- The Voters Abandoning Donald Trump
- What Twitter Still Doesn't Understand About Its Responsibility
- More on Trump, Knowledge, and Self-Knowledge (Starring Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams)
- <em>The Atlantic</em> Daily: When Judges Took On Gerrymanders
- <i>The Atlantic</i> Politics & Policy Daily: Issa Nother Retirement
- The Iran Deal Lives Another Day
- 50 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back at 1968
- The <i>Harper’s</i> Controversy: The Whisper Network Meets the Megaphone
- What <em>Fire and Fury</em> Shares With the Steele Dossier
- Recy Taylor's Truth
- How Ancient Roman Ruins Ended Up 2,000 Miles Away in a British Garden
- What the Iran Protests Were Not
- <em>Fire and Fury</em> Is a Strange Kind of Coup for Trump Abroad
- Derek Jeter Is Finally Failing
- The Ghosts of Cyclists That Haunt City Streets
- What Will the Dreamers Do Now?
- Astronomers Edge Closer to Solving a Major Cosmic Conundrum
- When Humans War, Animals Die
- The 2018 Congressional Retirement Tracker
- It Is Silly Season in the Land of Cryptocurrency
- <em>Paddington 2</em> Is Children's Entertainment at Its Finest
- Trump Under Oath Is a Different Person
- The Strange Brands in Your Instagram Feed
Posted: 11 Jan 2018 03:00 AM PST
A massive new source of public-opinion research offers fresh insights into the fault lines emerging in Donald Trump's foundation of support.
Previously unpublished results from the nonpartisan online-polling firm SurveyMonkey show Trump losing ground over his tumultuous first year not only with the younger voters and white-collar whites who have always been skeptical of him, but also with the blue-collar whites central to his coalition.
Trump retains important pillars of support. Given that he started in such a strong position with those blue-collar whites, even after that decline he still holds a formidable level of loyalty among them—particularly men and those over 50 years old. What's more, he has established a modest but durable beachhead among African American and Hispanic men, even while confronting overwhelming opposition from women in those demographic groups.
Together, the results crystallize the bet Trump is making for his own reelection in 2020, and for his party's chances in November's election: that he can mobilize enough support among older and blue-collar (as well as rural and evangelical) whites to offset the intense resistance he's provoked from groups that are all growing in the electorate: Millennials, minorities, and college-educated whites—particularly the women among them.
These findings emerge from a cumulative analysis of 605,172 interviews SurveyMonkey conducted with Americans in 2017 about Trump's job performance. At my request, Mark Blumenthal, SurveyMonkey's head of election polling, calculated Trump's average approval rating over the last year among groups of voters segmented simultaneously by their race, gender, education level, and age. That extra level of detail, not available in conventional polls because their samples are too small, offers a more precise picture of Trump's coalition.
The SurveyMonkey results put Trump's total approval rating for 2017 at 42 percent, with 56 percent disapproving. That's slightly higher than, but within range of, other major public surveys.
In the 2016 election, exit polls found that Trump's best group was whites without a four-year college degree; he carried 66 percent of them. But his approval among them in the 2017 SurveyMonkey average slipped to 56 percent. In 2016, whites with at least a four-year college degree gave Trump 48 percent of their votes. But in the 2017 average, just 40 percent approved of Trump's performance, while a resounding 60 percent disapproved.
Layering in gender and age underscores voters' retreat. Trump in 2016 narrowly won younger whites. But he now faces crushing disapproval ratings ranging from 62 percent to 76 percent among three big groups of white Millennials: women with and without a college degree, and men with a degree. Even among white Millennial men without a degree, his most natural supporters, Trump only scores a 49-49 split.
Trump's support rapidly rises among blue-collar white men older than 35 and spikes past two-thirds for those above 50. But his position has deteriorated among white women without a college degree. Last year he carried 61 percent of them. But in the new SurveyMonkey average, they split evenly, with 49 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval. His approval rating among non-college-educated white women never rises above 54 percent in any age group, even those older than 50. From February through December, Trump's approval rating fell more with middle-aged blue-collar white women than any other group.
Trump's position has also eroded since 2016 among college-educated white women. In 2016, those white-collar voters preferred Hillary Clinton over Trump but gave her only 51 percent of their votes. Now, in the 2017 average, 66 percent of them disapproved of Trump and 58 percent strongly disapproved. In every age cohort, at least three-fifths of them disapproved.
Trump did better among college-educated white men, usually a reliably Republican group. But after those men gave him 53 percent of their 2016 votes, an equal number said they disapproved of his performance in the yearly average. Trump's approval rating is net negative not only among college-educated white Millennial men, but also those ages 35 to 49; he only pokes his head above water—and just slightly—with those 50 and older.
College-educated whites, especially men, are the group many Republicans are most optimistic will return to the party if the economy and stock market continue to improve. But one GOP pollster, who asked not to be identified while discussing the party's prospects, was dubious that Republicans could reverse these declines while Trump is still in a position to define them. "It's not like voters are saying, 'We are willing to overlook how … out of control he is because the economy is doing well,'" the pollster said.
Among African Americans and Hispanics, reactions to Trump depend more on gender than age or education. In every age group, and at every level of education, about twice as many African American men as women gave Trump positive marks. In all, 23 percent of black men approved of Trump's performance versus 11 percent of black women. "The outlier here isn't [black] men … it's [black] women, where you have near-universal disapproval of Trump," said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who studies African American voters. Still, black men are one of the few groups for which Trump's 2017 average approval rating significantly exceeds his 2016 vote share.
Among Hispanics, men were also much more likely than women to express positive views about Trump. Among Hispanic men older than 50, Trump's approval— strikingly—exceeded 40 percent. But at least three-fifths of Hispanic women in every age group (including both those with and without a college degree) disapproved. Trump's 2017 approval rating slightly exceeded his 2016 vote share among Hispanic men, and was slightly below it among Hispanic women.
Many things could change between now and November's election—much less 2020. But these detailed soundings show how the gales of resistance Trump has fueled are reshaping the electoral landscape. Whether by age, gender, race, or education, Trump is deepening almost every social and political division that existed before him—with unpredictable consequences for the parties and for the country itself.
Posted: 11 Jan 2018 03:00 AM PST
Twitter is designed to elicit frequent, unprompted, spontaneous, and unfiltered thoughts from its users, who come into conflict with one another as in no other medium, sometimes tweeting things they quickly regret.
Those qualities make Twitter a lively, diverting forum for daily conversation—and render it particularly ill-suited to world leaders, as I recently argued. The unparalleled power that the words of world leaders carry make it singularly fraught for them to broadcast unprompted, spontaneous, unfiltered thoughts. And the stakes for minimizing needless conflict among them could not be higher.
Thus, I urged, Twitter ought to just ban world leaders. There are so few of them. And the risk that one will abuse the platform in a way that irrevocably harms millions isn't worth the tiny benefit humanity gains from following their tweets, given the myriad ways all world leaders can convey information to the public.
Twitter now explicitly disagrees.
On Friday, the company published a new statement on elected world leaders. "Twitter is here to serve and help advance the global, public conversation," it began. "Elected world leaders play a critical role in that conversation because of their outsized impact on our society. Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate. It would also not silence that leader, but it would certainly hamper necessary discussion around their words and actions."
The statement's biggest flaw is evading the core insight that has prompted calls to ban world leaders from Twitter: the platform doesn't merely help facilitate the public conversation about what world leaders say; it changes the substance of what they say by virtue of its unique, deliberately designed user interface and features.
Under the status quo, those features nudges world-leader tweeters in the same direction as all other Twitter users: toward seamless engagement on the platform, rather than deep, thoughtful deliberation before a thought is expressed.
President Trump illustrates how the constraints of the platform change what a leader expresses.
Most execrably, he retweeted anti-Muslim propaganda videos from a far-right politician in Europe. If Trump was not on Twitter, it is unlikely that he would've found the video, uploaded it to White House servers, and posted it to the web, spreading its reach and associating it with the United States government. More typical is his pattern of publicly reacting in real time to whatever it is that the cable-news show Fox & Friends broadcasts on a given morning, a concerning feedback loop persuasively documented by Politico's Matthew Gertz.
Those forays into live-tweeting TV do not translate to other mediums. Trump would express fewer destructive thoughts if he always communicated through other platforms and mediums due partly to their intrinsic features; he won't be the last world leader for whom that holds true. Does Twitter contest that many of his irresponsible statements were made on their platform, or that they probably wouldn't have been expressed on a different one?
As for the rest of the company's statement, that a Twitter ban would not silence world leaders is a point in favor of such a ban. It is necessary for world leaders including Trump to communicate with citizens, but a ban would not hamper necessary discussion around the words and actions of world leaders. If heads of state weren't on Twitter, their words and actions would still be posted to the platform and debated endlessly by its users. If a president posted a video or podcast, countless people would embed it on Twitter; if a German chancellor released a written statement, it would surely be posted on the site.
What first communicating via those other means would demand is an extra degree of premeditation and deliberation. They are less vulnerable to impulsiveness, thoughtlessness, and needless conflict than is Twitter. They're arguably less vulnerable to hacking, too.
And even if Twitter is determined to keep world leaders on its platform, even if its arguments for doing so are correct, that isn't the end of its potential responsibility.
In the 1995 essay "The Technologist's Responsibilities and Social Change," Mark Weisler set forth two principles for inventing socially dangerous technology:
It seems to me that Twitter has utterly failed to publicly acknowledge or grapple with the dangers its platform poses, even as the president of the United States uses it to antagonize a nuclear power, spread propaganda about minority group, and employ the presidential bully pulpit in new, poorly understood ways.
And even short of banning world leaders from the platform, one can imagine lots of ways that Twitter could build-in safeguards that anticipate and avert harms.
For instance, world leaders might be given special accounts that impose a six-hour wait on tweets to encourage deliberation, or that disable the ability to retweet, forcing world leaders to take full personal responsibility for any message they send. Instead, Twitter has taken a politically convenient but substantively absurdist course: By virtue of the way that the site's users are policed, with suspensions and bans regularly imposed, average people enjoy less leeway than world leaders whose every utterance reaches and affects millions.
If Twitter insists on hosting world leaders, it should at least tweak their version of the platform so that features crafted to stoke frictionless engagement among the masses are swapped out, nudging elites away from thoughtless public conflict and toward sober reflection and deliberation before their thoughts reach millions.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 06:38 PM PST
After this piece, on the "open secret" about Donald Trump (and the Congressional Republicans) that Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury revealed, and then this one, on the way people the world views as "like, very smart" tend to describe themselves; and then this one, on whether Trump's history-agnostic "shake things up!" approach might bring rewards, I've received scores of interesting messages. For extraneous deadline and editing reasons, I'm not likely to be able to do anything with them until the end of next week, around January 20.
This is a placeholder note of thanks until then, and an announcement of an intention to choose from them a sampling of ones whose insights have survived the news cycle.
And for the moment, two brief samples of material that has arrived in the past few days.
First a "party girls" hypothesis on why Trump might be going out of his way to say "I'm actually smart":
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 03:11 PM PST
What We're Following
Voting Rights: A panel of judges struck down North Carolina's map of congressional districts, ruling that the plan, which lawmakers acknowledge was designed to favor Republican candidates, violates the Constitution. The Supreme Court is considering whether Ohio's procedure of removing people who haven't voted in two years from the voter rolls violates federal law, with potentially far-reaching consequences. And the Department of Justice cited voting rights in a request that the Census Bureau collect data on citizenship—but census experts and civil-rights advocates say that adding such a question would obscure more than it would reveal.
West Wing Scandal: Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's book about President Trump and his staff, is topping bestseller lists around the world—and although Trump has railed against the book, its success plays into his penchant for commanding attention. The tome also recalls the controversy surrounding another provocative document: the intelligence dossier on Trump's ties to Russia that came back into public view this week when Senator Dianne Feinstein released the transcript of an interview describing its conception. Trump will likely be asked to give his own testimony on Russia and other matters in the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The president's previous depositions provide some clues for how the meeting will go.
The #MeToo Movement: Reports that Harper's magazine planned to publish a story identifying—and potentially endangering—the woman who anonymously created a spreadsheet to warn women in media about predatory male colleagues caused outrage on Twitter this week. The controversy, writes Megan Garber, illustrates the fragility of what's seemed to many like a watershed moment for women's empowerment. Indeed, 100 notable women in France have signed an open letter arguing that the wave of retribution for sexual harassment hinders everyone's sexual freedom. The story of Recy Taylor, a rape survivor whose campaign for justice shaped the civil-rights movement, reveals the progress and the challenges of the fight for gender equality.
Who We're Talking To
Robert Siegel, the longtime host of NPR's All Things Considered, discusses his retirement and his 30-year career in public radio on the newest episode of The Atlantic Interview. Listen and subscribe to the podcast here.
Rebecca Stern, a filmmaker, explores the whimsy, creativity, and passion of competitive dog grooming in a short documentary. Watch here.
Nathan Ceddia, a video artist, explains the concept behind his cringeworthy viral video "Cooking With Your Mouth."
Alexis C. Madrigal on the retailers (you might have seen them on Instagram) that make their money without ever touching the products they advertise:
Keep reading here as Alexis explains.
What Do You Know … About Science, Technology, and Health?
This week, The Atlantic's science team took a deep dive into waterways. Scientists are examining the bacteria that live on grains of sand on the seafloor in hopes of learning more about how they help the world's oceans absorb carbon dioxide. A study published Thursday found that coral-bleaching events are now occurring five times as often as they did in the 1980s. Meanwhile, thanks to road salting and other human activities, rivers in the U. S. are getting saltier—an effect that could corrode pipes and put more harmful metals in drinking water.
Can you remember the other key facts from this week's science, tech, and health coverage? Test your knowledge below:
1. People are most likely to run marathons when their ages end in the number ____________ .
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
2. In 2015, the publication ____________ created an entire section devoted to gratitude.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
3. The first headphone concert in the U.S. was held by the band ____________ in 1999.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
In honor of The Atlantic's 160th anniversary, we're sharing one article every day to mark each year of the magazine's history. From 1902, Rollo Ogden imagines how the banker J.P. Morgan might have tried his hand at diplomacy:
To join in the conversation with fellow readers and Atlantic editors, you can sign up for The Masthead here.
Time of Your Life
Happy birthday to Carol's husband, David (a year younger than The Cat in the Hat); from Gabriel to Daniel (twice the age of the euro); to Maureen (the same age as Serena Williams); to Mike's "first and only wife" (twice the age of MTV); and to our own photo editor Alan (one-third the age of The Atlantic).
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 02:53 PM PST
Today in 5 Lines
Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California announced that he will not run for reelection in November. President Trump slammed Senator Dianne Feinstein for releasing testimony from an interview with the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned the dossier linking Trump to Russia. Trump promised to "take a strong look" at U.S. libel laws, calling them a "sham and a disgrace." At least 15 people have been killed, and two dozen people are missing, after mudslides hit Southern California. And U.S. immigration agents raided dozens of 7-Eleven stores across the country in the largest crackdown on employers who hire undocumented immigrants since Trump took office.
Today on The Atlantic
Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.
What We're Reading
Expert Advice: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly added an experienced cyber prosecutor to his team. What might that mean for the Russia investigation? (Matt Zapotosky, The Washington Post)
'We Left Her on the Other Side of the Border': For many of the undocumented immigrants who have fled violence in their countries and come to the United States, deportation is a death sentence. (Sarah Stillman, The New Yorker)
Hillbilly Election: J.D. Vance, the author of the book Hillbilly Elegy, is reportedly considering running for Senate in Ohio. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing since Friday," said an adviser to Vance. (Henry J. Gomez, BuzzFeed)
Too Early to Tell: While Doug Jones's win in Alabama has made Democrats' path to a Senate majority easier, they're still the underdogs heading into the midterm elections. (Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight)
'Why Republicans Love Dumb Presidents': As the Republican Party has moved farther to the right, it has become more anti-intellectual, argues Jonathan Chait: "Trump's base adores him, not despite his obvious mental limitations, but because of them." (New York)
Who Are the Dreamers?: Here's a breakdown of who DACA beneficiaries are and where most of them live in the U.S. (Alicia Parlapiano and Karen Yourish, The New York Times)
Question of the Week
At Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards, Seth Meyers jokingly suggested that Oprah Winfrey should run for president. Reactions have ranged from fleeting amusement to serious requests for a 2020 campaign. There's even some indication Winfrey could be taking the idea more seriously herself. On Monday, David A. Graham considered what an Oprah candidacy could mean for the Democratic Party.
