Category Archives: Ideas

“I’d come to the bird hospital, and to India, to see firsthand the Jains’ moral system at work in the world.”

I’m always reading, a habit of mind not always appreciated by my wife, as I well understand. And the subjects of my reading are not only thrillers, history, and science, but more often what Donald Trump calls “Fake News” on the internet. which I now mostly access through my  iPhone.

“Fake News” journalists are my heros. They look at the world, the whole word, at what’s happening, at what is, at what was, and at what could be, and they write about it. And now there are more of them than  ever before, and to read them we need only an internet access.

Let me call these journalists, the thousands, tens of thousands of them out there, the principal source of my own learning, much more than ever was school or college. And they are probably in this business, in many if not all instances, for life.

My own life-long learning starts with reading them. That’s probably why I begin my day with such as the Times and the Post for these two publications represent the very best of them, their principal job, that which they do admirably on a daily basis, being to send their journalists out into the world so that we, the readers, can be made aware of what’s out there. By reading them I/we grow in our understanding of the world.

Now I’m going to give you a single example of the sort of thing they do, bringing the world out there to us. This is not from the Times, nor the Post, but from another well known Fake News publication, The Atlantic Monthly. And the subject is not Donald Trump, SCOTUS, or the threat of government shutdown, or now of our illegitimate President claiming emergency powers. The subject is Jainism.

As I first began to read this piece, called What The Crow Knows, I was immediately struck by both joy and laughter, my two favorite emotions, as well as by my sharply revived interest in the subject matter,  Jainism, and from that what our animal cousins, what the crows know.

[Now and from now on, it’s the writer,Ross Andersen who is speaking (writing).]


Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital.

On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk in his late 20s was processing patients. An older woman placed a shoebox before him and lifted off its lid, revealing a bloody white parakeet, the victim of a cat attack.

The man in front of me in line held, in a small cage, a dove that had collided with a glass tower in the financial district. A girl no older than 7 came in behind me clutching, in her bare hands, a white hen with a slumped neck.

The hospital’s main ward is a narrow, 40-foot-long room with cages stacked four high along the walls and fans on the ceiling, their blades covered with grates, lest they ensnare a flapping wing. I strolled the room’s length, conducting a rough census. Many of the cages looked empty at first, but leaning closer, I’d find a bird, usually a pigeon, sitting back in the gloom.

The youngest of the hospital’s vets, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, was making his rounds in jeans and a surgical mask. The oldest vet here has worked the night shift for more than a quarter century, spending tens of thousands of hours removing tumors from birds, easing their pain with medication, administering antibiotics. Singh is a rookie by comparison, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he inspects a pigeon, flipping it over in his hands, quickly but gently, the way you might handle your cellphone. As we talked, he motioned to an assistant, who handed him a nylon bandage that he stretched twice around the pigeon’s wing, setting it with an unsentimental pop.

The bird hospital is one of several built by devotees of Jainism, an ancient religion whose highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals.

A series of paintings in the hospital’s lobby illustrates the extremes to which some Jains take this prohibition. In them, a medieval king in blue robes gazes through a palace window at an approaching pigeon, its wing bloodied by the talons of a brown hawk still in pursuit. The king pulls the smaller bird into the palace, infuriating the hawk, which demands replacement for its lost meal, so he slices off his own arm and foot to feed it.

Jainism’s highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals; at a bird hospital in Old Delhi, vets treat broken wings, administer medicine, remove tumors, and more. (Hashim Badani)

I’d come to the bird hospital, and to India, to see firsthand the Jains’ moral system at work in the world. Jains make up less than 1 percent of India’s population. Despite millennia spent criticizing the Hindu majority, the Jains have sometimes gained the ear of power. During the 13th century, they converted a Hindu king, and persuaded him to enact the subcontinent’s first animal-welfare laws. There is evidence that the Jains influenced the Buddha himself. And when Gandhi developed his most radical ideas about nonviolence, a Jain friend played philosophical muse.

In the state of Gujarat, where Gandhi grew up, I saw Jain monks walking barefoot in the cool morning hours to avoid car travel, an activity they regard as irredeemably violent, given the damage it inflicts on living organisms, from insects to larger animals. The monks refuse to eat root vegetables, lest their removal from the earth disturb delicate subterranean ecosystems. Their white robes are cotton, not silk, which would require the destruction of silkworms. During monsoon season, they forgo travel, to avoid splashing through puddles filled with microbes, whose existence Jains posited well before they appeared under Western microscopes.

For many scientists, the resonant mystery is no longer which animals are conscious, but which are not.

Jains move through the world in this gentle way because they believe animals are conscious beings that experience, in varying degrees, emotions analogous to human desire, fear, pain, sorrow, and joy. This idea that animals are conscious was long unpopular in the West, but it has lately found favor among scientists who study animal cognition. And not just the obvious cases—primates, dogs, elephants, whales, and others. Scientists are now finding evidence of an inner life in alien-seeming creatures that evolved on ever-more-distant limbs of life’s tree. In recent years, it has become common to flip through a magazine like this one and read about an octopus using its tentacles to twist off a jar’s lid or squirt aquarium water into a postdoc’s face. For many scientists, the resonant mystery is no longer which animals are conscious, but which are not.

No aspect of our world is as mysterious as consciousness, the state of awareness that animates our every waking moment, the sense of being located in a body that exists within a larger world of color, sound, and touch, all of it filtered through our thoughts and imbued by emotion.

Even in a secular age, consciousness retains a mystical sheen. It is alternatively described as the last frontier of science, and as a kind of immaterial magic beyond science’s reckoning. David Chalmers, one of the world’s most respected philosophers on the subject, once told me that consciousness could be a fundamental feature of the universe, like space-time or energy. He said it might be tied to the diaphanous, indeterminate workings of the quantum world, or something nonphysical.

