The Green New Deal: A Fight for Our Lives

Naomi Klein

Sunrise Movement protesters inside the office of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Capitol, Washington, D.C., December 10, 2018

As Greta Thunberg says, “We cannot solve an emergency without treating it like an emergency.” We have to “act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” That does not mean we simply need a New Deal painted green, or a Marshall Plan with solar panels. We need changes of a different quality and character. A new vision of what humanity can be is emerging. It is coming from the streets, from the schools, from workplaces, and even from inside houses of government. When the future of life is at stake, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

The Problem with Canceling the Arnautoff Murals

Michele H. Bogart

A fresco from Victor Arnautoff’s The Life of George Washington showing Washington pointing west, as ghostly frontiersmen advance to destroy the Native American way of life, George Washington High School, San Francisco

“As I see it,” wrote Arnautoff in 1935, “the artist is a critic of society.” That critical stance underpinned The Life of George Washington and much the artist’s public work. The #paintitdown advocates, however, did not see the portrayals of Washington as indictments of the myth. They refuted assertions about the murals’ pedagogical significance, insisting that the feelings of some members of a long-oppressed minority group trumped claims by academic experts, whose views they regarded as racist. The progressive school board accepted this argument virtually without question, saying that it was acting in solidarity with people whose voices were too often not heard. 

What the Speaker Bercow Stories Failed to Say

Kate Maltby

John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, at the Palace of Westminster, London, May 24, 2019

For many Americans, particularly progressive Americans dismayed at all but a handful of Republicans’ willingness to criticize President Trump, this parliamentary insurgency to thwart Johnson has made Bercow a British role-model. Appealing as this narrative is, however, it contains significant omissions. Bercow’s resignation this week was not merely a punctuation point in the magical-realist telenovela that is Britain’s attempt to exit the European Union. It marks an intersection between two sweeping international movements: a story as much about #MeToo, which casts Bercow as a villain, as it is about the wave of populism against which Bercow has cast himself as resistance hero.

David Berman of Silver Jews Remembered

Alissa Quart

David Berman performing with the Silver Jews, Barcelona, Spain, 2008

“All my favorite singers couldn’t sing,” David Berman crooned. Berman—along with other indie greats also gone too young: the sublime, alcoholic Jason Molina of the Magnolia Electric Company or Mark Linkous from the band Sparklehorse—was openly troubled, openly poetic, openly marginal, openly sloppy, and openly democratic. He had what the writer Seymour Krim, in his famous 1971 essay on American failure and his own, called “the voice of scars and stars talking.”

A Translation for Our Time?

Tim Parks

A print of Samuel Johnson walking with James Boswell, published in The Graphic, December 1884

What is exciting about translation, then, is not the notion that it has delivered a hundred percent, or that the entire world of human feeling can be made available to us in our own idiom—a fantasy that will only induce complacency—but its encouragement to move toward, or at least become aware of, what we do not know; translation as a wake-up call, and an instrument to spur us to more effort, not to have us sit back and applaud another successful worldwide publishing phenomenon.

Why Bibi Fears Arab Voters

Yardena Schwartz

The Israeli-Arab politician Ayman Odeh (front, third from right) at a campaign rally for the Joint List alliance of Arab parties ahead of Israel’s September election, Kafr Yasif, Israel, August 23, 2019

The giant yellow billboard near the Arab town of Nahef in northern Israel declares in Arabic, “This time, we are the decision-makers.” It is a reminder to the nearly 2 million Arab citizens of Israel that in this election, which will be held on September 17, they could decide Israel’s future as a democratic state. Their votes, should they choose to wield them, have the power to end the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Sontag in Sarajevo

Benjamin Moser

Susan Sontag, Sarajevo, Bosnia, 1993

What was at stake in Sarajevo was not only the fate of a people and a country. Sarajevo was a European city—and Europe, David Rieff wrote, “had become a moral category as well as a geographical one.” This category was the liberal idea of the free society: of civilization itself, especially after Auschwitz. The Bosnians knew this and were bewildered that their appeals were met with such indifference. But how could a single person stand in the path of a genocidal army? The question of how to oppose injustice had occupied Susan Sontag since childhood: since she read Les Misérables, since she saw the first pictures of the Holocaust in the bookstore in Santa Monica. Sarajevo offered a chance to put her body on the line for the ideas that had given dignity to her life.

Looking for ‘Reason’ in Modi’s India

Ratik Asokan

A still from Vivek showing police beating students who were protesting in front of the RSS headquarters in Delhi following the induced suicide of the scholar Rohith Vemula

Shot across the country between 2013 and 2018, Vivek is a work of great ambition, really a report on Modi’s first term in power. It covers most of the big and small abominations now committed almost daily in India in the name of Hinduism: from cow vigilantism and the lynchings of Dalits, to the rewriting of history and attacks on higher education. But Patwardhan also spends time in the pockets of secular resistance that have emerged, profiling many activists (including the four murdered), journalists, students, and politicians. These are the two poles of the series, the villains and heroes. Their struggles and clashes are the highlights of an unfolding battle between faith and reason whose outcome Patwardhan believes will shape the future of Indian democracy.

My Prison Reading

Kian Tajbakhsh

A cell at Evin Prison, Tehran, Iran, 1986

I began to stack my books in a row on the floor against the far wall of my cell. Quietly, they began to take on the familiar quality of a bookshelf—the various sizes, colors, subjects. I started looking forward to the next book I had yet to read. And as I stared at the little library, I began to experience a most remarkable change in my perception of time. The more books there were facing me, the more the time ahead of me began to take on a palpable, comprehensible texture. The panic of an immeasurable span of time seemed to reverse itself. Rather than too much, there was too little time ahead. The vast, unfathomable expanse stretching to the horizon began to contract.

The Rights of Guns

Garry Wills

El Paso residents protesting the visit of President Donald Trump after the Walmart mass shooting that left twenty-two people dead, Texas, August 7, 2019

“Gun rights,” as used by devotees of an absolutist Second Amendment, means their right to own guns. But in America today, it has come to mean more: the rights of guns. Guns themselves possess more rights than persons do. Guns’ exemption from common-sense legislation guarantees them not only rights, but also rites. Guns are sacred objects. They are more than things, more even than persons. They are an unstoppable force, a god.