That’s the question tackled by this short documentary on Angola prison:
A reader adds:
I was struck by the video Jeff Goldberg did on Angola prison and how it fit into the broader discussion he had with TNC about mass incarceration. Seeking to learn more about the prison, about which I knew little, I happened upon a book by one of its most famous prisoners, Wilbert Rideau: In the Place of Justice. The story is a chronicle of Rideau’s time at Angola, his role as editor of the prison newspaper, and his eventual release. It is also one man’s chronicle of Angola, and the changes it underwent during his time there (early ‘70s until early 2000s).
The book is well-written and harrowing. It is relevant to the debate on many levels, but the one most germane to the exchange between TNC and Goldberg is Rideau’s description of the tenure of Burl Cain.
Goldberg presents Burl Cain as a savior of sorts. While he has obvious discomfort with the level of religiosity Cain imposes on prisoners, Goldberg sees this as somewhat justifiable given that Cain has been saddled with the consequences of harsh and inflexible sentencing laws. In the documentary, Cain echoes this sentiment. He asserts that he is dealing with a situation someone else created.
Rideau’s account suggests a far more nuanced interpretation is required. Cain is a man of power in Louisiana politics and has been for years. His power and influence coincided with numerous changes to state sentencing guidelines that are directly responsible for the increase in long-term incarceration. More to the point, Rideau describes how Cain’s actions directly influenced these changes (pages 244-246).
While I do not profess any special expertise in this area, it strikes me that, if Rideau’s assertions are correct, Cain woefully misrepresents his role in the expansion of the carceral state. He is not simply dealing with the consequences, but instead he helped create this problem.
Another reader notes about Louisiana prisons in general:
Louisiana not only has the highest incarceration rate of any U.S. state, it has a higher incarceration rate than most countries. To give some numbers, Louisiana’s incarceration rate is 5 times Iran’s, 13 times China’s, and and 20 times Germany’s.
Earlier this year, Inimai Chettiar wrote for The Atlantic about the fall in crime as it relates to the rise in incarceration over the last two decades. A causal relationship would seem to make sense—locking up more people should mean there are fewer baddies on the street to commit crime, right? But researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law found that the growth in incarceration played a bit part in falling crime rates.
Even with all the known factors involved in declining crime, including higher incarceration rates, we still can’t account for the full cause. Take a look at these graphics exploring popular theories of the drop between 1990-99 and 2000-13:
That massive piece of the pie in a medium shade of grey comprises the unknown factors at play. Not a terribly satisfying answer, but that’s the data we’ve got.
Inimai Chettiar put it like this:
No one factor brought down crime. Today, incarceration has become the default option in the fight against crime. But more incarceration is not a silver bullet. It has, in fact, ceased to be effective in reducing crime—and the country is slowly awakening to that reality. Incarceration can be reduced while crime continues to decline. The research shows this and many states are watching it unfold.
Responding to our request for more evidence related to the lead/crime connection, a reader points to economist Rick Nevin, one of the leading researchers investigating that connection. Nevin wrote as recently as last month about how different cohorts were affected by lead:
The crime decline in recent years has been slower than the earlier decline in blood lead because steep arrest rate declines for youths have been partially offset by rising arrest rates for older adults. … This shift in arrest rates shows ongoing massive declines for youths born across decades of declining lead exposure, smaller arrest rate declines for adults born in the early years of the lead exposure decline, and increasing arrest rates for older adults born when lead exposure was increasing.
The shift in arrest rates has caused a corresponding shift in prison incarceration. From 2001 to 2013, incarceration rates fell by 59% for males ages 18-19 and 30% for males in their 20s, but increased 33% for men ages 40-44 and surged 86% for men ages 45-54. Proponents of “tough-on-crime” sentencing credit prison incapacitation for much of the USA crime decline – “when a criminal is locked up, he’s not ransacking your house” – but the largest arrest rate declines have occurred among younger age groups with large contemporaneous incarceration rate declines. ... Mendel reports that lead exposure can explain juvenile justice trends that cannot be explained by reform efforts or other crime theories.
