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Death without parole

[ 180 ] April 19, 2017 |

The suicide of former NFL star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez is an occasion for thinking about the policy of sentencing people to sentences of life without parole.  One of the less noted perversities of capital punishment is that it deflects attention from this subject.  Indeed, an innocent person on death row almost certainly has a far better chance of eventual exoneration than someone serving life sentence, because of the far greater per capita resources expended on death penalty cases.

There are currently about 2,900 people on death row, and more than a third of them are in jurisdictions that now almost never execute anyone, most notably California.  Meanwhile as of five years ago around 159,000 people in the US were serving life sentences, and nearly a third of those sentences did not include the possibility of parole.  Several thousand of the latter sentences were imposed on juveniles, in some cases for crimes committed when the offender was as young as 13.  (The US is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole).

Life without parole is a barbaric sentence, that no civilized legal system should tolerate.  While there are certainly people who should never be released from prison before they die, that judgment should be made on a truly individualized basis, not by sentencing whole classes of offenders to the certainty of lifetime imprisonment.  The fact that life without parole exists in large part as a wedge against death penalty advocates is just another example of the social damage that the continued existence of capital punishment does — as is the fact that so few resources, comparatively speaking, are dedicated to the legal claims of the tens of thousands of people in America serving legally irrevocable life sentences.


Hopefully A New Round of Upper-Class Tax Cuts Will Unleash More of This Kind of Innovation

[ 179 ] April 19, 2017 |

The thing is, our benign Silicon Valley titans are simply better and smarter people than you or me. I mean, if plutocrats were taxed at the kind of rates that prevailed when the United States had Full Communism before Reagan, would we get immensely valuable and proactive new products like this?

One of the most lavishly funded gadget startups in Silicon Valley last year was Juicero Inc. It makes a juice machine. The product was an unlikely pick for top technology investors, but they were drawn to the idea of an internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage.

Doug Evans, the company’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the cost of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a “Keurig for juice.”

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands. Two backers said the final device was bulkier than what was originally pitched and that they were puzzled to find that customers could achieve similar results without it. Bloomberg performed its own press test, pitting a Juicero machine against a reporter’s grip. The experiment found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly—and in some cases, faster—than using the device.

Juicero declined to comment. A person close to the company said Juicero is aware the packs can be squeezed by hand but that most people would prefer to use the machine because the process is more consistent and less messy. The device also reads a QR code printed on the back of each produce pack and checks the source against an online database to ensure the contents haven’t expired or been recalled, the person said. The expiration date is also printed on the pack.

All hail the SUPERGENIUS of our Silicon Valley overlords!

This is a brilliant idea, no doubt. But over breakfast this morning a perhaps even more shatteringly DISRUPTIVE paradigm occurred to me. What if you made a juice out of the extract of fruit…and put it in a bottle, eliminating the need for squeezing (whether at the free or $400 price point) altogether? I know, sounds crazy, but I think it could work! He’s a quick sketch of my transformative proposal:


Please send all seven-figure venture capital investments to the address on the right of the page.

Fox News Has Finally Had Enough of Bill O’Reilly

[ 57 ] April 19, 2017 |

A welcome, if decidedly postmature, decision:

The Murdochs have decided Bill O’Reilly’s 21-year run at Fox News will come to an end. According to sources briefed on the discussions, network executives are preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from an Italian vacation on April 24. Now the big questions are how the exit will look and who will replace him.

Wednesday morning, according to sources, executives are holding emergency meetings to discuss how they can sever the relationship with the country’s highest-rated cable-news host without causing collateral damage to the network. The board of Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Sources briefed on the discussions say O’Reilly’s exit negotiations are moving quickly. Right now, a key issue on the table is whether he would be allowed to say good-bye to his audience, perhaps the most loyal in all of cable (O’Reilly’s ratings have ticked up during the sexual-harassment allegations). Fox executives are leaning against allowing him to have a sign-off, sources say. The other main issue on the table is money. O’Reilly recently signed a new multiyear contract worth more than $20 million per year. When Roger Ailes left Fox News last summer, the Murdochs paid out $40 million, the remainder of his contract.

It’s better that he be off the air than on the air, but given the large if not Ailes-level golden parachute he almost certainly has coming, I wouldn’t call this a “good” outcome either.

