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Archive for the 'Current Events' Category

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

The EU: A Dictatorship of Freedoms (Part 2) — Albena Azmonova

Albena Azmanova

The following is part two of a post by Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. You can read the first half of the post here.

“The grievances against austerity that are now being expressed in street protests and in voting booths are the grievances of distressed consumers; not of citizens demanding structural changes to the political economy of democratic capitalism.”—Albena Azmanova

THE STATE: MORE POWERFUL, LESS RESPONSIBLE, INVARIABLY LEGITIMATE

Albena AzmanovaHow has the coup d’économie managed to transform Europe into a Dictatorship of the Four Economic Freedoms? Above all, by altering the role of political authority in Europe. Public authority (at all levels of governance) has undertaken ever more policy action to intensify wealth-production, but less and less action to manage the social costs of growth-generating public policy. This is particularly evident with regard to social policy in the European Union.

EU integration has reduced the policy-making powers of member-states in welfare provision, while EU institutions, over the past decade, have increasingly started to taken action in this field. This shifting balance between member-states and the EU in itself is not alarming; it is not even interesting. The important question is not where policy-making authority is allocated, but what type of social policy ensues from the re-allocation of responsibility between states and EU’s central policy-making bodies. In this regard, three elements are noteworthy.

First: in the course of shifting responsibility from state to EU level, there is less and less public authority in charge of welfare provision. This is the case because the retrenchment of the state is not matched by an equal increase of policy action at EU level. In other words, what the states are losing in terms of capacity to secure social rights is not matched by an equal increase in the responsibility of the EU to safeguard these rights.

Second: since the adoption of the Single European Act, economic integration within the EU has been invariably interpreted in the terms of free-market capitalism (while in principle open markets are not synonymous with free markets).

This has resulted in a radically liberal form of welfare provision: one marked by subordination of social policy to free-market policy priorities, a race to the bottom in social protection.

Overall the range and nature of the responsibility of public authority has changed, which has affected the style of governance. At both state and EU level, public authority is undertaking ever more action to enhance market efficiency (for the sake of global competitiveness), with dramatic increase in social risk, but this same public authority has ceased to assume responsibility for the generated risk. Rather than a retrenchment of the state, we have the new phenomenon of increase in the power of governing bodies (and their capacity to inflict social harm), while their responsibility for the social consequences of policy action decreases. This discrepancy between power and responsibility is damaging for societies, as the exercise of power becomes ever more autocratic, even if all rituals of democratic politics are meticulously performed.

Arguably, the discrepancy between power and responsibility should be eroding the authority of states, as Richard Sennett has argued. This, in turn, could be expected to trigger a legitimation crisis of the system, and massive revolts. Yet, no such crisis has so far ensued, apart from the wave of largely peaceful popular protests in the course of 2011-2012 whose main theme is resistance to the politics of austerity, rather than change of the political economy of Europe away from neoliberal capitalism.

(more…)

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

The EU: A Dictatorship of Freedoms (Part 1) — Albena Azmonova

Albena Azmanova

The following is part one of a post by Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. We will post part two tomorrow. Azmanova will be speaking at The New School tonight at 6 pm.

“This almighty raison d’économie leaves no options: it is policymaking without politics, without ideological choices, it allows no alternatives”—Albena Azmanova

Albena AzmonovaJudging by this poster advertising the play “Europe Today,” something is amiss in Europe.

The European Union’s fate has been, of late, rather more bewailed and bemoaned, than celebrated. The most ominous pronouncement of Europe’s sorry fate have centered on the rise of technocratic rule riding high on the will of markets in what Margaret Thatcher called the TINA logic (borrowing from Herbert Spenser)—There Is No Alternative. The emergency appointments by EU authorities of two heads of European governments (Lucas Papandreou in Greece and Mario Monti in Italy) in November 2011, and tasking the newly appointed leaders to enforce (rather than negotiate) policies of austerity in their countries, does add fresh credence to the idea.

