12 Articles That Killed It in 2012, in No Particular Order
by J.A. Myerson
- Jelani Cobb – “Barack X,” The New Yorker Online.
The best thing I read about the election. Cobb, a black history professor at Rutgers, digs deep into the complicated dynamics governing the interplay between Obama and black America. There is so much whites like me are unable to see and detect, and thank goodness we can occasionally be guided so eloquently.
Early on, observers noted Obama’s Ebonic lapses when speaking to black audiences and saw in them a sly attempt to pander to African-American voters. But they had it precisely backward: to black audiences, his ability to speak in pulpit inflections one moment and concave Midwestern tones the next made him seem more black, not less. We saw him as no different than any African-American lawyer who speaks black English at home and another, entirely more formal language, in his professional environment.
- Bill McKibben – “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone.
You have probably already read this incredibly important articulation of the most important problem there is.
If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.
- Peter Frase – “Against Jobs, For Full Employment,” PeterFrase.com.
Peter’s really thoroughgoing advocacy for a new set of labor relations thrilled me, because I’m a nerd. Though this particular blog post is from last year, I only encountered it recently.
Take, for example, health care reform. It is generally accepted that there are a certain number of people who would like to retire or otherwise leave the labor force, but who stay in their jobs because that is the only way they can maintain access to health insurance. A program of national health care that successfully guaranteed universal coverage and severed health care from employment would cause these people to drop out of the labor force; all things being equal, this would move the economy toward full employment as these jobs were filled by the unemployed and the total pool of people seeking work shrank. However, this move toward full employment involves no net job creation since it is entirely targeted to the labor supply side.
- Eli Friedman – “China in Revolt,” Jacobin.
An industrial proletariat in open and widespread revolt against the exploitation of their labor by the ownership class? Sign me up. Even if that ownership class happens, incredibly, to be Communist Party commissars. The fact that the proletariat in question migrates from one part of a massive country to another for work is critical to the revolutionary challenge, as Friedman details vividly here.
Another example: every year just before the Chinese New Year, the number of strikes in the construction sector surges. Why? This holiday is the only time of the year that most migrants will return to their hometowns, and is often the only time that they can see family members, often including spouses and children. Construction workers are generally paid only when a project is completed, but nonpayment of wages has been endemic since the deregulation of the industry in the 1980s. The idea of going back to the village empty-handed is unacceptable for workers, since the reason they left for the city in the first place was because of the promise of marginally higher wages. Hence the strikes.
- YouTube user nauiocelotl – “ANAHEIM KIDS vs. Anaheim Police department,” YouTube.
Right, so. A video, not an article. Nevertheless, the Anaheim incident this summer was one of the most important episodes of the year, and one that has generated minimal continuing attention. Check out these kids’ stories.
- Lindy West – “How to Make a Rape Joke,” Jezebel.
Daniel Tosh’s abominable behavior prompted this clear-headed analysis from the just way too funny Lindy West, at a time when most of the discussion was between people simply pointing out the existence of rape culture and others pummeling them with the patriarchy juggernaut.
This fetishization of not censoring yourself, of being an “equal-opportunity offender,” is bizarre and bad for comedy. When did “not censoring yourself” become a good thing? We censor ourselves all the time, because we are not entitled, sociopathic fucks. Your girlfriend is censoring herself when she says she’s okay with you playing Xbox all day. In a way, comedy is censoring yourself—comedy is picking the right words to say to make people laugh. A comic who doesn’t censor himself is just a dude yelling. And being an “equal opportunity offender”—as in, “It’s okay, because Daniel Tosh makes fun of ALL people: women, men, AIDS victims, dead babies, gay guys, blah blah blah”—falls apart when you remember (as so many of us are forced to all the time) that all people are not in equal positions of power. “Oh, don’t worry—I punch everyone in the face! People, baby ducks, a lion, this Easter Island statue, the ocean…” Okay, well that baby duck is dead now. And you’re a duck-murderer. It’s really easy to believe that “nothing is sacred” when the sanctity of your body and your freedom are never legitimately threatened.
- Nima Shirazi – “What We Won’t Hear in Boca: Nine Things to Remember During the Iran Section of the Presidential Debate Tonight,” Wide Asleep in America.
Nima’s penchant, as I am fond of needling him for, is to produce exhaustive tomes inclusive of every piece of information related to his subject. Even in this piece, the listicle format is deceptive, since he nonetheless dives headlong into the task of debunking misunderstandings about Iran. For that reason, though, the piece is extremely worth reading, especially if you are curious about the dynamics but overwhelmed by the volume of literature and in need of a primer.
United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran isnot and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Ronald Burgess, President Barack Obama, his National Security Council, and Vice President Joe Biden have all agreed Iran isn’t actively building nuclear weapons. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and Military Intelligence Director Aviv Kochavi have also said the same thing, as have other foreign intelligence agencies. Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continuallyconfirms – that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program and has stated it has “no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons program.” (emphasis added) In November 2011, a spokesman for the Obama White Houseconcurred, “The IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program.”