On his way out, his lawyer did contribute this classic to the annals of non-denial denials:

“It is outrageous that an allegation from an anonymous person about something that purportedly happened almost a decade ago is being treated as fact, especially where there is obviously an orchestrated campaign by activists and lawyers to destroy Mr. O’Reilly and enrich themselves through publicity-driven donation,” Mr. Kasowitz said.

That’s quite a few words to avoid saying “he didn’t do it.”

Not “The Onion”

[ 119 ] April 19, 2017 |

But, lordy, how it reads like it is.

Some lowlights:

*”I’d vote for him again 20 more times if I could,” said Hal McWilliams, 59, a self-employed contractor from Portageville. “Build the wall! …Democrats do everything in their power to destroy this country. Hillary Clinton was everything I am against. She was out to destroy the culture that made this country: Hard work, guns, freedom.”


*Community Action runs a host of programs, from job training to rental assistance to housing weatherization, all funded by the Community Services Block Grant and other federal programs that Trump wants to eliminate or dramatically cut.

That seemed to be of little concern to most of the people packing their pickups with fresh produce and other items at last week’s food bank.

Told that the food bank was in danger, McWilliams shrugged and said: “I grow most of my own food anyway.”

*”He’s about action,” said Clark, who didn’t vote for Trump but said he would do so if he could vote again now. “I believe he’s doing pretty much everything he promised to do.”

*”We love him,” said Keith Muhlenbeck, 46. “We support him in everything he’s doing. He’s a businessman who knows how to get things done, and you can tell he has America’s best interests at heart.”

*As for Trump’s proposed budget cuts, Muhlenbeck doesn’t worry that the food bank his family depends on will be forced to shut down.

“I’m sure they’ll find the money somewhere,” he said.


I get it now. Magical thinking got Trump elected.

Goodbye, and Bad Luck

[ 50 ] April 19, 2017 |


One of America’s most disgusting politicians — and that ain’t an easy contest! — will be retreating from the slime from whence he emerged:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz will not seek re-election in 2018, two sources who have been informed of his decision told BuzzFeed on Wednesday morning.

Chaffetz later confirmed in a statement on Facebook that he will “will not be a candidate for any office in 2018.”

“Since late 2003 I have been fully engaged with politics as a campaign manager, a chief of staff, a candidate and as a Member of Congress. I have long advocated public service should be for a limited time and not a lifetime or full career. Many of you have heard me advocate, ‘Get in, serve, and get out.’ After more than 1,500 nights away from my home, it is time. I may run again for public office, but not in 2018,” he said.

Donald Trump can be secure that Chaffetz will continue to be his completely servile lickspittle and fail to exercise his institutional responsibilities even if he’s not running for anything.

As for why he’s actually leaving, I have no idea, but this is certainly what I want to be true:

[Jane Alexander voice] If you guys could just get Jason Chaffetz…that would be beautiful.

Affordable Housing

[ 139 ] April 19, 2017 |


Affordable housing lotteries in New York are really a sign of just how woeful the housing situation is in that city for the poor, not to mention the middle class.

In a January press message, the developers of Pacific Park Brooklyn suggested “the demand for affordable housing in the borough is tremendous,” citing more than 84,000 applications for 181 units at 461 Dean and “roughly 95,000 applications” for 297 apartments at 535 Carlton. These are among the first four residential buildings in the 15-tower project, which will contain 2,250 below-market units among 6,430 apartments in Prospect Heights.

But such catch-all statistics—regularly used in depicting the hunt for below-market units—camouflage how low-income applicants face crushing odds compared to middle-income ones.

Exactly 92,743 households (not quite 95,000) entered the lottery for the “100 percent affordable” 535 Carlton tower, city data show. But only 2,203, according to City Limits’ analysis, were eligible for 148 middle-income apartments, such as one-bedrooms renting for $2,680 monthly and two-bedrooms at $3,223, affordable to those earning six figures. (The massive Excel spreadsheets, with names redacted, were obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request.)

Also, 4,609 entrants vied for 44 units in the building’s other middle-income “band,” which includes one-bedrooms at $2,170 and two-bedrooms at $2,611, with rents set at approximately 30 percent of household income.

For less costly apartments, the competition was fierce. For the 15 moderate-income units, including seven one-bedrooms at $1,320, some 18,680 households applied.

More starkly, nearly 67,000 households, some 72 percent of the applicant pool, aimed at the 90 low-income units, including one-bedrooms at $589 and $929, for singles earning $21,566 to $25,400 and $33,223 to $38,100, respectively.

