Best of the Prospect 2015

For progressives, 2015 was a year of tumultuous debates over issues ranging from wage inequity to mass incarceration, campus sexual assault to global warming. Here at The American Prospect, our writers weighed in every step of the way.

For our winter issue, Nancy Gertner asked whether renewed attention to campus sexual assaults can be reconciled with the imperative for due process.

In the spring, the Prospect’s 25th anniversary issue took on the 1 percent’s towering concentration of wealth and power, which has begun to threaten the foundation of our democratic experiment.

In the summer, Justin Miller reported on a more encouraging trend—the small but burgeoning union movement among college and university adjuncts demanding equal pay from American higher ed.

And in the fall, Peter Dreier and Aditi Sen explored how the same Wall Street speculators behind the mortgage crisis are at it again, securitizing rental properties in a frighteningly familiar way.

We also had stories on reforming solitary confinement; how conservatives manipulate the Census; and why black women’s experiences need to be a bigger part of the discussion of racial injustice. Here are just a few of our favorite articles from 2015.

Winter, 2015

Blind to the Future, by Rachel Cohen

Some day not long from now, if you are traveling by rail in the Northeast, you may be stuck in a train waiting to enter a tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Perhaps your grumbling seatmate curses Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, or politicians generally. But one leader in particular will deserve to be singled out on such occasions: Chris Christie, who, as governor of New Jersey in 2010, blocked a joint federal-state project to build a new passenger rail tunnel. Read More.

Sex, Lies, and Justice, by Nancy Gertner

Campus sexual assaults are horrifying, made all the worse because the settings are bucolic and presumed safe—leafy campuses, ivy-walled universities. Assaults are reported in dormitories, off-campus apartments, and fraternity houses, in elite and non-elite institutions, from one end of the country to the other. Sexual misconduct impairs a woman’s ability to function as an equal in an academic environment—and by extension menaces all women. Unless a woman is safe, all the other guarantees of equal treatment are irrelevant. Read More.

Atlantic Surging, Virginia Sinking, by Nathalie Baptiste

Standing at the Elizabeth River looking at the Naval Shipyard and neighboring Portsmouth, the climate change carnage looming over Norfolk, Virginia, may not be immediately noticeable. The water is calm, and on this mild day in November, dedicated boaters cruise downstream. Nestled between the river, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean, Norfolk is paradise for anyone who loves living near the water. But paradise comes with a price. Read More.

Spring, 2015

The High Road Wins, by Ann Markusen

Minnesota and Wisconsin offer something close to a laboratory experiment in competing economic policies. Since the 2010 elections of Democratic Governor Mark Dayton in Minnesota and Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, these neighboring states with similar populations and economies have pursued radically different strategies. Dayton embraces good government, progressive taxation, and high-wage policies, while Walker has chosen shrunken government, fiscal austerity, and a war on labor. More than four years later, the two states’ achievements in population growth, jobs, pay, and quality of life offer a clear contrast. Read More.

The Junior Justice, by Lincoln Caplan

Elena Kagan is the only Justice on the current Court with no prior experience as a judge. That turns out to be a notable plus. She is increasingly recognized as an outstanding writer of judicial opinions after almost five years on the Court. In a point-by-point comparison of conceptual insight, persuasiveness, eloquence, and argumentative verve, Kagan surpasses the other current justices in the quality and logic of her prose. It is premature to compare her with Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Louis D. Brandeis, Robert H. Jackson, or other Olympian writers of the Court since it first sat in 1790, but, in one way, she already stands out even in that company. Read More.

The Political Roots of Widening Inequality, by Robert Reich

For the past quarter-century—at least since Bob Kuttner, Paul Starr, and I founded The American Prospect—I’ve offered in articles, books, and lectures an explanation for why average working people in advanced nations like the United States have failed to gain ground and are under increasing economic stress. Put simply, globalization and technological change have made most of us less competitive. But I’ve come to believe this explanation overlooks a critically important phenomenon: the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite that has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs. Read More.