If you could pick any celebrity to run on the Democratic ticket in 2020 from any field—entertainment, tech, business, etc.—who would it be? And why?
Share your response here, and we'll feature a few in Friday's Politics & Policy Daily.
-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 03:15 PM PST
The "worst deal ever" will most likely live to see another 120 days.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that President Trump will this week extend relief from nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran. If it seems like a procedural matter, it is, but it also means in practice that it keeps alive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is known. Reinstating the sanctions would have put the United States in violation of the agreement. The president must decide every 120 days whether to waive the sanctions.
The AP cited six officials who insisted on anonymity for its reporting, but cautioned that no final decision had been made. Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state; James Mattis, the defense secretary; and H.R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, had all endorsed keeping the JCPOA alive. The AP report said Trump's decision would be complemented by new sanctions targeting Iranian businesses and individuals, which "could hit some firms and individuals whose sanctions were scrapped under the 2015 nuclear agreement."
Trump faced two separate choices. One was whether to certify or decertify the JCPOA under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which Congress passed in 2015 to give it the right to review the accord and require the president to verify Iran's compliance with the agreement every 90 days. In October, Trump declined to certify compliance, but did not tear up the deal—in decertifying the deal, he left to Congress the decision of what to do about it. Congress has been focused on other things, however. The other and more consequential choice was whether to waive or reimpose sanctions related to Iran's nuclear activities, and it is on this decision that U.S. participation in the deal lives or dies. If AP's report is correct, Trump has passed up this opportunity to withdraw.
The additional sanctions that are expected to be announced are not related to Iran's nuclear programs, but to its human-rights violations, its crackdown on peaceful protesters this month, its support for terrorism in the region, and its continued ballistic-missile tests—none of which are covered by the deal. Obama-era sanctions, which were lifted after the nuclear agreement was signed in 2015, that had targeted Iran's access to the international financial system, as well as those that penalized entities for buying Iranian oil, will not be reimposed, the AP added.
The new sanctions will almost certainly anger Iranian officials, but are likely to be cautiously welcomed by the other parties to the JCPOA: the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.K., all of which wanted the deal to be preserved because, they said, it had succeeded in freezing the Islamic Republic's nuclear program and its uranium-enrichment activity.
The Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, both signature foreign-policy initiatives of President Obama, bolster fears that the JCPOA could go the same way. Trump's remarks on the presidential campaign trail, where he called the agreement the "worst deal ever," further cast its future into doubt. But the JCPOA's other signatories, especially the EU and the U.K., have been vocal in their support of the agreement and have made their case to the White House and lawmakers. China and Russia, who are also parties to the deal, have also signaled they will stay in it.
Iran itself has sent mixed messages. Officials said they would stay with the deal even if the U.S. withdraws, but the head of Iran's nuclear body, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Tehran would reconsider its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog that certifies Iran's compliance with the agreement, in that case. Such a decision would almost certainly embolden the JCPOA's opponents, who say Iran is merely biding its time before it resumes its nuclear activities, and make it impossible for the accord's other signatories to go along with it.
The Iranian signaling reflects the ambivalence toward the JCPOA in the Islamic Republic itself. President Hassan Rouhani had promoted it as a way for Iran to open itself to the world. It would, his supporters promised, bring in a flood of much-needed foreign investment and reinvigorate Iran's stagnant economy, which had been crippled by international sanctions. But those gains have been slow to materialize—and Iranians, especially in smaller towns and cities, have found their lives haven't changed considerably. This month, they marched across 80 cities, protesting against the government; the demonstrations were crushed by security services. More than 20 people were killed and thousands arrested. On Wednesday, the White House demanded their release.
Part of the problem has been that, beyond the headlines trumpeting sales of aircraft to Iran by Boeing and Airbus, and energy investments by European and Chinese companies, there has actually been little real foreign direct investment in Iran since the JCPOA was signed. Last April, Iran's finance minister said memorandums of understanding worth $50 billion were signed after the JCPOA went into effect in January 2016. But a government spokesman said that from March 2016 to March 2017, the Iranian fiscal year, Iran received $13 billion in foreign investment. It turned out that the memorandums were for the most part only that—the investments have yet to materialize.
Practically speaking, then, the removal of one set of sanctions against Iran—that is, the policy Trump is reportedly set to reaffirm—has not resulted in the financial windfall for Iran that the deal's opponents feared. Iranian officials themselves are skeptical about how much foreign investment the agreement can reasonably bring. Corruption and a lack of transparency, not to mention geopolitical uncertainty, keeps investors away. Additionally, not all Iranian officials see foreign investment as necessarily a good thing.
"It is excessive to expect a radical change in the field [of foreign investment] as long as the concept is controversial for the top influential elites," Majid Tehrani, an organization development adviser in trade, transport and finance industries, told Al-Monitor.
Existing U.S. sanctions on Iran are broad enough to hinder any potential economic activity. The fact that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the target of U.S. sanctions, has significant stakes in Iranian companies makes investing in the country a legal minefield. Had the U.S. reimposed sanctions, multinational companies would have hesitated to invest in Iran. Now that it looks like the JCPOA is alive for another 120 days, the uncertainty over the agreement's future hasn't gone away.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 08:38 PM PST
A half-century ago, much of the world appeared to be in a state of crisis. Protests erupted in France, Czechoslovakia. Germany, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, and many other places. Some of these protests ended peacefully; many were put down harshly. Two of the biggest catalysts for protest were the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and the ongoing lack of civil rights in the U.S. and elsewhere. Two of America's most prominent leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated within months of each other. But some lessons were being learned and some progress was being made—this was also the year that NASA first sent astronauts around the moon and back, and the year President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. It's fitting that I post this retrospective today, since it is the day I was born—January 10, 1968. So, a 50th birthday present from me to you today: a look back at 1968.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 07:31 PM PST
"I am looking forward to talking about what is actually in the piece when it actually comes out. I am not 'outing' anyone. I have to say it's a little disturbing that anyone besides Trump views Twitter as a reliable news source."
That's the writer Katie Roiphe, the author of an upcoming story in Harper's magazine, responding to the uproar that has surrounded that story since Tuesday. The story seems to involve, in some capacity, the Shitty Media Men list, a spreadsheet created as a private document—shared between women who work in media and meant to warn them about predatory men—but whose existence was made public, via a post on BuzzFeed, in October. A spreadsheet that alternately empowered women, asked crucial questions about standards of proof when it comes to allegations of sexual misconduct, and led to multiple journalistic investigations into harassment and assault across the American media—and to some firings of the men on the list.
Roiphe's story, reportedly set for the March issue, was initially rumored—on, as she suggested, Twitter—to have included the name of the woman who created the document. Which is to say that the piece was initially rumored to be doxxing her: to be robbing her of her protective anonymity, and thus subjecting her to the harassment, the abuse, and possibly the violence that so often reveals itself when internet-enabled vigilantes take basic information and weaponize it. ("Harpers-dont-do-this/," pled the URL of The Mary Sue's take on the matter.)
So Roiphe's statement to The Atlantic is, in that sense, a notable one: Until today, the author had been much more coy about the contents of the story that, on Tuesday—the day of the Power Shift Summit in Washington, D.C., that sought to reconsider women's place in journalism, and two days after the Golden Globes reveled in the glistening notion that the harassment of women would soon be a thing of the past—caused panic and outrage on behalf of an as-yet-anonymous woman. "Looking forward to talking about what is actually in my piece when it actually comes out," Roiphe initially wrote, to a private Facebook group. "In the meantime, let's rise above Twitter hysteria." A Harper's spokesperson gave a similar reply to the flood of concern. "We don't discuss the content of our pieces until they are published," that person said, adding: "I can confirm that Katie Roiphe is writing a piece for our March issue, nothing more." Neither one, until today, denied the doxxing rumor.
And, so, anger—anger directed not against the existence of Roiphe's article itself, but rather against the notion that the identity of the woman who created the list might be publicly revealed: the notion that a woman might be subjected to abuse for the act of trying to spare other women from the same thing. The outrage was accompanied by more specific entreaties to Harper's (a magazine that has, depending on your perspective, either nobly or notoriously resisted the rise of the internet) to recognize the broader world its journalism now inhabits: a place of both marvelous and ominous fluidity between digital settings and physical ones. Digital harassment of women, in particular, is at risk of becoming "an established norm in our digital society," one study had it, noting that 76 percent of women under 30 have experienced that kind of abuse. And doxxing—the term originates from the hackers of the early web, a derivation of docs—always, at this point, comes with the threat of the conversion of digital abuse into physical violence. Misogyny, it has become painfully clear, loves nothing more than a vulnerably human target for its hatred.
It's notable, as well, that the discussions of the Harper's story have been conducted during a time that has found pop culture particularly interested in what it means to speak truth to power. The Post, Steven Spielberg's celebration of whistleblowing and of journalism, is arriving both to national theaters and to an Oscar campaign near you. The current iteration of the #MeToo moment has led on the one hand to discussions about a new era—of empowerment, of vocalness, of respect—for women: Women speaking up. Women acting out. Women expressing their anger, and using their power, and making their scenes. "For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men," Oprah told a roaring crowd at the Golden Globes on Sunday. "But their time is up. Their time is up."
And yet: Here, via an in-production work of journalism that holds so much power in its ink-stained hands—via a single piece of information that could be so easily weaponized—is a reminder of how fragile the progress of #MeToo really is, how susceptible it is to backlash. The people who have found their voices in the previous months, women and men, are fighting, after all, against centuries' worth of cultural scripts demanding that women, in particular, be accommodating, be capitulating, be pleasing. That they avoid unruliness at all costs. If they don't, they may be cruelly harassed. They may be dismissed as "difficult," mocked as "shrill." Their names—and, with them, their home address and work address and phone number, and those of their husbands and children and friends—may end up posted on The Daily Stormer.
Harper's, ostensibly, per Roiphe's comment on the matter, will not be revealing the name of the woman who created the spreadsheet. If so, good. The Harper's article, with all its known unknowns, currently exists as a kind of Schrödingerian proposition—"the piece hasn't even gone to print yet," Splinter's Clio Chang pointed out on Tuesday, "meaning there's still time to stop this from happening"—and because of that, especially before Roiphe issued her "not 'outing' anyone" statement today, a kind of ad-hoc activism emerged: Harpers-dont-do-this, en masse. On Tuesday, the writer Nicole Cliffe offered up financial compensation to freelancers who want to remove their own in-the-works Harper's stories from the magazine as a gesture of protest. The writer Jessica Valenti attempted to deflect attention from the creator of the list to the many women who contributed to it: "The list was created by contributions from dozens of women and disseminated by even more," Valenti noted on Twitter. "I was one of them. If someone comes for the woman who started the list, they better be ready to come for us all." Many others reminded Harper's of the humanity at the other end of its journalism: of the very real and physical danger it could mean for a woman to have her name associated with the list.
One of the ironies in those public pleas for privacy is that the Shitty Media Men list, again—its title suggests as much—was never intended to be seen or consumed by the public at large. It was never meant to be swept up into the hulking machinery of the American media. The list was a sharing of information, and a haphazard one, meant to help women navigate a world that—still, despite what the cheerful t-shirts and the hopeful awards ceremonies might have to say about it—devalues them. Hey, be careful around that guy. Get a coffee with him, maybe, but don't go to a bar. The list was a whisper network converted into an object of sharable media: a spreadsheet, essentially, of last resort. It was evidence of women engaged in that oldest of age-old work: warning other women. Helping them navigate a world that tells them, still, that they don't fully belong in it.
It has long been predicted that this iteration of #MeToo will fall prey to the forces of backlash: to the knee-jerk defense of the status quo that tends to accompany social progress. The Harper's doxxing discussion came during a period that served as more evidence that the backlash has already arrived—lobbed not from angry misogynists, but from those who object to #MeToo in the name of their chosen forms of feminism. The New York Times op-ed suggesting that women who publicly support the outing of harassers might have private reservations about that activity. The questions about whether Kirsten Gillibrand, in calling for Al Franken's resignation, was being "transparently opportunistic." The warnings of the threat of a "sex panic" making its way to America. The celebrities in France who are banding together to decry #MeToo (and its French counterpart, #BalanceTonPorc) as evidence of "a hatred of men and of sexuality." And then, here, in the form of a soon-to-be story from a prestigious national magazine—a story that "will not be 'outing' anyone" but that could change its mind at any moment—is yet another suggestion of the fundamental fragility of it all. One more reminder that there's a difference between an American culture that professes a general appreciation for women and their voices, and one that is fully ready to hear what those women have to say.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 12:06 PM PST
It's fitting that this week, as Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury consumes Washington, also marks the anniversary of the publication of the Trump dossier, the collection of intelligence about the president's ties to Russia. The two documents, the dossier and the book, may prove to be bookends for the first phase of the Trump presidency, and both are fascinating looks at Trump that depend on opaquely sourced and largely unverified information.
The dossier is back in the news not just because of the anniversary, but because on Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, released the transcript of an interview with Glenn Simpson, whose firm, Fusion GPS, contracted with former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to look into Trump, eventually leading to the dossier. Democrats and Republicans had offered contradictory reports of how cooperative Simpson was, and the release elicited an angry reaction from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.
It also angered the president:
There's little indication that Feinstein's action was illegal, and Trump's attack on her can only help her in a primary. Earlier on Wednesday, the president also tweeted:
Trump's insistence that "Republicans should finally take control" is important. For one, Republicans lead both houses of Congress. For another, that statement veers close to Trump trying (once again) to interfere in an investigation into him. Asked about the comment by CNN Wednesday, Grassley suggested a conversation with Trump would be inappropriate.
The dossier, and BuzzFeed's controversial decision to release it, both feed Trump's sense of paranoia. In early October 2016, the Obama administration had publicly accused Russia of interfering in the election, and Donald Trump's refusal to accept that conclusion had puzzled many observers, but the material in the dossier first began to reach the public with an October 31 Mother Jones report that said a former British intelligence officer had provided the FBI information that suggested Russia was cultivating Trump as an asset.
The release of the full dossier shifted the focus, away from Russia's role narrowly and toward whether Trump's campaign was working with Russia, culminating in an FBI investigation into that question, since handed off to special counsel Robert Mueller. It's no wonder Trump is upset about the dossier, but his mantra that "there was no collusion [and] everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion" rings false these days. While there's not yet any public evidence to indicate a crime was committed, or that Trump was involved, it is clear that the Trump campaign and later transition were eager to work with Russia, and to keep that secret.
Two ex-aides, including his former national security adviser, have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. We have also learned of a meeting at Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort were told they would receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer, and that Trump Jr. had been told ahead of the meeting that the Kremlin backed his father. Trump Jr. initially misled the public about that meeting as well.
The October 31, 2016, date turned out to be significant, according to Simpson's testimony. Steele had begun passing information from the dossier to the FBI, believing it potentially relevant to national security, but that day, The New York Times published a front-page story saying the FBI had found no evidence linking Trump to Russia. Steele, upset, cut off contact with the FBI at that point, Simpson said.
What's notable about the dossier is that it appears not to have been intended as a statement of ultimate truth for public consumption: It was what Steele's sources were telling him, and what he as an intelligence veteran believed to be persuasive, but it was not proven. Parts of the dossier have been borne out, especially as regards Russian hacking efforts and meetings between Carter Page and Russians, but the vast majority remains unverified (though Steele reportedly believes it is largely correct). BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith defended the release of the dossier as a victory for transparency and press freedom in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday, but it remains hard to argue that publishing unverified information aided the press. The dossier was effectively hearsay, providing useful leads, but not fact—which is what separates it from bonafide primary sources that journalists reproduce for their readers, like court documents. The willingness of the press to publish the dossier despite not having verified its contents likely tainted the press's reputation, especially with Trump supporters.
Simpson's testimony has some interesting moments, and offers much more detail about how Fusion GPS works. It corroborates that the FBI was looking into Trump and Russia before Steele spoke with them, apparently working off a tip from an Australian diplomat to whom George Papadopoulos, a Trump aide who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, had boasted about Russia having damaging info about Clinton. Simpson's lawyer also states, without offering proof or specifics, that the dossier has already gotten someone killed. But the testimony doesn't give much insight into how Steele operated or who his sources were, which is what everyone wants to know. It's also still unclear in what capacity Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham believe Steele broke the law.
