Memorial Day: Forever War

by Akim Reinhardt

In 1974, noted science fiction author Joe Haldeman published a novel called The Forever War, which won several awards and spawned sequels, a comic version, and even a board game. The Forever War tells the story of William Mandella, a young physics student drafted into a war that humans are waging against an alien race called the Taurans. The Taurans are thousands of light years away, and traveling there and back at light speed leads Mandella and other soldiers to experience time differently. During two years of battle, decades pass by on Earth. Consequently, the world Mandella returns to each time is increasingly different and foreign to him. He eventually finds his home planet’s culture unrecognizable; even English has changed to the point that he can no longer understand it.

Born in 1943, Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam War veteran. He was drafted in 1967, served two years as a combat engineer, and earned a Purple Heart. Many have speculated that the disaffection William Mandella experiences upon returning home from war reflects Haldeman’s own alienation after Vietnam. But there is another element of The Forever War that has recently proven timely 45 years after its initial publication: its title.

The Donald Trump administration appears to be ramping up for a possible war with Iran even as the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enter their sixteenth year, and the United States maintains a more indirect but important role in wars in Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Lybia. Indeed, just yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence informed members of the West Point Military Academy graduating class that “it is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life.” Read more »

The Season of Savagery and Hope

by Ali Minai

April 2018: ‘Tis the Season of Giddiness in Democratlandia. Republicans are saddled with a widely despised President and riven by internal dissension. The Republican leadership in Congress is lurching from fiasco to fiasco – interrupted briefly by one great “success” on tax cuts. The zombie candidates of the Tea Party are still stalking establishment Republicans across the land. And, somewhere in his formidable fastness, the Great Dragon Mueller is winding up for the fiery breath that will consume the world of Trumpism like a paper lantern. And a Blue Wave – nay, a Tsunami – is headed towards the Republicans in Congress, looking to engulf them in November.

Time passes, and it is October. Anguish is all around. After snatching children from their parents and imprisoning them in cages, after giving a wet kiss to Kim Jong Un and worse to Putin, after having his former campaign manager convicted of crimes and his fixer plead guilty, after a virtual torrent of lies, after reports of a still devastated Puerto Rico and newly devastated Carolinas and Florida – after all this and more, Trump is more popular than ever in his presidency, Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court, and the Blue Wave is beginning to look more like an eddy. To be sure, Trump is still spectacularly unpopular compared to past presidents, with disapproval numbers at 50% of higher, but he seems to be rising. Rising! The very word is like a knell of doom. As Trump himself might say, “What the hell is going on?”

First of all, probably an over-reaction. A large part of US electoral outcomes can be ascribed to structural factors, such as the fact that 26 of the 50 states have conservative majority populations. Yes, these 26 states may add up to only 47% of the US population, but they elect 54% of the US Senate, and that cannot change. The number of reliably liberal states is much smaller – only 16 – and, though they account for 42% of the population, they only elect 32% of the Senate. The remaining 8 states – comprising 11% of the population – swing with the season, but supply 16% of the Senate. Thus, Democrats start off with a huge disadvantage in the Senate even in the best of times. Demographic forces will gradually change this situation, but slowly. Meanwhile, Democrats, as the liberal party, will always be facing the bitter choice of either accepting conservative senators in their own ranks or remaining a permanent minority in the Senate. Four decades of asymmetric political warfare has also left Republicans in control of most state houses, which they have used to gerrymander districts and pass laws to disenfranchise Democratic voters. That too is hard to change because these factors are custom-designed to perpetuate Republican majorities. But all is not lost for Democrats here. Read more »

The Country Mouse and the City Mouse: A Brief History of American Identity, 1790-Present

by Akim Reinhardt

In 1790, shortly after the 13 states ratified the U.S. Constitution, the new federal government conducted its first population census. Its tabulations revealed an astonishingly rural nation. No less than 95% of all Americans lived in rural areas, either on a fairly isolated homestead (typically a farm) or in a very small town. How small? Fewer than 2,500 people. Meanwhile, just 1/20 of Americans lived in a town with more than 2,500 people. All told there were only 26 such towns, only half of which had so many as 5,000 people

In a nation of nearly 4,000,000 people, the ten largest cities had a combined population of only 152,000. And half of those top ten cities did not even have 10,000 people.

Yet, even then, tensions between rural and urban interests were already evident. Urbanites, particularly elite merchants, had drawn on their power, wealth, and influence to promoting constitutional ratification. At the forefront of opposition had been small farmers.

