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The Pinched-Hose Economy
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.“It’s not just my opinion that things are weird,” Derek Thompson told me recently. It’s a fact of life, he explained, that the U.S. economy is behaving very strangely right now.But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic. What comes after the search warrant? How California exported its worst problem to Texas The other Ukrainian army A Flopping HoseWe learned last week that unemployment in the U.S. is as low as it’s been at any time in the past 50 years, and a report released today shows that inflation slowed in July. Those are very good things—and yet, economic output has also slowed in 2022, enough that economists are asking whether the country is in a recession.I caught up with Derek Thompson, a staff writer and the author of the Work in Progress newsletter, about this huge disconnect between job growth and economic growth, and asked why it’s so hard to understand what’s happening with the economy right now. “If economic growth is really declining, it’s one of the strangest downturns in American history,” he told me.Isabel Fattal: How should a regular, nonexpert person think about this moment in the U.S. economy?Derek Thompson: When you’re thinking about the economy, you should think about three categories: statistics, labels, and feelings. Statistics, like the inflation rate or the unemployment rate, come from government surveys, and you should trust them, because they are highly descriptive of what is happening to the broader economy.Feelings come from your personal experience in the economy. Is your local labor market good? How do you feel about whether your income is holding up against inflation?Labels come from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Business Cycle Dating Committee. The label of “Are we in a recession or not?” is determined by eight economists. That has nothing to do with your feelings of the local economy at all.Isabel: You wrote recently that “Are we in a recession?” is the wrong question to ask. Why?Derek: There’s two reasons why it’s so hard to say whether we’re in a recession right now. Number one, the NBER is not going to render a judgment for several months, several quarters, or more than a year. So why debate now what we might not know for a year?Number two, the GDP estimate that we just got from the Bureau of Economic Analysis is just that—an estimate—and the estimate will be revised. There’s about a coin-flip chance that the economy actually grew in the first half of 2022. What we know about recent growth unfortunately isn’t solid.Isabel: What is one thing we do know for sure about the economy right now?Derek: We know three things for sure. Number one, we know that inflation is very high, historically speaking—one of the highest rates in the past 40 years. Number two, we know that unemployment is low, as low as it’s been in 50 years. The labor market is roaring.Number three, we know that growth is slowing down. We know that the GDP growth rate was really high in 2021, and we know that it’s slowing down in 2022. We don’t know if it’s what some economists would call a recession.Isabel: As you’ve written, we’re in an everything-is-weird economy because different factors are behaving in contradictory ways; for example, jobs are growing, but the economy is shrinking. How should people deal with these mixed messages? What should we be paying most attention to?Derek: Predicting the future of the economy is so hard that it’s useful to have a single metric to look for. The single metric I would watch is inflation, because if inflation starts to come down, as I believe it will in the next few months [it declined to 8.5 percent in July], the Federal Reserve doesn’t have to keep hacking up interest rates. If interest rates don’t keep going up, then the economy will probably get back to growth. So it all flows from inflation, and if I were interested in figuring out the direction of the economy, I’d be obsessed with watching energy prices, housing prices, and retail spending.Isabel: How are Americans feeling about the economy right now? There’s a possibility that people’s feelings can actually affect where the economy goes from here, right?Derek: It’s a really important point. Feelings aren’t imaginary. Feelings drive the economy, to a certain extent. When people are optimistic about the future, they spend more money.But if you ask consumers how they’re feeling about the economy, they increasingly bifurcate by ideology. Republicans say they’re sad about the economy when a Democrat is in the White House. And Democrats say they’re sad about the economy when a Republican is in the White House. So it’s not as useful as it used to be to ask people about their consumer sentiment, because increasingly, consumer sentiment is just political sentiment.On my podcast, Plain English, the economist Austan Goolsbee made the great point that in 1992, the entire presidential election was about an economic slowdown that had technically already ended. So statistically, the recession was over, but in vibes and feelings, the recession was deepening, and you had this electoral outcome—the defeat of the incumbent president—hinged on feelings of a recession that actually didn’t exist. That goes to show that even if feelings are disconnected from statistics, they still have real-world outcomes.Isabel: Is this an unprecedented moment for the economy?Derek: We’ve never had an economy like this, period. This is a cliché, but I’ve called this the pinched-hose economy. If you turn on the water in your backyard hose and you pinch the hose for a while, the water will build up, and then, when you release the hose, it’ll start sputtering wildly, and the hose will flop all over the place in a violent and strange manner. That’s what happened in the economy. We shut off the hose and said no one will fly, no one will go to restaurants, people won’t go to movie theaters. We purposefully shut down the economy because of the pandemic.But then demand, which is the water, surged beyond supply’s capacity to easily fulfill it. That’s why we’re seeing the economic hose flopping all over the place. It’s why things are weird with baby formula, with gas prices, with airlines. That’s the hose flopping around. The hose is still flopping.Related: The three biggest mysteries about the U.S. economy Why we hate rising prices more than we fear losing our jobs Today’s News Donald Trump took the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions from the New York State attorney general’s office in the investigation into his company’s business practices. Russian forces killed at least 13 civilians and wounded others in a missile attack in southern Ukraine overnight. Ukrainian special forces also reportedly carried out a strike on a Russian air base in Crimea yesterday, a move that would mark a significant escalation in fighting. The Justice Department charged a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard with allegedly plotting to assassinate John Bolton. Dispatches Deep Shtetl: Yair Rosenberg explains how President Joe Biden keeps winning the internet by accident. The Weekly Planet: Congress just passed a big climate bill—not the one you think, Robinson Meyer reports. Evening Read (Remus86 / Getty) Hibernation: The Extreme Lifestyle That Can Stop AgingBy Katherine J. WuToday’s most elderly bats aren’t supposed to exist. Ounce for ounce and pound for pound, they are categorically teeny mammals; according to the evolutionary rules that hold across species, they should be short-lived, like other small-bodied creatures.Read the full article. More From The Atlantic The “L.A. woman” reveals herself. Lessons from a lonely, Trump-defiant Republican “History is human”: Remembering David McCullough Culture Break (Apple TV+ / Getty / The Atlantic) Read. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, a memoir set in New Orleans that has an incredible sense of place.Or try another pick from our list of eight books that grapple with a hard childhood.Watch. In the mood to solve a puzzle? Watch or rewatch Severance (Apple TV+) or Yellowjackets (Showtime)—but this time, try to follow along with fan theories on the internet, which play a bigger part in shaping modern TV than you might realize.Play our daily crossword.
theatlantic.com
America’s New Monkeypox Strategy Rests on a Single Study
Once again, the United States is messing up its approach to vaccines. Three months into its monkeypox outbreak, just 620,000 doses of the two-injection Jynneos shot—the nation’s current best immune defense against the virus—have been shipped to states, not nearly enough to immunize the 1.6 million to 1.7 million Americans that the CDC considers at highest risk. The next deliveries from the manufacturer aren’t slated until September at the earliest. For now, we’re stuck with the stocks we’ve got.Which is why the feds have turned to Inoculation Plan B: splitting Jynneos doses into five, and poking them into the skin, rather than into the layer of fat beneath. The FDA issued an emergency-use authorization for the strategy yesterday afternoon.This dose-sparing tactic will allow far more people to sign up for doses before summer’s end; if successful, it could help contain the outbreak in the U.S., which currently accounts for nearly a third of the world’s documented monkeypox cases. But this decision is based on scant data, and the degree of protection offered by in-skin shots is no guarantee. The FDA is now playing a high-stakes game with the health and trust of people most vulnerable to monkeypox—an already marginalized population. Call it a bold decision; call it a risky gamble: It may be the best option the country currently has, but one the U.S. could have avoided had it marshaled a stronger response earlier on.[Read: America should have been able to handle monkeypox]Little is known about how Jynneos performs against monkeypox even in its prescribed dosing regimen, the so-called subcutaneous route; the new method, intradermal injection, is a murkier proposition still. “We are in a very data-thin zone,” says Jeanne Marrazzo, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.The shot was approved for use against smallpox and monkeypox in 2019. But to date, researchers don’t have a strong sense of how well it guards against disease or infection or how long protection lasts. Although scientists know that two doses of Jynneos can elicit similar numbers of antibodies as older poxvirus vaccines, no estimates of the vaccine’s true efficacy, from large-scale clinical trials, exist; a human study in the Congo hasn’t yet reported results. And though firmer data have shown that the vaccine keeps lab monkeys from getting seriously sick, “I don’t necessarily trust making the clinical decisions” based just on that, says Mark Slifka, a vaccinologist at Oregon Health & Science University. It’s not even clear if Jynneos can stop someone from transmitting the virus, especially now that many cases seem to be arising via skin-to-skin contact during sex, an understudied form of spread.The emergency switch to lower-dose intradermal administration has been tested with other vaccines, among them the shots that guard against yellow fever and influenza. Skin is rife with specialized defensive cells that can snatch up bits of vaccines and ferry them to other immune fighters, “so you can use a smaller dose and get similar responses” to a full-size subcutaneous shot, says Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, a pharmacist at Loma Linda University, in California.One lone study from 2015 suggests that this logic should hold for Jynneos—at least among the trial’s participants, healthy adults who were mostly young and white. In that group, the subcutaneous and intradermal shots were “quite comparable” at rousing antibodies in the body, which is “very encouraging,” says Kathryn Edwards, a vaccinologist at Vanderbilt University who helped conduct the study. But that’s not the same as bona fide protection against the virus. And what happened in that single study won’t necessarily play out in the real world, especially in the context of the current outbreak, which differs from its predecessors in demographic and size. “I do think these data need to be confirmed,” Edwards told me. Most of the cases so far have been in men who have sex with men, many of them living with HIV—a community whose immune systems don’t look the same as the population at large, and in whom vaccines may not take as well, or for as long, Slifka told me. And yet the FDA has charged ahead “completely based on” that 2015 study, says Alexandra Yonts, a pediatric infectious-disease physician at Children’s National Hospital. In a statement, the agency explained that it had “determined that the known and potential benefits of Jynneos outweigh the known and potential risks” for green-lighting the intradermal route.Delivering vaccines into skin leaves little room for error. The tuberculosis skin test is also administered intradermally; Marrazzo has seen “dozens of those messed up.” People have bled or been bruised. Needles have gone too deep—a mistake that can slash effectiveness—or too shallow, letting liquid ooze back out. Intradermal injections are an uncommon and difficult procedure, requiring additional training and specialized needles. “There is going to be some degree of error,” says Kenneth Cruz, a community-health worker in New York. “People are going to wonder if they’re protected, and it’s going to be difficult to check.”Already, health-care providers are having “issues staffing vaccination clinics for subcutaneous injections,” says Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious-disease physician at Emory University; the switch to intradermal will exacerbate those shortages and could raise further vaccination barriers for people without reliable health-care access. Intradermal shots can also come with more irksome side effects, as the 2015 study suggested, including redness and swelling at the injection site that can be “pretty robust and severe,” Marrazzo told me. People who get their first doses might not come back for more, defeating the point.Dose-splitting is still “a much better way to go,” Yonts told me, than skipping or seriously delaying second doses—which has already happened in cities such as New York; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco—in an effort to conserve supplies. Even elsewhere, second appointments are very hard to get. “I do not know anyone who’s gotten the second dose,” says Nick Diamond, one of the investigators behind RESPND-MI, an LGBTQ-led survey of monkeypox symptoms and networks. Which isn’t great: After just one shot, antibody levels “barely budge,” Yonts said, leaving people vulnerable until two weeks after the second injection is complete. (Another vaccine, ACAM2000, is available but can cause serious side effects, and isn’t recommended for people who are immunocompromised, including those with HIV.)With no other good choices on the table, dose-splitting is the only road to take. “I don’t really see another viable option,” Marrazzo told me. That doesn’t erase the fact that the nation squandered its chance with Inoculation Plan A: leveraging its considerable resources to deploy the tests, treatments, and vaccines to contain the outbreak early on, and keep subcutaneous shots in contention. Now, with about 9,500 recorded infections among Americans nationwide—a definite undercount—the door to that has slammed shut. Sticking with the strategy of two full subcutaneous doses for all was projected to leave us with “no vaccine by October,” Marrazzo said.Plan B, though, could have real costs, depressing vaccine demand and trust. Already, “we haven’t been able to answer questions about the level of protection,” Diamond told me, “which makes it really hard for people to make decisions around risk.” The best Abdul-Mutakabbir has been able to tell her patients is that “receiving this vaccine will likely protect you more than if you had not,” she said. Which doesn’t do much to “allay fears and worries,” Cruz told me, especially after more than a year of confusing and conflicting messages about COVID vaccination.[Read: What should worry most Americans about our monkeypox response]Joseph Osmundson, a microbiologist at NYU and a RESPND-MI investigator, told me that he thinks the Biden administration did not properly consult members of vulnerable communities before plowing ahead with dose-splitting. And he worries that disparities could arise if subcutaneous shots end up outperforming intradermal ones: People who had the socioeconomic privilege to find and access appointments early will have gotten the primo doses, while those already at higher risk skate by on a smaller serving of immunity, exacerbating the inequities the outbreak has already begun to exploit. The numbers alone could leave a bad taste: “If I were standing in line to get a fifth of a vaccine,” Diamond told me, “I would wonder why my health is valued less.”Dose-splitting is a stopgap—“not a solution” that’s sustainable, says Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the FDA. The monkeypox outbreak could stretch on for many months, or become endemic in animals. Eventually, boosts may be necessary; ACAM2000 may yet have a larger role to play. The U.S. will need clinical trials to understand which dosing strategies actually work best, and in whom—and the populations most affected, especially men who have sex with men, should be involved in those decisions along the way. Officials must be “transparent about the gaps that exist,” Abdul-Mutakabbir told me, “and be intentional about working to fill those gaps.”Still, as news of the dose-splitting decision continues to percolate out into the population, an inadvertent message may already be getting sent: “The government is placing the onus on community members to protect themselves,” Cruz said. “But we’re in this position because the government failed.” Should the administration’s big bet on dose-splitting not pay off, Osmundson said, for those who have so far borne the outbreak’s brunt, “that will be the nail in the coffin of any public trust.”
