Yet its curious effect was primarily to set the stage, through caution and blocked action, for an upsurge of genuine social movements that began from his absences. Perhaps the old community organizer knew that for a real democracy, citizens must do things for themselves. That winter and going into , we began raising rounds pretty quickly. At one point, we were growing at new people every two weeks in the Chicago office. So you would come in and not only would your desk be gone, but that entire wall would be missing. We did pranks for our own employees, just so they were excited to come to work every day.
We got accustomed to things like that. You were wondering what fun, crazy things happened. Every day we would share by email different success stories of merchants whose businesses we had saved. I remember there was one about us saving a zoo, where this woman had a llama farm and she was going out of business. We put her on Groupon, and suddenly she was booked for six months.
I would wake up ina cold sweat and think: Oh, maybe I have a cold. Oh my God, it was difficult for me to go into a crowd. I isolated myself. After I left work I stayed in my condo. Total-shutdown mode. I was angry at everything. It could have been ants walking across my coffee table. I was angry because my dog Rocsi was wagging her tail. Of course I was angry that — why was I chosen to go back the second time? I mean, you got me in , then you sent me again in ?
When I got home, I was back working in a hospital. For years, I thought I was doing well. I was still functioning as a mom. Then, in , my daughters were gone and I had nobody else to worry about. Graduating from a liberal-arts college in meant finding yourself cast in a bleak comedy and realizing quickly that no one felt all that sorry for you. She was also someone with an HBO series, as opposed to a self-involved intern with a half-finished manuscript. From the beginning, the volume of analysis the show generated threatened to overwhelm the show itself.
What did Girls mean for millennials? Why was the cast on the first season so white, and so populated by the children of famous people? Dunham went through the ringer of creating pop culture in the era of social media as few others had before: Girls gave her a platform just as more people than ever could publicly question who got such platforms, and why, and how they used them.
She knew that daytime calls signaled an emergency. The worst one had come the previous year, when her sister told her ICE agents had placed their father in federal custody. Garcia was attending Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, when her father was marched out of her childhood home.
But this call was different. Undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the United States as children could apply for Social Security numbers and work permits. Garcia qualified: Her parents had brought her to this country when she was 7 years old. DACA transformed her into a premed student who could actually become a doctor.
And those hundreds of thousands of immigrants are outnumbered by the approximately 2. The daughter is poised to join the U. The father was caught up in a policy that has expelled almost as many immigrants as the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations combined. At first, President Obama saw this as a necessary first step to immigration reform. He came to the attention of ICE agents after they combed through the personnel records at the carpet factory where he worked.
He is required to periodically check in with ICE authorities, however, and had to wear an ankle bracelet for several months. His deportation is still a live possibility. There were moments during the Obama years when the Garcias thought they might be able to come out of the shadows, just like their daughter. After the election, the administration pushed hard for immigration reform; it passed the Senate but never received a vote in the House.
In , Obama tried to expand the DACA program to include undocumented parents of children who are citizens. The Garcias would have qualified, because their youngest daughter was born in the U. The Supreme Court deadlocked on its constitutionality this past June. A man told me that he had a son with multiple sclerosis, and he and his wife were always worried that if something happened to them, and they no longer could use their health insurance to cover him, what would happen to their son? And now they could rest easy. I also felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity to play this role in history.
Some of the political folks in the White House were wary because it was in the spring of an election year — and their concern was that Obamacare could be parodied or tarred as just a big tax. But the president made a judgment back then that we ought to include an argument about the tax power, and he basically never looked back. When I became the solicitor general, I increased the focus and attention on the tax argument. It became a bigger part of our briefs.
We argued it in more detail. We added some important precedents into the analysis, and we just gave it more emphasis, more oomph, in the Supreme Court, than when it was in the lower courts. It took a lot of work to get it on the table, but eventually I did. It was an example of trying to craft legal arguments in the recognition that in order to prevail, we needed to secure the votes of one or more justices who were jurisprudentially conservative and who were skeptical about the broad exercise of federal-government power.