Summer, 2015

How the American South Drives the Low-Wage Economy, by Harold Meyerson

Santayana had it wrong: Even if we remember the past, we may be condemned to repeat it. Indeed, the more we learn about the conflict between the North and South that led to the Civil War, the more it becomes apparent that we are reliving that conflict today. The South’s current drive to impose on the rest of the nation its opposition to worker and minority rights—through the vehicle of a Southernized Republican Party—resembles nothing so much as the efforts of antebellum Southern political leaders to blunt the North’s opposition to the slave labor system. Read More.

When Adjunct Profs Go Union, by Justin Miller

Part-time. Contingent. Non–tenure track. Casual. Adjunct. Non-standard. Peripheral. External. Ad hoc. Limited contract. New model. Occasional. Sessional. Call them what you will, but these professors have now become the majority of college and university faculty. Their jobs are defined by low pay, limited instructional resources, tenuous employment security, and a complete lack of institutional support for their own research and writing. Contingent faculty has become a subset of the new working poor—the subset with Ph.D.s. Read More.

Why Mothers and Daughters Tangle Over Hair, by Deborah Tannen

While talking to women for the book You’re Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, I collected a cornucopia of mothers’ remarks on their daughters’ hair. I came to think of the subjects about which mothers (and daughters) were critical as the big three: hair, clothes, and weight. I always thought of them in that order, because hair was the subject of the largest number of remarks repeated to me, and, it seemed, the most unnerving. Why? Why so much preoccupation with hair? Read More.

Hedge Funds: The Ultimate Absentee Landlords, by Peter Dreier and Aditi Sen

Nearly eight years after the start of the global financial crisis, some of the same corporate actors that precipitated the housing crash are buying up distressed housing assets in bulk, including delinquent mortgages and vacant houses that are a product of the crash. Their business strategy works like this: Hold some rental properties in recovering markets via subsidiaries. Syndicate ownership of some of these properties via a new kind of security that allows investments in pools of rental properties, not unlike the syndication of subprime securities—allowing them to cash out for a quick profit. Read More.

Fall, 2015

55-45 Politics in a 50-50 Country, by Thomas Schaller

A series of characteristics of the American electoral system, including the structure and procedures of the Senate and House as well as the electoral calendar, are now working for the Republicans. At the same time, generational, gendered, racial, and class-based disparities in wealth and political power manifestly favor the Republicans’ older, more male, whiter, and wealthier coalition. Taken together, these built-in advantages in the Republicans’ favor systematically tilt the electoral playing field. They make every Democratic victory an uphill climb. Read More.

Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement, by Margo Schlanger & Amy Fettig

After a half-century of steep increases in imprisonment, a bipartisan consensus is finally emerging that the United States keeps too many people locked up. The current incarceration rate is four times what it was in this country in 1970 and five to ten times higher than rates today in Western Europe and other developed democracies. As we move away from the harshly punitive policies of recent decades, our aim shouldn’t only be cutting the rate of incarceration. We also need to ameliorate the conditions of confinement. Read More.

Best of the Web, 2015

Say Her Name: Billie Holiday and the Erasure of Black Women’s Experience, by Phyllis M. Croom

When activists gathered in Baltimore on May 21, 2015, as part of a nationwide rallying cry protesting police violence against black women, it seemed fitting that they should stand in the shadows of famed jazz singer Billie Holiday. Whether by design or chance, that supporters of a campaign heralded by the hashtag #SayHerName—whose charge it is to advance the often ignored accounts of black women whose lives have been blighted by harassment, assault, and death—would mobilize at this location perhaps foretells of promising transformations to come, when the names of those women and girls are remembered with the same resonance as those of black men. Read More.

Zero is Actually the Loneliest Number, by Katherine Riley

Each year, the last player chosen in the NFL draft is nicknamed “Mr. Irrelevant.” If the Democratic presidential nominating contest was like the NFL draft, former Republican, Independent, and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee wouldn’t even be Mr. Irrelevant—he’d be the next guy in line. Read More.

An Insidious Way to Underrepresent Minorities, by Gary D. Bass and Adrien Schless-Meier

African Americans, Hispanics, and other minority populations are in danger of losing representation in Congress as well as their share of more than $400 billion a year in federal funds for health care, education, job training, and community development. That possibility should get anyone’s attention, yet few have noticed that it will be the likely result if Congress cuts the budget for the U.S. Census Bureau to the extent it now threatens to do. Read More.

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