theatlantic.com
‘History Is Human’: Remembering David McCullough
Two years ago, I happened to come across an interview with David McCullough in the Vineyard Gazette, his hometown newspaper. I still have it, printed out and placed in a folder in my desk drawer. I kept it because, as was so often the case, McCullough had said something that I wanted to remember. “There are any number of ways to begin a book,” he had told the interviewer while they sat on the back porch of his house on Martha’s Vineyard. “I like to begin with somebody on the move.”The first book I read by McCullough was John Adams, one of his many masterworks that begins with men on the move. “In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter,” he wrote, “two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north.” For me, that was all it took. I wanted to know who these men were, where they were going, what was going to happen next. I did not care that the book was nearly 800 pages long. I was hooked.For writers of nonfiction, there are subjects, and then there are stories. McCullough always told stories. In 2003, in an electrifying speech titled “The Course of Human Events,” which he gave for the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, McCullough famously said that “no harm’s done to history by making it something someone would want to read.” History, he believed, was for everyone. It affected us all, so it belonged to us all. It could begin or prevent wars; expand or distort human understanding; connect us to other cultures, other times, other species. It was important, but that did not mean that we had to grit our teeth and set out on a forced march through the past. On the contrary, we should be sucked in from the first page. McCullough’s books, his hundreds of interviews and articles, his words of wisdom to struggling writers, the irresistible stories he told his legions of loyal readers, left an indelible mark on my own writing, and I am far from alone. Since the publication of his first book, The Johnstown Flood, in 1968, when he was 35 years old, narrative nonfiction, as it has come to be known, has grown exponentially, giving rise to such accomplished and dazzling writers of biography and history as Erik Larson and Laura Hillenbrand, Isabel Wilkerson and David Grann. Those of us who admire these authors have, in many ways, McCullough to thank for their riveting work. He opened a door and they walked through, carrying us along. [Read: A 1977 review of David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas]For most of his life, McCullough wrote in a small, book-lined backyard shed, which he called “the bookshop.” “Nothing good was ever written in a large room,” he argued in a 1999 interview with The Paris Review. Inside the bookshop, on a small desk, sits a green banker’s lamp above a Royal typewriter, which he bought for $25 in 1965. “When I was setting out to write my first book, I thought, ‘This is going to be business, McCullough. You ought to have one of these at home,’” he said. “Everything that I’ve ever written, I’ve written on that typewriter . . . And after a while, I began to think, maybe it’s writing the books. So I didn’t dare switch.” As loyal as he was to his typewriter, McCullough was exacting when it came to his subjects. He did not have to love them, but he did have to be able to live with them. “It’s like picking a roommate,” he said, explaining why he had decided not to write a biography of Pablo Picasso, even though he himself loved to paint. “After all you’re going to be with that person every day, maybe for years, and why subject yourself to someone you have no respect for or outright don’t like?”The many books that did survive McCullough’s careful review, pounded out on his trusty typewriter, told wide-ranging deeply human stories that inspired a new generation of writers. He mesmerized us with tales of the astonishingly brave and slightly insane men who built the Brooklyn Bridge and the bicycle-selling brothers who found first flight. We studied his young Theodore Roosevelt, born into aristocracy, galloping into history, and marveled at the incredibly crowded and complicated presidency of Harry S. Truman, a quiet, piano-playing haberdasher from Independence, Missouri. “History is human,” McCullough said. “It’s about everything. It’s about education. It’s about medicine. It’s about science. It’s about art and music and literature, and the theater. And to leave [all that] out is not only to leave out a lot of the juice and the fun and the uplifting powers of human expression, but it is to misunderstand what it is.”From David McCullough we learned that it is never enough to simply describe the past. To read one of his books is not just to understand the people who populate its pages, but to feel like you know them. As a reader, the only way to achieve that kind of intimacy is to find a writer like McCullough, whose own fascination with his subjects is palpable in every word he wrote. Unfortunately, there is no other writer like McCullough. We have lost one of the greats, but how lucky we were to have learned from him, and to know that, every time we reach for one of his books, we are setting off on an adventure. Be ready to hit the ground running because somebody’s going to be on the move.​​When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
theatlantic.com
Becoming Eve Babitz
Eve Babitz was one of the truly original writers of 20th-century Los Angeles: essayist, memoirist, novelist, groupie, feminist, canny ingenue. By the time of her death at the end of last year, she was enjoying a renaissance. Two essay collections, Eve’s Hollywood and Slow Days, Fast Company, were back in circulation; I Used to Be Charming, a gathering of previously uncollected pieces, was released in 2019. That same year, Lili Anolik published her deliciously fangirlish biography, Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A. A half-century after her major-magazine debut at Rolling Stone, Eve Babitz was being introduced to a new generation of readers by writers who had sharpened their craft by reading her.If you know only one thing about Eve Babitz, it’s probably that in 1963, at the age of 20, she was photographed at the Pasadena Art Museum playing chess with Marcel Duchamp—in the nude (elle, not il). In March of this year, the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, less than four miles from the venue of that chess match, announced the acquisition of the Babitz archive—a few dozen bankers boxes of manuscripts, original works of art, journals, photographs, and correspondence.I was lucky enough to be granted early access to the archive. A longtime admirer of Babitz’s work, I could hardly believe my good fortune. As a teenager, my point of entry was her writing about rock and pop: If you know only two things about Babitz, the second is probably that she’s the L.A. woman in the Doors song. (One of the archive’s nice surprises: an unpublished story called “… Coming Closer …” based on her relationship with Jim Morrison.) I was overwhelmed with curiosity about what her papers might reveal. What could the personal documents of a writer who was so public about her private world teach us about her work? How much of that persona was a performance and how much a reflection of her real anxieties and ambitions?One of the oddities of the archive is that when it comes to her letters—I spent time in just two boxes, which mostly contained correspondence—one doesn’t know whether any of these notes were ever sent to their putative recipients: These are not carbons but original drafts, many of them signed. Babitz comments elliptically on this peculiar epistolary practice in a letter to her friend Carol Grannison-Killorhan: “Today I’m going to mail the letter I write to you instead of sticking it into a file of unmailed letters I’ve started because they’re practically a diary.” I read this, of course, in a file of unmailed letters.If you know three things about Babitz, you probably know that Joan Didion gave her her first big break as a writer. Babitz’s actual friendship with Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, was more complicated, however, as friendships always are. A little over halfway down the second page of the eight-page (!) dedication in her first collection, Eve’s Hollywood, Didion and Dunne get a pretty sideways thanks: “And to the Didion-Dunnes for having to be who I’m not.” Just ambiguous enough to be glossed over? But privately, Babitz nursed some old wounds: In an undated note from the early 1980s, she remembers, years earlier, “John [Gregory Dunne] asking if Dan [Wakefield, a boyfriend] had written my stuff.”[Read: Joan Didion’s magic trick]In an extraordinary letter, likely from 1972, that was almost certainly never sent, Babitz takes Didion to task for hiding behind her various forms of privilege in order to opt out of feminism. The letter begins with Babitz voicing her frustration that she can’t get Didion to read Virginia Woolf, and proceeds to deftly turn the argument of A Room of One’s Own against her: “For a long long long time women didn’t have any money and didn’t have any time and were considered unfeminine if they shone like you do Joan.” Didion benefited from the ways that the literary establishment changed in response to Woolf’s critique, Babitz suggests, but Didion is unwilling to acknowledge the debt or pay it forward. “And so what you do is live in the pioneer days,” Babitz continues, “putting up preserves and down the women’s movement.”Part of the reason that Didion can do without feminism, Babitz suggests, is that the 5-foot-2, 95-pound Didion didn’t loom as a physical presence—didn’t make men uncomfortable. “Just think, Joan, if you were five feet eleven and wrote like you do and stuff—people’d judge you differently and your work,” Babitz writes in that same letter. “Could you write what you write if you weren’t so tiny, Joan? Would you be allowed to if you weren’t physically so unthreatening?”Babitz was four inches short of that 5 foot 11, but she had other attributes that made her presence, and her femininity, impossible to ignore. Her most explicit attempt to address this challenge was “My Life in a 36DD Bra, or, the All-American Obsession,” a piece she wrote for Ms. in April 1976. Babitz felt that the disembodied prose of Didion simply wasn’t possible for her. Evidence of her bodily self-consciousness punctuates the correspondence. In an undated manuscript, she suggests that, as a woman working in the music industry, she’s every bit as threatened by typecasting as a Hollywood starlet: “I’m just a sex symbol, nobody thinks I can really act just because I took my clothes off in my first movie!” In a 1972 letter, she wonders why men so freely dismiss her: “Big tits, I suppose, they think they have a right because of that.” Eve Babitz’s diary, 1975.(The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens) Babitz’s response to this situation was characteristically complex. It’s summed up in the two-sentence letter of introduction she sent to Joseph Heller in 1961: “I am a stacked eighteen-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer.” As a grammar nerd would tell you, it’s the parataxis that’s doing the interesting work here: I’m both of these supposedly mutually exclusive things, and I insist that you acknowledge both; neither is subordinate to the other. Wrap your head around that. Not surprisingly, her correspondence is full of references to Marilyn Monroe and Babitz’s anger at the men who surrounded her who, dazzled by Monroe’s sexuality, would not take her seriously.A series of letters from the fall of 1972 comment on her relationship to her body and its effect on her sense of self. Her concerns about her weight, and her adoption of various diets, are mentioned across the entire corpus of the letters—but that fall, she took up running and began to see results in both her waistline and, more significantly, her legs. In “My Life in a 36DD Bra,” Babitz deploys the “leg man/tit man” binary to her own shrewd rhetorical ends, but in these letters, she’s thrilled that getting in better physical shape means getting recognized for her legs (which in one letter she likens to Betty Grable’s) rather than her breasts. Her breasts (“tits,” she frequently insists on calling them) were given, not made; those toned legs were something that she had created herself. If she was going to be admired for what evolutionary biologists call “supernormal stimuli”—and from the age of 15, she knew that she would be—she preferred that it be for what she’d labored for rather than what she’d simply been blessed (and cursed) with.It’s clear that throughout her career, Babitz’s writing was underrated (or ignored) by powerful men in the publishing industry. Often, it was dismissed as “gossip.” In an undated letter to Heller, she thinks through the gendered implications of that term: “‘Serious’ people just don’t think that gossip, the specialité de ma maison, is ‘serious.’ Whereas I know that nothing on earth overjoys people the way gossip does. Only I think that because it’s always been regarded as some devious woman’s trick, some shallow callow shameful way of grasping situations without being in on the top conferences with the ‘serious’ men, the idea of ‘gossip’ has always been considered tsk tsk. Only how are people like me, women they’re called, supposed to understand things if we can’t get into the V.I.P. room.” Gossip, Babitz suggests, is a different, subaltern way of knowing—disdained by the (male) structures of power, but with a power (and an appeal) all its own. Eve Babitz in 1983, photo Suzanne Tenner. (The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens) One of Babitz’s characteristic habits of thought is not to reject such criticism, but to embrace it. In a 2000 letter introducing herself to a new editor at the Los Angeles Times, Babitz writes, “Basically, fun is my subject—and I can at least make some attempt to write about Los Angeles as interesting, no matter what bad things they say about it in more civilized quarters of the world, where they know they’re right.” Writing to the Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, she explains the fundamental mistake that the editors of his Los Angeles Flyer project are making: “See, those guys insist that they want hard news, but what they don’t understand about Los Angeles, is that we don’t like news, we like artifice.” Indeed, in one letter to a friend, Babitz goes further, essentially denying that gossip is distinct from information and data: “My friend Earl says I like information too much. Data. But I love data and information—it’s such a ballet—it’s such a morality play—everything is always so perfect and people seem to be dancing in the same mirrored ballroom where—like a kaleidoscope—just when you think every thing’s falling apart—it’s just going into another beautiful design.” Gossip is made in the eye of the beholder.“Information”: those 22 bankers boxes contain lots of information, both data and gossip. But as one sits in the Huntington’s Ahmanson Reading Room, poring over files and folders and photos, something even more interesting, “another beautiful design,” gradually emerges: a portrait of an artist in the process of inventing herself. If the first page of a Google image search is littered with Babitz playing chess with Duchamp, here, we’re privileged to look in on Eve Babitz playing a character called Eve Babitz, in the way that Oscar Wilde fashioned, and then played, Oscar Wilde. Most thrillingly, perhaps, this is what the archive as a whole delivers to its readers: an experience of watching Eve Babitz drafting, revising, perfecting, becoming.
