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World Edition - The Atlantic
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World Edition - The Atlantic
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The Organizers Pushing for a Latino Surge in Texas
DALLAS—In the Los Altos neighborhood in the western part of this city, people recognize the name “Beto O’Rourke.” They just don’t know exactly who he is.“I’ve heard good things ...” said 30-year-old Joaquin Ramirez, his voice trailing off, as he stood in his front yard. I listened while Ramirez talked with David Villalobos, a staffer for the Texas Organizing Project, about the upcoming midterm elections. Ramirez, who works as a phlebotomist at a nearby hospital, said he doesn’t “really engage with politics that much,” but he cares about protecting the Affordable Care Act and tends to align with Democrats on policy issues. He couldn’t remember if he voted in 2016. He thinks he probably will this year.“I appreciate you guys being out here,” he told Villalobos, “being an eye-opener for people who are sheltered and not looking at stuff like that.” Ramirez filled out a voter-pledge card with his name, phone number, and email address.“That was a victory,” Villalobos said after we got back into the car. “It’s getting that conversation.”But how do you know he’ll actually vote? I asked.Villalobos shrugged. “We know it’s gonna take a couple more nudges.”If O’Rourke is able to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in November—and if Texas Democratic congressional candidates can win in their red districts—it will likely be because of mobilization efforts like this one. TOP and other progressive activist groups have spent the past few months—and, in some cases, years—running aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns across the state specifically targeting Latino voters, who comprise roughly 30 percent of the electorate.There’s good reason to believe that a blue wave might wash over Texas next month: The president has a low approval rating in the state and, for the first time in 25 years, Democrats have recruited candidates to run in every single congressional district, from Texarkana to Eagle Pass. Progressives are hoping that their voter-mobilization efforts, combined with Latinos’ disapproval of Trump’s job performance, will trigger a large surge from those voters at the polls. And finally, Texas—or at least parts of it—will turn blue.But getting people—any people—to vote is hard. And recent polling shows that Latinos are less interested in the 2018 midterms than other voters.For all the hype among progressives about voter-turnout programs, and for all the anger from Latinos over the president’s policies, organizers on the ground could still run up against the same obstacles that have hindered Latino voting all along.Talk to any Texas Democrat, and they’ll argue that they don’t live in a red state—they live in a non-voting state. Texas ranked third-lowest in the country for voter turnout in 2016. Among the state’s Latino voters, about half cast a ballot that year, compared with 63 percent of non-Hispanic voters.Non-voting is a widespread problem among Americans writ large, but there are some factors —both structural and cultural—that create barriers to voting for the Latino community specifically. First, election experts told me, it’s important to note that recent immigrants and first-generation Latinos don’t necessarily have the same voting tradition as other groups. One in six Texans is an immigrant, and 15 percent of Texas residents are U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent, according to the American Immigration Council. Most of these immigrants come from Latin America. For many Texas Latinos, “there’s not this socialization of having grown up talking politics, where you grow up going to the polls with your parents on Election Day,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a lecturer at the University of Texas’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.Villalobos, a staffer for the Texas Organizing Project, talks with residents of the Los Altos neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. (Laura Buckman)Young and low-income Americans are statistically less likely to vote than others, and Texas’s Latino population trends disproportionately younger and poorer than other ethnic groups. Neither political party has historically made much investment in turning out these voters—not just in Texas, but nationwide. “Most Latinos are never contacted by a campaign, and that’s the number-one way you get people out to vote,” said Cristina Tzintzun, the founder of Jolt, a voter-mobilization group founded in November 2016 that targets young Latinos in Texas. A poll released earlier this month from Latino Decisions found that 58 percent of Texas Latinos had not yet been contacted about voting in November.In other words, there hasn’t been much investment in developing a “culture of voting” among Latino voters, activists told me. African Americans “had a 60-year civil-rights movement that was deeply focused on achieving equality through the ballot box,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa in an interview. “We didn’t have that. We’ve never had that.” (And, of course, there are still barriers in place that make it difficult for many black Americans to cast a ballot.)Democrats also argue that strict voter-ID laws in the state have intimidated and discouraged potential new voters, and that they disproportionately affect black and Hispanic Americans. The state’s history of gerrymandering doesn’t help either, Democrats told me. A recent case brought to the Supreme Court alleged that Republicans redrew the state’s congressional districts to intentionally dilute the voting power of Hispanic and black voters.All of these elements, taken together, contribute to a general sense among Latino voters in Texas that their votes don’t matter, Soto says, noting that’s especially true among Latino Democrats. “You feel [like] you just keep getting kicked in the gut,” she says. “Voters think, ‘Why do I want to put myself out there, take a day off work and vote, and be disappointed?’”TOP’s canvassing headquarters, where Villalobos works, isn’t much to look at. The office is housed in a bland, concrete building northwest of Dallas, across the street from the Dallas Fort Worth Gun Range and down the hall from a crime-investigation unit and a rehab clinic. When I pulled up outside on a recent afternoon in October, the parking lot was empty, and the windows were dark.Inside, though, there was a buzz of activity. A dozen staffers in matching TOP t-shirts flitted between rooms, carefully avoiding a steady drip of water leaking from the ceiling. Halloween decorations had been haphazardly taped to the walls alongside posters bearing voter stats, important dates, and inspirational messages.“We’re the experts on mobilization,” said Kimberly Olsen, the political field director, sitting in her small office, which doubles as a storeroom for t-shirts and canvassing supplies. TOP is a nonprofit organization focused on organizing African American and Latino communities in Dallas, Harris, and Bexar counties, a region spanning roughly 4,000 square miles and more than 9 million people. They run door-knocking and phone-banking programs to help sporadic voters and non-voters understand where and how to vote. In Olsen’s words, they engage “black and brown people who are completely disenfranchised from the system.” She was in charge of TOP’s Houston operation back in 2016 when voter turnout in Harris County dramatically increased and Democrats won every seat. Dallas, she says, is the next big effort.TOP officials assert that their efforts aren’t partisan. “For us, it’s not about turning Texas blue,” said Michelle Tremillo, the group’s co-founder and executive director, in a phone interview. “We’re very focused on having a reflective democracy … making sure that our electorate is reflective of the majority of us who live here.” The groups they’re targeting, though—Latinos and African Americans—are more likely to lean Democratic, and all of the state-level and congressional candidates TOP has endorsed in Texas are Democrats. They include Senate candidate O’Rourke, U.S. House candidate Colin Allred, and state House candidate Victoria Neave.TOP identifies two tiers of voters for their mobilization campaign: “drop-off” voters, who vote in presidential elections but don’t vote in the midterms, and people who are registered but haven’t voted in a recent election. All of these voters care about things like health care and education, Olsen says, but they don’t necessarily understand how voting can affect change in those areas. That’s where TOP comes in: “We connect the dots for people,” she says. TOP hires canvassers from local communities to go door to door for six hours every week day—and twice as long on Saturdays and Sundays—to share information about voting locations and hand out flyers with the names of TOP-endorsed candidates.From late August through November 6, TOP canvassers will reach out to 240,000 Latino Texans up to seven times. First, they’ll knock on their front doors and ask which political issues impact them most, before asking them to make a commitment to vote. Then they’ll send a postcard reminding them of that commitment. They’ll call; they’ll text. They’ll swing by up to three more times before Election Day to remind them about early voting, which started Monday in Texas. They might even offer to drive them to the polls.Latinos have long been pigeonholed by political observers as caring chiefly about immigration, but groups working to mobilize this community stressed repeatedly in interviews that that’s not the case. The number-one issue depends on who you ask. “No matter what time of year, it’s jobs and it’s education,” Tremillo said. According to Tzintzun, Latinos care most about health care. Their impressions are reflected in polling: Pew surveys show that Latinos in the U.S. rank education, the economy, and health care as more important than immigration.The Jolt office in Garland, Texas (Laura Buckman)Yet immigration still seems to be the number-one issue organizations like TOP and Jolt use to mobilize voters. “It’s not just the kids being put in jails, it’s people getting their birth certificates denied,” said TOP Communications Director Mary Moreno, citing two recent news events: the separation of children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border and an August Washington Post report about the U.S. government denying passports to some citizens. “It’s part of a larger strategy, and it’s against us. We don’t just have to be recipients—we have a way to fight back.”Organizers appeal to Latino voters using state-level issues, too. When they’re door-knocking, Jolt canvassers are trained to start their conversations by bringing up state Senate Bill 4, a Republican-sponsored law passed in May 2017 that, in part, allows police officers to ask for the immigration status of anyone they arrest or detain, and which many worry will lead to racial profiling. “We want to ensure that everybody’s voice is being heard, especially when it comes to fighting racist laws like S.B. 4,” the Jolt script says. “Can I count on you to pledge to vote in November so we can fight against politicians that support that racist law?”Aylin Anaya, a 22-year-old student at Texas Women’s University in nearby Denton, has read this script many times. Anaya, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, spends three evenings a week door-knocking for Jolt. Though she describes herself as pro-life, Anaya says she still identifies as a Democrat because she aligns with the party on “social-justice issues.” We talked about her politics while she went door to door one afternoon in October, canvassing Latino voters in a neighborhood in Garland, just north of Dallas.“You can’t be pro-life if you still agree with racist laws or discriminatory laws, if you don’t agree that black lives matter or that there should be no Muslim ban,” Anaya told me. “Because everybody’s made in the same image, in God’s eyes.”Anaya talks with a potential voter while canvassing for Jolt in Garland, Texas. (Laura Buckman)Framing the Republican position on immigration as racist or inhumane may motivate some voters to head to the polls in November, as organizers are hoping. But their Republican counterparts in Texas say the characterization is wrong, and that, contrary to popular narratives, plenty of Texas Latinos more closely align with the GOP. “Some Latinos get deceived by listening to propaganda,” said Adryana Aldeen, the special adviser on Hispanic engagement for the Texas GOP. Republicans, she says, “are not racist … They have just expressed their dislike of giving blanket amnesty to immigrants who are in the country without documents.” Republicans, Aldeen said, are for free trade, lower taxes, and upholding anti-abortion policies—all things many Latino voters support.What’s more, Republicans told me, the Texas GOP and the Trump administration aren’t the same thing. “Latino voters … can distinguish between what a president is pushing and what a candidate for Senate is pushing,” said Daniel Garza, the president of the LIBRE Initiative, a conservative nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote free-market principles within the Hispanic community. Democrats shouldn’t expect Latinos to vote for them just because they might dislike Trump, Garza says. What the left doesn’t realize “is there are millions of Latinos that disagree with their policies.”According to Pew, roughly one-third of registered Latino voters identify as politically conservative. They include people like Eva Gobfredson, a 52-year-old who, like Anaya, grew up Catholic. At the door to her small, tidy house in Los Altos, Villalobos began his spiel in the usual way—“Republicans are letting the Latino community down ...”—but Gobfredson wasn’t having it.“You should know that I’m a Republican,” she told him, standing on her porch wearing pink house slippers. “I’m a pro-lifer … If you can’t protect life, then I can’t vote for you.” Gobfredson went on to explain that, while her own parents first came to the United States illegally from Mexico, family separations wouldn’t happen if people stopped trying to enter the country illegally. “You’re being separated because you want to,” she said.Gobfredson said Villalobos can certainly count on her to vote in November—but not for any Democrats.There are a handful of swing districts in Texas that Democrats hope to flip: In the Dallas area, Allred, a former NFL-linebacker-turned-attorney, is taking on Republican incumbent Pete Sessions in a district that’s 27 percent Latino. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is challenging Republican John Culberson in West Houston and Harris County, which is 30 percent Latino. And in Texas’s 23rd district, moderate Republican Will Hurd and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones are vying to represent a constituency that is 70 percent Latino. All of these seats are considered swing districts because they went to Hillary Clinton in 2016—and to win, each candidate is relying on a voter coalition that includes Latinos.For the first time in a while, progressive organizers say, they are excited about their chances. “I feel like we’re going to see a lot of Latino votes out there,” said Patricia Guerrero, TOP’s 34-year-old phone-banking director. “The Trump agenda has broken our hearts, but has made us come together.” David Sanchez, the civic-engagement director for Jolt, told me that when it comes to Latino turnout, he believes “2018 will look a little more like 2016” than the 2014 midterm election, when turnout was pretty dismal.But Texas pollsters and election experts say Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up. “I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Latino wave,” Soto said. “I think there’ll be a boost, but a smaller one.” The concentrated push from voter-turnout groups won’t necessarily be enough to overcome the myriad forces that have long kept turnout low.“Something completely extraordinary and ahistorical could happen,” said Josh Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, “but it’s not clear on the ground that we should expect that.”Kelvin Lopez looks for the next stop on his route while canvassing for Jolt in Garland. (Laura Buckman)And even with the possibility of slightly higher turnout, Blank said, Latino voters still wouldn’t outnumber the older, white portion of the electorate that votes most reliably—and most often for Republicans. “It would take multiple [Latino] surges for Texas to become really competitive [for Democrats],” Blank says.That means multiple election cycles—and more years of organizing from groups like TOP.At one of the last houses I visited with Villalobos in Los Altos, a stay-at-home mom named Marta answered the door. She declined to give her last name, and opened the door only enough to reveal part of her face—and the body of a small child clinging to her leg. Marta said she normally doesn’t vote, but in 2016, she and several other members of her family felt compelled to go to the polls to vote against Trump, because they didn’t like his attitude toward immigration.When he won, “it was disappointing,” Marta said. “I don’t know about voting anymore.”Villalobos told her that this election was a perfect opportunity to take action against Trump and “the Republican agenda.” Would she pledge to vote? “I don’t know,” Marta said. “I’ll try my best.”“See?” Villalobos said as we walked away from the house. “It’s there, it’s raw, we just gotta channel it.”Then, as if to reassure himself, he added: “We’re coming back, too!”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
At 63, I Threw Away My Prized Portrait of Robert E. Lee
On a Sunday morning in 2017 I took down his picture, and by afternoon it was in the alley with other rubbish awaiting transport to the local landfill for final burial. Hardly a hero’s end.The painting had no monetary value; it was really just a print of an original overlaid with brushstrokes to appear authentic. But 40 years earlier it had been a gift from a young Army wife to her lieutenant husband when the $25 price (framed) required juggling other needs in our budget.The dignified likeness of General Robert E. Lee in his Confederate Army uniform had been a prized possession of mine. I’d grown up not far from the Custis-Lee Mansion, and at West Point, Lee, the near-perfect cadet, Mexican War hero, academy superintendent, and, finally, the commander of the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia, cast a long, ever-present shadow. Later, in Army quarters from Fort Benning, Georgia, to Fort Lewis, Washington, the painting reflected my fascination with leadership, and it spoke of duty and selfless service.Although it was a portrait of a man, to many it evoked wider ideas and emotions. For like an object bathed in the light of the setting sun, Robert E. Lee’s shadow took on exaggerated size and grew steadily as America’s Civil War retreated ever further into the softer glow of history.A mythology grew around Lee and the cause he served. For many, Lee’s qualities and accomplishments, already impressive, gained godlike proportions. This was the Lee I first came to know: a leader whose flaws and failures were sanded off, the very human figure recast as a two-dimensional hero whose shadow had eclipsed the man from whom it came.But as time passed, the myth was reexamined. The darker side of Lee’s legacy, and the picture in my office, now communicated ideas about race and equality with which I sought no association. Down it came.It was not a simple decision. For almost 150 years, Lee had been a subject of study, and of admiration, not only for his skill, but also as a symbol of stoic commitment to duty. And while I could appreciate the visceral association with slavery and injustice that images of the Confederacy’s most famous commander evoke, for a lifetime, that’s not the association I’d drawn. I’d read and largely believed Winston Churchill’s statements that “Lee was one of the noblest Americans who ever lived and one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war.”At age 63, the same age at which Lee died, I concluded I was wrong—to some extent wrong about Lee as a leader, but certainly about the message that Lee as a symbol conveyed. And although I was slow to appreciate it, a significant part of American society, many still impacted by the legacy of slavery, had felt it all along.Most accounts of Lee as a man, and a leader—his physical presence, demeanor, valor, and apparent serenity—reflect almost quintessentially desirable leadership traits. But staring into a bright light makes it hard to see clearly. More than most, Lee is portrayed either in a glare of adulation or, more recently, under a dark cloud of disdain.At West Point, Lee and the other Southern heroes became icons whom other cadets and I instinctively sought to emulate. In a painful contradiction, they also betrayed the oath we shared, took up arms against their nation, and fought to kill former comrades—all in the defense of a cause committed to the morally indefensible maintenance of slavery.In terms of Lee’s character, in some ways he was a good man, and in other ways a bad one. But leadership itself is neither good nor evil. Malevolent leaders emerge as often as those we judge to be good. Leadership is better judged as either effective or not. Was Lee effective? In large ways yes, and in many ways no. It is difficult to separate Lee the leader from the mythology that has grown around him. If we look more closely, we’ll find that reality pushes back on the myth. Institutions have tremendous influence on the leaders that emerge within them. In the mid-19th century, Lee made himself into one of the most respected members of the United States Army. One way to understand the first 54 years of Lee’s life, which included a 32-year career in the United States Army, is to understand why, in 1861, he was offered high-ranking command on opposing sides in a civil war.As a cadet at West Point, Lee set a rarely achieved record of zero demerits and enviable academic marks. More fundamentally, he seemed to internalize the academy’s values captured in its motto of “Duty, Honor, Country.” Fellow cadets, who included a number of future comrades and battlefield opponents, gave their charismatic yet serious comrade the moniker of “Marble Man,” as though anticipating the role he would play for the last decade of his life, and for the first 150 years following his death.For 31 years following his graduation from West Point, Lee’s reputation as a soldier continued to rise. Entering a peacetime Army, he spent the first 17 years of his career working on projects fortifying America’s extensive coastline and improving navigation on the Mississippi River. Dignified and reflexively courteous, Lee exuded quiet professionalism, acting out a part he’d written for himself. The examples of those he admired, like George Washington, the values he had inherited from the society he came from, the history he read, and his incubation at West Point shaped the image of the leader he wanted to be, and the leader he molded himself into.Like many soldiers of his era, Lee first saw action in the Mexican War. Major General Winfield Scott, who commanded that war and was the most important Army officer of his era, frequently mentioned Lee in his dispatches, judging him to be “the very best soldier I ever saw in the field.” Within the Army, Lee had been marked as a man to watch.In the years following the Mexican War, Lee remained in uniform. He took a high-profile post as the superintendent of West Point in 1852 and, in 1855, he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel and a transfer to the cavalry. But his personal life increasingly intervened.The death in 1857 of his wife’s father, George Washington Parke Custis, caused Lee to take extended leave from his unit in order to settle family affairs. That process involved more than executing Custis’s last will and testament. The slave-worked estates were poorly run and heavily in debt, and the professional soldier found himself in an active role within the landed, slave-owning gentry for which the South was known.Lee’s own statements on slavery are conflicting, but his overall record is clear. Although he repeatedly expressed his theoretical opposition to slavery, he in fact reflected the conventional thinking of the society from which he came and actively supported the “peculiar institution” of slavery. Well before joining the Confederacy, Lee loathed abolitionists, and his feelings hardened as the Civil War dragged on.From as far back as 1859, Lee’s personal treatment of slaves has been a public issue. Although accusations that he beat his slaves are impossible to prove after 150 years, their veracity is arguably beside the point. Lee was a willing and active participant in a society and economy that rested on slavery, and he fought ferociously to defend it. Lee was a Southerner, and efforts to depict him in opposition to slavery run contrary to his actions.The road to America’s Civil War, and Lee’s fateful decision to join the Confederacy, was a long one. Pressure between the North and the South grew over decades, but the final straw for most in the Deep Southern states was the November 1860 election of the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. For Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, then commanding the 2nd United States Cavalry Regiment at Fort Mason, Texas, the immediate challenge was to lead, and to carefully manage, a mass of officers and soldiers who were individually challenged to choose between loyalty to their state, their nation, and the new Confederacy that might arise. Outside events threatened to rupture long-held loyalties and produce an assault on the very premise upon which the United States had been created some eight decades earlier.As pressures mounted, Lee read Edward Everett’s The Life of George Washington as if for guidance from the nation’s first president, spending these months meditating on where his own obligations lay. Was his duty, as he had sworn, to the United States, or, more basically, to its Army? Or did he owe allegiance to older ties to his beloved Virginia and, if it should secede, to the South? For Lee, the choice could not have been entirely the product of political analysis; that’s not how he functioned. Family, friendships, and visceral ties to the land and society from which he came all entered the calculus.Everett’s tome made it no easier. Washington’s legacy seems to have reaffirmed to Lee the magnitude of his impending decision: “How his great spirit would be grieved if he could see the wreck of his mighty labors,” he wrote on January 23, 1861. These times of solitary reflection likely brought more questions than answers.When cadets of South Carolina’s military college, The Citadel, fired upon a Union steamer which was attempting to resupply the Federal-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the march to war quickened. When Texas voted to secede and joined six other states of the slaveholding Deep South to form the Confederate States of America, the United States Army garrison at Fort Mason was now in potentially hostile territory—a delicate position for any commander. But Lee was spared the task of navigating this uncertainty alongside his troops when he was ordered to “report in person” to Washington, D.C.Events would soon force a personal decision. Although Lee saw secession as tragic, he had confessed to a friend that he felt his “loyalty to Virginia ought to take precedence over that which is due to the Federal government.” Reaching Arlington on March 1, 1861, the dutiful Lee looked to Virginia to guide his choice.Virginia, however, had not yet decided to join the Confederacy, and its choice, along with that of three other states of the Upper South—Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina—appeared to depend upon the turn of fast-moving events surrounding besieged Fort Sumter and the willingness and ability of Lincoln’s United States government to assuage Southern fears over the future of slavery under a Republican administration.Apparently firm in his conviction to attach his loyalty to Virginia but awaiting the South’s most populous and powerful state’s decision, Lee sent a somewhat mixed signal on March 28 by accepting a promotion to colonel in the United States Army.In Virginia, which had rejected a proposal for secession on April 4, opinion shifted after Lincoln’s call on April 15 for 75,000 soldiers to be raised to put down the growing rebellion in the South. Virginia’s departure from the United States was put into motion, with the state’s legislature conditionally approving secession.Against this backdrop, on the morning of April 18 Lincoln requested the highly regarded Lee to remain loyal to the Union and offered him command of the army of Federal volunteers being raised to put down the rebellion. Lincoln’s overture to secure Lee as a leader of Union military forces was a shrewd move. The new president had been told of Lee’s capability as a soldier, but he was also acutely aware of the cultural significance of having Lee, the Virginian, lead Union soldiers, a premonition that would hold true in converse as the dual weight of the Lee name and Virginia’s swing to the Confederacy became a tipping point for the secession of another three states. Lincoln’s cautious use of an intermediary in extending this invitation, to avoid embarrassment to his administration should Lee reject the Union’s overtures, was warranted. Lee refused “the offer he made me to take command of the army … though opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.”Winfield Scott told him that he must now formally resign.On April 20, 1861, Colonel Robert E. Lee tendered his resignation from the United States Army. “You have made the greatest mistake of your life, and I feared it would be so,” General Scott, his mentor since the Mexican War, told him.Virginia’s decision followed a month later when, in a referendum on May 23, 1861, 128,884 Virginians voted for secession, against the 32,134 who voted to remain in the Union. Lee the Virginian now became a Confederate.Although many historians view Lee’s loyalty to Virginia, and therefore his decision to fight for the Confederacy, as preordained, evidence and human nature suggest how excruciatingly difficult it actually was. Lee’s loyalties remained conflicted. He’d written extensively on his patriotism and faith in his nation: “There is no sacrifice I am not ready to make for the preservation of the Union, save that of honor,” but more fundamentally, Lee defined himself by duty.From his earliest days, Lee’s conduct, his diligence, and his willing sacrifices were rooted in fulfilling responsibilities he set for himself, and in meeting the expectations of others. It was a persona he crafted carefully and projected intentionally. It was not a false depiction, but instead it was remarkably accurate in reflecting the very essence of the man. For Lee, the torture came when the institutions and values to which he felt obligations came into conflict. For the first time in his life, he could not simultaneously meet all the commitments he’d made. In simply tying his decision to the course chosen by his native Virginia, he essentially passed the most important moral decision of his life to the popular vote of others. Soon he would find himself supporting the greatest evil in American history, slavery, and not only opposing, but ultimately trying to destroy, some of the very institutions and ideas he’d held dear.On April 22, 1861, when Lee accepted command of Virginia’s forces, he did it inside the state capitol at Richmond, which housed Jean-Antoine Houdon’s iconic statue of George Washington. As a boy in northern Virginia, Lee had walked the same streets as Washington; Lee’s wife was Washington’s step-great-granddaughter; and Lee had referenced the definitive biography of Washington when considering his loyalties at Fort Mason. In the Virginia statehouse in 1861, Lee was quite literally standing in his hero’s shadow. When he was named commander of Virginia’s forces, the president of the state convention even handed Lee one of Washington’s swords. In accepting, Lee would eventually commit himself to tearing asunder the nation that his role model had spent a life creating.Lee’s decision to abandon both the Army and the nation to which he had sworn allegiance and dedicated his life after being offered command of soldiers on opposing sides of the Civil War was a Plutarchian moment in American history if there ever was one. That is to say, it was a moment of historical significance when a leader had to choose between competing values that could not be resolved in the abstract. The soldier for whom the concept of loyalty and the obligation of duty were sacred found himself in a complex collision of competing ethics and responsibilities. The decision to join Virginia, and ultimately the Confederacy, resulted in contradictions Lee spent the remainder of his life trying to rationalize, and admirers have attempted to ignore or justify.Lee had some notable Civil War triumphs: Among the most memorable was Chancellorsville in 1863, in which he dispatched his intensely aggressive subordinate, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, on a daring march around the Union flank to win a famous victory. His “audacity” became the stuff of lore.Still, he lost.In April 1865, General Robert E. Lee put on his finest remaining dress uniform and rode his horse, Traveller, to meet the fellow West Pointer and Mexican War veteran General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, a small Virginia village, to discuss terms for the surrender of Lee’s army. The meeting, more than just the ending of the Civil War, was the beginning of the next chapter of the Lee legend.What Lee did following the war was less important than the emergence of the mythology of the Lost Cause. The Southern war to defend the right to hold other human beings in slavery was recast as a struggle to defend Southerners’ freedom to maintain a way of life and to safeguard the work of the founding generation—as they defined it. As the objectives were redefined, the war itself was also given a new narrative—that of an outnumbered, poorly supplied band of heroes who courageously and stoically fought until overwhelmed by the industrial North. And for that matter, even Northern politicians venerated the man. In 1936, in a tribute while unveiling a Lee statue, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said: All over the United States we recognize him as a great leader of men, as a great general. But, also, all over the United States I believe that we recognize him as something much more important than that. We recognize Robert E. Lee as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen. Lee personified a need for many across the country: He made the South’s cause seemingly noble, and gave a North seeking reconciliation a man-shaped olive branch. And so the statues came. Although he never sought the role, and while living played no part in its development, no leader better fit the Lost Cause narrative than Robert E. Lee. More than anyone, it was Lee the patrician hero, Lee the principled Southern patriot, and Lee the stoic warrior (rather than Lee the slaveholder, Lee the rebel, or Lee who had lost the Civil War) who fit the model in character and persona. Long after his death, he became the icon of the movement. As decades passed, Lee’s name and likeness spread, and took on whatever messages and meanings were desired by the observer.How do we judge Robert E. Lee—a leader I’d been raised to admire? The contradiction between the soldier whose qualities were held up for veneration and his effort to maintain slavery and divide the nation is clear. But apart from that, as a leader, what difference did he really make? How do we judge any leader? And what does our selection of leaders and heroes say about us?For me, as for many others, assessing Lee is particularly difficult. From one angle, his stature is simply too big, his memory too venerated. Four years after his death, a Southern congressman, Benjamin Harvey Hill of Georgia, eulogized the soldier from Virginia: He was a foe without hate; a friend without treachery; a soldier without cruelty; a victor without oppression, and a victim without murmuring. He was a public officer without vices; a private citizen without wrong; a neighbor without reproach; a Christian without hypocrisy, and a man without guile. He was a Caesar, without his ambition; Frederick, without his tyranny; Napoleon, without his selfishness, and Washington, without his reward. But another angle, a bronze Lee on horseback as depicted in one of the many statues of the man, seemingly leading the South’s successful resistance to equality and change, blurs our ability to assess. We know the reality that neither image is an accurate reflection of the man or the leader, but mythology overpowers reason.The picture of fellow soldier Robert E. Lee that hung in my home and inspired me for so long is gone, presumably crushed and buried with the other detritus of life. But the memory remains. The persona he crafted of a disciplined, dutiful soldier, devoid of intrigue and strictly loyal to a hierarchy of entities that began with God and his own sense of honor, combined with an extraordinary aptitude for war, pulls me toward the most traditional of leadership models. I try to stand a bit straighter. But when I contemplate his shortcomings, and admit his failures, as I must my own, there is a caution I would also do well to remember.This essay was adapted from Leaders by Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jay Mangone, published by Penguin Random House LLC.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
There Is No Easy Way for Trump to Stop the Latest Caravan
President Donald Trump is fuming over a U.S.-bound migrant caravan. Over the course of the past week, he’s posted 15 tweets about the caravan, estimated to consist of as many as 7,000 people, that left from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, earlier this month and has been growing along the way. Trump has placed blame on Democrats, threatened to cut aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and urged an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws despite Congress being out of session.He called the caravan an “assault on our country” at a rally Monday night in Houston and said the “Democrats had something to do with” it. Earlier in the day, Trump had pledged to cut off or “substantially” reduce foreign aid to the Northern Triangle countries.“They’re paid a lot of money every year. We give them foreign aid. They did nothing for us, nothing. They did nothing for us,” he told reporters, adding, “We have been giving so much money to so many different countries for so long and it’s not fair and it’s not good. Then when we asked them to keep their people in their country, they’re unable to do it.”[Read: Trump’s Closing Argument]Trump’s calls to action on immigration aren’t new. He campaigned on the issue in 2016 and has continued to push for his border wall since taking office. But it’s moments such as these, when images of thousands of migrants are broadcast across networks, that spark the president’s outrage and produce reactions that are highly problematic. Witness what happened in April, the last time a caravan from Latin America was headed north and the Trump administration implemented a policy called “zero tolerance” in hopes of deterring people from journeying to the southern border. Events since then have shown that this approach lacked nuance, triggered national and international outrage, and fell far short of addressing the deep-rooted problems that are causing people to migrate.“I think the idea from the Trump administration that you can somehow just stop people from coming by either threatening to cut off the aid—which basically goes to the government, not to the people that are fleeing—or by believing you can close off borders is not going to really address why people are very willing to get up from one day to the next, it seems, and travel north with the hope for a better life,” said Maureen Meyer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy organization.A key aspect of the “zero tolerance” policy that greeted the April caravan’s arrival called for the prosecution of adults crossing the border illegally. After pleading guilty to illegal entry—which is a misdemeanor—migrants were sentenced to time served and, later, processed for deportation. But this was the problem: “Criminalizing” border crossing necessitated family separation—because children by law couldn’t be kept in federal jail.[Read: Trumpism, Realized]Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the situation at the time as “a crisis … that necessitates an escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border.” Trump, under intense political pressure, eventually ended the policy, which had led to roughly 2,000 separated families, through an executive order in June. But even “zero tolerance” and family separation haven’t stemmed the flow of migrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.After prosecuting those illegally crossing the border, Sessions sought in June to make it much harder for migrants to be granted asylum: He reversed an immigration-appeals-court ruling and said that domestic abuse and gang violence no longer qualified as grounds for asylum. The ruling immediately undercut the claims of many migrants from Latin America, where gang violence is endemic. The administration has also recently been floating a number of possible new policies aimed at deterring migrants, one of which would include forcing parents who cross the border illegally with their children to give them up to foster care or be detained together, according to media reports.The goal is clear: to discourage migrants from coming to the United States. Former President Barack Obama also tried to stem the flow of immigrants journeying to the U.S.-Mexico border with threats of detention. He, too, discovered that deterrence policies usually fail in the face of economic distress and violence.To that end, in 2016, then–Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan that, with the help of the United Nations, would identify people eligible for refugee status in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Those who were fleeing imminent danger would be placed in Costa Rica for processing. The administration also expanded the Central American minors program to include siblings, parents, and caregivers accompanying minors.“It was limited in scope but it’s certainly tried to create legal ways for a small but growing population of people that were in dire need of protection,” Meyer said, noting that it wasn’t a long-term solution.The Trump administration ended the program in August 2017.The problem facing the administration is that many of the migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and seeking asylum, which calls at a minimum for a “credible fear” interview. If officials determine that a migrant’s credible-fear claims are valid, they can have him or her stay in ICE custody until their hearings, where a judge will ultimately make the final decision on their claim, or be released until their hearing date, which can take months, if not years, given backlogs in the immigration courts. (The United States is obligated, under the Refugee Act of 1980, to offer protection to those who qualify as refugees, including asylum seekers.)“This population is not trying to evade capture at the border,” said John Sandweg, who served as a counselor to then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and as the acting director of ICE from 2013 to 2014. “These people are surrendering when they cross the border.” This is a stark difference from pre-2014, when largely Mexican nationals were trying to evade U.S. officials when crossing the border, Sandweg noted.Now that the Trump administration is no longer separating migrant children from their parents, it has run headlong into another legal impediment: a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores agreement, which says that children cannot be kept in immigration detention for longer than 20 days. Administration officials have taken steps to withdraw from the agreement without effect.So for now, they have no choice but to release families seeking asylum before the 20 days have run out, leaving migrants waiting for their hearing dates stuck in Arizona and other locales along the border with a process Trump loathes and has denigrated as “catch and release.”What is the Trump administration to do? One solution requires quickly and vastly expanding the immigration courts, so asylum hearings can be held in days or weeks, doing away with the need to release families waiting for their hearing dates. Sessions has been hiring immigration judges and plans to add at least 75 more this fall, which could speed up the process. But far more judges would have to be brought on to effectively end “catch and release.”[Read: Sessions Is Transforming the Immigration Courts]The administration is also reportedly considering ways to deport people more quickly and extend the use of ankle monitors, which have been used to track immigrants awaiting their hearings. Sandweg agrees that deportation might work as a deterrent, but that, too, requires time and resources.Immigrant advocates have meanwhile argued for the continued aid to the Northern Triangle countries and fair hearings for immigrants seeking asylum that would allow them to cite fears of gang and domestic violence. The conservative Heritage Foundation, for one, has warned about the consequences of cutting aid to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.The latest caravan is not expected to arrive to the U.S. until after the November election, and it’s likely to dwindle in size as it makes its way through Mexico. The president, who has used fear of undocumented immigration as a potent means of energizing his conservative base, will need to confront how to address those migrants. “There is,” Sandweg said, “no immediate solution.”
