Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.
Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.
“Can vouchers fix campaign finance?” by Dylan Matthews. The Washington Post, July 22, 2012.
A growing number of campaign finance experts support a donation-based voucher system for congressional elections. Writing in Ezra Klein’s Wonk Blog, Dylan Matthews notes that professors at Yale and Harvard have been advocating for a scheme where every voter has a $50 voucher to give to a campaign of their choosing. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) plans to introduce legislation that would do just this. The Grassroots Democracy Act is comprised of three parts: 1. a $50 voucher program, as described, 2. a matching system where campaigns get $5 in public funds for every $1 donation if they reject PAC money, and 3. a fund that provides financial assistance for any candidate whose speech is being drowned out by super PACS. The system would expand participation in the donation process. Now, only .26 percent of Americans give more than $200 to a congressional campaign.
Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.
“Pariahs amid the rainbow,” by Elly Fishman. The Chicago Reader, July 18, 2012.
The Boystown neighborhood on the Northside of Chicago is so named for its gay-friendly residents, businesses and history—it was the site of Chicago’s first Pride Parade in 1970. Boystown is hailed as a place where LGBTQ people can thrive, but this Chicago Reader article complicates that narrative by profiling the queer, homeless teens who also reside there. As the national dialogue about gay rights becomes ever more mainstream (for better and for worse), this piercing look at underground Chicago is a must-read.
Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on the role of dissent in the contemporary United States.
“With Poverty Worst in Decades, Maybe We Owe Tavis and Cornel an Apology,” by Boyce Watkins. Black Agenda Report, July 24, 2012.
Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have been aggressively criticized by Obama administration loyalists by pointing out that the Obama administration has ushered in the most extreme black poverty in a generation, in addition to absolutely no confrontation to the massive criminalization of said poverty. Boyce Watkins correctly identifies that the loss of the last gains made by the War on Poverty should invite the left to listen more closely to the prophetic critiques made my Smiley and West.
Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad.
“Greg Ousley Is Sorry for Killing His Parents. Is That Enough?” by Scott Anderson. The New York Times, July 22, 2012.
Scott Anderson’s carefully reported profile of Greg Ousley, who entered the Indiana penitentiary system as an adult at fifteen to serve a sixty-year sentence for killing his parents, displays one individual’s capacity for reform and casts doubt on the rationale behind sentencing juveniles to long prison terms. While recognizing that Ousley is “an unlikely representative for sentencing reform,” given the nature of his crimes, Anderson presents an in-depth portrait that challenges what our justice system, in its current form, really seeks to accomplish.
Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy.
“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” by Bill McKibben. Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012.
Perhaps it’s a response to the Midwest’s biggest drought in more than 50 years, but this week saw a flood of articles (pun intended) about the dangers and future of climate change. So if you haven’t read Rolling Stone‘s nearly-viral piece, please do. The article lays out clearly and empirically how the amount of carbon the world is planning to burn—in the reserves of oil and gas companies, who already use the potential oil supplies as assets that are figured into their share prices—is far above the amount the planet can handle. Bill McKibben calls this the carbon bubble, because if the oil companies don’t pump out this oil, their values would drop dramatically, losing an estimated $20 trillion in assets. And if we don’t stop them, the results would be beyond catastrophic. (For something to lift your spirits after this article thoroughly depresses you, check out this New York Times opinion piece about there’s still hope yet in the battle against climate change.)
Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.
“Arab instability and US strategy,” by Joseph Massad. Al Jazeera, July 17, 2012.
Joseph Massad, Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, argues that Washington’s belief that dictatorships create and facilitate stability has been challenged by the events of the past year, and the US is adjusting its strategy of regional control accordingly. In this deeply-informed piece, Massad lays out the major political issues in MENA, such as how powerful countries are going to deal with the ongoing revolts, and describes the political stance of the region’s major actors. Massad demonstrates how, since the initial start of the Arab Spring, Washington has done all it can to make sure that US interests in the region are served and maintained. He concludes by arguing that the main achievement of the Arab Spring has so far been “an instability that could end up changing the strategic rules of the game that the United States introduced to the region after World War II. And that is good news for the Arab peoples.”
Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.
“The Trouble With Online Education,” by Mark Edmundson. The New York Times, July 19, 2012.
