The sun rises behind the Washington Monument on a cloudy day in Washington, Friday Sep 13, 2013. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Not long after the release of This Town last summer people started asking me about writing a sequel: This Town: Continued or This Town: It’s Even Worse Now, or some such. It was of course gratifying to hear this from people, or at least be humored by them, but the reality was more depressing. This Town was pretty much updating itself every week, the modern story of our gilded capital unfurling in a mania of self-parody and soul-crushing sameness. The book writes itself, in other words.
In late 2012, after I had finished most of the This Town manuscript, I was interviewing Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat, for a brief Q and A that would appear in the front of The New York Times Magazine. Feeling a bit jaded — maybe more than usual after three years’ immersion in the Washington political class — my sarcasm flowed:
“You’re retiring after serving 24 years in the Senate,” I asked Lieberman. “What lobbying firm are you going to join now? MORE
A tour group walks past a memorial wreath displayed next to the bronze memorial bust, by Robert Berks, of President John F. Kennedy in the grand foyer of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's death. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The right to vote in a free American election is the most powerful and precious right in the world — and it must not be denied on the grounds of race or color. It is a potent key to achieving other rights of citizenship. For American history — both recent and past — clearly reveals that the power of the ballot has enabled those who achieve it to win other achievements as well, to gain a full voice in the affairs of their state and nation and to see their interests represented in the governmental bodies which affect their future. In a free society, those with the power to govern are necessarily responsive to those with the right to vote.
–John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights, 1963
There has been much honoring of the memory of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy this week, and rightly so. He was dynamic figure who preached a “new generation of leadership” vision that still serves as an antithesis to the listless, austerity-burdened rhetoric of so many of today’s political figures — including some in Kennedy’s own Democratic Party. MORE
Tonight on the Turner Classic Movies channel there’s a rare opportunity to see four remarkable early vérité documentary films. Filmmaker Robert Drew and his associates — a team that included the Maysles Brothers, Richard Leacock and DA Pennebaker — were given extraordinary access to John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign and the Kennedy White House using the first, lightweight film equipment with synchronized sound.
The films air tonight starting at 8 p.m. First up is Primary, the 1960 film about Kennedy’s run for president in the Wisconsin primary which is, according to Drew, “regarded as the beginning of American cinéma vérité.”
In this YouTube clip from Primary,The New Yorker’s Front Row film blogger Richard Brody reviews the film.
Ever since Veterans Day, I have been re-reading and pondering President Obama’s remarks at the customary official celebration of the occasion in Arlington Cemetery. Something about the familiar words reminded me uncomfortably of remarks by past presidents that have now become virtually standard every year. Obama sounded the opening theme:
“Today we gather once more to honor patriots who have rendered the highest service any American can offer this nation — those who fought for our freedom and stood sentry for our security. In the life of our nation, across every generation, there are those who… put on the uniform and …put their lives on the line. They do this so that the rest of us might live in a country and a world that is safer, freer and more just.”
Then, after invoking the magic place names — Lexington Green, Gettysburg, the beaches of Europe and the islands of the Pacific, with a nod to Korea — he got to recent history. “From the jungles of Vietnam to Desert Storm to the mountains of the Balkans, they have answered America’s call. And since America was attacked on that clear September morning, millions more have assumed that mantle, defining one of the greatest generations of military service this country has ever produced.”
A military honor guard holds the Medal of Honor before President Barack Obama awards it to former Army Capt. William D. Swenson of Seattle, Wash., during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
It was the old refrain: Veterans of all our wars have been “heroes,” and all the wars have been in defense of our liberty. My first reaction could be summed up in an eight-letter barnyard epithet, but I believe that the subject deserves a more nuanced and developed afterthought. I’ll begin with the part I played in the war of 1939-45. MORE
A tourist sits outside a coffee shop in flooded St. Mark square as high tides reached 1.05 meters above sea level, partly flooding the city of Venice, Italy, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini)
Last week, an early draft of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was leaked to bloggers and picked up in the mainstream press. The first installment of that report, released in September, stated that human activity “has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” This leaked second installment shows the severity and breadth of the climate change impacts for which we’ll need to prepare. On the New Yorker’s Daily Comment blog, Elizabeth Kolbert asks whether the “Boy Scout-ish” notion of preparedness is even possible, given what the IPCC report reveals.
The I.P.C.C. doesn’t conduct any research of its own—its conclusions are based entirely on already-published scientific papers—so it could be argued that there was no real news in the latest document. The force of the report comes simply from assembling all the data in one place; the summary reads like a laundry list of the apocalypse—flood, drought, disease, starvation. Climate change, the group noted, will reduce yields of major crops by up to two per cent each decade for the remainder of this century. (One of the reasons for this is that heat waves, which will become more common as the world warms, depress the yields of staple crops like corn.) MORE
Lynn Bergman, of Bismarck, N.D., listens to a speech at a "tea party" rally of Republicans and conservatives. Bergman dressed as Revolutionary War author Thomas Paine for the occasion. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” So begins Tom Paine’s pamphlet, The American Crisis, written in possibly the darkest moment of the Revolutionary War, the winter of 1776-77, with George Washington’s little army in flight from the British and steadily being whittled away by desertion, discouragement and disease.