9 h
World Edition - The Atlantic
A Conservative Case for Taxing Elite Universities
Conservatives aren’t terribly fond of America’s elite universities. Recent research from the political scientists Carlos X. Lastra-Anadon and Thomas Gift found that while liberals consider elite-educated politicians more competent than those with less illustrious pedigrees, conservatives find them considerably less appealing. Though liberals were just as inclined to back candidates educated at Ivy League universities as those who were not, conservatives were less likely to vote for Ivy Leaguers. It seems that President Trump’s frequent boasts about having attended the elite Wharton School were, to conservative voters, at least, less a draw than an obstacle to overcome. And that is as it should be.Lastra-Anadon and Gift observe that Ronald Reagan was the last U.S. president not to have been educated at an Ivy League university, and that more than 40 of the 535 members of 115th Congress have degrees from Harvard alone. The most recent Supreme Court confirmation battle drew attention to the egregious overrepresentation of Yale and Harvard Law Schools among the justices and the clerks who serve them, virtually all of whom then rise into the loftiest heights of the legal profession. Graduates of elite universities are overrepresented in countless other domains, from the arts to corporate management.This is one reason their admissions practices are so politically fraught. If the composition of the student bodies of the Ivy League universities and their peer institutions were immaterial, there wouldn’t be such consternation over whether or not, say, Harvard discriminates against applicants of Asian origin. Rather, there is a widespread sense that the admissions decisions of ultra-selective colleges and universities are of great consequence, and that they ought to be scrutinized.Nevertheless, I doubt that admissions are really the heart of the issue. Though a number of recent surveys have found that large majorities are opposed to allowing colleges to consider race in their admissions decisions, it is not at all obvious that race-blind admissions would bolster the legitimacy of elite higher education. The battle over racial preferences is, ultimately, a battle among people who share the premise that elitism in higher education is worth defending.What, then, accounts for conservative wariness towards Ivy Leaguers? For one, many on the right see Ivy League universities and other similarly selective institutions as bastions of left-liberalism, where dissent from the right is tolerated only begrudgingly. Of course, one could argue that the leftism of the country’s most storied educational institutions has been exaggerated by activists looking to score points at the expense of the academy, or that the political enthusiasms of status-seeking young activists and the professors who gush over them can be safely dismissed as harmless posturing.But even if we were to accept both of these objections as true, conservatives would still have good reason to cast a wary eye on the most richly-endowed universities in the country: their power and influence is unbefitting a democratic society. And more prosaically, it is not clear that these institutions are generating public benefits commensurate with the extraordinary public privileges they enjoy, including, most of all, their favorable tax treatment. These are, to my mind, the issues conservative critics of academic elitism ought to focus on—not racial preferences, which aim to make elitism more palatable, nor even the spread of leftist orthodoxy on elite campuses, which can be understood as a form of ritualistic self-flagellation by people who have no interest in surrendering their elite status, but rather the fact that we as a country are actively subsidizing institutions that, in their current form, have noxious spillover effects.To defenders of America’s elite universities, the notion that they are anything other than the crown jewels of our stratified educational system amounts to sacrilege. Part of the reason is that many wealthy and influential Americans are either graduates of such universities, in which case they are invested in the idea that the imprimatur of these institutions is something of great value, or they desperately want to enroll their daughters and sons in them.And though these universities largely cater to the offspring of affluent families—as of the class of 2013, the median parental income of a Harvard undergraduate was $168,800—it must be said that they do make an effort to recruit students from more modest backgrounds. Though students from households earning $65,000 or less represent a small minority of Harvard undergraduates, they are offered full financial aid, and for good reason: They provide their better-off classmates with an education in how the other half lives, and for that they are compensated with a “free” education. It is these working- and middle-class young people who make the elite universities something other than finishing schools for the upper class, and who provide a fig leaf of legitimacy for their exclusivity. A cynic might say that these students serve the function of making the system seem just porous enough to pass as meritocratic. But does the fact that an elite education offers a small handful of young people from less-than-plutocratic origins a means of ascent justify their exalted status? I’m not so sure.Until the postwar era, the United States stood out as one of the world’s most highly educated societies. Since then, we’ve been surpassed by a number of other market democracies, including Canada. One of the more striking differences between the U.S. and Canada is that while both countries enroll more than 60 percent of their high school graduates in postsecondary education, and both are home to elite research universities that generate a great deal of valuable research, Canadian higher education is far more egalitarian. It is relatively rare for students to leave their home provinces to pursue their undergraduate studies, and the locus of competition is more within large public universities, where students vie to enroll in majors that might lead to more remunerative careers, than it is across universities.The U.S., in contrast, has a far more hierarchical higher education system, with a small number of selective private institutions at the top of the pecking order; a squeezed middle of less-selective public institutions that offer instruction of reasonably high quality, though this sector finds itself under pressure from a combination of rising administrative expenditures, pointless positional competition with the elite institutions, and, arguably, public disinvestment; and a large, expanding universe of institutions that offer degrees of dubious quality at ruinous cost, the worst of which are not unreasonably described as predatory. All of the above are underwritten, to greater or lesser extents, by the federal government.What are the consequences of these differences between Canada and U.S.? One, as the economists Valerie Ramey and Gary Ramey have suggested, is that college-educated parents find themselves locked in a “rug rat race,” in which an intensified, zero-sum competition for access to selective universities in the U.S. has led to increased expenditures of time and money. The less rivalrous nature of Canadian college admissions has led, it seems, to a more humane approach to middle-class parenting that is more compatible with an egalitarian ethic. At the same time, one could argue that higher education elitism in America generates the aforementioned negative spillovers for millions of U.S. families, with parents warping their lives and those of their children in the forlorn hope of besting others very much like themselves in a mindless race for status.And to what end? Does this ferocious competition elicit greatness from America’s youth, or does it drive grade inflation and differential diagnoses of learning disabilities that necessitate all manner of accommodation for the children of the well-off? Judging by PISA scores, a comparative assessment of educational outcomes, U.S. K-12 students fare far worse than their counterparts in comparably affluent market democracies, Canada very much included, on tests of literacy and quantitative reasoning. The zero-sum competition among high schoolers at the top does not appear to have boosted performance on average. As the economist Eric Hanushek recently observed, “if we were to close just half the gap between our students’ PISA scores and Canada’s, it would lead to long-run annual economic-growth rates that are almost 0.5 percentage points higher.” This is despite the fact that Canadian schoolers are not engaged in a sharp-elbowed battle to secure admission to their local equivalents of Princeton or Yale, as local equivalents simply don’t exist.Granted, it is also true that Canada’s universities aren’t nearly as celebrated around the world as the Ivies. Dictators aren’t quite as keen to enroll their offspring in the University of Toronto as they are to send them to Harvard, as Xi Jinping, most notably, has done very recently. Stanford’s magnetism among Asia’s mega-rich far surpasses that of the University of British Columbia, the comparable beauty of its campus notwithstanding. Yet Canadian research universities have been holding their own. The University of Toronto, for example, has emerged as a leading center of research and business-model innovation around artificial intelligence. It turns out that Canada’s more inclusive and egalitarian public universities can, under the right circumstances, compete rather effectively with their elite—and elitist—counterparts south of the border.Conservative anti-elitists would do well to take a long, hard look at America’s elite universities. In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, congressional Republicans included a controversial endowment tax aimed at higher education institutions with endowments of over $500,000 per student and with 500 or more tuition-paying enrollees, a narrowly-tailored measure that richly endowed universities have made sport of avoiding through various sophisticated stratagems. This endowment tax has been attacked as cynical and pointless. My complaint is that it didn’t go far enough.Ideally, an endowment tax would be designed in such a way as to encourage elite universities to become less elitist, much as a carbon tax is designed to curb pollution. What would this look like in practice? Aaron Klein and Richard V. Reeves, writing for the Brookings Institution, have suggested an exemption or reduction in the tax for universities that enroll at least one-third of their students from Pell-eligible households. In a related vein, my colleague Alia Wong has called for elite universities to enroll more students, and especially more first-generation and working-class students.This would be a good start. So too would expecting them to support degree-granting programs accessible to a wider slice of the public. Kevin Carey of New America favors the establishment of a federal virtual university, which would offer competency-based credentials at low cost. Incumbent universities that partnered with such an institution ought to be treated more generously than those that failed to do so.One can easily imagine other nudges designed to demonstrate the seriousness of a university’s commitment to breaking down the barriers to high-quality education. Over time, America’s elite universities might transform themselves into institutions exclusively devoted to basic research, a mission that unquestionably deserves taxpayer support in a democratic society, while leaving the care and feeding of ultra-rich teens and 20-somethings to for-profit enterprises that could build their own Ivy-covered, ersatz-Gothic leisure palaces from scratch.Not all universities will be willing to abandon their storied role as finishing schools for the elite, which is fair enough. In a free society, private institutions should be allowed to go their own way, especially when they choose not to accept federal aid. But for those that do accept federal funds, the endowment tax will be there to keep them in check—and every cent of revenue should flow to Pell grants and other programs designed to promote upward mobility.The project of repurposing the endowment tax as a tax on the entrenchment of class privilege may well be doomed. The mainstream center-left would, I suspect, denounce a program along these lines, as elite universities are as much a constituency of the Democratic Party as public-sector unions. The same probably goes for the mainstream center-right, which is no less susceptible to the siren song of prestige. Yet the rise of populism, of both the right- and left-wing varieties, has opened up new possibilities. A more vigorous anti-elitism in the realm of higher education just might be one of them.
World Edition - The Atlantic
Trump’s New Cold War
Many people in Washington are angry at the Trump administration’s coddling of Saudi Arabia. They’re angry at Trump’s efforts to exonerate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Outrage is spreading to America’s participation in Riyadh’s war in Yemen, where a Saudi blockade on the country’s main port has left eight million at risk of starvation. Good. Given that the U.S. military is providing arms, intelligence, and fuel for a Saudi bombing campaign that the UN calls a “war crime,” the indignation is overdue. But it’s too limited. The Trump administration’s support for Saudi barbarism is a symptom. The disease is its enthusiasm for a new cold war in the Middle East.When it comes to the Middle East, Trump and his foreign-policy advisers have a simple analysis: Iran is the problem and Saudi Arabia is part of the answer. The Iranians are revolutionaries; the Saudis are moderates. Iran promotes chaos; Saudi Arabia promotes stability. Iran sponsors terrorism; Saudi Arabia helps combat it. Iran, in the words of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is an “outlaw regime.” By contrast, Saudi Arabia, Trump says, “share[s]” America’s “aim of stamping out extremism.”This is nonsense. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both despotisms. (Freedom House rates regimes on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the freest. In 2018, Tehran garnered an 18; Riyadh a 7.) Both destabilize governments they oppose and buttress those they support. In Yemen, Tehran is backing the rebels; in Syria, Riyadh is. Both support terrorism when it suits their aims. Iran is more deeply implicated in terrorism against Israel. Saudi Arabia is more deeply implicated in terrorism against the United States.America should be trying to ease the Iranian-Saudi cold war, which has fueled the hideous proxy wars that have devastated Syria and Yemen. Instead, Trump is inflaming it.Trump’s eagerness for a cold war with Iran underlies his refusal to punish Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s murder. When justifying his refusal to condemn Riyadh, Trump often cites Saudi purchases of U.S. arms. But that’s at least partly a smokescreen. The bigger reason is that without Saudi Arabia, America can’t get tough on Iran. As David Sanger reported last week in The New York Times, “Trump administration officials and outside experts said that possible repercussions on an elaborate plan to squeeze the Iranians have dominated internal discussions about the fallout over what happened to Mr. Khashoggi. By comparison, they said, the issue of limiting American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which Mr. Trump has said would threaten American jobs, pales in importance.”As part of Trump’s “plan to squeeze the Iranians,” Mike Pompeo has vowed to try to push “global imports of Iranian crude oil as close to zero” as possible. Doing that without boosting global oil prices requires ensuring that the Saudis keep production high. So in order to destroy Iran’s economy, the Trump administration must stay on Riyadh’s good side, even if it means helping the royal family wage a war that’s killing Yemeni children or lie about murdering Saudi journalists. That’s a cost of America’s enthusiasm for cold war.But it’s only part of the cost. America’s cold war posture is also terrible for the people of Iran. According to a 2016 study in the journal Global Health, American sanctions—which have prevented Iran from importing prescription drugs or the raw materials to make them—have left six million Iranians “without access to essential treatment.” The architect of those sanctions is Barack Obama, who between 2010 and 2012, in coordination with America’s European allies, made it almost impossible for Iranian companies to import or export to the West or transfer money through Western banks. Obama, however, saw those sanctions as a short-term gambit to convince Tehran to sign a nuclear deal. Once the deal was signed, he began lifting them.Trump, by contrast, is set to reimpose sanctions next month. And since he has no remotely feasible strategy for negotiating a new nuclear agreement to replace the one he’s abandoned, those sanctions will likely stay in place for quite a while. They will bring misery and death to ordinary Iranians. They will also likely weaken Iranian’s democratic opposition. Research by the University of Memphis’ Dursen Peksen shows that sanctioned regimes usually grow less democratic and more brutal. As resources grow scarcer, authoritarian governments dole them out to their supporters and deny them to their opponents. Professionals—who are crucial to replacing tyranny with liberal democracy—emigrate. Sanctions-busting breeds criminal networks, which—as in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq—can become a fearsome and enduring political force. All of which helps explain why Iranian dissidents, the very people Trump is supposedly championing, overwhelmingly oppose the sanctions he is set to reinstate.This is the grim symmetry of Trump’s cold war strategy. His coddling of Riyadh is terrible for those Saudis, like Khashoggi, who want liberal democracy. And his economic warfare against Tehran is terrible for their counterparts who want liberal democracy in Iran.Trump’s new cold war in the Middle East evokes the ugliest periods of America’s cold war against the Soviet Union. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, the United States repeatedly exaggerated the threat posed by communist movements and regimes in the developing world and invented moral distinctions between America’s tyrannical adversaries and America’s tyrannical allies that didn’t actually exist. Fortified by these delusions, cold war presidents helped pro-American autocrats oppress their own people while devastating the people living under anti-American regimes the U.S. opposed. In the name of anti-communism, Lyndon Johnson’s administration backed Indonesian General Suharto as he massacred a half-million people and dropped 7.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam. Salvadorans are still exhuming the bodies of civilians murdered by El Salvador’s right-wing military in the early 1980s, a regime the Reagan administration supported while it simultaneously mined harbors in left-wing Nicaragua.Trump is reviving these inglorious traditions today. His critics should not be content to protest his cover-up of Khashoggi’s murder. They should not even be content with ending America’s complicity in the war in Yemen. The root of the problem is the Trump administration’s effort to escalate confrontation in a part of the world that desperately needs less of it. If Democrats gain power in Congress this fall, that’s the target at which they must take aim.
World Edition - The Atlantic
The Atlantic Daily: Taking Some of the Sheen Off
What We’re FollowingFederal Registry: A Department of Health and Human Services memo reportedly seeks to “define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” Such a binary definition draws from an unscientific understanding of developmental biology, writes James Hamblin: Implausibility aside, “this is a federal agency proposing widespread genetic testing and keeping records of citizens’ genitals.”To the Left: Two Democratic senators with overlapping politics—one who was already a 2016 contender and another long considered in the running for 2020—are headed for a standoff. But one made a widely criticized misstep just this past week. For the other, it “weighs heavily on him to make sure Trump loses.”Talking About the Dead: How can we be transparent in discussing urgent issues like substance abuse while respecting the loss of a life? These two recent hip-hop controversies show how hard balancing these dueling sensitivities can be.— Shan WangSnapshot Central American migrants in a caravan heading to the U.S. walk along the road linking Ciudad Hidalgo and Tapachula in southern Mexico on October 21, 2018. See the scenes from their route here.Evening ReadThe Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was once hailed as a reformer in Washington. After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he’s now being seen in a different light: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia, an occasion marked by pageantry and the announcement of billions of dollars of business agreements. MbS’s subsequent visit to the U.S. not only included meetings in the White House, but also network-television interviews, glowing media profiles, and dinner with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. If there were reservations in the Trump administration over the war in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar, the detention of Saudi royals, or the arrests of women’s-rights activists, they weren’t aired in public. But the Khashoggi affair has taken some of the sheen off of MbS and, by extension, Saudi Arabia. Three lobbying firms—the Harbour Group, BGR, and the Glover Park Group—all ended their contracts with the kingdom since Khashoggi’s disappearance. Such moves, however, are rare and likely to be temporary, Freeman said. Saudi Arabia has actually signed at least one lobbying contract amid the crisis. Kushner has reportedly told Trump to continue supporting MbS, because he believes the crisis will pass. Read on.What Do You Know … About Education?1. In January, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed the world’s first minister to address the issue of ___________________; newly released plans include measures that will be enacted starting as early as primary school.Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.2. This small college in Kentucky has paid for all of its students’ tuition through its endowment for the past 126 years.Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.3. A recent report found that the share of black adults who hold a bachelor’s or associate’s degree—31 percent—is roughly _____________ that of white ones. Latino adults—23 percent—are just half as likely as white adults to hold these degrees.Scroll down for the answer, or find it here. Answers: loneliness / berea college / two-thirds Looking for our daily mini crossword? Try your hand at it here—the puzzle gets more difficult through the week. We’re always looking for ways to improve The Atlantic Daily, and we welcome your thoughts as we work to make a better newsletter for you. Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up.
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The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Trump to Stump
Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey), Madeleine Carlisle (@maddiecarlisle2), and Olivia Paschal (@oliviacpaschal)Today in 5 Lines Turkey released images from a surveillance camera inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that show a man leaving the consulate dressed in the late journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s clothes. The footage seemed to suggest that he was part of a ploy by the Saudi team that killed Khashoggi, to misdirect early investigations into the journalist’s disappearance. The Kremlin said that Russia will respond in kind if the United States begins to develop intermediate nuclear weapons after Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Trump tweeted, without evidence, that the caravan of migrants traveling from Honduras and Guatemala includes “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.” The migrants are currently moving across the southern part of Mexico toward the U.S. border. Trump also threatened, via tweet, to cut off foreign aid to the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador for not stopping the caravan. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an interview that he told Russian diplomats that Russian “meddling in our election process had hardly had any real effect.” Trump will hold a campaign rally in Houston at 7:30 ET for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is facing a challenge from Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Today on The Atlantic That’s Not How Biology Works: The Trump administration's plan to define gender as a static dichotomy erases transgender people, defies basic science, and proposes “widespread genetic testing and [recordkeeping] of citizens’ genitals,” writes James Hamblin. Elizabeth Warren, Unnerved: The Massachusetts senator’s DNA test shows how President Trump’s “can push sensible people past the point of madness.” (Caitlin Flanagan) Pence’s New Talking Point: Out on the campaign trail, Vice President Mike Pence has been telling voters that Republican changes to the food-stamp program will remind poor people of the “dignity of work.” He’s probably wrong. (Olivia Paschal) The Limits of Rage: Though effective in the short-term, the growing amounts of anger spreading through American politics will poison the whole system for years to come. History proves so. (Joanne Freeman) SnapshotResidents hand out water bottles to Central American migrants making their way to the U.S. in a large caravan, at the main plaza in Tapachula, Mexico. Thousands of Central American migrants hoping to reach the U.S. were deciding Monday whether to rest in this southern Mexico town or resume their arduous walk through Mexico as President Donald Trump rained more threats on their governments. (Moises Castillo / AP)What We’re ReadingLocal Matters: Voter turnout in local elections is abysmally low. Fortunately, argues Zoltan L. Hajnal, there’s an easy fix. (The New York Times)‘Make Do With What We’ve Got’: Suzanne Venker explains why she still supports Trump, and why she thinks other suburban women still do, too. (Washington Examiner)Not Out Of It Yet: The GOP could still hold on to the House. Here’s how. (David M. Drucker, The New York Post) To Hell With Civility: Journalists shouldn’t be criticizing activists for confronting politicians in restaurants. They’re exercising the same rights that protect the freedom of the press, argues Heather Digby Parton. (Salon)On the Other Hand: Talk to politicians in public all you want. But throwing away their food is a step too far, says Joseph Gerth. (Louisville Courier-Journal)VisualizedWhere Does It All Go?: These states are seeing the biggest influx of midterm campaign cash. (The Washington Post)
World Edition - The Atlantic
Khashoggi’s Disappearance Is a Test for Britain
LONDON—When news broke this year that former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had come into contact with the deadly nerve agent Novichok in the English city of Salisbury, the United Kingdom acted fast.Within a week, Prime Minister Theresa May had pointed the finger at Moscow, triggering a coordinated response against Russia’s “unlawful use of force” with the largest expulsion of Russian intelligence officers from Britain since the Cold War. London’s allies followed suit, and sanctions eventually followed. But when reports emerged this month of another attack—Saudi Arabia’s suspected abduction and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul—the response was markedly different. Words of condemnation were replaced with expressions of concern, and threats of reprisals swapped with calls for patience. Implicit in this more muted response was concern for what would be at stake if the U.K. were to confront its Gulf ally, with whom it shares a strategic intelligence partnership, as well as billions of pounds in trade.Still, as evidence mounts over Saudi Arabia’s official role in Khashoggi’s death, the U.K. has been forced to address it. Last week, Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox joined the long list of high-profile attendees to drop out of the Saudis’ so-called “Davos in the Desert” investment conference—a move that coincided with the announcement that the U.K., along with France, Germany, and the Netherlands, would be suspending all political visits to the kingdom. Following Saudi Arabia’s statement Friday that Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue operation,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that Saudi Arabia’s admission “does not amount to a credible explanation,” and called on the Saudi government to provide “urgent” clarification about exactly what happened to Khashoggi.Khashoggi, who was a vocal critic of the Saudi royal family, was last seen entering the country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2. There, Turkish authorities allege, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a team of 15 men linked to the Saudi royal court. Saudi Arabia, which previously denied having anything to do with his disappearance, later said Khashoggi was killed in the consulate as part of an unauthorized operation, and affirmed that those who were responsible would be punished.[Hassan Hassan: What’s missing from the Saudis’ Khashoggi story]Though the U.K. was among the first countries to publicly respond to reports of Khashoggi’s disappearance, it has so far stopped short of detailing the potential repercussions for Saudi Arabia, with whom it shares counter-terrorism intelligence and a multi-billion pound trading relationship. Germany, for example, has said it would consider halting arms exports.When pressed on whether Britain would consider doing the same, Hunt said the government would await the final outcome of the investigation before making any decisions. “If the appalling stories we are reading turn out to be true, they are fundamentally incompatible with our values and we will act accordingly,” he told British lawmakers on Monday, but added: “We have an important strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia involving defense and security cooperation, which has saved lives on the streets of Britain. We also have a trading partnership that supports thousands of jobs.”[Jonathan Schanzer: The experts were wrong about the Middle East]That the suspected murder implicates a longtime ally is just one of the reasons the U.K. has been under pressure to address the allegations. Another is the timing: It was only seven months ago that Britain retaliated against the Russian government’s alleged assassination attempt on the Skripals. Some fear failing to respond in a similar manner now—especially when it concerns an ally—could be regarded as hypocrisy.In addition to being one of Britain’s key trading partners, Saudi Arabia is also considered the lifeblood of its arms exports industry. Half of Britain’s arms exports go to Saudi Arabia in terms of value, David Wearing, the author of AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain, told me. Though exports to Saudi Arabia made up just 1 percent of the U.K.’s total export value in 2016, the value of the relationship goes beyond money. Selling arms to Saudi Arabia, Wearing said, helps Britain “project power into a really strategically significant part of the world. … Britain needs a domestic arms industry to ensure that it can continue being a major international military power.”The U.K. isn’t the only country giving its Gulf ally the benefit of the doubt—for now. President Trump on Friday appeared to accept Saudi Arabia’s explanation of what happened to Khashoggi, which he dubbed “credible.” Though the president has so far ruled out suspending U.S. arms sales to Riyadh as a punishment, a more severe response could come from Congress, which has already signaled that it has bipartisan support to act if the allegations are proven true.Trade and security have not, however, made the U.K.’s partnership with Riyadh immune to scrutiny.Since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ascent to power last year, a series of foreign policy moves—from the war in Yemen to the bizarre detention of Lebanon’s prime minister—has prompted some British lawmakers to advocate for a tougher approach on Saudi Arabia. Such calls have become more pronounced in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance and the emergence of grisly details about how he was allegedly killed.Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative lawmaker and the chair of the foreign-affairs select committee of the House of Commons, said the U.K. should consider downgrading diplomatic relations with Riyadh if the allegations are proven true. John McDonnell, the finance spokesman for the opposition Labour party, said an inadequate response by Riyadh should trigger economic sanctions.Armida van Rij, a research associate at the Policy Institute at King’s College London, told me cross-party support for applying greater pressure on Saudi Arabia is unusual for Britain, and may signal a shift in the U.K.-Saudi relationship. If the allegations against the kingdom are proven true, she said, it could pose a test to Britain’s global leadership.“This is a good opportunity, in the worst situation possible, for the U.K. to show that kind of leadership it says it wants to demonstrate,” she said. “According to the prime minister, the U.K. would defend and uphold the international rules-based order. … If the U.K. were to respond in a far more mild manner to the Khashoggi case than it did to the [Russian] Novichok attack, that would expose it to criticism of hypocrisy.”And in an editorial last week, Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry said the U.K. “must apply the same standards to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt that we apply to Iran, Russia, and Syria.”[Read: How to respond to a diplomatic crisis like Khashoggi’s disappearance]Whereas the British government and its global allies rebuffed Russia’s request to be involved in the investigation into the poisoning of the Skripals earlier this year, the U.K. and its partners have so far welcomed Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would conduct its own investigation into the Khashoggi affair.But, Wearing said, “The Saudis can’t do a credible investigation—that’s just obvious.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Photos of the Central American Immigrant Caravan
On October 13, a group of hundreds of people gathered to flee their impoverished home country of Honduras together in a caravan headed toward the United States, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. That caravan quickly swelled to approximately 7,000 Central American immigrants as they passed north through Guatemala. As of today, most of these men, women, and children have just entered Mexico, yet they remain more than a thousand miles south of the U.S. border. President Donald Trump has called the approaching group a “national emergency,” and vowed to cut tens of millions of dollars in aid to three Central American countries, and to possibly cancel a recent trade deal with Mexico, if the caravan isn’t stopped before it reaches the U.S. Below, photographs of the caravan over its first ten days, and some of the difficult paths taken by those involved.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The World's Most Valuable Parasite Is in Trouble
Ten years ago, Kelly Hopping was driving through a Tibetan mountain pass when her Chinese colleague stopped the car, hopped out, walked to a roadside stall, and returned with what looked like a bag of Cheetos on sticks. Each orange lump was, in fact, a dead caterpillar, whose body had been overrun by a fungus (the stick). Hopping’s colleague, whose mother had cancer, had bought them for their medicinal value—and he had parted with an astonishing $1,000 for around 250 pieces. “My mind was blown,” says Hopping, an ecologist at Boise State University.The caterpillar fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is the world’s most valuable parasite. It’s a relative of the tropical fungus that turns ants into zombies, but unlike its infamous cousin, it is only found on the Tibetan plateau, where it infects the larvae of ghost moths. It has long been part of traditional Chinese medicine, and demand for it has risen so sharply in recent decades that, in Beijing, it is now worth three times its weight in gold. In Bhutan, one of the countries where the fungus is harvested, it accounts for a significant slice of the gross domestic product.[Read: How the zombie fungus takes over ants’ bodies to control their minds]That’s good news for the people of the Tibetan plateau, hundreds of thousands of whom harvest the fungus as their main source of income. It pays for food, clothes, medical bills, and education. It allows them to eke out a living on the roof of the world, where livings are increasingly hard to eke out.But tough times lie ahead. By interviewing hundreds of collectors, and analyzing the local climate, Hopping has conclusively shown what others have suspected: The precious fungus is disappearing, thanks to a double whammy of overharvesting and warming weather. The caterpillar fungus bubble is ready to burst, and an entire way of life could vanish with it. “I asked them: Would you do something different if you could?” Hopping says. “A lot of people said: Yes, if there was another way to make money. But I don’t have any other options.”The fungus first infects caterpillars in the summer, while they are buried underground and feeding on plant roots. It grows through their bodies in the fall and winter, slowly consuming them. Once the overlying snow melts in the spring, the fungus forces its almost-dead hosts toward the surface, before sending a dark-brown, spore-filled stalk through their heads. For that reason, the fungus is known locally as yartsa gunbu, from the Tibetan words for “winter worm, summer grass.”Spotting the dark stalks the fungus extrudes is tricky, since they closely resemble the sedges that flourish in Tibet’s alpine meadows. Digging them out is even harder. “If the fungus breaks off the caterpillar, it loses value, so during the harvest, it’s really important to keep the two parts connected,” says Hopping. “And the turf in these areas is so thick that when I was taking soil samples, I’d have to cut it with a knife.” It’s laborious work, but for the collectors, it’s also a social activity—a chance to hang out with friends on a summery mountainside.A caterpillar fungus stalk, sticking out from the ground (Kelly Hopping)The collectors work between May and June. Once they’ve unearthed their prizes, they sell to visiting traders using a complicated haggling system, where their hands secretly exchange offers and counter-offers while hidden by the long sleeves of their robes. Once sold, the caterpillars slowly work their way through a chain of middle-men, and toward the bustling metropolises of Hong Kong and mainland China.Though the fungus has been prized as medicine for centuries, demand for it was long restricted to elites. That started changing in September 1993, when a team of Chinese athletes unexpectedly smashed several world records in track and field events—a feat that their coach partly attributed to their consumption of caterpillar fungus. Whether or not that was true (and there have long been suspicions about doping), the claims helped to turn the fungus into a valuable commodity, as did subsequent rumors in 2003 that it could help to ward off SARS. Demand surged, and collecting and selling the weird parasite became truly profitable.Between 1997 and 2012, prices rose by 20 percent every year, and the global market for caterpillar fungus is now worth between $5 billion and $11 billion. The high end of that market was driven by the parasite’s newly symbolic value as a bribe: The biggest and most attractive pieces are used as business gifts, and sell for around $140,000 per kilogram. But there’s also a huge demand for smaller and cheaper pieces, thanks to China’s booming middle class. The fungus is no longer just a treat for emperors and businessmen; it’s coveted by ordinary people, who are now taking it prophylactically to ward off all kinds of possible ills.The fungus is often described as “Himalayan Viagra” by Western media, but Hopping says that she never heard it described that way in Tibet. People mostly take it as a generic immune booster, or to treat a growing list of conditions including cancer. Its anti-tumor properties have never been tested in a clinical trial, but researchers have isolated pharmacological compounds from the organism. “It’s not medically worthless, like rhino horn,” says Hopping. “Whether the price is commensurate with its medicinal value is another thing.”“Its role in contemporary Tibetan lives and livelihoods is really very difficult to overstate,” says Emily Yeh from the University of Colorado at Boulder. “In many rural areas, it is the single most important source of cash income.” People have rearranged their lives around the harvest. Some have fought violently over access to fungus zones. Certain schools schedule vacations so that students can go collecting.Despite its importance, the fungus might be in trouble. “A lot of people remembered that they would find it everywhere when they were children,” says Hopping, who interviewed dozens of collectors. Decades ago, it was so unremarkable that they’d trade it for cookies, and so abundant that its stalks would redden the meadows. That’s no longer the case. By comparing her interviews with hundreds from prior studies, Hopping showed that over the past decade, more and more collectors have said that the harvest is thinning. “They used to say it’s fluctuating, and now they’re unequivocally saying it’s decreasing,” she says.The frenetic harvesting is almost certainly involved. By extracting the fungus before it has a chance to lace the soil with spores, the collectors are preventing the next rounds of infection. And, as Hopping’s interviews show, many of them recognize the problem. “They’re aware they’re contributing to this but they don’t have an alternative,” she says.A small number of respondents also said that changing climate was involved—and Hopping found that they are right to think that. By comparing the abundance of the fungus to features of the local climate, Hopping showed that it grows best in areas between 3,000 and 5,000 meters above sea level, where there’s plenty of bare ground, and where winters are dry and cold. The fungus, and the caterpillars it parasitizes, are adapted for life in extreme cold. They do best at temperatures between 5 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 to -5 Celsius). And “in the Himalayas, there’s been a staggering amount of winter warming,” Hopping says.Other studies have speculated about the causes of the decline, but Hopping’s careful work “establishes a clear link between winter temperature and fungus production, which was previously lacking,” says Uttam Babu Shrestha from the University of Southern Queensland.Alpine regions are warming worldwide, and several species have responded by slowly shifting to higher and colder ranges. But the caterpillar fungus is so dependent on its host moths (and the plants they feed from) that it might be hard for the entire web of partners to relocate. And besides, in the Tibetan plateau, there’s not a lot of extra mountain to move toward. “There’s a real mismatch between the rate at which the climate is changing and the rate at which the ecosystems can keep up,” says Hopping.Throughout humanity’s history, we have repeatedly pulled the trigger on species that were already weakened by warming climates. The caterpillar fungus might be the next casualty of a trend that has claimed more charismatic species like the woolly mammoth and ground sloths. [Read: How climate change unleashed humans upon South America’s megabeasts.]To avert catastrophe, countries like Bhutan have set national limits on the caterpillar-fungus harvest, and some communities have implemented their own regulations. But the fungus attracts poachers who are not beholden to those rules, “and there’s a mentality that if I don’t collect it, someone else will,” says Hopping. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons, and one exacerbated by the lack of other opportunities.Ultimately, Hopping says, this is an economic issue. The collectors are often very poor, and come from different ethnic groups than those in power. They don’t get educations that would make them qualified for other jobs. And other traditional occupations, like herding, are also becoming more difficult thanks to the same changing climates that are working against the fungus. “They need choices,” says Hopping. “That would be the main way to take the pressure off. Just saying that they need to collect less of it ... I think they know that.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Letters: “The Term ‘Political Correctness’ Primes People to Respond Negatively”
Americans Strongly Dislike PC CultureEarlier this month, Yascha Mounk explored the results of a new study on polarization in America. A large majority of Americans, the study found, believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” The article written by Yascha Mounk sums up exactly the problems with political correctness. PC creates fear and resentment in those who are constantly chastised for expressing themselves incorrectly and not adhering strictly to the confusing and ever-evolving rules. Sadly, liberal ideology—which intended to bring greater freedom and equality to everyone—has been subverted by individuals who believe that they have the right to rule over their fellow citizens because of their superior knowledge, education, and intelligence (all, of course, subjective conclusions) and has become a means of control (not liberation) enforced on those who are not part of this small, minority, elitist group.History teaches us that these small, elite groups do not succeed in their efforts to bring about societal change for the better. The Russian Revolution was supposed to bring freedom to the Russian people when it deposed the Tsar and toppled the wealthy and educated aristocracy that helped the monarch rule the country. We know the result was the opposite: Oppression and repression became the key characteristics of the Soviet Communist regime.Today’s “exhausted majority” have intuitively grasped that the liberal elites, while claiming to be virtuous and seeking to improve the majority’s lot in life, do not really have those interests at heart but simply wish to establish themselves as the new aristocracy with rights to rule and special entitlements not available to the majority. They do not comprehend the way the majority think, nor do they share the daily problems encountered by the majority trying to make a living and support their families.The famous French Queen Marie Antoinette, when advised that the peasants were starving and had no bread, supposedly said, “Let them eat cake” instead. She was completely out of touch with her people. So, too, are the liberal activists who have created the rules of PC. It is their actions that have made Donald Trump president. If they do not learn this lesson and change their ways, it is likely that Western civilization will slowly but surely move toward a new dark age, where the peoples are ruled by fear and ignorance rather than enlightened wisdom.William NixonSydney, AustraliaIf the question asked was, “Do you think PC culture has gone too far?” the study simply answers the question of whether people’s personal ideas of what PC culture is have gone too far, without any consideration of what these ideas are.Without actual relevant data, no one, including Mr. Mounk or More in Common, [which conducted the study] should have been drawing any sure conclusions from what they gathered.Will MartinArlington, Va.This article and its research were based on a false premise. There is no consensus about what “political correctness” means.A solid research study would have asked Americans simple questions like, “Do you think all people should be treated the same?” or “Do you think all people deserve to be treated with respect?” Even more insightful would have been the questions, “If you use language that offends someone else, what do you do? What do you think is the proper response?”Finding out the answer to these questions would have been much more useful. Fox News and Trump have defined what “political correctness” means to the point where people think it means, Gee, I have to watch my words. But that’s not what it means to me. PC means “Treat everyone with the same respect.”If Americans would just talk to each other and just listen to each other then I don’t think that you would find the faux tribes that were inaccurately defined here.Kate PermutScarborough, N.Y.I believe that PC is easily defined as just being polite. If you use a term to which someone takes offense (black rather than people of color, for example), then simply apologize and change your conversation. I don’t understand why it’s such a big problem for so many people.Frank JenkinsTulsa, Okla.While it is uncomfortable to think that the use of the wrong word to describe someone could generate disapprobation, it is also clear that the use of thoughtless arguments, terms, and false science has helped create a culture in which “white” people have felt comfortable with ideas that are inherently racist. When people tell me how offended they are by the need to follow political correctness, I usually say that my grandmother would have understood the concept as fostering politeness and respect. There is a need for both, and a pressing need to end racism.Allen HuntYellow Springs, OhioThe term “political correctness” primes people to respond negatively —indeed, it was coined in order to dismiss and demean the concerns of people who have long been dismissed and demeaned for being “different.” I don’t know how to get around that—it’s out there and, like so many other terms, it serves the interests of what I’ll call, for lack of a better phrase, the powers that be.Mary SeveranceSan Francisco, Calif.Several readers responded on Facebook and Twitter:Natalie Jane wrote: It’s one thing to be worried about accidentally offending somebody, it’s another entirely to be the recipient of something hurtful (especially since it can affect other aspects of people’s lives). I think we can and should strive to treat people as less disposable, but at the end of the day, marginalized people deserve respect and we have a lot of cultural shifts (that may be uncomfortable) past due on our way to a more equitable society.Daniel John Companion wrote: The theme here is very simple and I taught about it in my civics class for years: that western society is polarized between two equally dangerous and disturbing ends of the political spectrum I refer to the Uber left and Uber right. Everyone else is caught between these absurd radicals. It’s time for a resurgence of the moderate “middle” whether slightly to the left or right does not matter; extremists on both sides have leveraged social media and created a false sense of foreboding doom that need not exist. Intent matters, and seeing each other as equal human beings is the real goal. Punishing people for not following endless rules is just arrogance and a counterproductive power-trip. It encourages tribalism and dilutes efforts to call out real hate speech.https://t.co/RD36lgx60i — Anna Miller (@TheSuperStoic) October 12, 2018 An excellent piece by the always-interesting @Yascha_Mounk. If you’re a progressive wondering where the Trump victory came from, this isn’t a bad place to start — and note the answer’s not “because white working-class voters are a bunch of racists.” https://t.co/VxqNZclMRX — Artemis1999 (@ArtemistheFinch) October 12, 2018
