Money and Power

The Recovery

The Recovery

Disaster capitalism in Mexico City

The collectives transmitting on the radio out of Café Zapata have made it their goal to speak through the misinformation, malpractice and cover-ups that have proliferated in the chaos after the earthquake. They call themselves the Brigadas Autónomas. “Let’s say it clearly,” they wrote in a press release on September 26, “solutions will not come from the State and from capital; on the contrary, they are responsible for a natural phenomenon turning into a tragedy.” In a way, there can be something equitable, at least initially, about a natural disaster: rubble falls on rich and poor alike. This time, as in 1985, buildings in the wealthy Roma and Condesa neighborhoods suffered some of the greatest damage in the city. But reconstruction comes at a price, and after the earth stops shaking, the vulnerable find themselves even more so.

Austerity Natural Disaster

Austerity Natural Disaster

Why we should push for debt forgiveness for Puerto Rico

Over the last twenty years, international stakeholders have come together in an impressive show of political consensus to provide debt forgiveness to poverty stricken countries through the introduction of programs like the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. Eligible countries, often affected by war, famine, or natural disasters, have been able to get complete write-offs of their external debt, as well as access to development loans at sustainable rates of interest. Most crucially, these countries have seen their gross domestic product rise after decisive debt relief. Puerto Ricans should get a similar deal.

Commercial Surveillance State

Commercial Surveillance State

Blame the marketers

The tactics of carefully targeted, data-driven manipulation—though innovative and destabilizing—are not entirely new. They predate the existence of Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook, and the contemporary notion of “fake news” itself. For decades, digital marketers—working in both commercial and political domains—have been perfecting models for using consumer data to identify and manipulate decision-making vulnerabilities.

An Alternate Future for the Mall

An Alternate Future for the Mall

Why shopping centers are booming in Mexico

While malls in the US have been on a steady decline, as the industry deals with the decline in brick-and-mortar sales that bode the “death of retail,” malls in Latin America continue on the rise. This is partially because online shopping has yet to take hold as it has in the US. According to Euromonitor International, in 2016, online sales made up only 2.6 percent of retail sales in Mexico, compared with 10.5 percent in the US. The death of retail—at least for now—isn’t a reality in Latin America.

Sub-Sub-Underground-Anti-Connoisseurship

Sub-Sub-Underground-Anti-Connoisseurship

Adrift with Allan Sekula

When Sekula died of cancer in August 2013 at age sixty-two, he left behind a remarkable legacy as a photographer, filmmaker, art historian, activist, and educator, though only a fairly small—albeit distinguished—tribe of artists and academics has taken stock of it. Much of his work is united by a consistent interest: wherever capitalism sought to hawk the fantasy of an immaterial economy, or to hide its stink in refrigerated shipping freight, Sekula made it his artistic practice to visualize and to describe its mechanisms of concealment.

Irregular Order

Irregular Order

Why Congress can’t work

The repeal bill still sits on the calendar, but the Republican Party still has no idea what to do about healthcare in any serious way. Their majority is small enough that the procedures in Congress gummed up the works, at least so far. But that may not last forever. Its elites want tax cuts. They accept a mass base that wants ethnonationalism. That fateful embrace is the central fact in contemporary American politics. The consequences go beyond legislative output in Congress to endanger the system itself. Far more than the first branch of government is tied up in the fate of the Republican Party.

What is Community Justice?

What is Community Justice?

Mama's Bailout Day and other bottom-up interventions in everyday justice

Existing options for criminal justice participation focus too heavily on the decorum of deliberation. Much like the system they protect, they equate disruption with criminality and reinforcing the inequalities that reforms try to dismantle. Relying on deliberation and consensus ignores the ways in which our current criminal justice system relegates African-Americans and other marginalized populations to non-democratic subjects—not just through literal disenfranchisement of individuals with criminal records, but also through doctrine, policy, and rhetoric. And a focus on seeking consensus may lead us to privilege discourse that repeats rather than re-envisions our reigning ideas of what criminal justice should look like.

Heads without Bodies

Heads without Bodies

Trump has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face.

Earlier in his career, in 1989, when he was merely a rich gasbag and an annoyance, Trump bought a big ad in the New York Times so he could publicly call for the executions of the Central Park Five, young black men accused and convicted of assault and rape. The men were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 and released from prison. They sued the City of New York and won. Trump went out of his way last year to let voters know he still believed they were guilty. This is how he thrives. Now he has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face. Trump’s head is struggling to control our actions and responses the same way Milland’s head struggled to control Grier’s body in this cheap movie. The devil finds work where he can. The Thing with Two Heads was too dumb to be noticed by James Baldwin in his book-length essay on race and the movies, and I had to go to Canada to run into it. Now it’s the kind of stupid we live with every day.

