Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don’t become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface—that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn’t actually happen; it’s tragic.


There is no such thing as a natural disaster. In earthquakes the architecture fails. If you’re out in a grassy meadow, it doesn’t matter how big the earthquake is: it might knock you down, but if nothing falls on top of you and nothing catches fire from broken gas mains or power lines, then you’re probably okay. Architecture is the first casualty of earthquakes, and human beings under the architecture are the casualties of the architecture. Even with a wholly natural disaster, whatever that might be—a tsunami, maybe—who gets help, who has resources to rebuild, who is treated as a threat or a malingerer—those are not natural but social phenomena. With Katrina you need to talk about the role of climate change in making the hurricane; of the crappy levees built by the US Army Corps of Engineers and not adequately maintained; of the lack of evacuation resources for the poor; of the demonization of those left behind; of the transformation of New Orleans into a prison-city preventing evacuation...nothing could be less natural. The natural disaster was the least of what happened to the people of New Orleans, if not the rest of the Gulf, that week.

Rebecca Solnit

The ruling raises the question of why, uniquely in the industrialized world, Americans have for so long favored an arrangement in health insurance that endows their employers with the quasi-parental power to choose the options that employees may be granted in the market for health insurance. For many smaller firms, that choice is narrowed to one or two alternatives – not much more choice than that afforded citizens under a single-payer health insurance system.

Furthermore, the arrangement induces employers to intervene in many other ways in their employees’ personal life – for example, in wellness programs that can range from the benign to annoyingly intrusive, depending upon the employers’ wishes.

And what kind of health “insurance” have Americans gotten under this strange arrangement? Once again, uniquely in the industrialized world, it has been ephemeral coverage that is lost with the job or changed at the employer’s whim. Citizens in any other industrialized country have permanent, portable insurance not tied to a particular job in a particular country.

Uwe E. Reinhardt

I haven't even gotten around to reading about the other SCOTUS decision regarding public sector unions that was released today, as Big Hobby and its lobbying powers vis a vis our federal judicial system has dominated the conversation.

I do agree that the ultimate foundation of the whole contraception case is religious in nature, though I do not believe it is over any deeply-held belief that certain forms of contraception are abortifacents. It's over the religious belief that women are subordinate people and should not be in control of basic medical decisions. That the decision is specifically limited to contraception and not, say, a Jehovah's Witness owned company that wants to not cover blood transfusions is the giant ringing bell identifying this is as specifically anti-woman. It is a monstrous belief, a toxic belief and it's one that should not get public policy preference.

Tying health insurance to employers with tax preferences has long been bad public policy. It has obscured real compensation numbers for employees and is now even worse that corporations can dictate the terms of the insurance coverage based on their religious belief. The insurers want to cover contraception but now they're obligated to sell group insurance plans to companies that don't cover basic medicine because some jerk has a supposed "moral" objection to it.

Make the tax policy preference benefit the individual insurance market and not the employer/group market and it takes away the power of jerks to make decisions not based on actual medicine for their employees. It would make compensation and pay numbers more transparent, it would increase the size and thus the risk pool of the individual health insurance market, and it would make it easier for people to change jobs without fearing gaps or reductions in their health coverage.

In fact, ISIS’s quarrel with Zawahiri was a lot like a corporate boardroom feud. It’s always worth remembering that Jihadis are just friggin’ people, and their disagreements tend to be about very ordinary organizational issues. Granted, it’s a little harder to see that when they solve those disagreements with public beheadings and overly-cinematic rituals, but at heart this is just standard human behavior—primates squabbling for rank and power, Game of Thrones with Islamic voiceover.


But when you have 1,200 different factions to deal with, you have at least 1,200 egos to massage, and every damn one of them has a few dozen, or a few hundred, men ready to kill, and die, at his command. These nay-sayers were not in the mood to let some Iraqi interloper take over the Syrian revolution, and insisted on localizing what ISIS saw as the inherently universal mandate of jihad. The local/universal tension is deep in Islam, which borrowed Christianity’s universalizing mandate. In theory, a Chechen who knows the Quran is as entitled to tell a Syrian what to do as anyone else. In practice, he’s a jerk, and if he tells you to do things a different way than your family has done them for generations, you don’t care how many verses he can quote at you. You’re pissed off


So out of all this chaos and blood comes something like a vindication of the laws of physics, as expressed in ethnic turf wars. But with one modification of those laws: Some things really don’t abhor a vacuum, especially transnational ethnic militias. They love a vacuum more than Alice did on the Brady Bunch.

Gary Brecher

I was in Birmingham a few years ago, speaking with some civil-rights-movement veterans there. One of them told me that whenever Martin Luther King Jr. was in town, he helped to protect him. That’s all he said, so I asked, “How did you protect him?” And he said, “With a nonviolent .38 police special.” Everyone laughed and nodded these knowing smiles.


There’s the story of Annie “Mama Dolly” Raines, in southwest Georgia, up in the window with her shotgun protecting Charles Sherrod, the nonviolent organizer who was staying with her. She was a midwife and she told him, “I brought a lot of these white folks into this world, and I’ll take ’em out of this world if I have to.” That’s what people overlook in discussions of this period. Yes, there was tremendous oppression, brutal oppression. But there was also strength, which is part of what oppression generates. There were good grounds for fear, but that fear created a kind of toughness that wasn’t limited to the men. I can certainly testify that without the women, I might be dead.

Charles E. Cobb and Danielle L. McGuire