We seem to thus have lost our basic right to politics—that is, to the reasoned contest among alternative ideas about the shape of our present and the contours of our future, sacrificing it at the altar of the hegemonic common-sense of free markets aided by bureaucracies, while altogether preserving the democratic institutional order.

THE MISSING CRISIS OF CAPITALISM AND THE “NEW DEAL”

What is the evidence that something is amiss in the nature of European politics? The broadly proclaimed, yet missing, crisis of capitalism can serve as an empirical entry point into a diagnosis of Europe’s current malaise. In the midst of the recent global financial meltdown, we have heard much emphatic talk about the crisis of capitalism. However, what narratives about this crisis tell us is no more than that the financialization of the economy has created a crisis for capitalism—some difficulties in the creation of profit (such as deficient credit) which have been by now been overcome. Moreover, these difficulties, and the social misery they have inflicted, have not triggered a crisis of the system’s legitimacy. “We are not against the system but the system is against us,”, announced a slogan of the indignados—the peaceful demonstrators that who occupied public spaces across Spain in the early summer of 2011. Yet this cry of protest is ambiguous—it is more an appeal to tame the system, make it more inclusive, rather than to subvert or overthrow it.

Like the protests of the Spanish indignados, the citizens’ outrage in Greece against the conditions that the EU and the IMF imposed for the financial bailout of the government, the Occupy Wall Street movements, and the looting that ravaged English cities – all in the summer and autumn of 2011 – have signaled a growing popular discontent with the outcomes of the socio-political system – mainly with the dramatically uneven allocation of wealth and increasing social exclusion. However, while these movements express, in their distinct ways, public frustration with the socio-economic system of neoliberal capitalism, they rarely put into question its validity or evoke an alternative. These calls are at their best appeals for ‘fixing’ the system and making it more inclusive, and, at their worst, – exasperated cries of frustration and fear. If democratic elections are any indicator of prevailing preferences, the most recent round of national elections in Europe have confirmed that capitalism has considerable popular support. In the midst of the rampant economic crisis, the vote in Europe has gone to the right;, support to left parties has been at a historic low, while support to xenophobic populism is rising.

Most importantly, what is absent is a broad societal, cross-ideological coalition of forces mobilizing to protect society from the market, similar to the counter-movement against free markets that Carl Polanyi, in his The Great Transformation, observed to be taking shape in the early twentieth century. At the time, a consensus between the left and the right emerged on the need to constrain markets, a consensus which propelled the post-war welfare states. Instead, we now have governments, irrespectively of their ideological allegiance, running to the rescue of financial capital and big business, and implementing austerity programs to reassure capital markets, while society bears this with relative equanimity, despite the increasing price it is paying in terms of cuts to social insurance, to basic services for the most disadvantaged, general impoverishment and growing precarity. Social frustration is, instead, directed mainly into xenophobia. How can this be explained?

While we have been busy debating the crisis of capitalism, capitalist democracy (as a system of social relations and political rules) has metamorphosed itself into a new form, which the most recent economic meltdown consolidated, but did not cause. This new form is marked by a “new deal”—a new social contract (or legitimacy relationship) between public authority and citizens, which enables a particular style of rule, which I will attempt now to elucidate. Before I proceed, let me clarify the concept of a legitimacy relationship between public authority and citizens, which will be a focal point in the subsequent analysis of Europe’s political health.

(more…)

Friday, April 4th, 2014

What You Can Do to End Slavery

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Throughout the week’s posts, we’ve seen how widespread and difficult to combat slavery is in the modern world, and it’s left us with an important question: what can we do to change things? So today, we’ve excerpted Laura T. Murphy’s epilogue to Survivors of Slavery: “Twenty-first-Century Abolitionists–What You Can do to End Slavery.”

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The Story of James Kofi Annan

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we are focusing on the story of James Kofi Annan, a former child slave in Ghana and the founder of the nonprofit organization Challenging Heights.

First, we have a video of James Kofi Annan accepting the 2011 Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize at Grinnell College, and in his acceptance speech, explaining the practice of modern slavery in Ghana and his personal experiences escaping from it:

Next, we have an excerpt from Survivors of Slavery in which James Kofi Annan writes “the story of his life”:

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Survivors of Modern Slavery Speak

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have a guest post from Laura T. Murphy, “Survivors of Modern Slavery Speak.”