A general theme among opponents to ratification were concerns that the new constitution aimed to create a much stronger central government. Some worried it would erode the sovereignty of the individual states. Some thought it created something too much like the despotic British government they’d just rebelled against. And some fretted about the possible loss of personal liberties; the much vaunted Bill of Rights was not part of the original document.

Debate was fierce. Historians believe it’s possible that a majority of Americans actually opposed the new Constitution. Yet it passed it eventually. During an era when voting rights were tied to personal wealth, small farmers held little political sway in most states despite their numbers. Their concerns did lead to the first 10 Amendments being added, but in the end the Federalists, particularly active in larger cities such as New York and Boston, won the day. Yet the vengeance of anti-urbanites was close at hand. Read more »

A Straight Line

by Akim Reinhardt

“It’s a long, long way from the Trump administration to an actual fascist dictatorship,” I said, “but it’s a straight line.”

Although generally reserved, Julius (I’ll call him) belly laughed a good while at that, his outburst fueled by personal experience. He’d spent his childhood in General Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain. Specifically in Catalonia, that provincial hotbed of resistance during the Spanish Civil War, and target of fierce repression for nearly nearly four decades following. Franco’s authoritarian rule was ruthless: censorship; banning opposition parties; prisons full of Catalan political dissidents; some four-thousand Catalans executed from 1938-53; thousands more in exile.

Julius deeply loathes Donald Trump. But he also has no patience for hyperbolic claims that El Trumpo is a dictator. Because he knows better. Read more »

Heather Heyer & Charlottesville: White America’s Thirst for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

Emmett Tillby Akim Reinhardt

It began with Emmett Till.

He was a fourteen year old black boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1954 when two white men lynched him to death for whistling at a white woman. That in itself, sadly, wasn’t so unusual. Thousands of African Americans were lynched to death during the first half of the 20th century. What was different about this particular lynching was his mother’s response.

Till’s mother demanded her son’s body be returned to Chicago instead of getting a quick burial in Mississippi. She then insisted upon an open-casket funeral so the world could see what they had done to her boy. The black press covered the funeral as upwards of 50,000 black mourners passed by the coffin. Jet magazine and The Chicago Defender newspaper published photos of his body, mutilated almost beyond recognition. Afterwards, mainstream (white) national publications also ran the pictures and covered the story in depth, and Emmett Till entered the larger white consciousness as a martyr of racial violence.

Needless to say, there have been countless black (and Latinx and Indigenous and Asian) victims of racial violence in America over the last four centuries. How many black people have been killed or maimed by whites for, essentially, being black? The number is impossible to know. As an American historian, I suspect that tens of thousands would be an underestimate. When considering the ravages of slavery and decades of subsequent lynch violence, the number could easily be in the hundreds of thousands.

Yet prior to Emmett Till, almost none of them ever entered white consciousness as martyrs. Till became the first, the token black, the only one from among the countless thousands who most white people ever learned about in school or could cite by name. That slavery and Jim Crow repression wrought horrible violence was no secret. But upon whom, specifically?

In the 1960s, Till was joined in this sad canon only by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers (briefly), and Malcolm X (only to a minority of whites). However, with the death of King in 1968, white consciousness considered the civil rights era over, largely went into hiding on the issue of race, and stopped acknowledging new black martyrs of white racial violence.

Why?

Read more »

This Populist Moment

by Akim Reinhardt

Beetle Baily by Mort WalkerLast week, Barack Obama got beaten up on social media and called out by the press for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street investment firm. It was the day's major kerfuffle, the non-Trump story of the week, and reactions to it by many of my smart, well reasoned friends surprised me somewhat.

They began with the stance that this isn't an issue. Obama's a private citizen now, so who cares? But lots of people did care. When the story picked up steam despite their protestations, my friends then blamed the loony left for fabricating the issue, launching a general assault on fringe elements of the Democratic party and a firm defense of sensible centrist outlooks. Yet it wasn't just the left. The right predictably piled on as well, without any prompting from the left. The story also transcended the partisan divide as the centrist press ran with it. Christ, even the BBC, the vanilla pudding of international news, covered it.

In the end, the defense of Obama that gained the most traction among my friends, and to some degree in the national media, was a racial analysis. Some claimed that this brouhaha was another example of white people shaming a black man for earning a paycheck, the imposition of a racial double standard since white politicians and ex-politicians do this kind of thing all time.