Mark Kleiman, on the other hand, voiced skepticism on the lead/crime connection in response to Kevin Drum’s widely lauded 2013 essay, invoking the work of economist Philip J. Cook and criminologist John Laub. Another skeptic at the time was Ronald Bailey:
Interestingly, in a 2012 working paper [Rick] Nevin argues that the increase in IQs in the early part of the 20th century resulted from lessened exposure to lead paint and that increases in the average IQ scores slowed down as tetra-ethyl lead exposure from gasoline rose. Perhaps Nevin would argue that the increase in the U.S murder rate from 1.2 per 100,000 in 1900 to 9.7 per 100,000 in 1933 can be attributed to rising lead paint exposure?
Drum is right that exposure to lead increases the chances that a person will suffer the sorts of neurological damage that lowers their intelligence and lower intelligence is well-known to correlate with increased criminality. Reducing such exposures has no doubt contributed to our happily falling crime rates. But it is likely that other factors including more policing, more incarceration, less crack, increased concealed carry, and other such efforts to control crime have contributed as well.
The real question, it seems to me, is the magnitude of this [lead] effect, especially compared to other effects on crime. The Mother Jones article, by Kevin Drum, cited a figure that 90% of the increase in crime since WWII might be due to lead. He was called out on this figure by blogger Deborah Blum, and Drum later printed a correction. He said the 90% figure is at the upper limit of the range of estimates, and that 50% is likely closer to the truth.
In the review I cited above, reference is made to research showing that “as much as 20%” of crime is “lead related.” One small point – Drum’s now 50% figure, as he points out, is the rise in crime, not the cause of all crime. The 20% figure cited in research is all crime – so these numbers may be compatible. Either way, the 90% figure likely overstates the connection.
Therefore, even accepting the 20% figure, that means 80% of crime has nothing to do (at least directly) with lead, and the sociologists are free to continue to speculate and study about the myriad of social causes of crime.
Those troubling opening scenes of the documentary offer visual proof of a truth that America has worked hard to ignore: In a sense, slavery never ended at Angola; it was reinvented. … [I]nmates at Angola, once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement. Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens. How is this legal? Didn’t the Thirteenth Amendment abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in this country?
Benns goes on to insist that “Angola is not the exception; it is the rule.” But a reader who used to work in a Texas prison, Matthew Lewis, challenges that narrative:
Firstly, I want to be clear: Being a white male, I can never fully understand the emotional effect a person of color feels when they when they see a field of nothing but black men working a field while chained with armed men in uniform patrolling them on horseback when shotguns. I fully acknowledge that systemic racism occurs and has occurred for centuries.
With that being said, the forcing of offenders in America’s prisons is done in an effort to promote a positive change in offender behavior.
I will use Texas as an example, since I worked for TDCJ-CID. Texas has one of the largest prison populations in the U.S. All offenders in the general population are given a security class based on their in-prison disciplinary record, ranging from G1 (Trustee) to G5 (High Security). Every offender is assigned a job, with his individual abilities, medical history, etc, taken into account.
Every offender is given a job for multiple reasons. The main one is to have the offenders responsible for maintaining their living area and related programs. Janitors keep the common areas clean and sanitized, kitchen staff make the meals that feed everyone, etc. Specialized jobs are offered as well; Someone with plumping or electrical experience are assigned to building maintenance. Offenders even drive the trucks that transfer supplies from unit to unit. Jobs that don’t directly support the offender population (i.e call center work, raising cattle for sale) support operational costs and, at the unit level, assist in improving funding to rehabilitative and training programs.
Also, offenders come a range of different backgrounds. Some people have never had a daily job they had to report to, so they are given important life skills such as getting up, getting ready, and getting to work on time, reporting to superiors, and working as a team towards accomplishing a goal. These are life skills needed to function after re-entry into society.
The assignment of jobs parallels the security designations given. Higher security offenders are given less desirable jobs; G5s at the unit I worked were exclusively assigned to the Hoe Squad (outside field work). This is punitive in nature; Offenders who do not adhere to institutional rules are raised to a higher security level, which involves are harder job. Thus it promotes one of the agency’s goals by promoting a positive change in offender behavior.
Certain jobs, due to their dangerous nature, are volunteer-only as well—for example, working with the kennel to train the dogs used for tracking escapees. A prison dress up in a padded suit and the dogs track and bring him down. He also assists in caring for the dogs, which is the main appeal of it. But offenders will never be forced to do this job.
