Archive for the 'In this week's New Yorker' Category

In this week’s New Yorker

August 8, 2021

The most important story in the issue comes from Jane Mayer, The New Yorker‘s intrepid Washington reporter. As with her 2016 book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Mayer collects all the receipts to tell a crucial story for right this minute: “The Big Money Behind the Big Lie.”

“Although the Arizona audit may appear to be the product of local extremists, it has been fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives. Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote,” Mayer writes.

One of the movement’s leaders is the Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. It has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (alec)—a corporate-funded nonprofit that generates model laws for state legislators—on ways to impose new voting restrictions. Among those deep in the fight is Leonard Leo, a chairman of the Federalist Society, the legal organization known for its decades-long campaign to fill the courts with conservative judges. In February, 2020, the Judicial Education Project, a group tied to Leo, quietly rebranded itself as the Honest Elections Project, which subsequently filed briefs at the Supreme Court, and in numerous states, opposing mail-in ballots and other reforms that have made it easier for people to vote.

Another newcomer to the cause is the Election Integrity Project California. And a group called FreedomWorks, which once concentrated on opposing government regulation, is now demanding expanded government regulation of voters, with a project called the National Election Protection Initiative.

These disparate nonprofits have one thing in common: they have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Based in Milwaukee, the private, tax-exempt organization has become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right. With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years. Public records show that, since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.

It might seem improbable that a low-profile family foundation in Wisconsin has assumed a central role in current struggles over American democracy. But the modern conservative movement has depended on leveraging the fortunes of wealthy reactionaries. In 1903, Lynde Bradley, a high-school dropout in Milwaukee, founded what would become the Allen-Bradley company. He was soon joined by his brother Harry, and they got rich by selling electronic instruments such as rheostats. Harry, a John Birch Society founding member, started a small family foundation that initially devoted much of its giving to needy employees and to civic causes in Milwaukee. In 1985, after the brothers’ death, their heirs sold the company to the defense contractor Rockwell International, for $1.65 billion, generating an enormous windfall for the foundation. The Bradley Foundation remains small in comparison with such liberal behemoths as the Ford Foundation, but it has become singularly preoccupied with wielding national political influence.

Mayer’s article builds a case for these people as the real “enemies of the people.” She focuses at length on Cleta Mitchell, a fiercely partisan Republican election lawyer; J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky, “who are members of what [has been] termed the Voter Fraud Brain Trust; John Eastman, co-director of The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group funded by the Bradley Foundation; and Tyler Bowyer, CEO of Turning Point, “which has received small grants from the Bradley Foundation, is headquartered in Arizona, and it has played a significant role in the radicalization of the state, in part by amplifying fear and anger about voter fraud.”

Every accusation of substantial voter fraud has been solidly debunked.

“What explains, then, the hardening conviction among Republicans that the 2020 race was stolen?” Mayer asks.

“Michael Podhorzer, a senior adviser to the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which invested deeply in expanding Democratic turnout in 2020, suggests that the two parties now have irreconcilable beliefs about whose votes are legitimate. “What blue-state people don’t understand about why the Big Lie works,” he said, is that it doesn’t actually require proof of fraud. “What animates it is the belief that Biden won because votes were cast by some people in this country who others think are not ‘real’ Americans.” This anti-democratic belief has been bolstered by a constellation of established institutions on the right: “white evangelical churches, legislators, media companies, nonprofits, and even now paramilitary groups.” Podhorzer noted, “Trump won white America by eight points. He won non-urban areas by over twenty points. He is the democratically elected President of white America. It’s almost like he represents a nation within a nation.”

Mayer explains a somewhat arcane point of constitutional law that clearly drives this movement for voter suppression: “for conservative state legislators to reëngineer the way the Electoral College has worked for more than a hundred years, in essence by invoking the Independent Legislature Doctrine. The Constitution gives states the authority to choose their Presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the late nineteenth century, states have delegated that authority to the popular vote. But, arguably, the Constitution permits state legislatures to take this authority back. Legislators could argue that an election had been compromised by irregularities or fraud, forcing them to intervene.”

I hope my summary encourages you to read the whole story or at the very least listen to Jane Mayer interviewed about the story by Terry Gross for “Fresh Air.”

Some other excellent stuff in the magazine this week:

  • it feels a little weird to refer to David Sedaris’s writing as “sweet,” but “Happy-Go-Lucky,” his remembrance of the last chapter in the life of his father, who died recently, is remarkably affectionate and, we could say, forgiving;
  • “Manufacturing Nature,” Eric Klinenberg’s article about Kate Orff, a landscape architect who has made a tremendous impact on New York’s aquatic ecosystem, including using oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges; and
  • “On an Epic Scale,” a profile of epochal painter Kerry James Marshall (see his “Past Times,” below) by the great chronicler of artists, Calvin Tomkins.

In this week’s New Yorker

October 23, 2020

This week’s New Yorker is an especially good issue.

On the hard news front, there are two excellent reporting pieces. In “Safety Last,” Eyal Press writes about how Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia (yes, son of the late Supreme Court Justice) has gone about weakening worker protections during the pandemic. It would be more shocking if it isn’t all too depressingly consistently with this Administration, which has routinely hired cabinet members whose values and experience are antithetical to the realms they’re now overseeing. And Rachel Monroe’s “Stolen Valor” investigates the world of military impostors — elected officials, candidates, and others — and the outraged veterans who have made it their mission to expose them.

