Five Best Monday Columns

Farai Chideya on minority representation in the media, Lindsay L. Rodman on the data of sexual assault in the military, Pankaj Mishra on wealth and freedom in China, George Packer on the 21st century celebrity, Elizabeth Kolbert on the danger of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Farai Chideya in The Nation on minority representation in the media Farai Chideya takes stock of those trusted to report the news, and wonders why she sees so few minorities in the newsroom: "We are witnessing the resegregation of the American media. The 2012 annual survey of the American Society of News Editors found that while total newsroom employment dropped 2.4 percent in 2011, the loss in minority newsroom positions was 5.7 percent. Between 2007 and 2010, ASNE noted, the minority job losses were even more pronounced." The reason, she says, is monetary: "The issue comes down to money. Mainstream journalism, with its endless unpaid internships, has come far from its working-class newspaper roots. Getting your start in journalism often doesn’t pay. Instead, you have to chip in to join the club. ... News managers can make a short-term case for unpaid intern labor, or layoffs that decimate the recently hired, more diverse segments of their staffs. But a long-term recovery for our hard-hit news industry requires an investment in talent, even if that talent doesn’t come from family money. This reliance on un- or underpaid labor is part of a broader move to a 'privilege economy' instead of a merit economy—where who you know and who pays your bills can be far more important than talent." Ross Perlin, author of Intern Nation, echoed the same sentiment in an interview with NPR: "The internship has become virtually a requirement for getting into the white-collar workforce."

Lindsay L. Rodman in The Wall Street Journal on the data of sexual assault in the military Dealing with the epidemic of sexual assault in the U.S. armed forces will require accurate data of the actual problem, writes Lindsay L. Rodman, who criticizes a recent report which estimated that approximately 26,000 sexual take place in the military each year. ". The truth is that the 26,000 figure is such bad math—derived from an unscientific sample set and extrapolated military-wide—that no conclusions can be drawn from it." She continues: "It is disheartening to me, as a female officer in the Marine Corps and a judge advocate devoted to the professional practice of law in the military, to see Defense Department leaders and members of Congress deal with this emotionally charged issue without the benefit of solid, verifiable data. ... The estimated 26,000 service members who fell victim to unwanted sexual contact in 2012 is higher than the 19,000 estimate based on the 2010 WRGA survey (the survey wasn't conducted in 2011). Does this mean that there was a 34% jump in just two years? The data are too unreliable to tell. ... These numbers vary widely because incidents involving unwanted sexual contact cannot accurately be extrapolated military-wide using this survey." Over at CNN, Maia Goodell adds that the military justice system is unequipped to adequately address sexual assault: "A friend told me that in the 1960s, a teacher told her she needed to sleep with him to pass. She said: "We just called that life." Now, in the civilian world, it's called sexual harassment, and it's illegal.The military hasn't had the benefit of that change. Civilian judges (not Congress, and not the military) made up special military immunities, loosely called the Feres doctrine, to block it. It's time to overrule them."

Pankaj Mishra at Bloomberg View on wealth and freedom in China What, asks Pankaj Mishra, does the developlment of China say about "the Anglo-American faith in the onward march of liberalism and democracy"? He explains: "It has achieved spectacular growth without embracing electoral democracy. Moreover, the state controls the commanding heights of the globalized economy. This will not change anytime soon. ... Here is the question before us: Is the model sustainable, and what implications would its failure have for China and the larger world? The late modernization of Japan and Germany, though largely successful, did not lead to peace in Europe and Asia. Rather, economic crises and growing social unrest led to greater authoritarianism at home and jingoistic expansionism abroad. ... China may turn out to be another cautionary lesson in the dangers of a country arriving too late in the modern world, with its elites determined to regard liberal democracy as an unaffordable luxury." Meanwhile Louisa Lim at NPR notes how the country's growth has altered its civic character: "Money is the be-all and end-all in modern day China."

George Packer in The New York Times on the 21st century celebrity Why do we worship celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg, Sean Parker, and Martha Stewart? "Our age is lousy with celebrities. They can be found in every sector of society, including ones that seem less than glamorous," writes George Packer. "There is a quality of self-invention to their rise: Mark Zuckerberg went from awkward geek to the subject of a Hollywood hit; Shawn Carter turned into Jay-Z; Martha Kostyra became Martha Stewart, and then Martha Stewart Living. The person evolves into a persona, then a brand, then an empire, with the business imperative of grow or die — a process of expansion and commodification that transgresses boundaries by substituting celebrity for institutions. Instead of robust public education, we have Mr. Zuckerberg’s 'rescue' of Newark’s schools. Instead of a vibrant literary culture, we have Oprah’s book club. Instead of investments in public health, we have the Gates Foundation. Celebrities either buy institutions, or 'disrupt' them." Packer remains skeptical that our celebrities, even those who rise above empty face, offer anything like a model for the good life: "We know our stars aren't inviting us to think we can be just like them. Their success is based on leaving the rest of us behind." As a symptom of this arrangement, Packer singled out school reform, whose patron saint, former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, was profiled in The New Republic, where Nicholas Lemann hinted at the same dynamic Packer speaks of: "The education-reform movement comports itself in this strident and limited manner is that it depends so heavily on the largesse of people who are used to getting their way and to whom the movement’s core arguments have a powerful face validity."

Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker on the danger of the Keystone XL pipeline Elizabeth Kolbert weighs the advantages of building the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline, which would shuttle enormous amounts of tar sands oil from Canada to the United States. "The arguments in favor of Keystone run more or less like this: Americans use a lot of oil—more than eighteen million barrels per day. It has to come from somewhere, and Canada is a more reliable trading partner than, say, Iraq," she begins. "If the arguments in favor of Keystone are persuasive, those against it are even stronger. Tar-sands oil ... starts out as semi-solid and has to be either mined or literally melted out of the ground. In either case, the process requires energy, which is provided by burning fossil fuels. The result is that ... significantly more carbon dioxide enters the air than for every barrel of ordinary crude—between twelve and twenty-three per cent more." The pipeline will burden the future, Kolbert argues: "Were we to burn through all known fossil-fuel reserves, the results would be unimaginably bleak: major cities would be flooded out, a large portion of the world’s arable land would be transformed into deserts, and the oceans would be turned into liquid dead zones. If we take the future at all seriously, which is to say as a time period that someone is going to have to live in, then we need to leave a big percentage of the planet’s coal and oil and natural gas in the ground." John Fiege at The Huffington Post explains why the decision will be difficult for President Obama no matter where he decides to throw his support: "With this pipeline, he faces a decision about the economic future of America with outsized symbolic significance: will we go further down the old road of the oil economy ... or will we take a bold turn toward building a new economy based on low-impact, renewable, domestic energy? The president does not want to make this choice, even symbolically. He knows that approving the pipeline would be wrong for the country and for the planet. But doing the right thing would alienate the most powerful industry in the world and disrupt the very fabric of our oil-based economy. So he drags his feet."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.