Police union, de Blasio blast Bloomberg over stop-and-frisk apology

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Christopher Caldwell’s big idea: The civil rights revolution was a mistake
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Behind Johnson is Martin Luther King Jr. | Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty We debate. America is a divided country. If I asked you to work backwards to the origins of the culture war or to the event that set us on our current course, what would it be? Vietnam? Watergate? The Iraq War? Donald Trump? A new book by Christopher Caldwell, an influential conservative journalist, proffers a surprising answer: the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Caldwell’s book, The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties, has become a must-read among right-leaning intellectuals. The book isn’t exactly an assault on the initial Civil Rights Act so much as an attack on its legal outgrowths. Caldwell doesn’t defend racism or the apartheid system the Civil Rights Act dismantled; rather, he argues that the civil rights movement spawned a whole constellation of other liberation struggles — for immigrants, for gay and transgender rights, for sexual freedom — that Americans did not sign up for and did not want. And the result of this steady encroachment is what Caldwell calls a “rival Constitution” that is incompatible with the original one and the source of a great deal of social unrest. There are a lot of fascinating observations in Caldwell’s book, and some conspicuous omissions, but it does scan as something of a rant, albeit a very eloquent one. White Americans, he writes, “fell asleep thinking of themselves as the people who had built this country and woke up to find themselves occupying the bottom rung of an official hierarchy of races.” The notion that white Americans are at the bottom of any hierarchy seems far-fetched, but he’s right in a narrow sense. The price of leveling an unequal social order is often the resentment of people whose power has been diminished. Caldwell seems to think that price is too high. I reject Caldwell’s view of history, but I do think he identifies some very real tensions at the core of American life. And whatever you think of his diagnosis, this is an important book that’s worth engaging because it articulates what many Americans on one side of the culture war feel. I spoke to Caldwell by phone about his motivations for writing the book, what he thinks went wrong with the Civil Rights Act, and why he thinks white people — white men, in particular — are getting left behind. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Americans regard the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a great moral and political achievement. You call it an “oppression.” Why? Christopher Caldwell Well, what I said was that by November of 2016, there was a working majority in a presidential election that perceived it as an oppression. And the judgment that was made in the 2016 election was at least indirectly a response to the order that arose out of the 1960s. Sean Illing Who was oppressed by the order that arose out of the Civil Rights Act? Christopher Caldwell Of the book’s many narrative lines, the one that’s received a lot of attention finds the source of a lot of our conflicts in the legislative outgrowths of the Civil Rights Act. Overturning segregation meant overturning a lot of the democratic institutions of the South. Now you can argue that they were illegitimate or that they were invidious or they were exclusionary, but the federal government needed legal tools to overturn a functioning democratic system. And those tools wound up being adaptable to a whole range of other tasks. Sean Illing What other tasks? Christopher Caldwell Securing the advancement of women in corporations, securing the integration of immigrants in American society, winning rights for gays, winning rights for transsexuals. Set aside the merits of any of this, the point is that accomplishing these things involved empowering judges and regulators or bureaucrats more generally to make laws. And I think that a lot of people felt left out of that process. Sean Illing Do you think it would’ve been better to have left things as they were? Should we have allowed Jim Crow to end whenever the South decided the time was right? Christopher Caldwell The short answer to that is no. This book is in no way a defense of Jim Crow or segregation or anything like that. Sean Illing It seems to me that some cultural disorientation was an unavoidable consequence of any effort to create more equity in the system. And it was probably inevitable that progress on the racial front would lead to pushes for progress on other fronts. I guess I’m wondering what you think we could have done differently? Christopher Caldwell It’s important to say that this is really a work of history. I don’t lay out or propose an alternative path. This isn’t a road not taken book. But I will say that as long as the civil rights legislation was limited to solving the problem of segregation, it had a self-evident coherence for most Americans, and it had a set of boundaries. I think as you went on, and as it deepened, it deepened through new measures like affirmative action and busing. But more importantly, as it spread, it became an open-ended thing, and it became quite unclear to Americans where it stopped, and where the old system of just letting the local democracies still obtained. Sean Illing One consequence of the Civil Rights Act, in your words, was that it forced the issue of race “into every nook and cranny of the country.” That seems wrong to me. Not having to think about race was a luxury for white people in a world in which their power was unquestioned. The Civil Rights Act upended that by extending rights and power to more people, more groups. Christopher Caldwell I think you’re right about that. One thing you’ll have noticed in the book is that I make a lot of use of the legal scholars who were called critical race theorists. They were somewhat controversial in the ’90s, but I think there are a lot of them on campuses now. There’s one in particular named Alan David Freeman, who has focused a lot on this conception of victims and perpetrators. In the case of segregation, blacks were obviously the victims and whites were obviously the perpetrators. What Freedman says is that if you’re on the victim end, if you’re on the receiving end of this inequality, you live it as a deprivation of a lot of specific things and you’re not going to feel it’s fixed until you start getting those specific things, whether they’re material things like an equal shot in the housing market or just let’s say abstract things like respect and dignity. If you’re on the perpetrator’s side, then it looks to you like an ethical problem, and the moment you say,okay, we’re all equal, then the situation seems solved to you. And as long you don’t hear anyone endorsing the old system, then we’re fine. I think that’s a pretty accurate description of the sociology of this. Sean Illing The perception of privilege is worth circling back to, but I want to highlight a point you make in the book about the roots of this “rival Constitution” because I think it frames a lot of this discussion. You write: “Just half a decade into the civil rights revolution, America had something it had never had at the federal level, something the overwhelming majority of its citizens would never have approved: an explicit system of racial preference.” This is technically true since what we had was a separate but equal doctrine, and therefore not a system of “racial preference.” Is it your position that we should have preserved