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World Edition - The Atlantic
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World Edition - The Atlantic
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The Atlantic Daily: Persistent
What We’re Following Threat Report: The Senate Intelligence Committee released two new commissioned reports that illustrate just how heavily Russian disinformation efforts targeted African-American voters in the 2016 presidential election—using strategies similar to the Trump campaign’s, writes David A. Graham. An unrelated report released Monday by foreign-policy experts says that though the current administration is lucky that it hasn’t yet faced a large-scale international crisis, a cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure and networks by a state actor ranks as one of its highest risks for 2019.Legal Lurch: A federal judge in Texas ruled last Friday that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. The case faces another trip through the courts, and even if higher courts don’t sustain the Texas ruling, uncertainty around the future of the health law will still cause turmoil for many people. But “for now, if only through inertia, Obamacare persists,” Vann R. Newkirk II writes. In other legal matters, Garrett Epps explains the issues around President Donald Trump’s confidence in a presidential self-pardon.A Heavy Truth: Looking forward to unwrapping a weighted blanket this holiday season, but unfamiliar with the origins of the fad? Weighted blankets were first designed to help children with autism-spectrum disorders cope with sensory processing challenges, writes Ashley Fetters, and the wildly popular comfort item remains a necessary clinical tool for many.— Haley Weiss and Shan WangSnapshot What happens after a U.S. president declares a “national emergency,” and what new powers are uncovered for the president after such a declaration? Elizabeth Goitein examines the possibilities, from martial law to the control of all American internet traffic. (Illustration by The Voorhes)Evening ReadFranklin Foer sat down with the New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (and likely 2020 presidential hopeful), a conversation that got at the root of Booker’s political philosophy: it’s all about love, including love for President Donald Trump. Foer: To pose the obvious and vexing question, can you find love for Donald Trump? Booker: When I gave a speech at the convention, Trump tweeted something really mean about me, veiledly dark. You know, almost a weird kind of attack on me. Foer: Who would expect that from a Trump tweet? Booker: Then next morning, I’m out with Chris Cuomo on CNN and he puts up the tweet. I think he was trying to get a rise out of me. He goes, “What do you have to say to Donald Trump?” I said, “I love you Donald Trump. I don’t want you to be my president; I’m going to work very hard against you. But I’m never going to let you twist me and drag me down so low as to hate you.” Foer: But not hating Donald Trump is different than actually finding love for Donald Trump. Booker: My faith tradition is love your enemies. It’s not complicated for me, if I aspire to be who I say I am. I am a Christian American. Literally written in the ideals of my faith is to love those who hate you. I don’t see why that’s so shocking. But that doesn’t mean that I will be complicit in oppression. That doesn’t mean I will be tolerant of hatred. Something I talked about in my New Hampshire speeches and New Hampshire house parties is the example of Lindsey Graham and what he said during the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings. One side might call it a rant, one side might call it a noble exposition. But I have to say, I was not happy about it. Obviously he made me angry; obviously I disagreed with what he was saying. But just a few weeks later, he and I are on the phone to the White House. He is defending one of the provisions I want in the criminal-justice-reform bill that’s heading to the floor now, effectively ending juvenile solitary confinement. He was a partner with me. Read on.What Do You Know … About Education?1. Last month, the Stevens Point branch of this U.S. university announced plans to stop offering six liberal-arts majors: geography, geology, French, German, two- and three-dimensional art, and history.Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.2. In a worrying higher-education phenomenon known as this, high-achieving high-school students do not attend the most selective colleges their qualifications suggest they could.Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.3. Now 20 years old, the book The Care and Keeping of You, published by American Girl, is a beloved head-to-toe guide for girls about what topic?Scroll down for the answer, or find it here. Answers: University of Wisconsin / Undermatching / Puberty Dear TherapistEvery week, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions in the Dear Therapist column. This week, an anonymous reader from New Jersey writes in: A few years ago, my sister stopped giving my children and me birthday gifts. I continued to send her and her children gifts. For their 14th and 16th birthdays, however, I stopped in response. The gifts themselves are not the issue—it’s totally fine to stop sending gifts (and none of us really needs anything anyway), but I'm wondering what prompted this change since she still sends gifts to my other sister’s kids. She’s never said anything about it. We did have an argument four years ago, but that was resolved and everything has seemingly been fine for years. But I wonder if she has some issue with me that I’m not aware of. Should I ask her about it? I don’t want her to think she needs to send my kids gifts. That's beside the point. I'm just wondering if there was some message I missed that I should address. Or should I just let it go? Read Lori’s response, and write to her at dear.therapist@theatlantic.com. Looking for our daily mini crossword? Try your hand at it here—the puzzle gets more difficult through the week. Concerns, comments, questions, typos? Email Shan Wang at swang@theatlantic.com Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up.
World Edition - The Atlantic
The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Cuomo’s Joint Effort
Written by Olivia Paschal (@oliviacpaschal) and Madeleine Carlisle (@maddiecarlisle2)Today in 5 Lines Republican Senator Lamar Alexander announced that he would not seek reelection in 2020, setting up Tennessee for its second Senate election in two years after Republican Marsha Blackburn won her seat in November. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explicitly said for the first time that he supports legalizing recreational marijuana in New York and announced that it would be one of his legislative priorities in early 2019. Two new reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee detail how Russian trolls attempted to depress voter turnout among African Americans in the 2016 campaign. Former FBI Director James Comey testified in a closed-door hearing in front of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, after already testifying for six hours earlier this month. A former business partner of Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national-security adviser, was charged with conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign country after lobbying to have a Turkish cleric extradited from the U.S. Today on The Atlantic The World in 2019: According to foreign-policy experts, this is what lies in wait for the United States—and the world—in the year to come. (Uri Friedman) The Future of Obamacare: The landmark health-care legislation was struck down in a Texas court this weekend. Here’s what comes next. (Vann R. Newkirk II) Love Language: In an interview with Franklin Foer, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker talks about his faith, his potential run for president, and why he’s “leaning even more into” love—even for Trump. Pardon Me, Sir: What would happen if Trump tried to pardon himself? Garrett Epps breaks down the possible scenarios. The Future of Farming: A small-dollar provision in the new farm bill strengthens programs for farmers outside the current dominant, aging, white demographic. (Olivia Paschal) SnapshotFurniture to be moved sits in the hall outside congressional offices weeks before the end of the term, as dozens of outgoing and incoming members of Congress move into and out of Washington. (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)What We’re ReadingHow to Win in 2020: The Democrats’ best chance to take the White House is to put forward an economic populist, argues David Leonhardt. (The New York Times)‘A Trump Personality Cult’: The death of The Weekly Standard marks a turning point in not only conservative media, but also conservative ideology. (Seth Masket, Pacific Standard) Testing the Waters: Julian Castro, the former secretary of housing and urban development, is thinking about running for president. Could he have a shot at turning Texas blue? (Ryan C. Brooks, BuzzFeed News)Who’s to Blame?: Paul Ryan is on the conservative speaking circuit blaming everybody but himself for the current state of American politics, writes Tara Golshan. (Vox) We’re always looking for ways to improve The Politics & Policy Daily. Concerns, comments, questions, typos? Let us know anytime here.
World Edition - The Atlantic
How a Therapy Blanket Became a Must-Have Holiday Gift
Donna Chambers first heard about weighted blankets when her grandson was diagnosed with autism. It was just before his third birthday, and someone Chambers knew recommended giving him a heavy quilt with plastic pellets sewn in to help him relax and fall asleep. “It was like, somebody’s grandma was making them,” Chambers remembers. “They said, ‘You can talk to this lady, and she can make you one.’” She looked online and found a few other options; mostly, though, she saw an opportunity. She contacted a friend from her church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who could sew: “I was like, ‘I want to make one of these blankets. Do you think you could help me?’”So when Chambers started her weighted-blanket company, SensaCalm, in 2008, she knew she hadn’t invented the device. Rather, she’d joined a tiny cottage industry of weighted-blanket makers—often small companies with names like Therapy Shoppe, DreamCatcher, and Salt of the Earth Weighted Gear that sold blankets alongside products like weighted vests, shoulder wraps, and lap pads. Research suggests that deep pressure on the body can calm the nervous system. One parent of a 12-year-old with Asperger’s wrote in a heartfelt product testimonial that her son’s first night with a weighted blanket was his best night of sleep ever.In the past decade, most of Chambers’s business has come from word-of-mouth evangelism between parents of kids with special needs. SensaCalm grew from just Chambers and her friend to a staff of 30, and the company’s year-end order total has doubled every year of its existence—except for this year. Now, for the first time, SensaCalm is looking at smaller sales than expected. Similarly, the Nebraska-based Salt of the Earth has had to reduce its workforce from eight women who worked at home, some while homeschooling their kids, to just two. Chambers and Salt of the Earth’s owner, Annie Peters, both know why: Starting in late 2017, “You couldn’t go on the internet or turn on the TV without seeing those beautiful ads,” Peters says.Last year, the best-selling Gravity Blanket parlayed a mega-successful Kickstarter campaign into a wildly popular product: one of the first weighted blankets marketed to the general public. Made in Shenzhen, China, and sold for $249 by the products wing of the New York-based Futurism media company, Gravity Blankets had grossed some $15 million in sales by May of 2018. Last month, Time magazine named “blankets that ease anxiety”—the Gravity Blanket and other popular models that have hit the market since—one of the Best Inventions of 2018.When I asked Donna Chambers what reading that felt like for her, she laughed politely. “Frankly, it was a little bit infuriating,” she admits. Not all weighted-blanket companies have been hurt by the sudden influx of competitors; Mosaic Weighted Blankets, for example, founded in 2012, has seen its sales increase this year. But to people like Chambers, the triumphant story of the Gravity Blanket and many of its new contemporaries sounds more like a story of appropriation—a story about the sale of the special-needs community’s promise of life-changing comfort to the meditation app-using, Instagram-shopping masses.Weighted blankets have been used as sleep aids and calming aids in special-needs communities for years. Some of the earliest implementations date back to 1999, when the occupational therapist Tina Champagne began using weighted blankets to help some mental-health patients. Autism researchers like Amanda Richdale at La Trobe University in Australia estimate that up to 80 percent of children with autism-spectrum disorders have sleep problems—which often stem from sensory issues, like sensitivity to particular textures grazing the skin, according to Lindsey Biel, the author of Sensory Processing Challenges: Effective Clinical Work with Kids & Teens. Weighted blankets tend to decrease movement and thus friction. Many special-needs individuals also tend to experience over-arousal of the nervous system, Biel says, and in recent years, the blankets have been implemented to help veterans with PTSD symptoms sleep through the night without panic attacks or night terrors.