The border of West Virginia and Ohio is full Appalachia, deep football country. In the back of the car and at that party, they pushed a penis in her mouth, forced their fingers inside her, ripped off her shirt. And they took photos and videos of it all, which made their way from texts to Twitter and to Facebook and soon to the national media. Hormones and alcohol and all that! The football team went undefeated last season. It was the same education agenda that had proliferated across the country since Undoubtedly, in the years that followed, the teachers have won the PR war.
From Brooklyn to Baton Rouge, battalions of teachers and parents have since joined forces against so-called corporate school reform. Perhaps the only area of agreement among rural tea-partyers and gentrifying urban hipsters — both on their respective upswings in the s — is the venality of the Obama-backed Common Core standards. If Obama lost public opinion, though, he and his supporters won the policy war.
For all the red solidarity T-shirts, charter schools in urban areas continue to proliferate, traditional public schools continue to be closed, and standardized tests live on. The Common Core? Once upon a time, a willingness to look for love online was considered a sign of insanity or desperation.
But internet dating never really lost its stigma as a last recourse for loners and crazy perverts until it migrated from computers to phones and got rebranded as the kind of game you could play with friends at a bar. Sort of like Erotic Photo Hunt, but with the possibility of actual sex. We had armed him with a joke — it was his 20th anniversary, and he addressed Michelle — and it turns out Romney was expecting just such a line and had a really great comeback. Obama looked like he was at a press conference.
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When we went down to Williamsburg, Virginia, for the next debate camp, he seemed really eager to engage in the prep. We had a decent first night. That was on Saturday. On Sunday night, [John] Kerry, playing Romney, got a little more aggressive and Obama a little less so; it looked very much like what we had seen in Denver. A few of us basically had an intervention the next morning, and he was very, very candid. I have to prepare in a different way. After that conversation, he came back and just worked really hard, question by question. He did what he hates to do, which is to kind of script himself.
And when we got up the next morning and we were getting ready to go, he had outlined 14 of the most likely questions on one sheet of paper, front and back, with his own notes of how he was going to handle it. When we went to see him in his locker room before the second debate at Hofstra University, he was sitting, and on the table was this sheet of paper.
Again, we knew within the first ten minutes that he was right. He just completely absorbed what he wanted to do, and he nailed it. It was really the first time that I worked closely with him that he experienced failure on a large stage. On the way to the third debate, when he was really very confident, he reflected on what happened in Denver and he said the hardest thing about it was traveling around after and seeing all these young volunteers who were keeping a stiff upper lip to encourage him.
In , no state allowed for the legal sale of weed. Now four do, and after November, another five could well join them. The number of states allowing medical marijuana has doubled, from 12 to So has the percentage of adults who say they smoke marijuana, from 7 to 13 percent, just in the last three years alone.
In the early s, it was a tiny-minority position within a tiny minority. In the s, when support for gay marriage was a mere 27 percent, a Democratic president signed the Defense of Marriage Act. When Obama became president, only two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, allowed same-sex couples to marry. But by , that had increased to five, including Iowa. By , it was By , it was 36 — and then, a year later, Over 60 percent of the country now supports marriage equality — and 40 percent of Republicans do. Why were these two issues different from all the others?
Notably, Obama never openly campaigned for either. He dismissed legalization of marijuana with a condescending chuckle in his reelection campaign. This year, in a classic Obama straddle, his DEA continued to insist that cannabis remain a Schedule I drug — more dangerous than many of the addictive opioids devastating America — but simultaneously opened up marijuana research. That crucial element of federalism allowed Republicans to acquiesce in something they would otherwise ferociously oppose at a national level. But most important, both issues could be seen as both conservative measures as well as liberal ones.
Conservatives who believe in individual freedom already had one foot in the legal-weed camp, and those who had spent the previous few decades lauding the social benefits of civil marriage found it somewhat awkward to suddenly insist that those same values did not apply to gays. Neither measure required government itself to do much or spend anything ; government just had to get out of the way. Support for both phenomena also transcended the usual demographic polarities.
And with gays, every family, red and blue, turns out to have them. Fazio Sr. Kennison Jr. Montgomery Sr.
