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How Democrats’ delegate math actually works
A precinct leader counts votes at a caucus inside Coronado High School in Henderson, Nevada, on February 22, 2020. | Patrick Semansky/AP Small differences in the vote total could result in drastically different delegate hauls. We all know how the Democratic nomination contest works, right? Well, we think we do. People go and vote in primaries or caucuses in their states. The votes are counted and we see who wins. And then, those votes get translated ... somehow ... into how many delegates each candidate gets. Even many hardened political obsessives tend to fast-forward through that last bit: the delegate math. It’s complicated and confusing, so why bother? But the delegate math is incredibly important: It determines who wins. A candidate needs a majority of delegates to get the nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Bernie Sanders has recently argued that it shouldn’t be this way — that a plurality winner should just win — but that is not how the current rules work. So how do you get delegates? In the Democratic contest, it’s not just about winning states, it’s about how much you win by and how much of the vote you get in both states and congressional districts. There are no winner-take-all states; instead, all delegates are awarded proportionally. What makes things especially tricky this year is, for the first time in nearly three decades, the Democratic field won’t just be a two-candidate contest on Super Tuesday. Because of that, small changes in the vote count — and particularly in who manages to top the 15 percent threshold necessary to get any delegates — can shape the delegate totals in surprising ways. For instance, if the leading candidate gets 30 percent of the vote somewhere, they could end up getting around one-third of delegates at stake. But with the exact same vote share they could also end up withtwo-thirds of delegates — a dramatic difference, particularly since a majority is necessary to win. The difference depends entirely on how many other candidates top 15 percent and on how far above it they are. Voters may not realize that, if they cast their ballot for a candidate who ends up falling below that threshold, they could be super-charging the leading candidate’s delegate haul. So it’s very much worth understanding what happens when votes get converted into delegates. And happily, Democrats do at least use the exact same delegate allocation formula everywhere — meaning, once you learn how it works in one state, you’ll understand how it works everywhere. Let’s walk through it. Four steps to get from votes to delegates The best way to explain how this will all work is to walk you through a sample scenario based on the candidates currently in the race. Though these numbers are made up, remember that what happens in the examples below are all completely plausible outcomes on Super Tuesday. Step 1: Meeting the threshold: Once the votes somewhere (either in a state or a congressional district) have come in, the first key crucial number in the delegate math is the 15 percent threshold. As you probably know, candidates need 15 percent or more of the vote somewhere to be eligible to get any delegates there. If a candidate is below that, they’re out of luck. But another crucial step here is that the votes for any candidates getting below 15 percent are then excluded from the count for the purposes of delegate allocation. So let’s say the votes come in as follows (using nice clean numbers): Sanders 30,000 30% Biden 25,000 25% Warren 20,000 20% Buttigieg 15,000 15% Klobuchar 5,000 5% Various others 5,000 5% Four candidates have met the 15 percent threshold: Sanders, Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg. That means the votes for Klobuchar and the other candidates are excluded. Step 2: Determining everyone’s delegate percentage: Next, we calculate how much of the remaining vote each candidate who met the threshold got. The resulting percentage (up to three decimal places) will be the key number for allocating delegates. Sanders 30,000 33.333% Biden 25,000 27.777% Warren 20,000 22.222% Buttigieg 15,000 16.666% Here, Sanders’s 30 percent of the vote means he will get about 33 percent of delegates, Biden’s 25 percent of the vote means he’ll get around 27 percent of delegates, etc. Step 3: Estimating the delegates for each candidate: Then, you have to look at how many delegates are actually at stake in this particular place. Let’s say there are 10 delegates at stake here. Apply the percentages to that, and this is what you get: Sanders 3.333 Biden 2.777 Warren 2.222 Buttigieg 1.666 Step 4: Rounding: Delegates are actual people and can’t be split into fractions. So we need to end up with whole numbers here. The way Democrats ensure this is they start with just the whole numbers (avoiding the decimals for now) — so Sanders gets 3, Biden 2, Warren 2, and Buttigieg 1. That means 8 of the 10 delegates have been awarded and there are 2 left over. You look at the part of the number after the decimal point to determine who gets those. Biden’s .777 is the highest, so he gets one, and Buttigieg’s .666 is second highest, so he gets the other one. The final delegate tally here, then, is: Sanders 3 Biden 3 Warren 2 Buttigieg 2 So though Sanders got the most votes, he ended up tying Biden in delegates due to rounding, because Biden was close enough on his heels and rounding happened to work in his favor. That’s how the delegate allocation formula works. You can apply it to the vote total in any state or congressional district with a primary to walk through how the delegates get divvied up. How this math can produce quirky results with such a crowded field In a two-candidate race like the ones Democrats had in 2008 and 2016, this isn’t all that tricky. Both candidates almost always top 15 percent and there are just a small number of votes for anyone else. So their percentage of delegates ends up closely matching their percentage of votes. But when the vote is split among multiple candidates, things can get messier — because of that crucial 15 percent threshold. As an example, let’s say the vote breakdown is only slightly different from the one above, with Bernie Sanders getting the exact same percentage of overall votes, but the rest of the field shaking out differently: Sanders 30,000 30% Biden 20,000 20% Bloomberg 14,000 14% Warren 12,000 12% Buttigieg 10,000 10% Klobuchar 7,000 7% Various others 7,000 7% Now, only Sanders and Biden cleared 15 percent. So votes for the other candidates are cleared away, and the delegate percentages for Sanders and Biden would be: Sanders 30,000 60% Biden 20,000 40% Applying those percentages to 10 delegates means no rounding is necessary — the final delegate tally would be: Sanders 6 Biden 4 Let’s pause on this. Sanders here ended up with 60 percent of the delegates at stake, but in the earlier example he ended up at 30 percent (the same as Biden) after rounding. And he got the exact same number of votes and percentage of the statewide total in both examples. It’s a dramatic difference — particularly when you keep in mind that you need an outright majority of delegates (not just a plurality) to be assured of the nomination. For any one candidate to get on track for that, they need to win majorities of delegates in a lot of places. So when it comes to big statewide delegate hauls like those in California and Texas, the difference between the winner getting 30 percent or 60 percent of those delegates is massive. It could get even more dramatic. If one candidate is the only person to clear 15 percent, they get all of the delegates at stake. And in a contest where delegates are allotted proportionally, it’s a huge win for any candidate to be able to scoop up 100 percent of them somewhere. So in a messy race like this, it’s not just about who wins. It’s about how much that person wins by and how many other people manage to top 15 percent of the vote. Most delegates are allotted based on congressional district results There’s one other important-but-confusing part of Democrats’ delegate rules: that delegates are awarded in different batches in each state. First off, around 65 percent of delegates across the country are actually awarded according to the results in individual districts — not states. The above formula (from the 15 percent threshold to rounding) gets applied in every district. Most states use congressional districts, though Texas uses state senate districts instead. So if you miss 15 percent statewide but get there in one or more congressional districts, you will pick up delegates in that state (as Pete Buttigieg did in Nevada). Conversely, if you top 15 percent statewide but miss that threshold in several districts (because your support is concentrated in one or a few districts), you’ll lose out on a bunch of delegates. Second, there’s even some confusion with the statewide delegates, because most states award them in two separate batches. There are the ordinary “at-large” statewide delegates, and then there are the PLEOs, or “party leaders and elected officials.” (These aren’t the infamous “superdelegates” who can support whomever they want; pledged PLEO delegates are pledged to back a certain candidate based on the results in the contest.) Using the same statewide results, the delegate allocation formula is applied separately to both the at-large delegate batch and the PLEO delegate batch. The proportional results will be similar, but due to the rounding step, there can be differences in how the delegates end up in each batch. As an example, here’s how Arkansas (a Super Tuesday state) allocates its delegates in six batches. Statewide at-large: 7 delegates Statewide PLEOs: 4 delegates 1st congressional district: 4 delegates 2nd congressional district: 6 delegates 3rd congressional district: 5 delegates 4th congressional district: 5 delegates So you see here that most of Arkansas’s delegates are given out according to the congressional district results. That’s the case in every state (except for those small states with just one congressional district, where this is irrelevant). The big picture for the 2020 Democratic contest So yes, that was a lot. But here’s a brief summary cheat sheet to tie it all together: The basic math: For delegate allocation, all votes for candidates who have not reached 15 percent support are excluded. Each candidate’s percentage of what’s left over determines what percentage of delegates they get. Rounding also comes into play. The math’s implications: That 15 percent threshold can make the delegate results swing wildly depending on how many candidates meet it and how much support those candidates get. If almost all of the vote is cast for candidates meeting the threshold, the results will look proportional. But if there are lots of votes “wasted” on candidates below 15 percent, the candidates who do meet the threshold can reap big delegate gains. The many delegate batches: Statewide results are important, but more delegates are actually awarded based on the results in hundreds of congressional districts across the country. The delegate allocation math, the 15 percent threshold, and rounding applies individually to the results in all these districts. Fun! Majorities matter: Whether you get the most delegates isn’t all that matters; whether you’re on track for a majority of delegates is also quite important. If the “winner” on Super Tuesday gets half or more of the delegates, they’d be in a commanding position. If they’re far short of that, their position will be more tenuous. Got all that? Good. Now you’re ready to make sense of Super Tuesday’s results.
vox.com
What Mike Pence’s public health record says about his ability to lead on coronavirus
Mike Pence at National Defense University at Fort McNair on October 23, 2018, in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong/Getty Images Nothing good. In 2011, a Congress member from Indiana helped pass federal legislation to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. Two years later, the last Planned Parenthood affiliate in Scott County, Indiana, closed its doors because of budget cuts. It was also the last HIV testing center in the county. By 2015, an HIV outbreak was brewing in the state. At the peak of the outbreak, 20 new cases were being diagnosed per week, with a total of nearly 200 cases eventually reported, according to HuffPost. But that Congress member, who became Indiana’s governor, didn’t want to authorize a needle-exchange program to stop the spread of the virus. “I don’t believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia,” he said. That Indiana governor was, of course, Mike Pence. Now he’s the vice president, and on Wednesday, President Trump put him in charge of fighting coronavirus in the US. “He’s got a certain talent for this,” Trump said. But others say the opposite is true. In Indiana, cuts to Planned Parenthood meant that “when the state experienced an HIV outbreak, they were unprepared to respond to it,” Mary Alice Carter, a senior adviser at Equity Forward, a reproductive-health watchdog group, told Vox. Pence’s role in cutting Planned Parenthood funding showed a “short-sightedness” that makes Trump’s decision to put him in charge of coronavirus response concerning, Carter said. (The White House has not responded to a request for comment from Vox on the selection of Pence for the position.) Moreover, Pence and his history are part of a bigger problem in the Trump administration, Carter and others say. In general, the administration has sought to restrict funding to Planned Parenthood and other groups, reproductive health advocates say, without regard to the public health implications. The administration’s policies have already made it harder for low-income Americans to get screening for conditions like breast and cervical cancer. And some fear that, especially with Pence in charge, the administration could put politics over science when it comes to coronavirus response too. “The ongoing concern is whether you let science and medicine lead an effort or whether you let ideology run your policy,” Carter said. Pence was among the first Republicans to advocate cutting funds to Planned Parenthood Planned Parenthood has long been a target for anti-abortion groups because some of its affiliates offer the procedure, but for years, it has also functioned as a safety-net health care provider for millions of Americans, offering STI testing, cervical cancer screening, and other services at low or no cost. In order to do this, the group has received public funding from a number of state and federal sources. Cutting that funding has been a Republican priority for years. The Hyde Amendment already bans federal funding for nearly all abortions, but for many years, Planned Parenthood was still able to use federal funds for other health services. Getting rid of that funding, abortion opponents argued, would indirectly make it harder for the group to perform abortions. Pence was essentially the architect of this strategy, as Sarah Kliff reported at Vox in 2016. In Congress, he proposed bills to cut funding to the group repeatedly beginning in 2007, and one finally passed the House in 2011. “If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not be in the business of providing abortions,” Pence told Kliff. “As long as they aspire to do that, I’ll be after them.” The 2011 legislation did not make it through the Senate. But states also joined in the effort, with Indiana chief among them. In 2005, Planned Parenthood got $3.3 million from the state of Indiana; in 2014, it got just $1.9 million, according to Indy100. Those cuts started before Pence became governor, but they continued under his administration. Indeed, during his governorship, overall funding for public health in the state decreased, Beth Meyerson, co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at the Indiana University School of Public Health, told Vox. In 2013, Pence’s first year as governor, the only Planned Parenthood in Scott County closed, leaving 24,000 people without an HIV testing center. By 2015, health officials were seeing HIV infections linked to intravenous drug use in Scott County, Erin Schumaker reported at HuffPost: “Scott County residents were sharing needles to inject their opioids, and nobody was getting tested.” Public health experts called for a needle-exchange program to make sure people got clean needles, but Pence refused, Meryl Kornfield reports at the Washington Post. He said he would veto any bill for such a program. Finally, over two months after the HIV outbreak was reported, Pence said he would pray on the issue, according to the New York Times. Two days later, he issued an executive order for syringes to be distributed in Scott County. The distribution helped stop the epidemic, according to the Times. But Pence didn’t actually allocate new money for the program, or for fighting the epidemic generally, forcing state officials to cut other health programs, Meyerson said: “overall, his governorship showed that he did not commit to an adequately funded public health infrastructure.” Then, in 2016, Pence was elected vice president. And the effort to cut funding to Planned Parenthood that he had championed for nearly a decade became a priority for the Trump administration. Last year, the administration issued a rule barring Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform or refer for abortions from getting federal funding through Title X, a program aimed at providing family planning services to low-income Americans. As a result, nearly 1,000 health centers around the country have lost funding, making it harder for many Americans to get necessary services like cancer screening or HIV tests. The move was doubly concerning because for many people, Title-X-funded clinics “are really the first line of defense in public health,” Carter said. For many low-income patients, their health-care provider at such a clinic may be the only provider they see all year. “You may go in for birth control and come out knowing you need to get a flu shot,” Carter said, and family planning clinics can also help patients sign up for Medicaid and other services. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood has played a crucial role in previous public health crises, doing outreach around prevention of the Zika virus and offering water filters in Michigan during the Flint water crisis. The Trump administration’s record on public health raises concerns about its handling of coronavirus Today, the Trump administration is tasked with responding to coronavirus, with Pence, one of Planned Parenthood’s most long-standing opponents, at the head of that effort. It’s not clear yet how the group will be involved, if at all, in fighting coronavirus. But its leadership has already expressed concern over the selection of Pence to lead the government’s response. “Pence has long been obsessed with defunding Planned Parenthood, even when Planned Parenthood closures in the state affected one of Indiana’s worst public health crises,” said Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement on Thursday. “There’s no evidence he has learned any lessons since then.” Carter also noted the administration’s attitude to Planned Parenthood raises questions about how it will respond to coronavirus. For example, she asked, would it ship a virus testing kit to a Planned Parenthood facility? More broadly, the administration and its officials have a record of disregarding medical evidence or the advice of experts, Carter and others say. Pence, for example, went against the guidance of public health officials when he opposed a needle-exchange program. (And in 2000, he claimed in an op-ed that “smoking does not kill.”) Later, when the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups asked the Trump administration not to bar Planned Parenthood and other groups from getting Title X funds, arguing that the move would harm public health, the administration did it anyway. The issue goes beyond Planned Parenthood. In 2017, the Trump administration reinstated and expanded the “global gag rule,” which bars health care providers abroad that receive US government aid from providing, referring for, or discussing abortion. Experts have long said the rule, enacted by previous Republican presidents but broadened by Trump to apply restrictions to a larger share of government funds, would not reduce abortions but would instead jeopardize providers’ ability to offer cancer screenings, contraception, and prenatal care. Indeed, a 2019 study found that access to HIV testing and screening for breast and cervical cancers, among other services, had been reduced across several countries as a result of the rule. Also in 2017, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS resigned in protest, with one writing in Newsweek that “the Trump administration has no strategy to address the ongoing H.I.V./AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate H.I.V. policy, and — most concerning — pushes legislation that will harm people living with H.I.V. and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.” Then, in 2019, the Trump administration cut funding for fetal-tissue research, despite long-standing arguments by scientific and medical experts that such research is crucial for developing vaccines and treatments for diseases. Research into AIDS and other conditions has already suffered as a result, Carter said. The failure to listen to experts in the past raises questions about the administration’s coronavirus response today, Carter said. For example, “are we going to see immigration policies put in place, or travel restrictions put in place, that are scientifically based or based on race or country of origin?” Moreover, the research on coronavirus is constantly evolving, and Americans need someone in charge of the response who can sift through it with a focus on data, not ideology, Meyerson said. “We need a strong, clear, transparent, public health evidence-based communicator who will coordinate among agencies and who will manage upward in our current draconian administration,” she explained. When it comes to Pence, “there’s no evidence that he will handle that job and do it in the way the American people need.”
vox.com
The case that America’s in decline
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center on February 21, 2020. | Mario Tama/Getty Images Why Ross Douthat thinks the country is stuck in a doom loop. Is Trump a symptom or a disease? And if he’s a symptom, what’s the underlying sickness? Decadence is one possible answer. This is very close to the argument New York Times columnist Ross Douthat makes in his new book, The Decadent Society. According to Douthat, the US — and really the entire Western world — is stuck in a kind of cultural doom loop. In many ways, Douthat says, we’ve become victims of our own success and are now locked in a state of malaise, in which our culture and politics feel exhausted. Douthat’s definition of a “decadent society” is that we’re trapped in a stale system that keeps spinning in place, reproducing the same arguments and frustrations over and over again. Trump’s election is simultaneously a sign that a lot of people were desperate for something different and a reflection of the shallow and frivolous culture that spawned him. Douthat is a conservative, and so there’s a temptation to treat this book as a reactionary screed, or an angry protest against the modern condition. But I think it’s much more than that, although at times it does lapse into some familiar tropes. He puts his fingers on something real, something a lot of people feel on the left and the right, namely a belief that the status quo is broken and needs a reboot. I spoke to Douthat by phone about the story he wanted to tell in this book, why our dysfunctional politics is a sign of a much deeper problem, if his book is — deep down — an indictment of liberal capitalism, and if he sees any way out of the decadence he diagnoses. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing When you call this society decadent, what exactly do you mean? Ross Douthat Basically, a decadent society manifests forms of economic stagnation, institutional sclerosis, and cultural repetition at a high stage of wealth and technological proficiency and civilizational development. So it’s a society that, by definition, has succeeded in a lot of ways and may actually give the appearance of great energy. You can’t be decadent without first being successful. But I think it’s important for getting at the reality that decadence is something that comes on civilizations when they’ve reached a certain stage, and it’s not clear where they go next. And I think this is where the US, Western Europe, and increasingly the Pacific rim has been over the last couple of generations. Sean Illing And how does decadence manifest politically? Ross Douthat People are very upset, and very anxious, and very concerned, and have very intense opinions, but their arguments are stuck in a stalemate. And when there are new ideas, they don’t seem to have a purchase on the real world. And so we end up very energetically going in circles, or practicing politics as a form of entertainment that stimulates you immensely, but doesn’t particularly change the world. Sean Illing You talk a lot in the book about how repetitive our cultural and political climate has become. We keep making the same movies over and over again and we keep, at least until very recently, having the same political arguments over and over again. Is our cultural decadence the product of political malaise or is our political malaise the product of cultural decadence? Ross Douthat Well, in the last 10 years or so, we’ve seen a lot of ideological discontent with political decadence. I think you can’t understand Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders without seeing that part of it. People are desperate for an alternative to these sclerotic political systems, and ideologies on the left and right have basically been frozen in place since the 1970s. But the ground is starting to quake. There’s a strong desire, from thinkers and activists on all sides, to escape decadence. But the nature of the system and the situation makes it hard. You elect populists in the United States or Europe, you get this kind of rebellion, but it’s a rebellion that leads back into stalemate, and you basically get a more corrupt form of government that reduces people’s faith in the system further, but doesn’t actually achieve the things that the populists want to achieve. And we’ll see what happens in the looming Bernie Sanders presidency. I suspect that the same thing would be true of a socialist president. That you would have some movement and some policy change, but you would also have a lot of intense frustration. And I think part of this frustration is that we’re sort of play-acting, not in the sense that the people engaged in it aren’t sincere, but in the sense that the combination of the difficulties of actually achieving change, and the fact that we have this political virtual reality on the internet, where people can perform their identities and rage in ways that don’t actually correspond to political organization in the real world. So a lot of the discontent with decadence ends up getting channeled into virtual politics as opposed to real politics. Sean Illing I’m glad you went there. If what you’re saying is true, those of us who think this is a politically heavy time, a serious and consequential time, are wrong, because most of the rage and the activism is too performative to amount to much of anything. I’m not sure I agree with you, but I’m also not totally sure you’re wrong. Ross Douthat This is probably my most controversial take. I’m arguing against both the sense that Western liberalism or democracy is in the sort of crisis a lot of people think and against the sense of real possibility that some of my friends on the right and left feel about, say, someone like Bernie Sanders. My suggestion is that while all the problems people are worried about, like Donald Trump, are all real problems and worth deploring, I’m also saying he’s the embodiment of a reality television style of politics that isn’t remotely the equivalent of either what fascism represented in the 1930s, or even what various forms of radicalism represented in the 1960s and 1970s. There’s a hollowness to all of this that makes it a cartoonish imitation of something like fascism but not nearly as dangerous as actual 20th century fascism. It’s a weird, internet-enabled simulacrum of fascism that I think is much more reflective of our decadent age. That doesn’t mean Trump or any of these other populists can’t commit crimes or do horrible things, but it suggests that the drama of today is more of an echo of past Western convulsions than it is a hinge moment in history. Sean Illing That’s where I think you’re wrong and overlook how easily fascism, even in the early 20th century, began as a mass cultural phenomenon that no one took seriously until it was too late. There’s a frivolity to Trump that undercuts his dangerousness, but his ascendance is a sign of how close we are to tipping over into something truly dark. Ross Douthat I would say there’s definitely the potential for a rupture. My assumption is that there could be a moment when our decadent society enters into a crisis from which a genuine transformation is likely to emerge, but we are probably several generations away from that. And if that happens, we will look back and say, “Ah, this was foreshadowed in the derangements of the Trump era.” But I don’t think it’s going to be the immediate cash-out of our own convulsions now. Sean Illing I’m not sure we could engineer a more perfect distillation of decadence than Trump, but there’s always the question of whether Trump is the symptom or the disease. Is the rise of Trumpist populism and illiberalism more generally a reaction against decadence or its logical fulfillment? Ross Douthat Why not both? Part of what’s interesting about Trump is that he rose in part as a critic of precisely the things I’m calling decadent. He swept into a sclerotic Republican Party in which even its younger politicians are mouthing the same platitudes that were fresh and new 40 years ago. And he’s an agent of disruption, and he is a critic of the kind of management of American power that defined politics over the last several decades. It was all empty, of course, but the message was very much a reaction against all of the staleness and inertia I’m talking about. In some ways, Trump is a less decadent figure than a Mitt Romney or a Barack Obama or a Bloomberg or Biden because all of those people are more invested in this idea that we have a pretty good status quo and we should basically try and make it sustainable. At the same time, as you said, Trump embodies all of the decadent features of our time, but his presidency is just performing a drama that doesn’t necessarily have strong correlates in the real world. There hasn’t been any dramatic legislative achievements. There’s a lot of executive power grabs, but nothing as sweeping as his critics feared. It’s a lot of sound and fury for cable news but most of it amounts to Trump trying to evade accountability for the corrupt things he does. He’s not trying to build a new order or regime, he’s just trying to skate through his presidency without getting impeached and have his family get rich on the other side. Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images Activists gathered on September 17, 2018 in downtown Manhattan for 7th year celebration of Occupy Wall Street’s influence on current politics and various activism groups throughout the city, state and nation, with a press conference at 11am on the Steps of Zuccotti Park. Sean Illing I really do think you’re understating the threat here, especially the erosion of the rule of law and the basic norms that make the whole game of liberal democracy possible. I don’t think there’s a “potential for rupture,” I think the rupture has already occurred — we just have no idea what’s on the other side. But to your point, I do wonder whether a transformative mass movement is even possible anymore. I keep going back to the Great Recession of 2008. There were rumblings and the Occupy Movement and all that, but, in the end, what we got was elite consolidation and a swift return to normal business. If that crisis couldn’t spark a near-revolution, then I’m not sure what can. Maybe it’s just too easy to do nothing when so much of life is mediated by screens and digital diversions. What do you think? Ross Douthat It’s very striking that you don’t have that in the United States today. There is a clear gap between the temperature and tone of political discussion on the internet, and the extent to which people are protesting on college campuses, or taking to the streets in big cities. And not that it’s entirely absent. Obviously, you had the Women’s March, and you’ve had mass movements under Trump, but the gap between the stakes as they’re expressed in online debate, and the stakes as they’re expressed in the real world seems incredibly stark. Sean Illing Though you’d never put it this way, your book reads like an indictment of liberal capitalism and the culture it invariably breeds. The consumerism, the hyper-individualism, the greed, the lack of some common project or goal — doesn’t all of that lead to something like decadence? Ross Douthat I think there are tendencies within both liberalism and capitalism that lead to decadence. I’m skeptical of arguments that their expression is inevitable, though. I don’t think you can necessarily go back and just say, “Look, latent in John Locke or the American founding is a kind of hyper-individualism that was eventually going to lead to atomization and sterility.” I think it’s more that under particular conditions, liberalism gets expressed as atomization and sterility, and those particular conditions right now are a world civilization that has run out of places to explore and has directed its surplus energies into triviality and excess. And I keep coming back to space, and it’s sort of a geeky science fiction place to go, but I think there’s a real truth there that if we had discovered that Mars was an unpopulated twin of planet Earth, the drama of the last 50 years would’ve been completely different. And we might be engaged in some horrific nuclear war on Mars, it might not have turned out well, but we wouldn’t be talking about atomization and sterility, and how liberalism inevitably leads to both, because that piece of the liberal genome wouldn’t have been so easily expressed as it’s been under conditions where the frontier is closed, and we’re stuck with one another here. Sean Illing You start and end the book with that point about space and how our frontiers have closed off, and I think it reflects a deep pessimism that you never quite own. You talk about the possibility of, say, a religious revival, but that whole section feels half-hearted, like you don’t even believe it. And you clearly don’t buy all the techno-utopian fantasies being spun up in Silicon Valley. But if some great force or event does shake us out of our stupor, what do you think it will be? Ross Douthat It’s pretty clear from the way the book ends that I think it’s most likely to be some intersection of religious revival, and by that I don’t necessarily mean a Christian revival but instead some kind of religious transformation, and something that makes the distances involved in space travel less daunting and extends human possibilities beyond the earth. And given that combination, I can see why you would read that as pessimism with a halfhearted nod to optimism. A warp drive seems impossible to build and while a religious revival isn’t impossible, it’s certainly not within the trajectory of the West right now. So in that sense, I guess I am pessimistic in the sense that I think current trends suggest we have a lot of decadence ahead of us. But I don’t want to concede completely to your reading because I guess I still have a fundamental optimism about the human story. We’ve become a world-spanning species, and we’ve discovered that the universe seems too vast to explore, and we’re sort of stuck here. I don’t really believe that that’s how the human story ends. Decadence can last a really long time, but I don’t think it will end with us collapsing back into the stone age and wiping ourselves out. There’s another chapter ahead of us. We just don’t know what it looks like yet.
vox.com
Will coronavirus cause a global recession? We still don’t know.
