, shuttling us into what would become a seemingly endless maze of administrative committees and confidential communiqués. Getting a proposal to the board, we discovered, would prove to be an extraordinarily complicated affair.

It was, however, precisely this complexity that we sought to remedy. For a decade, students concerned about investment responsibility had to shepherd proposals or ideas through two committees—the President’s Special Committee on Investment Responsibility (PSC) and the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility (ACIR)—secure a favorable recommendation from the president, and obtain the approval of the board of trustees. The process was made more onerous by the fact that the committees met infrequently and with no regularity. In an attempt to improve the process, we requested that each committee convene monthly and proposed more robust institutional support for groups concerned about investment responsibility.

But to make that happen, we first had to feel our way through the old process. We met with the PSC in early May, and after waiting nearly a month, learned from Provost Peter Lange that the committee would not issue a judgment on our proposal. The ball had bounced, Lange informed us, into the president’s court. Brodhead turned to the Duke University Management Corporation (DUMAC)—the company that manages Duke’s endowment—for advice. Officials at DUMAC eventually informed Brodhead that while few of Duke’s peer institutions practice endowment transparency, there was little evidence to suggest that disclosing small amounts of investment information would directly harm the endowment’s returns.

It seemed that, for Brodhead, endowment transparency was no longer about finances but reputation. By disclosing information about where and how Duke invests, university officials would risk exposing the institution to unwanted scrutiny and censure. Brodhead, swayed by a combination of reputational concerns and uncertainty about the financial impact of transparency, ruled out the possibility of disclosure in the immediate future and instead commissioned a yearlong study of the feasibility of endowment transparency.

Deferring the issue of transparency, but concerned for Duke’s fragile reputation, the president then tried to spin DukeOpen’s campaign into positive press for the university. To that end, Brodhead modified our proposal—excising our sticky request for greater endowment transparency—and scheduled a vote on investment responsibility for the rapidly approaching October board meeting. Shutting down what had only ever been a facsimile of negotiation, Brodhead planned to ask the board to adopt what was now a severely watered-down version of our original proposal. He was, in a sense, giving everyone a way to win: the university could collect reputational points for improving investment responsibility and DukeOpen could walk away with the majority of its proposals enshrined in Duke’s official investment policy.

The fight over transparency had, in Brodhead’s view, ended. But we refused to budge. We had squeezed as many concessions out of the administration as we were likely to get, but withholding our blessing for the watered-down reform ensured that the university would follow through on its lesser commitments, allowed us to demonstrate the widespread student support for endowment disclosures and left open the possibility of future student advocacy on transparency. So instead of endorsing Brodhead’s amended proposal, we decided to keep pushing, hoping to mark the historical record so that future activists could look to our campaign as a model of persistent, informed advocacy.

We shifted tactics, resorting to direct action after a year of negotiations and collegial exchanges. In the week before the board meeting, we amassed 2,000 petition signatures from a student body of roughly 6,500, wrapped the campus’s prominent statues in black plastic to symbolize the endowment’s lack of transparency, posted signs and banners and convinced hundreds of students to call the offices of top-level administrators. And, on October 4, a dozen smartly dressed students walked to the board meeting and knocked on the door.

Rumors of undercover police officers, waiting with plastic handcuffs in case of trouble, floated across campus. Brodhead, stepping out of the boardroom, looked as if he was scraping the very bottom of his deep lexical reservoir for words that could stay a conflict. What he and others in his administration failed to realize, however, was just how hard we had worked to apply pressure without offending, alienating or doing anything too radical. Because, in the end, we weren’t just pushing against Duke’s administration but our own peers, a group that could be so thoroughly ensconced in a bureaucratic model of social change, so afraid for its own reputation that edging even a little outside established institutional channels could seem dangerous, radical, unthinkable.

In the short-term, our campaign made an impact: the board adopted a modified version of our proposal and in doing so vastly improved Duke’s investment oversight structure. The ACIR now meets monthly, plans to conduct regular reviews of Duke’s holdings and has promised to establish clear and efficient mechanisms by which students can bring concerns about investments to the attention of the university.

These improvements, coupled with Brodhead’s commitment to a yearlong study of endowment transparency, represent a sea change in Duke’s approach to responsible investing. Instead of simply reacting to speculative complaints about its investments, Duke will now work proactively to ensure its practices are consistent with its 2004 commitment to investment responsibility. And, by the end of this year, Duke will decide whether or not some form of endowment transparency is feasible.