A good number of them were ineligible because their incomes either were too low or they fell between the two low-income “bands.” Also, 15 low-income units will ultimately be distributed outside the lottery, designated for homeless households under a new city policy.

While New York may be the worst city when it comes to affordable housing (or second, outside of San Francisco) it’s a growing problem throughout the urban core of our nation. The problem is that the new building is too unregulated, in that it allows developers to set the market, where the profit is all on the high end. What we actually need is a new round of public housing building, except that this time, the government needs to actually fund the housing instead of assuming it will generate the expenses needed to keep it up, which was the main problem with the notorious mid-twentieth century public housing projects that gave the whole concept a bad name when they fixed with white flight to make these buildings a living hell for residents. It’s good that there is some requirement for affordable housing, but it flat out isn’t enough and it never will be until the government mandates it.

On Philanthropy

[ 73 ] April 19, 2017 |


Americans love philanthropy because we love individualism and we love our rich. We indeed think that could be us with some luck and hard work. Bootstrapism remains a powerful mythology within our society and goes a long ways to understanding why the United States is more economically conservative than Europe. And if you are rich, you are seen as an expert. Thus Bill Gates gets to set a global agenda on health care and Mark Zuckerberg somehow knows something about education. But while individual philanthropists can influence the world for good, the larger impact is really problematic, allowing the wealthy to create policy developing out of wankfests like the Aspen Institute. In the end, every dollar that goes toward rich people’s philanthropies is a dollar that the government should have taxed and spent to create social programs that make philanthropy unnecessary. Imagine a government actually funding public broadcasting instead of a system that relies on fundraising all the time. Imagine government funding higher education instead of forcing university presidents to do the bidding of the wealthy so they can get the donations they need to keep the school running. Imagine the U.S. government declaring war on disease instead of letting Bill Gates set the agenda. Instead Betsy DeVos is running our education system because she is rich and wants to get everyone in religious schools. Great.

I recognize this is the society in which we live and given the real world I don’t begrudge anyone going after donations. But it’s really not a good scene and is part and parcel of the New Gilded Age.

The Lesson Is, Never Try

[ 235 ] April 19, 2017 |


The Simpsons is celebrating 30 years on the air. If “celebrate” is the right word for a show that has been pointless to terrible for the last 15 years. In fact, it’s been bad for so long that it’s almost easy to forget just how wonderful it was. Here is a ranking of the top 100 Simpsons episodes. Tellingly, not a single episode in the top 100 happened after Season 9. If only the show had ended there, or at least by Season 12 or so when it was clear that it was dead except for cheap gags and celebrity appearances. Of course, one could say the same about Woody Allen films. Anyway, if it ever ends, it will be easier to go back and remember its greatness without being reminded of what it has become.

I Wouldn’t Have Been Surprised . . . Until I Was

[ 116 ] April 19, 2017 |


You’re Theresa May, vaguely accidental Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  You’ve inherited a flimsy majority in the House of Commons, currently at just 17 seats.  You’re about to enter into a series of negotiations with the European Union, which will define the UK’s economic framework for at least a generation.  The party opposite is going through a spot of bother (that many claim to be existential).  While you had consistently rejected doing so since June, you finally make the logical choice, and call for a snap election.  A snap election that will lead to the shortest period between elections since October 1974, and also the first General Election to not be held simultaneous with local elections since 1992.

Whenever this question came up in my various media appearances since May took over this past July, I argued, consistently, that a snap election makes perfect sense, electorally. In addition to negotiating with the EU, pushing through “boundary review” (i.e. redistricting) with a reduction in the number of seats in the House of Commons from 650 to 600 has been on the cards since the David Cameron-led coalition government of 2010-15. So why was this a surprise?

Namely, because the Brits like to hold their General Elections simultaneous to whatever local elections might be on offer.  There’s a logic to this: turnout increases for the local elections, and money is saved by only administering one election.  Such elections are scheduled for May 4, 2017.  Given the statutory requirements for the “short campaign”, combined with the vagaries introduced by the 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act, the time to have called for a snap election would have been no later than the second week of March.

