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A Shaky Justification for Immigration Reform

Posted: 18 Jan 2018 03:00 AM PST

President Trump and his Senate allies are now presenting their goal for immigration reform as increasing the number of high-skilled immigrants allowed into the United States. But the immigration legislation from Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia that Trump has endorsed would almost certainly reduce the total number of high-skilled immigrants.

That stark contradiction has been overshadowed by reports that Trump used a vulgarity to describe immigrants from Africa and Haiti during a private White House meeting last week—and by the widely disputed accusation from Cotton and Perdue, who attended, that their colleague Dick Durbin lied when he recounted the president's language.

But by trumpeting high-skilled immigration, Trump, Cotton, and Perdue are also obscuring the most significant impact of their proposal: a 50 percent cut in legal immigration. Within that smaller pool of immigrants, high-skilled workers could very well comprise a larger share than they do now. But if that shift were to happen, it would only be because immigration levels would fall even faster for those who are lower-skilled.

"They are not talking about immigrating 1 million scientists and engineers," said Stuart Anderson, the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy and a former immigration aide to two Republican senators. "It's completely untrue that it would bring in more skilled immigrants. The purpose of this from the beginning has been to cut legal immigration."

In 2016, the United States admitted nearly 1.2 million legal immigrants. They mostly fall into four big categories: those who are sponsored by employers (about 140,000 annually); refugees and asylum seekers (160,000); those admitted through a diversity lottery (around 50,000); and the relatives of American citizens and legal permanent residents (about 800,000).

The Cotton and Perdue bill that Trump has embraced would limit refugee admissions to 50,000 annually, terminate the diversity lottery, and severely reduce family-based immigration. U.S. citizens could still sponsor spouses and minor children in unlimited numbers, though the age limit for eligible children would be lowered. And legal permanent residents could sponsor those relatives up to an annual cap. But almost all other forms of family reunification—or "chain migration," as conservatives call it—would be eliminated: Neither citizens nor permanent residents could sponsor their adult children or siblings. The only exception would be the parents of citizens, who would be allowed to enter temporarily—typically so their kids could care for them—but not obtain citizenship.

But despite its supporters' rhetoric, the Cotton-Perdue bill would not increase the 140,000 visas available for employment-based immigration. Instead, it would shift those slots out of the current framework—where specific employers sponsor specific workers—and into a new points system, which ranks prospective immigrants on such qualities as their education and English proficiency. The sponsors' claim that the bill would increase skilled immigration is based almost entirely on the possibility that this point-based approach would admit more highly educated immigrants than the existing employer system.

Experts don't all agree it would. But even if it did, the effect would be modest. The 140,000 employment slots include workers' immediate families. On average, that means only about 70,000 workers are admitted through this category. Increasing the share of workers with a college degree might enlarge the number of skilled immigrants the United States admits by a few thousand. But any such gain likely would be overwhelmed by the number of skilled immigrants the bill would exclude by retrenching other categories, especially family and diversity immigration. Those two categories alone could face a combined reduction approaching 300,000 in the bill's first year.

The Migration Policy Institute has calculated that nearly half of all immigrants admitted in the past five years have a college degree. Even if the numbers are lower for family members or diversity participants—that precise data isn't available—the likelihood is that the bill would exclude many more college graduates by shutting those doors than it opens on the employment side.

"If you are thinking about the number of college graduates who would be getting green cards each year, that number would go down," said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at MPI.

The Trump administration has also indicated it is considering administrative changes that would make it harder for high-skilled immigrants to remain in the United States under the tech-focused H1-B program, and harder for foreign students to work in the country temporarily after graduation. "Their entire regulatory agenda is to have fewer high-skilled people work in the U.S., especially in the long term," Anderson said.

The bipartisan immigration-reform plan the Senate approved in 2013 offers a revealing contrast to the Trump agenda. That bill—which passed with support from every Senate Democrat and 14 Senate Republicans before House Republicans killed it—eliminated three categories of non-employment immigration: siblings, married adult children, and the diversity lottery. But it shifted the visas it eliminated into a new merit-based system that supplemented the employer-sponsorship track, rather than replacing it as Cotton and Perdue's bill would. That meant that, unlike the new legislation, the 2013 Senate plan actually would have admitted more high-skilled immigrants.

Cotton has signaled he might agree to transfer some of the family-based slots he would eliminate into skills-based immigration. But as long as he's attempting to slash overall legal-immigration levels—at a time when the country will need more workers to fund Social Security and Medicare for its growing senior population—he's unlikely to find many takers among Democrats or even centrist Republicans. The 2013 precedent shows there's a path to bipartisan agreement on shifting the balance of new immigrants more toward those with high skills—but not if the real goal remains locking out as many future immigrants as possible.

The 'Underground Railroad' To Save Atheists

Posted: 18 Jan 2018 01:50 AM PST

Lubna Yaseen was a student in Baghdad when death threats forced her into exile. Her crime was to think the unthinkable and question the unquestionable—to state, openly, that she was an atheist.

Growing up in Hillah, a city in central Iraq, she developed an independent mind at a young age. "My mother is an atheist intellectual person, and she brought up me and my siblings to think for ourselves and to be open to anything," she told me. Yaseen was particularly concerned about her teachers' attitudes toward women. "I always asked why girls should wear a hijab and boys are not obligated to do so," she said. Why would "God" treat the two sexes differently? She quickly learned the dangers of expressing these views: Her teachers often threw her out of their classes, and sometimes beat her.

In 2006, when Yaseen and her mother were driving home one day, al-Qaeda militants pulled them over and threatened to kill them for not wearing the hijab. Still, Yaseen's desire to explore secular thinking grew at university. "I couldn't keep my mouth shut. Whenever there was a conversation, I talked." She started handing out leaflets on Mutanabbi Street, the heart of Baghdad's intellectual life, and wrote about her atheist beliefs on Facebook. Her activism attracted further threats from fellow students and local Islamist militia groups, but she was determined to continue. "I believed in my rights to be who I am," she said.

The tipping point came when Yaseen's story caught the attention of the American TV host Dave Rubin, who featured her on his show The Rubin Report in early 2016. After the clip was released online, she faced a torrent of death threats and finally went into hiding. "I disappeared—I left everything. I had to be always on the run, changing places and disguises," she said. "I couldn't feel anything except that I would end up being killed."

Yaseen would still be at risk if it weren't for the actions of Secular Rescue, which helped her escape to California, where she is waiting for her asylum claim to be approved. The initiative, launched in 2016, is run by the Center For Inquiry, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that aims to promote secular values, such as scientific rationality and freedom of speech, with the support of Richard Dawkins and other prominent atheists.

"It's really an underground railroad of sorts for non-believers in countries where simply expressing doubt about religious belief is a criminal offense or where it may lead to grave physical harm," Robyn Blumner, the president and CEO of the CFI, told me.

Secular Rescue does not just face challenges abroad in militantly religious countries; due to some unnervingly resilient biases, implicit prejudice against atheists is still prevalent in ostensibly secular Western countries, making it difficult to raise the necessary diplomatic support there for people like Yaseen.

But in many countries across the globe, the danger of expressing non-belief comes directly from the state. According to a comprehensive report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a U.K.-based non-profit that aims to promote the rights of non-religious people, there are currently 12 nations in which apostasy (including atheism) can be punished by death: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Pakistan, meanwhile, threatens the death penalty for blasphemy, which may include expressions of atheism.

Even in states that ostensibly protect religious rights, atheists may have to fear repercussions from vigilante groups. In Iraq, for instance, the right to freedom of conscience is enshrined in the constitution, yet Yaseen faced regular death threats from fundamentalists and got little support from the police. "There is a mob mentality that sanctions violence against people who don't conform on religious grounds," Blumner said.

Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for Secular Rescue, told me that government complicity is a particular problem in Bangladesh, which has seen the murder of at least 10 writers who had questioned the religious dogma since 2015. "We know there have been, and may still be, hit lists, issued by those who are trying to keep their hands clean, encouraging young radicals to slaughter secularists of their own volition," Fidalgo told me. "And one of the worst parts is the callousness of the response from the Bangladeshi government. From the prime minister and other officials, we get several versions of 'Well, they shouldn't have been insulting religious beliefs.' After one student was murdered, officials began to investigate the dead guy to see if he had written anything worth killing him over."

When faced with these threats, many people are understandably reluctant to admit their religious doubts even to their closest confidants, making it difficult to gauge how widespread atheism actually is around the world. But there are signs that the numbers of atheists are sizable. A 2012 Win/Gallup International Poll, for instance, found that 19 percent of people in Saudi Arabia claimed not to be religious, with 5 percent identifying as convinced atheists—roughly the same proportion as in the U.S. That's a surprisingly high number given the difficulties of exploring non-religious thought in this country, and the true figure may be greater; even if their responses remain anonymous, many non-believers may still have been reluctant to declare their religious doubts openly.

Mark Aveyard, a social psychologist in the United Arab Emirates, believes that some changing attitudes toward religion (at least in the UAE) may be linked to shifts in the way people are encouraged to think in education and at work. "They study or work in organizations where they're encouraged to be bold, disruptive, innovative, creative, unconventional—with business, technology, entertainment, academics, etc. They're rewarded for questioning the received wisdom." Although many manage to compartmentalize these more critical attitudes, it has caused some to rethink their religion, Aveyard said. "So there are more youth now who question and doubt, but they do so privately."

For non-believers like Yaseen who are more committed to expressing their opinions, however, the internet now provides a community and forum for the formation of an atheist identity. Arabic Facebook groups promoting atheism can reach tens of thousands of followers before they are targeted by "cyber jihadists." (One popular tactic is to break into the account and post pornography, leading Facebook's moderators to shut it down.) Blumner, meanwhile, points out that an Arabic translation of Dawkins's book The God Delusion has reportedly been downloaded by more than 10 million people, with about 30 percent of downloads (3 million) coming from Saudi Arabia. "It shows you there's a tremendous appetite for understanding religious doubt, for exploring religious doubt, for affirming religious doubt," she said.

Some religious leaders and politicians are hoping to regulate atheism with increasingly fiery rhetoric and more stringent laws. Egypt, for instance, already criminalizes the act of blasphemy, leading to the recent conviction of a 29-year-old computer scientist for running a Facebook page on atheism. But in late December, the Egyptian government announced plans to extend these laws, so that disbelief itself would be criminalized, even if the person does not actively declare or promote atheism (although it remains unclear how this could be practically enforced).

Although some organizations like Amnesty International have taken up the cause of certain individuals, the CFI's Secular Rescue was founded to tackle the broader global problem. The support it offers is largely diplomatic, financial, and legal: to pull strings with government agencies, organize the transportation of potential victims, and pay the costs of settling in a new country. Since 2015, it has helped save 30 people, including Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury (also known as Tutul), who was chosen by Margaret Atwood for the PEN International Writer of Courage Award in 2016. The year before, he had suffered a nearly fatal machete attack by insurgents in Bangladesh, after which Secular Rescue helped his family to Norway. With enough funds, the group would hope to help many more.

Beyond creating these escape routes, Secular Rescue also campaigns for bodies like the UN to protect the rights of atheists to express their freedom of conscience. Blumner, for instance, recently visited the UN Human Rights Council to discuss mounting concerns in Malaysia, after an eruption of atheist persecution in August was sanctioned by the government. She says that the plight of non-believers is overlooked by politicians from ostensibly secular societies, meaning that activists working on behalf of persecuted atheists often struggle to garner the necessary support. "Part of the problem is that people don't like atheists and it's hard to protect a group you don't like."

This is even the case in the United States, where Blumner's assertion finds support in a series of studies by the psychologist Will Gervais at the University of Kentucky, who has described atheists as "one of the most hated groups in the U.S.," even as they face no state-backed persecution. His work has centered on a well-accepted measure of prejudice that tests how much people implicitly associate certain acts with representatives of a particular group.

In one early study from 2011, he found that people assume that atheists are more likely to commit immoral acts such as stealing money from a wallet left on the sidewalk, or failing to give the correct insurance information after a road accident. Indeed, of all the groups he measured—including Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, feminists, and homosexuals—only rapists were considered to be similarly untrustworthy. He has since shown that people are also more likely to implicitly associate atheism with incest, bestiality, animal torture, even murder and mutilation. Opinion polls, meanwhile, reveal that nearly 50 percent of people would rather that their children did not marry an atheist (compared to 34 percent who declared that they would be disappointed if their child married a Muslim).

"People have these strongly negative reactions to atheists," Gervais told me. Strikingly, these views were not limited to religious participants in his studies. "Even our atheist participants seem to intuitively think that serial killers are atheists."

He emphasizes that these associations are probably learned, and even if you don't go to church, you may still be exposed to lingering cues in our culture that encourage that distrust. "We have had millennia of religious influence," he said. Nor are these biases restricted to the U.S. In 2017, Gervais demonstrated that they are shared across many countries usually assumed to embody secular values, including the U.K., the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.

It's worth noting that people turning away from religion in the West may also feel threatened by the people in their community, and given the widespread bias against atheism—among the religious and non-religious alike—it's not surprising they sometimes fail to report their fears. Maryam Namazie, founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, has described a "tsunami of atheism" in the U.K., with many living in fear of reprisals from their religious community. "There are many cases where ex-Muslims have gone to the police and not received any support at all because the problems aren't taken seriously," she told the Independent.

Increasing the acceptance of atheists in the West—and concern about their plight in the West and elsewhere—may be a battle in itself, one that must be fought in tandem with the battle to sustain an "underground railroad" that rescues atheists from physical harm.

Yaseen, for her part, told me that she is still trying to heal from her experiences, but that they have ultimately made her more determined to share her story and build awareness of the dangers facing atheists in countries like Iraq. "I hope my voice can be heard, so Western communities can open their eyes to what's going on, and build a safer place for people like me."

Donald Trump's Long History of Paying for Silence

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 04:12 PM PST

Breaking up is hard to do. A pile of money and some crack legal help can't heal a broken heart, but they can go a long way to guaranteeing that whatever bad feelings emerge from the relationship don't make it to the public. At various times in the past, Donald Trump has struck deals with women in his life, or formerly in his life, exchanging money for silence.

It's not a perfect solution. Over the last week, a series of stories have focused on Trump's 2006 interactions with Stephanie Clifford, an adult actress who performed under the nom de porn Stormy Daniels. Trump and Daniels reportedly met at a golf tournament in July 2006, more than a year after he married Melania, his third wife. At various points in the past, Daniels has given interviews to various outlets alleging that she had a sexual relationship with him.

A story saying that a presidential candidate had an affair with a porn star would have been explosive during the campaign, and several outlets chased the story prior to the election. But Daniels wanted to be paid for her story, something most mainstream outlets will not do. Slate's Jacob Weisberg talked to Daniels but never got a signoff to do the story and decided not to write it (until this week). CNN reports that Fox News also had the story but killed it. In 2011, Daniels told InTouch magazine about the affair, including some suitably lurid details.

As is often the case, determining the truth is difficult. The White House says there is no truth to Daniels's account. She gave similar stories to different publications at different times, and in the case of Slate, three friends confirmed the story and said she'd told them about it at the time. Speaking to InTouch, she said she arranged rendezvous with Trump's bodyguard, a man named Keith, which matches up with Keith Schiller, Trump's longtime guard. But Daniels will not comment these days.

That's because she signed an agreement not to speak. The Wall Street Journal finally broke the story last week by focusing on that deal—which in turn opened up the floodgates for the other stories. According to the paper, Trump agreed to pay Daniels $130,000 in exchange for keeping quiet. Given that she was speaking to reporters, it was a live issue; Weisberg said Daniels showed him a copy of a draft agreement, but she was worried that Trump would not pay out. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen denied any affair to the Journal, and sent a statement signed by Stormy Daniels, stating, "Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false." She did not respond to other requests for comment.

The suggestion of hush money is easier to credit because it fits with a pattern from Trump in the past. Faced with the prospect of damaging revelations about his personal life, the otherwise parsimonious Trump has often paid out. As part of his 1992 divorce from Ivana Trump, the developer agreed to divide assets, but imposed a sweeping gag order on his ex-wife:

Without obtaining [the husband's] written consent in advance, [the wife] shall not directly or indirectly publish, or cause to be published, any diary, memoir, letter, story, photograph, interview, article, essay, account, or description or depiction of any kind whatsoever, whether fictionalized or not, concerning her marriage to [the husband] or any other aspect of [the husband's] personal, business or financial affairs, or assist or provide information to others in connection with the publication or dissemination of any such material or excerpts thereof.

If Ivana broke the agreement, Donald could cut off all benefits to her. The agreement seems to have had some curious repercussions. During a deposition for the divorce, Ivana accused him of marital rape, as Harry Hurt reported in his book The Lost Tycoon. But when the book came out, Donald's lawyers provided a statement from Ivana, printed in the book, that sought to soft-pedal the allegation. "I referred to this as a 'rape,' but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense," it said.

When Trump's marriage to Marla Maples, for whom he left Ivana Trump, crumbled, she too, signed a confidentiality agreement, as he revealed in 1999, when he floated a presidential run and she told a British newspaper, "If he is really serious about being president and runs in the general election next year, I will not be silent. I will feel it is my duty as an American citizen to tell the people what he is really like." Trump withheld an alimony payment.

"I mean you have a confidentiality agreement; you're not allowed to talk," he told Fox News, as BuzzFeed reported in 2016. "And she goes out and says, 'I wouldn't this, I wouldn't that.' So I say, 'Why am I paying money to somebody that's violated an agreement?' But we'll see what happens in the future and if in the future she continues I guess I`ll have to take very strong measures." Maples has been generally complimentary during Trump's latest turn in politics.