[Read: Why do we need to sleep?]Peters she told me that in her 15 years making weighted blankets, “I’ve had people call me and just go on and on about what a difference it makes to have their child sleep all night. Because then the parent can sleep all night. Then they can cut back on meds. The kids don’t go to school under [the influence of] drugs or groggy.”But companies like SensaCalm and Salt of the Earth have largely been relegated to footnotes in the sensational success story of the Gravity Blanket and the new generation of mass-market weighted blankets it has spawned. They get mentioned only passingly, and rarely by name, as a brief nod to the blanket’s origins.I first encountered a weighted blanket out in the world sometime around 2011. A close friend of mine in college got one as a gift from her boyfriend—still, in my opinion, the greatest boyfriend gift I have ever witnessed—and soon all of our friends had tried it out. We were dazzled. What was this heavenly object, and how did being under it make us feel so sleepy, so fast?I thought about the blanket on and off for the next five years; fondly, the way you might think about someone you met just once who enchanted you and then vanished into your past. Finally, in the late months of 2016, at the low point of a bout of wintertime loneliness, I decided to buy my own, from the company my friend had recommended to me—SensaCalm. But when I looked at the website and read the glowing testimonials from parents of kids with autism-spectrum disorders, I got a weird feeling. I don’t have autism or a sensory disorder. This product was not marketed to me—and if I were to buy one of these blankets, and then inevitably preach the gospel of weighted blankets to my non-special-needs friends, would we be hijacking their purpose? Worse, would our custom-blanket orders knock theirs further down the list and make their wait times longer?It’s hard to argue that the proliferation of weighted blankets is a bad thing, from an overall wellbeing standpoint—the feeling of being held or swaddled is, after all, known to have a calming effect on all types of people throughout life. One could even argue that the weighted-blanket craze has helped normalize needing help getting to sleep at night or feeling calm. Biel, the occupational therapist, says it was “no surprise to see this wonderful and potentially powerful calming tool reach the general population.” Peters, the Salt of the Earth Weighted Gear owner, agrees: “They’re an amazing thing, and I’m just glad they’re out there.”Read: The exceptional cruelty of a no-hugging policyStill, the mainstreaming of the weighted blanket seems to imply a conflating of chronic anxiety or sensory issues with feelings of stress—or, perhaps more ominously, the repackaging of a coping strategy that originated in a marginalized community as a profitable relaxation fad at a moment when people feel particularly stressed.The economic storyline in the weighted blanket’s rise to mass-market popularity is, all told, an unremarkable one, and these small-business owners know it: That a company with ample resources (and savvy branding strategies) might shift profit away from its rivals with less and flood the market with even more competition should surprise nobody.But the precise moment of the Gravity Blanket’s arrival may have also had something to do with its success. Mike Grillo, the co-founder of the Gravity Blanket, told Time that while he was aware he didn’t invent the weighted blanket, he credited his product’s success to its look and feel (more luxurious than some of its predecessors, Time explained) and to good timing. “The 2016 election was still fresh in people’s minds,” he told the magazine. People were anxious and looking for relief.Indeed, it’s not uncommon to attribute the new popularity of weighted blankets to a rise in feelings of stress and worry in the United States. In early 2018, Jia Tolentino wrote in a New Yorker essay titled “The Seductive Confinement of a Weighted Blanket in an Anxious Time” that “It struck me as not coincidental that Gravity’s Kickstarter success arrived deep into a period when many Americans were beginning their e-mails with reflexive, panicked condolences about the news.”When I spoke to Grillo for this story, he characterized the surging popularity of weighted blankets as just one piece of the recent cultural obsession with sleep and its role in a wholesome, healthy lifestyle. At Futurism, he says, “A lot of the stuff the readers were gravitating towards were like, the science of sleep, and the science of meditation and mindfulness. So we started thinking of things we could build in that space.”Grillo says he was aware that weighted blankets had been popular tools in populations with specialized needs. If it helps these populations, he figured, maybe it can help the rest of us, too. The research they drew on, he says, “was conducted in these smaller patient populations—kids with autism, adults with PTSD, [people] in psychiatric hospitals going through very acute bouts of anxiety or psychosis.” But while he likes to emphasize that there’s science to support the benefits of weighted blankets, the company also wanted to make a few changes from the existing models (a few of which they bought and tested and found to be “really dope”) to appeal to a broader customer base: “We don’t want to make it feel too clinical for our customer.”There are moments, though, when the mass-market weighted blanket seems to emphasize its clinical pedigree. While the most popular way for newer manufacturers to describe the appeal of their product is something along the lines of “it feels like getting a hug,” the more sciencey-sounding benefits are a close second: The Kickstarter campaign for the Reviv blanket explains to readers that that feeling of being hugged “increases serotonin and melatonin, while decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.” Baloo Living writes on its website that “the deep pressure touch soothes the nervous system, alleviates stress and anxiety, and increases serotonin production.” Other brands, meanwhile, like to claim that their products can flat-out “reduce anxiety,” as Amazon-selling brand YnM does in a graphic.As the New Yorker noted, Gravity got “busted” early in its Kickstarter campaign by the health-news website STAT for claiming it could “treat a variety of ailments,” like insomnia, PTSD, OCD, and ADHD. The language on the Kickstarter page was changed to say that it could be “used” for those ailments, and then removed altogether. The Gravity Blanket website still claims that the blanket “increases serotonin and melatonin levels and decreases cortisol levels—improving your mood and promoting restful sleep at the same time. All without ever filling a prescription.”Chambers reassures me that she’s always had customers who didn’t have special needs but caught on to how nice a weighted blanket could feel; she doesn’t seem to believe any person or kind of person necessarily deserves the benefits of a weighted blanket more than anyone else. Still, she says the current weighted-blanket fad has altered the longer-established weighted-blanket industry, and maybe permanently. “We’ve always had competitors,” she says. “There's always been room for all of us. But Gravity Blanket was kind of a whole different thing.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
What Happens to Obamacare Now?
Federal open enrollment season rarely, if ever, seems to go smoothly. In 2017, President Donald Trump’s administration cut the budget for Affordable Care Act advertisement by 90 percent, and slashed the window to sign up for new health insurance plans by 15 days. In a scramble to counter those rollbacks, President Barack Obama himself had to cut an ad promoting his signature policy achievement.The year before that, misinformation and anxiety proliferated in advance of then-president-elect Trump’s promises to repeal Obamacare. And even before that, the annual sign-up season wasn’t too far removed from catastrophic glitches and poor recruitment among young adults. All those disturbances are reminders that while the bulk of the massive Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, it is still a rather delicate experiment.This year’s open enrollment was no different. The window, which ended at midnight Pacific time at the end of December 15, was marked by the same old disorder, as well as by the loss of the individual requirement to purchase insurance—which Congress essentially repealed in 2017, effective in 2019. But the biggest disturbance came right at the end, when on December 14 a federal judge ruled that the entire law was unconstitutional. Anybody still considering signing up for insurance during open enrollment was faced with a number of uncertainties. What does the ruling mean, and will Obamacare even still be around to cover people in the future?The ruling probably comes as a shock to voters, who just experienced the first election cycle in almost a decade when Republicans didn’t necessarily run with a promise to repeal Obamacare. In fact, Republicans often ran on vague promises to “protect” pre-existing conditions, and ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid picked up traction across the country, even in deep red states. In 2018, across the political spectrum voters came out in favor of the law.Yet, even as the GOP campaigned on a more ambivalent position regarding the substance of the Affordable Care Act, much of the Republican brain trust and the Trump administration were involved in another concerted effort to dismantle the entire law. In a lawsuit joined by 19 Republican-led state governments, Texas prosecutors argued that because Congress removed the penalty for failure to purchase insurance—in essence, voiding one of the pivotal pieces of the Affordable Care Act— the rest of the intricate pieces of policy in the law that depend on that provision must also be voided.Instead of defending the law, the Trump Justice Department agreed with a good portion of that analysis in briefs. On Friday, district court Judge Reed O’Connor agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument, saying the Act “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power,” and that since he could not go through the bill and find out which pieces could be severed safely, the entire law must be thrown out.That argument was always considered far-fetched, and for both people seeking insurance and those keeping score on the political side, the upshot is: it still probably is. O’Connor’s decision rests on three fundamentally controversial and perhaps tenuous interpretations of the law that may be rejected as the case is considered in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, or by the Supreme Court, should it get that far.The first is whether the plaintiffs even had standing to file a suit. According to a press release from the American Medical Association, which filed a brief in favor of the ACA: “The plaintiffs do not have standing because they have not suffered any real, concrete injury. They do not have to pay a penny in tax if they choose not to obtain health insurance. That unavoidable fact makes clear that the plaintiffs simply seek to change the federal government’s health care policy through the courts, rather than through the legislature.”The second issue is whether Congress even repealed the individual mandate provision at all. Since Republicans in the Senate this year could not put together a filibuster-proof majority, they used a procedural move related to Congress’s tax powers to zero out the tax penalty for the individual mandate, a move that only required a majority vote. Under that “reconciliation” provision, Congress cannot make major policy changes, but can change items that relate to the budget. The ACA’s defenders claim that this move did not actually remove the mandate, but just made the penalty zero dollars.The third issue before Judge O’Connor was the matter of whether the constituent pieces of the Affordable Care Act are “severable,” even if Congress did invalidate one piece of it. The principle of severability dictates whether courts can strike down whole laws if pieces of them are removed by legislation. According to law professors Jonathan H. Adler and Abbe R. Gluck in an op-ed in The New York Times: “The principle presumes that, out of respect for the separation of powers, courts will leave the rest of the statute standing unless Congress makes clear it did not intend for the law to exist without the challenged provision.” In the view of pro-ACA lawyers, Congress’s very choice to pursue reconciliation indicates that the body did not intend to strike down the entire ACA at all.For the immediate and near-term future, all this means nothing much is changing for Obamacare. O’Connor did not issue an injunction against any part of the law, likely expecting an appeal and stay from the Democratic state attorneys general defending the ACA. Really, as the lawsuit barrels toward the higher courts and as partisan battle lines are drawn around it, the resolution to this drama could be far off, meaning most of the uncertainty is in the future.But as the past few years have illustrated, future uncertainty is a key shaping agent of how such a complicated law plays out today. As predicted, open enrollment this year started out weak, with the federal HealthCare.Gov portal reporting a 12 percent drop off in sign-ups through December 8.While some of that drop-off is likely good news to some ACA advocates, since it reflects the spread of the Medicaid expansion to several states, some of the drop-off is undeniably connected to the loss of the individual mandate and the atmosphere of confusion that emanates from the White House. Especially for younger, healthier participants, Obamacare marketplaces rely on late surges to make a good deal of the final volume of sign-ups. With an adverse, complicated decision coming on the eve of the deadline, it’s unclear if that traditional surge came through.As a consequence, some Democratic officials are lobbying for an expansion of open enrollment. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy called on “the Trump Administration to extend this year’s enrollment period to allow us the chance to do just that, and to make it clear that the Affordable Care Act and its protections remain the law,” citing “disarray” from O’Conor’s decision as a reason.Of course, the “disarray” suits President Trump, who has made it clear since his inauguration that both official attempts to repeal the law and bureaucratic efforts to derail it are wins for his priorities. In the wake of the loss of the individual mandate and chilled open-enrollment numbers, O’Connor’s decision itself—regardless of its chances in higher courts—is a victory for Trump. In the absence of the legislative or even popular will to repeal Obamacare, maximizing chaos will do just fine for Trump’s agenda.The evidence available indicates that that chaos is degrading Obamacare, and is negatively affecting people’s ability to find affordable coverage. Despite a strong economy that has buoyed Trump politically and reduced poverty, in 2018 the number of uninsured children rose. That’s not a small deal. Even beyond the Affordable Care Act, one of the less ambiguous public-policy triumphs of the past 50 years has been the precipitous and steady decline in uninsured children, a decline essentially broken only by the Great Recession of the last decade. This spike is an omen that could shape the health-policy landscape in years to come.For now, if only through inertia, Obamacare persists. It is a true policy juggernaut, one that has survived a concerted effort to repeal it that spawned one of the strongest Republican wave elections in history and two years of spear-brandishing from conservatives when they seized control of every lever of federal power in 2016.It has grown from a controversial law that broke up dinner parties and bipartisan friendships to a background feature of American life that most people just accept as an overall positive layer of the bureaucracy. The ACA, at this point, is perhaps too big to be taken down in a single blow, as the GOP intends to do in Texas v. Azar. But, as Trump knows, with enough effort it is certainly not too big to fail.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Russian Trolls and the Trump Campaign Both Tried to Depress Black Turnout
