Tuesday, February 15, 2011 5:06 PM
“Conservatives cannot govern well,” wrote Alan Wolfe in a widely circulated 2006 Washington Monthly essay, “for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”
Now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, thanks in no small part to the rabidly anti-government Tea Party movement, Wolfe has updated his thesis. Conservatives, now that they have a chance, simply won’t govern.
He writes in Democracy Journal:
Every indication we have suggests that in the wake of their midterm success, Republicans will continue on the same path of just saying no. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all but gave the game away when he announced that “the single most important thing we want to achieve” was not the recovery of the economy or passage of any particular legislation but “for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The United States now has a major political party that has dropped policy entirely in favor of politics. The consequences for the future of American democracy will be serious indeed. …
It is commonly said that polarization has become the country’s most serious political problem. But polarization implies two poles, each of which is organized around ideas. The newfound opposition for the sake of opposition characteristic of the conservative movement suggests a far greater danger to democracy than polarization. That danger is not cynicism; even a cynic cares. What we witness instead is nihilism—and in the most literal sense of the term. Nihilism is a philosophical doctrine holding that because life lacks meaning and purpose, it is foolish to believe too fervently in anything. … Right-wing firebrands in the House promise that come hell or high water, they will not compromise. In any democratic political system, but especially in one with divided powers, no compromise means no governance. We can expect a significant number of House members to stand firm in their denial, no matter what happens to the economy, the environment, or the country.
Over at Media Matters, Eric Boehlert accuses the media in general, and the New York Times in particular, of “giving Republican obstructionism a pass.”
“Republicans,” he writes, “have been practicing an unprecedented brand of obstructionism since Obama’s inauguration, but the press has been treating it as normal. It’s not. It’s radical.”
Source: Washington Monthly, Democracy Journal, Media Matters
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Monday, April 19, 2010 2:54 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25, at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C., and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of political coverage.
The American Prospect reports on the day’s most essential issues, from immigration to workers’ rights, privacy to prison reform. By combining thorough reportage with deep analysis, it provides progressives with the intellectual and inspirational tools to engage in transformative politics and policy. www.prospect.org
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending the day’s political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle. www.motherjones.com
Ms. has been at the forefront of feminist politics since 1972. In 2009 the editors shone light on a host of pressing issues, including the Obama administration’s abortion policies and the need for domestic workers’ rights. Featuring journalism that provokes action, this quarterly loves a righteous fight. www.msmagazine.com
The Nation has been a vital progressive voice for nearly 150 years, weighing in weekly on politics, arts, and culture via vivid features, incisive reviews, and convention-busting commentary. By bucking the trend against the slick and the glossy, The Nation helps to keep politics real. www.thenation.com
The influential, debate-fueling biweekly The New Republic chooses tough critical thinking over easy dogma, encouraging its writers (and readers) to be critical not just of their right-wing foes but also their fellow liberals. In a political landscape full of bluster, TNR’s cool rigor holds sway. www.tnr.com
The Progressive turned 100 last year, but this bastion of the liberal press is full of fresh energy and up-to-the-minute currency. Publishing analysis and reporting from leading thinkers, it never loses sight of the people behind the issues it covers. www.progressive.org
With hard-hitting reports on immigration, life on the border, education, prisons, and social justice issues, The Texas Observer has carved out a niche worth celebrating. Its unmatched reportage and analysis kneecaps those who traffic in malfeasance, corruption, and injustice. www.texasobserver.org
Washington Monthly forged ahead of the mainstream on many issues this year, from textbook revisionism in Texas to the subprime student loan racket, making it a must-read beyond the Beltway. Its reporting is unimpeachable, its analysis sound, and its reputation for sagacity well earned. www.washingtonmonthly.com
Want more? Meet our international, health and wellness, spirituality, and science and technology nominees.
