Edward Luce

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I read Sean Penn’s “El Chapo Speaksat the beginning of 2016, and spent the rest of the year trying to absorb as many great articles as I could to erase from my mind the awful reporting and prose. “Espinoza is the owl who flies among falcons,” wrote the actor-director-poetaster. Yes, Sean, okay, but go fuck yourself.

The following 50 articles made me feel pretty good again. In time, I myself once more began to fly among the falcons.

Congratulations to all the wonderful writers who made the list. My apologies for not reading more small journals and sites, but the time and money of any one person, myself included, is limited.


1) “Latina Hotel Workers Harness Force of Labor and of Politics in Las Vegas” and 2) “A Fighter’s Hour of Need(Dan Barry, New York Times).

As good as any newspaper writer–or whatever you call such people now–Barry reports and composes like a dream. The first piece has as good a kicker as anyone could come up with–even if life subsequently kicked back in a shocking way–and the second is a heartbreaker about the immediate aftermath of a 2013 boxing match in which Magomed Abdusalamov suffered severe brain damage.

Even when Barry shares a byline, I still feel sure I can pick out his sentences, so flawless and inviting they are. One example of that would be…

3) “An Alt-Right Makeover Shrouds the Swastikas by Barry, Serge F. Kovaleski, Julie Turkewitz and Joseph Goldstein.

An angle used to dismiss the idea that the Make America Great White Again message resonated with a surprising, depressing number of citizens has been to point out that some Trump supporters also voted for Obama. That argument seems simplistic. Some bigots aren’t so far gone that they can’t vote for a person of a race they dislike if they feel it’s in their best interests financially or otherwise. That is to say, some racially prejudiced whites voted for President Obama. Trump appealed to them to find their worst selves. Many did.

Likewise the Trump campaign emboldened far worse elements, including white nationalists and separatists and anti-Semites. Thinking they’d been perhaps permanently marginalized, these hate groups are now updating their “brand,” hiding yesterday’s swastikas and burning crosses and other “bad optics,” and referring to themselves not as neo-Nazis but by more vaguely appealing monikers like “European-American advocates.” It’s the same monster wrapped in a different robe, the mainstreaming of malevolence, and they won’t again be easily relegated to the fringe regardless of Trump’s fate.

This group of NYT journalists explores a beast awakened and energized by Trump’s ugly campaign. It’s a great piece, though we should all probably stop calling these groups by their preferred KKK 2.0 alias of “alt-right.”

4) “No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along” (Charles Blow, New York Times)

In the hours after America elected, if barely, a Ku Klux Kardashian, most pundits and talk-show hosts encouraged all to support this demagogue, as if we could readily forget that he was a racist troll who demanded the first African-American President show his birth certificate, a deadbeat billionaire who didn’t pay taxes or many of his contracted workers, a draft-dodger who mocked our POWs while praising Putin, a sexual predator who boasted about his assaults, a xenophobe who blamed Mexicans and Muslims, a bigot who had a long history of targeting African-Americans with the zeal of a one-man lynching bee. In a most passionate and lucid shot across the bow, Blow said “no way,” penning an instant classic, speaking for many among the disenfranchised majority. 

5) “Lunch with the FT: Burning Man’s Larry Harvey (Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times)

If self-appointed Libertarian overlord Grover Norquist, a Harvard graduate with a 13-year-old’s understanding of government and economics, ever had his policy preferences enacted fully, it would lead to worse lifestyles and shorter lifespans for the majority of Americans. In fact, we now get to see many of his idiotic ideas played out in real-life experiments. He’s so eager to Brownback the whole country he’s convinced himself, despite being married to a Muslim woman, there’s conservative bona fides in Trump’s Mussolini-esque stylings and suspicious math.

In 2014, Norquist made his way to the government-less wonderland known as Burning Man, free finally from those bullying U.S. regulations, the absence of which allows Chinese business titans to breathe more freely, if not literally. Norquist’s belief that the short-term settlement in the Nevada desert is representative of what the nation could be every day is no less silly than considering Spring Break a template for successful marriage. He was quote as saying: “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” Holy fuck, who passed him the peyote?

In his interview piece, Bradshaw broke bread in San Francisco with Harvey, co-founder of Burning Man and its current “Chief Philosophic Officer,” who speaks fondly of rent control and the Bernie-led leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Norquist would not approve, even if Harvey is a contradictory character, insisting he has a “conservative sensibility” and lamenting the way many involved in social justice fixate on self esteem.

6) “The World Wide Cageand 7)Humans Have Long Wished to Fly Like Birds: Maybe We Shall” (Nicholas Carr, Aeon)

One of the best critics of our technological society keeps getting better.

The former piece is the introduction to Carr’s essay collection Utopia Is Creepy. The writer argues (powerfully) that we’ve defined “progress as essentially technological,” even though the Digital Age quickly became corrupted by commercial interests, and the initial thrill of the Internet faded as it became “civilized” in the most derogatory, Twain-ish use of that word. To Carr, the something gained (access to an avalanche of information) is overwhelmed by what’s lost (withdrawal from reality). The critic applies John Kenneth Galbraith’s term “innocent fraud” to the Silicon Valley marketing of techno-utopianism. 

You could extrapolate this thinking to much of our contemporary culture: binge-watching endless content, Pokémon Go, Comic-Con, fake Reality TV shows, reality-altering cable news, etc. Carr suggests we use the tools of Silicon Valley while refusing the ethos. Perhaps that’s possible, but I doubt you can separate such things.

The latter is a passage about biotechnology which wonders if science will soon move too fast not only for legislation but for ethics as well. The “philosophy is dead” assertion that’s persistently batted around in scientific circles drives me bonkers because we dearly need consideration about our likely commandeering of evolution. Carr doesn’t make that argument but instead rightly wonders if ethics is likely to be more than a “sideshow” when garages aren’t used to just hatch computer hardware or search engines but greatly altered or even new life forms. The tools will be cheap, the “creativity” decentralized, the “products” attractive. As Freeman Dyson wrote nearly a decade ago: “These games will be messy and possibly dangerous.”

8) “Calum Chace: Ask Me Anything” (Chace, Reddit)

The writer, an all-around interesting thinker, conducted an AMA based on his book, The Economic Singularity, which envisions a future–and not such a far-flung one–when human labor is a thing of the past. It’s certainly possible since constantly improving technology could make fleets of cars driverless and factories workerless. In fact, there’s no reason why they can’t also be ownerless. 

What happens then? How do we reconcile a free-market society with an automated one? In the long run, it could be a great victory for humanity, but getting from here to there will be bumpy.

9) “England’s Post-Imperial Stress Disorder(Andrew Brown, Boston Globe)

Not being intimately familiar with the nuances of the U.K.’s politics and culture, I’m wary of assigning support for Brexit to ugly nativist tendencies, but it does seem a self-harming act provoked by the growing pains of globalism. It’s not nearly as dumb a move as a President Trump, for instance, but some of the same forces are at play, particularly when it comes to the pro-Brexit, anti-immigration UKIP party.

It’s not shocking that Britain and the U.S. are trying to dodge the arrival of a new day and greater competition, a time when empires can’t merely strike back at will. We’re richer now, we have better things, but the distribution is very uneven and we feel poor inside. For some, maybe a surprising number, blame must be assigned to the “others.” As Randy Newman sang: “The end of an empire is messy at best.”

10) My President Was Black” (Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Atlantic)

It wasn’t the color of President Obama’s suit that so bothered his critics but the color of his skin. Sure, Bill Clinton was impeached and John Kerry swiftboated, but there was something so deeply disqualifying about the antagonism that faced 44, something beyond mere partisanship, which boiled over into Birtherism, interruptions during the State of the Union, denial of his Christian faith and vicious insults hurled at his gorgeous wife.

The old adage that black people have to be twice as good at a job as white people proved to be mathematically refutable: The Obamas were a million times better, and it wasn’t nearly enough for their detractors. When Obama even mildly suggested that institutional racism still existed, something he rarely did, he was labeled a “jerk” by prominent Republicans. Worse yet, his most overtly bigoted tormentor will succeed him in the White House. 

That raises an obvious question: If the perfect son isn’t good enough, then what kind of chance do his siblings have?

In a towering essay, Coates reflects on Obama’s history and the “fitful spasmodic years” of his White House tenure, which had pluses and minuses but were a gravity-defying time of true accomplishment which will never happen the same way again. In addition to macro ideas about race and identity, Coates’ writing on the Justice Department under this Administration is of particular importance.

11) “The Problem With Obama’s Faith in White America (Tressie McMillan Cottom, The Atlantic)

Hope is usually audacious but sometimes misplaced.

Without that feeling of expectation in a country founded on white supremacy that has never erased institutional racism, Barack Hussein Obama would certainly have never been elected President of the United States, not once, let alone twice. But his hope has also served as an escape hatch for white Americans who wanted to not only ignore the past but also the present. By stressing the best in us, Obama overlooked the worst of us, and that worst has never gone away.

It’s doubtful he behaved this way merely due to political opportunism: Obama seems a true believer in America and the ideals it espouses but has never lived up to. I love him and Michelle and think they’re wonderful people, but the nation has never been as good as they are, and even on a good day I’m unsure we even aspire to be. A painfully true Atlantic essay by Cottom meditates on these ideas.

12) “We’re Coming Close to the Point Where We Can Create People Who Are Superior to Others” (Hannah Devlin, The Guardian)

Devlin interviews novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who wonders if liberal democracy will be doomed by a new type of wealth inequality, the biological kind, in which gene editing and other tools make enhancement and improved health available only to the haves. Ishiguro isn’t a fatalist on the topic, encouraging more public engagement.

Some believe exorbitantly priced technologies created for the moneyed few will rapidly decrease in price and make their way inside everyone’s pockets (and bodies and brains), the same distribution path blazed by consumer electronics. That’s possible but certainly not definite. Of course, as the chilling political winds of 2016 have demonstrated, liberal democracy may be too fragile to even survive to that point.

13) “The Privacy Wars Are About to Get a Whole Lot Worse” (Cory Doctorow, Locus Magazine)

Read the fine print. That’s always been good advice, but it’s never been taken seriously when it comes to the Internet, a fast-moving, seemingly ephemeral medium that doesn’t invite slowing down to contemplate. So companies attach a consent form to their sites and apps about cookies. No one reads it, and there’s no legal recourse from having your laptop or smartphone from being plundered for all your personal info. It quietly removes legal recourse from surveillance capitalism.

In an excellent piece, Doctorow explains how this oversight, which has already had serious consequences, will snake its way into every corner of our lives once the Internet of Things turns every item into a computer, cars and lamps and soda machines and TV screens. “Notice and consent is an absurd legal fiction,” he writes, acknowledging that it persists despite its ridiculous premise and invasive nature.

14) “The Green Universe: A Vision” (Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books)

I’ve probably enjoyed Dyson’s “pure speculation” writings as much as anything I’ve read during my life, particularly the Imagined Worlds lecture and his NYRB essays and reviews. In this piece, the physicist goes far beyond his decades-old vision of an “Astrochicken” (a spacecraft that’s partly biological), conjuring a baseball-sized, biotech Noah’s Ark that can “seed” the Universe with millions of species of life. “Sometime in the next few hundred years, biotechnology will have advanced to the point where we can design and breed entire ecologies of living creatures adapted to survive in remote places away from Earth,” he writes. It’s a spectacular dream, though we may bury ourselves beneath water or ash long before it can come to fruition, especially with the threat of climate change.

15) “The Augmented Human Being: A Conversation With George Church” (Edge)

CRISPR’s surprising success has swept us into an age when it all seems possible: the manipulation of humans, animals and plants, even perhaps of extinct species. Which way forward?

