Bret Stephens: The Rise of Dictatorship Incorporated


A member of the Russian military police stood guard between portraits of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, right, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia outside a post on the outskirts of Damascus.CreditLouai Beshara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It really is an axis of evil.

This week, The Times reported that United Nations investigators have compiled a more-than-200-page dossier containing extensive evidence of North Korea’s supply of potential chemical weapons components and ballistic missile parts to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Pyongyang had previously tried to furnish Assad with a nuclear reactor, until the Israelis destroyed it in a 2007 airstrike.

Pyongyang isn’t Damascus’s only helper. Last November, Moscow — which supplies Assad with an air force to bombard his own people — wielded its 10th and 11th vetoes in defense of the Syrian government at the U.N. Security Council to scupper a separate panel of experts charged with investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Beijing has used its own veto to help Assad on six occasions.

Then there’s Iran, which has been invested in Assad’s survival from the beginning of the uprising against him in 2011. Through Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy, Tehran has provided Assad with his most effective and merciless ground troops.

Why should a Shiite theocrat, a Russian kleptocrat, a Korean gourmand and a Chinese son of heaven unite so openly to rescue a foul and feeble Baathist dictatorship?

The question isn’t asked often enough. None of them shares a border, a language, a religion, or a political ideology with Assad. And each has paid a price for meddling.

Iran has lost some 500 troops, including at least 16 generals, fighting in Syria since 2012, according to the Atlantic Council’s Ali Alfoneh, while suffering a popular backlash back home against its Syria policy. Russia may have lost dozens of its mercenaries in a humiliating recent encounter with American forces near the Euphrates. And whatever else Kim Jong-un is doing in Syria, he probably isn’t getting rich from the trade.

Then again, there are interests that go beyond lives and money. Some of these are relatively narrow. Iran wants to maintain the so-called Shiite crescent. Russia hopes to use its position in Syria to bargain for concessions over Ukraine. China wants to rebuild Syria when it’s all over. North Korea is just sinister.

But there is also the collective interest of Dictatorship Inc.

Interest No. 1: To see a popular rebellion against tyranny fail spectacularly.

This is fundamental. Syria isn’t so much a country as it is an exhibit for Dictatorship Inc., the main purpose of which is to show that resistance really is futile. That’s why Russia doesn’t shrink from bombing civilian hospitals, or Hezbollah from starving entire cities into submission, or Assad from using chemical weapons. They are showing their respective publics the lengths to which they are prepared to go to maintain their own grip on power.

Interest No. 2: To underscore America’s unreliability as a credible ally and serious enforcer of global norms.

Whatever their differences, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China are all so-called revisionist powers. What they want to revise, or erase, is Pax Americana. In Syria, they had an ally, a cause and a plausible outcome. America, by contrast, only had the bonfire of its ambivalence. The result, beyond the humanitarian catastrophe, has been a reputational catastrophe, as the U.S. demonstrated that it would not back its local allies, or seriously enforce norms against the use of chemical weapons, or devise and implement a strategy compatible with our stated policy.

Whatever else one might say about American regional interests or moral obligations when it comes to Syria, we have a vital national interest in foiling Dictatorship Inc.’s ambitions for the country.

We could do something to reverse our reputation for unreliability by doing more to protect our Kurdish allies against their enemies — including the Turks — much as we did after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. We could erase the stain of the breached red line by striking Assad’s military installations every time Syria uses chemical weapons. We could find covert ways to dramatically increase the military price Russia is paying for its intervention.

And we could do all this, without burdening ourselves as we did in Iraq, with the task of sorting out Syria’s future.

That requires an administration capable of devising, coordinating and executing a consistent military and diplomatic strategy. We don’t have one.

It requires a president who understands the benefits of Pax Americana, doesn’t think of foreign policy as a series of gimmes, is capable of rallying allies to a common cause, and understands that our liberal values are the great prerequisite for our global leadership. We don’t have one.

Above all, it requires a belief in what used to be called the free world: of its shared moral principles, broad interests, and long-term aspirations. We don’t have that, either.

The axis of evil is back, not that it ever really went away. The cause of freedom awaits a resurrection.


