Editor's Note — March 14, 2016, 1:39 pm

Introducing the April Issue

Dan Baum, Ralph Nader, Thomas Frank, Don DeLillo, Robert P. Baird, Emily Witt, and more

HarpersWeb-Cover-201604-302x410_blackIt’s a truth almost universally acknowledged that America’s war on drugs failed spectacularly. Why then, Dan Baum asks in his cover story for the April issue, “did the United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that has yielded so much misery and so few good results?” It was not until speaking to Richard Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, John Ehrlichman, that Baum began to hazard the answer he long feared: the catastrophic collateral wrought by the drug war on the lives of millions of black families was intentional. “Did we know we were lying about the drugs?” Ehrlichman told Baum in 1994. “Of course we did.” The Nixon White House thought of the antiwar left and black people as enemies. “But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.” Fast forward two decades, however, and it’s clear that the country’s mood has changed. To date, twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana. The question is no longer whether we should legalize drugs but how. “If we can summon the political will,” Baum writes, “the opportunity to establish state monopoly of drug distribution,” as we did with alcohol distribution in the 1930s, is now.

In his essay on U.S. tort law, Ralph Nader examines the ways in which lobbyists have chipped away at what he calls the country’s “revolutionary process of personal-conflict resolution.” Corporate law firms, Nader writes, “now busily sound false alarms about the ever-expanding number of tort cases being brought by ‘greedy attorneys.’” What these claims fail to acknowledge, however, is that tort-law depositions unearth incriminating evidence against those at the uppermost reaches of the corporate ladder, often leading to criminal prosecutions. When the protections of tort law are circumvented, weakened, or nullified altogether, Nader concludes, it undermines the right of all citizens to protect themselves from harm caused by greedy manufacturers and to have their day in court.

In this month’s Folio, Harper’s Magazine’s managing editor Robert P. Baird tells the story of Jay Miscovich, a fifty-year-old treasure hunter who found more than a hundred pounds of emeralds on the ocean floor. “There was so many of them it was like picking cherries on a cherry tree,” he testified at a court hearing. To Miscovich, who lost everything in the financial crisis of 2007–08, the find, which was potentially worth millions, seemed like a blessing. As the saying goes, however, treasure is hard to find but easy to lose. A few years after his discovery, police found Miscovich dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound. “I loved many beautiful woman, built my business and found an awesome treasure,” he wrote in a note to friends and family. “So don’t mourn my death, celebrate my life!”

Also in this issue: An excerpt about Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen Liberal; new fiction by Don DeLillo; Walter Kirn meditates on the uncanny valley of virtual reality; Christine Smallwood reviews David Means’s meta-fictional Hystopia, which tells an alternate history of America during the era of the Vietnam War; and Emily Witt examines how the first two seasons of Transparent enact the vital questions and messy answers of real-world identity politics.

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More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note March 15, 2019, 7:34 am

Inside the April Issue

Christian Lorentzen on the decline of book reviewing; Rachel Nolan on the troubled legacy of Guatemalan adoptions; Lisa Wells on the fear of flying

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

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Alex and Wendy love culture. It’s how they spend their free time. It’s what they talk about at dinner parties. When they go jogging or to the gym, they listen to podcasts on their phones. On Sunday nights they watch their favorite new shows. They go to the movies sometimes, but they were bummed out when ­MoviePass went south, so now they mostly stream things. They belong to book clubs that meet every couple of weeks. Alex and Wendy work hard at their jobs, but they always have a bit of time to check their feeds at work. What’s in their feeds? Their feeds tell them about culture. Their feeds are a form of comfort. Their feeds explain things to them that they already understand. Their feeds tell them that everyone else is watching, reading, listening to the same things. Their feeds tell them about the people who make their culture, people who aren’t so different from them, just maybe a bit more glistening. Alex and Wendy’s feeds assure them that they aren’t lonely. Their feeds give them permission to like what they already like. Their feeds let them know that their culture is winning.

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Five years ago, Jean-Sebastien Hertsens Zune went looking for his parents. He already had one set, a Belgian church organist and his wife, who adopted him as a baby from Guatemala and later moved the family to France. But he wanted to find his birth mother and father. When Zune was a teenager, his Belgian parents gave him his adoption file, holding back only receipts showing how much the process had cost. Most people pay little attention to their birth certificates, but for adoptees, these documents, along with notes about their relinquishment, tell an often patchy origin story.

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Once, in an exuberant state, feeling filled with the muse, I told another writer: When I write, I know everything. Everything about the characters? she asked. No, I said, everything about the world, the universe. Every. Fucking. Thing. I was being preposterous, of course, but I was also trying to explain the feeling I got, deep inside writing a first draft, that I was listening and receiving, listening some more and receiving, from a place that was far enough away from my daily life, from all of my reading, from everything.

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All his life he lived on hatred.

He was a solitary man who hoarded gloom. At night a thick smell filled his bachelor’s room on the edge of the kibbutz. His sunken, severe eyes saw shapes in the dark. The hater and his hatred fed on each other. So it has ever been. A solitary, huddled man, if he does not shed tears or play the violin, if he does not fasten his claws in other people, experiences over the years a constantly mounting pressure, until he faces a choice between lunacy and suicide. And those who live around him breathe a sigh of relief.

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Thirty-two years ago my newborn daughter was discharged from Boston Children’s Hospital after an operation to repair a congenital birth defect and a lengthy period of recovery. Her mother and I had prepared for this—we knew the diagnosis from the ultrasound, had done the research you could do in 1986, asked the questions we could learn to ask—and got a good outcome. We went home to the western end of the state to raise twin daughters, one with a major disability (“our third child,” her mother says), and found ourselves in a system whose existence we hadn’t known of: Early Childhood Intervention. Physical therapists, psychologists, licensed practical nurses, and the state and public–private agencies that supplied and paid them. They cared for our child, but more than that, they taught us how to, and the teaching was as much mental and emotional—call it spiritual—as it was practical. They taught us to watch, to observe, to learn this particular child; to have patience, not to see too much and fall into useless anxiety, not to see too little and miss the signs of trouble. Close watching actually changed our experience of time. I learned what mindfulness meant, even if my practice of it fell short.

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