the separate but equal framework? Was the cure really worse than the disease? Spencer Grant/Getty Images A large crowd gathers in South Boston’s Columbus Park to protest federal court-ordered busing of black students to all-white neighborhood schools in 1975. Christopher Caldwell That’s an essay’s worth of arguing, but I just want to repeat that this book is not a defense of segregation. Sean Illing I don’t mean to imply that it is, and I’ll just say clearly that that’s not how I read it at all. But you do argue that the cure of civil rights legislation may have been worse than the disease of segregation insofar as it paved the way for all these other movements that steadily eroded the rights of Americans to organize their communities however they want. Christopher Caldwell Yes, only if you understand that it’s the extensions of the Civil Rights Act, not the initial treatment itself, that I’m talking about. What we’re talking about here is the unintended consequences and bureaucratic refinements and things that have to do less with the civil rights movement and the protagonists and antagonists of it. Sean Illing Well, let’s talk about some of those extensions so that it’s clear for readers. Part of your argument is that freedom of association is the “master freedom” that makes every other political freedom possible and that some of these extensions of civil rights, like anti-discrimination laws for gay Americans, undermines it. Do you really believe that, say, requiring a baker to sell cakes to gay couples obliterates the possibility of meaningful political freedom? Christopher Caldwell That’s an interesting case that I would want to study before I pronounce on it, but I’ll tell you in the abstract how I feel about that question. The question of whether to sell a cake to a specific kind of customer is covered under the public accommodations aspect of the Civil Rights Act. The problem in those cases, as I understood it, is that they were being compelled to write a message on the cake. I thought that that was the constitutional issue. But as I say, I didn’t write about that case as a journalist. I think there’s a sentence on it in the book, but I think it’s the free speech aspect and not the public accommodations aspect that’s the problem there. [Author’s note: Caldwell’s characterization of the Colorado baker’s case isn’t quite accurate. In that case, the plaintiff’s lawyer argued that the wedding cake itself, not any particular message, was expressive and so preparing it signaled a pro-same-sex marriage view.] Sean Illing What are some better examples in your mind that clarify the problem? Christopher Caldwell There are quite a number of them and they work in different ways. Look at the way bilingual education was brought into American life, for example, which was in a Supreme Court case that was called Lau v. Nichols in 1974. When the Supreme Court made its judgment [the Court ruled that the school system was required to provide equal opportunities and access to all students since it received federal funding], the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare began writing rules about what this necessary bilingual education would look like. At that point, the courts began giving ups and downs on whether schools were acting in accordance with the rules set up in the Education Department. So this was a new law and a new set of institutions that at no point had ever passed through the democratic part of the American system. There’s no bilingual education law. And one of the things that surprised me in the course of the book was discovering that when Michael Bloomberg in New York, as mayor, tried to shut down a couple of bilingual education problems, he wasn’t able to do it. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. It shows how a regime of new laws and institutions sprang out of the initial civil rights passage and was enforced without any input at all from the actual electorate. Sean Illing At one point, you write that white Americans “fell asleep thinking of themselves as the people who had built this country and woke up to find themselves occupying the bottom rung of an official hierarchy of races.” People will read that, fairly or not, as the cry of a reactionary, someone who doesn’t recognize the country anymore and hates what it’s become. Christopher Caldwell I don’t think of myself as a reactionary, but one of the unintended consequences of civil rights was to create a white consciousness. And I think that it’s the photographic negative of what we can call intersectionality. But, as I said earlier, as long as civil rights law was focused on segregation, it was both comprehensible and it had some boundaries which I think kept the country calm. But as it spread, you started having coalitions based on rights. And the two parties evolved around this coalition-building. So you have these rights-based coalitions that unite blacks, immigrants, the handicapped, women, gays, transgender people, everyone who benefits from these new protections. But as that happens, as these coalitional pieces come together, a segment of the population gets cut out from the conversation, and that segment becomes its own coalition, which is principally white Americans. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images President Trump attends a “Keep America Great” rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 10, 2019. Sean Illing “White consciousness,” as you put it, is like any other identity: It gets activated when it’s under threat or challenged. And this sort of reaction was an unavoidable consequence of any effort to level the playing field. This is a problem you accurately diagnose, and I just don’t see a way around it. Christopher Caldwell Well, I don’t give up hope for that, but I’m saying that it’s where we’re stuck right now and that’s a worrisome thing. Sean Illing Have the actual lives of white people been materially harmed? White people, by practically any measure, are still doing pretty well in this country, no? Christopher Caldwell What I’m saying is, there’s a feeling of loss among people. It’s tough to talk about white people because these developments have coincided with an extraordinary opening up of equality in society. Sean Illing I don’t doubt that feeling of loss, and I don’t want to diminish its importance. The question is, does the reality of loss track with the feeling of loss? Christopher Caldwell I think there are a lot of things that have been lost. Certainly that sense of cultural security that you described is part of it. But I think there’s also the sense of having lost sovereignty, of having lost self-rule. And there’s a sense that the country no longer responds to electoral and congressional politics the way it used to. So to go back to the conversation about gay rights. If you look at the debate over gay marriage between, say, 2003 and 2015, what you see is 33 consecutive referendum votes against gay marriage, three votes for gay marriage, and then a removal of the issue from the democratic part of society and the conferring of the authority to decide it on the judiciary. This is troubling to a lot of people from a constitutional perspective, and I don’t think it can be explained away in terms of a lost privilege or anything. Sean Illing Have you thought much about how this post-civil rights history might look from the perspective of the other side? How the price of stability in the pre-civil rights era might look through the eyes of someone whose dignity was sacrificed on its altar? Christopher Caldwell I thought about this the other day and I thought about a couple of people living in the same town. Say there’s a guy who lives in a medium-sized town, he’s