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The Koch Brothers are the Cain and Abel of plutocratic politics.

Earlier this week, David Koch, one half of the ridiculously wealthy Koch Brothers team that has funded so many libertarian and Republicans causes, announced he was stepping down from his leadership role in Koch Industries. The decision was hardly a surprise, since David Koch is 78 years old and has been battling cancer for 24 years. But aside from health issues, there seems to be some personal drama at work. According to a report by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, older brother Charles Koch, age 82, forced his younger sibling’s withdrawal from leadership in both the company and their extensive dark money network that funds political activity.

“Charles pushed David out,” one Koch associate told Mayer. “It was done with a wink, and a nod, and a nudge.” Another source offered the same story, telling The New Yorker that “Charles had been pushing him out for quite some time. David kept resisting. It was bad. Charles took control.”

This is not the first time fraternal intrigue has divided the family. Frederick Koch, the eldest brother in the family, alleges that after their father died in 1967 Charles tried to use “homosexual blackmail” to force Frederick to sell his shares of the company business. “Charles’ ‘homosexual blackmail’ did not succeed,” Frederick told Mother Jones in 2014, “for the simple reason that I am not homosexual.” (Charles Koch denies these allegations.) Another sibling, Bill, who is David Koch’s twin, has also wrestled for control of the company with both David and Charles.

Of the team of David and Charles Koch, Charles has always been the more cerebral one, living far from the limelight in Wichita, Kansas. He has deeply imbibed libertarian philosophy, which is his chief passion. David, a more multi-faceted figure, has been more diverse in his interests, which include the arts. Now all the vast resources of the two brothers are in the hands of Charles.

The unfolding Koch drama perhaps illustrates the logical endpoint of libertarianism as a philosophy of extreme individualism. After all, what could be be more individualistic than trying to bring a vast fortune and political machine under the control of one man?

June 21, 2018

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Another nightmare report about the treatment of immigrant children.

An investigative report by the Associated Press reveals widespread abuse at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia, where children as young as 14 claim they were tied to chairs with bags over their heads, “beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells.”  

A former child-development specialist told the AP she visited children with broken bones and bruises that they attributed to the guards. One Honduran immigrant, who was 15 years old at the time, recounted in an affidavit: “Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me. Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move. ... They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”

Kelsey Wong, a program director at the center, told the AP that “youth were being screened as gang-involved individuals. And then when they came into our care, and they were assessed by our clinical and case management staff ... they weren’t necessarily identified as gang-involved individuals.” Many had been accused by U.S. immigration authorities of belonging to violent gangs, like MS-13, whom Trump has called “animals.”

Shenandoah received $4.2 million in government funding last year, enough, the AP claims, to cover two-thirds of the operating costs. Still, children were reportedly given cold food and small portions that left them hungry; some claimed they had never been outside, and multiple accounts in the lawsuit claim staff would jeer at Latino children using racist slurs like “onion head” and “wetback.”

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Faux-populism in Duluth.

Friends and foes alike have labelled President Donald Trump a populist, but the moniker has always fitted him uneasily. Populism comes in many forms, but usually a key component is a mass movement that springs up from ordinary people who try to overturn an established hierarchy. This has been as true of right-wing populism (Father Charles Coughlin and George Wallace) as left-wing populism (William Jennings Bryan, Bernie Sanders). Trumpism, by contrast, seemed more focused on Trump, specifically, being the one to deliver the promised land (“I alone can fix it” as he famously said in the 2016 Republican convention). While Trump can mouth the classic populist tropes about a globalist elite undermining the common people, there’s very little space in Trumpism for the masses gaining agency through political action.

Speaking at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota on Wednesday night, the president made a statement that shed light on the peculiar qualities of his political philosophy.

“They always call the other side, and they do this sometime, ‘the elite.’ The elite!” He mocked. “Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t. And I am representing the greatest, smartest, most loyal people on earth, the deplorables.”