These metaphysical accounts are in play because scientists have yet to furnish a satisfactory explanation of consciousness. We know the body’s sensory systems beam information about the external world into our brain, where it’s processed, sequentially, by increasingly sophisticated neural layers. But we don’t know how those signals are integrated into a smooth, continuous world picture, a flow of moments experienced by a roving locus of attention—a “witness,” as Hindu philosophers call it.

In the West, consciousness was long thought to be a divine gift bestowed solely on humans. Western philosophers historically conceived of nonhuman animals as unfeeling automatons. Even after Darwin demonstrated our kinship with animals, many scientists believed that the evolution of consciousness was a recent event. They thought the first mind sparked awake sometime after we split from chimps and bonobos. In his 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes argued that it was later still. He said the development of language led us, like Virgil, into the deep cognitive states capable of constructing experiential worlds.

This notion that consciousness was of recent vintage began to change in the decades following the Second World War, when more scientists were systematically studying the behaviors and brain states of Earth’s creatures. Now each year brings a raft of new research papers, which, taken together, suggest that a great many animals are conscious.

It was likely more than half a billion years ago that some sea-floor arms race between predator and prey roused Earth’s first conscious animal. That moment, when the first mind winked into being, was a cosmic event, opening up possibilities not previously contained in nature.

There now appears to exist, alongside the human world, a whole universe of vivid animal experience. Scientists deserve credit for illuminating, if only partially, this new dimension of our reality. But they can’t tell us how to do right by the trillions of minds with which we share the Earth’s surface. That’s a philosophical problem, and like most philosophical problems, it will be with us for a long time to come.
Continue reading “I’d come to the bird hospital, and to India, to see firsthand the Jains’ moral system at work in the world.”

Three illegitimate “Justices,”

The Supreme Court is done for as the respected third branch of government it used to be.

The note below appeared as one of my contributions last week to a private email group including a number of lawyers. Three of them, including a retired Democratic Congressional Representative, endorsed my proposals. A fourth, a former Republican member of the Georgia State House, was “appalled.” The photo was included in my email. The proposal was emailed to the group Thursday, October 5, 2018, the day before Kavanaugh’s confirmation and it hasn’t been altered for this posting.
Melvin Konner

Three illegitimate “Justices,” now one third of the court and three fifths of the ultra-right majority.

Here’s what I think will and should happen now that Kavanaugh has been confirmed:

1. Leading House Dems should start planning (premised on on having flipped the House) ongoing investigations that include every detail of Kavanaugh’s lies, drunkenness, and sexual assault. They should make his life as an illegitimate “Justice” a living hell of legitimate investigations, which in due course should lead to impeachment.

2. They should reopen the Clarence Thomas case and consider impeaching him. Professor Hill deserves reconsideration by panels including women and in the light of new mores.

3. They should begin exploring options for expanding the court to eleven Justices.

4. They should never ever give up the nuclear option unless they have a supermajority in both houses, and then they should revoke the nuclear option in a way that makes it much more difficult to reinstate.

The Supreme Court is done for as the respected third branch of government it used to be. Democrats must do their jobs in legislatures at the state and federal levels to ensure that SCOTUS decisions in the future matter less and less. Private organizations should work toward the same goal.

For example: If Roe is overturned, Planned Parenthood should build a network of clinics at airports in right-to-choose states, and set aside funds to fly women from states that have abolished their right to choose to states that have preserved it, and get them home in time for supper.

For example: Tremendous effort should be put into preventing any reversal of the Voting Rights Act that the illegitimate “Justices” concoct, and into securing voting rights for felons who have paid their debt to society. If voter id’s are needed, there should be a nationwide program to provide them to everyone, funded by our side, and it should be proactive.

For example: Legislatures, not courts, should ensure that ports of entry to the U.S. within blue state borders have every possible protection for immigrants and that immigrants reaching sanctuary states and cities are fully protected.

Bear in mind that “states rights” now means the opposite of what it did fifty or more years ago. It means thwarting oppressive and stupid federal laws and federal court decisions from marijuana to abortion rights to immigration to voting.

We must get into a mind set where we understand that the courts are against us, and act accordingly to work around them. The federal judiciary, especially SCOTUS, is no longer independent, and “the rule of law” no longer includes it. Going forward, the rule of law has to be the rule of legislatures that make laws, not the rule of umpires with one blind eye.

Giving up on SCOTUS is a long slow needed cultural change. It started in 1991 with Thomas & Hill, went on to Bush v Gore and Citizens United, and intensified greatly with the theft of Merrick Garland’s seat. Kavanaugh’s ascent may not be the final nail in the SCOTUS coffin, but it will be a big one. Of course they will still make decisions. What needs to happen is for more and more people to disrespect and disbelieve them, and to work around them any way they can.

Melvin Joel Konner is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and of Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University. He studied at Brooklyn College, CUNY, where he met Marjorie Shostak, whom he later married and with whom he had three children.


Frederick Douglass’s views on immigration in 1869. They did not prevail, alas.

And this is our situation in 2019, that a great man, Frederick Douglass came and went, and he was not heard, not listened to.

Why was that? Why wasn’t he heard? And why today do people, probably most people, certainly Donald Trump’s people, about a third of the voting poblic, still not get it, Douglass’s message, his truth, about who we are.

Because we are today, or ought to be now some 150 years later than when Douglass spoke those words, the very country and nation that he was describing, the nation that we should be now. But we’re not. Why has not this nation, the nation of Frederick Douglass, become the nation of all of us?