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Depayne V. Daniel Simmons Sr. Rios Jr. Next one! But binge-watching as an alternate method of consuming culture truly came of age a year later, on February 1, It made little sense — for starters, no one had seen even a single episode, so who, exactly, was clamoring for instant access to all 13? Not to mention that, while viewers no longer tended to watch everything at the same time, they did tend to gravitate to social media to buzz about their favorite episodes every week.
How could anyone buzz when everyone is watching a different episode? The tactic seemed not only nonsensical but counterintuitive. Instead, it was revolutionary. Netflix based the choice largely on internal data about how people watched old shows on Netflix. So why not offer the same option for a brand-new show? As often happens with technical innovation, creative repercussions followed. TV creators can now assume a different kind of attention from their audience.
The way-before-its-time show Arrested Development , stuffed full of inside jokes and Easter eggs that thwarted weekly network audiences, turned out to be perfectly suited to the streaming environment. The coy weekly striptease of network TV now seems quaintly anachronistic, and TV as a whole feels less like an all-you-can-eat buffet of delights than like the overkill of the apocryphal Roman vomitoria.
Of course, as in every feminist golden age, there has also been dissent: furious clashes over the direction and quality of the discourse, especially as the movement has become increasingly trendy, shiny, and celebrity-backed. Perhaps the most public feminist conflagration of the Obama years came at the nexus of policy and celebrity, of politics and pop power. The book, which tackled the variety of social and psychological traps laid for women in the contemporary workplace, was an instant best seller.
But the critical resistance, both to the often misunderstood messages Sandberg was sending and to her unlikely perch as a feminist spokesperson, was loud and fierce. Sandberg, many noted, was a wildly wealthy woman, and in urging women to reform themselves rather than the systems — from the gendered and racial pay gap to the lack of paid leave and subsidized child care — that left them with less power than their male counterparts, she was simply adding to the pressures they faced, blaming them in some way for their own inequitable predicament.
But to skeptics, the danger was that Lean In feminism would eclipse a movement for bigger alterations to our social and economic policies. What we are not talking about in nearly enough detail, or agitating for with enough passion, are the government policies, such as mandatory paid maternity leave, that would truly equalize opportunity. We are still thinking individually, not collectively. But a funny thing happened while feminists were yelling at each other about Sheryl Sandberg: The United States started to make big, swift strides on economic policies favorable to women and families.
Since , five states — including New York in — have passed paid-family-leave bills, with campaigns active in 20 more states. In , Barack Obama talked about federally mandating paid leave in his State of the Union address and established paid sick leave for federal workers. The same year, California congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced the EACH Woman Act , which would override the Hyde Amendment which prevents poor women from accessing abortions through federal insurance programs including Medicaid.
And in this election, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supports paid sick leave, paid family leave, subsidized child care, and higher wages for child-caregivers, more-affordable education, expansion of the health-care system, a higher minimum wage, free community college, and the abolishment of Hyde. We have, as they say, come a long way, baby. But neither did her brand of feminism get in the way of those advances, as many seemed to fear it would.
Perhaps it would even be fair to argue that the amplification of these discussions — thanks to Sandberg and, yes, her many critics — has helped to raise the volume and awareness of gendered inequities enough that we have managed to move forward faster than we thought possible. Sometimes, attacking from all angles is the most effective strategy.
The message that came out of Washington at that time is that Al Qaeda had been decapitated, that the group was on the run, that whatever was left of it were these isolated cells. At that point I was based in North Africa. I was just about to become a bureau chief for the AP. The thing that was transformative for me was that in Timbuktu, in Mali, in a building that had been occupied by the jihadists, I was able to retrieve some of the pages of documents that they had left behind after the French pushed them back in Those documents were eye-opening.
That to me was the first moment when I went, Oh, okay. I realized that I needed to very much question what was coming out of Washington. The way these people would just light up when they were talking about it, you know, you felt like when you imagine a girl lighting up when she first sees Elvis or something. The skit spirals outward in ever more fantastical directions — all three read for the part of Mrs. Claus, but J. Lo snagged it! Vanity Fair ran an oral history of the sketch. It was hardly the first or the last time Schumer went viral with a feminist conceit: There was the time she skewered the difficulty women have in accepting compliments, the sketch about a link between football and rape, the send-up of male-gaze rap videos, and many more.