It’s easy to observe how vital offenders are to maintain their work area when you’re working there. If a unit goes on lockdown, it’s miserable. Work crews stop making food, so staff make sandwiches and have to serve them door-to-door. Janitors aren’t cleaning, so officers have to sweep the living area. Offenders are also more volatile, both verbally and physically, from being in a cell all day.
I feel that the system in place is superior to voluntary work at minimum wage. If an offender made minimum wage at 40-45 hours a week (the usual week), and was then billed for his room, board, etc, he would come out with a deficit while not having the advantage of learning necessary skills for living in the “free world.”
I understand the emotional reaction to seeing one hundred men of color forcibly working a field on lands that used to have men and women of color doing the same kind of work under the yolk of slavery, but there is a logical reason for why the system is like this.
The falling crime rate since the early 1990s has a number of documented causes and even more correlations associated with it, forming a very inconclusive picture—as we illustrated yesterday. Soon after publishing that note, we received a tweet calling for a clarification on the second chart we posted, the one showing the breakdown of possible causes for falling crime since the year 2000:
@TheAtlNotes@TheAtlQ decrease in crack use has "likely no effect" because as a population crack users represent such small # of ppl?
It’s another great question. I reached out to Inimai Chettiar, whose team at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law gathered the existing evidence on falling crime since the ‘90s and created those two charts we posted. Chettiar, who authored that Atlantic piece from earlier this year, was kind enough to expand on the minor role of crack. Here she is via email:
Many believe, with reason, that the decline in crack cocaine use during the 1990s contributed to declining crime over the same period. Since strong data on drug use (and particularly crack use) can be challenging to obtain, our report relied on existing research for our conclusions on the relationship between crime and crack use.
Economists, including Steven Levitt, have argued that a direct correlation between declining crime and crack cocaine use existed in the 1990s. The theory is that since crack use is associated with violence, a decrease in crack use should lead to a decrease in violent crime and/or theft.
However, shrinking unemployment over the same period may have caused both lower crime and lower crack use, so it is difficult to assert a causal relationship between the two. This led us to conclude that declining crack use could have played a role in the decline in crime in the 1990s.
The picture in the 2000s is clearer. Crack cocaine use was relatively constant on a national level from 2000 to 2010. Because there was little change in the use of crack, we are able to conclude it likely did not play a role in falling crime rates during that period.
Personal camcorders were invented in the mid-’80s, with a subsequent rise in closed circuit television (CCTV). In the early ‘90s, multiplexing was introduced for CCTV, meaning that additional cameras could be recorded on the same tape, with a concurrent increase in the number of security cameras actually deployed. By the mid-’90s, every ATM had a camera. The 2000s brought the advent of digital photography and video in the early years, with cellphone cameras and video in the latter. I suspect that if one were to plot the number of video cameras per capita on a national basis, you would see a very sharp rise starting in about 1990.
We’ve seen over the past year how the ubiquity of cellphone cameras has exposed police injustice, and before that there was the demand to add video recording to police vehicles after the nation watched video tape of the Rodney King beating. It seems therefore quite plausible to me that the decline in the crime rate over the past two and a half decades could well be explained by the expansion of surveillance, rather than the continuing expansion of incarceration.
Caty looked at more established theories here and here. I drilled down into the lead theory here and here.
Children suffer when their parents go to prison, [Coates] writes. Yet he says nothing about the suffering of black children growing up in chaotic families, though that suffering is itself highly correlated with the scourge of ghetto crime and incarceration.
Before 1960, when poverty and racism were by all accounts far worse, the black family was considerably more stable. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the large majority of black women were married before they had children. Black children were less likely than whites to grow up in two-parent homes, but only slightly so. It was only after 1960, even as more black men were finding jobs and even as legal discrimination was being dismantled with civil-rights legislation, that the family began to unravel.
That essay elicited over 1400 comments—an unwieldily number to even read, let alone edit into a productive discussion. So below are a handful of those comments, if readers are interested in getting a debate going. The first:
I had a sociology professor in the ‘70s predict the breakdown of the black family. He said it would be an unintended consequence of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which was just coming into its own. Women worked some, during WW2. But most were still at “home” prior to the advent of Women’s Lib—after which, we joined the workforce in large numbers. Black women had always worked as domestics, but it didn’t pay much. After Women’s Lib, they too (along with white women) joined the larger workforce.