This needs to be reckoned with. Obama was always held to a higher standard, precisely because he was black; he was always subjected to intense racism, and the racist backlash to his presidency as much as anything helps explain Trump's victory. Was this just another example of that racial double standard? It's an important question to ask.

Read more »

April Fools

by Akim Reinhardt

LollipopDonald Trump's first hundred days as president are nearly tallied. Enough time has passed that we can now divide people who voted for him into two groups:

1. Those who: never liked Trump (but made a calculated decision to vote for him); have more recently developed doubts; or will soon become disillusioned when Trump not only fails to deliver on his promises but actually does the opposite in many respects (eg., loses good paying blue collar jobs instead of creating them; contributes to a national healthcare scenario that's worse than ObamaCare; doesn't build a wall or at least doesn't get Mexico to pay for it, etc.)

2. Suckers

Ahh, the sucker.

Most of us like to pretend we're immune to crass charlatanism. I'm not that gullible, you tell yourself, refusing to believe you could be seriously suckered. Surely, someone as smart as you sees through the vulgar farces dangling before us.

The embarrassing truth, however, is that we all get taken for the proverbial ride now and again. It's not easy to admit, but really, there is no shame in it. Everyone has vulnerabilities and prejudices. Even the most skeptical and jaded among us are occasionally susceptible to a snazzy sales pitch. Sharp logicians and clever rhetoricians can still be manipulated by a well aimed guilt trip or melodic seduction. No one is perfect, and a good con artist can size you up, get you to look away, and then go right for your soft spot when you're not paying attention.

It can happen to anyone. All the people, as the old adage states, can get fooled some of the time. That will never change. The important thing is that we recognize and learn from our mistakes.

All of us are wrong on occasion. We can stumble over trivialities, or choose incorrectly on matters of grave import. To err, after all, is human. And if forgiveness is indeed divine, then it is precisely because we all require a pardon now and again. Salvation is a truly universal need.

Genuflect, admit your sins, work to better yourself, and be absolved.

But the gravest sin against the gods of redemption? To deny your guilt. To double down on your errors. To stubbornly roar with hubris, feign righteousness, and insist upon your rectitude. To set yourself up as a false god and never admit the wrongness of your ways.

There is no helping such miscreants. The perverse degenerate who cannot confess sin must be cast out of the temple and banished from the community!
So sayeth this atheist.

Read more »

American Regicide

by Akim Reinhardt

Heneage Finch, Earl of Nottingham, An Exact and Most Impartial Account of the Indictment. of 29 Regicides.  (London: Andrew Crook, 1660)Donald Trump is going down. His house of cards will collapse at some point. The leaks will keep flowing and eventually his position will become untenable. Conflicts of interest. Connections to Russia. All of it will become too great a weight to carry, especially since The Donald has very few genuine allies in Washington.

The Democrats want him gone. So too do most of the Republicans. Hell, they never wanted him to begin with. The GOP did everything it could to derail his candidacy, and only climbed aboard after Trump's runaway train was the last red line careening towards the White House. So for now they're playing nice with the former Democrat who eschews Conservative dogma in a variety of ways and is loyal to absolutely no one save himself. But when the moment comes, they'll gladly trade Trump in for Mike Pence, a Conservative's wet dream.

For all these reasons, Trump may not make it to the finish line. But there's one more factor to consider: the precedent of regicide. And to understand that, we should begin by briefly recounting of the demise of the Ottoman sultan Osman II.

Young Osman II ascended the Ottoman throne in 1618 at the tender age of 14. Wishing to assert himself, in 1621 he personally led an invasion of Poland, which ended with a failed siege of Chota (aka Khotyn, now in western Ukraine). In a rather unwise move, Osman blamed the defeat on his elite fighting force, the Janissaries. Afterwards, he ordered the shuttering of Janissary coffee shops, which he saw as a hotbed of conspiracies against him. The Janissaries responded with a palace uprising. In 1622 they imprisoned the 17 year old monarch and soon after killed him. Because it was strictly forbidden to spill royal blood, they strangled him to death.

I first learned about the rise and fall of Osman II in 1992 while taking a graduate course on Ottoman history. "Something happens," our professor warned us in a foreboding tone, "the first time an empire commits regicide."

Read more »

Fight the Bannonality of Evil

by Claire Chambers

In her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt argues that there is nothing in evil that is radical or lucid. Instead, she Hannah Arendtclaims, even the most extreme evil is senseless and banal. Amos Elon summarized Arendt's argument in terms that cannot but resonate with the current political circumstances in the United States: 'Evil […] need not be committed only by demonic monsters, but—with disastrous effect—by morons and imbeciles as well'. As Arendt writes about Adolf Eichmann, one of the Holocaust's prime orchestrators: '[he] was not Iago and not Macbeth […]. Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all'.

