This week witnessed widespread school closings in Philadelphia, the threat of war with Iran, the death of Hugo Chávez and the exploits of the Russian (and American) secret police. The media looked into the tea leaves (in the case of Putin's empire, quite literally!). Is this a moment of emergent working-class consciousness? Political scientist Adolph Reed ponders. What'll happen if Congress lets us unlock our phones? Surely, a techno-revolution.


— Alleen Brown focuses on education.

SRC set to vote on 27 planned school closings,” by Kristen Graham. The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 2013.

Philadelphia's School Reform Commission votes this week on whether to realize 27 (out of a total of 29) planned district school closings. Hundreds of parents, educators and community members are expected to rally on the day of the vote, Thursday. They're demanding a one-year moratorium on closures, which disproportionately impact students of color and, many say, are a move towards privatized education. The article does not mention that demonstrators' concerns are reflective of those of parents protesting school closures in districts across the country.


— James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.

Undocumented Farmworkers Make 'Perfect Victims' for Sexual Harassers and Abusers,” by Joseph Sorrentino. RH Reality Check, March 2, 2013.

In an undocumented female workforce hit with rampant abuse—and retaliation for fighting it—it's something that women spoke out so readily for this piece. On the flipside, the fact that we need investigative journalism to bring this kind of abuse to light reflects the poverty of mainstream debate around immigrant labor.


— Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.

US to UN diplomats: Stop getting drunk during budget talks,” by Colum Lynch. Foreign Policy, March 4, 2013.

Joseph Torsella, US Ambassador for Management and Reform at the UN, created a buzz a few days ago when he scolded his colleagues for excessive drinking and asked that UN negotiations rooms should be an “inebriation-free zone.” According to several UN officials, delegates maintain “a stock of booze” in negotiating rooms: vodka for the Russians, wine for the French, whiskey for the Canadians. Colum Lynch points out that alcohol is used to “soften an adversary's negotiating position” or as “a delaying tactic to put off final decision until the final hours.” Now, finally, we know how negotiations at the UN are conducted!


— Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.

Death of a Yuppie Dream,” by Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, February 2013.

In 1977, Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich identified the "professional-managerial class," a group of college-educated, upwardly-mobile specialists whose role in American life expanded through the twentieth-century. After three decades of sustained neoliberal assault, however, this class is being ripped apart at the seams. On the higher end, some professionals are bought off with exorbitant pay-packages and stock-options. The vast majority are saddled with debt, sinking wages and hyper-competition. The Ehrenreichs ask a basic question: will the PMC finally throw its lot in with the working class?


— Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.

Django Unchained, or, The Help: How ‘Cultural Politics’ Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why,” by Adolf Reed, Jr., February 25, 2013.

After years of captivity to procrustean cultural essentialism and single-issue moralism, the left has steadily regained its self-assurance, ruthlessly criticizing the dispensers of platitudes in the media circuit and inserting class politics into the public sphere (click: here,here and here). In his loquacious essay, Adolph Reed contributes to this growing trend, arguing “being a progressive is now more a matter of how one thinks about oneself than what one stands for or does in the world. The best that can be said for that perspective is that it registers acquiescence in defeat. It amounts to an effort to salvage an idea of a left by reformulating it as a sensibility within neoliberalism rather than a challenge to it.”


— Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.

Muslim Opposition to the Muslim Religious Right Grows, from Egypt to Bangladesh,” by Juan Cole. Informed Comment, March 2, 2013.

Juan Cole debunks the notion that most religious Muslims support extremist Islamist parties, explaining that more liberal minded Muslims and religious parties increasingly oppose parties ranging from the Egyptian and Saudi Muslim Brotherhood to the Taliban. He also provides a convincing argument for embracing the use of "Muslim Religious Right" in place of "Islamism," "political Islam" or "Muslim fundamentalism" as terminology for describing extremist religious factions.


— Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.

Siberia: Shamans, Spies and the Secret Police,” by Ben Judah. Standpoint, March 2013.

In this article for the conservative-leaning British magazine Standpoint, Judah looks into the tea leaves, literally, to predict the future of Putin's Russia. Although he flirts along the way with a few dismissive stereotypes about the country and its various peoples, the reporting here is detailed and nervy. If you want an example of a reporter testing his mettle to get the story, jump to the paragraph beginning, "The people carrier trundled on."


— Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.

White House Backs the Right to Unlock Your Phone—Will Congress?” by Kyle Wiens. The Atlantic, March 5, 2013.

The White House's support for overturning a ban on unlocking cell phones has put the issue on the mainstream radar. This article gives a brief history of the battle over unlocking and what the main points of contention are for advocates, business and Congress. It focuses mostly on the privacy and copyright implications, but I think this type of legislation could have major impacts on the accessibility and affordability of mobile technology.


— Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.

The True-Life Horror that Inspired Moby-Dick,” by Gilbert King. Smithsonian, March 1, 2013.

Melville might have languished in obscurity despite having written one of the greatest novels of all time, but at least he didn't have to kill and eat his own cousin! "I would prefer not to," indeed.


— Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.

Revealed: Pentagon's link to Iraqi torture centres,” by Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane, Chavala Madlena and Teresa Smith. The Guardian, March 6, 2013.

As Congress considers a bill that would bring the US one step closer to the possibility of engaging in war on Iran, The Guardian exposes the lineage between US military intervention in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Iraq through Colonel James Steele. Steele trained the notorious death squads in El Salvador, was integral to the Iran-Contra scandal and was recruited by the Pentagon to do the same work in Iraq. This article summarizes an hour-long documentary that resulted from a fifteen-month investigation into the Pentagon's role in some of the worst human rights abuses of the Iraq War.


— Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.

On the Legacy of Hugo Chávez,” by Greg Grandin. The Nation, March 5, 2013.

Separating itself from the crescendo of defamatory obituaries that exploded across the web within hours of Hugo Chávez's death, Greg Grandin's article for The Nation provides historical context about the social, economic and political conditions that shaped Chávez's worldview and allowed his philosophy of economic redistribution, social inclusion, direct political participation and anti-imperialism to resonate throughout Latin America. The article does not attempt to argue that Chávez was a perfect president or that Venezuela's democracy operates without flaws and contradictions. Instead it celebrates his legacy as a charismatic and confrontational leader, who resisted reactionary forces—domestic and foreign—to empower previously marginalized Venezuelans, nurture a sense of community among neighboring nations and help diminish Washington's historically perverse interference in the region's affairs. In addition, Grandin ridicules United States commentators' belief that they possess the moral authority to provide the ultimate judgment of a nation's democratic merit and makes the provocative suggestion that, considering the high-level of civic engagement in the country's political life, "Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere."


— Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.

Unequal justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails,” by Jim Rankin and Patty Winsa. Toronto Star, March 1, 2013.

Freedom of Information requests filed by University of Toronto grad student Akwasi Owusu-Bempah have led to the publication of jarring new statistics on the overrepresentation of black and aboriginal youth in Ontario prisons. In a forthcoming book chapter, Owusu-Bempah and a co-author "compared federal Canadian aboriginal and black inmate data with US black inmate data and discovered the degree of overrepresentation of blacks in the justice system is similar." However, neither the incarceration of aboriginal girls at a rate 10 times higher than their representation in the total Ontario population (that's just one example), nor the systemic racism that enables this incarceration are subject to much discussion in Canada. This two-minute video summarizes some of the findings, and is part of the "Unequal Justice" series, an ongoing Toronto Star investigation into prison data.