Perhaps the most striking takeaway from a pair of new reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee is the consistency and persistence with which Russian trolls sought to depress the black vote in the 2016 election.That workers for the Internet Research Agency—a “troll farm” with close ties to the Kremlin—targeted African Americans has been clear for more than year, emerging in a series of reports in fall 2017, and then receiving new attention in special counsel Robert Mueller’s February 2018 indictment of the IRA and several associated individuals.But the two reports, commissioned from Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project and New Knowledge, provide an overwhelming amount of detail and information. There’s a remarkable amount of crossover between the Russians’ tactics and what the Trump campaign said it was doing late in the 2016 race.[Read: Trump's ‘voter suppression operation’ targets black voters.]According to the Oxford team, African Americans were the single group targeted most heavily by the IRA—and it wasn’t even a close margin.“Messaging to African Americans sought to divert their political energy away from established political institutions by preying on anger with structural inequalities faced by African Americans,” the report states. “These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of the African American community was to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead.”These messages were often explicit, talking at length about how not voting was the right step, and attacking Clinton for past statements, such as a 1990s comment about “superpredators.”The New Knowledge report concurs, noting that “the most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities.” A sprawling visualization in the report shows the extent and interlinkage between various parts of the push—the graphic is such a mess of spaghetti ties that it’s almost impossible to track individual connections, which seems like the point. New Knowledge, too, highlights the extensive voter-suppression efforts.Convincing African Americans to stay home was a staple of the Trump campaign’s approach, too. Barack Obama had twice won the presidency by motivating black turnout. Trump’s path to victory hinged on getting as many white voters to come out as possible while hoping the Obama coalition stayed home—or convincing them to do so.Trump enacted a crude version of this from the stump, attacking Clinton and Democrats for their treatment of black voters, but only making peremptory, sloppy attempts at outreach (“What the hell do you have to lose?”), while continually treating minorities as an other. Meanwhile, his campaign was conducting a more elaborate version electronically, as BusinessWeek reported in late October 2016: Instead of expanding the electorate, [campaign chairman Steve] Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Reporters Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg described an animation that a staffer had produced with cartoonish characters, reenacting Clinton’s “superpredator” remark. As officials told them, this was part of the attempt to convince black voters to stay home.At the time of the story, this seemed amateurish to many observers—the Clinton campaign was believed to be in possession of a fearsome data machine, while the Trump team was messing around with memes. Then came the election results, with Clinton’s shocking loss. In retrospect, it’s clear just how powerful this kind of lo-fi influence operation can be, even if it’s impossible to calculate the specific impact it had on the election.The new reports don’t just show the scale of the Russian efforts—they also show how similar the content and techniques of the IRA and the Trump campaign were. Trump’s critics have speculated about possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian trolls, but so far—despite the many Trump associates who had contacts with Russian officials, no evidence has appeared connecting the campaign to the IRA.[Read: The history of Russian involvement in America’s race wars.]In fact, it’s easy to imagine that the Russians were simply making informed choices based on what the Trump campaign was doing publicly. As any independent expenditure group can attest, being banned from communicating with a campaign doesn’t even begin to prevent you from discerning that campaign’s message and amplifying. Moreover, the Russians wouldn’t have needed much originality to hit on exploiting racial divisions within America, since, as Julia Ioffe has written, that was a well-established Soviet tactic long before Trump or Facebook.But the congruency of the Trump and Russian efforts is notable, even in the absence of any coordination, because the president continues to deny—contra most members of his own administration—that the Russians even intervened in the 2016 election at all, much less to aid him. His denials are incredible, in the literal sense of the word, but the new evidence of how closely Russian tactics mirrored his own makes the way Moscow tried to help elect Trump even clearer.The help could have had a powerful influence on the election results, too. New Knowledge concludes that Russian operations were more successful in penetrating the black community than any other group that was targeted. And prior analyses have found that declining black turnout in key states that Trump narrowly won, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, could have made the difference. Clinton would likely have struggled with black voters even without the IRA and the Trump campaign helping to depress turnout, but it turns out those memes weren’t nearly as childish, or as low-tech, as they seemed.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Saturday Night Live Sketch That Sums Up All Online Discourse
Comedy often thrives in specificity, and a sketch that came late in the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live was the perfect example, mining laugh after laugh from the minutiae of the band Weezer’s discography. Three couples, all neighbors, get together for dinner, and Weezer’s recent cover of Toto’s “Africa” randomly comes on the playlist. Two guests, played by Leslie Jones and the episode’s host, Matt Damon, have a very strong opinion about the song, and about Weezer in general. The other four barely care about the argument that ensues, but they are suddenly a captive audience to a screaming argument.Damon, wearing black-framed glasses, gives a spot-on performance as the self-satisfied nerd whose opinions are absolute, whether people like it or not. The equally brilliant Jones initially entertains his defense of the band’s more recent output, before hitting him with: “Real Weezer fans know that they haven’t had a good album since Pinkerton in ’96!” Their purist vs. completist showdown continues, first in good fun, before descending into charged personal insults. “Oh, I’m sorry! You’re dumb!” Jones yells. “No offense, but burn in hell,” Damon shoots.If you know Weezer’s back catalog intimately, every silly reference made in the sketch lands, but if you don’t, it’s still effective. Because more than anything this is a sketch about the way some people discuss almost anything these days—with feigned politeness immediately escalating to personal cruelty. Though part of the joke was that this Weezer disagreement was playing out at a dinner party, I was immediately reminded of so much online discourse, where part of the point is coming up with the most extreme reaction possible. “No offense … but drink my blood,” Damon tells Cecily Strong, playing another of the guests, when she tries to intervene.The biggest joke of all? Weezer is, at this point, the epitome of Gen X dad rock, a pleasant enough group that has been plugging away for 26 years to mostly middling critical returns. Most people, like the other four dinner guests in the sketch, would be hard-pressed to summon anything but the gentlest opinion on the band. But once Damon and Jones’s critical discourse begins, it quickly descends into polarized hot takes and name-calling. “Weezer? I didn’t even know they were still a band,” muses Beck Bennett. “Is this a thing people care about?” asks Heidi Gardner. “No. No it isn’t,” replies Kenan Thompson.The sketch tapped into Matt Damon’s skill for exhibiting a particularly privileged white-bread kind of aggression, which SNL also deployed to start this season by casting Damon as Brett Kavanaugh. Damon returned, briefly, to that role in the show’s political “cold open” sketch, which imagined a world where Donald Trump wasn’t president, à la It’s a Wonderful Life. But some of the best sketches in Damon’s episode tapped into something warmer and more empathetic, a nice balance to the cartoonish fury of the Weezer showdown.A digital short, titled “Best Christmas Ever,” mocked the typical chaos of the holiday by juxtaposing scenes of Damon and Strong as a happy couple saluting the day with scenes of the stressful reality that came with hosting their family. “Cop Christmas” took the tradition of hard-drinking fellas busting each other’s chops at the bar to wince-inducing extremes, but the underlying gag was how much the assembled characters wanted to declare their love for each other. Damon’s opening monologue was surprisingly heartfelt and lovely without sacrificing jokes, recollecting his experiences watching the show as a kid with his dad, who passed away a year ago.If you just looked at the political sketches of Saturday Night Live in 2018, you might get the impression the show was a step behind the times, struggling to find angles on President Trump beyond simple buffoonery and stunt casting of celebrities like Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. The show has also been somewhat overshadowed by the uneasy tabloid drama of Pete Davidson’s personal life and his penchant for tasteless jokes. But its non-political sketch writing has been strong this year, and some of its newer cast members, like Gardner and Chris Redd, show tremendous promise as potential stars going forward. This Christmas episode thrived when it was tapping into absurd humor and gentler, more humanistic slice-of-life material. Given the daily fury of the real world, it might be a smart direction for the show to lean into in 2019.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Stephen Miller as MAGA’s Angry Id
Stephen Miller, President Trump’s 33-year-old speechwriter and senior adviser, is a true believer. He was an immigration hardliner before Trump descended the golden escalator and made anti-immigration sentiment the hallmark of his campaign, and his presidency. Miller has been a right-wing provocateur since high school, according to a profile earlier this year in The Atlantic. He’s made appearances on national television since his college years at Duke University, where he was an early defender of the lacrosse players accused of rape in an incident that divided the campus, and the nation, before the case fell apart. Yet he’s rarely seen on TV anymore. This weekend, in his first Sunday-show appearance in nearly a year, he reminded viewers why: The id of MAGA is just too angry.Read: [Trump’s Right-Hand Troll]The last time Miller went on a Sunday show was January when, he fought with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who was trying to ask him about episodes from Michael Wolff’s factually challenged book. Miller only wanted to talk about what a “political genius” his boss was, rehashing his 2016 election win. When Tapper interrupted Miller’s musing with the comment that the president was probably watching and liked what Miller said, Miller objected to Tapper’s “snide remark” and launched another attack on CNN as “condescending.” Miller tried to tell a story about Trump spontaneously coming up with brilliant lines for a speech, but he had already told that story. Tapper said he had “wasted enough of my viewers’ time” and cut off the interview as Miller tried to extend an argument. During the commercial break, Miller kept berating Tapper. The host retorted, “This is the reason they don’t put you on TV. OK? This is the reason.” Miller reportedly refused to leave the set and was escorted out by security personnel.On Sunday, he started with an emphatic “merry Christmas” to host Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation. Miller is Jewish, but his firm greeting makes sense in light of his college opinion columns about anti-Christmas bias, including a 2006 piece titled, “Attack of the secularist Scrooges.” He tapped his fingers against his other hand, as if impatient for the conversation’s end before it began.