Start Making Sense

Bernie’s Big Deal: John Nichols on the budget, plus Francine Prose on Ethel Rosenberg

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Bernie Sanders recently spoke with our John Nichols about the importance of doing big things in politics–and now Senate Democrats have agreed on a $3.5 trillion budget proposal that would dramatically expand Medicare, provide for paid family leave, subsidize child care, make community college free, and fund some meaningful climate crisis initiatives.  Big things! John Nichols comments.
Also: A comic novel about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg?  Who’d have thought that was possible?   Now Francine Prose has written one:  it’s called “The Vixen,” and it’s terrific.  7-21-2021

Rethinking global security: Katrina vanden Heuvel; Haiti: Amy Wilentz

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World politics after the Biden-Putin Summit: Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that we need to rethink what real security means, and that it can’t mean a new cold war, but joint action with Russia and China on climate change, pandemics, and the threat of nuclear war.
Also: Amy Wilentz comments on Haiti after the assassination of its unloved president—and the necessity of following grassroots progressive civil society groups in finding a path forward towards free and fair elections.  7-14-2021

Why We Need the Utopian Imagination: Jeet Heer; LA’s Boyle Heights: George Sanchez

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“Utopian” has been a term of abuse in politics for a long time now, synonymous with “irrational” and “impossible.” Instead, we are told, we should focus on realistic plans to improve things. But The Nation is publishing a special issue in defense of utopia. Jeet Heer explains how the dreams of a good society keep hope alive and expose the inadequacy of present structures.
Also: the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights is known today as the heartland of Chicano culture. Historian George Sanchez explains how its multicultural, interracial past made it a bastion of progressive democracy. His new book is Boyle Heights.  7-8-2021

The Attack on “Critical Race Theory”: Kimberlé Crenshaw; The Sixties: David and Margaret Talbot

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“Critical Race Theory” has been attacked on Fox News nearly 1300 times.  It’s being banned from public schools and colleges in something like 15 Republican states.  But what IS “critical race theory”?  And why is this happening now?  Kimberlé Crenshaw explains; she teaches law at Columbia and UCLA, and she’s probably the most prominent figure associated with critical race theory—she coined the term 30 years ago.  She’s also creator of the concept “intersectionality.”
Also: there’s a new book about the sixties–about the heroism, and the disasters, of the movements of that decade.  The authors are the brother and sister team David Talbot and Margaret Talbot–David is the founder of, and Margaret writes for the New Yorker. 7/1/2021

It’s Time to Mobilize for Voting Rights: John Nichols; plus David Kipen on a new Federal Writers Project

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Voting rights suffered a defeat in the Senate this week, but really it’s just the latest battle in a continuing struggle—and if anything, it clarifies the real problem: the filibuster must go, at least for voting rights legislation. John Nichols says it’s now up to grassroots groups to go to work on reluctant Democrats during the July 4 break.
Also, here’s an idea: Create a new Federal Writers Project, hiring a thousand out of work writers and journalists to document American lives during the pandemic year. It’s in a bill proposed in the House by Los Angeles Representative Ted Lieu. David Kipen explains; he’s former director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, and it was his idea.  6/23/2021

It’s Not Just Joe Manchin: Joan Walsh on ‘Moderate’ Democrats, plus Kai Bird on Jimmy Carter

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Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are not the only Democrats opposed to filibuster reform—Dianne Feinstein says she won’t vote for it, either. And there are more Democrats in the Senate staying the same thing. But without filibuster reform, the rest of the Democrats’ agenda is dead—starting with protection of voting rights and elections. What’s wrong with these people? Joan Walsh comments.
Also: Many people think of Jimmy Carter as a failure as president, the Democrat who opened the door to Reagan, and the only president whose work after leaving office was better than his work in office. Kai Bird says that’s wrong—Carter had more accomplishments, and was more complicated, than people realized. Kai’s new book is called The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter.  6-16-2021

What Does Joe Manchin Want? John Nichols on Filibuster Reform, plus Amy Wilentz on Israeli Politics

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Republicans are not just making it harder to vote—they’re making it easier for judges and state legislatures to reverse the results of elections they have lost.  Congressional action could block these changes—but that requires filibuster reform, and Joe Manchin says he won’t vote for filibuster reform.  What does Joe Manchin want?  John Nichols comments.
Also: Amy Wilentz comments on the earthquake in Israeli politics: the end of Bibi Netanyahu, after 12 years as Prime Minister, and a new governing coalition that includes for the first time in Israeli history and an Israeli Palestinian Islamist party as part of the government.  Amy, who was Jerusalem bureau chief for The New Yorker, talks about what this might mean for Palestinians inside Israel, and on the West Bank and in Gaza. 6-9-2021

White Politics and Black History in Tulsa: David Perry on the Massacre Commemoration, plus Katha Pollitt on Advice for Men

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Joe Biden went to Tulsa on Tuesday to commemorate the fact that, 100 years ago this week, in 1921, a white mob attacked an all-Black neighborhood there–one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history.  Historians think it left 300 dead and 10,000 homeless. David M. Perry comments on the political issues around the historical facts — he’s a journalist and historian whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The Nation.
Plus: Katha Pollitt talks about a new book of advice for men – Jordan Peterson’s “Rules” start with “stand up straight, with your shoulders back.”   6-2-2021

Democrats, Israel, and Palestine: John Nichols, plus Robin D.G. Kelley on “Exterminate All the Brutes”

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While Joe Biden has pledged an “ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” many Democrats in Congress, and outside of Congress, have been moving away from unquestioning support for Israel since the Israeli attacks on Gaza last week. John Nichols reports.
Plus: It’s probably the most radical show that’s ever been on TV: Exterminate All the Brutes, the 4-part, 4-hour documentary about colonialism and genocide, by Raoul Peck, playing now on HBO Max. Historian Robin D.G. Kelley comments.  5-26-2021

Palestinians’ “Second Front’ Inside Israel: Saree Makdisi, plus Eric Foner on “The Underground Railroad”

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Palestinians and Israel: Saree Makdisi talks about what Netanyahu has called “the second front”: Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are increasingly subject to attack by right-wing Jewish mobs, and who are increasingly active in support of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Gaza (photo at right). Saree is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA and his work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the London Review of Books, as well as The Nation.
Also: The big TV event of the month-—maybe of the year—is The Underground Railroad, a ten-part series on Amazon Prime Video, directed by Barry Jenkins and based on the Colson Whitehead novel. It’s being called “the most ambitious take on American slavery since Roots”—and that was on TV almost 40 years ago. Eric Foner comments on the imagined and real history in the series; he wrote the book on the hidden history of the underground railroad: it’s called Gateway to Freedom.  5-19-2021