theatlantic.com
COVID Made the Housing Crisis an Everywhere Problem
On an otherwise sleepy Saturday morning, cars were parked bumper to bumper along a suburban street. Couples formed a line around the block, nervously sipping coffee and double-checking paperwork. They were there to see a charming but decidedly modest house—early-’90s suburban, vinyl shutters, holly bushes—that had just come on the market. Twenty-four hours later, the home had sold for 20 percent above the asking price and $100,000 more than it had sold for in 2006 at the height of a so-called housing bubble.That’s a story we’re used to hearing about the frenzied housing markets of coastal suburbs such as Orange County and Long Island. But this house wasn’t far from where I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky—a midsize city where local boosters are given to bragging about affordability. It’s a scene that’s playing out in more and more cities across the country, especially in regions once accustomed to a low cost of living, such as the South and the Mountain West.At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the shift to remote work was supposed to ease the long-festering housing crisis in “superstar” metros such as Los Angeles and New York. Prices would fall as workers once tethered to offices in Century City or Midtown Manhattan left for affordable suburbs near Las Vegas or Orlando—or so the thinking went. In reality, two years later, housing costs in those superstar metros are at record highs, while the wave of pandemic-era migrations has helped spread the affordability crisis nationwide.Absent deep reforms to the way we plan cities, it’s only going to get worse.2021 was always going to be a horrendous year for housing markets.Let’s start with the demand side. As pandemic restrictions wound down, consumers found themselves with a glut of savings. A shift to remote work—likely here to stay—made a finished basement or an extra bedroom even more tantalizing. And for many prospective buyers, plunging interest rates made those upgrades affordable.[Derek Thompson: Why your house was so expensive]These factors might sound good for consumers seeking better housing, but paired with a snarled supply side, they spelled disaster. A nationwide labor shortage hit right as high tariffs and chaotic supply chains made building materials unavailable. By one estimate, a quarter of all construction positions remain unfilled, a situation unlikely to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, prices for key materials skyrocketed: Softwood-lumber prices, for example, increased nearly 500 percent from March 2020 to 2021.Supply-side problems were especially apparent in major cities such as Atlanta, where residential permitting hit lows not seen since the Great Recession. Yet even where permitting remained steady, an unprecedented number of projects were scuttled. Within a block of my Los Angeles apartment, two half-built apartment buildings sit empty, casting shadows over tent encampments. With interest rates back up and the economy sputtering, the gap between permits and completions is almost certain to persist.You don’t need to study economics to know that surging demand amid stagnant supply causes prices to rise. According to the Case-Shiller Index, nationwide home prices jumped by nearly 20 percent last year alone. That’s the highest rate since 1979, another year of crippling inflation and economic uncertainty.Rents followed suit. The national median rent for a one-bedroom apartment also surged nearly 20 percent over the course of 2021. The average renter in any major U.S. city now spends more than a third of their income on housing, qualifying as “rent burdened” under federal standards. In Miami and Los Angeles, the typical renter now spends more than half of their income on rent.If the problem were simply low interest rates or international-trade hiccups, we could reasonably expect prices to come back down. For all their faults, markets have a way of solving issues like those. But the current housing crisis is a symptom of something much deeper.We walked into the coronavirus pandemic with a national housing crisis already brewing. According to a recent report by Up for Growth, a group advocating for solutions to the national housing shortage, the United States was short 3.79 million homes in 2019, a 130 percent increase over 2012. Researchers estimate that 169 metro areas—from Boston to San Diego—weren’t building nearly enough housing to keep up with demand, up from 100 metro areas in 2012.[M. Nolan Gray: Cancel zoning]At the start of the pandemic, many eagerly predicted that the “death of the city” would help solve this. A shift to remote work, the story went, would cause a wave of migration out of high-cost cities in the Northeast and on the West Coast—long suffering from self-imposed housing shortages—and into low-cost cities in the South and the Mountain West. This would benefit everyone, easing pressure on housing prices in the former regions while spurring economic growth in the latter.It didn’t quite work out that way. Yes, places such as Manhattan and San Francisco lost some of their population. And pre-pandemic migration patterns—from California to Texas, for example, and from New York to Florida—ramped up. By one measure, approximately 360,000 people moved out of the Golden State last year, many of them going to states such as Nevada and Arizona in a kind of a modern exodus to the desert.But if prices are any indication, these migrations were too little, too late: Rents in most high-cost coastal cities are rapidly rising, while home prices in California have never been higher. Even with unprecedented population losses, demand so exceeded supply that prices are unlikely to come down without a building boom. If you lose 360,000 residents but have a housing shortage of 978,000 units—as Up for Growth estimates for California—don’t expect home prices to fall by much.That’s not to say that these migrations didn’t affect housing. On the contrary, all of those migrating households carried the crisis with them. The fastest home-price appreciation last year was in Phoenix and Tampa, where populations grew and prices increased by nearly a third. Apartments followed a similar trajectory, with rents in Florida’s four largest cities increasing by 25 to 55 percent. In Mountain West cities such as Boise and Bozeman, planners are now scrambling to accommodate an unprecedented surge in new arrivals.Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a family moving from a coastal hub to relative peace in states like North Carolina or Colorado. But if they’re moving because housing shortages have priced them out of their community, that’s a policy failure. Worse yet, if they’re moving to a place with many of the same constraints on housing development, they might well be displacing the next generation of locals, spreading—rather than solving—the problem.The COVID-19 reshuffling of Americans was supposed to buy us time in tackling the housing shortage. Instead, it likely took the crisis nationwide.We’ve become used to hearing about arbitrary constraints on housing growth in “superstar” cities and their suburbs. (I wrote a whole book on it.) Policies such as segregationist apartment bans in the Bay Area, onerous parking mandates in Southern California, and community-input requirements leading to raucous public hearings in New England have made those regions prohibitively difficult to build in. If we want to contain the spread of high housing costs, these constraints have to go.[Jerusalem Demsas: Community input is bad, actually]But what about all the “affordable” destination cities? Restrictions there are, in most cases, just as bad. Duplexes and fourplexes are banned in 84 percent of residential neighborhoods in Charlotte. In Salt Lake City, minimum-parking mandates mean that apartments can’t be built without either towering garages or huge lots. In Austin, naysayers have successfully delayed a liberalizing zoning overhaul for a decade. And even in pro-growth states such as Georgia, California-style NIMBYism stands in the way of new housing in most suburbs.To the extent that these cities were ever affordable, it was because they had undeveloped land on their periphery, where developers could build low-density residential subdivisions—just about the only thing that zoning doesn’t prohibit. But as Dallas is discovering, you eventually run out of vacant land within a reasonable commute of job centers. In Miami, local policy makers are even rolling back flexible-zoning rules in a brazen attempt to block new infill development.Until recently, policymakers in states like Utah or Tennessee were used to dismissing housing affordability as a coastal issue. If they thought about it at all, they certainly weren’t looking to the coasts for solutions. But as the housing crisis comes to more places, they’ll soon find that they have a lot to learn from states such as California, where policymakers have streamlined approvals for affordable housing and legalized fourplexes over the past few years. The silver lining of being further along in a crisis is that you’re also further along in solving it.There’s an apocryphal Mark Twain joke: “If the world ends, I’ll just head on down to Kentucky, because they’re always 20 years behind.” When it comes to housing, our grace period is over.
