Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Q: How Is Treason Done At HUD? A: "Quite Nicely"

First, an indirect H/T to Blog-Follower #4 (left side of the page) for directing this blogger's attention to a link to today's essay in an Esquire column by Charles (Charley) P. Pierce. For all of the Traitor-in-Chief's bluster, stealth program of treason is taking place within the US government: the EPA, DOE, and HUD, yada yada yada. The first clue is that the agencies are administered by ideologues, idiots, or a combination of both. If this is a (fair & balanced) indictment of treason, so be it.

[x NY 'Zine]
Is Anybody Home At HUD?
By Alec MacGillis


TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

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In mid-May, Steve Preston, who served as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the final two years of the George W. Bush administration, organized a dinner at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, DC, for the new chief of that department, Ben Carson, and five other former secretaries whose joint tenure stretched all the way back to Gerald Ford. It was an event with no recent precedent within the department, and it had the distinct feel of an intervention. HUD has long been something of an overlooked stepchild within the federal government. Founded in 1965 in a burst of Great Society resolve to confront the “urban crisis,” it has seen its manpower slide by more than half since the Reagan Revolution. (The HUD headquarters is now so eerily underpopulated that it can’t even support a cafeteria; it sits vacant on the first floor.) But HUD still serves a function that millions of low-income Americans depend on — it funds 3,300 public-housing authorities with 1.2 million units and also the Section 8 rental-voucher program, which serves more than 2 million families; it has subsidized tens of millions of mortgages via the Federal Housing Administration; and, through various block grants, it funds an array of community-uplift initiatives. It is the Ur–government agency, quietly seeking to address social problems in struggling areas that the private sector can’t or won’t solve, a mission that has become especially pressing amid a growing housing-affordability crisis in many major cities.

Despite its Democratic roots, Republican administrations have historically assumed stewardship over HUD with varying degrees of enthusiasm — among the department’s more notable secretaries were Republicans George Romney and Jack Kemp, the idiosyncratic champion of supply-side economics and inner-city renewal.

Now, however, HUD faced an existential crisis. The new president’s then–chief strategist, Steve Bannon, had called in February for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” It was not hard to guess that, for a White House that swept to power on a wave of racially tinged rural resentment and anti-welfare sentiment, high on the demolition list might be a department with “urban” in its name. The administration’s preliminary budget outline had already signaled deep cuts for HUD. And Donald Trump had chosen to lead the department someone with zero experience in government or social policy — the nominee whose unsuitability most mirrored Trump’s lack of preparation to run the country.

This prospect was causing alarm even among HUD’s former Republican leaders. At the Metropolitan Club, George W. Bush’s second secretary, Alphonso Jackson, warned Carson against cutting further into HUD’s manpower. (Many regional offices have shuttered in recent years.) Carla Hills, who ran the department under President Ford, put in a plug for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, noting that Ford had created it in 1974 precisely in order to give local governments more leeway over how to spend federal assistance.

The tone was collegial, built on the hopeful assumption that Carson wanted to do right by the department. “We were trying to be supportive,” Henry Cisneros, from the Clinton administration, told me. But it was hard for the ex-secretaries to get a read on Carson’s plans, not least because the whisper-voiced retired pediatric neurosurgeon was being overshadowed by an eighth person at the table: his wife, Candy. An energetic former real-estate agent who is an accomplished violinist and has co-authored four books with her husband, she had been spending far more time inside the department’s headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza than anyone could recall a secretary’s spouse doing in the past, only one of many oddities that HUD employees were encountering in the Trump era. She’d even taken the mic before Carson made his introductory speech to the department. “We’re really excited about working with — ” She broke off, as if detecting the puzzlement of the audience. “Well, he’s really.”

The story of the Trump administration has been dominated by the Russia investigations, the Obamacare-repeal morass, and cataclysmic internecine warfare. But there is a whole other side to Trump’s takeover of Washington: What happens to the government itself, and all it is tasked with doing, when it is placed under the command of the Chaos President? HUD has emerged as the perfect distillation of the right’s antipathy to governing. If the great radical-conservative dream was, in Grover Norquist’s famous words, to “drown government in a bathtub,” then this was what the final gasps of one department might look like.

November 9 brought open weeping in the halls of HUD headquarters, a Brutalist arc at L’Enfant Plaza that resembles a giant concrete honeycomb. Washington was Hillary country, but HUD employees had particular cause for agita. For years, the department had suffered low morale, and there was the perception, not entirely unjustified, that it was prone to episodes of self-dealing and corruption — most recently under Jackson, who was scrutinized for awarding HUD projects to companies run by his friends. But the department had experienced a rejuvenation in the Obama era, with morale rebounding under the leadership of his first secretary, Shaun Donovan, an ambitious, politically savvy housing administrator from New York. While it faced postrecession budget austerity — with its ranks dropping well below 8,000, from more than 16,000 decades earlier — the department made homelessness reduction a priority. Under Donovan’s successor, Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, HUD embarked on a major initiative to address residential segregation by requiring cities and suburbs to do more to live up to the edicts of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Before the election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign sent over a large team of policy experts to study up on HUD and prepare to take the baton on these efforts. The Trump campaign sent one person. “And everyone was joking, ‘Well, he’ll be gone on November 9,’ ” one staffer told me.

So the stricken employees were slightly relieved when Trump’s operation announced a five-person “landing team” for HUD that included Jimmy Kemp, son of Jack. “There may be hope for us after all,” a veteran staffer in one local HUD office told his colleagues. The semblance of normalcy was short-lived. In late November, word got out that Trump’s choice to run HUD was Carson. To Twitter wags, the selection was comical in its stereotyping: Of course Trump would assign the only African-American in his Cabinet to the “urban” department. But to many HUD employees, the selection of so ill-qualified a leader felt like an insult. “People feel disrespected. They see Carson and think, I’ve been in housing policy for 20 or 30 years, and if I walked away, I would never expect to get hired as a nurse,” said one staffer at a branch office, who, like most employees I spoke with, requested anonymity to guard against retribution.