The geneticist Church, who has long had visions of rejuvenated woolly mammoths and augmented humans, realizes some bristle at manipulation of the Homo sapiens germline because it calls into question all we are, but apart from metaphors, there are also very real practical concerns over the games getting messy and possibly dangerous. The good (diseases being edited out of existence, organs being tailored to transplantees, etc.) shouldn’t be dreams permanently deferred, but it is difficult to understand how bad applications will be contained. Of course, the negative will probably unfold regardless, so we owe it ourselves to pursue the positive, if carefully. Church himself is on board with a cautious approach but not one that’s unduly so.

16) “The Empty Brain(Robert Epstein, Aeon)

Since the 16th century, the human brain has often been compared to a machine of one sort or another, with it being likened to a computer today. The idea that the brain is a machine seems true, though the part about gray matter operating in a similar way to the gadgets that currently sit atop our laps or in our palms is likely false. 

In a wonderfully argumentative and provocative essay, psychologist Epstein says this reflexive labeling of human brains as information processors is a “story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand.” He doesn’t think the brain is tabula rasa but asserts that it doesn’t store memories like an Apple would.

It’s a rich piece of writing full of ideas and examples, though I wish Epstein would have relied less on the word “never” (e.g., “we will never have to worry about a human mind going amok in cyberspace”), because while he’s almost certainly correct about the foreseeable future, given enough time no one knows how the machines in our heads and pockets will change.

17) “North Korea’s One-Percenters Savor Life in ‘Pyonghattan‘” (Anna Fifield, The Washington Post)

Even in Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian state there are haves and have-nots who experience wildly different lifestyles. In the midst of the politically driven arrests and murders, military parades and nuclear threats, there exists a class of super rich kids familiar with squash courts, high-end shopping and fine dining. “Pyonghattan,” it’s called, this sphere of Western-ish consumerist living, which is, of course, just a drop in the bucket when compared to the irresponsible splurges of the Rodman-wrangling “Outstanding Leader.” Still weird, though.

18) “Being Leonard Cohen’s Rabbi (Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Jewish Journal)

The poet of despair, who lived for a time in a monastery, spent some of his last decade discussing spirituality and more earthly matters with the Los Angeles-based rabbi, who explains how the Jewish tradition informed Cohen’s work. “We shared a common language, a common nightmare,” he writes. One remark the prophet of doom made to Finley hits especially hard with the demons awakened during this election season: “You won’t like what comes next after America.”

19) Five Books Interview: Ellen Wayland-Smith Discusses Utopias (Five Books)

In a smart Q&AWayland-Smith, author of Oneida, talks about a group of titles on the topic of Utopia. She surmises that attempts at such communities aren’t prevalent like they were in the 1840s or even the 1960s because most of us realize they don’t normally end well, whether we’re talking about the bitter financial and organizational failures of Fruitlands and Brook Farm or the utter madness of Jonestown. That’s true on a micro-community level, though I would argue that there have never been more people dreaming of large-scale Utopias–and corresponding dystopias–then there are right now. The visions have just grown significantly in scope.

In macro visions, Silicon Valley technologists speak today of an approaching post-scarcity society, an automated, quantified, work-free world in which all basic needs are met and drudgery has disappeared into a string of zeros and ones. These thoughts were once the talking points of those on the fringe, say, a teenage guru who believed he could levitate the Houston Astrodome, but now they (and Mars settlements, a-mortality and the computerization of every object) are on the tongues of the most important business people of our day, billionaires who hope to shape the Earth and beyond into a Shangri-La. 

Perhaps much good will come from these goals, and maybe a few disasters will be enabled as well. 

20) “Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny” (Tad Friend, New Yorker)

Friend’s “Letter from California” articles in the New Yorker are probably the long-form journalism I most anticipate, because he’s so good at understanding distinct milieus and those who make them what they are, revealing the micro and macro of any situation or subject and sorting through psychological motivations that drive the behavior of individuals or groups. To put it concisely: He gets ecosystems.

The writer’s latest effort, a profile of Y Combinator President Sam Altman, a stripling yet a strongman, reveals someone who has almost no patience for or interest in most people yet wants to save the world–or something.

It’s not a hit job, as Altman really has no intent to offend or injure, but it vivisects Silicon Valley’s Venture Capital culture and the outrageous hubris of those insulated inside its wealth and privilege, the ones who nod approvingly while watching Steve Jobs use Mahatma Gandhi’s image to sell wildly marked-up electronics made by sweatshop labor, and believe they also can think different.

When envisioning the future, Altman sees perhaps a post-scarcity, automated future where a few grand a year of Universal Basic Income can buy the jobless a bare existence (certainly not the big patch of Big Sur he owns), or maybe there’ll be complete societal collapse. Either or. More or less. If the latter occurs, the VC wunderkind plans to flee the carnage by jetting to the safety of his New Zealand spread with Peter Thiel, who has a moral blind spot reminiscent of Hitler’s secretary. A grisly death seems preferable. 

21) “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans” (Neal Gabler, The Atlantic)

The term “middle class” was not always a nebulous one in America. It meant that you had arrived on solid ground and only the worst luck or behavior was likely to shake the earth beneath your feet. That’s become less and less true for four decades, as a number of factors (technology, globalization, tax codes, the decline of unions, the 2008 economic collapse, etc.) have conspired to hollow out this hallowed ground. You can’t arrive someplace that barely exists.

Middle class is now what you think you would be if you had any money. George Carlin’s great line that “the reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it” seems truer every day. It’s not so much a fear of falling anymore, but the fear of never getting up, at least not within the current financial arrangement. Those hardworking, decent people you see every day? They’re just as afraid as you are. They are you.

In the spirit of the great 1977 Atlantic article “The Gentle Art of Poverty” and William McPherson’s recent Hedgehog Review piece “Falling,” the excellent writer and film critic Gabler has penned an essay about his “secret shame” of being far poorer than appearances would indicate.

22) “Nate Parker and the Limits of Empathy(Roxane Gay, The New York Times)

We have to separate the art and the artist or we’ll end up without a culture, but it’s not always so easy to do. There was likely no more creative person who ever walked the Earth than David Bowie, whose death kicked off an awful 2016, yet the guy did have sex with children. And Pablo Picasso beat women, Louis-Ferdinand Céline was an anti-Semite, Anne Sexton molested her daughter and so on. In Gay’s smart, humane op-ed, she looks at the controversy surrounding Birth of a Nation writer-director Parker, realizing she can’t compartmentalize her feelings about creators and creations. Agree with her or not, but it’s certainly a far more suitable response than Stephen Galloway’s shockingly amoral Hollywood Reporter piece on the firestorm.

23) “The Case Against Reality (Amanda Gefter, The Atlantic)

A world in which Virtual Reality is in wide use would present a different way to see things, but what if reality is already not what we think it is? It’s usually accepted that we don’t all see things exactly the same way–not just metaphorically–and that our individual interpretation of stimuli is more a rough cut than an exact science. It’s a guesstimate. But things may be even murkier than we believe. Gefter interviews cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman who thinks our perception isn’t even a reliable simulacra, that what we take in is nothing like what actually is. It requires just a few minutes to read and will provoke hours of thought.

24) “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” (Masha Gessen, New York Review of Books)

For many of us the idea of a tyrant in the White House is unthinkable, but for some that’s all they can think about. These aren’t genuinely struggling folks in the Rust Belt whose dreams have been foreclosed on by the death rattle of the Industrial Age and made a terrible decision that will only deepen their wounds, but a large number of citizens with fairly secure lifestyles who want to unleash their fury on a world not entirely their own anymore. 

I’ve often wondered how Nazi Germany was possible, and I think this election has finally provided me with the answer. There has to be pervasive prejudice, sure, and it helps if there is a financially desperate populace, but I also think it’s the large-scale revenge of mediocrity, of people wanting to establish an order where might, not merit, will rule.

Gessen addresses the spooky parallels between Russia and this new U.S. as we begin what looks to be a Trump-Putin bromance. Her advice to those wondering if they’re being too paranoid about what may now occur: “Believe the autocrat.”

25) “The Future of Privacy” (William Gibson, New York Times)

What surprises me most about the new abnormal isn’t that surveillance has entered our lives but that we’ve invited it in.

For a coupon code or a “friend,” we’re willing to surrender privacy to a corporate state that wants to engage us, know us, follow us, all to better commodify us. In fact, we feel sort of left out if no one is watching.

It may be that in a scary world we want a brother looking after us even if it’s Big Brother, so we’ve entered into an era of likes and leaks, one that will only grow more profoundly challenging when the Internet of Things becomes the thing.

In a wonderful essay, Gibson considers privacy, history and encryption, those thorny, interrelated topics.

26) “Why You Should Believe in the Digital Afterlife” (Michael Graziano, The Atlantic)

When Russian oligarch Dmitry Itskov vows that by 2045 we’ll be able to upload our consciousness into a computer and achieve a sort of immortality, I’m perplexed. Think about the unlikelihood: It’s not a promise to just create a general, computational brain–difficult enough–but to precisely simulate particular human minds. That ups the ante by a whole lot. While it seems theoretically possible, this process may take awhile.

The Princeton neuroscientist Graziano plots the steps required to encase human consciousness, to create a second life that sounds a bit like Second Life. He acknowledges opinions will differ over whether we’ve generated “another you” or some unsatisfactory simulacrum, a mere copy of an original. Graziano’s clearly excited, though, by the possibility that “biological life [may become] more like a larval stage.”

27) “Big Data, Google and the End of Free Will” (Yuval Noah Harari, The Financial Times)

First we slide machines into our pockets, and then we slide into theirs.

As long as humans have roamed the Earth, we’ve been part of a biological organism larger than ourselves. At first, we were barely connected parts, but gradually we became a Global Village. In order for that connectivity to become possible, the bio-organism gave way to a technological machine. As we stand now, we’re moving ourselves deeper and deeper into a computer, one with no OFF switch. We’ll be counted, whether we like it or not. Some of that will be great, and some not.

The Israeli historian examines this new normal, one that’s occurred without close study of what it will mean for the cogs in the machine–us. As he writes, “humanism is now facing an existential challenge and the idea of ‘free will’ is under threat.”

28) “How Howard Stern Owned Donald Trump(Virginia Heffernan, Politico Magazine)

Whether it’s Howard Stern or that other shock jock Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump’s deep-seated need for praise has made him a mark for those who know how to push his buttons. In the 1990s, when the hideous hotelier was at a career nadir, he was a veritable Wack Packer, dropping by the Stern show to cruelly evaluate women and engage in all sorts of locker-room banter. Trump has dismissed these un-Presidential comments as “entertainment,” but his vulgarity off-air is likewise well-documented. He wasn’t out of his element when with the King of All Media but squarely in it. And it wasn’t just two decades ago. Up until 2014, Trump was still playing right along, allowing himself to be flattered into conversation he must have realized on some level was best avoided.

For Stern, who’s become somewhat less of an asshole as Trump has become far more of one, the joke was always that ugly men were sitting in judgement of attractive women. The future GOP nominee, however, was seemingly not aware he was a punchline. He’s a self-described teetotaler who somehow has beer goggles for himself. During this Baba Booey of an election season, Heffernan wrote knowingly of the dynamic between the two men.

29) “I’m Andrew Hessel: Ask Me Anything” (Hessel, Reddit)

If you like your human beings to come with fingers and toes, you may be disquieted by this undeniably heady AMA conducted by a futurist and a “biotechnology catalyst” at Autodesk. The researcher fields questions about a variety of flaws and illnesses plaguing people that biotech may be able to address, even eliminate. Of course, depending on your perspective, humanness itself can be seen as a failing, something to be “cured.”

