• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    Great Danes

    “This is not a novel,” says Poul Hannover, witness to this amazing story of the Holocaust. “No fancy trimmings.”

    None are needed in Bo Lidegaard’s Countrymen. Lidegaard, the editor in chief of Danish newspaper Politiken, has pain-stakingly reconstructed an extraordinary story. And he tells it with the assurance of a journalist who knows he’s making literature.

    Denmark had scarcely resisted the German invasion in April 1940, accepting Nazi occupation “under protest.” (The Germans preferred the term “under protection.”) For the next three years, the Danes were haunted by such questions as Why

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2013

    Apocalypse Then

    From the beginning of the South Asian crisis that culminated in the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, argues Gary J. Bass in this impressively researched book about a “forgotten genocide,” the major responsibility for what happened falls on two men—Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. While the president and national-security adviser directly collaborated in the secret bombing that touched off another genocide in Cambodia, the Bangladeshi crisis was more a study in conventional Cold War intrigues and personal piques than the Cambodia bombing had been—one reason, perhaps, that the full details of the

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2013

    A Sold-Out Franchise

    When the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act this past February, pundits and reporters used an all-but-obligatory set of phrases to describe the legislation. They characterized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a “landmark” and the “crown jewel” of the civil rights era, and noted that it still represents the “high-water mark” for both civil rights and voting rights. Yet in some sense, all the lofty rhetoric has come to obscure the real story of one of the Johnson administration’s signal achievements. The Voting Rights Act is now

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2013

    Cuts to the Quick

    Ordinary words can undergo strange transformations when they are used in politics. Outside of its economic context, the word austerity connotes something stern, bleak, undecorated, pared back to its elements. But the whole concept of cutting government programs during a recession—in other words, precisely when people may need them the most—seems not just strict but cruel. For example, New York City, in the aftermath of the 1975 fiscal crisis, laid off nearly a thousand firefighters—even though neighborhoods in the South Bronx and Brooklyn were in the midst of what later scholars have described

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2013

    Born to Run Things

    Once upon a time, a half century or so ago, America’s corporate leaders—an ethnically homogenous, conservative group of guys—routinely mobilized for the sake of progress. Moderate and pragmatic, they formed important coalitions that helped improve public policy and advance vital national goals. But in the last several decades, they’ve morphed into a herd of cats—parochial, bumbling, and completely ineffective at influencing policy in a positive way. We’ve gone from dollar-a-year men and public-minded business executives to Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, the CEO candidate who campaigned on

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2013

    Jolly Roger

    There are only two truly revealing sentences in Zev Chafets’s new biography of Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News and message minder for a host of Republican presidents. They serve as bookends of sorts. The first, in the preface, informs us that the project at hand will be superannuated: “He intends to write an autobiography someday, and I imagine he is holding something in reserve.” The second appears 249 pages later, in the acknowledgments: “I am indebted to Brian Lewis, Fox News executive vice president for corporate communications, who was always willing to answer just one more question.”

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2013

    The preamble to the US Constitution boldly asserts a claim of popular sovereignty. The document declares itself the work of “We the People.” This claim, as many historians and others have pointed out, is a mystification: Insofar as ours is a democratic polity, it has become so in spite of the intentions of the Founding Fathers, who were, at best, the palest of democrats.

    Among the clearest indications of this mystification are the absence in the document of anything but the thinnest provisions for indirect popular rule and the Founders’ failure to provide any institutional space for the exercise

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  • print • Apr/May 2013

    Damaged Reps

    It’s hard to know what to make of the 111th Congress. On one hand, it was a Congress of immense productivity. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for example, was an $840 billion Goliath designed to stem the Great Recession and provide the floor for recovery from the devastating economic crash of 2008. And while the 2009 stimulus law doesn’t have the best reputation (large pluralities still deride it as “wasteful,” despite the utter absence of waste), it stands as a huge accomplishment—an incredible collection of programs and initiatives that would turn any presidency into a success if

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  • print • Apr/May 2013

    Giving Graphic Offense

    Most people who worked at The Nation in 1984 would probably not have disagreed with the proposition that Henry Kissinger had, metaphorically, screwed the entire world. But when then-editor Victor Navasky wanted to run a cartoon depicting him doing just that, he faced a newsroom revolt. The drawing was by David Levine, best known as the longtime contributor of caricatures to the New York Review of Books, and it depicted the former secretary of state naked and thrusting atop a woman with a globe for a head, his beady eyes peeking out ecstatically through his trademark glasses. An American flag

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  • print • Apr/May 2013

    Resistance, Rebellion, and Writing

    “People expect too much of writers,” Albert Camus lamented in the late 1950s. At the time Camus was writing, the Algerian rebellion had grown into a full-scale guerrilla war for independence, and while his initial sympathy for the uprising led the French Right and the French Algerian settlers to denounce him as a traitor, he also came in for frequent polemical attacks from the French Left for not energetically and unequivocally supporting the insurgents. Criticism also came from the Algerian militants themselves. Frantz Fanon, the best-known Algerian writer, derided him as a “sweet sister.”

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  • print • Apr/May 2013

    Rage Against the Machine

    There is no such thing as “the Internet.”

    That is to say: Thinking, writing, and speaking about “the Internet” as if there were such a thing as a distinct, global, open, distributed “network of networks” that can connect all of humanity as soon as we can all get “online” leads us to ignore many inconvenient facts.

    In most of the world, digitized network communication is not so open, not well distributed, and not necessarily run through the sort of computer networks that serve as the foundation of “Internet” communication in the United States. When you send a message via the AT&T mobile 4G

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  • print • Apr/May 2013

    Burning Questions

    “At 5,000 feet you could smell the flesh burning.”

    The bomber crews that dropped napalm on Tokyo on the night of March 9, 1945, “gagged and vomited” in the sky over the burning city. The paint on the bottoms of their planes blistered from the heat.

    On the ground, families ran for ponds that “vaporized” and canals that boiled. Those who reached larger bodies of water were often no more fortunate: The fires consumed oxygen, and swimmers suffocated with their heads above water. Steel bridges pulled heat from the air and burned fleeing civilians who grabbed at railings in an attempt to leap into

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