I take what follows from Jill Lepore’s excellent piece in a recent Foreign Affairs:

“The most significant statement in this debate was made by a man born into slavery who had sought his own freedom and fought for decades for emancipation, citizenship, and equal rights. In 1869, in front of audiences across the country, Frederick Douglass delivered one of the most important and least read speeches in American political history, urging the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments in the spirit of establishing a “composite nation.” He spoke, he said, “to the question of whether we are the better or the worse for being composed of different races of men.” If nations, which are essential for progress, form from similarity, what of nations like the United States, which are formed out of difference, Native American, African, European, Asian, and every possible mixture, “the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world”?

“To Republicans like Higby, who objected to Chinese immigration and to birthright citizenship, and to Democrats like Davis, who objected to citizenship and voting rights for anyone other than white men, Douglass offered an impassioned reply. As for the Chinese: “Do you ask, if I would favor such immigration? I answer, I would. Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them to vote? I would.” As for future generations, and future immigrants to the United States, Douglass said, “I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours.” For Douglass, progress could only come in this new form of a nation, the composite nation. “We shall spread the network of our science and civilization over all who seek their shelter, whether from Asia, Africa, or the Isles of the sea,” he said, and “all shall here bow to the same law, speak the same language, support the same Government, enjoy the same liberty, vibrate with the same national enthusiasm, and seek the same national ends.”

”That was Douglass’ new Americanism. It did not prevail.”

Nancy was right about the wall being immoral


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Border Town in Arizona to Trump: Tear Down This Wall… of ‘Inhuman’ Razor Wire

The unanimously approved resolution characterized the installation of the razor wire, recently installed by U.S. Army personnel, as “not only irresponsible but inhuman.”

In this Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 photo, a school bus rolls past the razor wire-covered fence at East International and Nelson Streets in downtown Nogales, Ariz. (Photo: Jonathan Clark)

It was, in a way, Reaganesque.

On Wednesday night, the city council of Nogales—an Arizona border town with a population of 20,000 people—unanimously passed a resolution calling for the Trump administration to remove razor wire that covers in near entirety a border wall that passes through its downtown.

The resolution characterized the installation of the razor wire, recently installed by U.S. Army personnel, as “not only irresponsible but inhuman.”

The resolution—which says such a wall “is only found in a war, prison or battle setting” and has no place in the city—says that if the government does not remove the wire, it will file a lawsuit to have it taken down.

As notes,  “The council’s action came one day after President Donald Trump made his case to the American people about the need for a border wall and how he has ordered 3,750 troops to prepare for what he called a ‘tremendous onslaught.'”

To some critical observers, however, it was unclear if the razor wire was intended to keep refugees and migrants out, or keep U.S. residents in:

Earlier in the week, Mayor Arturo Garino told the local Nogales International that the razor wire was “lethal” to the town’s residents. “I really don’t know what they’re thinking by putting it all the way down to the ground,” he said.


Half of Indians have no toilet.


Amartya Sen: India’s dirty fighter

The Guardian, July 2013

That half of Indians have no toilet is just one of many gigantic failures that have prompted Nobel prize-winning academic Amartya Sen to write a devastating critique (An Uncertain Glory…) of India’s economic boom.

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But Sen doesn’t do satisfaction. He does outrage expressed in the most reasonable possible terms. What he wants to know is where more than 600 million Indians go to defecate.

“Half of all Indians have no toilet. In Delhi when you build a new condominium there are lots of planning requirements but none relating to the servants having toilets. It’s a combination of class, caste and gender discrimination. It’s absolutely shocking. Poor people have to use their ingenuity and for women that can mean only being able to relieve themselves after dark with all the safety issues that entails,” says Sen, adding that Bangladesh is much poorer than India and yet only 8% don’t have access to a toilet. “This is India’s defective development.”

Despite all the comfort and prestige of his status in the UK and the US – he teaches at Harvard – he hasn’t forgotten the urgency of the plight of India’s poor, which he first witnessed as a small child in the midst of the Bengal famine of 1943. An Uncertain Glory: India and its ContradictionsHis new book, An Uncertain Glory, co-written with his long-time colleague Jean Drèze, is a quietly excoriating critique of India’s boom.

It’s the 50% figure which – shockingly – keeps recurring. Fifty per cent of children are stunted, the vast majority due to undernourishment. Fifty per cent of women have anemia for the same reason. In one survey, there was no evidence of any teaching activity in 50% of schools in seven big northern states, which explains terrible academic underachievement.

Despite considerable economic growth and increasing self-confidence as a major global player, modern India is a disaster zone in which millions of lives are wrecked by hunger and by pitiable investment in health and education services. Pockets of California amid sub-Saharan Africa, sum up Sen and Drèze.

The details are outrageous but the outlines of this story are familiar and Sen and Drèze are losing patience (they have collaborated on several previous books) and their last chapter is entitled The Need for Impatience. They want attention, particularly from the vast swath of the Indian middle classes who seem indifferent to the wretched lives of their neighbours. So they have aimed their critique at India’s national amour-propre by drawing unfavourable comparisons, firstly with the great rival China but even more embarrassingly with a string of south Asian neighbours.

indian slum
An Indian boy defecates in the open in one of New Delhi’s slums. Photograph: AP Photo/Kevin Frayer

“There are reasons for India to hang its head in shame. Alongside the success, there have been gigantic failures,” says Sen. He is making this critique loud and clear in the media on both sides of the Atlantic ahead of the book’s launch in India this week. “India will prick up its ears when comparisons with China are made, but the comparison is not just tactical. China invested in massive expansion of education and healthcare in the 70s so that by 1979, life expectancy was 68 while in India it was only 54.”

Sen and Drèze’s argument is that these huge social investments have proved critical to sustaining China’s impressive economic growth. Without comparable foundations, India’s much lauded economic growth is faltering. Furthermore, they argue that India’s overriding preoccupation with economic growth makes no sense without recognising that human development depends on how that wealth is used and distributed. What’s the purpose of a development model that produces luxury shopping malls rather than sanitation systems that ensure millions of healthy lives, ask Drèze and Sen, accusing India of “unaimed opulence”. India is caught in the absurd paradox of people having mobile phones but no toilets.