  • Stephens begins with the observation that four countries are supporting, with arms and fighters,  Bashar al-Assad’s totalitarian Syria. And he asks why? “Why should a Shiite theocrat, a Russian kleptocrat, a Korean gourmand and a Chinese son of heaven unite so openly to rescue a foul and feeble Baathist dictatorship?”
  • And his answers, at least to me, are convincing. For one, the four dictators want to see a popular rebellion against tyranny fail spectacularly. Why? Because they are all most afraid of a popular rebellion. And for two, they want no less to see America fail in its efforts to support a popular rebellion.
  • America’s interest for Syria ought to be “foiling Dictatorship Inc.’s ambitions for the country.” But America is quite without an administration capable of devising, coordinating and executing a consistent military and diplomatic strategy. Above all, it would require what we no longer have, the belief in what used to be called the free world, a world with shared moral principles, broad interests, and long-term aspirations.
  • Trump himself seems to have wanted his presidency to be all about having Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping and their ilk as friends and dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago and then his playing golf with celebrities at his West Palm Beach International Club. This presidency, being entirely a product of his own pipe dream, never came about of course. Instead his presidency is something else, perhaps best described as his not being up to the task of being president, his first year or two in office being colored by a constant and growing frustration with his own failure to achieve his unrealistic goals for the country, these stemming most of all from his nearly complete ignorance of the country’s history.
  • Without his yet jettisoning our democratic principals entirely, our individual freedoms, human rights, the rule of law,… Trump has revealed himself to be entirely without the Enlightenment values on which these principals are based, and on which the country was founded, values emphasizing tolerance, acceptance of differences, equality, human dignity, reason and the scientific outlook, and most important the healthy skepticism of the humanist who challenges conventional religious views, in particular superstition, intolerance, and bigotry, the very views that have characterized in large part Trump’s own presidency up until now. Trump’s sympathies for authoritarianism, for intolerance of differences, for bigotry, have prevented him from opposing the Putin, Xi, and Erdogan, as well as the other dictatorships of the Dictatorship Inc. of which Stephens is writing.


What will happen to the DACA KIDS


  • The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was an American immigration policy established by the Obama Administration in June 2012  that allowed some individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit.
  • As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals were enrolled in the program created by DACA. Plans to begin phasing it out were initiated by the Trump Administration in September 2017. (WICKPEDIA)
  • Just this past week, on 2/15/18, the Senate put 4 immigration bills up for a vote, and they all failed. The lawmakers couldn’t find a path forward to fix DACA.
  • The typical ‘Dreamer’ Lives in Los Angeles, is from Mexico and came to the U.S. at age 6. And in fact more dreamers come from Mexico than from all other “dreamer” countries combined. (No dreamers, President Trump, in case you didn’t know it, come from Norway.)
  • The 1.8 million Dreamers, Trump’s number, not all “kids” any more, have been living and working in our country to their benefit and ours, some of them for as long as 10 or more years. And they haven’t yet, all while having known no other country but ours, been accepted as citizens!
  • And what do the Americans think of the Dreamers? According to a CBS News poll almost 9 in 10 respondents — 87 percent, or an overwhelming majority of Americans — supports legal protections for the Dreamers. The majority of Americans believe that the Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the U.S. if they meet certain requirements, such as working, going to school,
  • Because of the Dreamers and, millions of others like them, America is heading toward the day when whites will no longer make up the majority of the population.  And in fact within just a few years, by 2020, more than half of the nation’s children will come from a minority race or ethnic group. (This may very well be what most drives the white supremacists, the nativists, the bigots and other such among us, including many the conservative Republican Senators and Congressmen, to oppose amnesty and citizenship for the Dreamers.)

A few thoughts but no conclusions as of yet:

Trump’s wall is not from real security concerns. There is no real evidence to back up his position that the present mostly non-walled border on the South puts us all at risk. (OK, I know, real evidence for Trump’s opinions, mostly seen as tweets, is rarely if ever present whatever might be his subject.)

So farTrump, and the others who for some reason go along with him, conservative Senators  such as Cornyn of Texas, Perdue of Georgia, Lankford of Oklahoma, Cotton of Arkansas and Grassley of Iowa, even the Senate and House leaders, McConnell and Ryan themselves, who should know better, only employ the term dreamer as a public relations ploy. Do they really think of these illegal children of illegals as “dreamers”? What’s really on their minds are not the dreamers that the liberal press refers to but the Mexicans and other Central Americans who make up the millions of both legal and illegal immigrants within the country. They continue to say dreamer because anything else would probably reveal them, if not as racists, certainly as the white supremacists that they probably are. No less than President Trump himself they want the immigration issue to be reduced to the construction of a wall protecting our Southern border, and not be about them and their bigotry.

