Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

  • Whither the Occupation

    Occupy put the wealth gap on the national radar, but it's doubtful the movement will accomplish anything else

    In the New York Review of Books, Michael Greenberg is skeptical about the future of Occupy:

    Nevertheless, as Occupy Wall Street enters its fifth month, dislodged from most of the public spaces it had staked out around the country last fall, the movement seems weakened, its future uncertain. It sometimes appears to be driven by a series of tactics designed to maintain its public presence with no discernible strategy or goal--a kind of muddled, loose-themed ubiquity. The movement has proven adept at provoking media attention, but one may wonder what it amounts to, apart from its ability to reaffirm its status as a kind of protest brand name. Some core organizers are painfully aware of the situation. 

    "When I step out of the Occupy bubble, I discover that people have no coherent idea of who we are. They think we're a bunch of angry kids," Katie Davison told me. Amin Husain, a graduate of Columbia Law School who worked eighteen hours a day in corporate financing and property law before quitting to devote himself to the movement full time, expressed frustration at the fact that people were having trouble "grasping what we stand for..."

    Of course this takes us back to the original critique--a lack of focus and goals:

    Jackie DiSalvo, Occupy Wall Street's labor expert, felt that after the encampment in Zuccotti Park was uprooted "a set of demands was needed, to define the movement to itself, to bind it together." One demand DiSalvo would like to see is for a WPA-like jobs project funded by taxes on corporations and the wealthiest. "But I know it would never pass the General Assembly," she said, referring to the informal body comprised of anyone who showed up that made decisions in Zuccotti Park. She also hoped that OWS would run candidates in 2012, as the Tea Party did in 2010. But again, she admitted, "OWS would never endorse them." 

    In October, a "Demands Group" did spring up among the protesters. When members of the group went public with a few suggestions, the General Assembly attempted to vote them out of existence and by some accounts succeeded. Today, a version of the group exists with 410 members who, according to the movement's website, are "developing the concept of demands" (italics mine). Instead of debating actual demands, they are asking how a group "can create a process where their wants & needs can be communicated."

    Greenberg did succeed in one effort to get some an on the record goal:

    When I asked Amin and Katie what Occupy Wall Street's ultimate goal was, they said, "A government accountable to the people, freed up from corporate influence." It seemed that this pointed to a simple, single demand, something that many in the movement had been seeking since September: a campaign finance law that would ban private contributions and restrict candidates to the use of public money. Several detailed proposals for such a law already existed, including one from Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig that, though imperfect, would attack, in Lessig's words, "the root, the thing that feeds the other ills, and the thing that we must kill first." 

    As I spoke, I could sense the impatience of my listeners. I wasn't getting the point. Any such demand would turn them into supplicants; its very utterance implied a surrender to the state that went against Occupy Wall Street's principles. Katie maintained that Occupy Wall Street didn't yet have "a broad enough base" to make such a demand with any reasonable expectation that it could be met. And Amin said, "It doesn't matter what particular laws you pass. We're not about laws."

    I think that's the crux of the problem. There's an argument that the process of federal legislation, at this point, is crippled by deep systemic problems. The filibuster is an obvious example. It's also worth pointing out that there is a space for activism beyond electoral politics.

    But laws exist for a very good reason. They are--roughly put--a compact between citizens and the state detailing the guidelines for governance. Laws--and their alteration or abolishment--are the means by which we change the compact. The alternative, to my mind, is revolution.

    At the end of the piece Greenberg notes that the leadership is seeking to emulate the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. I hope no one told him that directly. If they did, Occupy reflects a poor understanding of that movement's lessons. The Civil Rights movement neither eschewed the hard work of mapping out concrete goals, nor shied away from changing laws.

    The sit-ins were an attempt to desegregate public and private facilities. Segregation was made possible by law. The Civil Rights movement sought the overthrow of those laws and the establishment of new ones. The Voting Rights Act delivered the South out of quasi-feudalism into democracy. People who were alive then will gladly testify that this was a real and historically significant accomplishment.

    To my mind, Occupy's greatest contribution was placing the wealth gap on the radar. But the Civil Rights movement didn't merely seek to put segregation "on the radar."  It sought to end it. To merely highlight the problem, and then to refuse to engage  would have been everything the Civil Rights movement wasn't. It would have been cynical.

    Cynicism wasn't an actual option for John Lewis. I don't know if the same can be said for Occupy. But then they lost me at Trinity.
  • American Socialism

    How valid is the socialist NFL argument?

    Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg brings us an animated argument for football as socialism. She also links to Allen Barra's argument to the contrary, which I find unconvincing. Which isn't to say I couldn't be convinced. I don't really know a lot about baseball's economics beyond the rudiments. I have a feeling I'm about to get an education.

    As an aside, I strongly urge you to visit the blog of any American with a "Von" in their name. So aristocraty...