She became the walking embodiment of self-actualization feminism, circa ; that role became as important, or even more important, than her jokes. The jokes themselves, if you look a little closer, have a complicated, fairly specific relationship to the female experience. It became impossible for Amy Schumer to walk outside in sweatpants without its being labeled empowering. But we should be wise and restrained in how we use that power. But do I think the critiques from the left, about drones, are fair or fully informed?
Not always. Sometimes they are. With bin Laden, we had the option — the less risky option — of just firing a missile into that compound. I made the decision not to do so primarily because I thought it was important, if in fact it was him, that we be able to identify him. But depending on how you define innocents, a couple people in that compound that were not bin Laden and might be considered innocent, including one of his wives, were killed.
As a percentage, that could be counted as collateral damage that might have been higher than if we had just taken a shot when we knew that the compound was relatively empty.
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I will say, though, that what prompted a lot of the internal reforms we put in place had less to do with what the left or Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International or other organizations were saying and had more to do with me looking at the way in which the number of drone strikes was going up and the routineness with which, early in my presidency, you were seeing DOD and CIA and our intelligence teams think about this.
It troubled me, because I think you could see, over the horizon, a situation which, without Congress showing much interest in restraining actions, you end up with a president who can carry on perpetual wars all over the world, a lot of them covert, without any accountability or democratic debate. And that work has continued over the course of years now, such that this year, for example, after a lot of interagency wrestling, we were able to start our estimates of civilians who may have been killed by some of these actions.
But by the time I leave here, the American people are going to have a better sense of what their president is doing. Their president is going to have to be more accountable than he or she otherwise would have been. And I think all of that will serve the American people well in the future.
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In which case the best thing for me to do is to try to figure out what the right thing to do is and just do it, and worry later about how Washington is grading me. And that was a valuable lesson. It was a valuable lesson in two ways. One, because it taught me to trust my judgment. You take the case of Syria, which has been chewed on a lot. But it continues to puzzle me, the degree to which people seem to forget that we actually got the chemical weapons out of Syria. My decision was to see if we could broker a deal without a strike to get those chemical weapons out, and to go to Congress to ask for authorization, because nowhere has Congress been more incoherent than when it comes to the powers I have.
Maybe both. A doctor inserted a catheter that morning. I had a real scare. After an hour, I started getting really uncomfortable. I realized nothing was draining into the bag. Literally minutes before I was supposed to be on the floor, the nurse practitioner came in and realized there was a stopper in the tube. As soon as she removed it, everything was fine. What was different on that day was that for the first time ever, the Texas Tribune had been granted [the right] to use its technology to livestream from the Senate floor.
I did not know people were watching to the extent that they were, not even close. I expected the gallery to be full, but I could hear them out on the lawn, I could hear them roar in the halls and in the rotunda, and from time to time I could literally feel the vibration of their voices beneath my feet on the Senate floor. My Republican colleagues were going to treat this filibuster very differently. In the past, there has been a lot of leeway — senators can read names out of the phone book under the idea that everyone will be affected by the bill.
And then I knew that they had plotted to call three strikes — that they were going to do everything they could to bring it to an end. My back was hurting, and I got another strike when a colleague helped me put a back brace on. But then I started getting mad, and when I got mad it was really great, because it kept me sharp and then time just flew, it really did.
Within a few hours we received 16, stories. The hardest part of the day, for me, was when I came to a story from a woman named Carol M. I felt as though I was reading my own story. She and her husband discovered that the child she was carrying suffered from a severe fetal abnormality, and ultimately they made the decision they felt was in the best interest of this baby that they loved and had wanted very, very much. At around or so, the final, third strike was called — again, absurdly.
But then my Democratic Senate colleagues began to argue points of order, masterfully eating up the clock. Finally, at about a quarter till, the filibuster was officially called to an end. At that point my sister, [then-]Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who was not expected to be in the Senate that day — she had just buried her father — but made a decision to drive the one and a half hours to the capitol, came in.