30) “What If the Aliens We Are Looking For Are AI? (Richard Hollingham, BBC Future) 

If there are aliens out there, Sir Martin Rees feels fairly certain they’re conscious machines, not oxygen-hoarding humans. It’s just too inhospitable for carbon beings to travel beyond our solar system. He allows that perhaps cyborgs, a form of semi-organic post-humans, could possibly make a go of it. But that’s as close a reflection of ourselves we may be able to see in space. Hollingham explores this theory, wondering if a lack of contact can be explained by the limits we put on our search by expecting a familiar face in the final frontier.

31) “We Are Nowhere Close to the Limits of Athletic Performance” (Stephen Hsu, Nautilus

If performance-enhancing drugs weren’t at all dangerous to the athletes using them, should they be banned?

I bet plenty of people would say they should, bowing before some notion of competitive purity which has never existed. It’s also a nod to “god-given ability,” a curious concept in an increasingly agnostic world. Why should those born with the best legs and lungs be the fastest? Why should the ones lucky enough to have the greatest gray matter at birth be our best thinkers? Why should those fortunate to initially get the healthiest organs live the longest? It doesn’t make much sense to hold back the rest of the world out of respect for a few winners of the genetics lottery.

Hsu relates how genetic engineering will supercharge athletes and the rest of us, making widely available the gifts of Usain Bolt, who gained his from hard work, sure, but also a twist of fate. In fact, extrapolating much further, he believes “speciation seems a definite possibility.”

32) “How Democracies Fall Apart(Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, Foreign Affairs

If we are hollow men (and women), American liberty, that admittedly unevenly distributed thing, may be over after 240 years. And it could very well end not with a bang but a whimper.

Those waiting for the moment when autocracy topples the normal order of things are too late. Election Day was that time. It’s not guaranteed that the nation transforms into 1930s Europe or that we definitely descend into tyranny, but the conditions have never been more favorable in modern times for the U.S. to capitulate to autocracy. The creeps are in office, and the creeping will be a gradual process. Don’t wait for an explosion; we’re living in its wake.

Kendall-Taylor and Frantz analyze how quietly freedom can abandon us.

33) Khizr Khan’s Speech to the 2016 Democratic National Convention (Khan, DNC)

Ever since Apple’sThink Different ad in 1997, the one in which Steve jobs used Gandhi’s image to sell marked-up consumer electronics made by sweatshop labor, Silicon Valley business titans have been celebrated the way astronauts used to be. Jobs, who took credit for that advertising campaign which someone else created, specifically wondered why we put on a pedestal those who voyage into space when he and his clever friends were changing the world–or something–with their gadgets. He believed technologists were the best and brightest Americans. He was wrong.

Some of the Valley’s biggest names filed dourly into Trump Tower recently in a sort of reverse perp walk. It was the same, sad spectacle of Al Gore’s pilgrimage, which was answered with Scott Pruitt, climate-change denier, being chosen EPA Chief. Perhaps they made the trek on some sort of utilitarian impulse, but I would guess there was also some element of self-preservation, not an unheard of sense of compromise for those who see their corporations as if they were countries, not only because of their elephantine “GDPs,” but also because of how they view themselves. I don’t think they’re all Peter Thiel, an emotional leper and intellectual fraud who now gets to play out his remarkably stupid theories in a large-scale manner. I’ve joked that Thiel has a moral blind spot reminiscent of Hitler’s secretary, but the truth is probably far darker. 

What would have been far more impressive would have been if Musk, Cook, Page, Sandberg, Bezos and the rest stopped downstairs in front of the building and read a statement saying that while they would love to aid any U.S. President, they could not in this case because the President-Elect has displayed vicious xenophobia, misogyny and callous disregard for non-white people throughout the campaign and in the election’s aftermath. He’s shown totalitarian impulses and has disdain for the checks and balances that make the U.S. a free country. In fact, with his bullying nastiness he continues to double down on his prejudices, which has been made very clear by not only his words but through his cabinet appointments. They could have stated their dream for the future doesn’t involve using Big Data to spy on Muslims and Mexicans or programming 3D printers to build internment camps on Mars. They might have noted that Steve Bannon, whom Trump chose as his Chef Strategist, just recently said that there were too many Asian CEOs in Silicon alley, revealing his white-nationalistic ugliness yet again. They could have refused to normalize Trump’s odious vision. They could have taken a stand.

They didn’t because they’re not our absolute finest citizens. Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who understand the essence of the nation in a way the tech billionaires do not, more truly represent us at our most excellent. They possess a wisdom and moral courage that’s as necessary as the Constitution itself. The Silicon Valley folks lack these essential qualities, and without them, you can’t be called our best and brightest.

And maybe Khan’s DNC speech is our ultimate Cassandra moment, when we didn’t listen, or maybe we did but when we looked deep inside for our better angels we came up empty. Regardless, he told the truth beautifully and passionately. When we went low, he went high.

34) “The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.” (Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane)

It was thought that the Russian hacking of the U.S. Presidential election wasn’t met with an immediate response because no one thought Trump really had a chance to win, but the truth is the gravity of this virtual Watergate initially took even many veteran Washington insiders by surprise. This great piece of reportage provides deep and fascinating insight into one of the jaw-dropping scandals of an outrageous election season, which has its origins in the 1990s.

35) “Goodbye to Barack Obama’s World” (Edward Luce, The Financial Times

He must be taken seriously,” Luce wrote in the Financial Times in December 2015 of Donald Trump, as the anti-politician trolled the whole of America with his Penthouse-Apartment Pinochet routine, which seems to have been more genuine than many realized.

Like most, the columnist believed several months earlier that the Reality TV Torquemada was headed for a crash, though he rightly surmised the demons Trump had so gleefully and opportunistically awakened, the vengeful pangs of those who longed to Make America Great White Again, were not likely to dissipate.

But the dice were kind to the casino killer, and a string of accidents and incidents enabled Trump and the mob he riled to score enough Electoral College votes to turn the country, and world, upside down. It’s such an unforced error, one which makes Brexit seem a mere trifle, that it feels like we’ve permanently surrendered something essential about the U.S., that more than an era has ended.

In this post-election analysis, Luce looks forward for America and the whole globe and sees possibilities that are downright ugly.

36) “The Writer Who Was Too Strong To Live” (Dave McKenna, Deadspin)

A postmortem about Jennifer Frey, a journalistic prodigy of the 1990s who burned brilliantly before burning out. A Harvard grad who was filing pieces for newspapers before she was even allowed to drink–legally, that is–Frey was a full-time sportswriter for the New York Times by 24, out-thinking, out-hustling and out-filing even veteran scribes at a clip that was all but impossible. Frey seemed to have it all and was positioned to only get more.

Part of what she had, though, that nobody knew about, was bipolar disorder, which she self-medicated with a sea of alcohol. Career, family and friends gradually floated away, and she died painfully and miserably at age 47. The problem with formidable talent as much as with outrageous wealth is that it can be forceful enough to insulate a troubled soul from treatment. Then, when the fall finally occurs, as it must, it’s too late to rise once more.

37) “United States of Paranoia: They See Gangs of Stalkers” (Mike McPhate, The New York Times)

Sometimes mental illness wears the trappings of the era in which it’s experienced. Mike Jay has written beautifully in the last couple of years about such occurrences attending the burial of Napoleon Bonaparte and the current rise of surveillance and Reality TV. The latter is something of a Truman Show syndrome, in which sick people believe they’re being observed, that they’re being followed. To a degree, they’re right, we all are under much greater technological scrutiny now, though these folks have a paranoia which can drive such concerns into crippling obsessions.

Because we’re all connected now, the “besieged” have found one another online, banning together as “targeted individuals” who’ve been marked by the government (or some other group entity) for observation, harassment and mind control. McPhate’s troubling article demonstrates that the dream of endless information offering lucidity has been dashed for a surprising amount of people, that the inundation of data has served to confuse rather than clarify. These shaky citizens resemble those with alien abduction stories, except they seem to have been “shanghaied” by the sweep of history.

38) “The Long-Term Jobs Killer Is Not China. It’s Automation. (Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times)

Many people nowadays wonder what will replace capitalism, but I believe capitalism will be just fine.

You and me, however, we’re fucked.

The problem is that an uber technologized version of capitalism may not require as many of us or value as highly those who’ve yet to be relieved of their duties. Perhaps a thin crust at the very top will thrive, but without sound policy the rest may be Joads with smartphones. In this scenario, we’d be tracked and commodified, given virtual trinkets rather than be paid. Our privacy, like many of our jobs, will disappear into the zeros and ones.

While the orange supremacist was waving his penis in America’s face during the campaign, the thorny question of what to do should widespread automation be established was left unexplored. That’s terrifying, since more and more outsourcing won’t refer to work moved beyond borders but beyond species. Certainly great investment in education is required, but that won’t likely be enough. Not every freshly unemployed taxi driver can be upskilled into a driverless car software engineer. There’s not enough room on that road.

Miller, a reporter who understands both numbers and people in a way few do, analyzes how outsourcing will increasingly refer to work not moved beyond borders but beyond species.

39) “Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself(Sasha Von Oldershausen, Texas Monthly)

Surveillance is a murky thing almost always attended by a self-censorship, quietly encouraging citizens to abridge their communication because perhaps someone is watching or listening. It’s a chilling of civil rights that happens in a creeping manner. Nothing can be trusted, not even the mundane, not even your own judgement. That’s the goal, really, of such a system–that everyone should feel endlessly observed.

The West Texas border reporter finds similarities between her stretch of America, which feverishly focuses on security from intruders, and her time spent living under theocracy in Iran.

40) “Madness” (Eyal Press, The New Yorker)

“By the nineties, prisons had become America’s dominant mental-health institutions,” writes Press in this infuriating study of a Florida correctional facility in which guards tortured, brutalized, even allegedly murdered, inmates–and employed retaliatory measures against mental health workers who complained. Prison reform is supposedly one of those issues that has bipartisan support, but very little seems to get done in rehabilitating a system that warehouses many nonviolent offenders and mentally ill people among those who truly need to be incarcerated. It seems a breakdown of the institution but is more likely a perpetuation of business as it was intended to be. Either way, the situation needs all the scrutiny and investigation journalists can muster.

41) It May Not Feel Like Anything To Be an Alien(Susan Schneider, Nautilus)

Until deep into the twentieth century, most popular dreams of ETs usually centered on biology. We wanted new friends that reminded us of ourselves or were even cuter. When we accepted we had no Martian doppelgangers, a dejected resignation set in. Perhaps some sort of simple cellular life existed somewhere, but what thin gruel to digest.

Then a new reality took hold: Maybe advanced intelligence exists in space as silicon, not carbon. It’s postbiological.

If there are aliens out there, maybe they’re conscious machines, not oxygen-hoarding humans. It’s just too inhospitable for beings like us to travel beyond our solar system. He allows that cyborgs, a form of semi-organic post-humans, could possibly make a go of it. But that’s as close a reflection of ourselves we may be able to see in space. 

Soon enough, that may be true as well on Earth, a relatively young planet on which intelligence may be in the process of shedding its mortal coil. Another possibility: Perhaps intelligence is also discarding consciousness.

Schneider’s smart article asserts that “soon, humans will no longer be the measure of intelligence on Earth” and tries to surmise what that transition will mean.

42) “Schadenfreude with Bite(Richard Seymour, London Review of Books)

The problem with anarchy is that it has a tendency to get out of control.

In 2013, Eric Schmidt, the most perplexing of Googlers, wrote (along with Jared Cohen) the truest thing about our newly connected age: “The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history.”

Yes, indeed.

California was once a wild, untamed plot of land, and when people initially flooded the zone, it was exciting if harsh. But then, soon enough: the crowds, the pollution, the Adam Sandler films. The Golden State became civilized with laws and regulations and taxes, which was a trade-off but one that established order and security. The Web has been commodified but never been truly domesticated, so while the rules don’t apply it still contains all the smog and noise of the developed world. Like Los Angeles without the traffic lights.