theatlantic.com
The Other Ukrainian Army
Photographs by Jedrzej NowickiHistory has turning points, moments when events shift and the future seems suddenly clear. But history also has in-between points, days and weeks when everything seems impermanent and nobody knows what will happen next. Odesa in the summer of 2022 is like that—a city suspended between great events. The panic that swept the city in February, when it seemed the Russian invaders might win quickly, already feels like a long time ago. Now the city is hot, half empty, and bracing itself for what comes next.Some are preparing for the worst. Odesa endured a 10-week German and Romanian siege during the Second World War, then a three-year occupation; the current mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, told me that the city is now filling warehouses with food and medicine, in case history repeats itself. On July 11, Ukrainian security services caught a Russian spy scouting potential targets in the city. On July 23, Russian bombs hit the Odesa docks, despite an agreement reached just the previous day to restart grain exports. The beautiful waterfront, where the Potemkin Stairs lead down to the Black Sea, remains blocked by a maze of concrete barriers and barbed wire. Russian-occupied Kherson, where you can be interrogated just for speaking Ukrainian, is just a few hours’ drive away.[Graeme Wood: The torment of Odesa]In the meantime, pedestrians stroll past the Italian facades in Odesa’s historic center and drink coffee beneath umbrellas. The Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov recently wrote that “I used to pay a lot of attention to time, using it as effectively as possible.” Now, instead, “I pay attention to the war.” In Odesa, people also pay attention to the war, obsessive attention; some of those I met have installed apps on their phones that echo the air-raid sirens. But then they switch off the sound when their phones start to howl. Fear becomes normalized, until eventually it becomes another part of the background noise. My hotel had an air-raid shelter, a windowless room, but no one went there during air raids. “You’ll be lucky or unlucky,” the porter told me. No point in trying to escape fate. Odesa’s city garden. Those who can’t endure life in suspended animation are abroad, wondering if they should come back; some who remain wonder if they should leave. Companies have shut down—I was told about one that closed in the first week of the invasion; the owners fired everyone and moved to Spain—and investments are on hold. None of this is accidental. The Russian strategy toward Ukraine is designed to demoralize and demotivate.It works. Except when it doesn’t.For the languor of Odesa is the backdrop, not the story: Not everyone there is afflicted with apathy, anxiety, or the fear of losing. On the contrary, even in this strange moment, when time doesn’t seem worth measuring, some people are intensely busy. Across the city, students, accountants, hairdressers, and every other conceivable profession have joined what can only be described as an unprecedented social movement. They call themselves volonteri—volunteers—and their organizations, their crowdfunding campaigns, and their activism help explain why the Ukrainian army has fought so hard and so well, why a decade-long Russian attempt to co-opt the Ukrainian state mostly failed, even (or maybe especially) in Russian-speaking Odesa. In a paralyzed landscape, in a stalled economy, in a city where no one can plan anything, the volonteri are creating the future. They aren’t afraid of loss, siege, or occupation, because they think they are going to win.Out of almost nothing—out of a beat-up apartment building at the back of an empty courtyard—Anna Bondarenko has already created a community, a refuge from the war. The offices of her Ukrainian Volunteer Service (UVS) are in old rooms with high ceilings; the largest, lined with desks, has the words A good deed has great power painted on one of the walls. Other rooms contain a kitchen—often, the team eats meals together—and some bunk beds for those who need them. Bondarenko told me that at age 15, she spent a year as an exchange student at an American high school, where she found herself for the first time having to explain where Ukraine is, and what it is, and, though she came from a Russian-speaking family, she discovered that she liked the idea of being Ukrainian. She also encountered the concept of community service. She volunteered at her host family’s local church, at a national park, at an animal shelter. She remembers entering a contest, trying to accumulate 150 hours of community service in order to get a certificate signed by Barack Obama. (Hers, alas, was signed by someone else.)[Elliot Ackerman: Ukraine’s three-to-one advantage]She came home wanting to continue volunteering and signed up to work on a couple of festivals, including one marking Ukraine’s independence day. But in between festivals, she and her friends couldn’t find organizations that inspired them. Eventually, she set up the UVS, an organization designed to solve that problem, matching people who want to volunteer with other people who need help.The team created a clever website, made contact with a few like-minded people around the country, and organized training weekends for people who wanted to be volunteers or promote volunteering. They raised a little bit of money (including a small grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, whose board I serve on).Then the war started. Demand exploded.No one on Bondarenko’s UVS team is over the age of 30, and some are under 20. Bondarenko, at 26, is one of the oldest people in the room. Nevertheless, since the early hours of the morning of February 24, UVS has fielded thousands of requests, creating a set of websites, chat sites, and chatbots that eventually matched more than 100,000 people—accountants, drivers, medics—with more than 900 organizations across the country. Ukrainians find UVS via Instagram, Facebook, Telegram, TikTok; when you type I want to volunteer into a Ukrainian Google search, UVS is the first organization to come up. Bondarenko’s team has sent volunteers to help distribute food packages to people who lost their homes, clean up rubble after bombing raids, and, for those willing to take real risks, to drive cars or buses into war zones and pull people out. People wrote to them for advice: How should we make Molotov cocktails? How should we evacuate? And the volunteers tried to find experts who could give them answers.Sometimes they rescue their own colleagues. Lisa is a UVS team member from Melitopol, a Ukrainian city occupied during the first part of the war. I am withholding Lisa’s surname because her parents remain in a Russian-controlled village in southern Ukraine, but I can tell you that Lisa has long reddish hair, white fingernail polish, and a sheaf of wheat, a Ukrainian patriotic symbol, tattooed on her forearm. When she was still in occupied Melitopol, Russian patrols would stop her and ask her, as they ask everyone, to show them her tattoos. She kept the wheat sheaf hidden beneath long-sleeved shirts, but every time this happened, she was terrified. Still, she was responsible for distributing food in a part of the city cut off from the center, and so she stayed until someone from a partner organization called Bondarenko to warn her that Lisa was on a list to be arrested or kidnapped. UVS helped Lisa leave within hours.Lisa now coordinates volunteers in the occupied territories using encrypted-messaging apps and Telegram channels. So does Stefan Vorontsov, a UVS coordinator from Nova Kakhovka, another town behind Russian lines. He, like Lisa, remained for more than a month after the invasion, trying to be useful. He and his colleagues scraped together some funds, bought food and medicine, and distributed it to people who had lost houses and jobs. The volunteers in the town tried to protect themselves by wearing red crosses on their arms, but doing so had the opposite effect: The symbols attracted the attention of Russian soldiers, who stopped anyone wearing them for questioning and sometimes arrest. By the time Vorontsov escaped Nova Kakhovka, volunteers had learned to wipe their phones clean every day before leaving the house and to have carefully prepared answers for the Russian soldiers who stopped them constantly. I spoke with Vorontsov by video link; he is now living in Georgia. “People are leaving all the time,” he told me. “Pretty soon there will be no one left to help.” The main reception and humanitarian aid point for internally displaced people in Odesa. In one sense, the Russian suspicion of people like Vorontsov and Lisa is well founded. Although most of the volunteers on the ground are engaged in purely humanitarian work, there really is a link between participation in public life—any kind of participation in public life—and Ukrainian patriotism. This link is not new. Whatever it was that motivated people to contribute their time to their communities before the war, whether in the name of music, art, or animal shelters, the same impulse pushes them toward an idea, perhaps an ideal, of democratic Ukraine, and makes them want to help the war effort now. Serhiy Lukachko, who also works out of the UVS office, runs a website called My City, which was once dedicated to supporting cultural events and other projects in Odesa. Now he and a colleague have put their fundraising talents to the aid of a Ukrainian army brigade. Through crowdfunding, they purchase body armor, extra uniforms, and the four-wheel-drive SUVs that are in such high demand at the front. “We talk once a week,” Lukachko told me. “They give me a checklist.”It could be a gloomy place, this building full of very young people, some of whom are still going through the trauma of displacement and all of whom have friends or relatives in grave danger. Lisa has an arranged time to speak for a few seconds with her parents every day, just to make sure they are ok. Bondarenko has a boyfriend in the army. Later, over dinner at a Crimean Tartar restaurant, Bondarenko told me that she has already lost friends to the war. The first time she learned of such a death, she spent the evening weeping. The second time it happened, she resolved to mourn everybody at the end, when the war is over, “after we have won.” [Anne Applebaum: Russia’s war against Ukraine has turned into terrorism]Right now, she is busy. So is everyone else in her immediate vicinity, and that energy creates its own momentum, becomes its own inspiration. Nobody in the world of Odesa community organizations is competing for funding anymore. Nobody is jockeying for position or worrying about prestige. “Everybody just kind of tries to help each other,” Bondarenko said, “and it feels really different.” And that is what she wants Odesa, and Ukraine, to be like in the future. Bondarenko and her team were inspired by American practices of community service—well-designed websites, clever social-media posts—but other cultural influences are at work in Odesa too. One of them is toloka, an old word used in Ukrainian, Russian, and certain Baltic languages to describe spontaneous community projects. When someone’s house burns down, the village gets together to rebuild it. That’s toloka. When a man dies, the village helps the widow harvest her crops. That’s toloka too. Kurkov, the Ukrainian novelist, has defined toloka as “community work for the common good,” and it helps explain why so many people have given up so much to pitch in. Dmytro Milyutin Dmytro Milyutin’s shop filled with supplies. Dmytro Milyutin, for example, lives in a world that bears no resemblance to an old-fashioned Ukrainian village. He runs a parfumerie, a shop in central Odesa where he sells famous perfumes as well as oddities, bottles containing the scent of smoke or of apple pie. He designs fragrances for individuals and says he considers himself a connoisseur “not just of scents but of emotions.” But since the war began, he has sold a fifth of his perfume collection and taken out a loan to provide sophisticated military clothing to Ukrainian soldiers fighting near Odesa. The Ukrainian army distributes basic uniforms, but not the pocketed vests specially designed to carry guns and first-aid kits, or the light backpacks that American soldiers take for granted. Milyutin got a local fashion designer to put aside his dressmaking business and start sewing together canvas and velcro strips to make things easier for soldiers on the move. He too keeps in touch directly with commanders.While Milyutin and I speak, two women in heels and full makeup come in to buy perfume. They spray different scents onto little sticks and wave them in front of their nose as Milyutin keeps talking about the design of the backpacks that are gathered on the floor beneath the bottles. The ladies don’t mind the backpacks, because that kind of thing, like the air-raid sirens, is normal now too.Around the corner from Milyutin’s shop, Olexander Babich’s office also now contains piles of sleeping bags, ground mats, binoculars, and night-vision goggles, bought using donations, now being sorted for distribution. Babich is a well-known historian and the author of Odessa 1941–1944, a book about daily life under the fascist occupation, about how people survived, and, he writes, about “how people befriended the enemy, or opposed them.” When the war began, he drove his family across the border, came home, and began to prepare to oppose the new enemy. He and some historians from Kherson, now living in his apartment, track down, import, and distribute the equipment that is now stacked up against the bookshelves. They go to shooting ranges themselves, too, just to keep in practice. In a very real sense, they are already supporting Ukrainian soldiers the way an old-fashioned resistance movement would, except tha they use the internet to raise money and purchase equipment. Alexander Babych Nor are they alone. In a half-abandoned building in a different part of town, Natalia Topolova introduced me to a group of women that, funded by a patriotic florist, weave special camouflage blankets and suits for snipers. These “spider ladies,” as they call themselves, come when they can—after work, when children are in school—to sew strips of multicolored cloth onto fabric and nets. At a street café, two Odesa engineers explained to me how they had worked, again, with officers they know, in order to identify exactly the right optical technology that Ukrainian soldiers needed to make their weapons work better. Then they raised money and started importing it from America and Japan.In his elegant gallery in the city center, Mikhail Reva, a renowned Ukrainian sculptor who designed several notable monuments around Odesa, has also been seized by the spirit of toloka. His Reva Foundation, originally created to fund artistic education and urban design in Ukraine, has been redirected to purchase first-aid kits for soldiers. The various international contacts Reva has accumulated over years—a friend in San Diego who used to live in Odesa, other artists and designers around the world—have also helped him pay for a training program designed to teach soldiers how to use the first-aid kits, especially the tourniquets that can stop someone from dying in the field. He has drawn not just on Ukrainian civil society to support the Ukrainian army, but civil society in many countries.[Read: Liberation without victory] “House of The Sun,” a bronze sculpture by Mikhail Reva, located at Langeron Beach on the Black Sea coast. The scale of these efforts surprises outsiders, but it shouldn’t. Too often, in America and Europe, our definition of civil society is cramped and narrow. We use the term to mean “human-rights groups,” or confuse it with nonprofits, as if civil society consists solely of organizations with HR departments and neat mission statements. But civil society can also have an anarchic, spontaneous character, coming into being in response to an emergency or a crisis. It can look like the Odesa schoolroom temporarily packed to the ceiling with canned food, paper towels, childrens’ diapers, bags of pasta, where Natalia Bogachenko, a former businesswoman, runs a distribution point for humanitarian aid (“controlled chaos,” she calls it). It can look like the two chic Kyiv restaurants from which Slava Balbek started a food kitchen for the territorial army during the first days of the war, eventually organizing 25 restaurants and two bakeries into a cooperative that cooked thousands of meals every day.Balbek is best known as an architect, the founder of the most successful design company in Ukraine; he has motifs from a Kazimir Malevich painting tattooed on his arm, adding a different twist to the Ukrainian tattoo. But although Balbek is normally surrounded by artists and architects, although he has designed hotels and offices in China and California, he told me that the cooks, bakers, and volunteers in those strange, panicky days produced a special kind of creative energy, pulling together something from nothing, innovating and adjusting. “Oh, we only have eggs to cook with, they would say: Let’s make breakfast all day today!” In the end, he said, “your fellow volunteers become like a second family.” And you never forget them.There is a darker side to this story. If the Ukrainian army were better equipped, after all, or if Ukraine were a wealthier or better-run country, or if so many Ukrainians had not wasted so much time over the past 30 years creating corrupt schemes or battling them, then maybe this enormous social movement would not be necessary. The volunteers emerged precisely because Ukrainian soldiers don’t have first-aid kits, Ukrainian snipers don’t have the right uniforms and the Ukrainian state doesn’t have the capability to distribute these things either. Many of the volunteers succeed because prominent or entrepreneurial people can break bureaucratic import rules, can raise money more nimbly than the state, and can then deliver equipment directly to officers in the field or to refugees in a war zone. “Without volunteers, it would be impossible to continue this war,” says Milyutin, the connoisseur of exotic scents.But that too is worrying, since the adrenalin required to sustain this level of activity is now running low. Even volunteers need to pay their rent. Natalia Topolova, who makes special camouflage blankets and suits for snipers. But even if it was inspired by the deficits of the Ukrainian state, many hope this wave of activism will wind up reshaping that state, just as popular activism during the Orange Revolution in 2004–05 and the Euromaidan protests in 2013–14 also changed Ukraine. Precisely because Odesa is a Russian-speaking city with a cosmopolitan history, precisely because Odesa has a living memory of occupation, the volunteer movement here will jolt many of the city’s inhabitants abruptly in the direction of “Ukrainianness,” as well as in the direction of the things that term nos represents: democracy, openness, and European identity.