She immediately sized up what was going on and of course became very upset. So she was shouting to be heard, and when she was finally recognized, she had the most perfect, poignant question. President], at what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?
Their upset spilled out in that moment. They were screaming at the top of their lungs, in the hallways, in the rotunda, and outside on the capitol lawn. I did communicate with the White House counsel on occasion about high-profile cases, but it was much more in the nature of just giving them a heads-up, to calm any nervous feelings they might have. Perry case in We were contemplating coming in and arguing that it was unconstitutional for California to refuse to recognize the legal validity of same-sex marriages. I wanted to make sure the president had a chance to thoroughly consider what we should do before we did it.
It was really one of the high points of my tenure. It was a wide-ranging conversation about doctrinal analysis, about where society was now, about social change and whether it should go through the courts or through the majoritarian process, about the pace of social change, about the significance of the right at stake.
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He was incredibly impressive. We made the judgment to take a position on marriage equality, and the position we took two years later in the Obergefell v. Hodges case followed from that. We ground both our arguments in this concept of equal dignity under the Equal Protection Clause. The difference is that in Perry , we were trying to offer the court a stepping-stone on the way to full marriage equality — because of a concern that the court might not be ready yet, in , to take the step all the way. So we took an intermediate position: that in states that already recognized domestic partnerships, there was no valid justification left for denying marriage equality.
This is a place where the concept of dignity really matters. His most ardent admirers and nemeses alike invoke the now-familiar litany: , dead and nearly 5 million refugees, whose flight northward has shaken the European Union and may yet sink it. They cite the snuff-film horrors of ISIS and its remorseless spread around the globe. And they pointedly compare it with Sarajevo, where similar war crimes came to an end during the s thanks to American power. But even his most loyal defenders concede that he was too slow to make up his mind about Syria.
He seemed almost to resent it — as if the conflict were, like the American project in Iraq, an unwanted inheritance from his predecessor. And in fact, his impatience to get free of Iraq played a role in spawning the Syrian nightmare. As the U. But Syria was different. Decades of minority rule had built up enormous pressures, and the regime was more cunning and better prepared than those that fell in the Arab Spring. Obama resisted but, after a round of strong lobbying by Israel and Jordan, eventually signed a secret order for the CIA to arm and train rebel groups. Obama continued to send mixed signals for more than a year.
It was not until late August that events finally focused his mind. A poison-gas attack near Damascus left hundreds of Syrian civilians dead. But then, with his finger on the trigger, he backed away under the guise of seeking authorization from a Congress he knew to be opposed.
To domestic critics, including some in his own administration, it was an embarrassing flip-flop that would surely embolden dictators the world over. But most observers agree that it came about largely through luck. In the years since, the Syrian war has continued to absorb new players and damage everything in its path. The Obama administration is in deeper, though only to fight isis. The Russians are fighting for Assad, the Turks against him; the Kurds are in the middle. One of his favorite foreign leaders, Angela Merkel, has shared his concerns about intervention all along.
But she has balanced her wariness with a much more generous embrace of Syrian refugees. It is not too late for him to follow her example. The video is later seen by a friend of the victim. I meant what I said. But this was not a gaffe. Where are there opportunities to think big? So I had already assigned our team to start exploring what that might look like and how we might structure it.
And then it started late and it was pouring rain and security issues were a challenge. And so the handshake with Castro was actually pretty spontaneous. For me not to shake his hand would have been an inappropriate gesture at a funeral. So I shook his hand. It was me shaking the hand of an older man who was sitting on the stage when I was doing a eulogy. At that point we had already begun to have some contact with the Cuban government and were thinking about what might happen. They interpreted that handshake and my willingness to do that on the world stage as a signal of greater seriousness.
And so it did, I think, facilitate the series of negotiations that took place. On the day his political career died, Eric Cantor was busy tending to what he still believed was its bright future. He was there to host a fund-raiser for three of his congressional colleagues — something he did every month, just another part of the long game he was playing, which, he believed, would eventually culminate in his becoming Speaker of the House.