Unpacking Trump’s statement, it turns out he’s not, as populist heroes traditionally have been, the avatar or even the tribune of the common man. Rather, Trump is the true elite, a caste of one, the übermensch who is smart, rich and able to become president. His followers, meanwhile, are “the deplorables” who are, pointedly, not elite in Trump’s manner but have their own form of greatness and smartness which is displayed in their willingness to subsume themselves (“the most loyal people on earth”) to Trump.

This is not the creed of populism but rather of the strong man with an army of loyal followers. It helps explain why the economic populism Trump occasionally voiced (as with his attacks during the campaign on the banks) has mostly not been enacted. Trump was never selling populism per se but rather a faux-populism that masked a defense of aggrieved privilege, with the selling point being that Trump was the tough guy who could protect the social status quo his followers loved.

June 20, 2018

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Donald Trump keeps slaying the slain.

One of the characteristics of President Donald Trump is that he loves kicking those sprawling on the floor. Last Tuesday, South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford, a rare Trump critic among GOP lawmakers, found his political career ignominously ending with a defeat in the party’s primary. Just hours before the voting, Trump had tweeted out insults to persuade Republican voters not to vote for Sanford. 

But the end of Sanford’s political career wasn’t enough for Trump. On Tuesday, meeting with the House Republican caucus, Trump asked if Sanford was there and described him as a “nasty guy” (which reportedly provoked boos from some of the lawmakers).

On Wednesday Trump again returned to the subject of Sanford, tweeting:

In Trump’s revisionist account, his jibe at Sanford earns applause and laughter, not boos.

Sanford seems puzzled that he’s still in the president’s line of fire:

What’s the motive behind this seemingly redundant and pointless pummelling? Perhaps Trump wants to discourage any other Republican lawmaker from taking a swipe at him. Or perhaps Trump just likes to keep going after old foes, even after they are no longer a threat. 

The poet John Dryden once imagined Alexander the Great as a power-drunk, flattery-receptive ruler who loved to wallow in stories of past victories:

   Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain:

         Fought all his battles o’er again;

And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain.

A seven-year-old Syrian refugee (Josph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

An essential reading list for World Refugee Day.

Some years, June 20 has passed with relatively little fanfare. This year, it comes amid the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe and the Trump administration’s policy of separating child migrants from their parents. In honor of this day, here are some of the most thought-provoking articles on refugee issues on our reading lists, from both The New Republic and elsewhere.

How Separation Traumatizes Children

As a psychiatrist and psychologist point out in The Atlantic, part of the danger of Trump’s family separation policy is that this is not the first trauma these children have been exposed to:

A growing scientific literature is identifying the multitude of stressors to which migrant children from Central America are exposed, whether with or without their parents: victimization in their home countries by gangs who have turned the region into one of the most violent in the world; a perilous journey north along migration routes patrolled by the same gangs who have hounded them from their home countries; detention in frequently inhumane conditions upon their arrival in the United States; and an agonizing period of limbo while they await adjudication of their immigration cases. Each successive traumatic experience increases children’s likelihood of experiencing psychological problems.

The Horror of Australia’s Detention Centers

A 2016 article in Foreign Policy explored Australia’s attempt to funnel asylum seekers into “inhumane facilities” in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. “It took Australian immigration officials six months to establish a refugee processing system for Nauru, but it wasn’t until May 2014 that the first 13 asylum seekers were recognized as refugees and granted five-year temporary visas to settle in Nauru,” Mark Isaacs wrote. “The lives that awaited them there were bleak: there were few jobs, little economic activity, rampant discrimination, and numerous allegations of rape and assault.”

On Letting Migrants Work

The Economist has published several pieces on how countries can integrate refugees. In Uganda, refugees have been given plots of land to farm, and welcomed into the labor market. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s furnished some interesting takeaways. Allowing migrants to work might not only be more humane, but also more effective than sending aid to try to stem migrant flows, which could paradoxically increase migration if “potential migrants gain the means to pay smugglers.”