The Trump dossier, coming shortly before the election, served as a bookend to the president's first year. Wolff's Fire and Fury provides its counterpart, closing out the first year, and the first stage of Trump's presidency. If the first year was consumed by chaos and questions of collusion, Trump heads into the second year with two new challenges coming to the fore. First, the chaos has calmed somewhat, but some of Trump's closest aides have little respect for him. Second, as it has become increasingly clear that members of the Trump campaign actively sought to cooperate with Russia, the focus has turned to the Mueller probe and whether Trump might have obstructed justice.
Fire and Fury share some interesting characteristics—and not only the fury their two authors have inspired among Washington Republicans. Like the Trump dossier, it's filled with unverified claims from people with whom its author spoke; like Steele, Wolff admits that he can't verify everything in his work product. Like Steele handing over his research to Fusion and to the FBI, Wolff acknowledges he hasn't landed on the ultimate truth. "Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue," Wolff writes. "Those conflicts, and that looseness with truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them." (This faith in readers who don't have Wolff's experience in the White House to somehow tell truth from fiction in a den of dissemblers echoes Smith's invocation of "readers who want to be trusted to judge dubious documents." The difference is that Steele didn't intend his work for public consumption, whereas Wolff has published it all in a buzzy book.)
Like the dossier, the publication of Wolff's book has occasioned criticism from many journalists and threatens to undermine trust in the press—after all, President Trump claims repeatedly that the media is willing to publish unsubstantiated stories about him, and here comes Wolff to admit that he's done just that. Like the dossier, however, there are crucial portions of Wolff's book that have been independently corroborated. Steve Bannon has expressed regret for some of this comments, but he has not claimed they are misquotes. In many cases, Wolff's reporting has held strongly. And his picture of a White House in chaos, with aides who do not respect him, is the same one painted by a pile of other reporting.
On January 17, in one week, Trump plans to give out "fake news awards." (Whether this, too, is fake news or a real thing remains to be seen.) Trump's bashing of the media remains one of his favorite moves, and given his struggles to enact his policy agenda, one of his most effective for base-rallying. But the Steele dossier continues to dog him, as does the Wolff book. The most damaging parts of each aren't necessarily the most salacious, nor the wildest (such as a damaging tape rumored in the dossier, or a dubious claim that Trump couldn't identify John Boehner, in the book). They are the parts that have proven, or may yet prove, verifiable.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 12:12 PM PST
Oprah Winfrey's rousing speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday garnered headlines for catapulting the media mogul into the ranks of possible presidential candidates, but it was perhaps most remarkable for a moment in which she reframed the #MeToo moment and challenged even some people in the room who stood with her in solidarity. In a call to arms against sexual violence and for gender equality, Winfrey invoked the story of Recy Taylor, a black woman from Abbeville, Alabama, who—in 1944, at the height of Jim Crow—was kidnapped and raped by six white men.
As Oprah told the audience: "Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up."
Just who was Recy Taylor, and what was the movement for justice for her like? To help answer those questions, I spoke to historian Danielle L. McGuire, whose scholarship and 2011 book At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance–a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power helped retrieve Taylor's case from the obscurity, spurred the creation of a 2017 documentary, and helped finally move the Alabama state legislature to formally apologize to Taylor in 2011. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Vann R. Newkirk II: How did you find out about the incredible story of Recy Taylor?
Danielle L. McGuire: I was a graduate student doing research on racialized sexual violence, and my research question was: If we know that enslaved women were used for their productive and reproductive labor—if they were raped with impunity in the system of slavery—then what happened after Emancipation? Did those practices and the institutions that upheld those practices—the men and their sons and their cousins—end those practices just because of Emancipation? I wondered what happened afterwards. Of course, black women's literature is full of stories about black women's vulnerability not only during slavery, but during Reconstruction and on throughout the 20th century. I saw it a lot in the 1990s, when I was a student, in black women's literature. But there was no civil-rights history book about it, and I just wondered 'Did this happen in the civil-rights era?'
So I started looking for cases, which were hard to find because marginalized people are hard to find in the archives. Their stories are not remembered, they're not saved, and they're not considered worthy of being archived so often. Those stories were hard to find, but the black press actually printed a lot of black women's testimonies about sexual violence at the time. What would happen is that I would find stories in black newspapers and then trace them to the courthouse or to the archive where I might find something. In Recy Taylor's case, there was a sentence in a pamphlet that I found. It was a pamphlet by the Civil Rights Congress, a leftist group in the 1950s, and they petitioned the United Nations arguing that the United States had committed genocide against African Americans. And this pamphlet was a compendium of crimes that had been committed against African Americans. Mostly lynching, and other kinds of racial terror, that were directed against men.
But there was one line that stood out for me, and it was just a little sentence, that said something like 'the Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor petitioned Governor Chauncey Sparks of Alabama for justice in her rape case.' And I thought, 'OK, now we're getting somewhere.' Because the governor keeps papers, and they archive the governor's papers, so maybe those petitions are in there. Let me go find out. So I went to the Alabama State Archives and called up Chauncey Sparks's papers, and he had four boxes on Recy Taylor's case.
Newkirk: Why was the governor so interested in this case?
McGuire: In that box was the governor's private investigation into what happened. He started getting all these petitions and postcards and wanted to know what was going on. He was afraid that he was going to have another Scottsboro crisis on his hands, and that the state would be ridiculed around the world again. He didn't want that to happen. So he sent two private investigators to Abbeville and they interviewed the assailants who all admitted to having sex with Recy Taylor. Most of them said they paid or that she consented, but at least one of them corroborated Recy's story that she was kidnapped and held at gunpoint against her will. And the governor's investigators documented how the county covered up the crime, lied about arresting the men, and had a fake grand-jury hearing. It was just incredible to find that. Mississippi disappeared a lot of their stuff, and so has Alabama, frankly, so it was just incredible to find that. And then in the other boxes were just thousands of petitions and postcards. I looked at all of them and read all the names and I started to notice names that I was familiar with from Selma, from Birmingham, and from Montgomery. When I got through looking at all of them I could map communities where people were signing the postcards and Rosa Parks's neighbors were a lot of the people who signed the postcards, and her signature was there. It was really incredible.
Newkirk: Having met and spent time with her, what's your sense of how Recy Taylor fought all this, and how she processed what happened to her? Did she see herself as an activist?
McGuire: No. She was not an activist. After she was assaulted, she immediately told what happened. She told her father, her husband, the sheriff, and then she went home. And then the family was terrorized, and her house was firebombed. And she, her husband, and toddler, had to move in with her father. Her father had to sit up all night protecting the house with his Winchester rifle. She couldn't go into town after dark. Neither could her sisters. They were really limited and terrified. For a time the NAACP moved her to Montgomery for her safety, but she wasn't comfortable there and moved back home … She had siblings to care for, and she had her own child to care for, and she had a life to lead, and so—like women everywhere—she just kept living her life. She was not an activist, but her bold testimony at the time is remarkable, then and now.
Newkirk: In Jim Crow Alabama, at that.
McGuire: Right. If someone threatens to kill you in Alabama in 1944, that's real. There's no consequences for that. The threat is very real. Her speaking out was just incredibly brave. And when I asked her in 2009 why she spoke out—why did she say anything, wasn't she scared?—and she looked me right in the eye and said 'I just didn't think that I deserved what they did to me.' I just thought that she had an incredible sense of self-worth and dignity.
Newkirk: One of the things that caught my eye reading your work is the role of Rosa Parks, and how she shows up as almost this superhuman figure. She's an investigator; she's leading the charge for Taylor. Did you have an inkling of these aspects of Rosa Parks before you started your work?
McGuire: I had no idea. I was raised to believe, like too many people are today, that Rosa Parks was a tired old lady who tiptoed into history. Because she had an 'emotional response' to her exhaustion and it changed the world. But, in 1998 I was working on my master's thesis, and I listened to an NPR story about Montgomery Bus Boycott veterans. The editor of The Montgomery Advertiser, Joe Azbell, was talking about the boycott and he said that Gertrude Perkins had never been mentioned in history, but she was the most important in the boycott. It took my breath away, and I didn't know who that was.
So I went looking in microfilm for the newspaper, and I found her story. She was a black woman who was kidnapped by the police in Montgomery and raped. She went and told her minister what happened afterwards and they went down to the police station to try and identify her assailants. Of course, police didn't hold any lineups or anything, but the community rallied to her defense.
I still didn't get how that had anything to do with the bus boycott. It didn't make any sense to me in 1998. But when I was working on Recy Taylor's case in the Alabama archives and I started to see all of those archives of people who were involved in the bus boycotts who were rallying to defend Recy Taylor 11 years earlier, and when I saw Rosa Parks's signature on those postcards and multiple petitions, I started to get a sense of what Azbell meant. When I looked further, what I saw was that there were all these rape cases and assaults that rallied black community members and activists in Montgomery to the defense of black women that led up to the bus boycott and created the organizational infrastructure that was then called on for that boycott.
It was after my book was published that Rosa Parks's family documents were released to the public and I found out that she wrote an essay in the 1950s about being attacked by a white man as she was a domestic worker during the Great Depression. I knew that she worked on the Scottsboro case, and so all of the sudden you think, wait a second, Rosa Parks is involved in all of these cases leading up to the bus boycott. So not only is she way more exciting and radical than I every knew and most people knew at the time, but she wasn't just involved in stories and cases that were looking to get access to public accommodations or voting. She did that. But she also looked at these intersectional issues of racial and sexual violence, particularly rape.
Newkirk: One interesting thing about Parks's story is that it shows that the campaign against sexual violence and rape was not just ancillary to the civil-rights movement. It was the movement.
McGuire: Yeah, and when you really think about it, what's more important than being able to move freely through the world without being attacked, touched inappropriately, or assailed? These were the things that people complained about the most, especially women. So yeah, people wanted the right to vote. They needed that, because you couldn't get justice in the courts without it. If you think rape is central to it, then the importance of the vote gets a new layer, because you see that by being able to vote, you can vote in new judges, and you can vote in new sheriffs that change the narrative and allow people to get justice for these kinds of assaults.
Newkirk: Are there any parallels that we can draw from this concerted, well-organized campaign against sexual violence with the modern moment? Especially with how this is playing out with domestic workers, low-income women of color, and those who don't necessarily feel connected to what's happening in Hollywood?
McGuire: Definitely. I think that where we see those stories of the most marginal women come from the people around them, but they never make it to mainstream press. They never get the kind of platform that I think on some level Oprah gave to the issue on Sunday. But the key parallels for me when I think about it are that the most marginalized women among us are still the most vulnerable to sexual violence, and they are the least likely to get any kind of justice.
So, in Michigan for example there was a woman who in 2008 was kidnapped and raped, and she went immediately afterwards to police and reported it and got a rape kit, and they sat on her case and didn't do anything about it for years until a DNA kit finally matched her assailant with a whole lot of rapes around the country. But a jury in Michigan couldn't see her as a person worthy of justice, I think, because she was black, she was working-class, and she had drug-dependency issues, and they didn't think her life mattered enough to see her humanity and to see her as a victim of this brutal assault, in the same way that those Henry County jurors couldn't see Recy Taylor's humanity.
Newkirk: Your work is in covering things that seemed to be relatively common knowledge at the time, but have been buried a bit by history and have taken a backseat to high-profile killings and lynchings—generally of men. Do you think there's anything you've encountered to suggest that the reason why this critical aspect of the civil-rights movement has been neglected is because it deals with women?
McGuire: You hit it right on the head. Number one, when most people think about the civil-rights movement, they do not think about sexual violence or bodily integrity, even though I think it's central to humanity. People know that women were leaders, but people don't want to talk about sexual violence. We're having this #MeToo moment and this kind of reckoning, but people don't want to talk about the actual violence and what it does to a person after. And the way that trauma can tear apart people's lives and their families. That is a painful thing that people want to turn away from. We already want to turn away from our country's racist history; we don't want to look. And we especially don't want to talk about this aspect of it. But if we don't, we can't understand the whole truth, and we can't get past the kind of both racist and sexist systems that continue to oppress people. I think it's really important that we, like Recy Taylor did, speak boldly and truthfully about the horrors of the past so that we can make a better future.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 11:43 AM PST
Anyone taking a walk through the Great Windsor Park in Surrey, England, is met with an impressive sight. Through the thick coverts and oak trees, across the long lawns where deer scatter, the towering lines of roman columns loom into view. This is the Temple of Augustus, a piece of classical finery crumbling into the ground of the mossy valley.
At first glance, the ruins look like they have stood on that spot for thousands of years. But if you strolled through this park at the beginning of the 1800s, they wouldn't be there at all. They originated in Libya, 2,000 miles away.
In fact, the story of how these ruins ended up in the grounds of Windsor Castle goes back to the heyday of the British Empire and to the ancient world of Roman North Africa. It shows how the imperial mind imagined ruins of the past—and how quick it was to plunder its dominions.
In 1816, the British officer Hanmer Warrington visited the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna, on the Mediterranean coast of Ottoman Libya, with his friend, the artist Augustus Earle. The sight of the ruins seems to have made a great impression on them both. Earle painted a watercolor of what he saw, capturing how the sand dunes had rolled over the site and covered its stones.
In ancient times, the city of Leptis achieved its greatest prominence after 193 A.D., under Emperor Septimius Severus. The emperor lavished it with wealth, developing it into the third most important city in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria. He built a magnificent new forum and expanded the docks, along with gifting the city a huge basilica replete with ornate carved columns. After Severus's reign, the city slowly declined, and this was compounded by a series of destructions. A great tsunami in 365 devastated Leptis along with much of the Mediterranean coast. This was followed by the invasion of the Vandals in the fifth century, and the arrival of Muslim armies in the seventh century finally left the city in ruins.
Since its abandonment, Leptis had been used as a quarry by local people, and was also a site of colonial plunder. In the 17th century, 600 columns from Leptis were taken by Louis XIV for use in his palaces at Versailles and Paris. Its columns can also be found in Rouen Cathedral and the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Preps in Paris. By 1816, however, Napoleon had been defeated, and France no longer held sway in Ottoman Libya. When Warrington arrived in Leptis, Britain was the world's only superpower.
As the historian G.E. Chambers has recounted in his 1950s history of the Temple of Augustus, The "Ruins" at Virginia Water, Warrington, apparently captivated by the haunting sight of the ruins, decided to take as much as possible back to the British Museum. Earlier that year, Thomas Bruce, the Seventh Earl of Elgin, had sold the carved marbles he stripped from the Parthenon in Athens to the British government. Perhaps inspired by this, Warrington was convinced that he would be hailed as a hero for bringing the antiquities of Leptis home for the empire. He set about persuading the local Ottoman governor that, on behalf of the British crown, he should be able to help himself to the antiquities of Leptis.
In Libya, local people were outraged at the news. Like most ruin sites, Leptis had been a source of cut stone for local building projects, and the round columns were useful as mill stones. The locals began obstructing efforts to remove the stones, even destroying some statues and columns as they waited to be loaded onto Warrington's ships. As a consequence, the British officer collected fewer pieces than he planned. Today, three large columns he abandoned still lie on the beach.
Despite this local resistance, by 1817, artifacts from several different buildings had been shipped to the United Kingdom: 25 pedestals, 22 granite columns, 15 marble columns, 10 capitals, 10 pieces of cornice, seven loose slabs, five inscribed slabs, and various fragments of figure sculpture. When Warrington returned home with the stones, however, he found he had misjudged the reaction of the British government. Experts in the British Museum, he recounted, were not "at all impressed or convinced of the value, either aesthetic or intrinsic, of the cargo."
The Leptis stones stayed in the forecourt of the British Museum for eight years. No one seemed to know what to do with them. Finally, in 1826, it was decided that the stones would be given to Jeffry Wyatville, King George IV's architect, who determined to use them to create a folly, a building constructed for purely ornamental purposes, in the royal estate of the grounds of Windsor Castle, near the lake of Virginia Water.
No designs or sketches have survived of how Wyatville wanted the Virginia Water ruins to look, and it seems he relied quite heavily on improvisation. The architect supplemented the Leptis Magna artifacts with stones taken from a recently demolished country house, which he used to construct walls, roughly carving them to imitate Roman capitals. He even added a chipped cornice to a nearby road bridge so it looked like an arch in a city wall. One commentator later remarked that "the work must have cost the architect … as much intellect and labour as a finished building of similar proportions."
Follies had a long tradition in European architecture, and the mid-19th century was their heyday. They sought a particular kind authenticity, designed to beguile if not fool the viewer. Another contemporary architect, William Gilpin, commented on the difficulty of creating the right kind of authenticity in a ruin folly: "If the mosses and lychens grow unkindly on your walls … if the ivy refuses to mantle over your buttress … you may as well write over the gate, Built in the year 1772."