The world's new Orange Overlord, 45th President of the United States Donald J. Trump has gifted us too many irrational, muddled, and downright idiotic statements and actions over the last year for enumeration in this short blog post. To take just one example, on the first day of Black History Month, Trump seemed to believe that Frederick Douglass, the nineteenth-century author of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, was still alive. According to Trump, Douglass was 'an example of somebody who is doing an amazing job, who is being recognized more and more, I notice'.

Arendt was right to observe that the slide from thoughtlessness to evil is easy and smooth. A week before his Douglass gaffe, on Trump SpiegelHolocaust Remembrance Day 2017 Trump issued his executive order banning refugees from the United States for 120 days and from Syria permanently. Additionally, citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia) were blocked from entering for 90 days. What a way to commemorate the premeditated and industrial killing of six million Jews and 200,000 Roma by singling out refugees and a religious group for exclusion. Thankfully, Trump soon found himself struggling with implacable opposition from the US legal system and at the time of writing has been unable to execute his order.

Moreover, there was no mention of the Jews or anti-Semitism on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump's inept Press Secretary Sean Spicer later clarified that this omission was not regretted because the White House's intention was to 'acknowledg[e] all of the people' who died. Prince Charles responded by saying the lessons of the Holocaust are being forgotten. Yet these lessons are in fact being wilfully erased by Trump and his team.

Read more »

A Call to Arms

by Akim Reinhardt

A call to armsI have a friend of Indian descent who was born in Africa, but raised almost entirely in London.

Or, I should say, I had such a friend. About a year ago, maybe more, we got into an online argument about the Pope, and that was that. Much to my surprise, he de-friended me from social media. And since we haven't lived in the same town for well over a decade, it was over.

That we're both atheists just makes the whole episode even stranger.

No matter. The point is that I recently heard from a mutual acquaintance who said my ex-friend is now attempting to move back to Great Britain.

"Have you spoken to Nigel lately?" the mutual acquaintance asked me

"Not in about a year," I replied, not wanting to give anything away. This mutual acquaintance didn't speak with Nigel much after the latter had moved, but remembered him fondly and had occasionally asked about him.

"Not in about a year," he echoed. "Well, he's looking at a job in London. He wants to move out of the country because he cannot abide the Trump administration."

"Ah, I see. That's all well and good I suppose until England gets its own strong man."

The mutual acquaintance, an elderly gentleman from sub-Saharan Africa, smiled and chortled. Then his chuckle bubbled up into a laugh, as loud a sound as I've ever heard emanate from this very calm and quiet man.

He knew. My quip wasn't just a commentary on Brexit and lord knows whatever comes next after the towering doltishness of Theresa May. He knew that it can happen anywhere. No society is immune from falling under the spell, either through ballots or bullets, of a shitty nationalistic strongman; the kind Donald Trump aspires to be, although he is probably too inept to ever attain such lofty heights of villainy.

We each turned and wandered off to our respective destinations, the mutual acquaintance still laughing.

Read more »

POST TRUTH ART? John Baldessari: Miro and Life in General

by Sue Hubbard

19348Photo-Joshua_White-jwpictures.com-2297This is my first art review of 2017 and, in the last few months, the world has changed dramatically. It's hard not to look at everything through the prism of Donald Trump's election as leader of (for now, at least) the free world. Culture is taking on new metaphors and resonances. Optimism, hope and humour? Can there still be a place for them? Are such emotions still possible or even appropriate as we stand on the cliff top looking out, like stout Cortez on a peak in Darien, towards the stormy seas of the future?

Born in 1931 the Californian artist John Baldessari was honed by the zeitgeist of the 1960s, that decade of revolt, revolution, muddled thinking and creativity. The granddaddy of conceptual art he's known for his magpie appropriations of painting, photography and language. In an increasingly prosperous post-war world his concerns were to dismantle old shibboleths and stretch early 20th century artistic boundaries to see how elastic they could become. Iconoclasm was the name of the game. By the early 1990s he was a celebrity. A 1990 retrospective organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, travelled across the United States and Canada. With wit and irony he deconstructed the processes of contemporary artistic practice to include language. "I guess", he said, "it's fundamental to my work that I tend to think of words as substitutes for images. I can never seem to figure out what one does that the other doesn't do, so it propels me, this kind of bafflement." His aim has been to be as "disarming as possible", whilst establishing or deconstructing meaning through juxtaposition. By beguiling his viewers he's offered his own laconic visual commentary. Often citing semiotics and, in particular, Claude Lévi-Strauss's structuralism, as a major influence on his treating language as sign and on his deliberate play between word and image, he's taken phrases from art manuals and quotes from celebrated art critics and painted them onto the surfaces of his canvases. For him there has been no reason why a 'text' painting shouldn't be just as much a 'work of art' as a nude or a still life. Everything has been up for grabs.

