Category: Magazine

An Americana Girl

What does Chely Wright’s changing musical style say about the state of country music?

Published at Newsweek.com.

This week, singer Chely Wright will come out not just once, but twice. The musician who had country-radio hits a few years back, including “Single White Female” and the pro-military “Bumper of My SUV,” reveals to People magazine that she is a lesbian. This announcement coincides with the release of her first album in five years, Lifted Off the Ground. The album is a coming out of a second kind: a quick listen makes clear that she is breaking from country music as defined by mainstream country radio and instead casting her lot in the genre known as Americana.

Americana—also known as alternative-country—is now roughly two decades old, and it remains a delightfully ill-defined sound. No Depression magazine, the leading publication for the genre, long described itself as covering “alternative-country music (whatever that is).” Today, Americana is home to bluegrassers (and sometimes bluesmen) who reach hipster audiences, country singers popular in the 1970s who have been left behind by country radio, and singer-songwriters too idiosyncratic for the cookie-cutter hits churned out by the Nashville factory system. But some artists have sought refuge in Americana primarily because Nashville became politically uncomfortable. The Dixie Chicks are the most notable act in this camp: always a little heavy on the mandolin and Patty Griffin covers that are at home in alt-country, they would have likely remained the queens of country radio were it not for an offhand quip against the Iraq War in 2003 that instantly got them effectively banned from the mainstream country airwaves.

If Americana is a refugee camp for political liberals in Music City, it is ironic that the genre’s political impulse has evolved much the way mainstream country’s did. Continue reading

Cell-Phone Medicine Brings Care to Patients in Developing Nations

Published in Health Affairs.

At ten o’clock in the morning, a clinic in Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood is buzzing with activity. It serves some 7,000 patients and is operated by the Mexico City government, making it one of the largest facilities in Latin America devoted to treating patients with HIV/AIDS. More than forty people wait in line at the clinic pharmacy: hipsters in skinny black jeans; heavy-set middle-agers dressed for work. One of the tools they’ll get to fight their disease is free antiretroviral drugs provided by the national government. Another tool may be one they already have in their pockets: their cell phones.

Sitting at a white plastic table near the pharmacy, an HIV-positive man—we’ll call him Carlos—is recruiting other patients to use a system called VidaNET (LifeNET). It’s a cell phone–based system that sends text messages and e-mail to patients, reminding them to take their anti-HIV drugs, keep their doctors’ appointments, and stay up to date on their lab tests. The system also sends messages about mental health and alerts patients to supplementary resources on a Web site explaining side effects from anti-HIV medications. Carlos, a skinny man sporting an Abercrombie and Fitch baseball cap, gives the system a ringing endorsement. “I like the cell phone because texts just arrive” from VidaNET, says Carlos, who takes his medicine twice daily. “It’s really easy to use.” A banner hanging across his makeshift information booth underscores the point: “VidaNET is a technological platform that helps you self-manage your health.”

The VidaNET system, now being rolled out throughout Mexico, is just one of many health-related mobile-phone applications coming into use throughout the developing world.

Read the full article at Health Affairs.

Lowballing Health Reform

Published in October 12 edition of The Nation.

Many progressives were disappointed that President Obama failed to take a nonnegotiable stand for a public health insurance option during his speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9. Less noticed was the fact that he dropped the target cost of the reform package 10 percent, to $900 billion, from the $1 trillion Congress had been aiming for. But this difference should greatly alarm those who care about providing all Americans with healthcare coverage.

When it comes to this debate, size does matter: within the framework Congress is pursuing, money trimmed from a package will mean lower subsidies, weaker coverage and fewer people with affordable care. And that will be true even if progressive legislators manage to win the increasingly uphill battle for some form of a public option. Continue reading

Healthcare Bottom Lines

Published in The Nation.

While reiterating White House support for a public health insurance plan that could compete with private insurers, health reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle said the controversy over this plan was fueled by a lack of information. “People aren’t so clear about what it is,” she said, adding that she believed there were “policy ways of getting around some of the objections” and creating a “public plan that everyone could agree to.” This seems to have become the guiding strategy of the Senate’s Democratic leadership. In April the Senate Finance Committee kicked off its discussions with an outline that included four configurations of a public plan, which ranged from a “Medicare-like option” to one that would be administered through agents that would act much like private HMOs.

Now that we’re moving from a discussion about principles to a fight over specifics, it’s important for supporters of the public plan to be clear about what elements cannot be compromised if the plan is to be a tool for fixing our healthcare system. As the debate unfolds, here are the top three points to watch: Continue reading

Fighting for Our Health

This story appeared in the April 27 edition of The Nation.