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The success of the DukeOpen campaign cannot be understated. But to have any success at all we had to understand the system and become expert players in a game rigged against any team lacking resolve or savvy. Although security guards tried to block our march to the boardroom, our respectful tone, business attire and meticulously researched one-sheets made the threat of force look absurd. Security guards and plastic handcuffs may be able to slow down a movement, but they will never be able to silence modern student activists working on behalf of an idea whose time has come.

Read Next: Keegan O’Brien on Catholic students supporting LGBT rights.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 1/24/2014?

Wind turbines

Wind turbines in Palm Springs, Calif. (AP Photo/Sandy Huffaker)

—Sam Adler-Bell focuses on labo and mass incarceration.

Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange If You Knew What They Really Thought?,” by Sean Wilentz. The New Republic, January 19, 2014.

I associate Sean Wilentz with two subjects close to my heart: American labor history and Bob Dylan. (I own books of his on both subjects.) So I approached this article, a hit piece directed at anti-NSA crusaders Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, with some trepidation. Wilentz, I feared, would either succeed in convincing me that these figures (lionized by the left for exposing the secret machinations of our government's security apparatus) are really paranoid fanatics, hostile to the idea of liberal governance and critical of the surveillance state only as a means of undermining social democratic institutions—or else I would wind up with a seriously diminished estimation of the writer himself. Suffice it to say, I experienced the latter. But the piece is worth reading, I think, as a demonstration of how even a very smart liberal falls victim to the delusion, more and more prevalent today, that one cannot criticize the excesses of the (surveillance/police/carceral) state while simultaneously endorsing the government's role in alleviating poverty, regulating corporations and protecting the rights of marginalized people. We can do both, and we have to. (Henry Farrell has a comprehensive dismantling of Wilentz's arguments here.)

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

World Report 2014: Peru,” Human Rights Watch, January 21, 2014.

With the release of Human Rights Watch's twenty-fourth annual World Report, attention has focused largely on its criticism of the NSA. However, there are also serious concerns raised regarding Latin America, particularly Peruvian president Ollanta Humala's crackdown on protesters fighting against large-scale mining projects in the region. Twenty-seven civilians have died in protests since Humala took office in 2011, and little progress has been made in investigating these cases or prosecuting military or police personal who "used force unlawfully." This condemnation comes amid reports that Newmont Mining Corporation's controversial Conga mine project could restart operations sometime this year. The Conga mine is currently on hold after violent protests against the project in 2011 caused Humala to impose a state of emergency.

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

Disrupting the Disruptors,” by Erik Forman. In These Times, January 16, 2014.

Plenty has been written about the ways in which the Internet is changing work—and worker organizing—but two recent pieces in In These Times offer good case studies. Forman's piece, on Amazon warehouse workers' recent unionization attempt, explains why the "disruption" of old industries by new, high-tech firms like Amazon makes active organizing more important than ever. Sarah Jaffe's "How Walmart Organizers Turned the Internet Into a Shop Floor," discusses ways the Internet in turn makes effective organizing possible. The articles offer some perspective on the connections among different "disruptive" trends in different industries as well as an interesting look at how exactly employers are reacting to resistance.

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

The case the media should make for Edward Snowden,” by Edward Wasserman. The Miami Herald, January 19, 2014.

Just two days before The New Yorker published an exclusive interview with NSA leaker Edward Snowden, in which Snowden complains that "[t]he media has a major role to play in American society, and they’re really abdicating their responsibility to hold power to account," Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, penned a fiery call to arms directed at the Snowden-obsessed media. Wasserman aptly notes that the media aren't simple observers in the Snowden affair, but his "beneficiaries and enablers," giving them the power, and indeed the responsibility, to do his enormous act of bravery justice: "We need more muscular defense, something equal to the enormity of the wrongdoing we’re all indebted to him for exposing." Instead of clouding up airspace with groundless accusations (Is he a spy? Perhaps a robot?), the media should fight alongside Snowden to challenge institutional abuses of power and create a safe environment for future whistleblowers.

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

“Finding the Promise in Promise Zones, Part 1, Part 2,” by William Becker. Huffington Post, January 17, 2014.