Looking at this new show at the Marian Goodman Gallery in London I couldn't decide whether John Baldessari is, now, a dinosaur – irrelevant to the current political and social landscape of this new autocratic post-truth world – or a sensitive barometer of it.

Read more »

Data Science and 2016 Presidential Elections

by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad

Uselec

Much has already been written about the failure of data science in predicting the outcome of the 2016 US election but it is always good to revisit cautionary tales. The overwhelming majority of the folks who work in election prediction including big names like New York Times' Upshot, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight and Princeton Election Consortium predicted Clinton's chance of winning being more than 70 percent. This is of course not what happened and Donald Trump is the president elect. And so on the night of November 9th people started asking if there was something wrong with Data Science itself. The Republican strategist Mike Murphy went as far as to state, “Tonight, data died.” My brush with election analytics came in in late 2015 when I was looking for a new job and talked to folks in both the Republican and the Democratic Data Science teams about prospective roles but decided to pursue a different career path. However this experience forced me to think about the role of data driven decision in campaigning and politics. While data is certainly not dead, Mike Murphy observation does lay bare the fact that those interpreting the data are all too human. The overwhelming majority of the modelers and pollsters had implicit biases regarding the likelihood of a Trump victory. One does not even have to torture the data to make it confess, one can ask the data the wrong questions to make it answer what you want to hear.

We should look towards the outcome and modeling approaches for the 2016 US presidential elections as learning experiences for data science as well as acknowledging it as a very human enterprise. In addition understand what led to selectively choosing the data and to understand why the models did not as well as they should have, it would help us to unpack some of the assumptions that go in creating these models in the first place. The first thing that comes to mind is systematic errors and sampling bias which was one of the factors that results in incorrect predictions, a lesson that pollsters should have learned after the Dewey vs. Truman fiasco. That said, there were indeed some discussions about the unreliability of the pollster data run up to the election. Although the dissenting voice rarely made it to the mainstream data. Obtaining representative samples of the population can be extremely hard.

Read more »

The Counter Revolution

by Akim Reinhardt

FDRThe United States boasts a deeply conservative economic tradition. From its origins as a colonial, agricultural society, it quickly emerged as a slave holding republic built on the ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide of Indigenous peoples. After the Civil War (1861-65), it reshaped itself in the crucible of unfettered laissez-faire capitalism straight through to the Roaring ‘20s. A post-Depression Keynesian consensus led U.S. leaders to reign in the most conservative impulses during the mid-20th century, but the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s set the stage for the current neo-liberal moment.

Consequently, ever since the industrial revolution, the United States has typically trailed other developed nations in establishing a basic social welfare system. It has never fielded a competitive socialist or labor party. It was the last major nation to implement an old age pension. More recently, ObamaCare made it the last major nation to mandate that all of its citizens receive some sort of healthcare coverage, even if it's quite wanting in many cases.

Amid its overriding conservativism, the United States has had only three presidents with any real socialist tendencies: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45), Harry S. Truman (1945-53), and most recently Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose presidency (1963-69) ended before half of current Americans were born (median age 37.9).

The election of Donald Trump as president and, just as important, the impending Republican dominance of Congress, make certain that the United States will not correct its social welfare shortcomings anytime soon. Indeed, the nation may take significant steps backwards.

However, a quick review of America's stunted progressive history suggests that the opportunity for a progressive counter-revolution may be closer than it appears at this dark moment.

Read more »

The Electoral College Can and Must Stop Donald Trump

by Evan Edwards

Hamilton

Before getting to the argument for why the electoral college should reject Donald Trump on December 19th, let me begin with that which now seems to be more and more dangerous to risk: a bit of reasoning. What I want to establish, right off the bat, is why it is right to at least consider the possibility of putting someone else in the Oval Office; only after that can we begin to consider why it is right to actually do so.