The preceding five years had brought Cantor tantalizingly closer to that goal. It never occurred to him that the wave he was trying to ride might crash on him instead. Cantor and his political team never took Brat, a little-known economics professor, as a serious threat. But by , it was clear Cantor had been defeated. More than two years later, the two have still not spoken. In the two years since Mike Brown was fatally shot by the police in Ferguson, and the video footage of his dead body in the street went viral, we have seen the emergence of a perverse dichotomy on our screens and in our public discourse: irrefutable evidence of grotesquely persistent racism, and irrefutable evidence of increasing black cultural and political power.
In fact, it is all of these things, not least two terms with a black president. In the same way that black skin signals danger to the police and to more white people than anyone is willing to admit , his black skin, to black people, signaled black cultural preservation. Black people are reinventing mainstream vernacular and setting the tone for cultural dialogue. All of this in parallel to viral video after viral video of black bodies young and old, shot and killed, beaten or pinned to the ground with a knee in the back, knocked out of a school desk.
The spectrum of anti-black racism is extreme — from microaggression to monkey memes to murder. But so is the spectrum of black achievement. In the past few years, black America has harnessed centuries of pent-up capacity and shot it out of a cannon. I remember speaking with the president about how the administration should respond.
So we made the determination that I would go. It was high risk because we were, in essence, putting the prestige of the Justice Department, the attorney general, and potentially the administration on the line, and if the trip proved to be unsuccessful, if the protests continued in a violent way, that would have been very problematic. I had to be visible. We took Air Force Two, the plane normally used by the vice-president.
I remember there was a TV on the plane. It had a picture of the plane that I was on landing in Ferguson. CNN was covering the landing of the plane, and we landed and people from my staff were getting off. What struck me about the day was there was consistency from the residents there, young and old, black and white. When the report was done by folks in our civil-rights division, they found that the police department or the criminal-justice system was being used as a way to generate money for the local government.
I remember at the community meeting, there was a woman who was expressing concerns about whether we would conduct a really fair, impartial, independent investigation, and I assured her that we would. But I think it was the right thing to do. The decision to go was one that I made with the president. We always talk about the value of diversity, and the fact that you had two black men looking at that situation and being impacted in the way that we were, as both public officials and black men — I think that might have impacted the final determination that I should go.
I think it certainly was part of the calculus, never spoken, never said, between us. But I think it was something that had an influence on me, on him. It was not something we ever talked about since then, but I suspect that at some level, it was a factor. That was the Obama years: when pop became a kind of politics and used that assertive power to reconquer a music world that had not so long ago pushed it to the margins.
Eight years can be an eternity or an instant in music. This class restored a sense of artistic autonomy following the producer-Svengali era of the mid-aughts with Timbaland, the Neptunes, Irv Gotti, and the like. But it was more than just new musical auteurism: A different kind of pop star was forged in the Obama years, one that attempts to juggle the spectacle of song and dance with internet savvy and caring advocacy.
Many stars effortlessly nail two of the three. The Hive can build and nurture, but dissidents get stung, and hard. But the brilliance of Black-ish was that, as much as its timeliness made it a cultural landmark, it was also pretty timeless. Black America has always needed Black-ish, just as white America has always needed Seinfeld or Sex and the City ; like its s predecessor, The Cosby Show, Black-ish is essentially about the ordinariness of black family life, even if that ordinariness occasionally means staring down race-specific quandaries: What do you teach your black children about use of the N-word?
How do you straddle multiple roles in society and navigate a shaky proximity to blackness and whiteness that threatens to erase facets of your own cultural identity? Or post-class America, for that matter. Tom Frieden, the head of CDC, briefed us with a chart that basically blew all of our minds and predicted that by January , we could have up to 1.
We needed to surge treatment facilities. We needed to surge logistics support. We needed to surge health-care workers. And to do all of that, we concluded that [we would need] the deployment of U. The president felt that it was his job to be the voice of reason. Every plane that came from West Africa or every person who might be from West Africa was potentially carrying Ebola. There were calls to shut the borders and to prevent all West Africans from coming to the United States.