[Read: Stephen Miller’s Biggest Gamble Yet]Brennan asked first about the Texas judge’s ruling that found Obamacare unconstitutional given changes in last year’s tax law. Miller delivered the key GOP talking point first, emphasizing that “there’s no change immediately in Obamacare.” He pivoted to ask whether Democrats would work with Republicans on a plan to replace their party’s crown jewel. Echoing another talking point, he accurately pointed out that 80 percent of people who paid the fine under Obamacare’s individual mandate made $50,000 a year or less. He spoke in a monotone of long sentences, as if reading from a script.Then with a spin that defied common sense, he blamed the Affordable Care Act for “the 28 million Americans who because of Obamacare still don't have access to health insurance.” He was criticizing a Democratic law that helped reduce the number of uninsured from 44 million in 2013 to 27 million three years later because it didn’t achieve total coverage.Still, he was staying calm. When he said that “Obamacare has always been unconstitutional,” he let Brennan interrupt him to clarify that the judge’s ruling last week hinged on the GOP tax-cut law’s elimination of the fine for the uninsured. In 2012 the Supreme Court had upheld Obamacare in 2012 in a narrow decision written by Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts that classified the fine as a tax and found the law constitutional because of Congress’ taxing authority; with the fine removed, the federal judge in Texas ruled that the rest of the law cannot stand alone.But when Brennan tried to ask a follow-up question about a potential Obamacare replacement, Miller talked over her. The transcript starts to look like a script for Whose Line Is It Anyway as he interrupts her. Brennan then turned to Miller’s passion, immigration. She asked who bears responsibility for the death of Jakelin Caal, the seven-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody about nine hours after she and her father were detained in the New Mexico desert. Miller began with an expression of sympathy before calling her death “a painful reminder of the ongoing humanitarian tragedy that is illegal immigration and the misery that it spreads.”He blamed the large number of migrant families on “left-wing, activist judicial rulings that incentivize the most vulnerable populations to come to our country.” He was apparently referring to the 1997 Flores settlement, which sets limits on how long the government can detain migrant children, and a related 2015 ruling. He deployed the dark, dramatic language for which he is known, as in Trump’s “American Carnage” inaugural speech: “Smuggling organizations profit off death and misery … vicious, vile organizations … grotesque … heinous, smuggling organizations.”Miller’s volume grew louder, his voice deeper and his tone more aggressive. He nearly shouted at Brennan about “a reckless nationwide injunction on the President's order putting thousands of lives at risk.” To get in a question about the border wall, Brennan had to interject repeatedly and lean across the table. Once he trailed off, she asked whether Trump would allow a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t give him enough funding for the wall. Miller said the president is “absolutely” willing, as Trump himself made clear last week in his televised Oval Office argument with top congressional Democrats.Read: [A Brawl With the President on Live TV]“This is a very fundamental issue,” Miller thundered. “At stake is the question of whether or not the United States remains a sovereign country.” As he lectured Brennan on costs of heroin smuggled into the country, he held up his hand to chop the air for emphasis. When Brennan seized the opening and tried to ask whether there will be a government shutdown over Christmas, he repeatedly talked over her as she finished her shutdown question:Miller: As you yourself acknowledged, the largest increases in illegal immigration are categories that are incentivized by loopholes in our laws and loopholes created by activist left-wing judges including--Brennan: I didn't say that.Miller: --the district court judge who enjoined--Brennan: I said there are a record number happening right now in the Trump administration.Miller: --in the categories that correspond with these loopholes ...“Stephen,” Brennan said, announcing the interview’s end. “It’s good to have you in studio.”He’d spoken in long, scripted paragraphs, as though he were reading from a teleprompter. He’d practically shouted his answers in a one-on-one interview, as if he were plowing ahead with a speech despite a noisy heckler rather than engaging in a conversation. He’d come across as furious, rather than passionate. But then again, there was only one person watching who really mattered.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Against Trump Visiting the Troops
On Sunday, The New York Times published “Put Down the Golf Clubs, Visit the Troops,” an editorial calling on President Trump to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and visit Americans in a conflict zone, even if he is scared for his safety, or very busy, or disagrees with the wars in question and doesn’t want to be associated with leading them.Doing so is “about those who are close to the enemy and far from home, following orders and serving a cause greater than themselves,” the newspaper argues, adding that a visit “isn’t just about raising morale and smiling for a few photos, though that can mean more to a young grunt than most civilians may realize. Americans want a president who isn’t afraid to look at and reflect upon the consequences of his decisions,” hence presidential visits to wounded vets and military graves.The editorial’s conclusion: “I’m here on behalf of your commander in chief and all of the American people to pay a debt of honor and respect and gratitude to each and every one of you for your service and your sacrifice,” Vice President Mike Pence told soldiers and airmen at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan during a surprise visit in late December last year. This holiday, it would be heartening to see the president himself deliver the same sentiment to America’s troops on the front lines, in his own words. I dissent. I’d rather that Pence go again, and that Trump stay far away from the military, for the following seven reasons:Sadly, Donald Trump does not possess the moral credibility necessary to successfully discharge the ceremonial duties of the commander in chief. It might be valuable for a different president to show the high regard he has for self-sacrifice and service to a cause greater than oneself—but no American is a less-credible vessel for that message than a famously greedy egomaniac who holds no cause above himself and constantly sacrifices others for his own benefit. The farce would degrade all forced to treat it seriously. Neither does Trump possess the meager amount of self-discipline necessary to successfully discharge the commander in chief’s ceremonial duties. Perhaps he’d responsibly deliver scripted remarks. But think how frequently he proves incompetent—as in his phone call to the widow of an American killed in action—or unable to master himself. It would degrade the morale of deployed troops if he betrayed utter ignorance of their mission, or used his appearance to imply that they side with him in a political fight, or said he likes military men who don’t get captured, or indulged in unseemly self-aggrandizement, or impulsively offered offhand praise for one of the several murderous dictators who he admires. Trump has neither the judgment nor the discipline to reliably avoid errors of that sort—his downside is much bigger than his upside. Insofar as Trump has sycophantic supporters within the military, his frequently irresponsible rhetoric and odious moral character might influence them to behave as he does. That is not to say the same for all of his supporters. There are good men and women who supported his candidacy and still approve of his presidency. Some would get a thrill from having their photograph taken with the president. They are the strongest argument for him going. They’ll get a lesser thrill from a photo with the veep. But it will come free of the other downsides, and is less likely to be seen in a more negative light a few years hence, when more people know more about Trump’s worst misdeeds. Americans may “want a president who isn’t afraid to look at and reflect upon the consequences of his decisions,” but we do not have a president of that sort, and that isn’t going to change simply because he visits Bagram Airfield, especially if he does so under duress. Insofar as a such a visit gives the impression of a reflective president, it will mislead Americans, undercutting the unease they ought to feel as long as the current occupant of the White House governs. Substantively, Trump has no idea what he is doing as commander in chief—and his disconcerting habits include abiding faith in his own gut instincts, a penchant for acting on whims, and a habit of reacting to whatever it is that the folks on Fox News are focusing on. The last thing American troops need is Trump wandering around a conflict zone offering whatever instructions occur to him, or repeating to the troops whatever Sean Hannity reads off a teleprompter. I believe that many of the currently deployed troops ought to be brought home. So I’m conflicted about celebrating presidential visits over there, when what’s in their interest and ours is bringing them back here. President George W. Bush repeatedly visited the troops he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end did it help them? Did it advance victory? Watching lots of TV and golfing is much, much less expensive for taxpayers. The U.S. is saddled with an incapable president. Let’s not urge him to attempt tasks that are likely beyond him, where success would require moral credibility, self-mastery, judgment, reflectiveness, or competence, and failure would do real harm.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Pulling Canada’s Caribou Back From the Brink
On a family vacation last summer, driving along the empty highways of northern Idaho near the Canadian border, I saw an unlikely road sign—a relic. Diamond-shaped with a yellow background, the sign featured the familiar black silhouette of a deerlike animal. But unlike those on deer-crossing signs, the animal pictured had large antlers and appeared to be ambling toward the road, not leaping. It took me a moment to realize that it was a caribou.Seeing a caribou wander onto an Idaho highway is about was likely as watching a UFO land there. The South Selkirk herd—the only remaining caribou herd that roamed the continental United States—has dwindled to just two animals, both female. “Not even Noah could save them,” a Canadian biologist told me. Last spring, scientists declared the herd functionally extinct.Though that news barely registered with the American public, it was powerful: the imminent disappearance of a large mammal species from the Lower 48. And the Selkirk caribou are only the tip of the melting iceberg. Across a broad swath of Canada and Alaska, caribou populations have been plummeting for decades. The main cause: industrial development in their habitat. Today seeing caribou in their original Canadian range requires luck, patience, and often a helicopter.One July afternoon in northeastern British Columbia, near where the Peace River flows out of the Canadian Rockies and toward the plains, I climbed into the back of a pickup truck. At the wheel was Line (pronounced Lynn) Giguere, a Francophone wildlife biologist. In the passenger seat was her husband, Scott McNay, an ecologist who has spent more than two decades trying to save caribou.Here, in what’s called the South Peace region, on behalf of two local First Nations communities, Giguere and McNay have piloted a last-ditch effort to revive a different struggling caribou herd. It’s a remnant population of a much larger herd that once roamed the region’s forests. Trying to save this one small herd has been grueling at times—physically, emotionally, politically. Stemming the caribou declines on a larger scale, the couple say, could also take a personal toll.Giguere and McNay live three hours away in Mackenzie, a town of about 3,500 people dominated by sawmills and pulp mills. McNay, who is tall with thinning hair and a bushy blond mustache, used to work as a biologist for the timber industry there. “Mackenzie is a small town,” he said. Saving the other herds in the South Peace region—six more, all in trouble—would require habitat protections that could shrink the area’s logging economy. Which would make the couple highly unpopular. “We might have to sell our house,” McNay said, half-joking.Giguere, who exudes a cheerful, midwestern-style competence, agreed. “They’re gonna hate us,” she said in French-accented English.We headed out of the tiny town of Hudson’s Hope into the mountains, and soon arrived at an active logging road. For about 60 miles, a two-hour ride, we bounced along dirt paths that grew steeper and rockier as we climbed. In the passenger seat, McNay, who hails from Prince Edward Island, dutifully called out our location over the truck’s radio every even-numbered kilometer, a protocol designed to avoid collisions. Trucks coming downhill called at the odd numbers, and soon one announced its location just uphill. “You should pull over soon,” McNay said. “Where? Shit,” Giguere replied. She found a narrow pullout and edged the Ford Super Duty out of harm’s way. A couple of minutes later, a truck loaded with logs came barreling past.Up to 100 trucks a day carry timber down this road. About 20 years ago, timber companies carried out a series of big clear-cuts in this area, which impacted the caribou herds. “They’re just kind of getting back to it now,” McNay says of the logging, which has resumed on a large scale, in part to take away trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. “That’s what we’re up against in trying to protect habitat.”A half hour or so later, as McNay called out our location—“36 up the Johnson, pickup”—a young deer pranced out of the woods. Giguere tapped the horn to coax it back into the forest. At the 42-kilometer mark, a lynx darted across the road. Further up, the road skirted a logging camp, with tents and RVs and piles of stacked timber. At 68 kilometers, a mother grouse and her chick appeared at the forest’s edge. We turned onto a bumpier dirt track, and then another, until we finally arrived at a flat clearing. A long, high fence covered in black fabric marked the edge of a caribou maternity pen—the centerpiece of an expensive, labor-intensive effort to revive the dwindling Klinse-Za herd.Inside the fence was a 37-acre patch of woods and meadows, dense stands of pine and spruce opening onto sunny clearings, where a dozen female caribou and their nine babies were spending their summer. After being located by helicopter (many of the animals are radio-collared), the cows had been netted from the air, sedated, zipped into body bags, and flown to the enclosure, one at a time, back in snowy March. The pregnant cows had given birth inside the pen, where they and their babies were safe from wolves, bears, and other predators. In a couple of weeks, when the calves were two and a half months old—big enough to outrun a grizzly, if not a wolf—all the caribou would be released from the pen.