During our American Futures tour around the country over the past three years, Jim and I have seen libraries, one after another, stretching to engage the people in their communities. They sometimes work in surprising and quite un-library-like ways, at least by traditional measures.
For example, libraries become offices for entrepreneurs and start-ups. They are safe places for children, and sometimes offer supervised homework help and even meals. Librarians learn how to help patrons with health issues and personal financial challenges.
Libraries are hubs of technology, from helping library users print documents to sponsoring Maker Spaces. And they are centers for the community, providing space for citizenship classes or a corner for seed-lending programs for avid gardeners.
This week, more than 250 libraries and organizations around the country, and actually the world, are busy broadcasting the message of the new relevance of libraries in people’s communities and lives.
Outside the Lines is a week-long celebration of creative library events and experiences to introduce, or re-introduce libraries to their communities. The idea grew from a collaboration betweenpassionate Colorado library directors and marketers, including the Colorado State Library and Anythink Libraries, a public library system in Adams County, Colorado, Erica Grossman of Anythink described to me.
In Colorado, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife is partnering with the state libraries so that hikers can check out from their local library a week’s pass to the state’s parks, plus a backpack, binoculars, and park information. That effort began in June.
And my personal favorite, where Jim’s world and mine collide: Vermillion, South Dakota, is hosting a beer-and-books event. Go to the library’s beer garden (!) to grab an craft beer and meet the new library director. It’s Friday; don’t miss it!
During our more than 50,000 miles of flight for our American Futures project, I’ve sat in the “right seat” of our Cirrus SR22. That’s the official term for my spot in the plane, and the right seat like the left carries all the fixtures for a full-fledged pilot: I am equipped with the steering, radio call button, and visual access to all the monitors to fly. I’m not a pilot (a story for another day), but I love being in the right seat.
By now, I am familiar with all the rhythms and quirks of the plane. I know and see the steps to acceleration and take-off. I know how the plane engine sounds as we press for speed and altitude. I can anticipate the degree of bumpiness to expect when we fly into big puffy clouds or little thin ones. I recognize the feel of the steep banking to enter the pattern to land and see the shifting colors of the lights on the field signaling the safe altitude for touchdown.
It is very comforting to know every feel and sound so well, and it is also useful. I could identify the whistling sound when we failed to slam the cockpit door hard enough; it’s not really dangerous to fly with the door just shy of closed, because it’s not going to fly open with all that wind racing across it. I noticed an unusual airy sound when a small protective access plate under one wing had bent and eventually blew off. I know not to be alarmed when we catch sudden drafts, bouncing the plane as we fly over very hot deserts or high hills.
I know enough about the screen monitors to study the interesting details, like the altitude, the outside air temperature, the speed, wind direction and velocity, our heading, and miles to destination. I’m always rooting for tailwinds and disappointed when we encounter headwinds going both directions of a trip. That seems to happen more frequently than odds would dictate. But it is thrilling to catch a really strong tailwind, watch the speed increase, and hope for a personal-best record. We normally aim for about 170 knots, about 200 mph, but we have gotten as high as about 220 knots flying east over Iowa, carried by a really strong tailwind. It felt almost like hydroplaning.
We have our choice of what to listen to through our headsets: the air traffic controllers (ATC) are obligatory when they’re directing us on an instrument flight plan (IFR); they are optional company for us when we’re flying in visual flight conditions (VFR). In busier airspace, even if we don’t need the ATC, we’ll opt for “flight following,” which means that they keep an eye on us and occasionally speak with us if other planes come near. I sometimes do the ATC calls.
We can also listen to Sirius/XM radio. Listening to farm reports over Kansas or truckers’ radio as we fly over I-80 add to the sense of place we feel flying over the land that drowns out the colorless CNN or Fox news. As Jim has described, the controllers are unfailingly unflappable. Mostly, the exchanges are routine and follow strict, scripted language designed for clarity and efficiency. You hear some variations: accents shift to a slow southern drawl as we fly down the east coast. On holidays, some controllers offer greetings. You catch hints of their exasperation when lazy pilots don’t listen well or fail to respond to frequent calls to their tail number. On the other hand, you hear patience behind controllers’ calls when they’re dealing with student pilots.