All this brings me to the great and real question, what is our country all about? And more important what should it be all about? In respect to what we are should we accept, should we already have accepted the dreamers. Well you know my answer to that question is yes. In regard to what our country is all about there are any number of candidate “answers” to this question, although as of now there is no single agreed upon correct answer. Furthermore, today we may be no closer to the answer than we were at the time of our nation’s foundation in the 18th. century. We may be even further away from answering it.

But there are three answers, all well-known, that have been around at least since our beginning. There is, now located primarily within the conservative Right, the saying or motto, In God We Trust. What is our country all about? Well trusting in God, in Jesus. For many this answer is enough, and they live by it. In 1956 President Eisenhower and the Congress  declared together that “In God We Trust” be our national motto, and immediately be engraved on all our currency. (For then, as now, God and money were what the country is most about.) Today, of course this solution, trust in God written on the currency (not forgetting to pass the ammunition), would need considerable revision, for we no longer use currency as we did earlier, right up until the 21st century. In fact, we may very well live our lives without ever noticing that trust in God has been stamped onto our coins and bills.

Has Donald Trump noticed this? Perhaps, and that’s why he would show off everywhere his trust in God. And thereby harden the support of his base. For he knows that his base is largely made up of God lovers like himself. Among all our presidents Trump is certainly a  great talker, and may very soon start talking, or rather tweeting about putting, say, In God We Trust on the billboards in Trump Country, in Texas and Florida certainly, as well as in the heartland states where the electoral college voting made him our 45th president (although as we’re told, only the 44th. male to hold the office).

Then there is this answer to what we’re all about, and this answer more in the mainstream, enshrined in the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And enshrined right up there with Jefferson’s words are the words of Abraham Lincoln’s, following the battle of Gettysburg, probably inspired by the Declaration: “…a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” What’s the country all about? Achieving equality, and this struggle with both the word and the idea equality continues to go on at a brisk pace. And of course it’s not over.

And there is a third candidate/answer, this one now showing up mostly on the liberal Left, at the moment out of power but trying desperately to make itself heard again throughout Trump and God country. This answer is the familiar  E pluribus unum. This one dating from at least as early as 1782 when our forefathers were fashioning a new country. E pluribus unum is Latin for “Out of many, one.” — one being the Union formed by the many, or the states or colonies coming together to make a single nation. It too was adopted, in 1776, as a national motto and is now found on the Great Seal of the United States as well as, like “In God We Trust,” on our currency.

To day our country is being factionized, torn apart by factions of all kinds, although principally by the factions of religious zealots on the one hand, and on the other the factions of secular forces marshaled behind science and reason. We’re now fighting less over the idea of equality, although by no means is that struggle over, but much more over the struggle between the God people and what I call the people people, between religion and science, between dogma and discovery, between those who would keep the whites in power (make the country great again), as if the country belonged to the descendants of the first white settlers and their children, and not to the descendants of the original native Americans, nor to the tens of millions of African Americans, nor to the still more numerous descendants of the successive waves of immigrants to our shores.

The almost civil war in the country today is well summed up as a still mostly civil struggle between two armies, those  adhering to “In God We Trust” and those no less adhering to “E pluribus unum,” both ironically together engraved upon our coinage and bills. This is the war between the religious and conservative Right and the secular and  liberal Left, and the war among our recent presidents between Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

The struggle over immigration always with us does seem to be heating up. People are more and more afraid, afraid of the other, of the new, of what they don’t know. There have been times when God and the successive waves of Immigrants to our shores were not in opposition, but together in our hearts and minds, but that’s not true today. And the virulent opposition between Trump’s children and the children of the 18th. century Enlightenment is why the DACA children and adults are now in a kind of limbo, waiting for a decision from our leaders that does not seem to be forthcoming.

Instead of compromising, having just rejected those efforts promoting compromise or a middle ground in the Senate, the politicians are lining up behind one or the other mantra, behind in God we Trust and E pluribus unum.. Of course it’s the In God we trust thing that explains why Trump continues to receive the full support of the Evangelicals, the God people, even when his own well known gutter morality has been on display for the longest time.