[Anne Applebaum: Ukraine must win]In Odesa, this process has begun. Bogachenko, the activist who runs the refugee-aid center, told me that she speaks Russian but has no doubt about who she is: “Greek, Jewish, Russian, Ukrainian—if you have a Ukrainian passport, you are Ukrainian.” Reva, the sculptor, went to art school in Russia (in what was then Soviet Leningrad) but describes today’s war as a contest between good and evil, in which choosing sides is not remotely hard. The Russians, he says, among them many former friends and colleagues, “want to destroy everything and make us slaves.” Trukhanov, the mayor, who has been accused of secretly holding a Russian passport and maintaining deep Russian connections, spent a good part of our conversation denying vociferously that this is the case, even though I didn’t ask him about it. He has now made a clear choice, for Ukraine and against Russia, and he wants everyone to know it. Natalia Bogachenko, who runs a collection point for humanitarian aid. The life experiences of these Ukrainians have already created a wide gap between them and their Russian neighbors. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, likes to talk about how Russians and Ukrainians are the same nation, the same people. But Ukraine’s civic and military mobilization around the war is the best possible illustration of how much and how quickly nations and people can diverge. For although a few online efforts to raise money for the military in Russia are under way, there is nothing on the scale of what is happening in Ukraine, no mass civic mobilization, no teams of volunteers, no equivalent to the Kalush Orchestra—the Ukrainian band that won the Eurovision Song Contest this year, auctioned off its trophy for $900,000, and used the money to buy three PD-2 drones for the army.And no wonder: Following in the steps of the Soviet leaders who preceded him, Putin has systematically destroyed whatever civic spirit emerged after the Soviet Union’s collapse, squeezing everything spontaneous and everything self-organized out of Russian society, silencing not just independent newspapers and television but also historical societies, environmentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Lenin was deeply suspicious of any group or organization, however apolitical or mundane, that was not directly dependent on the Communist Party. Putin has inherited a similar paranoia.In order to prevent people from organizing themselves—in order to convince people that there is no point in doing anything, or changing anything—the Russian state and its propaganda machine have for two decades promoted fear, apathy, and cynicism. Every night, television news mocks the West and regularly threatens nuclear war, even promising the “annihilation” of Britain or New York. The result is that Russians don’t protest in large numbers against the war, but they also don’t spontaneously organize huge campaigns in support of it either. The somewhat mysterious “Z” campaign (Why Z? No one has really explained) is visible on social media and television, but not much pro-war fervor or Z activism is evident in the streets.On the contrary, the only real grassroots activists in Russia right now are the anonymous teams of brave people, all around the country, who are quietly helping the Ukrainian refugees forcibly deported to distant parts of Russia return home. A few weeks ago, I met an exiled Russian activist who described the chain of connections she had used to help a Ukrainian woman with a small baby and no passports or visas—they had been lost in the chaos—escape the far east of Russia and cross the country’s western border into Estonia. But the activist’s efforts put her in the dissident minority. She had left Russia even before the invasion; her colleagues on this modern underground railroad work in secret.In Ukraine, she would be a leader of an established and respected organization. In Russia, she risks arrest as an enemy of the people. That paradox alone explains how the two countries have become so different. I began this article with the ambivalence that hangs in the sultry air of Odesa, and I should end with a reminder that this sentiment has not gone away. Participation in the volunteer movement, though widespread, is not universal. Ukraine is not a nation of saints. Not everyone with a Ukrainian passport is fighting for the country, or even planning to remain in the country. Not everyone is active, brave, or optimistic. A New York acquaintance describes a Ukrainian working on Wall Street whose reaction to the war was: I need to get my family out, and then I am never going back there again. On the train from Warsaw to Kyiv, I met a woman returning home from exile whose skepticism about Ukraine’s leaders led her in the direction of various conspiracy theories: How come my apartment was damaged but the houses of the rich were spared?But what matters is what comes next, and voices like those will not be the decisive ones in postwar Ukraine. That role will go to those who stayed, those who volunteered, those who built the ad hoc organizations that became real ones, who made the effort to link bakers and taxi drivers and medics to the war effort. The volonteri will create Ukraine’s postwar culture, rebuild the cities and run the country in the future. They will resist Russian influence, Russian corruption, and Russian occupation because the modern Russian state threatens not just their lives and property but their very identity. They have defined themselves against a Russian autocracy that suppresses spontaneity and creativity, and they will go on doing so long after the war is over. Odessa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, covered in sandbags. Odesa remains a city suspended between great events. As I write this, I don’t know what will happen next. All I can tell is that the activists and the volunteers, in Odesa and across the country, believe that the next great event will be not another calamity, but a Ukrainian victory.
theatlantic.com
What Comes After the Search Warrant?
If Donald Trump committed crimes on his way out of the White House, he should be subject to the same treatment as any other alleged criminal. The reason for this is simple: Ours is a government of laws, not of men, as John Adams once observed. Nobody, not even a president, is above those laws.So why did I feel nauseous yesterday, watching coverage of the FBI executing a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate?Because this country is tracking toward a scale of political violence not seen since the Civil War. It’s evident to anyone who spends significant time dwelling in the physical or virtual spaces of the American right. Go to a gun show. Visit a right-wing church. Check out a Trump rally. No matter the venue, the doomsday prophesying is ubiquitous—and scary. Whenever and wherever I’ve heard hypothetical scenarios of imminent conflict articulated, the premise rests on an egregious abuse of power, typically Democrats weaponizing agencies of the state to target their political opponents. I’ve always walked away from these experiences thinking to myself: If America is a powder keg, then one overreach by the government, real or perceived, could light the fuse. Think I’m being hysterical? I’ve been accused of that before. But we’ve seen what happens when millions of Americans abandon their faith in the nation’s core institutions. We’ve seen what happens when millions of Americans become convinced that their leaders are illegitimate. We’ve seen what happens when millions of Americans are manipulated into believing that Trump is suffering righteously for their sake; that an attack on him is an attack on them, on their character, on their identity, on their sense of sovereignty. And I fear we’re going to see it again.[David A. Graham: The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic]It’s tempting to think of January 6, 2021, as but one day in our nation’s history. It’s comforting to view the events of that day—the president inciting a violent mob to storm the U.S. Capitol and attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election—as the result of unprecedented conditions that happened to converge all at once, conditions that are not our national norm.But perhaps we should view January 6 as the beginning of a new chapter.It’s worth remembering that Trump, who has long claimed to be a victim of political persecution, threatened to jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton, throughout the 2016 campaign, reveling in chants of “Lock her up!” at rallies nationwide. (Republicans did not cry foul when the FBI announced an investigation into Clinton just days before the election.) It was during that campaign—as I traveled the country talking with Republican voters, hoping to understand the Trump phenomenon—that I began hearing casual talk of civil war. Those conversations were utterly jarring. People spoke matter-of-factly about amassing arms. Many were preparing for a day when, in their view, violence would become unavoidable.I remember talking with Lee Stauffacher, a 65-year-old Navy veteran, outside an October Trump rally in Arizona. “I’ve watched this country deteriorate from the law-and-order America I loved into a country where certain people are above the law,” Stauffacher said. “Hillary Clinton is above the law. Illegal immigrants are above the law. Judges have stopped enforcing the laws they don’t agree with.”Stauffacher went on about his fondness of firearms and his loathing of the Democratic Party. “They want to turn this into some communist country,” he said. “I say, over my dead body.”[David Frum: Stuck with Trump]This sort of rhetoric cooled, for a time, after Trump’s victory. But then came Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and possible collusion. And the subsequent arrests of some of the president’s closest confidants. Then came the first impeachment of Trump himself. By the time his reelection campaign got under way, Trump was fashioning himself a wartime president, portraying himself on the front lines of a pitched battle between decent, patriotic Americans and a “deep state” of government thugs who aim to enforce conformity and silence dissent.On December 18, 2019, the day he was impeached for the first time, Trump tweeted a black-and-white photo that showed him pointing into the camera. “THEY’RE NOT AFTER ME … THEY’RE AFTER YOU,” read the caption. “I’M JUST IN THE WAY.”As I hit the road again in 2020, crisscrossing the nation to get a read on the Republican base, it was apparent that something had changed. There was plenty of that same bombast, all the usual chesty talk of people taking matters into their own hands. But whereas once the rhetoric had felt scattered—rooted in grievances against the left, or opposition to specific laws, or just general discomfort with a country they no longer recognized—the new threats seemed narrow and targeted. Voter after voter told me there had been a plot to sabotage Trump’s presidency from the start, and now there was a secretive plot to stop him from winning a second term. Everyone in government—public-health officials, low-level bureaucrats, local election administrators—was in on it. The goal wasn’t to steal the election from Trump; it was to steal the election from them.“They’ve been trying to cheat us from the beginning,” Deborah Fuqua-Frey told me outside a Ford plant in Michigan that Trump was visiting during the early days of the pandemic. “First it was Mueller, then it was Russia. Isn’t it kind of convenient that as soon as impeachment failed, we’ve suddenly got this virus?”I asked her to elaborate.“The deep state,” she said. “This was domestic political terrorism from the Democratic Party.”This kind of thinking explains why countless individuals would go on to donate their hard-earned money—more than $250 million in total—to an “Election Defense Fund” that didn’t exist. It explains why others swarmed vote-counting centers, intimidated poll workers, signed on to shoddy legal efforts, flocked to fringe voices advocating solutions such as martyrdom and secession from the union, threatened to kill elections officials, boarded buses to Washington, and ultimately, stormed the United States Capitol.What made January 6 so predictable—the willingness of Republican leaders to prey on the insecurities and outright paranoia of these voters—is what makes August 8 so dangerous.“The Obama FBI began spying on President Trump as a candidate,” Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee tweeted this morning. “If they can do this to Trump, they will do it to you!”“If they can do it to a former President, imagine what they can do to you,” read a tweet from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. They followed up: “The IRS is coming for you. The DOJ is coming for you. The FBI is coming for you. No one is safe from political punishment in Joe Biden’s America.”“If there was any doubt remaining, we are now living in a post constitutional America where the Justice Department has been weaponized against political threats to the regime, as it would in a banana republic,” the Texas Republican Party tweeted. “It won’t stop with Trump. You are next.”[Adam Serwer: Conservatives believe Trump is above the law]It won’t stop with Trump—that much is certain. The House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, all but promised retaliation against the Justice Department should his party retake the majority this fall. Investigations of President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, were already more or less guaranteed; the question now becomes how wide of a net congressional Republicans, in their eagerness to exact vengeance on behalf of Trump and appease a fuming base, cast in probing other people close to the president and his administration.Assuming that Trump runs in 2024, the stakes are even higher. If Biden—or another Democrat—defeats him, Republicans will have all the more reason to reject the results, given what they see as the Democrats’ politically motivated investigation of the likely Republican nominee. If Trump wins, he and his hard-line loyalists will set about purging the DOJ, the intelligence community, and other vital government departments of careerists deemed insufficiently loyal. There will be no political cost to him for doing so; a Trump victory will be read as a mandate to prosecute his opponents. Indeed, that seems to be exactly where we’re headed.“Biden is playing with fire by using a document dispute to get the @TheJusticeDept to persecute a likely future election opponent,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted. “Because one day what goes around is going to come around.”And then what? It feels lowest-common-denominator lazy, in such uncertain times, to default to speculation of 1860s-style secession and civil war. But it’s clearly on the minds of Americans. Last year, a poll from the University of Virginia showed that a majority of Trump voters (52 percent) and a strong minority of Biden voters (41 percent) strongly or somewhat agreed that America is so fractured, they would favor red and blue states seceding from the union to form their own countries. Meanwhile, a poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland showed that one in three Americans believes violence against the government is justified, and a separate poll by NPR earlier this year showed that one in 10 Americans believes violence is justified “right now.”It’s hard to see how any of this gets better. But it’s easy to see how it gets much, much worse.We don’t know exactly what the FBI was looking for at Mar-a-Lago. We don’t know what was found. What we must acknowledge—even those of us who believe Trump has committed crimes, in some cases brazenly so, and deserves full prosecution under the law—is that bringing him to justice could have some awful consequences.Is that justice worth the associated risks? Yesterday, the nation’s top law-enforcement officers decided it was. We can only hope they were correct.