We Americans of today have just gotten through a soul-trying experience of our own — 16 days of shuttered, helpless government, and worse, around-the-clock TV drama, with graphics of clocks ticking away the dwindling hours as we hurtled towards the unbelievable moment when the mighty United States of America would be unable to pay its bills, an outcome that would have had disastrous results for our own and the whole world’s economies.
But supposedly we have escaped fiscal doomsday thanks to the an eleventh-hour settlement and the president’s resolve in refusing to negotiate with Republicans until the government was up and running once more, and the debt ceiling extended. Not so, in my view. What we got last week was simply a stay of execution of some 120 days at most. By mid-December, Congressional Republicans and Democrats are supposed to come up with a “compromise” budget that must be accepted by early January to keep the restarted machinery of government operating. The debt ceiling extension expires just one month later. Nothing guarantees there won’t be a replay of the sordid scenario just enacted.
Remember the past year’s cliffhanger. The center did not hold. We were warned that the failure to reach a budget agreement by Thanksgiving would trigger the sequester, a result supposedly so scary that Congress would simply have to come to a budget agreement.
It did not. The sequester took effect in March of this year and ever since has been gouging away at the viscera of responsible government of, by and for the people. That result delights the billionaires who may not have created the tea party but whose money gives it the resources to pursue and destroy any Republicans not wedded to the dream of an eventual dictatorship of the plutocracy. MORE
Workers are photographed on a flywheel assembly line at the Ford Motor Company's Highland Park, Mi., plant in 1913. The use of a moving line reduced a car's assembly time from 12 hours to 93 minutes. (AP Photo/Ford Motor Company)
If you want a sense of where the nation’s job market is headed, a good place to stand is inside the half-mile-long Skechers warehouse in Moreno Valley, California, where box after box of shoes is stacked upon row after row of shelving, which soars some 40 feet in the air. Physically, the place is a wonder — quiet, sleek, and environmentally friendly (at 1.8 million square feet, it’s the largest officially certified “LEED Gold” building in the country). But what’s most remarkable about the $250 million structure, which opened in 2011, is how few people work there.
The day I visited, a clump of men and women toiled away near a series of conveyor belts, filling small specialty orders. But machines — not human beings — were handling the bulk of the chores. “As you can see, there are no more people doing the retrieving,” Iddo Benzeevi, the chief executive of Highland Fairview, the firm that developed the site, told me. “It’s the computer doing it all by itself.”
A driverless crane swung into motion nearby, delivering a box of shoes to its appointed spot in the stacks. A moment later, guided by a web of sensors and software, the mammoth contraption plucked another box and shuttled it in a different direction. Then it zipped back, red lights flashing. In this immense section of the facility, nobody lays a finger on any of the goods, all stamped “Made in China.”
About 700 people work in the Skechers warehouse, according to Benzeevi, and as many as 300 more could be added in the next few years as business expands. That, however, is about 30 percent fewer jobs than one would expect at a more traditional logistics operation of the same size. A local newspaper, The Press-Enterprise, reported last year that because Skechers transferred work to Moreno Valley from a handful of less-automated warehouses, it has meant a net loss of as many as 400 jobs across the area. (Skechers officials declined to comment.)
Benzeevi is unapologetic about any such casualties and points to a growing logistics industry, the fierce nature of global competition, the unrelenting march of technology, and the quality of jobs that are found at his cutting-edge distribution center — relatively high-skilled, high-paying ones (such as programming computers and repairing sophisticated pieces of equipment) versus the more menial variety that have been wiped out (like hauling around pallets with a forklift). “They are better jobs, which is where America should be,” he says. MORE
A man picks up federal tax form 1040 at a post office in Palo Alto, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax. That is, the income tax that we have today – the first US tax raised on earned incomes was a temporary one imposed to help pay for the War of 1812. Another helped pay for the Civil War, but was allowed to expire in 1872.
One of the most simplistic statements one can utter is, “taxes are too damn high.” The US has a complex tax system — there are many, many different taxes — so a more salient question than whether taxes are “too high” or “too low” is: who pays what?
The reality is that, overall, the US has one of the lowest tax burdens in the industrial world. If someone’s tax burden is too great to bear, that probably means that someone else isn’t paying a fair share of the cost of maintaining the public services that a modern nation-state requires. MORE
The widespread disenfranchisement of former felons – in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world – is an issue that has been getting an increasing amount of attention of late. As the prison population has skyrocketed – with the launch of the drug war and the rise of mandatory minimum sentences – so, too has the number of Americans who have served time and now face taxation without any representation.