Survivors of Modern Slavery Speak
Laura T. Murphy

This month, the Urban Institute released a government-funded report on “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities” (check out their interactive feature, “The Hustle” as well). The report attempts to describe human trafficking by the numbers, providing the data that begins to answer the question that so many people ask: “How serious is human trafficking in the United States?”

The researchers interviewed sex traffickers, pimps, sex workers, child pornographers, prosecutors, and federal law enforcement agents to determine how big the profits are for human trafficking in seven U.S. cities. What they found was that pimps make between $5,000 and $32,833 a week. And the underground sex economy accounted for between $39.9 and $290 million dollars, depending on which city is raking in the bucks. The Urban Institute provided the data that cities governments and non-profits have been seeking to be able to justify exerting energy and expending resources to try to slow down the most exploitative sectors of the sex trade. Furthermore, the interviews conducted revealed widespread physical and psychological abuse within the industry.

What the Urban Institute research shows us is that listening carefully to the voices of those involved in trafficking is integral to better addressing the issue in all its complexity. Even as we demand better records and more data on the sex trade and other forms of trafficking, those numbers can only give us an abstract portrait of the industry. (more…)

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Noah Coburn and Anna Larson on the Afghan Elections

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan, Noah CoburnIn the lead up to the April 5th elections in Afghanistan, Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, authors of Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape have created Afghan Elections dedicated to observation and analysis of the 2014 vote.

The site includes posts about coverage of the election as well as on-the-ground reports about how Afghans are preparing for and thinking about the elections. A recent post on the site drew on interviews with Afghans about why they’re voting and what it means for the country. Other recent topics have included the threat of violence and the role of youth activism in the campaigns.

Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Noah Coburn and Ronald Neumann argue that the United States must be realistic in expectations about the Afghan elections and react accordingly. The Afghan elections, Coburn suggests, will not be perfect—there will be corruption and disputed results. However, the need for stability is crucial and the United States must allow for the Afghan people to have the space and time to address the growing pains of a fledgling democracy.

Coburn and Neumann explain:

At this point, the United States needs to understand that what is most important in these upcoming elections is Afghanistan’s long-term stability. This is best achieved through a peaceful transfer of power to a new president with authority recognized broadly by Afghans. Democracy is, of course, important, and beyond a point its neglect would undermine stability, but the priority should not be on holding perfect elections. Afghans are likely to tolerate many types of procedural irregularities and small-scale fraud. Widespread violence and a breakdown of the tenuous political balance are likely only if these manipulations are seen as overtly propelling into office a candidate with little national support. Instead, Afghans are primarily preparing for both a national and, through provincial elections, local long-term renegotiation of political power. This is the challenge that the international community needs to focus on.

(more…)

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The Allure of Work

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt from the first chapter of Survivors of Slavery: “The Allure of Work.”

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Book Giveaway! Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives, by Laura T. Murphy

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Survivors of Slavery. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, April 4th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

The Olympics, Large Sporting Events, and Recalibrating the Discussion on Human Trafficking (It’s Not Just For Sex, People) — Stephanie Hepburn

The following post is by Stephanie Hepburn, coauthor of Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight:

Human Trafficking Around the World, Stephanie HepburnIn preparation for the Winter Olympics this month and the Paralympic Games in March, Russia has spent an estimated (U.S.) $51 billion transforming the coastal town of Sochi and the neighboring Caucasus Mountains. Construction has included an Olympic stadium, a village for athletes, arenas, visitor accommodation, a media center, modern transportation and telecommuting systems, and hotels. These projects required tens of thousands of workers, including 16,000 migrant workers from Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. These low-wage workers often earned (U.S.) $1.80 to $2.60 an hour performing odd jobs or working as carpenters, welders or steel fitters. Some employers didn’t pay full wages or didn’t pay workers at all.

