One rather unfortunate argument made to me, over the past few weeks, grudgingly acknowledges Ron Paul's willingness to cover up his profligate race-baiting, as well as the foolishness of his claim that rich planters should have been financially compensated for trafficking children. The argument then pivots to note that such issues are ancient history and of little importance when weighed against the great present evil of our time--the drug war.
I confess that I too get that old feeling in my leg when I hear Paul denounce both wars abroad and at home. Moreover, Paul does so with a kind of forthrightness and directness that you don't really see among national politicians. The appeal is strong, invigorating, and should be acknowledged. I am not sure whether it is the shame of our politics, or the shame of our electorate, that such topics seem so off-limits and so off-stage.But the selective abandonment of uncomfortable history is neither a viable option for my tribe, nor is it particularly wise for the greater tribe which\believes our criminal justice system to be a great failure.
It is often said that Americans aren't interested in history, but I think it's more accurate to say that people--in general--aren't interested in history that makes them feel bad. We surely are interested in those points of history from which we are able to extract an easy national glory--our achievement of independence from the British, the battle of Gettysburg, our fight against Hitler, and even the campaign of nonviolence waged by Martin Luther King. For different reasons, each of these episodes can be fitted for digestibility. More importantly that can be easily deployed in service our various national uses. Thus it is not so much that we are against history, as we are in favor of a selective history. The fact is that Martin Luther King is useful to us, in a way that Bayard Rustin is not (yet.)
Likewise, Ron Paul, and his followers are not against deploying history, so much as they are for deploying history in ways which advantages their candidate. When Paul invokes his own history of service to attack our wars abroad, no one says "That's all ancient history." The connection is obvious and advantageous. Paul's own service gives his claims a kind of moral weight, that Newt Gingrich's lack. Moreover, it buttresses Paul's credibility in an effort to sway those who remain undecided. Of course a necessary truth, follows this line of reasoning: As sure as Paul's service in the military lends respectability to the critique of our international wars, his service in the aims of white supremacy detract respectability from the critique of our national wars.
Indeed, one of the quicker ways to delegitimize the critique of the War on Drugs, in the eyes of black people, would be making Ron Paul the prominent face of the movement. That black people even need to be swayed doesn't seem to occur to Paul's supporters who, admittedly, are unoriginal in viewing African-Americans as the slick paint-job on a pre-fab argument. But the fact is that black people are far from united in their feelings about the criminal justice system in general, and drug crimes in particular.
A look at California, and the effort to legalize marijuana, is instructive. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the 25 counties of that state, blacks are arrested at "double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites" for marijuana possession. Blacks make up less than 10 percent of L.A. county's population, but they account for 30 percent of its marijuana arrests.It is unlikely that this arrest rate reflects usage, as government data has consistently found that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks.
They go before a judge who tells them they have been charged with a misdemeanor, and that if they
plead guilty they will be fined up to $100. The judges routinely recommend defendants waive their right
to a trial. Most people, wanting to get released and put this experience behind them, accept this
recommendation and plead guilty.
Most people find the money to pay the fine and court costs and give it little thought until they apply for
a job, apartment, student loan or school, and are turned down because a criminal background check
reveals that they have been convicted of a "drug crime."
Twenty years ago, misdemeanor arrest and conviction records were papers kept in court storerooms and
warehouses, often impossible to locate. Ten years ago they were computerized. Now they are instantly
searchable on the Internet for $20 to $40 through commercial criminal-record database services.
Employers, landlords, credit agencies, licensing boards for nurses and beauticians, schools, and banks
now routinely search these databases for background checks on applicants. The stigma of criminal
records can create barriers to employment and education for anyone, including whites and middle class
people. Criminal drug arrest and conviction records can severely limit the life chances of the poor, the
young, and especially young African Americans and Latinos.
And yet, with this backdrop, efforts to decriminalize marijuana have only limited support in the black community. Last year, when activists in California attempted to legalize marijuana through Proposition 19, only 47 percent of the black community supported the measure. I find that unsurprising. Unfortunately, black people have disproportionate contact with crime and criminals. That contact often doesn't breed sympathy, but severity. And as Adam Serwer once noted, it isn't just true of marijuana:
The fact was that crack panic had gripped many black leaders as firmly as everyone else, and the belief that it was some kind of nigh-supernatural demon drug lead the Congressional Black Caucus to support the bill, unaware of the real nature of crack or the harm the law would ultimately do. It was precisely because crack seemed to be so prevalent in black communities that black legislators supported the tougher penalties.