And then there’s the religious Right, led by such as Rep. Michele Bachmann and the Congressional Prayer Caucus, who now see E Pluribus Unum as almost un American. Indeed, the Prayer Caucus, the leading voice of religious conservatism on Capitol Hill, recently wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, chastising him for having made favorable references to the other motto, E Pluribus Unum, their letter referred to Obama’s reference to E Pluribus Unum as an anti-God statement.

The meaning of E Pluribus Unum is simply that we are stronger if we get together and work together. Why don’t we accept that today, as we have in the past? Now the many Mexicans here illegally would like to stay and work, would like to join us (many of them already have!) Why don’t we accept them with open arms, as we’ve so many times before accepted the immigrants, all different from ourselves, to our shores?

We no longer seem to know, something we’ve always known, that if we would change things for the better we just have to get together and become as one. We know that out of the many comes one. We just know that the populations of communities, — religious or secular — have to act as one if they would accomplish their goals. And we know that apparently opposed national mottos, In God we Trust and E pluribus unum, have to lessen the apparent opposition between them and somehow come together, as they have already done so, on our coins and bills.

The motto E Pluribus Unum was selected by Charles Thomson in 1782 when he created the final Great Seal whose centerpiece is the American bald Eagle:


“…in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this Motto: “E pluribus unum…”

Killing the Goose that lays the Golden Eggs, Tom Cotton et al.

Why, given all the great benefits that wave after wave of immigrants have brought to our country, why would now the conservative Republican leadership in the Senate ever want to cut back from present levels of legal immigration? In fact given the numbers of peoples who still want to come here shouldn’t we want to increase their numbers? For to read American History is to read the history of immigration to our shores during hundreds of years right up until today. That’s who we are, as is often said. Don’t we want this to continue to be who we are at our best?

Well some of us don’t. President Trump for one. Conservative Senators for others. Fox News, and the loud mouths on the talk shows, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and the many others. And in particular I’m thinking of such Senate nativist and bigoted individuals like Tom Cotton of Arkansas (given his education at liberal institutions he ought to know better). Sen. Tom Cotton was one of the lawmakers who introduced the Senate bill based on Trump’s nativist and white supremacy plan, describing it as a “best and final offer.


Tom Cotton, of course, speaks for no one but himself, although in what he says about a “best and final offer” he would have it that he speaks, while speaking for the United States Senate, for the whole country. He doesn’t of course. Hopefully with the fall of Trump Cotton too will fall and disappear. As will Lankford of Oklahoma, Hannity of Fox, and Mark Meadows (a Congressman from North Carolina) from the Freedom Caucus. The Caucus would see itself defending religious freedom, no one knowing yet what that might mean. In fact their freedom of religion is no freedom at all. Rather with their “freedom” they are only empowering themselves to reject the freedom of others. The result being that they are simply rejecting much of the real progress we have made, undoing the real freedoms we have achieved, those regarding a woman’s right to choose, of same sex couples to marry, and of the LGBTQ individuals among us to enjoy full and equal rights.

Taken from FEE

According to an analysis by the Center of American Entrepreneurship:

1. 43% of the Fortune 500 companies in 2017 (the 500 largest US companies measured by sales revenues last year) were founded or co-founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant (see graphic above).

2. The occurrence of first- or second-generation immigrant founders is significantly higher among the largest Fortune 500 companies, accounting for 52% (and 13) of the top 25 firms and 57% (and 20) of the top 35 firms.

3. Immigrant-founded Fortune 500 firms are headquartered in 33 of the 50 states, employ 12.8 million people worldwide, and accounted for $5.3 trillion in global revenue in 2016.

Research demonstrates the Importance of immigrants to the creation and growth of America’s largest and most valuable companies.

4. Examples of immigrant founders or second-generation immigrant founders include:


  • Steve Jobs (Apple), second-generation of immigrant parents from Syria
  • Alexander Graham Bell (AT&T), immigrant from Scotland
  • Henry Ford (Ford Motor Co.), second generation of immigrant parents from Ireland
  • Jeff Bezos (Amazon), second generation of immigrant parents from Cuba
  • Bernie Marcus (Home Depot), second generation of immigrant parents from Russia
  • Sergey Brin (Alphabet/Google), immigrant from Russia
  • Eduardo Saverin (Facebook), immigrant from Brazil
  • John W. Nordstrom (Nordstrom’s), immigrant from Sweden
  • Elon Musk (Tesla), immigrant from South Africa
  • Jerry Yang (Yahoo), immigrant from Taiwan
  • Marc Randolph (Netflix), second generation of immigrant parents from Austria
  • Pierre Omidyar (eBay), immigrant from France

BMark J. Perry a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.


