As the election approaches, the airwaves are getting increasingly cluttered with poll numbers, “breaking” videos, and this week, debate analysis. For those suffering from election fatigue, Nation interns bring you eleven stories you might have missed, including a sobering drone report from Columbia University, a blow to domestic workers’ rights in California and the destruction of a historic market in Syria.
Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.
“Alarm Grows in São Paulo as More Police Officers Are Murdered,” by Simon Romero. The New York Times, October 3, 2012.
Brazil has the fourth-largest prison population in the world. The prisons are overcrowded and inhumane, and often run by gangs, especially those in São Paulo, most notably by the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC). This article discusses the many police officers murdered in São Paulo over the past year, possibly by the PCC. This article sheds light on the power that prison gangs have beyond prison walls and their tensions with a mostly corrupt police system.
Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.
“In Syria’s Largest City, Fire Ravages Ancient Market,” by Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad. The New York Times, September 30, 2012.
This story is about how an ancient souk (Arabic for marketplace) in Aleppo in Syria has fallen victim to the conflict between government forces and anti-government rebels. The souk, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, was set on fire and appears to have been severely damaged. In existential battles such as the one we are seeing in Syria, nothing, not even ancient monuments, is immune. A doctor in Aleppo is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s not just a souk and shops, but it’s our soul, too.”
Jeff Ernsthausen focuses on domestic politics and the influence of money on public institutions.
“DHS Counterterror Centers Produce ‘a Bunch of Crap,’ Senate Finds,” by Spencer Ackerman. Wired, October 2, 2012.
A report released this week by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that “fusion centers,” among the largest domestic counterterrorism initiatives financed by the Department of Homeland Security, were largely useless in achieving their aims while also being prone to waste and abuse. According to the report, the seventy-plus fusion centers, created to share data between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and often criticized by civil liberties groups, failed to identify a single terrorist threat during the thirteen month period studied by Congressional investigators. The report also found that the information collected and stored in the centers possibly violated US law relating to citizens’ rights to privacy, and noted that DHS failed to keep track of up to $1.4 billion in funds earmarked for the centers.
Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the presidency and China.
“The League of Dangerous Mapmakers,” by Robert Draper. The Atlantic, October 2012.
In an interesting, if over-long, article about the forces behind political redistricting, Draper lays bare the special interests behind gerrymandering and questionable apportioning of voters into ironclad safe districts. The majority is focused on Republican operatives (who were lucky enough to be voted into the majority at the time of the Census, and therefore were perfectly situated to solidify some of their strongholds for the next decade), but there is also mention of some Democratic maneuvering. The article drags a little bit towards the end, but is packed with details and examples. It’s an incredibly important issue, one that people are probably aware of to some degree, but knowing how it works is valuable, and Draper does a good job of making the subject accessible and clear.
Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media and East Asian affairs.
“A promise to our NOLA.com and Times-Picayune readers.” The Times-Picayune, October 1, 2012.
The Times-Picayune switched to a thrice-weekly publishing schedule with an expanded web presence on Sunday, making New Orleans the only major US metropolitan area without a daily newspaper. In this editorial, the Times-Picayune promises to continue delivering quality journalism, despite significant newsroom layoffs to accommodate the digital shift. When perusing the comments at the bottom of the page, one notices an overwhelming sense of doubt among once-loyal readers. Can you blame them?
Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.
“Washington’s Mistaken Belief in the Greatness of Drone Technology,” by Kevin Gosztola. Firedoglake, September 30, 2012.
Recently, Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and the Center for Civilians in Conflict released a report that should advance public discussion about the dangerous implications of drone warfare. The report describes how “as covert drone strikes by the United States become increasingly frequent and widespread, reliance on the precision capabilities and touted effectiveness of drone technology threatens to obscure the impact on civilians.” Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake does a good job of summarizing the key revelations from the report. This report was released directly after Stanford University Law School and NYU School of Law released their report about the humanitarian impact of US drone strikes in Pakistan. Given the secrecy surrounding the US drone program, it is nice to see universities do the necessary research to shed light on what’s really going on.
Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence, and regulatory capture.
“The Presidential Debates: Manufacturing Consent,” by Dennis Maley. The Bradenton Times, September 30, 2012.
As John Nichols argued this week, presidential debates subvert democracy by holding smaller parties to prohibitively high and self-reinforcing standards for admission. An additional, though related, problem is the naked corporatism of these pseudo-events. But the public is increasingly waking up and connecting the dots: several sponsors—including Philips, the electronics giant; BBH New York, a financial agency; and the YWCA—withdrew their sponsorship of the debates this week protesting the Commission on Presidential Debate’s exclusion of minor-party candidates. Those decisions reflect a dogged campaign in recent weeks in support of more open debates. Perhaps by the end of the month more corporations will echo the sentiment of the League of Women Voters, which, according to Dennis Maley of Florida’s Bradenton Times, withdrew its sponsorship of debates in 1988, proclaiming, “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
Annum Masroor focuses on the draw down of the Afghanistan War and how it will shape Afghanistan’s own future and that of its neighbors.
“Ten lessons the U.S. should learn from Afghanistan’s history,” by William Byrd. Foreign Policy, October 1, 2012.
While the United States continues to fight its longest war yet, top military and diplomatic officials have acknowledged that the time for negotiating with the Taliban is near. As The New York Times reported on Monday, officials are reconsidering their former strategy of “battering the Taliban into a peace deal.” For many familiar with Afghanistan’s post-colonial history, this was to be expected. William Byrd makes the case that the country’s history can teach us several lessons, from the relative stability of the Afghan monarchy to the failed Soviet strategy in the 1980’s. Perhaps most importantly, these are lessons that should have been learned and understood before. As South Asia and counterterrorism expert Bruce Reidel is quoted in the article: “A country rarely fights the same war twice in one generation, especially from opposite sides. Yet that in many ways describes the US role in Afghanistan today.”
Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.
“Swing Voters and Climate Change,” by Anna Fahey. Sightline Daily, October 2, 2012.
With both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney trying their best to wrangle the undecided electorate, one of their best bets for victory might be paying a little more attention to climate change. Of course, neither candidate is likely to make a headlong charge at the issue. But a recent study out of Yale University suggests that both Obama and Romney could capture some of these sought-after swing voters if they add climate change to an otherwise strong platform.
Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.
“Mitt Romney’s ‘illegals’ rhetoric alienates Latinos,” by Jose Antonio Vargas. The Guardian, October 3, 2012.
Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who came out as undocumented last year, draws attention to the importance of language when politicians (and the media) talk about immigration. As long as Romney remains willing to call people “illegal” (not to mention shaky on the differences between a visa and deferred action), he “risks being on the wrong side of history at this election.”
Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.
“Governor Brown Denies Overtime Protection to Domestic Workers in CA,” by Jorge Rivas. Colorlines, October 1, 2012.
At a time when organized labor is under attack, it’s even harder to advocate for the informal workforce. Last Sunday, California governor Jerry Brown struck down the “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights,” which would have extended key worker protections and benefits to the state’s already marginalized domestic workforce. As the article points out, those that work in private homes are often the most vulnerable to being overworked, underpaid and abused. Most nannies, house cleaners and caregivers are immigrant females, meaning the bill isn’t simply a worker’s protection act—it’s an issue of gender, immigrant and racial equality.
Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.
“Obama waives sanctions on countries that use child soldiers,” by Josh Rogin. Foreign Policy, October 1, 2012.
In a recent Foreign Policy article, Josh Rogin talks about President Obama’s decision to waive sanctions imposed by the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, South Sudan and Yemen for the third year in a row. As a result of this decision, all four of these countries are once again able to buy US arms and receive US military aid and training, despite being known to use children in their armed forces. This move comes mere days after Obama’s speech at the Clinton Global Initiative denouncing the use of child soldiers and human trafficking, making the presidential waivers a hypocritical and self-aware act of potentially contributing to human rights violations in the misguided name of national security.