A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks past an electric quotation board displaying stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on February 25, 2020. | Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images How deep or lasting any economic impact is will depend on the coronavirus’s spread, and how governments manage the outbreak. Last week, Apple had some news: There is going to be an iPhone supply shortage. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China has both disrupted manufacturing and depressed demand for iPhones in that country. Apple said its factories are ramping up, but slowly, and Apple stores and many partner stores had to close. “As a result, we do not expect to meet the revenue guidance we provided for the March,” the statement read. This is doing business in the time of the coronavirus. The spread of Covid-19, as the disease is formally known, is unsettling supply chains, sapping sales of some products, throwing travel into chaos, freaking out the stock markets, and intensifying fears of a global recession. Apple, in its statement, called the disruption temporary. And that is the hope: that any hurt to companies and manufacturers and economies is a short-lived, passing pain. But there’s still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus, which makes the potential economic fallout extremely uncertain, for both China and the rest of the world. It is also difficult to completely isolate one factor — in this case, a virus outbreak — from everything else happening in the world that can rattle the markets or strain economies. So how deep, lasting, or widespread any economic strain will be is hard to predict. China makes up a much larger share of the world economy than it did in 2003, when SARS, another illness caused by a type of coronavirus, broke out. Today, companies like Apple and Nike and other manufacturers and companies around the world are already admitting they’re feeling the negative effects of the virus. So too are industries tied to travel and tourism. Airlines, cruise lines, hotels; they all take a hit during outbreaks due to travel bans and warnings, and general fears — real or hyped — about contagion. And even if the novel coronavirus doesn’t cause a global recession, it could still bring significant long-term changes to the global economy by convincing companies of the need to diversify their supply chains to be less reliant on China. “It’s a potential threat to the global economy as it goes on longer,” Rohan Williamson, a professor of finance at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, told me. Supply chains can deal with disruptions for a few weeks, relying on supplies they have saved in house. But if it continues past that, he said, “it becomes a little more troubling.” The stock market sure is nervous. Here’s why. The Dow Jones plunged by 1,100 points on Thursday, one of its worst point drops in history. As of February 27, China has more than 82,000 confirmed cases. The virus has now spread to other parts of Asia, Europe, South America, and the United States. More than 2,000 people have died, most in mainland China, the epicenter of the outbreak. The fear that coronavirus will continue to spread and impact the global economy looks to be the main reason for the economic jitters. The coronavirus could prove to be deadlier than it currently is; the fatality rate is around 2 percent, but that could change. It could also prove to be the opposite, if more people are found to have mild cases. The coronavirus could become a pandemic; it could also taper off. Government intervention could dull the effects in populations; a bungled response could do the opposite. The stock market isn’t the economy, but it’s a signal that investors are worried about the economic outlook for the coming year because of the virus. Basically, they’re predicting that the coronavirus will continue to spread and cause more disruptions, depress demand, and maybe cause a global slowdown. Right now, investors don’t know this is going to happen — no one does — but they’re preparing as if it will. They’re reacting to fears now, but if good news starts breaking, it could swing in the other direction. Williamson said the stock market volatility is driven by this uncertainty. “As an investor you’re trying to say, here’s this virus. What’s going to be the reaction with the worst case, if things get really bad?” he said. “So your response is going to be prices drop, because you’re going to say, ‘I don’t want want to be the one holding the security if things go really bad [in] a few months. So I will sell it right now.” Investors are preparing for the worst, and some companies and analysts have changed their forecasts for earnings this year. For example, Goldman Sachs revised its earnings growth estimates to zero for US companies. “US companies will generate no earnings growth in 2020,” Goldman Sachs’ chief US equity strategist, David Kostin, said in a note to clients Thursday. “We have updated our earnings model to incorporate the likelihood that the virus becomes widespread.” Businesses are already taking a hit, but how bad it gets will depend on how long this lasts Apple is one of those companies that have revised down their projections for this quarter. Nike, too, is expected to have a grim quarter. Companies like Nike and Apple also get a bit of a double whammy. “These are two companies that manufacture a significant amount of their products in China, but they also sell a significant amount of products to China,” Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab, told me. Factories in China were already operating with smaller staffs or delays because of the Lunar New Year. Then came the coronavirus emergency, which saw many factories shuttered. Even as some factories in unaffected areas of the country try to restart production, travel restrictions made it difficult for people to get to work. And because everything is happening so slowly, it is going to take time for these manufacturers to scale back up. “Even if you came back to the factory, you have to spend 14 days in quarantine. We have some longtime workers that haven’t even returned,” a worker in a Chinese factory told NPR earlier this month. Then there is the retail side. Government-mandated lockdowns in several cities in China havekept people off the streets — and therefore out of shops, restaurants, hair salons, theaters, and so on. Many simply closed. Apple closed its stores and corporate headquarters and though has now reopened about half its stores again. Starbucks shut down 2,000 stores in China, about half of its total locations, though it too has started to resume operations. Pretty much all businesses that rely on China as part of their supply chains or have big retail presences within the country face similar challenges. Luxury fashion brands in particular, which depend heavily on Chinese buyers, are taking a hit. A report this week from the investment management firm Bernstein found that the coronavirus could end up costing the luxury market as much as $43 billion in sales in 2020, Business Insider reports. And while big-name brands get the attention, smaller manufacturers might be even less resilient to the shock. For instance, sellers on Amazon, who often rely on cheap Chinese products, are getting pummeled, with dwindling stock to sell. “I don’t think the Amazon platform has seen such a massive amount of inventory problems as we are about to see,” Patrick Maioho, who sells kitchen products on Amazon and advises on manufacturing in China, told the Wall Street Journal this week. Then there are the airlines, which some experts say could lose as much as $100 billion, and all the other businesses that rely on tourism: hotels, casinos, cruises, tour companies, and more. Chinese tourists are some of the world’s biggest spenders, and travel restrictions, quarantines, and closed borders are making tourism increasingly difficult, to say nothing of visitors to China. All this means that many industries will likely have a bad start to 2020. But although it may not be a satisfying answer, how bad it will be depends on how long — and how far — the coronavirus continues to spread. Right now, much of the economic pain is centered in China, and on companies that rely on China for parts or products. But as the virus spreads, and other countries start seeing the number of cases balloon, that pain will be spread around. “I think we should expect that every country will see cases, and the duration of infection could go on for months — I don’t think we have an end period, necessarily,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. So is this going to cause a global recession? Everyone wants to know if the new coronavirus will cause a global recession. The short answer is that it definitely could. Here, again, though, whether it will — and if it does happen, how bad it might be — depends on when the coronavirus emergency is resolved. A recession is generally defined as two back-to-back quarters of negative economic growth, usually measured by gross domestic product (GDP) — that is, the total value of final goods and services produced within a certain period (in this case, usually a quarter of a year). Experts I spoke to said that China’s GDP will probably suffer pretty badly this first quarter, and since it makes up about 17 percent of the global economy, that’s not great news. China’s estimated GDP growth for the first quarter of 2020 was about 6 percent. “The vast majority of all economists and others looking at China —and what we know about the virus so far — are expecting, best-case scenario for Q1 in China, zero. Many are expecting negative GDP in Q1, so that right there is going to hurt global GDP to the extent China’s that big,” Frederick said. What happens in China will have ripple effects outward to the rest of the world. The Eurozone countries are definitely bracing, as its GDP only grew 0.1 percent at the end of last year, so any shock could likely push it toward negative growth. The US does have one of the world’s strongest economies right now, so it’s a bit more protected. The US’s GDP grew 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, and experts say it might do a bit worse at the start of 2020 than it did last quarter, but is unlikely to see negative growth, at least for now. Of course, the big question is how long does this coronavirus outbreak go on? If the coronavirus isn’t contained and these trends continue, the likelihood of a global recession increases. It’s also important to remember that the coronavirus is just one factor, which might exacerbate other strains on the global economy, like trade wars. “As it gets more and more severe and infects more and more people, the impacts become greater and greater, and the countries that are teetering on recession already anyway will be right there,” Williamson said. Experts I spoke to cautioned that if governments respond appropriately and this outbreak is blunted, the worst-case scenario will probably be avoided. That doesn’t mean it will be averted equally around the world, or even in all industries or labor forces, of course. But when it comes to the global economy, the theme for now is “don’t panic.” And if the world gets the best-case scenario, and this outbreak is resolved within the coming weeks, a bounce-back might mitigate some of worst effects from the start of this year. This is good news for companies like Apple that make durable goods, but could be bad news for services like restaurants or casinos or hotels, which will have a harder time making up the lost revenue, Frederick, the VP of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab, told me. He explained that if you wanted to, say, buy an iPhone or a washing machine or a car but weren’t able to because of a supply shortage, or a store closing, you might be okay waiting to buy that product later once it’s available again — provided that the economic shock is temporary enough that you still have a job and money to spend. But if you normally go to a coffee shop every day or if you hit the casino every weekend, and now you can’t because of the coronavirus, once things get back to normal, you’re not all of a sudden going to make multiple trips or visits to make up for that. Even if the coronavirus doesn’t cause a recession, it could transform the global economy in subtler ways The coronavirus outbreak has definitely exposed vulnerabilities for companies, especially those that rely heavily on China for their supply chains and products. This may force companies to cut some of their dependence on China, something that already started to happen because of President Trump’s trade war. That almost certainly doesn’t mean abandoning China altogether, but rather distributing or diversifying supply chains to better protect against major crises that dramatically impact one country or one region more than others. That also does not necessarily mean more manufacturing will come back to the United States, as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently claimed, but it means companies will likely be looking elsewhere. And even for companies that aren’t really dependent on China, it’s still a good reminder that no one knows when or where the next pandemic or crisis might happen. But one thing is certain: There will be another one at some point. Which means preparing for that now is a good idea.
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Coronavirus in Lagos: Africa’s biggest city has a Covid-19 case
People walk along a main road wearing face masks at Yaba in Lagos, on February 28, 2020. | Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images The disease was just discovered in Lagos, Nigeria, in a traveler from Italy. The Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria confirmed a Covid-19 case on Thursday in Lagos — Africa’s largest city. It’s the first reported case of the new coronavirus in Sub-Saharan Africa. For weeks, health officials have warned that a worst-case scenario for the outbreak involves the disease spreading in Africa’s fragile health systems. But beyond a single case in Egypt, authorities haven’t yet identified others — a trend many suspect is due to under-testing on the continent. On Thursday, the World Health Organization announced a turning pointin the Covid-19 epidemic: In the days prior, the number of new cases reported in the rest of the world had exceeded the number reported from China, where the virus seems to have originated. This includes large outbreaks in Iran, Italy, and South Korea. “This virus has pandemic potential,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, Thursday. (A pandemic means a new virus is spreading in multiple regions of the world — but it doesn’t say anything of a disease’s severity.) It was the first time the agency’s director general flicked at what other public health experts had been saying in recent weeks with increasing urgency: that we appear to be on the precipice of a pandemic, if we’re not already in one. The Lagos case is linked to Italy’s outbreak The first reported case in Africa’s largest city — along with the discovery of cases in a growing list of more than 40 countries around the world — suggests there will be more to come. The patient is an Italian citizen who had been working in Nigeria — one of the many cases that have been detected, as far and wide as Brazil and Spain, from Italy’s outbreak. On February 25, the person returned from Milan to Lagos, according to Nigeria’s Health Minister Osagie Ehanire. The individual tested positive for the virus on February 25. This is my complete Press Statement on the confirmed case of #COVID19 in #Nigeria@FMoHNigeria@NCDCGov@LUTHOfficial@LSMoH pic.twitter.com/MarpxetNI2— Dr. E. Osagie Ehanire MD, FWACS (@DrEOEhanire) February 28, 2020 “I wish to assure all Nigerians that we have been beefing up our preparedness capabilities since the first confirmation of cases in China, and we will use all the resources made available by the government to respond to this case,” Ehanire said in a statement. The health agency was already working on tracing the individual’s contacts, he added. “We have to recognize how well Nigeria did in handling Ebola,” said Devi Sridhar, chair in Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh. During the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic, the arrival of cases in Lagos stoked fears that the virus could spread throughout the megacity and rapidly beyond. But Nigeria’s public health officials managed to swiftly get the outbreak under control. “They have world-class public health experts so ideally they can track all the contacts for this individual and contain it quickly,” she added. Why an outbreak in Lagos is so worrying A single case imported to Lagos doesn’t mean the virus is spreading there. But health experts note that transmission is a concern in Lagos,a densely packed megacity of 21 million in a lower-middle-income country. And unlike Ebola — which spread onlythrough direct contact with a person’s bodily fluids — Covid-19 is a respiratory virus and much more contagious. A mere cough or sneeze appears to be enough to pass it along. “Covid-19 isn’t Ebola. Containment [is] difficult if not impossible,” said Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Twitter. “The terrifying possibility is of dozens of cities with Wuhan-like outbreaks,” he added, referring to the city in China where the virus is believed to have emerged. First report of #COVID19 from #Lagos #Nigeria. Pandemic is coming.— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) February 28, 2020 Some countries have belatedly started looking for Covid-19 and discovered large outbreaks, suggesting the disease has been spreading widely, undetected. Over the last week-and-a-half, Iran went from zero cases of Covid-19 to 270 on Friday; the country has the second highest number of deaths (26) outside of China. Like Italy, cases with links to Iran have been discovered around the world — from Canada to Lebanon. In a yet-to-be-published study, researchers estimated there are likely at least 18,000 cases within Iran’s borders. They predict that we can expect outbreaks with links back to Iran in Turkey, UAE, Iraq, Qatar, and Georgia, among other countries. Until early February, only two countries in Africa had the lab capacity to screen for this disease — Senegal and South Africa. Though other countries are now scaling up, this outbreak has been going on since late last year, and it’s only now that a case is being found in Subsaharan Africa, even though it’s thought to be at particular risk given its links to China. As Frieden said of Nigeria’s case on Twitter, “[A] pandemic is coming.”
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Israeli forces shot a Palestinian journalist in the leg. He got no compensation.
Palestinian paramedics push a youth, who was injured during clashes near the border with Israel, as he lies on a gurney into a hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 20, 2018. | Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images Israeli forces have a pattern of not compensating Palestinian journalists they injure. A Palestinian journalist shot in the leg by Israeli forces will receive no compensation for the injury, continuing a worrying trend of the Jewish state’s military facing no consequences for harming Palestinian reporters. Freelance photographer and journalist Ahmad Tal’at was covering a protest in the West Bank in 2015 when he was shot in the leg — by, he claimed, an unknown member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 972 Mag reports that, according to a lawsuit filed on his behalf, Tal’at at the time was wearing a vest with “PRESS” printed on it as well as a helmet, and was carrying three large professional cameras, which he said made him easily recognizable as reporter. He also claimed he was shot while standing on the side of the road, accompanied by other journalists. The IDF had a different story. Its lawyers said Tal’at’s lawsuit was merely “another in a series of cases in which those who were among the rioters and those riling up the crowd to riot dare to file a lawsuit as if they are the victims,” according to 972 Mag. IDF lawyers argued that Tal’at’s injury occurred after the protest had ended, and “that even if Tal’at was wounded that day, ‘it was in the context of attacks by the rioters that endangered the security forces there,’” 972 Mag reports. The judge hearing the case at a top Israeli court sided with the IDF, ruling that Tal’at would not receive compensation for his injures. The reason, per the judge, is that he was shot during an “act of war,” and thus Israel is exempt from any liability. The IDF, therefore, doesn’t have to pay Tal’at for any damages. Tal’at was seeking 40,000 Israeli shekels (about $11,600) in recompense. At first, this could seem like an isolated case. The problem is that Tal’at is the latest in a long line of Palestinian reporters that Israeli security forces have harmed or killed but failed to compensate. Security forces also rarely, if ever, face legal consequences for their actions. Even more troubling, there’s no sign that this trend will end anytime soon. Israel’s abuse of journalists is nothing new Palestinian journalists frequently report abuse by Israeli security forces. In April 2018, Ahmed Abu Hussein was shot in the abdomen while covering Gaza border protests, in which demonstrators demanded the right to return to their ancestral homes in Israel. Hussein died from his wounds two weeks later. A day later, Yaser Murtaja was fatally shot in the abdomen by Israeli snipers while covering the same protest. He, like Tal’at, was wearing a vest marked clearly marked with “PRESS.” The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in Gaza said five more Palestinian journalists covering the event were wounded. In November 2019, Muath Amarneh was blinded in one eye after Israeli Border Police opened fire to disperse protesters at a demonstration near the West Bank city of Hebron. Other journalists at the scene said Amarneh was hit by a bullet that ricocheted off a demonstrator. Again, Amarneh wore a clearly marked “PRESS” vest. Two months later, Israeli troops fractured Abdul Mohsen Shalaldeh’s skull while he reported on demonstrations against President Donald Trump’s Israel-Palestine peace plan. He feels he was targeted “as a clear message to journalists that they had to leave the field,” he told AlAraby. Clearly, there is a sustained pattern. But if Tal’at’s case is any indication, there is little hope for change or recourse. “The ruling against Tal’at is a blow to the hopes for redress of Palestinian journalists who were injured or killed because it gives full impunity to members of the IDF ... whether or not their actions are in line with the IDF’s own regulations,” Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras, the Middle East and North Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me. He also noted that he’s unaware of any cases in which Palestinian journalists received compensation for their injuries. What’s more, in many of these cases, the IDF has failed to employ nonlethal methods to deal with demonstrators while ensuring the safety of journalists. In fact, Culebras said the IDF routinely delays any investigations into its misconduct. Which means it’s more likely than not that the IDF will continue this behavior — and Palestinian reporters will continue to suffer.
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What the Ring hacks tell us about tech’s backward approach to security
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos onstage on January 16, 2020 in New Delhi, India. | Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images It’s not your fault if you get hacked. Blame tech companies for not forcing you to be more secure. If you build it they will come — but they won’t necessarily set up two-factor authentication. The software and devices that are increasingly integral to our daily lives are constantly compromising our privacy and security. But when these issues arise, regular people often get the blame. That’s because hacks and other online invasions are almost always avoidable. Users are lectured that they should have chosen long, unique passwords and that they should have subscribed to a password manager; that they should have set up two-factor authentication; that they should never use public wifi. In other words, they got burned because they didn’t do what they were told. It shouldn’t be this way. Glenn Chapman/AFP via Getty Images Ring security cameras are displayed at Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington, on September 25, 2019. “The problem with all of these kinds of solutions is they put the onus of security responsibility on the user,” Marc Rogers, VP of cybersecurity at access management company Okta, told Recode. “And the user is the least equipped person to do anything about that. They don’t understand the risks well, and they don’t want the complexity.” Take Amazon Ring, a video security device consumers are increasingly using to give themselves a sense of security and peace of mind in their homes. Ironically, these devices have left people feeling less secure, after a spate of high-profile hacks in late 2019 made it possible for strangers to commandeer Ring cameras to surveil and harass people in their own homes. In one instance, a strange man talked to and terrified an 8-year-old girl in her own bedroom, where her parents had placed a Ring security camera as a communication and security measure. “Security should be seen but not heard. It should be something that’s simple. It shouldn’t get in the way.” In response, Ring said it hadn’t done anything wrong and blamed the hacks on customers. It said the hacked customers had made their devices vulnerable by reusing old, compromised passwords. Some of these users have disputed that claim, but either way, the point is clear: The tech company faulted its customers, rather than acknowledging its own role in the situation. Months after news of these hacks went public, Ring has introduced a number of standard security measures for users, like default two-factor authentication — a feature that requires users provide a second piece of info, like a code from their phone, before they can get access to an account — and a dashboard through which they can monitor who else might be accessing their video feeds. Ring had stopped short of mandating two-factor for existing users, saying that doing so could cause mass logouts, but after sustained pressure, including an article I published last year calling for this change, Ring finally made two-factor a requirement for all users last week. But the fact remains that they sold insecure devices with inadequate safety protocols to an untold number of consumers first. Tech companies tend to put the onus of security on users in part because they are trying to get as many people as possible to use their devices, and they see any extra security measures as something that creates friction that might turn off those users. It’s also not a coincidence that good security practices, like any other extra layer of oversight, cost these companies more time and money to develop. “At Ring, our top priority is the safety and security of our customers. We understand that Ring users put their trust in our products, and we strive to maintain that trust so our customers can feel confident that their homes and personal information are safe with Ring,” Ring said in a statement to Recode. “We reinforced that commitment with the addition of mandatory two-step verification for all users, and we will continue to add additional features related to user privacy and account security while maintaining the convenience and ease-of-use our customers have come to expect.” Security and ease of use are often positioned as being diametrically opposed, with one coming at the expense of the other. They don’t have to be. Reconciling them will require a lot of effort, and no tech company will get everything right. There will also be some trade-offs between ease of use and security. But none of that should prevent tech companies from aiming for a reasonable balance and meeting basic standards. “We have to convince all the big companies that it is not the user’s responsibility to make their stuff secure,” Rogers said. “Security should be seen but not heard. It should be something that’s simple. It shouldn’t get in the way. But it should be there when it’s needed, shouldn’t force the users to do complicated things or memorize huge strings of numbers that they’re just going to write down.” “I don’t think you have to completely trade off one for another,” Jen King, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society, told Recode. “And I think that people who are still making that argument are kind of in a mindset of 10-plus years ago.” Rather, she says, it’s a design issue. “There is a lot of work that’s been done in this area, both in the academic field, followed by corporate leaders in this space like Apple, to really try to understand human limitations and how we design products to minimize or anticipate those limitations so that people don’t have to work as hard,” King said. Instituting these best practices requires investments in people who do user experience research, which considers “how people think, [and] what their priorities and incentives are” in order to develop products and features that will ensure their security. It also requires looking at how others have solved these issues. “Certainly, there’s no excuse not to look around at your competition and see what other people are doing,” King said. What hardware and software companies need to do to make us all more secure Ultimately, it’s every tech company’s responsibility to make sure their products are secure in a way that’s accessible to regular users. Apple’s Face ID and Touch ID, which allow you to unlock your iPhone with tech that either recognizes your face or your fingerprint, are a move in the right direction. The process is faster and often easier than entering in a passcode, all while ensuring security. “When Touch ID came out, I think it was something like less than one in five people even had a PIN code on their iPhone. And the reason why is they found it inconvenient,” Rogers said. “Apple brought out Touch ID. And that went up to like 80 or 90 percent of people had security on their phone. It wasn’t because they suddenly woke up and decided they needed security, it was because security suddenly met their lifestyle — it became convenient.” Stephen Lam/ Getty Images Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller speaks about Touch ID in San Francisco, California, on September 9, 2015. Other companies have other creative security solutions. Google offers a version of two-factor authentication wherein an alert will simply pop up on your phone if it’s in range of another device that’s asking permission, which is much easier than retrieving a text code or going to an authenticator app for a code. The different methods for two-factor authentication vary in their relative security — dynamically generated codes in an app have historically been more secure than sending a code via text, for example — but are all better than no two-factor at all. At the very least, big tech companies should institute some basic best practices. These include suggesting or requiring more difficult passwords, as well as shipping devices with their own unique password attached. Device and software makers should make sure their default settings — which are what most people end up using — are the most secure options they have, rather than an option for only people who are privacy savvy. They should also mandate two-factor authentication, although that can be trickier for the less tech-savvy among us. In fact, they should take that as a challenge and explore inventing an easier alternative. Rogers suggests that using biometrics — like a thumbprint or face scan — to prove who you are can be both secure and easy to use. This isn’t to say keeping up with security challenges is easy. The security issues companies have to contend with are getting more difficult as hackers become more savvy and as we desire our apps and devices to become more connected with one another. We like the convenience of effortlessly sharing a photo from our phones to a social network; we expect to seamlessly upload our contact lists to new accounts. We just want to be in control of the process. “In the old days, if you wanted to compromise a phone, you would have to break into the phone,” Rogers said. “Now, the application you target has all these permissions. And every permission that an app has is something that can be exploited,” he said. To combat these added difficulties, he suggests looking for software and device makers that engage in a concept called “zero trust,” a model that assumes you can’t trust anyone, even people within your own company. It continually verifies that an app or device or person connecting to your account actually should have access. More and more companies are testing this model, including Google, the pharmaceutical company Allergan, and Okta, though it’s far from mainstream. “We should automatically assume that any connection that we see coming from the internet into a phone or from an app to another app or an app to data could be untrustworthy, and then take every step we can do to dynamically assess it, and treat it as untrusted until we can prove that it is trusted,” Rogers said. “We start off protecting things from that kind of model and then you’re going to have a much more strong system.” While there have been numerous government attempts to create regulation around basic digital security practices, none have gotten off the ground. The Federal Trade Commission can fine companies for egregious data breaches and issue reports, creating a rough idea of guidelines, but these efforts fall short of actually being able to legislate that companies meet those standards. So for now, in the absence of regulation requiring security and privacy best practices, consumers are reliant on tech companies to take the initiative to act in our best interests — but as we’ve seen so far, they tend to hurl blame at us first. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
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Odd Job: The comedian’s therapist
Comedians get up onstage and talk about trauma. But who do they talk to about it offstage? | iStockphoto/Getty Images Meet the in-house psychologist for The Laugh Factory in LA. Onstage, the comedians at The Laugh Factory weave anecdotes about breakups, problem relatives, and bad first dates for laughs. But Ildiko Tabori always gets the real story. When comics are sitting in Tabori’s office, traumas are presented without a punchline. That’s her job: to help funny people deal with the problems that stick around long after the crowd finishes laughing at them, like a real-life Dr. Katz. Tabori has been The Laugh Factory’s therapist-in-residence for nine years, and in that time she’s worked with dozens of different comedians who’ve made their way through the Sunset Strip institution. Her clients can either meet her at her own Los Angeles practice, where she works with her other civilian patients, or if pressed for time, at an upstairs enclave in The Laugh Factory before they go on in the evening. The first six sessions Tabori has with a comedian are pro bono. Any additional sessions are arranged with a copay. After nearly 10 years in the business, she says she feels like a full-fledged member of the comedy family — fluent in its jargon, culture, and neuroses — despite never performing herself. There is a mythologized idea, promoted in everything from the Joan Rivers documentary to WTF with Marc Maron, that all comedians suffer from extreme psychological issues and that the act of performing serves some sort of dual artistic and palliative purpose. Tabori feels like that’s only partly true. She was hired by The Laugh Factory because of the addiction and self-harm issues that have historically decimated the standup community, but she believes that everybody, funny or not, has their own mental health strain. Comedians aren’t special, they just tend to be more open about their ailments. We talked about that, the unique anxieties and stresses of a career in comedy, and how both she and her clients grieved over an untimely death in the family. How did you end up getting your job at The Laugh Factory? It came about in 2011. I’ve been doing it nine years now. What happened was that Jamie Masada, the owner of The Laugh Factory, created a real comedy family with him as the godfather. The comedians have often gone to him for advice, and he has been there to support them. Courtesy of Dr. Ildiko Tabori Dr. Ildiko Tabori. At least once a year the comedy world loses someone to an overdose or a suicide or something to that effect. He recognized that comedians needed a little more support than he could provide. I came into the mix because somebody recommended me to him. I met with him, and it went from there. What’s your day-to-day like? How is this gig different from more traditional therapy jobs? Comedians schedule appointments with me and I see them. The only difference is that I can see them at the club. Obviously not onstage, but at the offices there. I can also see them in my offices or online. Comedians travel a lot, and the medical field is evolving that way [to allow online sessions]. Are you ever with someone the same night they’ll be performing? Yes, but we don’t really talk about their performances per se. Unless there’s an issue with it. But the ability to perform is less of a focus, and it’s more emphasized on the issues in their life. What would you say are the differences you notice by working with comedians, compared to more general therapy services? Comedians are a unique bunch of people. I’ve often described it as the hardest job in entertainment. It’s the only job where you get immediate feedback, when you’re onstage doing standup. It’s not the same thing as it was in the ’70s and ’80s — comedians are doing a whole lot of stuff, they’re writing, they’re acting. I truly believe — and I have nothing to base this on other than my own experience working with them — but they probably have higher IQs than the general population. That would be a great dissertation topic for a grad student. They have to think on their feet, they have to be really quick. It’s about observing everything and turning that into something we can laugh at. We all have the same experiencesin life — we all have our families, we all walk the dog — but they can flip it. “It’s the only job where you get immediate feedback, when you’re onstage doing standup” They’re on the road a lot. They are spending all this time by themselves, in these not-so-nice hotel rooms away from their families. I’ve had an experience recently with one of my comedian patients who works on cruise ships, and he’s away from his kids and his wife. It’s really hard. You miss things. Your social support is limited. You have all this downtime, you work for an hour at night, and then there’s more downtime. You spend a lot of time spinning the wheels in your head. After nine years of working at The Laugh Factory, do you think you have a better context for the comedy industry? Are you able to relate with them more? Oh yeah. Ever since I was little I was a comedy fan, but I didn’t understand anything about the life of a comedian. They have trained me and trained me well. I started my career in the LA County Jail. I’ve never been incarcerated, so I didn’t know anything about inmates. They taught me what their life is like. It’s the same thing with comedians, though I’m not comparing inmates to comedians. Is that training process about learning their culture and the jargon, or does it go deeper than that? It is about that, but it’s also about learning their internal thinking and what’s consistent between the comedians. Like, I now know that you’re lonely in a hotel room by yourself at night. I now know you’re upset when you’ve had a couple bad nights in a row. I now know that newer comedians are going to be more upset about jokes that are bombing than more seasoned comedians. That’s the stuff they’ve taught me. What are some of the core trends you notice across all your comedian clients? We talk about the things you and I would talk about. Relationships, finance, family problems, substance abuse, those sorts of things. You find that with anybody. With comedians, though, we talk about success; if they’re getting more successful, or if they’re not successful, or if they’re stuck in the status quo. One of my patients has been with me for nine years, and I’ve watched his success increase to the point where he can’t go into a grocery store. He lost his anonymity. You say, “I want to be famous,” and now you’re famous, and it’s not as fun as it looked. When somebody’s career isn’t going in the way they want it to, and they’re watching their comedy friends rise, there’s this sense where they want to support their friends but they’re also kind of jealous. It’s cognitive dissonance, having those two feelings. That’s a big trend as well. Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images Comedian Jermaine Fowler onstage at The Laugh Factory. Should people be honest about being jealous of their friends? Oh absolutely. Jealousy is a normal human emotion, just like happiness, sadness, and anger. You have to process it and bring it up. There’s nothing wrong about saying, “I’m kinda jealous of you,” or, “I’m kinda jealous of my friend who’s famous now.” Owning your feelings is a way of empowering yourself. When you talk to your client who’s now considerably more famous than when you met him, does he feel like the same person? Do the same themes come up in your sessions with him? They feel like the same person. They experience the same feelings. The focus of those feelings might be different, but the feelings are still there. If you’re an anxious person, you’re still gonna be an anxious person, you’re just going to be anxious about different things. Does it help you at all, as a therapist, when you’re familiar with someone’s comedy work? Half the time I don’t know the comedian or their work. In order to understand them, I don’t need to watch their work. That’s common across many LA therapists. I work with a lot of people in the entertainment industry, and a lot of the time I don’t know who they are when they walk in my office. I can tell because they’re pretty, but I don’t know if they’re well-known or not. Sometimes, though, when a comedian is telling a story onstage, I’ll be like, “That sounds familiar, but I know the real story.” The story I hear isn’t that funny, but onstage it’s pretty funny. I’m like, “Okay, they’ve managed to turn this into something positive and good.” Has anyone ever talked about their therapist onstage, and you knew that the therapist in question was you? Oh yeah, they’ve pointed me out before. At first I was like, “I don’t want anyone to know me,” but they all talk among themselves. I had one comedian tell me, “You’re the only person who thinks that you’re being all secretive and private with all your patients here.” There’s a perception out there that most comedians suffer from mental health issues. How true do you think that is? “When a comedian is telling a story onstage, I’ll be like, ‘That sounds familiar, but I know the real story’” I don’t necessarily think that they’re more plagued. But they are much more open, and they can use [standup] as a platform to talk about their stuff. We’re all a little bit crazy. They’re just owning it, where a lot of the population doesn’t want to own it. Everyone that exists in the world today has experienced depression, anxiety, sadness, or anger. But for them, it’s projected on a grander scale because they have that outlet. You mentioned addiction and suicide earlier in this conversation. You’ve been a part of the comedy family for a long time, have you been personally affected by any of those tragedies in the comedy community? On a personal level, yes. A former patient of mine, a comedian, committed suicide about a year ago. Never in my career have I had somebody that I was aware of killing themselves. This one I knew, and I hadn’t seen him in therapy. I’d seen him around, but I hadn’t seen him in therapy for years. It was a hard thing to process. It was devastating to the community, because he was a very local, LA, well-liked guy. It must’ve been weird to be grieving, but also to be put in a position to professionally address other people’s grief around the same person. Right. I’ve lost friends and family members. I’ve had patients who’ve talked about losing a parent or friend or something. I’ve drawn on my own experiences, as therapists often do. But this one was a new one for me, because I was grieving the same grief. I had to put my professional hat on and grieve in my own personal time. When you consider your role as a therapist who’s carved out a niche for standup comedians, do you think that the mental health field should get more specialized? Should there be more niches that focus on smaller professional communities? Oh absolutely. We have that trend in mental health. My primary speciality is in neuropsychology. That was a lot of my training in school. But you gain specialties and subspecialties in your practice. But you don’t think, “Oh wait, comedians!” I’ve gotten asked over the years if I specialized in comedians in school, and obviously that’s not the case. We definitely need more resources dedicated toward mental health in all different programs and all different communities. Sign up for The Goods’ newsletter. Twice a week, we’ll send you the best Goods stories exploring what we buy, why we buy it, and why it matters.