Maureen Dowd on what we don’t want.

Maureen Dowd is right. In her Times February 10 op ed piece, Trump Shows Us the Way, she writes that we had somehow forgotten who we were resulting in a confusion of identity which in turn allowed Donald Trump to ride the wave of that confusion right into the Oval Office where, helas! he still is, as he never tires of telling us.

What may have been some of our country’s inadequacies and imperfections became in Trump’s telling “carnage” and “swamp,” with it being his job to undo the one and lead us out of the other. It did seem that we were no longer winning wars, that our institutions, the Congress, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the courts et al. were subject to breaches of trust, continual ineptitude, perhaps in need of a Trump remake?

Trump spoke particularly to older Americans who evidently felt like strangers in a strange land as the white and male dominated country they had known had become multi-colored and multi-cultured, with the result that their long-held beliefs had become detached from what had been an underlying bedrock of comfort and certainty.

Trump spoke as well to those both young and old threatened with the loss of their jobs and livelihoods from what Trump saw as the influx of millions of legal and illegal immigrants who never seemed to stop coming, bringing with them other languages, other cultures, other beliefs (the very thing which had always been the country’s greatest strength now seen as its greatest weakness by Trump and the Republicans who follow him). The immigrants were now taking away what had been the country’s whiteness and greatness. And from this beginning Trump with great assurance tells us that he would “make the country great again,” would restore, what those Americans who first turned to him, believed they had lost.

Here below is Maureen Down who says that “now, thanks to our barmy president and his staff meltdown, we are finding out fast who we are and whom we don’t want to be.” In other words Trump is helping us to understand now, after 200 plus years, what we really don’t ever want again for the country. We won’t know until the next national election, in 2108, whether we’re in the majority, and whether Trump has succeeded by his very barminess in bringing us back from his untruths to a world of truth.

— We don’t want to countenance abusive behavior. And we certainly don’t want men like Rob Porter who have punched, kicked, choked and terrorized their wives to be in the president’s inner circle, helping decide which policies, including those that affect women, get emphasized.
— We don’t want the White House chief of staff to be the sort of person who shields and defends abusers — and then dissembles about it — simply because the abuser is a rare competent staffer. Or a man who labels Dreamers “too lazy to get off their asses” simply because they didn’t apply for legal protections in time.
— We don’t want our president to be a ratings-obsessed id, but a moral beacon. We want a president who understands that sexual and physical abuse are wrong.
— We don’t want a president who bends over backward to give the benefit of the doubt to neo-Nazis, wife beaters, pedophiles and sexual predators — or who is a sexual predator himself. We don’t want a president who thinks #me is more important than #metoo.
— We don’t want a president who flips the ordinary equation, out of some puerile sense of grievance, to honor Russia and dishonor the F.B.I.
— We don’t want a president who believes that vile behavior is justified by a Vesuvial stock market.
— We don’t want a president who is too shallow to read his daily intelligence report and too obsessed with the deep state to deal fairly with our intelligence agencies.
— We don’t want a president who is on a sugar high of ego, whose demented tweets about nukes and crowd size scare even Omarosa.
— We don’t want a president who redecorates the Oval as an infinity mirror.
— We don’t want a president who suggests that Democrats who don’t clap for him are treasonous and who seems more enthralled by authoritarian ways than democratic ones.
— We don’t want a president who promises an A team but surrounds himself with dreckitude, a president who vows to pass “the best” bills but then doesn’t care whether he’s selling steak, wine, condos or garbage policies on matters of life and death that he hasn’t even bothered to read.
— We don’t want a president who goes to military school but never leaves; who loves generals but trashes Gold Star parents; who wants the sort of chesty military parade that we mock Kim Jong-un for, a phallic demonstration of overcompensation that would only put more potholes in the D.C. boulevards.
— We don’t want a president who makes his version of make-believe real, and who looks with favor on deceit, hypocrisy, conflict of interest and nepotism.
— We don’t want a president who merits a special prosecutor, let alone one who could be so easily trapped in lies that he can’t even be allowed to talk to an investigator.
— We don’t want a president who treats the hallowed house where Abraham Lincoln once wrote the nation’s most sacred texts as the set of a cheesy reality show.
— We don’t want a president who treats the presidency as just another personal business franchise or family employment program.
— We don’t want a president who glides through the chaos he craves and conjures, while everyone around him immolates and shivers…

I don’t know about you but I don’t know where to turn. The political parties that might have impeached the man don’t seem to want to do so. How could they not want to do that? How could we have, millions of us anyway, elected this man? Where dear reader is the fault, in the electoral system or in ourselves?