Even more stark is the comparison with Bangladesh. “Our hope is that India’s public policymakers will be embarrassed by the comparison with Bangladesh. On a range of development indicators such as life expectancy, child immunisation and child mortality, Bangladesh has pulled ahead of India despite being poorer.’

What makes this comparison so powerful is that Bangladesh has targeted the position of women not just through government policy but also through the work of non-governmental organisations such as BRAC and the Grameen Bank. As a result, there have been astonishing successes, says Sen, such as a dramatic fall in fertility rate and girls now outnumbering boys in education. All this has been achieved despite having half the per capita income of India.

Other impoverished neighbours such as Nepal have made great strides, while even Sri Lanka has kept well ahead of India on key indicators despite a bitter civil war for much of the last 30 years. Drèze and Sen conclude in their book that India has “some of the worst human development indicators in the world” and features in the bottom 15 countries, along with Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. Seven of the poorest Indian states account for the biggest concentration of deprivation on the globe.

India, Kathputli
Street scene in Delhi’s Kathputli colony, where the houses have no running water, electricity or sanitation. Photograph: Donatella Giagnori/LatinContent/Getty Images

After this blizzard of facts and figures – and the book is stuffed with them – one might fear reader despair, but the reverse is true. This is a book about what India could do – and should do. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are held up as good examples of how social investments from the 60s to the 80s have reaped dividends in economic growth. What holds India back is not lack of resources but lack of clear-sighted, long-term policies and the political will to implement them. Sen (still an Indian citizen) is optimistic, pointing to the political mobilisation following the rape of a young woman student on a bus in Delhi last December, which led to the rapid adoption of new measures to combat violence against women. The consciences of the Indian middle classes can be stirred, and, when they are, political action follows.

But he admits “intellectual wonder” at how it is that more people can’t see that economic growth without investment in human development is unsustainable – and unethical. What underpins the book is a deep faith in human reason, the roots of which he traces to India’s long argumentative tradition going as far back as the Buddha. If enough evidence and careful analysis is brought to bear on this subject then one can win the argument, and it is this faith that has sustained him through more than five decades of writing on human development. It was his work which led to the development of the much cited UN’s Human Development Index.

Influential he has certainly been, but he acknowledges he still hasn’t won the argument. To his dismay, there are plenty of examples where people seem set on ignoring the kind of evidence he stacks up; in passing he asks: “How can anyone believe austerity with high levels of unemployment is intelligent policy for the UK?”

He laughingly comments that colleagues say his thinking hasn’t evolved much, but he dismisses the idea of being frustrated. All he will concede is the astonishing admission that he wishes someone else had written this book on India. “There are a number of problems in philosophy which I would have preferred to tackle – such as problems with objectivity. But this book had to be written. I want these issues heard.”

He says that the Nobel prize and the National Medal from President Obama may be “overrated” but they give him a platform, and he unashamedly uses it – giving time to media interviews and travelling all over the world to deliver speeches. That has led to compromises on the intellectual projects he would have liked to pursue, but life has been full of compromises ever since he narrowly survived cancer as an 18-year-old: there are all kinds of food he cannot eat as a result.

He is an extraordinary academic by any account – a member of both the philosophy and the economics faculties at Harvard – and is helping to develop a new course on maths while supervising PhDs in law and public health. He has plans for several more books and no plans to slow down. Mastery of multiple academic disciplines is rare enough but it’s the dogged ethical preoccupation threading through all his work that is really remarkable. None of the erudition is used to intimidate; he is always the teacher.

Some argue that Sen is the last heir to a distinguished Bengali intellectual tradition that owed as much to poets as it did to scientists, politicians and philosophers. Sen is the true inheritor of Rabindranath Tagore, the great poet and thinker of the early decades of the 20th century. A family friend, he named Sen as a baby; the only photograph in Sen’s Cambridge study is that of the striking Tagore with his flowing white beard.

But on one issue Sen admits he now parts company with Tagore, and instead he quotes Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bengal’s other great poet who became an iconic figure for the nation of Bangladesh. Tagore was too patient; Nazrul was the rebel urging action. And he repeats a quote he uses in the book: “Patience is a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” He wants change and that means he is about to embark on a demanding tour of Indian cities to promote the book. The doctors have told him that if he slows down it will be irrevocable, so he’s decided not to. Retirement is not an option.

Mitch and Mike

These two”men,” Mitch McConnell the Senate majority capo and Mike Pence the Vice President, are terrorizing me.

While our democracy is in crisis, its very survival being threatened by our president, while we wonder if the Constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers will survive Trump’s actions, these two, Mitch and Mike, are either in hiding, not willing to get involved (Mitch), or mouthing off (Mike) against LGBTQ people, same sex marriages, abortion and religious freedom as in the Hobby Lobby decision of the Supreme Court ruling that corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraception. Religious freedom meaning for Mitch and Mike  not the freedom to worship but the freedom to exclude those holding different beliefs from “us,” that meaning as a rule white American supremacists, as in the president’s Muslim ban, and in the President’s ruling sending, yes, some 5000 U.S. army troops to stop the invasion of asylum seeking women and children on our southern border.

Whatever they are, Mitch and Mike,  these two are most definitely not prisoners of ‘traditional masculinity,’ that which the  new American Psychological Association guidelines describe as “a model of manhood marked by emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness.”

I take the above paragraph from:

Ross Douthat, In search of non-toxic Manhood in the NYTimes of 1/19/19

This forgetting of human experience, this perpetual present-tenseness, pervades the latest flashpoint in the culture war over the sexes — the new guidelines for treating male pathology from the American Psychological Association.
The trouble with men, the guidelines argue, is that they’re violent and reckless, far more likely than women to end up in prison or dead before their time. But the deeper problem is they’re prisoners of “traditional masculinity,” which the guidelines describe as a model of manhood marked by “emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness.” This tough-guy ideal encourages “aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict,” and tempts men toward rape, drug abuse and suicide.