My professor’s theory was that black women were seen as less “threatening” to whites than black men.
As such, they would become increasingly more employable than black men. Black men would lose work as women (both black and white) gained employment. Their status as breadwinners for their families would suffer. He said it was inevitable some would turn to crime, and end up in prison. As black women gained employment (and good money), they’d be less likely to take their man’s “guff”—and the black man would be made unnecessary and extraneous.
I’m sure there were other factors that contributed to the breakdown of the black family. But his theory is one I’ve contemplated, through the years.
Another reader replies to the above’s “strong explanation for the decline of the black family, and for the increasingly anti-social life paths of many young black men (a.k.a. the rise of ‘gangsta culture’).” He then offers a concurring theory:
Beginning in the late 1960s, the U.S. began losing factory jobs and other low-skilled industrial jobs. Automotive manufacturing, steel-making, consumer goods manufacturing, etc. became less labor-intensive as they adopted automation and shipped jobs to lower-wage countries. Jobs that had been readily available during the first half of the 20th century, and that had brought millions of poor and working-class people (including blacks) into relative prosperity gradually disappeared. As a result, getting into the middle class has become much harder since the 1960s.
Who got left behind when those jobs dried up? Those who were the least-educated and the most discriminated against in the first place: young black men. Being the lowest in social status, they suffered the worst effects of de-industrialization and globalization: joblessness, lower socioeconomic opportunity compared to other groups (including black women), worsening marriage prospects, etc.
So it looks like young black men got hit with a double whammy: the postwar economic changes that made decent jobs harder to get, and the persistent racism that keeps them at the end of the line for the few jobs that remain.
The black family survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow, but it has disintegrated in the wake of the liberals’ expansion of the welfare state.
Truly, the worst thing that has befallen blacks is the state: it enslaved them, it segregated them, it incarcerates them, now it divides them and breeds dependency upon state welfare. Presciently, President Reagan could have been describing blacks when he said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Another reader builds on that Republican narrative:
Anybody who lived through the ‘60s into today knows that liberal permissiveness toward crime resulted in a massive crime wave starting in the late ‘60s that peaked in the ‘90s, with a murder rate of nearly 10 homicides per 100,000 Americans. NYC wasn’t safe, buses weren’t safe, subways weren’t safe. You didn’t go out onto a public street in any large city after it started to get dark. The Dirty Harry movies and the Charles Bronson vigilante movies were a reaction to the fact that liberal policies made our nation unsafe.
When Reagan was elected, the laws began to change, the liberal permissiveness was shoved aside, mandatory sentencing began, and cities like NYC began to kick out the liberal pols and elect folks like Mayor Giuliani. There was a lag time. Reagan started the change, but people were so fed up with crime that President Clinton didn’t dare bring back liberal insanity on crime. Democrats began to sound like Republicans on crime.
If you have any strong rebuttals in mind, drop me an email and I’ll post the best ones.
In case you missed it, Ta-Nehisi went on The Daily Show last night to discuss his latest cover story with Trevor Noah; check out the TV version here. The two go into further detail in the extended interview that exclusively went online, with a transition into the lighter topic of comic books at the 7:20 mark. (I didn’t embed the videos here because they both autoplay, even if placed after the jump.)
I’m sure ACLU, NAACP, and the slew of liberal establishments are going to cry foul for articles like this one from Hymowitz. But it’s a breath of fresh air coming from a generally liberal-leaning media outlet like The Atlantic.
Yes, police brutality is wrong and racism still exists, but there are more reasons for incarceration of black males than just the color of their skin or the blame on drugs. Violent crimes are all too real, and it is equally wrong to simply advocate shorter sentence for all black violent crime offenders just because of their skin, which in and of itself would not help lift the black community and neighborhoods out of their blight. As Hymowitz has rightly argued, putting these violent offenders back on the street would likely do more harm than good for the black neighborhoods.
That last point makes me think of a recent New Yorker essay from Kelefa Sanneh that was largely a response to Ta-Nehisi’s new book. Sanneh focuses on the history of black politicians and community activists pushing for more imprisonment:
[Black Silent Majorityis] a provocative new history by Michael Javen Fortner, a professor of urban studies who wants to complicate our understanding of crime and punishment in black America. He points out that while African-Americans have long been disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for committing crime, they have also, for just as long, been disproportionately victimized by it. His focus is New York in the nineteen-sixties and early seventies, when crime rates shot up, creating a demand in African-American communities for more police officers, more arrests, more convictions, and longer prison sentences. ...