We begin with two options with respect to the authority of the electoral college: either we accept it or reject it. If we reject it, then Clinton wins the election. By a long shot. The latest tally puts her ahead of Trump by at least 2.8 million votes, which makes this year’s outcome “the biggest gap between the popular vote and the electoral college in almost a century and a half.” As Atlantic author Ronald Brownstein put it, Trump “is on track to lose the popular vote by more than any successfully elected president ever.” But the question of whether or not we should change the way that elections work is one that we need to return to down the road. There is no reasonable situation in which between now and January 20th, the electoral college is be abolished and popular sovereignty is established through direct election. Since that is the case, let us, like Socrates in the Crito, “honor the decisions the polis makes,” and also its laws.

If we accept that the electoral college is what ultimately decides the highest office, then we have two further options: the college either votes with the dictates of tradition, choosing Trump, or it chooses otherwise, and rejects him in favor of someone else. There’s no reason not to do the latter, since there is no provision or law requiring that voters in the electoral college vote the way that their states did. It is, as I just said, simply traditional to do so. Trump’s campaign, and his followers, argue that to do so would be to “reject the will of the people.” But what “people” are they talking about? Does “the people” mean everyone in the nation or just a select subset? If it is the former, then to accept Trump would, in fact, be against the will of the people, since he did not win the vote of most actual people. They must mean, then, some other kind of “people.” We’ll come back to this.

Read more »

We Elect Soundbites

by Saurabh Jha

31indo-pak1In 2004, India’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the incumbents, lost the election to the Congress party. Their loss was a surprise. Though polling is not an exact science, least of all in the sub-continent, what made the loss even more surprising was the election slogan used by the BJP – “India Shining.” India seemed to be shining. There was an economic boom, particularly in cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore. The Indian cricket team almost beat Australia in Australia, and had just beaten Pakistan in Pakistan. The Indian cricket team usually got walloped by these countries. The successes on the cricket pitch were extrapolated to the happiness of the proletariat.

I was in Hyderabad, Telangana, at the time. The youth had optimism and spoke about making crores (10 million rupees), not just lakhs (100 thousand rupees). Satyam, a computer giant, was building, literally, a computer village in Hyderabad. Though the skies were polluted in Hyderabad, everywhere you went there was beer, biryani, and belief. It was a good time to be in Hyderabad.

I visited a village less than 100 kilometers from Hyderabad, in the Ranga Reddy District, partly to fulfil my desire for “poverty porn.” The sky there, though less polluted than Hyderabad, seemed darker. Suicide of farmers, because they couldn’t pay their loans, was particularly high in that village. It was the sort of place where people still died from snakebites. The villagers couldn’t give a crap about India’s success in cricket – such joys are a bourgeoisie indulgence. For them, India wasn’t shining and it annoyed them to hear that India was shining, India was the same old, same old. Over two thirds of Indians live in villages. It is the villagers who decide who governs the nation. By rejecting the soundbite, “India Shining,” the villagers rejected the BJP.

In the 2008 elections, Americans gyrated to “Hope and Change.” I never understood what exactly was hoped for, and what one should change to. I’m still unclear. I presume “change” meant “be less capitalistic” and “hope” was a promised utopia where we’d all be our brother’s keeper – although if everyone was going to be kept who would do the keeping?

Read more »

Throw Your Vote Away

by Akim Reinhardt

FissureTo say this has been an interesting presidential election season would be an understatement. Regardless of who is declared president after the polls close three weeks from tomorrow, this is almost certainly a tussle that historians will pick over and analyze for decades to come, if not centuries. They're apt to do that when an election reveals deep fissures in society, as has this one.

But of course there's more to it than that. Donald Trump's candidacy is not just about a political outsider emerging as the champion of ostensible insiders (mostly white males) who have come to see themselves as disenchanted, frustrated outsiders amid long term changes in the national economy, culture, and demography. Among other things, it's also about a startlingly unqualified person taking the reigns of a major party against the wishes of that party's leadership; an unleashing of various bigotries that have forced comfortable Americans to stop pretending racism and sexism aren't real problems; and the dramatic erosion of lines separating entertainment and politics.

Amid this whirlwind of upheaval, Hillary Clinton now seems very likely to win. Our Lady of the Establishment looks ever more presidential, partly in contrast to Trump's glaring ineptitude, but mostly because so many people find The Donald to be utterly contemptible. And a victory which, under more banal circumstances, might have been most noteworthy for the United States electing its first female president nearly a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote, will now largely be seen as a moment when simple sanity held sway over startling lunacy.

Read more »