Reading then and now


ON READING NO MORE, Farhad Manjoo, The NYTIMES, 2/9/2018

I’ll make this short: The thing you’re doing now, reading prose on a screen, is going out of fashion. We’re taking stock of the internet right now, with writers who cover the digital world cataloging some of the most consequential currents shaping it. If you probe those currents and look ahead to the coming year online, one truth becomes clear. The defining narrative of our online moment concerns the decline of text, and the exploding reach and power of audio and video.

THIS MULTIMEDIA INTERNET has been gaining on the text-based internet for years. But last year, the story accelerated sharply, and now audio and video are unstoppable. The most influential communicators online once worked on web pages and blogs. They’re now making podcasts, Netflix shows, propaganda memes, Instagram and YouTube channels, and apps like HQ Trivia.

Consider the most compelling digital innovations now emerging: the talking assistants that were the hit of the holidays, Apple’s face-reading phone, artificial intelligence to search photos or translate spoken language, and augmented reality — which inserts any digital image into a live view of your surroundings. These advances are all about cameras, microphones, your voice, your ears and your eyes. Together, they’re all sending us the same message: Welcome to the post-text future.

Still, we have only just begun to glimpse the deeper, more kinetic possibilities of an online culture in which text recedes to the background, and sounds and images become the universal language.

The internet was born in text because text was once the only format computers understood. Then we started giving machines eyes and ears — that is, smartphones were invented — and now we’ve provided them brains to decipher and manipulate multimedia. Suddenly the script flipped: Now it’s often easier to communicate with machines through images and sounds than through text.

It’s more than just talking to digital assistants. Artificial intelligence might soon let us search and index much of the world’s repository of audio and video, giving sounds and pictures a power that has kept text dominant online for so long…

Tech didn’t just make multimedia easier to produce. It also democratized non-text formats, which for so long had been accessible only to studios. Podcasting became something like the new blogging, a way for committed amateurs and obsessives to plumb the underexplored eddies and mysteries of life. There’s a podcast by a guy who spends more than a dozen episodes explicating the genius of Kanye West’s fifth studio album. He does so using a trove of documentary material he found — where else? — on YouTube…

The transition to multimedia won’t be smooth. Business models are hardly proven. For several news sites, the pivot to video ended in a bust that will now give Facebook and Google even greater market power. Many podcast advertisers — I’m looking at you, Blue Apron — are themselves not on the most solid financial ground; they could blow up tomorrow, taking the whole boom with them.

Yet the financial questions may be the least of our worries. An online culture ruled by pictures and sounds rather than text is going to alter much about how we understand the world around us.

The haze of misinformation hanging over online life will only darken under multimedia — think of your phone as a Hollywood-grade visual-effects studio that could be used to make anyone appear to say or do anything. The ability to search audio and video as easily as we search text means, effectively, the end of any private space.

Then there’s the more basic question of how pictures and sounds alter how we think. An information system dominated by pictures and sounds prizes emotion over rationality. It’s a world where slogans and memes have more sticking power than arguments. (Remind you of anyone?) And will someone please think of the children: Do you know how much power YouTube has over your kids? Are you afraid to find out?

But what are we going to do? There seems no going back now. For text, the writing is on the wall.

ON READING, Philip Waring, The Waring School, Beverly, MA. 1985

Here we are together in school, and we are told that the principal activity in our school, in our lives, (if we’re no longer hunting and gathering) is reading, or should be. Yet we also hear that the Great Age of Reading, the period from the French Revolution to the First World War, is behind us.

We are reminded that whereas in the 19th Century great literature reached large mass audiences nowadays the large audiences are only found before television or movie screens, listening to pop music on the radio, or in attendance at rock concerts.