gay, he’s now able to marry. He has two adopted children, and he looks at this rights revolution and he says, “Wow, I owe my whole life to this.” And that’s wonderful. At the same time, across the street from him might be a guy who doesn’t believe in gay marriage. The guy who doesn’t believe in gay marriage is not just someone who disagrees with him. It’s much deeper than that. And whether it’s for moral or religious reasons, he may hold his opponent’s lifestyle in contempt in a very serious way. This is a very difficult situation. The guy who disagrees with gay marriage may have a son who’s being taught about gender fluidity in school at seven years old. And that may bother him and he may say, “I never voted for this. No one in my neighborhood likes this.” And so he feels, with some cause, that he’s living in an undemocratic society. What I’m saying is, there are things to celebrate here but also things to worry about. The clash between the two sides is, in some ways, irreconcilable. Sean Illing I think you’re right about that, and it’s partly why your book ends in a rather depressing cul-de-sac. We’re not going to repeal the Civil Rights Act, nor are we going undo the progress of, say, the gay rights movement. And you know that. So where does that leave us? Christopher Caldwell I say that we have a situation in which the Democrats only get the full rights they desire by withdrawing certain freedoms of choice from the American public. And for the Republicans to get the full unbridled democracy that they want would require the repeal of the Civil Rights Act. But I’m not wishing for that. Again, this book is a history, not a manifesto. I simply wanted to describe the intractability of the partisan divide. I don’t think the Civil Rights Act is going anywhere either. So where does that leave us? Well, I’m not sure. The book is a description of where we are. And while it’s a conservative book, I do think there’s room for some common ground. I do not think that the Trump movement or the Republican Party more generally is a racist movement. I don’t think that, but I do think that Trump’s rise has something to do with these laws that were originally passed to fix our race problem. And it has to do with the way those laws have evolved. And this is something the left and the right can agree on, even if they can’t agree on the path forward.
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Our conversation ranged all over the map, from lighting rigs to Greek myths. It’s been lightly edited for length and clarity. Amy Sussman/Getty Images for BAFTA LA Céline Sciamma (center) attends the BAFTA Tea Party with Portrait of a Lady on Fire stars Adèle Haenel (left) and Noémie Merlant. Emily VanDerWerff This movie is so good at using the camera to relay the ways that women watch each other, or the way they look at things they want. I haven’t seen a movie capture that in quite the way this one does. How did you build that into the film at every level? Céline Sciamma I see [the movie] as a manifesto about the female gaze. I see this as such a strong opportunity to make new stuff, new images, new narratives. They are such powerful images, and they are so not seen. And you are in charge. You have a strong responsibility. But also, there are so many opportunities to be playful. To embody ideas that matter a lot to myself, but also to a lot of people. I see it as a really great dynamic for creating and also very fun visually. For instance, ask yourself the question of “how do you embody sorority?” The answer being, a long take, a wide shot, of three women in the kitchen with social hierarchy being totally turned around, with the aristocratic women cooking, whereas the maid is an artist and the artist is looking at the maid. And they’re silent. This is such a powerful image, and it’s so easy to make. People are telling me, “Oh, your film is a utopia.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but our utopias are not ideas we have in our minds. They’re not things we wish we were living. They’re rooted in our own experience.” I know about sorority, I know about an all-women world. It’s not a utopia. It’s part of my life. And that’s what I rely on to make these images. Emily VanDerWerff This movie is also about how the female gaze produces art and the way a woman who is an artist perceives the world. How true was that to your own experience as a woman artist? Céline Sciamma It is close. It’s also a portrait of women artists in general, because I did a lot of research on this period. I chose this moment of art history because there were hundreds of women painters at the time that had flourishing careers. We’re always being told about women’s progress and women’s opportunity — that we’re “getting there.” But it’s not true. It’s cycles. And we can see it today that we experience backlash also. And they did also, at the time. There was a strong female critic scene that we never hear about. And they were looking at women’s body of work more than their male colleagues were, for instance. The film is a love story, but it’s also about creating. That’s why I decided to depart from the biopic dynamic, which is always about this strong portrait of a strong woman and I think this is politically not good. It’s very liberal. It’s about, “Oh, you can make it in this hard world!” And strong women — what’s “strong”? I wanted to invent [a woman] to talk about [all women] and not have this heroic dynamic. It’s not about her body of work. It’s about an artist’s work, her questions, her difficulties, and her success within one frame. It’s not about a destiny. That was really important for me, to show somebody at work. Neon Here’s the lady on fire you’ve heard so much about. Emily VanDerWerff What do you think is powerful about examining the historical limitations placed on women and queer people? There are certainly lots of critics and artists who want to create narratives of empowerment, and those can be great. But I sometimes love stories like this, about the limitations that can be placed on us, even more. Héloïse’s mother can basically tell her who to marry, for example. Céline Sciamma Héloïse’s character is much more restrained, even though she is an aristocratic woman, than Marianne’s character. The tragedy of lesbian life is not the tragedy of lesbian representation. It’s not the same. Lesbians have been activists. They’ve had the opportunity to live their life more freely sometimes, than straight women, because they could avoid a lot of things, like getting married and having children. If you look at the suffragettes, for instance, lesbians were there. The tragedy is that we get erased from history. But we are activists and sometimes more in the position to be. They talk about that in the movie. Marianne [who can live more openly] seems to have more opportunity than Héloïse. These stories are really dangerous for patriarchy. That’s why the male gaze is obsessed with representing lesbians, for instance. It’s a way to control it. Our stories are powerful because they are dangerous. We are dangerous. So it’s a very good strategy to despise us — to undermine us — because it’s giving us less leverage for a very powerful political dynamic. The narrative of the film is based on equality among the love story, because there is no gender domination. Embodying equality in a love dialogue could be a wake-up call for a lot of persons. That’s why it’s so important to tell stories. It’s to represent us, so a lot of people feel seen. And the film is about that mutual gazing. But it politically involves much more than our stories. Emily VanDerWerff When you see the man sitting at the table late in the film, after having spent so long with only