Those of us who are invested in the effort to roll back the drug war, take the support of the black community for granted at our peril. These are my people. And I have always known them to reflect many of the characteristics of any other group of Americans who are disproportionately less wealthy, less educated, more religious, and more Southern. Black America, like the rest of America, will have to be convinced. I would submit that, in that fight, invoking the dude who attacks Lincoln with the Confederate flag as a backdrop, who inveighs against the Civil Rights act, and once ran a white supremacist racket may be something less than a trump card.
I would also submit that it is worth exploring the uncomfortable origins of the greater fight. Our criminal justice system is a moral, and practical, catastrophe. Once again:
The United States has 756 people in jail per 100,000 people. No other country has more than 700, and only two are over 600 Russia (629) and Rwanda (604).
Of the 2.3 million people in American jails, 806,000 are black males. African-Americans--males and females--make up .6 percent of the entire world's population, but African-American males--alone--make up 8 percent of the entire world's prison population. I know there are people who think some kind of demon culture could create a world where a group that makes up roughly one in 200 citizens of the world, comprises one in 12 of its prisoners. But I kind of doubt it.
Some thought should be given to how we came to tolerate such large numbers of African-American removed from society and remanded to the soothing hands of the state. I don't think it's too much to say that were the rest of country imprisoned at the same rate as black men, our criminal justice policy would look different.
So what are the origins of that discrepant attitude? Are they wholly unconnected with a general animus visited upon blacks, in this country, since the mid-17th century? Are they unconnected to the willingness to protect an older system of torture and coercive violence which blots the origin myth of our country? Does that feeling share any relation to the sense that the violent end of that system was, somehow, a greater tragedy than the system itself?
And what does it mean for a man, in this day and age, to go before his country and claim that a group, even today viewed through the lenses of stock price...
Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.
...should have always been viewed as such? Nothing says privilege like watching a presidential candidate argue that slaveholders should be compensated, in a world where compensation for slaves, and the descendants of slaves, has never enjoyed a scintilla of respectability.
In the present business, there are those of us who are not so recent to inveighing against the evils of mass incarceration. We spent the 90s watching the prisons bulge with our brothers. Where was Ron Paul? Did he then voice his concerns about the impact of a "racist drug war" in his periodicals? Or was he off cashing in on that old American hatred that give that has always given our drug wars their animating force?
It would be so much easier if the racism in Ron Paul's newsletters. his flirtation with the Confederacy, his opposition to civil rights legislation, his denunciations of Lincoln had no connection to our incarcerated present. But our histories don't exist to make our world easier. We are forced to grapple with them. Morality compels us.
More: You can view the other portions of this series here, here, here and here. I'm pretty sure this is the last one.
More #2: A commenter below makes a good point and answers the question of "Where was Ron Paul?" in the 90s. Inveighing against the drug war, it seems. Thanks for the correction. People are complicated. It's a rule worth remembering.
In a dreary European city, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter.
In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”
In July, I traveled to a gloomy European capital city to meet one of the “cyber warriors” behind this operation. Online, he goes by the pseudonym Mikro. He is vigilant, bordering on paranoid, about hiding his actual identity, on account of all the death threats he has received. But a few months after I initiated a relationship with him on Twitter, Mikro allowed me to visit him in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two Rottweilers. He works alone from his chaotic living room, using an old, battered computer—not the state-of-the-art setup I had envisaged. On an average day, he told me, he spends up to 16 hours fixed to his sofa. He starts around noon, just after he wakes up, and works late into the night and early morning.
It leaves people bed-bound and drives some to suicide, but there's little research money devoted to the disease. Now, change is coming, thanks to the patients themselves.
This past July, Brian Vastag, a former science reporter, placed an op-ed with his former employer, the Washington Post. It was an open letter to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a man Vastag had formerly used as a source on his beat.
“I’ve been felled by the most forlorn of orphan illnesses,” Vastag wrote. “At 43, my productive life may well be over.”
There was no cure for his disease, known by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, Vastag wrote, and little NIH funding available to search for one. Would Collins step up and change that?