Monday, February 22, 2010 1:38 PM
In February, Barack Obama signed a memorandum to establish a Task Force on Childhood Obesity, including the launch of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to address childhood obesity and nutrition. One day earlier, British Chef Jamie Oliver won the 2010 TED award, which will help him to launch a cross-industry initiative to fight obesity by educating families about food. This week we will be looking at childhood nutrition by highlighting books and articles that have passed through our library of late
. –The Editors
To write a single sentence that explains just the school cafeteria side of the obesity debate is a challenge. Here's a shot: In America, we have a population of kids united by poor nutrition, but divided by economic strata--there are those who eat too much, and poorly; and those who eat too little, and poorly.
In her new book Free For All: Fixing school food in America, Sociologist Janet Poppendieck says the U.S. should eliminate the funding factor by providing free lunch for all kids, as a first step toward remedying the issues of malnutrition and obesity.
Poppendieck’s hefty analysis of subsidized school lunches in the U.S. is an important read. For a sampling, read Washington Monthly's review. In it, Michael O'Donnell writes:
Where lunchrooms in the past treated children as lucky recipients, they now view them as customers whose business must be won. Vending machines light up the hallways, usually through an exclusive contractual arrangement between school or school district and a company like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Fast-food operations like Subway and KFC set up shop in the food court, tempting away all the students with enough money to afford a hoagie or fried chicken strips. Alongside the traditional cafeteria meal are a la carte lines where burgers and French fries (and their unholy cousins, tater tots) glisten with grease under the lamplights, exempted in all their fatty glory from USDA nutritional requirements. Even those children who buy the standard hot meal eat mostly junk: pizza with fries hits all of the major food groups, if you define the groups expansively enough. As Ronald Reagan’s USDA famously taught us, ketchup is, after all, a vegetable.
Source: Free For All, Washington Monthly
Read all of the
Cafeteria Chronicles posts
Friday, January 15, 2010 5:18 PM
In the minds of some of the “experts” who hold sway over the Texas public school textbooks, Joe McCarthy was an American hero, white men are responsible for civil rights, and “evolution is hooey.” Over the past 15 years, Washington Monthly reports that an activist bloc has methodically taken over the Texas State Board of Education, bent on injecting hard-right ideology into the state’s textbooks. According to these activists, the Founding Fathers never wanted a separation between church and state, and they’re doing their best to break down the wall by changing the schoolbooks in Texas.
The politicized textbooks would be a problem just inside Texas, but economic factors have given the state a huge influence over textbooks throughout the country. Unlike many other states, Texas makes the decisions on a state level on what books local school districts can buy. So when the state makes a decision on what books to purchase for its 4.7 million high schoolers, publishers take notice. The only bigger market for textbooks in the country is California, a state whose budget is in such disarray, it announced that it won’t be buying new books until 2014. In the meantime, an anonymous industry executive told Washington Monthly, “publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list,” even if that means caving in to right-wing activists.
In what’s already been a fearsome battle, the Texas State Board of Education is in the midst of its once-each-decade meeting to decide which books are purchased throughout the state. The Washington Monthly meticulously documented how conservative activists took over the meetings, forcing out moderates, accusing them of being pawns of the “radical homosexual lobby” and similar claims. With meetings taking place until March, the conservative activists are in prime position to push textbooks in Texas and throughout the country to the right. Don McLeroy, a particularly vocal activist on the state’s school board and a staunch advocate of teaching creationism in schools, told Washington Monthly, “Sometimes it boggles my mind the kind of power we have.”
You can watch a video of the school board's discussions below:
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Thursday, November 19, 2009 8:59 AM
The millions of cameras currently keeping a silent watch over London have caused alarm among civil libertarians. The Orwellian police state or the unblinking panopticon of surveillance, however, has failed to materialized so far. There are currently 4.3 million cameras in the United Kingdom, but according to Jamie Malanowski in the Washington Monthly, “the practical effect on a person’s behavior is negligible.”
Rather than preventing crimes, the cameras have proven most helpful in catching perpetrators after crimes have already happened. The massive numbers of cameras are too disjointed, for now, to provide a measure of central control. Malanowski reports that police aren’t trying very hard to link them up, either. “Perhaps because bureaucracies in the UK are mighty forces for inefficiency and inaction, perhaps because abuses have been reined in by good English common sense,” Malanowski writes, “the cameras have been deployed in a largely benign way.”
One company is aiming change the disjointed nature of England’s massive surveillance infrastructure by putting crowds, rather than the government, in charge. Kris Kotarski, reports for the Calgary Herald that the British company Internet Eyes is allowing people to anonymously monitor some closed circuit televisions (CCTVs), and make money while doing it.
Internet Eyes turns surveillance into a game, where anonymous users try to spot shoplifting or vandalism on CCTVs, and then report the crimes for possible cash rewards. The company charges its viewers £20 per month and £1 per crime alert, and offers users a chance at £1,000 per month as a reward for reporting the most crime. It’s like “crowdsourcing” repressive surveillance of a country, or, as Kotarski calls it, a move toward “iPod fascism.”
, Calgary Herald
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Update: The Internet Eyes company may not be able to launch its surveillance site, and its future is in question. According to the company's blog, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office is currently reviewing the company.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 5:17 PM
The fact that college tuition costs thousands of dollars each year is accepted as fact in most of the United States. A new web service called StraighterLine, profiled by the Washington Monthly, wants to bring the price down to just $99 per month. For the cost of a nice dinner for two people, StraighterLine students get courses “designed and overseen by professors with PhDs,” and real live tutors “available at any time, day or night, just a mouse click away.”
The company is currently trying to take business away from the big introductory college classes, where hundreds of students pack into lecture halls, often taught by grad students or adjunct faculty. StraighterLine purports to be more responsive to the students’ needs at a fraction of the cost of big institutions, and even cheaper than most online universities. The problem, according to Washington Monthly, is that big schools often use the money from the big introductory classes to fund the “libraries, basketball teams, classical Chinese poetry experts, and everything else.”
A company like StraighterLine has the potential to disrupt the entire college business model and make things very uncomfortable for a lot of big-name universities. According to the article, StraighterLine, and other institutions like it will “seriously threaten the ability of universities to provide all the things beyond teaching on which society depends: science, culture, the transmission of our civilization from one generation to the next.”
Source: Washington Monthly
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Monday, July 20, 2009 1:45 PM
The National Weather Service predicts between four and seven hurricanes will hit the Atlantic basin this year. Just one of those storms could end the Cuban embargo, Patrick Doherty writes for the Washington Monthly. Cuba is currently in a precarious position: both cash strapped and perennially vulnerable to hurricanes. Last year, the island was directly hit by four hurricane-force storms that devastated the country’s economy and its people.
If a natural disaster were to strike Cuba this year, President Obama could use an obscure U.S. law to end the embargo. The 1961 Foreign Assistance Act gives the president the authority to “furnish assistance to any foreign country” in times of humanitarian disaster “notwithstanding… any other act.” That means President Obama could unilaterally lift the embargo for a specified term to assist the country. Once the American people see that lifting the embargo won’t restart the Cold War, Congress could move more easily to end the embargo permanently. “One hopes that it would not take a significant uptick in human suffering to force a change in an antiquated piece of U.S. policy,” Doherty writes. On the other hand, it could work.
Source: Washington Monthly
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009 1:23 PM
The United States may have invented the internet, but today it lags abysmally far behind countries like South Korea and Japan. As President-Elect, Barack Obama said, “It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption.”
The problem is “a total lack of competition,” Nicolas Thompson writes for the Washington Monthly. Telecom companies have successfully neutered legislative attempts to force competition, giving near-monopolies on home internet service to phone and cable companies. Some hope that the new stimulus package could help, but the money devoted to bringing new broadband to the United States will likely be dwarfed by the $3.4 billion South Korea is putting into Green IT. GigaOM reports that by 2012, South Koreans may enjoy internet speeds that are 200 times faster than the typical DSL line in the United States.