The Man Behind Trump’s Immigration Policy

The New Yorker last year explored the influence of a single White House adviser: “How Stephen Miller Single-Handedly Got the U.S. to Accept Fewer Refugees.” Incidentally, it’s also a terrifying look at how a little bureaucratic understanding can go a long way in some administrations. “The reason Stephen Miller is so dangerous?” a White House official told Jonathan Blitzer. “He’s clearly got a vision. He knows about narrative, about messaging. He’s figuring this out.”

The Climate’s Role in Refugee Crises

Climate refugees are a growing category as extreme weather events increase, possibly displacing 143 million people by 2050, according to the World Bank. NPR’s “Goats and Soda” blog explains why “climate refugees pose a number of unique challenges for international policymakers,” and what can be done about it. “The situation and scope of this problem is entirely new, and of biblical proportions,” Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, told NPR. “It demands an entirely new legal convention. The global compacts are a start, but it’s clear that they’re not enough.”

How Asylum Law Hurts Women

Although gender is the basis for violence and even murder in many places around the world, there’s not much protection for gender-based violence in asylum law. Writing recently in The New Republic, two different lawyer-journalists looked at how this has been playing out. In France, a seemingly gender-neutral refugee policy has had horrifying consequences for women, who often face sexual violence while going through the asylum process. In the U.S., Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ruled that domestic abuse would no longer be considered grounds for asylum. That’s disastrous for women seeking to escape abusers in other countries, but also impacts women in the U.S., Rafia Zarkaria argues: “All American women now live in a country with an Attorney General who doesn’t believe wife-beating has to do with gender.”

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A Homeland Security spokesman ranted at U.S. airlines for criticizing Trump’s child separation policy.

American Airlines, United Airlines, and Frontier Airlines each released statements on Wednesday denouncing the president’s policy of separating migrant kids from their parents and asked the Trump administration not to use their flights to transport migrant kids. “We will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families,” Frontier said. “We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” American said. And United said it wants “no part” of Trump’s policy.

The Department of Homeland Security’s press secretary responded to the airlines’ statements with a Twitter thread that accused the airlines of “buckling to a false media narrative,” which “only exacerbates the problems at our border and puts more children at risk from traffickers.”

The airlines’ statements came after several flight attendants shared stories about Immigration and Customs Enforcement using commercial planes to transport migrants. “On board these particular flights were ICE agents and migrant children (approximately four to eleven years old) who had been separated from their families and were being flown to a ‘relocation’ site,” Dallas-based flight attendant Hunt Palmquist recalled in The Houston Chronicle.Since working the two flights, the images of those helpless children have burned into my psyche. The little children whose faces were full of fear, confusion, sadness and exhaustion left me somewhat traumatized as it occurred to me a few weeks later that I might as well have been a collaborator in their transport.”

Another flight attendant allegedly told Palmquist that he was lied to by an ICE agent, who said the children accompanying him were part of a soccer team. “When pressed, the agent finally admitted that they were, indeed children who were being relocated to assigned camps,” he wrote.

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Stanley Cavell was a philosopher with style.

It’s no insult to the late Stanley Cavell, whose death at age 91 was announced on Tuesday, that he was the rare philosopher who was read as much for his prose as for his ideas. Although Cavell had all the right academic credentials -- he taught at Harvard for many years and was a distinguished advocate for the “ordinary language philosophy” of J.L. Austin -- his books were written with an eccentric, sometimes maddening, elan. Cavell’s sentences were alive with allusions in hectic smart-alecky self-mocking prose that seem closer in spirit to a Marx Brothers movie than a philosophic tome.

Cavell, as it happens, loved the Marx Brothers, as he generally did Golden Age Hollywood, particular in its screwball mode. In one of his most accessible books, Pursuit of Happiness (1981), Cavell analyzed the ditzy rom-coms of the 1930s and 1940s as “comedies of remarriage” that showed that love isn’t just a one time starburst moment but a matter of learning to live with other people over time.

