There are only forty days until the election and most media outlets are almost singularly focused on the latest "who-said-what" politicking. Unless, of course, they’re talking about football. As a possible antidote, in this post Nation interns bring you eleven stories you may have missed, including Obama’s shadow wars in Africa, the closing of the Burmese Censorship Office, and a controversial anti-prostitution campaign.
Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.
“Na ONU, Dilma ataca medidas de países ricos contra crise.” Veja, September 25, 2012. (To read in English, click here.)
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff opened the 67th General Assembly of the United Nations this week. In her speech, she urged underdeveloped countries to focus on social welfare and employment to escape the financial crisis. She explained that even with relatively slower economic growth, Brazil has been able to maintain a good level of employment, keep inflation in control, reduce poverty and invest in infrastructure. Overall, Dilma’s emphasis on social welfare and anti-austerity is particularly valued and important in a time of increasingly neoliberal politics.
Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.
“Unarmed people power drums Libya’s jihadists out of Benghazi,” by Chris Stephan. The Guardian, September 22, 2012.
While the mainstream media was focused on protests at American embassies against an Islamophobic film, the people of Benghazi, the center of the 2011 Libyan revolution against Gaddafi, staged a huge demonstration against the "Ansar Al-Sharia" militia that was believed to be responsible for killing the US ambassador. Despite the militia firing warning shots in the air, tens of thousands of people marched in an action that caused the extremist militia to flee. An extremely significant event that shows that the Islamic fundamentalist militias constantly in the spotlight are, in fact, on the fringes of many of the societies in which they try to embed themselves.
Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the presidency and China.
“This Presidential Race Should Never Have Been This Close,” by Matt Taibbi. Rolling Stone, September 25, 2012.
A good example of Taibbi’s polemical style, taking pretty much everyone to task for the absurdity of the American electoral process. This is not just an anti-Romney screed (although that forms much of the piece, too). Rather, Taibbi also goes after the "rank incompetence of the Democratic Party," a party which should have every election for the next half century sewn up, but instead has been captured and corrupted by the Washington Game. He also briefly goes after the media, bemoaning the "tendency of pundits to give equal weight to opposing views in situations where one of those views is actually completely moronic and illegitimate."
Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media and East Asian affairs.
“Chief Censor in Myanmar Caps His Red Pen,” by Thomas Fuller. The New York Times, September 22, 2012.
The dismantling of Burma’s censorship office last month marked another surprising step in a series of recent reforms that point the once-brutal military dictatorship in the direction towards democracy. This short profile of chief censor (or "literary torturer") U Tint Swe offers fascinating insight into the psychology of totalitarian message control and its tenability in the Internet age. Orwell fans will notice that the process of redaction, revision and restriction practiced at Tint Swe’s former office precisely reflects, almost banally, Winston Smith’s role at the Ministry of Truth.
Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace.
“US expands its secret war in Africa.” United Press International, September 24, 2012.
Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of President Barack Obama’s militarism is its secrecy. He is able to wage covert wars in multiple hotspots around the world with little transparency or public discussion. This is very noticeable in Africa. Recently, United Press International published a special report on the expansion of America’s secret wars in Africa. Rather than sending actual armies to invade and occupy multiple countries, as Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama, under the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) that was established in 2007, is sending teams of special operations forces to hunt down suspected terrorists. Because these operations are carried out by JSOC and the CIA, along with small bases and drones, these wars are shrouded in secrecy. The deeper geopolitical reasons behind the increasing military penetration into Africa–gaining access to natural resources, such as oil and natural gas, and countering the influence of China and India on the continent–are also obscured.
Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence and regulatory capture.
“The Man Who Shaped History,” by Michael Ignatieff. The New York Review of Books, October 11, 2012.
In this review of a new book on the history of human rights by a man who, as the article title declares, very much dictated the course of that history—Aryeh Neier, a former Nation columnist and the founder of Human Rights Watch and later president of the Open Society Foundations—Michael Ignatieff notes one of the more interesting, underreported, and potentially depressing facts regarding the human rights movement today: the transnational establishment “machinery” which is supposed to enforce human rights “[has] been captured by the states it [is] charged to regulate.” There is a definite silver lining, however, insofar as human rights is probably the area of international law most amenable to “the activism of a global civil society movement,” Ignatieff argues. Thus, as in the US domestic arena, the upside of regulatory capture is that it opens up space for participatory democratic movements that have the potential to spill over into other vital domains of public life.
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.
“New Stanford/NYU study documents the civilian terror from Obama’s drones,” by Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian, September 25, 2012.
As deadly riots gripped the Muslim world, the American public began asking itself why the followers of the Islamic faith seemingly hate the US and the West. Phrases like "Muslim Rage" were trending worldwide and bloggers and pundits attempted to answer the question. But what few seem to grasp is the deep resentment that has built up in these countries after decades of foreign policy blunders. Perhaps the most recent example is President Obama’s drone policy in countries like Pakistan, where less than 2 percent of the people killed have been classified as "high level" terrorist targets. Glenn Greenwald details the findings of the Stanford/NYU study that challenges official government reports of "zero to none" casualties. And he asks perhaps the most chilling question of all: if you believe the president has the power to execute people (including US citizens) abroad, "then what power do you believe he shouldn’t have?"
Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.
“You get what you pay for,” by Sarah Gilman. High Country News, September 26, 2012.
When it comes to industrial expansion, money, of course, plays a big role in the technological advances that make success possible or failure imminent. In energy, that truth is no less evident. That’s why government tax subsidies for clean, renewable energy are so important—the recent success of hydraulic fracturing, an environmentally-questionable way to release fossil fuels and gases, probably wouldn’t have been possible without federal assistance and tax breaks. So take a step back if you think clean energy isn’t worth the cost because, as Gilman’s article makes clear, you get what you pay for.
Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.
“A Misguided Moral Crusade,” by Noy Thrupkaew. The New York Times, September 23, 2012.
In this New York Times Sunday Review opinion piece, Noy Thrupkaew critiques the push for criminally regulating the demand for prostitution by "modern-day abolitionists" who believe that a “no demand, no supply” approach will eliminate sex trafficking and abuse of sex workers. She explores the ways in which moves in this direction will most likely do more harm than good, and suggests that efforts to listen to sex workers themselves, to hold the police accountable for their actions and attitudes, and to provide comprehensive social services that would better address these problems.
Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.
“For wrongly convicted, only a ticket home,” by Brad Heath. USA Today, September 26, 2012.
The good news from North Carolina: at least seventeen wrongfully convicted individuals were released from federal prison, long after they were found to be "legally innocent." The bad: Their release came with no compensation for up to six years of their life they spent behind bars, and no more help than a bus ticket to leave the premises. Exonerees nationwide fall into a gap in post-prison support, with even less opportunity for job training and housing assistance than other inmates. The story sheds light on the broader breakdown of a supposedly "rehabilitative" system.
Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.
“Telling Stories About the Stories We Tell: An Interview with Philip Gourevitch,” by Cécile Alduy. Boston Review, September 19, 2012.
My recommendation this week isn’t an article, but a Boston Review interview between Philip Gourevitch and Cécile Alduy. Gourevitch, a seasoned reporter and documentarian known for covering the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and, perhaps most notably, the Rwandan genocide in his book We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, remarks on the nature of conflict reporting, the pitfalls of memory and the proper telling of history during complicated political and humanitarian crises. Among the many insights worth noting are Gourevitch’s comments on interventionism in Syria and on the dangers of applying human rights-based crime and punishment solutions to countries where the lines between abuser and victim are often blurred. I can’t say enough positive things about this interview; it is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in covering or learning more about international affairs or war and peace-related issues.