    Bill Maher - Irritable Bowl Syndrome from Fraser Davidson on Vimeo.

  • On Tyler Clementi's Suicide

    Ian Parker's piece on the young teen who committed suicide at Rutgers in 2010 is well-reported and complicates the picture some.

    Ian Parker's piece on the young teen who committed suicide at Rutgers in 2010 is well-reported and complicates the picture some. By "complicates" I don't mean that it makes Dhuran Ravi--the freshman who spied on Clementi--sound anymore sympathetic. But it does add some interesting data-points to what we consider bullying. To be clear, I've viewed the anti-bullying movement with some skepticism

    From the piece:

    One afternoon last October, a year after Clementi's death, the image was projected onto two giant screens in a hall in a student center at Rutgers. CNN was taping a special, "Bullying: It Stops Here," hosted by Anderson Cooper. The audience consisted mostly of Rutgers students--Tyler Picone sat in the front row--and they listened courteously as a floor manager called out "Are you guys excited to be on TV?" and "You're a good-looking group," then coached them on how to express shock or grief while watching the panel. The discussion, involving Dr. Phil McGraw, Kelly Ripa, and Robert Faris, a sociologist at U.C.-Davis, and others, began with Cooper declaring that Tyler Clementi's life had been "thrown onto the Internet." 

    Then, in what may have been quiet recognition that the source of Clementi's despair was unknown, and may remain unknown, the show barely mentioned Clementi again. Its primary subject was the meanness of middle-school students. Clementi was a totem, but not part of the story. Outside, I spoke to Eric Thor, a junior, and the president of Delta Lambda Phi, a gay-oriented fraternity. " 'Bullying' is trying to be a label that covers all negative interrelations between students," he said. "If you say the word enough, it starts to lose meaning." He noted that Clementi had lacked a close ally at Rutgers. "Everyone needs a sidekick. I don't think he had that." 

    With that said, I was left with very little sympathy for Ravi, a rather persistent homophobe and young egotist, who is now facing ten years in prison after declining a plea-deal that would have given no jail time. I don't know if he "bullied" Clementi, or not. The label isn't so important to me. What he actually seems to have done--thoughtlessly making an exhibit of a troubled young man in a cruel quest to ingratiate himself to his peers--and the fact that that deed ended in a death, strikes me as bad enough.
  • Food-Stamp Primary

    Jeff Goldberg looks at what the Republican primary has to say to black voters:

    Black people have lost the desire to perform a day's work. Black people rely on food stamps provided to them by white taxpayers. Black people, including Barack and Michelle Obama, believe that the U.S. owes them something because they are black. Black children should work as janitors in their high schools as a way to keep them from becoming pimps. And the pathologies afflicting black Americans are caused partly by the Democratic Party, which has created in them a dependency on government not dissimilar to the forced dependency of slaves on their owners.

    The key, of course, is to understand is that none of this is directed toward black people, so much as its meant to appeal to the Party's base. That there is still an audience for this sort of thing is, given our history, both predicable and sad. 
  • Delusions of Obama the Idiot

    Jonathan Chait on Republican amnesia:

    The idea that Romney can "think on his feet," and that Obama is all "flash," expresses a common right-wing trope that Obama is actually an idiot: a charismatic speaker but helpless when not reading from prepared text. That is the basis for the GOP's otherwise inscrutable obsession with TelePrompTer jokes - the TelePrompTer is an extremely common political tool, but many conservatives have come to believe that Obama would be helpless without it. That belief accounts for a major portion of Gingrich's appeal -- he has painted an appealing picture of himself exposing the stammering dope in a lengthy series of debates. Among other problems, this fantasy ignores the actual history of Obama's debate performances ...

    It's amazing that the GOP has somehow convinced itself that Obama is some kind of beguiling intellectual lightweight. I fully expect him to take Mitt Romney apart in the debates. 

    MCs act like they don't know...

  • The Case Against Steven Spielberg

    What if 'E.T.' wasn't really a masterpiece?

    I don't know if I agree with this Bill Wyman essay on the master film-maker, but I enjoyed it very much:

    Beneath all his technical wizardry is only a simulacrum of aesthetics. The gassy high-mindedness; the complete lack of all but the most bland humor or self-awareness; the boring, slightly pompous exposition that bespeaks a person whose every word is hung on, and never challenged, for far too long. (Watch Spielberg in the promotional material that accompanies the DVD release of his films. 

    He speaks with the breezy self-importance of someone who is no longer contradicted, seemingly, by anyone. He appears to exist in a cloud.) Steven Spielberg has built a remarkable career by amplifying the familiar--taking what we know, both with regard to the language of cinema as well as his thematic concerns, and saying them loud. But he hasn't said anything new.