Not a Techno-Thriller

Not a Techno-Thriller

The Volkswagen scandal was more diffuse, technical and tedious than most journalists allow.

Scandal always captivates, and the VW news captivated Americans for months—even those Americans who usually skip past the automobile section. Reporters like Ewing published updates nearly every day. John Oliver even jumped aboard with a comedy bit mocking the German language and ended with the line, “Hitler trusted us, why won’t you?” With the market prepared, Faster, Higher, Farther has been published simultaneously in English and German, and the author has been appearing on the morning shows to talk corporate scandal. Leonardo DiCaprio bought the movie rights.

A Price Point That Would Guarantee Exclusivity

A Price Point That Would Guarantee Exclusivity

I set about visiting old haunts that summer, but soon realized few were left.

We had been gentrifiers, more humble and open than most, we assumed, and now our time to be called back into service had come again. There were surely other areas in premium metropolitan cultural centers out there that had lapsed to Negroes in the years after the Great War which remained affordable for the mostly white American middle class of 2015, and we’d have to go find one. He was, quite naturally, thinking about moving to LA, a cliché in the Brooklyn we were inhabiting, especially among the middle-class creatives who fashioned themselves as priced out, a sensation that inspired a cottage industry of Didion imposters writing “Goodbye to All That” imitations on the websites of once-veritable magazines. This is not, despite appearances, one of those. I remain too stubborn to read the writing on the wall.

Just the Beginning, Yale

On graduate labor and the Yale commencement protest

On Monday, Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, strode down the tree-lined streets of downtown New Haven, garbed in voluminous robes, a massive pendant, and a velvet cap with a gold, dangling tassel. Before him walked a scowling bulldog puppy that strained against its leash. Handsome Dan XVIII, the university’s mascot, was processing in his first commencement, and both figureheads were being very, very good boys.

Business Is Bad for Business

Business Is Bad for Business

Why aren't American companies spending money?

For forty-years American management has leveraged capital mobility to demand concessions from organized labor. Holders of sovereign debt do the same to demand reductions in public spending and shrinking the public sector. This has severely strained liberals’ willingness to stimulate private investment through taxes and transfers. Meanwhile, corporate boards of directors continue to refuse to invest on any but their own terms. Loosening their grip on investment decisions is the only way through this impasse.

Ecuador After Correa

Ecuador After Correa

Contradictions and dilemmas of left populism in Latin America

Rafael Correa’s tenure has seen an expansion in the political participation of the poor, and the proliferation of new collective rights and democratic institutions. These gains stand alongside crackdowns on social movements, the weakening of left opposition parties, and the centralization of power in the executive. After a decade of left rule, Ecuador is at once more equal and more unequal, more democratic and more centralized, radically transformed and mired in historic patterns of domination that date to the colonial era. These antinomies have their origins in a left populism that made a pact with oil and mining—a story that has echoes across the continent.

Landscape of Treason

Landscape of Treason

On the French elections

As François Hollande’s ignominious presidency draws to a close, his party confronts its gravest crisis since it was refounded in 1971 out of the ruins of the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). Party membership has dropped to as few as 42,000 cardholders, a mere quarter of the 2014 figure. Municipal Socialism has imploded: today, the PS controls less than a third of large- and mid-sized cities, five of seventeen regions, and only twenty-seven of France’s 101 departments.

Democracy Without the People

Democracy Without the People

Left populism vs. insipid pluralism

Among the confounded political analysts, what followed Trump’s victory was an epidemic of self-castigation. “We” had failed to “listen” to “white working-class” voters. Since the inauguration, however, elitism in the guise of centrism is once again on the move. Democracy, they say, is under threat from populism, and only a defense of norms and institutions can exorcise the specter of a reckless citizenry. But what if the truth is the opposite, and populism is not the problem but the solution? 

One Word: Authenticity!

One Word: Authenticity!

Oscars 2017

The post-classic French musicals that do away with singers and dancers (A Woman Is a Woman) or emphasize melancholy and failed romance against a backdrop of societal drabness (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) serve as models for La La Land. Their use seems academic, befitting a director running for Student Council President of the Movies.

Magic Dirt Nation

Magic Dirt Nation

Making airports great again at the Trump rally in Melbourne, Florida.

There’s a distant sucking sound in the sky, which excites the crowd. Several phones point skyward. Air Force One is powder blue and descends, ponderously and slowly, above the waiting crowd’s heads. They must have planned it this way, because though the sonic ripples are deafening, the plane’s approach rouses a cheer so raucous that the two sounds fight, which only whips up the rally-goers more.

