In this week's selection, you'll find not only intelligent commentary on the topics of the day (gun control, immigration, Mali), but also some stories that would make for great trivia questions or discussion starters. Read on to find out how poetry helps guide immigrants across the US-Mexico border, how PTSD can be contagious, how 90 percent of Canadians now have a female premier and how one family in Siberia didn't see another human for forty years.
Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“Will A 'Bar' Exam for Teachers Improve Student Performance?” by Andrea Gabor. Gotham Gazette, January 13, 2013.
Over the last two months publications including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Good magazine, and this week National Public Radio have reported on American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten's call for a "bar exam" for teachers. Most news reports have said little about concerns from some educators that such an exam would bar teachers of color from the classroom. The Gotham Gazette quotes Harlem middle school teacher Chrystina Russell, “The only thing I'm certain a bar exam will do is keep out minorities.”
James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.
“Alt-Labor,” by Josh Eidelson. The American Prospect, January 29, 2013.
How screwed is the US labor movement? Better yet, what do people mean when they ask this? Josh Eidelson, whose labor reporting runs from high-level political battles to the changing composition of work, charts the range of efforts to organize workers outside the bounds of NLRB-sanctioned unionization—and what they mean for the future of the labor movement.
Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security, African and French politics and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“Is America Training Too Many Foreign Armies?” by John Norris. Foreign Policy, January 28, 2013.
The war in Mali has highlighted the role of US military assistance that too often lack oversight and a compelling central rationale. General Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM, has recently acknowledged that the US military training in Mali has failed to spend “the requisite time focusing on values, ethics, and a military ethos” as the Malian army has been accused of massacring Arabs and Tuaregs without any respect for human rights standards. Indeed, as John Norris points out, very often US-trained officers carry out atrocities—as in East Timor—or lead coups against their governments—from Honduras to Haiti to the Gambia, and just recently, in March 2012, in Mali. In 2012, 134 countries have benefited from American bilateral security assistance—almost every country on Earth. This clearly shows that the Pentagon has failed to define US military aid around clear objectives and should revise its military assistance programs.
Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“Beyond Banning ‘Bad Guns’ and ‘Arming Good Guys,’” by Subhash Kateel. Let’s Talk About It, January 11, 2013.
In an unequal society where incarceration and brutality are often default solutions to social problems, "just doing something" about gun violence doesn't suffice. Pundits and politicians, both liberal and conservative, cite decontextualized evidence to bolster their inadequate or downright regressive proposals. This article by Subhash Kateel breaks the mold.
Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“In ‘Occupy,’ Well-Educated Professionals Far Outnumbered Jobless, Study Finds,” by Colin Moynihan. The New York Times, January 28, 2013.
All hail the salaried bourgeoisie, or aka the precariat, the newfangled revolutionary subject produced by late capitalism. With the phrase “revolt of the salaried bourgeoisie,” Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek graced the Occupy Wall Street movement last year in the pages of the London Review of Books. Now, based on a new report released by professors at the Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, the data is in, and it confirms Žižek’s none dismissive claim: “These are not proletarian protests, but protests against the threat of being reduced to proletarians.”
Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.
“New Texts out Now: Madawi Al-Rasheed, A Most Masculine State: Gender, Politics, and Religion in Saudi Arabia,” by Madawi Al-Rasheed. Jadaliyya, January 23, 2013.
While I haven't read Al-Rasheed's A Most Masculine State, this interview introduces a nuanced discussion of the Saudi female experience explored in her book, which is meant to counter "the banality of superficial opinions on Saudi women that is so pervasive." So often discussions about women in Islamic societies point only to a draconian (strand of) religious tradition without considering political power dynamics that come to play. Al-Rasheed's mention of the development of Whabbi Islam into a religious nationalist movement is particularly intriguing.
Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II,” by Mike Dash.Smithsonian, January 29, 2013.
I initially resisted the idea of picking this article about a hermetic family of Old Believers because it sounds like some strange-but-true tabloid piece. But this has to be one of the most fascinating things I've read in a while. I admire the strength of the family's religious beliefs and determination to survive in one of the loneliest, harshest places on earth. I also abhor the idea that the children were denied many of the pleasures and experiences we take for granted, and that they ***spoiler alert*** died essentially preventable deaths. And yet the surviving child (who's become something of a celebrity in Russia) continues to live in her family's home in the wilderness.
Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, criminal justice and media reform.
“Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can’t Stem Fatal Shots,” by Monica Davey. The New York Times, January 29, 2013.
This week, Monica Davey delves into the issues of local versus federal gun laws in a city that has been plagued by violence. As the country continues to debate gun control laws, Chicago will become a more important city to consider, especially as the state is set to debate a statewide ban on concealed weapons. Also, Chicago, unlike Newtown and other places where tragedies hit relatively privileged white communities, commands an analysis of race, economics and inequality that will be important to developing a solution to the country's widespread violence.
Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“Is PTSD Contagious?” by Mac McClelland. Mother Jones, January/ February 2013.
Human rights reporter Mac McClelland continues her engagement with post-traumatic stress disorder, here focusing on veterans' families and how the condition infects their lives. A supplement: McClelland spoke with the Longform podcast about this story (amongst other things) while she was still writing it. Definitely worth a listen. In fact, all of the Longform podcasts are worth a listen.
Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“Poetry, Immigration and the FBI: The Transborder Immigrant Tool,” by Leila Nadir. Hyperallergic, July 23, 2012.
This week the Senate rolled out an immigration reform bill that some have declared a major breakthrough. I personally am wary of a bill that includes provisions like the requirement that undocumented folks pay back-taxes as part of the "pathway to citizenship," when they already pay taxes without the benefit of having to access the services they're helping to fund. Another worrisome part of the bill: more predator drones flying around the US-Mexico border. In meandering through the Internet's trove of readings on the militarization of border-patrol, I came across this interview with Ricardo Dominguez, co-founder of Electronic Disturbance Theater and creator of the Transborder Immigrant Tool. TBT combines cheap cell-phones, poetry and GPS technology to guide undocumented immigrants to water caches and safe havens as they make the treacherous journey across the desert to the United States. Dominguez's conversation with Leila Nadir offers beautiful (though sometimes beautifully obtuse—to me, at least) insight into the intersectionality of art and activism in the face of “the slow violence of the neo-liberal dismantling of bio-citizenship.”
Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“South America: A Panorama of Media Democratization,” by Alexandra Hall. NACLA Report on the Americas, January 28, 2013.
Viewed from afar, recent media reforms in South America are commonly characterized as assaults on the freedom of the press. Disagreeing with that assessment, this article from NACLA argues that the new laws "have redefined the concept of communication from a commodity to a people's right." Going country by country, the author explains the reasoning behind different reforms' implementation, acknowledges some of the criticisms leveled against them and comments on the effect they've had thus far in democratizing the media. Given this nation's current trend toward corporate consolidation and the proliferation of juggernaut conglomerates, observers in the US should commiserate with attempts to limit the power of media empires and encourage a diversity of voices in national debates.
Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“Kathleen Wynne, Ontario's groundbreaking premier-designate.” CBC News, January 26, 2013.
The first woman premier has been elected in Ontario, and she's also making headlines for being Canada's first openly gay provincial leader. After long-time Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty announced his resignation in October, the Ontario Liberal Party held a leadership race to determine who would become the next leader of the party and the province. Kathleen Wynne's victory on Saturday means that women now lead half of the provincial governments (as well as one of the three territories). Moreover, because five of these women govern Canada's largest provinces, 90 percent of Canadians now have a female premier.