[Read: America’s wildlife corridors are in danger]As a conservation measure, the maternity pen is a highly meddlesome intervention. But it’s one that McNay, Giguere, and members of local indigenous communities—who for millennia harvested caribou across their ancestral lands—feel is essential. “Because of where we are, we have to be a little heavy-handed until we can get things back into balance,” Roland Willson, the chief of the West Moberly First Nations, told me in his office on the shore of Moberly Lake. “The maternity pen is very obtrusive. Chasing caribou with helicopters, netting them—that’s not something you want to be doing. But because it’s an extreme situation, we have to take extreme measures.”It’s becoming a familiar scenario, in North America and around the globe. As human activity pushes other species to the brink, the most feasible solutions seem more and more ludicrous. Yet meddling with nature in preposterous ways is often vastly easier than the alternative: fundamentally altering human behavior.Caribou, a type of deer, live across a massive slice of the planet’s north, from the Arctic tundra south through the boreal, or northern, forest. They reproduce slowly: Females are pregnant for nearly eight months and give birth to just one baby at a time. They’re the only species on Earth in which both sexes grow antlers.They are also what scientists call an “indicator species,” one whose own health shows the status of a whole ecosystem. And they’ve become unwitting sentinels, on some level, of life as we know it. The boreal forest, a vast band of spruce, fir, pine, and birch that covers one and a half billion acres of North America, stores roughly a third of the planet’s land-based carbon. It is a crucial source of Earth’s fresh water, and billions of birds from more than 300 species breed within it. The boreal is still the largest unbroken forest on Earth, representing a quarter of all remaining intact forest. But nearly a third of Canada’s boreal has already been carved up or earmarked for industrial use.The starkest casualty so far has been the caribou. Though they belong to the same species as reindeer, rangifer tarandus, unlike reindeer they have never been domesticated. Perhaps that’s why they’re often used as symbols of wildness and freedom, and subtly tied to Canada’s national identity. Or not so subtly: They’re featured on Canadian quarters. In that sense, their story parallels that of bison in the United States—an animal that was immensely important to indigenous people, and which white Americans clung to as an icon even as they nearly let it vanish.Canada’s woodland caribou, a subspecies, are most at risk. They live in old-growth forests, where they feed largely on lichens that grow on the ground and on trees. The reasons for their decline are not especially complex or mysterious. Cutting down forests wipes out their habitat. Building roads across forests provides easy access for animals that eat them. And because caribou reproduce so slowly, the problem boils down to simple math: Too many are dying, and not enough are surviving to reproduce.In the South Peace region, where West Moberly lies, the Klinse-Za herd had dwindled to just 16 animals by 2013, down from around 180 in the 1990s. In the past, the herd would migrate in the wintertime to high in the mountains, where snow would act as a buffer from wolves. But the roads that now crisscross the region’s forests—and that continue to sprout like weeds—dealt a dual blow. They fragmented caribou habitat, slicing up interconnected herds into isolated groups. And they provided the wolves year-round access to tasty caribou flesh. Research suggests that wolves can travel up to three times faster along roads and trails than they can in unbroken forest.Opening up the forest also brings in more of the animals wolves crave—deer, elk, moose. With more to eat, the wolves can proliferate, increasing the pressure on caribou. And because the wolves have so many species to feast on, their populations remain large even as caribou numbers shrink.As of last year, 28 of the 57 distinct populations of woodland caribou across Canada were shrinking. In Alberta, all of the woodland caribou populations whose ranges overlap with oil-and-gas development “are in rapid decline,” according to a recent study, and they are shrinking by half every eight years. Scientists now predict that nearly a third of Canada’s boreal caribou could disappear within the next 15 years.“It’s North America’s greatest terrestrial conservation problem,” says Robert Serrouya, the director of the Caribou Monitoring Unit at the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. Unlike some endangered species that live in a discrete, fairly small area—a snail, say, that lives only in one hot spring—caribou naturally occur in relatively small populations but are broadly distributed across a massive landscape. And that landscape is irresistible to industry.Although caribou were listed as threatened in 2003, under Canada’s nascent Species at Risk Act (SARA), it took almost a decade for the government to create a plan to save them. And though long awaited, that plan has so far had little impact. Not a single province met its federally mandated 2017 deadline to produce a recovery strategy.For Willson and his community, that lack of action has been agonizing. The members of West Moberly, a small band of Dunne-Za people, historically ate caribou meat, made clothing from their skin, used their antlers for medicine, and even made tools from their bones; since childhood, Willson has listened to tribal elders reminisce about hunting caribou on their traditional lands. “Caribou were considered a convenient food because there were so many of them,” he said. “If you couldn’t get a moose or an elk, you could always go to the mountains and get a caribou.” Willson has hunted caribou, but to do so, he’s had to travel far to the north, where development is sparser and herds are faring much better. “But north of us is somebody else’s area. We’re going into their area and harvesting their caribou. And it’s not just us; it’s everybody that hunts. Everybody’s going to that area.” (West Moberly is one of 39 nations across four provinces that are signatories to Treaty 8, which governs tribal rights to hunting and fishing, among other things. Treaty 8 member nations can hunt and fish across the whole 325,000-square-mile territory covered by the treaty.)The caribou crisis in the South Peace region began in the late 1960s, when construction of the W. A. C Bennett Dam flooded several nearby canyons and turned a long stretch of the river into the 680-square-mile Williston Lake. The new lake, the world’s seventh-largest reservoir, submerged the territorial home of two other First Nations, Kwadacha and Tsay Keh Dene. It sunk First Nations cemeteries, hunting grounds, fishing spots, and trapper cabins. It also slashed a large caribou herd’s migration route, stranding groups of animals on opposite sides of the lake. After the dam went in, the water rose far faster than engineers had predicted, sweeping timber down hillsides and drowning an unknown number of caribou and other animals.With hydropower on hand, industrial development quickly followed: large-scale forestry, mining, oil, and gas. And not long afterward, local indigenous people “noticed this drastic decline” in caribou, Willson says. Local First Nations voluntarily imposed a moratorium on caribou hunting. Decades later, after SARA passed and caribou were listed as threatened, Willson waited for British Columbia to set some key areas off-limits to industry.Instead, in 2008 West Moberly learned that a coal-mining company had applied for a permit in the core habitat of the Burnt Pine caribou herd, one of eight herds then remaining in the region, whose numbers had already dwindled down to nine. The nation filed an injunction to stop the mine, and in an important court ruling, West Moberly prevailed. But the decision came too late. Without permits, the mining company had been illegally clearing the forest. By the time West Moberly won its case, only two caribou—a male and a female—remained.Cornelia LiA few days after the verdict, tragedy struck. The bull fell to his death in a pit the company had unlawfully dug. The cow wandered off in search of companionship. Scientists later found her radio collar, but her fate remains a mystery. Less mysterious is the fate of the Burnt Pine herd: It’s extinct.Today British Columbia continues to allow open-pit coal mines and fracking wells in caribou habitat, and it is building yet another hydroelectric dam on the Peace River, just south of the oil-and-gas boomtown of Fort St. John. Most of the electricity the dam produces will be exported to the United States, and it has been sharply criticized by local and national activists.At the visitor center next to the W. A. C. Bennett Dam, there is a monument to the reservoir’s impacts on First Nations. Walls are lined with personal accounts of loss, including Willson’s own. He tells of his grandmother catching fish, collecting wild plants, and passing the knowledge along to his mother. “Nowadays,” reads his statement on the wall, “what I get to do is teach my son how to throw contaminated fish back into the river.” (Fish in Williston Lake are contaminated with methylmercury from the decomposing forests beneath the surface.)[Read: The re-beavering of the American West]When the First Nations Impact Gallery opened two years ago, an official from BC Hydro, the dam’s operator, publicly acknowledged the harm done to both indigenous people and the environment. He pledged that the company would “not repeat the mistakes of the past.” Yet the new dam, known as Site C, would submerge both historic and contemporary tribal sites, and BC Hydro is already clearing forest and moving earth in preparation for construction. The week after I met Willson, he headed to court to testify in one final attempt to stop the project.After the debacle with the Burnt Pine herd in 2008, Willson called McNay. “We were not going to run around the rose bush with the province,” Willson says. Across the country, many First Nations communities have reached a similar inflection point; unwilling to sit by as provincial governments allow territorial lands to fall to development and climate change, they are launching their own land-management plans—and beginning to set the agenda for conservation in Canada.McNay, who has worked on caribou issues for both government and industry, was by then as fed up as Willson. “I’ve been involved in three different major pushes the province has initiated for caribou recovery,” McNay says. “They’ve all been about planning and research and collecting more data, instead of getting on the ground and doing stuff.” He told Willson: “I’m not going to work with you unless we do something action-oriented.”Willson was thrilled. West Moberly joined forces with the neighboring Saulteau First Nations and formed a nonprofit caribou-conservation society. With McNay’s guidance, it hammered out a plan for the seven remaining nearby herds. But when McNay delved into the population data, he discovered that the Klinse-Za herd had already crashed. “We thought we were around 90 caribou there, but we were down below 20,” Willson recalls. “Something had to be done almost immediately in order to save that herd.”Maternity pens had been tried in a handful of other areas, to varying degrees of success. But McNay believed a pen was the only way to give the herd a chance at survival. He says the First Nations communities mostly embraced the plan, viewing it as an unfortunate short-term necessity. (Other communities have been less receptive, put off by the severity of the meddling. McNay gave a presentation to one Alberta First Nations that was, he says, “appalled at what we were doing.”)