What’s next? No one seems to know. And everyone is worried that these two and others like them are shaping the direction of the country.

Here below I’ve posted opinion pieces of Charles PIerce (Esquire Magazine) and Gail Collins (NYTimes) on the terrorists Mitch and Mike.

Charles Pierce on Mitch

There Is No More Loathsome Creature Walking Our Political Landscape Than Mitch McConnell

Yes, that includes the jumped-up real-estate crook in the White House.

As its first act in the new Congress, the equally new Democratic majority passed something called House Resolution 1. It was a massive anti-corruption measure aimed at restoring the credibility of American elections and safeguarding the franchises for those whose right to vote had been assaulted by 30 years of conservative mischief, both in Washington and in the states. It advocated a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. It proposed making federal Election Day a federal holiday, and it forbade both partisan gerrymandering and voter purges. It also mandated that the president and vice president reveal the previous ten years of tax returns. (Can’t imagine what gave them that idea.) All in all, it was a clear declaration of support for the right of all eligible citizens to vote, and for their votes to have meaning.

On the op-ed page of the Washington PostJesus, Hiatt, (an editor at the Washington Post) Really?—Mitch McConnell called it “a power grab.”

It would also empower that newly partisan FEC to track and catalogue more of what you say. It would broaden the type of speech the commission can define as “campaign-related” and thus regulate. Many more Americans would have to notify the feds when spending even small amounts of money on speech or else be penalized. That partisan FEC would also get wide latitude to determine when a nonprofit’s speech has crossed that fuzzy “campaign-related” line and then forcibly publicize the group’s private supporters.
Apparently the Democrats define “democracy” as giving Washington a clearer view of whom to intimidate and leaving citizens more vulnerable to public harassment over private views. Under this bill, you’d keep your right to free association as long as your private associations were broadcast to everyone. You’d keep your right to speak freely so long as you notified a distant bureaucracy likely run by the same people you criticized. The bill goes so far as to suggest that the Constitution needs an amendment to override First Amendment protections.

That’s bad enough, but here comes the line that, if the WaPo opinion editors had any guts, they would have either cut from the piece, or killed it entirely.

I’m as firm a supporter as anyone of vigorous debate and a vibrant political discourse — but I don’t think Americans see an urgent need for their tax dollars to be used to bankroll robocalls and attack ads, including for candidates they dislike.

Jesus, Hiatt. (Hiatt a Wash Post editor) Seriously? Let’s ask Elizabeth Warren how firm McConnell’s support for vigorous debate is. Hell, let’s ask Merrick Garland how much he enjoyed Mitch McConnell’s vibrant political discourse.

In Closed Meeting On CIA’s Assessment Of Killing Of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi CIA Director Gina Haspel Briefs Senators.

There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles than this yokel from Kentucky. Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head.

McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years. There is nothing that this president* can do that threatens McConnell’s power as much as it threatens the survival of the republic, and that’s where we are.

McConnell declared himself in opposition to Barack Obama right from the first day in office. There’s even video. Most noxiously, in reference to our present moment, when Obama came to him and asked him to present a united front against the Russian ratfcking that was enabling El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, McConnell turned him down flat. Moreover, he told Obama that, if Obama went public, McConnell would use it as a political hammer on Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Obama should have done it anyway, god knows.) McConnell issued a watery denial of these charges, but there’s no good goddamn reason to believe him.

He doesn’t have the essential patriotism god gave a snail. He pledges allegiance to his donors, and they get what they want. He’s selling out his country, and he’s doing it in real-time and out in the open. This is worse than McCarthy or McCarran ever were. Mitch McConnell is the the thief of the nation’s soul.

Charles Pierce is currently the lead political blogger for Esquire, a position he has held since September 2011.[8] He also wrote for ESPN’s Grantland.[9][10] He has also written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe Sunday magazine, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sports Illustrated, The National Sports Daily, GQ, and the e-zine Slate as well as the Media Matters blog Altercation, hosted by historian/pundit Eric Alterman.

Gail Collins on Mike

Impeachment isn’t necessarily the door to a happy ending.

Wow, so much Trump impeachment talk. People, how would you. feel about a President Mike Pence?
Never thought much about Mike, did you? But if Trump gets tossed out of office, he’s next in line. We’d have a chief executive who reportedly calls his wife “Mother.” Who has a rule that he won’t drink in a room where there’s mixed company unless his wife is present, or eat a meal alone with any woman he’s not married to.

The least alarming interpretation of the vice president’s rules of sexual separation is that this guy is such a wild man, he can’t control himself unless there’s somebody else there to guard a female in his near proximity.

O.K., no.

Then we’ll have to presume that Pence is living in a world of the old order, when women weren’t seen as normal employees, employers and colleagues, but as a different species entirely, defined by their gender, deserving of special treatment and special discrimination.

On a practical basis, if he became president, would that mean no private lunch with Nancy Pelosi unless Chuck Schumer came, too? If Theresa May wanted to sit down with him and confer about Brexit, would he be able to offer her a snack?

Wow, this is not beginning well.

The big Pence news this week was that Mother — er, Karen Pence — has taken a job teaching at a school that bans gay students and requires employees to declare that God does not believe in same-sex marriage.

It was a reminder that Pence spent most of his political career running against gay rights. It’s part of a larger opposition to all sex outside of traditional wedlock. In Indiana, Pence tried to drive Planned Parenthood clinics out of business. In one county, that left no free services providing testing for H.I.V. and it helped trigger an epidemic.