As you may have noticed in your news feed, numerous publications ranging from Salon to the New York Times recently put out articles focused on debunking the human trafficking myth surrounding large sporting events. Experts and journalists concluded that human trafficking does not increase during large sporting events. The arguments were fallible as they were framed exclusively around sex trafficking and failed to include the most prevalent form of human trafficking, forced labor. The Super Bowl was the impetus for the discussion and dialogue ended as soon as the event did, even as the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics was on the horizon. So far the influx of Sochi news has focused on stray dogs, privacy issues regarding surveillance videos in hotel room showers, gripes about unfinished hotel rooms, and the cost of the Sochi megaprojects, but not the workers who built them.

Grandiosity is the recent trend of sporting events, resulting in pressure on hosts to live up to bigger than big expectations. This means that in a short amount of time governments have to build billions of dollars worth of state of the art structures and accommodations. What experts on human trafficking know is that a sudden demand for construction and low wage labor creates opportunity for unscrupulous employers to come in and exploit and traffic workers. This is a worldwide issue, regardless of whether we are examining post-Katrina New Orleans or Russia’s sudden economic (and resulting construction) boom. (I talk about this in my book Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight.)

Since 2009 Human Rights Watch documented exploitation of migrant workers that labored on the Russian Olympic projects. Exploitation included the confiscation of passports and work permits. This is a common trait of human trafficking as it is a successful means to control the movement of workers. (Meaning, they can’t leave if they don’t have their documentation.) Workers also experienced 12-hour workdays seven days a week and unpaid (or excessively delayed paid) wages. Some employers placed migrant workers in overcrowded housing and reported them to authorities if they complained about the abuses, resulting in deportation. It is unclear how many cases rose to the level of human trafficking, but certainly these abuses warrant further investigation and a step up in migrant worker protection on the part of the government. The good news is that the Russian government has acknowledged (U.S.) $8.34 million in unpaid wages among several of the more than 500 companies that participated in the development of the Sochi Olympic site. In response the government stated in January that the identified employers would pay workers all unpaid wages. The issue is that hundreds of the workers have been detained and deported for alleged violations of employment regulations or migration, making it unlikely that they will receive payment. If human trafficking did take place, the deportation of victims (critical witnesses) would pose a serious obstacle to pursuing cases against the traffickers.

(more…)

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Tiptoeing Through Minefields

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. In today’s guest post, Joel Migdal discusses John Kerry’s surprisingly active tenure as Secretary of State.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Tiptoeing through Minefields
Joel S. Migdal

John Kerry has taken on as activist a foreign policy agenda as any secretary of state in recent memory. In the year or so that he has been in office, he has dived into thickets of crises on every continent and on a wide array of issues. Most recently, he derided climate-change deniers as akin to believers in a flat earth. He made his remarks in Indonesia on the heels of the first U.S. environmental agreement with China, with hints that more agreements with other countries were on the horizon. His assault on climate change—and those who do not take it seriously—came during an Asia tour in which he also directed tough words at North Korea, defending U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea. And, at the same time, he leaned hard on South Korea and Japan to repair their frayed ties.

Nowhere has Kerry been more aggressive than in the turbulent Middle East. He has been out front simultaneously on three sets of talks—to end the brutal war in Syria, move Iran away from the development of nuclear weapons, and solve the seemingly interminable Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Any one of these negotiations would have provided him with a full plate. When he came into office a year ago, no one would have bet that any of these initiatives could succeed and, even now, few would bank on more than one of these actually showing results. But Kerry has not been shy about tilting at windmills.
(more…)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm, by Joel Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt from Migdal’s first chapter, “The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm.”

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East, by Joel S. Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Shifting Sands. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, February 21st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Michael Mann Takes on the National Review and Climate Change Skeptics

Michael Mann, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

“A lot of us would much rather be spending our time doing science, but an increasingly large amount of our time is spent on defending ourselves against bad-faith attacks. Over time, I have come to embrace that.”—Michael Mann

In a development that could change the nature and tenor over the debate about climate change, Michael Mann’s suit against the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is moving forward.