Here, too, there's a strange book-publishing tie-in. In 2000, HarperCollins announced a tell-all by Maples—or a "remarkably candid memoir" in publisher-speak. But by 2002, the volume had been shelved, with the reasons unclear. Maples wouldn't talk about it, but Trump, while refusing to say whether he had blocked the book, noted, "She signed a confidentiality agreement."

Trump's affection for non-disparagement agreements extends beyond his personal life. Earlier this month, his lawyer threatened former White House chief strategist with a lawsuit for comments he made to author Michael Wolff, citing a confidentiality agreement. Other former Trump aides were also made to sign agreements, including Corey Lewandowski and Sam Nunberg, whose NDA was briefly at the center of a lawsuit in 2016. (Trump's affinity for NDAs is somewhat ironic, given his propensity for oversharing about his personal and professional lives.)

There are, of course, other ways of buying silence, as the Journal reported late in the campaign. In that case, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, agreed to sell the story of her own alleged relationship with Trump to the publisher of National Enquirer for $150,000. But the company never ran any story, in what the Journal reported is a common tabloid technique called "catch and kill," in which a publication buys the rights and then sits on the story. The company is owned by David Pecker, a close friend of Trump's, but Trump's spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Trump had no knowledge of the arrangement. He also denied any sexual relationship.

Some people will take Trump's denial of an affair with Daniels at face value, while others, conditioned by frequently misleading statements from the president, will reject it. Given Trump's history, however, it's very easy to believe that Trump paid hush money to Daniels—no matter how many statements in her name his lawyers release.

<em>The Atlantic</em> Daily: Investigating ISIS, Interviewing Steve Bannon, Parenting Teen Idols

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 04:06 PM PST

What We're Following

Bannon's Testimony: President Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has reportedly agreed to be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The news comes just a day after Bannon stonewalled questioners on the House Intelligence Committee, suggesting that Mueller's investigation of the 2016 election is making more progress than Congress's. Bannon, like his populist U.K. counterpart, Nigel Farage, has rapidly fallen from political influence—but that's not to say that both couldn't make a comeback.

Extremist Violence: A new report finds that more than half of the killings linked to extremism in the U.S. last year were committed by white supremacists, underscoring the serious risk posed by far-right hate groups' new visibility. And a two-year investigation has identified the first-known American member of the Islamic State to be shown beheading prisoners in a gruesome propaganda video. He's one of the group's recruitment leaders, and his story helps show how radicalism spreads.

From Campuses to Congress: Bipartisan plans to address sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill are under discussion in both the House and the Senate, as lawmakers respond to the ongoing movement to reduce harassment and abuse across industries. The past few months have brought nationwide awareness to the problem, but college activists and administrators have been reckoning with it for years. Meanwhile, pop culture often romanticizes sexual encounters that blur the lines of consent—making it all the more important for women and men to reflect on the subtle power dynamics of sex.

Rosa Inocencio Smith


Snapshot

Katie Martin created this collage of a card showing the members of the South Carolina legislature, from a time when the South was America's most progressive region. Read more here, and follow The Atlantic on Instagram for more illustrations and videos. (Library of Congress / Katie Martin / The Atlantic)

Evening Read

Taylor Lorenz on how the parents of teenage social-media stars navigate their children's sudden fame:

A parent's most basic instinct is to protect her child, and when a crowd of thirsty fans descends, it can be scary …

Even parents who take the most-meticulous cautionary measures see their children's whereabouts tracked 24/7 by fan accounts online. Twitter and Instagram accounts set up by fans crowdsource sightings of their favorite internet stars and alert followers to their whereabouts wherever they go. Because of the global reach of social platforms, most internet stars have fans all over the world, and it can seem like no matter where a parent takes her child, there are eyes on the ground. When a kid's location is revealed, a flash mob can pop up in a matter of minutes. All it takes is one tweet.

Keep reading here, as Lorenz explores what it's like for families with little media experience to get thrust into the limelight.


What Do You Know … About Science, Technology, and Health?

This week, we delved into some of the troubling consequences of new technology, from the unsettling experiences of parents whose children became social-media stars to a recidivism-predicting algorithm that's no better at its job than random people surveyed on the internet. In addition to the job losses that truckers will face as automated vehicles take to the roads, self-driving buses could worsen racial inequality by eliminating what's historically been a steady source of work for black drivers. And of course, the false missile alarm in Hawaii on Saturday shows how the rise of smartphones has thrown a wrench in American emergency-notification systems.

Can you remember the other key facts from this week's science, technology, and health coverage? Test your knowledge below:

1. Because of manufacturing shortages linked to Hurricane ____________, hospitals are running out of IV bags.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. In the cognitive test administered to Donald Trump, called the ____________, patients earn points for correctly identifying drawings of a lion, camel, and rhinoceros.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. The New Age movement of the 1960s and '70s is also nicknamed the Age of ____________, after an astrological sign.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Rachel Gutman

Answers: maria / montreal cognitive assessment / Aquarius


Look Back

From 1907, future President Woodrow Wilson reflects on the past 50 years of American politics:

The nation of 1907 is hardly recognizable, socially, politically, or economically, as the nation of 1857 or of 1860. The generation that wrought that extraordinary revolution left the stage but yesterday: We have all known and familiarly conversed with men who belonged to it and who performed its tremendous tasks. Some of the soldiers who officered the armies of that war of transformation are still among us. But we do not think their thoughts; it requires an effort of the imagination to carry our minds back to the things which are for them the most vital facts and recollections of their lives ... Nothing remains of that older day but the irreparable mischief wrought by the reconstruction of the southern States. That folly has left upon us the burden of a race problem well-nigh insoluble, which even the alchemy of these extraordinary fifty years has not transmuted into stuff of calculable human purpose. That is of the old world; all else is of the new. We see what has gone by only across a gulf of unfamiliar things.

Read more here, and find more stories from our archives here.


Reader Response

As the Trump presidency reaches its one-year mark, we asked readers to share their reflections about aspects of Trump's governance that have challenged their expectations. First up is Eric Richardson in Portland, Oregon:

I thought he would get a lot more done. I knew he wouldn't be able to pass a lot of the major legislation he was proposing, but I assumed he would make deals to make progress on most things … incremental changes that he could declare as major wins even if they weren't. Turns out we're not even really getting those incremental changes, with the exception of tax reform.

To Eric, health care stands out as an example:

I assumed that he would make a deal with Democrats to adjust the Affordable Care Act and repurpose it as "TrumpCare." But to simply swing and miss, that never occurred to me, and made me realize that he isn't the deal maker he says he is—especially since he couldn't even get all Republicans on board.

[In the coming year,] I hope that the dysfunction continues to spur public debate and engagement in the process of government. That is one of the wonderful things about this presidency: People are engaging politically at a level I have never really seen in my life.

Stay tuned for more reader responses in the coming week.


Adjectives

Suspected turncoat, storied party, inflated salary, understated star.


Time of Your Life

Happy birthday to Leonard (a year younger than microwave ovens); to Barbara's father, William (a year younger than "talking" movies); to Ruchi's husband, Prakash (the same age as the first successful heart transplant); to Scott (twice the age of The Oprah Winfrey Show); to Mary's mother (a year younger than the Academy Awards); and to Hannah (the same age as the euro).

Do you or a loved one have a birthday coming up? Sign up for a birthday shout-out here, and click here to explore the Timeline feature for yourself.


Meet The Atlantic Daily's team here, and contact us here.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Cornel West’s One-Sided War

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 04:32 PM PST

If there's real beef between the Harvard philosopher Cornel West and The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, Coates says he doesn't understand it. West is a vocal critic of Coates and his status as a public intellectual.

Coates addressed the controversy at a panel Tuesday hosted by The Atlantic, saying he remains confused why the feud started in the first place, and that he can't seem to find a huge difference in the things West has spoken about and what Coates himself has written.

Coates spoke about the first time he saw Cornel West 20 years ago, and found it surreal to  have that same person "write critical things about you when they have so clearly not read your work."

"I am mystified as anybody else" about West's argument, Coates said, adding that he hopes people read Race Matters, West's groundbreaking 1993 book.

In December, West, who is also an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama, wrote a column for The Guardian calling Coates "the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle." West's criticism and Coates's response to the column went viral, and the moment was pegged by some as a feud between America's top black intellectuals. After the row sparked a wider debate on Twitter, Coates—in what became a much talked-about moment—quit the social media platform.

In a separate panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday evening, Coates spoke about the specific moment he decided to leave Twitter:

The moment that I was like, I clearly don't belong here is—I got a tweet and it was like, here are all the black women who critiqued Ta-Nehisi and have been ignored … And at that point, I was like, yo, I'm in the wrong room… I did not come for this. This is not what my writing, my work — I don't want my life to be about this. I don't want 'Ta-Nehisi fought Cornel West' anywhere in my obituary. Anywhere.

Watch a video of The Atlantic's editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, interviewing Coates at this week's panel:

Watch a video of Alex Wagner, a contributing editor for The Atlantic, interviewing Coates at Sixth & I:

<i>The Atlantic</i> Politics & Policy Daily: Et Tu, Kelly?

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 02:38 PM PST

Today in 5 Lines

Republicans are hoping to vote on a stopgap proposal to fund the government for another month on Thursday. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly told lawmakers that the U.S. will never build President Trump's proposed border wall, and that some of his campaign promises were "uninformed." During an interview with Reuters, Trump said that Russia is hindering U.S. efforts to negotiate with North Korea, and that Pyongyang is getting "closer every day" to being capable of shooting a missile that would reach the U.S. In a speech on the Senate floor, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake compared Trump's attacks on the media to the rhetoric of the late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. North and South Korea agreed to march together under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month.


Today on The Atlantic

  • A Third Reconstruction?: For a few years after the Civil War, the South was the most progressive place in America. (Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle)

  • Staying the Course: While congressional committees have succumbed to partisan squabbling, the special counsel is moving ever forward with the Trump-Russia investigation. (David A. Graham)

  • Started From the Bottom: Two famous populist figureheads, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and UK Independence Party Leader Nigel Farage, have been relegated to the political sidelines. Will they stay there? (Yasmeen Serhan)

Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.


Snapshot

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole is presented a Congressional Gold Medal by House Speaker Paul Ryan next to President Trump during a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington. Carlos Barria / Reuters


What We're Reading

'Suspicious Activity': Intelligence officials are reportedly investigating unusual financial transactions between the Russian government and businesses in the United States. (Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, BuzzFeed)

'The Case for New California': A new group proposes splitting California into two states—one encompassing rural counties, and another including the coastal urban areas. It's not such a terrible idea. (Eric Levitz, New York)

Nuclear Anxiety: On Saturday, Hawaiians were erroneously warned of a ballistic missile headed their way. Here's what would actually happen if there was a nuclear attack on the U.S. (Dan Vergano, BuzzFeed)

Credibility Crisis: President Trump's flip-flopping over DACA has reaffirmed to lawmakers that the president is an unreliable partner. (John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett, Politico)

You Say You Want a Revolution: The recent prevalence of stories depicting "female sexual misery" suggests that something is deeply wrong with our sexual culture, argues Elizabeth Bruenig. (The Washington Post)


Visualized

Drawing Lines: Take a look at these congressional maps showing how gerrymandering can render a state politically neutral—or hyper-partisan. (Quoctrung Bui and Nate Cohn, The New York Times)


Question of the Week

Several of our reporters have written on the possible effects of automation on communities across the United States. Recently, Alexis C. Madrigal wrote that automation in the transportation industry could worsen racial inequality, and Lolade Fadulu reported that Latino workers would suffer most if certain jobs become obsolete. For this month's issue of The Atlantic, Alana Semuels described how automation could shake up the food-service industry.

Do you think automation will directly affect you or your community? How so?

Share your response here, and we'll feature a few in Friday's Politics & Policy Daily.

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

When Will Astronauts Launch From U.S. Soil Again?

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 02:23 PM PST

In 2010, as the United States prepared to wind down the Space Shuttle program that carried Americans into orbit for three decades, NASA asked some commercial companies to start thinking about what came next. The space agency gave them a combined $50 million to design the transportation technologies of the future. Until then, NASA would pay Russia to send American astronauts to their shared home above Earth, the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, some of the people involved in this partnership convened on Capitol Hill to face lawmakers and provide an update on their progress.

On one end of the table sat Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA, who gave a positive picture of the partnership, known as the Commercial Crew Program, as it's going right now.

"This is a critical time in the program as manufacturing is in high gear, testing is being completed, and verification and validation requirements are being addressed by NASA," he said. "The program is approximately one year away from the first crewed flights to ISS."

On the other end of the table was Cristina Chaplain, the director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) who has overseen multiple reviews of the Commercial Crew Program. Her testimony included some bad news on the effort to restore the country's astronaut-launching capabilities.

SpaceX and Boeing, the two companies NASA ended up hiring to develop space transportation, may send a human crew on a test flight to the International Space Station in 2019, yes, but they would then need to undergo and pass rigorous safety tests—and the timeline for that is slipping. The companies' contracts with NASA, established in 2014, had called for passing final certification tests in 2017. Based on a new GAO report released Wednesday, SpaceX may not get certified for regular flights to the ISS until December 2019, and Boeing until February 2020. The companies have a "considerable amount of work" to do to meet safety standards, Chaplain noted.

"Aggressive schedules and delays are not atypical for programs developing new launch vehicles or crew vehicles," Chaplain said. "But in this case, the delays and final certification dates raise questions about whether the United States will have uninterrupted access to the space station beyond 2019."

In between Gerstenmaier and Chaplain sat representatives for SpaceX and Boeing. Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice president, and John Mulholland, a Boeing vice president, both assured the members of Congress at the hearing that their companies would be ready to meet this demand on time.

But the GAO report suggests a different story, and Wednesday's hearing, held by the House Subcommittee on Space, began with some sharp words from the subcommittee's chairman about the report's prediction of more delays.

Brian Babin, a Republican congressman from Texas, said SpaceX and Boeing are "behind schedule, may not meet safety and reliability requirements, and could even slip into cost overruns."

"Both companies are making progress, but certainly not at the rate that was expected and not without significant challenges to safety and reliability," Babin said. "In order to remedy these problems, NASA may seek additional funding or accept significant risks. Neither of those options is viable."

The Commercial Crew Program has been plagued with delays since its inception. NASA's initial target date of 2015 was pushed to 2017, and then again to mid-2018. Last week, NASA announced some more delays: Un-crewed demonstrations by both SpaceX and Boeing are now scheduled to take place in August, and crewed flights are expected to follow in November and December.

"The work completed took longer than originally planned, but many technical issues were discovered and resolved," Gerstenmaier told the subcommittee. "This extra time that was taken in this development phase will help reduce the risk and magnitude of additional scheduled delays."

Chaplain said SpaceX and Boeing have reported delays nine and six times, respectively, since NASA awarded them a combined $6.8 billion to work on crew transportation systems. She said both companies are currently working on addressing some safety problems. Boeing is trying to figure out how to prevent its spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, from tumbling during some mission-abort scenarios, which could threaten the safety of the crew. The company is also investigating the possibility that the spacecraft's heat shield would damage the parachute system during reentry into Earth's atmosphere. SpaceX, meanwhile, is trying to address safety concerns from NASA safety advisory boards about fueling its Dragon spacecraft while astronauts are inside.

Right now, the United States pays between $70 million and $80 million per seat for a ride on Russian Soyuz spacecrafts to the ISS. And the government has bought a couple more rides through 2019, just in case delays of the Commercial Crew Program continue. After that, if SpaceX or Boeing still aren't ready to fly, NASA may be out of luck. If the space agency wanted to attempt to buy seats from Russia then, it may need to wait until new Soyuz launch vehicles are assembled and built, a process that takes three years.

At some point, the race between SpaceX and Boeing to test their crew capsules becomes a race that pits the two companies, together, against time. The United States and its international partners are committed to operating the station only through 2024. If the start of regular flight operations slips even further—from late 2019 and early 2020, as GAO now predicts, into later in the 2020s—the very purpose of this effort would be at stake. NASA has already picked the astronauts that will participate in the test flights of commercial transportation systems. Should delays continue or worsen, these astronauts may find themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go.

This Is Not a Sex Panic

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 02:08 PM PST

The story of Aziz Ansari and "Grace" is playing out as a sort of Rorschach test.

One night in the lives of two young people with vintage cameras is crystallizing debate over an entire movement. Depending on how readers were primed to see the ink blot, it can be taken as evidence that the ongoing cultural audit is exactly on track—getting more granular in challenging unhealthy sex-related power dynamics—or that it has gone off the rails, and innocent men are now suffering, and we are collectively on the brink of a sex panic.

Since the story's publication on Saturday (on the website Babe, without comment from Ansari, and attributed to a single anonymous source), some readers have seen justice in Ansari's humiliation. Some said they would no longer support his work. They saw in this story yet another case of a man who persisted despite literal and implied cues that sex was not what a woman wanted. Some saw further proof that the problems are systemic, permeating even "normal" encounters.

Other readers saw a man unfairly persecuted. They saw bumbling attempts at courtship, and some miscommunication. Ansari claimed as much in his statement: "It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned." As Caitlin Flanagan argued on Sunday, if Grace felt earnestly threatened, she could have simply left. Flanagan described the "clinical detail in which the story is told" as "intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari." With this story, the writer and the woman on the date have "destroyed Ansari's career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing."

Flanagan is not alone in this sort of warning. Last week, Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York magazine, "It's time to resist the excesses of #MeToo." He called the moment "mania"—a "moral panic" wherein good and decent men are being punished for minor transgressions. Over the past year, the exposure of Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and others by "meticulous, scrupulous journalists and smart, determined women quickly extended to more ambiguous and trivial cases. Distinctions among many different types of offenses—from bad behavior at private parties to brutal assault and rape of employees and co-workers—were being instantly lost in the fervor."