As the War on Poverty turned fifty, President Obama announced the designation of five “Promise Zones” within the US. The zones offer tax incentives for hiring workers and write-offs for capital investment. Some are concerned Promise Zones, which have garnered the support of Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, will have gentrifying effects. Reminiscent of the War on Poverty’s policy of “maximum feasible participation” (touched on in the recent Nation feature “The Battle Hymn of the War on Poverty”), Becker’s two-part column offers suggestions on how the impoverished can self-govern their own rise from poverty.

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

Want to Predict the Future of Surveillance? Ask Poor Communities,” by Virginia Eubanks. The American Prospect, January 15, 2014.

Eubanks discusses how the sort of government surveillance that outraged so many Americans when revealed by Snowden had long been used against many of their poorer and non-white co-nationals. Now, with government collection of electronic data, "groups of 'like' subjects are...targeted for different, and often unequal, forms of supervision, discipline and surveillance, with marginalized communities singled out for more aggressive scrutiny," she writes. "Imagine the hue and cry if police officers scanned the fingerprints of white, middle-class Americans on the street, as has happened to day laborers in Los Angeles." She argues that we must learn from such groups' experiences of surveillance in order both to fight against these injustices themselves and to try to prevent such policies being applied to society as a whole.

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

Nine charged in 2000 murder of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique,” by Amelie Baron. Reuters, January 18, 2014.

In April 2000, Jean Dominique was gunned down outside of Radio Haiti Inter, the independent radio station he owned. Dominique was a true voice of independence in Haiti, reflected in his coverage of Haitian culture, his choice to run shows in Creole—considered rural and unfashionable—and his willingness to criticize those who wielded power in Haiti. It was the latter inclination that led to his assassination; fourteen years after Dominique's death, a judge has charged nine people with planning and carrying out his murder, including a senator from former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's party. It is widely suspected that the plot originated with Aristide, but he remains untouched, and to date none of the accused has been arrested. (To begin this story with Dominique's life, rather than the aftermath of his death, watch The Agronomist, Jonathan Demme's superb documentary on Jean Dominique.)

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Death Dust,” by Dana Goodyear. The New Yorker, January 20, 2014.

Dana Goodyear's piece on valley fever ties together the many complex issues concerning one illness found in some of America's driest places: climate change and its impact on disease patterns; the health effects of increasing desertification; drug cost and regulation; why pharmaceutical companies, scientists, researchers and policy makers respond to some diseases, and not others. Of interest to the more ghoulish reader: the effects of valley fever and its treatment are positively sci-fi-esque. As we watch California, one of the homes of valley fever, in the grips of drought, Goodyear's piece is more timely than ever.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Self-Interest, Reality and Global Climate Policy,” by Steven Cohen. Huffington Post, January 21, 2014.

Steven Cohen, executive director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, argues that unless or until renewable energy is priced significantly cheaper than fossil fuels, climate change will continue unabated. He calls on the federal government to back the research to make this possible. Green entrepreneurs and climate activists undoubtedly have a role to play, but their success hinges on the efforts of the underfunded scientists and engineers working to generate solutions.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

Short Cuts,” by Eyal Weizman. London Review of Books, January 9, 2014.

This article isn't really related to my beat, but it's too good not to share. In the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, specific leaders and events can seem unimportant in the face of an unchanging political situation. In this winding essay, Eyal Weizman describes the efforts to determine Yasser Arafat's legacy by looking at the forensic analysis done on his body and the almost completed museum dedicated to him. Yet, as Weizman shows, these attempts to establish historical certainty can't obscure the complex past of the Middle East.

Read Next: Rutgers Students Take Christie to Task.

What the LGBT Movement Can Learn From Seattle Catholic High School Students

Eastside Catholic HS

A student at Eastside Catholic High School (Brandi Kruse/KIRO Radio)

Last December 19, the Seattle archdiocese fired Mark Zmuda, the vice principal of Eastside Catholic High School. His transgression? Enacting his legal, constitutional right to marry his partner, another man.

The archdiocese’s logic in pushing Zmuda out of the school rests on the idea that same-sex marriage violates church teachings, something he as a school administrator is required to uphold. This was something both parties fully understood, claims Mike Patterson—a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Seattle, who held a private, closed-door meeting with Zmuda, where, according to Patterson, “It was just one of those situations where he knew…that he needed to comport with the [teachings] of the church, and his same-sex marriage was not comporting with that.”