The events leading up to the suit were recently covered in Kurt Eichenwald’s article in Newsweek. Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, has long been accused of misrepresenting scientific data by climate change skeptics and denialists. These accusations reached a fevered and rather ugly pitch when Rand Simberg of the CEI equated Mann, who teaches at Penn State, with Jerry Sandusky. Simberg wrote, “Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.”

The CEI’s article was picked up by Mark Steyn, a writer for the National Review Online, who in addition to picking up on the child molester references, also said that Penn State failed to adequately investigate Mann’s scientific work. Citing libel, Mann has since sued both the National Review and the CEI, who initially wanted the cases thrown out, citing their first amendment rights.

Michael Mann, along with other scientists, has long contended that climate change denialists and skeptics have misrepresented scientific findings as well as e-mails exchanged among climate scientists. As he recently argued in the New York Times , Michael Mann believes it is time that scientists become more active in fighting back the efforts of climate skeptics.

Eichenwald concludes his article by writing:

Mann says he is frustrated about the bitterness of the years of disputes between climatologists and the skeptics but now accepts that responding to attacks will be part of the job for all of them.

“A lot of us would much rather be spending our time doing science, but an increasingly large amount of our time is spent on defending ourselves against bad-faith attacks,” he says. “Over time, I have come to embrace that.”

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Dean Starkman on How and Why the Business Press Failed

Dean Starkman, The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

In The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, Dean Starkman argues that the business press missed the biggest story of the new century. More specifically,the mainstream business press failed to cover and convey to the public the looming dangers that would profoundly shake up the financial system in 2007.

The following is an excerpt from the opening of the book. A fuller excerpt can be found on the Columbia Journalism Review site.

The US business press failed to investigate and hold accountable Wall Street banks and major mortgage lenders in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. That’s why the crisis came as such a shock to the public and to the press itself.

And that’s the news about the news.

The watchdog didn’t bark. What happened? How could an entire journalism subculture, understood to be sophisticated and plugged in, miss the central story occurring on its beat? And why was it that some journalists, mostly outside the mainstream, were able to produce work that in fact did reflect the radical changes overtaking the financial system while the vast majority in the mainstream did not?

This book is about journalism watchdogs and what happens when they don’t bark. What happens is the public is left in the dark about, and powerless against, complex problems that overtake important national institutions. Few need reminders, even today, of the costs of the crisis: 10 million Americans uprooted by foreclosure with even more still threatened, 23 million unemployed or underemployed, whole communities set back a generation, shocking bailouts for the perpetrators, political polarization here and instability abroad. And so on and so forth.

Was the brewing crisis really such a secret? Was it all so complex as to be beyond the capacity of conventional journalism and, through it, the public, to understand? Was it all so hidden? In fact, the answer to all those questions is “no.” The problem—distorted incentives corrupting the financial industry—was plain, but not to Wall Street executives, traders, rating agencies, analysts, quants, or other financial insiders. It was plain to the outsiders: state regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers, community groups, defrauded mortgage borrowers, and, mostly, to former employees of financial institutions, the whistleblowers, who were, in fact, blowing the whistle. A few reporters actually talked to them, understood the metastasizing problem, and wrote about it. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for the mainstream business press.

In the aftermath of the Lehman bankruptcy of September 2008, a great fight broke out over the causes of the crisis—a fight that’s more or less resolved at this point. While of course it’s complicated, Wall Street and the mortgage lenders stand front and center in the dock. Meanwhile, a smaller fight broke out over the business press’ role. After all, its central beat—the one over which it claims particular mastery—is the same one that suddenly melted down, to the shock of one and all. For business reporters, the crisis was more than a surprise. There was even something uncanny about it. A generation of professionals had, in effect, grown up with this set of Wall Street firms and had put them on the covers of Fortune and Forbes, the front page of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and the rest, scores of times. The firms were so familiar, the press had even given them anthropomorphized personalities over the years: Morgan Stanley, the white-shoe wasp firm; Merrill Lynch, the scrappy Irish-Catholic firm, often considered the dumb one; Goldman, the elite Jewish firm; Lehman, the scrappy Jewish firm; Bear Stearns, the naughty one, etc. Love them or hate them, there they were, blessed by accounting firms, rating agencies, and regulators, gleaming towers of power. Until one day, they weren’t.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Interview with Dean Starkman, author of “The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark”