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World Edition - The Atlantic
When Crime Is a Family Affair
When kids choose a profession, they tend to follow in their parents’ footsteps: Doctors’ children often become doctors, lawyers produce lawyers, and plumbers beget plumbers. So, after 15 years of covering crime and criminal justice for The New York Times, I was fascinated by studies—conducted in cities across the United States and in London, England, with near-identical results—showing that crime, too, can run in families. In the most famous study, researchers followed 411 boys from South London from 1961 to 2001 and found that half of the convicted kids were accounted for by 6 percent of all families; two-thirds of them came from 10 percent of the families. This intergenerational transmission of violence was first documented in the 1940s when a husband-and-wife team at Harvard Law School found that two-thirds of boys in the Boston area sent by a court to a reformatory had a father who had been arrested; 45 percent also had a mother who had been arrested. And, in 2007, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that half of the roughly 800,000 parents behind bars have a close relative who has previously been incarcerated.[Read: Why children with parents in prison are especially burdened]Yet, despite the abundance of evidence showing the role of family in crime, criminologists and policymakers have largely neglected this factor—as the University of Maryland criminologist John Laub told me, it’s because any suggestion of a possible biological or genetic basis for crime could be misconstrued as racism. Instead, researchers have looked at other well-known risk causes like poverty, deviant peers at school, drugs, and gangs. Of course, these are real issues. But, a child’s life begins at home with the family even before the neighborhood, friends, or classmates can lead them astray.I met the Bogles through an official at the Oregon Department of Corrections, who called me to say he knew of a family with what he thought were six members in prison. Little did I know that, after 10 years of reporting, the real number of people in the Bogle clan I found who have been incarcerated or placed on probation or parole would turn out to be 60.The Bogles had a story to tell about what happens in a criminal family. “What you are raised with, you grow to become,” says Tracey Bogle, who served a 16-year prison sentence for kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, car theft, and sexual assault. “There is no escape from our criminal contagion.”While Tracey’s father, Rooster, was the most malevolent member of the bunch, the family’s history of criminality stretches back to 1920, when Rooster’s mother and father made and sold moonshine during Prohibition. Since then, members of the family have committed crimes including burglaries, armed robberies, kidnapping, and murder.“Rooster hated toys and sports, and the only fun thing to him was stealing,” Tracey told me, “so he took us out with him to burglarize our neighbors’ homes, or steal their cows and chickens, or take their social-security checks out of their mailboxes.” Not surprisingly, the fun thing to do in the Bogle household when Tracey was growing up was stealing. He learned by imitating his father and his older brothers and his uncles, all of whom eventually went to prison. Unwittingly, Tracey was describing what criminologists call “the social learning theory” of what makes some people turn into criminals—emulating the behaviors of those around them.Rooster would take his sons to peek at the local prison on the edge of Salem, Oregon, where they lived. “Look carefully,” he instructed them. “When you grow up, this is where you are going to live.” The boys took this not as a warning, but as a dare, and Rooster’s prophecy came to pass: All of his children, seven sons and three girls, were incarcerated at one point or another.When you come to realize the importance of family in crime, the $182-billion-a-year U.S. criminal-justice system seems fundamentally misguided. Mass incarceration has created a giant churn: The more people we lock up now, the more people we will have to lock up in the future. As Judge Albin Norblad, who presided over many of the Bogles criminal trials in Oregon, said, “When the courts try to deal with families like the Bogles, we always lose.” Norblad, a law-and-order Republican not averse to dishing out lengthy sentences, had almost given up sentencing any of the Bogles to long prison terms as a waste of taxpayer money. “We need another solution,” he told me, “something to separate Bogle family members so they will not keep reinfecting themselves.”Norblad, who died in 2014, did not know how to do that. But in recent years, criminologists are starting to figure it out—paving the way for possible solutions that are more humane and cost-effective than prison.One such program came about by accident. After Hurricane Katrina hammered New Orleans in 2005 and pulverized large chunks of the city’s housing, the Oxford University criminologist David Kirk saw amid the wreckage an opportunity for a potentially once-in-a-lifetime study. Many recently released prisoners living in New Orleans couldn’t return to their homes, and a large number of them ended up moving to Texas. Several years after their release, the former prisoners who left for Texas had lower rates of recidivism than did those who stayed behind in New Orleans, because they had broken their social networks. Based on his findings, Kirk created a volunteer program for prisoners in Baltimore to receive housing allowances from the state of Maryland on the condition that they move to another part of the state after their release. The early results are encouraging, Kirk says, and the cost per inmate is $1,230 a month, a fraction of the cost of prison.Another innovative program known as multisystemic therapy, developed by the Medical University of South Carolina professor Scott Henggeler, focuses on helping young delinquents by treating their whole family. In graduate school, Henggeler worked with children who had been reprimanded by a court but were seemingly stuck in their criminal ways. One day, he decided to visit them in their homes. “It took me 15 to 20 seconds to realize how incredibly stupid my brilliant treatment plans were,” he says. He realized he needed to treat the children in the full context of their lives, to see them with their families in their homes. His central insight was to take therapy to the adolescents instead of taking the adolescents to therapy. This kind of approach is especially important with a family like the Bogles, Henggeler told me: They are like a giant rogue iceberg, with most of the dangers hidden below the waterline and only a small portion visible to outsiders.The stunning transmission of criminality from parents to kids doesn’t mean that some families are cursed to an eternity of crime: There’s no immutable “crime gene” that’s passed down from generation to generation. Indeed, one Bogle happily stopped the cycle, earning all A’s in high school, graduating from college in 2016, and landing a job as a medical-records technician. Ashley, a granddaughter of Rooster, had it set in her mind that the Bogle criminal contagion would not apply to her. Still, Ashley can’t completely escape from her family: Her daily commute to work takes her directly past the Oregon State Correctional Institution, where her grandfather and so many other Bogles served, and continue to serve, their prison sentences.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Jason Blum Is Wrong About Women in Hollywood
The biggest name in horror filmmaking is indisputably the producer Jason Blum. That’s a fact only reinforced by the staggering opening weekend of his newest movie, Halloween, which made $77.5 million in its first three days—a record for the 40-year-old franchise. Blum’s company, Blumhouse Productions, finances small-budget genre films and gives directors full creative control; it has been behind Oscar winners like Get Out and Whiplash, as well as extremely profitable franchises like The Conjuring, Insidious, and Paranormal Activity. Working with Blum can provide a solid path to mainstream success, which makes it particularly dispiriting that a female director has never made a theatrical horror film for Blumhouse.In an interview with Polygon published last week, Blum gave an unoriginal and facile explanation for that gender disparity. “We’ve always been trying [to hire female directors],” he said. “There are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror.” It’s a common Hollywood lament—that women just aren’t interested in making a certain kind of movie. It’s what the Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow said in 2015 about women getting chances to make blockbusters. In 2016, the Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy suggested female directors largely lacked the experience necessary to make a Star Wars movie.In virtually every case, these sorts of statements quickly get walked back. Blum apologized for his “dumb comments” to Polygon, saying in a statement, “I spoke too quickly about a serious issue. … We have not done a good enough job working with female directors and it is not because they don’t exist.” But such comments belie institutional laziness in an industry where women directed only 11 percent of the top 250 movies in 2017.Blumhouse has worked with female filmmakers on a few non-horror projects, including Veena Sud’s upcoming thriller The Lie. Blum noted in the interview that he had reached out to Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) multiple times for projects and that she had turned him down; he also said Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon) was a woman he had tried to hire but their plans had been stymied by scheduling concerns (something Janiak confirmed). Still, Blumhouse has produced dozens of horror movies in the last 10 years, spurred by the massive success of Paranormal Activity in 2009, and all of them were directed by men.[Read: Why isn’t Hollywood making more inexpensive, yet highly profitable, horror movies?]The new Halloween, directed by David Gordon Green, is a perfect example of the kind of high-profile opportunity Blum can offer a filmmaker. The movie was produced for not much money (its $10 million budget is on the high end for Blumhouse), and made a colossal profit on opening weekend. It’s a sequel in a long-running franchise, but coming from an arthouse director who’s mostly been given free rein. And the movie puts its star Jamie Lee Curtis front and center (she is credited as an executive producer), a fact that Blum stressed was important to him.“I really believe in the way our company makes movies,” Blum told Polygon, and he’s right to, considering Blumhouse’s financial track record, coupled with critical hits like Get Out and this year’s BlacKkKlansman. “I believe in our low budgets. I believe in using directors who aren’t necessarily from horror, like Jordan Peele or David Gordon Green.” But in saying that, Blum is demonstrating exactly how he can take chances on promising new talent, as he did with the actor Joel Edgerton (who made his feature directorial debut with 2015’s The Gift) or the Georgian filmmaker Levan Gabriadze (who made the huge hit Unfriended having only directed a Russian-language comedy).For many directors, simply getting the opportunity to make one major feature can act as a crucial springboard to even bigger projects. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who directed Paranormal Activity 3 after their documentary Catfish was an indie hit, were just hired by Fox to helm a Mega Man movie. Scott Derrickson went from 2012’s Sinister to Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Mike Flanagan, who made Oculus, Hush, and Ouija: Origin of Evil for Blumhouse, created The Haunting of Hill House for Netflix and is now adapting Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep for Warner Bros. Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash was La La Land, for which he won a Best Director Oscar. And M. Night Shyamalan, a major figure coming off a string of failures, revitalized his career at Blumhouse with The Visit and Split.Blum and other mega-producers can help open up these sorts of transformative career paths to new filmmakers—and to female storytellers in horror, of which there are many beyond Kent. Julia Ducournau, of France, shocked audiences in 2017 with the brilliantly visceral coming-of-age cannibalism movie Raw. Coralie Fargeat, another French director, released the intense and subversive film Revenge this year. Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation are two of the most exciting twists on the genre in the last decade. And there are plenty more artists still waiting to make their first theatrical feature whom producers should be actively scouting and looking to cultivate.Blum himself didn’t have an easy road to success, struggling to produce his own movies for years before breaking out with Paranormal Activity. But he’s well acquainted with the perils of industry gatekeeping: As he was coming up in Hollywood, Blum worked at Harvey Weinstein’s company Miramax from 1996 to 2000, an experience he has reflected on ruefully after public accusations of rape and assault against Weinstein broke last year.Blum said Weinstein relied on “the stick, not the carrot,” and was verbally abusive to all of his employees, though Blum said he knew nothing of Weinstein’s predatory behavior. Weinstein, who is being sued by Ashley Judd for intentionally damaging her career, allegedly used his influence like a cudgel, closing doors to those who didn’t play by his rules. As the industry, however unevenly, seeks to push out notorious bullies like Weinstein, Hollywood’s most powerful members—including Blum and other major producers—should try to do the opposite, opening doors wherever they can.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Elizabeth Warren Has Lost Her Way
How many times during my childhood did my father tell me that when his grandmother and her sister sailed to America, they had traveled “a class above steerage”? I was a Hula-Hooping child of the atomic age, growing strong on USDA beef and Cocoa Puffs. What did I know about steerage? But I knew my father in the complete and inchoate way that a child knows her parent, and I knew he wanted me to understand something important to him and—somehow—to me. I understood the lesson to be: The Flanagans have been down, but they have not been out.“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion once wrote. And we tell them inside our families so that something can live within them, some idea or value, some complicated honoring of an elder. Elizabeth Warren’s family—the Herrings—had a story, of course. A central and important one: Her parents’ love had been so strong that they had defied their elders and eloped. Her mother had been rejected by the Herrings because she was “Cherokee and Delaware,” Warren has said many times, which heightened the family romance and gave it mythic dimensions. It’s one of the central American stories; it’s The Searchers.All of this is too ephemeral, too emotionally resonate, and too personally sacred for Donald Trump to leave it alone. For years he has told the world that Warren is a liar, meaning that her parents were liars and that her entire life has been a kind of lie. “I’ve got more Indian blood in me than Pocahontas,” he once said, adding the perfectly Trumpian coda: “and I have none.”Imagine what it would be like to be the subject of one of Trump’s bullying campaigns, to have the most powerful man in the world ridicule you day after day, in his crude, below-the-belt way. What would you do about it? Ignore it, and you look weak. Handle it in some principled way, and he will only increase the pressure. Respond to it in kind, hurling equally harsh insults at him, and your energies will be turned back upon you.Warren has already dealt with one of the potent ramifications of Trump’s taunts: his assertion of the old calumny that she used her claim to Native American ancestry to gain the advantages of affirmative action from various educational institutions and employers. To combat this, she has created a section on her website that displays the PDFs of 10 personnel records,each with a red box drawn around the part of the form where she entered her race: “White”; “White”; “White.”Here we must pause to give grudging admiration to the wicked effectiveness of Trump’s methods. His bullying seems so crude and impulsive when it’s belching through the news cycle. But what other Republican politician could force a progressive senator with presidential ambitions to produce a fat dossier attesting to her own whiteness? Is she leading the resistance or trying to join the Savannah Junior League, circa 1952? The PDFs are intended, of course, as an ironclad rebuke to Trump’s claims about affirmative action, but given the way the left interprets race, might they just as easily be regarded as a testament to her own successful claim on white privilege? Becky goes to Harvard.None of this decreased the pressure from Trump, who continued his campaign of contempt and belittlement. We can understand Warren’s immense personal desire to clear her name, to rescue the idea of herself that she has held since her earliest years. And we can fully appreciate the political problems that would have ensued if she never dispelled the idea that she was a faker; she may not have checked the Native American box on job and school applications, but she had indicated her minority status in a variety of other advantageous ways.And at some point she decided that the thing to do was to have a DNA test and make the results public, which has only proved that Trump can push sensible people past the point of madness. Putting one’s genetic information into the public conversation about one’s fitness for office is a bizarre idea. Moreover, her insistence that it would offer definitive proof of something her supporters believe in was tone-deaf. Doesn’t Warren realize that race is a social construct and whiteness is an idea? Doesn’t she know that the science of genetics is often used as a tool of the oppressor, that you cannot destroy the master’s house with the master’s tools?The ruinous plan began [last?-TL] Monday morning, when she posted a video explaining that we were going to witness her receiving the results of her DNA test. We see her getting a phone call from the geneticist: “You definitely [uses “absolutely” instead of “definitely”-TL] have a Native American ancestor,” he tells her, and she smiles—the most natural and human moment of the entire drama. It is a smile of relief, a smile that tells her that her parents had not plied her with fiction. “Then it was all true,” Nick Carraway decides after Gatsby has shown him the medal from Montenegro and the photograph from Oxford. The desire to believe in a dream is a powerful thing.But nothing gold can stay, and by mid-morning people were starting to take a closer look at the exculpatory DNA result and noticing that the geneticist had concluded that the ancestor or ancestors in question had lived six to 10 generations in the past, meaning that, in the portion of Warren’s genome that was sequenced, between 1.6 percent and 0.1 percent of the DNA suggested Native American origins.The reduction of identity to percentages of a genome reminded me of another American who pledged to put his DNA results on the line as proof of his right place in the culture: Richard Spencer. He had expected a report of “white,” “white,” “white,” but ended up with something that has remained the subject of anxious jokes—of the kind that would require the combined talents of William Faulkner and Sigmund Freud to interpret—among Spencer and his fellow travelers. His DNA is only 99.5 percent of European origin. The other 0.5 percent includes African heritage and—to the tune of 0.1 percent—“Broadly East Asian and Native American” heritage, according to the report from 23andMe, which uses a methodology not directly comparable to Warren’s test.When you follow an impulse that puts you in league with Richard Spencer, you have lost your way, and birds have eaten all the bread crumbs that could have led you back home. Only disaster can follow. Thank God the Cherokee Nation’s secretary of state made a statement about the test: Warren was guilty of “undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage,” and “DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship.”The United States of America is like the Cherokee Nation: DNA tests are irrelevant to our conception of citizenship. The poison that has been trying to seep into our groundwater these past few years would tell us something different: that race is everything, the only thing. Genetic tests are filled with truths that are irrefutable and oftentimes terrible—how many people have learned from one of these reports that the man who raised them is not their father? That is their right place: the private sphere of the individual life. Allowing Donald Trump to so inspire you, like Spencer, or so unnerve you, like Warren, that you try to justify yourself by making them public is something we should resist at every turn.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The U.S. Loved the Saudi Crown Prince. Not Anymore.
Mohammed bin Salman’s vision for Saudi Arabia was impressive even before he became crown prince in June 2017.In the West, he quickly became known for his support of women driving, the opening of movie theaters and comedy clubs, as well as his plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy. Criticism about his alleged role in the brutal war in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar, and the effective kidnapping of Lebanon’s prime minister, were brushed aside.But the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist, has cast MbS, as he is known, in a different light: No longer the long-awaited reformer, but yet another authoritarian.Read: [The crisis over Khashoggi’s disappearance]MbS’s ascent coincided with a new administration in Washington. The image he projected was in some ways what many in the West had long yearned for in Saudi Arabia.“He was young. He was energetic. He was charging toward the future,” James Smith, who was the United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia until 2013, told me.MbS’s Vision 2030 plan sought to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy. He wanted to partially privatize Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, and has turned the kingdom into a major investor in Silicon Valley through its $2-trillionsovereign wealth fund.Jon Alterman, a former senior State Department official who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me that there has long been a feeling in the United States that Saudi Arabia was ailing and “headed for disaster.” Its economy was completely reliant on oil; its leadership was aging; and religiousextremism was on the rise.“Mohammed bin Salman came in and argued that the kingdom needed a different direction,” Alterman said. “He wanted to change the economy. He wanted to change the role of women. He wanted to accelerate change in a country that often seemed interested in slowing change.”“We needed Mohammed bin Salman to be successful,” he said.The crown prince found a champion in the White House: Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The two men, both in their 30s, appeared to have a closerelationship. In Washington, MbS was viewed as a leader unencumbered by history, who could revolutionize the kingdom and propel it into the future.Although MbS’s luster rubbed off on the kingdom,Saudi Arabia’s decades-long practice of hiring American firms to promote its interests in the United States has ensured that the relationship between the two countries could endure turbulent periods. That includes the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s and the attacks of September 11, 2001 (15 of the 19 attackers hailed from the kingdom).Saudi spending on lobbying during these years remained high. But it rose dramatically in 2017—the kingdom spent $27 million on hiring lobbying firms and related activitieslast year compared to $10 million in 2016, according to the Center for International Policy, which also tracks foreign influence spending in the U.S.Saudi Arabia was the eighth-highest spending country in the U.S. last year, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which also tracks such data. It was surpassed in the Middle East only by the United Arab Emirates and Israel, according to CRP. (CIP and CRP use different methodologies to calculate the spending.)Ben Freeman, who is the director of CIP’s Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, told me that Saudi spending accelerated after Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. Riyadh had been wary of President Obama’s pursuit of the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, and his support for the Arab Spring that swept the region in 2011 and ousted long-entrenched leaders. (Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations say the Arab Spring emboldened the Muslim Brotherhood, a group they regard as terrorists.)“Coming off of Obama, they see Trump and right away after the election of Trump they went on a lobbying blitz,” Freeman told me. Between the November 2016 election and the end of the year, Saudi Arabia added three firms to its payroll, he said.Read: [Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with the crown prince]Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia, an occasion marked by pageantry and the announcement of billions of dollars of business agreements. MbS’s subsequent visit to the U.S. not only included meetings in the White House, but also network television interviews, glowing media profiles, and dinner with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. If there were reservations in the Trump administration over the war in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar, the detention of Saudi royals, and the arrests of women’s-rights activists, they weren’t aired in public. “All indications were that spending very much paid off," Freeman said.But the Khashoggi affair has taken some of the sheen off of MbS and, by extension, Saudi Arabia. Three lobbying firms—Harbour Group, BGR, and the Glover Park Group—all ended their contracts with the kingdom since Khashoggi’s disappearance. Such moves, however, are rare and likely to be temporary, Freeman said. Saudi Arabia has actually signed at least one lobbying contract amid the crisis.“There's sort of a weird dynamic here in that in the immediate aftermath you have this flight away from the country, which becomes something of a pariah. Lobbying and PR firms will distance themselves in the immediate aftermath,” he said. “But then very quickly, and quietly in most cases, a lot of firms will sign new contracts with the country in question. We're seeing a little bit of that."As the Saudi explanation for what happened to Khashoggi shifts, MbS’s own position, while certainly secure, is still the subject of scrutiny. Through the affair, the kingdom has maintained that the crown prince wasn’t involved.Read: [MbS’s gambling everything on three experiments ]MbS’s father, King Salman, is said to be ailing, making it unclear who, if anyone, could force a change in the succession order. MbS does have many supporters in the kingdom where he, and the reforms he has introduced, are widely popular.But he has also made enemies within the powerful royal family thanks to an anti-corruption campaign that resulted in the detaining, and alleged torture, of prominent princes; some were released only after parting with large portions of their wealth. At the same time, MbS’s acquisition of expensive European real estate, a $500-million yacht, and a Leonardo da Vinci painting, stand in contrast to his reformist agenda.Kushner reportedly has told Trump to continue supporting MbS because he believes the crisis will pass. Although that might be true, the Khashoggi affair could taint MbS’s plans to remake the Saudi economy. Smith, who has numerous sources in the region, told me that the initial excitement in the West over MbS’s openness had given way to discomfort.“You walk the streets of Riyadh today, and people don't want to talk because they're afraid somebody is listening. That is not the Saudi Arabia that I knew when I was there,” Smith said. “So it's put a much different slant on Mohammed bin Salman as a reformer. And, in fact, it makes the positives look a little bit like a facade.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Touchy, Important Task of Talking About Dead Celebrities
The Latin phrase, de mortuis nil nisi bonum—“Of the dead, [say] nothing but good”—dates back thousands of years. But it echoed loudly across the hip-hop world last week. In a freestyle at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, the Chicago firebrand Vic Mensa was widely heard as dissing the late rapper XXXTentacion, and on his new album Quavo Huncho, Quavo of Migos chided a deceased drug user who many listeners took to be Lil Peep. The backlash to both instances voiced an ancient sense of outrage about of-the-moment ways. One tweet paired a pic of an angry Squidward from Spongebob with the caption, “When you have to explain Quavo and Vic Mensa that dissing dead people ain’t cool.”The rappers seemed to realize they’d crossed a line. After the hashtag #FuckQuavo started trending, its target clarified that the subject of his song about reckless young rapperswasn’t Lil Peep and that he “N E V E R will speak on the deceased.” Vic Mensa taped a video saying he stands behind his lyrical condemnation of domestic abusers but didn’t mean to hurt XXXTentacion’s mother, who was in the audience at the BET Awards. Those delicate semi-apologies call to mind other recent instances of famous people tiptoeing to the edge of bashing the dead: Rose McGowan seeming to blame Anthony Bourdain for his demise even as she counseled doing just the opposite; Twenty One Pilots’s Tyler Joseph interrogating suicide victims in song while insisting he’s “not disrespecting what was left behind.”[Read: Raging against the rock-and-roll suicide. ]It’s likely no coincidence that how to mourn—and how to prevent further tragedies—is at issue across pop culture right now. As the death rate in the U.S. continues rising, fueled partly by spikes in suicides and overdoses and gun violence, the question of how to discuss lives taken prematurely will intensify. In each recent shocking celebrity death there are, plausibly, lessons—about mental health, substance use, social media, domestic violence, and other things—that might help curb the darker trends in American life. Can those lessons be heard and discussed without causing offense?Vic Mensa’s BET freestyle weighed in on one of the touchiest issues of the past year: society’s worship of abusive men. While the #MeToo reckoning has haltingly spotlighted Hollywood’s creeps, reform in the music world has barely begun—and, in fact, some recent stories might indicate backsliding on sexual assault. XXXTentacion was a rising star with a horrifying rap sheet featuring allegations of beating a pregnant woman, charges of witness tampering and harassment, an admission of homophobic violence, and vile threats made to women on social media. When the 20-year-old was killed by robbers this past June, many critics tried to weigh respect for a lost life with respect for the people he hurt in life. But fans went into sanctification mode, with many insisting that he’d been innocent all along, and others saying that he’d begun to atone for his behavior.It’s unclear whether Mensa directly aimed at XXXTentacion in his BET freestyle. People who were at the awards show reported him as saying, “Your favorite rapper is a domestic abuser / Name a single Vic Mensa song / XXX we all know you won’t live that long / I don’t respect n****s posthumously,” but the alleged “XXX” was omitted from the video eventually posted online. The line “your favorite rapper is a domestic abuser” could refer to a lot of folks, including Tekashi 6ix9ine, who pleaded guilty to three felony counts of Use of a Child in A Sexual Performance, and who had earlier dissed Mensa by saying he couldn’t name a single song of his. But after backlash began to brew, Mensa didn’t deny that XXXTentacion was on his mind. “It was pre-recorded weeks ago, and I had no idea a grieving mother would be in the audience to honor her lost son,” he said. “I never intended to disrespect her, and I offer my deepest condolences for her loss at the hands of gun violence. However,I vehemently reject the trend in hip-hop of championing abusers, and I will not hold my tongue about it.”[Read: The light and dark of Mac Miller. ]It is Mensa’s perceived break with manners—the calling out of a shooting victim in front of his mom—that appears to be generating the bulk of the blowback online. Others have cried hypocrisy, pointing out that Mensa once admitted to choking a girlfriend after she hit him, a situation he rapped about regretfully. Now he’s released “Empathy,” a conciliatory take on the criticism he faced. “I say what’s right, but they don't hear me ‘cause my past wrongs,” he raps between choruses about how he needs to work on his empathy. The song seems to recognize that the conversation has become about him as a messenger rather than about his message.For Quavo, the alleged diss-of-the-dead happened on the way to addressing drug abuse and other dangerous behaviors. “Think you poppin’ Xanax bars, but it’s Fentanyl / Think you’re living life like rock stars but you’re dead now,” he rapped on “Big Bro,” which also sneered about emcees who pose with guns on Instagram. Lil Peep, the emo-rapper who died at age 21 last November, was known to down Xanax bars and call himself a rock star. Of course, the same goes for lots of young artists—but Peep fans were nevertheless incensed. “No explanation will ever justify making someone’s death a diss line in their song,” went one of the many tweets tagged #FUCKQUAVO.After Quavo shot back that Lil Peep wasn’t a target of his lyrics, he implied that he was really thinking about his barber, who died after taking Fentanyl. “RIP TO ANYBODY WHO LOST THERE LIFE TO DRUG ABUSE!” he tweeted. Quavo thus asks the song be seen not as a specific response to a specific tragedy, but a general response to a general trend of substance use. Other rappers like J. Cole and Russ have made anti-drug messages part of their image, yet to hear it from a member of Migos, the rap trio whose lyrics have romanticized lean and other substances in the past, is fascinating. But the conversation around the song hasn’t been about whether Quavo’s refining his stance; it’s been about whether he insulted a tragic icon.The reasons not to speak ill of the dead are easily understood: They can’t defend themselves, and their loved ones are already in pain. And empathy—that trait Mensa now preaches—does matter. Moralizing about addiction without understanding it as a disease, or condemning abusers without examining the systems that created them, can be worse than futile. But there’s a hint of deflection in the defensive fan reactions to this past week’s earnest, if clumsy, attempts to talk about urgent problems. After all, Quavo and Mensa’s statements on some level weren’t about the dead but about the living: about the folks who might follow the same path as those who’ve died, and those who glorify stars for self-destructing. How to help those people before it’s too late makes for a more difficult conversation, perhaps, than the one about how to honor the departed.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Fewer Sex Partners Means a Happier Marriage
If you are on the proverbial market, as you rack up phone swipes, first dates, and—likely—new sexual partners, you might start to ask yourself: Is all of this dating going to make me happier with whomever I end up with?In other words, are you actually getting any closer to finding “the one”? Or are you simply stuck on a hedonic treadmill of potential lovers, doomed like some sort of sexual sisyphus to be perpetually close to finding your soulmate, only to realize—far, far too late—that they are deal-breakingly disappointing?Well, sociology has some unfortunate news!Over at the Institute for Family Studies, Nicholas Wolfinger, a sociologist at the University of Utah, has found that Americans who have only ever slept with their spouses are most likely to report being in a “very happy” marriage. Meanwhile, the lowest odds of marital happiness—about 13 percentage points lower than the one-partner women—belong to women who have had six to 10 sexual partners in their lives. For men, there’s still a dip in marital satisfaction after one partner, but it’s never as low as it gets for women, as Wolfinger’s graph shows:Institute for Family Studies“Contrary to conventional wisdom, when it comes to sex, less experience is better, at least for the marriage,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist and senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies (and an Atlantic contributor). In an earlier analysis, Wolfinger found that women with zero or one previous sex partners before marriage were also least likely to divorce, while those with 10 or more were most likely. These divorce-proof brides are an exclusive crew: By the 2010s, he writes, just 5 percent of new brides were virgins. And just 6 percent of their marriages dissolved within five years, compared 20 percent for most people.Other studies’ findings have also supported the surprising durability of marriages between people who have only ever had sex with one another.In this latest study, women who have had one partner instead of two are about 5 percentage points happier in their marriages, about on par, Wolfinger says, with the boost that possessing a four-year degree, attending religious services, or having an income over $78,000 a year have for a happy marriage. (In his analysis, he controlled for education, income, and marriage age.)This analysis merely suggests that sleeping with fewer people is correlated with marital happiness; it doesn’t say one thing predicts the other. Even people who have slept with the entire Polyphonic Spree could go on to live in blissful matrimony. Moreover, this analysis is not peer reviewed; it’s just a blog post. And Wolfinger acknowledges that, because of a quirk in how the survey was worded, some of the people reporting one partner might have meant “one partner besides my spouse.”Still, researchers I spoke with speculated about a few reasons why sexually inexperienced marriages seem so solid.First, Wolfinger says religiousness doesn’t explain the difference between the happy virgins and the less-happy everyone else. But it could be something more subtle: People who avoid sex before marriage might simply value marriage more highly, so they feel more satisfied by it. Contrary to what pop culture might have you believe, Americans are overall a pretty chaste people. The median American woman born in the 1980s, Wolfinger writes, has only had three sexual partners in her lifetime, and the median man six. So if you have even less sexual experience than that, your significant might be your dream man simply by virtue of being your spouse.​“Those who have never had sex with anyone but their spouse may be the kind of people who value commitment highly,” said Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist. “They have never been interested in sex without commitment, and once married, they may be more committed to their spouses, and therefore happier.”At the same time, Cherlin points out, it’s important to remember that the analysis was done based on retrospective reports by older adults. “If we looked at young adults who are just marrying today, the results could be different,” he said.The second theory is one I like to call “Not Knowing What You’re Missing.” If you were a virgin (or close to it) before marriage, you might not have had that many relationships to compare your current one with. You don’t get wistful about the hunk who got away, the one whose biggest hobbies were vegan cooking and reading novels with strong female protagonists. You are happy with whoever you ended up with, lovehandles and all. Maybe it’s no wonder, as Wolfinger writes, that divorce rates are higher when there are more single people in a given geographic area.It could be that, Wilcox told me, “having more partners prior to marriage makes you critically evaluate your spouse in light of previous partners, both sexually and otherwise.”Third, Wolfinger says, this trend “could reflect personality types that are less conducive to having a happy marriage.” To put that more gently, some people just aren’t the marrying kind. And they might be the types of people who play the field a lot before marriage.Or, as the University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen puts it, “you could have a lot of sexual partners not because you’re good at sex, but because you’re bad at relationships.”Cohen also pointed out that it’s impossible to disentangle the promiscuous chicken and the unhappy egg here. Wolfinger’s analysis, he said, could simply be capturing people who are in unhappy marriages, so they’re cheating. Their two sexual partners aren’t necessarily past college girlfriends; they could be current mistresses.Finally, there are all sorts of other, hidden possibilities that might exonerate people who sow their wild oats. For example, people who live in communities without very many marriageable partners might end up going through lots of sexual relationships and failing to find one that sticks. Other people, meanwhile, might be forced to have sex when they don’t wish to.Also, women who have had previous sexual relationships might be more likely to have had children from those relationships, and according to Wolfinger and others, bringing a child from a previous relationship into a new marriage can be uniquely stressful. These kinds of marriages, they say, tend to have disproportionately high divorce rates.In other words, as Cohen put it to me, Wolfinger’s numbers might be correct, but it’s hard to draw straightforward conclusions from them.Of course, all of these data points might also start to imply that a happy marriage is life’s ultimate goal for everyone, which it might not be. Perhaps all the premarital sex you had was satisfying enough to make up for even the dreariest of unions. Maybe for you, it’s all about the journey, not the destination, bro.Either way, it doesn’t seem like all the prenuptial bonking is hurting marriages writ large. In Wolfinger’s study, most people—64 percent—reported having a “very happy” marriage, meaning that for the most part, we still live happily ever after.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Fight Night With LeBron
TThe Lakers have played home games at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles for nearly two decades and in that time, bronze statues have popped up, like mushrooms, on the pavement surrounding the arena. The first and best depicts Magic Johnson on the first dribble of a fast break. His eyes are fixed down court, looking for openings in a shifting geometry of backpedaling defenders. His left hand points, sending an imaginary wing on a fly route to the basket to receive an impossible bounce pass.This superpower of Magic’s, his ability to see the future, brought “Showtime”—and five NBA titles—to this city, the global capital of the performing arts, where basketball arenas are routinely compared to stages. And in the twenty-seven years since his last full season, Magic has become the unelected mayor of L.A. sports. He convened the ownership group that bought the Dodgers, and took them to the World Series in 2017, and again on Saturday night. Eighteen months ago, at the Lakers’ lowest ebb, he took over the franchise’s basketball operations.On the first evening of this year’s free agency period, Magic drove to the Brentwood mansion of one LeBron James. The two men talked deep into the night. A few tantalizing fragments of their conversation have leaked, but we don’t know what all they said to each other. All we know is that less than 24 hours later, James was a Laker.Last night, just after sunset, I joined thousands of Laker fans in a shuffling procession past the Magic Johnson statue, past a bronze Shaq hanging from a basket, past a sky-hooking Kareem, and into the arena proper, to see James’s first regular season home game. The Staples Center was lit like a boxing ring, an apt touch given that a fight would later break out on the court. The arena’s purple cushioned seats were set back in the shadows, and shining down from the ceiling and onto the maplewood floor was a cone of golden light, like those that poke through L.A.’s coastal fog, making a mirror of the Pacific.James will have nowhere to hide under that blinding spotlight. Not from the press and not from the Lakers’ spoiled fans, who know the difference between a good player and a great, having eyeballed a silly number of basketball’s all-timers up close for long stretches of their primes.Coming off the worst four years in franchise history, Laker fans are feeling superstar withdrawals. They spent all summer stalking James on social media. When he tweeted about maybe making an appearance at his local pizza place, the LAPD had to run crowd control. When he showed up to a summer league game in custom Laker shorts, they sold out in an hour. A week before the home opener, at a concert in L.A., Drake brought James out for a song, surprising the Staples Center crowd, who responded with wall-to-wall screams. The night before the game itself, nosebleed tickets were going for $400.When James took the floor wearing purple warm-ups, Laker fans leaned forward, camera phones out, ready to watch James play a game that mattered, ready to see what kind of Laker he would be. James should soak up this honeymoon period. It won’t always be like this.It took only one NBA title for James to rewrite basketball history in Cleveland, but immortality will be harder to come by in L.A. No NBA player, current or former, not even LeBron James, could ever equal Magic in the hearts of Laker fans. Nor could James hope to catch Kobe Bryant, who, like Magic, started and finished his career in Los Angeles, and who, like Magic, won five titles here. James will need to do something special to secure a place in this team’s mythology. A week before the home opener, my colleague Jemele Hill put this point to me a different way. “What would it take for the Lakers to give LeBron a statue?” she asked. What indeed.Give the mischief-makers in the NBA front office credit for bringing the Houston Rockets to town for the home opener. It would have been tempting to book the Warriors, but that game can wait for Christmas, by which time the Lakers will be a more cohesive team. And anyway, the Rockets have James Harden, the league’s reigning MVP. They took three games from the champs in the Western Conference Finals, more than Golden State’s other three playoff opponents—including James’s Cavs—combined. And that was before Carmelo Anthony joined the team.A home opener against the Rockets, sandwiched between games against the Blazers and Spurs, serves notice to LeBron. He may have made eight straight NBA Finals playing in the weak East, but out West every path to June will be an odyssey. LeBron knows this in the abstract, but it is something different to know it in the flesh.During warmups, James cut a solitary figure, shooting free throws and threes by himself, never really whispering in his teammates’ ears, never laughing. All business. The Lakers used a baroque laser show to announce starting lineups, and when James’ name was called, the crowd delivered a deafening roar, as they did when his face flashed briefly on the jumbotron during the national anthem. In a postgame interview, James would describe the arena’s atmosphere as electric.Even after preseason, James is still a surreal sight in Laker golds, which he wears slightly more snug than the shorts and jersey he wore in Cleveland. When the opening jump ball went up, JaVale McGee, the Lakers lanky new center, leapt high in the air and tipped the ball straight back to James, who flicked it to Rajon Rondo, casually beginning a new era of Laker basketball in this building.I’d seen James play in L.A. once before at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, back when he was still in high school. I still remember a pass he threw in the first quarter of that game, backwards and through his legs to a streaking teammate for a dunk. The whole building seemed to levitate, everyone grateful to have caught an early glimpse at precocious greatness. But as the night wore on, James’s jump shot began to look rickety. He took nine three-pointers and missed them all. I left the game thinking that James might be a “man among boys,” a player who would regress to the mean when his peers caught up to his physique.No one ever did. And anyway, James was always more than his once-in-a-lifetime basketball body. He made me a believer four years later, in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, a contest that has assumed where were you when status for a generation of NBA fans. During the fourth quarter and two overtime periods, a 23-year-old James muscled a series of dunks and contested layups through a bruising Pistons front line, scoring 29 of the Cavs’ final 30 points to claim victory in overtime, swinging the series.James didn’t make it to the mountaintop that year. In the finals, the Spurs left him all alone on the perimeter, daring him to shoot, which he did, poorly. A year later after the Cavs were swept in that series, James turned in another miserable shooting performance in an Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Celtics. He began to hear whispers like those that haunted Michael Jordan early in his career. Great player, but will he ever win a ring?The Cavs made it to the Conference Finals the following year and James found his shot, but they still lost to an Orlando team led by Dwight Howard, one of the worst franchise players to ever play in the NBA Finals. Things got worse before they got better. In the seventh and final season of James’s first Cleveland stint, the Cavs were again eliminated in the Conference Semifinals after blowing a 2-1 series lead to the Celtics. James scored a mere 22 points per game in the three consecutive losses that closed out the series. The whispers got louder.James didn’t really look for his shot to start the game. This summer, when the new NBA2K19 came out, James began playing with the Lakers, posting videos of the games to his Instagram story, tagging his new teammates, complimenting them on their virtual plays. “Nice screen, @1ngram4,” he’d say. Now, during a real game, he was feeding the real Brandon Ingram, who is widely regarded as the best of the Lakers’ young players, despite possessing a body that looks to have the structural integrity of a scarecrow.The knock on these younger Lakers, and the vets Magic brought in on one-year contracts over the summer, is that there isn’t a pure three-point specialist among them, not a single safe bet who can camp out on the perimeter awaiting one of James’s laser-like no-look passes out of a double team. Two minutes into the game, the Lakers were still scoreless, and so James took matters into his own hands. He dribbled to the top of the key, dipped his shoulder as if to drive, and rose up for a jumper that swished, igniting the crowd, which had started to grow shifty.Nearly 22 years ago to the day, Shaquille O’Neal took the floor for his first home game as a Laker to Tupac’s “California Love” and received a standing ovation, a kindness he repaid with his first basket, a dunk, one of thousands he thundered down on Laker opponents during a triumphant eight-year run with the team. As with James, O’Neal’s arrival in L.A. signaled the end of a too-long string of disappointing Laker seasons, a period when the team was fronted by mediocre players like Cedric Ceballos and Elden “Seldom” Campbell. And as with James, O’Neal was signed by a former Laker great, in his case Jerry West, who compared the moment to the birth of his children. But unlike James, O’Neal was still in his early prime when he came to L.A. He had yet to win a championship. His move to the Lakers more closely resembles James’ 2010 flight from Cleveland to Miami.James’ standalone television special, The Decision, during which he announced his intention to “take his talents to South Beach,” has aged well, or at least better than many expected. At the time, the press ripped James for contriving a mass media moment out of a move that was sure to devastate his hometown fans. But some of that criticism, especially the description of James as “preening,” now reads racially coded, or at least disproportionate. The Boston Globe described the special as “an act of rather astounding egomania.” The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd scolded James for not showing “more class.” Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, wrote an open letter to his departing superstar, calling him a heartless, narcissistic coward.Looking back from the vantage point of the Trump era, the reaction to The Decision feels like a baser backlash to the sheer fact of James’s agency, his desire to control his own destiny. James was 26. He’d lived his whole life in Ohio. Why wouldn’t he listen when Pat Riley came calling, asking him what he thought about teaming up with D-Wade in Miami for “Showtime Part II,” a possibility he’d mulled since the Beijing Olympics? And why shouldn’t he rig up a special to raise millions for the Boys and Girls Club of America? The “take my talents” phrase was clunky, sure, but that’s a matter of aesthetics, not ethics. James seems to have taken the whole thing in stride. For his entire career, he has leveraged his market power without apology, mainly by refusing to sign long-term deals, until his most recent contract with the Lakers.Watching the first and second quarters, it was clear that the Lakers are like all other basketball teams on planet Earth, insofar as they have no one who can guard James Harden. Late in the second quarter, Harden, whose beard and cool-eyed stare make him look like a Jedi, caught James alone on the wing. He dribbled back and forth between his legs—wap, wap—his shoulders stilled with feline poise. He feinted right, and then rocked his weight backward, just perceptibly, as though making space to rise up for a clean jumper. James bit, leaning forward onto the balls of his feet for just a microsecond, in anticipation of a shot. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late. Harden did the fast forward moonwalk thing he does, right by him, at a perfect, momentum-conserving angle. All James could do was watch and try not to foul.Sometimes, when Harden makes a move like this, defenders swarm to the basket, quickly, making him choose from his Swiss Army knife collection of finishing moves, including a number of pretty, high-arcing floaters and bank shots. This time, the defenders were late, and so he simply dunked the ball hard with his left hand.James quickly repaid Harden for this humiliation, stripping him of the ball and bulling his way into the lane on the other side of the court for a layup. A few plays later, he threw a Magic-style no-look pass, across his body, to a baseline-cutting Josh Hart, a favored Laker youth, who laid the ball in the hoop. For a moment, the Lakers look to be gathering momentum, until Harden answered on the other hand with a quick three-pointer.James and Harden have history going back to James’ second season in Miami, when the Heat faced off against Harden’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. James’s first season in South Beach had ended in heartbreak. The Heat avenged his previous losses to the Celtics, but in the pivotal fourth game of the Finals against the Mavericks, something happened to James. He locked up, scoring only 8 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Years later, he told a reporter that he spent the game trapped in his own psyche, replaying his previous playoff failures on loop, a special torture for someone with a photographic memory.A few nights after the disastrous fourth game, the Mavericks closed out the Heat for good, and James walked back to the locker room alone, his shoulders slumped, while Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, reveled in schadenfreude, tweeting “Old lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS.” At the post-elimination press conference—a brutal NBA media tradition—a reporter asked a despondent James if it bothered him that so many people seemed so happy to see him fail.“Absolutely not,” he said, but it was hard to believe him. For a long time, James seemed to have carried something, an extra burden, one that finally lifted the next year, when the Heat dispatched Harden’s Thunder in the Finals. As the confetti and streamers rained down on him, at last, James, who has operated in the adult world since he was ten, looked almost childlike in his happiness. The whispers had gone quiet, at least for a time. The following year, the Heat again reached the Finals, where they met the Spurs, who redeployed their previous strategy of letting James shoot, this time to their peril. In the last four games of what turned into a historic, seven-game thriller, James tapped into his animal spirits, summoning something unseen since that early career game against the Pistons.After it was all over, Magic Johnson sat beside a basking James him during his postgame interview on ESPN. “I’ve seen everybody,” Magic said, his voice cracking as he put his hand on James’ forearm, “but you’re the only guy I’ve seen who can become the greatest that’s ever played.”Winning back-to-back championships gave James a new prominence in American culture. Having grown up fatherless, moving 12 times between age 5 and 8, James was alive to America’s social inequities. He developed a political voice, like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, another player who came to the Lakers later in his career. Only James was more charismatic.Jabbar was politicized much earlier than James. In 1964, while still a high schooler, he wrote an article in the Harlem Youth Action Project newspaper, protesting the case of James Powell, a local ninth grader who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer. (Jabbar has since written more than 10 books, including a mystery novel and a historical work about the combat experience of an all-black tank battalion in World War II.) After achieving national fame as perhaps the most dominant college basketball player ever, Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Olympics, in part for political reasons, a move that infuriated many white Americans.When James signed with the Lakers, Jabbar, who has often criticized Michael Jordan for prioritizing “commerce over conscience,” wrote that James was the “right hero at the right time” for L.A., on account of his being “an outspoken champion of the marginalized.” Kareem even showed up for the home opener, as did Magic, who received a huge ovation after the Dodgers’ NLCS win was announced over the loudspeaker.Like Jabbar before him, James, too, was politicized by the killing of a black youth. In his case, it was Trayvon Martin, fatally shot only a few miles from where the Heat practiced. At the height of the national controversy surrounding the shooting, James posted a photo of himself and his teammates in hoodies like Martin’s, their heads cast down. He scrawled Martin’s name on his game sneakers. A few years later, he wore an “I can’t breathe” shirt to pregame warmups, in memory of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer.James’s status as the NBA’s senior political statesman crystallized in 2014, during a tense moment in the already-tense relationship between the NBA’s players, most of whom are black, and the leagues owners, all but two of whom are white. The NBA playoffs were just beginning that year when TMZ released a recording of Clippers owner Donald Sterling berating his then-girlfriend for associating with black athletes, taking pictures with them, and bringing them to his Staples Center suite. Among the black athletes who provoked Sterling’s racist ire was Magic Johnson.James led the response, channeling the players’ rage into a sophisticated, consistent messaging campaign centered on a single inflexible demand: Sterling had to go. In interview after interview, James repeated a simple mantra, saying that there was “no room” for Sterling in “our game.” In a sly hint that things could go downhill quickly for the league, James questioned whether Clippers players should continue to suit up for playoff games as long as Sterling remained the team’s owner. He name checked Adam Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, saying, with a smile, that “the commish will take care of it, we’re sure of that.” Silver seems to have heard him, loud and clear. Within days, Sterling was banned from the NBA for life.The Rockets ended the first half with a small lead, just four points, but they opened the second with back-to-back three pointers, achieving the first double-digit lead in a nervy game that would feature more than twenty lead changes. James answered with a three pointer of his own, but then, inexplicably, the Lakers stopped feeding him the ball. The young guards dumped the ball down to JaVale McGee on consecutive possessions. The crowd began to murmur, nervously. After taking control of the ball back, James made two quick assists and, with four minutes remaining in the quarter, drove past Harden for another layup. The basket gave James eighteen points for the game, but it was a quiet eighteen. He didn’t yet look like the player who, just last spring, singlehandedly willed the Cavs to the Finals.As thrilling as James’s run in Miami was, it was this second Cleveland stint that made him a legend, on and off the court. “That would be a great story,” he had said, the week he left for Miami, about the possibility that he would one day return. But even he could not have known how great it would be to come back home, and to pull off another kind of comeback, rallying the Cavs from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, to defeat a Golden State team that won a record 73 regular season games, blessing Cleveland with its first pro sports title in five decades.James did all this while becoming a genuine political figure, especially as a foil for Donald Trump. In the final week of the 2016 election, James had campaigned against Trump in the battleground state of Ohio, introducing Hillary Clinton at a rally, and joining a handful of athletes who officially endorsed her, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar among them. Eight months into Trump’s presidency, James went after Trump in sharper terms after the president lashed out at Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors on Twitter, one of several times he’d criticized black athletes since taking office.James called Trump a “bum” in a tweet that quickly went viral, racking up more than one million likes. His choice of the word “bum” resonated. It compressed, into three letters, Trump’s lack of character in a way that one million op-eds by Never Trumpers couldn’t. “Put that lebron tweet in the blacksonian,” the writer Rembert Browne tweeted at the time, referring to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.When asked, weeks later, if he had any regrets about getting into a “name-calling situation” with Trump, James doubled down. “He’s a bum,” James said. “He doesn’t understand the power he has for being the leader of this beautiful country. He doesn’t understand how many kids … look up to the President of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement.” The next winter, James resumed his critique of Trump, calling the president’s conduct “laughable” and “scary.” Laura Ingraham, the Fox news personality, fired back on Trump’s behalf with the usual coded tropes, describing James’ comments as “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical.” “He should just shut up and dribble,” she said.No such luck for Ingraham. This last summer, after signing with the Lakers, James sat for a CNN interview with Don Lemon to promote a new public school he’d helped to fund in Akron, his hometown. Lemon asked James, who wore Malcolm X-style glasses for the occasion, about Trump’s consistent criticism of black athletes, including Colin Kaepernick. “The president,” James replied, was using sports “to divide” people. Like Ingraham, Trump responded by questioning James’s intelligence. As James becomes a fixture of the L.A. scene, it will be fascinating to see whether the megacity and the Lakers’ glamour will serve as multipliers for his political activism.Midway through the fourth quarte of Saurday night’s game, it looked to be headed for a tight finish. With six minutes to go, James assisted Lonzo Ball on his third three-pointer of a game. During pregame warmups, I’d watched Ball, who is in his second year, shoot a string of threes, curious to see if his form had improved. Ball had shot atrociously as a rookie, but there were rumors he’d worked on his jumper in the offseason. His release still looked as though he’d never healed from a freak wrist tendon injury, and he missed most of his shots in warm-ups, and put up two air balls earlier in the game. Laker fans were encouraged, if not overjoyed, to see him catching fire late in the game.When James is clicking like this with the younger players, it’s easy to imagine him making a run like Wilt Chamberlain. Like James, Chamberlain came to the Lakers, with one eye on Hollywood, after winning a title for his hometown team. His first Laker team got off to a tough start, losing three of their first four games, but they still made it to the NBA Finals, where they fell to the Celtics in seven games. The loss was painful for Chamberlain, who, like the larger Laker organization, spent much of the 1960s losing to Bill Russell’s Celtics in the playoffs. Three years passed before Chamberlain’s Lakers experienced redemption, winning it all in the Finals after reeling off 33 straight wins during the regular season, a streak that remains a record, despite a scare from the Warriors a few years back.Chamberlain played his final five years in the league as a Laker, but the 1972 title was the only one he won in L.A. Perhaps fortune will be kinder to James. This is, after all, only a pilot year, and Magic has stocked up some serious cap room for next year’s free agency. Suppose he and James take this season to evaluate the Lakers’ young talent, sifting out the best two or three players and trading the rest. Suppose they scoop up one of the three K’s—Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard—who will soon be free agents, plus a few journeyman shooters.James once noted, with wisdom beyond his years, that it takes a lot of luck to win a championship, any championship. Maybe a team like that could get lucky two or three times before James’s prime runs down. Maybe they’d win four titles, putting James just shy of Magic and Kobe. He’d get his statue then. He might get two.The Lakers trailed the Rockets for most of the early fourth quarter, but they kept stringing together mini-runs, hanging within a basket or two. The Rockets started going to Harden more often. With four minutes to go, Harden took the ball down court on a fast break, bumping Ingram, who stumbled into the basket support.Ingram lost his cool and shoved Harden with two hands. The two were quickly separated. Harden seemed untroubled, accustomed as he is to working defenders into raw states of frustration. The incident looked to be over, until Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo, who have bad blood, took the opportunity to pickup their feud. Rondo said something to Paul, who squared up, as if mocking Rondo. The Rockets maintain that Rondo spit in Paul’s face, to which Paul responded by poking Rondo’s eyes, pushing his head backward.Rondo recovered his center of gravity, and lunged forward with a straight left hand punch that landed cleanly on Paul’s eye, followed by two more quick, glancing blows. Ingram, who was walked down court after he shoved Harden, rushed back to throw a punch of his own. An incensed Paul threw a flurry punches, none of which seemed to land clean. James, playing peacemaker, bear hugged Paul, his longtime friend, around the waist from behind, pulled him from the scrum, walked him away, his arm around his neck, effectively ended the fight.The game was stopped for ten full minutes, while the referees reviewed footage, distributed technical fouls, ejected Rondo, Paul, and Ingram. I wondered what James was thinking as the minutes ticked by. Earlier in the night, the Laker fans had chanted “MVP, MVP” as James shot his first free throws. When play resumed, the crowd seemed to have found a new hero. “Rondo! Rondo!” they boomed, from the lower bowl and the high rafters.With a minute and a half left to go in the game, the Rockets were only up four, and the Lakers had the momentum, following another mini-run. The game seemed, again, to be within reach, until Harden nailed yet another step back three pointer on James, pushing the lead to seven. On the following possession, Harden scored his 35th and 36th points on an easy layup, all but ending the game.James caught some postgame flak on social media, for appearing to protect his friend over his teammates during the fight. I expect he’ll brush it off. James takes his cultural role, and his responsibility to lead by example, seriously. Whirling Chris Paul around like his grown child was the quickest way to end that fight, and ending fights is the right thing to do.I do, however, wonder how it will play in a Laker locker room that may soon be permeated with other, more serious tensions. James has a long history of coming back from early season losses—oddly, he has never won a debut game with a new team—but he does not have a distinguished record of indulging lesser teammates. James hasn’t been as cruel as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant on this score. But in Cleveland, he was happy to subtweet other Cavs players, passive aggressively, as when he told Kyrie Irving not to “ride his wave,” or when he instructed Kevin Love, who was experiencing mental health problems at the time, to just “fit in” during his first year with the team, a task made more difficult by James’s reported tendency to leave Love out of team pictures.During the 2017 Finals, when J.R. Smith mismanaged the clock at the end of Game 1, costing the Cavs a chance at an improbable road upset against the Warriors to start the series, James reacted demonstratively on the floor, yelling at Smith, his arms outstretched in exasperation. The moment, already humiliating for Smith, was watched live by millions, and still more after it was memed to death. In the locker room after the game, James punched a whiteboard so hard that he injured his hand.James might get antsy playing with this bunch, as the last sand grains of his prime fall faster and faster through the hourglass. One can only be basketball’s best player for a time, and others—Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, even Harden—are catching up to James, if they haven’t caught him already. In interviews, James is careful to make all the right noises about “patience,” but he hasn’t played on a non-contender in nearly a decade. If the losses start piling up, and the team struggles to stay above .500, you could imagine him forcing Magic to make panic trades, dealing away L.A.’s young talent at too steep a discount.Even if this team’s core stays intact, or is improved by trades and free agency, the Lakers might still lose to Golden State, year after year, just as James’s Cavs did during three of the past four seasons. James’s Laker years may be remembered as his decline and fall, a time when he could still fill up stat sheets and chase records, but couldn’t contend for rings, the coin of the realm among NBA all-timers. In L.A., his focus might drift from basketball to his second career, already underway, as a Hollywood producer. Nothing is guaranteed, not even for the Lakers.L.A. fans are hoping James will give the city, and the game he loves, one last epic, and not on the studio lot. Saturday night’s defeat didn’t break their spirits. They didn’t even seem disappointed, at least not yet. Apart from the fight’s cheap thrills, Staples Center was, as James said, electric, in a way that it hadn’t been for some time. Turning to leave my seat, I overheard a father-son duo in purple-and-gold, talking. “Tough loss,” the father said, “but we sure did get our money’s worth.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Against a Federal Registry of Genitals
Life might be more orderly and easy to understand if biology worked just like this:People come in one of two sexes, male or female. This is determined by chromosomes, and XX means female, and XY means male. Males have penises and testicles—which are all similar in appearance and curvature and size—that secrete testosterone in similar proportions. This testosterone is metabolized and functions similarly in all men and causes them to have similar amounts of musculature and deep voices and certain amounts of facial and back hair, and to act in particular ways due to this hormone. It causes their brains to develop and make them behave in ways that are “manly.”These men are attracted to women, specifically women who look normal, which is a result of the fact that they definitionally have exactly and only two XX chromosomes that cause them to develop clitori and uteri and breasts and ovaries that produce estrogen and other hormones that cause cycles of growth and shedding of the uterine lining, and who predictably bear children when sperm meets egg. All of these features develop and function the same way in all women who are normal—whose amounts of hormones make their bodies look and feel more or less the same, and whose brains develop and function in a way that is female, and which consigns them to certain roles in social hierarchies.This is the middle-school health class version. Like any simplistic model, this one is presented as an introduction. Most 11-year-olds do not yet know about enzymes and cell biology, and have barely begun to consider the complex differences between humans, and aren’t ready to grapple with the social implications of the simplistic dichotomy. Plus it would be impossible to go into greater depth without the class snickering every time the teacher said “ambiguous genitalia” or “micropenis.”The paradigm is somewhat similar to saying that automobiles come in two forms: cars and trucks. This is a worldview that is easily challenged by the existence of SUVs and station wagons—neither of which would suddenly disappear, even if government officials tried to make up a definition that excluded them.Yet this is the paradigm that the Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to use to re-define gender, according to a memo reported in The New York Times today: “The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with ... Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.”Much is being made of the proposed policy’s relevance to the 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender, as the Times story did, reporting that the proposal is an eye to “defining transgender out of existence” and prompted in part by “pro-transgender court decisions.” The implications go beyond this, even. There is also the scientific implausibility and fundamental impossibility of imposing such a definition. Just as it’s overly simplistic for a government to define all people based purely on chromosomes or physical appearance, many genotypic and phenotypic varieties exist outside of the proposed binary.The agency proposes to define gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” Which would indeed be ideal at a bureaucratic level. Even looking no further than the maternity ward or doula’s chambers, though, human biology does not abide by the rules laid out for us in sixth grade.Though they have long been anathema to talk about, there are many thousands of variables that affect gestation and fetal development—some influenced by epigenetic factors generations before conception—that lead to a spectrum of outcomes for any given infant. This can include sex-chromosomal anomalies (XXY or XYY, for example), as well as irregular functioning of enzymes that activate or metabolize hormones, or the blocking of binding sites where hormones typically act, which effectively could lead an XY person to develop female genitalia (known as Swyer syndrome), or an XX person to develop male genitalia, and for thousands of infants each year who are born with “ambiguous genitalia” that can look something like a penis and a clitoris (which are fundamentally structurally analogous, spongy tissue consisting of a crus and glans that become engorged and hyper-sensitive during sex).There are two statistical peaks in the distribution of infant outcomes that roughly accord with the states described in middle school, but there is also everything in between and on other sides. Entire textbooks are written on the wide variety of ways sex hormones can manifest during fetal development and throughout life. The exact number of infants born in the domain known as “intersex”—who, for any number of reasons, do not clearly fit into one of the two sexes based on genitalia or chromosomes or both—is difficult to know because for many years, such people were “normalized” at birth by default.The idea of changing infant genitalia surgically at birth has become an area of intense ethical debate in recent decades, and it stands to only become more relevant, as infants born with ambiguous genitalia are becoming more common—or, at least, increasingly documented—which some evidence suggests is due to exposure to environmental pollutants that affect fetal development.Human-rights organizations have campaigned against genital surgeries for intersex infants, and in 2017 three former U.S. surgeon generals published a report that argued, “While there is little evidence that cosmetic infant genitoplasty is necessary to reduce psychological damage, evidence does show that the surgery itself can cause severe and irreversible physical harm and emotional distress.” A policy from HHS that puts infant genitalia at the center of a person’s identity runs directly counter to this medical advice.While the relevance of this discussion is not going away, some public intellectuals like the author Michael Pollan have suggested that bringing this policy memo to the forefront of national conversations is savvy politics just before the midterm elections. “Don’t take the bait!” he tweeted this morning. The implication is that the intention of the administration is to stir a culture war that, rife with misinformation and fear-mongering, will rally Trump’s base around the idea that liberals want to destroy the concept of men and women and, so, God and family, desecrating the very idea of America.Looked at another way, the policy could just as well raise objections among people concerned about “big government” and defending individual rights. Scientific implausibility aside, this is a federal agency proposing widespread genetic testing and keeping records of citizens’ genitals. This is a proposal by the government imposing an expectation that everyone look and act in one of two ways, and that everything in between is somehow not right—an aberration, an anomaly, a flaw, a problem, a disease—rather than a marvel of the natural world, a way that humans survive and thrive not despite but because of our complexity as a species.Even for those who believe a simplistic dichotomy does and should explain the world—regardless of the millions of people who exist as evidence to the contrary—there is much room to question the American-ness of government imposing such a rigid prescription on everyone.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
An Election in Poland’s Capital Could Shape the Future of Populism
WARSAW—On a chilly Friday evening in Poland’s capital, mayoral candidate Patryk Jaki took the stage in Praga Park to make a final pitch to voters. The location had symbolic resonance: Warsaw’s Praga district is home to many low-income residents who feel stigmatized and left behind by their increasingly prosperous and cosmopolitan city. This, in turn, helps makes it friendly territory for Jaki’s Law and Justice (PiS), the right-wing euroskeptic populist party currently in control of Poland.“People from the town hall keep humiliating and spitting on us,” Jaki said as his supporters chanted to drown out a small group of protesters. “They don’t want us to take over the town hall, because they’re afraid of what we’ll find there.”Earlier that day, Jaki’s opponent and the race’s frontrunner, Rafal Trzaskowski of the center-right Civic Platform, was closing his campaign on a much different note. Though he focuses his messaging on Warsaw-specific issues, Trzaskowski said in an interview, people who stop him in the street want to talk about democracy, about the European Union, about the rule of law in Poland. “PiS has done so much to undermine our democracy that the streets of Warsaw were witnessing so much protest,” he said.While it may seem odd, this single mayoral race could say a lot about the fate of liberal democracy in Poland. PiS, which took over the Polish government in 2015, has politicized democratic institutions like the state media and overhauled the judiciary, rapidly reshaping the country in the process. As the PiS continues to clash with the EU over controversial judicial reforms, the campaign in Warsaw has become both a high-profile battleground and a metaphor for two contrasting visions of the Poland’s future.Sunday’s elections in Warsaw and across the country offer the first real test for the three-year-old PiS-led government. They will also help set the tone for the European Parliament elections in May, Polish parliamentary elections next fall, and the presidential election in 2020.“Warsaw is a kind of laboratory in which PiS tries to replicate its success,” Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank, explained. “The results will be an important indicator of where the public mood is.”These elections, and the three that will follow, will help answer some of the existential questions facing Poland. Further victories for PiS will likely embolden the party to continue forging ahead with its populist reforms and push the country further down the path to a Hungary-style “illiberal” democracy. But should the opposition prevail, it could be an early sign that PiS’s reign is a temporary course correction rather than a permanent change for Poland.The race is also symbolic because Jaki and Trzaskowski represent their parties’ respective images. Jaki, an outspoken deputy justice minister, seeks to portray himself as non-ideological populist, and has railed against the so-called Warsaw elites. Trzaskowski, a former secretary of state for European affairs who speaks six languages, talks about defending liberal democracy and ensuring Warsaw remains open and pro-European.For Jaki, along with his party, Warsaw would be a win for the common man and a sign that PiS’s reforms, ranging from its now-infamous judiciary overhaul to increased social benefits for families, can gain traction even in liberal Warsaw.Sebastian Kaleta, a city council candidate and Jaki supporter, said the fact he made the race competitive in liberal Warsaw in the first place “is a signal for Europe that democracy is fully healthy in Poland, because our opponent wants to say to the world that there’s a problem with Poland.”For Trzaskowski, winning would mean a chance to fight back against the PiS. “I really want this city to be this island of freedom in the midst of what PiS is doing to our country,” he said.Like most right-wing populist parties across Europe, PiS thrives in rural and suburban areas but has struggled in urban centers like Warsaw. For opposition parties like Trzaskowski’s Civic Platform, local governments in these areas—which retain a great deal of autonomy—have provided at least some opportunities to check PiS’s national-level reforms.But Sunday’s elections could very well chip away at the opposition’s local advantage. While the opposition controls 15 of Poland’s 16 regional assemblies, recent polling for the Polish newspaper Fakt suggests PiS could take over as many as six more.These local elections come at a time when Poland’s government is locked in a fight with the EU over the country’s political future. Last week, the European Court of Justice demanded that Poland halt an initiative that would force dozens of Poland’s supreme court judges into early retirement. The initiative was the PiS’s latest attempt to overhaul the country’s judicial system by effectively allowing the party to remove politically independent judges.That announcement followed the EU’s unprecedented move last December to trigger a so-called Article 7 procedure against Poland aimed at blocking its efforts to hinder judicial independence—a move Brussels has made only twice (most recently, against Hungary last month).Jaki, the second-in-command at Poland’s justice ministry, “epitomizes everything which is bad about PiS,” Trzaskowski said. “He's the most ideological minister of this government: he's responsible for the politicization of the courts, he's responsible for this law on remembrance which created such ripples all around the world, he was using crazy ideological language.”The government’s actions have divided Polish voters. “Right now we have really two Polands,” said Milosz Hodun, an adviser to the liberal Nowoczesna Party, which is a coalition partner of Civic Platform. “There are 40 percent who really like what’s going on, 40 percent who really don’t like it, and 20 percent who don’t care.”Polling suggests Trzaskowski will most likely prevail in Warsaw, though he and Jaki are expected to advance to a second round in November.What’s less clear is the extent to which PiS will make inroads at the local and regional levels. Kucharczyk, of the Institute of Public Affairs, said PiS can be emboldened by either possibility: a strong result across the country would further encourage them in their efforts to further weaken democratic institutions, while less-than-stellar support at the polls may spur them to cry foul and work to diminish the power of the now-influential local governments.“In some ways it is a lose-lose situation from the point of view of Polish democracy,” he said. “It will be rough one way or the other.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Cities Are Turning Snails Yellow
Take a stroll through the coastal dunes, woodlands, or cities of Europe and you will likely find, with an observant eye, grove snails. They come in a variety of colors: coral pink, lemon yellow, lush mahogany. Sometimes, their shells are swirled with as many as five black bands. For decades in the early and mid-20th century, schoolboys collected the shells in the same way they collected bird eggs, butterflies, and stamps.Over that time, European cities have sprouted high-rises, concrete, and asphalt. And the snails—still common, still everywhere—have been changing, too. In the Netherlands, the results of a citizen-science project suggest that light-colored snails are becoming more common in cities. Researchers blame the urban-heat-island effect. Yellow shells, they argue, reflect more sunlight, allowing the snails to stay cool in the heat.[Trees could change the climate more than scientists thought].The people looking for snails are no longer just schoolboys, but anyone equipped with an Android app called SnailSnap. Niels Kerstes at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, a natural-history museum in the Netherlands, developed the app with his co-authors in 2017. That spring, they advertised it through the museum and through mollusk-enthusiast groups on Facebook. It was eventually downloaded 1,180 times, and people sent in 7,868 photos of different snails. The SnailSnap data are revealed in a paper—which has not yet been peer-reviewed—uploaded to the preprint server bioRxiv.Snails, says Kerstes, are the perfect organism for citizen science: They’re abundant. They’re easy to find. Their colors and bands are fairly distinct and genetically determined. And they don’t run away when they’re being photographed—snails being famous for, you know, moving at a snail’s pace.Photos taken by participants of SnailSnap (SnailSnap)SnailSnap grew out of a previous citizen-science project called Evolution MegaLab, pegged to Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday in 2009. The Evolution MegaLab website also asked people to document the color of snail shells, but a decade ago the possibilities were much more limited. “It was the dark ages of smartphones,” says Jonathan Silvertown, an ecologist now at the University of Edinburgh and the leader of Evolution MegaLab. That project had to rely on people recording and uploading the color and location of snails to the site themselves.“The problem with citizen science is it’s hard to say how reliable the data are,” Kerstes says. Now, nearly everyone has a camera and a GPS in their pocket. When a citizen scientist uses SnailSnap to take a photo of a snail, the app also records the location. The photo then goes to a small group of validators trained to categorize snails by color or banding pattern. It’s still not a perfect data set—sometimes the GPS didn’t work or people disagreed on the color—but it gave Kerstes more overall confidence in the data.The team ultimately compared snails from four types of habitats: farmland, natural habitats like forests, urban “green” areas like parks, and urban “gray” areas that were primarily residential, commercial, or industrial. In both types of urban settings, they found more yellow snails. Kerstes and his co-authors think this is because of temperature. Cities are often hotter than their surrounding areas because they’re full of materials like asphalt that absorb more radiation, and they’re relatively short on trees. Dark snails also absorb more radiation than their yellow counterparts. They might get too hot or have to spend more time trying to escape from the sun, making them less suited for the city.There was also a strange pattern with the bands. The urban snails were more likely to have dark bands on the underside of their shells, but not on the top. Scientists studying another snail species found that banded ones cooled down faster than unbanded ones. Perhaps, according to the SnailSnap team, the urban snails had figured out the best of both worlds: no dark bands where the shell is exposed to the sun, but bands on the underside for cooling.Angus Davison, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Nottingham, cautions against attributing the abundance of yellow snails in cities entirely to temperature. (He was not involved with SnailSnap, but has collaborated with another of the project’s scientists on other snail studies.) “Ultimately, it’s correlation,” he says, and there could be other differences between city and non-city areas that account for the difference. Birds, for example, eat snails, and the appearance of their shells could affect how often the snails are predated. Nevertheless, the data from SnailSnap does show that something is going on in cities.SnailSnap is still taking photo submissions. The team is interested in long-term trends as the Netherlands gets warmer with climate change. Kerstes is also working on citizen-science projects to study how other organisms are adapting to cities, searching for changes in how blackbirds sing and how dandelions disperse their seeds. Organisms are evolving all the time. “People don’t walk around with this kind of consciousness,” says Silvertown. But if you stop to notice snails, you might be more attuned to the evolution that’s happening on sidewalks, in alleyways, and all around.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Sanders and Warren are heading for a stand-off
Neither is blinking. Bernie Sanders thinks he has a lock on his supporters. Elizabeth Warren thinks she can get enough of them, and enough elsewhere to run regardless. Allies and supporters are anxious they’ll destroy both their chances, and kneecap progressive politics along the way.Some close to Sanders feel like Warren was trying to muscle him out of the race, and laugh at the idea that she will be able to compete with him for his supporters. Some close to Warren feel like Sanders has an outsized sense of his power over the nomination and his chances to actually win it or beat Donald Trump.[Read: How Sanders and Warren Will Decide Which One Runs]“She’s engaged in a chess game where she’s moving her pawns around and she’s trying to demonstrate to many people, including Bernie, that not only is she running, but is fully capable of running, and is so far ahead that you should just give in to her,” said one key player in Sanders’ world.Warren’s opening flop last week with her DNA test has his team thinking she might not be so hard to beat after all.Sanders hasn’t decided about running, though it weighs heavily on him to make sure Trump loses. Part of the thinking behind his week-long cross-country tour campaigning for other candidates is testing how much his appeal has held up (so far, to over-packed overflow rooms). As Sanders decides whether to run again, advisers often cite the 45 percent of the primary vote he got in 2016, though the senator himself thinks less about getting deference from his performance two years ago than drawing on the strength he’s continued to build since.He and Warren are ideological allies who have developed a good working relationship—not friends, but warmer with each other than most senators are. He respects her, thinks she gets it, despite the distinctions she’s recently made to point out that she, unlike the Democratic socialist from Vermont, is “a capitalist.” Sanders invited her to appear at a few events he hosted. They did some web videos together. Showdowns were avoided, like when Sanders declined to endorse his old ally Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic primary for Ohio governor earlier this year because it would have put him at odds with Warren, who had immediately backed her protégé Richard Cordray in the race.Warren is close to pulling the trigger on a run, and spent the last two years putting together the pieces for a campaign, accelerating since the end of the summer. This included some deliberate overtures to Sanders’ world, like reaching out to Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator who now runs the Sanders-inspired group Our Revolution, and to RoseAnn DeMoro, the former head of the National Nurses Union, which spent millions and went all out for him in 2016.The Warren analysis is that Sanders’ votes in 2016 had more to do with being the alternative to Hillary Clinton than he likes to admit. For all his strength then, he’s not leading in early public polls, which show him with support in the teens, not far ahead of her and behind Joe Biden. She’s a woman at a time when women are proving key to the party’s future. She has an appeal beyond just his supporters, drawing from many Clinton supporters too.“The whole thing that they have the same core of support tends to be overstated,” said a Warren ally.Her moves were never about pushing Sanders out of the way, but about pushing forward on her own.Strategically, Warren started making clear moves to show her seriousness, from making a tactical decision to say a few weeks ago that she would take a “hard look at running” after the midterms, to arranging a Washington Post story last Sunday that showed off the inner workings of her political operation paired with a rollout in the Boston Globe and on Twitter on the Cherokee question.“He’s not the kind of guy that you intimidate out of something,” said Sanders adviser Mark Longabaugh.For a long time, it didn’t seem like things were going to go down this way. At a presentation to Sanders and his inner circle in January, Longabaugh identified Warren as the main obstacle to winning the nomination. Though others at that planning session disagreed with how big of a threat she posed, they were still hoping to avoid it. A rough idea emerged between them of how it would play out: at some point around now—right before or right after the midterms—the two senators would have a conversation. Sanders would tell her what he’d decided to do. If he was a go for 2020, he’d expect her to support him, for the sake of the cause. If he decided not to run, it would essentially be permission for her to go ahead, though likely not with his endorsement right away.Warren and her team in recent months started to realize this was the thinking they were coming up against. They always thought it was ridiculous, a one-sided benefit that brought her nothing for working with him or waiting.“What was she getting out of that? What’s the benefit for her?” argued one person in Warren’s orbit. “That she gets to know ahead of time if he’s running?”The math changed in the last week.Warren moved early to put away a question about her Native American heritage that she would have faced constantly on the trail. But what it demonstrated to the competition was how much Trump had gotten under her skin, that she was in a mindset still defined by trying to avoid repeating Clinton’s mistakes in 2016, and that she still is coming off buttoned up and cold in the videos that were part of the rollout.[Read: Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Is Not Her Identity]More importantly to the strategists sizing each other up: Part of Warren’s strength was always seen as the competence of her staff and advisers. After such a big blunder, now they’re not so sure. At least, people working for several other likely candidates said, Warren’s team should have reached out ahead of time to the Cherokee Nation to head off the statement it put out criticizing her for claiming vindication from the blood test.Then there are the supporters she just turned off.“Her comments around the rollout of the Native American stuff were not helpful to her cause,” said Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, and one of the people who was involved with the Draft Warren effort ahead of the 2016 campaign. “As a person of color who works with people of color, it felt like it was an almost diminishing the role of race in our politics. It really went against the grain with a lot of people. It trivialized race as a factor in so many ways.”Westin added that he was perplexed by trying to hang her heritage on a test that showed she had was at most 3 percent native blood: “She’s clearly a white woman,” he said.Meanwhile, Westin said, “Bernie has risen a lot since 2016. He’s now a household name in a way that he wasn’t. His message resonates with our folks.”Part of the Warren thinking is that, if both run, she could position herself as the alternative to Sanders, saying she’s the one who has clear progressive credentials but who could win. There’s some openness to that, even in odd places, like Third Way, the centrist Democratic think tank that initially after 2016 seemed to be on a single-minded mission to stop her from being the nominee.Not anymore.“Senators often look and sound different as presidential candidates, so we really don’t yet know how she—or any of her Senate colleagues—would run. The exception is Senator Sanders. We’re open to everybody except for him,” said Third Way senior vice president Matt Bennett.Sanders’ team also dares Warren to try appealing to his voters by saying he can’t win.“Those passionate folk on the left, they want champions,” said another Sanders advisor. “They’re not calculators in that kind of way.”But many progressives feel stuck.MoveOn, the huge progressive group that was also involved in Draft Warren ahead of 2016, says it won’t pick sides in this fight. “After the midterms, our members will be looking for a broad group of candidates to have a lively debate about our nation’s future,” came a very carefully worded email from the group’s spokesman, Karthik Ganapathy, who before taking the job was Sanders’ communications director in New Hampshire for the primary against Clinton. “The candidate who can most clearly articulate a bold, inclusive and populist message and run a movement-connected campaign is the one who's most likely to earn our support.” Despite all the members who rallied for Sanders and the millions spent on him in 2016, National Nurses United doesn’t want to be pinned down in this fight, either. Through a spokeswoman, new union president Bonnie Castillo declined comment when asked if her members would have a favorite candidate between the two.Art Haywood is a Pennsylvania state senator from Philadelphia who endorsed Sanders in 2016. Now he’s also the national president of Americans for Democratic Action, another big progressive group that’s been around since it was co-founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, and had last year been encouraging Warren into the 2020 race.Haywood said he’d be fine with both running.“I don’t see it as bad at all,” Haywood said. “In my view, there need to be more voices for the people who have been left behind.”When I asked him how that battle might play out among his members, he reconsidered. “Very challenging,” he said, then paused to consider what might be ahead.“I think that’s going to be a tough conversation,” Haywood said. “Hopefully we won’t split and lose the organization.”Then he pointed out that Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris might be able to win the group’s support too.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
These Two Could Soon Be the First Muslim Women to Serve in Congress
