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Amazon looking to challenge sports media behemoths with daily shows
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Watching the Capitol Insurrection Was Like Watching ‘Crime in Progress’
Nearly a year after Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Americans have a much better picture of how the attack transpired. Less clear is why measures to secure the building, and the hundreds of lawmakers inside, failed. The patchwork response is even more confounding when compared with how law-enforcement agencies and the National Guard were used during protests against police brutality in the summer of 2020.Major General William J. Walker commanded the D.C. National Guard during both events. He watched as crowds swelled at the Capitol complex on January 6, and fearing the worst, he prepared his troops to restore order. When rioters burst through barricades surrounding the Capitol around 1 p.m. that day, Walker was seeing the mayhem on TV from a mile and a half away, waiting for his phone to ring so he could relay orders down the chain.The call came at 1:49—the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police was suddenly requesting that every available guardsman join the fight. “If we didn’t get there immediately, he was in fear that the Capitol would be breached,” Walker says. But before Walker could dispatch guardsmen, he needed approval from the secretary of defense. He’s said that some of his authority was wrested away before the attack. So he followed protocol, and he waited. Three hours passed.“My soldiers were asking me, my airmen were asking me, ‘Sir, what the hell is going on?’ … And I had no answer,” he says.[Read: It was supposed to be so much worse]Walker left his position at the National Guard in April. He is now the first Black sergeant-at-arms for the House of Representatives—the person in charge of protecting Congress from future attacks. He recently spoke with The Experiment, a podcast from The Atlantic and WNYC Studios, about his career, how he watched January 6 unfold, and why he felt he was limited in acting.Listen to an interview with William J. Walker, sergeant-at-arms of the U.S. House of Representatives, on The Experiment. Listen and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google PodcastsHere’s a sample of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.Tracie Hunte: Do you know what was behind the wait?William J. Walker: No, I don’t know. Here’s what I was told: that the secretary of the Army was trying to reach the secretary of defense. That’s what I was told: that the senior leadership was trying to develop a plan for the National Guard to respond. And one of my colonels, he established a contact with the leadership of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department. And they kept asking him, “Where’s everybody; where are the troops?” And he’s calling me. And I said that we don’t have approval yet, we don’t have permission yet but hold where you are. I’m sure it’s coming. My soldiers were asking me, my airmen were asking me, “Sir, what the hell is going on? Are they watching the news? Are they watching what’s going on at the Capitol?” And I had no answer. I don’t recall ever being in that position, where I did not have an answer for my soldiers and airmen, my guardsmen.It’s like a fire. The longer you wait, the fire spreads and it gets more intense.Peter Bresnan: What did it feel like to see on TV what was happening at the Capitol as people were breaking through the windows?Walker: To watch crime in progress. That’s what it was like, to watch criminals. And so that’s—to witness that, that was troubling. It’s troubling.[From the January/February 2022 issue: Trump’s next coup has already begun]Hunte: And to be on the outside of it, not being in a position at that moment to help?Walker: Yeah, you clearly saw policemen being battered and could’ve been killed. So that was troubling, deeply troubling, as a career law-enforcement officer, retired law-enforcement officer, but 31 years of carrying handcuffs, a gun, and a badge—I felt for them. I felt deeply for them. And it was hard to watch.Hunte: Up until that point, had you felt like the senior leadership was supporting you?Walker: They were saying that they were supporting me. They were saying the right thing. So, so, you know, 39 years in the Army National Guard—I trust the Army. I trust everything about it. The Army has Army regulations. I studied them. I knew them. I believe in the Army. When the Army says we need to do something, I don’t question it. So I was thinking, All right, there must be a reason why somebody is not saying yet, ‘Go do it, go support.’Hunte: That must have been so frustrating that day.Walker: I have never been that frustrated during my military career.Hunte: I can’t help but see that you had a situation where the National Guard was readily deployed. You guys were put into place during protests where, quite frankly, it was about Black people and police killing Black—these were, those were the concerns. And then you have this situation on January 6 where it was almost 100 percent white people, and there was a hesitancy to call you all. Did you make that connection? Have you thought about that connection, or …?Walker: Well, I’m African American, I’m a Black person. George Floyd could have been