A few times, our exchanges with ATC have been memorable. Once we were caught over upstate New York in unexpected severe weather. The ATC took us as far as he could before handing us over to the next one. While navigating us around storms, he had asked for the number of “souls on board,” which I learned afterwards was the vernacular for “people on board,” but hearing the phrase for the first time was completely unnerving for me. Just before hand-off, he wished us good luck. That was kind, but also scary to me. Once we had a failed spark plug, and two separate times a failed alternator while in flight. For the latter, which is serious, the ATC inquired if we were declaring an emergency, which would signal a different set of actions, essentially giving us precedence over all the other planes in the area. (We weren’t.)
I was paying close attention as we neared Centennial airport a few days ago, as Jim described here, the end of a beautiful and uneventful flight from quiet Dodge City to the Denver area. I was listening intently to the parrying back and forth between what seemed to me like about a dozen planes and a young-sounding ATC. I became acutely aware of our place in the queue – much like sizing up a doctor’s waiting room, sorting out who is ahead of you and how much time you might have to wait.
The drama for me came in the last 10 minutes, as we were flying south to make our right U-turn for the last stretch to landing. That was a long few moments, as we headed straight toward the very black, very looming front that carried the storm. Jim once reminded the ATC we could continue that way for only a few more minutes. I sat quietly, knowing we couldn’t break away and go rogue on our own, away from the storm, although that seemed to me like an attractive option right then. I listened as the ATC ran through the list of planes, waiting for our tail number to be called, hoping that he hadn’t forgotten about us. Which of course he hadn’t. And you know the ending. Our number finally came up, we were cleared for landing, and we turned to make our final approach.
One of my favorite features of our American Futures project is the occasional serendipity of crossing the path of some surprising, remarkable person. Like Jerrie Mock, the Columbus, Ohio, housewife who was the first woman to fly solo around the world in 1964, in her Cessna 180. Or abolitionist and suffragist Eliza Tibbets, who started the navel orange industry in Riverside, California, from two small seedlings that she nurtured from her dishpan water. Or Joe Max Higgins, the tougher-than-nails sheriff’s son from Arkansas, who brought $5 billion of new heavy industry to the Golden Triangle of Northeast Mississippi.
Now there is Bobby Q. Narcho, a Tohono O’odham tribal member, who grew up on the reservation, colloquially called “the res,” in Sells, Arizona, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Bobby took naturally to taking pictures and making music and spent a lot of his youth doing that. In what he calls his “breakout project” at the Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a group dedicated to the sustainability of the health and culture of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Bobby caught the eye of his teacher, a professional photographer. He was able to earn a few paychecks through his talent, and invested it in an iPhone.
With that iPhone, still his only tool, Bobby started making videos for Facebook and Instagram. “Back in the day,” this 24-year-old says, straight-faced, he would share his 15-second videos on Instagram.
Bobby moved to Ajo, about 70 miles from Sells, to be near his cousin, Victor Garcia, who is also an artist. Now, Bobby has five different jobs and seems to be connected with almost everything going on in Ajo, which isn’t that hard in a town of only 2,300 folks. One connection, Lily Williams at the Desert Senita Health Center, who oversees Bobby’s work at the Edible Ajo Schoolyard project (EASY), encouraged Bobby to join a digital storytelling workshop sponsored by the Center’s Plan4Health grant. The theme was biking, a popular new focus in Ajo, and health. Before I tell you the rest of the story, please—please!—watch Bobby’s three-minute video:
Bobby’s idea was to make a one-shoot short film about his personal story of health and biking, and one that is grounded in his Tohono O’odham traditions. The story of health, as he describes in the video, comes from the “signs of sickness in his people,” meaning diabetes, and from seeing signs of sickness in himself. (The 28,000 member Tohono O’odham tribe has the highest rate of adult-onset diabetes in the world: about 50 percent.)
