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READING FILES

Colorless administration

In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait argues that the Obama presidency is not about race - and all about race. Read "The Color of His Presidency" in full at tbtim.es/color. Here's an excerpt.

If you set out to write a classic history of the Obama era, once you had described the historically significant fact of Obama's election, race would almost disappear from the narrative. The thumbnail sketch of every president's tenure from Harry Truman through Bill Clinton prominently includes racial conflagrations - desegregation fights over the military and schools, protests over civil rights legislation, high-profile White House involvement in the expansion or rollback of busing and affirmative action. The policy landscape of the Obama era looks more like it did during the Progressive Era and the New Deal, when Americans fought bitterly over regulation and the scope of government. The racial policy agenda of the Obama administration has been nearly nonexistent. But if you instead set out to write a social history of the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experience of political life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never before. Hardly a day goes by without a volley and counter-volley of accusations of racial insensitivity and racial hypersensitivity. And even when the red and blue tribes are not waging their endless war of mutual victimization, the subject of race courses through everything else: debt, health care, unemployment.

Seeing beyonda cardboard Putin

The editors of N'1 present a crisp, opinionated essay on recent developments in Ukraine and Russia. Read "Ukraine, Putin and the West" in full at tbtim.es/putinwest. Here's an excerpt.

What role has the American intellectual community played in this saga, if any? Certainly we failed to prevent it. But there is more. For the past two years, since Putin reassigned himself to the Russian presidency, we have indulged ourselves in a bacchanalia of anti-Putinism, shading over into anti-Russianism. We turned Pussy Riot into mass media stars. We wrote endless articles (and books) about how Putin was a mystery man, a terrible man, a KGB ghoul who lived under your bed. It got to the point where Western journalists in Sochi for Putin's overpriced Olympics were cheered like heroes for tweeting about how the curtains in their hotel rooms were falling down. It was funny, but it was also not funny. Should Putin, the president of a country with inadequate hospitals, schools, and housing for its 150 million people, have spent $50 billion to host the Olympics? Absolutely not - especially when a third of the money was apparently expropriated by various officials. But the gleeful complaints about Olympic conditions seemed mostly bent on humiliating Russia in toto. It's hard to know how much of what gets written in various places leads to American policies. ... (But) Evil Putin is just going to get more airtime than Complicated Putin or Putin Who Is Running a Country in a Complex Geopolitical Situation.

A concoction of taxation, fairness and democracy

At the Washington Post's"Monkey Cage" blog, Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage wonder "Why Hasn't Democracy Saved Us From Inequality?" Read their essay in full at tbtim.es/saveus. Here's an excerpt.

Democracies sometimes tax the rich heavily, but whether this happens depends on changing notions of fairness in taxation. Over the last two centuries, as we have shown, the strongest political support for heavy taxation of the rich has been during mass mobilization for war. If the wealthy appeared to have a privileged position by staying at home and potentially earning war profits, then basic fairness dictated that they should be taxed - and taxed heavily. During the First World War this was often referred to as the "conscription of wealth." If labor could be conscripted, then why should capital not suffer the same fate? ... The future of progressive taxation will depend on showing not just that it is necessary to curb inequality, but also that without it the rich would not be doing their fair share.

The celebrityof the year

In Intelligent Life, Simon Reid-Henry fears that we've gone from the Great Man theory of history to the Great Year theory - whether it's 1492, 1914 or 1989 - and the result of either theory is an oversimplification of the past and, thus, our understanding of the present. Read "When Years Are Celebs" in full at tbtim.es/celebyear. Here's an excerpt.

What is it about some years that they come to hold such a prominent place in our culture, decades after their passing? Are some years really that much more important than others? Was what happened in them so dramatic that the dates themselves have become a rift that lifts up out of the earth, leaving all historical activity merely sloping away - "a drama never surpassed," as Churchill once put it?

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