• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2020

    Dems the Breaks

    THEY’RE BOTH ON THE BOOK’S COVER, in the backseat of a limo, winner and loser of the 1980 presidential sweepstakes, riding, one presumes, to the inauguration of the one on the (so to speak) right. The outgoing president, giving the side-eye to his successor, stoically bears what one might view as an enigmatic half-smile. When things were going better for him four years earlier, his full-bore eighty-watt grin was his calling card, his ticket to glory. He’ll smile like that again someday, but it’ll never be the same. The incoming president? Nothing can harsh this guy’s mellow on this bright-and-frosty

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  • excerpt • August 20, 2020

    A Different Substance

    John Dewey was right: elected politicians are “the shadow cast on society by big business”—and, we would add, by powerful state institutions like the military and law enforcement agencies. While politicians do exercise a degree of autonomy, the general parameters of their activity are determined by those larger institutional forces, the roots and dynamics of which we have sought to explain in these pages.

    The dominance of corporations, we argue, derives first and foremost from their control over the investment of capital. This gives them enormous economic, political, and social power, since

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  • excerpt • August 13, 2020

    An excerpt from Hellfire from Paradise Ranch: On the Front Lines of Drone Warfare

    The question of whether they did it—the abominable act—doesn’t apply only to victims of torture. When drone operators Westmoreland and Bryant tell us they killed hundreds of civilians, while the president and his officials staunchly deny it, the logical question is: Did they actually do the killing? Yes or no? But what if, as in Hollywood’s structure of inherent transgression, the answer is a simultaneous yes and no? Recall Casablanca’s scene in which Ingrid Bergman pulls a gun in the hotel room and threatens Humphrey Bogart in order to obtain letters of transit for her husband; the two characters

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  • excerpt • July 21, 2020

    How the US security state criminalizes and profits off its victims

    The protests in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder displaced Israel’s war on Gaza in the twenty-four-hour news cycle. It wasn’t Brown’s death that was deemed newsworthy but the “riots” that followed. And it wasn’t the mere existence of protesters that made Ferguson an international story; it was the fact that the people who took to the streets faced down police with riot gear, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers, semiautomatic weapons, and a dehumanizing policy designed to contain and silence. To the world at large, Ferguson looked like a war zone because the police looked like the

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  • excerpt • June 30, 2020

    An excerpt from Industrial-Strength Denial

    There are many reasons why the risks of climate change would not fully register in the human mind. In addition to the denial-provoking gravity of the threat, climate change is not the type of risk our minds evolved to detect. It is gradual, and it derives largely from the familiar and widespread practice of burning fossil fuels. It is something we all contribute to and cannot just blame on enemy evildoers. And it manifests as natural phenomena like heat waves, droughts, fires, storms, and floods; we need experts, assessing global data and long-term trends, to tell us if what is happening is

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  • excerpt • June 23, 2020

    Abolitionist Alternatives

    If jails and prisons are to be abolished, then what will replace them? This is the puzzling question that often interrupts further consideration of the prospects for abolition. Why should it be so difficult to imagine alternatives to our current system of incarceration? There are a number of reasons why we tend to balk at the idea that it may be possible to eventually create an entirely different—and perhaps more egalitarian—system of justice. First of all, we think of the current system, with its exaggerated dependence on imprisonment, as an unconditional standard and thus have great difficulty

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  • excerpt • June 18, 2020

    How “School Resource Officers” became a fixture in the American education system

    In 2005, three police officers in Florida forcibly arrested a five-year-old African American girl for misbehaving in school. It was captured on video. The singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, like most others, was appalled by what he saw and initiated a campaign to train the next generation of civil rights activists: the Gathering for Justice, which in turn created the Justice League, an important force in the Black Lives Matter movement. At the core of the group’s demands is a call to end the criminalization of young people in schools.

    Over the last twenty years there has been

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  • print • Summer 2020

    The Spirit of St. Louis

    In the twelfth century, the city of Cahokia, settled on mounds near the Mississippi River, had a population greater than London’s. Its trade and travel routes stretched to present-day Minnesota and Louisiana. Around 1350, Cahokia’s residents abandoned the city for unknown reasons, but its traces remained. In 1764, traders led by Auguste Chouteau built a fort across the river and saw the abandoned mounds. Assuming they were the remains of a long-gone civilization, the French traders thought the people living around them—a different group of indigenous people than Cahokia’s inhabitants—were

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Meet Me in Moscow

    The mood, when a story about Edward Snowden begins any time before the news-breaking Guardian piece of June 5, 2013, is a clean dramatic irony. We know the identity of the anonymous source; the characters don’t. The greatest secret-exposer of his generation was himself an unexposed secret that winter and spring, a cipher who insinuated his way into journalists’ lives through encrypted channels, making vague and terrifying claims that were hard to grasp and verify. He could be a liar or a catfisher. It could be a sting; you’d spend the rest of your life in jail.

    Three journalists stood at the

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  • print • Summer 2020

    Dream City

    When Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was fifteen and growing up in New York, she called the restaurant where her father worked as a deliveryman and pretended to be a beat reporter at a city paper to get an abusive manager fired. In 2010, after she wrote an anonymous essay about being undocumented and a student at Harvard, she received her first offers to publish a memoir, which she rejected. But she is not, as she tells us in The Undocumented Americans, a journalist. “Journalists are not allowed to get involved” the way she gets involved, nor to “try to change the outcome of their stories as crudely

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  • excerpt • May 11, 2020

    “An Exercise in Triage”

    In 1959 Otto Kirchheimer described the concept of asylum as “situated at the crossroads of national and international law, compassion and self-interest, raison d’état and human capacity for shame.” Nations may have pushed, twisted, and stretched their capacity for shame, but they seem less inclined to test the flexibility of their compassion. One of the principal underlying assumptions for border fortification, for asylum deterrence and denial, is that the survival of the state is threatened by extending the roof, by opening the gates. In Anna Seghers’s novel Transit, the unnamed narrator, a

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  • excerpt • May 07, 2020

    Babysitters Club

    Institutionalists have been warning about the breakdown of democratic guardrails for quite some time. An optimist might have fretted about these trends but noted that everything would be okay so long as the President acted like, you know, a grown-up—someone who recognized that with great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, Donald Trump really does think and act like a toddler. He has done so for most of his life.

    Beyond the checks and constraints studied by political scientists, pundits gravitated toward two additional “guardrail narratives” in the early months of the Trump

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