women, it’s such a shocking moment. Céline Sciamma Yeah, it’s a jump scare of patriarchy. Like, they look like that. We forget how they look. [laughs] Neon Sophie (left) and Marianne form an unlikely friendship. Emily VanDerWerff I’ve been wondering how you captured some of those shots in such low light. Was it shot digitally? Céline Sciamma Yeah. It was a very strong choice to shoot in digital, especially with a period piece. We tried 35 [millimeter film]. When we did the tryouts, my director of photography Claire Mathon and I wanted to shoot digital for one reason. We wanted to give back to these women from the past their hearts, their desire, the rush of blood to the cheek. It was a love story, of course, but it was also a movie about the rise of desire. We wanted to look at desire, which is something we rarely see because of the strong convention in cinema of love at first sight. We always agree that of course you’re going to totally fall in love. Digital was about the rush of blood. Like, can you feel this? We began with shooting the exteriors for eight days. I wanted it to be kind of gothic, so it’s colorful, but it’s more Brontë sisters, the gray and the rain. And it was super sunny [when we shot the exteriors]! Cinema is about welcoming things with enthusiasm, especially things that you don’t have power over. You have so much power over everything that sometimes it can be super disturbing that you don’t get what you expect, especially with period pieces where you design everything. And the fact that the sun came in, we were like, this is good news, and we have to bring back this light now to our castle in the Parisian periphery [where the interiors were shot]. The lighting was taking a lot of time, because the castle was very old, so we couldn’t put anything on the walls — no lighting, nothing. So it was all coming from the outside. You know, this big structure with a lot of light involved. So every scene was very smoothly lit [to mimic the look of the bright sun]. Sometimes it’s painful, because you have less time with the actors and you dedicate a lot of time to the light. In cinema, the time you devote says a lot. And every shot was very, very precisely lit. Emily VanDerWerff Greta Gerwig gave an interview where she said that before she shot Little Women, Steven Spielberg told her that if you’re making a movie set in the 1800s, it really needs to be shot on film. Normally, I’d agree with that, but I think your film captures how it would feel to be in a room where there’s only the one light source, a fireplace or candle or something. How did you create that world where there might be only the one light source over in the corner or the wall, and it’s dark everywhere else? Céline Sciamma You had to be very inventive. Period pieces are all about choosing what you’re going to do with the candles. And a character walking with a candle took so much [light] around. Sometimes the actors, they couldn’t move. They were surrounded with rope lights that were invented by the camera crew. You invent your own way of lighting things, which is a lesson you can learn from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon,where he actually invented optics to find the right candle lighting. I entered the room, and I was amazed. It was really like a fantasy world with a lot of rope lights everywhere. And it’s pretty radical in a way, because it’s not naturalistic, yet it feels so true. Emily VanDerWerff The movie’s class politics are interesting, too. Even though Marianne has a little bit more freedom than Héloïse, they both have more freedom than Sophie, the maid. How did you want to talk about class in the middle of all of these other sociopolitical dynamics? Céline Sciamma It’s two levels. It’s trying to embody how sorority can abolish social hierarchy but within a collective, small group with a kind of friendship. But that doesn’t mean that we’re naive. Sophie’s basically more stuck than any of them. But it’s also about the narrative and how the story never portrays her as the servant. She’s never in the frame if she doesn’t have something to say or a stake for herself. She’s never an extra. She disappears from the movie for a long time, and then she comes back when she has her own journey, which is a way to treat her as a whole character, but not by taking the step of showing the oppression and being oppressive with the character and by making her perform what’s expected from a maid in cinema. Does she know about their love story? We’ll never know. This is a decision that the film makes that is not a betrayal to the reality of the maid but that actually embodies her as a full human. That’s how cinema can bring more equality without being in a fantasy. Emily VanDerWerff In talking about how this movie depicts sorority and lesbians being at the forefront of political revolutions, I’m reminded that Sophie has an abortion in this movie. It feels like such a necessary part of the story, but if you really think about it, it’s not as central as the love story. What made it so important to put in the film? Céline Sciamma It’s a two-step scene. Because there’s an abortion scene, and the three women then represent the abortion by painting it. And, I always thought about that in this two-step thing, which some people find disturbing. There’s this French author named Annie Ernaux, and she wrote a book about her own abortion, and in this book, she says there is no museum in the world where there is a frame called “The Abortion.” It’s an everyday thing, but it’s never represented. And why? When you’re looking at something that hasn’t been represented much, you’re filling a void. But it has to belong to this film. It’s not about making an abortion scene. It’s about making the abortion scene of that film and the fact that there’s a child on the bed consoling [Sophie as she goes through the abortion]. It’s the grammar of the film, which is a lot about people consoling each other. Those three things were really important to me in the process of making this scene. And also telling the audience that abortion is not about not liking kids. It’s about having the kids you want, when you want. Emily VanDerWerff When they create the painting of the abortion, it’s almost as if they all wordlessly agree it has to be done. I’ve seen a few people saying, however, that they felt like Sophie wasn’t asked how she felt about Marianne recreating this moment for a painting, and that’s maybe uncomfortable for her. What made that moment so potent for you? Céline Sciamma That scene is about the collaborative dynamic in the film. I really wanted Héloïse [the model] to have the input [on the painter]. “Look,” she says to the painter. “You should look.” She knows. What I wanted to embody in that scene is the input, the idea, the intellectual process of representing the abortion belongs to the model. I really wanted to talk about this model-painter dynamic in a different way, because, you know, that was the only opportunity women had to be in workshops of the painter was to be models. There were very few opportunities to be artists because they didn’t get the education. And I really wanted to show that dynamic because these characters have ceased that dynamic. They weren’t silent, naked, inspiring women just because they’re beautiful in the room. They were very active, and they put all their brains into this. And that’s also what I wanted to show. And also, the movie is fully about consent and how consent is also super erotic and super sexy. Sophie, even though she went through this, she’s being asked what she wants. And each time they touch each other, they never touch each other without asking first. We tried to make it very mutual. Neon Marianne and