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vox.com
Facebook canceled a major annual tech conference because of coronavirus. It’s not alone.
Facebook canceled its annual F8 conference in San Jose, California, over coronavirus concerns. | Amy Osborne/AFP via Getty Images Facebook canceled its biggest event, F8, following Mobile World Congress’ cancellation earlier this month. The Covid-19 coronavirus is prompting major tech conferences around the world to cancel their events — so far, at leastthree major ones have been called off entirely, including Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference. It’s an unprecedented disruption to the usual packed lineup of annual tech events every spring. The cancellations of some of the biggest tech events of the year seem to be a sign of what’s to come in other sectors as fears mount that the coronavirus will become a pandemic. The US tech industry shares close ties to China, where the outbreak started, and some in the industry were so concerned about the virus that they took early precautions, like discouraging handshakes and requiring employees who have recently traveled to China to work from home. The tech event cancellations also come at the same time public health leaders are considering how other, larger global events outside of tech, like the Tokyo summer Olympics, should respond if the outbreak continues to spread in the months ahead. Japan’s prime minister recently took the drastic step of closing all of the country’s schools for a month to try to contain the virus’s spread. Covid-19 has taken the lives of 2,810 people as of Thursday and infected over 80,000 people. In the past week, the number of new cases of the virus outside of China, in the US, Italy, Japan, and other countries has been surging. That worries global health experts, who say there’s now less of a chance that it can be contained. On Thursday, Facebook said that due to concerns about the virus, it’s canceling F8 — its biggest event of the year, which last year attracted thousands of attendees from dozens of countries. Instead, it will put on smaller “locally hosted events, videos and live streamed content.” F8 is one of several big tech conferences, including Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, that have been canceled altogether or negatively impacted due to coronavirus. Also on Thursday, Microsoft and Epic Games pulled out of one of the video game industry’s major conferences, Game Developers Conference, in San Francisco on March 16 to 17. Industry leaders are particularly concerned about events in tech’s capital in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has some of the highest travel rates to and from China, when compared to other regions in the US. Earlier this month, Facebook canceled a 5,000-person marketing event in San Francisco scheduled in March due to similar concerns. And on Tuesday, the mayor of San Francisco declared the city to be in a state of emergency, although there are still zero confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the city. Concerns are increasing after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a person in Solano County, in Northern California, has been diagnosed with the virus who seemingly had no ties to anyone overseas with the disease, suggesting that the coronavirus may now be spreading in the US, person-to-person. Meanwhile, some other major tech conferences, such as the RSA IT security conference in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, which attracts some 40,000 attendees annually, carried on as planned this week and featured speakers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google. IBM, AT&T Cybersecurity, and Verizon, however, pulled out over coronavirus fears. Organizers reportedly encouraged attendees to knock elbows instead of shake hands and placed ample hand sanitizer stations in the conference halls. Considering Facebook and other major tech companies have canceled or pulled out of conferences — it raises the questions about whether other major conferences will do the same. Google and Apple are also scheduled to have major conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area in May and June, respectively. Google confirmed that it is currently planning to host its I/O conference on May 12 to 14 in Mountain View, and that it’s following World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control and Prevention best practices. Recode is also hosting its annual Code tech conference in May in Los Angeles. The conference is considerably smaller than others that have been canceled, such as Mobile World Congress, which had over a hundred thousand attendees last year. “We are watching this closely to see what happens between now and the end of May. The health and safety of our community is of utmost importance to Recode and Vox Media.” Shannon Thompson, the executive director of conferences for Recode, said. South by Southwest, another conference that attracts many people in the tech industry and that draws over 30,000 people, said it plans to continue with the event on March 13 to 22. A spokesperson sent the following statement to Recode: The SXSW 2020 event is proceeding as planned. Safety is a top priority for SXSW, and we work closely with local, state, and federal agencies year-round to plan for a safe event. Where travel has been impacted, especially in the case of China, we are seeing a handful of cancellations. However, we are on par with years past in regard to registrants who are unable to attend. We are increasing our efforts to prevent the spread of disease per Austin Public Health’s recommendations. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates as necessary. Apple did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
vox.com
Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T could be facing big fines for selling your location data
Phone carriers can track customers’ real-time locations using a variety of methods, even if location services are turned off. | Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images The potential fines follow an FCC probe into the carriers and the practice of selling location data. Your mobile phone company might be on the hook for fines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for selling your real-time location data. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FCC wants AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon to pay hundreds of millions in fines. (The report did not specify an exact amount.) The agency has already told the companies it will issue notices of liability asking for the fines. The notices are not final settlements, and the companies they’re issued to can (and likely will) fight them. The notices appear to be the result of an FCC probe into how telecom companies sell real-time location information to data brokers. Cellphones are constantly pinging off towers, effectively giving carriers a real-time map of their customers’ whereabouts throughout the day. The New York Times and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) revealed in May 2018 that the carriers were selling this information to companies that used it to track people without their knowledge or consent. Though the four carriers said they would stop this practice, a Vice report six months later showed that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint were still doing it. In May 2019, all four carriers were hit with a class action lawsuit for selling the data. Wyden, a vocal advocate of digital privacy, is promoting legislation to hold companies and their executives accountable for such violations. The senator was not thrilled with the FCC’s response, saying that companies will simply see the “comically inadequate” fines as “the cost of doing business.” “It seems clear that Chairman [Ajit] Pai has failed to protect American consumers at every stage of the game,” Wyden said in a statement provided to Recode. “This issue only came to light after my office and dedicated journalists discovered how wireless companies shared Americans’ locations willy-nilly. He only investigated after public pressure mounted.” Open Sourced is made possible by the Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
vox.com
Coronavirus is the first big test for futuristic tech that can prevent pandemics
A health care worker uses a touch-free thermometer to take a Chinese worker’s temperature. | Kevin Frayer/Getty Images The coronavirus is putting a lot of new tech, including robots and artificial intelligence, on display. The novel coronavirus that first appeared in mainland China has now spread across the world, with more than 82,000 reported cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, as of Thursday. And right alongside the outbreak is the deployment of myriad types of AI-powered tech that is now being put on full display. New technology like infrared thermometers — potentially unreliable devices known as “thermometer guns” — are becoming increasingly commonplace in China, where health workers regularly check people’s temperatures. Somewhat behind the scenes, however, more futuristic technology powered by artificial intelligence is helping to identify coronavirus symptoms, find new treatments, and track the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, robots are making interactions with and treatment of sick patients easier. Powerful surveillance tech — including facial recognition-enabled cameras and drones — is also helping find people who might be sick or who aren’t wearing masks. For now, most of this tech has been deployed in China, though it’s worth keeping an eye out for it elsewhere. Like the virus, the deployment of this next-generation tech is bound to spread. Coronavirus has cleared the way for robots and drones Coronavirus is contagious and hard to contain, which means that it’s safer for many human-to-human interactions to be done remotely. Both in hospitals and in public, remote communication means that patients avoid transmitting the disease and health workers save time on simple tasks. This has cleared the way for robots and lots of other automated technologies to help out. Now, robots are being used to disinfect rooms, communicate with isolated people, take vital information, and deliver medications (and anything else someone might need). Near Seattle, for instance, a robot helped doctors treat an American man diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. The robot, which carried a stethoscope, helped the patient communicate with medical staff while limiting their own exposure to the illness. UVD Robots A disinfecting robot from UVD Robots. Meanwhile, Chinese hospitals are now shipping in robots from the Danish company UVD Robots that can disinfect patient rooms, according to a statement. UVD Robots says that its roving robotic pods work by emitting ultraviolet light throughout an area, killing viruses and bacteria, including the coronavirus. (The robots are remotely controlled by a device operated by a health worker.) Self-driving vehicles are even delivering supplies to medical workers in Wuhan. As CNN noted, the Chinese e-commerce company JD.com has been moving packages short distances to a hospital. Flying robots, also known as drones, are also in the mix. Shenzhen MicroMultiCopter said in a statement earlier this month that it is deploying drones to patrol public places, spray disinfectant, and conduct thermal imaging. Chinese officials have used drones to track whether people are traveling outside without wearing face masks or violating other quarantine rules. More on this surveillance trend in a second. AI is being used to study the outbreak’s spread and is powering the search for treatments Public health data surveillance companies Metabiota and BlueDot were both used to track the initial outbreak of the novel coronavirus. BlueDot actually notified its clients of the coronavirus threat several days before both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued their public warnings. Now, the same type of technology continues to monitor social media posts and other publicly available content to look for signs of the disease’s spread, as Wired has reported. AI is also lending a hand in diagnosing the illness. Several hospitals in China are using AI-based software from the company Infervision to scan through CT images of patients’ lungs to look for signs of Covid-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus. At the same time, the coronavirus epidemic has also inspired several drug companies to use artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery platforms to search for possible treatments. That process can involve using AI to find entirely new molecules that might be capable of treating the pneumonia-like illness, or mining through databases of already-approved drugs (for other illnesses) that might also work against Covid-19. Importantly, while AI drug discovery might speed up the process of finding candidates for new drugs and treatments, there’s no guarantee that the technology will come up with anything better than what human scientists could find on their own. Coronavirus has catalyzed competition for more powerful facial recognition As Covid-19 has put much of this technology on display, it’s also presented another justification for surveillance technology: the risk of a pandemic. This idea is not what you typically hear from either proponents or critics of this potentially invasive tech. At the same time, companies that sell facial recognition are using the outbreak as an opportunity to push their own tech’s capabilities. As Quartz reported, China’s SenseTime now boasts that its software can identify people without face masks on. And on Twitter, at least one company — Remark Holdings — cited the coronavirus while pushing that its software’s ability to detect whether people were wearing masks was better than that of Chinese company Baidu. Remember, just last year the Hong Kong government tried to ban wearing face masks in public assemblies in order to stifle pro-democracy protesters. Now, the Chinese government is urging manufacturers to boost production of masks, hoping to slow the coronavirus spread in China, where the illness has hit the hardest. So while identifying people not wearing masks could protect public health, that capability also raises concerns about the further development of facial recognition that works whether people are wearing masks or not. This stands to make the technology’s threat to civil liberties even worse. A screenshot from a Panasonic video about its facial recognition product, FacePro, demonstrating that it can identify people with masks on. This more advanced facial recognition tech already exists. Panasonic, which is also selling its facial recognition system FacePro in the US, has also claimed that its systems can identify people wearing masks. The coronavirus epidemic has also inspired facial recognition companies to integrate their tech with thermal imaging. This type of scanning is being used to sense whether people might have elevated temperatures, which might indicate whether they’ve been infected with the coronavirus and help verify their identity. SenseTime is selling thermal imaging-enabled facial recognition, and so is Sunell, another China-based video surveillance company, according to a press release. Meanwhile, in Thailand, a biometric border screening system is now using fever-detecting cameras, according to the company providing that technology, Germany-based Dermalog. What’s more, facial recognition sellers are also using coronavirus to push the idea that touch-free biometric systems are safer than, say, using a key or a fingerprint to enter a building. This concept isn’t necessarily incorrect, as the CDC says it may be possible that the coronavirus could be spread by contact with infected surfaces, like a fingerprint scanner. As such, Remark Holdings released a statement claiming that facial recognition is safer than other forms of biometric authentication, like fingerprinting, because it “removes the chances of disease being spread through human-to-surface contact.” Roslan Rahman / AFP via Getty Images Health care workers use thermal imaging to detect potential coronavirus patients. In many ways, all of these newer, more advanced technologies stand to help combat the coronavirus outbreak. But there’s also something dystopian about an outbreak being used as justification for more surveillance. Proponents of surveillance tech focus on threats to peoples’ safety and property, pointing to “dangerous” people like terrorists and sex offenders. Less often, however, do proponents of this technology point to the safety risks associated with a potential pandemic. But now critics of surveillance tech — who have typically argued that the technology threatens our civil liberties and sometimes doesn’t even work — will likely have to push against a different argument: severe threats to public health. It’s ultimately unclear how the public will react to the shifting role of surveillance. So the robots and the AI won’t necessarily save us, but they might help. Meanwhile, the old-fashioned approaches to staying healthy help, too. Make sure to follow the CDC’s instructions for keeping yourself and your family members healthy, such as washing your hands and staying away from sick people — which is not particularly high-tech. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
vox.com
Wendy tries to make Peter Pan realistic, with mixed results
Wendy is a new take on an old and oft-told story. | Eric Zachanowich/Fox Searchlight Pictures Beasts of No Nation director Benh Zeitlin returns with an intriguing but muddled take on the old legend. There’s a thin line between the mawkish and the merely sentimental, and Wendy, Benh Zeitlin’s riff on the Peter Pan myth, rides it with unnerving abandon. Whether that’s a strike against it or a tick mark in its favor is mostly in the eye of the beholder, since the Peter Pan narrative about children who yearn to never grow up is nostalgic by definition. It’s a story written by adults for children who don’t yet know what it’s really about. The story has been a much-revisited touchpoint for Hollywood almost since the start, beginning with the silent version released by Paramount Pictures in 1924. Since then, it’s been tackled comedically (1991’s Hook), fantastically (2015’s Pan), dramatically (2004’s Finding Neverland), vapidly (2003’s Peter Pan), sweetly (many animated Disney permutations, beginning in 1953), and even as gritty horror (1987’s Lost Boys). Wendy’s take is a mix of naturalism and expressionist fantasy, shot with a naturalism that almost suggests it’s a documentary about the “true” story behind the legend of Peter Pan (that also happens to include some magical elements). On a number of occasions, the film veers close to succeeding. At times it’s evocative and touching. But it’s also heaped high with ideas about the magic of stories and the importance of recapturing your sense of wonder, which don’t really add up to much in the end. Wendy reimagines the Peter Pan legend by focusing on a character who’s often secondary Zeitlin, who burst onto the Hollywood scene in 2012 with his feature debut Beasts of the Southern Wild, co-wrote the screenplay for Wendy with his sister, Eliza. That sibling relationship seems to influence the plot, which — rather than revolving around Peter — centers on Wendy Darling (Devin France), a spirited young girl who lives with her twin brothers Douglas and James (Gage and Gavin Naquin) in the apartment above a greasy spoon run by their hard-working and jovial mother (Shay Walker). The establishment sits just beside the train tracks, and its patrons are grizzled regulars who seem as though they’ve been there forever and always will be, drinking coffee and cracking jokes and watching the kids run around. Fox Searchlight Pictures Yashua Mack as Peter Pan in Wendy. It isn’t a bad life, but it is a bit of a trapped one, something the school-aged Wendy, Douglas, and James can sense. Their mother tells them she once had huge dreams (of joining the rodeo) but gave them up once she had kids, and that now she dreams of just making ends meet. She doesn’t seem sad about settling, but her kids find it unnerving. One day, they make a spur-of-the-moment decision to jump onto a passing train. It’s there they meet Peter (Yashua Mack), who takes them to his magical island. This is where things go from realist to fantasy, because on that island, children roam free, unhindered by rules and bedtimes and adult supervision. And somehow, they never grow up. Watched over by a giant underwater creature they call “the Mother,” they live a carefree life. But there is a darker side to the island too, the children discover — one where bitterness and scarcity has replaced bounty and freedom and joy. Wendy doesn’t quite work, but it harbors the nugget of possibility Zeitlin has clearly taken a lot of care with Wendy, working with his child actors (mostly non-professionals) in a seemingly improvisational manner and building their world through expressionistic means. You feel their wonder at their new home, which is both wild and comforting, thanks to whirling sunlit sequences and a lush, exciting score (composed by Zeitlin and Dan Romer). At best, it feels like the filmmaking choices are strokes of paint building a swirling story. Fox Searchlight Pictures The children on Peter Pan’s magical island. But there’s voiceover, too, which is often a choice that indicates a lack of trust in the audience’s ability to go with the story. And though it’s performed by an older Wendy dreamily recounting the experience from a distance of years, it feels both too explanatory and strangely obfuscating. I found myself thinking Wendy needed either a tad more plot or far less; instead it floats in an unhappy medium space. Which is a bit of a shame. The core concept of Wendy, in which Wendy isn’t Peter’s devoted follower so much as his headstrong, courageous challenger, is a good one; the movie doesn’t do much with it. Its endless valorization of child-like imagination comes off a bit soft and pointless. Disney movies have been beating that drum for a long time, and it’s now more clichéd than fresh. There’s a kernel of commentary about the exploitation of the world’s wonders buried in the tale — the repeated yearning for one’s “mother” works just as well as a metaphor for nature as it does for actual mothers — but it feels like while the idea was there, the filmmakers couldn’t quite pull off the analogy in the edit room. Instead, it all gets a little muddled. Yet on the strengths of its images and its child actors’ performances (particularly France’s), there’s something charming and yearning about Wendy. The film also proves there’s still some life left in the much-told Peter Pan tale. If the magic isn’t totally there in Wendy, it’s floating around the edges, ready to spark another generation’s imaginations. Wendy opens in theaters on February 28.
vox.com
Facebook is suing a company that improperly harvested user data
Facebook is suing the firm OneAudience, which allegedly paid third-party developers to track users. | Filip Radwanski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images The social media giant is suing OneAudience, which allegedly paid third-party developers to track users who used the “login with Facebook” feature. Facebook filed a federal lawsuit in California on Thursday against OneAudience, a marketing company that it says paid app developers to exploit the “login with Facebook” feature to improperly gain access to personal data without users’ permission. The social media company claims that OneAudience harvested users’ data by getting app developers to install a malicious software development kit, or SDK, in their apps. SDKs are packages of basic tools that make it easier and faster for developers to build their apps. But they may also contain tools that aren’t necessary, such as trackers that send information about your device and app usage back to the SDK maker, which it can then use to target ads to you. OneAudience’s SDK, Facebook claims, collected data improperly from Facebook users who opted to log in to certain apps using their Facebook account credentials. OneAudience did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to the lawsuit, OneAudience also paid apps to harvest users’ Google and Twitter information when they logged into one of the compromised apps using their Google or Twitter account information. Back in November, Facebook and Twitter said that OneAudience had been harvesting private data, such as people’s names, genders, emails, usernames, and potentially people’s last tweets. Facebook launched an audit into the company’s behavior, which the company says OneAudience did not cooperate with. At the time, OneAudience said the data “was never intended to be collected” and that the SDK had been shut down. Hundreds of users were reportedly affected. In the years since the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016, Facebook has faced a torrent of criticism for not doing enough to protect its users’ data. This move to sue a company for improperly collecting users’ information is a sign it’s trying to do better — and it’s also a way to publicly emphasize that it’s not at fault for this breach. “This is the latest in our efforts to protect people and increase accountability of those who abuse the technology industry and users,” wrote Jessica Romero, Facebook’s director of platform enforcement and litigation, in a Facebook blog post about the lawsuit. But some argue that Facebook and other tech companies need to be doing more to protect users’ data as a first line of defense, although their means to do so against malicious actors using third-party apps is somewhat limited, said director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former Facebook security executive Alex Stamos. Facebook could revoke access for third-party developer apps at large, but that would be a drastic move that might come with other privacy trade-offs, Stamos said. “For me, the end result of all of these cases is the need for a federal privacy law — because effectively the privacy laws are being enforced by tech companies, and the laws to do this are not for that purpose,” Stamos told Recode. If the US had privacy laws, then individuals could go after companies that misuse their data more directly and effectively, Stamos said. Facebook’s lawsuit against OneAudience raises questions about who is ultimately responsible for protecting our privacy — and it shows that there’s still a long battle ahead about how to do protect user privacy effectively.