“Caribou were always an animal that if we ever needed something, we could go to them and they would help,” Willson says of West Moberly. “Now the caribou are in a struggle, and they need us. We have to at least try.”British Columbia declined to fund the maternal pen, so the group sought money from industry and launched a crowdfunding campaign. It raised around $300,000 (almost entirely from industry; crowdfunding only scared up around $1,000), and during the first year in 2014 the group captured 10 females, each of which gave birth in an enclosure 30 miles from the town of Chetwynd. Nine calves survived and were released, yet only four were alive a year later. Two calves born outside the enclosure also survived that year.In addition to the maternity pen, the program includes a substantial wolf cull and habitat restoration. The first restoration project decommissioned and reseeded a four-and-a-half-mile stretch of road through the forest. “Not even a month later, somebody went in behind us and reopened the road,” Willson told me. “They ruined everything we were doing there.”In the six years since they began McNay’s program, indigenous trappers have killed 139 wolves on the ground. Over the past four years, the province has killed another 173 wolves by shooting them from helicopters. That’s an awfully bloody short-term fix—and the cull is growing contentious. Two conservation groups have petitioned the government to stop using tax dollars to slaughter wolves, which they call “inhumane” and “a morally bankrupt display.”As of last year, the Klinse-Za caribou herd had grown to 66 animals.Inside the maternity pen’s perimeter, behind the tall walls and an elaborate electric fence, McNay, Giguere, and I hiked to a rustic wooden observation platform built into a tree. Below us stretched a meadow, where several red metal troughs were filled with pellets made from vitamin-and-mineral-enriched barley, wheat, and corn, a supplemental diet for the caribou. (The fenced-in forest is too small to provide enough food for the animals.First Nations members patrol the pen in week-long shifts, bunking in a plywood shack they built outside the fence. These “guardians” walk the perimeter a few times a day, look for compromises in the fence line, keep watch for predators, and feed the caribou. In addition to the pellets, they feed the animals lichens, which are harvested by locals—including schoolkids and tribal elders—and hauled up the road in big mesh sacks.As we stood on the platform and watched the far end of the meadow, where Battleship Mountain towered above the pine and spruce, two caribou slowly appeared like apparitions at the forest edge. Their fur was mottled in shades of gray and brown, and they sauntered through the field under bands of shadows cast by fast-moving clouds. Soon, more caribou joined them, including a few fuzzy calves, some of which lay down in the grass while their mothers browsed. The calves looked surprisingly small and fragile, considering they were just a couple of weeks from release. The scene—moms, babies, sun-dappled meadow—looked so peaceful, so primal, that I half-wished the animals could remain here in safety forever, though of course that was absurd.The guardians had been tracking the whereabouts of four grizzlies they’d seen hanging around not far from the enclosure and which seemed “to have a little more interest in the pen than we’d like them to have,” as McNay put it. If the bears remained nearby, the caribou release might have to be postponed.For the better part of an hour, we watched the caribou as they lolled about the field. And then, as the wind picked up, they vanished back into the trees.Outside the enclosure, at the guardians’ hut, Steven Desjarlais had just arrived to join his cousin for a week-long shift. Both men are members of West Moberly, and they had spent months up here—building the pen, maintaining it, watching over the caribou, living in the forest. They lamented the looming end of the job, and said they would soon have to find new work, possibly on logging crews. Desjarlais said he saw the caribou as key to protecting the whole landscape; if the caribou die out, there’s no hope for saving the boreal forest. “Without them here, industry would run wild, and you’d never get them back,” he said. “The province would never put them back. They’d just build roads all over, go nuts.”Under SARA, if provinces aren’t acting, the federal government can step in. That’s beginning to happen. Last May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government declared an “imminent threat” to British Columbia’s caribou. Now, if the province doesn’t act, Ottawa can take control of its natural resources—making decisions about things such as logging and mining permits.News of the possible federal intervention set off a panic, as British Columbians worried about economic calamity. Even in the outdoor-recreation mecca of Revelstoke, where you might expect sympathies to lie with the caribou, city leaders warned of financial doom. Protecting caribou habitat, they said, would spell ruin for the town’s heli-skiing businesses and destroy its backcountry-tourism economy, in addition to killing the local forestry industry. Instead of limiting human activity in caribou habitat, they suggested more research.This kind of response drives McNay bonkers. There’s nothing more to research, he says. It’s time—past time—to act. He shook his head as he described the province’s decision last spring to spend the equivalent of $20 million U.S. dollars over five years to jump-start a new caribou-conservation effort. If you divide the money by the number of herds in trouble, and divide that by five years, you end up with less than $150,000 for each herd a year—a number, he said, that is essentially useless.“If we want to do a serious job here,” McNay said, “it’s going to [have an] impact—socially, economically. The local-level municipal governments are pretty scared.”As with so many at-risk species, the real obstacle for caribou-conservation efforts is socioeconomic. Recovering caribou broadly, across Canada, would require severely curtailing industrial activity across their habitat. Research has shown that woodland caribou avoid areas within 500 meters of human development—which means that the impact of, say, an oil well is far greater than just its footprint on the soil.The energy sector accounts for a quarter of Alberta’s economy and about 13 percent of Canada’s total GDP. (Three-quarters of Alberta’s oil goes to the United States.) And Canada contains a tenth of the world’s proven oil reserves.[Photos: The Alberta tar sands]Which is the main reason no one has been willing to do the one thing that matters: protect the boreal forest from development.“You could go across the boreal and see the exact same story playing out,” says Tim Burkhart, the Peace River coordinator for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “The response of government has been to try to save as many caribou as they can without impacting industry in any way.”Over a seven-year period, in the nearly ruined range of a single caribou herd, Alberta killed 841 wolves. Yet during that same time, the province issued hundreds of permits for new oil-and-gas wells in the same area. Restoring caribou habitat in that area would require buying the energy leases from the companies that hold them. But purchasing those leases on the range of just one herd in Alberta’s oil-sands region would cost $33 billion in U.S. dollars, according to a 2010 estimate. Mark Hebblewhite, an ungulate ecologist at the University of Montana, has calculated that “effective habitat protection” in Alberta alone would cost more than $112 billion.Against this economic reality, trying to save Canada’s woodland caribou can seem like a lost cause. “Piecemeal solutions aren’t going to get to that broader threat of their habitat disappearing,” says Courtenay Lewis, the manager of ecosystems policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project.It’s why Hebblewhite, who is Canadian, suggested last year that triage may be the only option—choosing some herds to protect, and letting others simply die off. “Pretending we can continue to conserve everything, and asking wolves to pay the price while energy development continues, is not only ethically and morally wrong, it is extremely poor conservation policy,” Hebblewhite wrote in a paper published last year.It’s something British Columbia is discussing, especially as climate change presents yet another threat to the southerly herds. “We know we are going to have to make some of these tough calls,” says Chris Ritchie, the acting executive director of the Species at Risk recovery branch of the provincial agency in charge of forests and natural resources.Meanwhile, though, the federal government’s imminent-threat order has required the province to negotiate a caribou-conservation plan in partnership with both Canada and the West Moberly and Salteau First Nations. The draft agreement, whose finalized details have not yet been released, proposes to set aside nearly 1 million acres in the South Peace region—more than 1,540 square miles—for caribou, closing much of it to logging, hunting, and snowmobiling. Some land might be set aside as provincial parks with no industrial activity permitted; other areas might allow some logging or mining but under “a more caribou-centric management regime,” Ritchie says.As the outline of the agreement leaked, anger in the region grew. A petition on Change.org by a snowmobiler-backed group called Concerned Citizens for Caribou Recovery bears the headline “Your back country access is being seriously threatened right now” and warned that “our way of life in Northern BC is at risk.” It demands that “all negotiations halt immediately.” In less than a week, more than 13,500 people signed the petition—though it’s unclear how many of them are locals. The group appears, from its Facebook page, to be connected to the outdoor-recreation industry.McNay says he’s beginning to see pushback from all sides. Snowmobilers are livid about potential trail closures. He’s gotten hate mail from environmentalists furious about the wolf killings. And he fears the opposition will only increase, given the economic turmoil that could follow large-scale conservation measures. How many sawmills will have to shut down? How many jobs will be lost? “It will come. I see the edge of it already,” Mcnay says. “Because we are talking massive, massive impacts. I really don’t know where it’s all going.”Back in the Ford Super Duty headed down the logging road toward Hudson’s Hope, I asked what would qualify as successful recovery for the Klinse-Za herd. The federal recovery plan sets a threshold of 120 animals in a herd, but McNay says that number doesn’t mean much. For First Nations, recovery means a self-sustaining population that members can hunt on a limited basis. Right now, the Klinse-Za herd is growing by about 15 percent a year. At that rate, in another decade there would be maybe 350 animals, and the local First Nations communities could potentially harvest a few caribou a year. “Back of the envelope, I’m saying in 10 years we might be looking at something that you could kinda say is on its way,” McNay says. But that, he stressed, is just the beginning of real recovery. “I don’t want people to get the impression that in 10 years we’ll be able to take a few animals and then we’re done.”A couple of weeks after my visit—right on schedule, with no other humans around—the caribou guardians opened a portion of the fence. Over the next few hours, the caribou ventured out, wandering uphill, into the alpine. In the four months since, one cow has been killed by a grizzly, probably while defending her calf, which survived. The rest of the caribou are still alive.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Rudy Giuliani for the Defense
President Donald Trump likes to see his supporters loudly defending him on television, and since joining the team in April, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has delivered. He’s also made gaffes with memorable arguments such as “Truth isn’t truth” and, as The New York Times documented last week, continued drumming up business with governments around the world that might see him as a shortcut to the president, whom he defends for free.On the Sunday morning talk shows, Giuliani dropped the defense lawyer’s conventional “admit nothing” approach in favor of what might be called “deny nothing.”Hush-money payments weeks before the November 2016 election to women alleging extramarital affairs? Sure that happened, Giuliani said on ABC’s This Week, but “paying $130,000 to Stormy whatever and paying $[150,000] to the other one is not a crime.” And anyway, he said, those paltry settlement sums show the women were just looking for money. “I have been involved in cases like this. When it’s true and you have the kind of money the president had, it's a $1 million settlement. When it’s a harassment settlement and it’s not true, you give them $130,000, $150,000. They went away for so little money that it indicates their case was very, very weak.”[Read: The Sunday Shows Set the Agenda in Trump’s Washington]Did members of the Trump campaign collude or coordinate with Russians to influence the election? “I have no idea,” Giuliani said. “I know that collusion is not a crime. It was over with by the time of the election.” It was not clear whether he was admitting something about the 14 Trump associates known to have interacted with Russians during the campaign or the transition.What about any coordination between WikiLeaks and Trump associates? Longtime adviser Roger Stone traded messages with the anti-secrecy organization and made public statements that claimed or suggested inside information. Stone now denies any contact with the group that made its name by publishing highly classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents. But even if that did happen, Giuliani said, “if Roger Stone gave anybody a heads-up about WikiLeaks’ leaks, that’s not a crime. It would be like giving him a heads-up that the Times is going to print something.”The negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow that quietly continued well into the presidential campaign? Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen—whom Trump on Sunday called a “rat,” once again invoking the language of mobsters—has testified that he was in talks through June 2016, when news broke about Russian intelligence agencies hacking Democrats. According to Giuliani, Trump’s written answers to the special counsel’s questions say the Trump Tower Moscow discussions may have continued even later, “up to November 2016.”Read: [Donald Trump’s Mafia Mind-Set]As for the president’s shifting accounts on various issues, which critics decry as lies to the American people? Aboard Air Force One in April, for example, Trump declared that he did not know about hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who alleged an affair; Giuliani contradicted him in a Fox News interview a month later. “The president’s not under oath,” Giuliani said Sunday of Trump’s false public statements. “And the president tried to do the best he can to remember what happened back at a time when he was the busiest man in the world.”Giuliani also appeared on Fox News Sunday and said Trump would not sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s team, whom he dismissed as “a joke.” The president submitted written answers to the prosecutors’ questions and will not allow a follow-up interview in person. “Over my dead body,” Giuliani said.[Read: Process Crimes and Misdemeanors]Trump often dismisses allegations because they aren’t proven with certainty, such as the intelligence community’s consensus about Russian election meddling or the CIA’s assessment that the Saudi crown prince most likely ordered the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.Giuliani sought to apply that standard to the president’s own actions. Like any defense lawyer, he wants to convince the public that nothing can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and he wants to make any doubt seem reasonable. He dismissed Cohen as “a serial liar who taped his own client” who told one story and now contradicts his old account. “You're going to tell me which is the truth?” Giuliani said. “I think I know what the truth is. But unless you're God, you will never know what the truth is.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Dear Therapist: What's the Etiquette for Giving Gifts to My Sibling’s Children?
Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. Have a question? Email her at dear.therapist@theatlantic.com. Dear Therapist,My sister is a year younger than me and has two children, ages 16 and 14. I have four children: one age 14, one age 12, and 8-year-old twins. We have another sister with 6-year-olds. We’ve all always exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts and have always sent one another's kids birthday gifts.A few years ago, my sister stopped giving my children and me birthday gifts. I continued to send her and her children gifts. For their 14th and 16th birthdays, however, I stopped in response. The gifts themselves are not the issue—it’s totally fine to stop sending gifts (and none of us really needs anything anyway), but I'm wondering what prompted this change since she still sends gifts to my other sister’s kids. She’s never said anything about it.We did have an argument four years ago, but that was resolved and everything has seemingly been fine for years. But I wonder if she has some issue with me that I’m not aware of. Should I ask her about it? I don’t want her to think she needs to send my kids gifts. That's beside the point. I'm just wondering if there was some message I missed that I should address. Or should I just let it go?AnonymousNew JerseyDear Anonymous,Gift-giving in families can be a minefield, because the act of giving a gift (or not) has the potential to represent so much. A gift can be a way to communicate love or affection, or to offer an olive branch; the absence of one can communicate anger or hurt or spite. Some gifts send a message of resentful obligation (the overtly cheap gift; the blatantly “wrong” or impersonal gift) while others become a tool of manipulation (the estranged sibling who sends a gift to “look good” in the eyes of other family members and then, to look even better, complains to those family members that the recipient, who didn’t want the gift in the first place, wasn’t appreciative).Accurately or not, we also use gifts as a barometer of the giver’s feelings for us. If I give my sister a more thoughtful and personal gift than the online gift card she gives me, does that mean I’m more invested in our relationship than she is? If I give my brother’s kids nicer gifts than he gives my kids, does he not care about my kids as much as I care about his?I mention all of this because your question is really about your relationship with your sister. She stopped giving gifts to you and your children a few years ago, and yet in all that time, neither you nor she has acknowledged this. Meanwhile, you’ve been left worrying that you may have hurt her without intending to. And so I wonder if there’s a pattern between you two in which the only way she expresses herself is by withdrawing in some way, leaving you to ask, “Is anything wrong?” And if so, does she calmly tell you what’s bothering her, or is the interaction generally fraught? Or does she say “Nothing’s wrong,” even though it later becomes apparent that something is wrong?In other words, perhaps there’s something in your history together that has made you reluctant to simply ask her what’s up in the same way that you so clearly and compassionately expressed your question here—that the gifts don’t matter, you just want to make sure everything’s okay between the two of you. Likewise, there may be something in your history together that has made her reluctant to say to you, “Hey, I think that we and the kids are old enough now that I’d like to stop giving gifts since none of us needs anything anyway” or “What do you think about giving to charity on each other’s behalf instead of gifts we don’t need from now on?” It’s possible that she anticipated—based on past experience—a negative reaction from you, so she felt that it was easier to avoid the topic altogether.Avoidance usually takes hold when one or both people in a relationship feel that the benefit of evading the issue outweighs the benefit of being direct. And both you and your sister have avoided not just this conversation about whether things are okay between you, but also the conversation about why you two are so afraid of being direct with each other about what’s in your hearts and on your minds. Now would be the perfect time to start by telling her how important she is to you, that you want her to feel comfortable talking to you and vice versa, and that you’re curious to know what prompted the change around gift-giving and whether there’s anything she’s upset about, related or unrelated to gift-giving. And then you can say something more general about how much closer you feel to her when you two can tell each other what you’re thinking and feeling.Two final thoughts about gifts: True gifts are those we give freely and without expectation of reciprocation. If you’ve been giving gifts to your sister and her children for their sake (and not in order to get something back), then your decision to continue to give should have nothing to do with whether your sister gives gifts to you or your children. Genuine giving isn’t a tit-for-tat situation. (Of course, if your sister explicitly requests that you stop—and so far she hasn’t—then you’ll need to respect her wishes but can also talk about what’s behind them. It may be, for instance, that she can’t afford giving gifts to everyone on their birthday and finds it awkward to receive them under those circumstances.)Second, a gift is one way to say, “I have you in mind today; I celebrate you.” But there are plenty of other ways, too, such as calling to offer birthday wishes, sending a thoughtful card, taking the person to lunch, or going on a special outing together. This goes for both your sister and her teenagers and is an important part of nurturing these relationships. Once the gift-giving stopped, did you both continue to call or send a card or in some way acknowledge the birthdays? If not, you two might also talk about how you’d like birthdays acknowledged in your respective families, even if gifts aren’t involved. No matter what’s decided, taking the guessing out will be the best gift you can give to your relationship.Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Stridently Conciliatory Cory Booker
In 2013, The Atlantic ran a piece titled “Why Do Liberals Hate Cory Booker?” The article searched for the sources of progressive distrust of the senator from New Jersey. It scoured his policy positions to find his transgressions of party orthodoxy—and it couldn’t find any substantive deviation. It concluded, “The case against Booker seems to rest chiefly on tone and approach. Like Obama, he has positioned himself as a conciliator willing to work across the aisle.”When I met with Booker this month, he reminded me several times that he had recently returned from New Hampshire. His barely concealed preparations for a presidential run have included the unveiling of large-scale, creative policy proposals that should put to rest any questions about where he resides ideologically. He has crafted a piece of legislation to provide low-income kids with a nest egg of $50,000, what he calls “baby bonds.” Another Booker bill would guarantee a job to anyone who wants one. Earlier this fall, he spoke passionately about the problem of economic concentration.Despite all this aggressive legislation, his tone remains stridently conciliatory. A recurring theme in his speeches is love—or as he once put it, “unreasonable, irrational, impractical love.” I met him in his office, where he sat on a sofa underneath a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. We spoke at length about, well, love. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.Franklin Foer: You don’t often hear politicians talk about love.Cory Booker: We may not use the word, but the things that we revere most about American history are often incredible acts of love. I mean, [Andrew] Goodman, [James] Chaney, and [Michael] Schwerner dying together. So here you have two Jewish Americans who are not directly affected by the injustices going on in Mississippi, but [they] went down there to stand for their principals, side by side.[Read: Cory Booker’s four standing ovations in Des Moines]Foer: But why have you decided to elevate love at this precise moment?Booker: I was almost going to try to challenge your presupposition, but I think you might be right. I find myself leaning even more into it now. We are heading toward a point in my lifetime where I haven’t seen a level of tribalism like this. I was reminding people in New Hampshire this past weekend that commercials ran in their state against Chris Christie for the singular sin of hugging Barack Obama. I mean, it’s gotten so bad that touching another American is considered a betrayal of tribe. We’re at a point in American history where when I hugged John McCain on the floor, literally after he got his cancer diagnosis, I get home and I’m getting pilloried on Twitter.Foer: A lot of politicians talk about bipartisanship and restoring civility. But love is a very different way of explaining the problem.Booker: My heroes have been not afraid to talk about love. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about the “beloved community.” He talked about the Greeks, who separated love into three categories: eros, philia, and agape love. I think patriotism, by its very definition, is love of country. But we seem to have become a country where the highest thing we’re reaching for is tolerance. When you say “bipartisan,” you’re really saying, “Hey we’re going to tolerate each other.” Go home and tell somebody that you live with, or your neighbor, “I tolerate you.” That’s not a high aspiration.[Read: Cory Booker: man of data, man of faith]Foer: So to pose the obvious …Booker: Let me just finish this point, because it’s one that I think is really important. Let’s spin the globe right now and put our finger down. Go to, say, the Middle East. You’re going to see tribal connections. But we said we were going to found a country where we’re not connected by those things. We’re connected by ideals. I think about those words at the end of the Declaration of Independence, our declaration of interdependence, our declaration of love. If we’re going to succeed, we must mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. That is not just about tolerance, isn’t just bipartisanship. We are at our best when we give the ultimate sacrifice of putting other people, putting the country, putting our communities ahead of ourselves. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.[Read: “We can’t make our elections about being against Trump”]Foer: As I was thinking about your descriptions of love, I went back and read some King.Booker: By the way, this year I decided to go back to King myself. I’ve read The Radical King and King’s collection of speeches on labor, a really great compendium. But you could also take Fred Shuttlesworth, one of the great civil-rights leaders, whose whole house was bombed numerous times, whose wife was stabbed. I mean, he embodied and preached the same idea of beloved community, the debt we owe each other.Foer: The hard part of it is the loving of your oppressor, loving the one who hates you.Booker: Yes, but isn’t that the call? I had this interesting experience in the Midwest when I was visiting farms. Someone called up the guy that was giving me the tour and said, “I can’t have Cory Booker in my home.” The person said, “Why?” They said, “Well, we’re a Christian household.” My tour guide laughed and said, “Cory’s a Christian, too.” But they had watched something, I think it was from Fox News, and they thought I was just this really bad human being. My host, in a sort of tickled way, just reminded the person of his own faith values. Then when we got together—it’s hard to hate somebody that you sit down with—we ended up having an incredible connection.Foer: To pose the obvious and vexing question, can you find love for Donald Trump?Booker: When I gave a speech at the convention, Trump tweeted something really mean about me, veiledly dark. You know, almost a weird kind of attack on me.Foer: Who would expect that from a Trump tweet?Booker: Then next morning, I’m out with Chris Cuomo on CNN and he puts up the tweet. I think he was trying to get a rise out of me. He goes, “What do you have to say to Donald Trump?” I said, “I love you Donald Trump. I don’t want you to be my president; I’m going to work very hard against you. But I’m never going to let you twist me and drag me down so low as to hate you.”Foer: But not hating Donald Trump is different than actually finding love for Donald Trump.Booker: My faith tradition is love your enemies. It’s not complicated for me, if I aspire to be who I say I am. I am a Christian American. Literally written in the ideals of my faith is to love those who hate you. I don’t see why that’s so shocking. But that doesn’t mean that I will be complicit in oppression. That doesn’t mean I will be tolerant of hatred.Something I talked about in my New Hampshire speeches and New Hampshire house parties is the example of Lindsey Graham and what he said during the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings. One side might call it a rant, one side might call it a noble exposition. But I have to say, I was not happy about it. Obviously he made me angry; obviously I disagreed with what he was saying. But just a few weeks later, he and I are on the phone to the White House. He is defending one of the provisions I want in the criminal-justice-reform bill that’s heading to the floor now, effectively ending juvenile solitary confinement. He was a partner with me.I’m one of the few senators, perhaps ever, that lives in a community in which there are still regular shootings. My mayor is doing a great job lowering violent crime, but I had a guy murdered on my block. I also live in a community where lots of people come home from jail, having done some of those shootings. I see that idea of redemption and unconditional love from people in the community.Foer: Your speeches seem to almost be exhortations. You’re not just saying, “I believe in love for myself.” You’re exhorting your audience to believe in love.Booker: Two things. One is anger, let’s not mistake it. Anger is a constructive emotion, and clearly in the five years that I’ve been here, I’ve been angry at times.Foer: You had your Spartacus moment.Booker: Look, the reality is what King said so eloquently: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can do that.” Not only do I believe it is an important ideal, I also believe it is the right strategy, the right political strategy.Foer: But if I listen to Trump talk about, say, immigrants, how could I not let that anger turn, at a certain point, into hatred? Just as love is a human emotion, hate is also extremely human.Booker: God, my anger as a former athlete gets me into the gym working harder. I think our outrage should get us out working. That fire of rage should be fuel to get us to do the things that make the change. But if we become a party that is about what we’re against, I don’t think that’s a winning strategy. I think if we give all of our energy—psychic, mental—toward Donald Trump, it makes him powerful.The other thing I want to say is, millions and millions of good Americans, good decent Americans, voted for Donald Trump. As [Abraham] Lincoln said, “The best way to destroy my enemy is to make him my friend.” If you make Trump the subject, then you’re not talking about the shared pain in this country, the shared injustice in this country. The fact is, Donald Trump voters aren’t getting paid a living wage; they’re losing their dignity in their work. There’s common pain in this country, but we’ve lost a sense of common purpose. If you make Donald Trump your central focus, then it’s going to be much harder to get to a sense of common purpose.Foer: Do you believe love can conquer racism?Booker: I don’t think the word conquer is right, but I do believe that it can break down all these artificial constraints. I just really do believe that at the end of the day, this country respects and honors people based on their character and the quality of their ideas. I just see so many people who are talking to hearts and heads and not tribalism, and that kind of thing breaking through.Foer: King talked about how self-righteousness is an enemy of love? It seems like we kind of do live in a world plagued by …Booker: A world plagued by self-righteousness, by righteous indignation. I think about the profound humility that people had in the face of the likes of Bull Connor. In Birmingham, the first time jails were completely full in the modern civil-rights movement, they were filled with kids. As the kids are on the bus going home, you know what they’re singing? “What do we want? Freedom. When do we want it? Now.” Then they start saying, “What does the governor want? Freedom. When does he want it? Now.” They were literally singing songs not of attack toward the people that were oppressing them and literally shipping them off to jail; they were singing songs about the idea that my liberation and your liberation are interwoven. As King says, “Dignity is indivisible.” I can assault the tactics you’re using, the walls that you’re perpetuating. But as I start attacking your human dignity, I’m diminishing my own.Foer: We’re in so many ways in a political war of attrition right now. If I look at your program, there’s a way in which power, wealth, and opportunity need to be redistributed. There’s a zero-sum quality to it all. And if you come in preaching love, aren’t you going to be accused of being soft and not having the required temperament to accomplish all of these things you propose?Booker: Right, a couple things. So one is, Gandhi overthrew the strongest empire on the planet without raising a fist. This idea that we have—that to be tough you’ve got to be cruel and crass; in order to be strong you’ve got to be mean?—doesn’t hold up in human history. I’m a guy who came through a street fight to be elected mayor of a city. You know, I wasn’t mayor of a wealthy city. It was a tough city during a recession, in which inner cities experience depression. What we accomplished, because it definitely wasn’t just me, was the largest economic-development period in our city’s 60-year history, the first time our population was growing again. I mean, I can go through all the things we were able to accomplish that necessitated toughness and strength from a whole lot of folks.The only thing I do want to take issue with is this idea of redistribution. I don’t really think it is. When you make an investment in a kid’s education, it expands the economy. When you make an investment in every child having wealth, you actually expand the whole. It has a multiplier effect.Foer: But you’re proposing an estate-tax increase to fund your program, where you are literally taking away …Booker: I believe in the kind of things that will have a multiplier effect on our economy. That we’ve got to be a nation that gets back to investing in the most valuable natural resource we have in this country, which is the genius of our children.Foer: I see all that, but why shy away from saying that you’re attacking concentrations of power?Booker: No, trust me, I don’t shy away from saying the concentrations of economic power and political power in this country have been detrimental to the strength of our economy.Foer: This is a pretty dark moment. Has it made you more faithful?Booker: These are things I didn’t think I’d be talking about, but I have been praying more fervently, beginning my days on my knees with a lot more consistency. A lot of it’s just to ground me and keep me focused on my highest ideals, because there are difficult days where you do feel your lesser angels. I want to stay humble and focused. I think that these are practices that have helped me be a better person.Foer: Don’t you ever see yourself tipping into self-righteousness?Booker: Absolutely. There are things I’ve said in the last two years I regret. A lot of my prayer, quite literally, is to make me worthy of this moment, and to help me to live in accordance to the ideals that I hold. I love Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer “Make me an instrument of peace. Where there’s hatred, let me sow love. Where there’s darkness let me sow light.” This is a time for all of us to be humble aspirants.Foer: How has your thinking about love practically changed you as a politician?Booker: Yeah, I think there are times where I’ve checked myself. There’s an example popping in my head that I really haven’t shared with anybody. It was a committee hearing, and I found myself lecturing the other side, like senators often do. And some senator who tests me to be the best person I am shot back at me something I found kind of obnoxious. I got mad, and then I reflected upon it. I said, “It’s not for me to lecture people who disagree with me; it’s for me to call myself to exhibit that behavior, not to lecture people on it.”In one of my favorite stories, I encountered somebody who was homeless. He asked if I had extra socks and I told him, “I don’t have socks, I don’t have socks.” The guy I was with bent over and took off the socks he was wearing and gave them. And I said, “Here I am, this guy that talks about love all the time, but I’ve got this one moment to show it, to be more creative in my moral imagination, and I didn’t demonstrate it.” I think it’s so much more important for us, as leaders right now, to live those values and not preach them.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Can Trump Pardon Himself?