The Recovery

The Recovery

Disaster capitalism in Mexico City

The collectives transmitting on the radio out of Café Zapata have made it their goal to speak through the misinformation, malpractice and cover-ups that have proliferated in the chaos after the earthquake. They call themselves the Brigadas Autónomas. “Let’s say it clearly,” they wrote in a press release on September 26, “solutions will not come from the State and from capital; on the contrary, they are responsible for a natural phenomenon turning into a tragedy.” In a way, there can be something equitable, at least initially, about a natural disaster: rubble falls on rich and poor alike. This time, as in 1985, buildings in the wealthy Roma and Condesa neighborhoods suffered some of the greatest damage in the city. But reconstruction comes at a price, and after the earth stops shaking, the vulnerable find themselves even more so.

Austerity Natural Disaster

Austerity Natural Disaster

Why we should push for debt forgiveness for Puerto Rico

Over the last twenty years, international stakeholders have come together in an impressive show of political consensus to provide debt forgiveness to poverty stricken countries through the introduction of programs like the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. Eligible countries, often affected by war, famine, or natural disasters, have been able to get complete write-offs of their external debt, as well as access to development loans at sustainable rates of interest. Most crucially, these countries have seen their gross domestic product rise after decisive debt relief. Puerto Ricans should get a similar deal.

Commercial Surveillance State

Commercial Surveillance State

Blame the marketers

The tactics of carefully targeted, data-driven manipulation—though innovative and destabilizing—are not entirely new. They predate the existence of Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook, and the contemporary notion of “fake news” itself. For decades, digital marketers—working in both commercial and political domains—have been perfecting models for using consumer data to identify and manipulate decision-making vulnerabilities.

An Alternate Future for the Mall

An Alternate Future for the Mall

Why shopping centers are booming in Mexico

While malls in the US have been on a steady decline, as the industry deals with the decline in brick-and-mortar sales that bode the “death of retail,” malls in Latin America continue on the rise. This is partially because online shopping has yet to take hold as it has in the US. According to Euromonitor International, in 2016, online sales made up only 2.6 percent of retail sales in Mexico, compared with 10.5 percent in the US. The death of retail—at least for now—isn’t a reality in Latin America.

Sub-Sub-Underground-Anti-Connoisseurship

Sub-Sub-Underground-Anti-Connoisseurship

Adrift with Allan Sekula

When Sekula died of cancer in August 2013 at age sixty-two, he left behind a remarkable legacy as a photographer, filmmaker, art historian, activist, and educator, though only a fairly small—albeit distinguished—tribe of artists and academics has taken stock of it. Much of his work is united by a consistent interest: wherever capitalism sought to hawk the fantasy of an immaterial economy, or to hide its stink in refrigerated shipping freight, Sekula made it his artistic practice to visualize and to describe its mechanisms of concealment.

Irregular Order

Irregular Order

Why Congress can’t work

The repeal bill still sits on the calendar, but the Republican Party still has no idea what to do about healthcare in any serious way. Their majority is small enough that the procedures in Congress gummed up the works, at least so far. But that may not last forever. Its elites want tax cuts. They accept a mass base that wants ethnonationalism. That fateful embrace is the central fact in contemporary American politics. The consequences go beyond legislative output in Congress to endanger the system itself. Far more than the first branch of government is tied up in the fate of the Republican Party.

What is Community Justice?

What is Community Justice?

Mama's Bailout Day and other bottom-up interventions in everyday justice

Existing options for criminal justice participation focus too heavily on the decorum of deliberation. Much like the system they protect, they equate disruption with criminality and reinforcing the inequalities that reforms try to dismantle. Relying on deliberation and consensus ignores the ways in which our current criminal justice system relegates African-Americans and other marginalized populations to non-democratic subjects—not just through literal disenfranchisement of individuals with criminal records, but also through doctrine, policy, and rhetoric. And a focus on seeking consensus may lead us to privilege discourse that repeats rather than re-envisions our reigning ideas of what criminal justice should look like.

Heads without Bodies

Heads without Bodies

Trump has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face.

Earlier in his career, in 1989, when he was merely a rich gasbag and an annoyance, Trump bought a big ad in the New York Times so he could publicly call for the executions of the Central Park Five, young black men accused and convicted of assault and rape. The men were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 and released from prison. They sued the City of New York and won. Trump went out of his way last year to let voters know he still believed they were guilty. This is how he thrives. Now he has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face. Trump’s head is struggling to control our actions and responses the same way Milland’s head struggled to control Grier’s body in this cheap movie. The devil finds work where he can. The Thing with Two Heads was too dumb to be noticed by James Baldwin in his book-length essay on race and the movies, and I had to go to Canada to run into it. Now it’s the kind of stupid we live with every day.