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

In this week’s New Yorker

March 26, 2017

The excellent reporting routinely published in the New Yorker has the simultaneously invigorating and depressing impact of adding to my pantheon of political villains. Latest addition: Robert Mercer, co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, among the most profitable hedge funds in the country, and his daughter Rebekah. Apparently, we have these people and their wealth to thank for putting the current president and two of his key advisors — Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway — in the positions of power they currently occupy.

Jane Mayer, one of the New Yorker’s best veteran reporters, last year published Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. She continues her mission of exposing the hidden influence of wealthy right-wing political ideologues with “Trump’s Money Man,” her long article on Mercer, whom I — and I suspect you — have never heard of. With a doggedness similar to that with which Rachel Maddow is exposing the Trump administration’s financial ties to Putin and his Russian cronies, Mayer connects the dots between Patrick Caddell, the former Democratic pollster, Citizens United, Breitbart News, the Council for National Policy, the Koch Brothers, the Club for Growth, Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute, and Mercer (without whom, one source opines, “Trump wouldn’t be President”).

It’s a long wonky read that most people won’t finish, so I’ll cull several passages that induced mounting horror in me as I made my way through the piece.

That tweet calling the news media “the enemy of the American people”? Mayer writes: “The President is known for tweeting impulsively, but in this case his words weren’t spontaneous: they clearly echoed the thinking of Caddell, Bannon, and Mercer. In 2012, Caddell gave a speech at a conference sponsored by Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog group, in which he called the media ‘the enemy of the American people.’ That declaration was promoted by Breitbart News, a platform for the pro-Trump alt-right, of which Bannon was the executive chairman, before joining the Trump Administration. One of the main stakeholders in Breitbart News is Mercer.”

Mayer relies heavily on two sources currently or formerly employed by Renaissance Technologies,  Nick Patterson and David Magerman. Patterson, who recruited Mercer from IBM,

doesn’t share Mercer’s libertarian views, or what he regards as his susceptibility to conspiracy theories about Bill and Hillary Clinton. During Bill Clinton’s Presidency, Patterson recalled, Mercer insisted at a staff luncheon that Clinton had participated in a secret drug-running scheme with the C.I.A. The plot supposedly operated out of an airport in Mena, Arkansas. “Bob told me he believed that the Clintons were involved in murders connected to it,” Patterson said. Two other sources told me that, in recent years, they had heard Mercer claim that the Clintons have had opponents murdered.

Mercer strongly supported Jeff Sessions as Trump’s candidate for Attorney General and has argued that the Civil Rights Act was a major mistake. He subsidizes the research of climate-change skeptic Arthur Robinson’s Oregon Institute of Science and medicine. He is a gun enthusiast with his own private pistol range, and he’s part owner of a company that claims to have the largest private cache of machine guns in the US.

In the 2016 campaign, Mercer gave $22.5 million in disclosed donations to Republican candidates and to political-cation committees, Mayer reports.

Adopting the strategy of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians, Mercer enlarged his impact exponentially by combining short-term campaign spending with long-term ideological investments. He poured millions of dollars into Breitbart News, and—in what David Magerman has called “an extreme example of modern entrepreneurial philanthropy”—made donations to dozens of politically tinged organizations.

Mayer describes Breitbart News, in which Mercer has invested $10 million, thusly: “The Web site freely mixes right-wing political commentary with juvenile rants and racist innuendo; under Bannon’s direction, the editors introduced a rubric called Black Crime.” Under the supervision of Rebekah Mercer, the family’s private foundation gave millions of dollars to interconnected nonprofit groups, several of which played crucial roles in propagating attacks on Hillary Clinton, $24.5 million in 2015 alone.

Last summer  when Paul Manfort was forced to resign as Trump’s campaign manager, writes Mayer,

Rebekah Mercer successfully pushed for a staff shakeup that led to the promotions of three people funded by the family: Bannon became the campaign’s C.E.O., Conway its manager, and [David] Bossie [leader of Citizens United] its deputy manager. William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and an adamant Trump opponent, warned, “It’s the merger of the Trump campaign with the kooky right.”

Are you depressed/infuriated yet? Mayer ends the piece quoting an essay David Magerman wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying Mercer “has surrounded our President with his people, and his people have an outsized influence over the running of our country, simply because Robert Mercer paid for their seats.” He writes, “Everyone has a right to express their views.” But, he adds, “when the government becomes more like a corporation, with the richest 0.001% buying shares and demanding board seats, then we cease to be a representative democracy.” Instead, he warns, “we become an oligarchy.”

 

In this week’s New Yorker

October 15, 2016

The “Fall Books” issue is especially loaded with terrific articles, starting with a high-powered Talk of the Town section with Amy Davidson writing about the third-party candidates; a piece about Amit Kumar, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has devised a mobile app called #NeverTrump allowing people to swap votes in swing states; and a visit to a dive bar in Bed-Stuy with Bonnie Raitt, about whom I can never hear enough.