There were calls in Congress for the same, and it was really kind of getting crazy and overheated. By the end of November, we had bent the curve. And rather than 1. His death is the latest killing of an unarmed black man — or, in this case, a child — to fuel a national outrage, as well as private pain for the friends and families left behind. In the age of the hacker, privacy is a thing of the past.
Because even though we know these things are none of our business, were illegally obtained, and are flat-out unethical to view, it can still be hard to resist. After all, what good does it do? This is the unexpected, chilling reality of the information age: The second some intriguing bit of content hits the internet, it is distributed exponentially and will live on indefinitely. Not only will every word from the Sony hack of , the Ashley Madison hack of , and the Colin Powell email hack from this summer be accessible for years to come, but any of the personal information hacked from corporate and government databases Anthem, the IRS, the Federal Office of Personnel Management, Swift, and Yahoo could wind up online, too.
But then, sometimes playing dumb is the guiltiest pleasure of all. Google has a biotech company that aims to beat death at its game. Technological optimism in California is a natural resource, like oil in the Middle East, seemingly inexhaustible, a motive force of the economy, and not a little bad for the environment. They tend toward a sunny libertarianism, they read relatively few novels, they love productivity tips, and they occasionally propose — so valuable are its pearls — that California secede from the Union, the better to disrupt the world.
Banks began to be in danger of falling apart. Too much is at stake. The point is the new capitalism is no longer interested in looking out at the world and addressing need. Capitalism used to be deeply connected to invention and entrepreneurship. You found out what people need. The move from a real economy to a paper economy and the decoupling of the capitalist economy from real human needs, from servicing what people need, are obviously connected.
That is connected to another feature, the privatization ideology, which in the past 30 or 40 years has taken hold of the imagination of Democrats, Republicans, Tories, and Socialists the world over. People began to think that if they had to choose between markets and government, they trusted markets more. At least up to two years ago that was the case, not just among Republicans but among Democrats, including Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Because markets are decentralized and plural, they represent real people. Government is a big bureaucracy. Who knows, it may become a monopoly, with no real competition.
Obama himself yielded without a fight, a hostage to privatization ideology—the notion that the private is what counts, the private is more important than the public, the private is more important than the state, consumers are more important than citizens. Consumers making private choices about what they want count much more than citizens discussing together what society and community need. Think back to our discussion of global warming. There used to be one that serviced Great Barrington and Stockbridge and Lenox. But in a megacity like Los Angeles I have a set of choices at the airport.
I can rent any number of cars. That public choice was made right after World War II. That decision secured the future of the automobile and also, of course, the future of the rubber, steel, oil, car, asphalt, and cement industries in America. The more fundamental and important choice between public and private transportation was taken off the books.
They grew quickly because the highways meant you could use your car to get places quickly. This mobility allowed people to move more easily from one place to another, which contributed to the destruction of social capital that Robert Putnam talks about. If you wear out a city, then you get in your car, drive to another one, and start over.
All we have a choice about is what kind of car to drive. They have resisted big-box stores like Wal-Mart, but for most of America people opted to be consumers at Wal-Mart instead of the downtown shopping areas, and understandably so. Because they go where they can get cheaper goods and a much wider diversity of goods.
Sam Walton knew what he was doing. You can find what you need to feed your family, clothe your children and get all their supplies, build your sunroom, take care of your automobile. Mason City used to have a wonderful little downtown, with retail shops, mom and pop stores, a movie theater. Stores boarded up. No more picture show. Wal-Mart happened. Every time you shop at Wal-Mart, you are condemning another American town with a population of between 5, and 50, to a quick death. You are undermining the social capital of America.
When I was a kid here in the s, Pittsfield was a great place, vital exactly the way Great Barrington is today. But no longer. Pittsfield has been struggling for 30 years now. What happened? Here again is a private consumer choice that makes a lot of sense for us one person at a time, but for us as a community there are social consequences that we neglect to measure.