But hey, the Second Couple feel strongly about this, as a matter of faith. I’m sure they share their convictions with all their colleagues, neighbors and their good friend the thrice-married president. Maybe, while they’re sharing, Donald entertains them with stories about how he used to encourage New York City tabloids to run headlines about his adulterous relationships, and his fantastic ability to grab women by their private parts.

Just saying.

Religion aside, Pence is a pretty run-of-the-mill conservative Republican. He’s a great pal of the Koch brothers. He’s not any more likely than his current boss to want to do anything about climate change. When he was governor, his sympathy for immigrants was demonstrated by an attempt to prevent Syrian refugee families from settling in Indiana.

On the plus side, the Pences have a snake, a dog, a cat and a rabbit. As president, Mike would presumably put an end to the pet-free White House.

He’s been vice president for two years, and contrary to general impressions, his duties have not been limited to following the president around and bobbing his head. Although he does have a tendency to hyperventilate when his boss’s name comes up. You will remember that cabinet meeting at the end of 2017, when he gave a speech praising Trump that included 14 swoony plaudits, or in-cabinet-meeting-pence-praises-trump-once-every-12-seconds-for-3-minutes-straight as Aaron Blake of The Washington Post calculated — one every 12.5 seconds. They ranged from “You’ve restored American credibility on the world stage” to “I’m deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here.”

Among Pence’s major achievements as veep was flying back to Indianapolis at taxpayer expense so he could go to an N.F.L. game and walk out when some players took a knee during the national anthem.

Also, organizing a Bible study group for cabinet officials led by a pastor who has described Catholicism as a “false” religion and who believes it’s a sin for women with children to work outside the home.

So what do you think? If Trump gets impeached, would we be in worse shape than ever? Some people think the succession would be fine. Like, um, Ann Coulter. (“If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence.”)

If you did an in-depth scientific study of all the American dinner-table arguments in favor of impeachment, I’ll bet when Pence’s name came up, two-thirds would include the words “Well, at least he wouldn’t bomb anybody.”

Good point! Still, we’ve had Donald Trump in charge for a while now and he hasn’t actually been all that bellicose. In fact, he seems to be wandering in the other direction, pulling troops out of Syria and bragging, albeit somewhat irrationally, that he’s ended the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Meanwhile, this week Pence announced to the world that “the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.” We are used to that sort of loopy bragging in this administration. However, it seemed super peculiar coming only an hour after the world learned that U.S. service members had been killed in an ISIS attack in Syria.

So impeachment isn’t necessarily the door to a happy ending. But it would at least mean taking a stand against the idea that a president can obstruct justice and just keep sitting in the White House. And if Pence takes over, maybe nothing much would happen. Remember, this is a guy who spent 12 years in Congress without passing a single piece of legislation.

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist, a former member of the editorial board and was the first woman to serve as Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007.

A javelin embedded in a Mammoth’s Rib a reminder of who we are.

Why does Mike Pence terrorize me? Actually all the Trump band of Republican Senators, seemingly without spines of their own, and who fawningly go along with everything the president says, no matter how preposterous, terrorize me. How can this be possible, that these grown mostly men, like the vice president, some almost as old as I am, men who should know better, can accept without blinking the lies of their president? Enough to terrorize me.

I remember my father, a Republican all his life. What would he say today about the republicans, about his party? “Hey Dad, wherever you are what do you think?”

Now, back to the javelin embedded in a mammoth’s rib, dating from just 25000 years ago… the javelin throwers were Pence’s ancestors, mine too. Do Pence and the others like him today ever think that most of our history, man’s history, is for the most part prior to Adam and Eve, prior to the birth and Crucifixion of Jesus?

In fact nearly all of man’s history precedes that of whatever history the bible and other religious texts may contain, and about this much longer history we’ve only just begun to learn. Shouldn’t we be looking more and more closely at this history, for it’s from that we have most to learn. This history, our history, is some tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years long. Shouldn’t we cease going primarily to religious texts for our understanding of the nature of man? The biblical stories, and other such are just stories, after all, and in good part made up. The science of evolution, is non fiction, not made up, and looks closely and those hundreds of thousands, millions of years and more of our history, and has much, much more to tell us about who and what we are. Let the javelin embedded in the Mammoth’s rib remind us of this fact.

25,000 Years Later, Javelin Is Still Embedded in Mammoth’s Rib

25,000 Years Later, Javelin Is Still Embedded in Mammoth's Rib

Credit: Shutterstock

About 25,000 years ago, ice age hunters in what is now Poland threw a light spear known as a javelin at a mammoth. Now, the discovery of that javelin, still embedded in the mammoth’s rib, has revealed a major surprise: the first evidence that ice age people in Europe used weapons to hunt the giant beasts.

Previously, researchers wondered whether our ancestors had killed mammoths by trickery, for instance, by chasing them into pits or off cliffs. Or, perhaps ice age hunters targeted weak or sick mammoths that were easy to finish off.

But now, “we finally have a smoking gun, the first direct evidence of how these animals were hunted,” Piotr Wojtal, an archaeozoologist at the Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals at the Poland Academy of Sciences in Kraków, told Science in Poland, a site run by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.


Welcome to Foreign Policy’s annual list of the 100 top Global Thinkers.

The group  below comprises 7 thinkers who have had enormous impact on the world in the past decade.

The full list of 100 will be released on Tuesday, Jan. 22—the day our Global Thinkers special edition magazine goes online and into subscriber mailboxes. Until then, we’ll be revealing names from each category every day. Check back in as the list grows (and see if you can guess the names before they are announced).


Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House showed what an intellectual can and cannot achieve in the world’s most powerful office. His much-maligned but deeply deliberative approach to decision-making helped steer the global economy through its worst crisis since the Great Depression. His renewed emphasis on diplomacy secured a nuclear agreement with Iran, a global compact on climate change, and a fresh arms reduction treaty with Russia. To be sure, Obama’s presidency had many flaws—most notably its failure to adequately address the Syrian civil war. But the importance of Obama’s accomplishments, and of the eloquence and dignity with which he went about his day-to-day work, grows more evident every time his successor holds a press conference or types a tweet.