my brother, my son, my uncle, my father. George Floyd could be me. So it wasn’t lost on me. And then not just George Floyd—Sandra Bland and so many others. It’s not lost on me. So it’s inescapable to see the difference in the response in the summer and the response on January 6.Hunte: Was that also on your mind on January 6?Walker: It could not not be on my mind. And I’ll tell you something, ma’am: It was on the mind of everybody. Not just Black airmen and Black soldiers. It was on every guardsman. The difference was undeniable.Hunte: What do you think that people don’t understand about January 6?Walker: Oh, I think they understand. I think it’s just willful blindness. It’s willful. They’re deceiving themselves. Anybody who says that there was not a riot here, anybody who could watch the video of what occurred here and walk away from that saying that it was not what it was, then they’re—they’re self-deceived. I mean, I was here. They’re either being deceived or they’re deceiving themselves. Or maybe both.Hunte: I guess I’m not convinced that it’s so innocent as just denial. I think it’s lying.Walker: Well, and I don’t disagree with you, but denial sometimes is a reflex, you know? It’s something that This can’t be happening. I can’t be here. This couldn’t have occurred. That type of denial, which I call self-deception.[Read: The inaction of Capitol Police was by design]Hunte: You’re somebody who’s very methodical. You believe in the chain of command; you believe in these rules. And that was a day when the rules weren’t working—Walker: Well, the rules work, because as bad as I wanted to show up here with every available guardsman, I didn’t.Hunte: Right. I guess the rule as far as—Walker: And I need you to know, I really wanted to come. I came very close to just doing something I had—which would just be so outrageous to me—and that was to come anyway. And I had my Army lawyer, my command sergeant major, and others say, “Sir, you—there’s no way you can just tell us to go. Now we will go if you tell us, but you just can’t do that.” So yeah, the rules do work. As bad as I wanted to come, I didn’t.Hunte: I guess a rule I’m thinking of is: You need to be backed up. Like, it shouldn’t have taken three hours for this person to call this person to get a sheet of paper that said that you can go, you know? I feel like there was definitely a letdown there.Walker: Yeah. So I felt let down, but more than that I feel like the United States Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police, and everybody that was out here felt let down. It was a day of disappointment that this could happen in America. You know, as a DEA agent I traveled quite a bit to developing countries. And I guess in my mind, this can never happen here. And it did. It was just disappointing.
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The most influential work of political philosophy in the last 50 years, briefly explained
Philosopher John Rawls on a trip to Paris in 1987. | Frederic Reglain/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images Why John Rawls and A Theory of Justice still matter today. A philosopher once described European philosophy as essentially “a series of footnotes to Plato”; it would be no exaggeration to describe the history of political philosophy over the past half-century as a series of footnotes and responses to John Rawls. The Harvard philosopher looms over contemporary political thought, particularly on the left, in a way rivaled by no other scholar. When he died in 2002, one remembrance noted that over 3,000 articles specifically about Rawls had been published during his lifetime. A Theory of Justice, his most famous work, has been cited nearly 60,000 times by one metric. This year marks its 50th anniversary, with conferences on the occasion at University of Virginia Law School and Notre Dame. The decades after the book’s publication were dominated by responses to Rawls and responses to responses to Rawls. Robert Nozick offered a libertarian rejoinder that nonetheless spoke Rawls’s language; Susan Moller Okin critiqued Rawls’s neglect of the family and gender inequality. Charles Mills argued Rawls’s theory could not take white supremacy seriously as a political system. Tommie Shelby argued that it could. Tim Scanlon brought Rawlsian concepts to bear on individual ethics. Frank Michelman brought Rawls into the law. And so on, for thousands of books and articles. That literature, in turn, has had profound influence on the wider world (Scanlon’s work even inspired a sitcom, of all things). But Rawls’s importance extends far beyond seminar walls and philosophy departments. His language and ideas have penetrated into political life, especially in the UK and US, because of their particular power in analyzing the deep economic inequalities that have grown in developed countries over the last few decades. Fifty years on, Rawls’s most enduring legacy has been helping the generations that came after him make sense of what is unjust about a world characterized by both widespread destitution and outrageous wealth. The veil of ignorance Rawls’s key contribution was reviving the idea of a social contract, as detailed by philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau centuries before. The principles of justice that should undergird a society and government, Rawls argued, are those