Under slavery, the masters had an interest in maintaining the health and even longevity of the slaves, who were their main form of property. After abolition, however, maintaining the health of free workers turned into a burden, especially as the cost of medicine rose. Understanding these simple facts of modern political economy may help explain how the United States, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest country in the world’, ended up with one-third of all Covid-19 cases.
It is March 2005. I am nine years old and my father has just been arrested for a crime he did not commit. He had volunteered at various charities that provided relief for civilians in war-torn Bosnia and Chechnya. He collected, sorted and sent food, medicine and clothing. The government says he sent those supplies to aid the enemy. He is charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism.
I’m in Europe this summer, though not in exile. I have not been driven to find sanctuary, much less thrown into a cage awaiting deportation, or forcibly separated from my child. When I fly home to New York, I will not be told that my name has 'randomly' appeared on a list, and taken aside to answer questions about the country of my ancestors, or my religious and political convictions. But for the first time in my life I'm not certain that this privilege, which ought to be simply a right, will last. By a strange twist of historical fate, people like me, Jews whose families fled to the US from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, became insiders, 'white ethnics', but the racism, intolerance and sheer vindictiveness that Donald Trump has helped bring into the mainstream are volatile forces, in constant search of new targets. For Muslims, Latinos, immigrants and black people, this has been the Summer of Hatred. Now we can add journalists to the list. Trump, the inciter-in-chief, called them 'enemies of the American people'. Five were killed in Maryland last week; they are unlikely to be the last.
In the second century BCE, Liu An, king of Huainan, asked the scholars of his court to prepare a book that would outline everything a wise monarch should know about statecraft, philosophy, and general world knowledge. The result was the massive 'Huainanzi', which runs to nine hundred large pages in English translation. Here are some excerpts, based on the translation by Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major: If a ruler rejects those who work for the public good, and employs people according to friendship and factions, then those of bizarre talent and frivolous ability will be promoted out of turn, while conscientious officials will be hindered and will not advance. In this way, the customs of the people will fall into disorder throughout the state, and accomplished officials will struggle.
Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders met in New York City in 1962, in front of the Charles Theater, two blocks north of Tompkins Square Park. Kupferberg was selling issues of Birth, a mimeographed publication he'd started in the 1950s. Sanders, who'd just launched his own mimeographed magazine, knew a few things about him. 'I'd seen his picture in a number of books,' Sanders later recalled. 'I learned a little bit later that he was the guy "who'd jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge", as described in Howl. (Actually it was the Manhattan Bridge.) I later asked him why. He replied, "I wasn't being loved enough."’
James Comey has confirmed that he's the man who's been calling himself Reinhold Niebuhr on Twitter. David Bromwich wrote about Niebuhr (1892-1971) and his book The Irony of American History in the LRB in 2008: Irony can turn into tragedy, and Niebuhr addressed that possibility in the last sentence of his book: ‘If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory.’
In 1989, John Ahearn, a white artist living in the South Bronx, cast a group of local black and Latino people for a series of bronze sculptures commissioned by the city for an intersection outside a police station. As his models, he chose a drug addict, a hustler and a street kid. Ahearn thought that he was paying them homage, restoring the humanity of people who were often vilified in American society. His models found the work flattering, but some members of the community felt that he ought to have depicted more 'positive' representatives, while others were insulted that a white artist had been given such a commission in the first place, since only a genuine local – a black or Latino artist – had the right to represent the community. Ahearn eventually removed the sculptures. 'The issues were too hot for dialogue,' he reflected later. 'The critics said that people in the community have a right to positive images that their children can look up to. I agree that the installation did not serve that purpose.'
I’ve been thinking about some lines of a poem by Wallace Stevens called 'Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz': There are these sudden mobs of men, These sudden clouds of faces and arms, An immense suppression, freed, These voices crying without knowing for what, Except to be happy, without knowing how, Imposing forms they cannot describe, Requiring order beyond their speech. Too many waltzes have ended. The lines are the work of an American poet writing in the 1930s, and the first thing that may come to mind is the hunger marchers of the Depression. But there were other mobs then, in Germany, Italy and elsewhere.
At 12.35 a.m. on 5 July, the night after Independence Day, police in Baton Rouge accosted 37-year-old Alton Sterling who was selling CDs in front of the Triple S Food Mart, a convenience store in a poor neighbourhood. Mobile phone footage, taken by members of an organisation that monitors police violence against civilians, shows two police officers pinning Sterling down and shooting him at point-blank range, multiple times. We see Sterling’s blood spread rapidly across his red shirt. We see a man die.