What has changed in the past month or so?  Labour’s polling disadvantage has not depreciated significantly; according to UK Polling Report, Labour was 14.8% down on average, whereas now Labour trails the Conservatives by 16.8% (by my unsophisticated calculations; for the current average I aggregated all polls back to the beginning of March; for the average of one month ago, I averaged from the beginning of February to March 15.)  While Nate Silver suggests that the snap election is not as slammy a slam dunk as most might assume (h/t friend of LGM Bijan Parsia for bringing this to my attention), I doubt that a further two point lead in the polls is what convinced May to call the snap election now when she couldn’t a month ago.

I’ve speculated in the media here that this is about internal Parliamentary Conservative Party politics regarding the negotiations with the European Union about the shape of Brexit. The transformation of the previously tepid Remainer Theresa May into staunch Hard Brexiteer Prime Minister is due in part to the leverage the latter currently have within the House of Commons. With current polling data suggesting nothing less than the Conservatives significantly increasing their working majority, one important (if not the important) side benefit of this is that suddenly May will have freedom of movement (in domestic politics terms) in EU negotiations.

But even this would have still been true a month ago.

It’s a safe bet that the Conservative Party will increase its majority in the 2017 election.  Labour famously lost the Copeland By-Election in February.  Copeland had been a Labour seat since 1935, and this was the first time the opposition party has lost a seat to the governing party in a by-election in 35 years. In addition to the anaemic performance of the party during parliamentary by-elections, Labour’s performance for local by-elections have been even less suggestive of a strong showing in a general election. Since the beginning of 2016, the Conservatives have suffered a net loss of 33 seats in local by-elections, which is to be expected. Governing parties typically struggle in such elections. However, Labour have lost a net nine seats in these elections over the same time frame, which is not typical of a strongly positioned opposition party. The Liberal Democrats on the other hand have experienced a net gain of 36 such seats (data can be compiled from various summaries posted here). The Green Party has been losing vote share to a certain degree, while since the EU referendum in June 2016, UKIP has struggled in by-elections of all types.

Naturally, word went out yesterday that Jeremy Corbyn desired that each Constituency Labour Party have the right to re-select their MP candidates (including sitting MPs). This has been a preference of a segment of the Corbyn supporters on the left of the party, as a means to purify the party for the new, post-Blairite world. When you only have 230 out of 650 members of parliament, and you’re anywhere between 15% and 18,000% behind in the opinion polls, that’s obviously an astonishingly ludicrous idea, even if we had a normal run-in to the general election. It doesn’t help to invoke a leftier-than-thou sentimentality in general, and in particular why volunteer to give away whatever advantage of incumbency that you possess?  Given the election is seven short weeks away, wasting half of that time determining the names of the candidates in the first place takes that ludicrousness to new levels of electoral suicide. Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed, and by my understanding of the rules, all existing MPs have the right to stand again, while previous candidates (of the non-winning variety) likewise have first right of refusal to stand as candidates in the constituencies they stood at the last general election (although the national executive committee has some significant sway here).

The big question, of course, is what would Jeremy Corbyn choose to do should Labour lose the snap election by some of the more pessimistic projections (e.g. a Conservative working majority of 100 seats, perhaps?) There is nothing in the rule book that would force him to stand down as leader. Given he’s already ignored a tacit norm of British politics by failing to stand down when overwhelmingly losing a vote of confidence 172-40 among his own MPs, there’s no reason to automatically expect that he would do so in the face of an electoral disaster similar to the 1983 General Election.

That may or may not be something to dwell on by the second week of June. Until then, the 8th and 14th target seats for the Labour Party are in Plymouth, where I live. We lost these by only 523 and 1026 votes two years ago. While things might not look rosy on a national level, Labour did win the (aggregated) vote in both constituencies during the city council elections in 2016, so there’s a solid chance down here for two Labour victories.

The War Poet and The Utility of Stoicism

[ 78 ] April 19, 2017 |


Drawn by Leandro Gonzalez de Leon

Theodor W. Adorno





“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric…”

Theodor W. Adorno (1)



An image is worth a thousand words, but a thousand words often create their own images. Poetry has long been an important cultural form of bearing witness to tragedy and shaping our understanding of historical events. The poetry produced during and after World War I brims with cynicism and exhaustion and has always haunted me. While I was an undergrad at American University studying peace and conflict resolution, I picked up a text that had been assigned in a friend’s class: Against Forgetting, an anthology of twentieth century poetry of witness. From Latin America to Russia, the Holocaust and Palestine, this collection is a tribute to the human desire to build beauty out of pain.