set out in the social contract that members of society would hypothetically agree to behind a “veil of ignorance,” which prevents them from knowing what place in that society they would occupy. The veil is key, because without it a straight white male aristocrat, safe in the knowledge that he would remain an aristocrat in the society he’s designing, would support a social contract with firm hierarchies, where he could continue to lord over his social lessers. But if forced to consider the possibility that he might, instead, be a woman, or Black, or gay, or poor, he (and everyone else) would agree to different, fairer principles. For Rawls, those principles were, in order, that 1) all people should be guaranteed equal basic liberties (to free speech, assembly, religion, etc.); and that 2) economic and social inequalities can exist, but only 2a) when compatible with equality of opportunity and 2b) when those inequalities help the least advantaged in society. The difference principle 2b), better known as the “difference principle,” has become the dominant legacy of Rawls’s work, especially outside philosophy. It tries to avoid a more rigid egalitarianism, in which everyone’s economic outcomes must be equal, by allowing that some variation in resources can be just. If the inventors of the Pfizer vaccine become billionaires in the context of helping the poorest people (in this instance, by helping save their lives), then that inequality can be justified. But if someone becomes a billionaire through rampant insider trading that has no benefit to the worst off, that cannot be justified. As a matter of intellectual history, I think the prominence of the difference principle is slightly odd. Rawls himself argued that both basic liberties and equality of opportunity should take precedence over the difference principle, a point critics like Richard Arneson seized upon; if an aspect of society satisfied the difference principle but denied people equality of opportunity, that aspect of society was unjust, per Rawls. The difference principle plays a much less pronounced role in his theory than in its public reception. But I think the difference principle’s endurance says something important about why Rawls has mattered. Rawls and the New Gilded Age A Theory of Justice was published just as the postwar liberal order in the US and UK was showing signs of strain. The efforts of leaders like Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and (across the pond) Attlee and Wilson to build and sustain inequality-reducing welfare states were beginning to flounder. The war in Vietnam had discredited Great Society liberalism among the young left, and, after Rawls’s book, the gas crisis and inflation would deal it a death blow and usher in Reagan and Thatcher. Many have situated Rawls as an attempt to codify, with only light amendments, this kind of big-government, anticommunist postwar liberalism. Katrina Forrester’s book In the Shadow of Justice is the most nuanced version of this story I’ve seen; Forrester notes that Rawls “gave philosophers a distinctive structure of egalitarian thinking to defend against the libertarian threats to their right and to diffuse the promise of alternatives to their left.” Aaron Wildavsky, a right-leaning political scientist at Berkeley, was harsher, writing of Rawls and LBJ’s Great Society, “After the deed comes the rationalization.” But as much as Rawls was looking back and refining the form of government that characterized the America and Britain where he had spent his adult life, he also, accidentally, wound up looking forward. He provided a language the left could use to describe what was wrong with the subsequent explosion of inequality in wealthy countries. Relevantly, given that he did most of his work during the Cold War, Rawls’s language was non-Marxist. He did not write about class struggle or the power of the working class, much to the consternation of some of his colleagues. But the difference principle provided a distinct way to argue against growing inequality in liberal, non-Marxist language. The problem wasn’t wealth and the existence of a capitalist class, per se. The problem was that this growing inequality provided no benefit, and indeed inflicted harm, on society’s least fortunate. That has proven incredibly important as the wealth gap persists. It’s no accident that Bill Clinton honored Rawls at the White House, telling the audience, “when Hillary and I were in law school, we were among the millions moved by a remarkable book he wrote, A Theory of Justice.” Barack Obama echoed him subtly but unmistakably in his speeches on income inequality and political tolerance. I don’t want to credit too much of recent center-left politics to Rawls personally; there are probably a few campaign consultants with more influence. But as Marx before him demonstrated, giving people the language to understand what’s wrong with their society can be powerful. Fifty years after Marx first published Das Kapital, the first Marxist state came into existence. Now, 50 years after A Theory of Justice, the book (and the backlash to its influence) stands ascendant as an animating intellectual force behind modern politics. A version of this story was initially published in the Future Perfect newsletter. Sign up here to subscribe!
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