Sullivan expressed concern that mildly offensive bumblers are getting lumped in with what he calls "monsters" (meaning serial, systematic, violent abusers), and that, as he puts it, "the punishment [is] almost always the same: social ostracism and career destruction." Flanagan, who wrote in November that concerns over a "witch hunt" fell flat, cautioned Sunday that the victim in this story was Ansari: "Apparently there is a whole country full of young women who don't know how to call a cab, and who have spent a lot of time picking out pretty outfits for dates they hoped would be nights to remember. They're angry and temporarily powerful, and last night they destroyed a man who didn't deserve it."

Masha Gessen laid a foundation for the concern that the moment was going too far in punishing innocent men in The New Yorker last November with her piece "When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic?" Drawing from her experience as a queer person whose sexuality, like Sullivan's, has been policed, she warned against a culture that attempts to dictate what is normal. Sullivan, who was an early, leading voice in the case for gay marriage, and was out and openly HIV-positive despite the peril that invited, also warned of his own experience and what "similar panics have done routinely to gay men in the past."

Gessen and Sullivan both took issue, for example, with the expansiveness of the Shitty Media Men list. It included, as Gessen put it, "men who appear to be merely awkward, unskilled communicators, while others are alleged to have committed actual acts of violence and coercion." This sentiment has progressed. The essayist Daphne Merkin wrote in The New York Times recently, "There is an inquisitorial whiff in the air, and my particular fear is that in true American fashion, all subtlety and reflection is being lost. Next we'll be torching people for the content of their fantasies."

Will we? Or is this the same slippery-slope argument that stifles so many cultural shifts toward justice?

Where subtlety and reflection are most surely lost is if stories are not told. Warnings against them tend to assume that readers cannot recognize nuance—from readers of the Shitty Media Men list to readers of the stories of Weinstein and Ansari. The challenge is to trust that readers can hold multiple ideas in their heads and read critically, and that there can be discussion of stories less egregious than Weinstein's—even amid a debate about anonymous sourcing and  the decision to publish the story in the first place. The movement is easily depicted as an attempt to divide men into two bins: good or bad. In that context, it's easy to be outraged over the idea that Ansari belongs in the same bin as Weinstein.

Of course, Ansari has not been assassinated or torched or fired from anything. His career is not ruined. He is being shamed, and in all likelihood humiliated, but readers are also being discerning and critical, skeptical of a journalistically flawed telling. To some, Ansari is indeed serving as a face of disrespectful behavior widely seen as coercive. But I will be surprised if he sees professional ruin. Many men have not seen significant repercussions, and the fundamental point of the movement is that, for centuries, right up to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, men saw little to no consequences for coercive behavior.

It is unlikely that this will shift in a matter of months to a culture when men are overpunished. Some may be. The resignation of Al Franken springs to the forefront of debates. And unfair comparisons have been and will be made.

But relatively few people are actually calling for the professional ruin of any man who has heard Let's slow things down and not immediately stood up and doffed his hat. Nor was the Shitty Media Men intended to imply that every man on it was on the same moral footing as a perpetrator of violent rape. Most have not lost their jobs. A man may be embarrassed that his colleagues know about the time he did a shitty thing, but they are able to continue to work with him, and to not expel him as a "sexual predator." As my colleague Sophie Gilbert wrote last week, "Targeted sexual harassment isn't the same thing as a clumsy pass after too many vodka sodas have been consumed … [but] I have yet to find evidence of a single woman claiming that any of these things are equal. Most women do, unremarkably, know the difference between an incident where their personal safety (or their job security) is being threatened and an incident where it isn't."

To target only the most egregious "monsters" is to treat only the severe symptoms; the goal is prevention. It's easy to recognize something is amiss when a person is called to a boss's suite and asked to disrobe. The behavior of a Harvey Weinstein is simple to condemn. The harder work is ahead, in the more common and less clear-cut moments that leave people feeling somewhere between uncomfortable and trapped. The person who says she wants to hang out and drink wine and also does not want to have sex—and a man who hears, Okay, we'll see what happens.

These are exactly the stories that people, particularly men, need to hear. The fact that people see so many sides—and in many cases, elements of themselves—in the Ansari story is the reason it needs to be told and discussed. The story resonated with many people who've had similar experiences, or who thought Ansari's reported behavior was okay because it is normal.

Even Ansari, the semi-ironic expert who authored a book on interpersonal communication, claims to have not perceived Grace's distress. He may have perceived "mixed signals," but also that his advances were ultimately warranted. In a sort of internal ink-blot test within the story, Ansari was seeing something totally different from his date, Grace. This sort of human mating ritual always involves complex arrays of social cues.

Part of this complexity does draw from prudishness about sex, and sex panics, that are critical to avoid. It draws from a Victorian tradition in which women (particularly women) are imbued with the idea that to have sex at another person's first suggestion is to somehow be easy (or some such); in which culture gets mostly oriented around the male libido; in which the female libido is seen to exist only for purposes of procreation within marriage.

That framework still informs much of the rhetoric that puts the onus on women to protect themselves from sexual assault or unwelcome advances. Never mind when the woman does want sex. For many people, even consensual encounters might involve some ritualistic "I should probably get going" or "How about one more drink?" banter. If agreeing to stay a bit longer is often taken as agreement to more than that, two people can end up on very different pages. In a charitable reading, that may be what Ansari thought was happening.

The reality is that this is an audit in which most everyone is implicated—everyone has some situation in which they could have been more communicative, more respectful—and there will have to be a way to tell these stories without precipitating a sex-panic-panic. Few people want a sex panic. When I even see the term sexual misconduct on a CNN banner, it feels regressive, like a person is being ridiculed for the sexual equivalent of eating with his elbows on the table. It does seem that the shared goal is a world filled with sex that's as minimally policed as possible—pleasurable, communicative, respectful, noncoercive, consensual sex. As much or as little of it as you want.

Ansari is not on public trial because he likes sex too much, for example—or because he likes a particular kind of sex with a particular gender or particular number of people, or because of a kink or fetish—or most any other element of sex that would not draw such widespread contempt. Relative to most of recent Western history, this is a time not of panic, but of great openness to proclivities and dispositions. The definition of normal is growing more expansive, if slowly.

The element that remains intolerable is nonconsensual sex, which—if sex is today defined by consent—means that these stories of famous men and coercive behavior are not really about policing sex. When a person is reporting feeling coerced, and other people say the story shouldn't have been told—or that people who personally relate to it are overreacting by saying as much—that's a more disquieting type of policing.

Telling these stories will not lead to less sex—to men being afraid to hit on people because they're afraid of being inappropriate. It will lead to men being less creepy and domineering, and more communicative and confident in the rightness of how to go about things, and more decent and capable. This is not an anti-sex movement gone off the rails. It is a pro-sex movement just laying the tracks.

Republicans Scramble for Unity Ahead of a Government Shutdown

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 01:03 PM PST

Updated on January 17 at 3:45 p.m. ET

If ever there was a moment when House Republicans could use some much-needed party unity, this is it.

The federal government is on the brink of shutting down Friday at midnight, and the GOP wants, first, to keep it open, and second, to blame Democrats if it can't. But both of those goals depend on Speaker Paul Ryan wrangling 216 of his 238 members to vote for a temporary spending bill that one top conservative likened to "a crap sandwich with moldy bread."

GOP leaders unveiled their latest stopgap proposal on Tuesday night and are eyeing a vote on Thursday. It would keep the government running for about another month, and includes sweeteners for each party. To entice Democrats angry over the lack of a deal on immigration, the bill would enact a long-awaited six-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program. To win over conservatives, Republicans have attached—what else?—tax cuts: The continuing resolution would delay the enactment of several taxes included in the Affordable Care Act, such as those on medical devices, high-end insurance plans, and health insurers.

Whether they can muster the votes from either side is unclear. Democratic leaders aren't biting at the inclusion of the long-term CHIP extension—which they've demanded for months—and are urging their members to oppose any spending bill that doesn't offer protections for the 700,000 young immigrants at risk for deportation once President Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in early March. "If they want Democratic votes for a spending bill, it will be reflective of Democratic values," said Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, the party's House-caucus chairman.

Ryan pleaded with Democrats to set aside their DACA objections for the time being. "Real deadlines are occurring on Friday," he said. He added that it was "unconscionable" for Democrats to risk funding for the military or children's health coverage "by playing these political games and tying them to unrelated issues."

It's a time-honored rhetorical tactic that Democrats recognize all too well: They relied on the same misleading message to batter Republicans for threatening and then executing on a government shutdown over Obamacare in 2013. Congress always retroactively restores funding and paychecks for government workers, including the military, in the event of a shutdown. And in the case of CHIP, the GOP has failed for months to advance an extension that could win support in the Senate. Only in recent days have Republicans dropped their demand to offset the cost of an extension with Medicare cuts that Democrats oppose.

Ryan's more immediate problem, however, is on his own side. Conservatives and defense hawks are fed up with the succession of stopgap spending measures, and they have pushed the leadership to include at least a full year of defense funding—with the big boost sought by the Trump administration—alongside a temporary extension for domestic agencies. "I don't like it," Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told me on Wednesday. "It's bad politics." He said the leadership appeared to be short of the Republican votes needed to pass the bill without help from Democrats.

Earlier in the day, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the chairman of the more confrontational House Freedom Caucus, told HuffPost that there was enough opposition just in his group to sink the bill. And it was Walker who on Tuesday compared the proposal to a scatological delicacy, according to The Hill. Asked if Republicans would have enough votes on their own, Ryan said party leaders hadn't whipped their members yet. "I think cool heads hopefully will prevail on this thing," he told reporters.

Yet in an indication of how much pressure Republicans are under, Walker told me he might vote for the bill anyway. "I think a majority of the RSC will go along one more time, but there is growing discontent," he said. Party unity is particularly important for GOP leaders because of the legislative gamesmanship Democrats are plotting. "If that wasn't the argument, this thing would be dead already," Walker said. "That is the one salvageable piece."

The House vote on Thursday is expected to play out like the vote on the last stopgap spending measure in December, when Democrats withheld their support until Republicans had put up enough votes to pass it on their own. If the GOP falters this time, Democrats could watch the bill go down and then mock Republicans for their inability to govern. A shutdown would become ever more likely.

But if Republicans muster the 216 votes on their own (the House has four vacancies), then some Democrats would likely jump onboard, as they did last month. The bill would then go to the Senate, where Democrats would feel the heat: Would at least nine of them vote to keep the government open, or would Minority Leader Charles Schumer pressure his members to stand together, defeat the bill, and shut down the government in a united, if risky, stand for the Dreamers? On Wednesday afternoon, Schumer criticized the Republican proposal as insufficient and said "revulsion" toward it among his members was "broad and strong." But he notably declined to issue a blanket threat to defeat it.

"We want to do everything we can to avoid a shutdown," Schumer told reporters. "But we Democrats believe that if there is one, it'll fall on the Republicans' backs, plain and simple." He again offered a reminder that it was Trump who said the country needed "a good 'shutdown'" in the middle of earlier spending negotiations last year. Yet if recent history is a guide, enough Democrats could reluctantly back the bill to avert the shutdown, angering immigrant activists.

But that outcome, too, would depend on the GOP holding together. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his colleagues to back the stopgap bill, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—a defense hawk burned last week by Trump on DACA—told Politico he wouldn't vote for another continuing resolution. Republicans think they have a path to once again stave off a shutdown and force Democrats into a no-win, take-it-or-leave-it vote. But first they'll have to discover a sense of unity that appears, for now, to be missing.

How to Save the African National Congress

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 11:59 AM PST

South Africa is desperate for change. On December 18, the African National Congress party elected businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as its president. Ramaphosa, who had served as deputy president since 2012, won the position on a good governance and anti-corruption platform. His victory seemed, at least in part, a rebuke to the scandal-plagued incumbent Jacob Zuma, who has led the country for the past nine years. It also seemed like a call back to the ANC's early years of leading South Africa out of the racial segregation and violence of apartheid: Ramaphosa rose to public prominence first as a union leader, and later as one of Nelson Mandela's trusted advisors during the country's transition to democracy.

But as Ramaphosa prepared for his first major speech, an address at the ANC's birthday celebration last Saturday, his ability to govern and his party's capacity to change are in doubt. When the ANC rose to power in 1994 after ending almost 50 years of white rule, it promised both racial reconciliation and an end to a system plagued by social and economic disparity. Things haven't exactly gone according to plan. South Africa has struggled to create jobs, hitting a 14-year high of 27.7 percent unemployment last year; unemployment for black South Africans is almost five times as high as it is for white South Africans. The country has also suffered from low economic growth since the 2008 financial crisis, briefly entering a recession last year; two ratings agencies have downgraded its bonds to junk status. Critics, particularly among the black youth, have argued (including in these pages), that despite the expansion of the country's black middle class, not enough has been done to address racial-economic disparity.

As a result, the ANC's fortunes have suffered. In local elections in 2016, the party lost control of three major cities, including Johannesburg, South Africa's largest urban area and economic hub. Its share of the national vote dropped to 53.9 percent, raising the prospect that while it may not lose power, it may be hobbled by a slim majority or even forced into a coalition government after national elections in 2019.

Meanwhile, Zuma has skipped from one scandal to the next. He became the leader of the ANC in 2007 after winning a contentious election while facing corruption charges; one year before, he was acquitted on charges of raping the daughter of a family friend. While Zuma admitted to having sex with the woman, the court ruled that the encounter had been consensual.

After becoming president of South Africa in 2009, an official watchdog report found that Zuma improperly benefited from 246 million rand in public money, spent on improvements to his private residence, which equaled about $23 million at the time. Zuma has also been dogged by accusations that the powerful Gupta family has leveraged its ties with Zuma to help it win state contracts and secure the use of a military base to fly in guests for a private wedding.

The opposition has capitalized on these crises. Both the historically white and liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa's largest opposition party, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a self-described radical party founded by former members of the ANC's youth wing, have campaigned against the ruling party by tying it to the corruption and poor governance allegations made against Zuma. The DA is the more conventional of the two, running campaign advertisements and issuing public statements. The EFF has sought to confront Zuma in parliament, attempting to use parliamentary procedure to disrupt his speeches. Zuma's last three state of the nation addresses have ended in loud protests, with the youth party either voluntarily leaving or being ejected in a brawl.

"People … realize their lives suck because people at the top have made the wrong decisions," Khadija Patel, editor of the weekly Mail & Guardian newspaper, told me. "The ANC is the face of that and now they're going to go ask the same people to vote for them again—on the basis of what?"

Ramaphosa may be just the person to turn things around for the ANC—simply because he isn't Zuma. "The opposition may have it a little bit tougher precisely because they have invested so much in the person of Jacob Zuma … When he is removed from the picture, it's conceivable the ANC may regain lost ground," University of South Africa political and policy analyst Somadoda Fikeni said.

Ramaphosa began his career as a student anti-apartheid activist. In 1974, he was detained and held by police for 11 months under terrorism laws following a solidarity demonstration held in support of Frelimo, the movement that overthrew colonial Portuguese rule in nearby Mozambique. In 1982, he co-founded the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and became one of its first leaders. Under his leadership, the NUM became what was, at the time of its founding, one of South Africa's largest all-black unions, in one of its most important economic sectors. Ramaphosa would continue with his union activism, helping to organize a 1987 miner's strike that, at the time, was the largest in South African history. During this time, Ramaphosa also continued his anti-apartheid activism.

After Mandela's release from prison, Ramaphosa was the chairperson of his reception committee. In images of Mandela's first speech following his release, as he addresses the crowds in Cape Town, Ramaphosa can be seen on his left, dutifully holding a microphone. Along with Mandela's release, the apartheid government also announced that the ANC, which had been outlawed in South Africa, could now operate openly. A year later, in 1991, Ramaphosa was elected to a leadership position in the party and he would become a key negotiator during the talks to end white rule in South Africa. He was reportedly Mandela's first choice to serve as deputy, but he was overruled by the ANC's senior members, who said Ramaphosa was too young for the position.

In 1997, Ramaphosa left full-time politics for the private sector. In 2001, he founded Shanduka Group, an investment firm. In his telling, he was "deployed" to the business world by the party as part of an effort to reform corporate South Africa, which had largely marginalized black people during apartheid. Through Shanduka, he acquired the rights to be McDonald's licensee in South Africa and sat on the boards of major South African finance, telecommunications, and mining corporations. Throughout this time he remained active in the ANC, serving on its national executive committee.

With all his years in the private sector, it's unclear whether Ramaphosa can connect with ordinary voters. The South African left sees him as too close to corporate interests—in particular mining, which has historically been controlled by white businessmen. In 2012, as a member of the board of directors of platinum miner Lonmin, he asked the government to intervene and end a strike by mineworkers in Marikana. The strike ended with the police shooting dead 34 mineworkers. Ramaphosa later apologized for his role in the massacre.

The Association of Mining and Construction Workers Union, active among workers in the platinum sector, has decried Ramaphosa's election, calling him a "a threat to radical economic and social transformation." The union is a bitter rival of NUM, Ramaphosa's former union. Like Ramaphosa himself, the NUM has been accused by left-wing critics of getting too close to mining companies and not adequately representing their workers.

"[Ramaphosa] suffers from a crisis of credibility among certain sectors of the populations, in particular the working class and the poor who have historically formed the base of the ANC," political analyst Dale McKinley told me. "People have been paying attention to his own history, his role in Lonmin, his wealth and all these things. He's going to have to overcome that."

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa's victory was welcomed by South Africa's corporate class, along with trade unions allied with the ANC and moderate white unions. The markets were also sanguine, with the rand hitting a two-year high on the news of his win. "This might be an era of policy certainty. It may make it easier for investors to invest when you have stability," Fikeni said.