Since taking office in 2009, Barack Obama has had to respond to mass shootings in Fort Hood, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Washington, DC; and Fort Hood, Texas (again). Several mass shootings, such as the 2012 massacre at Oikos University – a Christian school in Oakland, California – have gone almost unnoticed. Others, such as last week's shooting at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Minneapolis, have gone unremarked on by the White House. But such is our new American normal. (It bears mentioning that Obama might have done more to curb gun violence, and unfettered access to guns, during his first year in office, when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.) As it is, here are the president's responses to mass shootings that took place in 2015:
Playboy, the men's magazine-turned-'brand management company' said this week that it was getting out of the nudity business. 'The battle has been fought and won,' Playboy's CEO, Scott Flanders, told the New York Times, though the announcement sounded more like an admission of defeat.
I stayed up late the other night, following the café siege in Sydney on the Guardian website: 'What we know so far...' the live updates page said. Below that, like the punch line to no kind of joke, was a bullet point: 'Uber were criticised for charging minimum $100 for people trying to leave CBD during the siege. They have since offered free rides.'
The Republican National Convention’s first day was cancelled out of deference to tropical storm Isaac, but for most of Monday Tampa was rainless. At around 4 p.m. I was standing a block from the convention centre, next to Charles O. Perry’s 1985 sculpture Solstice, which looks a bit like a space age Christmas tree ornament, or a pair of Slinkys copulating, beneath the Bank of America Tower. On a Saturday in January 2002 a 15-year-old-boy called Charles Bishop crashed a stolen Cessna into the tower, killing himself and nobody else, because, as on Monday because of the storm scare, there were few people downtown. ‘Osama bin Laden is absolutely justified in the terror he has caused on 9-11,’ Bishop wrote in his suicide note. He has brought a mighty nation to its knees! God blesses him and the others who helped make September 11th happen. The US will have to face the consequences for its horrific actions against the Palestinian people and [illegible] by its allegiance with the monstrous Israelis who want nothing short of world domination! You will pay – God help you – and I will make you pay! His parents at first blamed the incident on acne medicine-induced psychosis but before long dropped their $70 million lawsuit against its manufacturers. On Monday the skies were protected by helicopters. ‘Here comes a mob,’ a pedestrian said. At the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Tampa Street beige-clad policemen in riot gear formed a line to meet a protest march. The ‘mob’ turned out to be the Poor Man’s March, a permitless echo of a demonstration earlier in the day that had resulted in one protester being arrested after getting tackled by a cop for wearing a mask. Leading the crowd was a man on a bike pulling a trailer with an upside-down Stars and Stripes waving on a pole. Several marchers were carrying pizza boxes. ‘I don’t know about the pizza theme,’ one said. A man with a megaphone addressed the cops: ‘I’m an anarchist. I hope you’re not scared of me because I’m not scary. They’ve got you dressed up like turtles.’ He was wearing a black plastic boot on his head, had a rat-face toy gas mask dangling from his neck, and is apparently called Vermin Supreme. ‘Read my op-ed, it’s an open letter to the city to provide you with corn starch to prevent chafing in your riot gear.’ The signs – ‘Capitalism Is Cannibalism’, ‘Dump Both Parties of Wall Street’, ‘Food Not Bombs’ – were more standard-issue than the chants. ‘We are the proletariat, we are the pizza resistance!’ ‘The pizza ignited will never be reheated!’ ‘Fuck Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney is a fuckin’ asshole!’ ‘What does $50 billion look like? This is what $50 billion looks like’ – i.e., like a bunch of turtles in beige.
Not long ago, Greg Jaffe, the Washington Post’s military correspondent, wrote that ‘this is the American era of endless war.’ Endless war manifestly does not suggest any eagerness to use military power with an eye towards liberating or pacifying countries governed by regimes that Washington happens to dislike. Post-9/11 experiments along those lines in Iraq and Afghanistan yielded little but disappointment. The American people have lost their stomach for invasions that lead to long-term military occupations, with all that implies in terms of casualties suffered and money poured down the drain. When Robert Gates said that anyone advising a future president ‘to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined’, he was codifying sentiments that had long since found favour with the American public.
Medical research has long been the darling of American politics, left and right, in times rich and poor. Now, however, the veneration of spending cuts and deficit reduction, from the Tea Party to the White House, is threatening the world’s greatest bankroll for medical science, the National Institutes of Health. The biomedical establishment is resounding with warnings of delayed cures for cancer, blighted scientific careers, and the rise of China. The financial threat has also inspired unusually frank talk about the way NIH spends its money, large amounts of which never get to the laboratory.