Writing in 1994 in the London Review of Books, Cavell made the case for the philosophical resonance of the Marx Brothers:

Intention, or the desperate demand for interpretation, is gaudily acknowledged in such turns as Chico’s selling Groucho a tip on a horse by selling him a code book, then a master code book to explain the code book, then a guide required by the master code, then a sub-guide supplementary to the guide – a scrupulous union, or onion, of semantic and monetary exchanges and deferrals to warm the coldest contemporary theorist of signs; or as acted out in Chico’s chain of guesses when Harpo, with mounting urgency, charades his message that a woman is going to frame Groucho (both turns in A Day at the Races)

The strange echo-y effect of “union, or onion” is a characteristic Cavell touch.

Cavell once defended Ludwig Wittgenstein’s stylistic eccentricity in terms that easily be used for Cavell himself. “So some of Wittgenstein’s readers are made impatient, as though the fluctuating humility and arrogance of his prose were a matter of style, and style were a matter of pose, so these poses repudiate, not to say undermine, each other,” Cavell wrote in The Claim of Reason (1989). “To me this fluctuation reads as a continuous effort at balance, or longing for it, as to leave a tightrope; it seems an expression of that struggle of despair and hope that I can understand as a motivation to philosophical writing.”

Style, in other words, is the very grunting and groaning of the philosopher wrestling with his or her own thoughts and therefore inseparable from the philosophical act: style is the mind.

In a wonderfully lucid 1989 New Republic review of Cavell’s In Quest of the Ordinary, Richard Rorty paid tribute to Cavell’s as an oddball who had the courage of his eccentricty: “Cavell is among professors of philosophy what Harold Bloom is among the professors of English: the least defended, the gutsiest, the most vulnerable. He sticks his neck out farther than any of the rest of us. Who touches this book touches a fleshly, ambitious, anxious, self-involved, self-doubting mortal.”

Cavell’s voice, now stilled, will live on his books, which will continue to be read not just by philosophers but anyone who hungers for a human voice. In time, he might be remembered not just as the heir to Ludwig Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin, but part of the American tradition of daring misfits, the line of Thoreau, Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens.

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“That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do.”

Immigrant children at the Shiloh Treatment Center in Texas have been “held down and injected” with drugs that have left them incapacitated, dizzy, drowsy, and afraid, according to a report in Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. “Trump’s zero tolerance policy is creating a zombie army of children forcibly injected with medications,” the authors write.

In legal filings obtained by the investigative team, numerous psychotropic medications were allegedly given to children while in U.S. custody. Four of the six medications given to one young boy were “antipsychotics with very limited FDA-approved uses in children and adolescents.” According to court documents, children were told they would not be discharged or allowed to see their parents if they didn’t take their medications.

In the affidavits, filed in California’s District Court on April 23, children accused staff of calling them names like “son of a whore” or using violence. One teacher apparently twisted a child’s arm behind their back, which was followed by medical staff administering a shot to tranquilize the child. “I would start to feel sleepy and heavy, and like I didn’t have any strength,” the child said. “I would sleep for three or four hours and then wake up and slowly feel my strength return.”

Forensic psychiatrist Mark J. Mills, who was hired by Reveal to analyze the 420 pages of medical records and statements in the lawsuits, explained, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist here; it looks like they’re trying to control agitation and aggressive behavior with antipsychotic drugs.” He added, “The facility should not use these drugs to control behavior. That’s not what antipsychotics should be used for. That’s like the old Soviet Union used to do.”

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Will Atul Gawande bring the “Cheesecake Factory model” to Amazon’s new health care company?

Five months ago, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase announced a new health care partnership aimed at reducing costs and innovating the field without “profit-making incentives and constraints.” On Wednesday, they made their biggest, most public move yet, announcing that surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande would be heading the company. The author of four books about medicine and ethics, Gawande is an interesting choice to lead an effort overseen by Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon—a thinker, rather than a businessman. And in Gawande’s writings—particularly a 2012 New Yorker article that argued that hospitals should look to The Cheesecake Factory for inspiration—there are signs about how this new company will operate.