Carson himself had some qualms about running HUD. His close friend Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator who was exposed for receiving payments from George W. Bush’s administration to tout Bush’s education policies on air, told The Hill in November that Carson had reservations about such a job. “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency,” Williams said. “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.” Williams later said his remark had been misconstrued, but Shermichael Singleton, a young political operative who worked for Williams and became a top aide on Carson’s campaign, told me that Carson’s ambivalence was real. Trump’s offer, Singleton said, had provoked deep questions for Carson about his life’s purpose. “It was, ‘Should I do this? What does it all mean?’ ”

In the end, Singleton said, Carson accepted out of a sense of duty that came from having risen to success from humble origins: raised by a single mother, a housekeeper, in Detroit. “He’s someone born in an environment where the odds were clearly stacked against him, and he believes by personal experience that he could do a lot of good for others.” Kemp agreed. Carson accepted, he said, “because he wanted to do something about poverty.” If anything, Kemp said, Carson felt more suited to the HUD job than he would to a health-policy one.“Being surgeon general or secretary of [Health and Human Services], I don’t think he was fully equipped to do that, having been a neurosurgeon,” Kemp said. In other words, Carson knew how little he knew about health policy, an awareness he lacked when it came to social policy. “He thought with HUD, ‘It’s so clear that our approach to poverty has not been completely successful and we can do better, and I think I have some ideas that can be applied,’ ” Kemp said.

Underlying this rationale were two related convictions. One was the standard conservative bias against expertise and bureaucracy, according to which experts lacked the “common sense” that an outsider from the private sector could provide — a conviction shared, of course, by the man who nominated Carson for the job. The other was a more particular conviction that he, Carson, possessed extra doses of such common sense by virtue of his biography.

First, though, Carson had to survive his confirmation hearing. The prepping was intense. His top handler was Scott Keller, a longtime lobbyist who had served as chief of staff under Jackson and, in that role, become embroiled in the contracting scandals. Keller’s pupil was attentive, and his performance at the January hearing before the Senate Banking Committee was judged a relative success by the press, punctuated by Carson’s disarming remark that the panel’s top Democrat, Sherrod Brown, reminded him of Columbo. Carson’s family and closest aides took him to the Monocle, the lobbyist hangout on the Hill, to celebrate.

As Carson awaited confirmation, though, a leadership cadre was already entrenching itself in the administrative offices on the tenth floor of HUD. The five-person landing team had given way in January to a larger “beachhead” team. This was a more eyebrow-raising group. Its few alums from past GOP administrations were outnumbered by Trump loyalists such as Barbara Gruson, a Manhattan real-estate broker who’d worked for the campaign; Victoria Barton, the campaign’s “student and millennial outreach coordinator”; and Lynne Patton, who had worked for the Trumps as an event planner.

The most influential of the new bunch, it would quickly emerge, was Maren Kasper. Little-known in housing-policy circles, and in her mid-30s, Kasper arrived from the Bay Area start-up Roofstock, which linked investors with rental properties available for purchase. It partnered with lenders including Colony American Finance, a company founded by Tom Barrack, the close Trump associate. This link to Trump, combined with Kasper’s background in one sliver of the housing realm, was enough to win her a place as one of the minders appointed by the White House to keep an eye on each government department, a powerful role without precedent in prior administrations.

Kasper, the holder of an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, took her new management role seriously, asserting herself as the final arbiter in the absence of a confirmed secretary. This led to friction both with career housing-policy experts and with Carson loyalists, notably Singleton, who had also been hired on. At meetings, Singleton said, Kasper was often “misrepresenting” herself as standing in for Carson. “I made it clear, ‘You don’t speak for Dr. Carson.’ She said, ‘Well, the White House....’ ” To which Singleton said he responded, “I get what the White House has selected, and I respect that, but he’s the secretary and you need to make sure you understand that.”

That friction lasted only so long. In mid-February, an administration “background check” on beachhead-team hires turned up an op-ed critical of Trump that Singleton had written for The Hill before the election. Security personnel came to notify him that it was time to go.

On March 6, Carson arrived for his first day of work at headquarters. In introductory remarks to assembled employees, after he’d gotten the mic back from his wife, he surprised many by asking them to raise their hands and “take the niceness pledge.”

He also went on a riff about immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, capped by this: “That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The assembled employees stifled their reaction to this jarringly upbeat characterization of chattel slavery. But in HUD’s Baltimore satellite, where many in the heavily African-American office were watching the speech on an online feed at their desks, the gasps were audible.

Carson’s arrival brought with it a reckoning for career employees: Yes, this person was really in charge. They responded in strikingly different ways. The most progressive-minded were thrown into a sense of crisis: whether to hightail it to avoid whatever radical shifts or indignities were in the offing, or to stay put for the sake of the department’s programs and the millions of people they served.

Then there were the opportunists, those who saw in the vacuum in the upper ranks, where it was taking unusually long to appoint political deputies, the chance to claim higher stations than career employees would typically be able to attain. “There were a couple people in some meetings who were bending over to ingratiate themselves” with the transition team, said Harriet Tregoning, a top Obama appointee in HUD’s Community Planning and Development division, who left in January. “For some, it might be their political leaning. For some, it might be an attempt to gain influence. I saw it happening even while the Obama people were still in the building.”

Finally, there were the clock-punching lifers, the “Weebies” (“We be here before you got here, and we be here after you’re gone”), who recognized a chance to start mailing it in. “It’s ‘I can now meet people for a drink at five,’ ” said Tregoning. Or, as a supervisor in one branch office put it: “As a bureaucrat, HUD’s an easier place to work if Republicans are in charge. They don’t think it’s an important department, they don’t have ideas, they don’t put in changes.” Left unsaid: that such complacency was an unwitting affirmation of the conservative critique of time-serving bureaucrats.

To the extent that the new leadership was providing any guidance at all, it was often actively discouraging initiative on the part of employees. Shortly after the inauguration, a directive came down requiring employees to get tenth-floor approval for any contacts outside the building — professional conferences, or even just meetings with other departments. Ann Marie Oliva, a highly regarded HUD veteran who’d been hired during the George W. Bush administration and was in charge of homeless and HIV programs, was barred from attending a big annual conference on housing and homelessness in Ohio because, she inferred, some of the other speakers there leaned left.

The department leadership was also actively slowing down new initiatives simply by taking a very long time to give the necessary supervisory approvals for the development of surveys or program guidance. In some cases, this appeared to be the result of mere negligence and delay. In other cases, it appeared more willful. For one thing, there was the leadership’s strong hang-up about all matters transgender-related. The tenth floor ordered the removal of online training materials meant, in part, to help homeless shelters make sure they were providing equal access to transgender people. It also pulled back a survey regarding projects in Cincinnati and Houston to reduce LGBT homelessness. And it forced its Policy Development and Research division to dissociate itself from a major study it had funded on housing discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people — the study ended up being released in late June under the aegis of the Urban Institute instead.

More upsetting for many ambitious civil servants than the scattered nays coming from the tenth floor, though, was the lack of direction, period. Virtually all the top political jobs below Carson remained vacant. Carson himself was barely to be seen — he never made the walk-through of the building customary of past new secretaries. “It was just nothing,” said one career employee. “I’ve never been so bored in my life. No agenda, nothing to move forward or push back against.
Just nothing.”