Two security guards in dark suits towered over Mary Carol Jennings, a spiky-haired medical student wearing a white doctor’s coat, as she and some fifty others tried to enter DC’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel one morning in early March. The contingent included representatives of the AFL-CIO, MoveOn and the Campaign for America’s Future. Jennings was flanked by two members of the National Nurses Organizing Committee who held a giant certificate for the head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade group meeting inside the hotel.

“We hereby present Karen Ignagni, CEO [of] AHIP, with this award for Best Protector of Health Insurance Industry Profits at the Expense of Our Health,” read the mock certificate, which they decided to leave on her car after being denied entrance to the Ritz. “We are confident that Karen Ignagni will continue to protect profits while paying lip service to ‘health care reform.'”

This showdown was organized by a nine-month-old coalition known as Health Care for America Now, which claims more than 850 affiliate organizations. Having learned from the mistakes made by reformers in 1993 and ’94, HCAN is launching an early assault on the organization that led the crusade against President Clinton’s proposal. According to HCAN spokeswoman Jacki Schechner, “There was no organization on the left” during the Clinton fight, a time when insurers “talked nice about reform until it got down to the nitty-gritty” details of the plan.

Continue reading at The Nation.

Newark’s Great Green Hope

This article appeared in the February 16, 2009 edition of The Nation.

Kim Thompson-Gaddy’s three children have asthma, and her godson has irreversible lead poisoning. Sadly, many families face these illnesses in her city, Newark, New Jersey, home to one of the Northeast’s largest incinerators and the nation’s third-busiest port. With her compelling story and her experience as staff to three city council members in the 1980s and ’90s, it is hard to imagine why she has faced an uphill battle in making the city’s environmental problems a top priority for the state’s environmental organizations and its urban politicians. But her frustration led her to confront the president of the New Jersey Environmental Federation at its first meeting nine years ago: “How can you begin to address our issues if you don’t have anyone who looks like us and lives in our community?” she asked. The group took her point and hired her. But when she met with Ronald Rice, her state senator and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, he laughed her out of the room. “I can’t believe you left municipal government to become a tree-hugger!” she remembers him exclaiming.

Today, Thompson-Gaddy’s work is paying off. Newark, along with the capital, Trenton, is at the forefront of a new wave of urban environmentalism fueled by the promise of green jobs–the approach to economic recovery favored by America’s first urban president in more than a century. Newark Mayor Cory Booker will soon announce that Thompson-Gaddy will chair a new environmental commission, and she headed the economic development working group of a planning process, announced at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative, to make Newark a model green city. Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer convened his own green steering committee fourteen months ago and used his position as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to place global warming atop the urban agenda. Even the once-derisive Rice has begun to come around and has co-sponsored an environmental bill.

This change was made possible, explains Booker, by the realization that environmentalism is “not about saving something far away like penguins or whales; it’s about creating jobs and creating wealth and hope in cities.” It also turns some of the cities’ greatest liabilities into opportunities. “Our state has a lot of challenges,” Booker says. “Urban mayors not only want to avoid facing the consequences of not engaging the green movement. They also see the opportunities of creating a green economy.” Continue reading

The Floral Majority

How the split between creation care’s leaders and its grassroots activists is dictating the future of the green evangelical movement.

The New Republic, December 30, 2008

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins was gleeful after Richard Cizik, chief lobbyist of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), was forced to resign on December 11. Perkins and other “family values” leaders had been trying to get rid of Cizik for two years, ever since he launched a campaign to add environmentalism to the evangelical “values” agenda. Though Cizik lost his job over comments endorsing civil unions, not because of his attention to what evangelicals call “creation care,” Perkins still claimed his ouster as a repudiation of the green agenda. “This was a long time coming,” Perkins said on his weekly radio show. “When you walk through that green door of environmentalism and global warming, you know, you risk being blinded by that green light and losing the sense of direction.”Cizik’s adversaries can easily find election data to argue he had diverged from the evangelical grassroots. While Barack Obama performed better among born-again Christians than John Kerry–Obama won 26 percent of white evangelicals, Kerry won 21 percent–Obama still won less than Al Gore’s 30 percent in 2000. The environment ranked twelfth on a list of 13 issues important to white evangelical voters in an October poll. And 2008’s most conspicuous evangelical, Sarah Palin, lead cries of “Drill, baby, drill.”

But it would be wrong to conclude that the evangelical grassroots have rejected environmentalism. Instead, evangelical environmentalists at the grassroots level simply conceive of the problem in different terms. Cizik envisions a politicized environmentalism to stop climate change, while the grassroots have been cultivating a consumer-focused green movement that intentionally steers clear of politics. Cizik’s resignation certainly doesn’t announce the death of creation care–but it does suggest it may evolve in a new direction. Continue reading