Economists have an absurd word for the social costs of private decisions: externalities. There are externalities involved with the automobile and with climate change. As consumers we make a whole series of decisions that make all the sense in the world for us in terms of our personal desires but make no sense in terms of the public cost, the social cost. Were we to include the cost of externalities in the cost of fossil fuel, it would become absolutely uncompetitive, even against the most expensive forms of alternative energy. What we need is a new metric, a new way of measuring true cost, and then making both citizens and politicians understand why we need it.
In some ways that seems to me the most realistic way to go. Privatization plays a major role here. Subsidize the initial caps. We need to begin thinking about how to get back to a world in which citizens, not consumers, are making choices, a world in which we understand the public consequences and public costs of our private choices. I have been talking about the impact of cars and gasoline on carbon emissions, yet there are other perilous consequences: every time we drive a car we are opting for the war in Afghanistan.
And of course no responsible President can walk away from that. Saudi Arabia is a country that actually upholds the Wahabist ideology behind Al Qaeda, and thus the dollars we pay for that oil are also dollars going to Al Qaeda. We need them, so never mind Al Qaeda! Instead of asking ourselves whether we should buy from those countries, we ask only whether we want to drive our cars. Of course we do! Again and again, by thinking as consumers and thinking that markets are the solution, no matter if they are inefficient sometimes, we opt out of making public choices that would give us the ability to actually create the framework in which we live, the framework that would enable us to say no to carbon emissions, to say no to an oil-dependent economy.
But the truth is that in a market economy the logic of consumers trumps the logic of citizens, and to get elected, politicians have to go along with the consumers. As consumers Americans are right to believe that fossil fuel is good, that cars are good. Of course cars are good. Of course, the best way to deal with carbon emissions in economic terms is to suspend global economy permanently. Create a permanent recession, a Great Depression for the next 40 years. No changes in behavior. The recession has actually had some impact in slowing warming! Would you believe that the Secretary of the Treasury is complaining that Americans are saving too much?
This is after 20 years during which we had a negative savings rate. We saved nothing and spent everything; we spent ourselves into this hyper-consumerist economy that then collapsed, and the best that our leaders in Washington can recommend is that we go back to where we were. They should at least buy some of their own stuff. They can produce enough for export to get rich and still buy their own goods. Here I come back to where I started, with the dilemma of capitalism. Capitalism started out by manufacturing goods to meet our needs, but long ago in this country, and in many other middle-class parts of the world, most of our reasonable needs have long since been met.
I mean a car, a house, a hi-fi set. All the things that contribute to a decent middle-class life have been purchased. What are we going to make? How are we going to make profits? You probably thought the phone you had was okay. Or how about this example: Almost everywhere I go to speak about these issues, I am given a small bottle of water. I mention this even though the Schumacher Center has robbed me of my prop by putting a glass of water on the podium.
The water in this glass came fresh out of the tap. Well, the water in the bottle comes out of the tap too. Yet there are externalities here too. The reservoirs and aqueduct system had to be built. Because they are long since paid for, we have the equivalent of free water. Do you know what we spend on bottled water every year? Utterly unnecessary. Twenty-five billion dollars has created a new faux need. If you go to a restaurant, you are asked whether you would like tap water or bottled water. They wanted water instead, so the companies figured out that they should bottle water and sell it, making their profits that way.
For a family of four, drinking daily all the water they need, it lasts a year and a half, and it costs about two dollars to manufacture. This little firm is doing very nicely. Same thing for hi-tech mosquito nets: new products to meet old needs. Right now a big campaign is underway to provide low-cost antiretrovirals for AIDS and cures for malaria, both very important. With simple little mosquito nets certain health problems can be addressed very cheaply. What about here? Initially you have to invest without an immediate return. It was ever so.
You have to defer your gratification. Not by making huge profits with destructive forms of carbon-emitting fossil fuels but by meeting a real need with new products. We have an essential need for alternative energy that capitalism ought to be able to meet. Another area of need here in the United States is for housing that can withstand the growing weather extremes, such as those causing coastal flooding. A large part of the problem caused by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was the destruction of coastal housing, often cheap, trailer-like buildings made like matchsticks, which were easily swept away.
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