The story of biking is Bobby’s decision to take his health into his own hands and start exercising. It’s grounded in the Tohono tradition of starting the day in a healthy and meaningful way, as his forefathers did, by “running east, toward the sunrise” (or in Bobby’s case, biking) and by burning sage as an offering of thanks to his creator.
Bobby used only his iPhone, as his wifi connections were too unstable to support the workshop’s video software. Bobby and his cousin Victor set out on their bikes; Victor shot the middle scenes of Bobby biking, and Bobby shot the slow scenes. Bobby also composed and produced all the music with GarageBand for the iPhone.
And how is Bobby’s healthy new focus for his life going so far? Fine, he said, until he got a flat tire. Now Bobby needs a new tube and tire. Until then, he told me, he’s getting by with walking, and healthy eating, and doing some home exercises.
Bobby managed to produce this video and music, from self-taught beginnings, with only an iPhone and a cousin. I am confident he can manage to get a new bike tire and get back on track to his health. Watch for this name: Bobby Q. Narcho.
What speech should be protected by the First Amendment is open to debate. Americans can, and should, argue about what the law ought to be. That’s what free people do. But while we’re all entitled to our own opinions, we’re not entitled to our own facts, even in 2019. In fact, the First Amendment is broad, robust, aggressively and consistently protected by the Supreme Court, and not subject to the many exceptions and qualifications that commentators seek to graft upon it. The majority of contemptible, bigoted speech is protected.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
Through the 2016 campaign, I posted a series called “Trump Time Capsule” in this space. The idea was to record, in real time, what was known about Donald Trump’s fitness for office—and to do so not when people were looking back on our era but while the Republican Party was deciding whether to line up behind him and voters were preparing to make their choice.
The series reached 152 installments by election day. I argued that even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership. If you’re hazy on the details, the series is (once again) here.
That background has equipped me to view Trump’s performance in office as consistently shocking but rarely surprising. He lied on the campaign trail, and he lies in office. He insulted women, minorities, “the other” as a candidate, and he does it as a president. He led “lock her up!” cheers at the Republican National Convention and he smiles at “send them back!” cheers now. He did not know how the “nuclear triad” worked then, and he does not know how tariffs work now. He flared at perceived personal slights when they came from Senator John McCain, and he does so when they come from the Prime Minister of Denmark. He is who he was.
The president crossed an important line when he canceled a meeting with the Danish prime minister.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with the new Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, because she refuses to discuss the sale of Greenland. Greenland used to be a Danish colony but now belongs to the people of Greenland—the Danish government could not sell the island even if it wanted to. Trump likely did not know that Denmark is one of America’s most reliable allies. Danish troops, for example, fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered 50 fatalities, and Danish forces were among the earliest to join the fight against the Islamic State.
Many Americans may laugh off Trump’s latest outrage, but Trump crossed an important line. It is one thing to float a cockamamie idea that no one believes is serious or will go anywhere. “Let’s buy Greenland!” Yes, very funny. A good distraction from the economy, the failure to deal with white supremacy, White House staff problems, or whatever is the news of the day. It is quite another to use leverage and impose costs on Denmark in pursuit of that goal—and make no mistake, canceling a presidential visit is using leverage and imposing costs. What’s next, refusing to exempt Denmark from various tariffs because it won’t discuss Greenland? Musing on Twitter that America’s defense commitments to Denmark are conditional on the negotiation? Intellectual justifications from Trump-friendly publications, citing previous purchase proposals and noting Greenland’s strategic value and abundance of natural resources? (That last one has already happened.)
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
The famed economist’s “shareholder theory” provides corporations with too much room to violate consumers’ rights and trust.
On Monday, the Business Roundtable, a group that represents CEOs of big corporations, declared that it had changed its mind about the “purpose of a corporation.” That purpose is no longer to maximize profits for shareholders, but to benefit other “stakeholders” as well, including employees, customers, and citizens.
