Commentary

Commentary — November 15, 2018, 11:51 am

Certain Certainties

What Amazon HQ2 means for New York City

Commentary — May 22, 2018, 11:01 am

Marriage of Myths

“Monarchy offers a fantasy of national communion while, by its very existence, making it more unlikely to ever come to pass.”

Commentary — January 16, 2018, 3:28 pm

Angels and Wildfires

“Dying for a dollar an hour while fighting to keep someone’s home from burning is entirely constitutional.”

Commentary — October 20, 2017, 3:10 pm

American Rage

On Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War

Commentary — March 2, 2017, 11:53 am

Dealmaker in Chief

Trump’s economic authoritarianism

Commentary — March 16, 2016, 2:22 pm

Trump’s Tomatoes

The story behind the billionaire’s fast food of choice

Commentary — February 17, 2016, 2:30 pm

State of Emergency

“France’s efforts to expand and enshrine the emergency laws in the constitution have created a sense that the legal framework of the French Republic, and all that it stands for, is under threat.”

Commentary — November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons' so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

Commentary — July 16, 2015, 1:00 pm

Greece, Europe, and the United States

“A progressive Europe—the Europe of sustainable growth and social cohesion—would be one thing. The gridlocked, reactionary, petty, and vicious Europe that actually exists is another. It cannot and should not last for very long.”

Commentary — May 22, 2015, 1:10 pm

Part of the Problem

Jonathan Chait's flawed attack on David Bromwich's critique of Barack Obama's presidency

Commentary — May 4, 2015, 12:53 pm

A Legitimate Distinction

In defense of the PEN America Center's decision to give Charlie Hebdo its Freedom of Expression Courage Award

Commentary — December 18, 2013, 4:22 pm

Proxy Syndrome

Afghanistan fights fire with fire in its war against the Taliban

Commentary — December 12, 2012, 4:33 pm

New Power Generation

Why I write about Prince

Commentary — October 22, 2012, 2:27 pm

An Excerpt From “How to Rig an Election”

Why the Help America Vote Act has done anything but.

Commentary — October 10, 2012, 8:46 am

The Democratic Argument for Compulsory Voting

Mandatory voting would greatly expand American electoral participation—and help the Democrats.

Commentary — September 14, 2012, 10:27 pm

Syria’s Summer of Stalemate

Looking back on Taftanaz and the slowly shifting course of Syria’s revolution.

Commentary — September 6, 2012, 11:03 am

Samuel James’s Scenes From Nigerian Oil-Refining Communities

This month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine features ”The Water of My Land,” a portfolio of photographs by Samuel James, who spent two months this past February photographing life in the riverine communities of the Niger Delta. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States, but many delta residents have been shut out from this multibillion-dollar industry, and so have resorted to the clandestine trade of bunkering crude oil and refining it themselves. Through his photographs, James hopes to convey how communities engaged in this relentless and destructive practice are risking …

Commentary — September 4, 2012, 9:01 am

Christopher Hitchens’s Very Personal Handbook on Cancer Etiquette

It is strangely humbling to read the last writings of a dying atheist whose opinions seemed of near-stratospheric condescension, and who stood among a group of modern anticlerics who consider empiricism a virtue, disparage religion without consulting theological texts, and in general exercise the same merciless rigidity they despise in their opponents. Humbling because these are the words of a man who was dying. To gripe with his ideas seems petty, irreverent even. And there is, after all, a difference between a man and his beliefs. Christopher Hitchens, who died on December 11, 2011, is the author of the posthumous …

Commentary — August 21, 2012, 9:23 am

The Citizen Kane Era Returns

David Sirota is a Denver-based syndicated newspaper columnist, radio host, and the author of three books, including Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now. His article “The Only Game in Town: An unlikely comeback for dying newspapers” appears in the September 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Last month, the Denver Business Journal showed that international banking scandals can be a major focus of local reporting. In its article “LIBOR scandal may cost Denver schools money,” the low-circulation trade magazine documented how the interest-rate scandal, which originated in the United Kingdom, could end up …

Commentary — August 17, 2012, 9:11 am

Pyramid Insurance

Why are multilevel-marketing companies making big donations to state attorney-general candidates?

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Men at Work·

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“You’re being reborn,” the voice says. “Exiting the womb of your mother. Coming into the earth as a small baby. Everything is new.” It is a Saturday morning in mid-March, and right now I’m lying on a yoga mat in a lodge in Ohio, surrounded by fifty other men who’ve come to the Midwest for a weekend of manhood-confirming adventures. The voice in question belongs to Aaron Blaine, a facilitator for Evryman, the men’s group orchestrating this three-day retreat. All around me, men are shedding tears as Blaine leads us on a guided meditation, a kind of archetypal montage of Norman Rockwell boyhood. “You’re starting to figure things out,” he says, in somniferous baritone. “Snow, for the first time. Sunshine. Start to notice the smells, the tastes, the confusion. The fear. And you’re growing. You’re about ten years old. The world’s huge and scary.”