Our new abnormal has played out for both better and worse. The fan triumphed over the professional, a mixed development that, yes, spread greater democracy on a surface level, but also left truth attenuated. Into this unfiltered, post-fact, indecent swamp slithered the troll, that witless, cowardly insult comic.

The biggest troll of them all, Donald Trump, the racist opportunist who stalked our first African-American President demanding his birth certificate, is succeeding Obama in the Oval Office, which is terrible for the country if perfectly logical for the age. His Lampanelli-Mussolini campaign also emboldened all manner of KKK 2.0, manosphere and neo-Nazi detritus in their own trolling, as they used social media to spread a discombobulating disinformation meant to confuse and distract so hate could take root and grow. No water needed; bile would do.

In the wonderfully written essay, Seymour analyzes the discomfiting age of the troll.

43) “An American Tragedy(David Remnick, The New Yorker)

It happened here, and Remnick, who spent years covering the Kremlin and many more thinking about the White House, was perfectly prepared to respond to a moment he hoped would never arrive. As the unthinkable was still unfolding and most felt paralyzed by the American embrace of a demagogue, the New Yorker EIC urgently warned of the coming normalization of the incoming Administration, instantly drawing a line that allowed for myriad voices to demand decency and insist on truth and facts, which is our best safeguard against the total deterioration of liberal governance.

44) “This Is New York in the Not-So-Distant Future” (Andrew Rice, New York)

Some sort of survival mechanism allows us to forget the full horror of a tragedy, and that’s a good thing. That fading of facts makes it possible for us to go on. But it’s dangerous to be completely amnesiac about disaster.

Case in point: In 2014, Barry Diller announced plans to build a lavish park off Manhattan at the pier where Titanic survivors came to shore. Dial back just a little over two years ago to another waterlogged disaster, when Hurricane Sandy struck the city, and imagine such an island scheme even being suggested then. The wonder at that point was whether Manhattan was long for this world. Diller’s designs don’t sound much different than the captain of a supposedly unsinkable ship ordering a swimming pool built on the deck just after the ship hit an iceberg.

Rice provides an excellent profile of scientist Klaus Joseph, who believes NYC, as we know it, has no future. The academic could be wrong, but if he isn’t, his words about the effects of Irene and Sandy are chilling: “God forbid what’s next.”

45) “The Newer Testament” (Robyn Ross, Texas Monthly)

A Lone Star State millennial using apps and gadgets to disrupt Big Church doesn’t really seem odder than anything else in this hyperconnected and tech-happy entrepreneurial age, when the way things have been are threatened at every turn. At Experience Life in Lubbock, Soylent has yet to replace wine and there’s no Virtual Reality confessionals, but self-described “computer nerd” Chris Galanos has done his best to take the “Old” out of the Old Testament with his buzzing, whirring House of God 2.0. Is nothing sacred anymore?

46) “The New Nationalism Of Brexit And Trump Is A Product Of The Digital Age” (Douglas Rushkoff, Fast Company)

“We are flummoxed by today’s nationalist, regressively anti-global sentiments only because we are interpreting politics through that now-obsolete television screen,” writes Rushkoff in this excellent piece about the factious nature of the Digital Age. The post-TV landscape is a narrowcasted one littered with an infinite number of granular choices and niches. It’s empowering in a sense, an opportunity to vote “Leave” to everything, even a future that’s arriving regardless of popular consensus. It’s a far cry from not that long ago when an entire world sat transfixed by Neil Armstrong’s giant leap. Now everyone is trying to land on the moon at the same time–and no one can agree where it is. It’s more democratic this way, but maybe to an untenable degree, perhaps to the point where it’s a new form of anarchy.

47) “The Incredible Fulk(Alexandra Suich, The Economist 1843)

The insanity of our increasingly scary wealth inequality is chronicled expertly in this richly descriptive article, even though it seems in no way intended as a hit piece. The title refers to Ken Fulk, Silicon Valley’s go-to “lifestyle designer,” who charges billionaires millions to create loud interiors, rooms stuffed with antique doors from shuttered mental institutions and musk-ox taxidermy, intended to “evoke feelings” or some such shit.

As the article says: “His spaces, when completed, have a theatrical quality to them, which Fulk plays up. Once he’s finished a project he often brings clients to their homes to show them the final product, a ceremony which he calls the ‘big reveal.’ For the Birches’ home in San Francisco, he hired men dressed as beefeaters to stand outside the entrance and musicians to play indoors. For another set of clients in Palm Springs, he hired synchronized swimmers, a camel and an impersonator to dress up and sing like Dean Martin.” It’s all good, provided a bloody revolution never occurs.

Fulk acknowledges a “tension between high and low” in his work. Know what else has tension? Nooses.

48) “Truth Is a Lost Game in Turkey. Don’t Let the Same Thing Happen to You.(Ece Temelkuran, The Guardian)

Nihilism is sometimes an end but more often a means.

Truth can be fuzzy and facts imprecise, but an honest pursuit of these precious goods allows for a basic decency, a sense of order. Bombard such efforts for an adequate length of time, convince enough people that veracity and reality are fully amorphous, and opportunities for mischief abound.

Break down the normal rules (written and unwritten ones), create an air of confusion with shocking behaviors and statements, blast an opening where anything is possible–even “unspeakable things”–and a democracy can fall and tyranny rise. The timing has to be right, but sooner or later that time will arrive.

Has such a moment come for America? The conditions haven’t been this ripe for at least 60 years, and nothing can now be taken for granted.

Temelkuran explains how Turkey became a post-truth state, a nation-sized mirage, and how the same fate may befall Europe and the U.S. She certainly shares my concerns about the almost non-stop use of the world “elites” to neutralize the righteous into paralysis.

49) “Prepping for Doomsday: Bunkers, Panic Rooms, and Going Off the Grid” (Clare Trapasso, Realtor.com)

Utter societal collapse in the United States may not occur in the immediate future, but it’s certainly an understandable time for a case of the willies. In advance of the November elections, the bunker business boomed, as some among us thought things would soon fall apart and busied themselves counting their gold coins and covering their asses. In a shocking twist, the result of the Presidential election has calmed many of the previously most panicked among us and activated the fears of the formerly hopeful.

50) “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Lives in the Future” (Caroline Winter, Bloomberg Businessweek)

Jacque Fresco, one of those fascinating people who walks through life building a world inside his head, hoping it eventually influences the wider one, is now into his second century of life. A futurist and designer who’s focused much of his work on sustainable living, technology and automation, Fresco is the brains behind the Venus Project, which encourages a post-money, post-scarcity, post-politician utopia. He’s clearly a template for many of today’s Silicon Valley aspiring game-changers.

Winter traveled to Middle-of-Nowhere, Florida (pop: Fresco + girlfriend and collaborator Roxanne Meadows), to write this smart portrait of the visionary after ten decades of reimagining the world according to his own specifications. He doesn’t think the road to a computer-governed utopia will be smooth, however. As Winter writes: “Once modern life gets truly hard, Fresco believes there will be a revolution that will clear the way for the Venus Project to be built. ‘There will be a lot of people getting shot, including me,’ he says wryly.” Well, he’s had a good run.•

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He must be taken seriously,” Edward Luce wrote in the Financial Times in December 2015 of Donald Trump, as the anti-politician trolled the whole of America with his Penthouse-Apartment Pinochet routine, which seems to have been more genuine than many realized.

Like most, the columnist believed several months earlier that the Reality TV Torquemada was headed for a crash, though he rightly surmised the demons Trump had so gleefully and opportunistically awakened, the vengeful pangs of those who longed to Make America Great White Again, were not likely to dissipate.

But the dice were kind to the casino killer, and a string of accidents and incidents enabled Trump and the mob he riled to score enough Electoral College votes to turn the country, and world, upside down. It’s such an unforced error, one which makes Brexit seem a mere trifle, that it feels like we’ve permanently surrendered something essential about the U.S., that more than an era has ended.

In “Goodbye to Barack Obama’s World,” Luce looks forward for America and the whole globe and sees possibilities that are downright ugly. An excerpt:

One of Mr Obama’s core traits is to believe that reason governs how people act. It is the perennial failing of liberal technocrats to suppose human affairs are settled by rational argument. When people failed to see the merits of the case — whether Republican legislators, or foreign leaders — Mr Obama would retreat into injured silence. The world has been a disappointment to Mr Obama. When Vladimir Putin’s Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, John Kerry, the outgoing secretary of state, said: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in a 19th-century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped up pretext.” But that is how the world often operates. The US had done just that to Iraq in the 21st century.

America tends to choose presidents whose personalities are the opposite of their predecessors. Mr Obama, the reasoner, replaced Bush the decider. Mr Trump is a pure bluffer. Much like one of his property deals, Mr Trump will cajole, bully, flatter, and bribe whomever he is dealing with. When he fails — which he surely must — he will declare it a success and divert people’s attention. That is what his outrageous tweets are about. When people tell the truth about him, he will call them liars. When they praise him, he will call them geniuses. When a crisis strikes, he will gamble from the gut. Buyers’ remorse will grip the US public. Mr Obama’s post-presidential approval ratings are likely to stay up.

But Mr Trump will not reverse America’s relative decline. The chances are he will drastically accelerate it. The global role that Mr Obama inherited — and tried, to some degree, to uphold — is now in tatters. It would be hard to overstate the epochal significance of Mr Trump’s election. The US-led international order as we knew it for 70 years is over. The era of great power politics is back. An ebullient Russia, led by the strongman Putin, and an increasingly confident China, led by the strongman Xi Jinping, will deal with a wounded America led by strongman Trump. The long-term trajectory is towards China. But the short-term drama will focus on Mr Trump’s dealings with Mr Putin. How they play out is anybody’s guess. But it will not be pretty. Europe will be the loser. So too will American prestige.•

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Donald Trump with Chewbacca and Darth Vader in a Star Wars–themed episode of The Apprentice, 2005

Just after Y2K fears subsided, America was struck by another disaster that shook it to its core, the Fox TV show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? The program was a gross two-hour spectacle in which a woman was chosen by a supposedly rich man to become his insta-wife even though they barely knew one another. The broadcast provoked outrage for making a mockery of marriage, a traditional value (and financial arrangement) that had long been credited for holding together the fabric of our society. Despite a gigantic audience, the rerun was cancelled, apologies offered and an annulment hastily arranged.

In 2016, U.S. television is littered with thirsty aspiring brides and bachelors with no body hair nor brain cells. Nobody worries about such things anymore, the flood of programs washing away any resistance to a sideshow of emotionally destroyed people providing cheap content for endless channels. 

In some ways, the loosening of traditional mores is good. Back in 2000, when the Fox pseudo-nuptials took place, no state in the country was close to allowing gay people to marry, and now those unions are legal across the land. How amazing.

The flip side is that the constant shocks of our bread-and-Kardashians culture have numbed us to any sense of civility, even in a Presidential race. It seems acceptable to a surprising number of citizens that the country be in the hands of a Reality TV star who’s a vicious racist and xenophobe, an insomniac tweeter and a vulgar bumper sticker of a man who knows nothing more than simple catchphrases and how to reflexively point fingers. 

That’s our strange, new dichotomy. It’s unreal.

From Edward Luce in the Financial Times:

Every presidential election holds up a mirror to US society. In 2008 it was the hope promised by Barack Obama. This year it is unshockability. Donald Trump’s gaffes are too legion to list. From his reiteration this week that one of his former Miss Universes was too fat, to his criticism a year ago of John McCain’s record as a war prisoner, or his imitation of a disabled reporter, any one would have sunk an earlier candidate. Mr Trump’s immunity to his multitude of offences marks a shift in America’s sensibility. In an age of reality TV we have the reality politician.