Gawande argued that the best way for medicine to advance—to lower costs and provide better services—would be to mimic The Cheesecake Factory, which overhauls its menu every six months. The way it works is that change is distributed quickly and evenly throughout the chain; that there is a manager responsible for overseeing every meal prepared under his watch; and that the menu is standardized, with guidelines for each and every item ordered. Gawande said that doctors should similarly embrace “chains and mass production” and largely abandon customization in favor of standardization; that there should be someone at a hospital who is responsible for administering care; and that there should be processes for quickly disseminating advancements, particularly in technology, across hospitals.

This is not, as anyone who has spent time in a hospital knows, how things are done in most places. But it’s not exactly novel either. Hospitals, like the Cleveland Clinic, have already embraced many of Gawande’s Cheesecake Factory items, and have made fixed price deals with corporations like Lowe’s and Walmart, standardizing certain procedures. Still, his choice as CEO gives us a glimpse, at last, of what the Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMorgan health care initiative will look like.

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Trump’s immigration retreat is a victory for popular resistance.

The New York Times reports that the president has come up with a make-shift solution that will end the family separation policy he created but not end the fundamental issues, which will likely be taken up by the courts. “President Trump is preparing to issue an executive order as soon as Wednesday that ends the separation of families at the border by indefinitely detaining parents and children together,” the Times writes. “Mr. Trump’s executive order would seek to get around an existing 1997 consent decree, known as the Flores settlement, that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention — even if they are with their parents — for more than 20 days.”

The keeping of families indefinitely creates a new problem, since it will almost certainly be challenged in courts. Still, whatever problems there are with indefinite detention, Trump is surrendering on the hostage taking situation he created. Prior to this executive order, the White House was using separated children as leverage to force Democrats to sign a Trump-friendly immigration deal. Jailed children will no longer be leverage in the negotiations. 

Trump’s surrender on this point is a significant victory for popular resistance to his policies. The  family separation policy excited massive opposition, fuelled by shocking photographs of caged children and an audio recording of crying kids. On Tuesday night, Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, was hounded out of a Mexican restaurant by protesters shouting “shame!” 

Cato Institute fellow Julian Sanchez had some important caveats about the pending executive order:

The immigration battle is far from over, but it’s moving on to terrain that is far less dangerous than the whims of Trump and his advisors. 

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Pope Francis blames family separation on ... populism?

In an interview with Reuters released Wednesday morning, Pope Francis criticized Donald Trump’s policy of separating migrant families, blaming it on populism. The Pope supported the criticisms of Trump made by U.S. Catholic bishops who denounced the policy as “immoral.” He also urged nations to work towards the acceptance and integration of immigrants. 

“It’s not easy, but populism is not the solution,” Francis said. He accused populists of “creating psychosis” and said that “populism does not resolve things. What resolves things is acceptance, study, prudence.”

This is not the first time the Pope has targeted populism. In a January interview he decried “populism in the European sense of the word,” which he claimed was embodied by Adolf Hitler who was “elected by his people and then he destroyed his people.”

It is important to keep in mind the Pope’s qualifying  phrase “in the European sense of the word.” In the Western hemisphere, populism has often referred to social movements seeking economic justice such the 19th century Populist Party (whose platform was mainstreamed by William Jennings Bryan), Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition or more recently the Bernie Sanders campaign. This usage is also often found in Argentina, Pope’s native country. 

Francis himself is often described as a populist, given his frequent calls for economic justice and greater lay participation in the church. But the Pope only uses the word populist in a narrow connotation, to refer to right-wing movements that exalt ethnic nationalism while portraying immigrants and elites as hostile alien forces. As Catholic World notes, the Pope is a paradoxically figure, an “anti-populist populist.”

But by adopting the stance of “anti-populist populism” the Pope is ceding an awful lot of ground to reactionary political forces. After all, why should we grant figures like Donald Trump (who received a minority of the vote) their own claim to speak for the people? As I’ve previously argued, Trump and his like-minded xenophobes are more properly seen as the voice of aggrieved privilege, not popular discontent