Job rebuked by his friends, William Blake

Job rebuked by his friends, William Blake


Why would we want to make genocide beautiful? Is it because of a Judeo European Christian notion of suffering that purifies the soul? Romantic poet and illustrator William Blake was famous for his depictions of the suffering of the biblical Job. No, let me posit that is not at all the goal. It is the survival of trauma that we strive to make beautiful.

One of my favorite early 20th century writers, Mervyn Peake, struggled with his role as a secondary witness of human suffering and his attempts to capture it through text. In 1945, Peake became a war artist for the British weekly magazine The Leader. His commissions took him to German concentration camp of Bergen Belsen. He produced several poems from that time and a number of illustrations. Throughout his witnessing, he could never shake a feeling of detachment. Literary critic RW Malsen describes this in the introduction to Peake’s Collected Poems (emphasis mine):

Mervyn Peake with his sketchbook in Germany, 1945

Mervyn Peake with his sketchbook in Germany, 1945

But failing to connect with war and its victims was as horrifying a prospect for Peake as being possessed by them. His famous poem “The Consumptive. Belsen 1945” expresses shock at his own callous reaction to a dying girl he saw in the hospital for concentration camp inmates at Bergen-Belsen. In her face he notes the seeds of a ‘great painting’, and as he mentally nurtures these seeds he finds himself unable to respond as he should to the girl’s suffering. Filled with remorse, he promises in the penultimate line that her dying “shall not be betrayed”, presumably by being transformed into a work of art. Yet by then the work of art has already come into being: it is the poem we just read. (2)




I wonder if perhaps personal detachment for a secondary witness of atrocity is the only way anyone can properly communicate to the rest of the world what they have seen. A survivor obviously cannot be personally detached from their own suffering and if they do choose to put their experience into words it is a process that is as much about personal identity as it is about truth telling. Whatever stoicism the poet or artist adopts in the moment of witness or in the creation of images and text, the experience may still weigh heavily on them. The enormity of the darkness Peake saw would influence his writings and sketches for the rest of his career, even touching his illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. His magnum opus, the Gormenghast novels, are also filled with pieces from the war.

Dying girl at Belsen, Mervyn Peake, 1945

Dying girl at Belsen, Mervyn Peake, 1945

Theodor Adorno is said to have reconsidered the quote that I use above, on the “barbarism” of Auschwitz poetry. However he meant it in the moment, he is correct. To engage in a lyrical depiction of the inhumanity of genocide and war through text or image is to engage with that inhumanity. The only way we can overcome that obstacle is to include the victim and/or survivor as an active subject, not object. No matter who takes the pen or the paintbrush, the narrator of the story must always be them.

Further Reading:

Art After Auschwitz: The Problem With Depicting The Holocaust, Ysabelle Cheung

Gaza: Poetry After Auschwitz, Hamid Dabashi


  1. Adorno, Theodor W. Prisms. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1983.
  2. Peake, Mervyn, and R. W Maslen. Collected Poems. Manchester: FyfieldBooks, 2008. 


[ 75 ] April 19, 2017 |

Solid showing, but not quite the outright majority needed for a runoff:

Roughly five hours after polling locations closed, major networks began projecting that Georgia’s 6th District special election would be heading toward a runoff on June 20.

That means Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, the race’s top two vote-getters, will have nine more weeks of expensive and heating campaigning before voters will decide who will replace Tom Price, now Trump’s health secretary, as the representative for Atlanta’s affluent, leafy northern suburbs in the House.

The runoff is definitely not a lock but it’s winnable. However it turns out, needless to say the lesson will be that the Democratic Party is permanently doomed because of its perfidious neoliberalism.

Old man shouts at Clinton. And people of color who are doing it wrong. (Avec brief anti-tRump interlude.)

[ 112 ] April 18, 2017 |

I’ve finally forced my way through Sullivan’s article that starts out being about Chelsea Clinton but ends with him abusing the Bell Curve gallus gallus domesticus for perhaps the 11 zillionth time in his life. The headline of the piece is Why do Democrats feel sorry for Clinton? But a more accurate headline would be Do you want to watch this over-paid, over-hyped and unoriginal Limey throw dried poo for several paragraphs?

I’ve done what I could in this space to avoid the subject of Hillary Clinton. I don’t want to be the perennial turd in the punchbowl.

Another tally mark under the Failure column.