Such shock fatigue is not limited to political incorrectness — though the rise of reality TV has inured people to humiliation as entertainment. It also extends to revelations about Mr Trump’s life. In the last month, the Washington Post has run investigative probes on the Trump Foundation, which have shocked political America, but caused barely a ripple beyond the Washington beltway. They allege Mr Trump’s charity, the Trump Foundation, paid off a plaintiff in a lawsuit against one of his businesses, bought portraits of Mr Trump and settled a public suit unrelated to his charity.

He also used it to make a $25,000 donation to Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney-general, who was investigating whether to prosecute Trump University for fraud. The “university” — another of Mr Trump’s misleadingly titled ventures — faces class action lawsuits. Ms Bondi dropped the probe around the time she received the donation. Mr Trump was fined $2,500 for misusing charitable money. The Post has also detailed millions of dollars Mr Trump claims to have given to charities that were never made.

Again, such revelations would have destroyed a candidate in years past. There is no evidence Mr Trump has been scathed.•

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With Barry Goldwater’s words playing in a loop in his head and Richard Nixon (literally) tattooed on his back, Roger Stone, longtime consigliere to Donald Trump, is a true believer in Republicanism. Like many blindly devoted souls, he blissfully avoids facts that might constrain his ardor. Example: Stone refers repeatedly to Hillary Clinton as a “crook,” despite having been an employee and apologist for President Richard Nixon, whose administration literally committed criminal acts that stunned the nation and led to resignation.

Stone initially bonded with Trump over their mutual support for Ronald Reagan’s first successful bid for the White House. In The Art of the Deal, Trump turned on Reagan and he eventually gave the boot to Stone, though he embraced them both once more when it was expedient during his disgraceful run for the Oval Office. (Reagan, who’d been dead for more than a decade, could not be reached for comment on the reunion.)

Trump, who has Nixon imprinted on him figuratively, has not been aided by his paranoia, dishonesty, vindictiveness or capriciousness during the unforgiving light of the general election. Nor has he been helped by his lazy, bigoted depictions of “the blacks” or “the Hispanics.” Like Stone, Trump elides nuances in the name of a blunt-instrument approach to winning power. These are simple men in complicated times.

Edward Luce, who’s had a spectacular season covering America’s Baba Booey of an election, has a lively profile of Stone in the Financial Times. An excerpt:

What about Hillary Clinton, I ask? What happens if she beats Trump? Stone’s words spill out even faster than before. At one point, he sounds so strident that half the restaurant turns to see what the fuss is about. “If she wins, we’re done as a nation,” Stone shoots back. “We’ll be overrun by hordes of young Muslims, like Germany and France, raping, killing, violating, desecrating. You can see that. It’s happening there.” Stone is so enraptured by his dystopian nightmare, he appears not to notice that everyone can hear him. “If Hillary wins, there will be widespread unrest, civil disobedience, badly divided government in which half the country believes she, her daughter, and her husband belong in prison. There’ll be no goodwill. No honeymoon. There will be systematic inspection of all of her actions because someone who has been a crook in the past will be a crook in the future. It will be sad. I’ll probably be forced to move to Costa Rica.”•

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If Donald Trump loses in November, America will prove, as it did during the Revolutionary War, to be slightly less incompetent than Britain. That type of sliver can make all the difference. It can birth or preserve a superpower.

Not everyone thinks Brexit is a particularly pertinent barometer for the Trump-Clinton shitstorm, but Edward Luce of the Financial Times writes that the throw-the-bums-out U.K. referendum has heartened American conservatives, even if they themselves detest the angry, orange face of their party. It might be as self-delusional as the Romney campaign’s internal polling, or maybe the whole world really has gone mad. Luce criticizes the Democratic nominee for running a campaign that’s “too nebulous to excite.”

Luce’s opening:

Listen. Can you hear the British lion roar? People on Europe’s side of the Atlantic may strain to do so through the din of Thursday’s shock result. But in parts of America it came through loud and clear. Among conservatives in particular the UK has become an instant king of the jungle. To Donald Trump’s supporters and critics alike, Brexit is that rare event that evoked the same instinct. What happens to Brussels need not stay in Brussels. It can happen to Washington too.

So much for Britain’s demonstration effect. What of America’s reality? The parallels between America’s coming election and the UK referendum are real, particularly if you are on the side that is expected to lose. Much like Britain’s Leave campaign, Republicans are beset by divisions, nervous of hijack by racist fringe groups, heavily discounted by the betting industry, and facing a well-oiled establishment opponent.

Mr Trump’s fate — and those of many hapless down ballot Republicans — appears to be sealed. Only fools would gamble the presidency on such a person. Why risk so much for a brief emotional release?

The answer is not quite so confident after Brexit. It was natural Mr Trump would interrupt his golf marketing stopover in Scotland on Friday to congratulate the British for taking “their country back. That, after all, is what he is promising America. It was slightly odder that he observed Scotland going wild over the vote” after almost two-thirds of Scots opposed Brexit. But Mr Trump has a knack of seeing things others cannot. Witness his imaginary fan base of Hispanic and African-American voters.

Yet he was not alone. The projection of American conservative dreams on to the UK referendum result went deep.•

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Edward Luce of the Financial Times has done some of the very best writing about America’s shock jock campaign season, in which the eternally insincere Donald Trump, a lower-case insult comic and Reality TV host, a narcissist who manages to steadfastly ignore the many cracks in his mirror, has won the GOP nomination, confounding his own party’s power structure as well as anyone with common sense. The hideous hotelier has carved a surprisingly wide niche by promising to “Make America Great (read: ‘White’) Again,” vowing he can magically bring back manufacturing jobs increasingly handled by robots and make coal cool once more. Those scenarios are as likely as the condo salesman actually reading the Bible he keeps his right hand on when campaigning in evangelical bases.

Luce’s very best piece to date on the topic is his new article about a visit he paid to Buchanan County, the Virginia district that gave Donald Trump his biggest victory percentage-wise in America. In the shadows of the Great Smokies, the mines are dead and dying, not only because of regulation intended to constrain climate change but also because a new era has arrived, which has made many dangerously nostalgic. Problem is, yesterday seldom ever returns and if it does you mostly get only the bad parts.

In the county, Luce encounters 22-year-old nonconformist Daniel Justus, who believes Trump is just the latest opioid to be swallowed by the locals, whom he disagrees with vehemently but loves all the same. He also spends time with Tamara Neo, Trump’s most vocal supporter in the community. An excerpt:

Tamara Neo, Trump’s main cheerleader for the region, certainly sees it that way. Every morning she puts her three children into her Range Rover for the 45-minute drive to a private Christian school across the state border in West Virginia. There is too much godlessness in today’s public schools, she believes. As we drive, Tamara tests her children on the Bible. “John 1, verses 16-18,” she barks into her iPhone’s Siri app. The verses appear on screen. “Now say the verse, Axella,” she says to her daughter, who’s in fifth grade. Axella stumbles over it then yawns. “Again,” says Tamara, until she gets it right. She moves on to Io, her eldest: “Exodus 20, Verse 12,” she says. “Go Io.” Next comes Flux. Then she makes them recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg address — all 278 words of it. She does not stop until they get it right.

With children called Io, Axella and Flux, Tamara betrays her western origins. People in Virginia are conservative with names. Tamara and her husband Flux, also a lawyer, moved here from Colorado 10 years ago because they loved the beauty of the Great Smokies. She ran as commonwealth attorney for Buchanan County — an elected position as chief prosecutor for the area. She lost her re-election in 2010 but not before putting scores of people away for prescription drug-dealing. “In a close-knit community like this, a prosecutor quickly prosecutes herself out of a job,” says Tamara. “You know too many people.” Almost never in her four years on the job did she come across cocaine or even meth. “The epidemic is in prescription pills,” she says. “People will do anything to get hold of them.”

Like many of Trump’s evangelical supporters, Tamara does not mind the thrice-married candidate’s lurid tabloid past. After all, Ronald Reagan had been divorced. “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” she says. What most appeals to her about Trump is that he talks without a trace of political correctness. He calls things the way he sees them. Gaffes that would have felled a lesser man — calling illegal Hispanic immigrants “murderers” and “rapists”, for example, or obsessing over supposed slights about the size of his penis — have left Trump unscathed. “He just keeps walking through one fire after another and coming out the other side untouched,” says Tamara. “I take this as a sign.”•

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During the darkest days of the second Bush Administration, the comedian Lewis Black had a great joke about hoping for the first time in his life that there would be a military coup in America. The politicians were so bad that the generals were clearly preferable.

At the center of the Army’s appeal stood David Petraeus, a talented commander who was built to mythical proportions out of political expedience, so that a President who’d lost the faith of the people could still operate abroad militarily. But his surge did not last. Like most heroes of convenience, the general was bound for a fall, but the extent of his defeat and surrender was shocking. Scandals personal and professional ended his brilliant career, even if he managed to avoid prison time.

The former CIA Director, now building equity on Wall Street, sat down for lunch with the Financial Times’ Edward Luce, who’s done some of the best writing on American politics during this crazy election year. The journalist finds a subject who doesn’t seem given to deep self-analysis despite his precipitous fall from grace. The opening:

On the dot of noon, as agreed, General David Petraeus strolls into the Four Seasons Restaurant. His arrival causes a flurry among the floor staff. Dressed in a navy blue suit and plain red tie, the former CIA chief is businesslike — in keeping with his new role on Wall Street. When I inquire what keeps him busy nowadays his answer goes on for so long I half regret asking. In addition to a lucrative job in private equity and a clutch of teaching jobs, he is “on the [paid] speaking circuit.” Chuckling, and in an apparent reference to Bernie Sanders’ attacks on Hillary Clinton’s gilded speaking career, he adds: “Many have noted it is the highest form of white-collar crime.” Only when I touch on the scandal that ended his meteoric public career does he assume a crisper tone.

Just four years ago, Petraeus was lionised as the Douglas MacArthur of his generation. Even discounting the hype, he stood head and shoulders above other US generals. In the depths of the Iraq war, when the country was undergoing death by a thousand improvised explosive devices, he was dubbed “King David” of Mosul — a city he cleared and held before it fell back into rebel hands. He was then appointed chief architect of George W Bush’s 2007 Iraq surge and, after a stint as head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, Barack Obama put him in charge of his own surge in Afghanistan. His reward was to be made head of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2011. Many thought the CIA was a springboard for Petraeus’s own presidential ambitions. America loves a successful general and his approval ratings were stratospheric. Could anything stand in his way?

The answer was yes — David Petraeus himself. Shortly after Obama’s re-election in 2012, Petraeus abruptly resigned from the CIA when it emerged he had shared eight notebooks of classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. They had also had an affair. Rarely has a fall from grace been so brutal.•

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Remember the good old days when the Republican Party used racism as seasoning, not the whole meal?

The GOP power brokers have long used the coded language of exclusion to seal the deal with white Americans whom they assumed were mainly present for their policies. But Donald Trump, who made the asinine prediction above about Obamacare in 2011, actually says now he approves of most of the key tenets of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, he sometimes can actually be to the Left of what the Obama Administration accomplished. It wasn’t Obama’s legislation that was actually a prickly problem, then what was besides partisanship and the President’s race? It wasn’t that the suit was too tan but the skin.

Trump’s not really selling any conservative policies, and I’m sure evangelicals aren’t buying his bible-salesman bullshit. What he has to offer is the unvarnished language of bigotry and anti-immigration. He seems mostly to have risen because of his stab in the dark that there a large amount of white Americans who really miss being able to use racial slurs without consequences. So many Trump voters have said in entrance and exit polls they like him because he “tells it like it is.” But he never does. He just says hateful, prejudiced things. The coded language has shifted from the leader to the followers.