Then there are a bunch of profiles of smart, fascinating people whose names are new to me:

  • Moxie Marlinspike (almost certainly not the name on his birth certificate) is the creator and CEO of Signal, the end-to-end encrypted messaging service, interviewed by Anna Wiener for “Privacy Settings.” Among other things, before Signal, Marlinspike created a browser extension for Firefox called GoogleSharing, which “pooled users’ activity on Google services and anonymized personal information, scrambling individual activity and assigning it to generic proxy identities. This prevented Google from building user profiles, and from collecting information from services that did not require a log-in. Marlinspike no longer maintains the software, but it is still available to download, for free, on GitHub, and has a successor, DuckDuckGo, a search engine that strips queries of identifying data.”
  • Saidiya Hartman, a writer and academic whose scholarly work on untold stories about Black life (especially Black women, especially the legacy of slavery) earned her a MacArthur Fellow and who has also appeared in a Jay-Z video (“4:44”). Alexis Okeowo wrote the story (“Secret Histories”).
  • Rita Indiana, an amazing 43-year-old 6’3″ lesbian musician and novelist in the Dominican Republic, a superstar in her country where she is known as the Monster (La Montra, in the local dialect). Daniel Alarcón tells her story in “Songs for the Apocalypse,” which mentions a bunch of songs and videos you’ll want to look up online {“After School,” “El Juidero,” “El Blue del Ping Pong,” and my favorite “La Hora de Volvé”).
  • Jennifer Walshe, a queer Irish composer about whom music critic Alex Ross writes an essay called “Sublime Chaos,” describing her work as “mystical Irish Dadaism.”



In this week’s New Yorker

February 10, 2019

The February 11 issue of the New Yorker is especially juicy with good stories:

* Carrie Battan on Pamela Adlon, showrunner of Better Things;

* a posthumous publication of an essay by Oliver Sacks on smartphones and what’s lost when we spend so much time fixated on our devices;

* Ian Parker’s very long, very thorough examination of the curious case of Daniel Mallory, author of the best-selling thriller novel The Woman in the Window (below, illustration by Kristian Hammerstad),and the fictions he has created about his own family and medical history;

* Burkhard Bilger on Roomful of Teeth, the contemporary vocal ensemble, an occasion for some fascinating observations about the human voice;

and

* David Denby’s excellent essay about legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht, inspired by Adina Hoffman’s new biography.

In this week’s New Yorker

July 13, 2018

For self-protection, I avoid TV news. I’m content to get my news of the world from the kind of deep dives that the New Yorker specializes in.

The current midsummer double-issue is extra-good, in a roller-coaster way.

Adrian Chen’s “No More Secrets,” about a guy who live-streams his mundane existence, reflects up-to-the-minute technology but in a way that fills me with despair — THIS is what people pay attention to? Yuk. But I guess it’s good to know.

David Sedaris writes hilariously, as always, about going to a shooting range with his sister Lisa (“Active Shooter”), where the instructor keeps calling him “Mike,” which he finds an amusing alternative to what he often gets when he presents his credit card (“Are you THE David Sedaris?”).

In “Tunnel Vision,” William Finnegan profiles the new head of the MTA, a Brit named Andy Byford who’s determined to overhaul the NYC subway system as he did in London and Toronto.

How cool to get a look at a mural Charles Addams painted for a Hamptons hotel in 1952, which has been quietly hanging in a library at Penn State.

Ariel Levy writes about a fascinating Iranian-American novelist named Ottessa Moshfegh (below, photographed by Dru Donovan) and her crazy romantic life (“Not From Around Here”).

And Hilton Als pays tribute to Anika Noni Rose, who’s starring in a production of “Carmen Jones” directed by John Doyle that sounds worth seeing at Classic Stage Company (“Working It”).

In last week’s New Yorker

April 30, 2018

Before I crack open the new issue, I want to draw your attention to two noteworthy pieces in the April 30 issue:

“Life Sentences,” Dana Goodyear’s profile of novelist Rachel Kushner (below, photographed by Amanda Demme), which details Kushner’s deep engagement with female prisoners in her local California prison — not for “research,” but out of solidarity and identification.

“McMaster and Commander,” Patrick Radden Keefe’s long, intricately reported piece about recently fired National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster — I didn’t think I wanted to know much about him, but the article is among other things an unsparing recap of the outrages to international diplomacy committed by the current administration. Nowadays it all just feels like the latest bullshit tweet, but one day we’ll look back at this coverage in the New Yorker and the New York Times and the Washington Post as crucial historical documentation of the bleakest period in American history. Here’s a key passage:

In December, the White House unveiled its “National Security Strategy,” a sixty-eight-page document in which the N.S.C. staff laid out Trump’s official view of the world. McMaster’s aides proudly claimed that this was the first time a national-security-strategy document had been published within the first year of a Presidential Administration. The document had conspicuously Trumpian lacunae; there were no references to climate change as a national-security threat, for example. But it seemed to be an effort to domesticate some of Trump’s bellicose rhetoric, emphasizing the importance of competition among the great powers but also of American leadership. Trump had mocked NATO as “obsolete”; the document described the alliance as “one of our greatest advantages.” It explicitly named Russia and China as malign influences, and declared that the Russians had used technology “to undermine the legitimacy of democracies.” Such language was in sharp contrast with Trump’s strenuous avoidance of blaming the Kremlin for election interference. An N.S.C. official told me, “The fundamental question is, can you divorce Presidential rhetoric from American foreign policy?”

Composing the document was a challenge, because Trump did not have many concrete views on foreign policy beyond bumper-sticker sentiments like “America first.” When McMaster requested Trump’s input, the President grew frustrated and defensive, as if he’d been ambushed with a pop quiz. So staffers adopted Trump’s broad ideal of American competitiveness and tried to extrapolate which policies he might favor in specific instances. McMaster touted the resulting document as “highly readable,” and as a text it seems reassuringly plausible. But nobody on McMaster’s staff could confirm for me with any conviction that the President himself had read it.

 

 

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