Category Archives: Current Events

If You Think You Understand the Montana Special Election, You Probably Don’t

I’ll forgive you if you’ve forgotten the reason for the Montana special election, which takes place today. It’s for a single congressional seat—the state has only one House representative due to its population—which was vacated earlier this year by Ryan Zinke when he was chosen by Trump to become the Secretary of the Interior.

Anne Helen Petersen has been reporting for BuzzFeed from Montana for months, and her definitive feature on the special election is a careful, compassionate, and clever look at the Montana voter—a true political unicorn who won’t be pandered to or told how to vote.

The special election may seem like a tantalizing chance for Democrats to turn a red state blue—56 percent of voters swung for Trump. “But that same election, 50.2 percent also voted for their Democratic governor, Steve Bullock,” Petersen reminds us, and “in 2012, 48.6 percent voted for Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat.”

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Betsy DeVos’s Cynical Defense of the Trump Education Budget Cuts

Betsy DeVos

Early in Betsy DeVos’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday we got to see how the Education Secretary can magically turn less money into “more latitude.”

In her opening remarks to a House Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos, argued that the budget — which proposes cutting Department of Education programs by more than $10 billion — represents a rethinking of the role of the federal government in education, giving states and communities greater control and freedom in how they serve students and families. DeVos’s “control and freedom” narrative includes a proposed $250 million for school vouchers, which diverts money to private and religious schools.  Read more…

‘Just Pure Greed’: A Journalist Exposes Jared Kushner’s Baltimore Housing History

Jared, meet Kamiia Warren. Your company nearly ruined her life.

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis has an infuriating new story in The New York Times Magazine on a company called JK2 Westminster L.L.C., which for years relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent. In Warren’s case, the single mother of three had received written permission to break her lease early, and she owed no rent, but Westminster sued her anyway — for $3,014.08. She ended up losing on a series of technicalities — she did not have a lawyer — and the company went so far as to garnish her wages from her in-home elder-care job.

The company, meanwhile, ignored multiple complaints about poor upkeep and disrepair in its housing developments. Read more…

One Nation, Under God, With Liberty and Justice for Some

Rev. Billy Graham gives the closing prayer at Nixon's National Prayer Breakfast in 1973. (AP Photo)

Jeff Sharlet reviews Frances FitzGerald’s new book, The Evangelicals for the New Republic, and his analysis is itself an excellent history of Evangelical Christianity’s influence on society and politics. Although a lot about Donald Trump seemed antithetical to conservative Christianity, he got a larger percentage of the Evangelical vote than George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, or then-Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter. Why?

Before its current obsession with the body, as FitzGerald observes, evangelicalism expressed itself politically through extreme and often paranoid anti-communism. My favorite example is the 1958 horror film The Blob, which told of a carnivorous mass of red Jello. Conceived at the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in 1957 by Shorty Yeaworth, an evangelical filmmaker, the movie was widely viewed as either pure kitsch or an anti-communist metaphor free of religious overtones. American evangelicalism before the 1980s was no less political in its theology; its theology just happened to align with the anti-communist beliefs of the secular sphere.

Today, the political expression of evangelicalism seems strongest in its opposition to Islam. In this sense, it may be aligning, once again, with widely held secular anxieties.

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American Dolchstoss

Trump in the factory

Shawn Hamilton | Longreads | May 2017 | 10 minutes (2,566 words)

 

When I was about 7 or 8 I had my first serious conversation with my mother about the future: what I wanted to be; how I wanted to get there; how things really “were.” The word “were” in this context was probably my first paradox. Things that “were” were infinitely complex, yet simple. They were understood with or without understanding. You had to know how things “were” before they made themselves known, or you would regret having made the acquaintance.

There were jobs that were “gone” as she described it. Jobs that paid well right out of high school were “gone.” Jobs with security were “gone.” Before those jobs had “gone,” they had been scarce for black folks in her experience anyway, but now they were accessible in theory but nonexistent in reality. Now the door that would have been closed because of Jim Crow was open, but in the case of certain jobs, it opened into an abyss: sort of like an economic trap door. She didn’t say it exactly that way, but that was the gist of it. Read more…

Stories are Everything: A PJ Harvey-Inspired Reading List

I listened to PJ Harvey’s 2011 album Let England Shake obsessively while researching people who were sickened or died as a result of their work building nuclear weapons. The album is both simple folk storytelling, and a timeless work about war in the grand tradition of Goya or Hemingway; like the best writers, she turns discrete stories into a broader lens through which to view the world. The music helped me grapple with what each data point of suffering and sacrifice meant, the contradictions in our national remembrance of the cold war, and the forces still shaping that memory.
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How ProPublica and NPR Changed the Narrative About Maternity Care in America

Seventeen years ago, Nina Martin’s sister almost died in childbirth. “I remember the trauma of that experience really, really, really well,” recalled Martin. “The disorientation of it and then also, the silencing of it afterwards.”