Dean Starkman, The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

“Journalism can be the antidote to corruption…. It gives the public a fighting chance to understand complex problems when powerful institutions betray their trust and act against the public interest. It can be a clarifying force, without which democracy in a complex age just can’t work.”—Dean Starkman

The following is an interview with Dean Starkman, author of The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism

Question: Why did you write this book?

Dean Starkman: The short answer is, the financial crisis. Among business reporters, there were basically two broad responses among to the crisis: one group felt that it was a terrible catastrophe and should not be allowed to happen again. The other felt that it was more than that: just unacceptable, beyond the pale. I fall into the latter camp. Really, everyone understands that this was an epic event. But too few of my colleagues, I fear, have really internalized the dimensions of the disaster, the breadth of the corruption, the completeness of the regulatory collapse. This was one of those once-a-century moments when the system cracks open and allowed us all a long look inside and it’s important that this moment not be lost. For me, it all adds up to a story that needs probing from all angles, now and for many years to come. The fact that this disaster was entirely man-made, and occurred on the most high-profile of business-press beats—finance—made scrutiny of the media’s role all the more urgent from my point of view.

Q: But why you?

DS: Besides my journalistic credentials, which can be found here, it was and is actually my job to review and write about business news. I started running the Columbia Journalism Review’s business desk, The Audit, in the spring of 2007—an innocent time in retrospect. As many recall, the debt markets began cracking open not long after that and soon it dawned on us that the U.S. financial system—the envy of the world, powerful beyond imagination, festooned with brand names, blessed by armies of lawyers, accountants, raters, regulators, the crème of our elite educational system—might be a mirage. The crisis had a big impact on my worldview. In essence, it confirmed it.

Q: How so?

DS: In two ways. I spent the first 15 years or so of my career as an investigative reporter at regional papers, then made the transition to being a business reporter at The Wall Street Journal. I always felt an investigative reporter was something of a mini-expert on subcultures—of the police department, the court system, the state house, etc.—whose job it was to learn its mores and idioms, to figure out whether the culture was healthy or not, and to report back to the wider world on how things were going there. When I arrived at the paper, I didn’t know exactly what to expect but it soon became apparent that I had joined a different journalism subculture from the one I had known at regional papers. The Journal was unique in many ways, but it was also certainly part of, if not, the leader of, this business-press subculture, which had its own particular view of what a “story” was—that is, what got into the paper, what we today call “content.”

Admittedly, I wasn’t hired as an investigative reporter. Even so, the boundaries—invisible and unspoken yet real enough—struck me as arbitrary and, to my tastes, narrow. Also, they were fungible. They moved over time. In my view, they narrowed. In any case, coming from outside the culture, I spent a lot of time trying to decode it—where did these ideas about business news come from, and how did we decide these were the right ones—and part of that decoding formed the basis for this book.

Q: And the second way?

DS: The second way involves the idea of corruption. I cringe in way to use that word because it has a shrill tenor and yet I saw enough of it in Rhode Island to understand that it actually does happen, at the highest levels, and that its effects are immensely damaging. Unlike the muckrakers, I’m not sure it’s about good or evil on the part of individuals, although there’s that. But normally all it involves is power imbalance or perverse incentives, or both, leading a state where normal regulation, oversight, and law enforcement are subsumed. A great reporter and friend, John Sullivan, had a theory that 10 percent of the people can always be counted on to do the right thing, and 10 percent will always do the wrong thing, but 80 percent will go with the flow. That’s how corruption happens, and how it can become systemic, as it did in the mortgage industry.

The sense that the deck is stacked, that contracts are rigged, or that tax authorities or police act at the behest of a corrupt mayor, undermines the public’s faith in the system itself. Corruption actually threatens democracy. And it was clear to me at the time, just as it was clear to some of the journalists profiled in Watchdog, that the financial system had crossed a line from competition to recklessness and into corruption.