On May 2, I went to the Watergate to see Carson address an assemblage of the American Land Title Association, title attorneys in town for a regular lobbying visit to buttress the crucial support that HUD and others in Washington provide to the American home-buying machine. I was hoping the speech would give me a better sense of what Carson had in mind for the department, which had been hard to elucidate in his few public appearances. Up to that point, he’d made only a few headlines — for getting caught in a broken elevator at a housing project in Miami; for declaring, on a later visit to Ohio, that public housing should not be too luxurious, a concern that the elevator snafu had apparently not allayed. This comment had drawn mockery but genuinely reflected his long-standing outlook on the safety net: grudging acceptance of its necessity only for those at their most desperate moments, a phase of dependency that must be as brief as absolutely possible. This philosophy was frequently intertwined with allusions to the Creator — so frequently that supervisors at one HUD division sent down word to employees that, yes, their new boss was going to talk a lot about God and they’d probably better just get used to it.

But Carson’s address to the lawyers offered little further clarity on his agenda. He opened with a neurosurgery joke. He touched on his vague proposal for “vision centers” where inner-city kids could come to learn about careers. He repeated one of his favorite mantras, that the government needs to make sure people don’t get unduly reliant on federal assistance, because “everybody is either going to be part of the engine or part of the load.” And then, in the heart of the speech, where a Cabinet secretary would normally get down to programmatic brass tacks, came this meandering riff:

You know, governments that look out for property rights also tend to look out for other rights. You know, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of all the things that make America America. So it is absolutely foundational to our success … On Sunday, I was talking to a large group of children about what’s happening with rights in our country. These are kids who had all won a Carson Scholar [an award of $1,000 that Carson has sponsored since 1994], which you have to have at least a 3.75 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and show that you care about other people, and I said you’re going to be the leaders of our nation and will help to determine which pathway we go down, a pathway where we actually care about those around us and we use our intellect to improve the quality of life for everyone, or the pathway where we say, “I don’t want to hear you if you don’t believe what I believe, I want to shut you down, you don’t have any rights.” This is a serious business right now where we are, that juncture in our country that will determine what happens to all of us as time goes on. But the whole housing concern is something that concerns us all.

A few weeks later, it became clear that the “housing concern” perhaps did not concern everyone when the White House released its budget proposal for HUD. After word emerged in early March that the White House was considering cutting as much as $6 billion from the department, Carson had sent a rare email to HUD employees assuring them that this was just a preliminary figure. But as it turned out, Carson, as a relative political outsider lacking strong connections to the administration, was out of the loop: The final proposal crafted by Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney called for cutting closer to $7 billion, 15 percent of its total budget. Participants in the Section 8 voucher program would need to pay at least 17 percent more of their income toward rent, and there’d likely be a couple hundred thousand fewer vouchers nationwide (and 13,000 fewer in New York City). Capital funding for public housing would be slashed by a whopping 68 percent — this, after years of cuts that, in New York alone, had left public-housing projects with rampant mold, broken elevators, and faulty boilers.

“By the time I left, almost 90 percent of our budget was to help people stay in their homes,” Shaun Donovan told me. “So when you have a 15 percent cut to that budget, by definition you’re going to be throwing people out of their homes. You’re literally taking vouchers away from families, you’re literally shutting down public housing, because it can’t be maintained anymore.”

The Trump cuts would mean that several programs would be eliminated entirely, including the HOME program, which offers seed money for affordable-housing initiatives, and the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program that Carla Hills, Ford’s HUD secretary, had praised to Carson at the dinner. In New York, CDBG helped pay for, among many things, housing-code enforcement, the 311 system, and homeless shelters for veterans. But the grants were also relied on in struggling small towns, where they paid for sidewalks, sewer upgrades, and community centers. In Glouster, Ohio, a tiny coal town that went for Trump by a single vote after going for Obama two to one in 2012, officials were counting on the grants to replace a bridge so weak that the school bus couldn’t cross it, forcing kids from one part of town to cluster along a busy road for pickup. “Without those funds, it would just cripple this area,” said Nathan Simons, who administers the grants for the surrounding region. HUD, for all its shrinking stature and insecurity complex, has over time worked its way into the fabric of ailing communities throughout the country, a role that has grown only larger as so much of Middle America has suffered decline, and as the capacity of so many state and local governments has withered amid dwindling tax bases and civic disengagement. On my travels through the Midwest I’ve seen how many federally subsidized housing complexes there are on the edges of small towns and cities, places very far from the Bronx or the South Side of Chicago. People living in these places rely on a functioning, minimally competent HUD no less than do the Section 8 voucher recipients in Jared Kushner’s low-income complexes in Baltimore. In an age of ever-widening income inequality, the Great Society department actually plays an even more vital role than when it was conceived.

But if Carson was troubled by the disembowelment of his department, he showed no sign of it. Even before the final numbers were out, he had assured housing advocates that cuts would be made up for by money dedicated to housing in the big infrastructure bill Trump was promising — a notion that his fellow Republican Kemp, among others, found far-fetched. “I’m not sure he understood how that would work,” Kemp told me. “He was probably repeating what had been told to him.” Then, a day after the budget was released, Carson downplayed the importance of programs for the poor in a radio interview with Armstrong Williams, saying that poverty was largely a “state of mind.” This, more than anything, seemed to be a crystallization of the Carson philosophy of HUD: that privation would be solved by the power of positive thinking, that his own extraordinary rise was scalable and could be replicated millions of times over.

Two weeks later, Carson went to Capitol Hill to testify on the budget proposal before Congressional panels that would have the final say on the numbers. With Kasper perched over his shoulder, he told both the Senate and House committees that they shouldn’t get overly hung up on the cuts. “We must look for human solutions, not just policies and programs,” he said. “Our programs must reach out and so must our hearts.” The budget, he added, would “help more eligible Americans achieve freedom from regulations and bureaucracy and the ability to govern themselves.”

Members of both parties on the panels seemed dubious. Even conservative Republicans challenged the elimination of CDBG and dismissed Carson’s repeated claim that those and other cuts would be made up for with “public-private partnerships,” noting that such partnerships depended on exactly the public seed money that the budget was jettisoning.

Carson remained unruffled. The cuts were made necessary by the “atmosphere of constraint” created by a “new paradigm that’s been forced on us,” he said, presumably referring to the desire for tax cuts for the wealthy and an even larger military. “The problem that faces us now as a nation will only be exacerbated if we don’t deal with them in what appears to be a harsh manner,” he told the Senate panel. “We have to stop the bleeding to get the healing.”

As I watched the hearings, it occurred to me that Carson was the perfect HUD secretary for Donald Trump, the real-estate-developer president who appears to care little for public housing. He offered a gently smiling refutation to accusations from any corner that the department’s evisceration would have grave consequences. After all, Ben Carson had made it from Detroit to Johns Hopkins without housing assistance, a point of pride in his family. Not to mention that Carson’s very identity — theoretically — helped inoculate the administration against charges of prejudice. (Just last week, Carson said, in the wake of racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, that the controversy over Trump’s support of white supremacists there was “blown out of proportion” and echoed the president’s “both sides” language when referring to “hatred and bigotry.”)

Even better, Carson could be trusted not to resist Mick Mulvaney’s budget designs. At one moment in the Senate hearing, Carson noted that Congress’s recent spending package for the current year had given the department more than it had been expecting. “I’m always happy to take money,” he said, smiling.

Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee’s top Democrat, was unamused. “You have to ask for it first,” he said.

Over at headquarters, the department remained rudderless. By June, there was still no one nominated to run the major parts of HUD, including the Federal Housing Administration and core divisions such as Housing, Policy Development and Research, Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, and Public and Indian Housing, not to mention a swath of jobs just below that level. (Across the administration, Trump had by the end of June sent barely more than 100 names to the Senate for confirmation, fewer than half as many as Obama had by that point in 2009.) Even the stern hand of Kasper was gone — she had been moved to a perch at Ginnie Mae, the arm of HUD that provides liquidity to federal home-ownership programs.

The rank and file (whose department book-club reading for the summer was The Employees’ Survival Guide to Change [PDF]) took comfort that the two senior nominations that had been announced, for deputy secretary and the head of the Community Planning and Development division, were conventionally qualified. But appointments further down the ranks were alarming.

There was the administrator for the Southwest region: the mayor of Irving, Texas, Beth Van Duyne, who had gained notoriety by warning against the gathering threat of Sharia. She had asked the Texas Homeland Security Forum to help investigate the legality of an Islamic tribunal in North Texas and had taken to Glenn Beck’s talk show to defend the arrest of the Muslim boy who’d brought a homemade clock to school. There was the conservative commentator John Gibbs, who was hired as a “special assistant” in Community Planning and Development. Sample headlines from his columns in The Federalist: “Voter Fraud Is Real. Here’s the Proof”; “If He Really Wants to Help Blacks, Colin Kaepernick Needs to Put Up or Shut Up.”

Then there was Christopher Bourne, the retired Marine Corps colonel who’d served as the policy director of Carson’s presidential campaign. He suddenly showed up as a “senior policy adviser” in Policy Development and Research. “We don’t know what his job is, and as far as I know, he doesn’t know what his job is,” said one of his new colleagues.

In the context of such hires, it did not stun many HUD employees as much as it did the broader public when news broke of the selection of Lynne Patton, the Trumps’ event planner (whom tabloids gleefully referred to as a wedding planner, for her unofficial advisory role on Eric Trump’s nuptials), as regional administrator for New York and New Jersey. It had been plain to see that Patton had been striving to prove that she was no mere hanger-on. She had been visiting senior career staff for a crash course on housing policy. She had helped organize Carson’s listening-tour trips, for which her event-planning background had prepared her well. And she eagerly tweeted out defenses of him—“Let’s be clear: You can make life too comfortable for anyone — rich or poor — when you do, it’s a disservice,” she declared after his comments on cushy public housing.

Yes, she would now be the chief liaison from HUD headquarters to a region with the largest concentration of subsidized housing in the country — including the huge Starrett City complex in Brooklyn co-owned by Trump — a job once held by Bill de Blasio. (“Normally, these positions go to people who know what they’re doing,” said one longtime staffer at headquarters.) And yes, she would, just a few weeks later, respond to liberal criticism of the department’s decision to approve Westchester County’s long-litigated desegregation plan with a tweet that ended with the words “P.S. I’m black.”

But there were many other things for career employees to worry about that weren’t getting as much attention. Such as what Carson had in mind with the vague “incentivized family formation” push (which falls under the community-building part of HUD’s antipoverty mission) that his team had included in a briefing for Hill staffers.

Also worrisome was what the new leadership might do with major Obama-era initiatives, like its desegregation initiative, which, in a 2015 rule called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, required local jurisdictions to come up with ways to reduce segregation or risk losing HUD funding. Carson had written an op-ed against this during the campaign, calling it a “mandated social engineering scheme” and comparing it to a “failed socialist experiment,” and Republicans in Congress were dying to kill it, but so far, the department was still going through the motions with it.

Then there was the mystery of why Carson’s family was taking such a visible role in the department. There was the omnipresent Mrs. Carson. Even more striking, however, had been the active role of the secretary’s second-oldest son. Ben Carson Jr., who goes by BJ and co-founded an investment firm in Columbia, Maryland, that specializes in infrastructure, health care, and workforce development, was showing up on email chains within the department and appearing often at headquarters. One day, he was seen leaving the tenth-floor office of David Eagles, the new COO, who was crafting a HUD reorganization to accompany the cuts.

And finally, there was the beginning of what appeared likely to be a stream of committed career employees quitting. Ann Marie Oliva, the anti-homelessness director, had met with mistrust from the tenth floor, and she was startled when she wasn’t asked to offer input for a speech Carson was giving on homeless veterans. She gave notice in late May, prompting calls from both parties on the Hill saying how sorry they were to see her go. “It is sad,” she told me, “because it’s not partisan and it could’ve been different from the beginning.”

In early July, Ben Carson went on the next leg of his listening tour: Baltimore. I was expecting the department to make a big deal of his return to his longtime home city. But instead, after the poor press coverage from the previous rounds of community outreach, the itinerary for the first day was kept private.

I managed to get my hands on the schedule and tagged along with a photographer. This did not please Carson’s entourage, which included, among others, a high-strung advance man in a bow tie, several security officers, Candy Carson, Ben Jr., and even his wife. When we arrived at the café where Carson and his family were having lunch with the mayor of Baltimore, Bow Tie arranged to have the Carsons rush out through the kitchen area to a back alley to avoid us. When, at the next stop, I was accidentally allowed into a meeting that Carson was holding at the city’s housing authority, Bow Tie leaped across the room to eject me. By the next stop, at a tour of the redevelopment near Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the federal agents guarding Carson took my picture as I stood on the sidewalk chatting with a neighbor. By the last stop, dinner with Maryland governor Larry Hogan at a deluxe waterfront restaurant opened by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, I was unsurprised when a Carson aide went to the maître d’ to report my presence at the bar. This was Trumpian anti-press spirit taken to a new level: protectiveness of a government executive to the point of seeking invisibility.