    I'm a simple man and generally Spielberg makes films that are a bit too big and loud to me. Even his quieter ones. I suspect I am one of the few people who enjoyed Alice Walker's The Color Purple, more than Spielberg's. I found Walker's characters to be fuller.

    Anyway, even as I say that my favorite Spielberg film, unquestionably, is Jaws. I think technical limits are often the handmaiden of good art. Though not always, Lord of the Rings comes to mind.
  • Morning Coffee

    How Chuck D crafted the perfect black superhero

    Chuck D's politics have always obscured his actual MC cred, which is a little sad. In his day he lived in this weird place between Run-DMC volume and Rakim surrealism. Looking back I just appreciate how he erected at a mythology as a black nationalist superhero. Whereas most MCs only had to worry about the cops, sucker MCs or drug dealers, Chuck D was targeted by the greatest super-power ever known to man. Here you see the mythology in full-effect--with guns, sneering white people, prison guards and  EPMD all in effect.

    When I was twelve, I just knew I was gonna grow up to be an S1W.

  • Compensation


    IV. Morality

    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. 

    The effects are considerable:

    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. 

    More »

  • 'House of Lies' and Mainstream Pornography

    The dangers of mediocre pay-cable TV

    I caught House of Lies at the barbershop the other day, and was disappointed. I'm pretty much a fan of the entire cast--especially Ben Schwartz and (obviously) Don Cheadle.

    Ken Tucker captures much of what I was thinking:

    Most of the time, House of Lies plays like one of those glossy, empty USA Network shows like White Collar or Psych, but with a butt-load of the sort of sexual activity one can get away with on pay-cable. That means both ends of this creature, so to speak, aren't all that interesting. People talk fast on Psych because the folks making it think you'll mistake that for snappy patter; people have grunting quickies in semi-public places on cable TV because they think it'll turn us on. But there's no novelty or freshness in House of Lies' patter or its penis-placement. 

    The show's crucial weakness is its dead language: The lines have no comic lilt; no exchange between any two characters gives off sparks. When you have an actor with a tongue as adroit as Cheadle, this seems nearly cruel. The sex is brutish and quick, laced with hostility -- orgasm as inflicted punishment. In the second episode, the promise of lively flirtation is proffered the moment the bright-eyed Cat Deeley shows up in an airport cameo. But the show's writers use her the way they use everyone else here -- Deeley ends up looking foolish for being friendly to one of Cheadle's team, even having to stoop to mop up coffee spilled on a man's crotch. (Coffee she didn't even spill herself.) 

    Lies attempts to make Cheadle's Marty Kaan a vivid character in two ways, only one of which works. The best thing about Marty is that he's one of the few black characters on TV who acknowledges there's racism all around him, that he can sometimes play that pernicious situation to your advantage, but most of the time, he's alternately stoic, angry, or hurt -- and Cheadle makes every one of these reactions believable. Less believable is the family life for Marty that's been created by the series to soften, to humanize this wheeling-dealing machine of a man. He lives with his father (a fine Glynn Turman) and his son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard, Jr.), who likes to cross-dress in public. 

    We're meant to think that Marty is a great dad for defending his young son's emerging, or conflicted, or whatever it is all prepubescent kids go through, sexuality against the criticisms of his ex-wife and school officials. The two sides of Marty don't mesh: The impatient shark during the working day doesn't seem likely to be able to chill out so completely when he deigns to do a little parenting. This compartmentalizing makes sense -- hardworking people do it all the time -- but, again, the dialogue that accompanies this simply makes Marty seem a little schizo, rather than the torn, man in pain he's probably meant to be.

    I want to double down on a couple of points. I thought the initial handling of Marty's son's sexuality was really hamfisted. It felt like something you stick in a show to be edgy, cool, or "complex." But serious writing will always trump thin identity. Omar (from the Wire) is a great gay character--but mostly because the writer's take the whole of him seriously--including the gay parts.  What I mean is that they don't play it down. They don't ignore his sexuality. On contrary, Omar being gay has actual importance to the plot. They recognize the truth of it, and they keep writing. "Gay stick-up kid" is interesting--but not if you stop there. 

    Perhaps I am asking too much--it's not like most narrative takes the lives of heterosexuals seriously, either. Perhaps we want a world where thin writing is doled out to all sectors. I don't know.

    Tucker also notes that much of the sex in House is meant to "turn us on." Indeed, the show felt to me like a kind of respectable, mass-market pornography. The narrative to sex ratio is, admittedly, lower in House than in most porn flicks. But the spirit of pornography, in which story exists to get us to sex, hovers about. The show certainly qualifies as "adult entertainment." 

    On a personal note, all of this was made more interesting because I was at the barber with my son. We are a liberal house. We have always talked about sex. We have made it a point to urge responsibility, while not making sex taboo. The whole point is to avoid having "The Talk" in favor of a constant conversation. Moreover, we've tried to be realistic about what the boy does and sees, when he's not under our survey. 