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Hibernation Could Prolong Life. Is It Worth It?
Today’s most elderly bats aren’t supposed to exist. Ounce for ounce and pound for pound, they are categorically teeny mammals; according to the evolutionary rules that hold across species, they should be short-lived, like other small-bodied creatures.And yet, many of Earth’s winged mammals buck this trend, sometimes blowing decades past their anticipated expiration date. One species, Brandt’s bat, which weighs just four to nine grams as an adult—all the heft of a quarter—has been recorded surviving to the age of 41 in the wild, almost as long as a standard four-ton Asian elephant, and nearly 10 times as long as its body dimensions might otherwise predict. “That’s just amazingly long-lived for their size,” says Jerry Wilkinson, a biologist at the University of Maryland. “Longer than any other mammal.”No single factor can explain the astounding longevity of bats. They are clever and collaborative, and their superpowered immune systems help them tolerate viruses that make other animals disastrously sick—traits that undoubtedly help them survive. But one of their anti-aging tricks, among the most biologically elusive in the world, is to simply put off getting older for months out of every year.[Read: What humans can learn from nature’s biggest hibernators]As fall dips into winter, the little mammals huddle into caves, trees, and mines, folding up their wings and hanging feet over head. Their body temperature plunges, sometimes approaching freezing; their heart rate slows to a handful of beats per minute; they barely take any breaths at all. “They basically shut down their entire body, drastically reducing all the functions that we typically associate with life,” says Aline Ingelson-Filpula, a biologist at Carleton University. Stretches of hibernation like these have long been understood as almost suspended animation, used to conserve the body’s resources in times of great need. For bats, Wilkinson and his colleagues have found that it may also drastically extend their tenure on Earth.Time, per se, isn’t really what kills us; it’s how we spend it that does us in. For most creatures, the calendar of days and months progresses in lockstep with the internal process of aging. But bats, and likely other hibernators as well, are effectively able to uncouple those clocks, advancing their biological age only when they’re active and awake—even as their chronological timepiece ticks on. “Think of hibernators as just being turned off,” says Hanane Hadj-Moussa, a biologist at the Babraham Institute. “They don’t get as damaged as an organism that has to just deal with life.”Many scientists think of aging as what happens when the body accumulates life’s wear and tear—the costs of metabolizing food and burning through daily energy demands, the gunky buildup of cellular waste. Hibernation brings those burdensome processes to a near halt. Animals that manage it are “barely doing anything metabolically, and they’re very cold,” says Jenny Tung, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. It’s caloric restriction and cryopreservation rolled into one, a slowdown that preserves physiological battery life, like toggling an iPhone into low-power mode.Scientists were first clued in to the notion that hibernation might be a way to temporarily delay death in the early 1980s, when a team of medical researchers at Harvard found that Turkish hamsters that spent an especially long time in seasonal pseudo-slumber perished later than their peers. In the years that followed, researchers quickly identified several other creatures that belonged to the Wake Less, Live More Club. Among them were ground squirrels, bats, marmots, and lemurs—all of which outlast similar species that don’t hibernate, clear hints that the hibernators were somehow “cheating the game,” says Gabriela Pinho, a biologist at the Ecological Research Institute in São Paulo, Brazil.[Read: The never-aging ants with a terrible secret]But definitively nailing hibernation as an anti-aging ploy is tough. If animals are holed up in dens for months of the year, they’re also usually better hidden from predators and more sheltered from the elements. To confirm that these stints of dormancy were actually, on a molecular level, hitting the “Pause” button on animals’ inevitable march toward death, Tung told me, scientists needed a way to “start asking what’s going on within the cells themselves.”This year, two groups of researchers, led by Pinho and Wilkinson, respectively, published some of the most convincing data on that front to date, on yellow-bellied marmots and big brown bats. Both studies scoured the genomes of the little mammals, looking for epigenetic modifications—molecular punctuation marks that annotate stretches of DNA, making them more or less easy to read. These marks get shuffled and more scattered as we age, and researchers have studied them closely enough to read their patterns, almost like tree rings, and determine how far our tissues have progressed along the path to old age. When researchers then compare that with the actual number of years an animal has lived, they can get a sense of whether a creature is, molecularly speaking, particularly spry for its chronological age, says Danielle Adams, a biologist at Towson University who worked with Wilkinson on the big brown bats.By inspecting marmot and bat genomes at different times of the year, Pinho, Wilkinson, Adams, and their colleagues were able to show that in the winter, the animals’ biological aging effectively stalled, even as they accumulated months of chronological time—then rapidly picked back up in the spring as they roused. The differences in DNA modifications were stark enough between the seasons that they were visible “within six months in the same individual,” says Isabel Sullivan, who was part of Wilkinson and Adams’s team.Hibernation, to be clear, didn’t manifest just to fill nature with geriatric marmots and bats. Its primary purpose is to rescue animals from almost-certain death during resource-poor and often chilly times of year. “It’s a mechanism for survival, just making it to the next stage,” says Liliana Dávalos, a biologist at Stony Brook University. Maybe it was a happy accident that these freeze-frames also doubled as a fountain of youth.Humans have other ways of making it through rough winters—we’ve never needed hibernation to survive. But the prospect of mimicking the act still tugs at our brains. It could buy time for emergency surgeries. It could enable far-reaching space travel, keeping astronauts alive ’til they reach their destinations, while largely eliminating the need to pack tons of food. If longevity is a perk as well, some people would likely line up.[Read: You can probably hibernate]Still, “I’d be cautious about saying if we hibernate, we could just double our life span,” Wilkinson said. Plenty of species hibernate and still die at about the age their body size would predict. And as cushy as hibernation might sound, it threatens to exact a tax. While inactive, animals’ brain function fizzles, their weight plummets, and their digestive tract shrivels. They cease nearly all movement, and their reflexes slow, making them easy prey for predators that chance upon them, and raising the risk of their muscles atrophying and their bones demineralizing. The immune system’s potency also ramps way down, making bodies super-susceptible to infection. (That’s one huge reason that droves of bats have, in recent years, been felled by white-nose syndrome, a lethal fungal disease that hits hibernators hard.) Creatures that have evolved to hibernate have also cooked up many strategies to counteract its costs, allowing them to bounce back each spring. Humans, however, have not—which means the toll would be that much greater on us.Even the prep for hibernation is arduous. In the fall, pre-hibernation squirrels and bears have to eat themselves into a diabetic coma to stockpile several months’ worth of fat. Yellow-bellied marmots, which can hibernate for up to eight months of the year, have just “four to five months to basically double their weight and reproduce,” Pinho told me, condensing their most important tasks into the brief stretches during which they’re awake. (Their offspring, too, must frantically chow down shortly after they’re born, or risk dying in their first winter underground.)Hibernation can’t guarantee restful slumber, either. Most mammals must rouse themselves—usually once every couple of weeks or so—to eliminate waste, perhaps sip a bit of water, and, ironically, sleep. These wake-ups are massively expensive: “Every single arousal that a squirrel does takes about 5 percent of the energy that it uses over the entire hibernation season,” Ingelson-Filpula, of Carleton University, told me. The etiquette of torpor is also … different. Some male bats will rouse themselves in the dead of winter to have sex with still-dormant females, which may wake weeks later to find themselves toting around a stranger’s sperm.And then there’s all the FOMO. Hibernation “would be a way to see the world at a future time, and that’s kind of appealing to think about,” Wilkinson told me. “But then you lose the opportunity to see things now.” Tung, too, wouldn’t want to forgo any chance “to watch my parents age or my kids grow.” Hibernation might be thought of as getting as close to death as possible without fully succumbing to it. If that’s indeed the price bats and marmots must repeatedly pay to prolong their years, maybe they aren’t really living that much longer at all.
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The President Who Wanted Nazi Generals
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.Americans should not let the revelations about Donald Trump’s demands for a loyal military get lost in all the hysteria over the raid at Mar-a-Lago.But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic. The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic. Trump makes the Mar-a-Lago search a new loyalty test. The rivalry that defines America A Dangerous GambitThe FBI raided Donald Trump’s home in Florida, but we don’t know why. Early reports suggest a link to Trump’s alleged removal of classified material from the White House, but until we know more, there is no point in speculating on why the Justice Department has taken the remarkable step of searching the home of a former president. Republicans, of course, are now screaming that the FBI must be destroyed. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has gone so far as to suggest that federal agents planted evidence in Trump’s Florida manse; so much for the GOP as the party of “law and order.”Investigating a former president and tossing his residence is a massive step, and normally, most Americans would, I assume, be reluctant to even consider it. But Trump, both in and out of office, effectively lives as a mafia don, thumbing his nose at the laws he was supposed to execute and the Constitution he was supposed to protect. He destroyed the norms that might have given him the benefit of the doubt now, leaving the rest of us to make a simple argument: No one is above the law.And that includes the commander in chief. The raid on Citizen Trump is high drama, but I fear that the news from Florida is overwhelming an even more shocking story about President Trump and the American military. Law enforcement in the United States has always been an imperfect patchwork of fine departments and corrupt backwaters, of dedicated public servants and dangerous cowboys. But through it all, we have always been able to count on the armed forces of the United States as the apolitical and steady defenders of the American nation.Trump wanted to change that and turn the military into his own praetorian guard. In an except from a forthcoming book, the journalists Susan Glasser and Peter Baker reveal an exchange between Trump and his then-chief of staff, John Kelly: “You fucking generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?” “Which generals?” Kelly asked. “The German generals in World War II,” Trump responded. “You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly said. Trump refused to believe Kelly: “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,” he replied. “In his version of history,” Glasser and Baker write, “the generals of the Third Reich had been completely subservient to Hitler; this was the model he wanted for his military.”Let us leave aside the problem that Donald Trump might be the most intellectually limited and willfully ignorant man ever to sit in the Oval Office. Still, we must ask: Nazis?Donald Trump’s role models for the men and women of the finest military of the most successful democracy on Earth were … who? Wilhelm Keitel or Alfred Jodl, both of whom were hanged at Nuremberg? Wilhelm Canaris or Friedrich Olbricht, who were also executed—but by the Nazis for plotting to kill Hitler? Trump has a simplistic belief that the Nazis were effective, efficient, and loyal. (This is an old trope about the Nazis that even pops up in the original Star Trek series: Spock, in a 1968 episode, affirms that the Nazis ran the most efficient state in Earth’s history, which is historical nonsense.)We should not console ourselves that Trump failed in this effort. It’s too easy, now, to say that “the system worked” or the “guardrails held.” Glasser and Baker point out that Trump, almost from his first days in office, started searching for “his generals,” the men—always men—whose loyalty would transcend trifling documents such as the Constitution of the United States. This is how Trump’s administration ended up infested with people such as Michael Flynn, Anthony Tata, and Douglas Macgregor—all retired military officers, political extremists, and crackpots. Fortunately, Trump failed to find senior officers still in uniform who would bend to his wishes—but mostly, it seems, because he ran out of time.Trump will continue his war on the FBI as part of his ongoing struggle against democracy and the rule of law. But his attempt to corrupt the U.S. military—which, in the event of a national crisis, foreign or domestic, is the final line of defense for our system of government—was a vastly more dangerous gambit, and one we should not forget in the midst of the current scrum.Related: Conservatives believe Trump is above the law. What happened to Michael Flynn? Today’s News The House committee investigating January 6 met with Douglas V. Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania who was heavily involved in plans to manipulate the presidential election in that state. It also plans to meet with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Serena Williams announced her retirement from tennis in an essay in Vogue. Polls have closed in Kenya’s presidential election, a race that’s expected to be very close. The stakes of the election are high, with the country suffering an economic crisis and a drought. Dispatches Galaxy Brain: Charlie Warzel talks to a former employee of Alex Jones about Jones’s trial. Brooklyn, Everywhere: Xochitl Gonzalez reflects on a potential big-publishing merger, the decision to shelve the Batgirl movie, and what happens when companies put profit over culture. Evening Read (Katie Martin / The Atlantic; Getty) The Camp Fire Teens Are Adults NowBy Caroline Mimbs NyceKatie Elder got just a few normal months of high school before the fire came.It was early November of 2018, her freshman year. Her mom woke her up around 7 a.m., and Katie began to get ready for what she thought would be a normal school day. Then they stepped outside and saw an orange sky. She felt the wind gust.Read the full article.More From The Atlantic The dark absurdity of American violence Mexico’s “water monster” is uniting farmers and scientists. Photos: a new eruption of Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano Culture Break (Martin Parr / Magnum) Read. The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, leans into drama and fun while also asking meaty questions.Or try something else from our list of 12 books to help you love reading again.Watch. Hit the Road (available to stream on multiple platforms) initially presents as a gentle comedy about an Iranian family on a road trip—and then goes much deeper.Play our daily crossword.P.S.While writing about American civil-military relations today, I was struck, as I always am, by how few really good pieces of fiction there are about that subject. I do not mean works about the military itself, but about the political role of the armed forces. (The classic Seven Days in May, both the 1962 novel and the 1964 movie, is the honorable exception, but the 1992 remake was a dud.) Pop culture reflects our anxieties, so perhaps this lack shows how much we take for granted the political stability of the American military. But one small gem about the military—and loyalty and service specifically—is worth another look: Taps, a 1981 film about an uprising at a small U.S. military academy, with a cast of young stars including Tim Hutton, Tom Cruise, and Sean Penn. (But don’t overlook Ronny Cox in a nicely restrained performance as the National Guard colonel sent in to take back the school.) It’s a small movie about a big subject, and it still packs a punch more than 40 years later.— TomIsabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.