The day had had its awkward moments. In his visit to the Baltimore HUD office, Carson caused friction with his suggestion that staff needed to work harder, comparing the federal work ethic unfavorably with the long hours he put in as a surgeon. Employees were also struck by how he kept seeming to look to his wife for cues as he spoke. At a later meeting with public-health officials and researchers, which his wife, son, and daughter-in-law also attended, he kicked things off 15 minutes early and referred to those who arrived on time as being late. He demurred when asked by the city’s former health commissioner Joshua Sharfstein if he’d commit the department to an ambitious reduction in child lead poisoning, saying something to the effect that he needed to be careful about setting big goals because he “worked for a guy who, if you don’t meet your goals, he’ll so skewer you.”

The next morning, Carson held photo-ops at two homes that had undergone HUD-funded lead abatement. At the first home, he looked confused when workers explained that one of their first steps had been to make sure the home’s doors closed properly in the door jambs. “What does that have to do with lead?” asked the nation’s secretary of Housing. The workers explained that a key to reducing lead-paint flaking was to reduce the friction involved in opening and closing windows and doors. A moment later, a deputy housing commissioner noted that the work had been made possible in part by Community Development Block Grants, which Trump’s HUD budget eliminated.

Ben Carson Jr. resurfaced at the second day’s other open event, a visit to a health fair in East Baltimore. I watched with some amazement as the younger Carson, clad in tinted aviator shades, circulated among those seeking his father’s attention. At one point, Carson Jr. was approached by two entrepreneurs he knew who were hoping to pitch HUD on a proposal to use public housing as the site to pilot their for-profit venture replacing cash bail with the relinquishing of guns. Carson Jr. heard them out and then said, “Have you talked to Dad?” He then led them over to a clutch of Carson’s HUD aides to make introductions.

A moment later, I asked Carson Jr. why he was taking such an active role on the Baltimore trip. “With anything where we can be helpful, if Dad asks us to come along and help out, we’ll always do that. We’re here to offer support, whatever we can do,” he said. I asked about all the time he was spending at HUD headquarters. “If you’re a concerned citizen and you’re not spending time in D.C. trying to actually make sure the right things are happening, then you probably could do more,” he said. “You should have access to your public officials, and if that’s not allowed, then there’s a big problem with how the representatives are handling their relationship with citizens.” (Never mind that in this case, the “public official” was his own father.)

Later, I asked Ben Carson for a comment on his son’s role. “Ben Carson Jr. has visited me, but he has no role at the department,” he said through a spokesman. It was hard to know what to make of it all. On the one hand, it bore obvious similarities to the proliferation of Trumps and Kushners inside the White House, with all their attendant business conflicts.

But it was also possible that Ben Jr., and his mom, were so often at his father’s side for just the reason Ben Jr. claimed, to provide support. Because it was not hard to see why Carson would feel insecurity. He had been chosen for a job he had few qualifications for by a man who had few obvious qualifications for his own job, and he was now being left to his own devices to defend the dismantling of the department he was supposed to run, with an underpopulated corps of deputies at his side. (Even by mid-August, the Office of Public and Indian Housing, which spends tens of billions per year, did not have any senior political leadership whatsoever.) It was as if the White House were ensuring that whatever mere starvation failed to accomplish at HUD, indifference and mismanagement would finish.

The day before, as I waited outside the school building where Carson was meeting with the public-health experts, a young mother, Danielle Jackson, had come along with her three young daughters. She asked me what was going on inside, and I told her. She said she herself had been on the waiting list for a Section 8 voucher for three years, and she seemed to take the fact that the famous Baltimore doctor was now running HUD as an omen. “I hope something good happens,” she said brightly.

Her optimism was shared by Carson himself. When I asked him at a brief press conference behind one of the lead-abated homes the next morning how things were going so far for him at HUD, running a big federal department with no prior experience in government, he shrugged. “It’s actually a challenge to inject common sense and logic into bureaucracy, there’s no question about that,” he said. “But it’s coming along quite nicely.” # # &##5;

[Alec MacGillis covers politics and government for ProPublica. MacGillis previously spent three years writing for The New Republic and five years as a national reporter for The Washington Post, where he was part of the team whose coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. McGill also has written for the New Yorker, Atlantic and New York Times Magazine. He also has written The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell, a 2014 biography of the Senate Majority Leader. MacGillis received a BA (history and English) from Yale University.]

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Remove The Damned Statues... Yesterday!

Statues seem to be the news in the aftermath of Charlottesville 2017. Two of our finest historians recently grappled with the issue of removal of statues honoring those who attempted to destroy the United States of America (1861-1865). The issue of equating the removal of those hate-symbols from prominent places with the removal of Founding Fathers (Washington, Jefferson, et al.) is specious nonsense (a daily specialty of the Traitor-in-Chief). None of the Founding Fathers participated in a treasonous act. That cannot be said for Jefferson Davis all of the way down to the Johnny Rebs in the ranks. As one of our greatest historians, Carl Becker, wrote that "...history is what the present chooses to remember about the past." And in this blog, every man woman and child who supported the attempt to destroy the United States of America right up to this moment is a T-R-A-I-T-O-R. If that is the (fair & balanced) historical truth, so be it.

PS: Look at the Directory below and click on the [bracketed number] to go to that essay; click on "Back To Directory" to return to the top of the page.

Vannevar Bush hypertextBracketed numericsDirectory]
[1] First Take: Eric Foner On Statue Removal
[2] Second Take: Jon Meacham On Statue Removal


[1]Back To Directory
[x NY Fishwrap]
Confederate Statues And "Our" History
By Eric Foner


TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

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President Trump’s Thursday morning tweet lamenting that the removal of Confederate statues tears apart “the history and culture of our great country” raises numerous questions, among them: Who is encompassed in that “our”?

Mr. Trump may not know it, but he has entered a debate that goes back to the founding of the republic. Should American nationality be based on shared values, regardless of race, ethnicity and national origin, or should it rest on “blood and soil,” to quote the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, VA, whom Trump has at least partly embraced?

Neither Mr. Trump nor the Charlottesville marchers invented the idea that the United States is essentially a country for white persons. The very first naturalization law, enacted in 1790 to establish guidelines for how immigrants could become American citizens, limited the process to “white” persons.