Rashida Tlaib will become the first Muslim American and Palestinian woman elected to the House of Representatives in November--but she’d rather talk about the heavy-duty trucks that roll through her neighborhood in Detroit. Industrial pollution permeates the air and poses serious health risks to her constituents.“My activism was birthed in many ways because of my Palestinian heritage,” says Tlaib, 42, a Michigan state representative. “But air quality and environmental justice--that’s something I’m so passionate about. Growing up in that neighborhood, I thought smelling like rotten eggs was normal.”Tlaib, who won her Democratic primary by exactly one percentage point, won’t face a challenger in the general election. She will most likely share the distinction of being the first Muslim woman in Congress with Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who ran for a seat vacated by Keith Ellison--the first Muslim man elected to Congress in 2006. Omar faces a Republican in the November election, but the district has gone blue since the 1960s, making her the clear favorite. Omar, 36, made headlines in 2016 as the first Somali-American elected to a state legislature. While her campaign this year for Congress didn’t shy away from her identity, it was grounded in a platform of progressive policies and her resume of civic engagement and political involvement at the local and state levels.“We were both very much rooted in our neighborhoods,” Tlaib says of herself and Omar. “We didn’t come from thin air. We’re centered and focused on a number of issues that we’ve been working on as moms, as women of color--and some that are related to being Muslim in America.”Neither candidate ran in a district that has a sizeable Muslim voting bloc--Omar’s district is primarily white, while Tlaib’s is predominantly African American--though that’s an assumption both have encountered. (Dearborn, a heavily Arab suburb, is just outside Tlaib’s district, as are many of the Somali communities near Omar’s.) “Political pundits would like to have a conversation about how people like me are elected by people who look like me,” Omar says. “But the reality is that we were elected because we were the best candidate in that race. We are proud of our identities-- and we are proud of the fact that we are issue oriented, and we care about making positive changes and pushing aggressively for progressive agendas that lead to prosperity for all of us.”Tlaib and Omar were among other Muslim women who ran for Congress this year in an election which has already broken national records for the number of female candidates filing.Coming from different ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds, the candidates defied the stereotypes of a monolithic Muslim American community that often prevail in media narratives. “It’s such a great reflection of reality,” Dalia Mogahed, the executive director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, said of the diversity among them. According to a survey taken by the organization, more than two-thirds of the Muslim American community is dissatisfied with the direction of the country’s politics. For Muslim women and Black Muslims, numbers were even higher. “It’s really inspiring to see how that energy has been channelled into greater civic engagement,” she says.The fact that many the Muslim women who ran in the midterm primaries leaned further left than their challengers might also reflect the fact that the Muslim community leans Democratic to begin with, Mogahed says. The community also skews younger and is predominantly comprised of people of color. “The idea of social justice is deeply ingrained in how many Muslims interpret their faith, and these candidates amplify that value in so many ways,” she says.While the Trump administration's politics led some of the candidates to run for office, they are also tired of Democratic leadership that took Muslim voters for granted. That’s one of the reasons that Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a family law attorney from Massachusetts, decided to challenge the 15-term Democratic incumbent Richard Neal, a ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.“Our district has the second highest rate of poverty out of all nine in Massachusetts, and ours is last in median income,” Amatul-Wadud says. “So I was thinking, ‘We’ve had this gentleman in Ways and Means, for so many years--how is our district failing?” Her platform included support for Medicare for All, as well as advocating for high-speed internet access across the rural district, where thousands of constituents don’t have access to the same quality of service that city-dwellers do.In the final weeks of Amatul-Wadud’s campaign, which was fairly late in the primary cycle, her campaign started to draw comparisons to that of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who defeated one of the most powerful democrats in Congress, Joe Crowley, in a New York primary. While Ocasio Cortez’ momentum helped Amatul-Wadud attract donors during the last stretch of her own primary, it wasn’t enough to propel her to victory.In her loss, she still sees a win in the energy she was able to tap into in communities that previously felt their voices weren’t being heard. She points out that she raised about three percent of Crowley’s $2.4 million campaign budget, yet walked away with nearly a third of the vote in the primary.“I was running for a seat in a majority white district, and I am African American and visibly Muslim-- and I’m a woman,” she says. “I’m 44, but I remember being a little girl and having a hard time finding a black Barbie doll. When you think of how representation matters--I think of loving Barbies but not finding one like me. I hope that my visibility across the nation can be that for a little girl who’s not looking for a Barbie doll, but a role model.”For Sameena Mustafa, a South-Asian American Muslim who challenged incumbent Democrat Mike Quigley for the House in Illinois in a March primary, it was hard to rally around the cry of “replacing bad Democrats” so early in the election cycle, she says. “No one would really cover why I was challenging Mike Quigley,” she says. “This is a guy that doesn’t support Medicare for all, in a district that Bernie Sanders won.”Those details weren’t highlighted the same way that her identity was, she realized. “It was much easier for reporters to say, she’s a Muslim running or a woman running.” White men running for office are never asked about the relevance of their identities in representing diverse districts, she points out. Yet it’s an issue that women of color across the nation have faced, and that Tlaib and Omar might continue to face once they’re sworn into Congress.During her time in the Michigan House of Representatives, Tlaib was part of a local movement to rid the city of Detroit of petcoke, a harmful particulate byproduct of petroleum refining that was dumped unceremoniously in the city. Her involvement built her reputation with constituents as an ally and advocate, which helped her connect with voters as she campaigned in the district.Months before taking office, she’s already thinking about how to get better water filters to schools in her area, and ending predatory and unaffordable car insurance rates that impact low-income residents in Detroit. “My parents didn’t have college degrees, they didn’t come from wealthy backgrounds,” she tells me as she weaves through traffic, cars honking behind her. “We struggled as much as anybody else--the majority of American families are struggling every day.”Her father worked at the nearby Ford manufacturing plant, supporting Tlaib and her 13 siblings. When she started school, she didn’t speak English--but she made her way through the public school system and college, and later worked full-time while attending law school. Tlaib decided against joining the corporate world after law school, instead joining a community nonprofit that assists Arab immigrants in the Detroit area. The connections she made there helped launch her into politics, where she worked on expanding social services and serving constituents. As Tlaib weaves through traffic one day, cars honking at her from a street corner in Detroit, she tells me about her plans to introduce the Justice for All Civil Rights Act as her first legislative act, bringing her trademark energy and enthusiasm on the issues to Washington.“This came out of door-to-doors and community conversations,” she says. The legislation, she says, re-introduces the spirit and letter of 60s’ era civil rights laws, which focused on the impacts of discriminatory laws as opposed to the intentionality of them. The proposal ranges from criminal justice to health care to education and utilities regulations. “When you push back on a community and bully them,” she says, “silence is not an option for this generation.”Minnesota state Representative Ilhan Omar takes the oath of office as the 2017 Legislature convened in St. Paul, the nation's first Somali-American elected to a state legislature.For Omar, campaigning on a platform that included opposing the Trump administration’s travel ban, which targeted predominantly Muslim countries, was as personal as it was political. If Omar were to seek refugee status in the U.S. today, she wouldn’t have been able to: Somalia is one of the countries that faces immigration and asylum restrictions. Even her policy platform of abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement was informed by her past experiences, coming to the United States at the age of 12 from a country in the midst of a civil war. “I was the only person who could really make the connection to what it means to cross a border far away from the US,” she tells me.Although it’s now a rallying cry for many progressive candidates who see the agency as unreformable and dangerous in light of the family separation crisis it created at the U.S.-Mexico border, she personally experienced the reality of immigrating to the U.S. through various national security agencies. It’s a process which can take years, often delayed by redundant security checks despite the immediate dangers that most refugees face in their home countries.“When I was out talking to people about abolishing ICE, we’ve seen how brutal that institution has been, and how it’s impacted us,” she says. “My immigrant identity, my refugee identity, my Muslim identity, my black identity are directly related to the conversations we’re having about what’s at stake for all of us.”Quiet and soft spoken, Omar has had a knack for making her constituents feel heard, even as she was promoting her policies on the campaign trail. Her speeches embrace the same hope and optimism that her voters-- and other citizens across the country-- projected onto her candidacy. On the night of her victory, she gave a gleeful interview to a Somalian-American YouTube channel in her native tongue. (Among all her firsts, she will also be the first U.S. Congress member born on the African continent.) “We believe that together, we can organize around the politics of hope and make sure that not only do we have the America we believed in, but the America we deserve,” she told the exuberant crowd that night. “This victory isn’t just mine, it belongs to all of you.”In the ascendance of Tlaib and Omar to the national political stage, Mogahed sees a lesson. “One thing that bigotry really aims to do is to distract you, to do nothing but defend yourself, and prove your humanity,” she says, paraphrasing Toni Morrison. “The second thing bigotry tries to do is make you feel outnumbered and isolated. And now we’ve seen clearly that this is not the case.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Bizarre Beat of Yoko Ono’s Drum
“People of America, please listen to your soul!” That’s Yoko Ono, telling us what to do on her new album Warzone. And what if our soul—collectively, Joseph Campbell-esquely—sounded like Yoko Ono? Which is to say: wizened, innocent, fearlessly strange, offensively artless, and rather peremptory. Warzone finds Ono revisiting and refashioning 13 of her own songs/pieces, from 1970’s “Why” to 2009’s “I’m Alive,” here stripping them down to wiry substructures of piano or guitar, there adding discreet layers of dialed-down freakout courtesy of a crack band of art-rock gnomes. (The presence of the guitar-sizzler Marc Ribot is particularly welcome.) Some of it is beautiful; some of it is bizarre. All of it has an unexpected claim on our attention.The miracle—and it really is a bit of a miracle—is that 85-year-old Yoko Ono, super-rich and a household name for most of her life, can sound so authentically dispossessed, so uninsulated, so much like a person with a little keyboard haranguing you on the subway. After all these years, hers is still the voice of the outsider, with an outsider’s warrant for prophecy and an outsider’s talent for menacing you in your aesthetics. As in: Is this crap? Is this great? How can I possibly tell?Take the aforementioned “Why.” The original Plastic Ono Band version was a gibbering, snarling swathe of experimental rock, wild but recognizable, in the vein of German pioneers like Can or Faust; now it’s pure Yoko, no band, no tune, working her totally un-rock variations on the single word why. She chirrups, she moans. Her small-aged child voice descends abruptly, as through a trapdoor, into chambers of ululation, or climbs to an uncanny scream. Why? WHY? Whyyyyyyyyy. Animals (parrots, monkeys?) hoot encouragingly in the background. Why what? Why everything.[Read: The never-ending weirdness of Yoko Ono ]She reinterprets and retackles “Imagine” (for which she finally received a co-writing credit alongside Lennon last year), and it’s still terrible, one of the least imaginative songs ever: droopy lyrics like “Nothing to kill or die for,” amnesiac theta-state chords. On the other hand, the not dissimilar “I Love You Earth,” which she last attempted with the singer Antony (now Anohni) in 2015, is gorgeous: “I love your valleys / I love your mornings / In fact I love you every day.” That’s the thing about Yoko: At her wackiest, she is really very straightforward, with a special freshness and nursery-rhyme simplicity. So she never goes out of style. A 2018 take on “What a Bastard the World Is,” for example, from 1973’s Approximately Infinite Universe, would have been right on the money. This is the song where, after slinging a full ashtray at her errant man (John?), she tells him—with a notable lack of rancor —“You know half the world is occupied with you pigs? / I can always get another pig like you.” Instead, on Warzone, we get a fuzzy refurbishment of “Woman Power,” her old feminist anthem from the same year: “In the coming age of feminine society / We’ll regain our human dignity / We’ll lay some truth and clarity / And bring back nature’s beauty.” Despite some excellent frazzling guitar from Ribot, this doesn’t have the immediacy of “What a Bastard.”Yoko on Warzone is conspicuously addressing herself to the times. To the war zone, actual and spiritual. “Men flashing their guns and balls,” she chants tonelessly on the title track over a baleful trumpeting of elephants and a clatter of machine-gun fire. “Women looking like Barbie dolls.” Those are some ghastly lyrics. Or are they? Maybe they’re radically unadorned and abrasive and punk-rock and to the point. Again, Yoko’s clarity causes confusion. I have no idea who will buy this album, or what noise it will make as it hits the quivering dome of the popular imagination. But there is awkwardness and gentleness and prophetic witness here. Listen, really attend, to this pop-mythological octogenarian telling us that she loves the Earth, that she has learned to love herself, and that we should stop driving our kids insane—right now—and you might just feel an answering tremor or shudder from within, the wet dog shake of your neglected essential being as it rattles itself awake.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
What I Learned as an EMT at the Border Wall
The call came in around 10:45 a.m. Over the loudspeaker, the city’s 911 dispatcher instructed Medic 1 and Engine 3 to respond to the area west of the Mariposa port of entry for a 30-year-old female with traumatic injuries from a fall. As an EMT and a paramedic, I had treated many injuries, whether from vehicle rollovers or drive-by shootings, but this was the first patient I saw as a volunteer emergency responder at the U.S.-Mexico border.This article is adapted from Threshold: Emergency Responders on the U.S.-Mexico Border WallLying supine on the strip of concrete that stretches parallel to the rusty metal fence was a young woman, whom I will call Araceli. (I agreed not to use real names as a condition of my research as an anthropologist and my care for patients as an EMT.) She had climbed a ladder on the other side of the steel border wall, but was unable to hold on to the structure and fell down from a height of about 24 feet. We were told that she had been lying there for two hours when a Border Patrol agent found her.“Ay, mis piernas!” she shouted, grimacing from pain in her legs.The rescuers acted quickly. At the direction of JLo, an energetic bilingual paramedic, they removed her sneakers and cut off the bottom part of her jeans to expose her fractured ankles; they cleaned Araceli’s feet with normal saline, and bandaged and splinted them using cardboard and tape. A cervical collar was put around her neck to protect her spine from further injury. Araceli’s injuries qualified her for trauma alert, which meant that she had to be flown directly to the University Medical Center in Tucson, the only Level I trauma facility in the region.“Se trajeron mis zapatos?” she asked in the ambulance, en route to the helipad. Did anyone bring her shoes?She had broken both legs, and months would go by before she was able to walk again. But she was thinking about her shoes—a weapon of the weak, which migrants use to walk under the light of the moon, to run from bandits who want to rob and hurt them, and from the Border Patrol agents who want to capture them and send them back to start all over again. Without her shoes, she doesn’t stand another chance. Before we left the scene, one of the firefighters collected Araceli’s bloodstained shoes and put them in a red biohazard bag.As soon as we arrived at the hospital, the flight crew got inside. JLo informed the flight nurse of the patient’s chief complaint, relayed her signs and symptoms, and described the treatment they had done. Together, they moved the patient to the helicopter, and we watched it take off.Volunteering on both sides of the border, I witnessed how the wall predictably mutilates the bodies of those who try to scale it. The adoption by the Border Patrol of the “prevention through deterrence strategy” in 1994—which involved increasing the length and the height of the border fence in urban areas—significantly expanded the number of wounded migrants. The shifting design of the border fence produces particular forms of injuries: The sharp edges on top of the previous fence, made of corrugated sheet metal left over from the Vietnam War, amputated limbs; the tall, slatted steel wall we have today fractures legs and ankles. In towns along Arizona’s southern fringe, ambulances go to pick up wounded border crossers so frequently that emergency responders refer to the cement ledge abutting the wall as “the ankle alley.” The border wall is a key component of “tactical infrastructure”—a concept that Customs and Border Patrol uses to refer to the assemblage of materials and technologies that regulate movement in the name of national security. It includes gates, roads, bridges, drainage structures and grates, observation zones, boat ramps, and lighting and ancillary-power systems, as well as remote video surveillance, which together “allow CBP to provide persistent impedance, access, and visibility, by making illicit cross-border activities, such as the funneling of illegal immigrants, terrorists, and terrorist weapons into our Nation, more difficult and time-consuming.” Such “tactical infrastructure” simultaneously produces victims and marks them as criminals.To determine the placement of tactical infrastructure, the Department of Homeland Security devised an algorithm called the “border calculus.” It was part of the Secure Border Initiative, a multiyear, multibillion-dollar program inaugurated in 2005 that combined the expansion of tactical infrastructure along more than 600 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border with the creation of a “virtual fence”—a high-tech barrier consisting of surveillance towers that monitor activity and look for incursions using radar, sensors, and high-resolution cameras. Border calculus bolstered the program’s credibility by making security appear like science, emphasizing both the spatial and temporal dimensions of enforcement. In the words of Gregory L. Giddens, who directed the Secure Border Initiative, the chart lays out “a very simple algorithm that our ability to respond to a border incursion needs to be much less than the time it takes an illegal alien to get to a vanishing point.”But smugglers and migrants can breach a barrier by passing under it through a subterranean tunnel or using a ladder to climb over it. Today, agents in Nogales, Arizona, send handheld drones to scout the tunnels extending under the international border. From Fort Huachuca military base, southeast of Tucson, the agency operates unmanned aerial vehicles, including Predator B drones, equipped with radar and sophisticated sensors that can follow movement in real time and distinguish people from animals 25,000 feet below their flight path. Dubbed VADER (Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar), these systems were developed for the U.S. Army to detect enemy combatants planting roadside bombs in Afghanistan, but are now deployed to track men, women, and children who risk their lives for a chance to escape violence, reunite with their families, and join the exploited labor force. Drones work in conjunction with checkpoints. Since 2007, a system of interior roadblocks has proliferated on all northbound roads in southern Arizona, providing visual testament to the extralegal powers that CBP claims within a zone that stretches 100 miles from the boundary of the United States. Checkpoints push unauthorized migrants off the main roads and into the desert, prolonging the “time to vanishing point” not by hours, but by days. “Vanishing” acquires a different meaning here: People disappear in the desert. Aerial surveillance—the eye in the sky—may detect those still moving against the clock on this pale canvas, before the bodily fluids that keep them alive run out. But others are gone without a trace. Vanished before they reach the “vanishing point.” More than 7,000 people have died crossing the militarized region in the past two decades.A few days after Araceli was airlifted from Nogales and flown to Tucson, I drove north in the hope of finding her in recovery at the hospital. Two rescue helicopters stationed closest to the border, LifeLine 3 and LifeNet 6, can deliver a patient to the regional trauma center in about 20 minutes. It takes more than an hour to cover the 70-mile distance by car. All ground transportation halts at a massive Border Patrol checkpoint on I-19 north of Tubac. Since its appearance as a “temporary” roadblock in 2007, undocumented border crossers and long-term residents alike have been avoiding calling 911. Going north to Tucson, where all the major hospitals are located, requires them to pass the cameras, dogs, and agents at the checkpoint. If they seek medical care, they may be detained and deported. Paramedics who live and work in border communities understand this fear. Sometimes they can take undocumented patients to Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales, but it provides only basic services. Other times, no matter what they tell patients about the risk of refusing to go to the hospital—they tell them that they could die—they still won’t risk going through the checkpoint.A doctor named Hann met me in his office at the University of Arizona’s department of surgery, located on the hospital’s fifth floor. The border wall looms large in the emergency room where he works. “Most commonly we see people who are trying to cross the border by trying to climb the wall. In certain areas, the fence is up to 20 to 30 feet high. A fall from that height can be pretty serious. Very frequently we see patients with orthopedic injuries. Ankle fractures are very common, tib-fib—or lower-extremity—fractures, and spinal fractures,” he said, listing the most common injuries caused by the barrier. “When someone falls and lands on their feet, the energy is transferred from the feet all the way to the spine. We’ve had quite a few head injuries as well.”As trauma surgeons who work in a facility less than a hundred miles from Mexico, he and his colleagues get critically injured patients from both sides of the border as well as on both sides of the law. Undocumented border crossers are not the only ones receiving care here. There are Border Patrol agents who wreck their vehicles on the rugged desert terrain. There have been high-profile criminals from Mexico, including a woman who sustained a bad injury when she was shot in the head. Her recovery was difficult, remembers Hann, but despite her family’s protests, she was repatriated to Mexico. Trauma surgeons don’t always know the legal circumstances surrounding their patient’s critical condition. They focus on what needs to be done to save a person’s life: suturing arteries to stop the bleeding, lowering intracranial pressure to prevent brain herniation. “We don’t care where they are from and what their nationality is, how much money they have,” said Hann. “None of us cares about that. We just take care of them.”Under Section 1011 of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, the federal government designated funds to compensate ambulance companies and hospitals for emergency care of undocumented migrants, but the reimbursement program ended in 2008. The Border Patrol, however, continues to bring about 50 patients with fall injuries to the University Medical Center every year, and UMC treats anyone who needs care. Most of the costs incurred by undocumented patients are written off because few are able to pay. Financial concerns have pushed the administration to seek ways of sending stabilized patients back to their country of origin—even if doing so might pose a risk. “Where does our care end?” Hann wondered: The ones that go back to Mexico, you really wonder what’s gonna happen to them. For example, patients with spinal fractures who need rehabilitation, they can hardly move … I’m assuming most of these people who were trying to climb walls to get to the States don’t have a lot of financial resources to begin with. Now they go back to Mexico in an even worse physical condition, having suffered pretty significant injury. What’s gonna happen to them in terms of their ability to survive in their environment? What’s their follow-up going to be? If there is a surgical complication, what’s gonna happen to them? I didn’t find Araceli at the hospital. A woman at the information desk referred me to another woman in the administration who kindly agreed to look for her in the admissions log. But she was not there. Patients who arrive at the hospital through the Border Patrol are not registered under their real names. They stay at UMC for a few days, and then they are taken to the Border Patrol station for processing. Some are detained, and others are transferred to Nogales for immediate deportation. Mexican migration authorities meet them at the port of entry and transport those who need medical treatment to the Hospital General Nogales, where they stay until they are well enough to travel back to their hometown. Araceli could be anywhere now.In 2015, the Mexican Consulate registered 59 Mexican nationals hospitalized in Tucson. May was the busiest month: 11 cases. In 2016, they counted 66 people, 12 of them in March, 10 in July. Most of these were fractures caused by falling off the muro fronterizo—even the consulate calls it a border wall, not a fence. Other common reasons for hospitalization included dehydration, injuries to the feet (blisters, cuts), and GI problems from drinking contaminated water. The consulate also registered bites by poisonous animals, spontaneous abortions resulting from severe dehydration, drowning in the arroyo during the rains, sexual abuse by human traffickers, and ingestion of cactus. The numbers may seem low, but that is because the consulate only learns about a patient when either the Border Patrol or the hospital lets it know.The wall in Nogales, consisting of concrete-and-rebar-filled steel tubes, meets most of the requirements of President Donald Trump’s signature campaign promise: “the big, beautiful wall.” It may not be “aesthetically pleasing,” but at least few see the wounded. Mutilated bodies are made invisible: Some vanish in the desert and turn up years later as bone fragments reassembled in forensic labs; others are picked up by ambulances and rushed to hospitals, where doctors attend to their fractures and replenish their dehydrated bodies with fluids before ICE locks them up in detention centers. People who have been hurt by the wall live in the shadows of public spaces, with renal failure or a permanent limp, bound to a wheelchair or missing a hand. Some are afraid to seek treatment because they still don’t have documents to live legally in the U.S.; others are unable to find or afford long-term care once deported to their country of origin.Several weeks went by before I saw JLo, the paramedic who treated Araceli, again. He heard that a woman in Nogales, Sonora, complained on the radio about the ill treatment by the Border Patrol. She said that when she fell off the fence, she was left lying there for hours. She said she saw Border Patrol agents passing through, but they didn’t stop to help her.JLo was sure it was Araceli. “It seems she has been just deported back to Mexico,” he told me. There’s no way to know that it wasn’t Araceli, but it could well have been someone else. Hers is but one among many painful stories echoing back and forth across a militarized border.This article is adapted from Threshold: Emergency Responders on the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
DOJ Says Russian Trolls Are Interfering Online with the Midterms   
The Russian conspirators directed their trolls on social media to call the late Arizona Senator John McCain an “old geezer,” and Special Counsel Robert Mueller “a puppet of the establishment.” President Trump, the trolls were told to say, “deserves a Nobel Peace Prize” for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.Those are just a few of the messages that Russian trolls were tasked with spreading on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram between 2016 and 2018 to sow discord and influence U.S. elections, according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Friday.The complaint was filed by the Justice Department in the eastern district of Virginia against Elena Khusyaynova, a 44-year-old Russian national who allegedly managed the finances of an election interference campaign run out of the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, code-named Project Lakhta. The complaint makes Khusyaynova the first Russia charged with interfering in the 2018 midterm elections.The messaging strategy mimicked the overheated rhetoric that the St. Petersburg firm, financed by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and closely tied to Russian intelligence, employed to considerable effect during the 2016 presidential election. The partisan —and, at times, hateful—comments so artfully mimicked the daily back and forth on social media that they seemed to be those of real Americans. The rhetoric wasn’t necessarily sophisticated, but it did reveal a basic understanding of U.S. culture wars. At times, the messaging copied President Trump’s bombast, almost verbatim.The complaint says the Russian conspirators directed their army of trolls to “[s]tate that during past elections, namely, this mainstream media, which supported Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, disseminated fake news,” with a citation to one such article from CNN. (One of Trump’s favorite refrains, chanted by his supporters at rallies, is that “CNN is fake news.”) Another troll was allegedly instructed: “Brand Paul Ryan a complete and absolute nobody incapable of any decisiveness” because of his opposition to Trump’s immigration cuts. (Trump called Ryan a “weak and ineffective leader” in 2016.) Yet another Russian troll was allegedly told to produce an article about voter registration numbers in California that should refer to “large-scale falsifications” that threaten to turn the Constitution “into a mockery and celebration of lawlessness...there is an urgent need to introduce voter IDs for all the states.” (Trump has claimed, without evidence, that between three and five million ballots were cast illegally in the 2016 election.) The Russians went after Mueller, too, according to the complaint, urging troll factory employees to portray the man investigating Trump as “a politician with proven connections to the Democratic party” who is incapable of producing “honest and open results.” (Trump has attacked Mueller “and his whole group of angry Democrat thugs,” calling his investigation a rigged “witch hunt.”)The echo chamber between Trump’s election rhetoric and that of the Russian trolls was striking.Russia’s use of phony social media accounts p to spread disinformation and propaganda on social media in the run-up to the 2016 election was heavily scrutinized following Facebook’s disclosure last September that it had shut down 470 pages linked to the Internet Research Agency that shared divisive content and then promoted it using targeted political ads. Approximately 10 million people saw the ads, Facebook estimated, which targeted users in Michigan and Wisconsin—two states Trump won by approximately 10,000 votes and 22,000 votes, respectively. Twitter told Congress in November that Russia-linked accounts “generated approximately 1.4 million automated, election-related tweets, which collectively received approximately 288 million impressions” last year from September 1 to November 15.The disinformation campaign—which was bolstered by the Russians’ hack on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman during the 2016 election—was described by Mueller in detail in February, when he indicted 13 Russian nationals, including Khusyaynova’s alleged employer, Putin confidant Yevgeny Prigozin.The Russians used PayPal accounts and utilized a complex network of shell companies to finance the operation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said earlier this year, following Mueller’s indictment. The troll factory’s budget for the project, which Khusyaynova allegedly controlled, exceeded 73 million Russian rubles—or roughly $1.2 million—per month. If anyone expected Project Lakhta to shut down after the 2016 election, however, they would have been wrong: the troll factory’s budget actually grew almost monthly between January and June 2018 as the Russian trolls targeted the midterms, according to the complaint. By July, the proposed operating budget totaled more than $10 million.That month, Mueller issued yet another indictment laying out in extraordinary detail how Russia’s military intelligence agency hacked Democratic organizations and timed the release of the stolen material to have the maximum impact on the election. Three days later, Trump stood on stage with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, and again refused to condemn him for Russia’s interference campaign, even going so far as to deny the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible. “I think we have both been foolish,” Trump said, when asked by a reporter whether he would hold Russia accountable “at all, for anything in particular.” He added: “I think we are all to blame.” Asked later whether he would denounce Russian interference and ask Putin to never do it again, Trump said he didn’t “see any reason why it would be Russia” that interfered.Trump’s critics, and even some members of his own party, were stunned by the president’s refusal to hold Putin accountable for Russia’s election meddling. “I’ve seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people in my career,” GOP Congressman Will Hurd, a former CIA official, told CNN at the time. “I never thought the U.S. president would be one of them.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Mike Pompeo’s Worldview? Do As Trump Does
Even when they are thousands of miles apart, President Donald Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, act in symbiosis.As Trump speculated from Washington this week that “rogue killers” rather than Saudi leaders might have targeted the missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Pompeo smiled with the crown prince in Riyadh and sidestepped mounting evidence that Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudi state, citing ongoing investigations. From the Oval Office and Brussels airport, each man emphasized how vital Saudi Arabia is to the U.S. economy and to American priorities like countering Iran and terrorist groups.Pompeo’s management of the fallout from Khashoggi's recent disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has been morally fraught, on message even as the messages rapidly change, and laser-focused on American interests.Through the crisis, Pompeo has delivered a master class in how to operate effectively in the Trump administration (even though he may well disagree with the president on crucial issues—including, according to one aide, relations with Russia).[Read: Secretary of a state of confusion.]Pompeo “has clearly emerged as the president’s chief spokesman on foreign policy, to the extent that anybody in this administration besides Donald Trump can be a chief spokesman,” Ivo Daalder, the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the author of a recent book on Trump’s foreign policy, told me.A more conventional administration than Trump’s would have spoken out more forcefully against the suspected state-sanctioned slaughter of a journalist, but Washington’s relationship with Riyadh “has remained a bedrock principle of American foreign policy towards the region, and I don’t think it would have been fundamentally altered had someone else been president,” he said.“We would have just dressed it up in a rhetorical flourish that Donald Trump dismisses as political correctness and therefore ignores,” Daalder noted.What we witnessed in Saudi Arabia this week was a raw display of the president’s realist-nationalist agenda in action.The lesson of the first year of Trump’s presidency “was that a lot of people in the administration”—figures such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and former economic adviser Gary Cohn—“thought they could mold Trump into something different than what he was,” Daalder said. “And they failed.”Pompeo, who became secretary of state in April after earning Trump’s admiration as CIA director, “doesn't have a hidden agenda,” said Mark Chenoweth, who served as Pompeo’s chief of staff in Congress from 2011 to 2013. “He's not trying to accomplish something other than what the president has asked him to do. That just puts him in a really strong position to build trust with the president."What Trump is asking Mike Pompeo to do, however, is not necessarily what Mike Pompeo would do if left to his own devices.While there’s considerable overlap in how the president and his secretary of state think about the world, the discontinuities are also notable.[Read: Mike Pompeo, counterpuncher].A businessman from Kansas who came to Congress in 2011 as part of the Tea Party movement, Pompeo initially endorsed Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who championed a far more mainstream, internationalist, Reaganesque foreign policy than Trump did during his presidential campaign in 2016.And while Trump has repeatedly advocated friendly relations with Russia and dismissed the threat posed by Vladimir Putin, Pompeo, who served as an Army tank commander along the East-West German border at the end of the Cold War, has a markedly different perspective.When Barack Obama ridiculed Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign for describing Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” Pompeo “fully agreed with” Romney, Chenoweth told me.“This whole idea that Russia was somehow no longer a geopolitical foe was not something that Mike believed,” said Chenoweth, who is now the executive director and general counsel at the New Civil Liberties Alliance.As a congressman, Pompeo accused Putin of “trying to make America look like a third-world country” with his interference in the 2016 election and argued that Obama’s sanctions weren’t a severe enough response to Russia’s forcible annexation of Ukrainian territory and attempted “reordering of Europe.”In attending West Point and serving in the military, Pompeo saw "how important American force projection is in maintaining world peace and stability,” Chenoweth noted. (Trump, by contrast, has questioned the value of U.S. military alliances and forward-deployed troops around the world.) “But that doesn't mean that he's trigger-happy. I never heard him, for example, talk about the desire to use American military forces to promote democracy” in places it doesn’t exist.Still, the president and secretary of state do share something of a worldview.As a lawmaker, Pompeo staked out a number of positions that Trump would later take as a presidential candidate and as president.He was a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers, and advocated for all-out war against jihadist terrorism and for restrictionist immigration and refugee policies. He often made a narrow interests-driven, America First-like argument for remaining involved overseas in which American values and the shared interests of allies and the international community didn’t feature prominently.Chuck Knapp, a fellow Kansan and former deputy chief of staff to Pompeo when he first entered Congress, told me the secretary is “similar to [Trump] and a lot of Americans” in believing that “we’re a member of a global community, but first and foremost our priority is the United States and the American people.”[Read: The rise of right-wing foreign policy in America.]Pompeo, for instance, called for U.S. military intervention in Syria not to back pro-democracy forces or alleviate humanitarian suffering. Instead, he argued that the war there could spawn terrorist activity and spark a migration crisis that could reach all the way to Kansas. “What starts in Damascus doesn’t stay in Damascus, as much as I might wish that it were so,” Pompeo said in a speech in Wichita in 2016. He made the case that the United States should partner on counterterrorism with authoritarian leaders in the Middle East even though they’re not “Thomas Jeffersons.”Pompeo’s time as CIA director and secretary of state hasn’t shed much more light on his core convictions on foreign policy. Whereas McMaster imprinted his vision of a 21st century rife with geopolitical competition on everything from the administration’s National Security Strategy to its North Korea policies, Pompeo has largely subjugated his personal views to those of the president. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why he has thrived where his predecessors fell short.Hence, Pompeo doesn’t talk much about Russia these days and earnestly serves as the point person for Trump’s sunny summit diplomacy with North Korea, even though he’s reportedly deeply skeptical that Kim Jong Un will negotiate away his nuclear weapons. Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, has championed certain human-rights issues such as religious freedom. He has also selectively raised human-rights concerns about adversaries like China and Iran that the Trump administration is seeking to pressure into making concessions.In a sign of what may be in store with the Khashoggi case, however, the secretary of state has repeatedly downplayed human-rights abuses when American interests as defined by the Trump administration demand it—be it in maintaining U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s air war in Yemen despite atrocities against civilians or releasing military aid to Egypt that his predecessor withheld over the Egyptian government’s severe repression.There are stylistic differences between Trump and Pompeo, with the president more the blustery, provocative dealmaker and his secretary of state more the “businesslike … bulldog,” said John Todd, the vice president of the local Republican Pachyderm Club in Wichita, where Pompeo made several appearances as a congressman. “But in the end I think the goals they’re trying to achieve dovetail. That makes for an effective approach.”“When you look at the Trump administration and the number of people who have come and gone, and been weeded out,” Todd added, “I don’t think Mike Pompeo’s gonna be weeded out.”Hours after huddling with Trump on the Khashoggi case on Thursday, Pompeo jetted off again to once more meet under tense circumstances with an ally, this time in Latin America.Asked ahead of his visit to Mexico City about the president’s latest threats to send the U.S. military to the southern border and scrap his recently concluded trade deal with Mexico over a surge in unauthorized migration, Pompeo deferred to Trump.“Yeah, I don’t have anything to add to the president’s statement this morning,” he said.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Radio Atlantic: The Politics of Ancestry
Subscribe to Radio Atlantic:Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google PlaySenator Elizabeth Warren recently shared results of a genetic analysis to back up her family’s story of Cherokee ancestry, hoping to blunt a favorite Republican attack line. The move backfired. A DNA result does not confer a Cherokee heritage. And in general, efforts to link our genetics with our ethnic or cultural identities have a long and sordid history. So what’s more revealing: the results of DNA tests like Warren’s? Or what we try to find in them?Links- “The First DNA Test as Political Stunt” (Sarah Zhang, October 15, 2018)- “Trump, Warren, and America's Racial Essentialism” (Vann R. Newkirk II, October 16, 2018)- “Your DNA Is Not Your Culture” (Sarah Zhang, September 25, 2018)- “When White Nationalists Get DNA Tests That Reveal African Ancestry” (Sarah Zhang, August 17, 2017)- "Radio Atlantic: Becoming White in America" (Kevin Townsend, April 13, 2018)
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Trump Hits the Panic Button
President Trump is never more comfortable than when attacking those who cannot respond in kind. Whether rocketing to victory in the Republican presidential primary by scapegoating religious and ethnic minorities who lacked sufficient representation in the GOP to impose a political price, attacking survivors of sexual assault, smearing refugees, separating immigrant children from their parents, or denying the suffering of disenfranchised Puerto Ricans killed or displaced by Hurricane Maria, Trump has always revelled in cruelty against the weak or vulnerable.At a rally in Montana on Thursday, Trump celebrated Representative Greg Gianforte’s 2017 assault on the Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs, even as the White House labored to arrive at a mutually agreeable fiction to cover up the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia. Having struggled to assist a longtime U.S. ally (and for Trump, a valued source of business) in tamping down the outrage over the reported torture and dismemberment of a journalist for criticism of a repressive government, the president of the United States took some time to make clear to both his domestic opponents and would-be despots abroad that he approves of political violence against journalists."Any guy who can do a body slam ... he's my guy,” Trump told rallygoers in Montana. Gianforte attacked Jacobs after the reporter asked Gianforte about a health-care bill that would have resulted in millions of Americans being denied insurance coverage. The self-styled defenders of free speech on the right who excused Gianforte’s attack on Jacobs as the natural, hot-tempered reaction of a Western mountain man (Gianforte is originally from California) are now engaged in a whisper campaign to smear Khashoggi as a terrorist sympathizer, the better to justify a fundamentalist state silencing him for speaking out.At the same time, the president and his conservative allies are attempting to characterize their political opponents as a “violent mob.” Make no mistake: The only modes of communication the president accepts are obsequious praise and sniveling deference, a standard his legions of defenders have adopted as their own. Any criticism of or opposition to Trump they see as illegitimate by definition.It is in no way surprising that those who defend free speech while encouraging state punishment of political critics, or who champion due process while demanding Trump’s rivals be imprisoned, would evince a similarly insincere commitment to political nonviolence: One of the core principles of Trumpism is that the rules only apply to others. But there is perhaps still more to the president’s endorsement of political violence than meets the eye. The president and his party are facing a potentially disastrous midterm election that, despite a monumentally successful effort to rig district maps and election rules in their favor, may still cost them their congressional majority in the House.For the past couple of weeks, the president has been on a relentless publicity campaign, delivering an escalating list of outrageous falsehoods that have failed to persuade the television networks to return to their prior practice of airing his speeches unedited in prime time. In the past, the president has sought to deflect negative press coverage of substantive matters by offering heinous remarks or preposterous exaggerations; until now that strategy has been effective in changing the subject. By endorsing violence against journalists, the president may be able to shift coverage away from his administration’s effort to aid the cover-up of a murder by a U.S. ally to whom the president has direct financial ties, to terrain where the president feels he has the advantage: Trump’s war against the fake-news liberal media.Republicans have been hitting the panic button for weeks. Trump’s signature legislative achievement is cutting his own taxes, an accomplishment that Republicans have struggled to sell to their constituents. In states like South Dakota and Georgia, Republicans have sought to disenfranchise Democratic voters in order to rig elections in their favor. Having run for years on repealing Obamacare, Republican candidates all over the country are lying to their constituents by insisting that they have supported its core protections. In district after district, Republican incumbents are running race-baiting ads invoking terrorism and immigration, in the desperate hope that appealing to prejudice can rescue their grip on the House.Nothing any liberal could say or write about the Republican base would be as damning as what Republican politicians themselves believe appeals to them: Having devoted its time in power to aiding the wealthy, the GOP is running on the signature policy accomplishment of Trump’s Democratic predecessor while hoping bigotry against Muslims and immigrants can drag it over the finish line.Republicans have refused to investigate the president’s inheritance of his family’s wealth through tax fraud, the Trump Organization’s dubious business practices, the president’s financial entanglements or vulnerability to foreign influence, the administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Maria, its rigging of the federal investigation into the sexual-assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or the Trump campaign’s relationship to a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election in his favor. If GOP legislators were not terrified of what they might find, they would have looked into Trump themselves; a Democratic House will have ample evidence of wrongdoing through which to sift.Republicans may yet retain their majority in both Houses—they could hardly have arranged the terrain more favorably. But the president has ample reason to be concerned. It is in this context that the Trump’s latest endorsement of political violence should be read: As an act of desperation by a president contemplating the potential consequences of defeat at the polls.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Letters: ‘What Hope Does an Ordinary Black Man Have?’