Whatever the reasoning, the facts are clear: once Zmuda married a man, his time at Eastside Catholic High School was over. “The dismissal of the vice principal was based on the Archdiocese of Seattle’s authority over a Catholic school,” Principal Polly Skinner wrote in an e-mail to an Eastside graduate the day news of Zmuda’s dismissal broke. “We are saddened and as a Catholic school, bound by Catholic Teaching regarding Same Sex marriage.”

Thankfully, the students of Eastside had something to teach their administrators and the archdiocese that Thursday morning. Upon hearing the news of Zmuda’s planned departure, outraged students decided to take matters into their own hands and flocked to the school cafeteria where they began a sit-in, refusing to leave until Mr. Z (as they affectionately liked to call him) was reinstated.

Students also took to social media to spread the word about Zmuda’s firing and the word quickly spread. Learning of the news on Twitter and Facebook, hundreds of students at other Seattle area Catholic high schools took action by organizing their own protests and banner drops to demonstrate their solidarity.

More than 400 students—nearly the entire student body—eventually came to occupy Eastside’s cafeteria. Moved by his students’ actions, Zmuda paid the occupiers a visit, during which he told them, “Be the leaders of tomorrow that I know you all can be, because you all can make a difference…. You’ve made a difference in my life today.” After filling up their cafeteria, students took their demonstration to the streets and rallied outside of the school, where they were visited by reporters and news teams who helped broadcast their struggle to a national audience.

Some claim that the Archdiocese of Seattle was within its rights to fire Zmuda, pointing out the rights and freedoms guaranteed to religious institutions. But what about the basic rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people to be treated equally with respect and dignity? Religious freedom need not entail the right to practice and promote discrimination.

Zmuda’s case is still roiling the region. Some are hoping he will get his job back; others are seeking a change in the school’s employment practices.

Unfortunately, Zmuda’s firing is an all too common occurrence for LGBTQ people in a country lacking LGBTQ-inclusive federal anti-discrimination laws. The ouster of Zmuda comes amid a wave of firings and forced resignations of gay men and lesbians from Roman Catholic institutions across the country, in most cases prompted not directly by employees’ sexuality but by their decisions to marry as same-sex marriage becomes legal in an increasing number of states.

Currently, only seventeen states and the District of Colombia have LBGTQ inclusive employment protections. Zmuda’s story is an example of why passing a comprehensive Employment Non-Discrimination Act—one which does not exempt religious institutions—is of paramount importance to combating discrimination. Zmuda’s story tells us that there is nothing inevitable about progress—it is something we have to fight for.

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In a time when LGBTQ people still face powerful and well-funded opposition to equality, where Democratic “allies” continue to stall and put LGBTQ issues on the back burner, where mainstream LGBT organization stubbornly persist with their narrow, “don’t rock the boat strategy,” where our victories remain tenuous and fragile—as the recent episode in Utah demonstrates—the bold, defiant and unapologetic character of Eastside Catholic High School students serves as a model to the LGBTQ movement for how to struggle and fight for the changes we urgently need and deserve.

Read Next: Dave Zirin on the LGBT movement’s taking on Sochi.

Rutgers Students Take Christie to Task

Chris Christie Bridgegate

Chris Christie addresses the bridge scandal during a news conference. (Courtesy: NBC News)

The editorial board of Rutgers University's award-winning student newspaper, The Daily Targum, weighed in on the scandal still enveloping New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in this January 21 unsigned editorial.

We’re really glad that this whole Bridgegate fiasco came to light before our term as the Targum editorial board came to an end. With all the damn editorials we have written about Hurricane Sandy relief over the past year, all the pieces we’ve had to deal with hailing Gov. Chris Christie as some kind of hero, it’s pretty poetic that we’ve now come full circle with all the revelations that were made over winter break.

For those who spent the past month in total hibernation mode—and we don’t blame you—our très gentil governor has been accused of allegedly shutting down several lanes on the George Washington Bridge to get back at a North Jersey mayor for not supporting his re-election campaign.

Inciting traffic to exact revenge on political rivals? This is seriously so Jersey, it’s ridiculous. We would say it’s funny, except that emergency medical team responses were delayed. It was also back to school season, so students faced excruciating difficulty getting to their classes. According to the Daily News, the GWB is also “a lifeline for organ transplants at hospitals” and “traffic…could mean the difference between life and death in operations.”