Like many scholars and activists, Fortner is profoundly disturbed by our modern system of criminal justice, calling mass incarceration “a glaring and dreadful stain on the fabric of American history.” But he thinks this history is incomplete if it ignores what he calls “black agency”: he wants us to see African-Americans not merely as victims of politics but as active participants in it, too. At a moment of growing concern about how our criminal-justice system harms African-Americans, Fortner seeks to show that African-American leaders, urged on by members of the community, helped create that system in the first place.
And that momentum carried into the late ‘80s:
A decade later, during the crack years, African-Americans in Congress faced a similarly difficult choice in considering the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The law established a minimum sentence of five years for trafficking five hundred grams of cocaine or five grams of crack cocaine. Years later, activists criticized this hundred-to-one disparity as unfair to African-Americans, who were more likely to be convicted of selling crack cocaine. But the bill passed with support from two-thirds of the African-Americans then in Congress, including Charles Rangel, from Harlem, whom President Reagan singled out for praise during the signing ceremony.
None of this directly refutes [Michelle] Alexander’s argument that the modern carceral state is a new version of Jim Crow. Indeed, Fortner thinks that black leaders, though right to be concerned about crime, were wrong to think that exorbitant mandatory sentences—rather than better-funded rehabilitation programs and structural anti-poverty efforts—were the answer. (Rangel later worked to end the crack-versus-cocaine disparity.)
When Alexander calls our criminal-justice system “the new Jim Crow,” she is drawing an imperfect parallel that tells us more about what this system does than about why it exists. It is possible, as Fortner shows, to be skeptical of the drug war while also noting that no small number of its supporters believed, as fervently as any activist today, that black lives matter.
The reason Black Lives Matter has a lot of eyes rolling is not because people don’t care about black people and don’t understand the problem with police. The problem is that the typical black man in a particular kind of community is at much, much more risk of being killed by another black man. And you can’t argue it away. … [I]n short, Black Lives Matter is very important. It could make a very important difference in modern black history. But for it to be a movement that resonates historically, it has to add a new wing where it firmly says and stands behind the idea that black lives matter when black people take them too.
Black Lives Matter activists are often silent about black-on-black killings. Perhaps that is a P.R. mistake. But the reforms they are urging strike me as a more realistic path to decreasing those killings than publicly haranguing would-be murderers to be peaceful. Black Lives Matter participants are civic activists, not respected high-school teachers or social workers or reformed gang members who can influence their former brethren.
Since police departments are ultimately responsive to political institutions, fighting for police reforms with civic activism is a relatively straightforward project. ... Fighting to stop black-on-black murder is much less straightforward project. And the tools available to civic activists are a much poorer fit for it: the undesirable behavior is already against the law; lots of attention has been paid to the problem for decades, so awareness-raising isn’t all that valuable; and there are few obvious best-practices to spread.
The gut-wrenching claim that “the black family survived centuries of slavery” flies in the face of fact. At the whim of the slave owner, children were separated from parents, wives were separated from husbands.
The easy explanation that “liberal policy” is the cause for increased crime or family instability masks the methodical ghettoization that occurred to ease white fears of black people with whom they did not want to associate. The architecture of urban environments, including the highways that allowed white flight to residence but convenient access to the city center amenities, gutted cities and thus their schools and limited the wealth which typically accrues in home ownership. The necessary policing to control ghettos contributed to the urban riots of the 60s, which fueled the fear that left urban environments at risk and gave rise to the easy stereotyping of shiftless black people living on the dole (see 'welfare queen'), instead of a population methodically cut off from opportunity.
Jim Elliott adds:
I encourage every single one of your readers who is interested in the “breakdown of the black family” to read Jason DeParle’s American Dream. They should flip to the part (early on in the book, if I recall) where DeParle interviews Hattie Mae Crenshaw. Your readers will see how the idea that the black family “survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow” only to perish at the wicked hands of liberalism, sagging pants, and hippity-hoppity music is just so much balderdash. The black family was never given a chance in the first place. Early parenthood, abuse, absentee fathers ... these are historical problems for the black family, stretching back to slavery, not to Johnson’s War on Poverty.