The story so far, in case you missed it, is that US authorities have announced that an Iranian-American car salesman, Manssor Arbabsiar, tried to enlist a DEA informant to commit mass murder in the mistaken belief that he was a hitman working for a Mexican drug cartel. One of the crimes Arbabsiar is alleged to have had in mind was the murder of the Saudi envoy in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir.
Since last June, Private Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old alleged source of the WikiLeaks hoard of war logs and diplomatic cables, has been kept in solitary confinement at Quantico. He is in his cell for 23 hours a day, frequently deprived of clothing and denied the right even to do press-ups. He has no contact with other prisoners and is forced to acknowledge to a guard that he is OK every five of his waking minutes. Whether this no-touch torture is being inflicted on Manning to force a confession implicating Julian Assange, or is merely an object lesson to other potential whistleblowers, is not clear.
Eric Cantor can’t have been expecting a warm reception when he came to speak at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy Forum last Thursday. The House majority leader, who represents Virginia’s seventh congressional district, has consistently voted against abortion, gay marriage, union rights, affirmative action and gun control, but in favour of outlawing flag burning. So he must have been prepared for some hostile questions at the end of his address, vaguely entitled ‘We are a Nation at a Crossroads’. But before he even got inside the Kennedy School he was met by a crowd of around 500 students – from Tufts, Northeastern and Lesley as well as Harvard – protesting against House Republicans’ budget proposals.
Thanks to the public employees of Wisconsin, thousands of whom have occupied the state capitol building for the past several days, the class struggle has returned to the United States. Of course, it never really left, but lately only one side has been fighting. Workers, their unions and liberals more generally have now rejoined the battle.
It was the 90th anniversary this week of the achievement of women's suffrage in the United States. On 18 August 1920 Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment – ‘The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex’ – and it passed into law. For those who remember how the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated in the 1970s thanks to die-hard Republican opposition, it may come as a surprise to realise how much women's suffrage was a Republican achievement.
The story of Russia’s deep cover suburban spies in America is the perfect pitch for a 13-part TV series. It’s The Wire (illegals v. law enforcers), The Sopranos (aspirational lifestyles and typical middle-class problems among people living dangerous secret lives) and V (aliens among us) rolled into one. Lost? They do seem to have been. Like Nigerian email fraudsters, whose sensational Moll Flanders-like tales of inheritances and warped morality suggest their talented authors would make more money bashing out African soap opera scripts than they ever would ripping off naive northerners, the easiest way for the Russian taxpayer to get back the money wasted on this loony espionage venture would be to deport the spymasters responsible to Los Angeles with a contract for a 50 per cent cut of whatever the going Screenwriters Guild rate is these days.
The United States had elections this month too. Most of Tuesday's ballots were primaries; one was a by-election, for the House seat long held by the Democrat John Murtha, who died three months ago. Murtha became famous in 2005 when he called for US troops to get out of Iraq. His antiwar position was a surprise: he was never especially liberal, and his district was anything but. Pennyslvania's 12th Congressional district is on the border with West Virginia – it's coal and steel country, except where it's rural, and its median residents are socially conservative, white people who support the Democrats (if they do) thanks to their unions. PA-12 was the only one of America's 435 Congressional districts to choose John Kerry in 2004 but John McCain in 2008; the by-election seemed to present low-hanging fruit for Republicans, and polls had it too close to call.
I just got off the phone with a helpful guy called Fernando from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The local bank where I have a chunk of my savings on deposit is in deep trouble and liable to be closed any day now, and I was concerned that my status in the US, as a permanent resident but not a citizen, might disqualify me from FDIC coverage. No problem, Fernando said. Everybody’s covered – immigrants, legal and otherwise, foreigners, citizens, whatever. An account with a single name on it is insured for up to $250,000, but as you add more names (of partners, family members, trusted friends) to the account, the greater the number of $250,000 tranches are protected.
A year ago US healthcare reform seemed inevitable: no one knew whether it would include a public option (a government-backed competition with private insurers), or how much it would try to control costs, but all the smart money expected that some plan to insure America's uninsured, or at least many of them, would go through. Eight weeks ago the smart money went the other way: Republican Scott Brown's surprise election to the Senate not only killed the Democrats' Senate supermajority, but spooked already nervous Democrats in the lower house so badly that it seemed they would not, could not take the necessary votes.
