Ed Pilkington reports: We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.
The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.
We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.
Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.
Alston turns right.
So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.
Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance. [Continue reading…]
Suzanne Garment writes: Trump came to office promising a return to American strength after years of what he calls failed foreign policy by an effete establishment. But Trump isn’t exactly an embodiment of American toughness: He’s an overweight and out of shape 71-year-old man who escaped military service by claiming bone spurs and has said he fought his personal Vietnam on the battlefield of sexually transmitted diseases.
You can see why he’d want alpha males around — not so much to wage war as because he seeks personal proximity to masculine winners. The generals lend Trump masculinity by association.
Yet Trump’s delight in proximate alpha males presents him with a dilemma because he also clearly enjoys dominating others and has a keen — critics might say pathological — sense of threats to his dominance. This makes him intolerant of alpha male behavior.
Mattis succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”
When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made the cover of Time Magazine, Trump reportedly complained to staffers, according to The New York Times. Several months later, the advisor was gone. Bannon’s return to Breitbart allowed Trump to make him a confidant again, without admitting that Bannon might be pulling the strings of power. But Breitbart’s current critique of Trump’s strategy in the Russia probe shows the unreliability of such a relationship.
Herein lies the beauty of generals. Despite their alpha male-ness, generals obey the code governing the American military: They are explicitly constrained by the Constitution’s provisions that civilians control the military. Even after serving, generals respect these constraints. As The Washington Post recently observed about Mattis, he succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”
This combination of masculinity and deference isn’t an oxymoron but an amalgam that perfectly suits Trump’s needs.
If you’re Trump, it’s a treasure you don’t easily discard. No wonder Trump keeps calling them “my generals” in the same proprietary way he’s called his wife, Melania, “my supermodel.”
But will this formula allow the generals to be the “adults in the room,” restraining a president who lacks impulse control?
Don’t count on it. We’re not talking Dwight D. Eisenhower or George C. Marshall here, let alone Colin Powell or Alexander Haig — just your basic war heroes. When generals have to perform beyond their political competence, they’re as fallible as anybody else. [Continue reading…]
As every marketing executive knows, Americans are suckers for attractive packaging and strong branding.
A sharply cut uniform and a few gleaming stars, present or past, is all it takes to mask the frail content of men who clearly don’t fully embody the qualities they are meant to represent.
Supposedly, the uniform is the ultimate representation of patriotism — the willingness to die for ones country — yet who in all seriousness can pretend that serving as a pillar, or to be more precise as a crutch, in this administration is an act of patriotism?
These generals, just like all their non-military cohorts were to some degree enticed by the allure of power and the hook of their own vanity around which no doubt they each embellished some noble narrative to rationalize their prostitution to the ultimate pimp.
Service with honor is one thing and obedience to Donald Trump is another, but there is no way to marry the two.
Newsweek reports: A United Nations official investigating poverty in the United States was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world.
“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this,” Philip Alston, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told Connor Sheets of AL.com earlier this week as they toured a community in Butler County where “raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.”
The tour through Alabama’s rural communities is part of a two-week investigation by the U.N. on poverty and human rights abuses in the United States. So far, U.N. investigators have visited cities and towns in California and Alabama, and will soon travel to Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.
Of particular concern to Alston are specific poverty-related issues that have surfaced across the country in recent years, such as an outbreak of hookworm in Alabama in 2017—a disease typically found in nations with substandard sanitary conditions in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa, as reported by The Guardian. [Continue reading…]
Jonathan Freedland writes: The focus now is on May’s invitation to Trump to come to Britain on a state visit. You will recall she made that offer – usually extended only late in a presidency – on that lightning trip to Washington, when the prime minister thought it would be smart to be the first foreign leader to visit the new president, and to come bearing extravagant gifts. How she must regret that move now: Trump can’t possibly be given the red carpet, gold-coach-on-the-Mall treatment, not in the current climate.
But to rescind an invitation – one that officially comes from the Queen – would be an enormous insult that would only escalate tensions further. So May must hope the current state of limbo will persist indefinitely: the invitation will remain suspended in the air, as the Americans avoid setting a date for fear that, were Trump to come, he would be humiliated by the sight of 65 million Brits giving him a two-fingered salute.