Wyatville named his strange franken-ruin "The Temple of Augustus." It was not a reconstruction in the way we might think of today. The site was designed to evoke "ruin-ness," but it was an illusion. As if emblematic of the confusion and strangeness of the whole endeavor, a local newspaper even erroneously claimed that the stones used were a part of the Parthenon Marbles that Lord Elgin had stripped.
The use of Roman ruins in British follies was in part to do with English notions of "the picturesque," which, along with "the beautiful" and "the sublime," underpinned a developing aesthetic sense that reached through architecture and influenced painters and poets like J. M. W. Turner and William Wordsworth. But this recycling of the remains of the past also sought to place Imperial Britain as the inheritors of Roman greatness. At this point in history, Britain had grown to become the largest empire in history. During the 19th century, its "Imperial century," around 400 million people and 10 million square miles were absorbed into imperial control.
The British saw their imperial mission as inherently enlightened. Knowledge of the classics was imbued in the aristocratic class. As the Romans had supposedly settled and civilized their province of Britannia, so Britain hoped to do to the reaches of its own empire. This attitude was evoked by the popularity of the phrase "Pax Brittanica" at the time.
The ruins at Virginia Water reinforced this association between Britain and ancient Rome. Naming the site "The Temple of Augustus" may even have been a reference to George IV's full name: George Augustus Frederick. In George IV's official 1821 coronation portrait, you can even see classical columns in the background, marking him as the inheritor of an ancient right.
Ruins have always formed a conversation between what is missing between the falling stones, and what can be imagined of the past. Virginia Water raises the specter of the ruin being used to create a false reality, a false history. It shows how far our identities rely on these material remains, and how those remains can be manipulated.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 07:10 PM PST
Recent protests in numerous Iranian cities and towns caught the world by surprise, and embarrassed Iran's government and ruling political establishment. But the expectation that the protests would escalate into a popular uprising and unravel the Islamic Republic did not come to pass. Iran's rulers could take heart from that, but they cannot avoid the broader debates about the future of the Iranian economy and politics that the protests have set in motion.
These were economic protests. They reflected deep-seated frustration with economic stagnation, mismanagement and corruption, and growing income inequality along with conspicuous concentration of wealth at the top. And their geography spoke to the expanding gulf separating large urban centers, especially the capital city Tehran, from smaller towns and rural areas—which correspond roughly to Rouhani's political base and that of his conservative and hardliner rivals, respectively. The protests swept through many of those small towns, and mobilized angry voices among the disgruntled lower wrung of society—those most closely associated with the message of the Revolution.
It is equally important to note what these protests were not. They were not a repeat of a past urban, secular uprising of affluent citizens demanding social and cultural change, freedom of expression, and political participation. And here lies the good news for the Islamic Republic. The most serious threats to the system have traditionally come when Tehran has risen in rebellion—as it did in June 2009 to protest the outcome of the presidential elections that year. At that point, throngs of students and cosmopolitan urbanites formed large crowds that presented an immediate threat to control of the city, and by implication the stability of the ruling order.
The important factor in the recent protests, and why they did not resemble the fight against tyranny Trump tried to portray in his tweets, is the dog that did not bark. The urban dissident voices did not join the populist call for economic justice. Why? First, urbanites, as note by the economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, have been the main beneficiaries of President Hassan Rouhani's economic liberalization policies, like his talk of moderation, and have been the main backers of his pursuit of a nuclear deal. They had expected that the deal would end Iran's international isolation, yield economic benefits, and also improve the political climate at home.
They saw in Rouhani an orderly path to change. Many among these urbanites actually feared that the protests could lead to chaos, or tilt Iranian politics in favor of their nemesis, the populist demagogue and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Without Tehran joining the protests, they never really posed an existential threat to the Islamic Republic. No regime is truly threatened unless it loses control of its urban areas, and most important among them, its capital city. Iran's security forces were not organized to contain protests across a large number of small cities, and so were caught unprepared. Even so, without Tehran, the security forces could afford to think of the protests as small fires that would eventually burn themselves out—as they appear to have done.
Until and unless the urban middle classes and the poor join in common cause—as they did in 1979—there will be no revolution. And in this calculus of stability, it is more important to keep Tehran and the major urban centers happy. It is no coincidence that in his first public statement on the protests, the Commander of the Revolutionary Guards tied the protesters to former President Ahmadinejad, hinting that he was being investigated for his role in the disturbances.
But it's not just fears of a Jacobin uprising that have kept Tehran quiet; it's also Rouhani's political promise. Rouhani won presidential elections twice, in 2012 and 2015, both times owing to his popularity with urban middle classes—and his firm hold on Tehran's vote. The protests showed that he is not popular with the poor, but that Tehran's middle-class urbanites don't share the same degree of dissatisfaction. If stability depends on Tehran, then the protests have only strengthened Rouhani's political position.
Indeed, Rouhani's agenda favors Tehran. He has cut subsidies while also raising fuel prices; he has failed to tackle corruption; and has fallen short on delivering on promises of an economic bonanza to follow the nuclear deal. Details of the budget were made public for the first time in December, causing an uproar on social media. Rouhani had hoped that transparency would show that his hands were tied, and that he was not free to divert funding from security forces and religious establishments to entitlement programs. But this did not spare him the wrath of the protesters.
Still Rouhani's gambit may have paid off. The ruling political establishment may no longer be worried about a broader uprising, but it does have to worry about how the protests could influence upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. In fact, the first of the recent protests, in the holy city of Mashad, a bastion of conservatives and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's hometown, was instigated by Rouhani's conservative critics as the opening act in their campaign to win back the presidency.
That move backfired as the protests spread quickly, gained in intensity, and turned against the political establishment as a whole. The demonstrations may have been contained for now, but the Islamic Republic will feel compelled to address the underlying economic grievances they have exposed. Failing to do so will risk opening a deep rift in the conservative camp, and the larger worry that if protests return, next time the urban middle class could react differently.
No one among Iran's rulers is keen to turn to populism to silence the poor. That would mean another round of Ahmadinejad-style politics, which will further isolate Iran, weaken its economy, and alienate the urban middle class. Iran would then have traded potential stability in small towns for a more dangerous brand of urban political unrest of the kind the country witnessed in June 2009.
The only alternative is to continue with "Rouhaninomics," a mix of liberalizing economic reform and restructuring—including curtailing the economic influence of sacred cow foundations and state institutions, and the Revolutionary Guards—and seeking to attract foreign investment by reducing international economic pressure. The hope would be that the economic strategy that won over the urban middle class can also assuage enough of the lower middle class and the poor to ensure political stability.
In his comments on the protests earlier this week, Rouhani acknowledged the economic grievances that fueled the disturbances, but added that people do not want to be dictated to about how to live. That was an important first step to cobble together an inclusive political platform that could bring together the disgruntled poor and his urban middle-class base.
There will be no radical shifts in the offing. There will be resistance to change, but inevitably, the larger debates now are about how to achieve greater economic growth. Those debates will not point to a clear path, but with the protests fresh in everyone's mind, Rouhani will have the advantage. The protests did not topple the Islamic Republic but it may have more firmly set it on the course it embarked on when it elected Rouhani president in 2012.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:52 AM PST
The explosive tell-all about President Trump, Fire and Fury, has been available for purchase for less than a week, but many of its readers are ready to render a verdict on its impact. For the president's detractors, the bestseller offers bona fide proof that Trump is unfit for office; for his supporters, it is nothing more than tabloid fiction written by an author with a questionable reputation.
The salacious and embarrassing details Fire and Fury reveals about the Trump administration's first year in the White House, paired with the book's widespread popularity, has allowed the president to once again engross millions of people—and not just in the United States. The book has managed to clear bookshelves and top bestseller charts across the globe, and it's attention that some have deemed a crisis for a president seemingly obsessed with his image. But the book's global domination is hardly a loss for Trump. If anything, it's a coup.
The book's international popularity mirrored its U.S.-based reception. In Singapore, some bookstores ran out of copies less than 24 hours after it was released. In the U.K., it only took minutes. "Fire and Fury has generated a level of interest that we haven't seen in a political title in quite some time," Sandra Taylor, the head of PR and events for the London-based book retailer Waterstones, told me, adding that the title "is set out to be the biggest political book of the year." That's no small prediction for a country that's facing its own set of political challenges. Meanwhile, Fire and Fury has also topped Amazon's bestseller charts in Australia, Canada, and Germany.
While the Trump administration tried to undermine the book's release, even seeking to block its publication, these efforts only appeared to draw more attention to it. It's not often a publisher is called on to cease and desist publication of a book, and it's even rarer for such a demand to come from one of the most powerful leaders in the world. "Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book," Trump said of the book's author, whose exposé he said was "full of lies, misrepresentations, and sources that don't exist." The White House, in a separate statement, called the book "trashy tabloid fiction."
The efforts to keep Fire and Fury off the shelves and its earlier-than-scheduled release have both contributed to its early success. But some overseas observers speculate it would have done just as well without the dramatic prelude. "Given how central the story of Trump's administration has been to the political conversation—certainly in the West and definitely beyond that as well—I think it's fair to say that this book is getting a wide hearing ," Jacob Parakilas, the deputy head of the U.S. and Americas project at the London-based Chatham House, told me. "The commentary in American publications about it, the way it has sort of driven the media narrative, is apparent to audiences far beyond Washington."
Stories of the book's release have been featured around the world, with headlines in Arabic, French, and Spanish dedicated to the revelations inside it. And while hard copies of the book have been more difficult to come by due to high demand, illicit versions have started making the rounds online. Wikileaks posted a pirated copy of the book (though it has since been removed), and PDF versions have made their way across more than a dozen countries via the messenger application WhatsApp. An informal Twitter poll by journalist Siddhartha Mitter revealed that of the 1,440 users who were voluntarily polled, just under half reported that the book was being shared in their WhatsApp circles; 16 percent said the book was being shared by other methods.
Overseas interest in the internal workings of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is longstanding under any administration—after all, it's the address of the most powerful person in the world. But this particular White House has amped up the drama, and with it, the public fascination. As I reported in August, internal shake-ups within the White House, such as the departure of Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon and former communications director Anthony Scaramucci, dominated global headlines in a way that previous presidential staffing decisions would never have done. Several of Trump's administration officials have become household names around the world. It's an interest that is rooted just as much in palace intrigue as it is in concern over how what happens in the White House could impact things elsewhere.
This is especially true when it comes to the president's foreign policy decisions, to which Fire and Fury dedicates ample space. Much of Israeli media's coverage of the book, for example, focused on Wolff's revelations about the administration's internal debates on Israel, and how Bannon proposed quashing the two-state solution—once considered to be a cornerstone of American diplomacy in the Middle East—by splitting up the Palestinian territories between Jordan (which would retake control of the West Bank) and Egypt (which would assume control over Gaza).
While the book has earned Trump a fair bit of international bad press since its release (the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post dubbed it a "must-read toxic tale," while France's Le Monde called the book an "embarrassment"), it probably won't lower Trump's standing in foreign countries by any significant margin. As POLITICO's Susan Glasser reported, many have already come to view the administration as "catastrophic," "terrifying," "incompetent," and "dangerous." A survey spanning 37 nations found that Trump's global popularity stands at just 22 percent, and foreign officials aren't particularly fond of him either. As my colleague James Fallows noted, much of what Wolff's book contends about the president's behavior has been an "open secret" in Washington. It's hard to imagine non-American audiences haven't taken notice, either.
"The effect of the book, rightly or wrongly, is to reinforce this narrative of the White House as this center of intrigue and competing fiefdoms and aggressive competition between different ideological and personality-based groupings surrounding the president and the sort of concomitant narrative of Trump's own mental state, his fitness for office, his level of attention to the job," Parakilas said.
Regardless of whether Fire and Fury is remembered as a historic eye-opener or as "trashy tabloid fiction," it stands to be the perfect chronicle for the Trump age. "This administration lends itself to this kind of constant, ceaseless, endlessly amped-up drama that is both a result of and an inevitability of the first reality TV star president," Parakilas said. "Everything becomes narrative and everything becomes a story. And that, in a way, is arguably the greatest success of the Trump administration—the ability of the president and the administration to keep the focus not only in the U.S., but internationally, so squarely upon itself."
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:52 AM PST
By just about any measure of an athlete's "success," Derek Jeter grades out as exceptional. Statistics? He tallied 3,465 hits, sixth all-time. Championships? He won five of them with the Yankees. Money? He earned more than $250 million in salary throughout his career. Crossover stardom? He was baseball's most famous player and remains a staple of tabloid gossip. Adoration? Yankees fans name their children after him, while even rival supporters grant grudging re2pect. By the time he retired from playing in 2014, his resume was essentially flawless.
And that's why Jeter's brief tenure as CEO of the Marlins has been so jarring. In the five months since Jeter and the retired businessman Bruce Sherman agreed to buy Miami's baseball team for $1.2 billion, they have traded their two best players, angered an already jaded fan base, fired beloved team employees, and committed a stream of public-relations faux pas. After surviving 20 years under the New York spotlight with nary a major controversy, the 43-year-old Jeter has occupied a new role this offseason: baseball villain.
Last week, the Miami Herald rolled out a multi-part series detailing a confidential document Jeter reportedly circulated to investors last summer as he assembled an ownership group. Per the Herald, Jeter vowed to slash payroll in hopes of generating profit, while somehow increasing attendance at the same time. The latter promise, which fell somewhere between optimistic and delusional, was clearly composed by a man accustomed to success. Its public airing, however, calls attention yet again to Jeter's repeated missteps.
Jeter's involvement with the Marlins was messy even before it officially began. His initial partnership with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush fell apart last spring when, according to Bloomberg, the former shortstop demanded complete control over the team's business and baseball operations. Undeterred, Jeter partnered with Sherman, and together the duo pushed toward a purchase.
But before the sale was finalized, Jeter found himself waist-deep in controversy. In September, the Herald reported that the Marlins' prospective new owners planned to cut payroll from $115 million (21st highest in baseball) to as low as $55 million, a figure that would likely make them the cheapest team in baseball.The news stung bitterly for fans who had hoped Jeter and Sherman might offer a contrast to previous penny-pinching regimes and for taxpayers who had forked over $488 million in bonds to build the stadium that ownership stood to profit from. And then things got worse.
Later that month, the Marlins informed four high-profile and beloved employees —the Hall of Famers Tony Pérez and Andre Dawson, the World Series–winning manager Jack McKeon, and Jeff Conine, a former player nicknamed Mr. Marlin—that they would not have jobs under the new ownership. Instead of firing the franchise icons himself, Jeter reportedly delegated that awkward responsibility to the outgoing president David Samson. Then, after a public backlash, the neophyte CEO attempted to bring back Conine, Perez, and Dawson in diminished roles with reduced pay. All three declined. In what would quickly become a trend, Jeter had made a questionable decision and executed it clumsily.
MLB owners approved the Jeter-Sherman ownership group on September 27, and the sale became official days later. Almost immediately, Jeter began shopping Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning National League MVP and arguably the greatest player in franchise history. From a baseball perspective, trading Stanton was a defensible move. For a Marlins team that had floated aimlessly through baseball purgatory—not good enough to contend for the playoffs but not bad enough to embark on a rebuild without angering fans—trading Stanton for a package of top young players would at least mean committing to one course of action.
The problem was, the Marlins appeared interested less in restocking their farm system and more in scrubbing Stanton's large (but deserved) contract from the franchise's balance sheet. So when Stanton used his no-trade clause to block several potential trade destinations, Jeter and company, according to reporting from the Herald, threatened Stanton that if they couldn't trade him, they'd deal away his most talented teammates, leaving him to waste away on a last-place team.
The Marlins wound up trading Stanton to Jeter's former team, the Yankees, unloading most of the slugger's contract but reaping only a modest haul of prospects. (Days later, they sent another All-Star, the outfielder Marcell Ozuna, to St. Louis for a similarly meager return.) As fans stewed, reporters prepared to grill Jeter at the Winter Meetings, baseball's annual convention. Except Jeter never showed up. While his colleagues in other front offices haggled with free agents in Orlando, Jeter was back in Miami, watching Monday Night Football from a suite. (His absence from the Winter Meetings was partially explained by his presence at an event benefiting hurricane victims.) A week later, he caught an earful from fans, including the legendary Marlins Man, at a turbulent town hall–style meeting, where one team supporter reportedly cried while asking Jeter why he hadn't pursued any free-agent pitchers.