This was not always the case. In the early 1960s, civil-rights activists invoked freedom as the purpose of their struggle. Martin Luther King Jr. used the word equality once at the March on Washington, but he used the word freedom 20 times.
The conservative use of the idea of absolute freedom, of freedom as your personal property, to shift American politics to the right came shortly after King’s speech, and indeed was a direct reaction to his argument that one’s own freedom depended on everyone else’s. This wasn’t an organic response. Rather, conservative activists and business leaders designed an opposite idea of American freedom to protect their own interests. That effort can be seen in the role played by one of the most overlooked yet powerful forces in 20th-century America: the nation’s realtors.
Every year thousands of Americans die on the roads. Individuals take the blame for systemic problems.
More than 20,000 people died on American roadways from January to June, the highest total for the first half of any year since 2006. U.S. road fatalities have risen by more than 10 percent over the past decade, even as they have fallen across most of the developed world. In the European Union, whose population is one-third larger than America’s, traffic deaths dropped by 36 percent between 2010 and 2020, to 18,800. That downward trend is no accident: European regulators have pushed carmakers to build vehicles that are safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and governments regularly adjust road designs after a crash to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.
But in the United States, the responsibility for road safety largely falls on the individual sitting behind the wheel, or riding a bike, or crossing the street. American transportation departments, law-enforcement agencies, and news outlets frequently maintain that most crashes—indeed, 94 percent of them, according to the most widely circulated statistic—are solely due to human error. Blaming the bad decisions of road users implies that nobody else could have prevented them. That enables car companies to deflect attention from their decisions to add heft and height to the SUVs and trucks that make up an ever-larger portion of vehicle sales, and it allows traffic engineers to escape scrutiny for dangerous street designs.
An epidemiologist joins five Atlantic parents to discuss just how long their pandemic trade-offs can hold.
Parents know that winter is the season of sickness. Your kid will have approximately infinite colds. You, too, will have approximately infinite colds. Last winter, COVID precautions kept sickness at bay. But this year, school is in session, day-care colds are spreading fast, and the only cohort of people in America not yet eligible for COVID vaccination is our youngest children.
Aside from promises of clinical-trial data by the end of the year, the timeline on which children younger than 5 might be vaccinated is still unclear. The parents of these kids are staring down months more of carefully weighing the risks of COVID against the benefits of indoor cheer. My own child, now 20 months old, was born in March 2020, so my entire experience of parenting has been pandemic-inflected. As the cold creeps down the East Coast, where I live, and nudges the people around me inside, I have been thinking about how the responsibility and anxiety of navigating around this one infectious disease might linger longer for the parents of small children than for most other Americans.
Vaccines are amazing, but people who become infected need effective treatments.
Although masks, distancing, ventilation, testing, and contact tracing have all helped forestall a collapse of the American health-care system under the weight of COVID-19, the pandemic will come under control in only two ways: Preventives—specifically vaccines—will harness people’s immune system to keep them from becoming infected, getting sick, and spreading the coronavirus, while targeted therapeutics will offer hope to those who have already developed symptoms. The emergence of Omicron, a worrisome new variant of the coronavirus, underscores the need to use multiple tools to fight the disease. In infectious diseases, control of a pathogen means reducing its impact even if it remains endemic in the world. Fortunately, the United States is poised to authorize two oral antivirals: molnupiravir and Paxlovid. The former is the generic name of a drug made by Merck; the latter is the trade name of a drug combination made by Pfizer. Both come in pill form, and a five-day treatment course of each will provide certain patients with significant benefits.
In Succession, the Roys have a lot to celebrate—but very little to feel happy about.
This article contains spoilers through the seventh episode of Succession Season 3.
Given how this season of Succession has gone so far, the Roy siblings should have reason to celebrate. They held on to control of the family’s company, Waystar Royco, after a Hail Mary negotiation. They helped choose the Republicans’ next presidential nominee from the comfort of their father’s hotel suite. And in tonight’s episode, they hear that the Department of Justice is considering dialing back its criminal investigation of the family conglomerate. Clearly, Kendall (played by Jeremy Strong) can’t choose a better time to throw himself the “fucking best birthday ever.”
