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Values has been of late a much-abused word, being brandished as almost synonymous with nativism, jingoism, the nuclear family, religious systems, and flat-out bigotry. Yet the word itself, stripped of these overlays, still has, well . . . value. For instance, disagreements over money are almost always about differing values, whether they’re quarrels about family issues, business matters, or politics. So it is with what is shaping up in Congress over budgetary emphasis. It comes down to values. I am the last person to take issue with funding for sturdy bridges, smooth roads, clean water, and all those other items that make for, shall we say, civilized living. But it’s also true that such priorities — so-called “hard infrastructure”— are meaningless if there is nobody to cross those bridges, walk on those roads, drink that water, etc. Furthermore, any time something gets named “hard,” and something else gets named “soft,”...

Afghanistan is a country about the size of Texas. Within one 24-hour period, between August 31 and September 1, the Taliban rose to power in both. Sima Samar, Afghan former Deputy President and Minister of Affairs, and the 17-year Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, warned that “Sustainable peace will not be possible without full and meaningful participation of women as half of the population. Without peace in Afghanistan, the problem will reach other countries as well, as history has shown.” History isn’t waiting, it’s already on display. I’m not going to descend into wrangling over President Biden’s decision to end America’s longest, 20-year war. I understand, so far as my knowledge of the facts extends, the terrible ironies inherent in his decision, and the rage and grief of some American veterans who are being reassured that their sacrifice was for something other than corporate and political power. It was. Though...

Friends! I hope you all had a wonderful summer. It's just about time for us to get back to it, but we have a small bit of "housekeeping" to announce before we do.

Juneteenth--also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day--is now a formal holiday nationwide, celebrating the emancipation of people formally enslaved in the United States. It's been a long time comin'.

Although I've lived for certain protracted periods in the country—once, notably, in New Zealand on a farm—I am undeniably and deeply a city girl. Specifically a New York City girl, I confess. Which may serve at least partly to explain why this week we're focusing on cities. There's a larger reason, though. The United States has always contained an internal dichotomy: cosmopolitan versus frontier mentalities, urban versus rural (and everything that that's metaphorically come to represent), east versus west (both now also versus "flyover" middle, for that matter). This has uniquely shaped people's lives in our Republic, because it's been there from the very beginning. For every city dweller among the Constitution's Framers, like Ben Franklin, there were three more farmers and plantation owners. Even otherwise urban John Adams had a farm (which of course Abigail tended). So this Republic was formed largely as an agrarian country—and therein lies the...

In the last four years, partisan politics have reached a new low in our nation. Everyone deplores this, but the American people made their preference clear in the last presidential election, with a landslide vote for Biden and the Democrats, against Trump and his party (whatever that is, the Republican Party or some nightmare of a Trumpist party). Agonies in the Republican Party become more evident every day. Is it time for a new party? A third major party? The revamping of the GOP? For that matter, united as they seem to be, Democrats also have internal fault lines—progressive versus conservative—within their fold. Since the 1850s, the Democratic Party—center left and liberal—and the Republican Party—center right and conservative—have formed our two-party system, with variations. (Third parties do operate in the United States and sometimes elect candidates to local offices, but have not made inroads per se nationally. The largest third party since...