Most of Jeter's decisions over his opening months painted him as a baseball executive in over his head, but at least one choice suggested something even less palatable. In December, Yahoo revealed the Marlins had fired a longtime scout who was hospitalized following colon surgery and was waiting on a kidney transplant. The story, complete with tragic quotes from the deposed employee, made Jeter sound heartless. The Marlins' choice to publicly blame the president of baseball operations Michael Hill for the fiasco made the former Yankees captain look unaccountable as well. Once again, the Jeter-led franchise had created a problem for itself and made the situation worse at every turn.
Of course, it's unfair to pin the Marlins' blunders on Jeter alone. Sherman, as the Marlins' moneyman, presumably made the final call to slash payroll, and Hill may bear some responsibility for firing the hospitalized scout and mishandling the Stanton trade. But Jeter chose to be the public face of this ownership group, and he accepted a contract that apparently awards him bonuses not for winning teams, but for profitable ones. Jeter may not deserve full blame for the Marlins' complications, but as CEO he has earned a share of it.
And although sports history is dotted with great players who floundered as executives (Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Isiah Thomas, and more), Jeter stands out. Few athletes have entered a front-office role with as spotless a reputation, and fewer athletes have compromised that reputation so quickly. Because not only have Jeter's personnel moves fallen flat, but his actions have also chipped away at his previously unblemished image, as many fans question not only his competency, but also his intentions.
This version of Jeter didn't materialize from nowhere, and it's tough not to glance back at the former shortstop's playing days in search of clues. Did he fall on his sword for a teammate often enough as Yankees captain? Did his beefy endorsement portfolio hint at a lust for profit? Maybe some coldness always lurked beneath his famously inscrutable disposition. Or, on the other hand, maybe this string of crises constitutes a mere blip. Jeter's tenure in Miami is only months old, and if he avoids further scandal and leads the flailing Marlins back to the playoffs, his rocky opening months could fade away quickly—much like the 56 errors in a season he once committed as a 19-year-old in A-ball.
Regardless of how Jeter's front-office career plays out, his on-field legacy remains safe. Fans in New York and beyond will forever admire his talent, grace, and clutch performance. In the summer of 2020, he will assuredly stand at a lectern in Cooperstown, New York, to accept his well-earned Baseball Hall of Fame plaque, and no number of objectionable firings or controversial contract clauses will jeopardize that. But Jeter's mishaps have eroded his status as baseball's unimpeachable ambassador, offering a less flattering set of characteristics one might know him by. As a player, Jeter enjoyed one of the most successful careers in sports history. As an executive, his reputation hinges on how well he learns to fail.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:10 AM PST
What if, rather than in cemeteries, tombstones were placed at the exact location of the deceased's final moments? That's the premise of the ghost bike: a white bicycle, often covered with flowers and a plaque, that is chained to a fence or a street sign as a memorial of a life lost in a cycling accident there. Since the first ghost bike was anointed by a bike mechanic who witnessed an accident in 2003 in St. Louis, Missouri, the project has spread to over 200 major cities around the world. But nowhere are ghost bikes more common than in New York City, where a dedicated team of volunteers builds and maintains the city's hundreds of memorials. According to the project's website, the white bikes "serve as reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists' right to safe travel."
Brooklyn resident Mirza Molberg began volunteering with the local ghost bike project in 2011. In 2016, his girlfriend, Lauren Davis, was fatally struck by a car on her bicycle en route to work. Hours after the accident, Molberg stopped at the site of Davis's death. "There was no evidence [of the accident]," he said. "I created Lauren's ghost bike the following week."
Ethan Brooks's short documentary, Ghost Bike, tells Molberg's story. Much like the spectral bikes themselves, the film renders a personal tragedy universal.
"When you pass a ghost bike, there's always this moment of introspection," Brooks told The Atlantic. "No matter how comfortable you are on the road, or absorbed in your own thoughts, a ghost bike snaps you back to reality. The placement of each bike, in the very spot where a cyclist was killed, makes the memorial personal, especially if you pass it often."
Or, as Molberg says in the film, "it's a reminder that I could end up as a ghost bike in just a second."
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:06 AM PST
On Tuesday night, a federal judge partially revived the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—which shields immigrants who came to the United States as minors from deportation and allows them to work legally in the country—arguing that the "plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the rescission was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not otherwise in accordance with law."
The court order requires the Trump administration to resume accepting applications from DACA enrollees who want to renew their protected status, but it doesn't require the administration to take new applications. The Department of Homeland Security, however, has not yet provided updated guidance on the renewal process, leaving recipients in limbo until then.
"It's really a matter of holding until we get that additional guidance—people should not be submitting applications right now," said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the immigrant-rights group the National Immigration Law Center.
The Trump administration stopped accepting renewal applications on October 5. The month before, Trump had announced that he was terminating DACA with a six-month delay, giving Congress a brief window to negotiate a permanent legislative solution.
Since then, legislators have been slowly working on a deal that would grant legal status to the nearly 700,000 DACA recipients. On Tuesday, the president met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss the program, though the session ended with more questions than answers about enrollees' future.
With the March deadline looming, immigration advocates have been pressuring Congress to come to an agreement. According to estimates from the liberal Center for American Progress, 122 DACA recipients lose protections daily. Though the new court order means they can apply for a two-year renewal, that's little comfort to some.
"I think it's frustrating because we can't use this injunction to plan out our lives," said Bruna Bouhid, a DACA recipient and communications manager for United We Dream, the largest immigrant-youth organization in the country. "We can't rely on injunctions. We can't rely on rulings. We need something that's a law—we need legislation."
Advocates are urging lawmakers to pass the Dream Act, a measure first introduced in 2001 that would grant legal status to immigrants, like DACA enrollees, who were brought to the country illegally as children. Democrats want to add the legislation to a longer-term spending bill that needs to be passed on January 19 to avert a government shutdown. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Twitter: "The only way to guarantee peace of mind & legal status for the #Dreamers is to pass DACA protections into law. A resolution to the #DACA issue must be part of a global deal on the budget." Some advocates think the recent injunction could underscore the urgency of finding a legislative fix.
"The negotiations need to move even quicker to make sure that we don't prolong this into a long legal battle in the courts," said Juan Escalante, a DACA recipient and communications manager at the immigrant-rights group America's Voice. Instead, the matter should be handled through "our legislative process to make sure we get the best outcome possible."
Maria Praeli, a DACA enrollee who works as an immigration-policy associate at FWD.us, a pro-immigration group, concurred. "I think [the judge's] order is a powerful indication of the need to protect Dreamers," she told me. "It doesn't change the urgency."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the injunction on Wednesday, saying the administration "find[s] this decision to be outrageous, especially in light of the president's successful bipartisan meeting with House and Senate members at the White House on the same day." She added: "An issue of this magnitude must go through the normal legislative process. President Trump is committed to the rule of law, and will work with members of both parties to reach a permanent solution that corrects the unconstitutional actions taken by the last administration."
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup cited Trump's tweets on DACA as evidence that partially reviving the program was in the public interest. Days after terminating it, Trump tweeted: "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!....." In response, Alsup wrote, "We seem to be in the unusual position wherein the ultimate authority over the agency, the chief executive, publicly favors the very program the agency has ended."
Alsup also argued that ending the program would cause irreparable harm to its recipients. "Plaintiffs have clearly demonstrated that they are likely to suffer serious irreparable harm absent an injunction," he wrote. "Before DACA, individual plaintiffs, brought to America as children, faced a tough set of life and career choices turning on the comparative probabilities of being deported versus remaining here. DACA gave them a more tolerable set of choices, including joining the mainstream workforce."
The Justice Department will likely appeal the order. "Today's order doesn't change the Department of Justice's position on the facts: DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens," said spokesman Devin O'Malley in a statement. "As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress, and was susceptible to the same legal challenges that effectively ended [the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents initiative]. The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner."
Still, without a clear sense of how the administration is going to respond to the order, recipients are right back where they started—urging Congress to pass legislation on DACA before thousands more are left susceptible to deportation.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:16 AM PST
In 2007, astrophysicists at West Virginia University stumbled upon something strange as they reviewed archival data at the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. They found the telescope had detected a powerful flash of radio waves that lasted less than five milliseconds. The signal appeared smeared across a range of frequencies, a sign that the burst had traveled a huge distance—about 3 billion light-years—to Earth. It must have originated from outside the Milky Way, in a distant corner of the universe.
"We're confused and excited, but it could open up a whole new research field," Duncan Lorimer, the astrophysicist who co-discovered the signal, said back then. The signal was dubbed a fast radio burst, or FRB.
Lorimer's prediction was correct. Since that first discovery, scientists have detected about 30 FRBs, coming from all kinds of directions, mined from old data and observed in real time. A decade of careful research has proven these mysterious, high-energy pulses to be real astrophysical phenomena from beyond the galaxy, and not just instrument noise from telescopes, as many first thought. Scientists estimate the bursts occur about 10,000 times a day across the entire sky.
All known FRBs are tantalizing targets, but there's one in particular astrophysicists love to study: FRB 121102, first detected in 2012. After that, FRB 121102 flashed again—and then again and again and again, eventually racking up more than 150 detected bursts. Before its detection, FRBs were assumed to be one-time events, the products of cataclysmic eruptions or collisions that destroyed their progenitors. The repeating nature of FRB 121102 changed all that. Scientists went after it with hours of observations. Last January, they pinpointed its location to a small galaxy about 2.5 billion light-years from Earth.
"This source has really been a gold mine," said Jason Hessels, an astronomer at the University of Amsterdam and ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.
Now, another gem about FRB 121102 has been unearthed. On Wednesday, Hessels and other members of an international team of astronomers announced new results from their observations of the FRB by two of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The GBT studied the source in high radio frequencies using a powerful backend built by Breakthrough Listen, a project to fund efforts in the search for extraterrestrial life. Their findings are published in Nature.
The team detected and studied 16 pulses from FRB 121102. They found the radio waves were highly polarized, a property that describes the nature of the vibrations as they travel through space. When they arrived at Earth, the polarized radio waves exhibited something known as the Faraday rotation, a phenomenon in which waves become twisted as they propagate through strong magnetic fields.
"When [radio waves] pass through material, they get distorted in complicated ways," Hessels said. "Looking at all the ways the radio waves have been distorted can tell us about the material the radio waves passed through."
The more powerful the magnetic field is, the more severe the twisting becomes as radio waves move through it. And the twisting in this case was dramatic. Scientists have only seen an effect of this magnitude in one other place—at the center of our galaxy, where a supermassive black hole lurks. The researchers say the extreme effect suggests FRB 121102 originates from a similar, extreme environment, made up of dense plasma, which is hot, ionized gas.
The findings support the leading hypotheses for the origins of FRBs, like black holes, the light-devouring beasts of the cosmos, and neutron stars, the leftover cores of stars that died in spectacular explosions called supernovae. Both kinds of objects are surrounded by extreme environments with strong magnetic fields and high temperatures.
The mystery of FRBs is far from solved. Despite this glimpse into one burst's potential environment, scientists still don't know exactly where these pulses come from, how they erupt, and why. But every data point is crucial in a burgeoning research area. "Because the field is so new, because we know so little about the phenomenon, almost everything we see is an important sign and an important step forward," Hessels said.
It's unclear whether FRB 121102 is a good representation of the population of known FRBs. Because it's the only pulse of the batch to repeat, 121102 may have a different origin story than the others. This burst came came from a dwarf galaxy, but that doesn't mean that all FRBs come from dwarf galaxies, for example. "At the moment, every FRB is atypical," said Andrew Siemion, the director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and one of the paper's authors.
Scientists hope to determine the locations of other FRBs—and not just for the sake of learning more about these bizarre pulses. The study of FRBs has important implications for cosmology, the study of the origins and evolution of the universe. While fleeting, FRBs are very bright events that can, for a very short time, highlight hidden parts of the cosmos, like the material that lies between galaxies
"FRBs are exciting because they're explosive and that's all great, but if you think about it, that's not really the reason we're excited about them," said Sarah Burke-Spolaor, an astronomer at West Virginia University who studies FRBs. "The ultimate reason we want to detect and study them is they're so good at telling us about the fluff between them and us. Any time they propagate and travel through the fluff between galaxies, that fluff affects the radio bursts, and we can detect the effect down here."
Perhaps someday, FRBs could serve a similar purpose as other illuminating astrophysical objects, like Type Ia supernovae, which have helped astronomers estimate for the rate of the expansion of the universe. Scientists study the brightness of these exploding stars to calculate the distances of other galaxies, and then use that information to measure the expansion of the cosmos.
Until then, scientists remain, as Lorimer put it a decade ago, "confused and excited." Members of the FRB community say it has certainly been on a roll of important findings in the last few years, but the discoveries have only raised more questions.
"The more information you get, the more complex the story becomes," Burke-Spolaor said.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 02:41 PM PST
In 1977, two years after declaring independence from Portugal, Mozambique erupted into civil war. Over the next 15 years, the violent conflict claimed at least a million lives—and that was just the humans.
Government troops and resistance fighters also slaughtered their way through the wildlife in the nation's renowned Gorongosa National Park, once touted as a natural paradise. Thousands of elephants were hunted for their ivory, which was sold to buy arms and supplies. Zebras, wildebeest, and buffalo were killed for meat. Around 90 percent of the park's large mammals were shot or died of starvation.
"They caused almost total collapse of the wildlife there," says Joshua Daskin, an ecologist at Yale University who started working at Gorongosa in 2013.* "I wondered if that was a one-off, or emblematic of a wider trend."
Spoiler: it's the latter. Together with Rob Pringle, from Princeton University, Daskin compiled 65 years' worth of data on the abundance of large mammals across all of Africa. These populations, they found, were stable during peacetime, but almost always fell during periods of war. And in explaining declines in wildlife, nothing mattered more than war—not human population density, the presence of towns or cities, protected reserves, or droughts.
"This speaks to the pervasive nature of conflict," says Daskin. "It affects the ability, accountability, and motivation of governments to fulfil their conservation duties. It disturbs the fabric of local societies by increasing poverty, and displacing people into protected areas where they may harvest wildlife. It leads to withdrawal of NGOs. It increases problems with law enforcement, which might lead to increases in poaching."
To make matters worse, as others have shown, war happens most often in places where wildlife otherwise flourishes. Between 1950 and 2000, 80 percent of major armed conflicts took place in biodiversity hotspots, where animal life is at its richest and most diverse. That, says Daskin, is because the same factors that cause peril for wildlife—climate change, the harvesting of natural resources, and fast-growing human populations—can also heighten tensions between people. And so, when people declare war on each other, they inadvertently declare war on the natural world.
That seems intuitive, but several case studies have shown that war can be a boon for the wild. The Rhodesian Bush War, in what is now called Zimbabwe, created an environment so hostile that poachers couldn't operate—and elephant populations rebounded to decadal highs. The Korean Demilitarized Zone, which snakes between North Korea and South Korea, has become a de facto national park, since the absence of people means sanctuary for red-crowned cranes, Amur leopards, and other endangered species.
But for every tale of hope, there's also one of doom. Animals can be collateral damage, sources of meat and money, or even political leverage. In Vietnam, the chemical weapons that the U.S. military used to denude the forests of vegetation left a toxic legacy for the nation's jungle-dwellers. In Ethiopia, black-market weapons that were sold during the country's civil war eventually made their way into the hands of poachers. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, rebels recently threatened to kill protected gorillas if the government took action against them.
It's hard to work out the balance of these positive and negative anecdotes because, "as you might expect, ecologists tend to work in peaceful areas, so most of the wildlife counts haven't been done in conflict zones," says Daskin. But he and Pringle found whatever data they could: 253 time-trends, showing changes in the populations of 36 species in 126 protected areas. They then paired these counts with information on human fatalities from organized conflicts.
Protected areas vary a lot, but on average, Daskin and Pringle found that peaceful ones were stable and their animals self-sustaining. Warfare changed everything—and it didn't really matter how violent the conflicts were. In fact, while the frequency of conflict was the most important of the factors the duo studied, the intensity of conflict was the least important. "It may not matter whether this is a small-scale battle or a large-scale war," says Daskin. "The onset of conflict disrupts the ability to protect wildlife."
Since people in war-torn areas "often rely heavily on wildlife, directly as food or as part of a healthy ecosystem," says Kaitlyn Gaynor, from University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the issue, "wildlife declines may prolong the wars that caused them."