While the statement is a welcome repudiation of a highly influential but spurious theory of corporate responsibility, this new philosophy will not likely change the way corporations behave. The only way to force corporations to act in the public interest is to subject them to legal regulation.
The shareholder theory is usually credited to Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate. In a famous 1970 New York Timesarticle, Friedman argued that because the CEO is an “employee” of the shareholders, he or she must act in their interest, which is to give them the highest return possible. Friedman pointed out that if a CEO acts otherwise—let’s say, donates corporate funds to an environmental cause or to an anti-poverty program—the CEO must get those funds from customers (through higher prices), workers (through lower wages), or shareholders (through lower returns). But then the CEO is just imposing a “tax” on other people, and using the funds for a social cause that he or she has no particular expertise in. It would be better to let customers, workers, or investors use that money to make their own charitable contributions if they wish to.
Even if the party sweeps Congress and the White House in 2020, the Senate rule would let a faction of the reddest, whitest states stymie its agenda.
Even if Democrats regain unified control of the White House and Congress in 2020, the fate of their ambitious legislative agenda will still likely hinge on a fundamental question: Do they try to end the Senate filibuster?
If the party chooses to keep the filibuster, it faces a daunting prospect: Democrats elected primarily by voters in states at the forefront of the country’s demographic, cultural, and economic changes will likely have their agenda blocked by Republican senators largely representing the smaller, rural states least touched by all of those changes. In fact, since the Senate gives each state two seats, the filibuster allows Republican senators from states representing only about one-fifth of the country’s population to be in a position to stymie Democratic legislation.
The U.S. president canceled his visit to the kingdom over his failed attempt to buy Greenland. Danes are reacting with bewilderment, anger, and humor.
COPENHAGEN—At first there was disbelief, then anger, and then, following a script now familiar to a growing number of nations, Denmark turned, in its attempt to explain the inexplicable, to speculation. After waking yesterday morning to the news that the president of the United States had canceled a state visit that he himself had requested, Danes found themselves moving through the stages of Donald Trump grief.
Trump tweeted early yesterday here, just two weeks before he was to come to Denmark, that the trip was off. “Based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting,” he wrote. (His tweet was sent just hours after Carla Sands, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, tweeted: “Denmark is ready for the POTUS.”)
Bernie Sanders released a massive plan for a Green New Deal this week. What does it realistically tell us—and does it even help him?
It’s a historic week for climate change in the Democratic Party.
In the same 12-hour span, Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his plan to pass a gargantuan $16 trillion Green New Deal as president, while Governor Jay Inslee of Washington—who ran an unprecedented, bluntly climate-focused campaign—dropped out of the 2020 primary.
Then, this afternoon, the Democratic National Committee rejected a proposal to hold a climate-centered debate in the primary—even though nearly every candidate had endorsed the idea.
The three events left me wondering: How important is climate change, really, in the Democratic Party?
The sheer audacity of Bernie’s plan suggests that it is absolutely essential. He proposes eliminating all carbon pollution from the U.S. electricity and transportation sector by 2030. To get there, he calls for the de facto nationalization of the power grid and for massive subsidies for electric cars, among many other new programs.
That old truism of American politics—“It’s the economy, stupid”—could come back to haunt the money-minded president in 2020.
It’s the nightmare scenario that President Donald Trump’s camp dreads most: an economic downturn that steadily intensifies as the 2020 election nears. What would it mean for Trump if, by the fall of 2020, the jobless rate had doubled, economic growth was hovering at an anemic 1 percent, and, with no end in sight for the trade war with China, the stock market was plunging? A president whose argument for reelection rests on a healthy economy would suddenly find that his rationale has collapsed, right along with voters’ retirement funds.
“Does every presidential campaign worry about a downturn in the second and third quarter of an election year? You bet your ass they do,” said one Trump confidant, who, like some others contacted for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the subject candidly.