In the 1960s, the passage of the Voting Rights Act led to a drop in the number of American adults who were disenfranchised. In the 1970s, as the drug warriors gained steam, that trend reversed. According to The Sentencing Project, the disenfranchised population soared from just under 1.2 million in the mid-1970s to almost 6 million in 2010. Of that number, 5.5 million were ex-felons. MORE
Four years ago, the modern tea party seemed to emerge from nowhere, leaving journalists bewildered and the public with few reference points to understand seemingly spontaneous rallies by middle-class people seeking lower tax rates. A search for the phrase “tea party” in connection with “politics” in major newspapers yielded fewer than 100 mentions in 2008 — and when the words did appear linked together, they suggested studied formality and decorum. The next year, they appeared more than 1,500 times, often connected to “protest demonstration.”
But little was spontaneous about the new party. “Social movements that explicitly defend the interests of the rich and the almost-rich have been a recurring feature of American politics,” Isaac William Martin, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, reminds us in his new book, Rich People’s Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent. “Such movements shook the American polity before the Obama era, before the Reagan era and before Barry Goldwater ran for president — before, even, the New Deal.”
With meticulous research, Martin shows how the modern tea party grew from decades of efforts by American oligarchs to de-tax themselves. They relied on cranks, rogues and a few scholars to polish the most effective ideological marketing pitches. Their goal was selling the notion that if the rich bear less of the burden of government, all of us will somehow end up better off. These pitches have worked best when some newly proposed government initiative — like President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act — arrives to pose the threat of major policy change. They have depended on diverting attention from obvious questions, such as just how does a smaller tax bill for the Koch brothers benefit us? MORE
Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.
Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio smiles during a rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. De Blasio, who has been the most vocally anti-Bloomberg of the major candidates, emerged from Tuesday's primary election as the Democratic front-runner. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
To understand why that challenge may prove so destabilizing, start with this core truth: For the past two decades, American politics has been largely a contest between Reaganism and Clintonism. In 1981, Ronald Reagan shattered decades of New Deal consensus by seeking to radically scale back government’s role in the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton brought the Democrats back to power by accepting that they must live in the world Reagan had made. Located somewhere between Reagan’s anti-government conservatism and the pro-government liberalism that preceded it, Clinton articulated an ideological “third way”: Inclined toward market solutions, not government bureaucracy, focused on economic growth, not economic redistribution, and dedicated to equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was lower than it had been when Reagan left office. MORE
We’re heard this before: stockpiles of chemical weapons, the clamor for action to uphold our “credibility,” a mainstream media too ready to accept the official position and even to urge it on, another potentially deadly misstep into the maelstrom of Mideast politics.
As the saying goes, history may not repeat itself but it rhymes – a good reason, then, to take another look at the Bill Moyers documentary, “Buying the War,” the sad and bitter account of how the public debate and scrutiny of the 2003 invasion of Iraq were stymied by a government eager for a fight and a compliant press unwilling to seek out the truth.
Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the Texas state capitol as the Senate nears the vote on Friday night, July 12, 2013. Texas senators were wrapping up debate on sweeping abortion restrictions Friday night and were poised to vote on a measure after weeks of protests. (AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa)
The world continues to turn upside down and sometimes you can’t make sense of it even by standing on your head.
Recent news has focused on the scramble of a number of states, following the Supreme Court’s evisceration of a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to rush through new measures aimed at booby-trapping the path of low-income — particularly, black and Hispanic – voters to the polls.
In Texas, the spotlight fell on the failed struggle of women to defeat a fiercely restrictive law that would in effect shut down most of the state’s few remaining abortion services. Elsewhere, the campaign to destroy public unions goes merrily on in various state capitals and the strangulation of public services with chokeholds on funding continues with a zeal that must warm Grover Norquist‘s heart.
Yet here’s the paradox: these assaults are not limited to traditionally conservative states, especially those in the South, but are carried on in such places as North Carolina, long considered one of the most liberal of Southern states; in Pennsylvania and Ohio; in North Dakota, once the home of the radical labor and agrarian Nonpartisan League; even in usually liberal Wisconsin, the great “laboratory of democracy” in the Progressive Springtime of a century ago. MORE
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. speaks at a rally for immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing yesterday on the Voting Rights Act since the Supreme Court gutted the landmark civil rights law last month. The key witnesses were civil rights icon Representative John Lewis and Representative James Sensenbrenner, the former chair of the House Judiciary Committee who led the effort to overwhelmingly reauthorize the VRA in 2006.
In his testimony, Lewis described how he almost died fighting for the right to vote in 1965 and how friends of his never made it out of Mississippi alive. “I remember these problems and this struggle like it was yesterday,” Lewis said. He noted the “deliberate and systematic” attempt to make it harder for voters to participate in the last election, when nineteen states passed twenty-five new voting restrictions, saying “the Voting Rights Act is needed now like never before.” MORE