Yet Ramaphosa's career and political prospects defy simple distillation. His corporate ties aside, he has promised to pursue some left-wing policies. In his inaugural speech as ANC president, Ramaphosa voiced support for "radical economic transformation," a sometimes vague phrase intended to address racial disparities in the economy that have persisted since the end of apartheid. He also endorsed an ANC decision that government should considering "expropriation of land without compensation" as a means to land reform, a potent populist cause in a country where black people were historically dispossessed of land through apartheid and colonialism.

"He represents on one level a continuity on a macro level. He is a committed capitalist, someone who is not really going to rock the capitalist boat," McKinley said. "At the same time he understands you need redistributive politics. You need to create opportunities. He's going to go back to that center-left social democracy that was represented in the early years of the ANC."

While Ramaphosa is now party leader and will likely lead the ANC into the next elections, he does not have complete control of the organization. Close Zuma allies were also elected to powerful positions in the party and are set to control the ANC's day-to-day functions and agenda, raising the prospect that Ramaphosa, who even as president is still answerable to the party, will be limited in his ability to act against Zuma or reform government. This has resulted in a visible split in the party's leadership.

"A lot of people believed that electing Ramaphosa would allow the ANC to self-correct but if the ANC is going to be embroiled with fighting with itself then its going to be very difficult for the ANC to show the voting public that it is making strides," Patel said. "It's really not an ideal position for a political party to be in 18 months before an election. Its not just any election but one where the party is expected to be pushed the hardest."

A Pair of Fiery Festivals

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 02:48 PM PST

In the past couple of days, festivals were held in two villages separated by language, culture, religion, and great distance, but both centered on the use of fire as a method of purification and blessing—and both were carried out with a liberal partaking in alcohol. In San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain, on the eve of Saint Anthony's Day—to honor Spain's patron saint of animals—people ride horses through bonfires during the "Luminarias," a centuries-old tradition meant to to purify and protect the animals. In Nozawaonsen, Japan, village men of the unlucky ages of 25 and 42 stage a fiery battle, with one group building and protecting a wooden shrine, and another trying to burn it down with bundles of flaming sticks. The festival is meant to chase out evil spirits, celebrate first births, and pray for happy marriages.

Why Did Two-Thirds of These Weird Antelope Suddenly Drop Dead?

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 11:49 AM PST

It took just three weeks for two-thirds of all the world's saiga to die. It took much longer to work out why.

The saiga is an endearing antelope, whose bulbous nose gives it the comedic air of a Dr. Seuss character. It typically wanders over large tracts of Central Asian grassland, but every spring, tens of thousands of them gather in the same place to give birth. These calving aggregations should be joyous events, but the gathering in May 2015 became something far more sinister when 200,000 saiga just dropped dead. They did so without warning, over a matter of days, in gathering sites spread across 65,000 square miles—an area the size of Florida. Whatever killed them was thorough and merciless: Across a vast area, every last saiga perished.

Richard Kock, a veterinarian and conservationist from the Royal Veterinary College, saw it all. He and his team were there on a routine monitoring trip to check the health of the population. "Mass mortality events are never nice things and I've experienced quite a few," he says. "But the experience of the saiga was unprecedented, and unworldly. Even after 40 years of work, I just said: I don't understand."

The mega-death was all the more tragic because it struck at what should have been a time of celebration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, poachers had brought the saiga to the edge of extinction, but governments and conservationists rallied to protect the species, and it rebounded. Saigas are good at that. Females can produce their first calf before their first birthday, and in every subsequent breeding season, most produce twins. So they recover quickly from disasters. By 2015, their population had quadrupled since the early 2000s, and it was predicted to do so again in a few years. "Everyone was saying: Oh great, we've really got them over," says Kock. "They were beginning to talk about downgrading them off the endangered list. And then—bang—this happened."

At first, the team suspected that a new infectious disease had spread through the population, but the pattern of deaths just didn't fit. The saiga were dying too synchronously and too quickly. Also, all of them had died. "In biology, there's certain rules, you know?" says Kock. "We accept that sometimes microbes can cause us harm, but not like this. Even very severe viral diseases or anthrax don't do this. A good proportion of the animals would be fine."

News of the die-off sparked outlandish explanations about Russian rocket fuel, radiation, and even aliens. But while conspiracy theories raged, a huge international team of scientists, led by Kock, got to work. Vets autopsied as many saigas as they could. Ecologists sampled the soil. Botanists checked the local plants. They couldn't find any signs of toxins that might have killed the saiga. Instead, the actual culprit turned out to be a bacterium, one that's usually harmless.

Pasteurella multocida normally lives in the saiga's respiratory tract, but Kock's team found that the microbe had found its way into the animals' blood, and invaded their livers, kidneys, and spleens. Wherever it went, it produced toxins that destroyed the local cells, causing massive internal bleeding. Blood pooled around their organs, beneath their skin, and around their lungs. The saigas drowned in their own bodily fluids.

But that answer just led to more questions. Pasteurella is common and typically harmless part of the saiga's microbiome. In livestock, it can cause disease when animals are stressed, as sometimes happens when they're shipped over long distances in bad conditions. But it has never been linked to a mass die-off of the type that afflicted the saigas. What could have possibly turned this docile Jekyll into such a murderous Hyde?

The team considered a list of possible explanations that runs to 13 pages. They wondered if some environmental chemical or dietary change had set the microbe off. They checked if biting insects had transmitted a new infection that interacted with Pasteurella. They considered that Pasteurella might have gone rogue because of an accompanying viral infection, in the same way that Streptococcus bacteria can bloom during a cold, leading to strep throat. "We tested for everything and we couldn't find anything," says Eleanor Milner-Gulland from the University of Oxford.

Only one factor fit the bill: climate. The places where the saigas died in May 2015 were extremely warm and humid. In fact, humidity levels were the highest ever seen the region since records began in 1948. The same pattern held for two earlier, and much smaller, die-offs from 1981 and 1988. When the temperature gets really hot, and the air gets really wet, saiga die. Climate is the trigger, Pasteurella is the bullet.

It's still unclear how heat and humidity turn Pasteurella into a killer, and the team is planning to sequence the bacterium's genome to find out more. But for now, Kock says the connection makes sense. In laboratory studies, rats that are exposed to Pasteurella are more likely to get infected if you crank the humidity up. The idea of humidity as an environmental trigger also explains how the die-off happened so broadly, suddenly, and totally. It's something pervasive, which would hit all the saiga at once, and influence the bacteria that they all already harbor.

The saiga might also be uniquely vulnerable to infections of this kind. They live in a world of variable climate and punishing droughts, which is why they've evolved their high-octane reproductive cycle. "They have this high-pressure lifestyle and they seem to be particularly prone to disease outbreaks," says Milner-Gulland.

Then again, mass die-offs are new for them. There are no records of saiga perishing en masse before 1981. "We did a massive historical review, and talked to experts in Kazakhstani folklore and history," says Milner-Gulland. "If it was normal for huge numbers of animals to die, you'd have thought there would be epic poems about it. The folklore tales mention deaths from harsh winters, but never animals just dropping dead on the steppes."

As humans continue to change the climate, "this is evidence that some very strange things will happen" says Kock. People normally envision climate change in terms of droughts, floods, and melting ice caps, but disasters can take different forms. The changing climate could, for example, disrupt the normal relationship between an animal and its microbiome—with catastrophic consequences. "This could be the first case of what will be a bigger problem for biodiversity," says Kock.

Indeed, mass animal die-offs are becoming increasingly common, with the number of such events increasing by around one a year for the last 70 years. Starfish. Swallows. Gazelles. Bats. All around the world, more and more animals are dying in record numbers.

As for the saiga, "what really frustrates me is that there is no magic-bullet solution to avoid these mass die-offs," says Aline Kühl-Stenzel from the UN Environment Program. "It is out of our control to influence the climatic triggers, and the Pasteurella bacterium is widely spread. So, our conservation strategy is clear: We want large, resilient populations."

She is hopeful. All the countries across which the saiga roams recently signed a mini-treaty to protect the antelope, and governments and NGOs are working hard to put an end to poaching. "The saiga really is a success story," says Kühl-Stenzel. "Geographical, political, and cultural barriers have been overcome to bring the best people together to save this unique animal."

The saiga is the ultimate rebounder—a species that's adapted to bouncing back from catastrophe. If its population slips too low, a mass die-off might finish it off for good. But as long as a decent baseline persists, so too will the saiga. "All it needs is for us to butt out, to not poach it, to not build railway lines across its territory," says Milner-Gulland. "Then it does just fine."

A Popular Algorithm Is No Better at Predicting Crimes Than Random People

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 11:07 AM PST

In February 2013, Eric Loomis was found driving a car that had been used in a shooting. He was arrested, and pleaded guilty to eluding an officer. In determining his sentence, a judge looked not just to his criminal record, but also to a score assigned by a tool called COMPAS.

Developed by a private company called Equivant (formerly Northpointe), COMPAS—or the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions—purports to predict a defendant's risk of committing another crime. It works through a proprietary algorithm that considers some of the answers to a 137-item questionnaire.

COMPAS is one of several such risk-assessment algorithms being used around the country to predict hot spots of violent crime, determine the types of supervision that inmates might need, or—as in Loomis's case—provide information that might be useful in sentencing. COMPAS classified him as high-risk of re-offending, and Loomis was sentenced to six years.

He appealed the ruling on the grounds that the judge, in considering the outcome of an algorithm whose inner workings were secretive and could not be examined, violated due process. The appeal went up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who ruled against Loomis, noting that the sentence would have been the same had COMPAS never been consulted. Their ruling, however, urged caution and skepticism in the algorithm's use.

Caution is indeed warranted, according to Julia Dressel and Hany Farid from Dartmouth College. In a new study, they have shown that COMPAS is no better at predicting an individual's risk of recidivism than random volunteers recruited from the internet.

"Imagine you're a judge and your court has purchased this software; the people behind it say they have big data and algorithms, and their software says the defendant is high-risk," says Farid. "Now imagine I said: Hey, I asked 20 random people online if this person will recidivate and they said yes. How would you weight those two pieces of data? I bet you'd weight them differently. But what we've shown should give the courts some pause." (A spokesperson from Equivant declined a request for an interview.)

COMPAS has attracted controversy before. In 2016, the technology reporter Julia Angwin and colleagues at ProPublica analyzed COMPAS assessments for more than 7,000 arrestees in Broward County, Florida, and published an investigation claiming that the algorithm was biased against African Americans. The problems, they said, lay in the algorithm's mistakes. "Blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be labeled a higher risk but not actually re-offend," the team wrote. And COMPAS "makes the opposite mistake among whites: They are much more likely than blacks to be labeled lower-risk but go on to commit other crimes."

Northpointe questioned ProPublica's analysis, as did various academics. They noted, among other rebuttals, that the program correctly predicted recidivism in both white and black defendants at similar rates. For any given score on COMPAS's 10-point scale, white and black people are just as likely to re-offend as each other. Others have noted that this debate hinges on one's definition of fairness, and that it's mathematically impossible to satisfy the standards set by both Northpointe and ProPublica—a story at The Washington Post clearly explains why.

The debate continues, but when Dressel read about it, she realized that it masked a different problem. "There was this underlying assumption in the conversation that the algorithm's predictions were inherently better than human ones," she says, "but I couldn't find any research proving that." So she and Farid did their own.

They recruited 400 volunteers through a crowdsourcing site. Each person saw short descriptions of defendants from ProPublica's investigation, highlighting seven pieces of information. Based on that, they had to guess if the defendant would commit another crime within two years.

On average, they got the right answer 63 percent of their time, and the group's accuracy rose to 67 percent if their answers were pooled. COMPAS, by contrast, has an accuracy of 65 percent. It's barely better than individual guessers, and no better than a crowd. "These are nonexperts, responding to an online survey with a fraction of the amount of information that the software has," says Farid. "So what exactly is software like COMPAS doing?"

Only Equivant can say, and they're not revealing the secrets of their algorithm. So the duo developed their own algorithm, and made it as simple as possible—"the kind of thing you teach undergrads in a machine-learning course," says Farid. They found that this training-wheels algorithm could perform just as well as COMPAS, with an accuracy of 67 percent, even when using just two pieces of data—a defendant's age, and their number of previous convictions. "If you are young and have a lot of prior convictions, you are high-risk," says Farid. "It's kind of obvious."

Other teams have found similar results. Last year, Cynthia Rudin, from Duke University, showed that a basic set of rules based on a person's age, sex, and prior convictions—essentially, an algorithm so simple you could write it on a business card—could predict recidivism as well as COMPAS.

The problem isn't necessarily that COMPAS is unsophisticated, says Farid, but that it has hit a ceiling in sophistication. When he and Dressel designed more complicated algorithms, they never improved on the bare-bones version that used just age and prior convictions. "It suggests not that the algorithms aren't sophisticated enough, but that there's no signal," he says. Maybe this is just as good as it gets. Maybe the whole concept of predicting recidivism is going to stall at odds that are not that much better than a coin toss.

Sharad Goel, from Stanford University, sees it a little differently. He notes that judges in the real world have access to far more information than the volunteers in Dressel and Farid's study, including witness testimonies, statements from attorneys, and more. Paradoxically, that informational overload can lead to worse results by allowing human biases to kick in. Simple sets of rules can often lead to better risk assessments—something that Goel found in his own work. Hence the reasonable accuracy of Dressel and Farid's volunteers, based on just seven pieces of information.

"That finding should not be interpreted as meaning that risk-assessment tools add no value," says Goel. Instead, the message is "when you tell people to focus on the right things, even nonexperts can compete with machine-learning algorithms."

Equivant make a similar point in a response to Dressel and Farid's study, published on Wednesday. "The findings of 'virtually equal predictive accuracy' in this study," the statement says, "instead of being a criticism of the COMPAS assessment, actually adds to a growing number of independent studies that have confirmed that COMPAS achieves good predictability and matches the increasingly accepted AUC standard of 0.70 for well-designed risk assessment tools used in criminal justice."

There have been several studies showing that algorithms can be used to positive effect in the criminal-justice system. "We're not saying you shouldn't use them," says Farid. "We're saying you should understand them. You shouldn't need people like us to say: This doesn't work. You should have to prove that something works before hinging people's lives on it."

"Before we even get to fairness, we need to make sure that these tools are accurate to begin with," adds Dressel. "If not, then they're not fair to anyone."

The Rise and Fall of Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 10:44 AM PST

Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage are both populist figureheads known for championing their own brands of nationalism that had historic implications for their countries in 2016—in the U.S., the election of Donald Trump; in the U.K., the historic decision to leave the European Union. But two years later, these men, who rose from relative political obscurity to the center of power, appear to be falling back to where they started.

In the U.S., Bannon, the former Trump ally and White House chief strategist, has fallen out of the president's good graces after it was revealed he had lambasted the president and members of his family to Michael Wolff, the author of the international bestseller Fire and Fury. In the U.K., Farage, the former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and vocal Brexiteer, has become a national punchline after calling for the U.K. to hold yet another referendum on EU membership, only to later retract the call.

The public decline has been steep for Bannon, who, in addition to being excommunicated by the president earlier this month, has also been ousted from Breitbart (the conservative news outlet where he served as executive chairman) and cut off by his billionaire patrons, the Mercer family. "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency," Trump said in a statement after Bannon's comments in Fire and Fury were first made public, adding that when Bannon left the White House in August, "he not only lost his job, he lost his mind." He is now reportedly wanted for questioning in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

But Bannon, for a time, had everything to do with the president and his administration. From the moment he joined the Trump campaign in August 2016, his nationalist and populist messaging became an integral part of Trump's promise to "Make America Great Again," earning him the title of White House chief strategist as well as a short-lived stint on the National Security Council. His role didn't diminish after he left the administration, either. As my colleagues Rosie Gray and McKay Coppins noted, "From the moment Bannon left the White House last year, his stated mission was clear: expanding the coalition that elected Trump into a lasting ideological movement that would remake American politics."

Bannon's fall is particularly stark compared to his unlikely rise—from heading a relatively young conservative outlet to arguably becoming one of the most powerful men in the world. Farage followed a parallel, though less dramatic, trajectory on the other side of the Atlantic. During the U.K.'s  2016 Brexit referendum, Farage, like Bannon, managed to push his seemingly marginal views on nationalism, euroskepticism, and anti-establishment sentiment into the mainstream, culminating in the surprise decision by 52 percent of Britons to leave the EU.  

But if the Brexit vote demonstrated Farage's influence, it also revealed his limits. In the months following the U.K.'s decision to leave the EU, support for Farage and UKIP (from which Farage stepped down as leader soon after the vote) began to wane, culminating in the party's crushing defeat in the country's June general election, in which it won zero seats in the House of Commons. The party's base also remains feeble. Henry Bolton, UKIP's current leader, revealed in November that the party was consistently losing between 800 and 1,000 members a month, with the current membership standing at just under 25,000 people.

It's a decline some have attributed, paradoxically, to UKIP's success. "Both UKIP and Nigel Farage have been less influential since the vote for Brexit largely because Britain voted for Brexit," Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent and a visiting senior fellow at Chatham House, told me, noting that their decline doesn't necessarily mean failure. "[UKIP] has had a profound influence both in forcing the referendum and then campaigning for Leave, so in effect the outcome of the referendum removed the raison d'être of the party."

It may have cost Farage his political raison d'être, too. A survey by YouGov in June found that the popularity of vocal Brexiteers like Farage has plummeted in the year since the referendum, with 78 percent of respondents saying they dislike or really dislike Farage (58 and 83 percent of those surveyed said the same of Conservative Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, respectively). Bannon, meanwhile, has fared no better. A YouGov/HuffPost survey found that only 13 percent of Trump voters still regard Bannon favorably after his public spat with the president this month, with approximately two-thirds of the president's supporters turning on him.