Still, the very fact that this ludicrous situation even exists points to a larger problem: the absurdity that is the so-called special relationship.
So-called because it’s only the Brits who call it that. The Americans never use the phrase unprompted. When they do, it’s only out of an embarrassed obligation to accommodate British neediness. A former state department official, Jeremy Shapiro, admitted in October that his bosses were always careful to use the phrase when the Brits were in town, “but really we laughed about it behind the scenes”.
And yet it matters to us desperately – and the Americans can smell our desperation. How much time does a visiting British prime minister get with the president? What kind of gift do they hand over? Is the body language warm or chilly? All these questions have obsessed the political class, policymakers and journalists alike, for decades. But this is not diplomacy: it’s neurosis.
Perhaps one could laugh off this behaviour, dismissing as mere pathos the notion of a country that thinks it alone has a special relationship with Washington, unaware that a 2009 study found that 14 of 25 EU nations surveyed all believed they too were special to the Americans. But this fetish has real-world consequences.
It was the driving spirit behind Tony Blair’s catastrophic decision to support the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Blair’s judgment was that the paramount strategic objective was to be at Washington’s side: “With you, whatever.” All other considerations were subordinate to that goal.
That same urge propelled May to visit Trump in Washington too soon, where she “put her career, her reputation and the national interest in the hands of someone who can land almost anywhere on any topic and be on the opposite side the very next day”, says Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
We are, says Leonard, over-invested emotionally in the fantasy we call the special relationship. Yes, there is shared history; and, yes, intelligence and special forces cooperation is intensely close. But for the rest, we need to end the neurotic neediness – and be a bit more like the French. [Continue reading…]
Kathleen Sharp writes: Like many pre-Columbian sites on this timeless plateau [in Arizona], Little Giant’s Chair is both a Hopi shrine and a crime scene. America’s ancient heritage is disappearing at an alarming rate. Some archaeologists estimate that more than half of America’s historic sites have been vandalized or looted. According to the non-profit Saving Antiquities for Everyone, over 90 percent of known American Indian archaeological sites have been destroyed or degraded by looters.
As the cultural legacy of Native American tribes has vanished, the demand for genuine U.S. antiquities has exploded. And few objects are more coveted than a Hopi religious item, Kuwanwisiwma says. “People love them so much, they are slowly robbing us to death.”
The outside world calls them “artifacts,” but they are often ceremonial items that have been passed down over the years and are still in use by the tribes. Others are ripped from grave sites like the one at Little Giant’s Chair. If this burial ground had been in Arlington, Virginia, or Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the police would have wrapped the scene in yellow crime tape and called in their top investigators. But on this case, the primary detectives were a Hopi ranger and the skeleton crew at the CPO, whose mission is to find, repatriate, and protect the cultural objects that belong to the Hopi people. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the world’s richest nation – and its president – to account for the hardships endured by America’s most vulnerable citizens.
The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions – from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.
With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law – a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.
The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.
The US is no stranger to Alston’s withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality. [Continue reading…]
Thomas B. Edsall writes: President Trump has single-handedly done more to undermine the basic tenets of American democracy than any foreign agent or foreign propaganda campaign could.
“Trump is a political weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy — for its norms, for its morality, for sheer human decency,” Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at Brookings, wrote by email:
So if Putin backed him, and if he did it to damage the United States, then he dropped one extremely smart bomb in the middle of Washington.
For the moment, let’s put aside the conclusion of “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A. joint report that was released in January, which said that:
The Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime.
First and foremost, Trump has gravely damaged the premises and procedures that undergird American democracy.
On Oct. 5, the Pew Research Center reported that partisan conflict on fundamental political values
reached record levels during Barack Obama’s presidency. In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger. And the magnitude of these differences dwarfs other divisions in society, along such lines as gender, race and ethnicity, religious observance or education.
In the introduction to their forthcoming book, “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, political scientists at Harvard, write:
Over the past two years, we have watched politicians say and do things that are unprecedented in the United States — but that we recognize as having been the precursors of democratic crisis in other places. We feel dread, as do so many other Americans, even as we try to reassure ourselves that things can’t really be that bad here.