Jack Ma


Few people can claim to have transformed an entire society. Jack Ma can make a credible case. Alibaba, the e-commerce company he founded in 1999, has enabled businesses to reach once inaccessible consumers, bringing a generation of Chinese citizens into contact with domestic and international markets and helping to fuel China’s breakneck growth. Through its innovations in supply chain logistics and its leading role in Chinese research on artificial intelligence, Ma’s Alibaba symbolizes how a company can give an entire generation access to online business opportunities—and help turn a once poor country into a superpower.

Christine Lagarde


Since taking over the International Monetary Fund’s top job in 2011, Christine Lagarde has spent her time in office dispensing tough love. The strict conditions she attached to bailouts for countries such as Greece and Ukraine haven’t won her many friends but have helped calm international markets during a turbulent decade. In an era when skepticism toward international institutions is growing, Lagarde has time and again proved the importance of the fund’s role as a lender of last resort, even while trying to retool it as a champion of progressive policies on climate change and inequality. Her aim: to prevent crises before they happen.

Margrethe Vestager


By levying massive fines against Google, Apple, Facebook, and the like, Margrethe Vestager has positioned herself as the world’s leading antitrust regulator. Her work at the European Commission has never been more important. With U.S. officials reluctant to punish American tech giants for their abuse of customer data, monopolistic tactics, and shady tax dealings, Vestager has taken a lonely stand for digital transparency and consumer rights—helping to launch a movement for reform that is now taking off in Europe.

Fareed Zakaria


One of the most influential foreign-policy analysts for almost two decades, Fareed Zakaria has proved prescient on subjects including the decline of U.S. power, the rise of the rest, and the spread of illiberal democracy. As the U.S. media continues to grow more insular, his CNN show, Fareed Zakaria GPS, now in its 11th year, remains a rare haven of smart takes on world affairs. The Indian-born Zakaria’s success offers hope that readers and viewers still want intelligent coverage of global events—even if fewer and fewer outlets are willing to provide it.

Bill and Melinda Gates


The scale of Bill and Melinda Gates’s philanthropy is simply astounding. Since its creation in 2000, the couple’s eponymous foundation has paid out some $46 billion to its grantees and inspired legions of other ultra-rich citizens to donate their wealth to charitable causes. Though criticized for its lack of transparency and outsize influence over global health spending, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped in to provide funding for public health initiatives around the world at a time when the gap between rich and poor is growing ever larger and governments’ foreign aid budgets are shrinking.

Jeff Bezos


What started out as an online bookstore in 1994 now touches just about every aspect of commerce, revolutionizing how people around the world browse and shop for all kinds of products. Today, Amazon is one of the world’s five biggest companies in terms of market capitalization, and its stock valuation has turned Jeff Bezos into the richest man in modern history. Bezos plans to use the money to expand Amazon’s reach, develop more innovations like the voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa, and conduct research into artificial intelligence and cloud computing. He has also made forays into space travel and mass media: Since buying the Washington Post in 2013, Bezos has pumped big money into the paper, helping to turn it into a key chronicler of the Trump administration.


Kevin Baker, in Harper’s, April 2010

The Vanishing Liberal: How the Left Learned To Be Helpless

On the first day of December last year, Barack Obama stood before the assembled Corps of Cadets at West Point and announced this decision to send another 30,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan.  The president’s nationally televised address was, in many ways, the most honest speech made to the American people by their leader in a generation.  Obama conceded that our client state in Afghanistan “has been hampered by corruption” and “has moved backwards.”  He told us he had rejected “a more dramatic and open-ended escalation” of the war because that would require setting “goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.”  He called on the nation to restore “the connection between our national security and our economy,” since “our prosperity provides a foundation of our power,” which means, therefore, that “our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended—because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.”

It was as if the president were walking back half a century of American overreach and hubris in foreign affairs, back past John F. Kennedy’s inaugural declaration that the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”  Now Obama was finally conceding that there were limits.  It was an argument in the very best tradition of American democracy:  educational, unshirking, and honest; grounded in history; cognizant of physical realities and limitations, but no less cognizant of human and democratic principles.  Had Obama delivered these words soon after he took office, as a prologue to making a major change in our foreign and military policies, they would have justified every hope his liberal supporters had for him.

Instead, of course, these words were merely a code, a belated attempt to reassure us that the policy of escalation Obama had just announced was nothing of the sort.  The decision stood:  30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  After stating the case for standing down in the most deliberate, accurate, and insightful words possible, our president went ahead and did the wrong thing anyway.

How could this be?  It was the question that Obama’s most fervent supporters had been asking themselves for months, as their candidate discarded almost every vision of a new America, a new world, that he had described during his campaign.  By the time of his West Point speech, health-care “reform” had already been transformed into yet another scheme to transfer wealth to the richest corporate interests in the country.  The stimulus program had been botched, the promised money delayed and diverted from badly needed public projects into unhelpful tax cuts.  The banks had been bailed out but not the people, and any significant proposals for repairing our infrastructure, addressing climate change, re-regulating the financial markets, or rebuilding New Orleans were generally acknowledged to be dead letters.

Now, with the president’s decision on Afghanistan, our foreign policy settled back into its familiar pattern of endless war for unknown purposes.  To people who had been clamoring for real change in how we work and consume, how we live in the world and with one another, this retreat to the failed policies of the recent past was stunning.  No other president in our history had so thoroughly spurned his political base in so short a time.