There are a few possible solutions. Thompson suggests that the US government should create a public entity like the post office to provide internet to Americans. “Private companies would compete,” Thompson writes, “just as UPS and FedEx compete with the postal service.” The competition could force telecom companies to clean up their acts and give globally competitive service to customers.
“America built the world’s first computers, and then along came Microsoft. America pioneered the Internet, and along came Google,” Thompson writes. Without drastic changes to the United States broadband infrastructure, “It’s hard, however, to imagine that the technologies of the future will be hatched here.”
Image by Jay Cuthrell, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:18 PM
This morning, Obama announced his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here’s a quick look at the blogosphere’s reactions so far.
Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog has an informative, balanced, and calm overview of Sotomayor’s qualifications, as well as a helpful warning about the controversy that’s already stirring:
Because proponents’ and opponents’ claims about nominees are provided for public consumption through the mass media, they involve bumper sticker messages; there is not much nuance. Almost always, they collapse into assertions of ideological extremism, as when some on the left attempted to portray John Roberts as a (secret) ideologue and single-minded tool of the government and corporations against individuals.
SCOTUSblog has also assembled a very helpful series of posts (here, here, and here) summarizing Sotomayor’s opinions in civil cases.
Mark Halperin predicts an easy confirmation at Time’s blog:
Obama has chosen a mainstream progressive, rather than a wild-eyed liberal. And he has chosen a rags-to-riches Hispanic woman. Her life story is inspirational—a political consultant's dream. Since she is certain to be confirmed, there are plenty of smart conservatives who will, by midday Tuesday, have done the political cost-benefit analysis: at a time when Republicans are trying to demonstrate that their party can reach beyond rich white men, what mileage is there in doing anything but celebrating such a historic choice?
At Mother Jones, David Corn parses the potential for a conservative “cat-fight”:
By selecting Sotomayor, Obama is forcing Senate GOPers to choose between attacking a Hispanic appointee (and possibly alienating Hispanic voters) and ticking off social conservatives. At the moment, the GOPers' calculation seems obvious. But it could come at a cost of a cat-fight on the right.
We have some hints of what the battle over Sotomayor’s nomination might look like because, as Steve Benen notes at the Washington Monthly, “many leading far-right activists—including Limbaugh and Fox News personalities—started the offensive against her weeks ago.”
It’s worth noting that they did so with help from the so-called “respectable intellectual center,” in the form of Jeffrey Rosen’s May 4 piece for The New Republic, “The Case Against Sotomayor.” The article, which has been debated and debunked by several bloggers, used mostly anonymous sources to paint a pretty negative picture of Sotomayor’s intellect, temperament, and general preparedness for the Supreme Court. As Jason Linkins puts it at Huffington Post, Rosen essentially characterized Sotomayor as “a not-smart person who nevertheless went to Princeton, and a hotheaded Latina whose ethnic hotheadedness seemingly carried none of the accepted, value-added ethnic hotheadedness of Antonin Scalia.”
Rosen’s unsubstantiated characterizations of Sotomayor rapidly spread to mainstream media outlets. Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:
[T]he meme couldn't be contained. It resurfaced less than a week later in two Washington Post articles and has colored today's coverage of the nomination, and of all cable news coverage of the SCOTUS stakes for the past month.
It’s definitely showing up in the post-nomination right-wing blogs, too. “Conservatives rejoice,” writes Erick Erickson at RedState. “Of all the picks Obama could have picked, he picked the most intellectually shallow.” At National Review’s The Corner blog, Ramesh Ponnuru deems Sotomayor “Obama’s Harriet Miers.”
Adam Serwer dismantles this ridiculous comparison in an excellent post at The American Prospect:
Sotomayor's resume doesn't just look good compared to Harriet Miers. Sotomayor has more than 10 years on the appeals court—by contrast, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, had two years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit before being nominated. As a white man, however, his credentials and intelligence are beyond reproach.