Héloïse delight in their newfound love. Emily VanDerWerff What about the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which Marianne, Héloïse, and Sophie have very different opinions on, makes it such a good grounding point for the film? Céline Sciamma The film represents a lot of mythologies about the model and the artist. Orpheus and Eurydice is a myth that has been looked at by feminists a lot, because it’s basically about how the male gaze can kill you. This tradition of looking at Orpheus and Eurydice like that and trying to see the point of Eurydice was, for me, a way to play with this myth. I wanted those women to have strong intellectual conversations and perspectives, and I really crafted that scene where they talk about Orpheus and Eurydice as a “Netflix and chill” scene. You know? They get to talk about it, and each one has their own perspective. We look at myth as something from the past that can give us lessons. Myth is not about the lessons. It’s not about the morality of it. It’s about the tension. And I wanted to embody that: the tension and the question. Emily VanDerWerff We’ve talked a lot about the power of gaze, of being able to see someone. But what’s the power of being seen, of Héloïse and Marianne finally seeing each other? Céline Sciamma It’s super hard to answer this question! [Being seen] makes you kind of fragile. Maybe that’s why people are so afraid. Maybe that’s why there are so many power dynamics in love stories. I think it’s about being totally fragile. It’s like the shot-reverse shot dynamic at the moment when the painter realizes that she’s being looked at, when Héloïse says “Well, if you’re looking at me, who am I looking at?” Suddenly, there’s a wide shot of her behind the canvas and she seems so fragile and lonely. But it definitely makes her shift and makes her a better lover and a better artist. Emily VanDerWerff I have been thinking about love stories where it feels like the two lovers actually see each other, and they almost always end tragically, like we can’t believe that could be a sustainable dynamic in some way. Céline Sciamma Yeah. For instance, Titanic. Titanic is the hugest success, and it’s because it’s totally queer. Leonardo DiCaprio was totally androgynous at the time. DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were both not known — not stars — so there was no power dynamic between them. Like, if you look at the sex scene in Titanic, she’s on top. He’s the one who’s being totally fragile and insecure. I think it was a huge success because it’s a love story with equality and with emancipation. I think the movies are in dialogue. I thought a lot about Titanic because it’s also the present of a love story and the memory of a love story. A successful love story should not be about eternal possession. No, it should be about emancipation. And it is an emancipation story, because maybe [Kate Winslet’s character in Titanic] lost this love, but we see her being free and riding horses and wearing pants. It’s all about emancipation. The success of a love story is not about how long it lasts. It’s not about ending your life together. Him dying is tragic, but it’s not the end of the story. In equality, there is emancipation. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is in theaters now. It will expand throughout the country in the weeks to come. The Criterion Collection will release it on DVD and Blu-ray later this year.
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Mike Bloomberg has a plan to clean up electricity and it doesn’t need Congress
Like everything in stock art world, natural gas power plants are beautiful at sunset. | Shutterstock Bloomberg would supercharge the EPA to get rid of coal and block new natural gas. This piece was originally published on December 17 and has been lightly updated. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is a problematic presidential candidate for all sorts of reasons. Progressives are irritated that he is attempting to brute-force his way into the Democratic primary by spending more on ad campaigns than the rest of the primary field combined. Then there’s his lamentable record on civil liberties and race relations. And the fact that he was a Republican as New York City mayor, he endorsed George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection, and he has given money to and hosted fundraisers for Republicans as recently as 2018. When it comes to climate change, however, Bloomberg’s record is almost entirely positive. He was instrumental in standing up and funding the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which has been one of the most ruthlessly effective activist campaigns of my lifetime. Recently, the Associated Press, in a “fact check,” rebutted the notion that Bloomberg is single-handedly responsible for all recent coal-plant closures — and it’s true, market forces helped, as did government policy. But everyone who has paid attention to the power sector knows that the kind of activist pressure he has supported frequently makes the difference at the margin. More recently, Bloomberg pledged $500 million to an expanded Beyond Carbon campaign, which will shoot for a 100 percent clean-energy economy, taking on not only coal but also natural gas, the next key battle in US decarbonization. This fact has not received enough attention — if Bloomberg brings the same discipline and credibility to the anti-natural gas fight that he brought to the anti-coal fight, it could help shift the national landscape. Which brings us to the Bloomberg presidential campaign’s first policy proposal on climate change, released in December. (In January, he released a second plan to make buildings zero carbon by 2025.) The first plan is worth noting for just this reason: It explicitly targets natural gas. We’ll also replace existing gas plants – and stop the construction of new ones. This is critical to stopping the worst effects of climate change because gas is now a bigger source of climate pollution than coal, and emissions from gas are growing.— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) December 13, 2019 The premise of Bloomberg’s campaign is that he is an experienced, level-headed executive, ready to run things with a steady hand. In keeping with that theme, his plan for clean electricity — which targets 80 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions in the power sector by 2028 “moving toward 100% as soon as possible thereafter” — focuses entirely on executive powers. It presumes no legislative help. It contains only achievable promises, consistent with what can be done by a president, acting alone, within a president’s term. That is somewhat in contrast to the sweeping, speculative plans from the other candidates, and likely to make the plan unpopular among activists, but it is nonetheless a good perspective into what any Democratic president could do if Congress goes the wrong way. Let’s take a look. Bloomberg would supercharge the EPA to get rid of coal and block new natural gas There are several pieces to the plan, including financial support for clean energy technologies, removing fossil fuel subsidies from the tax code, a moratorium on new fossil fuel leases on public land, restoring scientific integrity at the EPA, and putting frontline communities and environmental justice at the heart of federal planning. But the two pieces I want to focus on have to do with coal and natural gas. Specifically, Bloomberg promises to shut down the remaining 251 US coal plants and replace them with clean energy. And he promises to “stop the rush to build all proposed gas plants.” Coal plants will be shut down by “increasingly stringent emissions and pollution limits.” Elsewhere, he promises to restore and strengthen all the rules that Trump has been rolling back, so presumably those limits will include tightened regulations on mercury and air toxics, coal ash, SO2 and NOx, and other air and water pollutants. But the centerpiece, according to campaign advisers, will be a version 2.0 of Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which Trump has also rolled back), targeting 80 percent power-sector carbon reductions by 2028, as well as sharp reductions in local pollutants like SO2 and NOx. As part of our Beyond Coal campaign, we’ve closed more than half of the coal plants in the country - even with President Trump working against us. We’ve set a goal of retiring all of them and replacing coal with clean energy sources.— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) December 13, 2019 A new CPP that stringent, focused primarily on public health, would wipe out coal power plants. But it would also hit natural gas plants. In addition, to head off the current incoming rush of new natural gas plants, Bloomberg’s EPA would issue a draft New Source Performance Standard (something else Obama did that Trump rolled back), which would require all new power plants to use the best available technology — namely, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) — to reduce GHG emissions (along with NOx, etc.). That would, at a stroke, cancel 99 percent of those new natural gas plants. (Who knows, maybe a plant or two will figure out how to make CCS feasible.) And because of a quirk of the Clean Air Act, a draft New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) has the force of law as soon as it is issued, but it can’t be challenged in court until it is finalized, which is one reason industry loathes the NSPS provision. (Coal baron Robert Murray took this to the Supreme Court and lost.) Companies will have to begin aligning their future plans around the NSPS the moment a draft is issued. There are also other tools in the executive toolbox with which to go after natural gas, including national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for NOx, soot, and ozone, but it is mainly the combination of the CPP2.0 and the NSPS that would take out coal and natural gas. This is a targeted approach, going after the polluters in the sector, putting public health out front. It lacks a certain inspiration factor, but it has the considerable virtue of being something that a president — at least a president willing to hire good people and invest political capital — has a high probability of being able to accomplish. All executive actions will face court challenge Of course any new rules from a Bloomberg EPA would immediately face legal challenge, many of them would end up in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court shows every sign of being hostile to environmental and climate change rules. There is a decent chance a Roberts Court would kill some or all of any activist EPA’s efforts. However, there are some countervailing considerations. First, what the hell else is a president going to do? While Congress mucks around, or just as likely does nothing, a president has to act on the priorities that got him or her elected. Using the powers of the presidency entails court review. The rules can be thoughtful and legally solid, but there’s ultimately not much the president can do if federal or Supreme Court judges choose to act as a partisan enforcers. (There’s no word on whether Bloomberg would support more radical measures like packing the Supreme Court or the federal courts.) Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images Not a hopeful alliance for climate hawks. Second, if there’s one thing to learn from Obama’s experience, it’s that deliberate, careful sequencing gets you nowhere. Obama didn’t pull the trigger on EPA carbon regulationsuntil it was beyond clear that there would be no climate change legislation. Many carbon-related rules didn’t have time to go into effect or be upheld in court. In retrospect, Obama should have done what Trump has done: blitzed. Do everything at once. Overwhelm the capacity of opponents to focus. For Bloomberg, that could mean a whole suite of new agency rules, all at once, alongside whatever may be going on legislatively. The Supreme Court simply doesn’t have the capacity to hear more than a fraction of the resulting lawsuits, and in federal courts, despite the hack judges McConnell is churning out, the legal defenders of Obama regulations have racked up a solid record. Campaign advisers also note that rules premised on public health have a longer and more robust record than carbon-focused rules. Third, even as cases wind their way through the courts, companies will be realigning around the new targets. That’s what happened around Obama’s CPP, and although that rule ultimately never received a decisive court judgment, companies began shifting their business plans in response. Consequently, next year the US will reach the initial CPP goal — 32 percent power-sector carbon reductions from 2005 levels by 2030 — a decade early. The same would happen in response to a CPP2.0 targeting 80 percent reductions by 2028, issued early in the next president’s term. By 2024, or whenever the case finally reached the Supreme Court, companies will have realigned around the new direction (which will be reinforced by renewed international climate efforts). What to take away from Bloomberg’s plan I don’t personally think much of the idea of Bloomberg as president and I don’t think he has much of a shot anyway — he failed to qualify for the next debates — but on climate policy, perhaps uniquely among policy issues (save gun control), it is worth listening to what he proposes. He is an unconventional face for an environmental campaign and has, for better or worse, brought attention and credibility to the fight against fossil fuels among audiences environmentalists can’t always reach. Having followed politics for years, I am intensely skeptical of claims that executive experience is any special preparation for the presidency. (Both George W. Bush and Donald Trump promised to “run the government like a business,” so ...) But Bloomberg’s executive experience really does seem to have helped the Beyond Coal campaign. As its leaders were the first to say, Bloomberg helped focus the campaign relentlessly on data and accountability, imposing a discipline that is, ahem, not always present in the nonprofit advocacy world. And it paid off — almost 300 plants, more than half the US fleet, have shut down. “In God we trust, everyone else bring data.” @MikeBloomberg #Bloomberg2020— N.C. for Mike (@NCforMike) December 15, 2019 The Bloomberg plan promises “incentives for innovations in data and technology to monitor and analyze sources of pollution, enabling stronger enforcement against polluters.” This suggests he wants to bring that same data-focused accountability back to the EPA. If he, or any president, can do that successfully, it would make a huge difference. Bloomberg has more climate policy on the way. The campaign has also pledged to target 50 percent economy-wide emission reductions by 2030, a more ambitious goal that will certainly require some help from Congress, especially in hard-to-reach sectors like industry and agriculture, but it hasn’t released any policy details on that stuff yet. Still, a practical but ambitious plan to use the EPA — to prevent a rush to natural gas plants, to drive coal underground for good, and to accelerate a clean-energy transition in the power sector — should be on the agenda of any new Democratic president. And it should get underway on day one, whatever broader legislative efforts may unfold alongside it.