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America’s crisis of trust and the one candidate who gets it
A reformist, overshadowed by a revolutionary. | Win McNamee/Getty Images Rebuilding social and political trust requires procedural reforms that don’t excite voters. The biggest problem facing US democracy did not come up at the Democratic debate in Charleston this week. It hasn’t really been discussed in the election at all. But it lurks behind all the more specific issues, an unwelcome presence no one quite wants to acknowledge. It is simply this: The US is in a period of declining social and political trust. Americans increasingly think the system is rigged and that their fellow citizens don’t necessarily share their basic values and presumptions. This makes them strongly disinclined to invest their hopes in political promises of common good. Everything progressives want — from getting humane policies passed to executing on them effectively — requires a foundation of social and political trust. The erosion of that foundation must be reversed if the left ever hopes to lead the country through big, transformative changes. All the candidates sense the distrust and disengagement on some level. But the candidate most preoccupied with it, with the most developed plans to address it, is Elizabeth Warren. Drew Angerer/Getty Images Warren hugs a supporter in South Carolina. It doesn’t seem to be helping her much, politically speaking. She’s has fallen back in the polls and faces rough sledding on Super Tuesday. But whatever the fate of her candidacy, her focus on rebuilding trust is something that the eventual winner should adopt as their own. Without trust, nothing else is possible. The social trust doom loop Scholar Kevin Vallier has done a helpful roundup of the political science literature on social and political trust. He notes that they are distinct phenomena. Political trust is just what it sounds like: trust in the basic institutions of public life; in democracies like the US, that means in democracy itself. The causes of political trust are fairly well understood. They include things like economic growth, income equality, rule of law, and citizen participation. But what causes the things that yield political trust? For that, a society needs something deeper; it needs social trust. Vallier defines it this way: Social trust, often referred to as “generalized” trust, is trust in strangers, persons within one’s society with whom one has little personal familiarity. Social trust can thus be understood broadly as trust in society. But trust to do what? Social trust is trust that persons will abide by social norms, publicly recognized, shared social rules that people both in fact expect one another to follow and think that everyone morally ought to follow. Put colloquially, social trust is the feeling that we’re all in this together (where “we” is a polity, like the citizens of a nation). We’re part of a meaningful common identity; we share basic values and expectations; we are, in some important way, knowable and predictable to one another. Social trust creates a stable climate in which people feel secure in their plans and expectations. Without it, nothing — not even the most clever policies — can work. Drew Angerer/Getty Images Not exactly a trust-building exercise. But there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem with social and political trust. To create an environment in which they thrive, you need rule of law and effectively executed government policies that redound to broad public benefit. But to build an effective government and implement those policies in the first place, you need social trust. Just as you need money to make money, you need social trust to make social trust. When things are going well, a self-reinforcing cycle emerges: better governance and policy lead to more trust, which leads to better governance and policy. But when things are going poorly, the opposite dynamic takes hold: Without trust, good governance and policy become difficult, and without good governance and policy, it’s difficult to create social trust. That is how societies come apart. And that is the doom loop the US now finds itself in. As I have recounted at great length in other posts, over the last several decades, conservatives have waged war on social and political trust, calling into question the fairness and independence of almost every major US institution from journalism to academia to science. They have created parallel institutions of their own, meant to support their factional interests. And they have relentlessly cast “libs” as an enemy within — an alien, hostile, and ultimately illegitimate force. As a result, a large faction of the country has descended into paranoia and conspiracy theories, fighting intensely against the basic rules, norms, and post-war assumptions of American life. And because that faction has successfully rendered all political fights — even fights over basic facts — as vicious, zero-sum partisan struggles, another large faction of the country has simply tuned out, coming to regard politics and public life generally as corrupt and fruitless. Americans’ trust in their institutions and in one another is at record lows. This serves the right’s purposes. If all common identity is dissolved, all transpartisan facts and norms, then there is no longer any ability to communicate across factional lines. What remains is raw power struggle. That is the milieu in which an identitarian like Donald Trump feels at home; witness his purging of public servants he deems insufficiently loyal. But it works against the left’s purposes. The left needs for voters to believe that effective, responsive governance is possible — that we can, in fact, have nice things. The left needs social and political trust. Without them, collective action for collective benefit, the left’s stock in trade, becomes impossible. This is the left’s challenge in the US: how to break out of the doom loop and get on a trajectory of better governance and rising trust. Joe Raedle/Getty Images Who to trust? Different theories of how to generate social trust Every Democratic candidate senses on some level that trust is low and is addressing the problem with some chicken and some egg — some building of the social trust necessary to pass good policy, some passing of policies necessary to build social trust. In the “moderate” lane — where Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg are battling it out — the effort to address trust is largely affective. The moderate promises a return to normalcy, when everything didn’t feel so tense and volatile. The moderate promises not to be rigid or ideological, to compromise and be constructive, but above all to provide a steady, familiar, predictable hand on the tiller. There might not be any big revolution, but there will be slow, steady progress, not this vertiginous lurching about. The problem with the moderate approach is that the system really is rigged. It is rigged against Democratic reformers through the electoral college, the overrepresentation of rural areas in the Senate, gerrymandering from 2010, unlimited money in politics, and the filibuster, among other things. And it is rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful, with white-collar criminal enforcement declining, agencies like the IRS being defunded and defanged, and now Trump pardoning random criminals who get to him through Fox. None of that will change with “bipartisan outreach” or a sensible Midwestern temperament. Republicans have become steadily more intractable and unhinged since 2010 and there’s no reason to think that will change any time soon. Just as Obama was confined to executive action for the last six years of his presidency, so too will any new Democratic president be barred from legislation if Republicans hold either house of Congress in 2020. There is no normalcy to return to. Four more years of fruitless partisan squabbling will do nothing to restore trust. The other, “left” lane is occupied by Warren and Sanders, who both promise, in Warren’s familiar phrase, “big structural change.” They are the only two candidates proposing changes equal to the moment. There is not a huge tangible difference to be found in their legislative goals, certainly relative to what either is likely to be able to accomplish. Warren’s regulated capitalism and Sanders’s democratic socialism often blur together in policy terms: They both seek universal health care, higher wages, stronger unions, canceled student debt plus free college, and higher taxes on the wealthy. They both want something more like Denmark’s system, whatever label is put on it. But there are interesting differences in their rhetoric, focus, and theories of change. It’s a different understanding of power. One believe instituions must be changed from the top, from the inside. The other believes institutions are often impediments and must be remade, dismantled and resembled in order to do the will of the people. Each had its strengths.— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) February 25, 2020 The best explanation I’ve seen of those differences is an essay by Will Wilkinson, who notes that Sanders typically avoids or waves aside questions about procedure or structural impediments. Sanders is focused — has been for decades — on outcomes. Health care. Decent jobs and housing. Cleaner air and water. Sanders’s theory of change is not centered on any set of procedural arguments. (To the extent he makes any, they are dubious, like his ludicrous promise to pass both Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal through budget reconciliation, which is absolutely not going to happen.) It is instead a story of revolution, a movement of people in the streets, sweeping aside institutional impediments and rebuilding systems from the bottom up. As Wilkinson says, in this one way, Sanders’s appeal is similar to Trump’s. Trump didn’t make any complicated procedural arguments either. He just said that the system is corrupt and he would blow the whole thing up. “Donald Trump never sounds like he might be a guy from HR about to lead you through a folder of ‘onboarding’ paperwork. And neither does Bernie Sanders,” Wilkinson writes. “Bernie’s simply on your side against the entitled rich pricks who make your life a pain, and he’s going to make it easier.” It is precisely this populist appeal that leads many Sanders fans to believe that he will be able to peel off some of the working-class voters who drifted to Trump. I have little confidence in this theory of change. Sanders is winning, but there is no sign yet of a massive, institution-crushing working-class movement. And if it doesn’t show up — if, instead, recent trends hold and the nation remains narrowly divided along partisan lines — a Sanders presidency would face the same thicket of structural hurdles that any Democratic presidency would. It may be that he has a plan to navigate those impediments from the inside, that he has some vision of the personnel he would put in place, the rules he would change, and the levers available to him to maneuver within a tight space. But that kind of bureaucratic savvy hasn’t been his reputation or his role in his long career, it hasn’t played much of a part in his campaign, and the personnel and policy choices he has made so far speak more to ideological fealty than a pragmatic dedication to reform. (See Matt Yglesias for the contrary case that Sanders would in fact be a pragmatic and flexible leader.) JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images Not him, them. Warren’s plans differ from Sanders’s revolution Warren shares many elements of Sanders’s populist rhetoric. She, too, is focused on how the rich and powerful have rigged the system against ordinary people. But she does not propose to blow the system up or sweep it aside. She proposes to fix it. She (legendarily) has a plan for that, a clear sense of which institutions are broken, what new institutions need to be created, and what kind of people she wants running them. As Ezra Klein documents, her entire career in politics has been focused on battling for better institutions and better personnel. Warren’s history, experience, and ideology give her progressive populism an importantly different character from Sanders’s. Wilkinson captures it well: Because the American republic is, in fact, in the midst of a spiraling crisis of corruption, there is more than a whiff of radicalism in a reform agenda focused on rooting out graft and restoring popular sovereignty. But Warren’s program is animated by earnest devotion to sturdy procedural ideals — fair elections, the rule of law, equitable and responsive political representation, and clean public administration — not left-wing ideology. It aims to realize a homely republican vision of America in which equal democratic citizens of every gender, color, and creed can vote their way to a system that gives everybody a fair shot at a sound education and a decent wage sufficient to raise a family in a comfortable home without becoming indentured to creditors or wrecked by the vicissitudes of capitalist dislocation. As Warren used to say frequently, she is a “capitalist to her bones.” She believes in the generative power of markets; she just believes they need to be operated transparently and fairly, with everyone protected from immiseration and offered opportunities for full participation. She wants well-regulated capitalism with a healthy welfare state — which is how the Danes themselves think of their system. This is why, unlike Sanders, she explicitly cites her anti-corruption reform agenda as her first and top priority if she becomes president. It’s why she, unlike Sanders, supports getting rid of the filibuster. For her, procedural reforms are not an afterthought, but a vital part of the agenda in and of themselves, because they are the only reliable way to generate the trust needed to support the rest of the agenda and progress beyond it. Alex Wong/Getty Images Just thinking about bipartisan outreach makes him giggle. Warren is on the right track, substantively In Vallier’s literature review, he notes that many of the features of a society that might be thought to generate social trust — economic growth, low income inequality — are in fact just as plausibly seen as its effects, features of society that require trust to develop at all. At the very least, the lines of causation are unclear. He cites only one exception: There is one sustaining institutional cause of social trust about which we can be relatively confident. The evidence clearly shows a close connection between higher levels of social trust, lower levels of corruption in the legal system, and other indicators of reliable adherence to the rule of law. I cannot think of a time in my life when this was more true than it is today. We live in an age of rampant elite lawlessness. Young voters came up witnessing the theft of the 2000 presidential election, the Iraq War, the 2008 recession, nationwide Republican efforts at voter suppression, and, well, Trump. And in all that time, none of the powerful people (mostly wealthy white men) who have dragged the US into one crisis after another have paid the slightest price. Voters have noticed. They take the promises of politicians less and less seriously. Warren has correctly intuited that the only way to begin rebuilding trust is to impose some accountability, to make legal, financial, and political systems work the way they are supposed to, fairly and for everyone’s benefit. These are the things that would, in practice, begin shaping a citizenry more open to bold progressive policy. For evidence, witness the Scandinavian countries that Sanders, Warren, and other leftists (hi there) are so fond of citing. What sets them apart from Cuba, Venezuela, and the other negative examples of socialist governments gone awry? It is not their grand goals or their grand promises. All leftist governments tell citizens that they will get health care and homes and better wages. They all tell the story of the working-class against elites. They all use the same populist rhetoric. What sets Denmark, for example, apart is that its government works. Its administration is effective. It builds infrastructure at a reasonable cost. Citizens play a meaningful role in government and corporate decisions. The public’s preferences are reflected in policy. This gives Danes a base level of trust that they are part of a meaningful collective identity, a collective project, and that the government is working for all of them. They pay high levels of taxes happily because they see and experience the results of those taxes in responsive government and good health care, good schools, good working conditions, and good public transportation. (Though it’s worth noting that Denmark, like other countries run by humans, has not solved the most difficult problems.) NIELS CHRISTIAN VILMANN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. If the US really wants to move toward high-functioning Danish-style social democracy (whatever candidates call it), it can’t simply emulate Denmark’s policy outcomes. As things stand, Americans do not trust the federal government enough to happily hand it more control and higher taxes. On the contrary, they tend to get angry about such things. Danish-style outcomes require Danish-style trust, and that requires rule of law, elite accountability, and competent administration. Warren is the candidate most fixated on the kinds of reforms that could help generate that trust. (Side note: It has been interesting to watch Pete Buttigieg’s evolution on this. When he entered the race in the liberal lane, he was vocal about putting procedural reforms first, correctly noting that bold policy is impossible without them. But since he moved into the moderate lane, he has favored more affective “not too hot, not too cold” aphorisms, which is apparently what older Democrats want.) We are building a movement based on a new kind of politics—one defined not by who we reject but who we bring along, and one shaped not by looking to yesterday but to our common future. This is our story, our shared vision for the country we love. pic.twitter.com/oNG4LcL6qJ— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) February 27, 2020 Warren is on the wrong track, politically Warren’s basic problem is that the kind of procedural and bureaucratic reforms that would have the best results in building trust over the long term are not particularly ... sexy. “Reforming the filibuster” is never going to catch on like “free college.” This is a perpetual problem in US politics. Just ask the lonely, stalwart champions of campaign finance reform, who have labored in vain for decades to push their issue to the front of the priority stack. Almost every progressive politician agrees on campaign finance reform, at least when asked. Of course there’s too much money in politics, etc. But no politician wins by making it their headline issue. No politician benefits from putting it in front of health care, or small business tax credits, or any of the many policies that more visibly and directly benefit constituents. It is notoriously difficult to make procedural issues catch fire, to get votes with them. And now, with populist sentiment so prevalent, it is more difficult than ever. As Wilkinson notes, the language of rules and procedures is the language of the managerial class — and it is the managerial class, more than the distant wealthy ownership class, that makes workers’ lives miserable on a day-to-day basis. Workers already find their lives strangled by the byzantine complexity of health care insurance and 401(k)s. It is easy for Warren’s bullet-pointed agenda to sound like another visiting technocratic consultant arrived with more plans and paperwork. The populist impulse is to burn all that down, to sweep it away. That is what Sanders and Trump both promise, albeit with diametrically opposed intentions. Warren has tried to please both progressives and pragmatists, but the overlap may not be as large as she hoped. 538 538’s Democratic primary tracker. Two great tastes that may not taste great together Warren’s appeal to a certain sort of politically engaged Democrat is that she combines bold progressive goals with extensive experience navigating US institutions and detailed plans for bureaucratic reform. It’s the best of both worlds, ambitious and pragmatic. But there may not be all that many Democratic primary voters who want those two things together. It may be that the Democrats who want ambition don’t want pragmatism and the ones who claim to want pragmatism don’t want ambition. That dilemma was illustrated perfectly by the episode that is said to have knocked Warren out of her early frontrunner status. Pressured to explain how she would pass Medicare-for-all, her campaign developed a phased plan that would create a public option through budget reconciliation, reform the filibuster, and bring a more comprehensive, fully paid-for bill to Congress later in her first term. For her efforts, she took fire from both sides. It turns out most of the primary voters who want Medicare-for-all want it immediately and view any concessions to political reality as ideological betrayal. And it turns out most of the Very Serious People in DC who claim to want pragmatism (for Warren to “show her work”) really just want austerity, to be told that we can’t have nice things, a message that US elites have come to see as synonymous with realism. It’s difficult to see the path forward for Warren. She will never out-ambition Sanders. Wilkinson thinks that she ought to marry her procedural reformism to a more putatively moderate substantive agenda to try to capture the role as the safe alternative to Sanders. But one class of voters that does see the potential of Warren’s agenda is the financial and tech elite who are its target. In many ways, they see Warren as a greater threat than Sanders, as she is laser-focused on the systems that undergird their privilege. It is doubtful that the money brokers of the party would embrace her even if she crafted a more moderate message. And let’s not forget, unlike bright young white men like Pete, women don’t get second chances. They are not forgiven if they change their minds or adjust their messages. They are cast as “inauthentic,” deceitful schemers. It remains an easy stereotype to attach to women, as the ludicrous “Pocahontas” episode illustrated. (There is, unsurprisingly, misogyny infused throughout the media’s treatment of Warren.) Are female candidates "authentic"? The sexist trope that's attacking the 2020 field https://t.co/tYPSKA1mhP— Salon (@Salon) February 14, 2019 It is probably too late for Warren to substantially change a message that she has been consistently delivering for well over a decade now. She is a reformer, a fighter, someone who wants to make the systems of US finance, politics, and commerce work for ordinary people. She’s been grappling with those systems her whole adult life and knows how and where to apply pressure to get results. She wants to create systems in which voters can trust and reward their trust with better health care, better wages, and better lives. All she can do now is make her case, organize, and hope for the best. If Sanders does win the primary, as looks increasingly likely, Democrats will work to get him elected. To do otherwise would be demented. But over my life following politics, I have seen wave after wave of revolutionary zeal crash on the shores of DC and recede defeated. If Sanders is elected and runs into the same insurmountable wall of institutional resistance that choked Obama’s presidency, if his promises of revolution come to nothing and his term is consumed by fruitless partisan warfare, I fear the effect on the impassioned young people at the core of his coalition. It will be one more thread cut, and I’m not sure how many more cuts America’s frayed social fabric can take before it begins unraveling entirely.
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Coronavirus: News and updates on new cases and its spread
Passengers from Wuhan arrive at Sydney International Airport in Australia on January 23. Officials later temporarily closed down transport from the city to help stop the outbreak of coronavirus that has killed at least 18 people and infected more than 650. | Don Arnold/Getty Images Covid-19 could become a pandemic as it spreads around the globe from South Korea to Iran and the US. Here’s the latest. The new coronavirus, called Covid-19, has spiraled into a global threat, as countries around the world have scrambled to impose travel bans, quarantine millions, and isolate sick people in an attempt to stop the spread of the new virus. The coronavirus outbreak is looking more like a pandemic, and health experts say it’s time to prepare for worldwide spread on all continents. Coronaviruses attack the respiratory system, sometimes targeting the cells deep within the lungs. Only seven, including 2019-nCoV, SARS, and MERS, have evolved to infect humans. The outbreak was first reported to the World Health Organization by Chinese officials on December 31 in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in Hubei province. By mid-January — despite a quarantine in Wuhan, imposed by the Chinese government — it had begun spreading rapidly. The World Health Organization has ruled that the outbreak is a global health emergency, a rare designation the agency gives outbreaks that pose an international risk. There are many questions about coronavirus at this stage of the outbreak: Is it safe to travel? What should I do to protect myself? How will the outbreak end? We’ll continue to update this stream as the story unfolds.
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Closed schools and empty stadiums: How countries are trying to stop coronavirus’s spread
A man wearing a face mask walks past Tokyo Dome where a number of events including pop concerts have been canceled because of concerns over the coronavirus, on February 27, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan. | Carl Court/Getty Images A quick look at how Italy, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and even the United States are dealing with the crisis. Military drills delayed. Schools closed. Religious pilgrims banned. Professional soccer games played behind closed doors. That’s how much of the world, from Saudi Arabia to Japan to the United States, is dealing with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. As infections and deaths tick upward, governments have taken a range of measures, from mild to drastic, to try to stop the virus’s spread. Governments are struggling to contend with what increasingly looks like a pandemic. Some of the decisions seem prudent — keeping people away from each to minimize contagion is smart, after all — but they could still have serious effects. Japan keeping kids out of school for a month may make life harder for families. Keeping American and South Korean troops from training with one another might make them less ready to fight a (still unlikely) future war with North Korea. Saudi Arabia barring people from entering the country is keeping thousands of Muslims from visiting some of Islam’s holiest sites. And Italians for now can’t watch their favorite soccer teams play live. All told, coronavirus is already changing the way people live — and it may only be the beginning of the disruptions. Italy won’t let fans watch professional soccer games — for now On Wednesday, Italy barred fans from attending five games in the nation’s top league this weekend out of fear that the coronavirus could spread through the crowd. Those games, including some with top teams, will now be played behind closed doors. Michael Steele/Getty Images Fans wear medical face masks as they await kickoff of a match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at Stadio San Paolo on February 25, 2020, in Naples, Italy. It’s a major decision for a nation that loves the game and won the 2006 World Cup. But it was likely inevitable, as Italy is the first European country contending with a major outbreak of the disease. As of now, there are about 530 confirmed cases of infection in Italy — including one Italian soccer player. Even some fashion shows in northern Italy are taking place in empty rooms. Italy’s Prime Minister Antonio Conte has called for calm in his country during the outbreak. “It’s time to turn down the tone, we need to stop panic,” he told local newspaper La Repubblica. Restricting access to games, though, certainly won’t help stem the panic that has led to rising prices for face masks and hand sanitizer. If anything, it may be the most high-profile move by Conte’s government yet. The US and South Korea cancel joint military training The US military in South Korea late on Wednesday night announced that its annual training exercise with its counterparts in the country had been postponed until further notice. “The decision to postpone the combined training was not taken lightly,” the statement read. “The containment efforts for COVID-19 and the safety of the [Korean] and US service members were prioritized in making this decision,” it continued, using the official name for the disease. With the ROK government’s declaration of the highest alert level of “severe” on COVID-19, the ROK-US Alliance decided to postpone combined command post training until further notice. The decision to postpone the combined training was not taken lightly. https://t.co/S5rIaR2KZ7— U.S. Forces Korea (@USForcesKorea) February 27, 2020 That call came hours after the first US soldier tested positive for coronavirus — and that soldier just so happened to be stationed in South Korea. About 25 members of South Korea’s armed forces have also contracted the disease, part of the nearly 1,800 infected in the whole country. It’s why experts I spoke to agree with the decision. “It makes sense that the military would be cautious. I don’t think the drills are critical enough to risk more soldiers getting sick,” Grace Liu, an expert on the Koreas at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told me. “They’d already need to prepare to spend a lot of extra money just to screen soldiers traveling to and from the states for the virus.” “Adding on potential quarantine time for soldiers who test positive — paying for their time, accommodations, food, medicine, and more — builds up pretty quick,” she added. Even if postponing the exercise was the right decision, it will still likely make North Korea very happy. That country doesn’t like when the US and South Korea practice military operations together, as Pyongyang views the drills as the precursor to an invasion. That’s why President Donald Trump has had the Pentagon cancel previous drills to keep North Korean leader Kim Jong Un engaged in their anti-nuclear diplomacy. The postponement, then, will only continue that trend. Some say the dearth of drills makes the US and South Korea less prepared for a fight with the North — giving Kim yet another reason to smile. Saudi Arabia is temporarily keeping religious pilgrims out Riyadh made the decision on Wednesday evening to restrict travel to Mecca and Medina, which are home to some of Islam’s holiest sites. The kingdom opted, among other moves, to temporarily stop travelers from coming into the country — which keeps some from seeing the sites — citing concerns about further spreading the disease. “We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in its statement announcing the decision. Experts note how surprising this decision really is. “It’s a very big deal and unprecedented in recent decades,” says Bruce Riedel, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It’s also expensive for the kingdom in lost revenue. It reflects the growing concerns across the region that the virus is out of control.” We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm#CoronaVirus#COVID19 pic.twitter.com/TEYvIW1Wbd— Foreign Ministry (@KSAmofaEN) February 26, 2020 It’s also a huge deal for the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims who pray toward the Kaaba in Mecca five times a day. Visiting and praying at the cube-shaped structure, then, is very important to Muslims, as is visiting the mosque built by the Prophet Mohammed in the nearby city of Medina. But with Saudi Arabia temporarily restricting access, they’re not going to get the chance for the time being. Riyadh’s decision is fueling some concern that it might cancel entry into Saudi Arabia for the Hajj — the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that every capable Muslim must perform at least once in their lives — that is scheduled to begin in late July. That’d be drastic but understandable, as a disease spreading has long been a concern during the Hajj. As Al Jazeera notes: The earliest recorded outbreak came in 632 as pilgrims fought off malaria. A cholera outbreak in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000 pilgrims. Another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 pilgrims and then spread worldwide. Saudi officials surely didn’t want a repeat of these crises while coronavirus continues to infect thousands around the world. But, again, the Hajj still hasn’t been canceled and the kingdom will surely do all it can to allow people in during that time. What’s more, the second epicenter of the outbreak is nearby in Iran, helping proliferate the virus around the region. Iran has taken some measures like closing schools and theaters, but it hasn’t been enough to stop the spread. Saudi officials surely worry infected people in nearby countries might unwittingly transmit the disease to others as they enter Mecca or elsewhere to pray. That Riyadh had to take this recent step shows just how seriously it takes this precarious moment. Restricting access to pilgrims is something it’s loath to do, especially since it aims to portray itself as Sunni Islam’s leader. Keeping an eye on when — or if — Saudi officials choose to lift the ban might serve as a bellwether for the disease’s severity in the Middle East. Japan closes its schools On Thursday morning, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo shocked his nation by closing schools for roughly a month in response to the coronavirus. In his announcement, Abe said he was “putting a priority on children’s health and safety” by temporarily curbing “gatherings of many children and teachers for a long time on a daily basis.” The decision now makes Japan the second nation — after China, the epicenter of the outbreak — to shutter its schools, though universities and day care seemingly will remain open. Normally, the school year finishes in March and starts again in early April. At the 15th Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters meeting, PM Abe stated that the government would put health and safety of children first and request all elementary, junior- and senior-high schools and special needs education schools to close from March 2 to the spring break. pic.twitter.com/PdZHLlZ1QK— PM's Office of Japan (@JPN_PMO) February 27, 2020 The country currently has about 189 cases of infection, leading to three total deaths. That spread has led to questions about Abe’s handling of the crisis, especially as his government considers whether or not to cancel the summer Olympic Games. His highly visible decision, then, may have been in service of doing something to show his people he’s taking the threat seriously. Some experts are questioning the rationale, mainly because children aren’t overly at risk from the disease, or at least no more so than others. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US notes “there is no evidence that children are more susceptible” to this coronavirus and that “infection among children was relatively uncommon” in other similar coronavirus outbreaks. There’s no question having children stay at home will disrupt families who may have counted on their kids being in class. “The implications for people and their daily lives is going to be so big that I’m not sure it’s worth it in terms of public health,” Chelsea Szendi Schieder, an economics professor at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, told the New York Times on Thursday. It’s therefore possible Abe took a precarious, hasty decision just to look decisive at a crucial moment. The next month or so will make clear if it ended up being the right choice anyway.
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Wisconsin rejected new gun control laws. Then a mass shooting happened.
