• print • Feb/Mar 2017

    A Tale of Two Countries

    Time was when liberal democracy was on the march, across the globe. Or at any rate, so we were told. The collapse of the Communist bloc in 1989 and the rapid democratization of states in Central and Eastern Europe, on the heels of similar transitions in Iberia, Latin America, and East Asia, prompted widespread optimism about the diffusion of Western ideology and institutions. Political scientists rushed to describe what Samuel Huntington famously termed this "Third Wave" of democratization (following the "First Wave" in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the "Second Wave" after

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2017

    Crossing the Water

    In 2011, Muammar Gaddafi addressed world leaders with a prescient threat. If they intervened to end his shaky rule in Libya, he told a French journalist, they would be inviting "chaos, Bin Laden, armed factions . . . You will have immigration, thousands of people will invade Europe from Libya. And there will no longer be anyone to stop them."

    This tactic had worked well for Gaddafi in the past. Fearing a mass arrival both of Libyans and of the millions of sub-Saharan Africans who'd left home to live and work in the oil-rich country since the 1990s, members of the European Commission had done

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2017

    Capital Punishment

    For as long as people have written about capitalism, they've been fascinated by its fragility. Many of the first theories of capitalism, which appeared in the early nineteenth century, focused on its crises, which had, many noted, a mysterious tendency to return on a strict schedule—every five, seven, or ten years. At first, most political economists saw capitalism's more-extreme fluctuations as economic reactions to non-economic events, like wars or bad harvests, and assumed their cyclical recurrence must have an astronomical explanation. But by the end of the century, a new consensus had

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  • review • January 24, 2017

    Two Days Down: A Dispatch from the Inauguration and Women’s March in DC

    If the Republican National Convention—with its blood-chilling chants of “Lock her up!” reverberating off stadium ceilings, and vendors selling shirts reading “Trump That Bitch!” like hotcakes—was a revivalist megachurch concert from hell, Inauguration Day had the feeling of a quiet, solemn Easter Sunday. There were no chants, no celebratory posters. Trump supporters walked to the National Mall in small groups, speaking in almost hushed voices, as if they were heading to mass. Hawkers selling inauguration memorabilia at times seemed reluctant to shout out their prices, for fear of disturbing

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2017

    Acting Up

    I still remember reading the article that appeared in the New York Times in July 1981: "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals." I also remember thinking, What kind of sick joke is this? "Gay" cancer?

    Writer Larry Kramer, however, immediately made an appointment for a checkup. In his doctor's waiting room, he ran into a friend, Donald Krintzman, who told him he'd been diagnosed with the cancer in question, Kaposi's sarcoma. KS manifested on the skin in purple lesions, usually appeared only among elderly men of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern descent, and normally progressed so slowly that there

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2017

    American Elegy

    The pattern is wearily familiar. A person with a grudge acquires an automatic weapon, exacts his revenge in a deranged killing spree, is shot dead himself, and leaves behind an outpouring of grief, soul-searching, and fiery political rhetoric that lingers in the headlines for days. Before long, the killing is eclipsed by another horror and becomes simply another entry in the dossier of death in America. The combination of legislative inaction, a powerful, endlessly cynical firearms lobby, and a fragmented electorate has produced that sad distinction for which America is known: The nation with

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2017

    You’re the Puppet

    In the last few years, even as Russia and the West have become bitterly opposed on one issue after another—Snowden, Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, the hacking allegations—there has been general agreement between them on at least one thing: the absolute centrality of Vladimir Putin. In Russia, he dominates the political stage and the airwaves, and a decade and a half after he first won the presidency, he still enjoys approval ratings that would be the envy of most elected leaders: After the annexation of Crimea, they spiked to over 80 percent, where they have remained ever since. In the West, he has

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2017

    Rules of Disengagement

    How quickly talk of war turns into talk of law! When a hospital is bombed in a military action, whether by the United States in Afghanistan, Russia in Syria, or Israel in Gaza, what typically draws outrage is the "war crime"—the violation of the laws of armed conflict—while the choice to wage war itself evades condemnation or analysis. Opposition to the Iraq War was commonly voiced as a matter of respect for international law. And now that Washington is helping a Saudi-led coalition bomb Yemen, one common apologia is that American targeting assistance saves lives by bringing air strikes into

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2017

    Working Classes

    Most college students aren't just workers-in-training; they are workers. And they're members of the working class. But our national discourse doesn't imagine them that way, and neither do our policies.Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab's book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream looks in detail at the day-to-day lives of struggling students. It's a needed intervention. Goldrick-Rab herself once assumed that a student named Stacey who fell asleep in her class had been partying too much. But when she asked her, she discovered a different

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  • review • November 07, 2016

    Thousands of Little Trumps

    I’m tired of Hillary partisans, too—the ones who devote more energy to verbally bludgeoning Clinton’s doubters on the left than to taking on her real enemies on the right. But even if, like me, you are critical of Clinton—of her corporate centrism, cronyism, elitism, and militarism—please consider voting for her anyway. She is probably going to win, but it’s no longer a lock. Trump has a narrow but plausible path: As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast gives him a 33 percent chance of winning. True, FiveThirtyEight foresees a better chance than all but Trump’s zealot legions,

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  • review • October 31, 2016

    Android Hero

    The theme park at the center of Westworld—HBO’s new series, adapted from the 1973 sci-fi film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton—is a simulation of a dirt-on-the brow, snake-in-the-boot nineteenth century frontier town where the only consequence of sin and murder is profit. The park’s hosts are sentient androids covered in impeccable artificial flesh, ignorant of the fact that the “new comers” to the park’s central town of Sweetwater are human guests who pay $40,000 per day for the chance to lay a saloon prostitute or shoot a man just to watch him die. But as expected from

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2016

    Fear and Loafing

    So what kind of book will emerge from the 2016 presidential campaign? For more than a year now, I’ve been saying a secular metaphysical cleric from deep in South America—Borges, say, or Julio Cortázar—should compose it. I recognize that they’re both “with the ancestors.” But would a Book of, or by, the Dead about Campaign 2016, complete with mix-and-match chapters and faux arcana, be any less opaque to real life than Donald J. Trump, a presidential candidate who exists in his own alternate universe, where feelings are facts and facts always lie?

    As many others besides me have remarked, being

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