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Flying Camels, Butterflies, and Twizzles

By From the March 2014 issue

In early January, I attend my very first professional sports competition. The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships have already been going on for four days; the event sprawls over four disciplines and five age categories. I’m at Boston’s TD Garden to watch the senior men, including the two men we’ll be sending to the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Sport, like art, uses the limited body to hint at a world without limits. The ball soaring over the stands, the runners churning in their furious personal rhythms, make audiences’ hearts pound because they suggest the transformation of flesh into purpose. Skating is ecstatic—the athletes jump like they’re trying to escape their skins, soar and stretch their limbs impossibly, contort into elbowy whirligigs, all with knives on their feet. The exaggeration of art plus the physical danger of sport.

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By From the March 2014 issue

President Obama’s signature legislative initiative, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, just may be the worst law passed in America since the Fugitive Slave Act. I say this from personal experience—not with the Slave Act, thank heavens, but with the Affordable Care Act, alas. 

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The IRS Outrage

By From the March 2014 issue

What did Tom Perez know and when did he know it? That’s one of the questions congressional investigators were asking as they probed what increasingly looked like a whitewash of the Internal Revenue Service scandal. Perez, now secretary of labor, was formerly head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, where his key aide Barbara K. Bosserman was chosen to head up the DOJ’s investigation of the IRS. Many Republicans suspect the investigation is aimed not at finding the truth about abuses at the tax agency, but rather at sweeping any wrongdoing—including the deliberate targeting of Tea Party groups—under the rug and shielding President Obama from blame.

The choice of Bosserman to lead the IRS investigation made headlines in January when it was revealed that the career DOJ lawyer had contributed thousands of dollars to Obama’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. That obviously raised red flags with Republicans—Rep. Darrell Issa called it a “startling conflict of interest”—but perhaps the more important question was, why Bosserman?

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Cuomo’s Glass Housing

By 2.28.14

TRY AS I MIGHT, I cannot rule out the possibility that the Democratic Party is some sort of elaborate performance art piece. One of those subversive ones where the real point is not the performance itself, but the reaction drawn from an unsuspecting audience. There was a cocktail party where the artist explained his vision, but we squares who are part of the patriarchal consumer culture weren’t invited. They are just seeing how far they can push this thing before we catch on. That must be it. 
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Half Nelson

By From the January-February 2014 issue

On the Saturday following Nelson Mandela’s death, the crowds at several British soccer stadiums applauded in his memory for 60 seconds. The event was not spontaneous, but announced in advance by the sport’s governing bodies. It is strange and full of portents, and we should all pay attention to it. Professional soccer, a coarse, spiteful, and mildly violent sport, has become the United Kingdom’s real national religion, and its arenas, nowadays often grandiose, are our cathedrals.
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Whitewashing Benghazi

By and From the March 2014 issue

Were he alive today, Richard Nixon would have to doff his hat to Barack Obama. Compared with how the Obama administration has swept under the rug the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012, Nixon’s attempt to cover up the Watergate burglary was rank amateurism. To be fair, Nixon’s team of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean were not in the same league as Obama’s, which includes not only his cabinet but most of the national media and much of Congress.

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Cuomo’s Glass Housing

By From the January-February 2014 issue

Try as I might, I cannot rule out the possibility that the Democratic Party is some sort of elaborate performance art piece. One of those subversive ones where the real point is not the performance itself, but the reaction drawn from an unsuspecting audience. There was a cocktail party where the artist explained his vision, but we squares who are part of the patriarchal consumer culture weren’t invited. They are just seeing how far they can push this thing before we catch on. That must be it. 

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H-1 B-Ware

By From the January-February 2014 issue

If there is one point about immigration above controversy, the cliché goes, it is the need for more high-skilled immigrants. Apploi CEO Adam Lewis called lifting the 65,000 per year cap on H-1B visas, which give work authorization to foreigners in “specialty” occupations, “an immigration fix we can agree on”; the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh called skilled immigration “the new common ground in the reform debate.” 

Somebody forgot to tell Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who has led the fight against expansive immigration legislation during the Obama era. He has not just opposed amnesty, as most Republicans have. He has spoken out against the new visas in the Gang of Eight bill, including a higher cap on H-1B and other guest workers.

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley hasn’t gotten the memo either. “Somewhere along the line, the H-1B program got side-tracked,” he said in a statement last May. “The program was never meant to replace qualified American workers, but it was instead intended as a means to fill gaps in highly specialized areas of employment.”

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Pot Shots! Part Deux

By From the January-February 2014 issue

LYNDEN, Washington

Prohibition in America never ends with a bang. Take alcohol, the subject of two constitutional amendments and about as clean cut a federal case as one could ever conceive. Ratified in 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment banned booze’s “manufacture, sale, or transportation,” full stop, though some fixers such as Joe Kennedy amassed fortunes using complicated legal maneuvers to navigate around those plain and terrifying words. 

Thirteen years later, the Twenty-first Amendment began with the straightforward clause “The 18th article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.” Then came the fine print—and the politics.

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Le Pen’s Irresistible Rise

By From the December 2013 issue

Out of nowhere this autumn, the sunny little Provençal town of Brignoles (pop. 17,000) became the most famous place most people had never heard of. Halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Saint Tropez, this is the equivalent of flyover country—you won’t find it in the Michelin Guide—for the hordes of Riviera-bound vacationers speeding by on the A8 superhighway. Social life revolves around the central Place Caramy, where locals pass the time at sidewalk cafés in the cool shadow of ancient plane trees, glasses of anise-flavored pastis in hand.

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