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Everywhere basic income has been tried, in one map
Grace receives $22 a month as part of a 12-year universal basic income study run by the charity GiveDirectly that began in October 2016 in Western Kenya. | Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images Which countries have experimented with basic income — and what were the results? After hundreds of years, basic income seems to be finally catching on. The general idea — that the government should give every citizen a regular infusion of free money with no strings attached — has been around since the 16th century. But it’s experienced a remarkable resurgence over the past few years, moving from the fringes into the mainstream. Advocates ranging from tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg to libertarian economist Milton Friedman have endorsed it. Andrew Yang popularized it on the Democratic debate stage. And around the world, countries are running pilot programs to test it. Scott Olson/Getty Images Andrew Yang campaigning in Manchester, New Hampshire, on February 8, 2020. Yang touted a universal basic income during his presidential campaign. With a few exceptions — Kenya, where a big experiment in universal basic income (UBI) is underway; Iran, which has a nationwide unconditional cash transfer program; and Alaska, which gives an annual dividend to everyone in the state — basic incomeprograms are offering money to small groups of a few hundred or a few thousand people, not an entire polity. In other words, they offer a basic income, but not a universal basic income. These small-scale trials are necessary because governments want to have a good sense of what the effects will be before they start shelling out many billions or trillionsof dollars. Proponents of basic income argue it’s the best way to end poverty: Just give everyone money! Some also say it’ll help society cope with a coming era of automation-induced joblessness. And the evidence so far suggests that getting a basic income tends to boost happiness, health, school attendance, and trust in social institutions, while reducing crime. But critics worry that it will disincentivize work, cheating economies out of productivity and cheating individuals out of the sense of meaning that work can bring. Plus, they say, it’s just plain unaffordable for the government to pay every citizen enough to live on regardless of whether they work. The evidence so far does not support these critiques, as you’ll see. Below are all the places that are trying or have tried some version of basic income. You’ll find that only unconditionalcash transfers are included here. Some 130 countries, from Mexico to Italy to Uganda, have instituted conditionalcash transfers, which may require recipients to send their kids to school or go for health checkups. Although these programs have proven beneficial in some cases, they’re not the subject of this piece. Note that most of the basic income projects here are funded by governments, but a few are funded by private donors. Scroll down for details on how each place gave out or is giving out free money — and what behavioral effects it seems to have on the recipients. Christina Animashaun/Vox United States The US has tried a few basic income experiments, but most have been short-lived small-scale trials. Alaska is an exception. Since 1982, the state has given each citizen an annual check just for being alive, effectively wiping out extreme poverty. The money — which can range from around $2,000 per person when oil prices are high to $1,000 in cheaper gas years — comes from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state-owned investment fund financed by oil revenues. Economists investigated whether the payment was leading people to work less and found that “the dividend had no effect on employment” overall. (It has, apparently, had an effect on fertility, encouraging families to have more kids. It’s also had some unexpected effects onthe state’s politics.) Mark Thiessen/AP Katherine Hayes demonstrates urging Alaska lawmakers to fund a full oil wealth fund check, known locally as the PFD or Permanent Fund Dividend, on July 8, 2019, in Wasilla, Alaska. Another long-running program is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Dividend in North Carolina. Since 1997, revenue from a casino on tribal land has been given to every tribal member, no strings attached. Each person gets on average somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000 per year. Economists found that it doesn’t make them work less. It does lead to improved education and mental health, and decreased addiction and crime. Between 1968 and 1974, the US experimented with giving cash to around 7,500 people in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina, Seattle, Denver, and Gary, Indiana. The money proved beneficial to recipients but did modestly reduce the hours they worked; Dylan Matthews has explained for Vox why we shouldn’t make too much of that slight reduction. What about current projects? Stockton, California, is in the midst of an 18-month experiment: It’s giving $500 per month to 125 people. The money comes from individual and foundation philanthropy, with the initial $1 million in funding coming from the Economic Security Project. The first batch of data shows the recipients are mostly spending the money on food, clothes, and utility bills. Y Combinator, which previously ran a small trial in Oakland, California, is now planning to start a new trial elsewhere in the US. Canada Between 1974 and 1979, Canada ran a randomized controlled trial in the province of Manitoba, choosing one farming town, Dauphin, as a “saturation site” where every family was eligible to participate in a basic income experiment. The basic income seemed to benefit residents’ physical and mental health — there was a decline in doctor visits and an 8.5 percent reduction in the rate of hospitalization — and high school graduation rates improved, too. Nevertheless, the project, known as “Mincome” andfunded jointly by the provincial and federal governments, was canceled after four years when a more conservative party came into power. Four decades later, another Canadian province, Ontario, was willing to try again. In 2017, the Liberal government launched a basic income pilot project in three cities: Hamilton, Lindsay, and Thunder Bay. It was supposed to help 4,000 low-income people and last for three years. Rob Gillies/AP Jodi Dean with her daughter Madison in Hamilton, Ontario, on November 21, 2017. Dean, a Canadian mother of three, received her first basic income check one month prior. She said the extra money gave her family “the breathing room to not have to stress to put food on the table.” But then a new Progressive Conservative government came into power, led by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. In 2018, they canceled the project after hearing from staff that it disincentivized participants from finding work. However, the pilot had only been active a short time, not long enough to gather