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales speaks to the media following a shooting at the Molson Coors Brewing Co. campus on February 26, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. | Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images It’s at least the 11th mass shooting in the state since 2004. Five people were killed Wednesday when a shooter opened fire at the Molson Coors beer company complex in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. According to local police chief Alfonso Morales, the shooter, a 51-year-old former employee of the brewery, also died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police began receiving reports of the shooting at around 2 pm local time Wednesday. Shortly after, employees at Molson Coors began receiving text messages warning them of the active shooter. All five victims were employees of Molson Coors. None of the victims have been named thus far. Police have not yet discussed possible motives. Molson Coors president and CEO Gavin Hattersley said that “corporate offices will be closed for the rest of the week and the breweries will remain closed for the time being” according to CNN. “There are no words to express the deep sadness many of us are feeling right now,” Hattersley said. President Donald Trump expressed his condolences during a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday afternoon: Our hearts go out to the families of those whose lives were senselessly taken, all of the folks and workers at Molson Coors, and the Milwaukee community as we grapple with yet another act of gun violence that will have long-lasting consequences for this community and our state. It was at least the 11th mass shooting in Wisconsin since 2004. There have been 45 mass shootings in the US since the beginning of 2020. And just hours before the shooting, Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called on lawmakers to push forward legislation aimed at tightening the state’s gun laws. In response to Evers, “Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, made it clear that Wisconsin’s gun laws would not change under a Republican-controlled Legislature,” USA Today reported, “reminding voters of the longstanding divide that all but ensures deadly incidents like Wednesday’s aren’t going to spur new gun policies anytime soon.” For more coverage on gun violence, visit Vox’s gun violence section.
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America’s bad paid sick leave policy could make the coronavirus outbreak worse
People wear surgical masks as they walk in San Francisco, California, where Mayor London Breed declared a local state of emergency to prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images The coronavirus makes a good case for America finally guaranteeing paid sick leave. America’s failure to guarantee paid sick leave for its workers could combine with the coronavirus to pose a serious danger to public health in the coming weeks. The Covid-19 illness, caused by the coronavirus, is here and likely here to stay for a while. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning people to be prepared for major disruptions in their daily lives. That could mean staying home for days if they get sick. But that is easier said than done for millions of American workers. Employees in the service industry especially, like food workers or personal care assistants, are much less likely than their peers in more lucrative fields to have paid time off if they get sick. But they also make less money in general, meaning a lost day of work hurts their families’ budgets more. That gives them a strong motivation to go into work — even if they’re not feeling well. And because these workers come in close contact with the rest of humanity, they are a potent vector for spreading contagions, particularly those as infectious as coronaviruses. It’s a recipe for making a bad outbreak even worse, all because America hasn’t decided to guarantee paid sick leave for all workers. Why having no paid sick leave is a public health risk There is no federal law guaranteeing paid time off for illness, and paid sick leave is comparatively rare for lower-wage workers. Just 63 percent of people working in service occupations have paid sick leave, versus more than 90 percent of people in management positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For people working part-time, just 43 percent can get sick leave from their employer. And for people working those lower-wage jobs, it’s not easy for them to skip work if they’re not getting paid, even if they’re feeling flu-like symptoms that could be either the flu itself or the coronavirus. All the public health warnings in the world can’t always stand up against the need to bring home a paycheck. Just 27 percent of people whose wages fall in the bottom 10 percent are able to earn paid sick leave from their job, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Any less pay eats into their basic needs: As EPI put it, the lost wages from missing three days of work can equal a month’s worth of groceries or their monthly utility bills. People have a strong incentive to go to work, even if they’re not feeling well and authorities have urged them to stay home. And once they come in and start going about their jobs, they can spread illnesses unintentionally. Coronavirus is a pretty contagious disease, with a higher R-naught (which measures how many other people a sick person is likely to infect) than the seasonal flu. Paid sick leave could go a long way to stop the spread of the virus. As a group of researchers wrote for the CDC in 2012, while assessing the benefits of providing workers with paid time off if they get sick (emphasis mine): Access to paid sick leave might reduce the pressure to work while sick out of fear of losing income. Fewer people working while sick, and therefore performing at reduced functional capacity, might lead to safer operations and fewer injuries. The potential safety benefit observed in our study extends previous research demonstrating that paid sick leave is associated with shorter worker recovery times and reduced complications from minor health problems. Paid sick leave also enables workers to care for loved ones and can help prevent the spread of contagious diseases. America is alone among advanced economies in not having a national guarantee of paid sick leave for workers. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported in 2009, most developed economies give workers at least five days off to recover from flu-like systems. The US used to lag even farther behind, with less than half of service industry workers getting paid sick leave as recently as 2017. But thanks to a slew of recent state laws mandating such leave, the situation has improved. Paid sick leave is usually treated as a principle of basic economic justice: People shouldn’t become financially insecure because they get sick and have to miss work. But when we have an outbreak like coronavirus, the failure to provide that security is actively making our society more vulnerable to a big outbreak.
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Trump blames Monday and Tuesday’s stock market slide on Dem debate that happened Tuesday night
Trump leaves the Brady Press Briefing Room following his news conference on Wednesday. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images The president’s argument rests on a misunderstanding of how time works. President Donald Trump tried to pin this week’s stock market slide in the face of a potential coronavirus outbreak on Democrats. But the case he made to do that was nonsensical — even by his standards. During a news conference on Wednesday that was meant to quell fears, Trump explained away the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s nearly 2,000-point dip on Monday and Tuesday not first and foremost by acknowledging reality — which is that investors are spooked by fears we’re amid the early stages of a global pandemic — but by insisting that they’re spooked by the prospect of Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden becoming the next president. “I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage, making fools out of themselves, and they say, ‘If we ever have a president like this,’” Trump said, referring to the most recent Democratic presidential debate held in South Carolina. “When they look at the statements made by the people standing behind those podiums, I think that has a huge effect.” Trump again absurdly blames a stock market slide that mostly happened Monday on a Democratic debate that took place Tuesday night pic.twitter.com/TtRcU9moLZ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2020 But there’s a problem: The Democratic debate in question took place on Tuesday night, after American markets closed for the day. By then, the Dow had already endured two days of significant losses — 1,032 points on Monday and another 879 points on Tuesday. So Trump’s explanation for the market slide rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of how time works. If his claim about markets being spooked by the Democratic debate held water, you would’ve expected the Dow to plummet again on Wednesday. But it didn’t. It dropped just 122 points. There’s just no evidence that Democrats are at fault. Trump wants to escape responsibility Trump’s explanation for the market slide may have been absurd, but the point was to reassure the American public that the broader coronavirus situation is under control and that there’s no reason for panic in the markets or elsewhere. But as Trump spoke on Wednesday, the Washington Post broke news of the first coronavirus case in the United States that doesn’t seem to be linked to travel to affected regions of the world or with known contact with someone already infected with Covid-19, the disease coronavirus causes. As my colleague Kelsey Piper wrote, that development “suggests the coronavirus may now be spreading in the country, person-to-person — with this person just the first to be symptomatic, seek medical care, and test positive.” Responding well to such a public health crisis would be a challenge for even the most competent presidential administration, but as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote, the Trump administration is in a uniquely bad position to respond to this one. The global economy is clearly picking up on the threat. So there’s good reason to believe that the markets may not fully rebound anytime soon. There’s not much Trump can do about that, but it’s a problem for him considering how much political capital he’s staked on the strength of the Dow. Highest Stock Market In History, By Far!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2020 The Washington Post reported that privately, “Trump has become furious about the stock market’s slide” and “believes extreme warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have spooked investors.” During his news conference on Wednesday, Trump praised the work of the CDC, but also said he agrees with conspiracy theories pushed by Rush Limbaugh and others who say the outbreak being weaponized against him. “I agree with it,” Trump said, alluding to Limbaugh’s comments. “And I’d like it to stop.” "I agree with it ... and I'd like it to stop" -- here's Trump saying during his coronavirus news conference yesterday that he agrees with Rush Limbaugh's conspiracy theory that the outbreak is being weaponized against him to hurt him politically pic.twitter.com/sQ75J6Nko6— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2020 Limbaugh, who was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump during the State of the Union speech earlier this month, has also compared Covid-19 to the common cold. While there’s a lot we don’t yet know about Covid-19, including its exact morality rate, a recent paper from the medical journal JAMA pegged it at 2.3 percent. Standing next to Trump, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC, made sure to praise the “aggressive containment strategy” that Trump also touted, but also provided a more sober assessment of the overall situation than the president did. “We do expect more cases,” she said. “The trajectory of what we’re looking at over the weeks and months ahead is very uncertain.” The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.
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Walmart is quietly working on an Amazon Prime competitor called Walmart+
Walmart has struggled to keep up with Amazon’s online dominance for years. | Javier Zarracina/Vox Amazon Prime has devastated traditional retail. Walmart is about to fight back. When Amazon launched a funky membership program called Amazon Prime in 2005, Walmart boasted larger profits than Amazon had revenue. Fifteen years later, though, Prime is the key reason for Amazon’s dominance over Walmart in online sales. That pressure has pushed the traditional retailer to burn tens of billions of dollars to fight back while its executives have cycled through various stages of reaction to Prime’s ascent: denial, followed by meek competition, followed by a reversal that seemed to signal Walmart wanted to stick to a free, no-membership strategy. But Recode has learned that over the past 18 months, the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer has explored creating its own paid membership program that would include perks that Amazon can’t replicate, in part to avoid a direct comparison to Prime. Amazon now accounts for nearly 40 percent of all online retail sales in the US, according to eMarketer, and Prime is a huge reason why. Walmart is a distant No. 2 with only a little more than 5 percent of the US e-commerce market. As soon as next month, Walmart plans to start publicly testing a membership program called Walmart+, according to sources. The program is expected to essentially launch as a rebrand of Walmart’s existing Delivery Unlimited service, which charges customers $98 a year for unlimited, same-day delivery of fresh groceries from one of the 1,600-plus Walmart stores in the US where the program is available. The company is also considering launching Walmart+ with a feature that would allow customers to use text-messaging to place orders. Sources said that the amount of the Walmart+ fee could still change or the company might test multiple price points. But the long-term vision for Walmart+ is for the program to add more perks, which could include discounts on prescription drugs at Walmart pharmacies and fuel at Walmart gas stations, as well as a Scan & Go service that would allow shoppers to check out in Walmart stores without waiting in line — a tool Walmart briefly tested but discontinued nearly two years ago. Still, no additional perks beyond grocery delivery are set in stone, which has led some insiders to worry that the pressure to simply act might be supplanting a strong rollout plan and business case, according to sources. It’s unlikely that a $98 annual program built exclusively around grocery delivery would be enough to successfully compete with Amazon Prime. Those overseeing the program, however, believe that testing different perks and learning from those tests will benefit both customers and the business in the long term. A Walmart spokesperson confirmed that a membership program called Walmart+ was in development, but declined to provide other details. The reality Walmart is facing is that Prime, which boasts more than 150 million members worldwide, has become a retail wrecking ball that’s impossible for competitors to ignore, even if they’re hard-pressed to truly compete with all it offers. Prime costs $119 a year in the US, and comes with unlimited one-day shipping on more than 10 million products, same-day grocery deliveries from Whole Foods or Amazon Fresh, access to a large catalog of TV shows and movies available for online streaming, and more. Prime customers spend more and shop more frequently than Amazon’s non-Prime shoppers. Even with its huge lead over all US competitors, Amazon isn’t satisfied, pushing into prescription drugs in 2018 with the acquisition of the online pharmacy PillPack, and developing multiple, new grocery store concepts beyond Whole Foods. Earlier this week, Amazon opened a new, high-tech supermarket that allows shoppers to pluck fresh foods like fruit, vegetables, and meat off of shelves, walk right out, and get automatically charged for the merchandise afterward. In recent years, Amazon has also made moves for Prime to appeal to households with less disposable income that historically have favored shopping at Walmart. Amazon added a monthly payment option for Prime fees in 2016, a 45 percent Prime fee discount for those on government assistance in 2017, and ways for Prime customers to pay for orders with cash. Today, well more than half of Walmart’s top-spending families are Amazon Prime members, according to sources. While Walmart’s overall grocery business is larger than Amazon’s, one fear is that top Walmart customers could eventually turn to Amazon for groceries as they get sucked further into the Prime suite of perks. This state of affairs, in which even an industry titan like Walmart has struggled to combat Amazon’s e-commerce offensive, highlights the power Amazon has amassed that has made it a target of a broader congressional investigation of Big Tech and a separate probe by the Federal Trade Commission. Recode reported last year that the FTC was exploring the question of whether the Prime’s bundling of various features allows Amazon to unfairly undercut competitive services. At Walmart, the Walmart+ initiative is a top priority for Janey Whiteside, the company’s chief customer officer who joined from American Express in 2018, according to sources. Other top Walmart leaders, including CEO Doug McMillon, have played an active role in planning. The goal for the program is to eventually save Walmart customers both time and money, and presumably to encourage them to keep spending heavily with the brick-and-mortar giant. Executives believe the program needs to strike a balance of being valuable enough that customers will pay for it, while different enough from Amazon Prime that it doesn’t promote a direct comparison that would likely be impossible for Walmart to win. Perks like prescription drug and fuel discounts could provide an edge, since they are frequent purchases and Amazon doesn’t own gas stations or its own brick-and-mortar pharmacies. (Amazon does own the online pharmacy PillPack, though its current target customer is someone who regularly takes multiple medications versus one-off patients.) The Walmart+ rollout also comes with a belief that top-spending Walmart families that subscribe to Amazon Prime will still be attracted to Walmart+ because its fresh grocery prices are often lower than those Amazon offers. In the past, some Walmart executives have opposed a paid membership program, seeing Walmart’s competitive advantage as giving shoppers everyday low prices without the need to splurge on a membership fee. Some feared a program would look tame in comparison to Prime, which had a decade head start. One of the first big moves Marc Lore made as US e-commerce chief following Walmart’s acquisition of his startup Jet.com in late 2016, was to ax a new Walmart membership that offered unlimited two-day shipping on a much smaller selection of goods than Amazon Prime’s catalog, but at half the price. Lore said at the time that two-day shipping had become “table stakes” — a consumer expectation single-handedly created by Amazon Prime. Last year, Walmart followed up Amazon’s announcement that Prime would soon offer 10 million products for one-day delivery with a free, one-day delivery promise of its own for orders of $35 or more — no membership fee required. But Walmart’s one-day selection is about 1/50th of the size of Amazon’s. Over the past few years, Walmart has also worked to build on its huge grocery business, which accounts for more than half of its store sales. The company is the US grocery leader when it comes to an order-online, pickup-at-store service, which is still the main driver of Walmart’s e-commerce growth. But last year Walmart also unveiled the $98-a-year Grocery Unlimited service that’s being rebranded as Walmart+, as Amazon ramped up its own grocery delivery services and other competitors like Instacart and Shipt helped make the behavior more popular. Same-day grocery delivery, however, is expensive. Grocery store profit margins are traditionally small to begin with, before even paying for the labor to pick orders and then deliver them. Walmart executives have said that having workers pick both grocery delivery and pickup orders from stores close to customers helps keep costs down. Walmart has also started testing robots that can pick out groceries, which it hopes will someday improve the economics even more. In a best-case scenario, Walmart executives hope Walmart+ will lead customers to pay for more products and services with better profit margins, potentially helping to bring down losses in Walmart’s e-commerce business — a stress point that previously caused friction between leaders in Walmart’s store business and e-commerce business. Walmart executives said at a recent investor event that US e-commerce losses will be flat or slightly down from last year’s numbers. From the time Walmart spent $3 billion to acquire Jet.com in 2016, executives have stressed both internally and externally that the traditional retailer has built-in advantages over Amazon. Walmart+ is the time to prove it.
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Taylor Swift’s “The Man” video is the climax of her quest to own her voice
Taylor Swift The music video for “The Man” is starring, directed by, and owned by Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift just made her directorial debut in the new video for her Lover track “The Man.” The video also stars Swift in male drag — and, as the final credits go out of their way to remind us, the video and its accompanying song are both owned by Taylor Swift, too. That’s fitting for this stage of Swift’s career, which has seen her emphatically taking ownership of her voice, her image, and her music, both literally and figuratively. On a literal level, Swift secured her ownership of the master recordings for all her new music in 2018, when she switched record labels. Her old, pre-Reputation masters all belong to her enemy Scooter Braun now, but Swift made it clear last year that she doesn’t plan to let things stay that way. She’ll be re-recording all her old music so that she owns it again. More metaphorically, Swift has spent the past couple of years beginning to speak out about the subjects she’s traditionally kept quiet on. For most of her career, Swift refused to talk about politics, but during the 2018 midterms, she broke her silence to endorse two Democratic candidates in Tennessee. In the recently released Netflix documentary Miss Americana, Swift describes that endorsement as the climax of her long struggle to take ownership of her voice. For most of her life, Swift says, she was intensely focused on making people like her and on getting them to think of her as good. “I became the person who everyone wanted me to be,” she tells the camera. So she avoided discussing politics whenever possible because her managers told her she should, lest she face the fate of the Dixie Chicks. But by 2018, Swift was beginning to think she had a duty to use her platform to endorse Democratic politicians. A lot of her fans thought so, too: She faced some intense backlash for never endorsing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. (Swift said last year that in 2016, she felt she was so unpopular that she would have been a liability to Clinton.) In Miss Americana, Swift fights bitterly with her father and staff as she decides she’s going to finally start talking politics. It could be dangerous, her father says. She might get bad press, her publicist warns her. “Fuck that,” Swift replies. The moment plays as Swift finally beginning to reject her people-pleasing ways. She’s deciding to speak out on the subjects that matter to her, and to own what she says. Swift is one of our great pop storytellers, and the video for “The Man” is the climax of this mini-narrative she has been building since the end of the Reputation era in 2018. She’s always written her songs, either by herself or in collaboration, and she’s always starred in her own videos. Now she’s directing them, too — and all of it belongs to her.
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Love Is Blind, Netflix’s dystopian romance contest, explained
Love Is Blind on Netflix. | Netflix The gaudy, toxic appeal of Netflix’s Love Is Blind. In an act of dark magic, the streaming giant Netflix has merged the erotic unpredictability of shotgun weddings with the impending doom of a dystopian fantasy into a 10-episode television event. It’s called Love Is Blind. The premise is similar to that of most dating shows: Pleasant-looking individuals from all walks of life are given less than 40 days to marry each other and find love in a hopeless place — a reality show that will document every single moment, in the hopes of serving up the most delicious and spicy morsels for the audience. But what sets Love Is Blind apart from its kin, like the Bachelor franchise, is that these contestants don’t know what their matches look like before they get engaged. Though we don’t have Netflix’s official viewership numbers, the show has been building momentum. It’s part of Netflix’s newly minted top 10 list, a little sticker feature on the platform that indicates the 10 most popular series and movies. Also, according to Netflix, it is the most viewed program —show or series — in the United States right now. Love Is Blind’s contestants and their triumphs and follies have become part of a national conversation. Here’s a brief guide to everything you need to know about what makes this hit show so engrossing. 1) What is Love Is Blind? Netflix Cameron from Love Is Blind. “Love is blind” is an idiom that’s turned into a television show. The phrase is believed to have first been found in William Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, specifically in the Merchant’s Tale, which preaches a cynical view of marriage about a blind man who magically gains sight at the very moment he’s being cuckolded. That phrasing also appears in a couple of Shakespeare’s works, includingThe Merchant of Venice: But love is blind and lovers cannot seeThe pretty folliesthat themselves commit;For if they could, Cupid himself would blushTo see me thus transformed to a boy Both Shakespeare’s and Chaucer’s characters are saying that when you’re in love, you overlook the faults of whoever you’re in love with and your own foolish behavior in loving said person. Netflix took the idiom and applied it very literally to this dating show, which premiered on February 13. The conceit isn’t necessarily about overlooking one’s flaws or behavior, as Chaucer and Shakespeare intended with the phrase. Instead, the main question of the series is whether people can fall in love with one another, “sight unseen.” If they do, they must propose to one another — again, before having ever seen each other — and then actually meet in person. From there, the newly engaged couple must get to know each other face to face, and marry each other in 38 days. If they remain in love, then Netflix’s hypothesis will be proved: Love can bloom on a pure emotional connection alone. The 30 contestants — 15 men and 15 women — are looking for heterosexual relationships.(There is one contestant who comes out as having had relationships with both men and women, but he is on the show to find a female partner. His sexuality becomes a major point of contention in this heteronormative show, however.) After the contests are divided by gender, and introduced to languid co-hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey, they enter what are called “pods” — little living rooms divided by a blue-lit wall, where they can hear the person on the other side but cannot see them. Netflix The pods in Love Is Blind. When the couples get engaged and finally get to take a look at whom they’ve committed to, the show sends them on a post-betrothal trip to Mexico. That’s where they get a little one-on-one time, until all of the contestants congregate and get to meet each other as one big group. From there, the couples move in with one another before their wedding. They go through a truncated, even mutated version of engagement traditions, like awkwardly introducing their parents to their reality television show fiancé. They also go wedding dress shopping and have bachelor and bachelorette parties with their fellow guinea pigs. 2) What’s the appeal of Love Is Blind? What drives the “experiment” of Love Is Blind is the belief that dating apps and social media have made everyone superficial, obsessed with the physical characteristics of a person rather than their emotional selves. By creating an atmosphere in which people are only able to become attracted to each other through conversations and then propelling couples into a hyperdrive timeline of a marriage in 38 days, the show wants to see if love is more than physical attraction. Dating and finding true love on a television show is a classic concept. The Dating Gamepremiered in 1965 as one of the first shows of this TV genre, and featured someone looking for love talking to suitors behind a wall. While Love Is Blind borrows those elements, it’s also seemingly going after the same audience that’s devoted to The Bachelor, Married at First Sight, or older shows like Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, shows whose appeal is less earnest in its efforts to forge love connections. The viewers of Love Is Blind aren’t really invested in these people finding love and getting married, so much as they are in the presentation. Netflix found people willing to partake in this absurd exercise, and those people let the entire thing be filmed for public consumption. It’s voyeurism at its finest. This is the most dynamic moment of TV I’ve seen in a long time - from Netflix’s “Love is Blind.” A guy telling his fiancé, who he met the week before, that he’s mentally stable while she feeds her dog wine and tells him that she’s not his mom. So much to unwrap in ten seconds. pic.twitter.com/ePc58CppO7— Craig Rowin (@CraigRowin) February 22, 2020 “There’s an amazing tonal volatility to Love Is Blind,” Troy Patterson wrote in the New Yorker in faint praise of the series. “Slabs of crass exploitation abut moments of deep sentiment. There are touching scenes of human vulnerability and harrowing sequences of people lying to themselves at length. Vast idiocies of human behavior provoke moments of thoughtful reflection.” Love Is Blind’s volatility drives the show into schadenfreude. When these conventionally attractive, normal-seeming people turn into human disasters, we can’t help but feel better about ourselves and our love lives. It’s affirming that even if we one day get played as badly as these contestants or become a doormat on internationally available TV, we’ll never be asked to propose to someone we’ve never met before and marry them in four weeks. It’s devastatingly beautiful and irresistibly entertaining to see this warped version of real life play out on television: My life is in shambles but at least I’m not fighting with another woman over someone named Barnett — Aminatou Sow (@aminatou) February 24, 2020 3) Is there anyone on the show worth rooting for? Netflix Love Is Blind’s Jessica loves wine and Chicago. The show begins with a lot of contestants, but it very quickly focuses on a core group of five couples: the lovable Lauren and Cameron; chaos agents Giannina and Damian; buyers’ remorse-havers Kelly and Kenny; alleged adults Barnett and Amber; and emotional scammer Jessica with her sad-sack fiancé Mark. Love Is Blind leans heavily into these tropes. The show is in love with the fairy-tale earnestness of Cameron and Lauren, whose instant connection seems designed to melt the coldest and most cynical of hearts. There are also plenty of horny fights between Giannina and Damian that sort of make you believe this entire thing will work out, just because it sure seems like both need disruption and mayhem in their lives. These couples are ultimately worth rooting for, even if just because it’s fun to watch them. But the most compelling character of the show is Jessica, a 34-year-old blonde who works vaguely in “tech” and who lets her dog drink wine. More importantly, Jessica is also Love Is Blind’s required dating game villain. “In her last relationship, the connection was made through social media and was based solely off of physical attraction,” Jessica’s official Love Is Blind bio reads. “This led to a much delayed realization that there was little compatibility and potential for a long-term relationship. Jessica has learned that many of her previous relationships similarly progressed and ended and she figures this experiment may short-circuit that challenge.” In the pods, when they couldn’t see each other, Jessica clicked with 24-year-old Mark over their love of Chicago sports teams and Christianity. Throwing a wrench into that romance, though, is semi-retired frat bro Barnett. The show’s earliest juicy drama comes from when Barnett, in a roundabout way, tells Jessica that he’d propose to her only under a specific circumstance: If there was no other woman on the show he was interested in. Misinterpreting this as a declaration of true love, Jessica dumps Mark, despite their commonalities, because she is very into Barnett’s voice and personality, and because she thinks he’s in love with her. She later asks him about what she thought was his proposal, only to have Barnett clarify that he’s not ready to propose to her because, as he said, there are still other women on the show. Jessica sees this as the ultimate betrayal, and backs into an engagement with Mark. This would be enough drama and a satisfying character arc for your above-average reality television show contestant. But there’s much more to the story of Jessica. Throughout the engagement/move-in/marriage process, Jessica still has her eye on Barnett, now that she can actually look at him. Netflix The men pick out wedding suits on Love Is Blind. While her fiancé Mark is dreaming about spending the rest of his life with her, Jessica does things like pull Barnett aside for heart-to-hearts, talk about her “connection” with him in confessionals, and gush about him to everyone — including his show fiancée, Amber. Yet Jessica maintains that she has no feelings for Barnett and is flabbergasted when her show fiancé, Amber, and Barnett himself point out all the behavior that led them to this conclusion. And in a defining moment, one of her fellow castmates even dubs her “Messica” during their joint bachelorette party. Jessica’s unhinged spiral into Messica is the beating heart of the show, a perfect crystallization of its hilarious, delectable sloppiness. While I’m interested in seeing whether the rest of the couples live happily ever after, I’m more excited about Jessica arriving at the altar and the maelstrom of disorder that is bound to follow. 4) Who is paying for all these rings and wedding dresses? In the first couple of episodes, contestants begin proposing to each other with seemingly manifested engagement rings. This gave way to several questions: Who picked out these rings? Did the women all get sized before getting on the show? What happens if she doesn’t like the engagement ring? Can it be exchanged? But biggest of all: Who is paying for all these things? It would seem that Netflix is funding the entire operation — paying for not only the engagement rings but also the apartments these couples move into, the wedding dresses and suits they’ll wear on the day, and the venues. But that might not be the case. In episode eight, Amber, who’s described as an “ex-tank mechanic,” talks about how her wedding dress’s alterations would put her in a financial hole; she’s unemployed and strapped for cash. Her remarks seem to indicate that the contestants are paying for some portion of the bill. Vox has sent an inquiry to Netflix, and will update when we hear word. 5) How long have the couples been together? Netflix Cameron, an angel, proposes to Lauren, also an angel, on Love Is Blind. Because most reality television shows aren’t aired live (with some exceptions like CBS’s Big Brother) there’s usually a delay between the end of taping and when it airs. To get around this, some shows like Survivor have live finales, while others have their contestants sign strict nondisclosure agreements until the finale airs, so as not to spoil the show; some may have a combination of both. What separates Love Is Blind from other reality shows and aligns it with its Bachelor brethren is that “winning” the show just means that you’re ... married or in a relationship to someone you’ve just met. There’s no money involved, no big vacations; Love Is Blind just awards couples with the opportunity to continue being a couple. At the end of filming, the contestants either got married or didn’t. Ergo, the couples are either together or have split and have had to keep the results secret. And since we live in an age of social media, the contestants have had to make sure there aren’t any big clues (e.g., posting a story with their new husband or wife, or one about themselves being single or dating someone new) to maintain the mystery of the show. That hasn’t stopped some viewers from trying to get answers themselves, sleuthing platforms like Instagram and Venmo for clues. Refinery29 figured out that the show stopped filming in November 2018, based on information in an interview with a cast member and some savvy arithmetic. That means the contestants have been together or broken up for nearly a year and a half before the show started airing. In comparison, this year’s season of The Bachelor was in production around October 2019 and premiered at the beginning of January. 6) How did the show become so popular? There are a couple of other factors that turned Love Is Blind into a hit: It premiered on February 13, 2020, giving its audience a show about romance right before Valentine’s Day. But more interestingly is that Netflix staggered its release. Unlike other Netflix shows, which come out with a full season at a time, Love Is Blind has “aired” in small bunches of episodes over the past three weeks. It’s akin to how Netflix released its other recent hit reality television show The Circle. This week marks the last batch of episodes and the season finale. Staggering episodes pumps up the conversation around the show, because it keeps viewers all on the same page. It makes watching the series more social (through viewers posting on Twitter or Instagram stories) since every current viewer is more or less watching the same show within the same couple of weeks, as opposed to, say, someone binging an entire show in one night and then waiting around for everyone else to finish it. It’s the same basic cable approach that keeps The Bachelor and other reality shows on traditional television in the cultural zeitgeist. We’re at bachelor party night and it’s clear that the most-volatile, least stable couples (Giannina & Damien, Barnett and the ex-tank mechanic) are headed to the altar.— Joel D. Anderson (@byjoelanderson) February 26, 2020 7) Is love actually blind? According to a 2015 study by Rafael Wlodarski, an affiliate at the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group at Oxford, and Robin Dunbar, who heads the group, 91 participants “were better at interpreting the emotional states of others after a love prime than after a neutral prime.” Love, it seems, can make people better at being emotionally intelligent. But the researchers also noted that past studies have found that Chaucer and Shakespeare may have been onto something else there. Love can make us more emotionally intelligent, but less intelligent in other ways. Wlodarski and Dunbar wrote in their abstract: On the other hand, recent functional MRI (fMRI) research on individuals who are in love suggests that several brain regions associated with mentalizing may be “deactivated” during the presentation of a love prime, potentially affecting mentalizing cognitions and behaviors. Netflix isn’t particularly concerned with that interpretation, it seems. Love Is Blind isn’t about whether love blinds us to our immature behavior, but rather, if love is strong enough to withstand the ridiculousness of a 38-day engagement along with physical chemistry, age gaps, and friends’ and families’ judgment. Whether or not love is strong enough to conquer any of these factors, Netflix knows you’ll be tuning in. Love Is Blind’s 10-episode season is now streaming in full on Netflix.