I’d hoped we’d finally seen the last of that name in public life — it’s been a long quarter of a century — and that we could all move on. Alas, no. Her daughter (angels and ministers of grace defend us) seems to be positioning herself for a political career.

There’s a word for the sort of person who’d hang and article on his hatred of Hillary Clinton and an unsubstantiated rumor that her daughter might enter politics.

And Clinton herself duly emerged last week for a fawning, rapturous reception at the Women in the World conference in New York City.

A quick search indicates Clinton has been a regular speaker, but Sullivan seems to be infuriated by the fact that she dares show her face in public and that people don’t throw things when she does.

And so I find myself wondering at odd times of the day and night: Why is Trump in the White House? And then I remember. Hillary Clinton put him there.

And the wind, cries, Cool story bro.

He has no strategy beyond the next 24 hours, no guiding philosophy, no politics, no consistency at all — just whatever makes him feel good about himself this second. He therefore believes whatever bizarre nonfact he can instantly cook up in his addled head, or whatever the last person who spoke to him said. He makes Chauncey Gardiner look like Abraham Lincoln. Occam’s razor points us to the obvious: He has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.

Self-awareness, thy name is not Andrew Sullivan.

Do you know the real reason Dr. Dao was so brutally tackled and thrown off that United flight? It was all about white supremacy. I mean, what isn’t these days?

White supremacy, the fatuous chucklehead chuckles fatuously. White supremacy couldn’t have possibly influenced how the authorities treated Dr. Dao because he was selected at random for involuntary de-boarding by a computer program.

And everyone knows that the law and computer programs in thair majesty forbid men of color and white men alike from being knocked around by the police.

It’s easy to mock this reductionism, I know, but it reflects something a little deeper.

As deep as a bell curve.

Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the “social-justice” brigade.

I have no idea who makes up the “social justice” brigade in the fever room inside his skull. Possibly he envisions a horde of people who look like Hillary Clinton. One can only speculate about what Sullivan would do if confronted with the fact that Jewish people or Asian-Americans form and take part in their own social justice organizations, but that might involve the difficult – perhaps impossible – task of getting him to understand that they are actually people.

As an aside, I’m not sure about how meaningful the term Asian-American truly is considering the huge and diverse number of cultures encompassed by the six syllables. It seems as informative as saying someone is from Africa. At any rate, Sullivan finishes the article – that started out as another anti-Clinton rant – with a rapid fire JAQ off session.

I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society? How have bigoted white people allowed these minorities to do so well — even to the point of earning more, on average, than whites? Asian-Americans, for example, have been subject to some of the most brutal oppression, racial hatred, and open discrimination over the years. In the late 19th century, as most worked in hard labor, they were subject to lynchings and violence across the American West and laws that prohibited their employment. They were banned from immigrating to the U.S. in 1924. Japanese-American citizens were forced into internment camps during the Second World War, and subjected to hideous, racist propaganda after Pearl Harbor. Yet, today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?

It couldn’t be that discussing racism as though it is a specific set of behaviors that doesn’t change based on the victims and the attitudes of their oppressors is exactly the sort of intellectual slobbery that goes hand-in-hand with bigotry, could it?


But there’s a lot that’s conspicuously missing from this argument. Sullivan declines to mention that black people still face high rates of hiring discrimination because of their race; that black children continue to languish in segregated neighborhoods, where decades of racist economic and education policy have robbed their schools of resources and stripped their communities of the infrastructure to cope with the fallout; and that black fathers, on average, still manage to be among the most consistently involved in their children’s lives — despite that 1.5 million black men, including countless dads, are “missing” from daily life due to high rates of incarceration and early death.

But where Sullivan appears to be merely lazy, he is also boring. Blaming black pathology for racial disparities is one of the most tired tropes in American life. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the “Asians and Jews versus blacks” question back in 1966 — more than 50 years ago. The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates debated the topic at length with New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait in 2014. Coates explained how, after slavery ended in the mid-19th century, white northerners who came to teach in Southern schools had a similarly low opinion of black culture.


But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Sullivan’s argument is how these notions of black deficiency keep getting resurrected as if they are new and revelatory. Some of this explains the resurgent popularity of Charles Murray. More than two decades after Murray co-wrote The Bell Curve — a widely disputed book of social science that argued that black people are less intelligent than whites — he continues to get invited by conservative groups to speak at college campuses across the country.

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