CRF Blog

Documentary Shortlist

by Bill Hayes

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlist for its 2017 Best Documentary Feature. The shortlist was narrowed to five nominees (marked with an asterisk). Below in alphabetical order is the shortlist, with links to each film’s web site, which usually has a trailer. Some of the documentaries may be unsuitable for classroom use, but still may be of interest to social studies teachers.

Cameraperson

Command and Control

The Eagle Huntress

Fire at Sea*

Gleason

Hooligan Sparrow

I Am Not Your Negro*

The Ivory Game

Life, Animated*

O.J.: Made in America*

13th*

Tower

Weiner

The Witness

Zero Days

America’s Shrinking Middle Class

by Bill Hayes

In America’s Shrinking Middle Class, the PewResearchCenter reports that the “middle class lost ground in nearly nine-in-ten U.S. metropolitan areas examined.”

The American middle class is losing ground in metropolitan areas across the country, affecting communities from Boston to Seattle and from Dallas to Milwaukee. From 2000 to 2014 the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined in a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. The decrease in the middle-class share was often substantial, measuring 6 percentage points or more in 53 metropolitan areas, compared with a 4-point drop nationally.

The shrinking of the middle class at the national level, to the point where it may no longer be the economic majority in the U.S., was documented in an earlier analysis by the Pew Research Center. The changes at the metropolitan level, the subject of this in-depth look at the American middle class, demonstrate that the national trend is the result of widespread declines in localities all around the country.

This report encompasses 229 of the 381 “metropolitan statistical areas” as defined by the federal government. That is the maximum number of areas that could be identified in the Census Bureau data used for the analysis and for which data are available for both 2000 and 2014 (an accompanying text box provides more detail). 1 Together, these areas accounted for 76% of the nation’s population in 2014.

With relatively fewer Americans in the middle-income tier, the economic tiers above and below have grown in significance over time. The share of adults in upper-income households increased in 172 of the 229 metropolitan areas, even as the share of adults in lower-income households rose in 160 metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2014. The shifting economic fortunes of localities were not an either/or proposition: Some 108 metropolitan areas experienced growth in both the lower- and upper-income tiers. [more]

Middle Income

Young people losing faith in democracy

by Bill Hayes

The World Economic Forum reports on a number of trends in the U.S. and Europe showing that Young people losing faith in democracy.

Those born in the 1980s were even less enamoured with democracy – 24% of U.S. millennials considered democracy to be a “bad” or “very bad” way of running the country in 2011.

Europe showed a similar trend. In 2011, 13% of European youth aged 16 to 24 expressed such a view, up from 8% among the same age group in the mid-1990s. [more]

Loss of faith in Dem

World’s Muslim population more widespread than you might think

by Bill Hayes

The PewResearchCenter reports that the World’s Muslim population more widespread than you might think.

whereMuslimsLive

Give me a child

by Bill Hayes

In Give me a child, The Economist looks at early childhood development (ECD), its importance, and how it can be done wrong.

A report in May by Harvard University’s Centre for the Developing Child found that the average impact of ECD experiments studied over the past 50 years has fallen. “There is huge potential in ECD intervention,” says Orazio Attanasio of University College London. “The danger is to assume that any intervention no matter how ill-conceived and ill-designed will work.” Although getting the right answers can improve tens of millions of young lives, there is a real risk that the current wave of enthusiasm for ECD will crash if bad methods are adopted and results disappoint. The latest research suggests at least four things which governments should keep in mind.

First, ECD must focus as much on physical well-being as on training the mind. That element is now missing: most ECD policies put the stress simply on educating kids aged four or five. In fact, health and nutrition are at least as important. A paper in 2008 by Cesar Victora of Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil tracked cohorts of children in five countries (Brazil, Guatemala, India, the Philippines and South Africa) and found a strong correlation between height at the age of two, school results and wages in later life. So correcting the bad nutrition (of expectant mothers as well as infants) that leads to stunting should be a priority. Supplements like iodine and iron for pregnant mothers and vulnerable babies can boost educational performance.