Unsurprisingly, he turns out to be horribly wrong. The reason lies in Succession’s thesis: Money has bought these characters everything except an ounce of real joy. Even when the Roys have a party, they’re surrounded by yes-men, opportunists, and, worst of all, one another. The siblings have been taught that happiness comes only from attaining more power and wealth, so backstabbing and insulting others is second nature to them, even at festivities. From this setup—toxic people in a gilded cage—the HBO drama has repeatedly mined both laughs and schadenfreude, and at times the series has felt like it’s spinning its thematic wheels. Yet in examining the siblings’ maliciousness over the course of a single, cursed night, this latest episode captures in close-up the horror of the family’s perpetual cycle of pettiness and empty triumphs.
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is a mainstay of basic cable—and a rallying cry for a country that is losing touch with itself.
In 2007, in one of the first episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri visited Patrick’s Roadhouse, a railway-station-turned-restaurant in Santa Monica, California. The diner’s chef, Silvio Moreira, walked Fieri through the preparation of one of Patrick’s most notable dishes, the Rockefeller—a burger topped with mushrooms, sour cream, jack cheese, and … caviar. Fieri, looking playfully trepidatious, lifted the burger with both hands, said a fake prayer, and did what he would proceed to do thousands of times on the show: He took an enormous bite. And then he fell silent. “Wooow,” he commented, finally, shooting Moreira a what-have-you-done-to-me look.
“Different, huh?” Moreira said, grinning. “Yeah,” Fieri replied. The show’s camera discreetly cut away to the next scene.
Omicron, also known as B.1.1.529, was first detected in Botswana and South Africa earlier this month, and very little is known about it so far. But the variant is moving fast. South Africa, the country that initially flagged Omicron to WHO this week, has experienced a surge of new cases—some reportedly in people who were previously infected or vaccinated—and the virus has already spilled across international borders into places such as Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel, and the United Kingdom. Several nations are now selectively shutting down travel to impede further spread. For instance, on Monday, the United States will start restricting travel from Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
People with scant illusions about Trump are volunteering to help him execute one of his Big Lies.
If Donald Trump had been supported only by people who affirmatively liked him, his attack on American democracy would never have gotten as far as it did.
Instead, at almost every turn, Trump was helped by people who had little liking for him as a human being or politician, but assessed that he could be useful for purposes of their own. The latest example: the suddenly red-hot media campaign to endorse Trump’s fantasy that he was the victim of a “Russia hoax.”
The usual suspects in the pro-Trump media ecosystem will of course endorse and repeat everything Trump says, no matter how outlandish. But it’s not pro-Trumpers who are leading the latest round of Trump-Russia denialism. This newest round of excuse-making is being sounded from more respectable quarters, in many cases by people distinguished as Trump critics. With Trump out of office—at least for the time being—they now feel free to subordinate their past concerns about him to other private quarrels with the FBI or mainstream media institutions. On high-subscription Substacks, on popular podcasts, even from within prestige media institutions, people with scant illusions about Trump the man and president are nonetheless volunteering to help him execute one of his Big Lies.
Congress is modernizing thanks to the pandemic. But it still has a long way to go.
Congress has never been a place known for cutting-edge fashion. Instead, a stuffy formality has long been its trademark. As Allbirds and preppy quarter-zips swept into boardrooms and C-suites across the rest of the country, Capitol Hill remained one of the last bastions of traditional American business attire—the global headquarters of wing tips and ill-fitting suits, Tory Burch flats and bland Banana Republic pencil skirts. During sweltering D.C. summers, you could find communications directors and legislative aides wearing jackets and ties to work, wiping their sweaty brows on their uncuffed sleeves as the dew point climbed. The Hill is perhaps the last workplace in the country whose young employees still use the word slacks.
Amid all the attention paid to the legal drama surrounding both Mississippi’s and Texas’s contested abortion laws, one striking detail seems to have escaped much notice: Neither state makes an exception for rape or incest.
This is a major departure, a sign of how extreme America’s abortion politics have become. For decades, exceptions to abortion bans for rape and incest were a rare source of consensus.
And they still are, among the public: Time and again, Gallup has found that nearly 80 percent of Americans support such exceptions. This is true even in red states such as Alabama and Texas. Yet these exceptions are now vanishing.