To understand how this could have happened, it is instructive to pay less attention to what Obama said in his West Point speech and more to where he said it.  That is, in front of the designated heirs to an officer class that in recent years has accrued unprecedented influence over policies once thought to be the exclusive domain for elected officials.  Obama’s choice of venue provided the perhaps-too–liberal president a reassuringly martial podium, and in doing so, it assured the Pentagon of an outcome its officers had in good part already determined by means of their own scandalously insubordinate intelligence leaks, and a recasting of history that assigned themselves sole credit for whatever “victory” was won in Iraq.

The president had undertaken a similar act of obeisance a few months earlier on Wall Street, where he had gone to plead for the cooperation of the financial sector and was faced with an even less enthusiastic audience of stone-faced officers.  Two weeks after the West Point speech, the heads of some of the largest bailed-out banks failed even to show up for what was billed as an important White House conference on loosening lending restrictions and creating jobs, pleading “inclement weather.”  And all the while, Republicans were stonewalling the health-care bill that was meant to be the cornerstone of Obama’s legacy.

Despite such receptions, the president continues to press for “bipartisanship” and elite consensus.  One of the most charismatic politicians of his time, a man who was able to raise the most money and draw the biggest crowds in American political history, has apparently decided that his new job is to fluff up the generals and bankers and politicians who, not very long ago, were in panicked disarray.  Armchair psychologists from the Maureen Dowd School of Political Commentary  like to analyze this conversion in terms of the elusive personality of Obama himself.  Others prefer to dwell on the surprising ineptitude of his administration.  And some simply accept his about-face in terms of the political exigencies of an essentially conservative nation, concluding, wistfully, that Obama is confronted by so many barriers to change—Republican obstructionism, the treachery of this or that Democratic senator, the nature of the Constitution itself—that the country is now ungovernable.

All of which may be true.  But it only skims the surface of a greater tidal shift, one that has little to do with Obama himself, and in fact, has inundated the whole of our democratic process.  This shift, which is subtle and has been many years in the making, might best be understood by considering a design underlying many of the interrogation techniques we employ at the (still-undisclosed) prison at Guantánamo or at the black sites we will maintain, wherever they are.  That is, bringing about the state known as learned helplessness.

The expression dates from a famous set of experiments by Martin Seligman some forty years ago, in which he found that dogs exposed to repeated and seemingly random electric shocks eventually stopped trying to escape those shocks, even when they could very easily do so.  This insight gave rise to “no touch” torture, pioneered in large part by he CIA, whose efforts to “break” prisoners, involved all manner of techniques, from the unsavory to the absurd, such as depriving prisoners of sleep for weeks on end, bombarding them with ear-splitting noises, exposing them to extreme heat and cold, shackling them in “stress positions,” tying bras to their heads, making them bark like dogs, and waterboarding them.  There is no evidence that such practices enhance the odds that prisoners will provide more useful information to interrogators.  It is well established, though that they will make prisoners docile, and so the techniques remain popular.

Continue reading Kevin Baker, in Harper’s, April 2010

50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency

by Jeffrey Goldberg
Editor in chief of The Atlantic
January, 2019


In an October 2016 editorial, The Atlantic wrote of Donald Trump: “He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar.” We argued that Trump “expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself.” Trump, we also noted, “is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.”

In retrospect, we may be guilty of understatement.

There was a hope, in the bewildering days following the 2016 election, that the office would temper the man—that Trump, in short, would change.

He has not changed.

This week marks the midway point of Trump’s term. Like many Americans, we sometimes find the velocity of chaos unmanageable. We find it hard to believe, for example, that we are engaged in a serious debate about whether the president of the United States is a Russian-intelligence asset. So we decided to pause for a moment and analyze 50 of the most improbable, norm-bending, and destructive incidents of this presidency to date.

Our 2016 editorial was a repudiation of Donald Trump’s character as much as it was an endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. It was not meant to be partisan. The Atlantic’s founders promised their readers that we would be “of no party or clique.” This remains a core governing principle of the magazine today. What follows is a catalog of incidents, ranked—highly subjectively!—according to both their outlandishness and their importance. In most any previous presidency, Democratic or Republican, each moment on this list would have been unthinkable.

25. “We’re gonna have the cleanest air”. By Robinson Meyer
24. The president can’t stop talking about carnage. By Rebecca J. Rosen
23. America gets a first daughter. By Caitlin Flanagan
22. The UN General Assembly laughs at the president. By Rachel Donadio
21. Rain stops Trump from honoring the dead. By Eliot A. Cohen. 
20. The president learns about separation of powers. By Russell Berman.
19. The president learns about the Justice Department. By Natasha Bertrand
18. The president lies constantly. By Angie Drobnic Holan
17. Trump threatens to press his “nuclear button”. By Uri Friedman
16. Public humiliation comes for everyone in the White House.By Alex Wagner
15. The CIA dead become a TV prop. By Vernon Loeb
14. You know you’re in a constitutional crisis when… By Quinta Jurecic
13. Trump mocks Christine Blasey Ford to a cheering crowd. By McKay Coppins
12. A new term enters the presidential lexicon: “shithole countries”. By Ibram X. Kendi
11. Trump throws paper towels at Puerto Ricans. By Vann R. Newkirk II
10. “I have the absolute right to pardon myself”. By Garrett Epps
9. Covfefe. By Adrienne LaFrance
8. The president calls his porn-star ex-paramour “horseface”. By Sophie Gilbert
7. Trump picks the wrong countries for his travel ban. By Hannah Giorgis
6. Trump declares war on black athletes. By Jemele Hill
5. James Comey is fired. By Benjamin Wittes
4.Putin and Trump talk without chaperones. By Franklin Foer
3.The president still hasn’t released his tax returns. By Annie Lowrey
2.“Very fine people on both sides”. By Adam Serwer
1.Children are taken from their parents and incarcerated. By Ashley Fetters

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité