News Statesman Mag: Sampling of Published Work
While taking a University of Southern California foreign reporting class in London, England, during the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to work as a web editor for the New Statesman magazine. The following is a sampling of the work produced during this time. I mostly reported U.S. political news stories for the website, but I also had the opportunity to contribute research assistance and book reviews to the print publication.
BOOK REVIEW: The Rehearsal By Eleanor Catton
The Rehearsal | By Eleanor Catton | Granta Books, 317pp, £12.99
Eleanor Catton’s debut novel blurs the divisions between the real, the imagined and the staged. When an underage schoolgirl is discovered to be having an affair with her thirtysomething music teacher, the girl’s peers rush to judgement, mixing fact and fiction, truth and falsehood. The resulting, expertly polished, mosaic of intrigue and self-discovery offers a vivid and acute portrait of the anxieties of late adolescence. And when a local drama college decides to turn the scandal into a stage show, the imagined is made real, and the real becomes performance.
Catton is a fresh and exciting talent, and she endows her young characters with a precocious understanding of their own emotions. Her style takes a cue from her content, as the reader is often reminded that the plot itself is a performance, and the characters mere players in a theatrical production based on an imaginative interpretation of the past. The result is a daring twist on the quintessential coming-of-age story.
U.S. POLITICS: New tactics to combat Afghanistan’s drug trade
America departs from Bush strategy in attempt to stem drug production without affecting civilians
JULY 21, 2009
The U.S. will deploy dozens of drug enforcement agents to Afghanistan to target Taliban-affiliated drug labs and trafficking rings. This is a departure from an eight-year, Bush-era counter-narcotics strategy.
The number of drug enforcement agents stationed in Afghanistan will increase six-fold, from 13 to 81, by next year. These agents will cultivate informants, target labs and distributors and organize sting operations to combat the production and trafficking of heroin, cannabis, and morphine.
“Destroy the facility . . . and you take big money out of the pocket of traffickers,” General John Craddock said earlier this month.
The traffickers are Taliban-affiliated drug lords who make a huge profit after opium poppies and other crops are refined into marketable drugs.
In the past, the U.S. has attempted to suppress opium production in Afghanistan by eradicating the region’s expansive poppy fields. This costs $45 million annually, but Afghanistan still harvests 93 per cent of the opium poppy used to produce the global supply of heroin.
The drug is mostly grown in the country’s southern provinces, where the Taliban is most active. The militant insurgency group earned hundreds of millions of dollars last year from protecting the fields where the crops are grown, trafficking the drugs and overseeing the labs that refine them, according to U.S. and U.N. intelligence reports.
Thomas Harrigan, deputy administrator and chief of operations for the DEA, said: “We see their involvement through just about every stage of drug trafficking, and in each of the four corners of Afghanistan.
“They use the money to sustain their operations, feed their fighters, to assist Al Qaeda.”
Fire-blowing fields of cash crops has left local farmers without a means to make a living. Penniless and angry, some have allied with the Taliban, according to the White House. Counter-narcotics officials also reported that they observe local drug traffickers and insurgents working together more often.
The government’s new counter-narcotics strategy is focused on hampering drug production without making enemies of the civilian population.
The U.S. will send agriculture specialists to the region and increase its financial aid – from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars per year – to help affected Afghan farmers harvest alternative crops.
U.S. POLITICS: White House delays budget update
The annual U.S. budget delayed until after Congress votes on a $1 trillion health care overhaul
JULY 20, 2009
The White House announced it will release its annual mid-summer budget report in the middle of August. This is one month later than usual, during the Congressional summer recess.
Critics say the delay is an attempt to sidestep the delivery of a sour economic report while Congress is drafting a $1 trillion health care overhaul. Pushing the measure through Congress before the onset of the 7 August recess has been President Obama’s top priority in recent weeks.
The Senate health committee narrowly approved a health care overhaul last week, which failed to garner Republican support due to its high price tag. The budget committee is working on its own version of the measure this week.
“Health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it,” President Obama insisted last week.
The White House released an upbeat forecast for the economy in February and May. The growing deficit and rise in unemployment in the U.S. since then has done little to support the administration’s early optimism. The release of a report confirming worsening conditions will serve as yet another contradiction.
The national debt is now $11.6 trillion and the administration forecasts the annual deficit for this year to reach $1.84 trillion, four times that of last year ($455 billion).
Unemployment hit 9.5 per cent last month, even though the Obama administration predicted the number would only peak at 8 or 9 per cent earlier this year. Law-makers expected the $787 billion stimulus package passed last February to help curb the country’s growing unemployment rate.
If the August budget report counters these numbers with optimistic forecasts, as it has in the past, the administration will face accusations of manipulating the data for the sake of its own agenda.
On Monday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) referred to the budget delay as “an attempt to hide a record-breaking deficit as Democratic leaders break arms to rush through a government takeover of health care.”
The Obama camp attributes the delay of the mid-summer budget to the transition between presidential administrations this year and the delay of the previous budget update, which was due in February but released in early May.
U.S. POLITICS: Senate committee approves plan to revamp U.S. health care
Obama is one step closer to a $1 trillion health care overhaul, but without conservative support
JULY 16, 2009
The Senate health committee narrowly passed (13-10) a measure to provide 50 million uninsured Americans with health care coverage on Wednesday.
The new legislation is a top priority for the Obama camp and would amount to biggest change in U.S. social policy in more than 40 years, according to the New York Times.
The measure failed to garner Republican support, despite three weeks of committee sessions devoted to hammering out its details. Conservatives argue the package gives the government too much responsibility and, with an estimated $1 trillion price tag over 10 years, is too expensive.
“This bill gets an F”, said Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY), a member of the health committee. “The bill is anything but affordable”.
The new legislation would mandate insurance coverage for every U.S. citizen. In the absence of employer-sponsored benefits, the federal government would offer financial assistance and discounts on a public insurance plan.
Employers who don’t offer health care benefits would pay a fee to the federal government to help offset the costs of the measure. The finance committee, which is expected to introduce a separate approach to the health care overhaul by the end of the month, might also recommend a government-imposed fine on private health insurance companies.
Senate conservatives hope the measure advanced by the finance committee, which will outline funding schemes for its proposals, will yield more bipartisan support.
The approved overhaul is expected to make coverage more accessible and eliminate inequalities in the current system. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CO), who heads up the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, said the new system should prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and eliminate annual and lifetime caps on benefits.
“If you don’t have health insurance, this bill is for you”, he said. “It guarantees that you’ll be able to find an insurance plan that works for you, including a public health insurance option if you want it”.
Obama is pushing to get the measure through the House and the Senate before the August recess, but reaching consensus anytime soon will be difficult.
Obama’s campaign organization sponsored a series of 30-second television ads featuring ordinary citizens discussing their complaints with the status of health care in the U.S. The ads premiered on national cable TV channels on Wednesday and will run on local stations in select cities for a two-week period.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney oversaw secret counter-terrorism program
JULY 14, 2009
Reports linking former Vice President Dick Cheney to a secret C.I.A. program that aimed to lethally target al-Qaida operatives within close range have prompted Democrats to push for a congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism strategies and torture practices.
The highly classified C.I.A. program, which was authorized by President George W. Bush shortly after the 11 September attacks in 2001, planned to dispatch teams of individuals overseas to capture and kill al-Qaida leaders on the ground, former and current intelligence officials report. The program, which was never fully executed, was kept secret from Congressional lawmakers.
C.I.A. director Leon Panetta first learned of the program on 23 June and, for unconfirmed reasons, immediately cancelled it. Panetta informed both the House and Senate intelligence committees of its existence in separate emergency briefings the following day.
Highly classified program documents reveal that Cheney made the initial order to keep the program a secret. The former vice president’s reasons for secrecy remain unclear.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who heads the Senate intelligence committee and supports the push for a congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism tactics, said the C.I.A.’s failure to inform lawmakers of the eight-year program was out of bounds.
“The law is very clear”, said Feinstein. “We were kept in the dark. That’s something that should never, ever happen again”.
The C.I.A. had no obligation to inform Congress of the program, some Republican lawmakers have argued. Congress gave the spy agency great discretion following the 11 September attacks and devising an alternate strategy to target al-Qaida operatives was within that discretion, they said.
Some planning and training went into the program, although no missions were ever attempted.
The U.S. has mostly resorted to unmanned airborne missile attacks to lethally target al-Qaida leaders hiding in areas with difficult terrain or high numbers of armed guerrilla forces. The C.I.A. program advanced close-range, ground-level tactics to enable the capture of al-Qaida operatives in denser regions without putting the civilian populations at risk, a government official said.
Knowledge of the secret counter-terrorism program surfaced amid reports that Attorney General Eric Holder is debating whether to launch a criminal investigation into the harsh interrogation tactics used on suspected terrorists at C.I.A. “black sites” following 11 September.
President Obama does not support any move to investigate Bush-era counter-terrorism practices. He has said the country should be “looking forward, not backwards”.