For all the ideological similarities between Bannon and Farage, there are also important differences. For one thing, they didn't find their start in the same way. Farage, despite his own railing against the British establishment, has spent much of his life in politics; Bannon, conversely, is more of a political novice, having spent the majority of his career working in finance and Hollywood. And while both share similar views on nationalism and immigration, only Bannon has succeeded in propelling those views to the U.S.'s highest office; Brexit, meanwhile, has become the responsibility of the U.K.'s ruling Conservative party, not Farage or UKIP.

It's their ideological similarities, however, that could spell trouble for both of them. "They have an exaggerated sense of how many people actually bought into their core agenda," Rob Ford, a professor of political science at the University of Manchester and a research investigator at the independent think tank U.K. in a Changing Europe, told me. He noted that while both men were able to successfully leverage a contentious wedge issue—nationalism—to unite different groups among their respective electorates and catapult themselves to the top, they didn't necessarily earn enough widespread support to stay there. "Ultimately their influence does have some relationship to their electoral power. Farage got himself on the agenda because he was pulling votes from the Conservatives; Bannon catapulted Trump to the top through a series of upset primary wins. So the same mechanism that put them up can pull them down—and is already pulling them down, it seems."

On the other hand, if their past careers are a guide, the fact they lack influence now does not mean they will forever. For Farage, this will depend largely on the outcome of the ongoing negotiations between the U.K. and the EU. "If voters perceive that the type of Brexit that is delivered is not seen to be hard enough … then it's perfectly possible for UKIP (or a party like UKIP) and for Nigel Farage (or a politician like Nigel Farage) to appeal to those voters who feel betrayed," Goodwin said.

For Bannon, however, a comeback could be more complicated. "Bannon still thinks of himself as a revolutionary," Axios's Jonathan Swan noted, adding that this self-perception hasn't changed. "It's just that now he has no vehicle, no staff, no platform, and no major donors funding his ambitions." Still, others say Bannon's influence hasn't really gone away. "Bannon may be gone," the Guardian wrote of Trump's latest controversy over his alleged use of the word "shithole" to refer to several countries, "but the biggest nativist of all is still in the Oval office."

Real Life or <i>Black Mirror</i>?

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 10:31 AM PST

Technological progress, like authoritarian regimes, is insidious. Nothing big changes all at once; instead, a steady stream of smaller, less threatening changes occur over time. These alterations don't sound alarm bells precisely because they blend into the fabric of our everyday lives. It is only when viewed en masse, through the prism of history, that it all appears to have been leading to an unwelcome outcome.


Kevin Byrnes's chilling nonfiction thriller, Harvest, affords us that crucial step back. Filmed over seven days in March of 2016, it follows the daily life of a suburban woman named Jenni. She drops her kids off at school. She goes to work. She checks her email. She runs errands. Who cares?


Her iPhone, and the thousands of strangers to which it is constantly transmitting information. Through narration written from the perspective of the phone, Harvest explores the haunting extent to which Jenni is a woman watched—and so are we.


"By chance, one day, I discovered that my iPhone had a record of everywhere I had been," Byrnes told The Atlantic. "As I began to investigate the third-party tracking facilitated by our mobile phones, I was reminded of narrated wildlife documentaries I watched as a child. I decide to take that basic concept in a new and unexpected direction with Harvest."


Although Byrnes concedes that mobile phones offer unprecedented conveniences, he cautions against complacency. "I don't think people are aware of what they are giving away in order to get these conveniences," he continued. "I want people to think about the apps they use and take a moment to ask themselves if what they are getting is worth what they are giving. If not, delete the app. There are bigger issues at play, but it starts with this basic exercise."


The Larger Lessons of Mark Wahlberg's Inflated Salary

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 10:55 AM PST

When All the Money in the World was fast-tracked into reshoots to replace scenes featuring Kevin Spacey (who has been accused of sexual assault), Michelle Williams saw it as a powerful sign that Hollywood was changing. At the director Ridley Scott's insistence, the studio was spending upwards of $10 million to recast Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the role of the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. As the film's lead actress, Williams immediately signed off on the decision. "They could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted," she said at the time. "Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort." To Williams, the reshoots were a statement, but to her co-star Mark Wahlberg, they were an opportunity.

In the film, Wahlberg plays Getty's close adviser Fletcher Chase, the man tasked with rescuing his kidnapped grandson, Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer). Williams plays Paul's mother, Gail Harris. Both actors have a significant number of scenes with the J. Paul Getty character and were vital to the reshoots, but only Wahlberg received an additional fee—$1.5 million—to participate, after reportedly refusing to approve the casting of Plummer until he himself was paid. Wahlberg's primary agent, Doug Lucterhand of William Morris Endeavor (WME), led the charge, and because filming had to happen rapidly ahead of a Christmas release date, the financiers had to pony up.

Once the massive discrepancy in the two actors' salaries came to light last week (Williams received only an $80 per diem), public outcry forced Wahlberg's hand, and he donated $1.5 million to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, founded to fight pay inequity and the harassment of women across different industries. WME contributed another $500,000. "Over the last few days my reshoot fee for All the Money in the World has become an important topic of conversation," Wahlberg said in a statement. "I 100 percent support the fight for fair pay and I'm donating … in Michelle Williams's name."

The controversy, and resulting donations, marked a messy end to the already complex industry saga of All the Money in the World, one that encompassed so many of the issues that have been churned up by the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo campaign. The Spacey allegations created a crisis for the movie that the studio rushed to address; the way the film's other two stars responded to that crisis was telling.

But the pay disparity also demonstrated just how unprepared Hollywood is, as a business, to confront the economic dimensions of gender inequity. Wahlberg's agents, who were already incentivized to make as much money for their clients as possible (agents receive a percentage of the payments they negotiate), were able to use the time-crunch of the reshoots to their advantage—and they only addressed the discrepancy after a storm of bad publicity. Williams could have perhaps made the same opportunistic move; in going a more principled route and not making financial demands, she made it easier for the studio to meet Wahlberg's (there's also the knotty matter of Williams being represented by the same agency, WME).

It's easy to criticize Hollywood's current moment of reckoning for coming off as superficial. You can wear black to a couple award ceremonies and say the right lines in interviews, but does it really mean you're working to effect systemic change behind the scenes? The All the Money in the World situation served as a reminder of how, for actors, preserving their public image is often more important than the money they stand to make. Wahlberg was happy to negotiate for the $1.5 million in reshoot fees, but it wasn't worth the bad press it eventually kicked up. (For perspective, Wahlberg is one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors, making some $68 million between June 2016 and June 2017, according to Forbes.)

Williams's statement on the matter underlined just how unusual Wahlberg's donation was, given the history of pay inequity in Hollywood. "Today isn't about me. My fellow actresses stood by me and stood up for me, my activist friends taught me to use my voice, and the most powerful men in charge, they listened and they acted," she said. "If we truly envision an equal world, it takes equal effort and sacrifice. Today is one of the most indelible days of my life because of Mark Wahlberg, WME, and a community of women and men who share in this accomplishment. Anthony Rapp, for all the shoulders you stood on, now we stand on yours," she continued, referencing the actor who first spoke out on Spacey's history of alleged assault.

Williams is right—the solidarity and activism of women in Hollywood, particularly those involved with Time's Up, have helped create an atmosphere in which Wahlberg's inflated salary was patently unacceptable. Enforcing those standards publicly will be part of the bargain until the industry starts to take more lasting action. It's not just about stars like Wahlberg and the agents who work for him—studios and production companies will have to do more to ensure that both men and women are compensated fairly, since they're the institutions with the fullest picture of who's being paid what.

The paychecks involved in making All the Money in the World might come off as ludicrous—most women outside of Hollywood worried about inequity in the workplace aren't competing with movie stars raking in millions of dollars. But cases like these can still offer compelling examples for other companies, and within Hollywood a "Mark Wahlberg situation" is something that any business-minded studio should seek to avoid in the future. The how and why of Wahlberg's $1.5 million donation might have been tawdry and convoluted, but the end result was genuinely meaningful.

Congress Produces Drama While Mueller Produces Results

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 05:11 PM PST

On Tuesday, Steve Bannon spent hours behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. It was rough. The former White House chief strategist stonewalled lawmakers, they said, even after members from both parties issued a subpoena. Then, on Wednesday, CNN reported that Bannon has struck a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for an interview.

The disparate results obtained from Bannon neatly symbolize the difference between Mueller's probe and the various congressional panels, all of which are in their own ways investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and what role the Trump campaign played in it. The congressional panels are high drama, but low results, riven by procedural hurdles, partisan foodfights, and what appears to be interference from the White House. Mueller, meanwhile, has kept his head down and his lips sealed, with most news about his probe emerging from outside sources or from court documents, but all appearances suggest a team moving slowly but inexorably and effectively forward.

Bannon's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee had been scheduled since at least last week, but Tuesday morning, as Bannon testified, The New York Times reported that Mueller had subpoenaed him. The House interview was voluntary, but Bannon apparently wouldn't say much, answering questions about his time on the Trump campaign but refusing to discuss the presidential transition team or his time in the White House. He also reportedly wouldn't talk about his conversations with Trump after leaving the White House in August.

Initial reports suggested he had invoked executive privilege, the hazily-defined concept that the White House may declare discussions around the president secret to insure that advisers can speak frankly in making policy. But the top Republican and Democrat on the committee said that instead Bannon had suggested that certain answers might infringe on executive privilege. The Associated Press reported that Bannon's lawyer was conferring with the White House in real time about what questions he could answer. (The attorney, Bill Burck, is also representing White House Counsel Don McGahn.)

That led frustrated lawmakers to issue a subpoena, but Bannon still refused to talk. "We're going to get answers from Mr. Bannon," Mike Conaway, the top Republican on the panel, said, but it was unclear how that might happen. Lawmakers could subpoena documents, for example, or hold Bannon in contempt.

The standoff is in contrast to Bannon's apparent acquiescence to an interview with Mueller. The special counsel's subpoena was noteworthy because it is the first time Mueller had ordered one of Trump's close confidants to testify before a grand jury. NBC also reported that FBI agents had visited Bannon's home. The Mueller probe has at times used aggressive tactics, especially against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, which outside analysts view as a way of intimidating both the subjects of those tactics as well as other possible witnesses and targets.

If Mueller's goal was to get him to agree to an interview, CNN's story suggests it worked. Speaking before the grand jury is usually a higher-stakes move, intended to corner witnesses, especially ones prosecutors believe might be lying, although it is still a crime to lie during interviews. The Daily Beast reported that Bannon intends to speak openly to Mueller. The ability to invoke executive privilege in a grand jury proceeding is somewhat disputed. In 1974, the Supreme Court rejected a broad claim of privilege by the Nixon administration, ruling, "Neither the doctrine of separation of powers nor the generalized need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances."

Other administrations, though, have on occasion attempted to keep quiet during grand-jury testimony. Bill Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal did so in 1998, during the investigation into the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Presidents have also fought against congressional subpoenas by invoking executive privilege.

These invocations tend to elicit a predictable partisan response: The opposition party decries them as outrageous power grabs that defy the rule of law; the president's party defends them as reasonable limitations.

"The claim of executive privilege is really frivolous," then-Republican Arlen Specter said of Clinton in 1998, while Democrat Bob Torricelli replied, "Executive privilege has been used by every president since Thomas Jefferson, or at least many of them, on occasion." Nearly a decade later, as Bush tried to impede an inquiry into the firing of U.S. attorneys, Democrat Patrick Leahy said the White House was engaging in "Nixonian stonewalling," but Republican John Cornyn called it "basically a political witch hunt."

The bipartisan anger at Bannon on Tuesday is not only an exception to this historical pattern—it's an exception to how the current congressional investigations into Russia and the election have gone. The House Intelligence Committee in particular has been the setting for much partisan sniping; GOP Chair Devin Nunes eventually stepped aside from that probe after a bizarre escapade in which the White House was apparently feeding him claims of improper behavior by Obama administration officials, though none of those claims have produced any proof. Despite stepping aside in favor of Conaway, members say Nunes has continued to interfere with the probe.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been only slightly less acrimonious. Earlier this month, two senior Republicans asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Christopher Steele, author of the Trump dossier, lied to federal agents, in what Democrats described as naked political protection of the president. The following week, ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein released the transcript of an interview with Fusion GPS principal Glenn Simpson, setting off another war of words.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has, by contrast, been a model of functionality, and it has produced a large amount of interesting information about the role of social media in Russian interference, but has not produced as many public revelations about Trump campaign collusion.

When these panels are not kneecapped by partisan sniping, they're also dealing with obstacles offered by the White House, from the Nunes escapade to the question of Bannon and executive privilege.

For all of the attention, it's unclear what Bannon has in the way of relevant information. He joined the Trump campaign after the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between several Russians and Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner. According to Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, he was not present when the president dictated a misleading statement about that meeting. Bannon was also reportedly not present when Trump decided to fire FBI Director James Comey, only learning of the decision once it was made. The New York Times reports that if Bannon were a target for Mueller, he would not likely have been subpoenaed.

In Wolff's book, Bannon makes several noteworthy statements. He calls the Trump Tower meeting "unpatriotic" and "treasonous," and speculates that those in the meeting would have brought the Russians to visit Trump. He also suggests that Kushner and Trump Jr. are ripe for prosecution. But these statements are similar to widely circulating speculation, and it appears Bannon is offering his own speculation. If he has any actual evidence to back them up, he has not offered it publicly.

It's not unusual for there to be tension and differences in approach between congressional investigators and a special or independent counsel. During the Iran-Contra hearings, congressional panels hobbled an independent counsel by offering immunity to certain people. Mueller may be just as happy to see the congressional investigations spinning their wheels for now.

If the special counsel ends up accusing Trump or top lieutenants of serious criminal behavior, however, Congress will be essential to handling it. There is an ongoing legal debate about whether a sitting president can be indicted (unsurprisingly, White Houses have argued not, while previous prosecutors have concluded it is possible), but political exigencies and the possibility of presidential pardons mean that Congress would likely be indispensable to any form of accountability. At this point, such a role seems beyond the grasp of either House or Senate.

The Koreas' Olympic Unity Could Be Fleeting

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 10:51 AM PST

It looked like a breakthrough, and in a way it was. North and South Korea announced Wednesday they would not only march together under one flag at next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea's PyeongChang, but also, for the first time at the games, field a joint women's ice-hockey team. This announcement came after a year of high anxiety on the Korean peninsula, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has accelerated his testing of missiles and nuclear weapons, and presented a dramatic possibility of union between two countries, who share a small patch of land that both claim in its entirety, and who are still technically at war. But it says little about the prospects of a long-term rapprochement between Kim Jong Un's regime and the rest of the world.

We've seen some of this before: The two Koreas marched together under one flag at both the 2000 and 2004 Summer Games, as well as the 2006 Winter Games. But, as I wrote earlier this month, "those occasions were also hailed as historic breakthroughs, but Pyongyang and Seoul reverted afterward to their usual postures of mistrust, tension, and frequent reminders that the 1950-53 Korean War ended not in a peace treaty, but an armistice."

Wednesday's announcement, which came after the two sides agreed to meet this month in the border village of Panmunjom, could play out in many ways.

First, it could be purely symbolic, a propaganda effort by the North to buy goodwill in South Korea and the international community, where there is intense distrust of Pyongyang's intentions because of its past record of cheating on its international obligations regarding nuclear weapons and missiles. There are some signs that North Korea's neighbors and the United States believe this is the case. Axios reported Tuesday that H.R. McMaster, President Trump's national-security adviser, met secretly last weekend with Japanese and South Korean officials in San Francisco and "agreed that resumed communications by the North Koreans are diversions and don't have any effect on its determined pursuit of nuclear weapons." For the U.S. and its allies, in particular, getting rid of the North's nuclear-weapons program is the ultimate goal of any negotiations. For its part the North, its allies in China say, sees the weapons as its only credible deterrent against a U.S. attack.

Second, and not mutually exclusively, the announcement could help build confidence between the two Korean governments, as well as public confidence in the South over the North's intentions. There's precedent for this: The two countries fielded two joint teams—one male and one female—for the world table-tennis championship in 1991. The female team won gold, leading to emotional scenes in Chiba, Japan, where they defeated the Chinese. Athletes from both countries were cheered as they marched for the first time under their "unification flag" at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. A selfie taken by a South Korean athlete with one from North Korea went viral. But all these events occurred outside South Korea. The Winter Games are being held inside the country—and already plans for a joint hockey team have received a frosty reception among some in the South.

"The thing to be watching for at this moment is the South Korean response to the joint processional, because the joint processional brings into conflict the unified identity with the South Korean hosting identity around the Olympics," Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview. "It'll be very interesting to see how South Korean people respond to that."

Third, it's possible the move could help repair relations between the two Koreas, but if the past is any indicator, such gains are typically tenuous. In the past, a change of government in South Korea has been enough to derail relations. Typically, more liberal governments, such as the current South Korean government headed by President Moon Jae In, engage with North Korea (he was elected last year on that very pledge). But when the more liberal governments give way to more conservative ones, dialogue is often frozen. Center-left presidents governed South Korea during both the 2000 and 2004 Olympics when the two Koreas marched under a single flag.

"The major factor [in a deterioration of relations] would be the shift in atmosphere around the inter-Korean relationship and, in particular, the transition to conservative rule in South Korea between 2008 and 2017," Snyder said.