Even though it’s only the second day of the Evryman retreat, it’s worth noting that I’ve already been the subject of light fraternal teasing. Already I’ve been the recipient of countless unsought hugs. Already I have sat in Large Groups and Small Groups, and watched dozens of middle-aged men weep with shame and contrition. I’ve had a guy in the military tell me he wants to be “a rock for his family.” I’ve heard a guy from Ohio say that his beard “means something.” Twice I’ve hiked through the woods to “reconnect with Mother Nature,” and I have been addressed by numerous men as both “dude” and “brother.” I have performed yoga and yard drills and morning calisthenics. I’ve heard seven different men play acoustic guitar. I’ve heard a man describe his father by saying, “There wasn’t a lot of ball-tossing when I was growing up.” Three times I’ve been queried about how I’m “processing everything,” and at the urinal on Friday night, two men warned me about the upcoming “Anger Ceremony,” which is rumored to be the weekend’s “pièce de résistance.”

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To Serve Is to Rule·

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The WASP story is personal for me. I arrived at Yale in 1971 from a thoroughly mediocre suburb in New Jersey, the second-generation hybrid of Irish and Italian stock riding the postwar boom. Those sockless people in Top-Siders, whose ancestors’ names and portraits adorned the walls, were entirely new to me. I made friends with some, but I was not free of a corrosive envy of their habitus of ease and entitlement.

I used to visit one of those friends in the Hamptons, in the 1970s, when the area was about wood-paneled Ford station wagons, not Lamborghinis. There was some money in the family, but not gobs, yet they lived two blocks from the beach—prime real estate. Now, down the road from what used to be their house is the residence of Ira Rennert. It’s one of the largest private homes in the United States. The union-busting, pension-fund-looting Rennert, whose wealth comes from, among other things, chemical companies that are some of the worst polluters in the country, made his first money in the 1980s as a cog in Michael Milken’s junk-bond machine. In 2015, a court ordered him to return $215 million he had appropriated from one of his companies to pay for the house. One-hundred-car garages and twenty-one (or maybe twenty-nine) bedrooms don’t come cheap.

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The Bird Angle·

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I slept for a good seven hours on the overnight flight from Spain to Peru, and while I slept I dreamed that I was leading American visitors around a park in Berlin, looking for birds on a hazy, overcast day. There wasn’t much to see until we noticed a distant commotion in the sky. Large raptors were panicking, driven back and forth by something threatening them from above. The commotion moved closer. The clouds parted, an oval aperture backed with blue. In it two seraphim hovered motionless. “Those are angels,” I told the group.

They were between us and the sun, but an easy ­I.D. Size aside, no other European bird has two sets of wings. The upper wings cast their faces into shadow. Despite the glare I could make out their striking peaches-­and-­cream coloration. Ivory white predominates, hair a faint yellow, eyes blue, wings indescribably iridescent. Faces blank and expressionless, as with all birds.

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The K-12 Takeover·

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Last May, the families of students at Cypress Academy, an independent charter school in New Orleans, received an email announcing that the school would close when classes ended the following week and that all its students would be transferred to another nearby charter for the upcoming year. Parents would have the option of entering their children in the city’s charter-enrollment lottery, but the lottery’s first round had already taken place, and the most desirable spots for the fall were filled.

Founded in 2015, a decade after New Orleans became the nation’s first city to begin replacing all its public schools with charters, Cypress was something of a rarity. Like about nine in ten of the city’s charter schools, it filled spaces by lottery rather than by selective admission. But while most of the nonselective schools in New Orleans had majority populations of low-income African-American students, Cypress mirrored the city’s demographics, drawing the children of professionals—African-American and white alike—as well as poorer students. Cypress reserved 20 percent of its seats for children with reading difficulties, and it offered a progressive education model, including “learning by doing,” rather than the strict conduct codes that dominated the city’s nonselective schools. In just three years, the school had outperformed many established charters—a particular feat given that one in four Cypress students had a disability, double the New Orleans average. Families flocked to Cypress, especially ones with children who had disabilities.

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Five Stories·

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how high? that high

He had his stick that was used mostly to point at your head if your head wasn’t held up proudly.

I still like that man—Holger! He had been an orphan!

He came up to me once because there was something about how I was moving my feet that wasn’t according to the regulations or his expectations.

The room was a short wide room with a short wide window with plenty of artificial light.

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

$1,500

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.

The limited edition Nike Air Max 97s, white sneakers that have holy water from the Jordan River in their soles and have frankincense-scented insoles, sold out in minutes.

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At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

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