Editor's Note — May 15, 2017, 1:30 pm

Inside the June Issue

Michael Glennon on Trump’s war with the security state, Helen Ouyang on health care in the Black Belt, Rebecca Elliott and Elizabeth Rush on the battle over New York City’s flood zones, a story by Nell Zink, and more…

During the recent presidential campaign, Donald Trump regularly described America’s intelligence agencies as fumblers—unless they were snapping at Hillary Clinton’s ankles, in which case they were ardent patriots. (The G.O.P. candidate told a frothing crowd in New Hampshire that he was “actually, really, very proud” of the FBI for reopening its investigation of Clinton’s emails just days before the election.) Relations between the security bureaucracy and Trump have only worsened since then—culminating, most recently, in the firing of FBI director James Comey. Many liberals have hoped that the CIA, FBI, and NSA, all of them in the presidential doghouse, would push back against the Trump’s worst excesses. But in “Security Breach,” Michael J. Glennon warns against viewing the security state as a heroic firewall. These agencies were not created to keep the other branches of government in check, despite their mad metastasizing during the postwar decades. They were never intended, in Glennon’s words, “to be a coequal of Congress, the courts, and the president.” Nor do they have unspotted records when it comes to the preservation of civil liberties (to say the least). We may delight in their guerrilla war against Trump, fought with leaked intelligence and heat-seeking inquiries, but once we have licensed them as the last best hope of democracy—well, be careful of what you wish for.

In “Where Health Care Won’t Go,” Helen Ouyang chronicles an outbreak of tuberculosis in Marion, Alabama. This small town is located in the so-called Black Belt—a ribbon of rural counties with a long history of racism and poverty—and not surprisingly, health care is in short supply. Once the first case was discovered, state authorities intervened, but the epidemic has yet to be contained. “It’s not looking good,” the state’s tuberculosis controller said. Ouyang’s story points to a deeper, ongoing crisis in this country: Americans living outside of urban areas frequently have few health-care options or none at all, which is exactly what sets the stage for a mini-epidemic like Marion’s. What we are left with is a vicious cycle of illness and economic impoverishment. “We’re not progressing at the same rate as everybody else around us,” a local physician wistfully told the author. “We’re just kind of stuck.”

Not that city dwellers everywhere have it all that easy. In “Stormy Waters,” Rebecca Elliott and Elizabeth Rush explore the battle over New York City’s flood zones—those portions of the Big Apple that are likely to be inundated during the next apocalyptic hurricane. The precise delineation of these zones has led to a cartographic tug-of-war between FEMA, whose predictions are suitably dire, and real-estate developers, who would have to shell out enormous sums to make their buildings flood-resistant. Meanwhile, Daniel Brook looks at a post-apocalyptic metropolis in “Here A City Shall Be Wrought.” His subject is Beichuan, China, which was destroyed by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 2008, then quickly reconstructed in a new location fourteen miles away. The spanking-new Beichuan is, in Brook’s words, an experiment in “time-lapse urbanism,” which he finds both “enviable and cloying.” More disturbing is the ruin of the old city, which has been left intact as a memento mori and symbol (at least in the eyes of party officials) of Communist solidarity.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Gary Greenberg ponders the mathematics of predicting war, and Julia Harte asks: “When can the legal system hold accountable those who occupy the highest offices in the land?” In Readings, we have interviews with Syrian refugees, a thousand-year-old poem by Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali bin Hisn, a parliamentary debate over rhododendrons, and a list of memorable names that parents have recently tried to bestow on their children, including “Tiny Hooker,” “Cholera,” “Ghoul Nipple,” and the relatively innocuous “Satan.” Last but not least, there is Matthew Bevis on John Ashbery, Christine Smallwood on New Books, and a hilariously vicious fiction by Nell Zink, her first story for the magazine.

Single Page

More from James Marcus:

Editor's Note April 12, 2018, 5:58 pm

Inside the May Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Rick Moody, Rachel Cusk, Jonathan Dee, and more

Editor's Note March 19, 2018, 12:18 pm

Inside the April Issue

Thomas Frank, Elaine Blair, Andrew Cockburn, Lidija Haas, Corey Robin, and more…

Editor's Note February 12, 2018, 11:15 am

Inside the March Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Katie Roiphe, Sallie Tisdale, and more

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada



October 2019


Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Constitution in Crisis·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Power of Attorney·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Secrets and Lies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A federal judge authored a 69-page ruling preventing New York City from enforcing zoning laws pertaining to adult bookstores and strip clubs.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today