the data required to support that claim. A handful of participants have since filed a class action lawsuit against the government. Brazil Brazil has been experimenting with cash transfers to poor families since the 1990s, and it now runs the massive Bolsa Familia program, which gives millions of people cash transfers. This isn’t a UBI since the transfers are conditional — recipients are expected to keep their children in school and visit health clinics. But the massive program has formed the backdrop for Brazilian experiments in unconditional cash transfers. From 2008 to 2014, a Brazilian nonprofit called the ReCivitas Institute administered a basic income — funded by private donors — in the village of Quatinga Velho. One hundred residents received 30 reais (about $8) per month. This year, around 52,000 people in the Brazilian city of Maricá are receiving a basic income under a new program called the Renda Basica de Cidadania (Citizens’ Basic Income). Each will receive 130 reais per month (around $35), which is expected to lift many above the poverty line. Because the money is coming out of the city budget, mostly from oil royalties, this program has the potential to stick around for a long time; it currently has no end date. Finland In 2017, the Finnish government decided to see what would happen if it chose 2,000 unemployed citizens at random and gave them a check of 560 euros ($635) every month for two years. Participants were assured they’d keep receiving the money if they got a job. As it turned out, the income didn’t help them get jobs, but it did make them feel happier and less stressed. The recipients also reported that they felt more trust toward other people and social institutions — from political parties to the police to the courts — than they did before getting a basic income. Finland ended the trial in 2018. Germany In 2014, the nonprofitMein-Grundeinkommen used crowdfunding to set up a basic income raffle. By the end of 2019, it had awarded almost 500 basic incomes to people all over the world who’d submitted their names. Each got about $1,100 per month for a year. According to FastCompany, 80 percent of recipients said the income made them less anxious, more than half said it enabled them to continue their education, and 35 percent said they now feel more motivated at work. In 2019, the nonprofit Sanktionsfrei kicked off another basic income project funded entirely by private donors. For three years, 250 randomly chosen people in Germany will receive unconditional transfers of up to $466 per month, while 250 others act as a control group. The Netherlands In 2017, Utrechtand a few surrounding cities kicked off a basic income experiment with 250 recipients as part of a randomized controlled trial. Some recipients got the money (around $1,050 per month) unconditionally, while others had to do volunteer work. The researchers’ aim is to figure out which way of delivering the financial assistance works best. Results are expected to be made public this May. Iran In 2011, Iran rolled out a nationwide unconditional cash transfer program to compensate for the phase-out of subsidies on bread, water, electricity, heating, and fuel. The government gave out sizable monthly payments to each family: 29 percent of the median household income on average. The program was later dialed back as some Iranians came to believe it was disincentivizing people to work. Yet economists found that “the program did not affect labor supply in any appreciable way.” The program is still running, and it’s the only such program in the world to run nationwide. Kenya The largest and longest UBI experiment in the world is taking place in Kenya, where the charity GiveDirectly is making payments to more than 20,000 people spread out across 245 rural villages. As part of this randomized controlled trial, which started in 2016, recipients receive roughly 75 cents per adult per day, delivered monthly for 12 years. Some preliminary results will be available later this year. In the meantime, we’ve already seen that in another GiveDirectly program in Kenya, cash transfers have stimulated the economy and benefited not only the recipients themselves but also people in nearby villages. AFP via Getty Images Samson, 72, at his home in the Bondo region of Kenya, on October 3, 2018. Samson receives $22 a month from the American NGO GiveDirectly. Namibia Between 2008 and 2009, all residents below the age of 60 living in the Otjivero-Omitararegion of Namibia received a basic income: 100 Namibian dollars ($6.75) per person per month, no strings attached, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Funding came from private donors in Namibia and around the world. As a result, child malnutrition dropped and school enrollment rates went up, while poverty-related crime (like theft) fell, according to reports from BIEN and the Center for Public Impact. However, a lack of alignment with the national government meant that the pilot project was never rolled out nationwide. India Between 2011 and 2012, a pilot project in the state of Madhya Pradesh gave a basic income to some 6,000 Indians. The project, coordinated by the Self-Employed Women’s Association and funded by Unicef, included two studies. In the first study, every man, woman, and child in eight villages received a monthly payment: 200 rupees ($2.80) for adults and 100 rupees for each child (paid to the guardian). After one year, the payments increased to 300 and 150 rupees, respectively. Meanwhile, 12 similar villages received no basic income, acting as a control group. In the second study, one tribal village received an income of 300 rupees per adult and 150 rupees per child for the entire trial. Another tribal village acted as a control. The results: Receiving a basic income led to improved sanitation, nutrition, and school attendance. EyesWideOpen/Getty Images An Indian family walk by a barber shop in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India, on February 1, 2012. China In 2011, following years of budget surpluses and under pressure to help poor and elderly people, Hong Kong tried out a program called Scheme $6,000. All adults with a valid Hong Kong permanent identity card— some 6 million people— were eligible to receivea one-time giveaway of HK$6,000 ($772) each. The public had a host of complaints about the program — for example, that administrative costs were eating up too much of the money that could go to citizens — and it only lasted one year. However, it was briefly revived in 2018 thanks to another budget surplus and round of pressure to help the needy. Macao, an autonomous region on the south coast of China, has been experimenting with basic income since 2008, when it began giving small but unconditional transfers to all residents —around 700,000 people — as part of a Wealth Partaking Scheme. Each year, local residents get around 9,000 patacas ($1,128) and nonpermanent residents get around 5,400 patacas ($672). Unfortunately, critics say these sums are too paltry to make a real dent in poverty. 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