Now, we hear that Christie withheld Sandy relief funds from a Democrat’s severely affected district unless she agreed to a new development plan he wanted to implement in her area. Many more similar narratives are now coming to light, showing Christie in that stereotypical “Boardwalk Empire” image that we all love, and now the federal government is launching an investigation into how exactly those emergency funds were used.

This is coming from an administration that constructed a good chunk of its re-election campaign on its incredible heroism in leading the state through one of the worst natural disasters in its history. Slick.

All we can say is we feel Christie’s presidential hopes are now officially down the drain. For a guy who portrayed himself as having everything under control, it’s absurd to think that something this corrupt would just slide under his nose. He has stated that it was a member of his administration who orchestrated the whole ordeal and that he had no idea it was going down, and—like the Jerseyans that we are—we call bullshit. That just seems like the perfect card to play for a person with grander political aspirations. We should know; we all watch “House of Cards.”

And, like “House of Cards,” this kind of political strong arming happens in American politics everyday, unfortunately. It’s just lucky for us—and unlucky for Christie—that this specific incident came to light. It’s necessary and very positive for political corruption to not only be exposed but also talked about across the country in the same way that Bridgegate is. It’s just sad that New Jersey yet again makes national headlines for the wrong reasons—but, hey, nothing our editorial board isn’t used to.

When these revelations were first coming to light, Christie had the signature gall to dismiss a question about the closures by sarcastically responding, “I worked the cones, actually. Unbeknownst to everybody I was actually the guy out there in overalls and a hat. You cannot be serious with that question.”

With the way the future is looking, that doesn’t seem like such a joke now.

Read Next: Anna-Lisa Castle on Cornell's sexual assualt policy.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading This Week?

FISA Court Order

Copy of a FISA Court order for Verizon’s metadata. (AP Photo)

—Sam Adler-Bell focuses on labor and mass incarceration.

Response to Vivek Chibber,” by Bruce Robbins. n+1, January 9, 2014.

This piece by Columbia English professor Bruce Robbins represents the latest volley in a months-old academic dust-up inaugurated by the publication of Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (Verso 2013) in March. Thanks to the miraculous hype machine at Verso Press—the hip wizards of leftist publishing, imbuing new books about Marxism with the cultural relevance of a Radiohead album—the fashionably unfashionable quality of Chibber’s central argument (that universal history in a Marxist mode is not only possible but necessary), and the pugnaciousness of Chibber’s attack on venerated Subaltern Studies historians like Partha Chatterjee and Ranajit Guha, the book has become something of a lightning rod. And it’s been fun to follow the little squirmishes: Axel Andersson’s piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Robbins’s review in n+1, Chibber’s response to Robbins in Jacobin, Robbins’s response to Chibber (above), not to mention a moderated debate between Chibber and Chatterjee at NYC’s Historical Materialism conference—which Verso live-tweeted as if it were a WWE prizefight (“Y’all ready for the Chibber/Chatterjee cage match that’s about to start? #postcolonialism”).

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

Mexico States Leave Millions on the Table, Thwart Police Reform,” by Patrick Corcoran. InSightCrime, January 14, 2014

The Mexican government has recently deployed troops and federal police to the southwestern state of Michoacán in an attempt to disarm vigilante “self-defense” groups. These groups have sprung up in the area during the last year to combat both corrupt local police forces and the Knights Templar drug cartel. Patrick Corcoran has an excellent piece about local governments’ failure to spend some $190 million in federal funds available last year for vetting local police forces. Using this money would be a huge first step towards improving local policing capacity, filling the institutional gap that makes armed vigilante groups necessary in the first place.

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

In the Name of Love,” by Miya Tokumitsu. Jacobin, Issue 13.

Miya Tokumitsu writes about the rise of a new, Steve Jobs–approved mandate for modern workers: “Do what you love; love what you do.” She discusses the dire social and political consequences of accepting the idea that the road to happiness lies in “fun” work rather than less work and better compensation. The essay only begins to explore certain aspects of the problem, including the ways it can cut across class lines, but it does remind us that it’s not only “elites” who are harmed by the kind of thinking it represents (which helps normalize unpaid internships and the replacement of full-time professors with low-paid adjuncts): the idea that “doing what you love” is a personal choice also erases the experiences of everyone who can’t afford to do so. The essay should remind us that we can’t afford to accept social mobility as a substitute for greater equality or rely on individual solutions to collective problems.

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

Did God Make These Babies Moral?,” by Paul Bloom. The New Republic, January 13, 2014.