North Korea's rhetoric and actions don't help, either. In 2014, it called South Korea's previous president, Park Geun Hye, a "crafty prostitute" for her diplomacy with the Obama administration; in 2010, it sank a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors, and in 2017 continued to test nuclear devices and long-range missile while claiming to be threatened by the South's joint military exercises with the U.S. Those drills have been postponed until April, well after the Winter Games are over. It's reasonable to expect their resumption could be paired with the missile launches and nuclear tests that are becoming the North's trademark. Because the announcements from the North and South cover only the games, there is less clarity on matters outside the realm of the Olympics.

"These agreements are so far only confined to Olympic participation and so we have not yet seen anything that further broadens the agenda," Snyder said. "Beyond that, some of them may potentially have impacts on public perception, but it's not clear it's going to translate into anything that's going to change the structure of confrontation around the peninsula at this stage."

Ultimately, even if Wednesday's announcement proves significant on the Korean peninsula, it may have little impact on international efforts to persuade Kim to renounce nuclear weapons. He not only views them as a deterrent, but sees the fate of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and Iraq's Saddam Hussein as cautionary tales on why he should keep his weapons of mass destruction. None of these issues are being publicly addressed between the two Koreas, and it is uncertain if the U.S. will have an opportunity to bring them up, either. Snyder said that, in the absence of substantive diplomatic openings to address the broader tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, Wednesday's announcement looks more like a potential propaganda offensive designed to change the South Korean and international perception of North Korea. This, he said, is being achieved "without commensurate changes in the broader environment or without addressing the core issues that are bringing about increase in tensions between the U.S. and North Korea."

When the South Was the Most Progressive Region in America

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 02:24 PM PST

One hundred and fifty years ago, on January 14, 1868, an extraordinary convention opened in Charleston, South Carolina, the cradle of the Confederacy.

That afternoon, a biracial group of men—most of whom were black and some of whom had recently been enslaved—gathered at the elegant Charleston Club House, which had only recently been the refuge of city elite. They came to redraft South Carolina's uniquely undemocratic constitution. One of nearly a dozen interracial meetings held in the former Confederacy between late 1867 and 1869, the South Carolina Constitutional Convention was part of a larger Reconstruction-era campaign to rebuild the nation in a more just fashion.

Today, the South is primarily associated with hidebound conservatism. But for a few brief years after the Civil War, this campaign transformed the region into the most progressive place in America—providing a blueprint for a liberal resurgence that may already be under way in the 21st century South.

The antebellum South had long been a conservative bastion, characterized by its dogged commitment to states' rights, low taxes, strict construction of the Constitution, and especially the maintenance of traditional gender roles and white supremacy. Fearful that Abraham Lincoln's presidential election threatened slavery, white South Carolinians in late 1860 had gathered just a few blocks from the Charleston Club House to secede from the United States, sparking four bloody years of civil war.

Less than a decade later, however, former slaves and freeborn blacks helped choose delegates to state constitutional conventions across the South, including the one in Charleston. These groundbreaking 1867 and 1868 elections, which followed a congressional mandate, gave birth to real, if short-lived, interracial democracy. African Americans occupied one-quarter of the seats in the conventions as a whole and a majority of them in Louisiana and South Carolina.

The conventions drafted constitutions reflecting the progressive priorities of their mostly Republican delegates, whose party represented the left wing of American politics, particularly on race. Whereas postbellum Democrats campaigned on racist platforms, most Republicans were committed to using government to secure black rights.

All of the new constitutions guaranteed black men the right to vote, a feature that for a time reshaped the American body politic. As late as 1866, less than 1 percent of African American men in the United States had been eligible to vote, and not one of them lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Up north and out west, white citizens had shown little interest in expanding voting rights, rejecting colorblind suffrage initiatives in Connecticut, Ohio, and Kansas in 1867. Yet by the following year, hundreds of thousands of black men were voting in national, state, and local elections held in the seven ex-Confederate states that had by then ratified their constitutions—all before the 15th Amendment enfranchised black men throughout the country in 1870.

The Reconstruction constitutions also protected black civil rights, unlike those of most Northern states. They outlawed inhumane and undemocratic provisions from the antebellum era, including corporal punishment for crime and property-owning qualifications for jury service. The conventions in Georgia and the Carolinas expanded the property rights of married women, black and white.

No convention was as revolutionary as South Carolina's, if only because no state had so reactionary a political culture or so outdated a constitution. Christened the "Congo Convention" by opponents, the black-majority assembly abolished debtors' prison and property-owning qualifications for serving in the state legislature. It provided for the popular election of the governor and the state's presidential electors. And delegates also paved the way for the legalization of divorce for the first time in South Carolina history.

By enfranchising black men, the new state constitutions laid the groundwork for Republicans to assume power throughout the South by the early 1870s. African Americans made up a majority of the electorate in three Southern states and a sizeable proportion in the rest. Aided by the Union League, a grassroots coalition of Republican clubs that promoted voter registration, black turnout often approached 90 percent during Reconstruction.

Just as remarkable was the composition of the body of elected officials in the Reconstructed South. African American voters joined with a smaller contingent of Northern transplants and native-born whites—dubbed "carpetbaggers" and "scalawags," respectively, by detractors—to elect a wave of Republicans, many of whom were black. At a time when black office-holding was almost unheard of elsewhere, hundreds of African American men in the South held positions ranging from sheriff and county magistrate to state supreme court justice and U.S. senator. Black political power was strongest in South Carolina, where African American legislators controlled the lower house of the General Assembly from 1868 through 1876.

The biracial Republican-led legislatures were not just progressive in their makeup—they also implemented a broadly progressive agenda that put them at the vanguard of activist government in America. They outlawed racial discrimination in theaters, hotels, and restaurants. They instituted public welfare and relief programs, building hospitals and orphanages and establishing boards of health. Some Southern cities provided firewood and food to the poor. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment was the wholesale creation of public-school systems that were open to every child, regardless of race.

These Republican governments were far from perfect. None enacted the widespread land redistribution that Southern freedpeople demanded and deserved as compensation for centuries of slavery, and several legislatures were plagued by corruption (though no more so than those controlled by the North's Democratic political machines).

But the biggest problem Republican regimes faced was Southern conservatives' refusal to abide the very interracial democracy that they represented—a resistance that ultimately led to the overthrow of that democracy and decades of whites-only rule. By 1877, Democrats and their terrorist allies, most notably the Ku Klux Klan, had used intimidation and violence to drive Republicans from office across the former Confederacy.

Returned to power, white conservatives soon scrapped Reconstruction-era reforms in favor of limited government and second-class citizenship for African Americans. Drafting new laws and constitutions that disenfranchised blacks, these Democrats instituted a political monopoly known as the "Solid South." This stranglehold lasted into the 1960s, when the civil-rights movement—sometimes referred to as the "Second Reconstruction"—shattered the Jim Crow regime with support from the national Democratic Party. The national party's progressivism led Southern conservatives to bolt to the GOP, which by then had assumed the mantle of small government and states' rights and increasingly appealed to white resentment over desegregation.

By the end of the 20th century, the term "Solid South" had been redefined, with the Republican Party—conservatism's new standard-bearer—holding sway across the region. As of 2011, Republicans controlled 81 percent of statewide offices in the South. In the 2016 presidential election, every Southern state but Virginia backed Donald Trump, suggesting that conservatism's tenacious grip on the region would not soon relent.

Yet the long view of Southern political history points to another possibility. Reconstruction shows that progressive politics can thrive in even the most seemingly inhospitable of places and times. Conditions in the South today, in fact, are not entirely unfavorable for a liberal revival. Democrats in some Southern states have demographics on their side, not unlike Republicans in the black-majority states of the 1860s and 1870s. Trump's margin of victory in Texas was 800,000 votes, but 4 million eligible voters of color in the state did not cast ballots, including 3 million Latinos, a reliably Democratic constituency. In Florida, an influx of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria is accelerating the state's shift toward the Democratic column.

Southern progressives are also beginning to demonstrate that they can get their supporters to the polls, just as the Union League did with Republican voters in the late 1860s. Despite Alabama's 2011 voter-identification law, which had reduced turnout in the state's most diverse counties, this past fall an army of grassroots organizers targeting black voters helped elect Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate over Republican Roy Moore. African Americans also put Democrats over the top in Virginia, where the party recently retained the governor's mansion and gained 15 House of Delegates seats. And the number of progressive whites is growing: College-educated Southern white suburbanites are abandoning the GOP, and white migrants to the South—latter-day carpetbaggers, a surging population—are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.

Skeptics may see recent electoral gains solely as a reaction to Trump's deeply unpopular presidency or, in the case of Alabama, ascribe them to the fact that Moore was a singularly compromised candidate. But this perspective overlooks developments that predate the most recent elections. Beginning in 2013, the Moral Monday movement galvanized thousands of progressives in North Carolina to push back against the Republican-controlled legislature, replace the state's Republican governor with a Democrat, and help launch similar movements in other Southern states.

Moreover, Southern cities have been Democratic strongholds for decades. By 2015, 22 of the mayors in the region's 30 largest cities were Democrats. In the face of opposition from Republican state governments, interracial coalitions in these urban areas have advocated for minimum-wage increases, LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances, and the removal of Confederate monuments.

Can left-leaning Southerners prevail in the long run against conservative legislatures intent on blocking municipal-level reform and curbing voting rights? With a federal government hostile to its aims, can a larger progressive coalition win on the strength of grassroots activism alone?

The challenges to doing so today are real, but a century-and-a-half ago, they were far more formidable. Progressive Southerners in 2018 are not, as their forebears were in the 1860s, battling a ruling class that had run the South like a fiefdom for centuries. They are not working to transform a region defined by its dedication to keeping 4 million African Americans in chains, a region whose sons had fought and died for that cause. They are not building a new society largely from scratch.

How many Americans—north or south, black or white—would have predicted in 1861, when the Civil War began, or even in 1865, when it ended, that the South would become a hotbed of progressive politics in just a few short years? Likely very few.

William Barber II, leader of North Carolina's Moral Monday movement, argues that present-day activists should see themselves as the heirs of that revolutionary political experiment. "I believe the turmoil we are witnessing around us today," Barber has written, "is in fact the birth pangs of a Third Reconstruction."

The Specter of a Chinese Mole in America

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 08:54 AM PST

The arrest of former CIA case officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee sheds light on a shadowy counterintelligence drama that has been playing out for nearly eight years. Starting around 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency saw some of its most valuable spies inside China go down. And I don't mean "going down" in a perp-walk-to-the-courthouse sort of way. This is China: They were executed. One was reportedly shot right outside the government building where he worked, just to make sure his coworkers got the message. The lucky ones were imprisoned. According to The New York Times, 18 to 20 CIA sources were blown, making it one of the most damaging counterintelligence losses in agency history.

The story of Lee's arrest is still developing, but much is already clear. First of all, Jerry Chun Shing Lee wasn't some back-room paper-pushing bureaucrat at Langley. He was a "case officer" whose job was helping to recruit foreign spies to spill secrets to the United States. He was supposed to create moles, not become one.

It also appears the Chinese government probably gained access to highly classified information about U.S. assets through electronic means, a mole, or both. According to press reports, intelligence officials have been sharply divided about how exactly all of this valuable intelligence got into Beijing's hands. News of Lee's arrest suggests that a mole was involved but certainly does not rule out other possibilities or people.

The FBI has not yet run this case to ground. According to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Kellie R. O'Brien released Tuesday, FBI agents searched through Lee's belongings while he stayed at hotels in Hawaii and Virginia back in August 2012. Those searches found two little books filled with big secrets that included the true names of Chinese assets, operational notes from clandestine meetings, as well as covert CIA facility locations. Now, more than five years later, Lee has been arrested only for unlawful retention of national defense information, not for handing that information over to a foreign government. If there's another shoe, it hasn't dropped yet.

It's also clear that the damage done is big. In addition to blown assets, which take years to develop, and compromised information, which likely revealed American intelligence tradecraft, the organizational aftershocks for the CIA will be significant. Counterintelligence failures are the ultimate betrayal, when one of the agency's own—someone inside the circle of trust who swore an oath and promised to serve—turns against country and cause. Lee's coworkers and others are undoubtedly asking themselves what they could or should have known. Investigations are undoubtedly exploring what early warning indicators might have been missed and what more could have been done. The heat will be on to learn the right lessons for the future and to tighten security protocols. All of these steps are important and necessary. But it's a delicate thing, dealing with betrayal. Counterintelligence taken too far can create a debilitating, distrustful culture where suspicions run wild, careers can be destroyed, and truth can get lost.  

How do we know? Because we have seen this before. For 20 long years, CIA counterintelligence efforts were led by a boozy paranoid named James Angleton who was seared by the discovery that one of his dearest friends in British intelligence, Kim Philby, was actually a Soviet mole. Philby was eventually sacked and fled to Moscow. Angleton was convinced the Russians had more Philbys in the United States, and he spent his life on a relentless quest to find them—trusting no one, suspecting everyone, and ruining the lives of many. At the end of his career he was widely viewed as cagey, uncontrollable, isolated, and drunk. Decades later, the CIA's own historian charitably described Angleton as someone whose "negatives outweighed his positives."

The final pages of Lee's spy story haven't been written yet. But history suggests some useful lessons about how they should not end.

When Pop Culture Sells Dangerous Myths About Romance

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 09:09 AM PST

Edward Cullen. Chuck Bass. Lloyd Dobler. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That guy from Love Actually with the sign. The lead singers of emo bands with their brooding lyrics. Many of the romantic heroes that made me swoon in my youth followed a pattern and, like a Magic Eye picture, only with a little distance did the shape of it pop out to me. All of these characters in some way crossed, or at least blurred, the lines of consent, aggressively pursuing women with little or no regard for their desires. But these characters' actions, and those of countless other leading men across the pop-culture landscape, were more likely to be portrayed as charming than scary.

Romance often involves a bit of pursuit—someone has to make a move, after all. And there's certainly a spectrum of pursuit: Sometimes supposedly romantic gestures in pop culture veer toward the horrendous or illegal; sometimes they're just a bit creepy or overzealous. But revisiting some of these fictional love stories can leave one with the understanding that intrusive attention is proof of men's passion, and something women should welcome. In a number of cases, male characters who were acknowledged to have gone too far—by, for example, actually forcing themselves on women—were quickly forgiven, or their actions compartmentalized and forgotten.

I grew up watching movies in which women found it flattering when their pursuers showed up uninvited to hold a boombox under their window, or broke into their bedrooms to watch them sleep, or confessed their feelings via posterboard while their love interest's husband sat in the next room. So I found it flattering, too. I sang along with The Killers' "Change Your Mind" ("If the answer is no, can I change your mind?") and Fall Out Boy's "7 Minutes in Heaven" ("I keep telling myself I'm not the desperate type, but you've got me looking in through blinds") without a second thought about what the lyrics implied.

Allegations of sexual harassment have been pouring out of the entertainment industry, among others, in recent months. But while predatory male behavior has been condoned and covered up behind the scenes, it's also been glorified on screen and on the page and on the radio. As my colleague Lenika Cruz put it to me: "Rape culture, actually, is all around." The narratives of a culture help to set its norms. Research has already found that romantic comedies can normalize stalking behavior. It's not difficult, then, to imagine that toxic love stories can also normalize coercion. That they can make people—women, especially—question when and whether their boundaries have really been violated, when they should be flattered and when they should be afraid.

* * *

It's worth beginning with the more shocking examples of how pop culture condones and redeems violating behavior: In a number of cases, sexual assault is treated as the start of a love story. On General Hospital, the longest-running soap opera in production, the tale of the "supercouple" Luke and Laura started in an October 1979 episode—when Luke raped Laura at the disco where they both worked. Eventually the show began recalling the incident as a "seduction" rather than a rape, and the two fell for each other. They later married in a record-making 1981 episode watched by 30 million people. The rape was "romanticized to my great regret," Anthony Geary, the actor who played Luke, has said. But in the same interview he described Luke as "a classically romantic character, a classic anti-hero." General Hospital portrayed sexual assault not as a definitive shattering of trust, but as a foundation on which a relationship can be built—a model embraced by other shows and films as well.

For example, in the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, the protagonist Rick Deckard at one point forces himself on an android named Rachael. But the moment is portrayed as romantic—it's even soundtracked with a sexy '80s saxophone. Casey Cipriani at Slate writes of the film's 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049, that "a big part of the new Blade Runner's plot relies on the belief that Deckard and Rachael fell in love in the first, [but] their 'love' is the result of a coercive sex scene." Similarly, in the first season of Game of Thrones, the relationship between Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo—which is portrayed as a great love, one through which Daenerys eventually comes into her own as a ruler—begins with a wedding night on which the teenage girl cries and tries unsuccessfully to keep Drogo from undressing her. (This is a departure from the book's depiction of that scene.)

The serial nature of television in particular means many shows suffer from a kind of assault amnesia when it's no longer convenient for a character who once raped or attempted rape to be seen as a villain. On Gossip Girl, a show that permeated the culture for late-'00s teens like few others, predatory behavior functions as a black mark on a character's past that's simply erased when the series wants to change his arc. The trust-fund playboy Chuck Bass rings in the show by trying to force himself on two girls in the very first episode—Serena, and Jenny, a freshman girl. Within episodes, the incidents seem to have faded from the show's memory. Chuck morphs from an antagonist into a romantic lead.

Well, sort of. Chuck's behavior over the course of his fan-favorite romance with Blair Waldorf often tipped over from sexy into coercive, or downright emotionally abusive. In Season 1, after the show's titular blog reveals that Blair slept with both Chuck and another boy, she turns to Chuck for comfort. He responds thusly:

You held a certain fascination when you were beautiful, delicate, and untouched. But now you're like one of the Arabians my father used to own: rode hard and put away wet. I don't want you anymore and I can't see why anyone else would.