    I thought about asking the barber to cut the show off. But for some reason, that felt wrong--rude, almost. I also didn't know how bad (on all counts) the show would be. So I fell back on the golden rule--communication. On the walk to the train, and during the ride home we had a good conversation about art and depictions of sex. He's a smart kid. I hope it was the right thing. Parenting is just one long improv sketch. 

    More »

  • Morning Coffee

    A little late remembrance

    Forgive for being a bit late, but it seems only right that we start the day with the incredible Etta James. 

  • The Lost Battalion

    I have not forgotten Morality. I'm working on mag stuff today and hanging around moderating. 

    It's yours...
  • No One Left to Lie To

    The truth hurts:

    The Republican presidential candidate has denied writing inflammatory passages in the pamphlets from the 1990s and said recently that he did not read them at the time or for years afterward. Numerous colleagues said he does not hold racist views.

    But people close to Paul's operations said he was deeply involved in the company that produced the newsletters, Ron Paul & Associates, and closely monitored its operations, signing off on articles and speaking to staff members virtually every day. 

    "It was his newsletter, and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it,'' said Renae Hathway, a former secretary in Paul's company and a supporter of the Texas congressman.


    A person involved in Paul's businesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid criticizing a former employer, said Paul and his associates decided in the late 1980s to try to increase sales by making the newsletters more provocative. They discussed adding controversial material, including racial statements, to help the business, the person said. 

    "It was playing on a growing racial tension, economic tension, fear of government,'' said the person, who supports Paul's economic policies but is not backing him for president. "I'm not saying Ron believed this stuff. It was good copy. Ron Paul is a shrewd businessman.''


    Ed Crane, the longtime president of the libertarian Cato Institute, said he met Paul for lunch during this period, and the two men discussed direct-mail solicitations, which Paul was sending out to interest people in his newsletters. 

    They agreed that "people who have extreme views" are more likely than others to respond. Crane said Paul reported getting his best response when he used a mailing list from the now-defunct newspaper Spotlight, which was widely considered anti-Semitic and racist.

    Benton, Paul's spokesman, said that Crane's account "sounds odd" and that Paul did not recall the conversation. 

    At the time, Paul's investment letter was languishing. According to the person involved with his businesses, Paul and others hit upon a solution: to "morph" the content to capi­tal­ize on a growing fear among some on the political right about the nation's changing demographics and threats to economic liberty. 

     The investment letter became the Ron Paul Survival Report -- a name designed to intrigue readers, the company secretary said. It cost subscribers about $100 a year. The tone of that and other Paul publications changed, becoming increasingly controversial. In 1992, for example, the Ron Paul Political Report defended chess champion Bobby Fischer, who became known as an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier, for his stance on "Jewish questions.''


    Paul "had to walk a very fine line,'' said Eric Dondero Rittberg, a former longtime Paul aide who says Paul allowed the controversial material in his newsletter as a way to make money. Dondero Rittberg said he witnessed Paul proofing, editing and signing off on his newsletters in the mid-1990s. 

    "The real big money came from some of that racially tinged stuff, but he also had to keep his libertarian supporters, and they weren't at all comfortable with that,'' he said. 

    Dondero Rittberg is no longer a Paul supporter, and officials with Paul's presidential campaign have said he was fired. Dondero Rittberg disputed that, saying he resigned in 2003 because he opposed Paul's views on Iraq.


    In 1996, as Paul ran for Congress again, his business success turned into a potential political liability when his newsletters surfaced in the Texas media. Paul was quoted in the Dallas Morning News that year as defending a newsletter line from 1992 that said 95 percent of black men in the District are "semi-criminal or entirely criminal" and that black teenagers can be "unbelievably fleet of foot." 

    "If you try to catch someone that has stolen a purse from you, there is no chance to catch them," the newspaper quoted Paul as saying.

    All parties agree that Ron Paul is not, personally, racist and that he didn't write the passages. This is comforting. I am not an anti-Semite. But give me a check to tell Harlem the Jews invented AIDS, and I'll do it.

    As I've said before, we all must make our calculus in supporting a candidate or even claiming he is "good" for the debate. But it must be an honest calculus. 

    If you believe that a character who would conspire to profit off of white supremacy, anti-gay bigotry, and anti-Semitism is the best vehicle for convincing the country to end the drug war, to end our romance with interventionism, to encourage serious scrutiny of state violence, at every level, then you should be honest enough to defend that proposition. 

    What you should not do is claim that Ron Paul "legislated" for Martin Luther King Day, or claim to have intricate knowledge of Ron Paul's heart, and thus by the harsh accumulation of  evidence, be made to look ridiculous. 


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



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