This op-ed goes into the "responsiveness" issue with online education in that, traditionally, at the heart of the learning experience between teacher and student is a dialogue. Personally, I’m staunchly against online classes for a number of reasons, including the ones Edmundson lists in this piece. As a student dealing with online education, you never get a true feel of who you’re learning from, and vice-versa if you’re an educator. And this is a very important factor in the learning experience because what results from this knowledge is the most important facet of the learning experience– respect. And I don’t ever remember anyone saying how inspired they were by a textbook– which is essentially what online education is reducing educators in becoming.
Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.
“Anaheim police on a rampage,” by Danielle Hawkins. SocialistWorker.org, July 24, 2012.
Not only did Anaheim police shoot Manuel Diaz, unarmed and fleeing, this past Saturday—first in the leg, then in the head; the sixth officer-involved shooting in Anaheim so far this year—but they opened fire on protestors in the mostly Latino neighborhood where Diaz was killed, using rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas. Then, Monday morning, Anaheim police shot and killed a man they claimed stole an SUV, reporting return-fire, which has been disputed by a neighboring resident. Racialized police brutality continues to be a serious, pressing problem. And while the federal government has been nationally investigating civil rights misconduct in police departments to push reform (with the notable exception of New York)—Tuesday, the New Orleans Police Department came to a consent decree agreement that will hopefully usher in serious reform, after federal investigations that began in 2010—one wonders how many lives will be lost before serious change occurs and police are made accountable.
Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and renewed access to urban life.
“East End Has Thousands In Illegal Squalor Near Olympics,” by Simon Clark and Chris Spillane. Bloomberg, July 25, 2012.
Before settling in to this week’s Olympic opening ceremonies, letting a warm sense of Anglophilia wash over you, remember this: The English are just awful. From the poor laws, to nuclear pollution, and the deeply ingrained class-discrimination and racism, the English have made life most wretched for the disadvantaged. This article, which details how the Olympic games are being held in the middle of a first-world slum, is a great example of how a culture built on the idea of charity and mercy, instead of equality, will always remain deeply resentful towards the poor. For some recommended reading on the British "welfare state," which worked against social mobility (while posing as a benevolent, motherly program), check out Marilynne Robinson’s Mother Country or Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.
Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.
“Frackers Fund University Research That Proves Their Case,” by Jim Efstathiou. Bloomberg, July 23, 2012.
A study on fracking out of Pennsylvania State University is part of the reason Pennsylvania still has no tax on natural gas drilling—the only state in the US without one. It "predicted drillers would shun Pennsylvania if new taxes were imposed." But the study was funded by gas drillers—a fact that went unmentioned in the study itself—and was conducted by an industry-friendly economist. This report from Bloomberg articulates why these undisclosed ties are a growing problem that extends far beyond Pennsylvania, with many universities short on money to fund research. Universities defend their work by noting that fracking is criticized in other studies, and in regard to other industries, a few schools of public health (like ones at Columbia University and Harvard) now ban funding from tobacco companies. But disclosure in studies is still the central debate–if industries benefit from their conclusions, shouldn’t sponsorship be plainly cited?
Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.
“Afghan Good Enough,” by Meredith Tax. Dissent, June 7, 2012.
One senior CIA officer who worked the Middle East met with CIA Director William Casey in 1986 about Afghanistan. He asked, "What are we going to do after we [defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan]?" Casey answered, "We’re not going to do a goddamn thing! Once we get the Russians out we’re finished." This Dissent piece by Meredith Tax, a feminist of "Women’s WORLD," criticizes this type of short-sidedness, specifically, the alliance between State Department “realists” and the antiwar movement in regards to the conflict in Afghanistan. She criticizes the eye-rolling in discussions of women in the region and urges the Left to support the demands of Afghan women and civil society. She also quotes the Afghan Women’s Network, who advocate for deeper investments for education and human rights in order to ensure peace with justice.
Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy.
“The anti-war left’s concerns over Syria are understandable, but ill-founded,” by Richard Seymour. The Guardian, July 26, 2012.
Richard Seymour addresses the discourse of portions of the anti-war left on US policy towards the Syrian opposition. Opening with a brief critique of international intervention in Libya, he concedes the concerns of some in the anti-war movement have some merit. However, he spends the rest of the article allaying fears about the hijacking of a grassroots revolution. The strong point of the article is the distinction Seymour makes between the self-proclaimed leaders of the opposition—typically based in foreign countries—and the activists and militias working on the ground. Localized and decentralized, he argues that these groups actually do have a fair amount of autonomy.