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The feature well contains four substantial articles:

  • Ryan Lizza’s “Taming Trump,” about the succession of campaign managers attempting to counsel the Republican candidate for president (Lizza lets it be known that Trump’s de facto campaign manager is his son-in-law Jared Kushner, though the official one, Kellyanne Conway, has apparently managed to get DJT to refer to himself and his campaign as “the movement”);
  • Julie Phillips’ fascinating profile of legendary sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin (beautifully illustrated by Essay May, above);
  • a piece about Turkey that I thought wouldn’t interest me, but I’ll read anything by Dexter Filkins, and his Reporter at Large piece, “The Thirty-Year Coup,” provides revelatory background on Fethullah Gülen, the 78-year-old cleric who has a huge cult following in Turkey, whom he influences from his exile in the Poconos (!); and
  • the profile of Leonard Cohen by the magazine’s ever-astonishing editor-in-chief David Remnick, who among other things reports being fiercely scolded by his subject (who’s now 82 and quite ill) for showing up late to an appointment and quotes at length an incredibly sophisticated analysis of Cohen’s songwriting that he obtained from talking to Bob Dylan.

Among the several book reviews, I most enjoyed Alexandra Schwartz’s detailed summary of a book I’d like to read, Emily Witt’s Future Sex, and Adam Gopnik’s overview of novels based on Shakespeare plays.  And the best cartoon in this issue is Barry Blitt’s Sketchbook:

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In this week’s New Yorker

July 8, 2016

new yorker at the beach cover

This week’s issue (beautiful cover by Kadir Nelson) packs an extraordinary series of feature stories about music, politics, and medicine:

In his profile of hiphop producer Mike Will, “The Mixologist,” John Seabrook displays an astonishing familiarity with Atlanta’s music scene.

Quirky novelist George Saunders had the guts to attend Trump rallies all over the country and talk to people who think a Trump presidency is a good idea. The dismaying results show up in “Trump Days.”

In “Cool Runnings,” Adam Gopnik writes about the surprisingly casual presidential election in Iceland by focusing on Guðni Jóhannesson, whom he met when he was serving as tour guide on a bus tour of Thingvellir.

Larissa MacFarquhar provides a respite from the horrible news of the day with a moving portrait of the life of a hospice nurse, “The Threshold.”

 

In last week’s New Yorker

May 1, 2016

This week’s issue of The New Yorker, the one with the instant-turnaround purple rain cover, has two pieces I highly recommend in categories the magazine is best-known for. Ian Frazier writes deep-dive articles in a folksy voice in the department called “Our Local Correspondents,” and this week he covers an issue near and dear to my heart: “The Bag Bill,” focusing on activist Jennie Romer and her campaign to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags we use because they do substantial environmental damages. Meanwhile, Eyal Press contributes “Madness,” a wrenching expose of how mentally ill inmates in Florida are routinely tortured.

erykah badu

Last week’s “Entertainment Issue” had a few good pieces, notably Adam Gopnik on Paul McCartney, Kelefa Sanneh on Erykah Badu  (above, photographed by Amanda Demme), and Emily Nussbaum on Kenya Barris, the creator of the TV show “black-ish.” I’ve never watched the show, but Barris is smart and funny, and Nussbaum is a terrific writer — she deserves the Pulitzer Prize for criticism she just won. Here’s the way that article ends:

In April, Barris’s family went on a vacation that could be taken only by people at the pinnacle of success. During a visit to New York, they saw “Hamilton” not once but twice. They also flew to Washington for the White House Easter Egg Roll, and were part of a V.I.P. group who met the President and the First Lady. “That’s our family,” President Obama told Barris, about “black-ish.”

Not everything went smoothly. After four hours at the White House, Barris, tired, insisted that they leave. Once they were outside, Kaleigh got a text from Anthony Anderson’s son: they’d just missed Beyoncé and Jay Z. Barris’s daughters were furious at their dad; tears formed in Leyah’s eyes. When he saw those tears, Barris lost it: “You just met the President!” They apologized. Barris stayed mad. But he was also inspired. “I texted Groff and said, ‘We have to use this next season.’ ”

But the week before that was an especially good issue. Aside from Hilton Als’s piece about Maggie Nelson (which inspired me to go out and buy her book The Argonauts) and Ariel Levy on the delightful eccentric artist Niki de Saint Phalle, the issue contains one of the most important political news stories I’ve read all year. Ben Taub’s “The Assad Files” is a long, strong reporting piece about the Commission for International justice and Accountability, an independent investigative body founded in 2012 by American lawyer Chris Engels which has been collecting hundreds of thousands of top-secret documents tracing the mass torture and killings directly to Bashar Al-Assad and his regime. The first-hand accounts are horrifying and upsetting to encounter. The situation in Syria is so bad and so hopeless, who knows when and how it will ever be resolved. If there’s any good news in this story, it’s that whenever the moment comes to prosecute Assad in the International Criminal Court, there will be no lack of evidence for his responsibility.

 

In this week’s New Yorker

April 10, 2016

take the l train

Some fascinating articles in this week’s issue:

But mostly it’s an extraordinary issue for what the magazine calls “drawings” but readers experience as “cartoons,” starting with the great cover image (above) by Tomer Hanuka and continuing with a high number of good cartoons.

 

 

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