From “Trump’s Hostile Takeover Gains Pace,” by Edward Luce of the Financial Times:

Much like Donald Trump, facts are stubborn things. No Republican has ever won both New Hampshire and South Carolina and failed to win the nomination. Yet two earth-shattering victories later, swaths of the Republican establishment continue to think Mr Trump will prove an exception to that rule.

As it happens, they thought his campaign would implode six months ago. The last to know are always those in charge. This is how C-suites react to hostile bids. First there is denial. Then anger. Then bargaining. Eventually they succumb to depression.

In the case of Mr Trump, Republicans might as well jump straight to the latter. It is hard to overstate how emphatically the party’s rank and file have repudiated their leaders in the past two weeks

It is likely to get worse. On Tuesday, Mr Trump will almost certainly sweep Nevada, according to the polls. A week later most of the Bible Belt will vote in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1 that will select a huge slate of delegates. With almost three-quarters of voters declaring themselves evangelical, South Carolina was about as biblical as a primary could be.

Not only did Mr Trump win 43 per cent of evangelical voters, according to exit polls. He won many more than his scripture-quoting rival, Ted Cruz. The portents for Texas, the most important state on Super Tuesday, look ominous.

To underline, the overtly Christian Mr Cruz lost hands down among socially conservative voters to a thrice-married, Pope-insulting, profanity-spewing, casino-owning mogul from New York.•

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Donald Trump, Pinochet with a line of men’s fragrances, would seem to have a proper path forward in the GOP race. With the next month of Republican primaries favoring far-right pols, and the trio of Kasich, Rubio and Bush subtracting from one another, the Reality TV realtor need only outpace Ted Cruz, a rat trap of a man and the only person in America more unlikable than him. Trump isn’t a true conservative, but he’s clearly communicated his intention to “Make America Great White Again.” At this point, his campaign can’t be disqualified by anything he says, no matter how repugnant, but will instead rise or fall based on how many caucasians in the U.S. deeply resent no longer being able to use the N-word without consequence. 

It’s not as easy to see a similar road to success for the other upstart, Bernie Sanders, despite his rousing N.H. win and Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities. Until the race moves past Super Tuesday, the Vermont Senator will walk headlong into an unforgiving slate of mostly Southern states where he’ll have to pick up non-white voters, something he’s thus far shown little flair for. Sanders could be trailing badly by the time we move deeper into March, so he needs to change that reality before the South Carolina primary.

From Edward Luce in the Financial Times:

Nobody knows better than the Clintons the power of early state momentum.

In his victory speech, Mr Sanders said he was travelling to New York on Wednesday — “but not to raise money from Wall Street.” In fact, he will be breakfasting with the Reverend Al Sharpton, the radical black pastor, who seems likely to endorse him. Other black celebrities have been lined up.

Mr Sanders has two weeks, and the media wind at his back, to turn South Carolina into another victory. If he pulls that off, he will join Mr Trump as odds-on favourite to win his party’s nomination. The polls say Mrs Clinton will halt Mr Sanders’ progress south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But pre-New Hampshire polls are now virtually worthless. Anything could happen.

Both parties may be on course to endorse candidates who repudiate much of what they stand for.

If there was ever a moment Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, was tempted to run for the White House, it may be fast approaching.•

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Donald Trump, Pol Pot with hair plugs, is like all bullies, a coward. His behavior stems from weakness and insecurity, so he can be handled. Jeb!, the favored son of a privileged family, doesn’t have adequate experience neutralizing such toxic types, but there are sure ways to deal. Lecture him about it in a mature way like Bernie Sanders and the hideous hotelier looks small. Aggressively return his obnoxious behavior like Megyn Kelly and he positively wilts. 

Women in particular throw Trump for a loss because he’s spent his life making sure he’s in a superior position to the ones in his life. He controls the purse strings and they should bleed in silence. Edward Luce’s latest Financial Times column about the 2016 race looks at this particular Trump shortcoming. The opening:

Hillary Clinton should be celebrating. Donald Trump’s decision to boycott the Fox News debate was ostensibly about ratings. How can the cable network make money without his celebrity pull? Mr Trump may prove his point when Thursday night’s viewership numbers come in.

But switching channels is not the same thing as showing up at a polling booth. More than half America’s electorate is female — they accounted for 53 per cent of the vote in the last election. Even the most apathetic will by now have heard Mr Trump’s opinions about Megyn Kelly, the Fox anchor, who will co-host the debate. Ms Kelly is a “bimbo”, according to Mr Trump, who is incapable of objectivity when there is “blood coming out of her whatever”.

So that is settled. Mr Trump thinks the menstrual cycle is a handicap. He also recoils at other female bodily functions. When Mrs Clinton took a bathroom break at a recent Democratic debate, Mr Trump described her as “disgusting”. He used the same word about an opposing lawyer in a 2011 hearing when she asked for a short break to pump breast milk. Looks are also fair game. Among those attacked for their appearance are the actress Bette Midler (“extremely unattractive”), Angelina Jolie (“she’s been with so many guys she makes me look like a baby”), media figure Arianna Huffington (“unattractive both inside and out”), fellow Republican candidate Carly Fiorina (“look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”) and comedian Rosie O’Donnell (“fat pig”).

None of which has done Mr Trump’s ratings any harm. The more controversial a celebrity, the bigger audiences they attract. The question is whether there is any longer a meaningful distinction between show business and US politics. Do ratings equal votes?•

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Sarah Palin’s halting, incoherent endorsement speech for Donald Trump is the sort of thing that usually comes from the mouth of a nativist stroke victim, a fan of medicines or an imbecile. Sometimes all three at the same time.

It’s amusing that Palin, who’s always pretended to be a great supporter of American troops and has repeatedly excoriated President Obama, even today, for not showing them enough respect (though he always does), is now an ardent advocate of the only national American politician in recent memory (ever?) to mock our service people. What makes it worse is Trump, who requested multiple military deferments and has never seen a bunker that wasn’t on a golf course, ridiculed the extreme sacrifice of the very person, John McCain, who made Palin’s ascendency possible.

From Edward Luce at the Financial Times:

To chants of “USA, USA”, America’s best known hockey Mom briefly stole the limelight during the 2008 election before embarking on a career as a conservative entertainer. Her 2016 comeback, which she kicked off with an endorsement of Donald Trump on Tuesday, may turn out the same. Should Mr Trump becomes the next US president, Ms Palin could be his secretary of energy (as he has promised). Failing that, she will return to her life in Alaska as a fading social media star.

Yet her embrace of Mr Trump also has a biblical subtext. Ms Palin was John the Baptist to Mr Trump’s Jesus. Years before Mr Trump trashed conventional wisdom by boosting his poll numbers with gaffes, Ms Palin had patented that style of campaigning. The more tongue-tied Ms Palin seemed, the more intensely her supporters backed her. The more the media mocked her, the more her fanbase exulted. Mr Trump has elevated that approach into an art form. In an age when knowledge is a mark of elitism, ignorance is power. It is also great marketing.

During the 2008 campaign, Ms Palin famously could not think of a single newspaper title she read. She also failed to recall the name of a founding father. Likewise, she was pilloried for citing Alaska’s proximity to Russia as evidence of her foreign policy credentials. The more derision Ms Palin suffered, the greater her heartland appeal. This is how Ms Palin’s “teachers, and teamsters, and cops and cooks, and stay-at-home Moms,” also felt. Mr Trump has collected Ms Palin’s hockey puck and skated on with it. When he betrayed ignorance of the “nuclear triad” in a recent debate, experts were floored. How could someone auditioning to be commander-in-chief be unaware of America’s three nuclear delivery platforms? Mr Trump’s admission did him no harm. His supporters knew how it felt to be the butt of liberal sneering.

Ms Palin’s endorsement also highlights a lesser known breach — that between “movement” conservatives who tend to be more ideological and generally back Ted Cruz in Iowa, and Mr Trump’s more populist fan base.•

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Donald Trump, the Kim Jong-un of casino bankruptcy, had largely played footsie with Ted Cruz even while excoriating all other GOP hopefuls. That changed recently, however, when the two most detestable of all the candidates began throwing haymakers at one another. Amusing to hear Trump play the likability card with Cruz, since the former Apprentice host has tried to not only connect with members of the 4-H club but also those in the 3-K club.

The most telling line of the entire GOP race was spoken before Trump and Cruz were torn asunder, when they still resisted attacking one another. The aspiring potentate said this of his Texan-Canadian competitor: “Everything I say, he agrees with me. No matter what I say.” It was a tacit acknowledgement by Trump that he knew he was spouting crazy shit because he thought it would resonate with nativist voters he needed to float his cockamamie campaign.

Largely it has, at least with a sizable-enough swath of a frayed and divided party. It’s been the Reality TV version of the political season, full of disgraceful taunts and pathetic posturing, and the question is if the show gets cancelled in Iowa and New Hampshire or if the season is sadly extended.

From Edward Luce’s Financial Times column about the approaching American hour of reckoning:

Returning to America after a trip, I encountered a chatty immigration officer. “You guys should have finished off the crusades when you had the chance,” he said as he handed back my British passport. In themselves such encounters mean little. But I have had many similar ones recently — and the plural of anecdote is data, as they say.

Within the next three weeks, we shall find out if the rise of Donald Trump is silly season froth that comes before voting, or whether we are in the midst of a dramatic upheaval in US politics. My head is agnostic. But my gut tells me things are changing for the worse. Either way, the time for speculation is nearly over.

The rest of the world is almost as obsessed about America’s political health as the US. Every time I have been abroad in the past few months, people ask the same question: “Could Donald Trump be president?” The answer is probably not. But it comes with a strict health warning. More seasoned observers have been wrong about US politics in the past year and show few signs of lifting their batting average.

In spite of that, the consensus holds that Mr Trump will not be the Republican nominee. Should he become so, he would lose the presidential election. If, by some miracle, he won it, he would make a disastrous president. The next question is: “What is fuelling Mr Trump’s popularity?” (And for better informed foreigners, that of Ted Cruz too.) This is the issue that matters most.•

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Americans misunderstand December 25 even as they celebrate it. One example is the song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” which is commonly perceived as a nostalgic and heartwarming ode when it’s one of the saddest pieces of music imaginable, a tearful tune about someone not being able to make it back to their loved ones. The crushing line (“If only in my dreams”) seems to have been psychologically elided the way the suicide threat tucked in neatly at the end of Sinatra’s plucky Horatio Alger classic “That’s Life” was. It’s not so much about embracing hope as willful ignorance. 

Of course, the Fox News “War on Christmas” is a much larger philosophical disconnect, where non-Christians are somehow a threat to a Christian country. It’s just another scattershot reaction to the crumbling of the American middle class stoked by Roger Ailes’ hot-air machine. The formerly privileged know something they used to have has been stolen from them and assume, for some reason, that it involves Christ-ified consumerism.

As the tug of tinsel goes, so does U.S. politics, an unholy rabble bent on crucifying the truth. Objective information is beside the point. It all depends on what you wish for.

From Edward Luce at the Financial Times:

Once upon a time, Americans settled around the television to enjoy a white Christmas together. Nowadays, it seems, they are too entrenched on opposite sides of the “war on Christmas”, or commoditising it to oblivion, to remember Bing Crosby’s crooning. To say the US is a civilisation divided may strike some as an overstatement

For the most part, the country still speaks one language. Black and white, straight and gay, Jewish and Muslim all flock to the latest Star Wars movie. Interest in the Oscars and the Super Bowl obliterates sociological distinction. So too does fear of economic insecurity. These things unite most Americans.

Yet the things that divide the country are growing. If you listen to the Republican presidential debate, one message overrides all. Conservatives do not just disagree with President Barack Obama — they hate him profoundly. When asked if they would back a Donald Trump nomination, even the most moderate Republican says anyone would be better than this “feckless, weakling” president, to quote Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor.