“As the leader of our nation’s medical research enterprise, you have a decision to make,” he wrote. “Do you want the NIH to be part of these solutions, or will the nation’s medical research agency continue to be part of the problem?”
An influential journalist who supports the presidential candidate offers an unusually naked defense of her ends-justify-the-means approach to public life.
An influential progressive writer published a blunt assessment of Hillary Clinton this week, declaring her unusually willing to transgress against civic and legal standards.
“From her adventures in cattle trading to chairing a policymaking committee in her husband's White House to running for Senate in a state she’d never lived in to her effort to use superdelegates to overturn 2008 primary results to her email servers,” Matthew Yglesias declared at Vox.com, “Clinton is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas.”
He goes on to flesh out those examples and to offer still more:
There was no winnable Senate race for her to enter in Illinois or Arkansas in 2000, so she ran in New York instead. Barack Obama forbade her from employing Sidney Blumenthal at the State Department, so she employed him at her family's foundation instead. Sandy Berger faced criminal penalties for destroying classified documents at the National Archives, but that didn't stop Clinton from informally employing him as an adviser on sensitive Middle East peace negotiations.
She decides what she wants to do, in other words, and then she sets about finding a way to do it...
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.
Many films seek to dramatize the Red Planet’s harsh landscape as a romantic frontier, but The Martian is one that actually succeeds.
In most space movies, the villain is the void. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the supercomputer HAL flushes astronauts out into the airless vacuum; in Gravity, Sandra Bullock fights to navigate her way home before running out of air; in Interstellar, explorers are at the mercy of a gargantuan black hole. The underlying tension of any film set in space is that knife-edge between life and death.
Not so on Mars. While space is an alien landscape, Mars is always a recognizably human one, warped to the harshest extremes: Survival is within reach, but complicated by the elements, or natives, or both. In the subgenre’s newest and best entry, The Martian, the most nerve-wracking moment doesn’t involve any zero-gravity derring-do, but rather the astronaut Mark Watney’s potato farm.
A radical experiment at Zappos may herald the emergence of a new, more democratic kind of organization.
Deeply strange reports have been emerging from the Las Vegas headquarters of Zappos, until recently the world’s happiest shoe store. This spring, by order of the CEO, Tony Hsieh, the company abolished managers, eliminated job titles, denounced its own organizational hierarchy, and vested all authority in a 10,000-word constitution that spells out a radical new system of self-governance. Holacracy, it’s called, and it makes all previous moves toward “employee empowerment” look like the mild concessions of an 18th-century monarch. Freed from direct supervision, employees are expected to join various impermanent democratic assemblies called “circles” (headed, but not run, by a “lead link”), in which they will essentially propose their own job descriptions, ratify the “roles” of others, and decide what projects the group should undertake.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
All-day breakfast undermines the true pleasure of the iconic sandwich: anticipating and then missing out on it.
The greatest luxury is the one we cannot have—or at least, the one we cannot have very often. This is the definition of luxury, really, and not just expensive, unreachable luxuries, but also cheaper, smaller ones. Thanksgiving turkey and dressing, a decadence limited to one day a year. And also, breakfast—real breakfast, with grains and eggs and meat and starch. Even at a place like McDonald’s where, as of this week, a selection of the struggling fast food figurehead’s breakfast menu, including the venerable Egg McMuffin, isavailable all day.
Let me say something heretical: The Egg McMuffin is not that great, actually. Warm but slightly wet and gooey, sloppily constructed, oozing with quasi-cheese, the slap of Canadian bacon failing to yield to incisors. But what is great is the idea of an egg McMuffin. It’s an improbable domestication of Eggs Benedict, condensing that civil dish of lazy brunches into the harried hand of the commuter or the road-tripper.
A new report details a black market in nuclear materials.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press published a horrifying report about criminal networks in the former Soviet Union trying to sell “radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists.” At the center of these cases, of which the AP learned of four in the past five years, was a “thriving black market in nuclear materials” in a “tiny and impoverished Eastern European country”: Moldova.
It’s a new iteration of an old problem with a familiar geography. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a superpower’s worth of nuclear weapons scattered across several countries without a superpower’s capacity to keep track of them. When Harvard’s Graham Allison flagged this problem in 1996, he wrote that the collapse of Russia’s “command-and-control society” left nothing secure. To wit: