How the Bronx Came Back (But Didn’t Bring Everyone Along)

The borough that once symbolized urban decline is now safer than ever, and perhaps even gentrifying—but most Bronxites’ lives are still precarious and mired in poverty.

Published: Oct 15, 2015
Length: 18 minutes (4,661 words)

The Spirit and the Law

Hobby Lobby, a for-profit craft store with more than 23,000 employees, is fighting the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide no-cost birth control through their insurance plans. The case of corporations and religious rights:

It’s one thing to argue that a Catholic college’s daily operations are imbued with a religious ethos. It’s another to contend that a corporation, competing in a secular marketplace, is so fundamentally guided by its owners’ faith that it should enjoy religious-liberty rights.

Becket’s attorneys are applying a similar logic in other cases. Among their clients are religious business owners, almost always Christian, who face discrimination charges for refusing to provide services associated with same-sex weddings. These lawsuits are the cousins of the so-called conscience cases, in which a religious pharmacist who declines to sell emergency contraception runs afoul of state law. Becket is litigating a couple of those, too.

Published: Jun 19, 2014
Length: 20 minutes (5,029 words)

The Revolt of the Cities

During the past 20 years, immigrants and young people have transformed the demographics of urban America. Now, they’re transforming its politics and mapping the future of liberalism.

Pittsburgh is the perfect urban laboratory,” says Bill Peduto, the city’s new mayor. “We’re small enough to be able to do things and large enough for people to take notice.” More than its size, however, it’s Pittsburgh’s new government—Peduto and the five like-minded progressives who now constitute a majority on its city council—that is turning the city into a laboratory of democracy. In his first hundred days as mayor, Peduto has sought funding to establish universal pre-K education and partnered with a Swedish sustainable-technology fund to build four major developments with low carbon footprints and abundant affordable housing. Even before he became mayor, while still a council member, he steered to passage ordinances that mandated prevailing wages for employees on any project that received city funding and required local hiring for the jobs in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new arena. He authored the city’s responsible-banking law, which directed government funds to those banks that lent in poor neighborhoods and away from those that didn’t.

Published: Apr 29, 2014
Length: 17 minutes (4,402 words)

Is There Hope for the Survivors of the Drug Wars?

Men from Baltimore’s poor neighborhoods are turning to a family and job training center to keep themselves off the street dealing drugs and rebuild their lives after spending time in jail:

The men are what policymakers euphemistically call a challenging population: Lacking high-school education or formal work experience, they’re the most likely of any group in America to die young and to die from violence. Most of their life experience, the skills that have helped them survive the streets or prison, works against them in the legal world. The biggest problem the center has spent 15 years trying to solve isn’t how to get these guys jobs, or how to encourage them to be more involved in their children’s lives, or how make the streets safer, though those are tough enough. The problem is more profound: How do you give these survivors of the drug wars, men who are criminalized and discarded by society, who are at the bottom of every statistic, hope?

Published: Mar 24, 2014
Length: 32 minutes (8,059 words)

Loving the Opera in HD

Once controversial, Metropolitan Opera broadcasts for movie-theater audiences have become a gateway for new (and returning) fans:

A few years ago, I attended a Met production of Verdi’s Macbeth. Despite superb singing, the production felt disjointed, as if it could not contain both a medieval thane with tragic ambition and a 19th-century composer sounding an impassioned call for a united Italy. Lady Macbeth went mad and danced on chairs, but I was more aware of her bravura than her metastasizing guilt.

It happened that my brother took my mother to the Met that afternoon, too, at a movie theater in Northern Virginia. They paid $24 apiece for their tickets; my seats had cost a couple of hundred dollars each. Afterward, I called my brother. “It was one of the greatest operas I’ve ever seen!” he exclaimed. “Did you see Macduff, when he read the letter telling him that his family has been murdered? He had tears in his eyes!” Well, no. I couldn’t see any tears. I was in the first ring, far from the stage. My brother was talking as if he had been to a different opera.