What about nonwhites born in this country? Before the Civil War, citizenship was largely defined by individual states. Some recognized blacks born within their boundaries as citizens, but many did not. As far as national law was concerned, the question was resolved by the Supreme Court in the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857. Blacks, wrote Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (a statue of whom was removed from public display in Baltimore this week), were and would always be aliens in America.

This was the law of the land when the Civil War broke out in 1861. This is the tradition that the Southern Confederacy embodied and sought to preserve and that Mr. Trump, inadvertently or not, identifies with by equating the Confederacy with “our history and culture.”

Many Americans, of course, rejected this racial definition of American nationality. Foremost among them were abolitionists, male and female, black and white, who put forward an alternative definition, known today as birthright citizenship. Anybody born in the United States, they insisted, was a citizen, and all citizens should enjoy equality before the law. Abolitionists advocated not only the end of slavery, but also the incorporation of the freed people as equal members of American society.

In the period of Reconstruction that followed the war, this egalitarian vision was, for the first time, written into our laws and Constitution. But the advent of multiracial democracy in the Southern states inspired a wave of terrorist opposition by the Ku Klux Klan and kindred groups, antecedents of the Klansmen and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville. One by one the Reconstruction governments were overthrown, and in the next generation white supremacy again took hold in the South.

When Mr. Trump identifies statues commemorating Confederate leaders as essential parts of “our” history and culture, he is honoring that dark period. Like all monuments, these statues say a lot more about the time they were erected than the historical era they evoke. The great waves of Confederate monument building took place in the 1890s, as the Confederacy was coming to be idealized as the so-called Lost Cause and the Jim Crow system was being fastened upon the South, and in the 1920s, the height of black disenfranchisement, segregation and lynching. The statues were part of the legitimation of this racist regime and of an exclusionary definition of America.

The historian Carl Becker wrote that history is what the present chooses to remember about the past. Historical monuments are, among other things, an expression of power — an indication of who has the power to choose how history is remembered in public places.

If the issue were simply heritage, why are there no statues of Lieutenant General James Longstreet, one of General Robert E. Lee’s key lieutenants? Not because of poor generalship; indeed, Longstreet warned Lee against undertaking Pickett’s Charge, which ended the battle of Gettysburg. Longstreet’s crime came after the Civil War: He endorsed black male suffrage and commanded the Metropolitan Police of New Orleans, which in 1874 engaged in armed combat with white supremacists seeking to seize control of the state government. Longstreet is not a symbol of white supremacy; therefore he was largely ineligible for commemoration by those who long controlled public memory in the South.

As all historians know, forgetting is as essential to public understandings of history as remembering. Confederate statues do not simply commemorate “our” history, as the president declared. They honor one part of our past. Where are the statues in the former slave states honoring the very large part of the Southern population (beginning with the four million slaves) that sided with the Union rather than the Confederacy? Where are the monuments to the victims of slavery or to the hundreds of black lawmakers who during Reconstruction served in positions ranging from United States senator to justice of the peace to school board official? Excluding blacks from historical recognition has been the other side of the coin of glorifying the Confederacy.

We have come a long way from the days of the Dred Scott decision. But our public monuments have not kept up. The debate unleashed by Charlottesville is a healthy re-examination of the question “Who is an American?” And “our” history and culture is far more complex, diverse and inclusive than the president appears to realize. # # #

[Eric Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University (NY). Foner's most recent book is Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History (2017). See all of Foner's books here. He received a BA summa cum laude (history) from Columbia University, another BA (history) from Oxford University (UK), and a PhD (history) from Columbia University; Richard Hofstadter chaired Foner's dissertation committee.]


[2]Back To Directory
[x NY Fishwrap]
Why Lee Should Go, And Washington Should Stay
By Jon Meacham

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I grew up on Missionary Ridge, a Civil War battlefield overlooking Chattanooga, TN. In my childhood we could still find minie balls from the battle in which a young Union soldier, Arthur MacArthur, the father of Douglas, received the Medal of Honor. The war’s relics were real and tangible — I still have a few on my desk as I write — and so were the war’s perennial and tragic consequences.

I remember the smoke rising from downtown riots in 1980 after an all-white jury acquitted two Ku Klux Klansmen in the drive-by shotgun shootings of four black women. (A third Klan defendant was convicted only of reduced charges.) It was a stunning verdict. “Good God,” my grandfather, a retired judge, remarked of the jurors. “They didn’t let the facts get in the way.”

Facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things — and, for Southerners, they are also often uncomfortable. If we don’t face them forthrightly, we risk living in worlds of fantasy and fable, subject not to reason, the greatest of gifts, but susceptible to passion, the most dangerous of forces. In such alternative realities, the Civil War was not about slavery but about what neo-Confederates refer to as “heritage.”

So let’s talk facts. From Baltimore to New Orleans, cities across the South are removing statues of Confederate figures from public property — memorials often built as emblems of defiance to federal authority in the post-Reconstruction period and in the Warren Court years of the 1950s and ’60s. The white-supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA, this month was occasioned by the city’s decision to take down a Robert E. Lee statue.

In the ensuing chaos, President Trump spoke of the “many sides” of the debate and defended the neo-Confederate view. “I wonder,” Mr. Trump said, “is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

To me, the answer to Mr. Trump’s question begins with a straightforward test: Was the person to whom a monument is erected on public property devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government? Washington and Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were. Each owned slaves; each was largely a creature of his time and place on matters of race. Yet each also believed in the transcendent significance of the nation, and each was committed to the journey toward “a more perfect Union.”

By definition, the Confederate hierarchy fails that test. Those who took up arms against the Union were explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey. While we should judge each individual on the totality of their lives (defenders of Lee, for instance, point to his attempts to be a figure of reconciliation after the war), the forces of hate and of exclusion long ago made Confederate imagery their own. Monuments in public places of veneration to those who believed it their duty to fight the Union have no place in the Union of the 21st century — a view with which Lee himself might have agreed. “I think it wiser,” he wrote in 1866, “not to keep open the sores of war.”

Of course, Lee lost that struggle, too, and my home state is dealing with just this issue at the moment. In 1973, the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised money to install a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Southern cavalry commander and early leader of the Klan, in the state capitol.

It’s ahistoric to judge figures from the past by our own moral standards. Yet we need not contort ourselves to find Forrest wanting as an object of veneration. He was condemned for outrages and atrocities in his own time. One example: the massacre at Fort Pillow in April 1864, in western Tennessee, where Forrest’s men “cruelly butchered every colored soldier they could lay hands upon,” according to a report in The Chicago Tribune not long after.