- Molly Knefel – “Kindergarten/Cops,” The New Inquiry.
Sticking with the Stuff Written By Close Friends track for a moment, Molly here brought me (and just about every other teacher I sent this to) to tears with her essay about the criminalization of children of color, from her perspective as a privileged, white teaching artist.
Documentary films about “failing schools” feature the bodies of boys who look like David. Such films are created and consumed by concerned adults who would prefer not to send their own children to the schools. Although these concerned adults mostly benefit from class and white privilege, they are sad for the little boys and root, vaguely, for their education. But they—we?—are not surprised when taller versions of the boys come out of criminal court without belts and shoelaces. When I hear that a kid a few years older than David got caught selling a bag of weed to his white upstairs neighbor, I accept the fact that he has been taken to Rikers even though I will later buy that same bag of weed from that same upstairs neighbor with the unwavering confidence that he will never be taken to Rikers no matter how many bags of weed he sells me. Alongside the outrage many of us felt upon seeing my brother in handcuffs is its photonegative: our complete lack of outrage with the millions of images we’ve seen of the darker-skinned men who must be, based on the evidence we’re given, the ones who are supposed to be in handcuffs.
- Nick Pinto – “Can Occupy Wall Street Trust Its Own Candidate?” The Village Voice.
Last one from a friend. I just love Nick’s writing so much, and I am riven with jealousy of his eye for complexity in the mundane.
“It comes down to this,” he says. “I see people who are hurting and struggling, and I just know that I—that we—we could do something about it.” He pauses. “If you know you could do something about that, and you don’t. . . .” Another pause. There’s a hitch in his voice now, and when he continues, the words are strained with emotion. “If you don’t, that’s failure. And I want to encourage us not to fail.” After another silence, he re-collects himself. “Damn, I got choked up on that,” he says. “I didn’t think that was going to happen. I’m going to have to work on that.” Hearing an aspiring politician brought to tears by his own inspirational generalities, you don’t have to be a cynical journalist to wonder: Is this guy for real?
- Gavin Mueller – “‘The Dark Knight’ is No Capitalist…” Jacobin.
There was a lot of discussion about the woefully disappointing completion of Chistopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but this take was the most lucid I encountered.
This Batman-as-financier stuff is a trick played by casting the actor whose greatest role was a psychopathic i-banker. Yes, Wayne is rich, but that’s not the same as being a capitalist. The guy running the bodega down the street is more of a capitalist than Bruce Wayne. Wayne has no interest in profit, in accumulation, in investing his wealth to produce more wealth. If you don’t see M-C-M you don’t have capitalism. Now, the character of Bruce Wayne has always been imbued with noblesse oblige, but let’s not get that confused with what a capitalist does. Wayne funds orphanages and renewable energy in distinction to the actual capitalist, Daggett, who is trying to pillage Wayne Enterprises, Bain-Capital-style. Daggett is pointedly dissed at a party full of rich people because he’s only interested in money. Those silly noveau-riche, so gauche, am I right?
- Bruce A. Dixon – “Why Isn’t Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News? Where Is the Black Political Class?” Black Agenda Report.
The title basically says it all; in an age when everyone is rushing to identify “the civil rights issue of our time,” we ignore that civil rights is the civil rights issue of our time.
The black political class is utterly silent and deeply complicit. Even local pols and notables who lament the injustice of local austerity avoid mentioning the ongoing wars and bailouts which make these things “necessary.” A string of black mayors have overseen the decimation of Philly schools. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and other traditional “civil rights leaders” can always be counted on to rise up indignant when some racist clown makes an inappropriate remark about the pretty black First Lady and her children. But they won’t grab the mic for ordinary black children. They won’t start and won’t engage the public in a conversation about saving public education. It’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care very much about their funding, which comes from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, from Wal-mart and the Walton Family Foundation, from the corporations that run charter charter schools and produce standardized tests.
- Quinn Norton – “A Eulogy for #Occupy,” Wired.
Boy, oh boy. This lengthy piece of on-the-ground reporting just absolutely killed it. No better read to end your year with.
I was doing unhealthy things just to feel anything again. I didn’t even argue theory much after New York. Weeks before, I’d stay up all night to talk about ways the people around me wanted to make a new world. I’d write my stories exhausted, but fascinated. Now I just asked about evac plans and took pictures of everything from every angle. I documented the sights and sounds of Occupy like an ornithologist on a sinking island, surrounded by its last birds. And after New York, I arrived at new camps ready to give last rites. I had little mental rituals at each new camp where I tried to spot who would get arrested and predict who would be beaten. The police always obliged.
* * *
Happy end of the world everyone. Read up! – JAM