Published: Mar 21, 2014
Length: 11 minutes (2,913 words)

The Passion of Dan Choi

A profile of Dan Choi, a gay Iraq combat veteran who became a media star after his public push to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Since the victory, Choi has found it difficult to figure out what to do next:

In late August, I was on my way to interview Dan at his apartment when he messaged me that a big protest was shaping up at the White House. President Barack Obama had just announced that he would ask Congress for authorization to use force in Syria. I raced to meet him at the north entrance, but all I found were tourists snapping photos and Dan circling around on his bike. He hung out for a while, texting a friend to ask for an update. She didn’t respond. After 20 minutes of scouring his contacts for people who might have more information, he looked up from his phone and gave me a sideways grin. He was being a good sport, but he looked crestfallen. I sensed—or maybe I just imagined it—he was asking himself the same question I had been: Who is Dan Choi without “don’t ask, don’t tell”?

Published: Dec 2, 2013
Length: 28 minutes (7,175 words)

The 40-Year Slump

A bleak picture of working in the United States. Meyerson points to 1974 as the pivotal year in which worker pay stopped rising in accordance with productivity, and traces all the changes have since wiped out the American middle class:

All the factors that had slowly been eroding Americans’ economic lives over the preceding three decades—globalization, deunionization, financialization, Wal-Martization, robotization, the whole megillah of nefarious –izations—have now descended en masse on the American people. Since 2000, even as the economy has grown by 18 percent, the median income of households headed by people under 65 has declined by 12.4 percent. Since 2001, employment in low-wage occupations has increased by 8.7 percent while employment in middle-wage occupations has decreased by 7.3 percent. Since 2003, the median wage has not grown at all.

Published: Nov 17, 2013
Length: 21 minutes (5,289 words)

The Evangelist

Jim Gilliam was a precocious young conservative Christian who grew up in Silicon Valley and became a talented programmer. After fighting cancer, he lost his faith in God and found a passion for progressive causes. NationBuilder, a piece of software he built to—in his own words—help “democratize democracy,” has had some of his progressive friends consider him a traitor:

“Before he’d written a single line of code, Gilliam had decided that NationBuilder would be nonpartisan. Aaron Straus Garcia, a field organizer on Obama’s 2008 campaign who briefly worked at NationBuilder, recalls a conversation he had with Gilliam early on. ‘What happens when the Tea Party comes knocking on our door?’ Garcia asked. Gilliam’s response was immediate: ‘There’s no way we close doors, or we start picking or choosing. This is what will set us apart.’

“It was always going to be a controversial strategy. Gilliam’s activist friends saw him as both a leader and a product of the netroots; the liberal Campaign for America’s Future had even given him an award for being an unsung progressive hero. Now he was courting Republicans, trying to persuade them to use his product to defeat Democrats. In June 2012, NationBuilder announced that it had signed “probably the largest deal ever struck in political technology” with the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), whose primary mission is to elect GOP candidates at the state level. His competitors scoffed at the claim, but the agreement potentially put NationBuilder into the hands of several thousand Republican politicians.”

Author: Andy Kroll
Published: Oct 9, 2013
Length: 26 minutes (6,590 words)

Los Infiltradores

Three undocumented activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance intentionally get arrested to expose injustices in immigrant detention centers:

“Before they stood up and announced they were undocumented, before they started putting themselves on the line and getting arrested, before they started making plans to infiltrate detention centers, Abdollahi, Saavedra, and Martinez were like hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers across America: scared of admitting to anyone they were undocumented. But when they hit their late teens and early twenties, they’d begun to run up against the limits that their status placed on their future. The only way to get their lives on track would be to fight to change immigration policy.”

Published: Jun 21, 2013
Length: 34 minutes (8,643 words)

Ghosts of the Rio Grande

Hundreds of immigrant corpses are found along the U.S.-Mexico border every year. Most are buried without being identified, but groups are emerging to work on identifying the remains of missing migrants:

“Compared to Arizona, which identifies most of its unknown remains, Texas lets the corpses pile up. Autopsies are rarely conducted, DNA samples are not taken, and bodies are buried in poorly marked graves. Shortly after medical examiner Corinne Stern started working in Laredo, she found a 12-year-old skull from an unknown Hispanic man sitting on a shelf in the evidence room of the sheriff’s office. It was devoid of any information about where it came from or how it ended up there. Mercedes Doretti of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which is working to identify the remains of missing migrants, calls the region from Houston to San Antonio and south to McAllen the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ for bodies.”

Published: Jun 11, 2013
Length: 25 minutes (6,265 words)