That moment isn't played for romance, but neither is it much of an impediment to the unfolding of their love story. By the end of the season, Chuck is wooing Blair by alluding to her in a toast at his father's wedding. "In the face of true love you don't just give up, even if the object of your affection is begging you to," he says, staring at her. The series ends with Chuck and Blair's wedding.

Though rape is frequently used as a device to add drama, shows often don't deal with the fallout for a relationship realistically, or at all. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another fan-favorite character, the vampire Spike, tries to rape Buffy in an attempt to force her to admit she loves him. "I'm going to make you feel it," he says. As the series continues, Spike's character remains beloved: He earns a soul (literally—as a vampire he didn't have one before) and resumes an emotionally intimate, if not clearly sexual, relationship with Buffy.

Even more pervasive than the redeemed rapist is the romantic hero whose efforts at seduction look more like harassment. In the Twilight series, the brooding vampire Edward Cullen not only breaks into his love interest Bella's house in the first book to watch her sleep, but later on, in the third book, he also disassembles her car engine to keep her from leaving her house. But readers are supposed to see it as a protective gesture: He did it because he loves her, because he wants her to be safe.

Sometimes badgering is packaged as confident flirtation. The love story of Meredith Grey and Derek—Doctor "McDreamy" himself—on the medical drama Grey's Anatomy begins with workplace harassment. "I've been wondering to myself," Meredith says in an early episode, "why are you so hell-bent on getting me to go out with you? You know you're my boss. You know it's against the rules. You know I keep saying no." McDreamy responds, "Well, it's fun isn't it?" (The two go on to marry and have a family together.)

These scenes all add up to give the impression that romance requires a man's desire, but not necessarily a woman's. For her, the romance is mined from the fact that she is desired. At the end of the 1989 romantic comedy Say Anything, some time after the protagonist Lloyd Dobler held a boombox under the heroine Diane Court's window in an attempt to win her back after their breakup, Diane finally comes to tell Lloyd she needs him. "One question," he says. "Are you here because you need someone or because you need me?" He allows for a moment the possibility that Diane's desires matter. The music swells, and then: "Forget it," he says, before he goes in for the kiss. "I don't care." Of course he doesn't.

* * *

In music, too, there's no shortage of songs that glorify a man's threatening overtures, from "Baby, It's Cold Outside" ("Say, what's in this drink?"), to "Every Breath You Take" ("I'll be watching you"), to "Blame It (On the Alcohol)" ("I hear you saying what you won't do / But you know we're probably gon' do"). And of course, there's Robin Thicke's literal anthem for the "Blurred Lines" I'm talking about ("I know you want it ... Just let me liberate you").

Emo—the genre in which I found most of the romantic anthems of my youth—is a particularly potent brew of romance and violence. While many emo songs are full of longing and daydreams of unrequited affection, their tales of intense pursuit also sometimes accelerate into explicit aggression toward women when things don't go the narrator's way. And emo was an overwhelmingly male-dominated genre. "Wear me like a locket around your throat / I'll weigh you down, I'll watch you choke / You look so good in blue," one Fall Out Boy song goes. In "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad," Brand New's singer laments, "Even if her plane crashes tonight / She'll find some way to disappoint me / By not burning in the wreckage / Or drowning at the bottom of the sea."

But even the love songs that weren't explicitly violent, the ones that put cartoon hearts in my eyes as I listened to my Walkman on the school bus, told a tale where love meant never having to take no for an answer. "If you only once would let me, only just one time," the singer of Jimmy Eat World begs in the song "Work." ("Work and play, they're never okay, to mix the way we do," it continues.) The Dashboard Confessional song "As Lovers Go" starts with: "She said 'I've gotta be honest, you're wasting your time if you're fishing around here.'" After this polite rebuff, the singer does not stop his pursuit. "I'll belong to you, if you just let me through," he says. "This is easy as lovers go, so don't complicate it by hesitating."

Don't complicate it by hesitating could be the slogan for rape culture. Don't hesitate in giving men what they want, don't complicate our love stories by worrying about consent.

* * *

Recent accusations of sexual assault and harassment—including against the actor Ed Westwick, who played Chuck Bass, and Jesse Lacey, the lead singer of Brand New, and so many others—have pushed me to take another look at the love stories that shaped me as I grew up. Obviously, Westwick, who has denied the rape allegations against him, is not the same as Chuck Bass. And misogynistic song lyrics don't prove that Lacey—who has apologized without admitting to any specific wrongdoing—mistreated young women. But neither can I call these parallels a complete coincidence. Both the products and the people of the entertainment industry have been shaped by a culture of harassment when it comes to women and children. And if the actions of the people in the industry lay shrouded in shadows for a long time, the products have always been there for us to see and hear.

The plots that play out on screen play out in the world, too. Harassers apologize, and are allowed the chance for rehabilitation. Alleged incidents of sexual misconduct in a man's history are conveniently forgotten when it's uncomfortable. Our romantic cultural touchstones find parallels in real life, on the grand scale and the small.

Take, for example, the story of an anonymous young woman who described an upsetting date with the comedian Aziz Ansari, during which she said he repeatedly pressured her for sex. In his response, Ansari said the incident "by all indications was completely consensual"; his accuser said she "felt violated." While observers disagree about how to characterize the encounter, many have recognized it as an example of how differently men and women are taught to view consent. As Anna North wrote in Vox of the Ansari episode: "Boys learn at a young age, from pop culture, their elders, and their peers, that it's normal to have to convince a woman to have sex, and that repeated small violations of her boundaries are an acceptable way to do so—perhaps even the only way."

When living out their own romantic narratives, people often, consciously or not, compare them to the love stories they've already been told. When tales like these pile up, they can leach into our minds and relationships like radiation. It has been hard to realize, and harder still to admit, how much my own desires sprouted up twisted by the poison they absorbed. The confessional, vulnerable nature of emo songs made me feel like my headphones gave me a direct line to boys' hearts. They craved the chase, I thought, and then, so did I.

It's so easy when you're young to mold yourself in the shape of your fantasies. When I was a teen, my desire to be romantically pursued was so strong that when I spotted a guy I liked ahead of me in the hallways of my high school, rather than catching up to talk, I would pretend not to see him and get ahead of him in the crowd, to see if he would approach me. How much of that was teenage awkwardness and a lack of self-confidence, and how much of it was the conviction that I was more desirable if I appeared to be passive and oblivious? How can you dig the roots of your desires out from the soil they sprouted in without killing them entirely?

My colleague Megan Garber has described our current era as "a time in which feminism and Puritanism and sex positivity and sex-shaming and progress and its absence have mingled to make everything, to borrow Facebook's pleasant euphemism, Complicated." Our culture is beginning to complicate things, to question the value of romanticizing stories where one person chases another, or wears her down, or drags her along against her will. But recognizing the flaws in these ideas doesn't make them go away. They still float in the spaces between people; they are the sludge through which we have to swim as we try to see each other clearly.

Camila Cabello, Pop's Understated New Star

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 06:55 AM PST

The No. 2 song in the country, Camila Cabello's "Havana," stands out in the charts in a few ways. There's the sauntering, salsa-adjacent piano line. There's the fact that Havana gets rhymed with East Atlanta repeatedly. And there's Cabello's singing, sultry but also unconcerned. It's like she's telling a story while lying on the couch and fiddling with her phone. Yet she's also enunciating comprehensibly and staying locked to the rhythm. The hook trails off: "Na na na." The topic is hot romance; the delivery is cool.

Cabello herself, at 20, stands out in the pop landscape for a few reasons. After leaving the world-conquering girl group Fifth Harmony under less-than-harmonious circumstances, she'll be running the test of whether she can make like Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake and launch a solo career. As a Cuban American whose "Havana" took off during the reign of the historic Spanish-language hit "Despacito," she'll be held up as a leader in a new Latin pop crossover moment. But her debut, Camila, isn't overpowered by the media narratives around it. It's first a quality product of the modern pop machine, showing that the mood of the moment—understatement—can be reconciled with slick, singalong fun.

Anyone trying to describe the sound of the charts lately has to end up using words like hazy, drowsy, and gloomy. That musical mode's arrival has correlated with the downfall of some big-lunged divas who once ruled. Theoretically, this would pose a problem for Fifth Harmony, essentially a diva supergroup that delivers brassy uplift and cardio-class pep. Which means Cabello's late 2016 departure from the group may have been well-timed. Even though Camila was preceded by a few singles that didn't connect and aren't on the album, the singer and her team have successfully leaned into the moment.

They've done so with a kind of feline sensibility, holding back and then pouncing gracefully. The opener, "Never Be the Same," sets the tone with a low organ sound, church bells, and Cabello hushed and solemn. Then Cabello vaults to a high, fragile tone, before returning back down for the chorus. She's feeling something big, but only lets the listener hear the full scale of that feeling in flashes.

On any other gloss-pop album, such a portentous opener would be followed with a stimulant. But Camila's second song, "All These Years," is just made up of acoustic strumming and vocal harmonizing in the mold of Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself." It's a crisp and unfussy sketch of running into an ex—"Your hair's grown a little longer / Your arms look a little stronger"—and its placement on the tracklist makes a statement: catchiness without bombast.

Yet it's in the uptempo material when Cabello's approach best pays off. "Inside Out" is the logical "Havana" follow up, with a jolting piano pattern and pillow-padded dancehall beat in line with the "trop pop" trend of the past few years. It's nice to hear Cabello recenter that sound's lineage with dips into Spanish, but the key is the chorus, a quick little flutter of notes. The arrangement is humid enough already—no need for Cabello to break a sweat.

The other standouts on the refreshingly compact album (just 10 original tracks in an era when it feels like every blockbuster release redefines "deluxe edition") are also low-drama dancefloor anthems scattered among the ballads. "In the Dark" boasts a drinks-in-the-air vibe and a gliding momentum that recalls both the glazed quality of '90s trip-hop and the fizz of Carly Rae Jepsen. The stuttering synthpop of "Into It" makes great use of the modern flirtation catchphrase "I'm into it," with a vibe that's performatively casual yet totally wound up.

Cabello's soft touch, as well as her team's craftiness, should land her hits—though it may not solidify a memorable public persona upon which a lasting solo career can be built. Her singing is in the style that's been ubiquitous recently—the coy, breathy, "indie" affectation—and the lyrics are barely distinctive enough to scrawl on a locker. But pop's first job is pleasure, and right now, there's something oddly irresistible about the sound of restraint.

How Colleges Foretold the #MeToo Movement

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 02:25 PM PST

Since the fall, the staggering cascade of sexual-misconduct allegations waged against powerful men—from Hollywood moguls to prominent politicians—has mostly centered on the workplace. But as the nation fixated on the downfalls of Harvey Weinstein, John Conyers, and countless others, what has come to be known as the #MeToo movement has been reverberating on college campuses across the country, too.

Students flooded social-media feeds with their own stories; university leaders condemned sexual harassment in emails and announcements. Amelia Goldberg, a junior at Harvard College and member of the student-run anti-sexual-violence group Our Harvard Can Do Better, described the experience on campus to me as a "collective airing of trauma."

The Harvard Crimson last month reported that the institution has seen a 20 percent increase in sexual-harassment complaints since the allegations against Weinstein surfaced in October. Bill McCants, who oversees the office charged with handling claims of harassment at Harvard, attributed that rise at least in part to the #MeToo movement, citing conversations he had with students. Other schools' Title IX officers, who are tasked with ensuring that colleges are in compliance with the federal law that's used to address sexual harassment, alluded to similar trends on their respective campuses. The officers, who often field sexual-harassment complaints, told me anecdotally that they've seen more students come forward with stories of assault in the post-Weinstein era than they did in the past. Comprehensive empirical data on recent sexual-harassment reporting rates aren't yet available because the institutions generally don't collect and analyze that information until the end of each school year.

This apparent trend is noteworthy. But for Title IX officers and students, the perceived uptick only reaffirms what they already knew about sexual assault; higher-education institutions have for years been aware that such harassment occurs at high rates on their campuses. In a 2015 Association of American Universities survey on sexual assault and misconduct, just over 23 percent of undergraduate female respondents reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct while in college. It's difficult to say how accurately the AAU's findings reflect reality—the survey relied on voluntary responses from 150,000 students across 27 universities—but they do offer a previously nonexistent window into a very real problem.  

"Because of those types of surveys, we had a real gauge of how serious these problems are in a way that I'm not sure the country was necessarily grappling with to the same degree," said Meredith Smith, a Title IX officer at Tulane University. "For us [on college campuses], the #MeToo movement happened a few years ago, and it's like the country is catching up to us."

Amid growing awareness about those problems and a push from the Obama administration to make combating sexual harassment and violence a priority, colleges became much more deliberate about addressing the issue; they expanded their Title IX offices, started conducting their own campus-climate surveys, and launched outreach campaigns. The institutions in turn began to see a steady rise in reporting rates, even though the difficulty of accurately tracking and quantifying the problem's prevalence renders published data controversial.

The current Education Department is now working to overhaul those policies, and it's not yet clear what the landscape will look like once deliberations are over. Just as uncertain, meanwhile, are the lasting institutional consequences of #MeToo. With the myriad complexities surrounding sexual assault—and the vexed arguments over aspects ranging from the definition of consent to the role of alcohol—the next chapters for both Title IX and #MeToo activism will inevitably be convoluted and thorny. Regardless, what the movements have laid bare, first at colleges and now in the workplace, is an underlying desire to reshape culture itself.

* * *

When President Barack Obama took office in 2008, he quickly moved to address the issue of sexual harassment at colleges. Administrations had long been accused of mishandling students' claims; students themselves often had divergent perceptions of certain behaviors, too. A 2015 survey conducted jointly by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that college men and women largely disagreed about sexual consent—that "men sometimes see a green light when women are signaling yellow or red." According to the 2015 AAU survey, the most common reason students opted not to report an event was that they did not consider the interaction "serious enough." Yet "there were some really serious things happening to people," Teresa Wroe, a deputy Title IX officer at University of Colorado, Boulder, told me. "People were saying, 'I just thought this was something that I had to personally deal with.'" More than 50 percent of respondents who said they were victims of forced penetration didn't consider the encounter serious enough to report.

Some very serious cases of campus sexual assault came into the national spotlight, but less clear-cut episodes were playing out in dorm rooms at the same time—scenarios not unlike those that people have recalled on social media using #MeToo. A boozy holiday office party; a sweaty frat one. A respected boss; a popular varsity athlete. Sloppy kisses and presumptuous grabs, often amid a drunken haze. In both contexts, the stories revealed the extent to which power imbalances can dictate certain interactions. Alleged victims shared their stories as part of a larger aim to change this cultural framework.

It was indeed "culture" that the Obama administration said it wanted to reform on campuses several years ago. The Office of Civil Rights in 2011 issued what eventually became known as the "Dear Colleague" letter, which expanded colleges' oversight in sexual-assault cases and deemed "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including remarks, worthy of punishment. Sexual harassment could interfere with people's access to education, the OCR argued, and schools should be responsible for creating a culture in which such behavior is unacceptable in the first place.

Support for the new guidelines "was a national moment of students rising up to say enough was enough, that we wouldn't tolerate harassment and violence and institutional indifference anymore, and that we demanded safe and equitable campuses," said Sejal Singh, a Harvard Law student who works with the national advocacy group Know Your IX. Title IX officers and advocates commended those policies as initiating a process of much-needed reform. For the past three years, the number of reported cases on campuses across the country has steadily increased; the number of complaints at Harvard rose by 65 percent between 2013-14 and 2016-17 school years, according to official data.

Similar to the Obama-era Title IX protocols, #MeToo has provided a platform for women to come forward: People are speaking out about all manners of, in the words of the Dear Colleague letter, "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" that have affected their ability to do work. Just as the Obama administration had aimed to fundamentally change campus culture by broadening what was punishable, the #MeToo movement has become an opportunity to redefine what's acceptable when it comes to workplace conduct. The actress Emma Thompson, in an October 2017 interview with BBC Newsnight, said that in her mother's time, harassment was likened to "pestering"; women's tolerance for certain behaviors, from lewd jokes to shoulder rubs, is now shifting.

Moreover, alleged perpetrators of those actions are being punished outside of the traditional criminal-justice system (by losing their jobs, for example)—much in the same way that schools can suspend or expel students found guilty of harassment by campus courts. But when murky definitions begin to carry legitimate consequences, they're bound to spark debate.

That's exactly what has been transpiring on campuses since Obama issued the new guidelines. My colleague Emily Yoffe, along with many others, has argued that the "Dear Colleague" letter inspired an exaggerated definition of sexual assault, constituted institutional overreach, and encouraged bias against those accused.

Under the Trump administration, those arguments have been gaining serious momentum. After meeting with both survivors' groups and "men's rights" organizations last July to assess existing policies, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the administration would revoke the Obama administration's "Dear Colleague" guidelines. DeVos's new interim guidelines allow schools to use a higher burden of proof for harassment cases if they so choose*, which in turn strengthens protections for those accused of sexual assault. "Any perceived offense can become a full-blown Title IX investigation," she said in a September speech at George Mason University ahead of the formal announcement. "But if everything is harassment, then nothing is."

Here, once again, the Title IX saga might serve as a blueprint for #MeToo. France, for example, is already seeing significant backlash (and backlash to the backlash) to the #MeToo movement playing out there; Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg has warned of the activism's potential downsides; a legion of people jumped to the actor and filmmaker Aziz Ansari's defense after a woman recently published her account of a date-turned-wrong with him.