A second problem is that efforts to boost development in the first years of life can be shoddily run because they fall in the bureaucratic gaps between health and education policies. [more]

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

by Bill Hayes

An initiative of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange covers all aspects of the juvenile justice system.

Why Are Ballot Measures So Confusing?

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: Why Are Ballot Measures So Confusing?

Some Floridians who voted early are up in arms after learning they mistakenly voted for a constitutional amendment that did the opposite of what they assumed it would do: A measure written in language that made it seem supportive of the solar energy industry was actually designed to allow utilities with competing interests to raise fees on solar customers — hurting the industry.

But ballots routinely include measures that are cast in opaque language, mixing voters up on what they are truly voting for or against. Is there a way to ensure that ballot language is less confusing? [more]

The New Dictators

by Bill Hayes

In The New Dictators for Foreign Affairs magazine, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Erica Frantz, and Joseph Wright explore how more and more countries are turning to authoritarian rule.

Strongmen are seemingly everywhere. Russian President Vladimir Putin is omnipresent; the media has obsessed over everything from his latest actions in Syria and Ukraine to his sudden and recurring reshuffling of his inner circle in the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political purge following a failed military coup has won sustained attention. And even in China, a system that has long emphasized collective leadership, the media have dubbed President Xi Jinping the “Chairman of Everything,” reflecting his accumulation of more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Saudi Arabia: Can It Really Change?

by Bill Hayes

In Saudi Arabia: Can It Really Change? for the New York Review of Books, Nicolas Pelham reviews The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism by Toby Matthiesen; Joyriding in Riyadh: Oil, Urbanism, and Road Revolt by Pascal Menoret; Saudi Arabia: A Kingdom in Peril by Paul Aarts and Carolien Roelants; and Force and Fanaticism: Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and Beyond by Simon Ross Valentine.

Then, in 1979, apparently inspired by the Iranian overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of an Islamic republic earlier that year, Islamic militants stormed Mecca’s Grand Mosque, the holiest place in Islam, and declared a new order under a leader who proclaimed himself the Mahdi — the redeemer — and sought to replace the Saudi monarchy. Wahhabi forces loyal to the monarchy counterattacked, saved the al-Sauds, and retook the mosque. But a crucial deal was made: loyalist clerics approved the removal of the militants by force; but in return demanded that Saudi royals cede them power to strictly control personal behavior. The last cinemas and concert halls shut down. Women were obliged to shroud themselves in black.

Thirty-five years later, foreign descriptions of Saudi Arabia remain for the most part remarkably bleak. The writers of all four books under review examine the domination of the al-Saud dynasty with the fascination with which a zoologist might regard a black widow snaring its prey. Pascal Menoret describes young men whose only escape from Riyadh’s Islamist social strictures is the homoerotically charged practice of joyriding down the city’s grim highways. Matthiesen describes the often difficult lives of two million Shias in eastern Saudi Arabia — many of them employees of oil companies — whose right to practice their form of Islam contracts and expands according to royal whim. Paul Aarts and Carolien Roelants describe the suppression of Saudi women, who still need a man to study, work, travel, or open bank accounts. Simon Ross Valentine is appalled and fascinated by the power of Wahhabi clerics; he stays behind after a clumsy public decapitation to watch a mosque steward hose down the blood. Yet through all of these recent books comes a nagging question: If Saudi Arabia really is the wellspring of ISIS and if it imposes, as it often does, an orthodox conformity, how, a century after its creation, does the kingdom these authors describe remain, as they also make clear, such a heterogeneous and nuanced place?

Each of the authors acknowledges the gap between the totalitarian ideal and the looser reality. “Wherever I lived in [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia],” writes Valentine in a chapter entitled “Serpents in Paradise,” “I was not only offered drugs and alcohol, but also ‘woman, for good time.’” Aarts is surprised by a portrait gallery violating sharia injunctions against figurative art. There are plenty of censors, but the Internet and satellite TV, he found, have made them obsolete. Menoret records how the joyriders have turned the uniform urban grids into an escape route from state planners and authoritarian governors as they speed down the streets. [more]

Drawing the Line

by Bill Hayes

In Drawing the Line, the New Yorker reviews Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy by David Daley.

The Constitution had left it to state lawmakers to determine how elections should be held, and in Virginia the Anti-Federalists controlled the legislature. Knowing that his enemy Madison was planning a run for the House of Representatives, Henry set to work. First, he and his confederates resolved that Virginia’s congressmen would be elected from districts. (Several other states had chosen to elect their representatives on a statewide basis, a practice that persisted until Congress intervened, in 1842.) Next, they stipulated that each representative from Virginia would have to run from the district where he resided. Finally, they stuck in the shiv. They drew the Fifth District, around Madison’s home in the town of Orange, to include as many Anti-Federalists as possible.

An ally of Madison’s who attended the session in Richmond wrote to him that while it was unusual for the legislature to “bend its utmost efforts” against a single individual, this was, indeed, what had happened: “The object of the majority of today has been to prevent yr. Election in the house of Representatives.” Another friend reported, “The Counties annexed to yours are arranged so, as to render your Election, I fear, extremely doubtful.” George Washington, too, was pessimistic; Madison’s defeat seemed to him “not at all improbable.”

Henry’s maneuver represents the first instance of congressional gerrymandering, which is impressive considering that Congress did not yet exist. (One of his biographers has observed that Henry was fortunate that “the wits of Virginia” weren’t quick enough to invent the word “henrymandering.”) Since then, every party out of power has railed against the tactic. Meanwhile, every party in power has deployed it. The Federalists, when they got their turn, gerrymandered just as energetically as the Anti-Federalists. So did the Whigs, the Democrats, and, once the Whigs collapsed, the Republicans. In the eighteen-thirties, the Anti-Masonic Party briefly came to power in Pennsylvania. The Party used its hour upon the stage to push through a round of gerrymandering.

In contrast to our union, gerrymandering actually has grown more perfect with time. Henry had only his gut to go on, and his gut, it turned out, wasn’t that reliable. In spite of his machinations, the Fifth District elected Madison. Today, when party functionaries draw district lines, they have at their disposal detailed census results, precinct-level voter tallies, and a cloud’s worth of consumer choices. [more]

Tracking Ivory

by Bill Hayes

In Tracking Ivory for National Geographic, Bryan Christy looks at the illegal trade in ivory and how it helps finance terrorism.

[T]he African elephant is under siege. A booming Chinese middle class with an insatiable taste for ivory, crippling poverty in Africa, weak and corrupt law enforcement, and more ways than ever to kill an elephant have created a perfect storm. The result: Some 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, more than 100,000 between 2010 and 2012, and the pace of killing is not slowing. Most illegal ivory goes to China, where a pair of ivory chopsticks can bring more than a thousand dollars and carved tusks sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

East Africa is now ground zero for much of the poaching. In June the Tanzanian government announced that the country has lost 60 percent of its elephants in the past five years, down from 110,000 to fewer than 44,000. During the same period, neighboring Mozambique is reported to have lost 48 percent of its elephants. Locals, including poor villagers and unpaid park rangers, are killing elephants for cash — a risk they’re willing to take because even if they’re caught, the penalties are often negligible. But in central Africa, as I learned firsthand, something more sinister is driving the killing: Militias and terrorist groups funded in part by ivory are poaching elephants, often outside their home countries, and even hiding inside national parks. They’re looting communities, enslaving people, and killing park rangers who get in their way.

South Sudan. The Central African Republic (CAR). The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Sudan. Chad. Five of the world’s least stable nations, as ranked by the Washington, D.C.-based organization the Fund for Peace, are home to people who travel to other countries to kill elephants. Year after year, the path to many of the biggest, most horrific elephant killings traces back to Sudan, which has no elephants left but gives comfort to foreign-born poacher-terrorists and is home to the janjaweed and other Sudanese cross-continental marauders.

Park rangers are often the only forces going up against the killers. Outnumbered and ill equipped, they’re manning the front line in a violent battle that affects us all.

Garamba National Park, in the northeast corner of the DRC and on the border with South Sudan, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, internationally famous for its elephants and its boundless ocean of green. But when I ask a gathering of children and elders in the village of Kpaika, about 30 miles from the park’s western border, how many of them have visited Garamba, no one raises a hand. When I ask, “How many of you have been kidnapped by the LRA?” — I understand why.

Father Ernest Sugule, who ministers to the village, tells me that many children in his diocese have seen family members killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, the Ugandan rebel group led by Joseph Kony, one of Africa’s most wanted terrorists. Sugule is the founder of a group that provides assistance to victims of Kony’s army. “I’ve met more than a thousand children who have been abducted,” he says as we talk inside his church in the nearby town of Dungu. “When they’re abducted, they’re very young, and they’re forced to do horrible things. Most of these children are very, very traumatized when they come back home.” They have nightmares, Sugule continues. They have flashbacks. Their own families are afraid that they’re devils, or forever soldiers, who might kill them in the night. It is assumed that the girls were raped, so it’s difficult for them to find husbands. Villagers sometimes taunt returned children with the same expression used for Kony’s men: “LRA Tongo Tongo.” “LRA Cut Cut” — a reference, Sugule explains, to the militants’ vicious use of machetes. [more]

The way ahead

by Bill Hayes

In The way ahead for The Economist, President Barack Obama outlines four critical areas that he believes the next president will have to address.

Further progress requires recognising that America’s economy is an enormously complicated mechanism. As appealing as some more radical reforms can sound in the abstract — breaking up all the biggest banks or erecting prohibitively steep tariffs on imports — the economy is not an abstraction. It cannot simply be redesigned wholesale and put back together again without real consequences for real people.

Instead, fully restoring faith in an economy where hardworking Americans can get ahead requires addressing four major structural challenges: boosting productivity growth, combating rising inequality, ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one and building a resilient economy that’s primed for future growth.

First, in recent years, we have seen incredible technological advances through the internet, mobile broadband and devices, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced materials, improvements in energy efficiency and personalised medicine. But while these innovations have changed lives, they have not yet substantially boosted measured productivity growth. Over the past decade, America has enjoyed the fastest productivity growth in the G7, but it has slowed across nearly all advanced economies …. Without a faster-growing economy, we will not be able to generate the wage gains people want, regardless of how we divide up the pie.

A major source of the recent productivity slowdown has been a shortfall of public and private investment caused, in part, by a hangover from the financial crisis. But it has also been caused by self-imposed constraints: an anti-tax ideology that rejects virtually all sources of new public funding; a fixation on deficits at the expense of the deferred maintenance bills we are passing to our children, particularly for infrastructure; and a political system so partisan that previously bipartisan ideas like bridge and airport upgrades are nonstarters. [more]

Most Favored Narrations

by Bill Hayes

In Most Favored Narrations for Foreign Policy magazine, Isaac Stonefish and Helen Gao examine the list of 10 books most popular among the Chinese leadership.

The top 10 list is a proclamation from the Central Committee, which is by definition an exercise in ideological correctness. The interesting question is, at a moment when China is wrestling with the challenges posed by growth and global power status, what exactly do China’s ruling elite consider ideologically correct? For those concerned about the degree of intellectual openness and liberalism within the Chinese leadership, the answer that the list gives is worrying. [more]

Voting From the Privacy of Your Couch

by Bill Hayes

In Voting From the Privacy of Your Couch, Bloomberg Businessweek looks at software that helps run elections.

Electoral fraud has been pervasive in Nigeria since it returned to civilian rule in 1999. This year, to prevent tampering with ballots on the way to the capital, poll workers nationwide used technology from a Spanish software maker called Scytl to scan the tallies and transmit them electronically. Despite predictions of violence, voters elected an opposition candidate — removing an incumbent from office for the first time — in a process Human Rights Watch described as “mostly peaceful.”

Governments in 42 countries are using software from Scytl (rhymes with “title”) to bring elements of their elections online, from registering voters to consolidating results. [more]

This Week’s New Yorker Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

To see a slide show of this week’s New Yorker cartoons, go here, scroll down to “From the Issue,” click on the date, and click on the dots at the bottom of each cartoon to go through the slide show.

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