At first glance, these seems like deeply defeatist findings. Conservationists are already overwhelmed and underfunded without having to add peace-keeping to their dockets. But Daskin and Pringle offer some good news, too: Even in places where people warred furiously, very few large animals actually went extinct. They took a pounding, but they were rarely knocked out. So, when conflicts cease, it's possible to save the creatures that were harmed.
Consider Gorongosa National Park. "Most of the wildlife populations that were hanging on have recovered to incredible levels, some cases beyond pre-war sizes," Daskin says. That's largely because of a partnership between the government and the Gorongosa Restoration Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit.
In the post-war decades, the partnership has recruited and trained rangers to fight poachers. They deployed teams to boost the health of people who live near the park, through vaccinations, prenatal check-ups, family planning advice, and bed nets to block out malarial mosquitoes. They built four schools. They bring in more than 2,500 children a year to learn how to view wildlife as more than just sources of meat. "It's about instilling a sense of ownership, and enabling the socioeconomic conditions for conservation to be possible," says Daskin.
"There is incredible diversity in the nature of armed conflict and its effects on wildlife, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution," says Gaynor. But the study clearly shows that "war-torn protected areas are not necessarily a lost cause for conservation. We ignore these areas to the peril of wildlife and, critically, to the detriment of vulnerable human populations that rely on healthy ecosystems."
* This article previously misstated that Daskin is at Princeton and that Pringle is at Yale. We regret the error.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 09:35 AM PST
Updated on January 10 at 11:45 a.m. ET
If you want to see a political wave forming a year before an election, watch the retirements.
They're often a leading indicator for which direction a party is headed, and so far, 2018 is shaping up ominously for Republicans. On Wednesday, California Representative Darrell Issa announced he won't seek reelection, becoming the latest in a growing list of senior Republicans to bow out of the fall campaign. Issa served as the chief congressional inquisitor of former President Barack Obama during his tenure as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He has been relegated to the back bench in recent years, however, and was facing the race of his life in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.
Issa is the second vulnerable Republican from Southern California to retire this week. On Monday, California Representative Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced he won't seek reelection. Several other veterans in competitive districts are also calling it quits, depriving the GOP of the advantage of incumbency in races that could determine control of the House in 2019. And more retirements may be on the way, as lawmakers make their final decisions about running ahead of their respective primaries.
At the same time, a wave of allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior has scrambled the retirement picture in both parties, and it's forced several lawmakers to leave Congress early. Last month, Representative Ruben Kihuen of Nevada announced he would not run for reelection in 2018 even as he denied allegations of sexual harassment made against him by a former campaign staffer and a lobbyist in his home state. He has rejected calls by Democratic leaders for him to resign, and his decision merely not to seek another term came a few days after Republican Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas made a similar decision in response to harassment allegations.
Scandals have already taken down Democratic Senator Al Franken and long-serving Representative John Conyers among Democrats, as well as GOP Representatives Trent Franks and Tim Murphy. More could be on the way as new allegations come to light.
As for those getting out in 2018, President Trump's low approval rating and Congress's meager legislative output may be contributing to the decisions of some Republicans to retire, including moderate Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, and Dave Reichert of Washington state. But there are other factors at play. Unlike Democrats, Republicans have rules limiting the terms of their committee chairmen to ensure turnover and give younger members a chance to advance in the House. Congress isn't as fun with less power, and six of the seven departing GOP committee leaders would be forced out of their roles and to the back bench in 2019.
The trend to this point gives a distinct edge to the Democrats. While roughly the same number of lawmakers in both parties are leaving their seats to run for higher office, just seven House Democrats are retiring outright or have already resigned, compared with 21 Republicans. (House members running for other offices often count as retirements, because it's usually impractical or illegal to run for multiple positions at the same time.) Including those members who are leaving to run for another office, there will be 15 open House seats vacated by Democrats and 31 for Republicans. Democratic victories last November in gubernatorial and state legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey could spur more retirements among Republicans worried about the national political environment under Trump.
And although Democrats must defend far more Senate seats than Republicans in 2018—including several in states that Donald Trump won—all of the party's incumbents are currently running for reelection. The retirements of Corker and Flake, along with a Democratic victory in December's special election in Alabama, give Democrats an outside chance at retaking the Senate majority. In the House, they'll need to pick up 24 seats, and the more Republicans retire in districts that Hillary Clinton carried last year, the more the GOP majority is at risk.
Senate Republicans Retiring Outright
Bob Corker, Tennessee
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opted against running for a third term and promptly intensified his criticism of the president, whom he had praised during the election. Trump alleged that Corker "begged" for his endorsement, while Corker said it was Trump who urged him to run again.
Jeff Flake, Arizona
He decided to leave after a single term rather than wage what would have been a brutal fight for reelection, first in a primary against a hard-right Trump backer, Kelli Ward, and then, if he won, against a centrist Democrat, Representative Kyrsten Sinema, in the general election. Flake had lost his base in Arizona: His criticism of Trump in his recent book, Conscience of a Conservative, alienated the president's GOP backers, while his conservative voting record put off Democrats.
Orrin Hatch, Utah
The 83-year-old incumbent announced in a video message in early January that he will not seek reelection next year, creating an opening for a possible Senate bid by Mitt Romney. With seven terms under his belt, Hatch is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. He also serves as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate Democrats Retiring Outright
Al Franken, Minnesota
Under pressure from fellow Democrats, Franken announced in December he would resign "in the coming weeks" after multiple women came forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior. Most of the allegations involved Franken groping women while taking a photo. His resignation means there will be a special Senate election in 2018 in a state that Hillary Clinton barely carried in 2016.
House Republicans Retiring Outright
Bob Goodlatte, Virginia 6th district
Goodlatte was nearing the end of his third and final term as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where he aligned with conservative hard-liners on immigration and voting rights. He advanced bipartisan legislation on criminal-justice reform, but it never reached the House floor.
Jeb Hensarling, Texas 5th district
Hensarling left the House leadership team in 2013 to head up the Financial Services Committee, and he passed up opportunities to make a conservative bid for speaker. His chairmanship will end because of term limits, but it was also marked by frustration: Hensarling's proposals to wind down federal mortgage-lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as his overhaul of the federal flood-insurance program, proved too conservative to pass the full House.
Darrell Issa, California 49th district
Issa in January became one of the most recognizable House Republicans to announce his retirement. A former chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he served as the chief congressional inquisitor of the Obama administration for several years. Issa is annually ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress, having co-founded the company behind the Viper car alarm (for which he famously provided the voice). But he was in for the fight of his life to win reelection after nearly losing in 2016 in a district that Hillary Clinton carried over Donald Trump.
Joe Barton, Texas 6th district
The dean of Texas's large Republican delegation, Barton was planning to seek a 17th term before lewd texts and photos he had sent to women with whom he had extramarital affairs leaked online. During the course of his long career in Congress, he served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Lamar Smith, Texas 21st district
His is another term-limits retirement. An arch-conservative first elected in 1986, Smith likely would have had nowhere higher to go after finishing his tenure as chairman of the Space, Science, and Technology Committee, which he used to fight policies and funding to combat climate change.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida 27th district
A former chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ros-Lehtinen never endorsed Trump and became one of his most vocal GOP critics in Congress. She retires after 28 years in the House. As a moderate, she voted frequently against top Republican priorities, including Obamacare repeal and the budget. Her South Florida district now becomes a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania 15th district
As co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group in the House, Dent was one of his party's most vocal critics, often voicing his frustration either with the president or the influence of the conservative Freedom Caucus in steering legislation to the right. He said the lack of a governing coalition in Congress contributed to his decision to retire after seven terms.
Dave Reichert, Washington state 8th district
A former leader of the Tuesday Group, Reichert is another moderate retiring after seven terms. Though he won his recent elections easily, his district was once one of the most competitive in the nation and could be again next year.
Pat Tiberi, Ohio 12th district
Whereas others on this list retired after being term-limited out of committee chairmanships, Tiberi's decision may have more to do with a post he never won. The veteran Ohio Republican lost out to Kevin Brady of Texas in his bid to lead the Ways and Means Committee after Paul Ryan left the job to become speaker. Tiberi was a close ally of former Speaker John Boehner, and he, too, became frustrated with the dysfunction in Congress. He won't serve out the rest of his term, choosing instead to take a job as president of the Ohio Business Roundtable early next year.
Frank LoBiondo, New Jersey 2nd district
LoBiondo's retirement after 12 terms gives Democrats a major pickup opportunity in New Jersey. First elected in the Republican wave of 1994, he broke with his party to oppose Obamacare-repeal legislation, the GOP budget, and the tax bill.
Lynn Jenkins, Kansas 2nd district
Jenkins' announcement in January that she would not seek a sixth term in the House was one of the earliest and most surprising of the Republican retirements. She had served in the House leadership and was mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in Kansas, but she said she would not run for any office in 2018.
Sam Johnson, Texas 3rd district
Johnson is revered in the House for his Air Force service in both Korea and Vietnam, where he was held—and tortured—as a prisoner of war for seven years. The 87-year-old is retiring from a safe Republican seat after more than a quarter-century in Congress.
John Duncan Jr., Tennessee 2nd district
Duncan will have served in the House for 30 years by the time he leaves next year. Though he votes with Republicans on domestic issues, he opposed the Iraq War and supports a non-interventionist foreign policy. His district should be an easy hold for Republicans.
Ted Poe, Texas 2nd district
Now in his seventh term, Poe is a former Houston judge known for ending each of his floor speeches with a variation on Walter Cronkite's longtime sign-off, "And that's just the way it is." He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2016.
Dave Trott, Michigan 11th district
Trott was a first-time candidate when he won his seat in the House in 2014. He decided he preferred the private sector, however, announcing in September that he would return home after just two terms.
Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania 18th district
Murphy resigned the seat he held for 15 years in October after it was revealed that he allegedly asked a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion. Reports that he presided over a toxic work culture in his House office soon followed. A special election to fill his seat will be held on March 13.
Trent Franks, Arizona 8th district
Franks is leaving for perhaps the most unusual reason: He abruptly announced in December that he would resign after acknowledging that he had asked two members of his staff to carry his and his wife's child as surrogates, making them "uncomfortable." His announcement came on the same day as the House Ethics Committee said it was opening an investigation into the situation.
Blake Farenthold, Texas 27th district
Farenthold announced he would not seek a fifth term after several former staffers accused him of harassment and of verbally abusive behavior in his congressional office. He initially resisted pressure to bow out even after the House Ethics Committee opened a new inquiry into his alleged behavior.
Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania 9th district
Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, announced in early January that he'll spend 2018 on developing an infrastructure plan instead of running for reelection. "I thought it was the best decision for me to focus 100 percent on my final year as the chairman of the Transportation Committee, working with the president and other Democrats and Republicans to pass an infrastructure bill, which is much needed to rebuild America," he told The Washington Examiner. Shuster first won election to the House in 2001.
Gregg Harper, Mississippi 3rd district
Harper, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, said he made the decision not to seek reelection over the holidays. "I never intended for this to be a career, and it will soon be time for another conservative citizen legislator to represent us," he said in a statement in early January. Harper's committee has recently received a great deal of attention as the panel charged with addressing sexual harassment in the lower chamber. The five-term congressman joins a number of other Republican committee chairmen who are stepping down.
Ed Royce, California 39th district
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Royce is yet another committee leader who chose retirement over a return to the back bench once his tenure with the gavel was up. Royce will finish his 13th term in 2018, and his departure creates a top pick-up opportunity for Democrats in Southern California.
House Democrats Retiring Outright
Luis Gutierrez, Illinois 4th district
Now in his 13th term, Gutierrez is perhaps the most prominent Democratic ally of immigrants in the House and has been at the center of virtually every attempt to extend a path to citizenship to those in the country illegally. In announcing his retirement in November, he anointed a possible successor in his heavily Democratic district, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, and said he might run for president in 2020.
John Conyers, Michigan 13th district
First elected in 1964, Conyers was the dean of the House as its longest-serving member. But he was brought down by allegations of sexual harassment made by multiple former female staffers in his office. Conyers denied the accusations but bowed to pressure from Democratic leaders and resigned from the House in early December.
Sander Levin, Michigan 9th district
Levin, 86, will leave the House four years after his brother, Carl, retired from the Senate. He served briefly as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and was a top Democrat on taxes and trade policy.
Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire 1st district
Shea-Porter represents what is perhaps the nation's quintessential swing district. It has changed parties five times in the last six elections, and Shea-Porter faced the same Republican opponent in four consecutive races. (She won twice.) With her retirement, the district is once again considered a toss-up.
Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts 3rd district
Tsongas will retire after more than a decade in the House, and her district should stay in Democratic hands. She is the widow of Paul Tsongas, the former senator and Democratic presidential candidate.
Gene Green, Texas 29th district
The onetime chairman of the House Ethics Committee announced in November that he would retire after more than a quarter-century in the House. He was first elected in 1992.
Ruben Kihuen, Nevada 4th district
Kihuen's time in Congress will be brief after he faced accusations of sexual harassment less than a year into his first term. Facing calls from Democratic leaders to resign, he announced instead that he would serve out his term but not seek another one in 2018. His exit will leave a competitive open seat in Nevada that Republicans might take a serious run at picking up.
House Republicans Running for Higher Office in 2018
Diane Black, Tennessee 6th district
First elected in 2010, Black served this year as chairwoman of the House Budget Committee before deciding not to seek reelection and run for governor instead. With the 2018 budget finally adopted, she may leave her seat early to focus on her next campaign.
Luke Messer, Indiana 6th district
Now serving his third term in the House, Messer is facing off against fellow Indiana Representative Todd Rokita in a primary for the right to challenge Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly. He represents the seat once held by Vice President Mike Pence.
Todd Rokita, Indiana 4th district
Rokita entered Congress one term before Messer. He made a brief bid for governor in 2016 after Pence was named as Donald Trump's running mate, but he was able to retain his House seat after Republicans picked Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb. He won't have that luxury if he loses the Senate race because the primaries for the Senate and House are on the same day.
Steve Pearce, New Mexico 2nd district
After serving two separate stints covering seven terms in the House, the conservative Pearce is running to succeed Susana Martinez as governor of New Mexico. Republicans remain favored to keep his House seat.
Raul Labrador, Idaho 1st district
Labrador defeated a GOP establishment-backed candidate in a 2010 primary before beating a centrist Democratic incumbent during the Tea Party wave that November. His decision to run for governor may be a blessing for GOP leaders, as he was a frequent conservative critic and member of the House Freedom Caucus during his tenure. Republicans should hold his seat easily next year.
Jim Renacci, Ohio 16th district
One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Renacci is leaving the House after four terms to run for governor of Ohio.
Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania 11th district
Barletta was a Trump Republican before Trump and became one of the first to endorse the president's campaign. A longtime crusader against illegal immigration, his Senate candidacy challenging Democratic incumbent Bob Casey will be a test of Trump's brand in a formerly blue state that the president flipped red in 2016. Though it was held by a Democrat until Barletta won it in 2010, the 11th district is not currently expected to be competitive in the 2018 general election.
Kristi Noem, South Dakota at-large
Noem defeated Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in one of the closest races in the 2010 Republican wave. She's giving up her House seat to run for governor, and Democrats will have a tough time winning it back.
Evan Jenkins, West Virginia 3rd district
Jenkins knocked off one West Virginia Democrat, Nick Rahall, to win his House seat in 2014. He'll try to beat another, Senator Joe Manchin, in 2018. As with many of the seats Republicans are giving up to run for higher office, the 3rd district is less favorable to Democrats than it used to be.
Ron DeSantis, Florida 6th district
A conservative in his third term, DeSantis announced in January he would run for governor, not Congress, in 2018. His decision came just a couple weeks after Trump offered him an unexpected endorsement in a pre-Christmas tweet.
House Democrats Running for Higher Office in 2018
Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona 9th district
Sinema announced her candidacy for the Senate before Flake decided to retire. A member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, she has occasionally voted with Republicans on health care, taxes, and border security. She's also the first openly bisexual member of Congress. Though Sinema's first election in 2012 was very close, her district has trended more Democratic in the years since.
Jared Polis, Colorado 2nd district
Another of Congress's most wealthy members, Polis is running for governor after five terms in the House. The district includes Boulder and is considered a safe Democratic seat.
Tim Walz, Minnesota 1st district
Walz's decision to run for governor of Minnesota after six terms in the House gives Republicans one of their best pickup opportunities. He won his 2016 race by only about 2,500 votes.