Likewise, if you ask a liberal about today’s Republicans, it does not take long before the word “stupid” is used. People who support Mr Trump are idiots. People who oppose him must be snobs. The two sides neither speak to each other, nor obtain their “information” from the same outlets. Facts are what you feel comfortable believing. No one in your social group is likely to challenge you.

Is the idea of America as a republic of shared values under threat?•

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As far as I can tell, Edward Luce of the Financial Times was the first to argue that even should Donald Trump’s candidacy dissolve, the hatred he unloosed would remain. It was waiting for agency, and the GOP opportunist–or worse yet, hatemonger–supplied it. Now it’s here for the long haul, regardless of who’s the eventual nominee.

In Luce’s latest column, he pens a letter to America in the guise of Joe Biden, appealing to the fading American middle class to say no to their worst impulses. He wonders if U.S. politics is merely a reality show now, accepting of a bachelor who hands out only thorns. An excerpt:

Fellow Americans, we are in danger of electing someone who could do great damage to our country. When fear takes over, humans forget reason. Since 9/11 almost a quarter of a million Americans have died in gun violence. Thousands were children. Some of them were gunned down in their classrooms. We did not call these acts of terrorism. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting we take away everyone’s guns. I am realistic. But you should know that your chances of being killed in everyday gun violence are several thousand times greater than dying from terrorism on US soil. Forty Americans have been killed by terrorists since 9/11. We need to keep our sense of perspective.

Who are we? Is America turning into a game-show democracy that can be manipulated to laugh and cry and boo on a whim by the host with trophy wives? Are we the kind of people who would close our shutters to a fifth of the world and two per cent of our law-abiding citizens? Would we set up a police state so that we could round up 11m Mexicans? Is that who we are?•

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Donald Trump, a gout-ish dummkopf who makes Juggalos wince, has no interest in being President, a position that requires commitment, foresight and maturity, qualities he sorely lacks. He jumped into the race impetuously during one of his many glucose spikes, demanding attention for his man-baby ego, and has been unable to disqualify himself from the odious GOP race no matter how disgraceful his behavior. The fledgling fascist will just have to keep upping the ante as he tries to dream up some exit from the trail.

Early in the campaign, Edward Luce of the Financial Times made a prediction already realized: The miserable mogul may accomplish an egress after sullying the season, but the hatred he stirs up isn’t going anywhere.

From Ben Schreckinger at Politico:

The Ku Klux Klan is using Donald Trump as a talking point in its outreach efforts. Stormfront, the most prominent American white supremacist website, is upgrading its servers in part to cope with a Trump traffic spike. And former Louisiana Rep. David Duke reports that the businessman has given more Americans cover to speak out loud about white nationalism than at any time since his own political campaigns in the 1990s.

As hate group monitors at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League warn that Trump’s rhetoric is conducive to anti-Muslim violence, white nationalist leaders are capitalizing on his candidacy to invigorate and expand their movement.

“Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that,” said Stormfront founder Don Black, who reports additional listeners and call volume to his phone-in radio show, in addition to the site’s traffic bump. Black predicts that the white nationalist forces set in motion by Trump will be a legacy that outlives the businessman’s political career.•

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Henry Miller wrote this in the early pages of Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch: “The enchanting, and sometimes terrifying, thing is that the world can be so many things to so many different souls.”

While the rise of the Islamic State, a nightmarish quasi-nation of no precise borders, was certainly made possible by the senseless invasion of Iraq by the United States, I don’t think the destructive impulse that drives it was. Unfortunate geopolitical decisions liberated the madness but did not create it. Terror is usually thought to be a response, but it can also be a call, driven by deeply embedded ideologies and psychologies, whether we’re speaking of a large-scale operation like Nazism or a relatively small-scale one like ISIS. Sometimes evil is just evil.

Disappear every last Westerner from the Middle East and attacks such as the horror in Paris will continue, because the very fact of liberalism and secularism is incompatible with this small but destructive band of zealots. The world just means something different to them, and they can’t abide by such differences. 

The overwhelming majority of the globe’s nearly 1.6 billion Muslims are clearly living peaceful, productive lives, but the members of ISIS and Al Qaeda aren’t among them. There’s no easy strategy to defeat them for good, with trillions of dollars of boots on the ground unlikely to bring about a lasting peace and likely to be attended by many casualties. A broader coalition of free nations acting in an opportunistic military fashion is really the best guess right now.

In his latest FT column, Edward Luce looks at the impact of the Paris attacks on the U.S. 2016 election season. An excerpt:

Even before the carnage in Paris, the sands of American public opinion were shifting. Last week a majority said they were prepared to put more US troops into Iraq and Syria to defeat Isis. After November 13, that number is likely to rise. The pressure on Mr Obama to take more drastic action, such as agreeing to “no-fly zones” within Syria, is rising. At nearly every point, Mr Obama has been caught behind the curve on Syria. In early 2014, he described Isis as “junior varsity”, which meant they were unlikely to trouble the grown-ups. Within weeks the group had taken control of up to a third of Iraq and was spreading rapidly in Syria. Whatever the reality on the ground today, Americans are prone to distrust Mr Obama’s reassuring words on Isis.

He is losing his grip on the language. When he came into office, Mr Obama quietly dropped George W Bush’s “war on terror”. That downgrade looks unlikely to outlast his period of office. It was motivated by the view that the US had brought much of the terror on itself by the mistaken 2003 invasion of Iraq, which Mr Obama vowed to undo. By 2011, all US troops were out of Iraq.

But the success of Isis, which filled much of the vacuum left by a departing US, has challenged Mr Obama’s worldview. Instead of seeing Isis as a product of the botched aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq — notably the decision to disband Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated army and leave Baghdad in the grip of the Shia — many Americans see it as a result of Mr Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq in 2011. He has already put 3,500 troops back into Iraq. US public opinion would like to see more. The Paris attacks will increase that drumbeat.

Mr Obama’s fellow Democrats have yet to catch up with that reality.•

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Donald Trump is really busy right now trying to sell bibles to Iowans he clearly sees as rubes, so he paid a ghostwriter to knock out a quickie volume for him so he could make a few dollars. By all accounts, it’s thin gruel, more cheap, mediocre product from America’s leading vulgarian, which wouldn’t be such a damning descriptor if he wasn’t also racist, xenophobic, sexist, etc. 

In a Financial Times column, Edward Luce analyzes not just the Reality TV realtor’s book but also Michael D’Antonio’s title about him, Never Enough, a work he praises. An excerpt:

Donald first came to public attention in 1973, when the civil rights division of the US Justice Department launched a case against the Trumps for allegedly discriminating between black and white tenants in the public housing that he ran. Donald hired Roy Cohn, a notorious lawyer who had once worked for Joe McCarthy, the senator who spearheaded the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. It was a classic Trump response. If someone attacks you, hit back 10 times harder. If you are accused of something, label your accuser with something far worse. (It is a tactic he is putting to good use on the 2016 campaign trail.) Cohn hit the government with a $100m damages lawsuit claiming that federal officials were like “storm troopers” who had used “Gestapo-like tactics” to defame their client. The case was settled. Trump went on to win far bigger contracts. In Trump’s world, money is the measure of success. According to his own book, he has made “more than $10 billion”. According to Bloomberg, his net wealth is around $2.9bn.

D’Antonio aims to do more than explain the life of America’s best known property developer. He also links it to the unfolding story of Trump’s times. Trump was reared on the kind of self-help and get-rich-quick books that he now so frequently churns out himself (starting with The Art of the Deal, which came out in 1987, Trump has written more than a dozen). Raised on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), the young Trump was taught that life was all about winning. His biggest influence was Norman Vincent Peale, a Presbyterian pastor whose book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) sold 2m copies in its first two years. Trump and his father regularly attended Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. Peale’s theology was devoid of sin or guilt. The only belief it commanded was in oneself. Confidence was the key. Prosperity would follow. “Learn to pray big prayers,” advised Peale. “God will rate you according to the size of your prayers.”•

 

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Donald Trump is deeply loyal to country and family, if you discount the military deferments and adultery. Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon who’s worked on lots of brains, though not, it would seem, his own. Bernie Sanders is a 74-year-old small-state socialist who knows what ails America and has been wholly unable to remedy any of these problems during 25 years in Washington.

Yet they are among the polling leaders in the race for the U.S. Presidency. Even relatively early in the election season, it’s an odd, populist place for us to be–but then it’s a strange time in America.

The tax codes that spread the wealth in the aftermath of WWII have long been erased, a process that gained furious urgency in the Reagan years and was completed by Dubya. Nothing ever trickled down and the 2008 economic collapse was a storm that hit us sideways. The recovery has been a top-heavy affair that’s barely glanced the majority. If technological unemployment becomes even a fraction of what some fear it will be, the haves and have-nots will move even further apart.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. but is that what we’ll get?

Trump, who entered the race impetuously in a bid for attention to fill one of the many holes in his heart, never actually wanted to be President. He already seems bored with it all. Carson is clearly unelectable unless the majority of Americans secretly believe in the devil. Sanders probably would need the whole of the country to morph into Minnesota, desiring a national version of none-of-the-above candidate Jesse Ventura, though one of a decidedly less steroidal physique. Elizabeth Warren was likely the only true populist who had a path to the Oval Office, if a bumpy one, and she passed. Does this mean we ultimately get the same old thing and emotions further boil? Considering the alternatives, is that still the best possible outcome?

As Edward Luce writes in his latest astute Financial Times column about U.S. politics, “since the mid-19th century, no populist has ever made it to the White House.” He suspects this may be true again in 2016 but urges wariness of the media-class consensus that says the demons will definitely dissipate. The opening:

Anyone puzzled by the sustained popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders should look no further than the latest US jobs report. The share of prime age males in work is now markedly lower than it is in France. Yes, France. The share of US adults in jobs as a whole is lower than at any time since Jimmy Carter was president. Yet America’s overall outlook is better than that of France. Silicon Valley is in the middle of another golden age and the US mints new billionaires every month. It is a tale of two different Americas. It should be no surprise that the fate of the rest — and particularly America’s idle male population — is fuelling its angriest bout of populism in decades.

We should not expect it to peter out. Conventional wisdom on politics is as misleading as it has been on the economy. The first tells us to disregard opinion polls in an odd-numbered year. Voters are being frivolous. By 2016 the freak show will fade and establishment candidates, such as Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, will win the nominations of their respective parties. Perhaps so. But this is from the mindset that has been wrongfooted by the surge of outsider candidates all year.•

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Why do I feel that the chance of seemingly kindly Ben Carson being President is even slimmer than that of Donald Trump, a dump truck of a human being who’s always ready to pour dirt all over anything he deems in his way?

Perhaps that’s because Carson’s politics are truly much more retrograde than Trump’s, considering the neurosurgeon holds devout beliefs and the cartoonish real-estate mogul doesn’t really possess any, just hasty positions informed by a surfeit of ego and other personality defects. They’re as meaningful as when he asserts that he’s the “biggest builder in New York City,” even though he long ago stopped building here.

Trump’s a xenophobe and racist, the Birther-in-Chief, and his plan to drive millions of undocumented immigrants and their families from America is scary. But perhaps like most of his contentions, this scheme is more bullshit he’s made up as he’s gone along. And any of his few attempts at policy beyond blaming “foreigners” seem stabs in the dark. He might change his feelings about them tomorrow, or even about running for President at all. His only intention, at long last, is attention.

Carson, conversely, genuinely wants to wage a war on women–or, at least, in his own Atwoodian terms, “what’s inside of women“–whereas Trump wants have a look inside for other reasons. Carson really believes “being gay is a choice.” He’s said with conviction that Obamacare is the “worst thing since slavery.” He means it.

Beware the quiet ones.