Their attempt at reassurance is not comforting:
American politicians now treat their rivals as enemies, intimidate the free press, and threaten to reject the results of elections. They try to weaken the institutional buffers of our democracy, including the courts, intelligence services, and ethics offices. American states, which were once praised by the great jurist Louis Brandeis as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies, and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose. And in 2016, for the first time in U.S. history, a man with no experience in public office, little observable commitment to constitutional rights, and clear authoritarian tendencies was elected president.
In an email, Levitsky argued that “it is important that we understand that the U.S. has largely been doing these things to itself,” before adding, “obviously we should investigate Russian meddling to the fullest, but to blame Putin for the mess we are in today would be ridiculous. We Americans created this mess.” [Continue reading…]
Adam Hochschild writes: Most of us who grow up in the United States learn a reassuring narrative of ever-expanding tolerance. Yes, the country’s birth was tainted with the original sin of slavery, but Lincoln freed the slaves, the Supreme Court desegregated schools, and we finally elected a black president. The Founding Fathers may have all been men, but in their wisdom they created a constitution that would later allow women to gain the vote. And now the legal definition of marriage has broadened to include gays and lesbians. We are, it appears, an increasingly inclusive nation.
But a parallel, much darker river runs through American history. The Know Nothing Party of the 1850s viciously attacked Catholics and immigrants. Eugenics enthusiasts of the early twentieth century warned about the nation’s gene pool being polluted by ex-slaves, the feeble minded, and newcomers of inferior races. In the 1930s, 16 million Americans regularly listened to the anti-Semitic radio rants of Father Charles E. Coughlin.
The most notorious of all the currents in this dark river has been the Ku Klux Klan. It flourished first in the South after the Civil War, lynching and terrorizing African-Americans who tried to vote, and then gradually disbanded in the early 1870s under pressure from the federal government. After a long spell of quiescence, it reemerged into national prominence in the 1920s, reaching an all-time peak membership in 1924—a year, incidentally, that saw the dedication of various Confederate memorials, including the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, whose planned removal was the pretext for the “Unite the Right” rally there in August. After another eclipse, the Klan roared back to life a third time in protest against the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Among other acts of violence, Klansmen took part in the murder of three voter registration workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964—James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman.
All along, of course, even while sticking to rhetoric of tolerance and inclusion, politicians have made winks and nods toward that dark river of which the Klan is a part. Richard Nixon had his Southern Strategy. Running for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan sent an unmistakable message by giving a speech about states’ rights near Philadelphia, Mississippi. George H.W. Bush used the notorious Willie Horton campaign commercial. And now suddenly, it’s no longer just winks and nods. Only when pressed by a reporter did Donald Trump in early 2016 reluctantly disavow the support of Klan leader David Duke. “David Duke endorsed me? O.K., all right. I disavow, O.K.?” Then as president he outraged people around the world by equating antiracist protesters with the unsavory brew of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klan members who gathered at Charlottesville, declaring that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” One of the least fine among the right-wingers rammed his car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators, killing one and injuring many others. Once again, it seems, the Klan is elbowing its way back into American public life. [Continue reading…]
Timothy Egan writes: It would be much easier to sleep at night if you could believe that we’re in such a mess of misinformation simply because Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million people on Facebook.
The Russians also uploaded a thousand videos to YouTube and published more than 130,000 messages on Twitter about last year’s election. As recent congressional hearings showed, the arteries of our democracy were clogged with toxins from a hostile foreign power.
But the problem is not the Russians — it’s us. We’re getting played because too many Americans are ill equipped to perform the basic functions of citizenship. If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.
As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.
We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.
Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.
Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.
But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship. [Continue reading…]
Paul Taylor writes: Sometimes an outsider’s eye perceives symptoms of decay more clearly than those who live in the midst of Europe’s daily churn.
In “Fractured Continent: Europe’s crises and the fate of the West,” veteran U.S. journalist and think tanker William Drozdiak shows how three flawed projects launched at the end of the Cold War — the euro, the Schengen zone of passport-free travel, and the eastward enlargement of the EU and NATO — have stumbled into trouble, opening deep rifts in Europe.
“Today, the dream of European unity has begun to wither away, and the future stability of the Continent is clouded in uncertainty,” Drozdiak says in an assessment that contrasts starkly with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent assertion that Europe has the wind back in its sails.