Why then do we assign you so many books and articles to read? Aren’t we going against the stream, embarking in a futile, Sisyphean endeavor? Would we have you live in the past? As if the Age of Reading were still with us?

Why do we expect you to read and to use television, radio, and the movies only sparingly? We do so because we believe there are things essential to your education that are best learned from books.We believe that the role of books in the process of becoming free has not yet been supplanted by movies, radio or television. Nor do we think that it will ever be.


We, your teachers and tutors, are readers. If you do not become one yourself you will experience serious difficulties in keeping up with the academic expectations of this school.

What kind of books do we want you to read? What kind of books are essential to your education?

For class that’s easy. We will tell you what to read, what novels, stories, poems, history and science texts, newspapers, magazine articles. But on your own you ought to be reading things that interest you – for that’s the only way you will begin to read a lot – and you ought to read things that are difficult for you – for that’s the only way you will become a better reader.

In that regard think of reading as a game, sport, or other activity in which you want to improve your skills. Then you’d pick a book that is difficult for you, one that will force you to climb up to its level. This works for reading as it does for tennis, chess and playing the violin.


There should be books in your room at home. Are there? In any case you will be asked to borrow or purchase many books for your classes at school. Many of these should end up in your own library, be available when you want to refer back to them. Don’t be hesitant about marking up the pages as you read (for library books you will need another system). Don’t be afraid to share passages that you like with friends, and we would particularly encourage you to share them with the whole school.

Then if and when you find an author you like, try to secure copies of other books he or she has written and then read them. Think of the profit to you from this. By reading several works of the same author, you become familiar, with another person’s particular way of seeing the world.

Your initial interest in this writer will probably result in your identifying with many of the situations that you encounter in his books and thereby you will learn important things about yourself. And this process will cost you next to nothing (other than perhaps your previous image of yourself).

Why, even in the Great Age of Reading, books were not as cheap nor as plentiful and as readily available as they are now. There happens to be no better buy on the market today than a good book. To profit from this situation, it is only necessary that you become a reader.


Damned if they do….

The Democrats will be damned if they do, and no less damned if they don’t, give citizenship to the DACA kids. Thomas Edsall writes that Trump has got the Democrats just where he wants them. Do they even know it?

What is it about Trump, the racist, nativist, bully, and ignoramus that he is, that keeps his Republican base of support in line? Well it has to be for mostly if not solely just these two Trump strategies, that he embodies although did not invent.

For one, Trump would slow if not stop the flow of impoverished “dirty white,” dark, and black immigrants from what he calls the “shitholes” of the world, from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, and in their place increase, although probably only moderately to keep the overall numbers down, the white and “dirty or off white” immigrants from the developed economies of Europe and Asia, that is immigrants with the talents and skills to grow our economy and not merely add to our welfare rolls,

And for two, he would grow the power of the Christian fundamentalists, the God lovers, the evangelicals, with the result that the separation between church and state on which our country was founded would no longer hold.

By means of Trump’s tweets and actions religious dogma is now on its way to becoming once again the ordering principle of our lives, as in the early Massachusetts colonies, not to mention the much earlier Middle Ages.

Trump is, probably not even aware of what he is doing, while undoing and replacing under the mantra of the freedom of religion, what I thought was forever fixed in our nation’s DNA, the rule of law.

Trump by his words and actions is embodying the racial and religious prejudices of the Republicans and this alone is the source of his support, not his building a wall between us and Mexico, not his lowering taxes on the middle class but mostly on the rich, not his failed attempt to undo health insurance for the poorest among us, nor even his stated desire to recharge our infrastructure (that which hasn’t yet even got off the ground).

For the Republicans Trump’s refusal to allow entry to the refugees coming to our shores, no less than his placing God’s commandments once again in the public square, that’s the sort of thing that he claims would make the country “great again.”

It didn’t have to be this way, although as long as Trump is there it will probably be the way things are. For Trump won’t change, and he won’t be impeached and voted out of office before 2020. The Democrats, however, might have done things differently, might have stopped him, not made things easier for him as they now seem to be doing. They might have got behind something grand, something that would have made Trump’s words and actions look just as petty as in fact they are. They might have got behind a position that would begin to crumble Trump’s base and draw away his support. Why haven’t they been able to do this?