In the wake of Vice President Joe Biden’s ill-fated trip to Israel last week, many people would agree with the Israeli ambassador Michael Oren's remark that ‘Israel's ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975… a crisis of historic proportions.’ Like all crises, this one will eventually go away. However, this bitter fight has disturbing implications for Israelis and their American supporters. First, the events of the past week make it clear in ways that we have not seen in the past that Israel is a strategic liability for the United States, not the strategic asset that the Israel lobby has long claimed it was. Specifically, the Obama administration has unambiguously declared that Israel’s expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, are doing serious damage to US interests in the region. Indeed, Biden reportedly told the Israeli prime minister, Binyahim Netanyahu, in private: This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace. If that message begins to resonate with the American public, unconditional support for the Jewish state is likely to evaporate.
The winning plan for the new US embassy at Nine Elms, South London, was unveiled two days ago. 'Not inelegant,' was the cagey reaction of one architectural critic to illustrations of the new building, which has resemblances to a non-turreted Norman keep, a white version of the Kaaba at Mecca, the base of one of the towers of the World Trade Center, the central stack at Yale’s Beineke Library and the Richard Desmond Children's Eye Centre at Moorfields. Which is to say that it’s a cube with something of a moat and a colonnaded ground floor, and exterior walls that resemble shards of glass.
Until last week, American fans of 30 Rock, the behind-the-scenes-of-a-TV-comedy-show sitcom, had to make do in 2009 with Tina Fey taking her creamy décolletage on David Letterman and announcing that she was a virgin until the age of 24; a short-lived, thrilling rumour that Alec Baldwin was going to try to steal Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat; and the antics of RealTracyMorgan, who set fire to his Trump Place apartment via a blown-out light in his fish tank and whose Twitter feed started out promisingly enough (‘My dick is so fat it looks like r2d2’) before devolving into work complaints and self-props like everyone else’s.
Over the past two months, the United States, which for more than a decade has isolated the Burmese junta, appears to have dramatically shifted its policy towards the regime. After a comprehensive internal policy review, the Obama administration announced that it would engage with Burma more directly, though it would also (for now) maintain sanctions on the regime. In a sign of thawing relations, the Burmese foreign minister, Nyan Win, went to Washington in September – a rare visit for a senior junta leader.
'Bill never let his ideology interfere with his news judgment,' Howell Raines says of William Safire, the late New York Times columnist. Never? One example of Safire's news judgment being made misty by party prejudice was the tale of Mohamed Atta's visit to Prague before 11 September 2001. Atta, according to Safire, met an Iraqi secret agent in the Czech Republic, which proved a connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, and this association was therefore a reason to go to war in Iraq.
David Brooks professes to know the deep undercurrents of American life, and in his latest column for the New York Times he tries to explain why Jimmy Carter is wrong to say that the rhetorical attacks on Barack Obama are motivated by race: My impression is that race is largely beside the point. There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts. For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power.
Craig T. Nelson, an actor (the Coach in Blades of Glory), explains to Glenn 'Obama is racist’ Beck of Fox News why he'd like to stop paying his taxes: 'I've been on foodstamps and welfare.
If you ever find yourself wondering what Karl Rove has been up to since resigning from the Bush administration in 2007, but don't feel like subscribing to Fox News or the Wall Street Journal, you can keep track of him on Twitter. This weekend, for example, he's been out hunting doves: you couldn't make it up. Lots of Rove's tweets end up on the #TCOT channel (that's 'Top Conservatives On Twitter'), which at the moment, unsurprisingly, is full of crowing over Van Jones's resignation and attacks on 'Obamacare'. It's mesmerising. auto insurance is mandatory for u to pay, so why not health insurance? think about that one all u "healthers". I half thought about pointing out the benefits of a subsidised public transport system,
General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, on his new strategy: At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population. As you fight for them, you are trying to convince them. You are in an argument with the enemy over the population, and they are listening, and they are watching what you do and what you say. They are going to decide based on who makes the most convincing argument. Are you protecting them? Can you stop them from being coerced at midnight by an armed man who shows up and threatens them? It’s a retail war.
When Edward Kennedy got up to speak at the funeral of his nephew John Kennedy in New York City in 1999, I knew that he had a reputation as a good speaker. I was there because I'd worked for John Kennedy as an editor on his magazine, the glossy and not always terrifically good George; he had died in a plane crash a week earlier. Kennedy did give a good speech – good enough to make you wonder whether you really want to hear a good speech on a bad day. A few hours later, after the congregation had moved from the Upper East Side church to a school on Fifth Avenue, I heard singing coming from a nearby room. The small choir from the church had assembled and were singing Southern a cappellas: in the centre of a circle formed by those looking on was Kennedy, dancing a jig and making a fool of himself.