What the Black Men Who Identify With Brett Kavanaugh Are MissingMany black men, Jemele Hill observed last week, see themselves in the embattled Supreme Court justice. But, she argued, when they do so, they’re not seeing the bigger picture. These men have “every right to be frustrated,” she wrote, “but that’s not because they’ve so often been treated like Kavanaugh—it’s because they so rarely have.”I’m black and have been falsely accused. And no, no one stood up for me. I was fired, lost my job, and was denied unemployment. When I appealed, the adjudicator got frustrated with my former employer’s handling of the situation, and I was able to get unemployment.I still had no job, though. I lost friends over it. It was several months of worrying, and looking for a job while trying to come up with a way to tell potential employers why I wasn’t still at the previous job.Jemele Hill talking about Kavanaugh’s privilege and his preppy friends? I can agree that he was treated differently, but I identify more with the terror of (maybe) being caught up in a false accusation, and the pain of seeing people on the outside glaring, questioning, distancing themselves, and making assumptions.Maybe Kavanaugh did what Ford insists he did. Maybe he didn’t. Due process is how we’re supposed to handle these things.Name Withheld by RequestPortland, Ore.Jemele Hill writes, “White men don’t ordinarily face the kind of suspicion and presumptions of guilt to which men of color are routinely subjected. If Kavanaugh were black, how many people would empathize and relate to his circumstances?”To find the answer to that, one need only look back a little more than a couple of decades. Those of us who supported Kavanaugh against unsubstantiated, politically motivated charges took the exact same position toward Clarence Thomas when a similar thing happened to him.Ree MehtaSunnyvale, Calif.While I completely agree with Ms. Hill’s point that the way black men are treated by the justice system is way different from how Brett Kavanaugh was treated, I believe she misses the point of the anxiety of black men entirely. Black men are right to be distressed at further erosion of due process, because if someone with Kavanaugh’s privilege is not afforded the presumption of innocence by a significant portion of the country, then what hope does an ordinary black man have that his presumption of innocence and due process rights will be protected and enhanced? We should be striving to give all Americans, regardless of race, class, gender, orientation, etc. the same robust presumption of innocence and due process rights. The recent attacks on and dismissal of the presumption of innocence by many in our society is a tragedy that will negatively affect black men the most. They are right to be concerned. One needs only to look at this publication for evidence that their fears are grounded in fact.Jonathan PriceDallas, TexasThere is no doubt that white privilege exists in our society. The way that Justice Kavanaugh behaved during his confirmation hearing is a prime example of white privilege. This is why it is very important, as black men in America, that we are mindful of our behavior. I know that the deck is stacked against me, my son, and grandson. We have to instill in our children to do what is right and not put ourselves in positions where we can be accused of doing something wrong. This is why I have no empathy or sympathy for Brett Kavanaugh. It just shows me, again, that there is no equal protection under the law. The more things change the more they stay the same. As black men, we have to be right in an unjust system and always treat women with dignity and respect.Walter DeBerryBrooklyn, N.Y.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Books Briefing: The People Who Give, and Receive Little in Return
Welcome back to the Books Briefing. This week’s edition focuses on characters who spend their time taking care of other people—a role that sometimes renders their own needs invisible. In the novels below, the sometimes beautiful, sometimes fraught dynamics of giving and receiving care are brought to life. One family reckons tragically with how little they knew their nanny; another comes together across lines of race and class to care for a child. The life of a housemaid sent from Ghana to live with a wealthy family in London gets explored with unusual thoroughness, dignity, and grace. And a young woman finds that coping with her mother’s illness has given her a new understanding of her own place in the world.Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.What We’re ReadingThe Unstable Identities of The Caregiver“Centering on two relationships—a mother and her daughter, and the daughter and her patient—The Caregiver explores the complex bonds between people who are linked by the need that one has for the other, and by ‘the strange love that fills one’s heart when one gives, gives, and receives little in return.’”The Eerie Horrors of The Perfect Nanny“Leila Slimani’s Goncourt Prize–winning 2016 novel, Chanson Douce—published in English as The Perfect Nanny—lands its biggest punch on the first page. ‘The baby is dead,’ Slimani writes. ‘It took only a few seconds.’”Housegirl Complicates the Diaspora Narrative“The novel follows a 17-year-old domestic laborer named Belinda as she travels from Ghana to London. Before the start of the novel, Belinda has already journeyed from her home village to Kumasi, one of the largest cities in Ghana. The voyage to London marks her second sojourn. It is not her last.”Rumaan Alam Ponders the Limits of Parental Love“In That Kind of Mother, two women—Rebecca, who is white, and Cheryl, who is black—find themselves bound not by blood or years, but by some mercurial mix of love, obligation, and shared fear. Cheryl’s mother, Priscilla, who’d worked as Rebecca’s nanny, has died of labor-related complications, and Rebecca offers to care for the surviving infant.”What We Lose: A Striking Novel About Filial Grief“Thandi’s relationship with her mother is loving but difficult. And in the wake of her death, as Thandi unexpectedly confronts the possibility of becoming a parent herself, she struggles to come to terms with what her mother’s life was, and what hers should be.”What You’re ReadingLast week, we asked you to recommend a dystopian novel that everyone should read. Liz picked The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi: “a scarily believable scenario … in the American Southwest, set in the near future. Citizens become climate refugees; states and corporations war fiercely over access to the Colorado River.” Terri, a reader in Cancun, Mexico, has high praise for the novel as well: “This is a book you block out time to read because you cannot stop reading.”What’s a book about caregiving that you can’t put down? Tweet at us with #AtlanticBooksBriefing, or fill out the form here.This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. The book she’s reading on the bus right now is Immigrant, Montana, by Amitava Kumar. Comments, questions, typos? Email rosa@theatlantic.com. Get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up here.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Experts Were Wrong About the Middle East
“I know what I'm going to do: I'm going to sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.”That’s what Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said last week, to the delight of Saudi Arabia’s detractors on social media. The man who only one-week prior had been jeered by millions of Democrats for supporting Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was seemingly redeemed among President Trump’s critics.There is a rare and growing bipartisan consensus in Congress about the need to smack Saudi Arabia with human-rights sanctions, or perhaps even tougher penalties, for its role in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who walked in to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month but never walked out. Sanctions seem inevitable.The only problem is that many of the same experts pushing for sanctions against Saudi Arabia have previously argued, in other contexts, that sanctions don’t work. That was the near-unanimous conclusion of top policy experts who supported the Obama administration’s decision to drop sanctions on Iran, which had brought its economy to the brink of collapse, in exchange for a nuclear deal. It’s just one example of a broader trend: analysts suddenly discovering the Middle East is more complex than they’d previously admitted.TheWashington Post, which now wants Saudi Arabia to pay a price for Khashoggi’s death, ran a piece just last year by Adam Taylor titled “Do Sanctions Work? The evidence isn’t compelling.” Even the Post’s Jason Rezaian, who was held hostage by the Iranians and is now safely back in the United States, opposed more sanctions on Iran in a recent piece, arguing that they would only inflict more suffering on its population.This logic is what prompted the Obama administration to engage the Iranian regime from a position of “mutual respect.” That was code for offering massive financial incentives in exchange for Iran dialing back its nuclear program. That effort began with cash payments to Iran for staying at the negotiating table. The administration then repealed sanctions in exchange for some tangible yet temporary nuclear concessions. For good measure, the Obama administration gave the Iranians more cash. That ultimately yielded a controversial nuclear deal, signed in 2015, which pressed pause on Iran’s mad dash for the bomb. Here’s the problem: By focusing exclusively on Iran’s nuclear problem, the deal effectively gave a green light to a range of other malign activity like terrorism, missile proliferation, and support for other rogue states. In fact, that behavior only increased after the deal was signed.That sort of policy—tying sanction relief to halt one problematic behavior, in a way that implicitly authorizes other misdeeds—is the last approach we want to apply to Saudi Arabia. And besides, they don’t really need the money.But perhaps there are other elements of the Obama doctrine we can deploy. The last administration negotiated with the second-tier leadership in Iran, in what it described as an effort to empower moderates and undermine the hardliners. Respected European and American analysts supported this approach in influential publications from Foreign Affairs to Politico and beyond.It quickly became clear, however, that the only real power in Iran is its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei (hence the title). The president and foreign minister, even with their smiles and charm, could do little to change the essence of the odious regime we sought to influence. Hence Iran’s sustained radical behavior, even if some nuclear activity was put on ice.Sure, we could try to engage some of the more junior princes in Saudi Arabia. But it’s the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who calls the shots. And that sort of approach is never going to satisfy those anti-Saudi hordes who want to punish Riyadh for the Khashoggi murder.At this point, it’s hard not to feel like our options are narrowing. It might even prompt some to give up trying to influence bad actors in the Middle East. After all, why does America need to be the world’s police? In fact, a flurry of articles by experts in recent years suggests that we should return to a more transactional approach to this dysfunctional region.Except, we actually have tried this transactional approach to the Middle East in recent years. Washington ignored its own redlines in Syria. It similarly shrugged at the carnage in Libya and Yemen. And our leaders ignored Iran’s campaign of mayhem. Surprise! The Middle East is messier now than it used to be.If that doesn’t convince you that a transactional foreign policy is bad idea, try this on for size: This is basically Trump’s foreign policy. And that won’t sit well with most Democrats these days. Ditto for many Republicans.Resolved: We can’t give up on American exceptionalism. Saudi Arabia is where we need to take our stand.Maybe what we need is some good, old-fashioned regime change. Lindsey Graham seemed to threaten as much when he looked at the TV camera last week and said,“Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose, but MbS has tainted your country and tainted himself.”But should America tell other countries who their leaders should be? It wouldn’t be difficult to find a fewhundredpunditswho contend that President George W. Bush, when he unseated Saddam Hussein, inadvertently set Iraq on fire. In fact, they argue, that’s how we got into this mess in the first place. (Really, it couldn’t have been the radical ideologies, rogue states, and deep-seated anti-Americanism that characterized the region for decades.)Those same pundits would also argue that Bush’s democracy agenda was wrong-headed. After all, we can’t go around imposing democracy on countries that haven’t built up the institutions to support them. As one Brookings Institution scholar noted, it’s a “delusion.” And that doesn’t even begin to address what has been described as the racistor colonialistunderpinnings of such ventures.Fine. Let’s scratch regime change and democracy promotion in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps we should just cut off arms sales. Plenty of smart people are callingfor that right now. Yes, the Saudis have agreed to buy $100 billionin American weapons, and that could translate to more jobs and prosperity. But money isn’t everything. We can tough it out. Just like we could probably tough out surging oil pricesif the Saudis decide to curtail production in response to tougher American policies.Let’s admit it. This sounds scary, too. In fact, all of it does.Implementing effective policies in the Middle East is complicated. If nothing else, that’s now clear. We may never get justice for Jamal Khashoggi. But we would be lucky if this incident yielded a little more humility and a little less cocksure certainty among the pundit classes. Analysts who are enamored of their own wisdom and who routinely sneer at challengers in condescension have suddenly discovered that their tweets haven’t aged well. Sanctions are not always bad, engagement is not always good, and transactional policy cuts both ways.Is this a teachable moment for Washington’s Middle East experts? One can only hope.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Forgotten Father of American Conservatism
The conventional story of the rise of the conservative intellectual movement in America goes something like this: The Great Depression and Pearl Harbor discredited the so-called “superfluous men” who had criticized FDR’s New Deal and U.S. involvement in the Second World War. In the early years of the Cold War, however, a coalition of classical liberals, traditionalists, and anti-Communists took shape. William F. Buckley Jr. consolidated this alliance, bound together by opposition to the Soviet Union abroad and the welfare state at home, when he founded National Review in 1955. Its greatest victory came with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. But the collapse of the Soviet Union fractured intellectual conservatism, diminishing its influence and opening it up to challenges from the populist right.But that story doesn’t fully account for Russell Kirk—and you can’t tell the story of modern American conservatism without him. A writer, teacher, columnist, novelist, and storyteller, Kirk defined and gave substance to American conservatism more than anyone else besides William F. Buckley Jr. Yet he often found himself at odds with prominent spokesmen for the very tendency he helped to develop—arguments that reveal the history of American conservatism to be much more variegated and contested than normally understood.Kirk’s conservatism was scholastic, literary, philosophical, poetic, and noninterventionist. He clashed with the libertarians, never embraced Joseph McCarthy, held National Review at arm’s length, broke with the neoconservatives over the first Gulf War in 1990, and supported Patrick J. Buchanan in the 1992 Republican primary. Throughout his remarkable literary output of more than 20 books of nonfiction, 3 novels, hundreds of articles and book reviews, and some 3,000 syndicated columns—all while founding Modern Age (1957) and The University Bookman (1960)—Kirk championed the “permanent things” against ideological thinking on both the left and right. His life's work points to a path not taken by the conservative movement—one worth reexamining in this moment of uncertainty and flux.Born on October 19, 1918, and raised in Plymouth, Michigan, Kirk studied at Michigan State and received his master's degree from Duke before serving in the Army between 1942 and 1946. Military service reinforced the traditionalist instincts of this shy and bookish young man: He deplored war and bureaucracy and was horrified when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When he left the Army, he returned to Michigan and moved to Piety Hill, the home of his great-grandparents in rural Mecosta, where he lived for the duration of his life. Kirk traveled often, however, and doctoral studies took him to the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.It was from St. Andrews that Kirk wrote to Chicago publisher Henry Regnery in the summer of 1952. Regnery, a co-founder of the anti-Roosevelt newspaper Human Events, had published William F. Buckley's controversial debut God and Man at Yale the previous year. He was on the lookout for critics of New Deal liberalism and secular humanism.And then one presented himself. “In my previous letter to you, I mentioned the possibility that I might send the manuscript of my Conservatives’ Rout to you,” wrote the 34-year-old Kirk, “and now I am doing just that.” Alfred A. Knopf, to whom Kirk first sent the manuscript, had requested he cut it in half. “I intend to do nothing of the sort.” Kirk was not the kind of author who ceded editorial control lightly. He intended for the reader to encounter his book as he had written it. “It is my contribution to our endeavor to conserve the spiritual and intellectual and political tradition of our civilization; and if we are to rescue the modern mind, we must do it very soon.” (The University of Kentucky Press recently has published an excellent collection of Kirk's letters, edited by James Person.)By the time his 500-page book was published in 1953, Kirk had changed its title to The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana. T.S. Eliot replaced George Santayana in the subtitle beginning with the third edition in 1960. The Conservative Mind was a critical and commercial success, turning its author into an intellectual celebrity. It also gave both a name and a philosophical and literary genealogy to a re-emergent political persuasion: conservatism. “This study is a prolonged essay in definition,” Kirk says on the first page. “What is the essence of British and American conservatism?”It was a question Kirk never quite answered. As he reminded readers for decades, conservatism resists precise definition. There is no conservative platform applicable to all peoples, in all places, at all times. “Strictly speaking, conservatism is not a political system, and certainly not an ideology,” Kirk wrote in 1982. Rather, “it is a way of looking at the civil social order.” Kirk spent his life circling back to general principles of conservatism, apprehended through the study of notable conservative writers and statesmen. These include belief in a “transcendent moral order”; support for “social continuity”; and adherence to the principles of prescription, prudence, variety, and imperfectability.The Conservative Mind has provided generations of conservatives a sense of history and point of view. Where before conservatives had felt isolated, on the margins of political and cultural debate, they now could take their place in a great chain of thinkers, beginning in the modern era with Edmund Burke and continuing to the present. Kirk’s gallery of heroes was as idiosyncratic as his personality, grouping Brits with Americans, reactionaries with reformers, Confederates with Yankees. His chapters on John Randolph and John Calhoun, defenders of the slave power, discomfit contemporary readers, yet he also greatly admired Lincoln. Kirk was as critical of capitalism—he reminded audiences that it was a Marxist term—as he was of socialism. As he put it later: “The intellectual heirs of Burke, and the conservative interest generally, did battle on two fronts: against the successors of the Jacobins, with their ‘armed doctrine’; and against the economists of Manchester, with their reliance upon the nexus of cash payment.”Kirk’s criticisms of economic utilitarianism, industrialism, and commercialism distinguished him from many other opponents of government planning. “I never call myself an individualist; and I wish that you people hadn't clutched that dreary ideology to your bosom,” Kirk wrote to Victor Milione, the president of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (later renamed the Intercollegiate Studies Institute) in May 1954. “Politically, it ends in anarchy; spiritually, it is a hideous solitude. I do not even call myself an ‘individual’; I hope I am a person.” Libertarianism, Kirk said, was a dead end because it failed to excite the moral imagination. A public exchange in 1957 with Friedrich Hayek exposed the divide. “I recall remarking that Hayek referred to religion as ‘mysticism,’” Kirk told a young correspondent many years later. “I retorted that such a notion merely reveals ignorance of religion.”This suspicion of classical liberalism is one reason Kirk was reluctant to join Buckley’s National Review. Conservatism and libertarianism might fuse perfectly within the confines of Buckley’s personality, but he was just one charismatic figure. Kirk agreed to write a monthly column for the periodical that appeared from its founding until 1980. But the tension persisted. He never appeared on the masthead, chided Buckley when National Review failed to review his books, and was vilified by its senior editor Frank Meyer. It is noteworthy that Kirk looked upon the flagship publication of the conservative movement with detachment. “James Burnham was a utilitarian, really,” he wrote of another senior editor in a 1990 letter, “and I suppose I may be classified as a romantic—that is, on the side of Coleridge, Scott, and Southey, in the disputes of the first half of the nineteenth century.” When Kirk assembled his anthology of conservative thought for Penguin, he omitted Buckley while including the godfather of neo-conservatism, Irving Kristol.Although he called Kristol “a force for good” in a 1975 letter, Kirk soured on the neoconservatives after the end of the Cold War. In a series of lectures to the Heritage Foundation, Kirk denounced attempts to make an ideology out of democratic capitalism. He often cited historian Daniel Boorstin to the effect that the U.S. Constitution “is not for export.” In one infamous episode, Kirk said, “And not seldom it has seemed as if some eminent neo-conservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States.” This gratuitous comment, with its insinuation of dual loyalties, became a flashpoint in the conflict between neocons and America First paleoconservatives. What made it all the more jarring was the fact that Kirk was a vocal opponent of anti-Semitism who, in the same talk, said: “I have many sympathies with these neo-conservatives, and admiration for some of them.”The geographical distance between Mecosta, Michigan, and New York City and Washington, D.C., mirrored Kirk’s personal and intellectual remove from the centers of conservative power in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. It was also a metaphor for Kirk’s waning influence on the movement he had helped define. As the conservative movement became more intertwined with the Republican Party, as philosophical principles were transmuted into public policy, Kirk receded into the background, welcoming curious students to his home, where they joined his wife and four daughters.Might things have turned out differently had Kirk rather than Buckley become the public face of conservatism in the 1960s and 70s? Perhaps. Kirk was more litterateur than leader, however. “By almost any twenty-first-century American or Western standard,” writes his biographer Bradley J. Birzer, “Kirk possessed a quirky, eccentric, and unique personality.” It might have put a ceiling on the popular appeal of intellectual conservatism.Kirk wasn't interested in defending a party agenda. He wanted to promote a cast of mind. In a 1963 letter to Jerry Pournelle, who would later make his mark as an author of science fiction, Kirk wrote, “There remains in this country a large body of support for an imaginative conservatism. Though the odds are against us, we may succeed in saving a good deal from the wreck of the modern world; and, as Henry Adams like to say in his mordant way, ‘The fun is in the process.’” He sought to cultivate a moral imagination that allows us to see the world not only from the perspective of others but also from the standpoint of the past and the future. He had no grand plans of social regeneration, no aspirations for universal dominion. “‘Politics is the art of the possible,’ the conservative says: he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom.”Above all, Russell Kirk reminded the world of what Edmund Burke described as the “partnership” that exists “not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” He brought attention to what his friend and hero T.S. Eliot called the “timeless moments” connecting us to both past and present.I first encountered Kirk as an undergraduate who had been deeply affected by reading Burke’s Reflections. What struck me was the immensity of The Conservative Mind: not just its sheer size but also the grandeur, myth, poetry, imagination, and spirit that infused Kirk’s text. I’m aware of the limits of Kirk’s approach as a guide to concrete political action, and of the dangers of nostalgia and of a literary contempt for politics, but I nonetheless recognize that his emphasis on general principle prevents conservatism from being weighed down by or reduced to any one flawed policy or individual.If we rewrite the standard version of conservative history to account fully for Kirk’s role, a more complex picture of conservatism comes into view: one where the Pentagon and marginal tax rates recede into the background, and religious communities, schools, national and local traditions, literature, and culture come to the fore. Kirk’s writing has much to offer this generation of conservatives—and liberals—as they consider what attitudes to adopt toward AI, Silicon Valley, social media, free speech, drone wars, globalization, and entitlement spending. As I remember Russell Kirk on his centennial, I recall with gratitude and appreciation some of his favorite lines from Eliot’s “Little Gidding”: And what the dead had no speech for, when living, / They can tell you, being dead: the communication/ Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
How Tom Steyer Built the Biggest Political Machine You’ve Never Heard Of
SAN FRANCISCO—In one room, they’re building multicolored matrices matching purchases in their online store to hashtags in affiliated Twitter accounts. In another, they’re texting supporters, tracking and amping up RSVPs to the one-year anniversary town hall coming up on Saturday in New Jersey. Over at the creative pod, they’ve already cut a 30-second web ad off the idea that came up in the morning meeting. They’re tracking down supporters’ cell-phone numbers. There’s a staffer scanning bar codes on personalized post cards that have been returned, which will now be digitized and emailed to the people whose mailing addresses weren’t working. They’re prepping a glossy mailer that will hit 3.1 million people next week.And if Democrats win the House, Need to Impeach will immediately move to the next phase, with a plan that includes activating its list to immediately pressure new members to sign on with Donald Trump’s impeachment, flooding them long before they have staffs set up in Washington. A group of constitutional lawyers is already under contract drafting specific articles of impeachment against Trump, which they will then mail to supporters. (If and when Bob Mueller puts out a report, they may do an update.)“We just turn on the spigot,” said the Need to Impeach chief strategist Kevin Mack, “right away.”Mike Bloomberg has made headlines for becoming the biggest Democratic donor of the midterm cycle, spreading $100 million to campaigns as he looks to build goodwill for a possible 2020 campaign. Tom Steyer is in over $120 million—though it’s all gone to building his own machine.Steyer made a billion and a half dollars as an investor. He has sunk $50 million into Need to Impeach—so far—turning him into a familiar face in TV ads, and last year with a Times Square billboard. Along the way, he has driven most top Democrats crazy by pushing them to take out the president, which they argue only helps vulnerable Republicans keep their seats. Bring up his name with Democratic officials and strategists and the answer is a reliable variation of “oh god,” or an eyeroll. They complain that he’s not interested in hearing what anyone else has to say, that it’s all about him, that the money could have been better spent. They point to how many operatives have come and gone from top positions on his staff. Steyer likes calling this DC cocktail party talk from people too caught up in chasing the majority to tell the truth, and it only encourages him to go harder, with more money, for a bigger splash.“Other people don’t want to stand up to it. They want to finesse it. They think that their consultants and pollsters will give them the answer,” he adds later. “It’s not that complicated. There’s a criminal who’s attacking the American people. That’s actually what’s going on.”For all the concerned, rich liberals around the country, no one has built anything like this. Steyer clearly enjoys being able to wag that in their faces. He likes the iconoclasm. That he’s annoying so many people only convinces him more that he’s right.“They like the money,” Steyer told me when I asked him why no one else with his politics and millions has built anything like this. “There are a whole bunch of people who are worth a whole lot of money, who like that money a whole lot.”In under a year, without realizing what it would become, Steyer and a small crew in a corner of the third floor of a small office building in the Financial District here built the biggest voter list in politics—bigger than the NRA, millions bigger than any other group that’s better known or been around longer. And it’s not just well over 6 million people who’ve signed his online petition to impeach Trump—500,000 new ones since July, on pace to be 300,000 in October alone—getting at least 3,000 per day, with spikes around big news, like Michael Cohen’s plea deal and the Kavanaugh hearing. It’s email addresses, mailing addresses, now mined to connect with voter data and their own surveys and polls.The standard in politics is that a list needs to be redone about every three years, with people moving or dying or changing their information. By that measure, a constantly updated list that’s only a year old is as good as one that’s 18 million people big.Staff is crunching the numbers: for every 1 million voters, about 60 percent are registered, half support Democrats and about 40 percent reliably show up to the polls. For every 1 million people who’ve signed up with Need to Impeach, 85 percent are registered, 95 percent support Democrats, and 75 percent reliably show up.All of Steyer’s operations run out of an office building here in the Financial District. Need to Impeach is half of the third floor. In a city where everyone is taking Ubers and paying for coffee with Square, the walls are off-beige, decorated only with a “Wall of Fame” highlighting top supporters, made out of computer print outs arranged with colored yarn placing them on a map of the country—Des Moines and Nevada, but also Lake Union, Washington and Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. There’s no air conditioning. It’s quiet, all of them burrowed into their computers. The most character the place has is a conference room labeled “The Mana Fort,” with a hand-drawn cartoon on the glass wall of Trump raising his arms behind bars and “Lock him up” written over it.The Need To Impeach office in San Francisco’s Financial DistrictThere are now 60 people on staff, with a third of them working as field organizers around the country. Using new online tools, they can multiply their effectiveness, with the head of technology estimating that his team of five can do as much as 30 people could have just six years ago on the already technologically advanced Obama re-election campaign. A new designer started just this week at headquarters. They come from Uber, Google, Planned Parenthood, private consulting. One spent years as a professional online poker player.Mack, who has the most campaign experience of any of them, put his Virginia-based political mail business on hold to move out here for a job on about 24 hours’ notice, thinking then that he was coming to run the California Senate campaign that Steyer pulled the plug on the day before it was set to launch, shifting to Need to Impeach instead.Not everyone working for Steyer believes Trump will be impeached—“it’s empowering for people to realize how divided the country is,” one told me, adding, “day-to-day, you don’t think things can change.” Not everyone who’s signed up with his group does either.“Impeachment to them is a value—it’s not a legislative process,” said Mack. “It’s like, ‘Build that wall.’”They draw inspiration from Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale’s 2016 strategy of bombarding less paid-attention to areas and people with digital ads, picking up supporters for a fraction of the cost. They talk about how the lesson of Fox News is how powerful it can prove to keep hitting a contained but committed audience with a clear and uncomplicated narrative.And their audience is responding, raising $900,000 so far from 36,252 donors to further the efforts, but which they turn around and use to hook people in more. By their numbers, 70 percent of people who’ve given have stepped up to do more after.They encourage, they prep and they track. Supporters sent 52,133 personalized emails and made 29,649 phone calls to senators around the Kavanaugh hearings, for example, and 683 of those went to the office of Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly’s, a Democrat who announced he would be a no a few days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.“Our list wants to impeach the president, but that’s not an isolated action for them,” said Martha Patzer, the group’s head of digital.Over 70,000 members have handwritten 1.58 million notecards to others, provided with prepaid postage in packets of 10 from headquarters. Each one is paired with a follow-up email. 300 digital ads went up just around the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Every television ad starts with the assumption of a million dollars behind it. Off of an initial goal of 10, now 40 town halls around the country, finishing with one in north Jersey on Saturday celebrating the group’s one-year anniversary, and a final one in Greensboro, N.C. the following week.The list is 62 percent women, most of them over 50, which explains why they invested in house shaped cookie cutters and “Flip the House” spatulas to send out as swag in the final weeks. But they’re also on 421 college campuses. Jojo, the six millionth petition signer who Steyer called by FaceTime on Tuesday afternoon to congratulate (after asking his staff, “is she going to be on a picture phone”) is a sophomore at Mount Holyoke. They talked about the voter registration table set up outside the cafeteria and the counseling services provided on campus for students triggered by the Kavanaugh hearings.Tom Steyer chats via FaceTime with a college sophomore who was the six millionth person to sign his petition to impeach President Trump.At the town halls, a few questions come up reliably: “What about Mike Pence?” “Who else can we impeach?”A year ago, Steyer had a conversation with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who’s both an old friend and also his member of Congress. He hasn’t talked to her since, nor has he put out a call to Jerry Nadler, the New York congressman in line to run the Judiciary Committee if the majority flips, or anyone like that.To him, that’s the point of his approach.“We’re not going and talking to senators. We’re not going and talking to representatives. What we’re doing is talking to the American people because the only thing that matters is if the American people decide this ain’t OK, and it’s not close to OK,” Steyer said.He knows the math. Even if Democrats take the House, almost no one expects them to end up in the majority in the Senate, and they’re certainly won’t be close to the 67 votes it would take to actually remove Trump. And it’s not like all the Democrats would vote for it anyway.Steyer made his fortune by analyzing business plans, taking a hard line on what could work and what was wishful thinking.On impeachment, he says people should join him on the leap of faith.“Instead of being so smart, why don’t those people ask what the truth is? And the truth is that we have a reckless, dangerous and lawless president who breaks the law every day, who’s refusing to do his job, and actually it’s very dangerous to every American,” Steyer said. “And instead of trying to figure out exactly the tactics that will make it work or not, we need to start telling the truth about the most important points.”The other question that comes up at the town halls and with everyone in the political world: “Are you going to run for president?” Because that’s of course a good explanation for pumping all this cash into creating a political organization that only he has the keys to, and that spends a lot of money putting his face all over TV. Steyer likes banging on tables when he talks, and the most reliable way to get him banging is to remind him how many people think that this is all about laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign. He has a standard answer about deciding after November what he can do that would do the most good. That answer obviously isn’t no.Need to Impeach staff points out how much ad testing they can do on YouTube and how the ads locked in on Steyer’s face dependably do better. Convenient, say the skeptics, just like it’s convenient that he has complete control over all the information that’s been gathered about six million people who’ve identified him as a leader of this movement.“I’m done in terms of being polite about this,” Steyer said. “We’re in a gigantic crisis with an out of control president breaking the law and abandoning us in absolutely critical ways, and if people want to make it about the messenger not the message, then they’re missing the point.”Steyer has gotten lucky, like when their gambit to run an early impeachment ad on Fox & Friends got the Trump tweet they were hoping for on the third try (275,000 people signed the impeachment petition after the president called Steyer “wacky and unhinged). They have gotten caught unprepared, like when Steyer announced he was buying a copy of Michael Wolff’s “Fire & Fury” for every member of Congress before he knew how to get any from the publisher, and were initially delayed by the Capitol Hill police refusing to let staff do the drop-offs.But they think they’ve broken through. Mack kicked off a planning meeting Tuesday giddy over the new ad just dropped by a PAC funded by billionaire casino owner and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, full of shots of angry mobs and a concerned female voiceover that warns of a building socialist takeover all building up to, “and then: impeachment. Is that really what you want?”They scrambled a new ad, and they’re going to run it on CNN and MSNBC, but Mack also wants to pitch it to Fox just to be able to say they rejected it.“I’m thrilled. Let’s bring it,” Mack told the staff. “When we kick their ass on election night, we can say this is what it was about.”In a studio one floor down from his office, Steyer did the first run-through of his speech for the Saturday town hall. He talked about what he sees as the five fundamental rights every American should have. He layered in more of his biography than he’s used to—“in order to level the playing field, you have to understand them and beat them at their own game,” he said, “and I do understand them.He scribbled notes in along the way while a consultant kept a stopwatch going.“Don’t be scared,” Steyer’s draft ends. “We’re going to win.”