In a December 2017 piece for Politico, Yoffe described how former Senator Al Franken's downfall after being accused in November of groping and forcibly kissing women was reflective of the changes that had occurred on campuses years before. His exit from the Senate, she wrote, illustrated the same "erasing of distinctions between the criminal and the loutish" that Title IX incurred. The Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk recently argued in The New Yorker how Title VII, the workplace anti-discrimination law, could carry similar implications. "We can learn a lot from the campus experience, but we're probably going to see repetition of some of the same errors in addressing such a serious and complex set of problems," Suk wrote in an email.

In other words, there's no straightforward trajectory for the Title IX and #MeToo movements. But the parallels between the two have exposed the need for some sort of collective change—some sort of redefinition of standards, some sort of reshaping of policies, some sort of reassessment of culture.

And for Goldberg, the Our Harvard Can Do Better member, that's why it's important not to place #MeToo in a vacuum: "This didn't happen out of the blue."


* This article originally stated that DeVos's new interim guidelines require that colleges use a higher burden of proof for harassment cases. We regret the error.

Raising a Social-Media Star

Posted: 17 Jan 2018 04:00 AM PST

When then-14-year-old Jonas Bridges ran down the stairs of his Atlanta home shouting, "Dad, I've got 1,000 fans!" his father, Rob Bridges, hardly took notice. A few days later Jonas barreled into the living room again, saying, "Dad, I've got 3,000 fans now." Again, his father brushed him off. Several days later, Jonas told his father, "I have 5,000 fans now and if I get to 10,000 I'll get paid for it." Finally, Rob Bridges turned to his wife and said, "Denise, what the hell is he talking about?"

What Jonas Bridges was trying to tell his father was that he was rapidly becoming famous on YouNow, a social video platform where he had begun hosting live-streams from his bedroom under the pseudonym "woahits_jonas." Before his parents knew what was happening, Jonas had amassed an army of online fans for his vlogs and prank videos. Before they could grasp quite what his newfound fame meant, Jonas had begun raking in serious cash.

Jonas is just one of the many teens reaching unprecedented levels of fame via social media. Platforms like Musical.ly, Instagram, YouTube, YouNow, Periscope, and more allow anyone with a phone and internet access to build an audience, and today's teens are spending more time on their phones than ever. Ninety-four percent of teens access the internet using their phone daily and 71 percent use more than one social-media platform, according to a 2016 Pew study. The vlogger-to-riches story has become so prevalent in teen culture that, according to a 2014 survey by Variety, YouTube stars are more popular and influential than mainstream celebrities in the eyes of U.S. teens.

Parenting these young internet stars, however, is not easy. As social platforms rise and fall, moms and dads across the country with zero experience in the entertainment industry are seeing their families' lives transformed.   

* * *

Parents can go years thinking their son or daughter is just an average teen on YouTube or Instagram until one day a marketing manager at a Fortune 500 brand calls the house asking to collaborate, as happened to one mother I spoke to. Some parents don't become aware until other kids begin asking their child for selfies in public, or when their youngsters begin receiving special treatment at local businesses.

John Rivera, the father of Brent Rivera, a former Vine star with 6.6 million followers on Instagram and over 3 million on YouTube, says he didn't think much of the time Brent was spending on social media until he attended a local hockey game with his two sons.

They were sitting on the bleachers when a fellow parent approached. The woman sat down next to them and said, "Are you Brent?" His son answered "yes" and she asked, "Can you look up there?" gesturing a few rows up behind them. "My daughters are having a birthday party." Brent turned his head, looked at the girls, and they began screaming. His father gawked.

Though parents are often inclined to see their kids as talented and exceptional, most would still be startled to learn that hundreds, or thousands, of other teens suddenly worship their son or daughter. Some young stars, like Jonas Bridges, are proud of their burgeoning follower counts and try to explain to their parents what's going on, but frequently, as the famous Will Smith adage goes: Parents just don't understand.

Max Levine, cofounder of MC Projects, a company that manages digital stars, says that many parents are eager to learn about what's happening to their child, "but they definitely don't understand what they're walking into." Gen Xers and above were "never told 'Yeah, just post photos and videos online and you become famous,'" he says. "It's not really in anyone's rule book of life."

The first step parents of these chosen teens often take is to look for help making sense of it all. That could mean scouring Google and Yahoo Answers for advice, but more often it means turning to a business manager to put it all in context. Unfortunately, for every wide-eyed young internet star, there is a slew of dubious "managers" and "agents" looking to take advantage of teens—and their parents.

Jonas Bridges, a social-media star, with his parents Rob and Denise Bridges (Rob Bridges)

"We've met a lot of great people and great parents through social media," says Rob Bridges, "but there's also quite the opposite. There are some very shady characters working in this business. There are managers out there who promise these families the world, then take a big cut." Some parents choose to manage their children themselves, but that can lead to a whole other set of messy issues.

Paula Kaplan, the head of talent at AwesomenessTV, a digital media company focused on teen content, says she can spot nervous parents a mile away. As a veteran entertainment executive who spent over 20 years at Nickelodeon, she knows how the entertainment industry can warp the bond between teens and their parents. One piece of advice she gives to mothers and fathers is to "hire some people who know what they're doing and can help you. Look for people who have an actual track record and [who] let parents actually be the parents."

At AwesomenessTV, "we want parents to know the same information as the kids," Kaplan says. "We work really closely with YouTube and Instagram and are happy to facilitate those conversations. It really is a different world for these parents, they didn't grow up with social media. And that can be intimidating."

"You think you're doing right by your child, but it's hard when you don't know what you're doing," says Tiff Lewis, the mother of Madison Lewis, a Musical.ly star with over 2.5 million fans. "She's just on here having fun as a kid, but then you realize, well, she could make a lot of money off this. Is that a smart thing we should do? It was scary as a parent not knowing who to turn to. Then a little more than a year ago, she had management start to come after her and take over, and again I had to wonder whether that was the right move. How do you know if any of this is what's really best?"

* * *

Parents of teen social-media stars aren't just plagued by existential fears, but more immediate, physical threats, too. A parent's most basic instinct is to protect their child, and when a crowd of thirsty fans descends, it can be scary.

Margaret Fitzpatrick, the mother of Alli Fitzpatrick, a former Vine star and current YouTuber with several million followers across her many platforms, says that she spent most of her first trip to New York with Alli in shock. She arrived early to one planned meet-up in a New York park to find a huge crowd of girls crying and chanting Alli's name. "I was like, are they talking about my Alli? It was crazy." She says she felt nervous for Alli's safety when she realized that the crowd would be difficult to control if things got out of hand.

And things regularly do get out of hand.

When the Dolan Twins, brothers with over 5 million followers on YouTube, tried to organize an impromptu meet-up in November in London's Hyde Park, things quickly spiraled out of control. They were forced to cancel the appearance before they even arrived due to lack of crowd control. And despite the cancellation, thousands of teens still descended on the park, wreaking havoc and reportedly trampling each other.

Because of how quickly things can go awry, most parents I spoke with try to limit the times their children are in public without protection. This leads to families' lives being severely restricted in terms of things they do together. Family movie nights at the local theater are canceled. Birthday dinners are held in private rather than at a public restaurant. If the family wants to travel to Disney World or attend a concert, prior arrangements must be made.

Even parents who take the most meticulous cautionary measures see their children's whereabouts tracked 24/7 by fan accounts online. There are Twitter and Instagram accounts set up by fans to crowdsource sightings of their favorite internet stars and alert followers to their whereabouts everywhere they go. Because of the global reach of social platforms, most internet stars have fans all over the globe and it can seem like no matter where a parent takes their child, there are eyes on the ground. When a kid's location is revealed, a flash mob can pop up in a matter of minutes. All it takes is one tweet.

Michael, the father of Mel Joy, a popular beauty and fashion YouTuber with more than a million followers, learned this lesson firsthand on a trip he and his daughter took to a somewhat remote area of Victoria, British Columbia. (Michael asked that we not reveal his last name, because his daughter keeps hers private online, and he doesn't want fans to be able to locate their family.) The two were sitting at a restaurant quietly enjoying a meal when the owner of the restaurant approached their table. He asked, "Are you Mel Joy?"

It turns out Mel had posted a photo of her dinner on Snapchat. One of her hundreds of thousands of followers recognized where she was eating from the sliver of background in the image. The fan called her uncle, who happened to own the restaurant, to have him tell Mel that she wanted to say hi. On that same trip, Mel and her father ran into another teenage girl who, after asking for a photo, revealed that she had found out Mel was in the area and had been running all over Victoria for days hoping to spot her.

The YouTuber Mel Joy hugs a fan outside VidCon, an online video conference. (Mel Joy / Instagram)

Often fans are familiar with not just teen idols but their whole families. Some fans can and will recognize sisters, brothers, and parents even without their more famous family member. Parents become particularly well-known since so many appear in their kids' videos—intentionally or not.

"Parenting a social-media celebrity means that the camera is always rolling at the most inopportune times," Rob Bridges says. "Jonas pranks both his mom and I even when we are not in the mood for being pranked ... It's kind of like living in a mini reality show."

Some parents embrace this tangential fame more than others. Tiff Lewis, for instance, often "guest hosts" her daughter's social-media accounts while she's at school, entertaining fans in other time zones. "I would go on Madison's Live.ly account and I could interact with her following that were in Europe," she says. "Sometimes I'd have 20,000 to 40,000 people on there and just talk to them. I would do it for almost four hours sometimes."

Other parents attempt to become social-media celebrities themselves. Pam Stepnick and Greg Paul, the parents of Jake and Logan Paul, potentially the two most iconic internet stars working today, both actively court followers on their own social-media accounts.

Jake and Logan Paul are two former high-school Vine stars who have amassed giant social-media followings on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. Combined, the two have over 60 million followers on social media and armies of followers who call themselves "Jake Paulers" or part of the "Logang."

The boys' father has more than 180,000 subscribers on YouTube, where he posts pranks and reaction videos to his sons' latest drama under the name Vlogdad Greg Paul—which he monetizes. On Stepnick's primary platform, Instagram, she has more than half a million followers and, like Paul, posts pranks and speaks about the controversies that so frequently surround her sons. Jake Paul and his brother Logan frequently feud with their friends, each other, and other top-tier influencers on YouTube. Logan also recently came under fire for posting a video featuring the dead body of a suicide victim. The Paul family has collectively become known as the "Kardashians of YouTube" for their ability to manufacture drama to stir attention and generate views.    

But many YouTuber parents abstain from turning the spotlight on themselves, saying raising kids is hectic enough and they don't want to have to compete with their children for brand deals. "I love my job and I have a career, I don't need to be a social-media star," says John Rivera.

* * *

Whether or not they choose to post content themselves, parenting a social-media celebrity does force parents to become adept at a new industry—and the new technology that comes with it. Adopting and mastering new platforms isn't just fun and games for teen stars—it's key to staying relevant.

If your fame comes from the social web, it's important never to become overly affiliated with even the hottest app, lest it become passé by tomorrow. There's also the volatile nature of the tech companies themselves to account for. If stars don't diversify their audiences, an app could radically change its strategy tomorrow or be mismanaged out of existence, erasing years of hard work.

The job of evaluating the flood of new apps can frequently fall to a child's parents. "Trying to assess which ones would have a compelling position in the marketplace is tricky and does take time," says Michael, Mel Joy's father.

The work it takes to support a young online influencer's entertainment career often takes away from the time parents spend on their own work. Jonas's mom left her career behind in order to help her son's. A former real-estate agent, she now accompanies Jonas on his travels and stays home during the week to make sure he meets his work and school commitments.

No matter how involved parents are in their kids' careers, the family dynamic inevitably changes when kids are earning huge amounts of money—from ads on their YouTube videos, sponsored content, merchandising deals, and brand partnerships. Not to mention that teen influencers are also bombarded with free products. Michael, Mel Joy's father, says that so much free makeup has arrived in the mail for his daughter that he doesn't know where to put it. It would take ages to even give it all away.

How do you enforce rules and boundaries on children who frequently have more money than grown-ups, and thus, unusual levels of autonomy?

"One of the levers that parents have to manage their children is: 'You're financially dependent on me,'" Michael says. "If you have a child who is making more money than the average adult then that lever is gone. Some parents can say, 'If you don't clean your room then move out and get your own place.' Well, these kids could get their own place tomorrow."

But until their kids turn 18, parents still do have some modicum of control over their children's finances. They're usually managers on their children's accounts and put any big earnings into a savings account or trust. In the state of California, where influencers do most of their work, minors can't legally control their own money and state law stipulates that at least 15 percent of all minors' earnings be distributed to a Coogan Account, a type of trust that they can access when they turn 18.

The teenage stars I spoke to seem grateful for their parents' help in managing finances—as long as they get to indulge once in a while, usually on things like new camera equipment, video software, or occasionally a new car. But naturally, there are always times when teens push back against their parents' rules.

"Money has caused all kinds of controversy in the family," Bridges says. "We got involved in a contract one time, and I had to hire an attorney to look at Jonas's contract. We informed him that we hired an attorney and took the money out of his account and he got upset. He thought we should pay. We had to say, 'That's not the way it works, dude! You're running a little business here.'"

Bridges says he and his wife were able to use the opportunity to teach Jonas the financial value of reinvesting in his career and treating it like a small company. Teens aren't used to paying administrative fees or business expenses and so it's up to their parents to explain that, unfortunately, 100 percent of your income can't be spent on fun.

School can also be a particular point of contention between teen influencers and their parents. Because of scheduling and travel demands, almost all young influencers are homeschooled, a fact that most parents I talked to accept begrudgingly. A few internet celebrities, such as Brent Rivera, are lucky enough to live near Los Angeles and can still attend high school while juggling work meetings. But even when geography isn't an issue, the social dynamics of high-school life can make it hard for these teens to function.

Though they may have fan bases of millions online and spend long hours alone at home producing "relatable" content for other high-school teens, many of the online influencers in this piece say they have been subject to intense bullying within their peer group. Kids may be ostracized or judged by their "hometown" friends once they reach a certain level of success online. Others have the opposite problem, and cause distractions when they're mobbed for selfies between classes.

Katherine Cimorelli, now 25, has been a singer and YouTube star since her formative years and she knows the toll social-media fame can take on friendships.

"You have this platform and you can positively influence thousands of young people," she says, "which is a huge blessing. But the curse is that people really treat you differently. It's hard to know who is really your friend and who is just interested in you because you've got hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram ... It sort of makes things weird and you can't really relate to your regular friends anymore."

* * *

But while "regular life" may be over for families at the forefront of the social-media entertainment industry, both the teens and their parents find friendship and support among others who are living the same strange life they are.

Joey Birlem, a social-media star, with his mother, Jen Birlem (Jen Birlem)

Joey Birlem, a 15-year-old social-media star who rose to prominence on the platform Musical.ly, where he has nearly 2 million followers, says that while fame has made it hard to lead a normal life, he's developed great friendships with other fellow stars. "Sometimes I feel like I'm missing out on the average kid experiences," he says. "Then I really think about it and I think how those kids are missing out on the cool experiences that I get to have."

Kelly Jones, whose 17-year-old daughter Jordyn Jones has more than 1 million followers on YouTube and 4 million on Instagram, says it's been extremely helpful to have a support network of other parents of teen influencers. Gigi Harville, mom to Bryce Xavier, a Musical.ly star with over 1.3 million followers, agreed. "Recently a bunch of us were up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning just talking about things."

Harville and other parents in L.A. regularly host get-togethers at each other's houses. The kids can go upstairs and shoot collab videos for YouTube while their parents relax and catch up. "I call it our social-media PTA," Harville says, "We advise each other on certain things, or say 'Hey, I think there's a project that could be good for your child, you should check it out.'" Parents who live farther from entertainment-industry hubs rely on group chats and email lists to keep in touch with their peers.

As the current class of influencer parents adjusts to a new normal, they are trailblazing a path for the next wave of stars. There is more information available online as more parents experience this phenomenon firsthand, meaning the parents of tomorrow's internet stars may have an easier time navigating this world. And parents have become increasingly aware that their child could strike it big at any moment.

Nancy Dimitriades, an elementary-school teacher and the mother of 12-year-old Nick in Baltimore, says her son worships social-media stars and she recently let him start his own YouTube channel. "It's not something he does all the time," Nancy says, but his subscriber base has slowly grown. Online, he has taken on the moniker "Nick, the YouTube Kid."

"I can tell you," Dimitriades says, "I teach kindergarten through grade four and all my third- and fourth-graders are very much aware of social media and YouTube. I have girls in my third-grade class pretending to be YouTubers all the time." According to a recent survey by Family Zone, a company that provides cybersecurity software, kids under the age of 8 spend 65 percent of their online time on YouTube.

Kathy Conrique, the mother of Caden Conrique, 16, and Dylan Conrique, 13, two social-media stars with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram and a popular show on YouTube, says she doesn't see a problem with starting kids early.

"It's a different world today than it once was," she says. "It's just amazing what they have at their fingertips. If [the parents] work it right, there's tons of money to be made for these kids ... If you think your kids are going in this direction at all, the earlier they start the better, the more content the better, the more people who see it the better."

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But are all the stress and commitments that come with being a child internet celebrity really an unprecedented familial burden? Is raising a social-media star that different than raising, say, a gifted young athlete? John Rivera doesn't think so.

"I think of it as similar to if Brent was on an all-star hockey team, in terms of how it changed family life," Rivera says. Like many young athletes, young internet stars must spend sometimes upward of 40 hours a week honing their craft and travel frequently.

The sports metaphor also helps parents set expectations.

"I tell Jonas," says Rob Bridges, "there's a lot of great high-school football players, then there's a lot of good college players, but only a handful make it to the NFL and out of that only a few are superstars. The same is true in the entertainment industry, not everybody can be Justin Bieber. You want your kid to reach for their dreams, but ... I want to prepare Jonas for the real world too."