—Sam Adler-Bell focuses on labor and mass incarceration.
“In defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist,” by Bhaskar Sunkara. Al Jazeera America, January 29, 2014
Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, is one of the rare American left-wing figures who managed, within his lifetime, to attain something approaching universal admiration (or at least acceptance) while refusing to shed or apologize for his radicalism. Here, Bhaskar Sunkara responds to those commentators who would seek to neutralize Seeger’s legacy—in death—from the “taint” of his communist affiliations.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“For a Cowboys Star With Dementia, Time Is Running Out,” by Juliet Macur. The New York Times, January 27, 2014
“These young players, they have no idea what’s in store for them,” said Rayfield Wright in Juliet Macur’s haunting profile of the retired NFL player affected by dementia after the myriad head injuries he sustained while playing professional football. While his comments were sincere and on point, players at Northwestern might be proving him wrong. Team quarterback Kain Colter held a press conference yesterday to announce that he and his teammates are the first college athletes to attempt to join a labor union. Comparing the NCAA to a “dictatorship,” Coulter claimed, “The same medical issues that professional athletes face are the same medical issues collegiate athletes face, except we’re left unprotected.” Viewed in this context, Wright’s story of quiet suffering is even more germane than when it was published this past weekend. College football players are left to deal with medical problems on their own after their four years of eligibility, and very few make it to the professional level.
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“The Rise of the Post-New Left Political Vocabulary,” by Steve D’Arcy. The Public Autonomy Project, January 27, 2014
Coming across Steve D’Arcy’s blog post this week, I found it interesting not primarily because of its conclusions (which could benefit from some deeper and more scholarly historical analysis of the movements in question) but because it attempts to situate contemporary social movements in their historical context and raises some points worth discussing. The piece compares the language used by past and present generations of activists and tries to tease out the political significance of the generational differences. Some of the more interesting things it invites us to consider: the specific ways that the cultures of social movements are adaptations to their histories of political defeat, the ways analysis of movement culture can be a window onto a movement’s larger goals and potential, and how being conscious of this relationship could (or so the author hopes) lead to more effective political organizing in the future.
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
“I Wasn’t Born This Way. I Choose to Be Gay. Macklemore sends the wrong LGBT message in ‘Same Love,’” by Brandon Ambrosino. The New Republic, January 28, 2014
I cannot begin to say how sick I am of hearing about Macklemore. But out of his theatrical display of liberalism at this year’s Grammys emerged some productive discourse on gay rights issues. The song he performed, “Same Love,” has been celebrated as the 2013 gay rights anthem. In this article, Brandon Ambrosino argues that by framing homosexuality as a biological characteristic (“And I can’t change/Even if I tried”), the song adopts rhetoric used to promote racial equality. He asserts that, because gay rights and racial equality are different causes, utilizing rhetoric from one cause to further the other limits our depiction of sexuality: “I see no reason to believe that the only sexualities worth protecting are the ones over which one has no control,” Ambrosino says, citing trans activism. Although Ambrosino’s piece painfully lacks nuance, he does make a point worth considering: “One of the reasons I think our activism is so insistent on sexual rigidity is because, in our push to make gay rights the new black rights, we’ve conflated the two issues.”
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid,” by Martin Lukacs. The Guardian, January 21, 2014
Rising sea levels are forcing Lagos, Nigeria to adapt—the adjacent slum of Makoko has long since taken to the sea. In his article, Lukacs makes real our stake in this proxy between two contending visions for climate change adaptation. Those disappointed by the fiercely unequal blueprint for the manufactured Eko Atlantic city, but unsatisfied with the scope of its more egalitarian alternative, might find interesting a recent study on Brazil’s municipal participatory budgeting policy.
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups’ relationship with technology and development.
“China’s Wild West,” by Kendrick Kuo. Foreign Affairs, January 26, 2014
China’s western Xinjiang province has a lot of parallels with Tibet, as a culturally distinct region that’s long resisted eastern Chinese colonization-in-the-name-of-
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
“Why support for Common Core is sinking,” by Carol Burris, introduction by Valerie Strauss. The Washington Post, January 27, 2014
In the corporatized, jargon-filled world of contemporary education policy, “education stakeholder groups,” including teachers, are cited again and again as being all in on the Common Core. New York State Education Commissioner John King made that very claim last week, two days before the board of the largest teachers union in the state, the New York State United Teachers, voted to withdraw its support for the standards. Carol Burris, an award-winning New York principal, explains how confusing and damaging the Common Core has been to students, in both implementation and design. To really understand how muddled these standards are, it’s best to experience it for yourself. Burris provides examples; see if you can make your way through the language of a third-grade math standard.
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
“Hospital Chain Said to Scheme to Inflate Bills,” by Julie Creswell and Reed Abelson. The New York Times, January 24, 2014
The Department of Justice has recently compiled eight separate lawsuits against Health Management Associates, a for-profit hospital chain that is accused of admitting patients even when they didn’t need treatment in order to raise hospital profits, and punishing doctors who didn’t meet the high admission rates set for them. This New York Times piece by Julie Creswell and Reed Abeldson notes that this practice is common in the for-profit hospital sector (indeed, when speaking to friends who work in healthcare, they readily speak about the unnecessary—and clinically unsound—push to admit), and that companies simply see lawsuits like these as part of the cost of doing business. As if there was ever a question that our healthcare system is broken, its costs out of control and more regulation needed, this piece sheds light on the tricks and trades of a booming, unhinged private healthcare industry.
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“The Case for Aid,” by Jeffrey Sachs. Foreign Policy, January 21, 2014
Jeffrey Sachs contends that the growing skepticism about the efficacy of foreign aid—promulgated perhaps most adamantly by NYU economist William Easterly—is based on politics and ideology rather than evidence. Indeed, demonstrably successful models of life-saving development aid abound: Sachs cites, among other examples, the mass distribution of free bed nets and medicine to combat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. According to World Health Organization figures, the program saves the lives of half-a-million children under the age of five every year. A reasoned and constructive critique of foreign aid programs is helpful and necessary (see mine of the Peace Corps here), but those calling for an end to aid altogether invite needless suffering into the world.
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
“College Football Players Seek to Form a Labor Union,” by Brad Wolverton. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2014
College athletes have long chafed against the restrictions of their amateur status and the power of the NCAA. This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education addresses the recent attempt by members of the Northwestern University football team to unionize. But the piece also raises interesting questions about the relationship between students and universities, especially in light of the longtime efforts of graduate students to unionize. Can any students be seen as employees? Or are they consumers, deserving of protection?