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World Edition - The Atlantic
A Meme Tricks People Into Registering To Vote
On Thursday afternoon Elle magazine announced on Twitter that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were breaking up.When shocked readers clicked the link to find out more about what would be major breaking news in the entertainment industry, they were directed to a webpage telling them to register to vote.While many lauded the ploy as "brilliant," others found it condescending. “This is trash nonsense. Who do you think you are reaching with this? Guess what? One can be civic minded and interested in celebrity gossip. Do better,” the feminist writer Roxane Gay tweeted in response. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are splitting up
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Justice Department's Investigation of Clergy Sex Abuse Will Test the Catholic Hierarchy
The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations in Pennsylvania, according to the Associated Press. At least six of the state’s dioceses have confirmed to various news outlets that they received subpoenas from federal investigators, which likely means they’llhave to produce documents detailing any alleged cases of sexual misconduct, along with efforts to cover up past clergy crimes.This investigation comes in the wake of a devastating grand-jury report released this summer, which revealed the collected scope and horror of decades of abuse in Pennsylvania. It significantly escalates the involvement of secular authorities in the clergy sex-abuse scandal. State law enforcement around the country have investigated and prosecuted a number of priests accused of sex crimes, including in Pennsylvania. But so far, the federal government has generally not been involved in handling these kinds of allegations. This next stage willtest the Catholic bishops’ stated resolve to give secular authorities full control and transparency in abuse investigations, as the moral and legal stakes of the crisis continue to grow.[Read: Catholics are desperate for tangible reforms on clergy sex abuse.]The scope of the DOJ’s inquiry in Pennsylvania is not yet clear. The dioceses of Erie and Allentown confirmed to The Atlantic that they have been served subpoenas. CNN reported that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia also acknowledged it is part of the investigation, The New York Times reported that Scranton and Pittsburgh are involved, and the AP reported that the Diocese of Harrisburg confirmed, as well.From what is known so far, a few aspects of the inquiry could potentially be significant. Federal investigators are apparently interested in documents that may have been concealed in so-called “secret archives” or confidential files, which would likely detail how dioceses handled legal cases involving clergy. This could be important, said Massimo Faggioli, a historian at Villanova University, because it could test whether church leaders faithfully retained documents on past wrongdoings—or got rid of potential evidence.According to canon law, or the ecclesiastical guidelines that govern the Church, “all documents that are in the secret archives that pertain to the investigations and trials of members of the clergy that were accused of sexual crimes … must be destroyed every 10 years,” Faggioli said. “This may have an impact on what the feds will find or not find.”While Faggioli said he thinks most dioceses have not followed this law—“because I think they forgot”—the fact that this hasn’t been removed from canon law is an example of how difficult it has been for the Catholic Church to fully reform its policies related to sexual abuse, he said. The U.S. Catholic Church put in place new policies in the early 2000s in the wake of the scandal in Boston.Over the past decade and a half, though,the culture of the Church has shifted significantly: Where bishops once resisted the involvement of law enforcement in these cases, the standard line today is that they will willingly work with investigators.This has been true so far in Pennsylvania. In a statement, a representative from the Diocese of Allentown said it will cooperate fully with federal prosecutors’ requests, and the diocese “sees itself as a partner with law enforcement in its goal to eliminate the abuse of minors wherever it may occur in society.” And yet, the state’s Catholic leaders are still pushing back on reforms that survivors want. Just this week, the Pennsylvania legislature stalled out on a bill that would have temporarily shifted the statute of limitations on certain child-sexual-abuse-related crimes, allowing many adults who were abused by priests as children to bring new charges. Republican legislators, along with leaders from the Catholic Church, opposed the measure.The latest round of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis is ultimately a test of how far the bishops are willing to go to reclaim their moral authority in the face of massive outrage over these crimes. Clergy misconduct has long been known, and reforms have ostensibly been in place for many years. But the bishops’ commitment to transparency—and their openness to being investigated by potentially aggressive prosecutors—is being pushed in a new way. Along with this federal investigation, a number of state prosecutors are also opening new queries into Church abuses, which will potentially produce more reports like the one in Pennsylvania.It is possible that these inquiries will uncover new facts about abuse. But they will also reveal whether the bishops are truly ready to cede their full authority to secular authorities who are eager to see justice served.Olivia Paschal contributed reporting.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Letters: ‘It Is Devastating Every Time I Read of Another Child Who Was Not Protected’
Why Did No One Save Gabriel?Gabriel Fernandez was 8 years old, and the signs of abuse were obvious. Yet time and again, caseworkers from child-protective services failed to help him. In a recent article for TheAtlantic.com, Garrett Therolf investigated what went wrong.Thank you for this thoughtful piece. Also, thank you for not weaving this story into a cheap political narrative. This is an American tragedy and we should all own it. As an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, I consider myself pretty assertive, but I had to ask myself, would I have done any more than the security guard Mr. Martinez did? This story, while painful to read, forced me to ask myself tough questions about how far I would go if I had suspicions about child abuse. I will personally recommit myself to trust my instincts and fight for those who are the most vulnerable. I hope enough people read this story and find the courage to decide not to be bystanders.Major Nickoli JohnsonOceanside, Calif.Thank you for your superb reporting on the case of Gabriel Fernandez. The noun case deserves an appropriate adjective in this instance, but no word in my vocabulary seems remotely appropriate, as even horrific fails as an adequate depiction of the child’s abuse and suffering. Tears flowed three times during my reading of your report, so anguished was I by your description of the failures of so many responsible adults to save this child when given not just the opportunity but the duty.Why wasn’t Gabriel saved? Your reporting makes a case for multiple contributing factors that seem to fall into three interrelated categories: (1) people, (2) incentives/disincentives, and (3) systems/processes. Had even one person among many who had the opportunity made a firm decision to save the child, he likely would be alive today. But even those most troubled by their observations and motivated to help allowed themselves to be persuaded, out of concern for their job, to stop short of saving Gabriel. Money appears to have played a significant role—the fewer children sent to foster care, the better, from the bureaucracy’s financial standpoint. Software and processes were easily evaded and subverted.So we have the wrong people in positions of grave responsibility, many of them acting badly; we have an incentive structure at odds with what should really matter, which is saving children from abuse; we have ostensibly good people failing to act out of fear for their jobs or how their superiors will view them; and we have supervisory and management systems that fail to detect or prevent irresponsible, negligent, or even criminal conduct by those responsible for protecting children.But as you reported, this is not a one-off nightmare, and Los Angeles enjoys no monopoly on failed child-protective services. Thus, the question I beg your pardon to ask: What do you think should be done, based upon what you’ve learned? As a society, what changes can we make to greatly reduce the chances of future cases such as Gabriel’s?John HarrisTomball, TexasI was deeply moved by Garrett Therolf’s article “Why Did No One Save Gabriel?” I’m glad that you so thoroughly and eloquently covered this important story.As someone who has spent many years working with child-welfare departments across the country, I have seen the complex problems illustrated by Gabriel’s story in many state and county systems. Some of these problems are truly what C. West Churchman would call “wicked problems”—problems that, because of complex interdependencies, when effort is made to solve one aspect of them, other problems may be revealed or created. The issue of parental rights is just one such problem, since protecting children often means terminating a parent’s right to care for them.Right now, across the country, many in the child-welfare field are reading this article and finding within it a reflection of the system in which they work. Often, those people are decent, hardworking, and idealistic, and they hope that what they do everyday will make a difference. Articles like this one, however important, will only serve to disillusion the very workers who came to help these vulnerable children in the first place.I would challenge your magazine to not let this article be your last word on child fatalities or the child-welfare system. If you want to move this issue forward, to really build support for a robust, comprehensive child-welfare system that works, help the field by finding the answers to these problems. An article of this depth about positive change in the child-welfare system, or radical ideas for positive change in the child-welfare system, would be extremely helpful. It could help point the way for many in the system to be champions. It may even give them hope to go on helping these kids in spite of the systems they find themselves in.Thanks again for this important article, and for bringing a very needed, complex but human face to this issue. Please don’t make it your last word on the subject.Michael StiehlEvanston, Ill.I am a licensed clinical social worker and worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) from 1987 to 2000. I began as a children’s social worker in what was then referred to as South Central Los Angeles. My last five years were spent working as a manager at the downtown headquarters. I was part of the team that initially developed family-preservation units. I represented DCFS and was part of the Los Angeles County Child Death Review Team, the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council, and numerous other multidisciplinary projects that were considered cutting-edge at the time. A constant were the “bad apples” in DCFS, who were tolerated and frequently promoted. I witnessed firsthand how atrocities within the department hindered child safety, which negated any of the good work being done by some of the well-qualified and caring people that did work for DCFS. It is devastating every time I read of another child who was not protected. The headlines today in 2018 are the same headlines as when I began in 1987. It is a truly horrific system that has completely failed, and it is truly unfathomable that there are children’s social workers today that are so lacking.Elly BaidooSanta Monica, Calif.The recent article “Why Did No One Save Gabriel?” is a heartbreaking reminder of the challenges facing a child-welfare system that tries to keep children and families safe against the frightening reality of parents who do the unthinkable. As the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the largest child-protective-services agency in the nation and where Gabriel’s case took place five years ago, this article really hit home.After Gabriel’s tragic death, Los Angeles County convened a blue-ribbon commission and began pursuing a series of child-welfare reforms to help change the way we do our work. Thousands of social workers were hired to reduce caseloads and provide the one-on-one time that workers need to really engage with families and support children. We revamped our training program to provide simulated real-life case examples in a more collaborative learning environment and tools to help social workers identify signs of abuse and neglect.I came to Los Angeles County last year after having led Georgia’s child-protection agency, and I have seen firsthand the meaningful changes the department has made since these recommendations were implemented. Social work is a field that must continually be evaluated for improvement and refined with new and best practices. With that in mind, I have also identified additional opportunities for improvement through an enhanced operations plan, which will help our agency be more reflective and evaluate new strategies to help us better protect the most vulnerable children in our community.I got my start in life as a foster child, adopted as an infant from an orphanage into a loving home, thanks to the help of a social worker. I went on to dedicate my entire professional career to the calling of child protection. And I know that there will never come a time when we can sit back and say there isn’t more that we can all do. We must relentlessly pursue every opportunity to ensure that the most vulnerable children in our communities are protected and able to growup in stable and loving homes.Bobby Cagle, M.S.W.Director, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family ServicesGarrett Therolf replies:I am so gratified by the outpouring from readers in response to Gabriel’s story. My editor and I honestly worried that the circumstances were so grim, and the impulse to look away so strong, that it might not find such a large, engaged audience. I’m thankful to be wrong.For me, personally, one of the most depressing realities in the story is that child protection is one of the very few lines of work where almost everyone operates under the assumption that some child deaths are inevitable, no matter how hard we try to stop them. As the story notes, since Gabriel’s death, 143 children have died of abuse following involvement with Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services. That’s the capacity of a commercial airliner. I think we can reverse the assumption that so many children will die this way, just as we did in a previous generation with the airline industry, where safety is paramount and commercial-airline crashes are never seen as inevitable.To do this, and to answer Mr. Harris’s question about what should be done, experts believe that we need many different solutions. Every so often, someone comes up with a magic-bullet initiative—and child welfare seems especially prone to fads—but the fundamentals are what count most. We need to have enough caseworkers to process the flood of calls, and they need to have the expertise they don’t always possess to decipher what’s going on and how it should be addressed. Requiring a master’s degree in social work is one way to improve on this. Pairing caseworkers with public-health nurses, especially when the alleged victim is younger than 1 year old, is another measure that has shown good results in the few places where it’s been tried.Another good step is to weed out bad apples among agency staffers. Then the parenting classes and other programs we use to heal families need to be tested to determine whether they actually affect maltreatment rates.Outside of the child-protective-services agencies themselves, we need everyone to follow Major Johnson’s pledge to take personal initiative anytime he sees real danger. I also agree with Mr. Stiehl that reporters like me need to pay attention to what’s going right, and I’ve tried to do that over the course of my career. One of the programs frequently mentioned in Los Angeles as a bright spot is one that Director Cagle highlights in his letter: the simulation lab where caseworkers are trained with actors playing out some of the complex situations they will confront in the field. I had recently planned to visit the lab and document its work, but my appointment to do that was canceled after I reported on the death of another child who had been overseen by DCFS. (The department said the denial came because it was overwhelmed with media requests about this particular case and that staffers were reluctant to participate in visits by reporters.)Coincidence or not, secrecy following bad news is contagious. It’s understandable that a beleaguered agency would react this way, but if the programs the director touts are ever to gain real credibility and support, reporters and members of the public need to be able to take an independent look at the good and the bad. In a democracy, there’s no other way.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
A World-Class Airport for the End of the World
Stocking up on supplies—water, batteries, food staples— as tropical storm Gordon loomed over the Gulf, I was struck by a familiar sound in the sky as I loaded bags into my car: a bank of airliners forming a loose arc as they slanted down toward the airport, descending one at a time to land. While the city of New Orleans braced for the worst, life at the airport went on as usual.Gordon ended up missing us completely, having fizzled out after making landfall well east of the city. New Orleans is safe, for now, but hurricane season lingers on through November. And let’s not even talk about 2019, when the storms could strengthen.By then, the city of New Orleans plans to open a brand new, “state-of-the-art” airport terminal. The $1 billion project is currently under construction across the runway from the existing hodgepodge of concourses. But building a new “world-class” terminal in this sinking city is no straightforward matter. It reveals the precariousness of the world in its current state—a world in which airports may be nearing extinction.Taxiing beside the building site during trip after trip over the last year, I watched the structure slowly rise up out of the swamp. Its undulating glass facade snapped into place one pane at a time, and then jet bridges began extruding from it. The new airport will completely replace the existing terminal and concourses, serving as a fresh, vibrant point of entry and exit for the millions of tourists and business travelers who visit the Crescent City each year. The current airport buildings are being assessed as to their future use—but they are likely to remain vacant until they are slated for demolition.New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary this year, and there is a palpable sense of pride and creative energy here. Air travel in and out of Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) is on the rise, up 20 percent between 2015 and 2017. The new airport gleams across the runway, promising to welcome this burgeoning population of jet travelers in the Gulf South. The future looks bright, from the air.Less so, from the ground. At an average of four and a half feet above sea level, MSY is the second lowest elevation of any airport in the world, just above Amsterdam’s Schiphol. The low elevation of New Orleans, combined with easily overwhelmed pump systems and an elaborate system of levees, makes the area especially vulnerable to flooding. Meanwhile, the nearby coast is eroding at a staggering rate—roughly a football field’s worth every 100 minutes. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that the the federal government is retiring place names by the dozens for islands and bays that have “simply ceased to exist.”Almost an island, New Orleans is particularly susceptible to coastal erosion. The grand opening of the new terminal was pushed from February 2019 to May after its gravity-based main sewer line was found to be sagging, requiring a pressurized system with lift stations to be constructed. It’s hard to depend on gravity when construction is already taking place at such a low elevation. What “ground” rests beneath is hardly firm, and it will continue to shift around an change consistency each year. Local developers even refer to the soil here as “gumbo.”[Read: How humans sank New Orleans]With tropical storms and hurricanes intensifying each year, a tone of bitter resignation sets in here during late summer, mixed with some gallows humor. A colleague at Tulane told me that the university had already acquired land on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, for rebuilding its campus when—not if—the city is finally submerged and rendered unlivable from a big storm. A Tulane official confirmed that this was pure myth but assured me that the organization does have a robust disaster-recovery plan in place. The short distance from wild rumor to deliberate preparedness reflects a common (if often repressed) attitude here: New Orleans’s days may be numbered.So why build a new, billion-dollar airport here? From an ecological perspective, the site is already doomed.MSY is hardly the only American airport undergoing significant renovations right now. In Los Angeles, LAX is in the midst of a $14 billion renovation. In New York, La Guardia is getting an $8 billion upgrade and JFK a $13 billion overhaul. Kansas City (KCI), has a new, $1.4 billion terminal in the works.KCI’s investment might be more secure than the others; it is far away from any coast and thus not threatened by rising sea levels. But anyone who has seen a perfectly smooth travel day snarled by a storm across the country knows that when a single airport is taken out of commission, the ripple effects can be staggering. Airlines scramble to accommodate rerouted passengers, and fights get delayed due to grounded planes 3,000 miles away. Extrapolate this to entire airports suddenly rendered useless due to the unstoppable flows of a rising ocean. While it is mostly airports in coastal cities that will be affected directly by climate change in the coming decades, other sites also will be impacted.Of course, airport planning would not get off the ground if it took such apocalyptic forecasts into account. Building and renovations lumber on, pleased with short-term gains and stubborn to reckon with the realities of life on a changing planet. But New Orleans has felt the pain of disaster, and the new airport is an expression of defiance. In the face of our tenuous place and the probable reoccurrence of a major storm, we’re still going to build a new airport.Symbolically, such a structure will communicate the dynamism of the city. And materially, it could drive future capital investments and professional relocations. The new project reflects these intertwined goals. For example, a “jazz garden” stage, set amidst green space, is planned, to feature live performances by local musicians.Will it be “world-class,” as the promotional material claims it will be? That depends on what such a structure would look like and how it would function for actual people of the 21st century. These are strange times for commercial flight, when passengers expect seamless transit but inevitably run into the complexities of global migration patterns. An actual world-class airport would have to find ways to mitigate the individuated stresses of travel while also communicating a more collective truth: Flight is no easy enterprise on an ecologically and economically stressed planet. Perhaps a world-class airport should be humble, rather than flashy.To that end, the new terminal itself is rather bland, aesthetically speaking. The concept sketches were stirring, rendered as they were from a drone-like perspective against an inky, evening sky. The real structure, now nearing completion, looks a little less captivating. It has none of the breathtaking peaks of Denver International Airport, none of the swooping concrete wings of Eero Saarinen’s Dulles terminal or his TWA terminal at JFK. Instead of being architecturally noteworthy, it’s just fine instead.We are far from the mid-century airports like Saarinen’s, or even their successors, like Dallas Fort Worth, which promised cutting-edge convenience—drive right up to your departure gate—alongside the thrills of jet flight. Now, it’s just a matter of minimizing the hassle while making the experience seem somewhat planned and dignified.César Pelli, the Argentine-American architect whose firm spearheaded the new MSY design, is known as an architect with “no personal signature style.” And yet, New Orleans is renowned for its architecture—shotgun homes, creole cottages, the galleries and balconies of the French Quarter, and so on. It seems like a missed opportunity, to have made a shiny new airport that could really be anywhere, instead of a terminal that feels like New Orleans—from the outside as well as the inside.That problem continues inside. An Emeril-branded eatery and a Sazerac bar will peddle local fare, offerings that smack of watered-down localism. But at least it’s a genuine attempt to make a bland non-place somewhat specific. MSY’s communications director, Erin Burns, told me that the new airport will host a retail mix including “local brands that are representative of Louisiana and New Orleans.” The airport will attempt to represent its locality within the context of generic comfort. It’s a recipe to make all types of travelers happy.The rental-car facility—completed only a few years ago at a cost of $72 million—is located next to the existing airport, and will now be accessible only by remote shuttle. This adds an extra leg to the air journey, an inconvenience for everyone. Then the new terminal brags over “a single, consolidated checkpoint.” The idea of consolidation sounds appealing, and indeed free movement across the concourses, after security, is a smart feature. But regular travelers will also know that when an airport has a single security checkpoint, the risks of backups, delays, and long lines also increase.All of this is proof that today’s “world-class” airport cannot rely on architectural spectacle or experiential novelty. Function is more important—but not as the Bauhaus would have had it, with elegant minimalism of form following suit. Instead, functionalism has become no-frills, done on the cheap, good enough to get the job done—for the time being. It’s world-class in the most blasé, accommodating sense of the term: Inside, keep passengers satisfied, but moving. Outside, offer structure without fanfare, meeting a civic and economic need for a landscape on the brink.The new MSY is not attempting to be “America’s friendliest airport,” like the promotional material for Phoenix Sky Harbor’s current near-billion-dollar renovation advertises. Nor does it aspire for the integrated smart tech, posh lounges, or immersive regionalisms of the new airports of Dubai, Singapore, or Seoul. Yet neither is the airport responding directly to the threats of climate change, as European airports are being advised through climate science research. Here, the newness seems muted.It’s as if the whole project recognizes that it is temporary, a quiet nod to the fragile world the airport services—even as it gestures toward an imagined world of ever-increasing flights and booming economic potential. If it gets flooded or destroyed in the coming years or decades, the new MSY will shimmer modestly in the catastrophe but impose relatively modest economic toll, and no great cultural loss. This is an airport for the end of the world.The old airport terminal is still functioning, but it is slated for abandonment and eventual demolition. During a recent trip, I stared across the runway toward the new site, toward the future, where I am promised better, smoother, and more gainful transit. But then, I also know that next summer will bring another hurricane season. As readily as people will begin to use the new terminal to fly in and out of this unique city, the airport could also be as quickly abandoned.In 1947, a year after the New Orleans airport first opened, it was flooded by the final landfall of the tenacious Fort Lauderdale hurricane. It is uncomfortable but necessary to think about what the new terminal will encounter during its early years of operation, in these times of widespread denial of the human factor in accelerating planetary changes.Airport construction under the shadow of climate change betrays the bullheadedness that typifies our time. Many environmental scientists and philosophers are calling this era “the anthropocene,” and others debate the scientific value of this term, or propose different labels such as “the capitalocene”—an age marked first by money, the ultimate lure for human repercussions.[Read: Did climate change ground flights in Phoenix?]Air travel is integrally tied to the accumulation and consolidation of capital, and in some ways airports epitomize globalism. They convey tourists, businesspeople, refugees, cargo, ideas, disease, and more anywhere across the globe in less than a day. This is why President Trump was so eager to point out the miserable state of American airports during the 2016 campaign. If our airports were better, everything else would be better, too. The era of climate change is also the age of the airport, in which international, cross-cultural efforts to bolster and maintain human air travel proceed at any cost. Airports both facilitate and symbolize the glory and the cost of global industry, and the global warming it has produced.Those disturbing patterns become vivid around airports, especially those airports near sea level. But the effects can be seen everywhere else, too. Consider an abandoned airport in Athens, Greece, whose disaster porn went viral; or the eerie video-camera footage of the 2011 tsunami inundating the Sendai airport in Japan, baggage carts and Tugs washed asunder; or a “ghost airport” in Spain, deserted in the wake of the European economic crisis of 2011; or record-high temperatures that grounded flights out of Phoenix Sky Harbor in summer 2017 (rising temperatures don’t care about friendliness); or most recently, Typhoon Jebi’s crippling effects on Kansai airport in Japan. Though disparate, together these examples bespeak a looming reality of airports in ruins, with human progress entangled in the destruction at every turn. Is there any way to plan for this future, or is it simply a matter of biding time while inhabiting a world in dire straits?New Orleans’s new airport will most likely open with glee—and then it will quickly subside into the humdrum routines of daily transit. Meanwhile climate change will continue its course, an inbound vector as concrete as it is difficult to pin down. The flight that’s due eventually to arrive in New Orleans will be of a different sort than new routes or more Dreamliners utilizing the airfield. The bigger flight will be more than the new airport can ever handle. It is the impending exodus portended by climate change, a trajectory begun long ago, a terminal much longer in the making.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Jonah Hill Strives for Authenticity With Mid90s
The act of skateboarding requires a lot of persistence for very little reward, especially at first. For Stevie (Sunny Suljic), the main character of Jonah Hill’s film Mid90s, that means falling down over and over again in his driveway as he attempts to learn how to ollie. Hill includes multiple montages of Stevie repeatedly landing on his back; it’s painful to watch, but it’s all worth it once he finally gets his board into the air. Stevie desperately wants to be accepted into the group he idolizes, a cadre of teenage skaters who hang out in L.A. playgrounds, and those spills onto the concrete are the price he must pay.Mid90s is Hill’s first film as writer and director, and it has the same try-hard feel as Stevie’s never-ending driveway practice sessions. It’s a coming-of-age movie with shades of Harmony Korine and Richard Linklater, a plot-light hangout drama that projects aimlessness but ends up seeming surprisingly calculated. Hill has made a film about befriending the cool kids that feels too self-conscious and impressed with itself, one aiming for authenticity that ends up falling short.Though Hill grew up in Southern California in the mid-1990s, Stevie is not a directly autobiographical character. A latchkey kid raised with his brooding older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) by a single mom (Katherine Waterston), Stevie follows a tenuous day-to-day routine that allows him to slip away and spend time with his older friends, who go by inventive sobriquets like “Fuckshit” (Olan Prenatt) and “Fourth Grade” (Ryder McLaughlin). Their daily activities? Mostly sitting around smoking, skating in abandoned playgrounds, and cracking wise. To the 13-year-old Stevie, whose brother either bullies or ignores him, being in this circle is everything.Suljic conveys that intense need beautifully, even as he lurks on the outskirts of this new community for the first act of the film, finding his way in slowly. His combination of guilelessness and earnestness draws the attention of Ray (Na-kel Smith), the group’s alpha skater and the only one harboring professional ambitions for the then-burgeoning sport. Ray is more focused than his burnout buds, but by and large, the order of the day is chilling out. “All that try-hard shit, that shit’s corny,” Fuckshit professes, even as he admits that his well-off parents can support him in ways that Ray’s cannot.Mid90s’splotlessness is a bit of a ruse: There’s a pretty standard coming-of-age structure at work here. Stevie gets to know the gang, starts to hang out with them, and then gets in some fun scrapes, like a confrontation with a rent-a-cop (Jerrod Carmichael). The boy sustains a nasty head wound attempting one difficult trick, which only earns him more respect; he later starts drinking, smoking, and partying. Outside of Waterston’s character (who grows more concerned as the action progresses), there are next to no women in the film outside of one scene revolving around an early sexual experience for Stevie. Hill is exploring a very masculine ecosystem, and the loose hierarchies contained within.[Read: The skateboarding documentary ‘Minding the Gap’ is an extraordinary feat of filmmaking]That means there’s plenty of dirty talk and epithets getting casually tossed around in the name of realism, but what’s even more grating are the occasional profundities. Someone like Linklater can carry off intelligent teen dialogue without it seeming forced in films like Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!!, but in Mid90s the sincere moments, like Ray sitting Stevie down and having a heart-to-heart about his family, come off as scripted and trite. Of the ensemble, Smith sticks out as someone who can project pathos in between the hijinks; everyone else is confined to one particular personality type (the bully, the stoner, the weirdo).There are moments in Mid90s, all of them wordless, that genuinely click. Stevie’s appreciation of his growing popularity always comes when he’s alone in his room, or gazing into the bathroom mirror; Hill and his cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt over-expose certain shots so that they look like faded photographs drowned in sunlight. In its quietest scenes, Mid90s feels a little more authentic, and Hill may well turn out to have a growing talent for directing. But he needs to match his subtler insights to a script that feels less derivative.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
Meet the Endoterrestrials
Alexis Templeton remembers January 12, 2014, as the day the water exploded. A sturdy Pyrex bottle, sealed tight and filled with water, burst like a balloon.Templeton had just guided her Land Cruiser across the bumpy, rock-strewn floor of Wadi Lawayni, a broad, arid valley that cuts through the mountains of Oman. She parked beside a concrete platform that rose from the ground, marking a recently drilled water well. Templeton uncapped the well and lowered a bottle into its murky depths, hoping to collect a sample of water from 850 feet below the surface.Wadi Lawayni is enclosed by pinnacles of chocolate-brown rock, hard as ceramic yet rounded and sagging like ancient mud-brick ruins. This fragment of the Earth’s interior, roughly the size of West Virginia, was thrust to the surface through an accident of plate tectonics millions of years ago. These exotic rocks—an anomaly on Earth—had lured Templeton to Oman.Shortly after she hoisted her sample from the well, the bottle ruptured from internal pressure. The water gushed out through the cracks, fizzing like soda. The gas erupting from it was not carbon dioxide, as it is in soft drinks, but hydrogen—a flammable gas.Templeton is a geobiologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and to her, the gas has special significance: “Organisms love hydrogen,” she says. They love to eat it, that is. The hydrogen in the sample was not, itself, evidence of life. But it suggested that the rocks beneath the surface might be the sort of place where life can flourish.Templeton is one of a growing number of scientists who believe that the Earth’s deep subsurface is brimming with life. By some estimates, this unexplored biosphere may contain anywhere from a tenth to one-half of all living matter on Earth.Scientists have found microbes living in granite rocks 6,000 feet underground in the Rocky Mountains, and in seafloor sediment buried since the age of the dinosaurs. They have even found tiny animals—worms, shrimp-like arthropods, whiskered rotifers—among the gold deposits of South Africa, 11,000 feet below the surface.We humans tend to see the world as a solid rock coated with a thin layer of life. But to scientists like Templeton, the planet looks more like a wheel of cheese, one whose thick, leathery rind is perpetually gnawed and fermented by the microbes that inhabit its innards. Those creatures draw nourishment from sources that sound not only inedible, but also intangible: the atomic decay of radioactive elements, the pressure-cooking of rocks as they sink and melt into the Earth’s deep interior—and perhaps even earthquakes.Templeton had come to Oman in search of a hidden oasis of life. That fizz of hydrogen gas, in 2014, was a strong sign that she was onto something. So this past January, she and her colleagues returned, intent on drilling 1,300 feet into these rocks and finding out what lived there.On a hot winter afternoon, a guttural roar reverberated across the sun-drenched expanse of Wadi Lawayni. A bulldozer sat near the center of the valley. Mounted on its front was a towering drill shaft, spinning several times per second.Half a dozen men in hard hats, most of them Indian workers employed by a local company, operated the drill. Templeton, along with a half-dozen other scientists and graduate students, congregated a few yards away, beneath the shade of a canopy that billowed in the gentle breeze. They bent over tables, examining the sections of stone core being brought up by the workers every hour or so.The rig had been running for a day, and the cores coming out of the ground were changing color as the drill penetrated deeper into the Earth. The top few feet of stone were tinted orange and yellow, indicating that oxygen from the surface had turned the iron in the rock into rusty minerals. By 60 feet below the surface, those fingerprints of oxygen petered out, and the stone darkened to greenish-gray, spider-webbed with black veins.“This is beautiful rock,” said Templeton, running a latex-gloved finger over its surface. Her sunglasses were pushed back over her straight brown hair, revealing cheekbones darkened from years of working outside on ships, on tropical islands, in the high Arctic, and everywhere else her work has taken her. “I’m hoping we see a lot more of this,” she said.The green-black rock was giving her a close look at something that is all but impossible to observe just about anywhere else on the planet.These rocks from deep inside the Earth are rich in iron—iron in the form of minerals that don’t ordinarily survive anywhere near the planet’s surface. This subterranean iron is so chemically reactive, so eager to combine with oxygen, that when it comes in contact with water underground, it rips the water molecules apart. It yanks out the oxygen—the “O” in H2O—and leaves behind H2, or hydrogen gas.Geologists call this process “serpentinization,” for the sinuous veins of black, green, and white minerals that it leaves behind. Serpentinization usually happens only in places inaccessible to humans, such as thousands of feet beneath the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.Here in Oman, though, deep-earth rocks have been lifted so close to the surface that serpentinization occurs only a few hundred feet underground. The hydrogen gas that burst Templeton’s water bottle in 2014 was a tiny sample of serpentinization’s yield; one water well, drilled a few years ago in this same region, released so much hydrogen that it was judged an explosion risk—prompting the government to seal it shut with concrete.Hydrogen is special stuff. It was one of the fuels that propelled the Apollo missions, and the space shuttles, into orbit; ounce for ounce, it is one of the most energy-dense naturally occurring compounds on Earth. This makes it an important food for microbes below the earth’s surface.All told, the microbes living beneath the mountains of eastern Oman may consume thousands of tons of hydrogen each year—resulting in a slow, controlled combustion of the gas, precisely choreographed by the enzymes inside their water-filled cells.But that hydrogen supplies only half the equation of life: To produce energy from hydrogen, microbes need something to burn it with, just as humans inhale oxygen to burn food. Figuring out what the microbes are “breathing” so far underground, beyond the reach of oxygen, is a key part of Templeton’s mission.At two in the afternoon, a battered pickup truck trundled past the drill site on a dusty dirt track. Behind it, six camels trotted in tight formation, their heads bobbing in the air: local livestock, tethered on short leashes, being led to a fresh patch of rangeland somewhere up the wadi.Templeton, oblivious to the camels, called out in excitement: “Gold!” She pointed to a section of core lying on the table, and to a dime-sized cluster of yellow metallic crystals. Their cubic shapes revealed her little joke: The crystals were not real gold, but fool’s gold, also known as pyrite.Pyrite, composed of iron and sulfur, is one of dozens of minerals known to be “biogenic”: Its formation is sometimes triggered by microbes. The crystals coalesce from the waste products that microbial cells exhale. So these pyrite crystals could be a byproduct of microbe metabolism—a possibility Templeton calls “beautiful.”Back home in Colorado, she’ll give these crystals the same careful attention that an archeologist would devote to a Roman trash pile. She’ll cut them into transparent slices, and view them under a microscope. If the pyrite is in fact the product of living cells, she says, then the microbes “might even be entombed in the minerals.” She hopes to find their fossilized bodies.Not until the early 1990s did anyone suspect that abundant life might inhabit the deep earth. The first evidence came from the rocks that sit below the seafloor.Geologists had long noticed that volcanic glass, found in dark, basaltic rocks that lay hundreds to thousands of feet below the seafloor, was often riddled with microscopic pits and tunnels. “We had no idea that this might be biological,” says Hubert Staudigel, a volcanologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.In 1992, a young scientist named Ingunn Thorseth, of the University of Bergen in Norway, suggested that the pits were the geologic equivalent of tooth cavities: microbes had etched them into the volcanic glass as they consumed atoms of iron. In fact, Thorseth found what appeared to be dead cells inside the cavities—in rock samples collected from 3,000 feet beneath the seafloor.When these discoveries unfolded, Templeton had not yet entered the field. She finished a master’s degree in geochemistry in 1996, then took a job at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, where she studied how quickly microbes were eating the jet fuel embedded in the soil of a former U.S. Navy base. A few years later, for her Ph.D. research at Stanford, she studied how underground microbes metabolize lead, arsenic, and other pollutants.In 2002, she moved to Scripps to work with Bradley Tebo, a biology professor, and Staudigel, on a related question: How were microbes living off the iron and other metals in basaltic glass from the seafloor?In November of that year, on the back deck of a research ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, she climbed down the hatch of the Pisces-IV, a car-sized submersible, and was lowered into the sea. Terry Kerby, a pilot with the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, guided the craft to the southern slope of Loihi Seamount, an undersea volcano near Hawaii’s big island.At a depth of 5,600 feet, the sub’s floodlights dimly illuminated a bizarre undersea landscape: a jumble of what resembled black, bulging trash bags, haphazardly stacked into towering pinnacles. These so-called pillow basalts had formed decades or centuries before as lava oozed from cracks, encountered seawater, and flash-cooled into lobes of glassy rock. Templeton lay on her side on a bench, bundled up against the cold, and watched through a thick glass portal as Kerby broke off pieces of basalt with the craft’s robotic pincer arms. Eight hours after they were lowered into the ocean, they returned to the surface with 10 pounds of rock.The same year, she and Staudigel visited Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, hoping to collect microbe-free volcanic glass that they could compare with their deep-sea samples. Clad in heavy boots, they walked onto an active lava flow, treading on a black crust of hardened rock just half an inch thick. Staudigel found a spot where the orange, molten lava had broken through the overlying crust. He scooped up the glowing material with a metal pole and plopped it—like hot, gooey honey—into a bucket of water. It hissed and crackled, boiling the water as it hardened into fresh glass.Back in the lab, Templeton isolated dozens of the bacterial strains that leach iron and manganese out of the deep-sea rocks. She and her colleagues re-melted the sterile glass from Kilauea in a furnace, doped it with different amounts of iron and other nutrients, and grew the bacterial strains from the seafloor on it. She used sophisticated X-ray techniques to watch, fascinated, as the bacteria digested the minerals.“I have a basement full of basalt from the seafloor because I can’t let it go,” she told me one day during a break in the drilling.But those rocks, and the critters that chew on them, had one major drawback for Templeton: They came from the seafloor, where the water contains oxygen.Oxygen sustains every animal on Earth, from aardvarks to earthworms to jellyfish; our atmosphere and most of our ocean is chock-full of it. But Earth has only been highly oxygenated for a tiny fraction of its history. Even today, vast swaths of our planet’s biosphere have never encountered oxygen. Go more than a few feet into bedrock, and it’s virtually non-existent. Go anywhere else in the solar system, including places like Mars that might harbor life, and you won’t find it, either.As Templeton explored Earth’s deep biosphere, she had become interested in how life originated on Earth—and where else it might exist in the solar system. The subsurface could provide a window into those distant places and times, but only if she could delve deeper, below the reach of oxygen.The mountains of east Oman seemed like the perfect place. This massive slab of slowly-serpentinizing rock preserves, in its interior, the oxygen-deprived conditions and chemically reactive iron minerals that are thought to exist deep inside the planet.Templeton and several other deep biosphere researchers connected with a major effort that was in early planning stages—the Oman Drilling Project.The effort was co-led by Peter Kelemen, a geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. He had his own mission: The deep-earth rocks in Oman react not only with oxygen and water but also with carbon dioxide, pulling the gas out of the atmosphere and locking it into carbonate minerals—a process that, if understood, could help humanity offset some of its carbon emissions.Kelemen was present during the drilling at Wadi Lawayni in January 2018. And he was bullish on the prospects of finding life. These rocks had originally formed at a temperature of more than 1,800 degrees Farenheit. But they would have rapidly cooled, and today the top thousand feet of rock hovers around 90 degrees Farenheit. These rocks, he said, “have not been hot enough to kill microbes since the Cretaceous”—the age of the dinosaurs.At three in the afternoon at the drill site, half a dozen team members gathered near the rig for what had become an hourly ritual: a moment of suspense.A new section of core, freshly raised from the borehole, was lowered onto a sawhorse—a stone cylinder 10 feet long and as big around as the fat end of a baseball bat, concealed in a metal pipe.Workers lifted one end of the pipe. And out slid the core—along with a gush of black gunk. Glops of thick, dark sludge dripped on the ground. The core was covered from end to end.“Oh my god,” someone said. “Oya.” Murmurs all around.A worker wiped down the core, and pinprick bubbles erupted on its smooth, sheeny surface—reminiscent of the bubbles in hot cooking oil. The stone, no longer pressurized underground, was degassing before our eyes, the bubbles squirting out through pores in the rock. The odor of sewer and burnt rubber rose into the air—a smell that had instant meaning for the scientists present.“That rock is seriously alive,” said Templeton.“Hydrogen sulfide,” said Kelemen.Hydrogen sulfide—a gas found in sewers, in your intestines, and apparently, underground in Oman—is produced by microbes living in the absence of oxygen. Deprived of that life-giving gas, they pull a trick that no animal on Earth can do: They breathe something else. In other words, they burn their food using some other chemical that is available underground.The sections of core brought up so far offered clues about what they might be breathing. The gassy core was crisscrossed by bands of orange-brown stone—marking the places where hot magma had spurted through deep fissures in the Earth millions of years before, when this rock lay miles underground.Zoë van DijkThose bands of fossil magma would have gradually bled their chemical components into the groundwater—including a molecule called sulfate, which consists of a single sulfur atom studded with four oxygen atoms. The microbes were probably using this molecule to digest hydrogen, said Templeton: “They eat the hydrogen and they breathe the sulfate.” And then, they exhale fart gas.Hydrogen sulfide isn’t just stinky. It is also toxic. So the very microbes that produce it also run the risk of poisoning themselves as it accumulates underground. How did they avoid doing so? Once again, the rock provided clues.As drilling continued over the next several days, the black goo petered out. Each new section of core was dry and stink-free. But the stone itself had changed: Its mosaic of veins and serpentine minerals had darkened into shades of gray and black, like a plaid shirt soaked in ink.