On June 4, President Donald Trump tweeted, “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”Trump is not the first president to consider a self-pardon. On August 1, 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford met with Alexander Haig, an aide to Richard Nixon, who raised the possibility that the president might: invoke Section 3 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment if impeached by the House and step aside temporarily on the grounds that he was “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” then reassume office if the Senate failed to remove him; “plea-bargain” with Congress for censure instead of removal; pardon the other Watergate defendants and himself, then resign.Or Nixon might resign and Ford might pardon him. In his 2009 book, The Presidential Pardon Power, the political scientist Jeffrey Crouch suggested that the point of the meeting was for Haig to let Ford know that, as president, he would have the power to pardon Nixon before indictment or trial.Four days later, the Justice Department produced a memo arguing that under “the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case,” a president could not pardon himself. On August 9, Nixon resigned; a month later, Ford granted him “a full, free, and absolute pardon” for all federal crimes committed during his presidency.Since then, the idea of a presidential self-pardon has floated on the fringes of constitutional dialogue. Scholars are split on whether the president’s constitutionally conferred power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment,” includes self-pardon. One side points out, correctly, that the text of the Constitution limits the pardon power in only one respect—“cases of impeachment”—and thus can be read as unlimited in every other way. But the other side notes, also correctly, that there is no mention of self-pardon in the framing or ratification debates, nor in the legal history of pardons. As the late University of Chicago scholar Philip Kurland, who during the Watergate hearings helped the Senate Judiciary Committee conclude that Nixon had obstructed justice, once summed up the literature: “Obviously there’s no answer.”In 2018, of course, scholars’ views don’t mean much. The current constitutional rule is Donald Trump can do anything he can get away with. The president operates by hotel-burglar logic: If people don’t want to be robbed, they ought to lock their doors; if the Founders didn’t want Trump to do something, it’s their own fault for not writing “the president can’t do this.”But even if Trump could get away with a self-pardon, would it do him any good?The most crucial calculation for a self-pardoning president is when the pardon takes place. Suppose that Trump decides to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller and also pardon himself and his associates for any federal crimes they may have already committed. Everybody’s off the hook.But there’s a catch: One possible charge against Trump is that he has conspired to obstruct justice—and continues to do so. As of the date of the pardon, past acts of conspiracy could no longer be prosecuted. But if Trump blocked investigations after the pardon, he would be committing fresh acts of obstruction—which the pardon could not have covered. According to Samuel W. Buell, a former federal prosecutor who teaches a seminar at Duke University called “The Presidency and Criminal Investigations,” if the president were prosecuted for the post-pardon acts, his pre-pardon conduct could be used against him in court—for instance, as evidence of “the background and purpose” of any conspiracy he was charged with.Moreover, the pardon itself may be a criminal act under federal law. “Lawful acts can constitute obstruction of justice when done with a bad motive,” Buell says. “I don’t see why a pardon would be any different, if it’s done for the purpose of keeping the president from being held to account.”In his wickedly entertaining 2012 book, Constitutional Cliffhangers: A Legal Guide for Presidents and Their Enemies, Brian Kalt, a Michigan State University law professor, imagined a president who pardoned himself regularly to cover all illegal acts committed since the previous pardon; each successive pardon would cover the previous pardon. But even an energetically self-pardoning president won’t be president forever. Eventually, one self-pardon would have to be the final one, and thus not pardonable by the president himself. The self-pardoner would be one pardon short of home free.The more prudent course—politically, at least—would be for Trump to wait until the last day of his final term, and then issue a self-pardon just before midnight, so that anything he’s done while in office and beforehand would be covered. Pretty clever, except for two problems. First, a pardon doesn’t exempt him from criminal jeopardy at the state level. Even if he fires Mueller, regular U.S. attorneys are likely to encounter the Trump name in other investigations (Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen was indicted by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose charging documents effectively named the president as a conspirator). So Mueller might still be a ghost at Trump’s feast for the rest of his time in the White House.Second, Trump would leave office the day after that midnight pardon—and its consequences would then depend on his successor. A Democratic president might feel compelled by the party base to pursue prosecution despite a pardon. Even a Republican successor might be reluctant to block an investigation that turned up genuine crimes. Thus, while Trump “might want to pardon himself if it looks like he might get prosecuted,” Kalt told me, “what has to give him pause is that it might not work.”The attorney general for a new administration could begin with an investigation of the pardon itself, then probe pre-pardon conduct, and then indict Trump for any crimes that turn up, arguing that a self-pardon is void. Trump would plead the pardon and move to dismiss the charges—and the issue would swiftly move to the Supreme Court.Would the conservative majority uphold the pardon?Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich probably thinks so. He recently explained that a Democratic congressional investigation of Trump after the midterms would let the world know “whether the Kavanaugh fight was worth it”—since a proper Trump judge would block any subpoenas directed at the president.One wonders how Justice Brett Kavanaugh felt hearing Gingrich’s words. He has an uphill fight to restore his reputation with the public. To be properly cynical, this justice might see a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dispel the cloud on his image by voting against Trump.And let’s remember how radical a self-pardon would seem. The last presidential pardon, of Richard Nixon, covered “all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.”That’s a highly unusual, perhaps unique, pardon. Ordinarily, pardons—even those granted before trial or indictment—cover specific offenses the recipient has committed or may have committed. Even presidential amnesties—such as Jimmy Carter’s in 1977, which pardoned an entire class of Vietnam War draft resisters—didn’t purport to cover any crime the draft dodgers might have committed, only those related to conscription and service, and only if nonviolent.By the time Nixon was pardoned, everyone knew what he’d been up to during his presidential term. A pardon issued by Trump to Trump, however, if it were to insulate him from federal charges, might have to cover a much longer time period—he’s been running his organization since the early 1970s. And “all offenses” would thus cover a wider range of possible crimes—allegations of sexual assault, for example, and campaign-finance violations, among others. I’ve not been able to find a pardon like it.Upholding such a broad pardon would be quite a lot to ask of Supreme Court justices, even those who owe their seats to Trump. The five votes he needs might be hard to get.As Jeffrey Crouch points out, the use of pardons for raw personal and political advantage has become routine since the Nixon years. In late 1992, as President George H. W. Bush prepared to leave office, he and many of his associates were still under investigation by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh for their conduct during the Reagan-era operation that sold arms to Iran and illegally funneled the proceeds to guerrillas in Nicaragua. Four defendants had pleaded guilty or had been convicted, and two were facing trial, and new evidence had set off speculation that Walsh might summon Bush to testify before a federal grand jury—creating jeopardy of prosecution for perjury or worse.A few weeks before Bush left office, the veteran political columnist Dan Schorr wrote a column for The Baltimore Sun, musing on whether Bush was considering self-pardon to spare himself prosecution by Walsh. (He wasn’t, Schorr concluded, while pointing out that legal experts believed that he could.) Writing in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the columnist James Gill suggested that Bush should resign a day early and allow Vice President Dan Quayle to succeed to the office and pardon his political patron. Gill was joking—but in 2018, that scenario is hideously plausible.In the event, Bush pardoned all the defendants, those convicted and those awaiting trial, leaving Walsh no leverage with which to make a possible case against Bush. It was effectively a self-pardon, but with no constitutional infirmity.During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, members of Congress speculated that Bill Clinton might pardon himself. Clinton did not; he survived an impeachment trial and, at the end of his term, issued pardons of the old-fashioned corrupt variety that were aimed less at protecting himself than at rewarding political supporters. President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been convicted and sentenced for lying to federal investigators about the potential release of information identifying an undercover case officer for the CIA. (Trump fully pardoned Libby last April.)Trump can certainly take the George H. W. Bush route by pardoning his associates, and he needn’t wait until his term is over to do so. But he still wouldn’t be out of the woods. As noted, the pardon power covers only “offenses against the United States,” so states with ambitious prosecutors, such as New York, Illinois, or California, could begin investigations of his conduct against which a federal pardon would provide no protection.Finally, if Trump were to pardon himself, Congress could still step in and impeach him for abuse of the pardon power—possibly even after he left office. There’s historical warrant for impeachment of former officials. The most famous British impeachment began in 1787, when Parliament brought a bill against William Hastings, who had already resigned as governor-general of India; his trial dragged on for seven years before he was acquitted.Even if Democrats don’t take control of both the House and the Senate until 2020, they can still impeach and try Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors” after he leaves office. Conviction would carry no penalty beyond “disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” Given the horror with which many of his enemies regard him, a Democratic majority might be tempted to drive that stake through Trump’s political career.
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World Edition - The Atlantic