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Trump needs to worry about the stock market less, and pandemic preparedness more
President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference with members of a coronavirus task force, including Vice President Mike Pence, at the White House on February 26, 2020. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images Happy talk is counterproductive at this point. It’s obvious that President Trump has the stock market on his mind when he’s thinking about coronavirus, as evidenced by the two times during a press conference Wednesday evening when he blamed Democrats for the market’s fall. That’s unseemly on its own terms, but it also seems to be driving a certain amount of happy talk from the president and his economic team, who keep contradicting clear messages from public health officials that a pandemic is likely. Instead of accepting this, Trump tried to be reassuring, arguing that “the risk to the American people remains very low” and “I don’t think it’s inevitable” that the disease will spread. He said a vaccine is being developed “rapidly,” only to have Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, clarify that in this context that means one is 12 to 18 months away. And he angrily demanded credit for having restricted travel from China earlier, saying that subsequent events had vindicated him — a typical egomaniacal gesture from the president. But more to the point, it’s a sign that he continues to take undue refuge in the hope that the outbreak can be contained rather than endured. The truth is, however, that investors and corporate decision makers with money on the line can and will take the time to listen carefully to what the experts are saying. Markets have fallen because the news they have to offer is simply not that good. The president is not going to meaningfully alter the trajectory of the stock market by downplaying the realities. He could, however, reduce the number of people who take adequate preparative steps now while the situation is still calm. From containment to mitigation The ideal thing to do when faced with an infectious disease outbreak is to contain it — isolate one or more areas where the outbreak is occurring, treat patients there, and hope the vast majority of the world will be spared. Experts have been warning for days now that containment of the Covid-19 outbreak appears to be failing. That failure manifests itself in the number of cases currently present in Iran, Italy, and South Korea. But what’s more important to understand is that the spread of the disease to those three countries appears to reflect some fundamental factors. For starters, it’s simply not as deadly or debilitating as something like Ebola. Many people contract only fairly minor symptoms, which is great for them, but increases the odds that they remain ambulatory and spread the disease. Worse, some people appear to be capable of spreading the virus before they exhibit any symptoms at all. Illnesses with those characteristics are just very hard to contain, which means that Covid-19 is very likely to keep spreading. What we are realistically looking at now is not containment of a virus that is already on multiple continents, but efforts to mitigate the harm that it does by slowing its spread. Australian epidemiologist Ian Mackay posted this chart that I found helpful to understand the principle. In a pandemic of a severe disease without mitigation, a huge share of the population gets sick all at once — overwhelmingly the health care infrastructure, undermining the reliability of emergency services, and overall causing a degree of devastation beyond the specific medical impact of the virus. (Information on Covid-19’s severity and fatality rate is still preliminary.) Even with effective mitigation a lot of people get sick, but the caseload is spread out and society can continue to function. Mitigation is essentially what the world is doing now. We are slowing the spread of the disease, both from place to place and within the hardest-hit countries. As we mitigate, we can be optimistic that warmer weather will curb the virus (something that’s plausible but scientifically unclear at this point) or that a vaccine will be ready by early 2021. But we’re giving people false hope if we are telling them to disease is going to simply be kept at bay as a story happening in far-off places. Infection may sweep across the country with a lot of people getting sick, and doing further mitigation on an individual community level is going to be inconvenient and annoying. Precisely because it will be annoying, however, it would be helpful for the president and his appointees to start delivering a consistent message about how to get ready so as to minimize the inconvenience. Prepare for “social distancing” A key thing that Americans should prepare for is the possibility that what public health professionals call “social distancing” measures may be ordered. This means literally trying to get people to spend less time in close proximity to other people. Under America’s federal system, social distancing would likely be ordered by state or local officials rather than the federal government and as Vox’s Brian Resnick writes would entail things like “postponing or canceling mass gatherings like sporting events, concerts, or religious gatherings. It could mean closing schools (any local school board could decide to do this independently) or encouraging telework.” School closures in particular are highly effective at slowing flu pandemics. And while it would be wildly premature to start ordering them in the United States right now, Americans should be made aware that ordering them could be prudent at some time in the reasonably near future. That means school officials should think about take-home assignments for kids and how to communicate with families during a potentially extended closure. Cities and charitable organizations should think about the nutritional needs of low-income families that are counting on free breakfast and lunch at school to feed their kids. Parents need to think about their child care and work-from-home options, and employers need to be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to be flexible with parents. A number of experts also suggest trying to stock up on basic medical supplies, household goods, and non-perishable food. That way if you’re healthy you can minimize the number of trips you need to take out to grocery stores where you might get sick, and if you’re sick you can stay at home and take care of yourself rather than wandering around town in search of ibuprofen. All of this is extremely compatible with a message of “don’t panic,” but it’s not at all compatible with a message of “don’t worry about anything” because Trump has been tough on the border. The stock market will do what it does There’s no getting around the fact that a big global disease outbreak is bad for business and that will be reflected in the stock market. You don’t need to paint apocalyptic scenarios to see that. If there’s a period of time in which fewer people fly planes, stay in hotels, go to movie theaters, or eat in restaurants that is a lot of lost revenue for a lot of businesses. The vast majority of businesses will bounce back, but you can’t actually “make up for” lost sales in these industries. Empty hotel rooms, empty tables, and empty plane seats just represent hard losses. And if people lose hours at work (or even just tips) they’ll need to cut back on their own spending elsewhere and cause problems in other sectors. More complicated stuff like disruptions to manufacturing supply chains is just more trouble on top of the basics. It’s not a great prospect, so any day there’s news that makes pandemic more likely the market is going to fall. But the president shouldn’t flatter himself that the global economy hangs on his every word. You don’t need to have a utopian view of the efficiency of financial markets to have some confidence that major investment decisions are based on real information about real business conditions. It’s regular people going about their lives who need to hear clear and direct communication from the president. Not a message of gloom-and-doom and defeatism, but a message of reasonable precaution where people can start taking action day-by-day now rather than finding themselves caught up in a panic if things worsen in a week or two. But to do this, the president would need to start taking his job seriously. It’s clear that when pressed to try to put on a good show, he’s able to round up relevant credible experts from inside the government to speak to the press. But he also must listen to what they have to say, and stop contradicting them publicly. Trump needs to tell his economics team to stop trying to coach the stock market, and start trying to think of actual policy remedies he can take to Congress — there may be a need to deliver emergency financial assistance directly to families if people have work stoppages, for example. And most of all, he needs to stop making everything about him and his political standing. Every president ends up needing to deal with some stuff that they wish hadn’t landed on their plate. It’s the job. And the country and the world needs Trump to try harder to do it.
vox.com
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith on the purpose and power of poetry
Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith received the 2019 Harvard Arts Medal at the university’s Agassiz Theatre on May 2, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. | Paul Marotta/Getty Images The two-time American poet laureate joins The Ezra Klein Show for a powerful conversation on love, language, and more. It’s the rare podcast conversation on The Ezra Klein Show where, as it’s happening, I’m making notes to go back and listen again so I can fully absorb what I heard. But this is that kind of episode. Tracy K. Smith is the chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and was the two-time poet laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019. But I’ll be honest: she was an intimidating interview for me. I often find myself frustrated by poetry, yearning for it to simply tell me what it wants to say, aggravated that I can’t seem to crack its code. Preparing for this conversation, and even more so, talking to Smith, was a revelation. Poetry, she argues, is about expressing “the feelings that defy language.” The struggle is part of the point: you’re going where language stumbles, where literalism fails. Developing a comfort and ease in those spaces isn’t something we’re taught to do, but it’s something we need to do. And so, on one level, this conversation is simply about poetry: what it is, what it does, how to read it. But on another level, this conversation is also about the ideas and tensions that Smith uses poetry to capture: what it means to be a descendent of slaves, a human in love, a nation divided. Laced through our conversation is readings of poems from her most recent book Wade in the Water, and discussions of some of the hardest questions in the American, and even human, canon. Hearing Smith read her erasure poem, “Declaration” is, without doubt, one of the most powerful moments I’ve had on the podcast. There is more to this conversation than I can capture here, but to say it simply: this isn’t one to miss, and that’s particularly true if, like me, poetry intimidates you. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of part of our conversation, which we released this week on The Ezra Klein Show Ezra Klein I’d like to start with something you said at a lecture at the Library of Congress. “Poetry is not the language we live in. It’s not the language of our day-to-day errand-running and obligation-fulfilling, not the language with which we are asked to justify ourselves to the outside world. It certainly isn’t the language to which commercial value has been assigned.” So, what language is poetry? Tracy K. Smith Poetry is the language that sits really close to feelings that defy language. Poetry nudges some of our feelings of joy or confusion or desire toward feelings that we can recognize and describe. I take solace in the fact that it’s poems that we turn to in big moments of change — like the loss of someone or a marriage or the birth of a child — because poems are resourceful for finding terms that remind us of what we live with but don’t always bring into speech. Ezra Klein I’m somebody who has had many periods of my life where I tried to learn to read poetry better, and I’ve often become frustrated. It was really reading your work that helped me understand that maybe some of my frustrations were part of the point and not a failure. I love the idea that poetry is about the “feelings that defy language” because I always understood poetry to be a kind of technical mastery of language. But when I read a lot of your work it seemed that you’re saying that actually, poetry is about the shortcomings of language. The ways in which poetry sometimes becomes difficult to read are signaling the ways in which language becomes insufficient for what we need to communicate. Tracy K. Smith As a poet there is a certain degree of mastery that is required to even get into the gray zone of feeling and what sits beyond the reach of language. I think poets work really hard to create the scaffolding or the formal mechanism for these big questions to take shape within. But the fact of language, even the beauty of language, is secondary to the larger work of the poem, which I think is to enter into that uncharted emotional territory or to bring us — with a greater sense of courage and resourcefulness — toward the things that are just messy, overwhelming, rife with conflict or contradiction. And those are the things that live on the surface of social life. So poems tread in that direction and they do something to give us a sense of what we feel, what we’re a part of, and what that means. Ezra Klein That reminds me of something else you said in that lecture: “The features of a poem insist upon a different value system. Rather than numbing or drowning out the difficult-to-describe but urgently sensed feelings that are part of being human, poetry invites us to tease them out, to draw them into language that is rooted in intricate thought and strange impulse.” I think this is why I’ve often been intimidated by poetry as somebody who’s a very linear thinker. I do politics. I read narrative nonfiction. So I get frustrated when I don’t know what a poem is trying to tell me — I want the author to just say what they mean. But that’s part of the fact that poetry is insisting on a different logic and is trying to pull out a different part of how we perceive the world. And maybe working on that part of ourselves or trying to rest in that struggle is valuable in a way that our market-dominant culture understates. Tracy K. Smith There’s a forward or an outward-facing part of our lives that is constantly urging us to pronounce, to explain, and to manifest some sense of authority: This is why you’re wrong. This is why I’m right. This is what we need to do to fix the situation. That’s great in many contexts, but it’s also true that there are many views that can be simultaneously right. And a poem might help us to be comfortable acknowledging that. In the realm of art, it’s great to say, “In this moment of the poem, it seems like there’s a lot of joyful energy. I’m feeling bright and I’m feeling happy, but then I get into the next stanza and things get dark. So which is it?” And sometimes the answer is it’s both. There’s a moment when there’s something that’s bright and positive and then there’s a moment that things change. What does it feel like to live with the possibility of that change? What does it feel like to acknowledge that both are natural? I have this belief that getting comfortable with that in the context of art or in the context of feeling can make us better equipped to deal with all of the contradictions and simultaneous truths that exist in other contexts, like society and community. Those are places where there are a lot of simultaneous truths that we’re asked to consider, and maybe even validate it from one moment to the next. Ezra Klein I wanted to see if you’d be up for reading your poem, “Declaration,” because I think it speaks to what you’re saying here. Tracy K. Smith Okay. I’ll tell you a little bit about how this poem got written. It’s an “erasure” of the Declaration of Independence. I set out to read the Declaration of Independence and see what it might teach me about who America was and who it is. So I was listening for another voice or another line of reasoning beneath the surface voice of that text. It started out as a willful act: If I delete these words, then my sentence veers in this other direction. But as I got further into the poem, it seemed less like I was making these really deliberate choices and more like I was hearing a logic that was gathering force. And what I heard in my rereading of the Declaration of Independence was a story about the nature of black life in this country from the very beginning: “Declaration” He has sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people He has plundered our— ravaged our— destroyed the lives of our— taking away our— abolishing our most valuable— and altering fundamentally the Forms of our— In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. —taken Captive on the high Seas to bear— There is a parallel journey that I can decipher here from the original founders of this nation and their grudge or their grievance against England as the colonial power and then this other population that has a similar trajectory that also has a kind of grievance. What can one learn from the other and what does seeing that similarity do to our sense of possibility or to our willingness to listen? I think the fact that the poem is really announcing its relationship to the original text is a way of saying, can we talk about this? Ezra Klein We’re in a fight right now in America about whether accepting other parts of our historical narrative as true means erasing ones that we’re very committed to. I’ve had Nikole Hannah-Jones on The Ezra Klein Show to talk about the 1619 project. And one of the reactions I think people have to that project is that if it is true, then can what I believe about America also be true? The things I was taught, the things I want to believe about the country that I’m from. What I think is so striking about that poem is that it makes clear that in some ways the Declaration of Independence is a more direct description of what America did to African Americans than what was done by Britain to America. And yet it doesn’t make the Declaration wrong or untrue. That was also a viable list of grievances against Britain. The fact that they can both be true at some time at the same time is something I think we have a lot of trouble with. Tracy K. Smith I think that goes back to what we were just talking about. We are trained to think one truth must replace another. One possibility must override another when in reality there are these different gradations that speak to one another, indict one another, and also maybe make space for a really creative composite view of history. You can listen to the full episode by subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
vox.com
Carbon offsets, explained in 500 words
A kiosk at an airport offers travelers carbon offsets for their flights. Offsets are a popular and controversial tactic to fight against climate change. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images The controversial tactic to fight against climate change is becoming increasingly popular among companies, countries, and travelers. Buying carbon offsets for greenhouse gas emissions has become a wildly popular way to fight against climate change. Massive corporations like Amazon and Delta Airlines, celebrities, individual travelers — even entire countries — have embraced offsets as an important tactic to limit their environmental impact. The idea is simple: Someone else can withdraw what you deposit. More specifically, an emitter of a certain quantity of carbon dioxide can pay to compensate for it, leading to no net increase of heat-trapping gases. That compensation can come from planting trees that take in carbon dioxide as they grow, installing renewable energy that replaces fossil fuels, or destroying potent heat-trapping gases like nitrous oxide before they reach the atmosphere. With an offset, you have an accounting mechanism that bridges greenhouse gas emitters with climate protectors. And offsets are now fueling a multibillion-dollar global market. But to make a useful carbon offset, you have to consider four key factors. The first is additionality: Does buying this offset lead to a change that would not have happened otherwise? If not, then the offset isn’t leading to any new reductions in greenhouse gases. You can’t pay someone who is already installing a wind turbine and call it a day. You also have to make sure that your offset is permanent and that the carbon it absorbs doesn’t leak back into the air. So if you’re planting forests, you have to protect them from fires and logging. The offset also should not be double-counted; only one buyer can claim its value. Even if the offset mechanism — say a restored wetland — is in your country, it doesn’t count toward your climate goals if another country is paying for it. Finally, the offset shouldn’t worsen any other environmental or social problems, what’s known as leakage. If you prevent an area of rainforest from being cut down, those loggers shouldn’t just move their operation to an unprotected area. This all requires a lot of oversight and regulation. That’s why it’s tough to create offsets that lead to meaningful reductions in emissions. Analysts say there are more bad offsetting schemes than good ones. Some of the bigger programs — like the United Nations’ REDD+ program — have failed to deliver the amount of forest restoration that was promised. There’s also a concern that offsets create a moral hazard — that they just allow polluters to go on polluting, greenwashing their public profiles instead of making the investments to reduce their own impacts on the climate. However, offset advocates say that these problems are solvable. Good accounting, validation, and transparency can ensure that offsets yield proper results. Offsets can also speed up climate action, routing money around the world to the places where it would be most effective at limiting climate change. And they build momentum for bigger policy actions like pricing carbon. So offsets may best be used as a tactic in addition to rather than in lieu of all the other measures available to deal with climate change. And when it comes to climate change, we need all the help we can get. For more information, read our in-depth explainer on carbon offsets.
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The war on Israeli democracy
Political posters of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Otzma leader Itamar Ben-Gvir hang from a building in Ramat Gan, Israel, on February 23, 2020. | David Vaaknin for Vox Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attacked the foundations of democracy. If he wins his 2020 reelection bid, things could get a lot worse. On a cool November night in the West Bank, Murad Shteiwi walked me through the streets where he had been shot. Shteiwi is an activist leader in the town of Kufr Qaddum, a quiet village near the northern city of Nablus. Israel closed the road between Kufr Qaddum and Nablus during the second intifada in the 2000s to prevent Palestinians from getting too close to the nearby Israeli settlement Qadumim. A drive to Nablus that should take 15 minutes takes closer to 40. On Fridays, the residents of Kufr Qaddum stage demonstrations — which they say are peaceful, though protesters have been known to throw stones — calling on Israel to open the road. Shteiwi, a kind-faced, middle-aged man with a thin mustache, says he’s been shot twice by Israeli soldiers during these protests and jailed five times. He insists that he’s not opposed to Israel’s existence — he describes his hope for ending up with “two states, neighbors” — but will not tolerate the continued presence of Israeli settlers on what he sees as his people’s historical land. “We are human beings. We like life,” he says in fluent English. “Life with them, the man who steals my land, is impossible.” Murad Shteiwi in the West Bank village of Kufr Qaddum. Shteiwi leads a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land and against the closure of the main road connecting Kufr Qaddum to the city of Nablus. Kufr Qaddum residents, protesting nearby Israeli settlements, throw stones toward an Israeli bulldozer. In democracies, these disagreements are supposed to be settled through the ballot box. But Murad Shteiwi will not get to vote in Israel’s upcoming elections on March 2. The West Bank’s Palestinian residents, who live under the grinding realities of occupation, are not Israeli citizens and don’t have a voice in the policies that profoundly shape their lives. The Israeli settlers, many of whom moved to the West Bank with the explicit ideological purpose of seizing control of Palestinian land, do. Israel is a democratic country within its internationally recognized borders, but it maintains a military occupation of land on which millions of people live while denying those people the right to vote. Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this inherent instability has started to tip toward outright authoritarianism throughout the territory under Israeli control. In a 2019 poll conducted by the nonpartisan Israeli Democracy Institute, a majority of Israelis (54 percent) said their democracy was “in grave danger.” Since Netanyahu took office in 2009, the nationalist right has mounted an assault on liberal institutions and eroded democracy in Israel. The Israeli parliament has passed a bill formally defining Israel as a state for its Jewish citizens, implicitly slotting the sizable minority of Arab Muslim Israeli citizens into a form of second-class citizenship. Another recent law, promoted as a funding transparency effort, makes it tougher for human rights groups to work in the country. A third allows Israeli officials to bar foreigners who advocate a boycott of Israel from entering the country. Last fall, the law was used to deport Omar Shakir, an American citizen and the director of Human Rights Watch’s Israel-Palestine division. Netanyahu’s government has launched an attack on the court system. It has cultivated allies in the private sector, NGOs, and the right-wing press (funded by in part by wealthy Americans) that aim to stifle and delegitimize dissent. It has corrupted the mainstream media: Netanyahu allegedly struck a deal with a major newspaper to exchange political favors for favorable coverage. When this scandal was exposed, Netanyahu was indicted on bribery charges; his response has been to attack the media that reported on the scandal, demonize the prosecutors who brought the case, and attempt to pass a law immunizing himself from prosecution while in office. Israel is heading down a path already trod by countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Venezuela: former democracies whose elected leaders have, gradually and through mostly legal processes, twisted the state’s institutions to the point where the public no longer has a meaningful choice in who rules them. The signs are subtle, but I found them striking during my trip last fall (sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting). The Jewish state is not so far gone as Hungary; it still has competitive elections and a free press. But the past 10 years have put new strains on these core institutions. A country that has long prided itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East” seems to be doing its damndest to give up its claim to being a democracy at all. Some of the causes of this anti-democratic drift are uniquely Israeli. No advanced democracy maintains anything like the occupation of the West Bank. The foundational Zionist vision, a state that’s both meaningfully “Jewish” and “democratic,” leads to a constant high-wire act in a country whose citizens are around 25 percent non-Jewish. A resident of Kufr Qaddum carries a Palestinian flag through a cloud of tear gas fired by Israeli forces during weekly demonstrations. But while these difficulties are particular to Israel, the Israeli experience also resembles that of other imperiled democracies — most notably the United States. Like Israel, the United States suffers from a bedrock tension between its nominally egalitarian founding vision and its deep historical commitment to the supremacy of a particular ethnocultural group. In both cases, revanchist ethnonationalism has handed power to a political faction willing to demolish democratic institutions in pursuit of maintaining the majority group’s power. There’s a reason Donald Trump and Netanyahu get along so well — and why we should be worried that both men stand a good chance of winning their 2020 reelection bids. What it means to call Israel a democracy — and how it came under attack After my visit to Kufr Qaddum, the last stop on a trip across the West Bank that nearly spanned the length of the territory, I spent a few days in Israel’s two major cities: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I’ve done this trip before, and the contrast is always jarring. The wealthy Jewish neighborhoods in those cities are leafy and vibrant, places where the routine clashes in places like Kufr Qaddum seem unimaginable. In Tel Aviv, I spent a lovely afternoon at a craft beer bar embedded in a sprawling Middle Eastern market. When I got bored, I walked a handful of blocks to a Mediterranean beach, where a group of fit young Israelis were playing paddleball. Israelis cross the recently opened Yehudit Bridge, the first pedestrian bridge over the Ayalon Highway, in Tel Aviv, Israel. One night, I walked down Rothschild Boulevard, a sprawling thoroughfare bisected by green space and bike paths, to the artsy Neve Tzedek neighborhood. I was going to meet Yehuda Shaul, one of Israel’s most prominent left-wing activists, at an organic vegan restaurant not far from Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot’s home. Shaul is a large man with a gigantic bushy beard, which one might easily mistake as a symbol of Orthodox Jewish faith. He did in fact grow up both religious and conservative, attending a yeshiva (religious school) in a West Bank settlement. But in high school, he started questioning the politics suffusing his life, asking himself why Jews deserved their own state and Palestinians didn’t. He spent several weeks hiking the length of Israel, coming to terms with his liberal awakening, before beginning his mandatory military service in the early 2000s. It was a rough time, one of the most violent in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shaul volunteered to serve in a combat unit, believing he’d treat Palestinians more humanely than someone else in that job. The experience was harrowing.Shaul covered his squadmates while they dragged a barefoot preteen boy through the streets of Bethlehem. In the city of Hebron, he fired indiscriminately on areas populated by Palestinian civilians. He left the military determined to do something about the horrors he had been complicit in. In 2004, he founded a group called Breaking the Silence, which publishes testimonies from Israeli soldiers who have served in wars and the occupied territories. It is one of the most prominent and controversial human rights organizations in Israel, and Shaul is its best-known face. After leaving the Israeli military, Yehuda Shaul co-founded the humanitarian organization Breaking the Silence. He’s pictured here at their offices in Ramat Gan, Israel. According to Shaul, Breaking the Silence’s offices and activists have been attacked by Israelis and demonized by agents of the state. For this work, he tells me, he and his group have been relentlessly attacked. Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law barring specific kinds of human rights groups from speaking in schools — a bill so obviously targeted that Israeli media called it the “Breaking the Silence law.” A cabinet minister once wrote a letter to a local venue scheduled to host one of the group’s events, demanding that it be canceled. A settler once punched Shaul bloody during a visit to Hebron; his staff has been repeatedly harassed by both ordinary Israelis and agents of the state. “Our offices were attacked a few times. Our activists were attacked,” he says. “The police caught [a man] with gallons of gasoline on the way to torch our offices. They found, on his computer, private information on some of our activists. ... When the prime minister says you crossed the line, the defense minister says you’re a ‘spy,’ and the tourism minister says you’re a ‘traitor,’ people answer the call.” Understanding how someone like Shaul, a peaceful activist who works within Israeli law, could become such an object of hate and state repression in a purportedly liberal democracy requires understanding Israeli politics at a deeper level. Formally, Israel has all the features associated with an advanced democracy: competitive multi-party elections, a vibrant free press, strong individual rights protections, and the like. It consistently scores highly on quantitative measures of democracy used by political scientists. Yet despite that, Israeli society has always been deeply unequal, stratified along religious and racial lines. The problems can be traced back to its 1948 Declaration of Independence, a document that, like America’s 1776 equivalent, is fraught with tensions and contradictions. On the one hand, the country’s founders hold to the Zionist vision of Israel as a Jewish state, declaring the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.” On the other, it also commits Israel to upholding the “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” These tensions became particularly acute after 1967, when Israel conquered the overwhelmingly Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel found itself ruling over a noncitizen population that had no interest in being part of a Jewish state and would likely vote to remove the state’s Jewish character if given a choice. The result has been more than 50 years of military occupation with no end in sight. Palestinians have been given limited capabilities for self-determination but no voice at all in the Israeli policies that set the contours for their existence. These basic facts — and they are facts, not a slanted anti-Israel litany — have led many observers to conclude that the very idea of liberal democracy in Israel is a sham. There might be competitive elections and free speech, but apartheid South Africa had those things too — for whites. A public bus in Tel Aviv with a campaign ad for the country’s Blue and White party. The message next to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz reads in Hebrew “Looks after Israel.” The message next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads “Looks after himself.” Israelis understand this contradiction, and Israeli governments over the decades have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort managing it. The most ambitious such attempt came in the early 1990s, when Yehuda Shaul was still a boy. Back then, the Knesset passed two new Basic Laws — the Israeli equivalent of constitutional amendments — that for the first time formally limited the powers of the legislature to restrict individual rights. Aharon Barak, a justice and then later president (chief justice) of Israel’s Supreme Court, used these new Basic Laws and some creative legal theories to radically reorient the Israeli political system toward the democratic side of its Jewish-democratic identity. Barak argued that the essence of Israel’s status as a Jewish state rests not in religion, but in its immigration policy — the policy of aliyah, its unconditional willingness to accept any Jew from any country as a citizen — and certain symbolically Jewish elements like the official use of the Hebrew language. But beyond that, he argued, Israel cannot and should not give its Jewish identity pride of place and should instead function as a secular liberal democracy. This vision, that Israel is not a religiously Jewish state but rather a secular democracy with a few key features aimed at protecting the Jewish people, represents the first key component of what’s known as “liberal Zionism.” The second connected component is a dovish approach to the Palestinian conflict. The early 1990s were the high-water mark for this vision. The left-wing Labor Party, led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, concluded the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995 — agreements that gave Palestinians self-governance through the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, a transition mechanism designed to shortly give way to a full Palestinian state. But it fell apart soon after. In 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing fanatic who opposed giving away what he saw as land divinely granted to the Jews. Later high-profile peace summits failed, at Camp David in the US in 2000 and Taba, Egypt, in 2001. Eyal Warshavsky/AP Thousands of Israelis line up at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 5, 1995, to pay their respects to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was killed in Tel Aviv by a Jewish extremist. Then came the second intifada, the bloodiest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the modern era. Though some Israelis like Shaul held fast to their peacenik commitments during this tumultuous time, frequent Palestinian suicide bombings on Israeli civilian targets, like nightclubs and buses, convinced many Israelis that they had no partner for peace — and that taking the Palestinians seriously was what had brought them to this point. This damaged not only the notion of a peace process but the liberal Zionist ideal. The Israeli left has not won an election since 1999; in the September 2019 election, Labor barely won enough votes to make it into the Knesset at all. Since 1999, Israeli politics has tilted measurably and dramatically rightward. Political scientists have found that the second intifada’s terror attacks caused more Jewish Israelis to vote for right-wing parties and made supporters of those parties less likely to support extending political freedoms to minority groups inside Israel’s borders. Religious nationalist and pro-settler parties, campaigning on a platform that amounted to “I told you we couldn’t trust the Arabs,” have surged in popularity. Netanyahu’s party, the formerly center-right Likud, has become a hard-right party — and currently governs with support from even more extreme factions, like the pro-settlement New Right. Their main opposition is the center-right Blue and White party, taking over from the emaciated Jewish left. A coalition of Arab factions called the Joint List is the third-largest party in the Knesset but is largely marginalized by both major factions. Gili Yaari/NurPhoto via Getty Images Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud party election rally in front of picture of him with President Donald Trump, on February 13, 2020. The country has shifted away from the liberal Zionism that once served as Israel’s political anchor, keeping it from drifting too far in the direction of “Jewish” over “democratic.” Aharon Barak himself is now warning that Israel is so far from what it once was that democracy itself is at risk. And Yehuda Shaul? He’s so concerned about Israel’s direction that he barely paused to eat during our three-hour dinner, offering up story after story about the occupation and the corruption of Israel’s public institutions. “I believe what we see now,” he said, “is only the beginning.” The legal assault on Israeli democracy I met Omar Shakir 10 days before he was deported. Shakir is an American citizen of Iraqi descent who has, since October 2016, worked as the Israel-Palestine director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the world’s most respected and best-known international human rights organizations. When he arrived in Israel in April 2017 to begin on-the-ground work, an Israeli right-wing legal group called Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit calling for Shakir’s removal. The suit argued that Israel should not have given Shakir a visa because he was in violation of a brand new law passed by the Netanyahu government that bars supporters of boycotts targeting Israel from entering the country. Shakir had repeatedly endorsed such boycotts while in law school, and his critics claimed his work with HRW constituted an extension of that; he and HRW both claim not to have a position on boycotts currently. Shurat HaDin is widely seen as an ally of the current government: Its social media coordinator until recently was Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s Donald Jr.-esque son. Its suit prompted Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs to open an investigation into Shakir, after which it determined that he was in fact a boycott activist. “Democracies don’t impose a political litmus test over who can enter the country and who can’t” In May 2018, they revoked Shakir’s work permit and gave him 14 days to leave. After protracted litigation, finalized in a Supreme Court ruling issued in November 2019, the government decided that it was lawful to deny Shakir the ability to work in Israel and force him to leave. Just a few days after his deportation became a done deal, Shakir and I met at a cafe in north Tel Aviv. He sipped tea and reflected on being forced to leave his friends in Israel behind. The last time Shakir had been kicked out of a country, it was authoritarian Egypt in 2014, in retaliation for an HRW report on the military government’s massacre of protesters. And now he was being removed again in supposedly democratic Israel. “Democracies don’t deport rights defenders over their peaceful expression. Democracies don’t impose a political litmus test over who can enter the country and who can’t,” he told me. “What’s happening to me is part of a larger picture. It is just the latest in a wide-ranging assault on basic democratic values. And it should ring alarm bells across the world.” Shakir’s deportation is a case study in what Israeli experts call “shrinking the democratic space,” a process by which Israeli civil society loses its freedom to operate and contest government narratives. This shrinking is part of a broader incremental process, taking place through legal and democratically authorized means, that has undermined the very idea of self-government in Israel. It is a process of slow state capture by the ascendant Israeli right, bending core institutions against democracy through the passage of new laws and attacks on checks and balances. Arab Israelis have been increasingly marginalized as a matter of law, while both Jewish Israelis and diaspora Jews critical of the government’s policies have had their freedoms attacked. The boycott law, the justification for Shakir’s deportation, bars anyone who advocates any kind of boycott activity targeting Israel from entering the country. It has been used to deny entry to two American members of Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, as well as Jewish American peace activists. It theoretically could have been used to deny entry to me for this reporting trip, as I’ve written about my personal decision to boycott settlement-made goods in the not-too-distant past. Another recent bill sought to redefine Israel’s self-understanding as a democracy. In 2018, the Netanyahu government enacted a new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.” The constitutional amendment had little immediate practical upshot and, according to its defenders, serves foundational principles of Zionism: that Israel is a Jewish state. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images Tens of thousands of members of the Israeli Druze community and their supporters rallied in central Tel Aviv against the “Jewish nation-state law,” which they say makes them second-class citizens, on August 4, 2018. But comments on the new Basic Law by Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Knesset (MK) from the pro-settlement New Right party who served as Netanyahu’s justice minister from 2015 to 2019, gave the game away. “There are places where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained — and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality,” she said. It’s a naked assertion that Israel’s most fundamental legal structures ought to grant Jews special privileges. “The [nation-state] law says very clearly that a Jewish American has a better position in the state of Israel than me,” Aida Touma-Suleiman, an Arab member of the Knesset from the Joint List, tells me. “We are not second-degree citizens. We are maybe fifth or sixth degree.” There are many other such laws. Adalah, a group that focuses on Arab civil equality in Israel, maintains a database ofmore than 65 discriminatory Israeli laws dating back to the country’s 1948 founding.Of these, roughlyhalf have been passed since Netanyahu’s current stint in office began in 2009. One such law allows members of the Knesset to vote to expel other MKs on the basis of “incitement to racism” or support for an enemy’s “armed struggle.” The meaning of those terms will, of course, be determined by the Jewish and right-leaning parliamentary majority. The law is, as one Israeli political scientist put it, “designed to enable the Knesset to expel Arab MKs...the addition of the grounds of incitement to racism, which could easily apply to Jewish MKs who systematically incite against the Arabs, is merely a fig-leaf.” Jewish left-wing groups have also been targeted by law. There’s the aforementioned Breaking the Silence law, which bars groups from speaking in schools if they either support prosecution of Israeli soldiers abroad or have worked with international organizations to elicit political moves against Israel. The first provision allegedly applies to Shaul’s group, though it denies supporting such prosecutions; the latter provision seems targeted at Hagai El-Ad, the (Jewish) head of the widely known B’Tselem human rights group, who called on the United Nations to put pressure on Israel shortly before the bill’s passage. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images Israeli left-wing NGO presidents (from left) Hagai El-Ad, Reut Michaeli, Yuli Novak, Tania Hary, and Jafar Farah hold a press conference addressing a law that targets left-wing human rights groups in Tel Aviv on February 5, 2016. Another new law forces nongovernmental organizations that receive more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign governments to prominently disclose that fact on their website. This is cleverly written to apply only to left-wing human rights groups; they tend to get funding from foreign governments, while their right-wing peers get significant contributions from foreign individuals. Such rules may not seem onerous, but in the context of Israeli public opinion — where many Jewish citizens feel besieged by a hostile world — it allows the government to effectively paint human rights groups as traitorous. And the above examples are just new legislation. The current government has used existing laws to muffle dissent from Arabs and Jewish leftists — including, for example, a politically motivated police investigation of a Breaking the Silence spokesperson. There’s also regular rhetoric from government officials delegitimizing both Arab political participation and left-wing Jewish activism; Netanyahu, for example, infamously tried to rally his backers in the 2015 national election by warning that “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls — left-wing organizations are busing them out.” But it’s not just dissidents outside the government that have been under attack. The independent institutions of state that are supposed to constrain abuses by elected officials have also been undermined — including, most importantly, the court system. During Ayelet Shaked’s four years as justice minister, she appointed a record 334 new judges (about a third of all judges in the Israeli court system) including multiple high court justices — appointments of an overwhelmingly conservative bent. She stripped the high court of its jurisdiction over West Bank land issues, handing it to a Jerusalem circuit more friendly to the interests of settlers. She proposed a bill that would allow the Knesset to override a court ruling by majority vote; in 2019, she bragged about having “broken” the basic structure of Israel’s legal system. These are the courts that repeatedly upheld the legality of Shakir’s deportation. Shaked billed her judicial counterrevolution as, of all things, a defense of democracy. She has argued that the Barak-era court crammed a left-wing agenda down the throat of Israelis, and that she was restoring democratic control over the political system. Yet in actuality, she has remodeled the court system to limit oversight of illiberal legislation and eliminate constraints on West Bank settlement growth. Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images Ayelet Shaked (center), New Right party member and former Justice Minister, takes selfies during an election campaign tour in Jerusalem on August 31, 2019. Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz poses for a selfie with supporters during an election campaign event for Israeli-Russian supporters of the party in Tel Aviv, Israel, on February 20, 2020. The allegation of authoritarianism has been so often leveled against Shaked by Israeli observers that she once released a campaign ad attempting to rebut them — a deeply strange commercial in which she puts on a perfume labeled “fascism” and says, “Smells like democracy to me.” When you talk to Israeli and Palestinian human rights advocates, they strongly caution against idealizing Israel’s courts. They point out that while the legal system has an important bulwark in safeguarding rights inside Israel proper, it has done relatively little to check Israeli behavior in the Palestinian territories. Yet despite the legal system’s failings, they agree that the Shaked-Netanyahu campaign to rein in judicial review is dangerous. The court’s limited rulings against the occupation, as well as its more ambitious decisions protecting rights west of the Green Line (the demarcation between Israel’s internationally recognized borders and the West Bank), make it one of the few institutions in Israel today helping to hold the democratic line. “Here I am, a human rights lawyer, needing to defend the Supreme Court even though we lose there often,” says Sharon Abraham-Weiss, the executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the country’s equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s erosion of the checks and balances, erosion of the separation powers, [and] the administrative branch taking over.” And there’s another entity that’s helped the Israeli right engineer an anti-democratic revolution: a vibrant civil society sector pushing a right-wing agenda. Organizations like Shurat HaDin — the group that first raised concerns about Shakir to the Israeli authorities — or NGO Monitor, which compiles dossiers of dirt on left-wing organizations and lobbies to cut off their sources of funding, have been key players in the attacks on Israeli democracy. Amal Jamal, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University, calls groups like these two “bad civil society.” These relatively new organizations — the big ones were founded in the 2000s — use the tools of a free society, like court filings and free speech, to attack and shut down people and groups that disagree with them. “These [NGOs] view differences in perceptions of society and the state as being sufficient justification for silencing or delegitimizing others,” as Jamal puts it. Such “bad civil society” groups are well-funded allies of the right-wing parties in power; they sometimes even share personnel. One prominent far-right MK, Bezalel Smotrich, is a co-founder of the pro-settlement group Regavim. They perform tasks that official members of government can’t or won’t, helping to hollow out Israeli civil society while claiming to be part of it. This machinery of undemocracy can only operate in a world where the prime minister himself is okay with anti-democratic drift. And Netanyahu is more than okay with it: He has done perhaps more than any other individual to contribute to Israel’s democratic decline. Netanyahu had served as prime minister once before, from 1996 to 1999. His defeat after his first term convinced him that he needed to make Israeli society more pliant to his interests — specifically, that he needed to bend the press to his will. “I need my own media,” as he put it at the time. His comments almost directly parallel a set from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who lost power in a free election and subsequently concluded that democracy was the problem. He then systematically dismantled Hungary’s free institutions after he was once again elected to the top job. In 2007, right-wing American billionaire Sheldon Adelson began putting out a daily free newspaper called Israel Hayom (Israel Today) that served up fawning pro-Netanyahu coverage. Research shows the paper’s rise in circulation has helped Netanyahu hold power since winning the country’s 2009 election, but it apparently didn’t provide enough influence over the media landscape for his tastes. During his most recent time in office, he allegedly attempted to trade political and regulatory favors for favorable coverage in two other outlets, the leading daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth (Latest News) and the popular news website Walla. He seems to have succeeded with Walla, allegedly reaching a secret deal to approve a merger that its parent company wanted in exchange for favorable coverage. From a democratic point of view, the idea of the head of government attempting to suborn the independent media by handing out favors is obviously troubling. Indeed, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, a conservative appointed by Shaked, found Netanyahu’s behavior troubling enough to indict the prime minister last year, including on bribery charges that could carry serious prison time. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an announcement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan at the White House on January 28, 2020. Netanyahu’s response has been right out of an authoritarian playbook. He’s denied all the charges and claimed there’s a conspiracy among the liberal elite to get him (one Israeli I met jokingly called them the “deep shtetl,” a play on Trump’s “deep state” conspiracy theories). Most worryingly, he has demanded that the Knesset grant him immunity from prosecution while in office — making it his central demand for coalition partners after Israel’s most recent election in September. Netanyahu’s efforts against the free media and prosecuting authorities are similar to the attacks on the court; they both represent efforts to remove constraints on the government’s power. But they differ in motivation. The goal of Netanyahu’s recent behavior is not primarily ideological; it’s simple power-seeking. He wants to stay in office and avoid prison and seems willing to suborn the media and undermine the independence of Israel’s law enforcement agencies to do it. The intersection of these two axes of authoritarianism — ideology and self-interest — is quite dangerous. Netanyahu is a conservative leading a right-wing party, and he needs the help of even further-right parties to stay in office and pass an immunity bill. The most hardline right-wingers, in turn, need Netanyahu and his devoted base of supporters to implement their pro-settlement, anti-democratic agenda. Partisanship, ideology, and personal ambition are all inclined to unite Israel’s broader political right behind a comprehensively anti-democratic politics: restricting minority rights, demolishing institutional checks on the prime minister’s power, and muzzling critical voices in the media and civil society. If Israel continues down its path, its elections will cease to be meaningful choices — the playing field will be so unlevel that Arab parties and the center-left will never really have a fair chance. The twinned fates of Israeli and American democracy This litany of anti-democratic abuses should feel distressingly familiar to American readers. It’s easy to overdo the comparisons between the United States and Israel. The Israeli occupation’s nature, using military force and a separate-and-unequal legal regime to suppress the rights of Palestinians, puts pressures on Israeli democracy that no other society at a similar level of development faces. Trying to extrapolate too many direct lessons from Israel’s democratic crisis to the problems facing other democracies is a mistake. But the points of resemblance between Israel and America are worrying. Both countries have political histories that are, at their core, defined by ethnic struggle and stratification: the most significant American political realignments all center on conflict over slavery and its legacy of anti-black racism. Both countries are dealing with an ascendant strain of right-wing populism that aims to roll back progress toward a more egalitarian society. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images Likud party election banners featuring Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with President Trump seen in Tel Aviv. The caption above reads in Hebrew: “Netanyahu, in another league.” Both countries’ conservative elites take a worryingly cavalier approach to democracy, prizing certain core political objectives — tax cuts and judges in the United States, the occupation in Israel — and showing a willingness to run roughshod over the democratic institutions they claim to value in order to get what they want. That includes protecting leaders, Trump and Netanyahu, who have proven themselves willing to corruptly recruit core state institutions in service of their own interests. In this sense, Israel’s more advanced state of democratic decay should be a warning to Americans. Neither country has suffered democratic collapse, but Israel is demonstrating more severe symptoms of a foundational anti-democratic rot both have contracted. Looking forward — to the elections next week in Israel and the November elections in the United States — it’s hard to see a cure on the horizon. Neither Israel’s Blue and White party nor the Democratic Party in the US has a plausible plan for curing the deeper causes of its country’s drift. The problems began before Netanyahu and Trump came on the scene, and they won’t disappear if they’re voted out. But they will almost certainly get worse if both men retain power. There’s another dynamic here too: If both Trump and Netanyahu triumph, the decline of one’s democracy will exacerbate the other’s. For all its military and economic might, Israel is a relatively small country. The Israeli center left has long argued against staying in the West Bank on the grounds that the rest of the world will not tolerate indefinite occupation. But in a world where right-wing revanchism is on the rise globally, the calculus changes. The new international right does not care about universal human rights; it sees Muslim immigration as a civilizational threat to their society, and Israel as being on the front lines of the West’s struggle with Islam. Politicians like Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán don’t find the Israeli right objectionable; they see it as a kind of kindred spirit in Islamophobic populist nationalism. “Geopolitics have opened possibilities for Israel to get away with undemocratic behavior and exclusionary behavior that would have been unthinkable, I think, a generation ago,” says Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and the co-author of How Democracies Die. Mark Wilson/Getty Images President Trump welcomes Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on January 27, 2020. The most important such leader is, of course, Donald Trump. As Israel’s most important ally, the United States has the capability to push Israel to moderate its behavior — or to give it freedom to indulge its worst instincts. The Trump administration has chosen the latter option, as seen by its release of a “peace plan” that gives Netanyahu nearly everything he wants. The result has been a deepening of the occupation, a right that feels free to pursue its maximalist ambitions for remaking Israel, and a prime minister unconcerned about taking a wrecking ball to Israeli democratic institutions in pursuit of his own political survival. Perhaps that’s what Israel’s decline should help Americans understand: that the consequences of its democratic backsliding are not limited to the home front. Toward the end of our very long dinner, focused on Israel’s democratic decline, Yehuda Shaul sounded a rare optimistic note. “After all of what I said, I really believe that there are fundamental liberal foundations in our society,” he told me. It was a poignant declaration. After all Shaul has been through — the persecution and the attacks — he still has faith in Israel. He still believes that Aharon Barak was right, that there could really be a state that’s both Jewish and democratic. Maybe Murad Shteiwi can get the road to Nablus reopened; maybe Omar Shakir will be allowed to work in Israel again. Maybe. But with Israeli liberal Zionists at their weakest point in the state’s history, and even the opposition to Netanyahu voicing support for annexing part of the West Bank, it’s hard to see a pathway from here to Shaul’s better future. Palestinian cars and an armored Israeli military vehicle drive past an election billboard for Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party, near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Karnei Shomron, on February 21, 2020. In Jerusalem, I visited the headquarters of B’Tselem, the leading Israeli group documenting human rights abuses in the West Bank. It was perhaps the most fortified human rights office I’ve seen in a democratic country, requiring you to pass three layers of security to get inside. This extensive security seems necessary given the way they’re targeted by the government and its allies: In 2018, a Likud MK named Oren Hazan put a photo of B’Tselem’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, on a poster that said “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” When I sat down with El-Ad, he described Israel as a country thoroughly and foundationally corrupted by the occupation — Shaul’s “liberal foundations” so rotted that it was hard to see how Israelis could dig out of it on their own. “You can talk as much as you want, when you’re trying to educate kids, of equality before the law as a basic principle,” he told me. “In reality, there’s no equality ... but for most people here, that’s totally invisible and totally normalized. Because that’s the only reality that they know.” David Vaaknin is an Israeli independent photojournalist based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
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vox.com
This AI breakthrough in antibiotics might one day save your life
US biotech companies currently lack financial incentives to make new antibiotics. Artificial intelligence could be a game-changer. | Getty Images We’re living in a dangerous post-antibiotic era. AI can help. In the time it takes you to read this article, one person in the US will die from an infection that antibiotics can no longer treat effectively. And over the course of this year, 700,000 people around the world will die from drug-resistant infections. That annual death toll could rise to 10 million by 2050, a major UN report recently warned, if we don’t make a radical change. Enter artificial intelligence. For the first time, AI researchers have figured out how to identify brand-new types of antibiotics by training a neural network to predict which molecules will have bacteria-killing properties. They’ve just published their findings in the journal Cell. The research team, based at MIT, has found a new compound that works on drug-resistant strains of M. tuberculosis, C. difficile, A. baumannii, and other pathogens when tested in mice. They named it halicin — after HAL, the AI system in 2001: A Space Odyssey — and used the word “excitingly” five times when describing their discovery in the study. It’s easy to see why: This is truly an exciting moment for both the AI community and the public health community, and it’s coming not a moment too soon. The CDC warned in November that we’re now entering a post-antibiotic era — a time when our antibiotics are becoming pretty much useless. We’ve created this crisis by overusing antibiotics in the treatment of humans, animals, and crops. The bacteria have adapted to our drugs, morphing into superbugs that can all too easily decimate our health. Big Pharma and biotech companies haven’t been creating new antibiotics because it takes many years and lots of funding to do the research and development. Most new compounds fail. Even when they succeed, the payoff is small: An antibiotic doesn’t sell as well as a drug that needs to be taken daily. So for many pharmacompanies, the financial incentive just isn’t there. Looking at this deadlock, the MIT researchers thought: What if we could use AI to ramp up the speed of antibiotic discovery and drive down the cost? And that’s exactly what they did. “I think it’s a breakthrough in a field of much unmet need,” said César de la Fuente, a bioengineer at the University of Pennsylvania who works on AI and antibiotics, and who was not involved in the MIT study. “After all, no new classes of antibiotics have been discovered for decades. This one is definitely structurally different from conventional antibiotics.” Here’s how AI found a new type of antibiotic AI excels at sifting through tons and tons of data, and antibiotic discovery requires just that. Scientists now have access to giant datasets in the form of chemical libraries, which catalog millions of known compounds. And while it may take humans years to search through so many candidates for that one miracle molecule, a neural network can do the work in days. To start, the researchers behind the Cell studytrained a neural network to identify molecules that fight E. coli bacteria by feeding it data on 2,335 molecules that we know have antibacterial properties. They then got the model to go through multiple chemical libraries containing a whopping 107 million molecules and predict which might fight E. coli effectively — while screening out the ones that resemble antibiotics we’ve already got. Finally, they took around 100 of the most promising hits and tested them physically in the lab. The molecule they dubbed halicin turned out to be excellent at killing various bacteria, not only E. coli, when tested in mice. Best of all, the mice didn’t develop resistance to halicin, even after 30 days. (Resistance to other compounds sometimes develops within a day or two.) That’s crucial. There would be no point in developing a new drug only to have it, too, instantly fall prey to resistance. The study shows how AI can help take the blinders off of scientists, who may get used to approaching a problem in a particular way. The neural network that found structurally new types of drugs did so without knowing any human-identified patterns in how various molecules tend to function. In other words, it had no preprogrammed assumptions, no limiting biases. “As a result, the model can learn new patterns unknown to human experts,” a co-author of the study, Regina Barzilay, told Nature. This isn’t the first time AI has shown promise in drug discovery. Just last month, a British startup called Exscientia claimed to have made the first AI-designed drug that will be clinically tested on humans. That drug is for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other researchers are using AI to hunt specifically for antibiotics but are using a different approach to the one favored by MIT. Rather than picking known molecules out of a database and seeing which are best at killing bacteria, Penn’s de la Fuente is using computers to actually design totally new molecules, unlike those we see in nature. “The hypothesis I have is that perhaps the natural world has run out of inspiration,” de la Fuente said. “Perhaps we’ve found most of the interesting molecules that nature has produced with useful antibiotic properties, so it’s time to look elsewhere. Most likely, the next generation of antibiotics is not going to come from nature, but from machines.” However, he added a note of caution. “AI is providing an exciting out-of-the-box approach to finding new antibiotics, but this is not going to solve the whole problem,” he said. We still need to stop the massive overuse of antibiotics that’s driving the drug resistance crisis. As for halicin, the new compound discovered by the MIT team, the next step will be to test it in clinical trials. A lot of compounds that work in mice don’t work in humans, so for now we should limit our optimism to the cautious variety. Even if halicin does turn out to be highly effective in humans, it will be years before you’re able to get it as a shelf-ready antibiotic. Still, this is a welcome and significant advance: Drug resistance is one of our worst public health nightmares, and AI is making impressive strides toward tackling it. Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter and we’ll send you a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling the world’s biggest challenges — and how to get better at doing good. Future Perfect is funded in part by individual contributions, grants, and sponsorships. Learn more here.