Beto O'Rourke, Texas 16th district
O'Rourke won his House seat in 2012 after defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent, Silvestre Reyes, in a primary. He'll have an even tougher challenge in 2018: knocking off Ted Cruz in a Senate race. His district in El Paso, meanwhile, figures to remain blue.
John Delaney, Maryland 6th district
The former entrepreneur is unique among all of the congressional retirees. Delaney is not leaving to run for Senate or governor—he's already running for president in 2020. Despite his considerable wealth, he's a heavy long-shot, but he's hoping a super-early start will help. Delaney's ouster of Republican Roscoe Bartlett in 2012 was aided by Democratic gerrymandering, and the district continues to favor Democrats as an open seat in 2018.
Jacky Rosen, Nevada 3rd district
Rosen had barely started her first term in the House this year when she announced she would challenge incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller in 2018. Though she has the support of Harry Reid's powerful political operation, the race is a risk for Democrats, since her exit creates an opening for Republicans to take back a seat they held until Rosen's victory in November.
Colleen Hanabusa, Hawaii 1st district
Hanabusa held this seat for four years before giving it up for a failed bid for Senate. After a year back in the House, she's leaving again to run for governor. Though the seat was briefly held by a Republican in 2010, it's a solidly Democratic district.
Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico 1st district
Lujan Grisham won her first race for the House and is now running for governor. She is currently serving as chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
With additional reporting from Priscilla Alvarez.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 09:02 AM PST
In October, the Colorado biotech company Bioptix changed its name to Riot Blockchain. The company's valuation doubled within a few days.
This might strike you as an extraordinarily bizarre story. But even more bizarrely, it's becoming ordinary. Weeks later, the British company Online PLC changed its name to Online Blockchain. The company's shares jumped 400 percent. In December, the Long Island Iced Tea Corporation—which, as you might expect, sold iced tea—rebranded itself Long Blockchain. The company's shares promptly rose nearly 300 percent. On Tuesday this week, the legacy photography company Kodak announced the launch of KODAKCoin, a "photo-centric cryptocurrency to empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management." The stock rose 80 percent in a matter of hours.
It is officially silly season in the land of cryptocurrency. To borrow a reference from the show Portlandia, this is the "put a bird on it" stage of crypto, where seemingly every multinational company, small business, and fledgling entrepreneur is desperately slapping blockchain onto press releases and venture-capital pitches. Some of these companies might conjure an actual consumer business from this exercise in magical word choice. So far, most of them are doing no such thing.
Before we continue, many readers—and, perhaps, many stunned employees at the aforementioned companies—might be wondering: What the heck is a blockchain, anyway?
At the most basic level, it is a record of information stored on a network of computers. When people use a cryptocurrency like bitcoin to buy a pizza, a kilogram of illegal drugs, or a yacht, these digital transactions are approved by a network of computers around the world running bitcoin software. Each batch of these transactions—a "block"—gets a cryptographic code, a copy of which is posted to every computer in the network. These blocks are permanently linked to each other in a "chain" of publicly approved transactions that cannot be edited. Thus, blockchain.
You could say that blockchain is the ultimate "anti-trust" technology. That's not only because it facilitates transactions between parties that don't have to trust each other, but also because it doesn't rely on a single source of power with total control of a market, like old-fashioned "trusts." That means you could have a currency without a Federal Reserve (as with bitcoin) or run a software program without buying space on an Amazon server (as with Ethereum).
For the last six months, the biggest blockchain story in the world has been bitcoin, whose vertiginous price increase has captured global attention. Some analysts, myself included, have compared the bitcoin boom and the crypto frenzy to the dot-com bubble. In this analogy, bitcoin is akin to a single, fragile dot-com darling, while blockchain is akin to the internet, a potentially revolutionary technology that can survive the obliteration of any one cryptocurrency.
But while this analogy is popular, it has one critical weakness that doesn't bode as well for crypto. When the dot-com bubble burst, starting in 2000, the internet was very much a mainstream phenomenon. About 50 percent of American households were online, and the number continued to grow even as the NASDAQ imploded. The internet was a technology with relatively obvious implications. At the time, Google was already ranking webpages in search results, Amazon was already a digital store that shipped boxes to front porches, and AOL had already figured out how to bundle news with personal communication, a decade before Facebook improved the recipe. The internet in 2000 had captured our attention; tens of millions of Americans were actually using it. Blockchain has merely captured our curiosity; tens of millions of Americans are merely reading about it.
Bitcoin might be where Pets.com was in 2000—a technological curiosity in search of an enduring business need. But blockchain is not where the internet was in 2000. Even blockchain's biggest defenders can't say what the technology's most obvious consumer use-cases are going to be, because they plainly don't exist yet. It is possible they never will.
Bitcoin is the most famous blockchain product, but it has little potential to scale. Visa can handle 60,000 transactions per second. Bitcoin can barely handle 10. Another popular use-case, called "smart contracts," can automatically execute agreements like stock investments without relying on the inefficiencies of brokers, lawyers, and paper contracts—slow-witted humans. But one such smart investment vehicle called the Distributed Autonomous Organization was felled by a software bug that accidentally made a damaging investment worth tens of millions of dollars. The members had to reconvene and vote to amend the contract to take their money back. It turns out humans can be useful, slow wits notwithstanding. Several people have emailed or approached me in the last few months about blockchain's application for local reporting. I have taken great pains to understand the promise of this idea. But the term "blockchain journalism" still reminds me of a romantic couple where you are technically fond of both people but have no idea what they're doing together. Is it altogether possible that a distributed, anonymous ledger is simply an elegant mathematical solution in permanent search of a human problem.
To be fair to blockchain and its advocates, some inventions are coy about their utility. Four decades passed between the first prototype of the internet at the U.S. government's Advanced Projects Research Agency and the first web browser. Seven years elapsed between the invention of the transistor and its first major commercial application in the transistor radio. Perhaps in a decade, blockchain will find its purpose.
One of the crypto start-ups that makes the most sense to me is Filecoin. Like an Airbnb for data storage, the company proposes to use latent storage on computers around the world to replace or supplement data servers, which are more vulnerable to hacking and other disruptions. The company has created its own cryptocurrency, called filecoin, to pay users to join the community. (Users could theoretically hold these tokens as an investment, exchange them within the network, or sell them for dollars.) By decentralizing data storage in this way, the company says it can improve the resilience of the internet and make it harder for governments to shut down access to certain sites and apps. In September the company raised more than $200 million in an initial coin offering, or ICO, the largest in history.
Will Filecoin revolutionize data storage? Who knows. The investor appetite in all things blockchain will encourage an orgy of trial and error. It is inevitable that many of these ideas will shortly prove themselves to be pointless. But that's the nature of this phase of experimentation. There will be more blockchain startups for payments, banking, escrow contracts, legal documents, intellectual property, investment strategies, voting systems, and more. The crypto industry may get smarter. But on the way there, things will probably get dumber.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 08:04 AM PST
If Hollywood is looking for a pop-culture role model in 2018, it could do worse than Paddington Bear, the adorable CGI version of the classic British children's character. He's voiced by Ben Whishaw, hails from "darkest Peru," wears a pair of spectacles, is fond of orange-marmalade sandwiches, and, as his adoptive father Henry (Hugh Bonneville) puts it, "He looks for the good in all of us and he finds it." The good can be hard to spot these days, but in Paddington 2, our furry friend does his best to bring it out anyway.
Paddington, a diminutive cartoon bear created by Michael Bond in 1958, has found a new life on the big screen in this ongoing series of films written and directed by Paul King. The first Paddington, released in the U.S. in 2015, was a surprisingly timely tale of a stuffy British family learning to welcome into their home a foreign refugee who happens to be a two-foot-tall bear. Paddington was originally inspired by the stories of children evacuated from British cities to the countryside in World War II, but in a Britain grappling with Brexit, he felt relevant in an entirely new way.
In Paddington 2, the allegorical thrust is milder, but this is still a tale about the importance of community and, as Henry put it, Paddington's gift for seeing past a person's surface. It's a lovely children's film that neither condescends to a younger audience, nor makes cheap, glib attempts to reel in an older one. King leans on his strengths—strong characterization and grand visual storytelling—to win the viewer over, and it's hard to resist.
King, who came up in the British comedy world (he directed almost every episode of the wonderful TV show The Mighty Boosh), has such an attention to detail when it comes to production design: Every scene pops with color, every set is meticulously constructed. The London of Paddington 2 is frozen in a nostalgic moment just a step removed from reality—modern, but overflowing with whimsy. Paddington lives in a Notting Hill neighborhood filled with friendly neighbors (and one grumpy busybody played by Peter Capaldi) that feels the right amount of fanciful.
In the first film, Paddington had to get settled in with his adoptive family, including Henry, his more bohemian wife Mary (Sally Hawkins), their kids Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin), and Mary's gruff relative Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters). In Paddington 2, the stakes are a little lower; Paddington is instead focused on buying a present for his elderly aunt in Peru who's turning 100. He's got his eyes on an antique pop-up book about London's most famous architecture, and as he opens it, the tome springs up around him, conjuring an animated representation of the city he's come to love. It's a perfect example of how evocative King's visual storytelling can be in these movies, and how he can turn such a simple goal (buying a gift) into the catalyst for the whole plot.
Paddington gets some odd jobs to try and afford the pop-up book, but he quickly gets sucked into a larger criminal scheme. The volume is a key to a long-lost treasure buried somewhere in the city, and a greedy actor named Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) is hunting for it. Phoenix is a preening prima donna whose career has hit the skids; in his pursuit of the book, he frames Paddington for its theft, and the bear gets locked away in jail.
As Phoenix, Grant is giving a bizarrely meta performance, playing an actor so consumed by his own fading fame that he converses with himself, using the voices of his most famous roles. It's mostly an excuse for Grant to dress up in silly costumes and mug for the camera, all of which he's ideally suited for. But Phoenix's villainy is a secondary concern for Paddington 2, serving mostly as an excuse to throw the bear in the slammer and set up the film's most charming set-pieces.
Brendan Gleeson is the real secret weapon in Paddington 2's Swiss Army knife of character actors, playing an irascible prison chef named Knuckles who bonds with Paddington over their shared love of marmalade sandwiches. In this movie, even the oppressive atmosphere of jail becomes an environment where Paddington can work his magic, finding the good in his fellow inmates and convincing Knuckles to take pride in his cooking for the first time.
This is a film of such open-hearted joy and grace, which feels rare in an industry that often embraces cynicism and sarcasm, including in its children's stories. Paddington 2 is gorgeous to look at, smartly written, and gleefully funny, boasting a fierce ensemble of estimable British thespians. For those looking specifically for excellent family entertainment, it's a must-see; but even other viewers will find this movie well worth their time.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 08:25 AM PST
Sometime soon, President Trump is likely to be deposed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team. Several outlets, beginning with NBC News on Monday, report that Trump's lawyers are negotiating with Mueller about the president testifying under oath, though Mueller has made no formal request so far.
The specific importance of such a deposition is hard to judge. Trump's lawyers, who also appear to have leaked word of the discussions to the press, present it as a sign that Mueller is nearing the end of his investigation, though they have previously, and incorrectly, predicted the probe would be over by Thanksgiving or Christmas. The New York Times reports that Mueller seems interested in topics that would imply more of a focus on the possibility of obstruction of justice than on collusion with Russia during the campaign, but that is somewhat speculative.
Assuming the deposition occurs, Trump will make political history as only the fifth sitting president to be deposed, following in the footsteps of Ulysses Grant, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and, most consequentially Bill Clinton—whose lie about not having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky in a 1998 deposition led to his impeachment. For Trump, however, depositions are familiar territory. In 2012, he said during a deposition that he had done more than 100 over the course of his career.
Transcripts, and in one case video, of three depositions taken over the last decade provide a fascinating look into how the prolifically dissembling president behaves when he is under oath. The Donald Trump who emerges from these depositions is the same but different from the one familiar to Americans today. He is just as apt to bluster and braggadocio, and sometimes peevish. But within the confines of conference rooms and offices, he is calmer, more restrained, and more deliberate than his public persona, and with the tether of his oath holding him back, often acknowledges when he is wrong or has misrepresented things in the past.
Trump's tendency toward inflating things—his net worth, his intellectual prowess, his actions—has become a defining characteristic of his career in politics, as it was in his career in business. Fact-checkers have made tallying the lies and untruths that the president delivers nearly a competitive sport. As a result, it's striking to see Trump in a setting where he is obliged to tell the truth, under penalty of law.
For example, Trump is involved in litigation against Geoffrey Zakarian, a chef who had signed a lease to open a restaurant in Trump's hotel in D.C., but pulled out in response to inflammatory comments that Trump made as a presidential candidate. During the deposition, an attorney read Trump a document boasting, "Mr. Trump is personally involved in everything that his name represents. This commitment has made him the preeminent developer of quality real estate known around the world, and in all his endeavors the Trump gold standard is apparent." Is that true, she asked?
In fact, that was not true, as Trump acknowledged a few minutes later:
He added, "I signed hundreds, much more than that. But I don't generally review them. I have somebody that—whether it's an executive or in this case one of my children, you know, I rely on people to do these things. Including lawyers that I've had for many years, like [Trump Organization general counsel Alan] Garten or somebody. So I rely—so I very rarely get too involved in it."
When he was caught exaggerating the speed of completion of the hotel project, Trump simply pretended he hadn't. "We're substantially ahead of schedule," he insisted, even as the lawyer asked (and received an answer) to a question about when the timeline for opening had moved back from 2015 to 2016.
As The Washington Post noted in a 2016 piece, Trump's tendency to back off his most obviously fake statements was especially pronounced in a December 2007 deposition. Trump had sued the journalist and author Tim O'Brien, who had written a book saying Trump's net worth was far less than the billions he claimed. Trump sued O'Brien for libel and defamation. The Post found 30 occasions in that deposition alone where Trump admitted to making false statements.
This being Trump, the acolyte of "truthful hyperbole," he couldn't let go entirely. Instead, he found repeated ways to explain his untruths. Why had he claimed to own 50 percent of a business when he only owned 30? Because Trump hadn't had to put up cash upfront, he said, "the 30 percent equates to much more than 30 percent." Why had Trump claimed to have been paid $1 million for a speech when, as he acknowledged under oath, he'd actually received $400,000? He had decided that the value to his brand made up another 600 grand.
Was it true that Trump had not received any loans from his father, as he'd told O'Brien? Under oath, he offered a different story: "I think a small amount a long time ago. I think it was like in the $9 million range." Why had he inflated his net worth? The reason, he said, was that it varied, and just not with the market. "My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings," Trump said.
Trump had an explanation that would telegraph his approach when he later decided to run for president: "I'm no different from a politician running for office. You always want to put the best foot forward."
Yet at other times, Trump simply conceded he'd been wrong. Faced with a public statement that membership at a golf course had cost $300,000, 50 percent higher than the real figure—as a Trump Organization document stated. "Correct," Trump said. He also excused errors in a book published under his name, saying, "I read it very quickly," even though he was credited as author.
Trump's suit against O'Brien was dismissed.
The rare aptitude for honesty is not the only thing that's notable about Trump's demeanor in depositions. In most cases, videos of his appearances are not available. In a suit over Trump University, for example, transcripts of two depositions were released, but Judge Gonzalo Curiel (yes, the one Trump said was biased against him because of his Mexican heritage) blocked the release of the videos. But in the Trump Hotel case, videos were released.
They show a Trump who is calm and deliberate, and while his speaking style is recognizable, he seems to take his time and consider answers and thoughts far more carefully than he does in public appearances. This is not the only case where this public-private split happens; as I noted last year, when transcripts of Trump's conversations with world leaders leaked, they revealed a far more articulate leader than the public President Trump.
This is not to say that he's happy—few people enjoy depositions. For the first half of the Trump Hotel deposition, Trump sits with his arms crossed, looking cross. In other cases, he is even more querulous. During the Trump University deposition, Trump was angry from the start, accusing the opposing counsel of "harassment" when she asked him to spell his name. "I think the lawsuit is trying to hurt the brand, and I honestly look forward to winning this case and suing your law firm for as much as we can sue them for, and we will be doing that," he said.
Later, he scolded the lawyer as she handed him documents. "Could you not lick your finger before you give me a document, please. Would that be okay?" Trump said. "It's disgusting." In a 2011 deposition, he blew up when a lawyer asked to take time to pump breastmilk. "You're disgusting," he said, and walked out.