Barney Frank and the dining-room table:
Justin Webb, the BBC reporter, has returned from the US to assume new responsibilities in London, but it seeems as if he isn't pleased to be in the UK. On his blog, Webb says: 'Now back in the UK I find myself utterly at sea – I say hello to people I pass in the street. They lunge on, muttering insults.' Then, without offering any examples of what he means, he goes on to write about the 'kindness' of Americans, his affection for American cars, his dislike of Swindon, his sense that Britain may be a more violent country than the US, the peaceableness of Americans and their moral fibre. He makes one of those sweeping pseudo-lyrical observations that sound nice but mean almost nothing: ‘As for America's future – this country is full of space and youth and and hope.
Over the weekend, Jim Webb, the senior senator from Virginia, flew to the isolated Burmese capital of Naypyidaw for a rare sit-down with the head of the junta, Than Shwe. Webb, the outspoken head of the East Asia and the Pacific subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, went, in theory, to negotiate the release of John Yettaw, the American who was sentenced to seven years in prison for swimming to the house of the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. And he apparently got what he came for: the junta agreed to let Yettaw leave on Webb’s plane.
It's been a slow summer for shark attacks in Florida, so American cable TV news has had to content itself by filling its hours with the 'birther' movement, which is less organic than it sounds: the belief that Barack Obama was not born in the USA, and is therefore ineligible to serve as president. Despite some evidence to the contrary – such as a birth certificate validated by the Republican governor of Hawaii and its Department of Health, as well as birth announcements in two Honolulu newspapers – the birthers have managed, according to the latest poll, to convince a majority of Republicans that Obama is as foreign as his name, and part of some Kenyan (or something) conspiracy to turn the White House red.
Although everyone is denying it, European public opinion is obviously being softened up, especially by the Kinnockian wing of the Labour party, for Blair’s emergence as the first full-time president of Europe. And although in a rational world his election would seem self-evidently absurd, given his record, it is being put about that many European leaders – including, improbably, Sarkozy – are enthusiastic. If they are, they should ask themselves what a Blair presidency would actually mean. Blair does not share the Conservatives’ blockheaded hostility to ‘Europe’ but he would nonetheless be the candidate of the United States – and that is what the Tories want. America has never shared the Conservative Party’s extreme Atlanticism. It believes in ‘Europe’ and always wanted Britain to join the EEC, now the EU. But it certainly does not believe in the European ideal.
'I see God's hand all over this place,' Sarah Palin says of Alaska in an interview with Runners World. The former mayor, former vice-presidential candidate, now former governor, is much absorbed by running, and it's on a run that she knows profund thoughts.
Barack Obama's speech in Cairo last week was, of course, addressed as much to Americans as to Cairenes (or for that matter Muslims). The crowd hardly needed to be reminded of their civilisation's accomplishments in maths, science and learning; but many Americans could surely benefit from the history lesson the president so succinctly and eloquently provided. Likewise, most Egyptians know that there are worse places to be Muslim than the US: that's why so many of them are desperate for American visas. Europeans, on the other hand, could learn something from American tolerance of the hijab.
From the Washington Post: He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. "We were all appalled by the Bush years," one said. What Walter Kendall Myers kept hidden, according to documents unsealed in court Friday, was a deep and long-standing anger toward his country, an anger that allegedly made him willing to spy for Cuba for three decades. "I have become so bitter these past few months.
In his remarks to the American Enterprise Institute last week, Dick Cheney said that inmates at Guantánamo should remain imprisoned on Cuba because they are too dangerous to be incarcerated in American jails. What about the Americans arrested and jailed under the terms of the war on terror? Should they be incarcerated on Cuba, or does Cheney suppose that Americans are, regardless of what they have done, inherently less dangerous than other people and therefore don't need to be jailed at Guantánamo? Nor – surely – can Cheney have forgotten that immediately after 9/11, hundreds of men were rounded up by the FBI and other police forces in the US and imprisoned in high security American jails: 760 in total, 184 of whom were considered especially interesting by the authorities. Just over half of them were interred at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, a former warehouse on the waterfront overlooking the harbour and the Statue of Liberty. The story was covered by the New York Times, but it was treated, mostly, as local news and carried in the 'New York Region' section of the paper.
GQ (formerly known as Gentlemen's Quarterly) has just released some mind-boggling artefacts from the Cheney-Bush Era: the covers – like elementary school reports – of the daily intelligence briefings that the Department of Defense prepared for a few eyes only, and that were often personally delivered by Donald Rumsfeld to the Oval Office. (There's also a background article here.) One of the lessons of Watergate and the investigative journalism of the 1970s was that the wildest stoner rumours of the 1960s turned out to be perfectly true (‘Whoa, dude, I heard the CIA tried to put some powder in Castro's shoes that would make his beard fall out . . .').