More than a century and a half on, the battle over Forrest’s memory here may offer lessons for others. Taken as a whole, my state was always ambivalent about the Confederacy. In February 1861 a majority of its voters opposed a proposed secession convention, with pro-Union sentiment particularly strong in the more mountainous eastern region of the state. Then came Fort Sumter and the federal call to fight the secessionists, and secession carried the day at last.

By the end of the war, 120,000 Tennesseans had fought for the Confederacy, but a significant number, 31,000, took up arms for the Union. As historians have noted, that meant Tennessee alone provided the federal forces with more soldiers than all other seceded states combined.

Given its history during the Confederate era, then, Tennessee has the capacity to be more reasonable in the neo-Confederate one. According to a 2016 law, the removal of a monument like the one to Forrest requires either an act of the General Assembly or a two-thirds vote of the state’s historical commission, most of whom are appointed by the governor. And the position of Governor Bill Haslam, a popular Republican, is clear: It’s time for the Forrest bust to go. “I don’t believe Nathan Bedford Forrest should be one of the individuals we honor at the Capitol,” he said. “That history should be put in a museum, not in a place of honor.”

“There will never be peace in Tennessee,” Union General William T. Sherman once said, “until Forrest is dead.” Like his more celebrated remark that war is hell, Sherman was onto something. The good news in this grim period of 2017 is that reasonable Southerners may be ready to give peace a chance. # # #

[Jon Meacham is a Visiting Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University (TN). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the Society of American Historians. Meacham won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 biography American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. See other books by Jon Meacham here. He received a BA summa cum laude (English) from the University of the South (TN).]

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Monday, August 21, 2017

How Low Can We Go?

In the e-mail that brought today's 'toon to this blogger, Tom/Dan wrote:

I understand that there are multiple Trump crises in any given week, but I thought that “Crisis of the Week” was punchier than “Crisis of the Last Day and a Half,” or maybe “Crisis of the Last Twelve Hours.”

The buried joke in this one is that Ryan and McConnell are standing in front of the statue of Jefferson Davis in the US Capitol.

Steve Bannon jumped-or-was-pushed Friday afternoon as I was finishing up work. Reporters and Breitbart types on Twitter all started tweeting immediately that he is now ready to declare war on Trump from the right. Shortly after that, Bannon released a statement insisting that he's going to war *for* Donald Trump.

When Americans were studying where each apparatchik was standing on the observation deck on Lenin's Tomb during May Day parades for clues as to who was in or out of favor, we called it Kremlinology. We are all Kremlinologists of our own government now....

Until next week!

Dan (aka Tom)

Just when you think it can't get any worse..., it does. This is the state of the nation after 6 months of the scumminess: more and more scum with each passing week. If this the most nauseating (not fair & balanced) prospect for the United Sates of America, so be it.

PS: Here's a photo of the Jefferson Davis statue in the US Capitol for comparison with the image in the fourth panel of the 'toon (Tom/Dan's secret joke):

[x TMW]
Crisis Of The Week
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]


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Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Cautionary Tale About Excessive Screen Tapping

It was serendipitous that this blogger encountered today's "Pearl Before Swine" 'toon in the funny papers section of this morning's fishwrap. Poor innocent Pig asks the erudite Goat to define addiction and the cartoon below provides an example just in time to accompany a social critique of smartphones like the iPhone. If this is a (fair & balanced) jeremiad, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?
By Jean M. Twenge


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One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”

Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.

To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

In the early 1970s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth. The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.

Fifteen years later, during my own teenage years as a member of Generation X, smoking had lost some of its romance, but independence was definitely still in. My friends and I plotted to get our driver’s license as soon as we could, making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. Asked by our parents, “When will you be home?,” we replied, “When do I have to be?”

But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

Today’s teens are also less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. The drop is the sharpest for ninth-graders, among whom the number of sexually active teens has been cut by almost 40 percent since 1991. The average teen now has had sex for the first time by the spring of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Gen Xer. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991.

Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture, from "Rebel Without a Cause" to "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off," has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school. For some, Mom and Dad are such good chauffeurs that there’s no urgent need to drive. “My parents drove me everywhere and never complained, so I always had rides,” a 21-year-old student in San Diego told me. “I didn’t get my license until my mom told me I had to because she could not keep driving me to school.” She finally got her license six months after her 18th birthday. In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Independence isn’t free—you need some money in your pocket to pay for gas, or for that bottle of schnapps. In earlier eras, kids worked in great numbers, eager to finance their freedom or prodded by their parents to learn the value of a dollar. But iGen teens aren’t working (or managing their own money) as much. In the late 1970s, 77 percent of high-school seniors worked for pay during the school year; by the mid-2010s, only 55 percent did. The number of eighth-graders who work for pay has been cut in half. These declines accelerated during the Great Recession, but teen employment has not bounced back, even though job availability has.

Of course, putting off the responsibilities of adulthood is not an iGen innovation. Gen Xers, in the 1990s, were the first to postpone the traditional markers of adulthood. Young Gen Xers were just about as likely to drive, drink alcohol, and date as young Boomers had been, and more likely to have sex and get pregnant as teens. But as they left their teenage years behind, Gen Xers married and started careers later than their Boomer predecessors had.

Gen X managed to stretch adolescence beyond all previous limits: Its members started becoming adults earlier and finished becoming adults later. Beginning with Millennials and continuing with iGen, adolescence is contracting again—but only because its onset is being delayed. Across a range of behaviors—drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised— 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school.

Why are today’s teens waiting longer to take on both the responsibilities and the pleasures of adulthood? Shifts in the economy, and parenting, certainly play a role. In an information economy that rewards higher education more than early work history, parents may be inclined to encourage their kids to stay home and study rather than to get a part-time job. Teens, in turn, seem to be content with this homebody arrangement—not because they’re so studious, but because their social life is lived on their phone. They don’t need to leave home to spend time with their friends.

If today’s teens were a generation of grinds, we’d see that in the data. But eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the 2010s actually spend less time on homework than Gen X teens did in the early 1990s. (High-school seniors headed for four-year colleges spend about the same amount of time on homework as their predecessors did.) The time that seniors spend on activities such as student clubs and sports and exercise has changed little in recent years. Combined with the decline in working for pay, this means iGen teens have more leisure time than Gen X teens did, not less.

So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.

One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were. “I’ve seen my friends with their families—they don’t talk to them,” Athena told me. “They just say ‘Okay, okay, whatever’ while they’re on their phones. They don’t pay attention to their family.” Like her peers, Athena is an expert at tuning out her parents so she can focus on her phone. She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

In this, too, she is typical. The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. That’s something most teens used to do: nerds and jocks, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students. The roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot—they’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web.