Martin is ProPublica’s sexuality and gender reporter, and Martin and NPR special correspondent Renee Montagne recently co-authored the first of several stories on maternal care in America. The first part of the series aired on NPR last week, and the other was published on ProPublica as “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth.”

Over the next several months, Martin and Montagne will release more stories about maternal care in America which will focus on a host of issues surrounding maternal mortality, including racial disparity in care and women with near misses. Every mother has her own story of birth, and all too often these stories go unnoticed, or are buried under platitudes that focus on the health of the baby. Together, Martin and Montagne want to move the conversation back to the mother, and ask why America is the only developed nation where maternal death rates are rising.

Longreads spoke to both journalists about the process of reporting the story, their passion behind the project, and the impact they hope it will have.

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These Activists Say Marijuana is a Gift from God

Marijuana Book Cover

With Jeff Sessions banging the drum to bring back the war on drugs, access to marijuana — even for medical use — seems more and more remote for red state users. At BuzzFeed, Alyson Martin meets activists who take a faith-based approach to ending marijuana prohibition.

Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she’s endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”

Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.

Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May.

“People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,’” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”

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Poets Talk to Poets about the Border Wall

Journalists aren’t the only writers covering international politics. In a two-part series at Poetry International, poets from Mexico to Europe, Africa to Asia,  discuss the roles borders play in their lives, and the way borders limit our lives physically, linguistically, and culturally. Whether reflecting on living in Texas near the route of Trump’s proposed wall or exploring the  psychological borders of one’s cultural identity, these writers weigh in on what it means to be a citizen, the way language moves through populations, and how movement across borders creates vitality. You can read the forum’s first part here.

Philip Metres (b. USA): Borders are notoriously porous; no wall ever holds everyone out. The Great Wall failed to keep the Mongols at bay. The Maginot Line was crossed. Consider the tunnels of Gaza—whole cars and brides smuggled through. My passport is blue, and I try to live a political life according to and beyond the ideals of the Constitution. But I am a citizen of the earth and verse, of oxygen and lung, of the hurting and longing, of hoping against hope.

Every time I attempt translation, I feel something in me transported elsewhere, beyond my own skull’s borders, like some figure in a Chagall unmoored from earth, somewhere between thrill and terror.

Martin Camps (b. Mexico): Benedict Anderson said that we live in “imaginary communities”. What does “Mexican” or “American” mean? I believe that all human beings have planetary rights to cross borders, to live where they want to live. But borders exist to preserve a world order, the ones that have and the ones that don’t. We have borders even in our cities, living in the “nice part of the city” and not going to other parts where the “undesirables” live. We have shadow borders in every American city.

Ishion Hutchinson (b. Jamaica): To be a citizen, strictly speaking, is to belong to a state, which, from an official standpoint, is always suspicious of duality. “But,” Auden says, “Love, at least, is not a state,” and I think that speaks to being a citizen of a border, without fear of either side, unwaveringly in love with both.

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Yes, We Could, But Can We Now? Reflections on Obama’s Speeches

Americans hear more from our current President on Twitter than we do from his speeches, and it seems better that way. Donald Trump is no orator; he admits he doesn’t even read for pleasure. President Trump’s 140-character tweet style of mass communication—with its em dash misuse, random capitalization, and misplaced exclamation!— might portend the future of American politics in which words don’t particularly matter.

It certainly contrasts greatly with President Obama’s powerful oratory. At The American Scholar, former DOJ speechwriter James Santel reads the newly-published collection of Obama’s speeches, We Are the Change We Seek, to discuss what Obama’s sense of storytelling reveals about him, and how the power of residential speeches can motivate us, set the national tenor, our vision of the future and, as Obama frequently said, define who we are.

Like all good orators, Obama was a storyteller. Among his favorite stories was his own: how the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas rose to become a U.S. Senator. That background opens the speech that made him a national figure, the Keynote Address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. After talking about his parents and grandparents, he said, “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story.”

Obama uses his autobiography to argue that his unconventional background did not place him at odds with the American experience, but made him emblematic of it. That case required Obama to offer a particular reading of American history, which goes something like this: Our shared commitment to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the principles set forth in the Constitution has always been more powerful than our divisions and disagreements, allowing our country to slowly “perfect” itself over time (to use a favorite Obama verb). It is a story of steady change and patient progress, of obstacles overcome and common ground discovered, a story in which all people are given equal attention and credit. In it, racism and prejudice are not defining features of the American character, but blemishes upon it, historical aberrations that we have slowly corrected over time. Above all, it is a story that, in one way or another, has always made room for everyone.

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