Editor's Note — February 13, 2014, 4:08 pm

Introducing the March 2014 Issue

The decline of America’s left, Barbara Ehrenreich, Norman Rush, and more

Harper's Magazine (March 2014)How will future generations view the presidency of Barack Obama? In this issue of Harper’s Magazine, we present our latest commentary on the president and his legacy with a cover story by University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. His essay is a compelling assessment of the failure of the American left. He begins with the left’s abandonment of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal principles and achievements, and goes on to criticize both Bill Clinton and Obama for having moved toward the center. Yet Reed’s harshest salvos are directed at the left itself, which he views as effectively dead: it stands for nothing, and is now defined only by its not being the right. A revitalized left is essential, he argues, to our electoral process — and the only way to achieve this is by resurrecting the moribund labor movement.

As a counterpoint to the pomposity and relentless uplift of the Winter Olympics, Bill Donahue reports from Abkhazia, a disputed territory on the Black Sea a few miles from Sochi. Technically independent, Abkhazia remains a client state of Russia, and has fought almost continuously for the past twenty years in an effort to separate itself from neighboring Georgia. While money and tourists pour into Sochi, very little of that affluence is apt to rub off on war-torn Abkhazia, whose very existence as a sovereign nation is recognized by only five U.N. member countries (a sixth, Vanuatu, withdrew its recognition last year).

Justine van der Leun reports from Gugulethu, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, where she spent more than two years getting to know the area’s residents. The township, an apartheid-era invention, was established in the early 1960s to absorb the overflow of migration to the city from other parts of the country. Now it contains almost 100,000 residents, almost all of them black. Van der Leun gives us a vivid, moving portrait of daily life in Gugulethu, as well as a window into the politics and peculiar vulnerabilities of contemporary South Africa.

Can violence be predicted? Can its perpetrators and victims be identified ahead of time? These are the questions Monte Reel takes up in his report on a new program being implemented in Chicago. Using an algorithm that ranks the likelihood that individual city public-school students will be involved in a homicide, a team of sociologists is attempting to stop violence before it happens. Highlighting the case of one teenager, Reel describes the promises and pitfalls of this futuristic (and, alas, failure-prone) program.

Also in this issue: James Marcus discusses the question of restoring the military draft; Ruth Franklin takes on two new books about E. E. Cummings, J. Hoberman reviews Twelve Years a Slave; Barbara Ehrenreich and Norman Rush describe their unconventional childhoods; and a new story by Rebecca Curtis.

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More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note February 14, 2019, 2:32 pm

Inside the March Issue

Andrew Cockburn on Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy; James Pogue on the myth of white genocide in South Africa; Sallie Tisdale on species in conflict on the Columbia River

Editor's Note January 10, 2019, 1:44 pm

Inside the February Issue

Kishore Mahbubani on the nonexistent China threat; Matthew Wolfe follows a search for a missing migrant; Ann Neumann asks if homicides among the elderly are acts of mercy or malice

Editor's Note December 13, 2018, 2:10 pm

Inside the January Issue

Fred Turner explains how the internet subverts democracy; Michel Houellebecq admires Donald Trump; Barry Lopez reports from Antartica

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In the heart of the US Capitol there’s a small men’s room with an uplifting Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt quotation above the door. Making use of the facilities there after lunch in the nearby House dining room about a year ago, I found myself standing next to Trent Lott. Once a mighty power in the building as Senate Republican leader, he had been forced to resign his post following some imprudently affectionate references to his fellow Republican senator, arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond. Now he was visiting the Capitol as a lucratively employed lobbyist.

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The squatter camp outside Lawley township, in the southwest of Johannesburg, stretches for miles against a bare hillside, without electricity, water, or toilets. I visited on a blustery morning in October with a local journalist named Mophethe Thebe, who spent much of his childhood in the area. As we drove toward the settlement he pointed out land that had been abandoned by white Afrikaner farmers after the end of apartheid in 1994, and had since been taken over by impoverished black settlers who built over the former farms with half-paved roadways and tiny brick houses. You could still see stands of headstones inscribed in Afrikaans, all that remained visible of the former inhabitants.

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The story begins, as so many do, with a journey. In this case, it’s a seemingly simple one: a young girl, cloaked in red, must carry a basket of food through the woods to her bedridden grandmother. Along the way, she meets a duplicitous wolf who persuades her to dawdle: Notice the robins, he says; Laze in the sun, breathe in the hyacinth and bluebells; Wouldn’t your grandmother like a fresh bouquet? Meanwhile, he hastens to her grandmother’s cottage, where he swallows the old woman whole, slips into her bed, and waits for his final course.

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They were released.

For the first time in seven years, they stood outside in the courtyard of the reeducation center. They looked across at the gate. They remembered none of this. The flagpole and the towers. The cameras. Prany counted the sentries in the towers. He heard the rattle of keys as the guard behind him, wearing a green uniform, undid his handcuffs. Then the guard undid Vang’s. They rubbed their free wrists. Vang made fists with his hands.

Prany dug the soles of his new shoes into the dirt. He watched Vang’s hands and then turned to see the building they had exited. It resembled a schoolhouse or a gymnasium. The flag flapped in the wind. The sun on him. The immense sky. His neck was stiff. He knew that if they were forced to run right now his legs might buckle. Not because he was weak, but because in this moment, in the new environment, out in the open, his entire body felt uncertain.

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Ten years ago, a week after his sixtieth birthday, and six months after his first appointment with an oncologist, my father died. That afternoon, I went to my parents’ bedroom to clear up the remains of the lunch my mother had brought him not long before he collapsed. A copy of Yiyun Li’s novel The Vagrants, which he’d asked me for after I reviewed it in a newspaper, was open on his bedside table. He had gotten about halfway through it. The Vagrants isn’t what you’d call a consoling book—it centers on a young woman’s unjust execution in a provincial Chinese town in 1979—and I had mixed feelings about it being the last thing he’d read. Perhaps an adolescent part of me had been happy to let him have it out of a need to see him as a more fearless reader than he might have wanted to be just then. Still, my father had read Proust and Robert Musil while working as a real estate agent. There was comfort, of a sort, for me, and maybe him, in his refusal of comfort reading.

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