Compounding the crises, the former Washington Post foreign correspondent says the United States’ disengagement has left Europeans adrift where previously a steadying hand from Uncle Sam often helped navigate the Continent through troubled waters. Drozdiak is a lifelong Atlanticist steeped in the late Richard Holbrooke’s vision of the U.S. as a benevolent, hands-on European power. He warns that, in the absence of strong American leadership, Europe risks being consumed by its old demon: nationalism.
Drozdiak points to a deep-seated EU methodological problem: the habit of setting out to achieve ambitious objectives with half-baked plans forged in late-night compromises, without anticipating what would happen when things go wrong.
Adopting a single currency without a fiscal union or a lender of last resort; opening internal borders without joint action to protect Europe’s external frontiers; bringing former Soviet satellites into the Western orbit without anticipating a hostile Russian backlash — in each case, Europe’s leaders appear to have been naively optimistic and unprepared.
Drozdiak stops short of predicting whether the EU will fall apart, pitching Europe back into conflict, or seize the chance to pull itself together in a salutary response to Trump and Brexit. But he makes clear the key lies chiefly in Berlin, “the new epicenter of power.” [Continue reading…]
Ronald A. Klain writes: For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane. Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies — more Dale Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a “kinder, gentler” tenure; George W. Bush ran on “compassionate conservatism.” As a progressive, I opposed many of their specific proposals. But as a country, we benefited from a debate between competing ideas — liberal and conservative — on how to soften the hard edges of American life and create a more inclusive country.
That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it.
President Trump’s decision to put some 700,000 “dreamers” in limbo, his snarling statement that athletes protesting policing abuses are “sons of bitches,” his opposition to bipartisan efforts to maintain health coverage for low-income families, his feud with a Gold Star widow are all recent examples — not of conservative policies — but of a basic nastiness. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans still lack water, most are without electricity, leptospirosis is spreading, and Trump talks about withdrawing federal aid and belittles local leaders. Nine months into his presidency, Trump is not even paying lip service to the compassionate ideals — such as improving low-performing schools or combating homelessness — that previous Republican presidents pursued.
Trump always will be Trump. He won the White House on a campaign of insults and taunts, urging rally attendees to punch protesters and threatening to jail his opponent. We have known who he is. But what is his presidency saying about the rest of us? [Continue reading…]
NPR reports on a poll in which 55 percent of its white respondents believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. The responses can be broken down into three categories: Ask [68-year-old Tim] Hershman [of Akron, Ohio] whether there is discrimination against whites, and he answered even before this reporter could finish the question — with an emphatic “Absolutely.”
“It’s been going on for decades, and it’s been getting worse for whites,” Hershman contended, despite data showing whites continue to be better off financially and educationally than minority groups.
Even though Hershman believes he has been a victim of anti-white discrimination, he wasn’t able to provide a specific example. He describes losing out on a promotion — and a younger African-American being selected as one of the finalists for the job. But the position eventually went to a white applicant, who was also younger than Hershman.
Representing Category 2 is 50-year-old heavy equipment operator Tim Musick, who lives in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. He says anti-white discrimination is real, but he doesn’t think he has ever really felt it personally.
“I think that you pretty much, because you’re white, you’re automatically thrown into that group as being a bigot and a racist and that somehow you perceive yourself as being more superior to everybody else, which is ridiculous,” Musick said, speaking during his lunch break at a construction site.
“I’m just a man that happens to have been born white,” Musick continued.
He also makes it clear, however, that he is not comparing what happens to whites to the African-American experience.
“I don’t know what it feels like to be a black man walking around in the streets, but I do know what it feels like to be pegged, because of how you look, and what people perceive just on sight,” said Musick, who has the stocky build of a retired NFL lineman and a shaved head under his hard hat.
Now for the third category — those who scoff at the notion that whites face racial discrimination.
That describes retired community college English teacher Betty Holton, of Elkton, Md.
“I don’t see how we can be discriminated against when, when we have all the power,” Holton said, chuckling in disbelief into her cellphone.
“Look at Congress. Look at the Senate. Look at government on every level. Look at the leadership in corporations. Look. Look anywhere.”
Holton asserts: “The notion that whites are discriminated against just seems incredible to me.” [Continue reading…]
Susan B Glasser writes: Ai Weiwei is making a strong case for himself as America’s leading dissident of the Trump era.