The crisis confirmed that view and reinforced the dangers of corruption to markets and to democracy itself. Clearly, ours was badly shaken, and the subsequent effects in Europe drive the point home even further.

Q: What’s all that got to do with journalism?

DS: Journalism can be the antidote to corruption. It certainly has been in the past, as I demonstrate in Watchdog. But even if it isn’t, it gives the public a fighting chance to understand complex problems when powerful institutions betray their trust and act against the public interest. It can be a clarifying force, without which democracy in a complex age just can’t work. If that sounds like I’m waving a flag with big “J” on it, well, so be it. The great Walter Lippmann despaired of democracy working in a far-flung industrial power and believed elites should be left alone to solve complex problems. I think we’ve learned that doesn’t work. So this is what we’re left with.

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism,” by Dean Starkman

“Journalism was complicit in the predation and corruption that brought down world financial markets and wrecked the lives of millions…. Dean Starkman is the author we have been waiting for to tell this story. He not only puts forward a keen, subtle, and fair account of the journalistic default, he names names.” — Todd Gitlin

The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, Dean Starkman

This week we will be featuring The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, by Dean Starkman, on twitter, facebook, and the Columbia University Press blog, .

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, January 24 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

You can also read an excerpt from The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism posted on the Columbia Journalism Review site.

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Rashid Khalidi on Ariel Sharon

Rashidi Khalidi, author of Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War (now available in a revised edition with a new introduction), has recently been interviewed and asked to comment on Ariel Sharon’s legacy and his impact on the Middle East.

In a recent piece in Foreign Policy, Call Off the Sainthood of Ariel Sharon, Khalidi discusses the Israeli leader’s role in the 1982 Israeli war in Lebanon, a conflict that led to more than 50,000 casualties, including many Lebanese civilians.

Khalidi writes:

The Lebanon war that Sharon, then the defense minister, did more than anyone else to launch was an unmitigated catastrophe for the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and in the view of most Israelis at the time, Israel itself. Israel’s subsequent occupation of South Lebanon until 2000, the consequent intensification of the Lebanese civil war, the slaughter of untold numbers of innocents, and the deaths of hundreds of Israeli soldiers and thousands of other combatants should all be laid in large part at Sharon’s feet.

Sharon’s profound impact on the Middle East stretched far beyond Lebanon. If the creation of a truly sovereign, independent, contiguous, and viable Palestinian state is not possible today — as most sober observers believe — this is largely his achievement. From his appointment as agriculture minister in 1977 until his passing from the Israeli political scene after his stroke in 2006, he probably did more than any other Israeli leader to make Israel’s colonization of the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem an astonishing success.

Khalidi also recently discussed Sharon on Huffington Post Live as well as on Democracy Now, where he was joined by Noam Chomsky and Avi Shlaim

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

VIDEO: Frederic Wehrey on “Sectarian Politics in the Gulf”

In the following video, Frederic Wehrey discusses his new book Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings.

Wehrey argues that sectarianism in the region has largely been the product of the institutional weaknesses of Gulf states, leading to excessive alarm by entrenched Sunni elites and calculated attempts by regimes to discredit Shiʿa political actors.

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Mamadou Diouf on Nelson Mandela

Columbia News recently posted remarks from Lee Bollinger and others from the Columbia community about Nelson Mandela. In the video below Professor Mamadou Diouf, director of Columbia’s Institute for African Studies and the editor of Tolerance, Democracy, and Sufis in Senegal, discusses the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Diouf believes the way in which Mandela left power may be his most important legacy. “This man decided to do one term and leave. And this is a revolution in Africa,” says Diouf. “He could have stayed until his death because he was already the myth.”

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Excerpt from Natsume Sōseki’s Light and Dark

Light and Dark

This week our featured book is Light and Dark: A Novel by Natsume Sōseki, translated with an introduction by John Nathan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its author, and its translator on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt of the first nine short chapters of Soseki’s novel.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Light and Dark!