America’s Anger Problem
Thu, 30 Jun 2022 13:20:11 +0000

Increasingly, it seems, Americans have an anger problem. All too many of us now have the urge to use name-calling, violent social-media posts, threats, baseball bats, and guns to do what we once did with persuasion and voting. For example, during the year after Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, threats of violence or even death against lawmakers of both parties increased more than fourfold. And too often, the call to violence seems to come from the top. Recently, defendants in cases involving extremist violence have claimed that an elected leader or pundit “told” them to do it. In a country where a sitting president would lunge at his own security detail in rage, I guess this isn’t so surprising anymore. Emotion rules... Read more

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Why Going “Hard” Is Taking the Easy Way Out
Tue, 28 Jun 2022 12:35:34 +0000

American schools are soft, you say£ I know what you mean. I taught college for 15 years, so I’ve dealt with my share of still-teenagers fresh out of high school. Many of them inspired me, but some had clearly earned high marks too easily and needed remedial help in math, English, or other subjects. School discipline had been too lax perhaps and standards too slack, because Johnny and Janey often couldn’t or wouldn’t read a book, though they sure could text, tweet, take selfies, and make videos. Oh, wait a sec, that’s not what you meant by “soft,” is it£ You meant soft as in “soft target” in the context of mass school shootings, the most recent being in Uvalde,... Read more

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Ending the War in Ukraine
Sun, 26 Jun 2022 21:24:43 +0000

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, I was easing my way into a new job and in the throes of the teaching year. But that war quickly hijacked my life. I spend most of my day poring over multiple newspapers, magazines, blogs, and the Twitter feeds of various military mavens, a few of whom have been catapulted by the war from obscurity to a modicum of fame. Then there are all those websites to check out, their color-coded maps and daily summaries catching that conflict’s rapid twists and turns. Don’t think I’m writing this as a lament, however. I’m lucky. I have a good, safe life and follow events there from the comfort of my New York apartment. For... Read more

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China Will Decide the Outcome of Russia v. the West
Thu, 23 Jun 2022 13:37:09 +0000

In its attempt to swallow Ukraine whole, Russia has so far managed to bite off only the eastern Donbas region and a portion of its southern coast. The rest of the country remains independent, with its capital Kyiv intact. No one knows how this meal will end. Ukraine is eager to force Russia to disgorge what it’s already devoured, while the still-peckish invader clearly has no interest in leaving the table. This might seem like an ordinary territorial dispute between predator and prey. Ukraine’s central location between east and west, however, turns it into a potentially world-historical conflict like the Battle of Tours when the Christian Franks turned back the surging Ummayad army of Muslims in 732 AD or the... Read more

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What Difference Does a War Make£
Tue, 21 Jun 2022 13:00:29 +0000

From his first days in office, Joe Biden and his national security advisers seemed determined to revive America’s fading global leadership via the strategy they knew best — challenging the “revisionist powers” Russia and China with a Cold War-style aggressiveness. When it came to Beijing, the president combined the policy initiatives of his predecessors, pursuing Barack Obama’s “strategic pivot” from the Middle East to Asia, while continuing Donald Trump’s trade war with China. In the process, Biden revived the kind of bipartisan foreign policy not seen in Washington since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Writing in the December 2021 Foreign Affairs, a group of famously disputatious diplomatic historians agreed on one thing: “Today, China and the United States are... Read more

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A Trail of Tears
Sun, 19 Jun 2022 21:54:52 +0000

[The text of this piece is an excerpt, slightly adapted, from Ann Jones’s book They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story, published by Dispatch Books/Haymarket Books] In 2010, I began to follow U.S. soldiers down a long trail of waste and sorrow that led from the battle spaces of Afghanistan to the emergency room of the trauma hospital at Bagram Air Base, where their catastrophic wounds were surgically treated and their condition stabilized.  Then I accompanied some of them by cargo plane to Ramstein Air Base in Germany for more surgeries at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, or LRMC (pronounced Larm-See), the largest American hospital outside the United States. Once stabilized again, those critical patients... Read more

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Welcome to a Science-Fiction Planet
Thu, 16 Jun 2022 12:56:32 +0000

David Barsamian: Let’s head into the most obvious nightmare of this moment, the war in Ukraine and its effects globally. But first a little background. Let’s start with President George H.W. Bush’s assurance to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move “one inch to the east” — and that pledge has been verified. My question to you is, why didn’t Gorbachev get that in writing£ Noam Chomsky: He accepted a gentleman’s agreement, which is not that uncommon in diplomacy. Shake-of-the-hand. Furthermore, having it on paper would have made no difference whatsoever. Treaties that are on paper are torn up all the time. What matters is good faith. And in fact, H.W. Bush, the first Bush, did honor the... Read more

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My Pandemic in Three Acts
Tue, 14 Jun 2022 12:58:11 +0000

On New Years’ Eve 2019, Americans celebrated the advent of the roaring ‘20s with fireworks and champagne, amid ominous news alerts from China. Surely that virus would stay on the other side of the planet. I cringe at how entitled we felt then. Covid-19 has now wiped out more than a million of us (by far the worst record on Earth when it comes to wealthy countries). Up to a third of all survivors suffer the sometimes disabling effects of long Covid, with implications for society that will outlast the pandemic — if it ever ends. I’d like to believe we’ve learned a lesson about our species-wide vulnerability, our planetary connectedness. But in fact, we seem more atomized and arrogant... Read more

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A Country Armed to the Teeth
Sun, 12 Jun 2022 21:37:06 +0000

The gun I carried on the streets of New York City in the late 1960s was a Beretta, similar to the pistol James Bond packed in the early Ian Fleming novels. It was a small, dark beauty that filled me with bravado. I was never afraid when I had it in my pocket, which is why I’m so very afraid now. I was packing it illegally, but I knew that a white man in a suit and tie was unlikely to be stopped by the police and frisked, even in a city with some of the strictest gun laws in the country — laws that may soon be swept away if the Supreme Court continues what seems to be its... Read more

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Fewer Big (or Any Size) Men on Campus
Thu, 09 Jun 2022 13:05:30 +0000

In the last week of her life, my mother extracted a promise from me. “Make sure,” she said, “that Orion goes to college.” I swore that I would, although I wasn’t at all sure how I’d make it happen. Even in the year 2000, average tuitions were almost 10 times what my own undergraduate school had charged 30 years earlier. I knew that sending my nephew to college would cost more money than I’d have when the time came. If he was going to college, like his aunt before him, he’d need financial help. The difference was that his “help” was likely to come not as a grant, but as life-defining loans. “Orion,” by the way, is a pseudonym for... Read more

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