You might expect that teens spend so much time in these new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data suggest that it does not. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991. The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. Admittedly, 10 hours a week is a lot. But those who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are still 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less. The opposite is true of in-person interactions. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time.

If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen. Of course, these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness. One study asked college students with a Facebook page to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks. They’d get a text message with a link five times a day, and report on their mood and how much they’d used Facebook. The more they’d used Facebook, the unhappier they felt, but feeling unhappy did not subsequently lead to more Facebook use.

Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation. Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.” Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.

This doesn’t always mean that, on an individual level, kids who spend more time online are lonelier than kids who spend less time online. Teens who spend more time on social media also spend more time with their friends in person, on average—highly social teens are more social in both venues, and less social teens are less so. But at the generational level, when teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common.

So is depression. Once again, the effect of screen activities is unmistakable: The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.

Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.) One piece of data that indirectly but stunningly captures kids’ growing isolation, for good and for bad: Since 2007, the homicide rate among teens has declined, but the suicide rate has increased. As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves. In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.

Depression and suicide have many causes; too much technology is clearly not the only one. And the teen suicide rate was even higher in the 1990s, long before smartphones existed. Then again, about four times as many Americans now take antidepressants, which are often effective in treating severe depression, the type most strongly linked to suicide.

What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it. Accordingly, the number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups. Like the increase in loneliness, the upswing in feeling left out has been swift and significant.

This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys. Girls use social media more often, giving them additional opportunities to feel excluded and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them. Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes. When Athena posts pictures to Instagram, she told me, “I’m nervous about what people think and are going to say. It sometimes bugs me when I don’t get a certain amount of likes on a picture.”

Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent—more than twice as much. The rise in suicide, too, is more pronounced among girls. Although the rate increased for both sexes, three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared with twice as many boys. The suicide rate is still higher for boys, in part because they use more-lethal methods, but girls are beginning to close the gap.

These more dire consequences for teenage girls could also be rooted in the fact that they’re more likely to experience cyberbullying. Boys tend to bully one another physically, while girls are more likely to do so by undermining a victim’s social status or relationships. Social media give middle- and high-school girls a platform on which to carry out the style of aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls around the clock.

Social-media companies are of course aware of these problems, and to one degree or another have endeavored to prevent cyberbullying. But their various motivations are, to say the least, complex. A recently leaked Facebook document indicated that the company had been touting to advertisers its ability to determine teens’ emotional state based on their on-site behavior, and even to pinpoint “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” Facebook acknowledged that the document was real, but denied that it offers “tools to target people based on their emotional state.”

In July 2014, a 13-year-old girl in North Texas woke to the smell of something burning. Her phone had overheated and melted into the sheets. National news outlets picked up the story, stoking readers’ fears that their cellphone might spontaneously combust. To me, however, the flaming cellphone wasn’t the only surprising aspect of the story. Why, I wondered, would anyone sleep with her phone beside her in bed? It’s not as though you can surf the web while you’re sleeping. And who could slumber deeply inches from a buzzing phone?

Curious, I asked my undergraduate students at San Diego State University what they do with their phone while they sleep. Their answers were a profile in obsession. Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up. If they woke in the middle of the night, they often ended up looking at their phone. Some used the language of addiction. “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed. Others saw their phone as an extension of their body—or even like a lover: “Having my phone closer to me while I’m sleeping is a comfort.”

It may be a comfort, but the smartphone is cutting into teens’ sleep: Many now sleep less than seven hours most nights. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours of sleep a night; a teen who is getting less than seven hours a night is significantly sleep deprived. Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.

The increase is suspiciously timed, once again starting around when most teens got a smartphone. Two national surveys show that teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 28 percent more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep than those who spend fewer than three hours, and teens who visit social-media sites every day are 19 percent more likely to be sleep deprived. A meta-analysis of studies on electronic-device use among children found similar results: Children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day.

Electronic devices and social media seem to have an especially strong ability to disrupt sleep. Teens who read books and magazines more often than the average are actually slightly less likely to be sleep deprived—either reading lulls them to sleep, or they can put the book down at bedtime. Watching TV for several hours a day is only weakly linked to sleeping less. But the allure of the smartphone is often too much to resist.

Sleep deprivation is linked to myriad issues, including compromised thinking and reasoning, susceptibility to illness, weight gain, and high blood pressure. It also affects mood: People who don’t sleep enough are prone to depression and anxiety. Again, it’s difficult to trace the precise paths of causation. Smartphones could be causing lack of sleep, which leads to depression, or the phones could be causing depression, which leads to lack of sleep. Or some other factor could be causing both depression and sleep deprivation to rise. But the smartphone, its blue light glowing in the dark, is likely playing a nefarious role.

The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.

What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life. Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.

I realize that restricting technology might be an unrealistic demand to impose on a generation of kids so accustomed to being wired at all times. My three daughters were born in 2006, 2009, and 2012. They’re not yet old enough to display the traits of iGen teens, but I have already witnessed firsthand just how ingrained new media are in their young lives. I’ve observed my toddler, barely old enough to walk, confidently swiping her way through an iPad. I’ve experienced my 6-year-old asking for her own cellphone. I’ve overheard my 9-year-old discussing the latest app to sweep the fourth grade. Prying the phone out of our kids’ hands will be difficult, even more so than the quixotic efforts of my parents’ generation to get their kids to turn off MTV and get some fresh air. But more seems to be at stake in urging teens to use their phone responsibly, and there are benefits to be gained even if all we instill in our children is the importance of moderation. Significant effects on both mental health and sleep time appear after two or more hours a day on electronic devices. The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices. Some mild boundary-setting could keep kids from falling into harmful habits.

In my conversations with teens, I saw hopeful signs that kids themselves are beginning to link some of their troubles to their ever-present phone. Athena told me that when she does spend time with her friends in person, they are often looking at their device instead of at her. “I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look at my face,” she said. “They’re looking at their phone, or they’re looking at their Apple Watch.” “What does that feel like, when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?,” I asked. “It kind of hurts,” she said. “It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.”

Once, she told me, she was hanging out with a friend who was texting her boyfriend. “I was trying to talk to her about my family, and what was going on, and she was like, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, whatever.’ So I took her phone out of her hands and I threw it at my wall.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “You play volleyball,” I said. “Do you have a pretty good arm?” “Yep,” she replied. # # #

[Jean M. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me (2006, 2014) and iGen (2017). This essay was derived from that latter book. Twenge received both a BA (sociology and psychology) and an MA (social sciences) from the University of Chicago and a PhD (psychology) from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.]

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