“All of that blackening is a bio-product,” Templeton said one afternoon, as she and her research associate, Eric Ellison, crowded inside a cramped laboratory trailer, packing samples of rock to send home. Some of the rocks sat in a sealed Plexiglass box, and Ellison handled them with his hands inserted through gloves mounted in the walls of the box—giving the appearance that the rocks contained something sinister. But the precaution wasn’t intended to protect humans; it was meant to keep the delicate microbes out of contact with oxygen.Templeton speculated that the microbes had stained the most recent rock samples: The hydrogen sulfide they exhaled had reacted with iron in the surrounding stone, creating iron sulfide—a harmless black mineral. The pyrite minerals we’d seen earlier were also composed of iron and sulfide, and could have formed the same way.These black minerals are more than an academic curiosity. They provide a glimpse of how microbes have not only survived inside the Earth’s crust, but also transformed it, in some cases forming minerals that might not otherwise exist.Some of the world’s richest deposits of iron, lead, zinc, copper, silver, and other metals formed when hydrogen sulfide latched onto metals that had dissolved deep underground. The sulfide locked the metals in place, concentrating them into minerals that accumulated for millions of years—until they were exhumed by miners. The hydrogen sulfide that formed those ores often came from volcanic sources, but in some cases, it came from microbes.Robert Hazen, a mineralogist and astrobiologist at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., believes that more than half of Earth’s minerals owe their existence to life—to the roots of plants, to corals and diatoms, and even to subsurface microbes. He has even speculated that the world’s seven continents may owe their existence, in part, to microbes gnawing on rocks.Four billion years ago, Earth had no permanent land—just a few volcanic peaks jutting above the ocean. But microbes on the seafloor may have helped change that. They attacked iron-rich basalt rocks, much as they do today, converting the volcanic glass into clay minerals. Those clays melted more readily than other rocks. And once melted, they re-solidified into a new kind of rock, a material lighter and fluffier than the rest of the planet: granite.Those buoyant granites piled into heaps that rose above the ocean, creating the first permanent continents. This would have happened to some degree without the help of microbes, but Hazen suspects they accelerated the process. “You can imagine microbes shifting the balance,” he says. “What we’re arguing is that microbes played a fundamental role.”The emergence of land had a profound effect on Earth’s evolution. Rocks exposed to the air broke down more quickly, releasing trace nutrients such as molybdenum, iron, and phosphorus into the oceans. These nutrients spurred the growth of photosynthetic algae, which absorbed carbon dioxide and exhaled oxygen. Just over 2 billion years ago, the first traces of oxygen appeared in Earth’s atmosphere. Five hundred and fifty million years ago, oxygen levels finally rose high enough to support the first primitive animals.Earth’s abundant water, and its optimal distance from the sun, made it a promising incubator for life. But its evolution into a paradise for intelligent, oxygen-breathing animals was never guaranteed. Microbes may have pushed our planet over an invisible tipping point—and toward the formation of continents, oxygen, and life as we know it.Even today, microbes continue to make, and remake, our planet from the inside out.In some ways, the microbe underworld resembles human civilization, with microbial “cities” built at the crossroads of commerce. In Oman, the thriving oasis of stinky, black microbes sat 100 feet underground, near the intersection of several large rock fractures—channels that allowed hydrogen and sulfate to trickle in from different sources.Elisabetta Mariani, a structural geologist from the University of Liverpool in England, spent long days under the canopy, mapping these breaks in the rock. Late one morning, she called me over to see something special: a break cutting diagonally across a core, exposing two rock faces streaked in paper-thin layers of green-and-black serpentine.“Can you see here these grooves?” she asked, in English accented with her native Italian, pointing out scratches that raked the two serpentine faces. They showed that this was more than just a passive break; it was an active fault. “Two blocks of rocks have slipped past each other along this direction,” she said, gesturing along the grooves.Tullis Onstott, a geologist at Princeton University not affiliated with the Oman drilling, believes that such active faults may do more than just provide routes for food to move underground—they may actually produce food. In November 2017, Onstott and his colleagues began an audacious experiment. Starting from a tunnel 8,000 feet down in the Moab Khotsong gold mine in South Africa, they bored a new hole toward a fault that lay nearly half a mile deeper still. On August 5, 2014, the fault had sparked a magnitude-5.5 earthquake. By drilling into it, Onstott hoped to test the provocative idea that earthquakes supply food to the deep biosphere.Scientists have long noticed that hydrogen gas seeps out of major faults such as the San Andreas in California. That gas is produced, in part, by a chemical reaction: Silicate minerals pulverized during a quake react with water and release hydrogen as a byproduct. For microbes sitting next to the fault, that reaction could result in something like a periodic sugar rush.In March 2018, four months after the drilling in the Moab Khotsong mine began, workers brought up a stone core that crossed the fault.The rock along the fault was “pretty banged up,” says Onstott—torn with dozens of parallel fractures. The stone lining some of those cracks was crushed into fragile clay, marking recent earthquakes. Other cracks, filled with veins of white quartzite, marked older ruptures from thousands of years before.Onstott is now searching those quartzite veins for fossilized cells and analyzing the rock for DNA, in hopes of finding out what kind of microbes—if any—inhabit the fault.More importantly, he and his colleagues have kept the borehole open—monitoring water, gases, and microbes in the fault, and taking new samples each time there’s an aftershock. “You can then see whether or not there’s a gas release,” he says, “and whether or not there’s a change in the microbial community because they’re consuming the gas.”Even as Onstott awaits those results, he is starting to consider an even more radical possibility: that deep-dwelling microbes don’t just feed off of earthquakes, but might also trigger them. He believes that as microbes attack the iron, manganese, and other elements in the minerals that line the fault, they could weaken the rock—and prime the fault for its next big slip. Exploring that possibility would mean doing laboratory experiments to find out whether microbes in a fault can actually break down minerals quickly enough to affect seismic activity. With a scientist’s characteristic understatement, he contemplates the work ahead: “It’s a reasonable hypothesis to test.”By January 30, the drill in Wadi Lawayni had reached a depth of 200 feet. Its motor growled in the background as Templeton and her colleague, Eric Boyd, rested in camp chairs under an acacia tree. Strewn at their feet lay the signs of other travelers who had paused in this rare island of shade—nodules of camel dung, smooth and round like leathery plums.“We think that this is an environment that’s important for understanding the origins of life,” said Boyd, a geobiologist from Montana State University in Bozeman. That potential, he said, is part of what lured him and Templeton to these deep-earth rocks in Oman: “We like hydrogen.”Both Boyd and Templeton believe that life on Earth started in an environment similar to that which lies a few yards beneath their camp chairs. They believe that life began within subsurface fractures, where iron-rich minerals gurgled out hydrogen gas as they reacted with water.Of all the chemical fuels that existed on Earth 4 billion years ago, hydrogen would have been one of the easiest for early, inefficient cells to metabolize. Hydrogen wasn’t only produced by serpentinization, either; it was also produced—and still is, today—by the radioactive decay of elements such as uranium, which constantly splits apart water molecules in the surrounding rock. Hydrogen is so labile, so willing to break apart, that it can even be digested using sluggish oxidants, like carbon dioxide or pure sulfur. DNA studies of millions of gene sequences suggest that the forerunner of all life on Earth—the “last universal common ancestor,” or LUCA—probably did use hydrogen as its food, and burned it with carbon dioxide. The same might be true for life in other worlds.The iron minerals that exist here in Oman are common across the solar system, as is the process of serpentinization. The Reconnaissance Orbiter, a space probe now circling Mars, has mapped serpentine minerals on the Martian surface. The space probe Cassini has found chemical evidence of ongoing serpentinization deep within Saturn’s ice-covered moon, Enceladus. Serpentine-like minerals have been detected on the surface of Ceres, a dwarf planet that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Serpentine minerals are even found in meteorites, the fragments of embryonic planets that existed 4.5 billion years ago, just as Earth was being born—raising the possibility that the cradle of life’s origin actually existed before our planet did.Hydrogen—an energy source for nascent life—was produced in all of these places. It is probably still being produced throughout the solar system.To Boyd, the implications are breathtaking.“If you had rock like this, at a temperature similar to Earth, and you had liquid water, how inevitable do you think life is?” he asked. “My personal belief is, it’s inevitable.”Finding that life will be a challenge. With existing technologies, a probe sent to Mars could drill no more than a few feet below its hostile surface. Those shallow rocks might contain signs of past life—perhaps desiccated carcasses of Martian cells, sitting inside the microscopic tunnels that they chewed into the minerals—but any living microbes are likely to be buried hundreds of feet deeper. Templeton has grappled with the problem of detecting past signs of life—and of distinguishing those signs from things that happened without the influence of life—ever since she started looking at basaltic seafloor glasses 16 years ago.“My job is to find bio-signatures,” she says. As she studies the rocks drilled out of Oman, she’ll subject them to some of the same tools that she used on the glasses. She will bounce X-rays off the mineral surface in order to map how the microbes are altering the minerals, and whether they are leaving metals in place, or etching them away. By learning how living microbes chew on minerals, she hopes to find reliable ways of identifying those same chemical chew-marks in extraterrestrial rocks that haven’t held living cells for thousands of years.One day, these tools might be packed onto a Mars rover. Or they might be used on rocks that are brought back from other worlds. For now, she and her colleagues have plenty to do in Oman, figuring out what inhabits the dark, hot, hidden biosphere below their feet.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
‘It’s Time to Hand the Mic to Gun Owners’
When The Atlantic writer Elaina Plott was shot in a drive-by shooting, her views on the right to bear arms began to change. Just as is the case for two out of every five Americans, Plott had grown up in a gun-owning household and a community that revered firearms. But her near-death experience afforded her a new perspective. In a new video, she expands upon the experience she detailed in her piece, “The Bullet in My Arm,” advocating for Democrats and Republications to reach across the aisle rather than cater to their “most extreme impulses” about gun ownership. This video marks the relaunch of The Atlantic Argument, an op-ed series that puts our acclaimed writers—and their insightful and provocative opinions—front and center. Plott’s video will be followed by Arguments from Alexis Madrigal on the impact of social media abroad, Caitlin Flanagan on sex abuse in the Catholic Church, Vann Newkirk on land theft in Mississippi, and many more. A new video will be released every Wednesday.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Strange Pathos of Ariana Grande’s Breakup
The title of Ariana Grande’s latest album, Sweetener, reclaims the often-used knock on radio-ready singalongs as “saccharine.” Perky music doesn’t just make life yummier, in Grande’s view. It makes it bearable. Her first album after the 2017 terrorist attack on one of her concerts, Sweetener arrived with lyrics about responding to bitterness with sugar, dark with light, suffocation with breathing. There were no tears left to cry, and she’d been crying with good reason.As is almost always the case in pop, though, music could be heard as a rough synonym for love. The sweet/light/air in Grande’s lyrics were presented as stemming from a you, and listeners could envision that you as someone specific: Pete Davidson, the SNL comedian who Grande began dating in May and got engaged to in June. Calling their relationship “public” would be an understatement. They Instagrammed about their matching tattoos. He joked at length on SNL about being with her. She named a Sweetener song “Pete Davidson.”This was personal life as performance and product, showing optimism that even the participants acknowledged was extreme. “If we break up, and we won’t—we will—but we won’t. No, I’m kidding. But, like, in 10 years if, God forbid, that ever happened, there will be a song called ‘Pete Davidson,’ like, playing in speakers at K-Mart, and I’ll be working there,” Davidson cracked on SNL in September. Grande described her frankness about her whirlwind romance as a reaction to her past traumas, tweeting, “the truth is i been the fuck thru it and life’s too short to be cryptic n shit about something as beautiful as this love I’m in.”But they’ve now broken up, TMZ reports. And while celebrity couplings and decouplings always receive an outsize amount of attention in relation to their importance to the wider world, this narrative is especially fraught.Knee-jerk cries of “told you so” and “love is dead”—talk that positions the relationship in the meta terms of “celebrity breakup”—ring as weirdly inapt given how self-consciously intense and improbable the relationship was. It now seems like less of a tabloid morsel than a subplot in a larger tragedy—or at least, a larger story about how people respond to tragedy.Mac Miller, the rapper who Grande had dated publicly from 2016 to this past May, died of an overdose on September 7. Some fans of his were quick to blame Grande—she’d moved on from Miller to Davidson quickly—even though she had spoken previously about trying to help Miller curb his drug use. The insensitive backlash surely compounded what was already a wrenching personal tragedy. “i adored you from the day i met you when i was nineteen and i always will,” Grande wrote on Instagram under a photo of Miller. “i’m so sorry i couldn’t fix or take your pain away. i really wanted to.”She put on a show of overcoming at first. “Everything will be okay,” she tweeted on September 22, and elsewhere in her social media feeds, she introduced the world to the pet pig she’d adopted with Davidson. But her mood soon appeared to turn darker. One tweet: “can i pls have one okay day. just one. pls.” Another message she postedreferred back to the earlier “everything will be okay” with the addendum “j fucking k” (as in “just fucking kidding”). She cancelled an appearance for SNL’s season 44 premiere, and then this week she dropped out of a benefit show so as to take more emotional recovery time. TMZ says that Miller’s death indeed led to her break up with Davidson by making her realize she was moving too fast.Pop stars, a group normally known for escapism, have been openly struggling with some very mortal issues lately: Grande’s friend Demi Lovato went to rehab after an overdose; Selena Gomez has been undergoing physical- and mental-health crises. It’s tempting to make generational diagnoses—blame the iPhones!—but young celebrities of course have always battled personal demons. What’s new is the way that battle unfolds publicly, in realtime, and with assistance by the star themselves, who purport to tell all in documentaries, tweets, and lyrics. Such openness may well help fight stigmas; it definitely helps wobbling public figures from losing control of their narratives.But Grande’s case is especially poignant. The 25-year-old former Nickelodeon star has a noted ability to avoid causing scandal herself, and yet has been inadvertently linked to stories touching upon the most urgent problems of the era—terrorism, drug use, mental health, and even #MeToo when thebishopat Aretha Franklin’s funeral apologized for getting touchy with her. This might seem at odds with the career of an effervescent entertainer, but even as Grande mourns Miller, cancels gigs, and returns her engagement ring, she’s making plans for future performances. “Wouldn’t miss it for the whole universe,” she tweeted about an upcoming Wicked tribute on Monday—just after the Davidson news broke.All of which fits with the surprisingly complicated image she’s projected for a while now.Sweetener, for all its lightness, was made with the awareness that positivity and romance made no armor of invulnerability. “Right now I’m in a state of mind I wannabe in, like, all the time,” she sang in one hit chorus, implicitly acknowledging that all bliss fades. In light of recent events, it seems almost prescient: a reminder that highs can’t stop a crash, and life doesn’t always follow the tune you want.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Tricky Allure of Becoming a Black American Expatriate
In his 1960 short story “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon,” which was first published in The Atlantic, James Baldwin describes the pervasive feeling that informed his expatriatism: the bitter push of American racism versus the sweet pull of life elsewhere. When the story’s main character—a black American expat who lives in France with his Swedish wife and their French-born son—wonders whether his kid would want to “see the country in which his father and his father’s fathers were born,” he concludes, “Why should he want to cross all that water just to be called a nigger? America never gave him anything.”For generations, black Americans have been leaving the U.S. and seeking freedom—from segregated performance spaces, from the specter of lynching, from being disrespected in their hometowns despite serving honorably in the armed forces abroad. Luminaries, intellectuals, and artists like Baldwin, Richard Wright and Josephine Baker (Paris), Paul Robeson (London, Moscow), Julian Mayfield (Accra, Ghana and Georgetown, Guyana), Claudia Jones (London), and Yasiin Bey f.k.a. Mos Def, (Cape Town) either emigrated by choice or were forcibly expelled—but their myriad reasons for leaving often included politics. They’d all agitated for black equality in different ways, and became expats after experiencing the inescapability of American racism. Robeson, who fervently protested American racism as a violation of American ideals, was pushed out of the country for his speech. Of the world abroad, he said, “In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being. No color prejudice like in Mississippi, no color prejudice like in Washington. It was the first time I felt like a human being.”Today, fantasies of leaving the U.S. range from the facetious (“5 Places Black People Can Move to When They’ve Had Enough of America”) to the practical: advice from black Americans already living abroad that offers reality checks on the costs, documentation, and sacrifices required to skip the country. Notably, June 2016’s Brexit, in which 52 percent of Britons voted for Britain to leave the European Union, inspired a certain kind of optimism about black expatriatism. If the U.K. could leave the European Union, surely it was black folks’ turn to negotiate a mass exodus to anywhere but here. People searching the term “Blaxit” spiked in the days after the 2016 election and again in the days before Trump’s inauguration. Many African Americans hoped that they, too, could one day see America as Baldwin did: “better from a distance ... from another place, from another country.”When I emigrated to London from Portland, Oregon in 2003, it started as an act of political resignation. George W. Bush was only in the first quarter of what would be two presidential terms, but I was already wary of his politics. He’d started the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, which would have the U.S. embroiled in costly militarization for decades (around $5.6 trillion to date). The Patriot Act, signed into law in 2001, began to chip away at Americans’ civil liberties by expanding the government’s ability to track internet users online through monitoring e-mail and telecommunications. And in the early aughts, just as women’s rights activists expanded their demands beyond “abortion for all” to encompass an intersectional reproductive rights framework, legislators introduced and passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The ban, which prohibits intact dilation and extraction abortions in the second trimester of a woman’s pregnancy was, arguably, religious conservatives’ entry point for curbing access to reproductive care.[Read: Living abroad while black is tough.]After 15 years of teaching university students about civil rights, and feminist and LGBTQ social movements, I wouldn’t have shocked anyone by responding to the Bush era by saying, “That’s it. I've had enough. I'm moving abroad.” But that wasn’t my entire motivation. I leapt at an offer to teach in the American studies department at King’s College London because I wanted to experience being just black—not a black American—abroad.My first reckoning with nationhood came as an undergraduate studying abroad at the University of the West Indies in 1991. Our professor there warned us students that Jamaicans would see us as American first, black second. Similar to today’s black pride surge in popular culture, the cultural landscape in the U.S. in the early 1990s included the black feminism of Queen Latifah and the militancy and bravado of Public Enemy. Wearing African prints and generalizing about solidarity with “all African nations” in classrooms, some black Americans were in denial about the political realities of our home country’s aggressive imperialism. Our Jamaican hosts were warm and welcoming, but they also made us grapple with hard truths about atrocities committed by our home country, such as the economic crippling of Jamaica by the American-led IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.By the time the Bush-era political cataclysms crushed my naïve idealism, I thought that even if I would always be American by birth, perhaps leaving the U.S. would be a respite from, if not a complete abandonment of, America’s regressive politics. Choosing to see, and be, something new in another country felt like one of the last choices I’d be able to freely make in an increasingly limited political landscape for progressives.But distance isn’t always the salve that provides refuge from institutionalized terror against black people. The communist and labor activist Claudia Jones was a political prisoner in the U.S. in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s who was later deported during the McCarthyite purges. It was her persistent vision of democracy that resulted in her exile to England, which, in turn, yielded an organic, critical reflection of self and country. Jones asked of her political counterparts in America who lamented her deportation, “What is an ocean between us? We know how to build bridges.” She persisted in her political critique and activism not out of resentment, but because her deportation experience and exile made the contradictions within American idealism even more vivid from afar. “The fine talk about the free flow and exchange of ideas internationally and about freedom of speech in the U.S. rings false when placed against this desperate attempt to deport me because of my political views,” Jones said in a 1955 Daily Worker article. “I am proud of my political views because I learned them in American schools … Why are they so frightened about the political view of one Negro woman?” In its exercise of political power against her, the fault lines of American democracy, particularly under McCarthyism, rang false.[Read: American weirdness, observations from an expat.]And so it was the same for me. While I was able to temporarily escape from American-ness, I couldn’t turn off my political conscience. In London, I saw the horizon on which anti-blackness thrived. It was impossible to ignore Britain’s racism and how it rendered black people invisible in history, culture, and politics. The Windrush generation—immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Tobago, and other island nations who were recruited by the English government to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure after World War II—face a different, but no less odious, racism than black Americans. Today, those same black Britons and their descendants are facing institutional backlash in the form of “hostile environment” immigration policy. Their parents answered the government’s call for workers and, generations later, their children are being deported as adults.I listened to other black expats speak about British racism in terms that were all too familiar from the American context. The Chicago-born playwright and chancellor of Kingston University London, Bonnie Greer, who has lived in the U.K. since 1986, is astounded by the Windrush scandal. Whereas some white pundits have identified the British government’s ill treatment of black Britons as merely incompetence, Greer maintains, “We have in this country—the last 10, 15 years weaponized immigration … and you can see the change in the country … at a level I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been here half my life!”There’s no doubt a productive gap between living in a culture, but not being of that culture. But living, working, and raising a family in a country other than the one considered home engenders a perpetual state of comparison and, perhaps, nostalgia for the time before. Lurking somewhere in the back of one’s mind is always the possibility of going home, even though mobility, especially abroad, is powerful and can offer black expats a refreshing sense of agency. Feeling free from the metaphorical shackles of American racism has lasting value. Yet, being a black expat, one who’s attuned to American racial suffering, can merely heighten one’s awareness of other colonialist histories around the world and the racial disparities that persist because of them—a far cry from actually escaping racism. Living abroad can mean becoming one’s full self and being more deeply engaged with black struggle throughout the diaspora. But after staying in London for seven years, with my black American political consciousness and a newfound empathy for black Brits, I arrived at the sobering conclusion that it’s better the devil you know. And with that, I came home.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Atlantic Daily: Is It Worth It?
What We’re FollowingTo the Border: A group of around 2,000 migrants are heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border from Honduras, fleeing gangs, death threats, rape, and domestic violence. The U.S. government has tried deterrence policies—from family detention under President Barack Obama to recent family separations under President Donald Trump—before. But how effective are policies that don’t consider the conditions from which these migrant groups are fleeing?Conflict and Conflicted: Close ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia—a relationship that started under President Franklin D. Roosevelt—are under fierce criticism again, over a worsening humanitarian crisis in neighboring Yemen and the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Certain shared interests have kept the relationship afloat through other crises over the past few decades—but is it worth it?Billions: “I met Paul when I was in 7th grade, and it changed my life,” Bill Gates writes in this tribute to his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died Monday. Allen was among an initial group of the ultra-wealthy in 2010 who’d pledged at least half their fortunes to philanthropy—but when he died, he was still worth $20 billion, 48 percent more than when he first made the pledge. How the American financial system is structured can keep even the most giving of billionaires unimaginably wealthy.— Shan WangSnapshot For the chef and food writer Samin Nosrat, cooking is both exceptional and accessible, and ultimately a medium for human connection, writes Hannah Giorgis, who cooked—and ate—with Nosrat for this story. Nosrat’s newly launched Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, a docuseries based on her cookbook of the same title, is no Chef’s Table, another popular Netflix series centered around chefs: “You're like, Ooh, maybe one day, I can save up and go eat at this $1,000 dinner or something,” she said. “Why can't there be a show that doesn't intimidate you, but also is so gorgeous that it inspires you to want to get up and do the stuff?” Just this simple, gentle, and loving process of homemade pesto will make you want to get cooking. (Illustration above by Heather Sten)Evening ReadHave scientific models of how the world is warming failed to properly consider the impact of trees and other greenery? “For decades, we’ve been looking to see: How well can we do in climate modeling without needing to evoke the influences of vegetation?” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University. “Vegetation has kind of been left on the back burner.” Studies of individual leaves have shown that when plants are bathed in carbon dioxide, they don’t need to make as many stomata per leaf, and they close the ones they do make more of the time. These changes help forest plants conserve water to survive, but they reduce the water vapor available to fall as rain on the surrounding continent. Moreover, when plants transpire, they cool Earth’s surface and warm the air, just as the evaporation of sweat cools your body on a hot day. Leaf-level changes, scaled up across continents, could rob the atmosphere of moisture and warm the planet’s surface. What else are we missing?What Do You Know … About Family?1. An estimated ___________ percent of U.S. children live with a sibling (a greater share than those estimated to live in households with a ___________ figure).Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.2. Scientists are observing declines in ____________________ (and ____________________) for men in Europe and America, according to several recent studies.Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.3. Millennials are now spending an average of ____________________ on the whole wedding process, according to one 2018 survey.Scroll down for the answer, or find it here. Answers: 82; father / sperm count; motility / $36,000 Urban DevelopmentsOur partner site CityLab explores the cities of the future and investigates the biggest ideas and issues facing city dwellers around the world. Gracie McKenzie shares their top stories: The magnetism of Europe’s capital cities is getting ever stronger, sucking in more wealth and young people, as these maps show. Meanwhile, America’s geographic inequality is also worsening. The devastation Hurricane Michael wreaked—and the unequal burden—is clear in this stark before-and-after imagery from NOAA. In 2018, this is what democracy looks like: Political design can play a big role in increasing voter turnout, simply by reminding people why voting matters and how to get involved. For more updates like these from the urban world, subscribe to CityLab’s Daily newsletter. Looking for our daily mini crossword? Try your hand at it here—the puzzle gets more difficult through the week. We’re always looking for ways to improve The Atlantic Daily, and we welcome your thoughts as we work to make a better newsletter for you. Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
What I Loved About Paul Allen
Paul Allen, one of my oldest friends and the first business partner I ever had, died yesterday. I want to extend my condolences to his sister, Jody, his extended family, and his many friends and colleagues around the world.I met Paul when I was in 7th grade, and it changed my life.I looked up to him right away. He was two years ahead of me in school, really tall, and proved to be a genius with computers. (Later, he also had a very cool beard, which I could never pull off.) We started hanging out together, especially once the first computer arrived at our school. We spent just about all our free time messing around with any computer we could get our hands on.Paul foresaw that computers would change the world. Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry. That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together.In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area—he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.As the first person I ever partnered with, Paul set a standard that few other people could meet. He had a wide-ranging mind and a special talent for explaining complicated subjects in a simple way. Since I was lucky enough to know him from such a young age, I saw that before the rest of the world did. As a teenager, I was curious about (of all things) gasoline. What did “refining” even mean? I turned to the most knowledgeable person I knew. Paul explained it in a super-clear and interesting way. It was just one of many enlightening conversations we would have over the coming decades.Paul was cooler than I was. He was really into Jimi Hendrix as a teenager, and I remember him playing Are You Experienced? for me. I wasn’t experienced at much of anything back then, and Paul wanted to share this amazing music with me. That’s the kind of person he was. He loved life and the people around him, and it showed.Sports was another passion that Paul loved to share with his friends. In later years he would take me to see his beloved Portland Trail Blazers and patiently helped me understand everything that was happening on the court.When I think about Paul, I remember a passionate man who held his family and friends dear. I also remember a brilliant technologist and philanthropist who wanted to accomplish great things, and did.Paul deserved more time in life. He would have made the most of it. I will miss him tremendously.This story is adapted from GatesNotes
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World Edition - The Atlantic
In Fraud Detection, Everything You Do Online and Off Is a Clue
The breakneck speed of emerging technology and the old age of the Constitution make for a number of legislative idiosyncrasies. For example, if a tax agency suspected you of filing fraudulent claims, it would be illegal under the fourth amendment for an agent to bug your car with a GPS tracker and follow your movements. But it would be entirely legal for them to take pictures of your license plate multiple times throughout the day as you travel, then compile those images into a searchable database.The images themselves may or may not be evidence of wrongdoing, but narratives emerge from the database. A change in your morning commute could speak to a change in employment status. Monthly visits to a pharmacy specializing in STI care could reveal intimate details of health or sexuality. Trips to Goodwill or a food pantry could speak to income woes. Or the reverse: Stops at Louis Vuitton speak to a recent windfall, particularly of interest if someone is suspected of hiding money in offshore accounts. Companies are building tools to exploit these legal idiosyncrasies — and collecting massive amounts of data in the process. A recent investigation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy nonprofit, found that officials from the Sacramento, California Department of Human Assistance opened a $10,000 contract with Vigilant Solutions, a private company that collects and stores license-plate reader data, for use in welfare fraud investigations.License plate readers are smart cameras arched covertly on traffic lights above busy intersections in cities including Oakland and Los Angeles. The cameras take photos of license plates, automatically tagging them with timestamp and location, then upload them to a database of over 2 billion images dating back several years. 80 million new photos are quietly uploaded to Vigilant’s database each month.Documents reveal DHA investigators accessed the database over 1000 times between June 2016 and July 2018. Investigators could configure the database to track one license plate over time, or, in what Vigilant calls “stakeout” mode, to list all license plates seen in a specified location. It’s not clear how either configuration aided the investigative process, but applicants through the state’s CalWORKS program have asset ceilings, limiting them to $2250 in their bank accounts. Investigators hoping to ferret out fraud might be interested in knowing where those on public assistance go.But it’s not just welfare recipients who are being tracked, and it’s not just in physical space. A 2017 report from CBC News found that the Canada Revenue Agency, the CRA to our IRS, has begun to scan the Facebook and Instagram accounts of high-income citizens they suspect of commit tax fraud.People unknowingly incriminate themselves on social media all the time. In 2015, The San Francisco Police Department assigned a dedicated “Instagram officer” in 2015, to scan social media for suspects posing in photos with stolen goods, violating house arrest, and the like. Savvy companies are already moving to automate social media screening for fraud prevention. A 2015 patent from Intuit, makers of TurboTax, would also use social media to detect fraudulent tax filings, potentially even “notifying authorities” of fraud if discrepancies are noted.Surveillance for the purpose of fraud detection will likely evolve much in the same as any other form of “smart” surveillance: First it will be partially automated, then fully automated, then, persistent and even predictive. Visa and Mastercard are already investing in startups touting continuous behavioral biometrics, fraud-detection technology that measures the way people use their devices: how they scroll, their reading pace, the angle at which they hold their phone, etc. If the technology detects a user abruptly changing these unconscious cues while accessing their mobile banking account, the transactions may be flagged as suspicious.But, as with other types of anti-fraud surveillance, this type of monitoring reveals much more information than intended. The data from unconscious movements — mouse clicks, trips to the grocery store, a shared photo someone thought only friends would see —- can be used in many different ways. Researchers in a 2017 study analyzed the mouse movements of Bing users searching for symptoms related to Parkinson's Disease. They were able to use cursor movements to infer tremors, a subtle, involuntary shaking of one’s hand associated with neurodegeneration. They ultimately found correlations between mouse tremors and the severity of the disease, presumably before any user had a formal diagnosis.It’s not all that hard to imagine companies compiling behavioral data from mobile banking users, establishing correlations between users of certain income ranges or credit scores, and these unconscious cues to create a sort of “behavioral” credit score. Amazon, eBay, and dozens of other online retailers introduced us to a similar concept years ago: customers “like you” interacted with varying products, using shopping behavior to suggest shopping behavior. Retailers already track, categorize, and make inferences about people based on what they’ve bought and how they shop. The next step is doing so invisibly.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
America’s Indefinite Endgame in Syria
President Donald Trump speaks frequently about bringing U.S. troops home and avoiding costly wars in the Middle East. But last month, the administration changed its position in one key area: the Syrian civil war. America will remain in Syria, National Security Advisor John Bolton said, “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.” He described the new policy as a strategic shift from countering ISIS to containing Iran.Today, NBC News reported that the new strategy will include ramped up diplomatic and political efforts, but stay within the limits imposed by the current congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria. Part of the Trump administration’s strategy will be to withhold reconstruction aid from areas where Iranian and Russian forces are operating, in an attempt to further choke off funds to Tehran. While the strategy appears to seek to avoid direct confrontation between U.S. and Iranian forces, Washington has made it clear that American forces will defend themselves as necessary.But while the contours of the containment strategy are emerging, many of the new policy’s components remain poorly defined. And history tells us that it will be harder to implement than many in the United States may expect.After all, a reluctant America—whose leaders have struggled to bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to an end—faces a determined adversary in Iran, a country whose leaders have committed their own blood, treasure, and thousands of fighters from across the region, to Syria. Now that they’re beginning to see an end in sight, they aren’t leaving. In crafting its new containment strategy, the United States must reckon with Tehran’s investment in Syria.[Read: Syria’s war has never been more international.]Iran entered the Syrian conflict during its early days in 2011, maintaining a shadowy presence at the outset. Soon enough, hundreds of coffins were returning to Iran from the battlefields in Syria, forcing the regime to spend significant resources to bolster a dictator who used chemical weapons on his own people. But the rise of ISIS in 2014 provided justification for Tehran’s continued involvement in Syria. Today, as the Syrian civil war drags on, Iran appears poised to turn what’s long been a costly intervention into an opportunity to project power beyond its borders and deter its chief adversaries. In bolstering Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic Republic has secured the future of one of its primary client states and afforded it an opening to shape Syria’s reconstruction. For Iran, a country whose ongoing economic struggles are likely to worsen under renewed sanctions, this is a much-needed opportunity. And for the Trump administration—eager to increase pressure on and isolate Iran—this is one specific area where the United States will push back.Now that the Trump administration is determined to push a state out of Syria—one reluctant to withdraw its forces without a fight—it’ll need a new way forward. To date, U.S. policy in Syria has been tailored to combating an insurgency. More than 100 U.S. Marines recently participated in training exercises near al-Tanf in southern Syria, and approximately 2,000 American troops are stationed in Syria. Containment, however, could require even more troops and infrastructure, including the establishment of strategically situated outposts.But the United States needs to be careful not to commit its ground troops to Syria indefinitely. Israel’s 18-year occupation of Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 was a textbook case of mission creep—reason enough for the United States to avoid similar mistakes and to strongly reconsider a long-term presence in the Levant. If President Trump is truly intent on waiting out the Iranians, an unending timetable for the withdrawal of troops is far more problematic for Washington than it is for Tehran. Iran is a regional power, not some intruder marching into someone else’s neighborhood. Its troops—Iranian military, the Revolutionary Guards, and Shia militias deployed by Tehran—are actually welcome by Assad.[Read: What Iran is really up to in Syria.]Indeed, one of the biggest challenges stemming from Iran’s involvement in Syria is that it has deployed thousands of Shia militants throughout the country. These forces are composed of foreign nationals trained and equipped by Tehran to maximize the regime’s battlefield effectiveness while minimizing costs for Iranian troops. Many of these militias are now beginning to leave the Syrian theater. Iran reportedly promised many benefits to these men upon their return from the conflict. But with its own economic woes and growing discontent within its populace, the Iranian regime isn’t in a position to support thousands of these fighters, many of whom come from Afghanistan, along with their families.Instead, the mullahs could be looking to redirect these well-trained, battle-hardened forces to other conflicts where it’s currently involved, like the wars in Afghanistan and Yemen. Reportedly, they have already begun deploying some of them to these other theaters. As a result, these troops aren’t just a threat to Syria, but to other combustible places in the region. The United States will likely need to determine how to discourage Iran from redirecting them. Yet with the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, diplomatic relations have reached a nadir.In crafting its containment strategy, one key factor for the United States is the role of Russia. The administration is rightly looking to leverage President Trump’s rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin to influence Iran’s moves in Syria. But Russia’s ability to shape Tehran’s behavior is limited. The mullahs have refused to defer to Russia, their partner in the conflict, even when it has offered strategic guidance. From their perspective, they’ve earned their position there, and the right to operate with autonomy. The United States could, however, help enlist Russia to de-escalate tensions between key players in Syria, while taking care not to further empower Moscow in the process.Perhaps the most worrisome source of tension is the brewing conflict between Iran and Israel. In recent months, the two enemies have been facing off in Syria, with Jerusalem striking Iranian positions in theater and Tehran and its proxies firing rockets and flying drones close to Israel’s border, perhaps to provoke an overreaction. Preventing a broader conflagration between them in Syria will be an essential part of the new Iran containment strategy. As such, it may be the only way to force Iran to commit to downsizing its military footprint in Syria in any meaningful way, making diplomacy a critical tool in the pursuit of this new policy. Keeping U.S. troops in Syria may be necessary to securing leverage in any future political settlement.[Read: The U.S. will spend billions in Syria—just not on rebuilding it.]The outcome of this policy pivot will have major implications for the region. If containment fails, Iran will have a clear path to extending its influence throughout the Middle East, while the United States could become further stuck in the morass of Syrian civil war with few tangible gains to show for its revamped approach.
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World Edition - The Atlantic
The Discomfort of Asking Coworkers About Their Salaries, Quantified
Most Americans who have jobs, according to a report from the employer-review website Glassdoor, “wish they had a better understanding of what fair pay is for their position and skill set at their company.” That is somewhat strange, given that they could gain a better understanding by just asking around.But it is also not strange, given the discomfort that so often accompanies discussing compensation with one's coworkers. Recently, two economists tried to quantify that discomfort, in the hopes that it might reveal something about how pay discrepancies develop, and also because economists like to quantify things that haven’t been quantified before.The two researchers—Harvard Business School’s Zoë Cullen and UCLA’s Ricardo Perez-Truglia—asked their subjects, some 750 employees of a large bank in Asia that generates billions of dollars in revenue, how much they’d be willing to pay to learn what some of their coworkers earn. The median response was $13, which indicates that many employees were not all that curious. But some cared a lot more: The average of the top half of responses was $369, and the average of roughly the highest quarter of responses was $640. Some said they’d pay more than $1,000.Despite how highly these employees valued this information, they hadn’t, by the time the researchers came calling, seemed to have done much work to track it down themselves: When asked to estimate the average of five of their peers’ salaries, they were off by an average of 16 percent, which was about as accurate as they would have been if they had just submitted their own salaries as their guess.[Read: When the boss says, “Don’t tell your coworkers how much you get paid”]“Some of these misperceptions,” Cullen and Perez-Truglia write, “are due in part to high search costs.” And those “search costs”—essentially, the obstacles that come with gathering information—are not just a matter of the legwork involved in asking around but also of the discomfort of doing so. The value of avoiding the discomfort of asking might, for some, be in the neighborhood of $1,000. Another thing the employees might have been interested in paying for was the opportunity to avoid being asked about their own salary by a coworker, something that 89 percent of the research subjects said they’d expect to happen if they inquired about someone else’s salary.In reviewing the accuracy of the employees’ estimates, Cullen and Perez-Truglia noted that male and female employees were off by a similar margin. That is, men didn’t seem to have better information than women, even though such a discrepancy has been thought to be one possible contributor to gender-pay gaps. (However, women on average were less confident than men that their guesses were correct.)In addition to asking their subjects how much they’d pay to gain information about their peers, the researchers also asked how much they would pay to prevent others from knowing how much they themselves earned. And a pattern emerged: The higher someone thought their salary was relative to others, the more money they were willing to pay to prevent their salary from being shared.Cullen explained to me why this might be the case. “It's likely that this information would have a detrimental effect … in the sense that others could maybe use the information to negotiate and maybe it would slow the rate of promotion for the high [earners],” she told me. Also, being secretive might be advantageous if one had a hunch that one’s team members would be resentful after learning how high the number actually was. "It's possibly a very wise … move for the high-income people to be not forthcoming,” Cullen said.While this study was conducted in Asia, Cullen told me that the phenomena she and Perez-Truglia examined probably aren’t Asia-specific. She says this because the bank employees she studied hailed from regions with a variety of cultural backgrounds and yet those potential cultural differences didn’t appear to correlate with any differences in the data.I asked Rachel Sherman, a sociologist at the New School and the author of Uneasy Street: The Anxiety of Affluence, what she made of these findings. Not commenting on Cullen and Perez-Truglia’s paper specifically, Sherman told me that when she interviewed wealthy New Yorkers for her book, she found them to be guarded about their finances. "It goes against social conventions to talk about how much money you have or how much money you make,” she told me. “I think there's also reluctance, among the people I interviewed for my book, to recognize how much money they have, partly because they're worried they have more."Some of that reluctance comes from having a lot of money in a society that is known to be unequal. “It's convenient, right? That we have this taboo,” Sherman said, in the sense that not talking about money might allow people who have the most of it in a given society to ignore that fact. Perhaps the Asian bank Cullen and Perez-Truglia studied is a society in miniature, with each employee curious about but rarely sure of just how much more or less they make than the people sitting next to them.According to a 2017 survey done by The Cashlorette, a personal-finance website, Millennials are much more comfortable talking with their coworkers about how much they earn than older generations. About one-third of Millennial workers polled said as much, which was about four times the proportion of Baby Boomers who did. These results have been interpreted as indicating Millennials’ radical destruction of taboos, but when taken alongside Cullen and Perez-Truglia’s research, they might just be an indication that the people who make the most money are the least interested in talking about it.
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