From Edward Luce’s FT column about the contrasting styles of the two early GOP leaders:

The personality difference between the two is acute. Mr Carson’s demeanour is as gentle — and apparently devoid of anger — as Mr Trump’s is harsh. As the only African-American in the race, Mr Carson, 63, sparks comparisons with Herman Cain, the pizza parlour king, who briefly held sway in the 2012 race with his tirelessly recited “999” tax plan. Mr Carson’s moment in the sun may end just as quickly. Yet his numbers have been building steadily for the past three months. At the second Republican debate on Wednesday night he will stand on the centre of stage next to Mr Trump. It will be a study in contrasts.

What unites them is their outsider status — at this point, experience is the biggest handicap in the Republican battle. Any hint of a past in politics is toxic. Almost everything else differs. Mr Trump comes from a wealthy background as the son of a New York developer. Mr Carson is genuinely self-made. Raised by an illiterate single mother in Detroit, he worked his way to become head of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital and became the first surgeon, in 1987, to separate Siamese twins at birth. His autobiography, Gifted Hands, remains a best-seller. Among some Christian conservatives, Mr Carson is viewed as a handmaiden of the Lord.

Yet his rise is baffling to electoral veterans. If anything, Mr Carson’s string of gaffes are more shocking than Mr Trump’s.•

 

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If there’s one person Jesus Christ would not approve of, it would be a racist, adulterous, thrice-married braggart who builds gaudy buildings and casinos and vomits gold paint onto them. Christian conservatives who support Donald Trump have shown their so-called faith never had anything to do with religion. It’s always been about race and privilege. 

More worrisome is how the U.S. press has handled his odious campaign, treating it like a summer blockbuster full of fun special effects. Riveting! A joyride! Fun for the whole family!

It behooves journalists to cover any candidate making xenophobic comments seriously. When CNN announced Trump drew 30,000 spectators in Alabama to hear him speak when the 45,000-seat stadium was more than half-empty, they aren’t doing their job but instead feeding a monster. When Maureen Dowd of the New York Times yukked it up with the vulgar hatemonger, it’s clear Trump wasn’t the only wealthy, out-of-touch person involved in the interview. (Thankfully, others at the Times are treating the matter more soberly.)

Even if the miserable magnate is deflated and floats away like a Thanksgiving Day balloon that backed into a pin, the paraders following him will still be there, full of rage and bigotry.

From Edward Luce at the Financial Times:

It is February 2016 and the sky is falling on our heads. Donald Trump has just won the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Those who predicted he would have long since imploded are scrambling to fallback positions. He will flame out on Super Tuesday, they insist. He will be ejected by primary voters in Jeb Bush’s Florida in March, they add.

If worst comes to worst, he will meet his Waterloo at the Republican convention in July — the first such brokered event in decades. Fear not, wise heads will reassure us, that man could never be president of the United States.

Like a stopped clock, conventional wisdom must eventually be right on Mr Trump. It goes without saying that sane people should hope so. Last week two of the billionaire’s more inflamed supporters beat up a homeless Hispanic man. All Mr Trump could initially say was that his followers were “passionate”. Make no mistake, the property tycoon who would be president is an unpleasant piece of work.

Conservatives should be especially worried. His plans to round up and deport the estimated 11.5m undocumented immigrants would require the federal power of a police state. His plan to scrap the 14th amendment’s birthright to US citizenship would corrode America’s soul.

Yet he must be taken seriously.•

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Donald Trump, a colostomy bag stuffed with ill-considered opinions, face-planted at the first GOP Presidential debate, but how far can you really fall when you live in the gutter? Some thought Trump would be surprisingly good in the forum since he has plenty of TV experience, but if you think about it, he only seems potent in those venues when he goes unchallenged, when he’s the boss. Like most bullies, he grows flustered when having to ward off a return blow.

Far more than any other venue, including reliably Lefty outlets like MSNBC, Fox News led Republicans to a horrifying national defeat in 2012, reassuring the faithful with dodgy poll readings that Barack Hussein couldn’t possibly gain a second term. That led to complacency during campaign season and shocked disbelief on Election Day. Reince Priebus and the party called for a full check-up, with the patient to begin a new course in the immediate future.

But not much has changed. Immigrants, women, LGBT people, universal health care and a sane foreign policy are still anathema to almost all the candidates. Perhaps the Fox moderators’ contentiousness was an attempt to awaken the contenders to another November nightmare, but it was most likely just another Reality TV show, with the hosts pushing buttons to gain ratings. For Trump, of course, it was a different kind of program from the one he’s used to–it was one where he could get fired.

The opening of Edward Luce’s predictably astute Financial Times analysis of the debate:

If clarity and geniality count for anything, Donald Trump was the loser of the Republican Party’s first 2016 debate.

With star billing in the biggest reality TV show of all, the property magnate struggled for rapport with the audience. At several points in the two-hour debate, he was booed.

In the post-debate autopsy, Fox News Channel’s focus groups found Mr Trump to be rude, lacking in specific answers and unpresidential. It is hard to believe the average television viewer would have come away feeling radically different.

Yet it is also hard to believe they did not already know all this about him before the show began. Mr Trump has held a double digit poll lead for several weeks. Might the debate have arrested his rise?

We will have to await the polls. But it is worth bearing in mind that at every point in Mr Trump’s steep ascent since mid-June, the political classes have called his peak — and been wrong. The Fox News debate may be no exception.•

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There’s nothing the hideous hotelier Donald Trump has said or done that’s outside the modern Republican Party playbook. He just refuses to use soft, coded language to sell his extremism, which has been the hallmark of the GOP since the rise of Newt Gingrich. So when he disgustingly labels President Obama (“Kenyan”) or Mexicans (“rapists”) or John McCain (“captured“), he’s just boiled down the mindset of conservatives to its essence. And if you think the McCain remarks were somehow out of character for Republicans, see how John Kerry or Tammy Duckworth feel about that. 

The positive response to Trump among many registered Republicans is really no surprise. The more radical band, from Christian conservatives to the Tea Party, is weary of being used by the Karl Roves of the world to consolidate power. They’re angry and they want someone who’ll speak to that anger. The racist Birther buffoon may fall from the penthouse, but his followers–both a torch-carrying mob and the Frankenstein monster the party has created–will still be there. They can’t be controlled, and that’s the logical outcome for the GOP, which has spent decades cultivating anger over threatened privilege.

From Edward Luce in the Financial Times:

Any moment now, the most buffoonish, prejudiced, egomaniacal candidate in recent Republican history will implode. All that will be left to remind us of our brief spell of folly will be those neon signs flashing “Trump” on skyscrapers and casinos around the country. At that point, thank goodness, we can resume politics as usual.

Alas, the cognoscenti are kidding themselves. US politics will not pick up where it left off. Even if Mr Trump becomes the first recorded human to be lifted skywards in rapture — the “end of days” scenario to which some of his fans subscribe — he will leave a visible mark on the Republican party.

In a field of 16 candidates, when one polls a quarter of the vote it is the equivalent of a landslide. Mr Trump’s detractors, who form arguably one of the largest bipartisan coalitions in memory, comfort themselves that he is simply on an ego trip that will turn sour. That may be true. But they are missing the point. The legions of Republicans flocking to Mr Trump’s banner are not going anywhere. If he crashes, which he eventually must, they will find another champion.

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Libertarianism is supposed to be having a moment in America, but Edward Luce of the Financial Times argues that it’s Socialism that really is. I’ll certainly disagree with the columnist’s depiction of Martin O’Malley as a “left winger” (he’s a pragmatist in the Clinton mold), but it is worth thinking back on the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that moment, it seemed capitalism had ultimately triumphed. What if capitalism leads to robotics so profound that technological unemployment brings about the end of capitalism? Or at least a radical redefining of it? Not impossible.

Luce’s opening:

Leftwing politicians are in electoral retreat across most of the western world. The one exception is the United States. At 15 per cent in the Democratic polls, Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, is riding higher than any US socialist since Eugene Debs ran for the White House a century ago.

The fact that Mr Sanders has very little chance of unseating Hillary Clinton is beside the point. His popularity is dragging her leftward. If he flames out, other left-wingers, such as Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland who entered the race at the weekend, are ready to pick up the baton. Elizabeth Warren, the populist Massachusetts senator, will continue to prod Mrs Clinton from outside the field. The more Mrs Clinton adopts their language, the harder it will be for her to reclaim the centre ground next year. Yet she is only following the crowd. A surprisingly large chunk of Democrats are happy to break the US taboo against socialism.

To most students of US politics, the phrase American socialism is an oxymoron — like clean coal or the Bolivian navy. A century ago, Werner Sombart, a German scholar, asked “Why is there no socialism in America?” It was a question that confounded Marxists. As the most advanced capitalistic society, the US was most ripe for a proletarian revolution, according to their teleology.

Yet the US refused to live up to its role.•

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Of all the poems I read as child, Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” is the one that stays with me most: “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads.” No place of a complicated nature could ask for a better defense.

Today, Chicago, like most global cities, is more complicated still, a home to stunning wealth inequality, a place of thriving and one of falling, and one connected more to ideas than geography. It’s not just crowded with markets but a market itself.

At the Financial Times, Edward Luce writes of its “two-city tale.” The opening:

They call Chicago the city of big shoulders. Much like Dubai’s emergence from virtually nowhere in the last 20 years to become a global city, Chicago pulled itself up from its bootstraps in the mid-19th century to turn into America’s industrial hub.

Unlike its peers — Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore — it survived the obliteration of America’s industrial heartlands in the past 40 years by learning to “pour new wine into old bottles,” in the words of Richard Longworth, a leading chronicler of today’s Chicago. Where once it thrived on slaughtered hogs, smelted iron and freight trains, now it hosts corporate headquarters, boasts new economy start-ups and links to other global hubs via O’Hare airport. Today’s Chicago prefers to benchmark itself against Shanghai, São Paulo, Paris — and, yes, Dubai. But is it paying too little heed to what is under its nose?

The fate of a city’s hinterland is one that haunts every great metropolis. For London, it is the rest of the UK which sometimes feels like a different country. For Dubai, it is the Wahhabi heartlands of the Arabian peninsula. For Chicago it is the US Midwest.

In the past, Chicago acted as the locomotive of its hinterlands — in Mr Longworth’s words — buying the Midwest’s farm produce and other raw commodities and then converting them into products. The city was linked umbilically to its surrounding geography and vice versa. Today, it mostly hovers above its hinterlands. But in some ways it is also parasitic on them. Much like the giant sucking sound of London hoovering up the UK’s talent, Chicago takes the best and the brightest from the small towns of America and plugs them into the global economy. Chicago’s success is no longer symbiotic with its rural neighbours. In some ways it comes at their expense.•

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I don’t know that Edward Luce of the Financial Times says anything new in slapping down Thomas Friedman’s 1990s “Golden Arches Doctrine,” which declared that nations on the same supply chain of Happy Meals wouldn’t engage in war, a theory clearly debunked by now, but he says it exceedingly well. The world may be flat as a patty, but it still can burn. An excerpt:

Even when societies turn middle class, conflict is endemic to our species. The return of great power rivalry in the 21st century reminds us that we are not purely economic animals. Were that the case, we would long ago have lowered transaction costs by abolishing nation states and currencies.

The fact that diverse cultures share bad habits and use the same technology should not be over-interpreted. China’s politburo has been dressing in business suits for years. Jihadi fighters wear jeans and surf on their iPhones (doubtless some have a weakness for chicken McNuggets). They still revile the global hegemon. The presence of hundreds of McDonald’s outlets in Russia did not stop Vladimir Putin last year from annexing Crimea, which also had McDonald’s outlets. The chain has since withdrawn from the peninsula but not from the rest of Ukraine. Nor is McDonald’s presence likely to prevent a fifth war between India and Pakistan. Meanwhile China’s global integration does not seem to have checked its sense of nationalism.

Geopolitics is clearly back.•

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