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The Bad and Good News About Trump’s Violent Supporters
In some corners of MAGA-land, a new civil war is getting under way. The FBI’s arrival at Mar-a-Lago yesterday evening to collect evidence in a criminal investigation related to former President Donald Trump is the trigger that some of his supporters needed to suggest that violence is imminent. Predictably, the unverified Twitter accounts of armchair revolutionaries circulated claims such as “I already bought my ammo” and dark talk of “kinetic civil war” and “Civil War 2.0.”Not to be outdone, the National Rifle Association posted an image of Justice Clarence Thomas above an indignant quotation from a majority opinion he wrote: “The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second class right.’” Verified right-wing influencers got in on the martial rhetoric, too. “Tomorrow is war. Sleep well,” Steven Crowder promised.The bad news is that much of this talk is sincere. It is intended to intimidate the people investigating Trump’s many abuses of power, and to galvanize and organize his true believers—some of whom already proved on January 6, 2021, that they will commit violence in his name. The latest such propaganda is shocking to read, mostly because the talk of violence comes so casually to Trump’s apologists. It is all out in the open now.The good news is that some threats remain merely threats. A violent movement either grows or shrinks. Its ideology is not defeated; it simply stops motivating people to action.[David A. Graham: The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic]Trump has a hold on a party that has been offered plenty of exit ramps from its relationship with him, but he is not Voldemort. He has been isolated and humiliated. Many of the individuals who used violence to support him on January 6 are now in jail. His audiences have dwindled. Even on the night of the FBI search, in the area of Florida that he now calls home, an impromptu roadside demonstration in support of him attracted “roughly two dozen” supporters, the Miami Herald reported. “Roughly two dozen” isn’t a revolution. It isn’t even a rally.For many Americans who wish for a peaceful democracy and remain frustrated about Trump’s continuing influence in Republican primaries, hope springs eternal that someone or something—Robert Mueller, two impeachment drives, and now criminal investigators—will definitively erase his power. But expecting saviors to intervene is the wrong way to think about how the threat of violence from Trump’s supporters might dissipate. Rather, the danger will be over when violent MAGAism becomes a rallying cry for a limited pool of adherents whose online anger fizzles upon contact with the real world.A win, at this stage, isn’t that Trump’s troops make an apology. It is that they remain an online threat, a cosplay movement, a pretend army that can’t deliver, whose greatest strength is in their heads rather than reality.[David Frum: Stuck with Trump]Trump, as a former president of the United States, may be a rather unique leader of a violent insurrection, but that doesn’t make the ongoing, multiyear strategy any less effective. The January 6 committee has adopted a counter-insurrection strategy by portraying Trump squarely as the leader of a violent movement, and not simply the leader of the GOP. But some of his more extreme followers are now turning on one another. Members of the Oath Keepers, for example, have spoken to FBI investigators about matters connected with the Capitol riot—a sign that at least some fear legal penalties more than they fear the consequences of breaking with Trump. If the former president’s legal jeopardy deepens, he will in all likelihood try to raise the level of agitation in the days ahead; he knows how to use language that incites followers to violence without giving them specific instruction.But allow me at least a glimmer of optimism. “Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come,” the poet and author Carl Sandburg famously wrote. And the decline of MAGA looks something like that—only a smattering of people respond to the overheated rhetoric of Trump and his allies. If Trump’s supporters only end up cosplaying a civil war, that itself is a small victory.
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theatlantic.com
Conservatives Believe Trump Is Above the Law
A former president was raided by federal law enforcement yesterday, reportedly over possession of classified documents. Although prosecution of former heads of state has occurred in other democracies, a form of government in which ostensibly no one is above the law, it has never happened in America, a place that did not even punish the leaders of a rebellion in defense of human bondage.The merits of a potential government case against Donald Trump, and of the basis for the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, cannot yet be evaluated, despite the assertions of many of Trump’s supporters and critics. A federal search warrant can be obtained only with probable cause and with the approval of a federal magistrate, but that does not mean that Trump is guilty of whatever alleged crime the FBI is investigating. Nor does the fact that Trump may be guilty of criminal conduct in other contexts mean that he is guilty here. But at the same time, the reflexive Republican insistence that the investigation is politically motivated is itself unmoored from the available evidence.[David A. Graham: The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic]On Fox News, pundits warned of a “preemptive coup,” proclaimed a “dark day for the republic,” and compared the FBI to “the gestapo.” Other conservative-media figures grimly suggested that political violence was imminent, while a few right-wing intellectuals tweeted menacingly in the same tone that a mid-level functionary on the Death Star uses right before he gets choked out by Darth Vader. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that the FBI was in a “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization” and threatened to investigate if Republicans take back Congress in the midterms.Again, the case against Trump here is impossible to evaluate, because we know the basis neither for the warrant nor the investigation. So the certainty that Trump is being politically persecuted cannot be supported by evidence. It is instead based on ideology: There are people against whom law-enforcement action or abuse is always justified, and there are people against whom it can never be justified. That is, if law-enforcement officials want to murder an unarmed Black man in the street, brutalize protesters against police misconduct, or investigate a Democratic presidential candidate, conservatives will insist that such officers are infallible and that any criticism of their conduct is outrageous. But when the law is used to investigate or restrict the conduct of people deemed by conservatives to be above its prohibitions, that is axiomatically an abuse of power.This is why, for example, it was perfectly permissible for Trump to order his attorney general to prosecute his political opponents, to even campaign on that basis, but it is intolerable politicization for him to be investigated, regardless of the basis. Indeed, there is no need to know what the basis even is; it is by definition unjustified because of whom it targets. This reasoning is also why the police who defended the Capitol against the rioters on January 6 were assaulted by people who in any other context would chant “Blue lives matter.” Law enforcement is legitimate and deserving of unconditional support only as long as it enforces the law against groups conservatives want it to target and exempts those they do not. Shortly after news of the raid broke, far-right representatives such as Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar called for the FBI to be defunded or destroyed.[David Frum: Stuck with Trump]Ironically, Trump has continually received favorable treatment from the FBI. During the 2016 election, FBI Director James Comey twice aided Trump’s campaign by commenting publicly on an FBI investigation into his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, while the bureau subsequently denied to the press that the Trump campaign was being investigated for coordinating with a Russian effort to influence the election. Then, after Comey refused to reassure Trump that the president would be above the law, Trump fired him and handpicked his replacement, who is still in office today. In 2016, Trump supporters chanted “Lock her up” in reference to Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails; today the alleged mishandling of classified information is deemed by these same supporters to be a form of political persecution. This is not because one set of facts is more damning than another; it is because conservatives believe that the law does not apply to Trump. (The centrist version of this argument is that any politician with sufficient political support becomes an unaccountable caudillo who possesses legal immunity, a position that mocks the bedrock democratic principle of political equality.)I hope that the Department of Justice and the FBI, by virtue of the seriousness of this matter, have acted as carefully as possible in obtaining their search warrant. The gravity of the situation might suggest that they would have done so, but it doesn’t mean they did. Just as it cannot yet be said that Trump is a victim of political persecution, we do not yet know that the FBI’s actions here are justified. In keeping with conservative ideology about the infallibility of law-enforcement officials when they are not investigating Republicans, conservative judges and justices have consistently narrowed constitutional due-process protections that exist to prevent potential abuses. Indeed, Trump himself publicly encouraged cops to physically assault those in their custody, while his administration abandoned any pretense of federal oversight of police misconduct. Ultimately, conservatives believe this unfairness in the justice system to be a virtue, as long as they are never on its losing end.The Trump supporters outraged about the Mar-a-Lago raid are not lamenting that those protections have been curtailed. They simply believe that Trump should not be subject to the law at all. Political systems with such exemptions exist, but democracy is not one of them.
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theatlantic.com
Trump’s Ultimate Loyalty Test
You might think that the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago yesterday would provide a welcome opportunity for a Trump-weary Republican Party. This would be an entirely postpresidential scandal for Donald Trump. Unlike his two impeachments, this time any legal jeopardy is a purely personal Trump problem. Big donors and Fox News management have been trying for months to nudge the party away from Trump. Here was the perfect chance. Just say “No comment” and let justice take its course.But that was not to be.The former president has discovered a new test of power: using his own misconduct to compel party leaders to rally to him. One by one, they have executed the ritual of submission: Kevin McCarthy, Marco Rubio, even the would-be Trump replacer Ron DeSantis. Maybe they’re inwardly hoping the FBI will do for them what they are too weak and frightened to do for themselves. But outwardly, they are all indignation and threats of retribution.Meanwhile, Senate and House Democrats are about to pass another major piece of legislation, the third big spending bill of the Biden presidency, after COVID relief and infrastructure.[David A. Graham: The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic]FBI warrants aside, the Republican message in 2022 primary contests in battleground states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania has been false accusations against the 2020 election. The Democratic message? $35 insulin. The Republican response? Ask not what your member of Congress can do for you. Ask what your member of Congress can do to salve Donald Trump’s hurt feelings.One of Trump’s political assets has been his ability to persuade others to adopt his grievances as their own. So far, he has not bumped into many limits on that power. Will that continue? Republicans may want to accomplish certain things if they gain a House or Senate majority in 2022 and recover the presidency in 2024. The only thing Trump wants is vindication for his 2020 defeat: revenge upon those who defeated him and legal impunity for his schemes to subvert and overturn the defeat.2016 Trump made a lot of promises. 2020 Trump had a political record. 2024 Trump offers only resentments.In the hours since the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s freshest resentments have become the election manifesto of his party, whose leaders are one by one lining up to investigate and punish the Department of Justice for enforcing the law against Donald Trump. Usually, August of an election year is when a party shifts its message from red meat for the true believers to softer themes for the general electorate. Trump is trying to stop that pivot, and after the FBI’s visit, he may succeed.After all, the execution of a search warrant is very seldom the end of an investigation. More legal action is coming, perhaps indictments, federal or state or both. How much energy do Republicans want to commit to defending Trump at every turn? As things are developing, the demand will be intense.Hours before the FBI search, The New Yorker published a new report of Trump’s expressed contempt for wounded American soldiers—and his eager admiration for Hitler’s generals. The report, an early extract from a forthcoming book by Susan Glasser and Peter Baker, confirmed and expanded 2020 reporting here at The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg.[David Frum: Trump just told us his master plan]More and more of Trump’s ugliest secrets are coming to light, culminating in extracts from the tax returns obtained by the House of Representatives. So long as Republicans follow Trump, they can never change the subject. He won’t let them. He can’t let them. Another scandal always lies ahead.Republicans had hoped that Trump might quietly fade away after losing in 2020. Humor him a bit on the way out the door, then say goodbye. But Trump will not go away willingly. The gentle nudges delivered by Fox News and the big donors are not working either. If Republicans do not want to follow Trump into all-out justification of all the wrongdoing already brought to light—plus whatever is written into indictments in the future—they’re going to have to do more than hint. They’re going to have to fight.If not, if they enable him one more time, then they might as well call the nomination contest over now. It’s his party for the future as in the past, hopelessly and miserably.