Never mind that he’s Chinese, or that he lives in Berlin in de facto exile these days.
The legendary artist, who has long embraced political themes in his work, has gone full-out activist in a new feature-length documentary film about the global refugee crisis, called Human Flow and released in theaters across the U.S. Friday, and in a new, New York City-wide public art exhibit of 300 works in dozens of locations called “Good Walls Make Good Neighbors.”
Both are explicit rebuttals of the nationalistic, America-First-fueled policies espoused by Donald Trump, from his proposed Mexican border wall to his curbs on immigration that include admitting the smallest number of refugees to the U.S. in decades.
In a new interview for The Global Politico during a rare visit to Trump’s Washington, Ai referred to Trump’s win as “the moment I think history stopped,” a “backward” evolution that undermines liberal ideas like freedom of speech and human dignity everywhere.
Authoritarian leaders in China and elsewhere are the beneficiaries of Trump and the crisis of American democracy, said Ai, who spent four years under house arrest and forbidden to leave China before being allowed to leave the country two years ago.
“China is laughing about this situation,” he said. “China, Russia, they all laugh about it.”
When we met in Georgetown recently, I found Ai most compelling when talking about why he made the film, a “strangely beautiful” documentary, as the New York Times put it, shot in 23 countries from Asia to Africa to the Middle East and Europe over the course of a year.
It’s a call to action for Americans, he told me, and a commentary on what he sees as the breakdown of our society into a “timid” and “cowardly” and “selfish” place, one whose new role in the world is very much at odds with its self-identity as this liberal, generous nation.
“We have to save our own soul and our own mind and our own society,” he said. [Continue reading…]
Yoni Appelbaum writes: On may 5, 1857, eight men sat down to dinner at Boston’s Parker House hotel. They had gathered to plan a magazine, but by the time they stood up five hours later, they had laid the intellectual groundwork for a second American revolution.
These men were among the leading literary lights of their day, but they had more in mind that night than literary pursuits. The magazine they envisioned would, its prospectus later promised, “honestly endeavor to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea.”
That prospectus bore the unmistakable stamp of The Atlantic’s founding editor, James Russell Lowell, but “the American idea” had been popularized by Theodore Parker, the radical preacher and abolitionist. The American idea, Parker declared in an 1850 speech, comprised three elements: that all people are created equal, that all possess unalienable rights, and that all should have the opportunity to develop and enjoy those rights. Securing them required “a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people,” Parker said.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, another Atlantic founder, put the matter more concisely. There was, he observed, a single phrase, offered by the little republicans of the schoolyard, that summed the whole thing up: “I’m as good as you be.”
As a vision, it was bold and improbable—but the magazine these men launched that November, 160 years ago, helped spur the nation to redefine itself around the pursuit of the American idea. And as the United States grew and prospered, other peoples around the globe were attracted to its success, and the idea that produced it.
Now, though, the idea they articulated is in doubt. America no longer serves as a model for the world as it once did; its influence is receding. At home, critics on the left reject the notion that the U.S. has a special role to play; on the right, nationalists push to define American identity around culture, not principles. Is the American idea obsolete?
From the first, the idea provoked skepticism. It was radical to claim that a nation as new as America could have its own idea to give the world, it was destabilizing to discard rank and station and allow people to define their own destinies, and it bordered on absurd to believe that a nation so sprawling and heterogeneous could be governed as a democratic republic. By 1857, the experiment’s failure seemed imminent.
Across Europe, the 19th century had dawned as a democratic age, but darkened as it progressed. The revolutions of 1848 failed. Prussia busily cemented its dominance over the German states. In 1852, France’s Second Republic gave way to its Second Empire. Spain’s Progressive Biennium ended in 1856 as it began, with a coup d’état. Democracy was in full retreat. Even where it endured, the right to vote or hold office was generally restricted to a small, propertied elite.
On the surface, things appeared different in Boston, where The Atlantic’s eight founders—Emerson, Lowell, Moses Dresser Phillips, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Lothrop Motley, James Elliot Cabot, Francis H. Underwood, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.—dined in May 1857. Almost all adult males in Massachusetts, black and white alike, could vote, and almost all did. Almost all were literate. And they stood equal before the law. The previous Friday, the state had ratified a new constitutional amendment stripping out the last significant property qualifications for running for state Senate.