Some of his irritability may represent a strategic choice. In the Trump University deposition in particular, Trump's lawyer repeatedly tangles with the deposing lawyer, objecting to lines of questioning and eventually calling for a break to call the judge to discuss whether certain subjects were permitted. But Trump seems to get in on the act, too. He often acts aggrieved about certain lines of questioning or treats the opposing lawyers as though their questions are preposterous. He also repeatedly goes on tangents, bragging about the value of his business or about his political success or whatever else might strike his fancy, even as he accuses opposing counsel of filibustering. These techniques for running out the clock, as well as the penchant for projection, will be familiar to anyone who watched Trump debate in 2015 or 2016.
If there is one tendency that emerges from the depositions that might have bearing on Mueller's probe, it's that Trump demonstrates little involvement in or awareness of what's going on at his business. It helps that Trump claims to have done practically no preparation for the Trump University and Trump Hotel depositions. (Former: "How did you prepare for your deposition?" "I didn't prepare." Latter: "I would say virtually nothing. I spoke with my counsel for a short period of time.") Over and over, though, he shows himself to be disconnected from the administration of his business empire.
It's not just his statement on the hotel restaurant, that "I wasn't involved in the lease. I signed it, but I wasn't involved in it." Asked what his responsibilities with regard to Trump University were, Trump offered a gauzily meaningless statement: "Well, it was very important to me, because if I can impart knowledge to people to make their lives better, that is a very important thing to me." Confronted with his lawyer's statement saying that Trump did not have "substantial control" of Trump University, Trump tried to find a way to have it both ways. "So I thought it was a—I thought it was a very—so it was a very important thing to me, actually, the school," he said.
But Trump clearly had little knowledge of how Trump University ran. He insisted he had reviewed resumes of teachers, but couldn't remember many of their names, how they were chosen, or what they taught. He could not explain what students received in the apprentice or Gold Elite programs. He did not recall receiving a letter from the New York Department of Education demanding that the company drop the "university" moniker. Asked whether he'd reviewed an agreement, he replied, "Probably. I mean, I have lawyers that do this. I don't think I did it, but I have lawyers that do it, yes." He couldn't recall whether he owned certain business entities and deferred questions to his lawyer. "I don't know. You'd have to ask Mr. Garten. It could be. I think so, but I just don't know specifically, but you could ask Mr. Garten," he said.
Instead, Trump argued that he didn't really know how Trump University worked, deferring to a lieutenant who ran it, producing this surreal exchange:
But not knowing what's really going on among one's lieutenants can come in handy. That's especially true if, say, one's campaign is under investigation for colluding with Russia. There is at this point no doubt that Trump aides were in contact with Russia, both before and after the election, and that they for some reason tried to cover it up. Both Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about contacts with Russians. Add to this the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in which Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, and in which Trump Jr. has said he hoped to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
While the question of collusion is basically settled, there is not yet any evidence to prove that crimes were committed—nor, importantly, is there any evidence that proves that Donald Trump was aware of any of these contacts. Trump's apparent removal from his company's activities in past depositions could help Trump bolster a claim that he was unaware of what his aides, including his son and son-in-law, were doing on the campaign. In the Trump Hotel deposition, he seems barely aware of his son's actions on the restaurant lease.
Of course, that won't help Trump if Mueller is in fact more interested in obstruction of justice than he is in collusion. But the depositions show that Trump is also experienced in the favorite tactic of people being asked uncomfortable questions under oath: Profess having no recollection. Time and again, Trump told attorneys that he didn't remember certain incidents or facts. Judgments on just how credible this will depend on who's making the judgment, though as the opposing counsel in the Trump University case pointed out, Trump has in the past bragged that he has one of the best memories in the world.
The deponent didn't recall that either. "I don't remember that. I remember you telling me, but I don't know that I said it," Trump said.
Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:21 PM PST
It all started with an Instagram ad for a coat, the West Louis (TM) Business-Man Windproof Long Coat to be specific. It looked like a decent camel coat, not fancy but fine. And I'd been looking for one just that color, so when the ad touting the coat popped up and the price was in the double-digits, I figured: hey, a deal!
The brand, West Louis, seemed like another one of the small clothing companies that has me tagged in the vast Facebook-advertising ecosystem as someone who likes buying clothes: Faherty, Birdwell Beach Britches, Life After Denim, some wool underwear brand that claims I only need two pairs per week, sundry bootmakers.
Perhaps the copy on the West Louis site was a little much, claiming "West Louis is the perfection of modern gentlemen clothing," but in a world where an oil company can claim to "fuel connections," who was I to fault a small entrepreneur for some purple prose?
Several weeks later, the coat showed up in a black plastic bag emblazoned with the markings of China Post, that nation's postal service. I tore it open and pulled out the coat. The material has the softness of a Las Vegas carpet and the rich sheen of a velour jumpsuit. The fabric is so synthetic, it could probably be refined into bunker fuel for a ship. It was, technically, the item I ordered, only shabbier than I expected in every aspect.
I went to the West Louis Instagram account and found 20 total posts, all made between June and October of 2017. Most are just pictures of clothes. Doing a reverse image search, it's clear that the Business-Man Windproof Long Coat is sold throughout the world on a variety of retail websites. Another sweatshirt I purchased through Instagram—I tracked down no less than 15 shops selling the identical item. I bought mine from Thecuttedge.life, but I could have gotten it from Gonthwid, Hzijue, Romwe, HypeClothing, Manvestment, Ladae Picassa, or Kovfee. Each very lightly brands the sweatshirt as its own, but features identical pictures of a mustachioed, tattooed model. That a decent percentage of the brands are unpronounceable in English just adds to the covfefe of it all.
All these sites use a platform called Shopify, which is like the Wordpress or Blogger of e-commerce, enabling completely turnkey online stores. Now, it has over 500,000 merchants, a number that's grown 74 percent per year over the last five years. On the big shopping days around Thanksgiving, they were doing $1 million in transactions per minute. And the "vast majority" of the stores on the service are small to medium-sized businesses, the company told me.
Shopify serves as the base layer for an emerging ecosystem that solders digital advertising through Facebook onto the world of Asian manufacturers and wholesalers who rep their companies on Alibaba and its foreigner-friendly counterpart, AliExpress.
It's a fascinating new retail world, a mutation of globalized capitalism that's been growing in the cracks of mainstream commerce.
Here's how it works.
"What is up everybody?!" a fresh-faced man with messy brown hair shouts into the camera. Behind him, two computers sit open on a white desk in a white room. By the looks of him, he might not be an adult, but he has already learned to look directly into the camera when delivering the ever-appealing gospel of Easy Money on the Internet.
"In this challenge, I'm going to take a brand new Shopify store to over one thousand dollars," he says. "So I invite you to follow along with me as I take this brand new store from 0, literally 0, to over one thousand dollars in the next seven days."
In the corner of YouTube dedicated to e-commerce, these videos are a bit of a phenomenon, racking up hundreds of thousands of views for highly detailed explanations of how to set up an e-commerce shop on the Internet.
Their star is Rory Ganon. Though his accent is Irish ("tousand"), his diction is pure LA YouTuber. He's repetitive, makes quick cuts, and delivers every line with the conviction of youth. He appears to live in Ratoath, a small Irish commuter town about half an hour outside Dublin. His Facebook page describes him as a 17-year-old entrepreneur.
His success finding an audience seems predicated on the fact that when he says he's going to show you everything, he really is going to show you everything. Like, you will watch his screen as he goes about setting up a store, so anyone can follow along at home. He's a Bob Ross of e-commerce.
These techniques work the same for him as for Gucci. Some Instagram retailers are legit brands with employees and products. Others are simply middlemen for Chinese goods, built in bedrooms, and launched with no capital or inventory. All of them have been pulled into existence by the power of Instagram and Facebook ads combined with a suite of e-commerce tools based around Shopify.
The products don't matter to the system, nor do they matter to Ganon. The whole idea of retail gets inverted in his videos. What he actually sells in his stores is secondary to how he does it. It's as if he squirts hot dogs on his ketchup and mustard.
What Ganon does is pick suppliers he'll never know to ship products he'll never touch. All his effort goes into creating ads to capture prospective customers, and then optimizing a digital environment that encourages them to buy whatever piece of crap he's put in front of them.
And he is not alone.
The touchstone investigation into this world—"There's No Such Thing as a Free Watch"— was conducted by an artist, Jenny Odell. After a visitor to Oakland's Museum of Capitalism brought a watch that was "sold" "free" online, Odell endeavored to seek out its origins. The watch was sold by Folsom & Co, one of a constellation of nearly identical companies selling nearly identical watches. These companies are distinguished primarily by their loose relationship with the truth about themselves. The information they provide about the brands is almost certainly fictional. While Folsom & Co claimed to be from San Francisco's Soma district, SoFi coastal claimed to be from Miami. Both were probably from somewhere else. Another site creates the barest sketch of a supposed founder named "Bradley" who "had a constant desire to present himself well but didn't believe fashion and style should come with such a high price." Bradley probably doesn't exist.
Of course, this is merely a hackneyed version of what all branding does, Odell points out. It creates stories that pump up the value of products. What you can charge depends on the story you tell, which on Instagram means well-lit photos in coffee shops lead directly to higher prices, especially if they feature an "influencer" with a lot of followers.
These new retail sites are also creatures that could only exist in our current economy. They are a reshuffling of the same fast-fashion infrastructure that powers H&M and Zara. West Louis and Folsom & Co are a new a front-end for the Asian factories that make stuff. Stumble onto one—or more likely—find yourself targeted by such a brand's ads, and you open up one of many highly disposable faces of the globalized economy. It's just that with companies like West Louis, the seams show, literally and figuratively.
* * *
Ganon's videos are particularly fascinating in describing the mechanics of digital advertising through Instagram and Facebook.
In the tutorial, he briefly discusses finding a niche for the products in your store, and he uses some business school powerpoint terms. But when he actually selects a niche, it is Lions. That's right: Lions, the animals.
His reasoning, laid out in video two, is twofold. One, there are plenty of "Instagram influencers"—which is to say popular accounts—who he can pay to run an ad for his store because there are a bunch of "naturey" sites. And two, when he looks at Facebook's Audience Insights tool, he (and anyone else) can see how large Facebook estimates the audience for certain interests might be. When he types in "lions," "[Facebook] says I have 5 to 6 million monthly active people I can target," he says. "But if I add in wildlife, you can see I have 10-15 million monthly active people I can show my ads to. So, if my store is successful, I can scale my store to thousands of dollars per day."
So, he has his audience, now he needs his store. He calls it Lions Jewel, pulls in some lion pictures, copy and pastes Shopify's default privacy and return policy boilerplate, and he's up and running with the empty store.
For products, he turns to, AliExpress, the Alibaba company. The key to the whole scheme is that he doesn't have to hold any inventory, so he can start up the business with no capital. And AliExpress has many companies that are willing to do what's called "dropshipping" direct from wherever the item was manufactured or warehoused. That's why my coat showed up in a China Post package.
There is an app that plugs directly into Shopify called Oberlo, which allows anyone to pull products directly from Aliexpress. Click a button and something that was manufactured in the Chinese hinterlands and marketed in a suburb of Shanghai becomes an item for sale on an Irish kid's website. Oberlo's marketing claims that 85 million items have been processed through the system.
Ganon searches out some lion-themed objects, including the one that he anticipates making the most money from, a gold-plated lion bracelet that he puts on sale for $0. He gives some tips for finding popular dropshippable items, too. He sorts Shopify-hosted sites by traffic with myip.ms, and then digs below the most popular stores, which generally sell products they make themselves. Deeper into the top 1000 stores, there are dropshippers reselling Aliexpress goods, just like Ganon is, so if he can ferret out what products are selling at high-performing stores, he can siphon off some of those dollars. All he'd need to do was do reverse image searches to find the listings in Aliexpress, suck those products in with Oberlo, and he could effectively clone the store in a few minutes.
But for the video series, he was focused on just the lion stuff. With his shop loaded with a handful of products, his next step is to get people to see the merchandise. First, he creates a Lions Jewel Instagram account, posting a smattering of pictures with a link to his store. Then, he taps an Instagram account that posts pictures of nature, and brokers a sub-$20 deal that pushes some hundreds of people to his site through Lions Jewel's Instagram account.
When they hit the site, there is a countdown clock telling them they are running out of time to grab the free bracelet deal. This is, of course not true. But it creates that "sense of scarcity," as Ganon says, that leads to purchases. That clock is just another app for Shopify, Hurrify. It is supposed to increase conversions 2 to 3 percent, Ganon claims.
As one is shopping this kind of site, occasionally a screen will pop up saying, "Alexis in Oakland just purchased the West Louis (TM) Business-Man Windproof Long Coat." This effect comes courtesy of yet another app, Sales Pop. Ganon and the appmakers say these pop-ups provide "social proof," which is, again, designed to increase conversions. One would expect that such an app would show actual purchases, and it can do that. But it can also show "custom notifications" so that you can create fake customers who are supposedly buying things. Pick some cool-sounding names, pick some cool locations ("London," "Paris," "Mexico City," "Oakland") and it does the work of combining them into robo-social proof.
Given the array of behavioral tricks arrayed against your average Internet user, some of them take the free lion bracelet deal. But for those that don't, merely by visiting his site, they've been tagged in Facebook's system because Ganon has installed a standard Facebook tracking pixel. That means Ganon can now re-target those people who visited but left without purchasing anything through Facebook. And he spends a lot of time designing and testing ads that will bring them back for the purchase.
There's nothing unusual about this in digital marketing. In fact, it's a completely common practice. But employed so baldly, it shows the strangeness of our current commerce model. I like lions, so I follow an Instagram account that posts pictures of them, they post an ad, so I go to a webpage, and now I get ads chasing me all over the Internet advertising a lion bracelet. It's enough to make you long for the days of going to the mall or buying stuff out of a catalog.
Ganon says he creates blogs for his sites, too. So maybe for his lion store, he'd cobble together "fun facts about lions" by looking up the most popular lion content on the site, Buzzsumo. Once you hit that page, he could retarget you.
This is one major purpose of "content marketing." For example, a company could have someone ghostwrite its CTO some blog posts about cloud storage topics that only people deep in the industry could be interested in. Because of that hyperspecificity, anyone who lands on those pages is likely to be a prospective customer. So, even if the prose is unreadable, it doesn't really matter beause by the time you're staring at the words, the content has served its purpose already. Just by arriving on the page while logged into Facebook, you've placed yourself in a custom audience that can be targeted on the Facebook back end. This is a basic capability of the system: it works for any demographic, from Chief Executive Officers to white supremacists to lion lovers.
The last step in a Ganonite store process, then, is to do the actual fulfillment of the orders. This means entering names and addresses into AliExpress, so the Chinese companies can send out the stuff. But Ganon doesn't like to waste time on things that don't generate revenue for his stores. "There's only 24 hours in a day," he writes in a slide, underlining this text, "Why waste money on things that don't make you money?"
So Ganon "automates" the order fulfillment by hiring digital workers on the platform, UpWork, for 3, 4, 5 dollars per hour. When I searched through the platform last week, there were 275 open jobs listed for dropshipping, 200 for AliExpress specifically, and 132 for Oberlo—though there was considerable overlap among all those ads.
Ganon's video series opens by promising that he'll get his store's revenue to $1,000 in the first week. Spoiler alert: that does not happen. That's probably because it's harder than he made it sound. But there was something else going on, too. Ganon posted the videos in real time. So, as the first video began to circulate, other people—following his instructions exactly—began to create shops also selling lion bracelets. Oops!
In general, it's hard to know how much actual profit anyone could make from a store that does even substantial transactions. AliExpress products are cheap, but not free. Facebook and Instagram ads are effective, but cost money. That "Make a thousand dollars in a week!" promise is very easy to whittle down.
But as hypermodern economic entities, they are fascinating. Even the idea of a "supply chain"—the system for using cheaper labor and global logistics networks to increase profit margins for companies with the wherewithal to do global business—breaks down. There are just suppliers and retail-front ends connected loosely by e-commerce sites and apps.
"Amidst the shifting winds of Alibaba sites, dropshipping networks, Shopify templates, Instagram accounts and someone somewhere concocting the details of 'Our Story,' a watch was formed, like a sudden precipitate in an unstable cloud," the artist Odell writes.
Which suggests a name for this phenomenon of jumbled up global capitalism that uses Silicon Valley ad tools to arbitrage cheap goods from Asia: the Supply Cloud.
As for my coat, in the end, there was no real mystery to it. It was too cheap to be true, and no matter how much technology changes, you get what you pay for.
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Atlantic. |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, United States|