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theatlantic.com
The Camp Fire Teens Are Adults Now
Katie Elder got just a few normal months of high school before the fire came.It was early November of 2018, her freshman year. Her mom woke her up around 7 a.m., and Katie began to get ready for what she thought would be a normal school day. Then they stepped outside and saw an orange sky. She felt the wind gust.“We’ve lived in California all our lives. We’ve been around fires,” the now-18-year-old told me over the phone. “When you’re seeing sky like that and you’re feeling those winds, you know that you don’t have very much time.”Katie and her family grabbed what pets and things they could and left their house for what would be the last time. Their home was destroyed, as was most of the town—lost to the Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive fire to date.[Read: A deadly tsunami of fire]The rest of freshman year was a blurry scramble. Katie’s school, Paradise High, was partially damaged and closed. That December, displaced students began classes—first in a former mall, then in a location nicknamed “The Fortress,” as the building was located on Fortress Street.At the beginning of Katie’s sophomore year, the Paradise campus reopened, and students were able to return. If these were normal times, the story would end here: The Camp Fire alone could have been the disaster that defined Katie’s formative years. But then, during her sophomore spring, came the coronavirus pandemic.This past June, Paradise High School held a very normal-looking graduation ceremony, complete with caps, gowns, speeches, flowers, and diplomas. But this wasn’t a normal graduating class. In fact, in recent years, no senior class really has been: Each has dealt with its own particular mix of disaster. The class of 2019 was defined by the fire; the classes of 2020 and 2021 got both that and the pandemic.What sets Paradise’s class of 2022 apart is that they never got a single normal year of high school. Freshman year, they were handed the fire; sophomore year, COVID lockdowns; junior year, hybrid school; and senior year—the most normal, relatively speaking—they still had to contend with masking and all the other ways that COVID continues to disrupt life. Now they are newly minted adults, heading off to college and their first full-time jobs, having never gotten two consecutive semesters of just boring, unremarkable high school.[Meira Levinson and Daniel Markovits: The biggest disruption in the history of American education]Sydney Pruis, another member of the PHS class of 2022, explains it this way: “It’s like our feet are ripped out from under us, and we’re just falling. And it seems like the falling never ends.”By the time the second major disaster arrived, the students were still living with the consequences of the first. Every person from Paradise whom I talked with for this story lost their home in the fire. Much of the town remained closed for months during cleanup, leaving families to shuffle among various housing situations. The school’s principal said that he was unable to find a place to live and departed.“I had lived in the same house since I was 2,” Abby Boutelle, another 2022 grad, told me. “And then, all of a sudden, I’ve lived in, like, three houses, and it’s like …” She made an exasperated noise.A new principal, Michael Ervin, arrived in the fall of 2019. “I was probably as damaged walking into here as the kids were,” he told me. Ervin had lived in the town for more than 20 years before the fire, having married into a longtime Paradise family. He and his wife lost their home, as did much of his wife’s extended family.“People understand the whole town burned to the ground and how devastating that is. What most people don’t know is these kids—these families—lost their support groups,” he explained. “My friends moved. Everybody scattered.”When COVID hit during Sydney’s sophomore year, her family was living in two trailers on the property where her home once stood. She did remote school in the smaller, travel-size trailer while her brother joined in from the bigger one. “Oh, great, now I’m stuck in a trailer,” she thought to herself.Katie and her family were also living in trailers, but hers had no water or electricity. She said that the school offered hot spots for students without Wi-Fi so that they could attend virtual class—but that her only access to electricity was via a single extension cord. She bounced between relatives’ houses to use their power and internet. She told me that she’d always had anxiety, but that the pandemic made it a lot worse.Ervin, who’d been principal only for about six months at that point, continued to work from the school’s empty campus. He said that they trained staff in social-emotional learning, or SEL: “Our first focus has got to be checking in with kids: ‘How are you doing today? How are things going? Do you have food? Do you have water?’”Junior year, the teens returned to campus on a hybrid model that divided the school into two rotating groups, where half received in-person instruction each day while the other half stayed home and did homework. (Friday was remote for everyone.) Senior year, the entire class of 2022 could finally be in the same building again—but with rules about masking. Only this spring did the masks come off. Aiden Luna, who also just graduated, told me that he really enjoyed his senior spring and that if all of high school had been like that last semester, “I think it would have been absolutely just super fun.”The disruptions piled up beyond home and academia. Aiden made the varsity football team as a freshman, but two of his four seasons were cut short. Sydney, likewise, got just two normal years of soccer. Katie sang, but says she shuffled through multiple choir directors. Abby joked that it’s impossible to put together a junior-year yearbook when only half your class is present on any given day. They celebrated senior prom, and Katie says that, although she has nothing else to compare it to, the dance was “just like the movies.” Ervin, the principal, told me that the kids had a blast.I asked a few experts what kind of psychological effects they would expect these paired disasters to have on the students—as well as how it may affect their development. After all, high school is supposed to be a formative time, a kind of dress rehearsal for adulthood. What might so many stops and starts in their teen years do to a person? Although the Paradise High School graduates’ specific challenges are unique, they aren’t the only students of their generation who will face the mental-health consequences of remote school and a burning world.“My research shows that most people are resilient to anything,” George A. Bonanno, a psychology professor at Columbia University and the author of the book The End of Trauma, told me. Bonanno said that his team reviewed 25 years’ worth of studies on war, disasters, and more and found that the majority of people end up basically okay: “I would imagine a lot of these kids are going to be just fine.” But a minority will struggle from the get-go and do worse with each new adversity.[From the December 2020 issue: School wasn’t so great before COVID, either]Brett McDermott is a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Tasmania in Australia. His research group has surveyed some 9,000 students in the aftermath of disasters, including bushfires. McDermott told me that the rate of emotional disturbance after an acute event is approximately 10 to 15 percent—or higher, depending on how bad the event was. (After one particularly deadly flood he studied, more than 30 percent of kids had PTSD, he said.) Students who directly feared for their lives may develop PTSD, while those who experienced loss may develop depression—the latter being more common, he said. The disaster can also trigger generalized anxiety or specific fire-related phobias. He also noted that secondary disruptions associated with fire, such as the breaking of the social structure and the loss of one’s livelihood, can have emotional consequences. The good news, he said, is that we have treatment options that can help.And some of the students, McDermott told me, “will actually do amazingly well,” having “mastered their worst nightmare and come through psychologically intact.” They may even carry it as a badge of honor: I survived.Bonanno told me that getting back on track with whatever they’d planned to do after high school before the stressors hit—whether that’s getting a job or going to college—could be really healthy for the new graduates.All four PHS grads told me that they were ready for what comes next—which is college, in their cases. Abby, Aiden, and Sydney are all headed to Butte College this fall, which is about 10 minutes down the road from Paradise High. Katie, meanwhile, is on her way to San Francisco, where she plans to study game design at the Academy of Art University to work toward becoming a concept artist.For the most part, they are feeling optimistic—so much so that Abby admitted that she was hesitant to talk with me. She explained that, although her experience wasn’t ideal, the fire made her closer with her family, and that, reflecting on high school, she’s realized that she values everyday conversations more than dances or rallies. She wasn’t sure if that’s what people would want to hear, but it was her lesson, hard-earned.
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theatlantic.com
Our Rivalries Define Us
Near the end of the film Patton, George C. Scott, who plays the eponymous general, is invited to a banquet hosted by the Soviet high command to celebrate its impending victory over Nazi Germany. When Patton’s Soviet counterpart, General Mikhail Katukov, proposes that he and Patton drink a toast to each other, Patton replies through an interpreter, “My compliments to the general, please inform him that I do not care to drink with him or any other Russian son of a bitch.” The interpreter tells Patton that he cannot possibly relay this, but Patton insists. General Katukov replies through the interpreter that he thinks Patton is “a son of a bitch, too.” Patton laughs. “I’ll drink to that,” he says. “One son of a bitch to another.”Our rivalries define us—or, at least, our national-security strategies. In the 80 years since Patton and Katukov’s armies met in Germany, our two countries have played opposing roles in many conflicts. America has been the counterinsurgent to Russia’s insurgent (Vietnam, Laos, Angola) and vice versa (Afghanistan, Cambodia, Nicaragua). The lessons we’ve learned in war, we’ve often learned from each other.This tradition continues as we mark the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul and as the war in Ukraine grinds into its sixth month. The botched NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan emboldened Vladimir Putin as he weighed whether to invade Ukraine—as did his visions of restoring Russia to its borders as they were defined before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a collapse precipitated by its own misadventure in Afghanistan. As the war in Ukraine deepens, America’s experience in Afghanistan should remain top of mind. This is particularly true in three categories: time, alliances, and manpower.A saying in the Afghan War was that the Americans had the watches, but the Taliban had the time. The point wasn’t necessarily that Americans should have fought longer, but that we were always publicly looking for an exit. Indeed, in the 20-year conflict, we were never more than 24 months from an announced troop drawdown. Our inability to convince allies and adversaries of our superior resolve allowed the Taliban to outmaneuver us by convincing the Afghan people that their presence would endure far beyond that of NATO and the Afghan government.Russian strategists, alert to the U.S.-Taliban dynamic in Afghanistan, understand that the key to outmaneuvering your adversary in time is convincing him that you have more of it. The first phase of the Russian war plan relied on a lightning-quick advance to shock Ukrainians into capitulation. When that advance stalled, the Russians regrouped. They pivoted from a war of maneuver to a war of attrition. Unlike the American war machine, the Russian war machine has a track record of grinding its opposition to dust in attritional wars in Chechnya, Syria, and now eastern Ukraine. None of these campaigns have taken as long as 20 years, but they haven’t needed to.[Elliot Ackerman: Ukraine’s lifeline]The maintenance of alliances is another area where the American experience in Afghanistan is in conversation with the Russian experience in Ukraine. In Afghanistan, America too often sidelined NATO member nations. From President Donald Trump’s direct negotiations with the Taliban to President Joe Biden’s uncoordinated withdrawal, American unilateralism eroded NATO credibility in Afghanistan, weakening the alliance. And the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan marked one of NATO’s darkest moments.In Ukraine, Russia will be looking for opportunities to precipitate the type of NATO dysfunctionality that characterized events in Afghanistan one year ago. The Russians also know that their success in Ukraine will not hinge on their ability to cultivate proxies—such as Belarus—but on their ability to cultivate partners, particularly China.Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s oil imports have surged to a record high, increasing 55 percent in the past year. Recent attempts by the U.S. and other NATO members to curb Russian oil exports, or to at least place a cap on the price of Russian oil, have met resistance by China. Its commerce ministry has, thus far, rebuffed these efforts, telling U.S. Treasury officials that Russia’s oil price remains a “very complicated issue.”Economic sanctions against Russia are only as powerful as the alliance of nations that agree to implement them—or as weak as the alliance that forms to rebuff them. Economic difficulties aside, a Russian strategy of attrition will work only if it doesn’t transmute too much pain onto the Russian people. America was able to sustain its protracted war in Afghanistan because it kept casualties low and relied on an all-volunteer force. Russia has neither the benefit of low casualties nor enough volunteers.By certain estimates, Russia has suffered 30,000 dead in the first six months of the war; this is 10 times the total number killed in the U.S. war in Afghanistan and twice the number of Soviets killed there. This past May, in the face of a conscription shortfall, the Duma expanded the eligible age for enlistment to those over 40, while making dubious claims that those conscripts would not see action in Ukraine.Putin’s continued insistence on classifying the largest war fought in Europe since the Second World War as a “special military operation” shows his political vulnerability to excessive Russian bloodshed. America’s political class effectively waged the Afghan War within the recesses of America’s consciousness. The outcome of the war in Ukraine may well depend on Putin’s ability to do the same.[Anne Applebaum: Why the west’s diplomacy with Russia keeps failing]The war in Ukraine is yet another bloody chapter in the U.S.-Russia version of a forever conflict, in which both nations fight and learn from each other, sometimes from afar, through a seemingly endless succession of victories and defeats.
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theatlantic.com