A case against Sotomayor based on her "credentials" or "intelligence" is false on its face—this is a kind of Southern Strategy all over again. By stoking white resentment over the rise of allegedly unqualified minorities getting prominent positions, the GOP is hoping to derail her nomination. It probably won't work, but it's another sign of how little the GOP learned from last year's election.
Sources: SCOTUSblog, Time, Mother Jones, Washington Monthly, The New Republic, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, RedState, National Review, The American Prospect
Friday, March 27, 2009 3:37 PM
Far from the mall-pocked, highway-scarred backwaters they’re made out to be, small cities should be a cornerstone of America’s sustainable future. Renewable energy sources like geothermal and solar often require abundant, cheap land, making small towns ideally situated to take advantage of a green revolution.
Urban planners and policy makers are making a mistake by neglecting small towns, Catherine Tumber writes for the Boston Review. Many people suffer from a kind of “metropolitan bias,” giving disproportionate funds and attention to big cities. “Smaller cities located in the heartland could one day anchor a regional agricultural shift from industrial monoculture to more localized biodiversity,” Tumber writes, and could show the way toward a more sustainable future.
Gainsville, Florida, (population 120,000) for example, is “gearing up for a solar power boom,” Mariah Blake writes for the Washington Monthly, “fueled by homegrown businesses and scrappy investors who have descended on the community and are hiring local contractors to install photovoltaic panels on rooftops around town.”
The key to Gainsville’s success is a “feed-in-tariff” policy that requires local power companies to buy renewable energy from independent producers. The policy, pioneered in Germany, is fueling investment in green technology at a time when much of the corporate investment for renewable energy has dried up.
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Sources: Boston Review, Washington Monthly
Tuesday, December 30, 2008 3:56 PM
Before Barack Obama won the 2008 election, pundits and politicos were already planning his first 100 days in office. Since then, the situation in the United States has gotten worse and the urgent calls for reform have gotten louder.
“No president in recent memory has come into office with so many and such varied crises to deal with,”
passing and (the hard part) implementing universal health care,” Donahue and Stier report.
After a campaign based on such amorphous themes as “hope” and “change,” some expect the myriad problems to evaporate as soon as the new president takes office. “I think that we've replaced the housing bubble in the United States with an Obama bubble,” Steve Clemons, a senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation told Salon.com. Clemons and others are calling for quick, decisive action on foreign policy and other initiatives. According to Clemons, “He's got a very short window to make the Obama bubble mean something before it explodes.”
A huge challenge for the incoming administration is deciding which issues should be dealt with first. Shirley Ann Jackson, writing for the Scientific American, has joined a multitude of scientists and environmentalists calling energy security, “the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity of our time.” In his first 100 days in office, Jackson wants Obama to update the national power grid, create a $200-billion “clean energy” bank for investment in sustainable energies, and “triple the currently paltry federal investment in basic and applied energy research and development.”
Though energy reform and foreign policy may garner big headlines, the most important tasks of the new administration may be the most mundane. Donahue and Stier report for the Washington Monthly that Obama should focus on fixing the federal bureaucracy, before moving on to bigger ticket items. “To put it bluntly” Donahue and Stier write, “even with brilliant policy ideas and flawless political instincts, Barack Obama’s administration is likely to fail if it doesn’t reverse the erosion in federal capacity.”
The disastrous example of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during Hurricane Katrina has shown what can go wrong when a federal agency is dysfunctional, and Donahue and Stier report that many important federal offices have fallen into disrepair. Donahue and Stier provide an urgent call to reform Medicare and Medicaid, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Defense Contract Management Agency, the Defense Nuclear Detection Office, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and especially FEMA, now under the Department of Homeland Security.
Most people realize that Obama’s promised “change” won’t come overnight, and that’s not a bad thing, according to Mark Schmitt writing for the American Prospect. Many politicos and pundits urged Obama to hit the panic button at various points throughout the 2008 election, but the candidate won with “a long, patient strategy of assembling a majority of delegates, one at a time, in friendly and unfriendly states alike.” Schmitt writes that the President-elect will need to use that same patient style to truly turn the country around in 2009.
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