Hannah Levintova

Hannah Levintova

Assistant Editor

Hannah came to Mother Jones after stints at NPR and the Washington Monthly. A proud New Englander, she enjoys tea, good books, and cold weather.

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Boycott Minerals From Congo? Not So Fast

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 10:00 AM EDT
A UN peacekeeper takes stock of weapons collected as part of the demobilization effort in eastern Congo.

As the fact-checker for Mac McClelland's "To Catch a Warlord," I started thinking about the topic of her piece as the "Bosco Paradox." The feature is about ICC-indicted Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, and it investigates the competing priorities that have made his arrest (which should be easy–even Mac has his home address) a near-impossibility. Delving into DRC history, I saw that the Bosco Paradox is just one example of a long-standing pattern: In Congo, obvious solutions often aren't implemented because they'll simply create other problems.

This idea has cropped up recently in reference to a small, Congo-related provision of the year-old Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. The rule—Section 1502—aims to regulate four of Congo's "conflict minerals:" gold, wolframite, cassiterite, and coltan. These are key for producing popular electronics like laptops and cell phones, and their trade has, for decades, financed DRC human rights abuses. So, Section 1502 requires US companies getting minerals from the DRC to disclose how they're doing so, submitting reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the measures they're taking to ensure that their business isn't benefiting DRC rebel militias.

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"Three Famines" Presents an Anatomy of the F-Word

| Mon Sep. 26, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

In foreign policy vocabulary, the word "famine" pretty much functions like an expletive. Two months ago, the UN brandished "the F-word" when it declared two parts of southern Somalia official famine zones. Soon, four more regions were bestowed with the dreaded title.

This curse word of sorts, though, can't be tossed around lightly. Before using it, the UN requires serious number-crunching to show that at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages, that acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent, and that the death rate is more than two people per 10,000, daily. Given its weight, a declaration of "famine" is a serious call for global awareness and aid. And yet, while reports of other natural disasters have jam-packed American news-pages, "famine"— this rare word, for what is supposedly a rare natural calamity—has barely flickered across the daily newscycle.

All this is why Thomas Keneally's latest book—Three Famines—couldn't have come out at a more appropriate time. In it, Keneally, the Booker Prize-winning author of the novel Schindler's List, has set out to prove that famines are borne of man-made disasters, not natural ones. Sure, natural flukes are the starting point, he writes, but it's politics that feed famine's terrifying momentum. If you follow the situation in Somalia—where tallies of the starving are going up, not down, and where Western aid stands blocked by militant group al-Shabaab—you'll get the sense that Keneally’s hypothesis is legitimate even before he's launched into the evidence.

New Study: Wealth Makes You Selfish

| Fri Aug. 12, 2011 7:20 AM EDT

In theory, America's mega rich could pay off all of America's student debt, halve global poverty and hunger by 2015, and replace 70% of money lost in the 2008 recession. Bevy of problems solved, right? Not quite. A study released this week sheds light on why a billionaire bailout isn't very likely. Titled "Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resource and Rank in the Social Realm," the report, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, concludes that individuals from rich backgrounds are, to put it simply, more selfish. 

The report's authors—social scientists Dacher Keltner, Michael Kraus, and Paul Piffhave done 12 different studies to measure empathy, Keltner told MSNBC, and they keep coming back to the same idea: "Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it," Keltner says.

Tracking Prison Deaths Is Tougher Than You'd Think

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

On July 19, 2007, a 33-year-old Chinese immigrant named Hiu Lui Ng arrived at his final green-card interview. Instead of a green card, he got arrested—on a faulty, six-year-old deportation order that he had no idea existed. A year later, Ng died in custody at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island. He had a fractured spine, bruises, a blood clot, and cancer that had gone untreated for so long that it had "spread throughout his entire body," according to court records. Ng received medical care only five days before his death on the order of a judge, after begging—and ultimately, legally petitioning—to get it for seven months.

The grim details of Ng's death would likely never have surfaced if his wife hadn't teamed up with the ACLU to file suit against Wyatt. (The case, if you're wondering, is still ongoing.) Why? Because currently, there isn't a single federal law requiring state-run jails and prisons to report detainee deaths, or what caused them. Not one.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee moved to change that, approving the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2011. If passed, the law would mandate that each time someone dies in law enforcement custody, the incident's details must be reported to the attorney general. The bill applies to people in the process of being arrested, inmates, and immigrants held in detention centers.

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