But even in Boston, democracy was embattled. [Continue reading…]
Ira Katznelson writes: There was no more extravagant site for Third Reich political theater than the spectacular parade grounds, two large stadiums, and congress hall in Nuremberg, a project masterminded by Albert Speer. From 1933 to 1938, he choreographed massive rallies associated with the annual conference of the Nazi Party, assemblies made famous by Leni Riefenstahl’s stunning documentaries of 1933 and 1935, The Victory of Faith and Triumph of the Will. Nuremberg was the setting for the September 1935 “Party Rally of Freedom,” at which a special session of the Reichstag passed, by acclamation, legislation that disqualified Jews as Reich citizens with political rights, forbade them to marry or have sex with persons identified as racial Germans, and prohibited any display by Jews of national colors or the new national flag, a banner with a swastika.
Just eight days after the Reich Citizenship Law, the Law on the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, and the Reich Flag Law were formally proclaimed by Adolf Hitler, 45 Nazi lawyers sailed for New York under the auspices of the Association of National Socialist German Jurists. The trip was a reward for the lawyers, who had codified the Reich’s race-based legal philosophy. The announced purpose of the visit was to gain “special insight into the workings of American legal and economic life through study and lectures,” and the leader of the group was Ludwig Fischer. As the governor of the Warsaw District half a decade later, he would preside over the brutal order of the ghetto.
Every day brings fresh reminders that liberal and illiberal democracy can entwine uncomfortably, a timely context for James Q. Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model, which examines how the Third Reich found sustenance for its race-based initiatives in American law. Upon docking, the Germans attended a reception organized by the New York City Bar Association. Everyone in the room would have known about the recent events in Nuremberg, yet the quest by leading Nazi jurists to learn from America’s legal and economic systems was warmly welcomed.
Whitman, a professor at Yale Law School, wanted to know how the United States, a country grounded in such liberal principles as individual rights and the rule of law, could have produced legal ideas and practices “that seemed intriguing and attractive to Nazis.” In exploring this apparent incongruity, his short book raises important questions about law, about political decisions that affect the scope of civic membership, and about the malleability of Enlightenment values.
Pushing back against scholarship that downplays the impact in Nazi Germany of the U.S. model of legal racism, Whitman marshals an array of evidence to support the likelihood “that the Nuremberg Laws themselves reflect direct American influence.” [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Before he opened fire late Sunday, killing at least 58 people at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, gunman Stephen Paddock was living out his retirement as a high-stakes gambler in a quiet town outside Las Vegas.
Paddock, 64, would disappear for days at a time, frequenting casinos with his longtime girlfriend, neighbors said. Relatives also said Paddock had frequently visited Las Vegas to gamble and take in concerts.
Eric Paddock said his brother often gambled in tens of thousands of dollars. “My brother is not like you and me. He plays high-stakes video poker,” he said. “He sends me a text that says he won $250,000 at the casino.” [Continue reading…]
NBC News reports: The suspected gunman behind the Las Vegas massacre made several large gambling transactions in recent weeks, according to multiple senior law enforcement officials and a casino executive.
On several occasions, Stephen Paddock gambled more than $10,000 per day — and in some cases more than than $20,000 and $30,000 a day — at Las Vegas casinos, according to an NBC News source who read the suspect’s Multiple Currency Transaction Reports (CTR) and a casino gaming executive.
According to a U.S. statute, a CTR is a Treasury- and IRS-mandated report that casinos have to file when “each transaction in currency involving cash-in and cash-out of more than $10,000 in a gaming day.”
It was not immediately clear if those transactions were losses or wins. [Continue reading…]
Slate reports: News reports suggest Stephen Paddock, a reclusive professional gambler who lived in a retirement community in Nevada, had a very limited public profile before perpetrating one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. His late father, a notorious bank robber who spent eight years on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List after escaping from a federal prison in Texas, was a very different kind of criminal. The elder Paddock, whose nicknames included “Big Daddy” and “Chrome Dome,” was charged in 1960 with stealing about $25,000 from three separate bank branches in Phoenix, Arizona. Paddock was 34 at the time, and had already been to prison twice for his role in what the Arizona Republic called “confidence games.”
