Plaudits for Nation writers; growing interest in instant runoff voting; xenophobia in Greece.


LAURELS FOR MUCKRAKERS: Three Nation reporters have been recognized with some of the highest honors in journalism for their work in exposing corruption and injustice. Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill has received the second annual Izzy Award for special achievement in independent journalism. The judges cited his "persistence, independence and journalistic courage" in his coverage of human rights abuses committed by private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting how his reporting "embodies the independent spirit of Izzy Stone," the legendary muckraking founder of I.F. Stone’s Weekly. Last year Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (NationBooks) who also reports for Democracy Now!, wrote nearly two dozen articles and dispatches for The Nation documenting contractor crimes, sparking multiple Congressional investigations and inquiries.

Aram Roston‘s probe into how Pentagon money is being used to pay off insurgents, in what amounts to an elaborate and self-defeating protection racket in Afghanistan ("How the US Funds the Taliban," November 30), is a finalist for the Daniel Pearl Award. The award is a project of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that recognizes cross-border reporting of the kind Pearl pursued for the Wall Street Journal before his murder. Roston’s report, which was supported by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute, attracted the attention of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NATO officials, and triggered an ongoing Congressional investigation. Representative John Tierney, chair of the national security subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, said that Roston’s article raised "serious allegations…that private security providers for US transportation contractors in Afghanistan are regularly paying local warlords and the Taliban for security."

A.C. Thompson, who documented racist violence by armed white vigilantes in New Orleans ("Katrina’s Hidden Race War" and "Body of Evidence," January 5, 2009) with the support of the Investigative Fund, was a finalist for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, and he has received the Investigative Reporters and Editors Magazine Certificate and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Thompson’s reports led to an FBI investigation and the empaneling of a federal grand jury in New Orleans, with indictments expected soon. Former and current police superintendents were called to testify, and three officers are under investigation in the death of Henry Glover, whose gruesome murder went uninvestigated until Thompson’s articles drew attention to it.

I.R.V. BUZZ: Instant runoff voting, the smart reform that makes majority rule possible in multi-candidate elections, is finally capturing the imagination of the opinion leaders, who just might jump-start this movement at the national level. Über-influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman–not a frequent recipient of praise from this magazine–started things off with a March 24 column that noted how some Republicans had voted against healthcare reform because they feared retribution in party primaries, and how Democrats are similarly fearful on other issues. "When your political system punishes lawmakers for…doing the right things, it is broken," he wrote.

What to do? "Break the oligopoly of our two-party system" with redistricting reforms that take the power to draw Congressional district lines out of the hands of partisans, argued Friedman, and "get states to adopt ‘alternative voting’" that allows voters to rank an independent candidate "your No. 1 choice, and the Democrat or Republican No. 2. Therefore, if the independent does not win, your vote is immediately transferred to your second choice, say, the Democrat. Therefore, you have no fear that in voting for an independent you might help elect your real nightmare–the Republican."

The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg, a veteran reform advocate, welcomed Friedman aboard "for what we electoral-reform monomaniacs call…I.R.V.," and an elated FairVote executive director Rob Richie chimed in with a note that "Hurt Locker won the best picture Oscar with this system, and voters handle it well in major elections in Minneapolis and San Francisco and in nations like Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom." Now if we could just get Friedman excited about reforming our broken "free trade" policies.   JOHN NICHOLS

GREECE HEATS UP: Each year on March 25, Greece celebrates its own Fourth of July, commemorating the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. This year the mood was dampened by the economic crisis, but that didn’t keep members of the Coast Guard’s Special Forces from chanting violent hate-filled slogans as they paraded through the center of Athens: "You’re born a Greek, you can never become one, we’ll spill your blood, Albanian pig!"; "They’re called Albanians, they’re called Skopjeans, we’ll make clothes out of their skins!" A YouTube video promptly made the rounds. To its credit, the government reacted decisively and quickly, suspending the officer in charge and launching a full investigation. But the incident confirms the infiltration of Greece’s security forces by extremist groups like the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which has in the past been protected by a shield of official tolerance, and whose ideas are given an "acceptable" gloss by mainstream parties like the Popular Orthodox Rally, which has fifteen seats in Parliament.

Some in Greece feel that such episodes shouldn’t be reported abroad lest they tarnish the country’s image, feeding the humiliation that nourishes xenophobia. But to treat the rise of the far right as a guilty family secret, in Greece or anywhere, is a dangerous mistake. The harsh response of Germany’s Angela Merkel in particular to the Greek debt crisis, and the imposition of draconian austerity measures by the EU, has fueled a popular reaction that conflates all foreigners with enemies. At the same time, Europe demands that Greece police its borders and cope with the vast numbers of migrants and refugees who reach the islands. George Papandreou‘s government needs international support as it pushes through its reforms–including a law that will normalize Greece’s citizenship rules, granting nationality to the children of legal immigrants.   MARIA MARGARONIS

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