In his accessible and well-reasoned investigation into altruism, Yale Professor of Cognitive Science Paul Bloom asks, “Why would someone risk his life for a stranger?” Bloom’s piece opens with the story of an ordinary man who dove onto subway tracks—with a train approaching—to save the life of somebody he’d never met. Bloom uses the emergence of altruism in the human species as a reference point for a larger inquiry into evolution versus intelligent design. Is selfless morality a product of natural selection or of the supernatural? In asking where our higher moral faculties come from, Bloom takes us through an intellectual history of how scientists and thinkers dealt with the question of functional morality.

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

Court Of Appeals, Division III of the State of Washington: Appellant’s Opening Brief. January 6, 2014.

The City of Spokane and local civic groups are appealing their county’s decision to remove a citizen initiative from last November’s ballot. The initiative would elevate neighborhood associations’ decision-making power, workers’ constitutional rights and rights of the Spokane River above corporate constitutional rights within the municipality. A separate initiative removed from the ballot, though not included in the appeal, would introduce a voter bill of rights and elevate said rights above corporate constitutional rights, locally. Prompting the question: What should US citizens be allowed to vote on?

—Justine Drennan focuses on human rights and minority groups in Asia.

China’s Crackdown on Cyber Activism,” by Michael Caster. The Diplomat, January 13, 2014.

Caster looks at the ethical tensions behind a burgeoning form of Chinese online activism called the “human flesh search,” in which netizens make “an independent investigation into the personal details of suspected wrongdoers”—largely government officials suspected of corruption—and share information and images about them online. These operations can spread false rumors and “have been equated with both cyber activism and cyber vigilantism.” But Caster believes in their potential, criticizing the Chinese government’s recent threats to stifle them, and suggesting that, given individual campaigns’ success so far in prompting court actions against corrupt officials, they’re an important part of the Internet’s potential for “slowly forcing Chinese society to be more participatory and transparent.”

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

NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says,” by Ellen Nakashima. The Washington Post, January 12, 2014.

What often gets lost in the debate between preserving freedom vs. protecting Americans from attack is the efficacy of methods used to identify and thwart terrorist plots. As Ellen Nakashima describes in the findings of a New America Foundation analysis of the specific investigative methods used in 225 cases, the NSA’s “bulk collection of phone records” had an insignificant impact. What’s more, the NSA doesn’t effectively sort through or share the data with other agencies. America’s counterterrorism complex suffers from a too-much-data problem, rather than a not-enough-data problem, and this article is a good step toward dismantling the misconception that trampling civil liberties is a necessary and effective way to fight terrorism.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Obesity Rates Are Falling Among The Affluent And Well-Educated, But Rising Among The Poor,” by Sy Mukherjee. ThinkProgress, January 14, 2014.

The article outlines the results of a recent Harvard report that finds adolescent obesity rates are falling among the wealthy while rising among the poor. There are several suggestions as to why: even though poor children consume fewer calories, they’re also less likely to exercise and more likely to rely on unhealthy food. They also may experience more stress than their wealthy counterparts. The article is important because it deals with one of the biggest health problems the United States is facing today, and demonstrates how inequality impacts our health and behavior.

—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

How the War on Poverty Succeeded (in Four Charts),” by John Cassidy. The New Yorker, January 14, 2014.

Last week Paul Ryan announced that the War on Poverty “has failed.” Here John Cassidy repudiates this unexamined truism of the right and discusses a new Columbia University study suggesting that poverty has declined dramatically since the mid-1960s, when the Johnson administration launched the good war and introduced the now famous phrase into public discourse. Using new, more comprehensive metrics in lieu of the crude “official poverty measure,” the researchers found that poverty has actually fallen, by some 40 percent since the mid-1960s. Moreover—and contrary to Ryan’s contention that we “keep dumping money into programs we know don’t work”—the researchers conclude that the drop is best explained by the emergence of government programs like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, housing subsidies and tax credits for the low-paid.

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—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

When Minority Students Attend Elite Private Schools,” by Judith Ohikuare. The Atlantic, December 17, 2013.

Judith Ohikuare brings her personal experiences to bear in a discussion of the recent documentary American Promise, which tells the story of two African-American students attending elite New York City prep schools. Ohikuare puts the film in a larger context and shows what it really takes for institutions to have a commitment to diversity.

Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on surveillance.

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