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vox.com
The frightening implications of a federal court’s latest immigration opinion
President Donald Trump speaks about immigration in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 16, 2019, in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong/Getty Images The opinion is a subtle attack on the rule of law. A federal appeals court handed down a decision on Wednesday that upholds a small part of the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in New York v. Barr is an outlier within the judiciary — three other federal appeals courts struck down the specific Trump administration effort at issue in New York — and there is at least one aspect of the court’s opinion that is shocking. Taken seriously, the opinion could permit the federal government to conscript every cop, prison guard, and prosecutor in the country into a massive deportation squad. Of course, the question of whether the Supreme Court will ultimately embrace this outlier view is quite uncertain. But the current Court has been unusually sympathetic to Trump’s immigration policies, so there is at least some risk that the outlier view will prevail. The New York opinion was authored by Judge Reena Raggi, a George W. Bush appointee. It was joined by Judges Ralph Winter, a Reagan appointee, and José A. Cabranes, a conservative Clinton appointee. The case primarily deals with the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, a federal program that helps fund state and local efforts to fight crime. The Trump administration required recipients of these grants to take several steps to help the administration identify and deport undocumented immigrants. Among other things, it wants grant recipients to inform the administration when certain non-immigrants are released from state prisons, and it wants federal immigration officials to be allowed to meet with incarcerated immigrants. As a constitutional matter, Congress has broad authority to impose conditions on federal grants. The bulk of the New York opinion discusses whether any existing federal law gives the attorney general the power to impose these particular conditions on Byrne Grant recipients. It concludes that the attorney general does, indeed, have this authority. That decision is debatable — again, three federal appeals courts reached different results — but the stakes surrounding this question are fairly low. As Judge Raggi’s opinion points out, the amount of money at stake here represents “less than 0.1% of [New York’s] annual $152.3 billion budget” and “less than 0.1% of [Massachusetts’] annual $38.92 billion budget.” So either state can afford to simply forgo the grant money if it does not want to help the Trump administration deport more immigrants. But Raggi’s opinion also includes a short section that would fundamentally rewrite the balance of power between the federal government and the states, at least when immigration policy is involved. That’s the section that could enable the federal government to conscript millions of state and local employees into a deportation army. The anti-commandeering doctrine, briefly explained The 10th Amendment to the Constitution provides that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Judge Raggi’s opinion suggests that there is an immigration exception to this amendment. For several decades, the Supreme Court has held that the 10th Amendment implicitly prohibits the federal government from commanding a state to take an action the state does not want to take. As the Court explained in Murphy v. NCAA (2018), the Constitution only gives the federal government a laundry list of specific powers, and “conspicuously absent from the list of powers given to Congress is the power to issue direct orders to the governments of the States.” This rule, that the federal government may not give orders directly to the states or to state employees, is known as the “anti-commandeering” doctrine. As a practical matter, it is not an especially rigid limit on federal power. If the federal government wants to enforce a particular policy, it is free to spend its own money or send its own officials to enforce that policy. As discussed above, the federal government may also offer to pay states for their assistance. But if a state adamantly refuses to help the federal government achieve a particular goal, federal officials cannot make the state do something it does not want to do. The federal government cannot, for example, order state officials to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Nor can it require states to allow federal law enforcement into state-run facilities. Judge Raggi’s suggests that the anti-commandeering doctrine does not apply to immigration Judge Raggi’s New York opinion, however, suggests that this anti-commandeering doctrine does not apply at all to matters of immigration policy. Recall that the 10th Amendment provides that certain powers are “reserved to the states.” Raggi argues that “a commandeering challenge to a federal statute depends on there being pertinent authority ‘reserved to the States.’” But, “in the immigration context ... it is the federal government that holds ‘broad,’ and ‘preeminent’ power.” Raggi suggests that, because the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the nation’s immigration policy, it also must have the power to command states to enforce that policy. But this argument fundamentally misunderstands the anti-commandeering doctrine. Though it is true that the power to set immigration policy is not “reserved to the states,” states do have the power to control their own police forces, to operate their own prisons, and to decide under what conditions state prisoners will be released from those prisons. New York is not simply a case about a disagreement between the federal government and several states regarding immigration policy. It is a case where the federal government’s legitimate authority to set national immigration policy conflicts with the states’ equally legitimate power to manage their own law enforcement agencies in the way they deem fit. And the Supreme Court’s anti-commandeering cases already tell us what happens when such a conflict arises: The federal government may set a national immigration policy, but it cannot order the states to enforce that policy. It’s worth noting that the portion of Raggi’s opinion which laid out her idiosyncratic theory of the 10th Amendment was a bit of a non sequitur from the rest of the opinion — what lawyers refer to as “dicta.” As a practical matter, that means that lower courts should not be bound by Raggi’s unusual analysis. The Supreme Court’s conservative members, moreover, have typically been protective of the anti-commandeering doctrine. Raggi’s opinion offers them a creative way to work around that doctrine, but not an especially convincing one. So it’s probably more likely than not that at least one of the five conservative justices would reject Raggi’s approach. But if the courts were to embrace Raggi’s reasoning, the consequences would be enormous. One of the most significant constraints on President Trump’s power to crack down on immigrants is the fact that he has only so many resources at his disposal. In 2016, the federal government employed about 132,000 full-time law enforcement officers, and fewer than half of these officers work in immigration or border enforcement. By contrast, there are nearly 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers working throughout the United States. If the anti-commandeering doctrine isn’t an obstacle, the federal government could potentially order every single one of these officers to target immigrants. Just as significantly, Raggi’s opinion raises serious concerns about whether the law applies equally to liberals and conservatives alike. As Justice Antonin Scalia once wrote, “when, in writing for the majority of the Court, I adopt a general rule, and say, ‘This is the basis of our decision,’ I not only constrain lower courts, I constrain myself as well.” One of the most important limits on judicial power is that judges typically must paint with broad brushes. Appellate judges, in particular, hand down general legal rules which should apply equally to all similar cases. When the Supreme Court says that the federal government cannot give orders to state officials, it announces a broad rule that should apply to all cases where the federal government tries to order around state employees. Raggi’s opinion, however, seems to create a carve-out to an important legal doctrine for the one area of policy that most concerns a Republican president. That’s a dangerous precedent in its own right. If courts can create these kinds of exceptions on the fly, they can create even more exceptions in the future. Or they can create exceptions to their own exceptions if a Democratic president pushes an immigration policy that’s opposed by red states. In that world, the rule of law is likely to become a casualty.
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A 13-year-old’s death highlights Puerto Rico’s post-Maria health care crisis
Dialysis patient Radames Cabral Trinidad, 65, visits the cemetery in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on August 22, 2018. Many of the island’s residents who have died are buried here since Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017. | Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images Hundreds of doctors have left the island, and hospitals and clinics remain shuttered. VIEQUES, Puerto Rico — Weeds and horse dung surround the Family Health Center Susana Centeno.Across the entrance of the emergency room, respirator masks and blue latex gloves are scattered from a fallen trash can. Inside, medical supplies, like cots and wheelchairs, remain abandoned in the hallways. Since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, the only hospital on the island of Vieques has been shut down. If the Trump administration had approved the funds to restore the hospital anytime over the past three years, Jessica Moraima Ventura Perez said, it could have saved her 13-year-old daughter Jaideliz Moreno Ventura, who died last month. Jaideliz first showed flu-like symptoms in early January. But with no hospital on the 52-square-mile Vieques, the Ventura family had to visit a hospital on the main island — a two-hour journey away that includes a ferry and a car ride.When she tested negative for influenza, they returned home. On the morning of January 12, however, Jaideliz began convulsing and had difficulty breathing. The local clinic, a temporary outfit with commuter specialists that was expected to fill the void of the destroyed hospital, didn’t have a respirator. Doctors had to fly her to a main island hospital in an air ambulance while family members were asked to assist with manually pumping oxygen into Jaideliz. She died on the way there. “She lived all her 13 years as if it were her last day,” Jessica told me in Spanish. “Most importantly, she had courage. She was a warrior who took on any adversity.” The community in Vieques, an island with a population of about 9,300 people, mourned the death of Jaideliz, who was known for her love of horses. On the day of her funeral, the family organized the largest horse ride in the modern history of Vieques — about four dozen people — to accompany her casket. It would have been Jaideliz’s wish to have been sent off this way, her mother said. Jose Jimenez/Getty Images Demonstrators gather to demand the resignation of Puerto Rico’s Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz during new protests in front of the capitol building in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on January 23, 2020. Jaideliz’s death is also heart-shaking to the people of Vieques for another reason: The threat of an emergency is always looming. Without a proper medical facility to save them, anyone could become the next victim. After Jaideliz’s death, members of the community started bringing out cement blocks to Vieques’s main plaza in protest. The blocks were to be used for the reconstruction of the hospital, according to Carmen Valencia, a health care activist on the island. Several of the blocks were labeled with the names of Puerto Ricans who had died since Hurricane Maria, at least 2,975 in total, including Jaideliz. “It’s a message for [the government] to be ashamed,” Valencia said. “We have to give whatever we have because they don’t do it on their own.” About two weeks after Jaideliz’s death, the Federal Emergency Management Agency finally approved $39.5 million to rebuild Vieques’s only hospital — almost three years after it had been shut down. “It is tragic that this funding was not released until after we lost one young life due to inadequate medical service on Vieques. I’ll continue watching to see that this project moves forward quickly,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), one of the key lawmakers who had been pushing the government to release aid for the Vieques hospital for months. While approval of funding for the Vieques hospital is welcome news, it points to a larger problem of access to health care in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. Jaideliz’s death isn’t an isolated incident, and people from rural areas outside the bustling San Juan area struggle to book an appointment with specialized medical professionals. Without guaranteed treatment from these specialists, health care is becoming out of reach for some in Puerto Rico. A mass exodus of health care professionals has made access to care more difficult Puerto Rico had already been losing health care professionals and medical students to the mainland US before Hurricane Maria. That number, however, increased rapidly following the natural disaster, as more than 130,000 people left the island in the past three years. By 2018, the island had lost about 15 percent of its medical specialists, according to data provided to Vox by Puerto Rico’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, leaving the island with only about 9,500 to serve the entire population of about 3.2 million. There’s been a slow increase of health professionals since — there were 10,580 in 2019 — but it’s still not enough for patients to seek timely long-term treatment, according to Dr. Wendy Matos, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico’s medical school.Currently, it can take four to six months to see professionals like neurologists, she added. Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images A shuttered diagnostics and treatment center in Vieques on August 22, 2018. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images Nurse Myrna Ilarraza checks an inventory of medicine in a trailer turned pharmacy at the Vieques hospital in Vieques, Puerto Rico, on November 27, 2017. This becomes an even bigger problem when coupled with an inefficient system muddled with bureaucracy, Matos explained: Patients will receive mandatory referrals from their primary care physician to seek a specialist; by the time the patient can book an appointment with the specialist, the referral will expire; the patient will have to go back to their primary care physician to seek another referral and repeat the entire process. Ever since Hurricane Maria, issues with insurance reimbursement have become one of the major factors behind the mass exodus of doctors, Matos said. Physicians in Puerto Rico are already paid a low wage, and when insurance companies fail to reimburse them in full, the financial woes become impossible to ignore. “That’s not fair for the physicians because they have to pay their offices and their staff,” she said. “There’s no regulatory organization or agency to oblige the insurance companies to pay for the services.” This isn’t the only sector where the island is battling with insurance companies: The New York Times estimated $1.6 billion in unpaid insurance claims since Hurricane Maria for damages to buildings such as houses, hospitals, emergency facilities, and government properties. When asked how many clinics have shuttered since Maria, Matos said it’s difficult to keep track of the numbers, especially in rural areas. In Vieques, the reconstruction of medical clinics in rural areas has remained stagnant — there simply isn’t enough money to rebuild. Puerto Rico has only received $1.5 billion of the $20 billion it was promised by Congress for relief aid. And the local government doesn’t have much money to spare considering its financial crisis (the island’s debt is about $74 billion). “It’s too many things together that are making a bad mix for the well-being — not only for the mental health,” Matos said. “We cannot have good health in these circumstances.” Even after Hurricane Maria, the government’s response to health care following natural disasters remains woefully inadequate Puerto Rico saw a delay in immediate disaster relief after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017 because FEMA was unprepared for the storm — a fact the agency acknowledged in an internal report released a year later. As a result, Puerto Ricans failed to receive the treatment they needed while hospitals were in critical conditions. After power went out, backup generators failed to work, fuel was scarce, and some medical staff simply could not get to work because of damaged infrastructure. Activists have since prepared themselves for coming natural disasters by stocking up on supplies and building a network of health professionals willing to volunteer, said Helga Maldonado, regional director of Escape, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent child and domestic abuse in Puerto Rico. These arrangements helped the community swiftly provide aid when a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit the southern part of the island on January 7, damaging more than 800 homes. Mario Tama/Getty Images People wait in line for free food and health supplies passed out by the nonprofit Let’s Give in Utuado, Puerto Rico, on December 19, 2017. However, FEMA’s and the local government’s responses to the January earthquakes — there were almost-daily aftershocks of at least magnitude 3 — have made it clear that officials have not learned from their mistakes after Hurricane Maria, Maldonado said. The government failed to provide immediate aid to hospitals, which is why about half of the clinics remain closed in the affected areas, she said. While they wait for help to restore their practices, some doctors have set up tents as makeshift clinics in parking lots. The aftermath of the recent earthquakes has added a unique health concern, Maldonado said: the spread of infectious diseases in the tent shelters, where hundreds of earthquake victims have been seeking refuge for more than a month. In a statement to Vox, the Puerto Rico Department of Health said it has educated tent inhabitants on how to prevent infectious diseases, as well as provide additional care for those that need treatment. On the ground, however, Maldonado said the department has failed to live up to its promises: “There’s so many people living together, and it’s easier to spread viruses from diseases because people are living so close together,” she said. “But during this time, the health department has been completely invisible and hasn’t stepped up.” People’s mental health needs are also being neglected, Maldonado said, even though she’s seen the trauma to be more immediate and intense than post-Hurricane Maria. “After Maria, people might not have had a roof, maybe not a window in their home, but they were still able to see their homes, and they were able to find a solution as to how they were going to fix it,” she said. “When the earthquakes came, people weren’t allowed to stay in their homes. They had to sleep outside in front of their homes. And so seeing your home and knowing that you can’t physically go in there is very traumatizing.” To fill the void of the government, volunteers have once again stepped up. Maldonado said she has a WhatsApp group filled with psychologists and social workers who are willing to travel across the island to provide psychological assistance to earthquake victims. Matos is doing her part to help rural areas with inadequate access to health care by building a telemedicine program with the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust. Under the initiative, patients will be able to remotely receive a diagnosis and treatment instructions from a doctor. A telehealth program will also teach users how to prevent diseases and look after their health in extreme situations, such as natural disasters. Meanwhile, the people of Vieques will have to take advantage of these telemedicine programs or continue traveling to the main island for the next four years as they wait for the hospital to reopen. Although it’s easy for Puerto Ricans to feel hopeless due to their lack of access to health care, Matos said she hopes the program reminds them that they are not abandoned. “Something we learned from the natural disasters is that it’s in us — the force to stand up,” she said.
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What happens when TikTok fame fades?
An AFP collaborator poses for a picture using the TikTok app on December 14, 2018, in Paris. | AFP via Getty Images A social media app has never turned kids into celebrities — or has-beens — faster. As he was entering his junior year of high school last August, 16-year-old Sam Benarroch had about 166,000 followers on TikTok. It wasn’t the kind of following that regularly turned heads in public, but it was enough to feel special, like what he created mattered to people. Back then, Sam was having fun. He was making the kind of videos where you laughed even when it wasn’t clear that there was a joke to get. The videos were weird — like, really weird; he’d put Carmex under his eyes so that it’d look like he was crying over not being able to spell the word “coconut.” He’d stack a bunch of Perrier cans on top of each other and make a little poem about it. He also invented one of TikTok’s biggest memes last spring, “Meet Rebecca.” He had hopes of turning his nascent fame into a career as a comedian, like how Bo Burnham had gone from a popular Viner to a highly respected filmmaker. Six months later, when I meet him at a coffee shop near his home in Los Angeles and ask if he still wants to work in entertainment, he laughs. “I feel like when I said that I might have been high on TikTok. Like, ‘Everybody finds me so funny!’ Now I’m reconsidering that.” Sam, who went by the username @sugarramen, doesn’t use TikTok anymore. He took a break a few months ago that has become more or less permanent, and he no longer DMs with his TikTok friends because it gives him too much anxiety. It wasn’t negative comments that drove him away — everyone had been perfectly nice! It was what happened when the views and “Likes,” which he’d amassed over the course of nearly a year after a few viral video hits, started to drop. “Not getting the numbers that you want is so harmful,” he says. “It’s scary because it’s this spiral of not ever feeling like you’re enough, and that leaves this mental scarring. It’s contributed to my mental health not being the best lately. I definitely had to get some therapy because of this.” TikTok has created a celebrity manufacturing machine that operates faster and more powerfully than any social media platform that has come before it, turning average teenagers into international stars in a matter of weeks, and sometimes days. For many kids who’ve experienced it, it’s exhilarating — until it isn’t. TikTok fatigue is real, and it’s not only limited to those who get swept up in the hype. Now, even some users who downloaded TikTok as a joke are saying they don’t know how to escape it. Here’s a pretty good example of how addictive and important TikTok is in the hierarchy of its most ardent fans’ smartphone apps: TikTok launched in the US in August of 2018, was downloaded 1.5 billion times worldwide in 2019, and is now so popular that it has to actively beg its users to log off. Through an account called @TikTokTips, the company has partnered with popular creators to share videos that remind viewers to drink water, talk to their friends, or go outside instead of spending another hour mindlessly scrolling through the app’s personalized For You page. Meanwhile, it’s also recently announced a new Family Safety Mode that allows parents to control their child’s screen time. In a statement to Vox, a TikTok spokesperson said, “For some people, learning from and laughing at the TikTok community’s creative content can be so engaging that it is easy to forget the time — so we created some fun reminders to help. Our new in-feed screen time reminders are the latest addition to our ‘You’re in Control’ safety video series which can be found in-app @TikTokTips and in our Safety Center.” TikTok isn’t only a rabbit hole of content; it’s also a gateway to large amounts of attention and (possible) riches. The ability of TikTok, more so than any other network, to catapult its users to international stardom is among its most compelling qualities. Its algorithm serves the most trending content to a wide audience, so even accounts with a handful of followers can go hugely viral within the span of a few hours. Followers are racked up far more quickly than on other platforms, so having tens of thousands of them is relatively standard for anyone who’s had even a minor hit. TikTok fame is now a common and increasingly attainable goal among kids, teens, and young adults; more than half of Americans between the ages of 13 and 38 say they’d like to be an influencer if given the opportunity, according to a survey by the data research firm Morning Consult. Many high schools have at least one TikTok-famous student. That’s the thrill of it: Anyone — even you! — could be next. Until relatively recently, though, that fame was mostly limited to the confines of the app itself. Popular users I spoke to a few months ago were primarily using their followings to promote their YouTube or Instagram accounts because barely anyone was making actual money on TikTok. Then the brands came, and with them came splashy advertising campaigns and sponsorship opportunities that allowed at least one TikToker with about 4 million followers (they chose to remain anonymous to protect the confidentiality of their contracts) to charge between $5,000 and $10,000 per post. The highest echelon of TikTokers can now charge up to $200,000, and that number is rising. Last fall, a certain kind of TikToker began to emerge as the most popular, and therefore bankable, and it wasn’t altogether a surprising one. Users were seeing more dance challenges and lip-syncing on their For You pages; suddenly, you were supposed to know the names of certain totally normal (albeit thin, white, and traditionally attractive) teenagers. Regular high schoolers like a 15-year-old in Connecticut named Charli D’Amelio and Texas-based 16-year-old Alex French saw their followings spike virtually overnight due to mechanisms that even they didn’t truly understand. One week the hype would be trained on one lucky user, and the next week it’d move to another. Some of them moved out to LA for a chance at an entertainment career and got lucrative talent deals. Most didn’t. Sam didn’t. His content didn’t match the new cool-kid standard of dancing and winking to the hottest new hip-hop songs, and watching peers rise to stardom when he’d already had a taste of what it was like was difficult. “I see how big people are getting, and obviously I want to be big too, but I don’t think the platform is for me anymore,” he says. When he began posting in October of 2018, he says, most of the content on TikTok was “goofy and cringe,” and the culture of virality as a gateway to brand deals and fame didn’t exist yet. It’s a familiar narrative for any social media app: In the early days, there’s a golden period where people are supposedly there for the “right” reasons, where the community feels authentic and pure to the people who are part of it. As more people join and brands follow, hoping for new customers and cash, the platform can start to feel tainted and mainstream, losing its edge. What is happening to TikTok happens to all digital platforms once they become important enough, like when Facebook was for sharing bumper stickers with your classmates instead of threatening democracy. It’s a familiar narrative for any social media app: In the early days, there’s a golden period where people are supposedly there for the “right” reasons Sam isn’t the only one feeling this shift. In what appears to be the first known “Why I’m leaving TikTok” essay, Cornell sophomore Niko Nguyen published a tirade against the addictive nature of the app that begins with the sentence, “This is getting out of hand. I can’t let this consume my life.” Nguyen downloaded TikTok mostly as a joke, despite feeling like he was too old for its base of impressionable middle and high school kids. Now, he argues, it’s “produced a legion of wannabe entertainers and influencers, giving the average high school student the illusion of a personal platform capable of launching them to TikTok fame.” Even the kids who do achieve the dream of so many others — the ones who get really, truly TikTok famous — must then be ready to reorient their entire lives. Mitchell Crawford, known under his username @mitchell, graduated from his Atlanta high school last year with about 15,000 TikTok followers. By the time he arrived at college that fall, he had 1.2 million, and he now has double that. Mitchell’s TikTok fame was the direct result of effort: He’d hop on different meme challenges for months before finally landing a viral hit with a video about how sophomores act when they get their driver’s license. As a longtime theater kid, Mitchell was always a bit of a ham, but it was on TikTok where he found validation as a performer. “It was so rewarding to find a space where I could be recognized for something, whether you want to call it ‘talent,’ ‘entertaining’ — whatever that thing is that I’ve always had and I’ve never been able to express,” he says. “Maybe I was funny in a friend group, but I never could fully express myself in the way I do on TikTok.” For kids who grew up knowing they were funny and creative but felt like few people acknowledged their talent, TikTok provides a feedback loop of endless possible rewards. The attention offers a window into a life where if they try hard enough, they, too, could land six-figure deals and avoid the slog of a 9-to-5 job by simply hanging out with their friends. If that’s the standard for a successful career or a good life — when it seems like that’s what everyone else is achieving — most will be left disappointed. Mitchell, however, is among the lucky TikTokers for whom things really are working out: He’s signed to Fullscreen, a management company that’s helping him land auditions for network TV shows, and he genuinely still enjoys creating content on TikTok. The fame part is what’s less fun. “It’s very isolating and separating,” he says of being the “TikTok kid” on his college campus. “It’s definitely the worst experience of my life to have people look at me so differently.” It’s affected his trust in people, too. He says that a girl he considered a best friend in high school, but who never reciprocated the sentiment, suddenly became more possessive once he got TikTok famous. “I was like, ‘Yikes.’ Then she texted me and commented on my Instagram that we’re best friends forever. To see this change in [my friends from back home] and to see this different way they were looking at me just killed me.” This is what happens to people when they get famous: In a 2009 study, celebrities were shown to experience mistrust toward others and a sense of depersonalization, leading them to separate themselves into two people: their true self and their public self. One of the study’s authors, psychologist Donna Rockwell, told me in October that the effects are worse when the fame doesn’t last. “The only thing you can become after famous, unfortunately, is a has-been,” she says. “Then you have to deal with the depression, the anxiety, and the aftereffects of having lost something.” TikTok’s fickle nature and mysterious, ever-changing algorithm means there is an ocean of users whose fame and clout are fluctuating at every moment, and that new faces are always rising as others fall away. For the majority of kids who use TikTok for fun, that isn’t a problem. But for the growing number who get caught up in a wave of attention only to watch it drift away, it can be devastating. “I wish I never got this sort of fame,” says Sam. “It turned into a job for me and it was a lot of pressure. When anything gets big like this, it becomes less for fun and more of an opportunity to grow a business and create a platform.” There’s no question that TikTok is now a viable place to grow a business; whether it can remain a place where kids like Sam can still have fun without feeling like the stakes have life-altering consequences is less certain. As long as TikTok exists, it will be full of people making bizarre, goofy content, but for it to truly stay weird it would have to deprioritize the corporations that are willing to spend lots of money to advertise there, and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. TikTok is not the first social media platform to emphasize monetization over maintaining its supposed “authenticity,” nor will it be the last. If the company wants to avoid the mistakes made by predecessors like the now-defunct Vine, it has to be a place where full-time creators can make a living, and with money comes brands that want to capitalize on it. It’s easy to argue that this is a necessary evil (nobody’s making money if there aren’t any ads!) and a natural growing pain of any sustainable social media network. It’s a turning point for TikTok, which a year ago was heralded by the paper of record as a “refreshing outlier,” free of ads, news, and aspiring models hawking sponcon. TikTok has all of those things now, but it is still an outlier in the power it has to take talented kids and give them an audience. Like so many funny, creative people who take a risk only to end up disappointed, however, Sam has career goals now that don’t include Hollywood. “Before I did TikTok, I wanted to be in marketing,” he says, “and after this whole experience, I think that that would be a good field for me.”
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