According to witnesses who testified at Patrick Benjamin Paddock’s trial in 1960, an assistant bank manager took the initiative to follow him after one of the robberies and took note of the unusual radio antennas affixed to his getaway vehicle. Two days later, six FBI agents located Paddock near a gas station in downtown Las Vegas. When the bank robber tried to run one of them over with his car, the agent fired at his windshield. Paddock was arrested shortly thereafter; a search of his vehicle turned up a loaded .38 snub-nose revolver, a blackjack, and about $3,000 in cash.
Prior to his arrest, Paddock had been living in Tucson with his wife and four kids. (Most likely, the gunman who carried out Sunday night’s attack was among them.) According to a newspaper account, the family’s neighbors said they couldn’t believe that Paddock—who was known as a “hot rod racer who keeps his head shaved so he resembles Yul Brynner”—“was involved in crime.” [Continue reading…]
In social media in the aftermath of America’s latest mass shooting, once again there are objections to the fact that a white gunman is not being referred to by the press as a terrorist — the assumption being made by many that terrorist is a label reserved for brown people and mostly Muslims.
OK. Let’s call Paddock a terrorist.
There’s no disputing that he terrorized thousands of people in Las Vegas last night.
But beyond underlining the abhorrent nature of his actions, does calling the gunman a terrorist shed light on what he did?
Earlier today, ISIS made a transparently opportunistic attempt to claim Paddock as one of their own, saying he was “was ‘a soldier’ from its ranks who had converted to Islam months ago,” the Associated Press reports.
Really? Unless there’s some compelling evidence to back up this story or any other links to terrorism, I’m strongly inclined to believe Paddock’s career as a professional gambler and his family history had everything to do with the carnage he wrought and neither ISIS or any other terrorist organization or political ideology had any influence.
So why call him a terrorist?
Instead of pushing for a more inclusive use of a word that in common parlance has come to mean the worst of the worst, the most evil of human beings, maybe it’s time to face the fact that, at least in America, mass murder (typically carried out by men, usually white and using legally obtained weapons) is a much bigger problem than terrorism.
Reuters reports: The Trump administration on Tuesday denied a request to waive shipping restrictions to help get fuel and supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, saying it would do nothing to address the island’s main impediment to shipping, damaged ports.
The Jones Act limits shipping between coasts to U.S. flagged vessels. However, in the wake of brutal storms, the government has occasionally issued temporary waivers to allow the use of cheaper, tax free, or more readily available foreign flagged ships.
The Department of Homeland Security, which waived the act after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, did not agree an exemption would help this time.
On Monday, U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez and seven other representatives asked Elaine Duke, acting head of Homeland Security, to waive the nearly 100-year-old shipping law for a year to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria.Gregory Moore, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, an office of Homeland Security, said in a statement that an assessment by the agency showed there was “sufficient capacity” of U.S.-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.
“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” Moore said.
The government’s rationale for a waiver after the storms hit Texas, Louisiana and Florida was to ease movement of fuel to places along the U.S. East Coast and make up for temporary outages of high capacity pipelines.
“The situation in Puerto Rico is much different,” Moore said in the statement, adding that most of the humanitarian effort would be carried out with barges, which make up a large portion of the U.S. flagged cargo fleet.
Puerto Rico has long railed against the Jones Act, saying it makes the cost of imported basic commodities, such as food, clothing and fuel, more expensive.
“Our dependence on fossil fuel imports by sea is hampering the restoration of services,” said Juan Declet-Barreto, an energy expert at the nonprofit group the Union of Concerned Scientists. The refusal to allow the waiver “is raising fears on the island that they are going to be left behind in this disaster.” [Continue reading…]
Nelson A. Denis writes: After World War I, America was worried about German U-boats, which had sunk nearly 5,000 ships during the war. Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, to ensure that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. Section 27 of this law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another. In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens.
Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy.
Under the law, any foreign registry vessel that enters Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs, fees and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer.
The foreign vessel has one other option: It can reroute to Jacksonville, Fla., where all the goods will be transferred to an American vessel, then shipped to Puerto Rico where — again — all the rerouting costs are passed through to the consumer.
Thanks to the law, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act. Moreover, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states.
This is a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market. The island is the fifth-largest market in the world for American products, and there are more Walmarts and Walgreens per square mile in Puerto Rico than anywhere else on the planet. [Continue reading…]