Masha Gessen in the New Yorker of February 1 outlines just such a “grand position,” one they might have taken (they still might?).  She describes a totally different and truer way of looking at what is now our national hangup over immigration. And she points out how the Democrats have fallen short of making a real challenge to Trump’s own anti-immigrant fervor. What might the Democrats have said instead? They might have taken Gessen’s totally different approach to immigration.

Gessen’s  different approach would be to frame the issue in purely moral terms rather than as now in largely economic ones. For her a different approach would address  and stress American responsibility in a world in which tens of millions of people have been displaced by war, famine, and violence. This would mean talking not only about the Haitian or Salvadoran refugees who are being deported from the United States but also about the hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Yemeni refugees who have no hope of entering the one country in the world best situated to give them shelter.

She would have the Democrats, all of us, address the future of a planet that is slowly becoming unsuitable for human habitation, and highlight our, the American responsibility, to those who lose their homes as a result. She would even have us question the premise that the dumb luck of having been born in the United States gives any one group of people the right to decide who may subsequently enter the United States.

Would Gessen’s ideas begin to crumble the Republican position? Probably not.

So we  ask again who are the Republicans? Do they not see that they are not the fine people, the upstanding members of the Congress, they would like to be. Rather they reveal themselves to be by their words and actions anyway, merely close-minded bigots, afraid of the diversity as well as the sameness of the world’s peoples, seeing out there five or more races of men but never the single family of man.

Moral Sentiments at 2 in the morning

It’s two am. and I can’t sleep. Probably shouldn’t blame this on Trump… couldn’t sleep even years ago when he wasn’t destroying what was best in our country but only playing golf and making deals, if not money, well out of our awareness of anything at all he might be doing.

So got up and began reading on my iPhone, from where I had left off yesterday evening, chapter two of Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything. Something either I had never read or had forgotten. Here’s someone else who speaks for me, how had I not read or not remembered him. How had I never read Adam Smith on the Moral Sentiments? A big hole in my own learning!

Well here’s the passage that is keeping me up and awake: I hope you like it! I did. Yes, what he says does now seem obvious, but still needs to be said.

“Was trying to raise a child without moral teaching and expecting him to behave like raising him without Latin and expecting him to recite Virgil? No, according to Adam Smith, just a bad comparison. Smith thought that morality owed little to teaching and nothing to reason, but evolved by a sort of reciprocal exchange within each person’s mind as he or she grew from childhood, and within society. Morality therefore emerged as a consequence of certain aspects of human nature in response to social conditions.”

“Adam Smith was far ahead of its time. He starts The Theory of Moral Sentiments with a simple observation: we all enjoy making other people happy.”

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, but the pleasure of seeing it. And we all desire what he calls mutual sympathy of sentiments: ‘Nothing pleases us more than to observe in other men a fellow-feeling with all the emotions of our own breast.’”

”Yet the childless Smith observed that a child does not have a sense of morality, and has to find out the hard way that he or she is not the centre of the universe. Gradually, by trial and error, a child discovers what behaviour leads to mutual sympathy of sentiments, and therefore can make him or her happy by making others happy.”

“It is by, according to Smith, everybody accommodating their desires to those of others that a system of shared morality arises.”


Make America Great Again



School Beginsseeks to show us how the U.S. government apparently accepted “The White Man’s Burden” and decided to bring “civilization” to the new territories. We see how there is an African-American boy working in the classroom, a Native American student reading a book upside-down, and a Chinese boy attempting to come into the classroom but seemingly excluded. Even as the American ideal is being extended to some, it is simultaneously corrupted or denied to others. The territories acquired from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) are also represented, as quiet, studious Anglo-Saxons rather than as Spaniards or Mestizos.

The American people, those of Anglo/European descent, at least, had to meet their supposed responsibilities as “properly civilized” people and extend civilization to those less fortunate. The depiction of the territories acquired from the Mexican Cession of 1848 as white is also indicative of an assimilationist attitude which continues today. Those who cannot assimilate in appearance or culture to the mainstream (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants) are deemed as failures or undesirables, definitively identified and separated from the rest.

Puck was the first successful humor and political satire magazine in the United States, making fun by means of colorful cartoons and caricatures of the leaders and issues of the day. It stopped publishing in 1918 and now, 100 years later, in 2018, it, or something like it, is sorely missed. Think of the great fun Puck would have depicting with humor and satire our golfing and tweeting white supremacist president. 


Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité