- <em>Golden Exits</em> Is a Quiet, Mature Indie Drama
- What Trump-Era Democrats Can Learn From LBJ
- Trump Won't Declassify Democratic Rebuttal to Nunes
- The Korean Unification Flag Isn't as Unifying as It Seems
- <em>The Atlantic</em> Daily: ‘Maybe It’s an Opportunity’
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- Photos of the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics
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Posted: 10 Feb 2018 04:00 AM PST
The Brooklyn of Alex Ross Perry's Golden Exits, which takes place almost entirely in one small brownstone-dotted neighborhood of the borough, is hazy and sun-kissed. An early establishing shot of the sludgy Gowanus Canal looks positively Venetian, a tremendous achievement given that it is one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States. The tranquility on display feels lovely, but immediately threatening; a place so content and pleasant is hard to take at face value, after all. Onto the Carroll Gardens scene steps Naomi (Emily Browning), an Australian ingénue who begins the movie by softly singing "New York Groove" to herself. Is she here to upend this gentle serenity?
Well, yes and no. Naomi is the instigator of change in Perry's new drama of intertwined relationships, but Golden Exits is a film that shies away from any severe dramatics. Think of Naomi as a magnet, and the various people she meets and interacts with as a pile of metal filings on a desk; she sweeps over all of them and rearranges things without actually picking anything up. This is a movie that recalls the French filmmaker Eric Rohmer, he of the "moral tales," who specialized in quiet stories of unresolved temptation and the existential fears of familiarity and stasis. For Perry, who has specialized in more confrontational dramedies, that's something of an evolution, but it's a perfectly welcome one.
Perry broke out of the New York indie-filmmaking scene with thrillingly abrasive works like The Color Wheel (2012), Listen Up Philip (2014), and Queen of Earth (2015), all of them centered on prickly egotists, and all of them willing to dig into their protagonists' caustic inner monologues. The characters of Golden Exits are less openly and hilariously hostile; they're still prone to simmering resentment, but this time, only some of it gets to boil over.
Naomi is an assistant hired by Nick (Adam Horovitz), an archivist who works out of a neat little Brooklyn basement; she's his eighth hire over the years, and the sixth woman, as his wife, Alyssa (Chloe Sevigny) ruefully notes. Also part of the ensemble are Mary-Louise Parker as Alyssa's hard-charging sister, Gwendolyn; Lily Rabe as Gwendolyn's beleaguered assistant, Sam; Analeigh Tipton as Sam's sister, Jess; and Jason Schwartzman as Jess's husband, Buddy, who's also a childhood friend of Naomi's. Got all that?
It's easier to follow than it might sound; Nick is essentially the beginning of a long chain of Brooklyn yuppies that Naomi crosses paths with, directly or indirectly. Many of them are married, seemingly neither happily nor unhappily—there's a subtle thrum of tension to every relationship in the movie, but also the sense that nobody really has the guts to make a big change. "Let's just let this whole affair be simple," Nick protests as his wife and sister-in-law needle him about hiring Naomi. "Affair. What a horrible choice of words," Gwendolyn snarks. "I would love a situation without torment or turmoil, and I feel that's within reach," Nick pleads.
He's right, but his own behavior is part of that bargain, and Perry begins to pick away at Nick's own dynamic with Naomi (which his wife is immediately suspicious of). In showing her the ropes of his profession, he gets to play the role of the helpful mentor, a dynamic that appears ripe for trouble. Naomi is pleasant, eager to help, and perhaps a little guileless; putting them in a little room together for months seems like a recipe for awkwardness, if not outright disaster. As Nick and Naomi first meet, she puts up her hair, rolls up her sleeves, and gets ready for work; behind her, Nick looms in the background, training a gaze on her back that could only be described as furtive.
Golden Exits would be tiresome were it a simple domestic drama of infidelity with a May-December romance, but Perry deftly dodges every clichéd pitfall he can. Naomi's relationship with Nick, whom she works to keep at arm's length, is as nuanced as her quiet flirtation with Buddy, who clearly knows what kind of trouble he's getting himself into every time the two catch up over drinks. Browning's rich performance keeps Naomi from coming off like a plot device; longtime Beastie Boy Horovitz is a wonderful surprise as the antsy Nick, whose fatherly affect transforms into something more pestering in a way that seems organic (and pathetic), rather than one-dimensionally monstrous.
Perry has made a film about human relationships that shies away from flare-ups and shocking twists. Caution is rarely thrown to the wind, and everything feels as sealed-up and nicely organized as the laminated documents in Nick's many archive cabinets. That lack of fizzy drama may be why Golden Exits (which first premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival) is debuting with a limited release in New York, followed by a small expansion. But this is a movie that deserves to be seen—it's a work of maturity and confidence from one of the indie world's best young directors.
Posted: 10 Feb 2018 03:00 AM PST
Last week, Robert Schenkkan's new play, The Great Society, opened at the Arena Stage in Washington. This riveting sequel to the Tony-award winning All the Way, about the Lyndon Johnson presidency, is a haunting piece of theater for liberals to watch in February of 2018, when President Trump and the Republican Congress have been swinging a political wrecking ball at Barack Obama's legacy.
The two plays capture an important lesson about presidential history: that it is possible for the country's top leader to be an incredibly effective policymaker yet fail politically at building a governing coalition that outlasts them. The costs of this kind of political failure are severe because it leaves everything a president built open to attack. It also leaves little room for continued growth. LBJ saw that happen when Richard Nixon took office in 1968, and now Obama is witnessing the same thing, even worse, with President Trump.
Policy victories combined with political failure is the story of President Johnson that The Great Society captures so well. In the first play, Bryan Cranston brilliantly captured the energy and ambition of LBJ in 1963 and 1964. Broadway audiences were treated to a rollicking performance as they saw Johnson use all the political cunning that he gained during his years in Congress to push a historic civil-rights bill through the House and Senate. Johnson had an instinctive feel for the way that his former colleagues worked. Through carrots and sticks, Johnson figured out a way to move warring sides to the point of compromise. "I got all kinds of federal programs in mind on health, education, literacy, jobs, you name it," Johnson says in the play. "We're gonna change this country, top to bottom!"
The civil-rights legislation of 1964 was path-breaking and, in the play, a proxy for the many other measures Congress passed—Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, funding for higher education and elementary schools, the War on Poverty, and more—as part of the Great Society. By the time All the Way ended, with Cranston's Johnson trouncing Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, audiences left the theater thrilled as they were reminded of what an effective president can accomplish. In an age of polarized political dysfunction, this was a breath of fresh air. Schenkkan offered hints of the turbulence that was to come, with a scene involving the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the use of military force in Vietnam, and moments in the 1964 Democratic primaries where you could see a white backlash brewing. Yet overall, the picture of America the play painted was good. It was not a surprise that politicians from both parties filled the seats of the Neil Simon Theater over the course of its three-month limited run on Broadway to catch a glimpse of this new and improved LBJ.
But if audiences thought Schenkkan was going to leave it there, they were mistaken. With the sequel that opens this weekend in Washington, audiences get a firsthand look at the political wreckage that LBJ left behind. In this performance, Jack Willis plays an LBJ who is dealing with fallout from the Vietnam War as he watches everything that he built fall apart. Willis's LBJ displays a hubris and insecurity that is destructive rather than a source of productive policymaking. He gets deeper and deeper into Vietnam as the show progresses, unable to stop himself as the fragile political coalition he put together starts to unravel by 1967 and 1968. As the protests against the war get louder, and the Black Power movement gains strength demanding that the president should do more to tackle inequality, a conservative coalition of southern Democrats and Republicans push to cut domestic spending. At the same time, the play shows how a white backlash takes hold in cities like Chicago. White protesters storm through the circular stage yelling at civil-rights protesters, "Burn 'Em Like Jews!" and "Hey! Where's Martin Luther COON?!"
Despite Vice President Hubert Humphrey (with the actor Lawrence Redmond in a fantastic performance) constantly imploring the president to stop the war and get back to work on domestic reform, Johnson doesn't listen to his better angel. In The Great Society, Johnson is driven deeper into the war and further away from the liberal forces that were animating the grass roots. His fears of the right cause him to take actions that result in his party's implosion. Johnson lies so much in the process to survive that he admits not even knowing who he was by the time he announces he won't run for reelection in March 1968.
"I had this dream about the country," LBJ says, "What it could be. And it was right there … and whatever it took seemed like such a small thing and so at first you tell yourself, if you think about it at all, that it's not much of a line to cross—hell, you've done it before, or somethin' like it—maybe even somethin' worse. You tell yourself, hell, everybody does it. And so you lie. And then you gotta cover that one with another one. And then another. Until one day you turn around and you don't know where you are anymore, or who you are, and the dream—is gone."
The political result of this turmoil is exactly what LBJ feared the most: the election of Republican Richard Nixon, who, though moderate by modern standards, sets into motion the conservative revolution that would greatly weaken the will to grow domestic policy and place Great Society programs under continual threat. Key portions of several programs, such as the Voting Rights Act, would not survive. Schenkkan reminds us that Richard Nixon was the Donald Trump of his times when, during an Oval Office meeting with LBJ, he promises to make America great again.
Although few observers compare LBJ to Obama, by contemporary standards Obama was able to accomplish a good deal on the policy front. This is the central finding of my new book, The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment, in which a group of historians found that that Obama's policy accomplishments were much more significant than realized at the time. The Affordable Care Act, the economic stimulus, and Dodd-Frank all had a notable impact on economic growth, income inequality, and access to health care. The Justice Department was taking an aggressive approach toward tackling the problem of racism in criminal justice toward the end of his second term. Obama used executive power to push forward substantial changes in climate-change regulation while adhering to an agenda of liberal internationalism overseas that calmed the storms which unfolded under President Bush. There were many areas where Obama's policy initiatives withered and others he never even tried. But overall, Americans will look back at his presidency to remember a notable package of policy changes that were put into place.
Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats, his political accomplishments were not as great as his success in policy. Unlike LBJ, President Obama did not get the nation into a disastrous war. However, he too deserves some of the blame for the success of the GOP in 2016. President Obama was often unhelpful to the congressional Democrats, refusing to share his own campaign tools, such as donor lists and activist emails, with the national party. He didn't spend as much time as was necessary raising money and mobilizing young candidates who could compete for seats on Capitol Hill. He failed to do all of this even as he asked for their help in pushing extraordinarily controversial measures that posed risks to their own professional future. As Republicans undertook a massive initiative to win control of state legislatures and master the redistricting process, Democrats were caught flat-footed and sat still as Republicans built huge majorities in the House, in state legislatures, and in gubernatorial positions. As red states redistricted Democrats out of congressional opportunities, the president did not work with Democrats to counteract these efforts.
Worst of all, President Obama continued to underestimate the ferocity of the new generation of Republicans who were practicing a new style of confrontationist, smash-mouth politics that left little room for compromise with the other party. They were aided by a conservative media universe where reason-based arguments depending on facts and analysis were secondary or irrelevant, as spin, hyperbole, and partisan slander were the weapons of choice. While President Obama was playing chess, more and more congressional Republicans were playing tackle football.
The result was that President Obama left office with Tea Party Republicans in control of Congress and a voice for this generation—Donald Trump—in control of the White House. While Johnson could at least find some relief in the fact that Democrats controlled Congress (although southern Democrats had been reinvigorated by the end of LBJ's term), President Obama could see nothing but a bleak and dismaying political landscape. Indeed, he himself admitted to the New Yorker's David Remnick that "We've seen this coming. Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination …"
The threat to his legacy is becoming clearer by the day. While much of the first year of Trump's term was pretty slow on the policy front, during the last few months President Trump has been gaining strength. The president has slashed taxes, eliminated the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, rolled back thousands of regulations on the business and financial sector, ramped up military spending, and is now teeing up to push forward a draconian package of immigration control in exchange for giving Democrats back the Obama-era program shielding undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children that Trump dismantled. Overseas, the president has greatly damaged the strength of international alliances, and given voice to an approach to foreign policy that privileges militarism and unilateralism. These victories will greatly strengthen his political standing, enabling him to go even further.
As Democrats try to figure out what to do with President Trump, they might want to head over to the Arena Theater to get a good reminder of what happens when parties don't take the right step to nurture their political strength. Policies are only as good or strong as the governing coalition that holds power. If a party hands control of power to the opposing party—as was the case with Obama and LBJ—the consequences could be devastating. Democrats are living through this nightmare for a second time with no end in sight.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 07:51 PM PST
The White House has opted not to declassify a memo written by Congressman Adam Schiff and his Democratic colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee until the panel complies with Justice Department and FBI recommendations to redact certain portions of the document.
The 10-page document was written in response to a memo written by the committee's chairman, Devin Nunes, outlining alleged surveillance abuses by the Justice Department and FBI in pursuit of a surveillance order against early Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016. The FBI was, and still is, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and whether the Trump campaign aided the effort. At issue is whether, as Nunes alleged, the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by improperly concealing the political origin of some of the evidence; both Democrats and the FBI have said the charge is false.
White House counsel Don McGahn told Nunes in a letter on Friday that Trump is "inclined to declassify" the Democrats' memo, but that "he is unable to do so at this time" because the memo contains "numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages."
Trump has directed the DOJ to offer guidance to the committee on how to "mitigate the risks" of making the classified information public, according to McGahn, and "stands ready to review any subsequent draft of the February 5th memorandum for declassification at the earliest opportunity."
The Trump administration treated Nunes' memo, which the chairman would not allow the FBI or the Department of Justice to review before it was sent to the White House to declassify, very differently. Department of Justice officials wrote a letter to Nunes urging him not to release the document, and the FBI issued a rare public statement expressing "grave concern" over the memo's impending release.
Trump declassified the Nunes memo anyway, after conducting a national security and legal review with relevant staff and the director of national intelligence, McGahn said in a letter accompanying the Nunes memo's release. It was not clear what steps were taken to mitigate the Justice Department's concerns. The memo contained no redactions. Trump has said that the Nunes memo vindicates his belief that the Russia investigation, which is now being run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is politically motivated. The Nunes memo acknowledges, however, that the Russia investigation began in July of 2016, after Trump adviser George Papadopoulos was offered derogatory information on Hillary Clinton from Russian sources. That inquiry has since broadened to examine whether or not the president attempted to obstruct justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey.
Democrats emphasized when preparing to send their rebuttal memo to the White House that the Justice Department and FBI would be given the chance to review the document before it would be made public—a step Nunes declined to take, he said, because the FBI and Justice Department were the subjects of an ongoing investigation by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.
It is unclear whether Nunes will accept the changes made by the FBI and Justice Department to the Democrats' memo, given their purported status as a subject in the Republicans' investigation. His spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Democrats have pressed Nunes for answers over whether he coordinated with the White House to research and produce the memo's claims. He told the committee on Monday that "there was involvement in drafting the memo with the White House," but Democrats were not satisfied by that answer, because it left open the possibility that the administration had aided the production of the memo in some way. Schiff told me on Tuesday that it sounded like the committee's lawyer had written that response for Nunes. Congressman Eric Swalwell, meanwhile, a Democrat who sits on the committee, told me it's worth asking whether Trump, who is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, should have access to evidence that's relevant to that investigation.
The Nunes memo focused largely on the inclusion of a dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele in the FBI's application for an order to spy on Page. Steele's dossier was produced on behalf of Fusion GPS, first retained by anti-Trump Republicans and then a law firm hired by the Democratic National Committee, to investigate Trump's ties to Russia. Republicans alleged that the FBI had failed to tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Steele's research on Trump's Russia ties, which implicated Page, had been financed by a law firm hired by the Democratic National Committee.
But Democratic Rep. Jim Himes, who sits on the committee, said on Monday that the Democrats' memo shows that "the judge was alerted" and "informed" to "the possible motivation of this particular source." He noted that the bureau did not disclose specific entities in the application because of "masking" standards, which aim to minimize the exposure of US citizens in intelligence reports.
Schiff, one of two members of the House Intelligence Committee who has reviewed the highly-classified FISA application at the heart of the controversy (Republican Trey Gowdy has also reviewed the material) said during the meeting on Monday that the Democrats' memo aims to "rebut the errors, omissions, and distortions in the Republican-drafted memo." Democrats alleged, among other things, that the Republicans' characterization of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's testimony before the panel last year, which Republicans said proved that the order on Page would not have been sought absent the Steele dossier, was taken out of context.
In a meeting on Monday, the committee voted unanimously to release the Democrats' memo, which Schiff said he hoped would "ease any lingering controversy over the investigative imperative to monitor Mr. Page" and "the motivations of those involved." Page has been on the FBI's radar since at least 2013, when two Russian intelligence agents attempted to recruit him as a spy. Two weeks after the FBI warned Page that the Russians were targeting him, Page boasted in a letter to a book editor that he had served as an informal adviser to Kremlin staff, according to Time magazine.
Nunes has said that his investigation into the Justice Department's use of the Steele dossier is entering "phase 2," but he declined on Monday to tell his committee colleagues what the next steps would look like. I reported earlier this week that Nunes' next targets are a former State Department official and an ex-journalist with ties to the Clinton family.
From here, the House intelligence committee could work to produce a memo that is sufficiently redacted to win the administration's approval. The House could also vote to declassify the memo in its entirety, or a lawmaker could read it into the record on the floor, both unlikely acts of defiance against the president. But it's also possible the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo will never see the light of day.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 05:00 PM PST
Editor’s Note: Read all of The Atlantic's Winter Olympics coverage.
In one of the many overtures of peace agreed upon by Seoul and Pyongyang ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, a reunification flag took the place of the North and South Korean national flags at the opening ceremony on Friday. The symbolism of the flag, which was carried by the joint Korean delegation as it marched, is not subtle. It depicts a united Korean peninsula in a soft pastel blue against an expansive white background—a color motif that suggests peace and hope, and is most famously featured in the flag of the United Nations. At these games, the flag represents Seoul's hope for mending long-curdled relations with the Pyongyang.
In the messy history of inter-Korean relations, the unification flag's purpose has more or less remained the same. Debuted by the joint Korean table tennis team at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships and subsequently unfurled at international sporting events like the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2007 Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, the flag is an international affirmation of shared Korean kinship, a concept known as minjok.
The flag's message, however, belies the heated controversy surrounding its use. It has drawn the ire of South Korean conservatives, who have criticized it for undermining South Korea's big moment as host to the Olympics. In more colorful displays of protest, far-right conservative groups have burned it, alongside the North Korean flag and a photograph of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Japan, too, has joined in, though for different reasons. After Japanese officials voiced their disapproval over a version of the flag that included islands Seoul and Tokyo both lay claim to, the South Korean government eventually agreed to use an altered design that does not depict the disputed territory.
The quarrel with Japan spoke to larger questions of national identity. "In a way, [the reunification flag] is a measure that weakens South Korea's sense of presence," said Kim Sung Han, a former senior South Korean diplomat. "It romanticizes the current situation, based on a kind of romantic nationalism. While it's good that we're having North Korea participating in the Olympics and sending a cheering squad, we have to approach questions of South Korea's national identity very cautiously."
The concept of a unified Korea and shared nationalism, however, may already be losing purchase among the current generation of South Koreans. "The more and more we move to younger generations, the idea that we are one people is disappearing," said Hong Woo Taek, a senior researcher at government think tank Korea Institute for National Unification."Even in South Korea, we have our own regional conflicts, so how could we embrace North Korea as one of our own, when we haven't even been able to resolve our own regionalism?" A recent poll by RealMeter suggested that just four out of 10 South Koreans favored the idea of the two countries flying the unification flag at the winter games—a far cry from a time when even conservatives lavished praise on its use. By contrast, a similar poll from 2002 showed that 76 percent of South Koreans approved of flying the reunification flag at the 2002 Asian Games, hosted in Busan, South Korea.
For all its associations with unity and a shared vision, however, the flag may ultimately mean completely different things for Seoul and Pyongyang. If, for South Korea, it represents a ticket to denuclearization talks, North Korea may view it as an opportunity to avoid them altogether. "The current mood is North Korea versus international society. [The flag] could shift it into the equation of the two Koreas versus international society," said Kim Sung Han, the former diplomat. "It could create a situation where the North Korean nuclear issue is put on the back burner." With all eyes on the Olympics, the use of the flag could also offer Pyongyang a chance for a much-needed public image makeover. "With North Korea's repeated nuclear tests, there is an increasing number of South Koreans who perceive them as a threat," Hong said. "In waving the unification flag, North Korea could be trying to send the message that they aren't dangerous."
While the narrative of a unified Korea may be co-opted more than it is genuinely embraced, one saving grace for the flag may be in the realm of sport. Despite having been separated for over 60 years, South Koreans will still root for North Korean teams when they play, waving the blue-and-white unification flag—partly because it's the only one they can. At the 2014 Asian Games women's soccer finals, even conservative lawmakers showed up to root for the North Korean team, which went on to defeat Japan for the gold. There is a flip side to the recent polls, too: A 2014 Korea Institute of National Unification survey asked South Koreans who they would cheer for in a hypothetical World Cup match-up between North Korea and the United States. Seven out 10 responded North Korea.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 03:37 PM PST
What We're Following
Looking at Lawmakers: The U.S. government shut down briefly overnight after Senator Rand Paul held up the vote on a budget bill over concerns about overspending. Even so, the Senate passed the bill around 2 a.m. on Friday, and the House—in spite of an extended opposing speech by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—followed suit at 5:30. Democratic leaders have recently made substantive policy concessions to President Trump, which could be a sign that the party's promised "resistance" is waning.
All About Inflation: On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 1,000 points for the second time in a week (and for the second time in history). As the market had been rising steadily for some time, the plunge has less to do with a coming financial crisis than with investors' fears of inflation—and even those predictions may not come to pass. Yet inflation could have a political effect: It would give Trump a chance to deliver on his populist promises.
Let the Games Begin: As the 2018 Winter Olympics kick off in Pyeongchang, North Korean representatives are appearing in solidarity with South Korea—yet their presence likely isn't the diplomatic breakthrough it might seem. And with the international rivalry of the Cold War over, Krishnadev Calamur asks: Do the Olympics even matter on the world stage anymore?
Who We're Talking To
Will Hurd, a U.S. representative from Texas and a former CIA officer, outlines how Americans can answer Russian efforts to erode trust in democracy.
Charlie Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general, makes the case for a military parade.
Listen as The Atlantic's Megan Garber and David Sims discuss the pros and cons of recasting reality as pop culture on the latest episode of Radio Atlantic.
From Stockholm, Alana Semuels reports on a study of immigrants' divorce rates:
Read on as Alana describes how some immigrant women are finding new independence amid Sweden's progressive gender norms.
What Do You Know … About Culture?
The Winter Olympics kicked off with an Opening Ceremony that emphasized South Korea's technological progress and modern culture. The next few weeks will showcase an impressive field of athletes—especially when it comes to figure skating, where the 18-year-old American Nathan Chen is expected to dominate. That sport was transformed 50 years ago by Peggy Fleming's poignant gold-medal win. And the 1960 Squaw Valley Games—which, as the first Olympics to be broadcast in the U.S., relied heavily on the theatrical touches introduced by Walt Disney—also helped to define the spectacle we see today.
Can you remember the other key facts from this week's culture coverage? Test your knowledge below:
1. The current team name of the Cleveland Indians was chosen by sportswriters in the year ____________.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
2. Amazon Studios paid $20 million for ____________, the first Woody Allen film it distributed.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
3. Red Clocks, by the author ____________, follows four women navigating an America in which abortion has been criminalized.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
Poem of the Week
For this pre-Valentine weekend, here's Jenny Mueller's "Love Poem," from our June 1995 issue:
For the Big Question of our March 2018 issue, we asked: What was the most influential act of protest in history? Erin Lisser in Mount Vernon, Washington, says:
Another nomination comes from Lucia Perri in Guthrie, Oklahoma:
Time of Your Life
Happy birthday to Bill (a year younger than car seat belts); to Nancy (twice the age of Macintosh computers); to Annie (a year younger than helicopters); to Gretchen (twice the age of The Simpsons); to Anne (a year younger than Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech); to Meredith (twice the age of Amazon); and to our business editor Joe (one-sixth the age of The Atlantic).
Tomorrow, happy birthday to Judith's son (a year younger than the computer mouse); to Joyce's husband, who shares a birthday with Rachel's mom, Gail (both are the same age as Stevie Wonder); to Kimbo (a year younger than MTV); and to Lindsay's teammate Stephanie (twice the age of the euro).
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 02:32 PM PST
Today in 5 Lines
President Trump said the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter—who resigned following reports that he had abused two of his ex-wives—was "very sad," adding that he hopes Porter "will have a wonderful career." Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand reportedly plans to step down from her role at the Justice Department. Trump signed a sweeping spending bill, reopening the federal government hours after it was shut down. Democratic Representative Rick Nolan of Minnesota announced he will not seek reelection. The 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony will air at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
Today on The Atlantic
Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.
What We're Reading
You Shall Not Pass: The Washington Post reports that dozens of people in the Trump White House don't yet have permanent security clearances to handle sensitive information. (Josh Dawsey, Matt Zapotosky, and Devlin Barrett)
Negotiating With Russia: The U.S. intelligence community has reportedly been conducting "a top-secret operation to recover stolen classified U.S. government documents from Russian operatives." (James Risen, The Intercept)
Your Move, Congress: Four immigration experts met for two hours to come to a compromise on immigration. Here's what they came up with. (Julia Preston, Politico)
Welcome to Bay View: In this Michigan town, only practicing Christians are permitted to buy houses. (Rose Hackman, The Guardian)
'We All Live on Campus Now': The "identity based 'social-justice'" movement born at America's most elite universities is bleeding into society at large, argues Andrew Sullivan. (New York)
Be Better: Democrats' lead going into the midterms is shrinking, argues David French. Here's why. (National Review)
The Running List: Since Harvey Weinstein resigned from his company amid sexual-assault allegations, 68 other men have been accused of sexual misconduct. (Sarah Almukhtar, Michael Gold, and Larry Buchanan, The New York Times)
Question of the Week
In The Atlantic's March issue, Jonathan Rauch and Ben Wittes argue that "the best hope of defending the country from Trump's Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself" is for all voters—Republicans and Democrats alike—to vote against Republican candidates at every opportunity, "until the party either rights itself or implodes."
This week, we asked if you believe the GOP needs to be defended from Donald Trump, and how you feel about this proposed strategy. The response was pretty mixed.
Many of you agreed with Wittes and Rauch. But DC Jones thinks it's an oversimplified solution. "One can both object to Trump and vehemently oppose the thought of electing more Democrats due to the party's increasingly left-wing positioning," he writes. "In the long run, policy is more important than personality (even Trump's!), so those who come to share Rauch and Wittes' views should probably think carefully about the potential consequences."
For others, the solution isn't to blow up the party, it's to offer voters another option. "The system is binary," writes Susan, "and it needs a third party or more. I truly believe that an independent president and a truly independent majority in Congress and the House is the only way forward. Too far to the left or right can only lead to further divisions in the country."
Finally, Josh agrees that the party needs to be defended from Trump's tone and style, but he argues that this is a "bonkers" strategy. "If your local House/Senate/governor's race has an honorable, intelligent, compassionate Republican running, then by all means vote for them! The GOP's tone/style was changed from within by Trump, and it can be changed from within back to an honorable group of men and women who have the country's best interests at heart."
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next week's Question of the Week!
-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 02:26 PM PST
On Friday, as the White House rushed to quell increasing anger about the exit of staff secretary Rob Porter and its handling of domestic violence, President Trump stoked the controversy, suggesting he believed Porter's denials, despite photographic evidence.
"We found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well and it's a tough time for him," Trump said, in his first comments about Porter's departure. "As you probably know says he's innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House."
The president did not offer any sympathy for Porter's victims.
Trump's reaction conflicts with the White House's attempts to control the damage from Porter's departure, amid accusations of physical and verbal abuse from two ex-wives. On Friday morning, Chief of Staff John Kelly held a staff meeting in which he tried to portray the White House as taking accusations of domestic assault seriously, and argued (against all evidence) that he had acted swiftly and decisively when he learned the accusations were credible. A White House spokesman also tried to convince the press on Thursday that the administration deplored domestic abuse, and suggested that published photos had been a major factor in Porter's exit.
The president, it turned out, had other ideas. Trump's reaction is reminiscent of his handling of Roy Moore, the U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, who was credibly accused of sexual harassment or assault by multiple women. As the rest of the GOP backed away from Moore, Trump stood by him, saying, "Well, he denies it." Trump's decisions about who to believe and who not to believe are notable; in two cases, he has assumed the credibility of men accused of abusing women.
Trump's choice to side with Moore and Porter is inseparable from the many accusations of sexual harassment and assault lodged against him, as well as a recording in which he boasts about sexually assaulting women. The president has denied any wrongdoing. Yet while he grants the presumption of innocence to men like Porter and Moore, he does not grant the same presumption to others—such as the Central Park Five, young men of color who Trump wanted executed in the 1980s, and whose innocence he has refused to accept.
Given the president's comments, can anyone believe Kelly's claim that the White House takes domestic abuse seriously? Similarly, can anyone believe Porter would have been fired absent press reports and especially the publication of photos?
As the public learns more about the allegations against Porter, the story begins to look like another manifestation of the same troubles that have long plagued the White House: disorganization, a lack of accountability, a struggle to recruit competent employees, and a president who tends to blow up the official message.
Note how Trump's view of the situation is at odds with what his aides are saying. No one else in the administration has argued that he is innocent, though spokesman Raj Shah on Thursday defended the decision not to fire him by saying the White House wanted to take his denials seriously. Nor has anyone else in the administration made the argument that even if Porter is guilty of assault, it should not disqualify him from working in the West Wing.
Several reports have focused on what the White House knew before news reports earlier this week revealed that both of Porter's ex-wives had accused him ofby physical and verbal abuse; The Intercept also published photos of one of them showing a black eye. The White House declined on Thursday to say what administration officials knew when, but Politico reports that Kelly learned several weeks ago that the FBI would recommend denying security clearance to Porter. The Washington Post reports that Kelly learned of accusations against Porter in the fall, and that White House Counsel Don McGahn knew about them in January 2017:
This is perhaps a morally indefensible stand on McGahn's part, but it's not an irrational one. Porter was, according to most accounts, one of the few truly competent people in the White House—a rare professional on a team comprised largely of hacks, novices, and, uh, Omarosa. (This is perhaps unfair: Manigault-Newman was actually one of the few staffers with previous executive-branch experience.) McGahn made a cold calculation that amid infighting, incompetence, and chaos, Trump simply couldn't afford to lose someone like Porter.
What's remarkable about the Porter episode is who it sweeps in: Porter, Kelly, McGahn. These were the purported adults in the room. Those ejected from the White House thus far had tended to come from the ranks of career partisan political operators (Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Mike Dubke) or the wild-eyed outsiders (Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka). But even people who had recognized that Kelly was not a moderate had viewed him as at least a relatively competent administrator. The Porter episode exposes some of his weaknesses.
McGahn's reputation has been more up and down. He entered as one of the more veteran Republican hands in the administration, but one with a reputation as an unpredictable maverick. He reportedly talked Trump out of firing special counsel Robert Mueller by threatening to resign, but on other questions, including the firing of Michael Flynn, McGahn has not seemed entirely on the ball.
The irony is that these weaknesses among the supposed adults would be exposed by an episode that itself stemmed from the lack of competence in the West Wing. Because so many White House staffers were unqualified, Kelly chose a devil's bargain of keeping a relatively professional but credibly accused domestic abuser on staff; as a result, he has dragged the White House further into chaos and scrutiny. Staffers expressed disbelief to the Post about Kelly's plainly untrue account of events. Maggie Haberman enumerates some of the many false statements—some of them knowingly false—that Kelly has made. The New York Times notes that this is not the first time that Kelly has spoken up on behalf of an alleged abuser when he deemed the culprit competent. In 2016, he testified on behalf of a colonel court-martialed for the sexual harassment of two subordinates, calling the man a "superb Marine officer."
Kelly faces a genuine problem in the lack of experience among aides in the White House. Many staffers have been bad at their jobs, and hiring new ones has proved challenging. Porter, credited with helping instill new discipline around the Oval Office, was both an example of this problem—his previous experience was on Capitol Hill, not in the executive branch—and in his ability to instill a degree of process and order, an antidote to the general lack of experience.
When most presidents assemble their White House teams, they draw heavily on members of previous administrations, since it's wise to have people who have worked in the executive branch and have a feel for the work. Many people who have worked in the executive branch before have previously obtained security clearances, speeding the process of renewal. But the Trump administration drew few experienced hires from past administrations. There were several reasons for that. One was that Trump was temperamentally distrustful of experience, and was convinced that he as a businessman could run government more efficiently than veteran swamp-dwellers.
A second was that Trump decided to disqualify many would-be employees because they (like most of the Republican Party establishment) had opposed him early on. Stories abounded of staffers ruled out because of old tweets critical of the president. A prominent example was Elliott Abrams, a veteran Republican who had been critical of Trump but was willing to work for him, and who would have given the beleaguered State Department some veteran leadership; Trump rejected him. The comparison between Abrams and Porter is a disturbing window into Trump's priorities: Past criticism of the president was unacceptable, but spousal abuse was not.
Finally, many people who might have been competent additions to the administration and had not made public comments critical of Trump nonetheless didn't want to work for him—out of concerns about his policy choices, his temperament, or his management style. As it turns out, those concerns were well-founded. The Trump administration has been extremely disorganized, and many West Wing staffers are also now forced to hire costly lawyers in connection with the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Porter was a novice, in that he did not have West Wing experience, but he did have political experience as chief of staff to Senator Orrin Hatch. While he awaited his clearance, Porter worked with an interim security clearance, which allowed him to handle classified material. This is typical. Many White House staffers work initially do this while the clearance process moves forward. Usually that takes only weeks, but because the Trump White House included so many employees who had never undergone the clearance process before, and in some cases were poorly vetted, the process dragged on unusually long. The Post reports that dozens of staffers continue to work with interim clearance, including the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose clearance process has been bedeviled by incomplete and belated disclosures.
Eventually, the White House was informed that Porter would not be recommended for clearance. According to Bradley Moss, a Washington lawyer who works on national-security issues, this is common: A staffer will be informed that his or her clearance will not be granted, but that's not made public, giving the staffer a chance to gracefully seek a new job. Yet Moss noted that even if a staffer failed a check, a president could still decide to grant clearance. Given that Porter left only after news reports, and after Kelly and others being aware of the accusations for months, one question is whether the White House would have simply allowed Porter to continue indefinitely absent public pressure.
At the outset of his presidency, Trump seemed guided by the view that running the government simply couldn't be that hard, and the caliber of people he hired to run it didn't matter all that much. As a result, he hired people whose entire experience was in partisan politics, or who had scant and/or embellished resumes, or who were misfit toys. The president soon realized that government wasn't as simple as he'd believed—"Nobody knew health care could be so complicated," he said, incorrectly and infamously. But his staffing problems remain unresolved. As the Porter story shakes out, Trump is said to be variously angry at Communications Director Hope Hicks and at Kelly. He may have legitimate grievances with either of them, but as the Porter case illustrates, the problem is not contained to any individual member of the staff. The problem is the staff as a whole, and its ultimate source is the man who hired them.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:47 PM PST
Well, it's over.
The technology world's most hotly anticipated trial in years has ended in a settlement: This morning, Uber and Waymo announced that the dispute over an alleged theft of trade secrets would be settled for 0.34 percent of Uber's equity, valued at about $245 million. Waymo had been seeking about $1 billion in damages.
The newish Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi issued a substantial statement, the latest in his line of apologies for the company's past behavior. He apologized to his own company's Advanced Technologies Group, which is working on self-driving vehicles, including the semitrucks that were at the heart of the deal that inspired the lawsuit.
Back in early 2016, a longtime Google employee named Anthony Levandowski, then part of the new spinout Waymo, made a shocking series of moves, spinning out his own self-driving truck company, Otto, and then selling it to Uber six months later for $680 million.
Waymo, which is and was acknowledged to be far out ahead of other companies in developing this technology, suddenly had a formidable new competitor.
But on his way out, Waymo alleges that Levandowski made off with thousands of documents including the design of Waymo's custom lidar, which is at the very heart of the self-driving vehicle enterprise. Waymo further alleged that Levandowski met with Uber officials two weeks before he even left Waymo, raising the possibility that not only did Levandowski plan to abscond with the trade secrets, but that Travis Kalanick, the former Uber CEO who cut the deal, knew or should have known that was happening.
Tallied up alongside Uber's other transgressions, the deal was seen as a key sign that Kalanick's aggressive maneuvering could sometimes cross key ethical lines.
"We agree that Uber's acquisition of Otto could and should have been handled differently," Khosrowshahi wrote.
Today's settlement does not provide a stinging moral rebuke nor does it fully settle what really happened between Levandowski, Kalanick, Uber, and Waymo, but it effectively clears the way for both companies to proceed aggressively into self-driving vehicles, for ride hailing, cargo, and everything else.
"To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo's proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our lidar and software represents just our good work," Khosrowshahi concluded.
Waymo, for its part, released a statement essentially celebrating the agreement they've come to, which must amount to something like an audit or inspection capability. "We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology," the spokesperson wrote. "This includes an agreement to ensure that any Waymo confidential information is not being incorporated in Uber Advanced Technologies Group hardware and software."
Uber fired Levandowski in the spring of last year.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 01:41 PM PST
An elementary school in Utah has traded one Jackson for another in a change that many say was a long time coming.
Jackson Elementary School in Salt Lake City will no longer be named for Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, whose slave ownership and treatment of Native Americans are often cited in the debate over memorializing historical figures associated with racism.
Instead, the school will honor Mary Jackson, the first black female engineer at NASA whose story, and the stories of others like her at the space agency, was chronicled in Hidden Figures, a 2016 film based on a book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.
A unanimous vote by the the Salt Lake City school board this week was met with a standing ovation from the crowd in the room, reports The Salt Lake Tribune's Erin Alberty. School employees and parents have discussed changing the elementary's school name "for years," Alberty reported, and last year started polling and meeting with parents, alumni, and others. More than 70 percent supported the change. Of the school's 440 students, 85 percent are students of color, according to the Salt Lake City School District.
Mary Jackson, a native of Hampton, Virginia, worked as a math teacher, a receptionist, and an Army secretary before she arrived at NASA's Langley Research Center in 1951 as a member of the West Area Computing unit, a segregated division where African American women spent hours doing calculations with pencil and paper, including for the trajectories of the country's earliest space missions.
Two years in, a NASA engineer picked Jackson to help him work on a wind tunnel that tested flight hardware by blasting it with winds nearly twice the speed of sound. The engineer suggested Jackson train to become an engineer. To do that, Jackson had to take night courses in math and physics from the University of Virginia, which were held at the segregated Hampton High School. Jackson successfully petitioned the city to let her take the classes. She got her promotion to engineer in 1958. After 34 years at the space agency, Jackson retired in 1985. She died in 2005, at the age of 83.
The name change comes as the American public continues to grapple with fierce divisions over the commemoration of controversial figures in the country's history. The debate began in earnest in 2015 after the fatal shooting of nine people at a historically black church in South Carolina by a white man who had burned the American flag and waved the Confederate one. After the tragic shooting, South Carolina's statehouse removed its Confederate flag and cities across the country started taking down monuments and memorials honoring Confederate soldiers. The movement to erase Confederate symbols from public display was reignited last summer after a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was organized to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The rally quickly turned violent and led to the death of a counterprotester, run over by a driver, and two police officers, killed inside a helicopter monitoring the protests.
Around the country, people have protested and called for the removal of statues honoring Lee, Jackson, and others seen as racist icons, as well as for institutions and streets named for them to be changed. The U.S. Treasury under the Obama administration said last year it would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the new $20 note with Harriet Tubman, the African American abolitionist who helped slaves cross into freedom. But President Trump, who hung a portrait of Jackson when he moved into the Oval Office, described the decision as "pure political correctness" during his campaign, and the new Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said last month the department hasn't made "any decisions on whether we will change the bill or won't change the bill."
Those opposed to continuing to honor Jackson point to the former president's slave ownership and deadly policies toward Native Americans. The number of enslaved men and women at Jackson's 1,000-acre plantation in Tennessee grew from nine in 1804 to more than 100 at the time of his death in 1845. In his first term in office, Jackson carried out the forced removal of various Native American tribes in the southeastern United States to other parts of the country, known as the "Trail of Tears," that resulted in the deaths of thousands.
"It kind of surprised me when I learned that he was a really bad person," a student at Jackson Elementary school told the Tribune. She said she learned through a school project that her family's ancestors were slaves from North Africa. "I didn't know they would name a school after someone like that."
The Tribune reports that school officials actually dug up and reviewed meeting minutes from the 1800s to figure out how the school district settled on Andrew Jackson. It turns out that the district "simply wanted to use a president's name, and a school-board member suggested Andrew Jackson because his own name also was Jackson."
Aside from her pioneering work at NASA, the new namesake of Jackson Elementary was also known for her work with young students. She taught math at an all-black school in Maryland and worked at the United Service Organizations club in Hampton, Virginia, which served the black community. In the 1970s, she helped children at the community center build a wind tunnel for science experiments, according to a NASA biography. "We have to do something like this to get them interested in science," Jackson said at the time. "Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don't even know of the career opportunities until it is too late."
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:55 PM PST
The successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, an electric car in orbit, colorful Carnival costumes, the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Turkish Van cats, continued airstrikes in Syria, an earthquake in Taiwan, post-Super Bowl celebrations in Philadelphia, and much more.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:23 PM PST
Editor’s Note: Read all of The Atlantic's Winter Olympics coverage.
After a year of fire-and-fury threatening and nuclear-button measuring, of Little-Rocket-Man and mentally-deranged-dotard name-calling, of apocalyptic warnings about another war on the Korean peninsula, it was heartening to witness. There they were, the South and North Korean Olympic teams marching together in sparkling white jackets behind a flag symbolizing Korean unity, as the soulful notes of the Korean folk song "Arirang" played and top South and North Korean officials warmly greeted each other in the stands, during an Opening Ceremony in Pyeongchang extolling peace.
It felt wonderful. But it also felt … wrong.
South Korea is hosting its first Winter Olympics and only its second Olympics ever. There are few experiences as special as walking in last at the Opening Ceremony of an Olympics your country is hosting, when you have worked so hard to be there and your country has worked so hard to stage the spectacle. "It is so rare in an athlete's life that you get to even compete in an Olympic Games. It's even rarer to compete in an Olympics in your home country," the American freestyle skier Tracy Evans once noted. On Friday, South Korean athletes and coaches concluded the Parade of Nations bearing a flag that isn't theirs, even if it represents a dream that is. They shared that exceedingly rare moment with athletes and coaches from North Korea, which did nothing to organize the event, missed the registration deadline for sending a delegation, and boasts only two athletes who qualified for the competition on merit. (The International Olympic Committee, which along with the South Korean government spent months trying to convince North Korea to come to the Games, made exceptions so that the North could compete.)
The Olympics' promotion of world peace has always been more of an aspiration than an actuality. George Orwell had a point when he complained about the fierce nationalism aroused by international sports contests. But the Olympics are at least predicated on peaceful competition and playing by the rules (see: the Olympic Athletes from Russia). And while North Korean athletes might well exhibit, as the head of the International Olympic Committee put it, how to "live together in peace, respect, and harmony," their leaders have not. The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, in 1988, the North Korean government tried to spoil the Games before they began by blowing up a South Korean airplane and its 115 passengers. This time—in violation of United Nations resolutions and international law and norms—the North Korean government has spent the past year test-firing ballistic missiles that can target the whole world, testing a nuclear weapon 17 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, killing off Kim Jong Un's half-brother with a chemical weapon in a Malaysian airport, and threatening to "sink" Japan and reduce the United States to "ashes." Yet here was the North Korean Olympic team, at the peak of festivities in Pyeongchang, basking in the spotlight.
There are good reasons to applaud North Korea's presence at this year's Olympics. The country's participation—prompted by an overture in a New Year's speech in which Kim Jong Un also happened to threaten nuclear war—makes a North Korean provocation or act of aggression during the competition unlikely; saber-rattling quieted in the lead-up to the Games, with North Korea holding off on weapons tests and the United States and South Korea postponing joint military exercises. The North's involvement in the Games has, in South Korean President Moon Jae In's words, served to "warm solidly frozen South-North ties," resulting in direct talks and the reopening of a communications hotline between the two sides. At the Opening Ceremony, Moon made history by shaking hands with Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's head of state, and Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un's sister and the first member of North Korea's ruling family to visit South Korea. (When terrorism failed to disrupt the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, North Korea boycotted the event.)
But we've seen this Opening Ceremony before. Nine times before, to be precise. The North and South Koreans have marched in unison at nine previous international athletic competitions, beginning with the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Just months after a major summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, their respective teams strode out into the Opening Ceremony in Sydney in matching uniforms to the tune of "Arirang" and rapturous applause from the crowd. (Sound familiar?) Behind the pretty picture was a messy story, the Korea analyst Bruce Klingner recalled at a recent Olympics briefing organized by the Center for the National Interest: North Korea had insisted that South Korea pay for its uniforms and reduce the number of South Korean marchers so that the North Koreans wouldn't be outnumbered. The South Korean government meanwhile had secretly paid the Kim regime hundreds of millions of dollars to attend the earlier summit.
The North and South repeated the show of solidarity at the 2006 Olympics in Italy, only for North Korea to test its first nuclear weapon eight months later. They did it again during the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea, only for the North and South to exchange fire over the border days after the contest ended.
Klingner compared North Korea's latest Olympian olive branch to a Trojan horse: "It's like the security guard at the gates of the Olympic camp is radioing back to headquarters saying, 'The North Koreans are pushing this large wooden horse.' And you're like, 'Again?.'"
Most South Koreans support North Korean participation in the Pyeongchang Games. But Moon Jae In's more compliant decisions to gather Koreans under a unification flag for the Opening Ceremony and especially to create a combined Korean women's ice-hockey team—which means a number of South Korean hockey players will be forced to cede ice time to their new North Korean teammates, at least three of whom must dress for every game—are less popular. (South and North Korean athletes will compete separately in all other sports.) The South Korean government has also been criticized for joining the International Olympic Committee in paying the North Korean delegation's expenses. Conservative opponents of Moon, who tend to be more resistant to engagement with the North than Moon's liberal wing, now ridicule the Games as the "Pyongyang Olympics," in a reference to North Korea's capital. The rebuttal is that desperate times call for less-than-ideal Olympics. The joint Opening Ceremony entrance and hockey team "aren't about handing the Olympics over to North Korea," an editorial in the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh argued. "They are a crucial effort to sustain the mood for talks about denuclearization even after the Olympics."
Even if the costs of these concessions are worth the benefits—such as a literally peaceful Olympics and a de-escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula—the benefits will probably be short-lived, according to Andrew Bertoli, a political scientist who studies the relationship between international sports, nationalism, and interstate conflict. In the most extreme example, Adolf Hitler soft-pedaled his racism and militarism during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, only to soon initiate World War II and the Holocaust. Vladimir Putin waited until just after the Sochi Olympics to intervene militarily in Ukraine. "We shouldn't fall for the temptation to see this short-term warming effect as an indication that these sporting events are actually leading to any type of long-term improvements in the behavior of these countries," Bertoli explained recently on the Global Dispatches podcast.
North Korea's long-term objectives with respect to the Pyeongchang Olympics, in fact, may be to probe pressure points in the U.S.-South Korean alliance and to weaken international support for severe sanctions imposed over its nuclear-weapons program. Already, the South Korean government has openly broken with the U.S. government in characterizing the Olympics as a potential opening to a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear crisis rather than a blip in the Trump administration's escalating "maximum pressure" campaign against the North. And already, the South Koreans have waived or relaxed sanctions rules to facilitate North Korea's participation in the Games. In a striking sign of the divide between the United States and South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence didn't interact with the North Korean officials seated right behind him at the Opening Ceremony, let alone shake their hands like Moon did.
It's hard not to cheer the sight of North and South Koreans parading as one below an image of a Korean peninsula made whole, just 50 miles from one of the most militarized borders on earth. But North Korea has made it a little easier on everyone by sending a massive squad of young, female cheerleaders to the Olympics as part of its deal with South Korea. "It will be absurd, in Pyeongchang, to watch one of the world's most repressive, totalitarian nations attempt to deploy two hundred and thirty smiling women as a diplomatic shield," Jia Tolentino writes in The New Yorker. "The underlying idea is so ridiculous that it's almost thrilling. Female youth, beauty, and obedience is supposed to be that distracting—a spectacle that could even dissipate thoughts of nuclear war."
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:20 PM PST
What We're Writing
The Winter Olympics: The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, kicked off today. Here's a list of the most promising athletes to watch for as the Games get underway, spanning four continents. The Games carry the heavy burden of the world's hope that sports diplomacy will lead to peace between North and South Korea. But Krishnadev Calamur asks: Do the Olympics really matter anymore? And Uri Friedman looks at past crises between the U.S. and North Korea, and concludes that history suggests the current crisis is likelier to lead to a compromise than to devolve into fighting.
The future of German democracy: Despite Angela Merkel's victory in last September's German election, her party had, until now, failed to make a coalition deal and form a government. In the face of a tense atmosphere in the Bundestag, brought about by the presence of the far-right AfD party, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and her main opposition party, the Social Democrats, came to an agreement on a grand coalition deal this week. But not everyone within the Social Democratic Party agrees that the left should make that deal; the leader of the party's young socialists wing, Kevin Kühnert, has been lobbying his party to avoid centrism and reconnect with its leftist origins.
In The Atlantic's March issue, Benjamin Carlson explains why the Chinese people identify with Donald Trump and why its leaders want to work with him. Read about why Sino-American relations may be getting better, not worse, under the Trump presidency here.
"I think a lot of French people would be surprised to see that it has gotten so much attention here and it's being copied," Hudson Institute fellow Benjamin Haddad told Krishnadev Calamur about the Bastille Day parade in France, which Donald Trump has said he wants to copy here in the U.S. Read about the implications of an American military parade here.
"Every Jew who is still alive and comes from Poland could be prosecuted." Polish scholar Jan T. Gross told Rachel Donadio that Poland's new Holocaust law could potentially endanger the freedom of speech of those who study and talk about Poland's role in the Holocaust. Read about the law here.
Our Long Read of the Week
Rachel Donadio, our Paris correspondent, wrote about the investigation into the murder of Malta's most famous journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, here:
What We're Reading
The White Darkness, by David Grann, is the interactive tale of Henry Worsley's journey to trek on foot from one side of Antartica to the other. (Via New Yorker)
The Dog Thief Killings, by Calvin Godfrey, tells the curious story of the thieves who steal dogs in Vietnam for popular consumption. (Via Roads & Kingdoms)
The Underground Punks of Yangon, by Michael Isaac Stein, explores networks of punk bands in the highly controlled Buddhist-majority nation of Burma. (Via Pacific Standard Magazine)
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:07 PM PST
Tucked among the provisions in the budget bill passed by Congress on Friday are new rules about how FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, works with houses of worship. According to the new law, religious nonprofits can't be excluded from disaster aid just because of their religious nature, which had been the agency's policy in certain contexts prior to January.
The move resolves a long-standing controversy over the agency's policy on religious aid, mostly recently raised during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which damaged a number of houses of worship in the South. It's also part of a significant trend: Rules on government money going to religious organizations are loosening, a shift that has consequences well beyond disaster aid and emergency management.
Last summer, when Hurricane Harvey ripped across islands in the Caribbean, Louisiana, and Texas, it left roughly $125 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—second in cost only to Hurricane Katrina. Worse, it was followed almost immediately by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which further devastated Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and other areas.
Among the many buildings that were damaged were churches and synagogues that got flooded and wrecked. Despite religious organizations' key role in disaster-recovery efforts, houses of worship weren't equally eligible for federal disaster-relief and rebuilding funds. As a result, a number of groups, including three churches in Texas and an Orthodox Jewish organization in Florida, sued the government.
Early on, it was clear that they had the White House on their side. "Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others)," President Trump tweeted in September. From a legal perspective, time was arguably on their side as well. The hurricanes hit roughly one month after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, ruling that governments can't discriminate against religious organizations in awarding grants simply because of their religious nature. The lawsuits relied heavily on that decision, reasoning that the disaster-aid exclusions were analogous to the situation presented in the case.
In January, FEMA took steps to resolve the dispute with new guidelines on eligibility for its public-assistance program, which provides grant money for debris removal, emergency protection, and facility repairs for certain kinds of organizations. In light of Trinity Lutheran, it decided, it would reinterpret the Stafford Act, the law that governs eligibility for disaster aid.
While these new guidelines changed the situation for houses of worship, they were ultimately impermanent and vulnerable to revision under a new administration. That's where Congress's new budget bill comes in: It revised the text of the Stafford Act itself. Under the new law, which was signed by Trump on Friday, houses of worship can't be excluded from aid provided to other nonprofits, including schools, hospitals, and elder-care facilities, just because they're led by people "who share a religious faith or practice." This includes money for the "repair, restoration, and replacement of damaged facilities."
That's where things get legally tricky. Scholars are split on how the Constitution should be interpreted when it comes to government money for houses of worship. Over the last few decades, courts have steadily pushed interpretations that allow government grants to religious organizations in certain contexts, like providing educational materials to parochial schools or giving money for neutral renovations, such as resurfacing a playground.
Those who favor stricter rules separating church and state have worried that this will open the way to government money supporting explicitly religious functions. In her dissent to Trinity Lutheran, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that government money that goes toward an allegedly neutral purpose at a church is still government money supporting a church: It "cannot be confined to secular use any more than lumber used to frame the church's walls, glass stained and used to form its windows, or nails used to build its altar," she wrote. Arguably, her fears are actualized in the new FEMA law, which directly supports the rebuilding of church walls and altars after they've been destroyed in natural disasters. As Jason Lemieux, the director of government affairs at the Center for Inquiry, wrote in a statement, the new law would "require Americans to fund the repair of religious buildings with no regard for their individual religious or moral beliefs. … If churches want protection against damage from natural disasters, that's what insurance is for."
But religious-freedom advocates and faith organizations cheered the new law as a common-sense course correction to a flawed FEMA policy. "It was always strange to tell houses of worship that there is no room at the inn, when they are the first to help in time of need," said Diana Verm, a lawyer Becket, the firm that championed the lawsuits against FEMA, in a statement. "Congress has now put this troubling history of discrimination behind us." The Orthodox Union, which represents Modern Orthodox Jewish synagogues and rabbis, said the law will bring "a new era of fairness for disaster-stricken synagogues, churches, and other houses of worship." The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded it as "good not only for houses of worship but for the communities that depend on them."
It's possible that this new approach would have come about based on court decisions, regardless of the administration in office. But Trump certainly made things easier by throwing his weight behind the case for church funding. Throughout his time in office, the president has consistently given his unqualified support to causes championed by religious-freedom advocates. And these groups are actively looking for ways to expand the reach of Trinity Lutheran, especially in spheres like education that are much more contentious than disaster relief.
That's the tactical brilliance of the new FEMA provision, though: Battles over the First Amendment don't seem so compelling in the context of a torn-up church. For now, houses of worship will get to rebuild, and the legal consequences will be left for debate another day.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:27 PM PST
Instead of debating whether or not Russia attempted to influence the 2016 elections—in ways that ranged from encouraging incorrect voting methods to promoting fake rallies to sharing false election stories—Americans should be debating how to counter this activity. The 2018 midterm elections are fast approaching, and the threat remains.
Before I was elected to represent southwestern Texas in the U.S. Congress, I spent almost a decade as an undercover officer in the CIA. I served in places where Russia has geopolitical interests, and learned that Russia has one simple goal: to erode trust in democratic institutions. It has weaponized disinformation to achieve this goal for decades in Eastern and Central Europe; in 2016, Western Europe and America were aggressively targeted as well. Social media is merely a 21st-century mechanism to fuel the familiar Cold War-propaganda machine. The Russians know that well executed disinformation, when exercised tactically, can quickly metastasize.
Unfortunately, over the last year, the United States has demonstrated a lack of resilience to this infection. The current highly charged political environment is making it easier for the Russians to achieve their goal. The hyperbolic debate over the release of the FISA memos by the House Intelligence Committee further helps the Russians achieve their aim. Most recently, Russian social-media efforts used computational propaganda to influence public perceptions of this issue, and we found ourselves once again divided among party lines.
When the public loses trust in the press, the Russians are winning. When the press is hyper-critical of Congress for executing oversight and providing transparency on the actions taken by the leaders of our law-enforcement agencies, the Russians are winning. When Congress and the general public disagree simply along party lines, the Russians are winning. When there is friction between Congress and the executive branch resulting in the further erosion of trust in our democratic institutions, the Russians are winning.
The cycle will not stop, and Russian influence operations will continue, unless we take immediate action.
To address continued Russian disinformation campaigns, we need to develop a national counter-disinformation strategy. The strategy needs to span the entirety of government and civil society, to enable a coordinated effort to counter the threat that influence operations pose to our democracy. It should implement similar principles to those in the Department of Homeland Security's Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism, with a focus on truly understanding the threat and developing ways to shut it down.
There are several ongoing public- and private-sector initiatives at home and abroad taking on the challenge of understanding and discrediting disinformation. Facebook, Twitter, and Google have testified to Congress on their internal efforts. Organizations like Jigsaw, the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Research Lab, the German Marshall Fund's Alliance for Securing Democracy, and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats have launched initiatives to develop strategies of their own.
Children know not to talk to strangers, yet people, young and old, seem to share social-media content freely from strangers they know nothing about. To address this, educators are beginning to develop new literacy materials for the public to better assess the credibility of news reports and sources.
All these nascent efforts are important, but we need to marshal these independent initiatives into a comprehensive, national counter-disinformation strategy against third-country influence operations.
Successful strategy implementation will require three key decisions. First, we must identify a lead coordinator to incorporate the efforts of a diverse group of stakeholders. Given the near-term challenge of countering influence operations against the midterm elections, it would be simplest to designate an existing organization like the National Association of Secretaries of State that oversees elections at the state level. Second, we must define concrete roles and responsibilities for supporting public and private stakeholders. Finally, we must determine the capacity and infrastructure needed to execute and adapt accordingly.
When we lose trust in our democratic institutions, we are left unable to leverage our most important power—the power of inspiration. Lincoln described the U.S. as "the last best hope of earth," Kennedy called on Americans to be the "watchmen to the walls of world freedom," and Reagan likened his country to a "shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere." They understood the power of a nation that believed in itself.
If we choose to live in a society where mutual understanding is no longer a virtue, our enemies will continue to exploit the divide. While our armed services, intelligence community, and law-enforcement agencies continue to hold the line against our adversaries, and our civilian leaders work on a counter-covert-information strategy on a new plane of battle, every citizen must play a role, too. Americans must stop contributing to a corrosive political environment and reestablish a climate of bipartisanship. There is no better way to resist division than to be transparent, trust each other, and work together. The future of our democratic system is at stake.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 10:00 AM PST
Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and author
The protests against the Stamp Act in 1765, which inevitably led to the creation of the United States a decade later.
Harry Leslie Smith, World War II veteran, activist, and author, Harry's Last Stand
Like in our own era, corruption and nepotism were ubiquitous in the 16th century. They stifled social and scientific progress. Were it not for Martin Luther's 95 theses, reportedly hammered to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church, which instigated the Reformation, our modern democratic world might never have germinated.
Kit Miller, director, Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
In the 1930s, 80,000 Muslim men and women formed an "army of peace" to protest England's oppressive occupation of what is now Pakistan. Led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, whose nonviolent leadership prefigured Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Nelson Mandela's, they endured severe maltreatment prior to and during the partition of India and Pakistan.
David S. Meyer, author, The Politics of Protest
The conscientious objector Randy Kehler went to jail for nearly two years to protest against the Vietnam War. Years later, Daniel Ellsberg said that Kehler's sacrifice persuaded him to share the Pentagon Papers.
T. V. Reed, author, The Art of Protest
Rosa Parks's refusal, in 1955, to move to the back of a segregated bus in Alabama.
Michael C. Quinn, president and CEO, Museum of the American Revolution
The Newburgh Conspiracy, on March 15, 1783—a protest that failed! By facing down the apparent beginnings of a coup d'état by his officers in Newburgh, New York, General George Washington ensured the U.S. military's subordination to civilian authority.
Steve Ignorant, singer, Crass
The U.K. miners' strike in the 1980s: Although the miners ultimately lost, they showed the British public just how far the government would go to achieve its aims, even if it meant destroying whole communities.
Charles Lerable, Monterey, Calif.
On June 5, 1989, on Tiananmen Square, one man stood against the entire Chinese government to protest the oppression of more than 1 billion people. Using only his body, he managed to stop an armored tank column and, even if for a moment, a brutal crackdown on freedom and democracy.
Erin Lisser, Mount Vernon, Wash.
The Silent Sentinels' protest outside the White House, which in 1919 helped finally grant half of America's citizens the right to vote. Their patriotic quoting of the president and abiding by gender expectations for silence were a deafening and decorum-shattering roar that brought a centuries-old oppression to an end.
Mark Roberts, Lisbon, N.H.
Mahatma Gandhi's 241-mile Salt March in 1930 peacefully defied British colonial tax policy in India. Gandhi's example of civil disobedience inspired millions worldwide.
Lucia Perri, Guthrie, Okla.
The Beatles' refusal to play for segregated audiences in Jacksonville, Florida, in September 1964. The band's contracts, signed by its manager, Brian Epstein, stated that it would not play to segregated audiences. Since then, we've come together.
Want to see your name on this page? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your response to the question for our May issue: What item would you put in a time capsule to help the next century understand our current moment?
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 11:35 AM PST
Shortly after Trump's election, the political scientist Mark Blyth argued that the outcome was not an idiosyncratic event, but rather the culmination of a long-brewing revolt against an anti-inflationary regime that had been built up over 30 years by parties of the center-right and center-left. If the inflation of the 1970s made that era a debtor's paradise, the years since have for the most part been a creditor's paradise, to the detriment of the debt-plagued working and middle classes of the developed countries. After the 2008 crisis, however, what had been a period of stable inflation and stable politics came unglued, and debtors started to embrace a succession of political outsiders who promised to shake things up.
As one of the chief beneficiaries of this development, it would have been natural for Trump to push an inflationary agenda, to start easing debt burdens. Trump's decades-long experience as a real-estate speculator made him far less debt-adverse, and thus less inflation-averse, than your typical billionaire, who is more likely to see inflation as a hideously unjust vehicle for wealth destruction. Throughout his career, he made a habit of taking on massive amounts of debt and then renegotiating the terms when things went south. At one point, Trump went so far as to dub himself "the king of debt," boasting that he could work similar magic as the chief executive of U.S.A., Inc. Needless to say, presiding over the federal government is not quite the same as running a highly leveraged real-estate business, as countless critics pointed out at the time. But one thing was clear: There was no mistaking candidate Trump for a green-eyeshade, deficit-hawk Republican.
So it came as something of a surprise when he played against type by largely sticking to the Republican playbook, a few populist rhetorical missives aside. Trump's first budget proposal, the handiwork of Mick Mulvaney, his austerity-minded OMB director, called for drastic cuts in the growth of future federal spending, cuts that the president himself never lifted a finger to defend.
The budget deal that's just been brokered by congressional leaders marks a break with all that. We're about to see an unprecedented surge in federal deficits while labor markets are as tight as they've been this century. Barring an aggressive clampdown by the Fed—a possibility that can't be ruled out, but that Trump would presumably do his best to lean against—it looks like we're going to get an inflationary agenda after all.
How could the president build on this moment? Over the course of his first year in office, Republicans in Congress have largely pursued their preexisting ideological agenda, and Trump mostly followed along. Having pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare, conservative lawmakers struggled mightily to do so through the reconciliation process, and they failed. Then, the congressional GOP moved on to a tax overhaul, where it found itself on more familiar ground. That effort succeeded, with the president as cheerleader in chief for deep cuts in taxes on corporate profits. But now the Republican cupboard is bare; the party's readily attainable goals have been achieved, and the balance of its policy agenda seems unlikely to pass this Congress. That gives Trump an opportunity to push the party in a new direction, more consistent with the populist themes of his 2016 campaign.
Some congressional Republicans may want to take another crack at replacing Obamacare with easily-demonized block grants, only now with an even slimmer Senate majority, or pushing for a welfare-reform bill that seeks to impose more stringent work requirements on the poor, an effort that would be doomed from the start. But the window of opportunity for a government-shrinking agenda has closed, and GOP fiscal hawks know it in their bones. As Paul Winfree of the Heritage Foundation has observed, the budget deal "basically guarantees" that Republicans won't be in a position to pass any significant legislation on a party-line basis until 2019.
The natural next move for Trump would be to at least try to reinvent himself as a bipartisan dealmaker. Failure at bipartisan bridge-building can't be worse than success at bipartisan bridge-burning. And opening the spigot of spending, deficits be damned, is the way to make deals happen.
Infrastructure is still the most obvious candidate for a bipartisan breakthrough. There are at least some congressional Democrats who could be won over with a commitment to higher levels of direct federal spending than the Trump administration has contemplated to date, as my colleague Russell Berman has reported. The president should consider letting them have their way.
More ambitiously, Trump might consider revisiting the federal minimum-wage debate. Sharp increases in the federal minimum wage have historically been anathema to Republican lawmakers, especially those from lower-wage regions of the country, where concerns about the displacement of low-skill labor are particularly salient. In lieu of minimum-wage increases, conservative policy thinkers have instead called for increases in wage subsidies, on the grounds that they're less likely to freeze out low-skill workers from the labor market. It's also true, however, that Republican voters are favorably disposed to minimum-wage hikes. Moreover, the president's commitment to immigration restriction is premised on the belief that in the absence of low-skill immigrant labor, U.S. businesses would embrace labor-saving technologies that would ultimately boost productivity and incomes. Higher wage floors could have a broadly similar effect.
With Trump's support, centrist Republicans could float a modest minimum-wage hike that would phase in over time and would be indexed to inflation. They could pair this measure with an increase in Earned-Income Tax Credit benefits for childless adults, a proposal that has (theoretically) enjoyed bipartisan support in the past. Some Republicans would surely oppose this package. But some Democrats might be tempted to sign on.
Going further still, the president could push the idea of investing in America's industrial commons by, for example, giving a boost to industry-led R&D consortia, devoting more resources to apprenticeships and other workforce-development efforts, and beefing up the Export-Import Bank. Putting together a package along these lines could attract an odd bedfellows coalition of Rust Belt liberals and business-minded centrists while offering a welcome respite from talk of trade wars and tariff hikes.
If this all sounds terribly reckless, or terribly socialistic, I take your point. At this point, though, Trump can't afford to rely solely on a demotivated Republican base. He needs to energize swing-state swing voters, especially those of modest means, and he needs to change the perception that he has become the cat's paw of the plutocrat class. A dose of inflationary populism could be just what the doctor ordered.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 09:39 AM PST
Scenes of the spectacular performances, fireworks, official proclamations, and the parade of nations that just took place in Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea, signaling the start of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 11:24 AM PST
Editor’s Note: Read all of The Atlantic's Winter Olympics coverage.
If the most memorable Olympics opening ceremonies of recent years have anything in common, it's an unabashedly bonkers streak. In London in 2012, multiple Mary Poppinses and a stunt double of Queen Elizabeth II descended from the heights of the stadium, while an appearance by the character Mr. Bean ended with a fart noise. In Sochi four years ago, performers dressed as LED jellyfish swarmed and undulated their way around the arena, after a mass-wedding montage in which dancing grooms and brides were pursued by other dancers wielding bright-red baby strollers. National tradition, unlike polite welcome speeches, isn't always easily translated.
There was less palpable strangeness at the two-and-a-half hour Friday opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. (That said, when the Olympic cauldron was lit in the final moments, it was by a giant burning spring that protuded, in somewhat phallic fashion, from a platform at the top of the stadium.) What was most notable about the event was how restrained it was, without any of the performative excess of Beijing, or the frenzied cultural jingoism of London. The ceremony's director, Song Seung-whan, told The New York Times that he was working within a "very limited budget," which perhaps explained why the overall effect was more muted than ceremonies past. But the themes of the evening—part tactical diplomacy, part futuristic fever dream—also pointed to more vital host-nation priorities than pyrotechnic grandstanding.
From the opening video montage set in an airport to the main narrative event in which five children traveled through time and space to a utopian cityscape with flying trains and virtual brain surgery, the emphasis was on the unstoppable march of progress. Although the beginning of the ceremony nodded to founding national mythology, the remainder was a subtle testament to South Korea's technological and cultural power. Drummers in undulating lines moved in unison with light displays in the middle of the stage, before transforming seamlessly into the yin and yang of the South Korean flag. The national anthem was sung by the Rainbow Choir, South Korea's first multicultural children's chorus, emphasizing the country's diversity.
This emphatic display of modernity was paused for the parade of athletes entering the stadium, highlights of which included a repeat performance by Rio 2016's oiled-up, shirtless Tongan flag-bearer (this time braving below-freezing temperatures) and the strange spectacle of Russia's delegation marching in nondescript grey and white outfits under the Olympic flag. (When the U.S. team came out of the stands, it was to the sounds of Psy's inescapable 2012 hit "Gangnam Style.") But the only delegation to draw an audible response from the audience was the final entrant: a unified Korean team representing both the North and the South, marching together under one flag.
The heightened symbolism of the moment was succeeded by a wacky video trip to the future, featuring self-driving cars, language that floats off the page and shimmers through the air, and multiple glowing doorway-shaped portals intended to symbolize free communication and interaction between different cultures. If this was interpreted in any way as a passive-aggressive dig at the restrictive tendencies of the Hermit Kingdom, it was swiftly followed by a gesture of peace—a performance of John Lennon's "Imagine," sung by four South Korean singers. Then, dancers with glowing headgear clustered into the shape of a giant dove, in the most literal manifestation of an olive branch in Olympic history.
The ceremony ended with a vast, augmented reality–assisted skier heading down a piste, followed by real skiers who were themselves accompanied by drones, perhaps a nod to the peaceful co-existence of humans and technology. It was a surprisingly Black Mirror–esque end to a performance that extolled the virtues of harmony while confidently projecting the inevitability of advancement. After all, there might not be robots competing at the Olympics any time soon, but judging by the U.S. delegation's self-warming jackets, the future isn't that far away.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 09:15 AM PST
Updated on February 9 at 10:42 a.m. ET
If you want to see a political wave forming a year before an election, watch the retirements.
They're often a leading indicator for which direction a party is headed, and so far, 2018 is shaping up ominously for Republicans, who will be defending twice as many open seats this fall as Democrats. But on Friday, the GOP received some rare good retirement news when Democratic Representative Rick Nolan of Minnesota announced he would not run for reelection. Nolan, who has served for six terms over two stints in Congress, is one of the relatively few Democrats representing a district that President Trump carried by a significant margin in 2016, and Republicans should have a good shot at picking up his seat.
For the most part, however, the retirement trend has pointed the other way. Several veteran Republicans in competitive districts are calling it quits, depriving the GOP of the advantage of incumbency in races that could determine control of the House in 2019. And more retirements may be on the way, as lawmakers make their final decisions about running ahead of their respective primaries.
At the same time, a wave of allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior has scrambled the retirement picture in both parties, and it's forced several lawmakers to leave Congress early. In addition to Meehan, Republican Representatives Blake Farenthold and Joe Barton of Texas, and Democratic Representative Ruben Kihuen of Nevada have abandoned reelection campaigns after misconduct allegations. Scandals have already forced the immediate resignations of Democratic Senator Al Franken and long-serving Representative John Conyers among Democrats, as well as GOP Representatives Trent Franks and Tim Murphy. More could be on the way as new allegations come to light.
As for those getting out in 2018, President Trump's low approval rating and Congress's meager legislative output may be contributing to the decisions of some Republicans to retire, including moderate Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Frelinghusen and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, and Dave Reichert of Washington state. But there are other factors at play. Unlike Democrats, Republicans have rules limiting the terms of their committee chairmen to ensure turnover and give younger members a chance to advance in the House. Congress isn't as fun with less power, and six of the departing GOP committee leaders would be forced out of their roles and to the back bench in 2019.
The trend to this point gives a distinct edge to the Democrats. While roughly the same number of lawmakers in both parties are leaving their seats to run for higher office, just nine House Democrats are retiring outright or have already resigned, compared with 24 Republicans. (House members running for other offices often count as retirements, because it's usually impractical or illegal to run for multiple positions at the same time.) Including those members who are leaving to run for another office, there will be 17 open House seats vacated by Democrats and 35 for Republicans. Democratic victories last November in gubernatorial and state legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey could spur more retirements among Republicans worried about the national political environment under Trump.
And although Democrats must defend far more Senate seats than Republicans in 2018—including several in states that Donald Trump won—all of the party's incumbents are currently running for reelection. The retirements of Corker and Flake, along with a Democratic victory in December's special election in Alabama, give Democrats an outside chance at retaking the Senate majority. In the House, they'll need to pick up 24 seats, and the more Republicans retire in districts that Hillary Clinton carried last year, the more the GOP majority is at risk.
Senate Republicans Retiring Outright
Bob Corker, Tennessee
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opted against running for a third term and promptly intensified his criticism of the president, whom he had praised during the election. Trump alleged that Corker "begged" for his endorsement, while Corker said it was Trump who urged him to run again.
Jeff Flake, Arizona
He decided to leave after a single term rather than wage what would have been a brutal fight for reelection, first in a primary against a hard-right Trump backer, Kelli Ward, and then, if he won, against a centrist Democrat, Representative Kyrsten Sinema, in the general election. Flake had lost his base in Arizona: His criticism of Trump in his recent book, Conscience of a Conservative, alienated the president's GOP backers, while his conservative voting record put off Democrats.
Orrin Hatch, Utah
The 83-year-old incumbent announced in a video message in early January that he will not seek reelection next year, creating an opening for a possible Senate bid by Mitt Romney. With seven terms under his belt, Hatch is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. He also serves as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate Democrats Retiring Outright
Al Franken, Minnesota
Under pressure from fellow Democrats, Franken announced in December he would resign "in the coming weeks" after multiple women came forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior. Most of the allegations involved Franken groping women while taking a photo. His resignation means there will be a special Senate election in 2018 in a state that Hillary Clinton barely carried in 2016.
House Republicans Retiring Outright
Bob Goodlatte, Virginia 6th district
Goodlatte was nearing the end of his third and final term as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where he aligned with conservative hard-liners on immigration and voting rights. He advanced bipartisan legislation on criminal-justice reform, but it never reached the House floor.
Jeb Hensarling, Texas 5th district
Hensarling left the House leadership team in 2013 to head up the Financial Services Committee, and he passed up opportunities to make a conservative bid for speaker. His chairmanship will end because of term limits, but it was also marked by frustration: Hensarling's proposals to wind down federal mortgage-lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as his overhaul of the federal flood-insurance program, proved too conservative to pass the full House.
Rodney Frelinghuysen, New Jersey 11th district
Frelinghuysen arrived in Washington with the Republican wave of 1994 and only reached the pinnacle of his career in 2017, when he became chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. But he has faced criticism from conservatives for voting against major GOP legislation, and he was facing the race of his life this fall in a highly competitive district. His retirement gives Democrats a seat they should pick up if they're going to reclaim the majority.
Trey Gowdy, South Carolina 4th district
Despite rising quickly up the ranks of House Republicans, Gowdy had made no secret of his dissatisfaction serving in Congress, and in January he announced he would give up the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after less than a year. He'll return to the justice system, where he served as a federal prosecutor.
Darrell Issa, California 49th district
Issa in January became one of the most recognizable House Republicans to announce his retirement. A former chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he served as the chief congressional inquisitor of the Obama administration for several years. Issa is annually ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress, having co-founded the company behind the Viper car alarm (for which he famously provided the voice). But he was in for the fight of his life to win reelection after nearly losing in 2016 in a district that Hillary Clinton carried over Donald Trump.
Joe Barton, Texas 6th district
The dean of Texas's large Republican delegation, Barton was planning to seek a 17th term before lewd texts and photos he had sent to women with whom he had extramarital affairs leaked online. During the course of his long career in Congress, he served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Lamar Smith, Texas 21st district
His is another term-limits retirement. An arch-conservative first elected in 1986, Smith likely would have had nowhere higher to go after finishing his tenure as chairman of the Space, Science, and Technology Committee, which he used to fight policies and funding to combat climate change.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida 27th district
A former chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ros-Lehtinen never endorsed Trump and became one of his most vocal GOP critics in Congress. She retires after 28 years in the House. As a moderate, she voted frequently against top Republican priorities, including Obamacare repeal and the budget. Her South Florida district now becomes a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania 15th district
As co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group in the House, Dent was one of his party's most vocal critics, often voicing his frustration either with the president or the influence of the conservative Freedom Caucus in steering legislation to the right. He said the lack of a governing coalition in Congress contributed to his decision to retire after seven terms.
Dave Reichert, Washington state 8th district
A former leader of the Tuesday Group, Reichert is another moderate retiring after seven terms. Though he won his recent elections easily, his district was once one of the most competitive in the nation and could be again next year.
Pat Tiberi, Ohio 12th district
Whereas others on this list retired after being term-limited out of committee chairmanships, Tiberi's decision may have more to do with a post he never won. The veteran Ohio Republican lost out to Kevin Brady of Texas in his bid to lead the Ways and Means Committee after Paul Ryan left the job to become speaker. Tiberi was a close ally of former Speaker John Boehner, and he, too, became frustrated with the dysfunction in Congress. He won't serve out the rest of his term, choosing instead to take a job as president of the Ohio Business Roundtable early next year.
Frank LoBiondo, New Jersey 2nd district
LoBiondo's retirement after 12 terms gives Democrats a major pickup opportunity in New Jersey. First elected in the Republican wave of 1994, he broke with his party to oppose Obamacare-repeal legislation, the GOP budget, and the tax bill.
Lynn Jenkins, Kansas 2nd district
Jenkins' announcement in January that she would not seek a sixth term in the House was one of the earliest and most surprising of the Republican retirements. She had served in the House leadership and was mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in Kansas, but she said she would not run for any office in 2018.
Sam Johnson, Texas 3rd district
Johnson is revered in the House for his Air Force service in both Korea and Vietnam, where he was held—and tortured—as a prisoner of war for seven years. The 87-year-old is retiring from a safe Republican seat after more than a quarter-century in Congress.
John Duncan Jr., Tennessee 2nd district
Duncan will have served in the House for 30 years by the time he leaves next year. Though he votes with Republicans on domestic issues, he opposed the Iraq War and supports a non-interventionist foreign policy. His district should be an easy hold for Republicans.
Ted Poe, Texas 2nd district
Now in his seventh term, Poe is a former Houston judge known for ending each of his floor speeches with a variation on Walter Cronkite's longtime sign-off, "And that's just the way it is." He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2016.
Dave Trott, Michigan 11th district
Trott was a first-time candidate when he won his seat in the House in 2014. He decided he preferred the private sector, however, announcing in September that he would return home after just two terms.
Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania 18th district
Murphy resigned the seat he held for 15 years in October after it was revealed that he allegedly asked a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion. Reports that he presided over a toxic work culture in his House office soon followed. A special election to fill his seat will be held on March 13.
Trent Franks, Arizona 8th district
Franks is leaving for perhaps the most unusual reason: He abruptly announced in December that he would resign after acknowledging that he had asked two members of his staff to carry his and his wife's child as surrogates, making them "uncomfortable." His announcement came on the same day as the House Ethics Committee said it was opening an investigation into the situation.
Blake Farenthold, Texas 27th district
Farenthold announced he would not seek a fifth term after several former staffers accused him of harassment and of verbally abusive behavior in his congressional office. He initially resisted pressure to bow out even after the House Ethics Committee opened a new inquiry into his alleged behavior.
Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania 9th district
Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, announced in early January that he'll spend 2018 on developing an infrastructure plan instead of running for reelection. "I thought it was the best decision for me to focus 100 percent on my final year as the chairman of the Transportation Committee, working with the president and other Democrats and Republicans to pass an infrastructure bill, which is much needed to rebuild America," he told The Washington Examiner. Shuster first won election to the House in 2001.
Gregg Harper, Mississippi 3rd district
Harper, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, said he made the decision not to seek reelection over the holidays. "I never intended for this to be a career, and it will soon be time for another conservative citizen legislator to represent us," he said in a statement in early January. Harper's committee has recently received a great deal of attention as the panel charged with addressing sexual harassment in the lower chamber. The five-term congressman joins a number of other Republican committee chairmen who are stepping down.
Ed Royce, California 39th district
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Royce is yet another committee leader who chose retirement over a return to the back bench once his tenure with the gavel was up. Royce will finish his 13th term in 2018, and his departure creates a top pick-up opportunity for Democrats in Southern California.
Patrick Meehan, Pennsylvania 7th district
Meehan announced in January that he wouldn't run for a fifth term following the revelation that he settled a claim of sexual harassment made against him by a former staffer. The House Ethics Committee—a panel of which Meehan was a member—had already begun an investigation, and the congressman acknowledged that he had developed a deep affection for the woman while denying improper behavior. His departure opens up a strong pick-up opportunity for Democrats in what was already a competitive district.
House Democrats Retiring Outright
Luis Gutierrez, Illinois 4th district
Now in his 13th term, Gutierrez is perhaps the most prominent Democratic ally of immigrants in the House and has been at the center of virtually every attempt to extend a path to citizenship to those in the country illegally. In announcing his retirement in November, he anointed a possible successor in his heavily Democratic district, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, and said he might run for president in 2020.
John Conyers, Michigan 13th district
First elected in 1964, Conyers was the dean of the House as its longest-serving member. But he was brought down by allegations of sexual harassment made by multiple former female staffers in his office. Conyers denied the accusations but bowed to pressure from Democratic leaders and resigned from the House in early December.
Sander Levin, Michigan 9th district
Levin, 86, will leave the House four years after his brother, Carl, retired from the Senate. He served briefly as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and was a top Democrat on taxes and trade policy.
Bob Brady, Pennsylvania 1st district
A former chairman of the House Administration Committee, Brady will leave the House after 20 years. He had drawn a serious primary challenger after having been under FBI investigation for a payment his campaign made to a primary opponent in 2012.
Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire 1st district
Shea-Porter represents what is perhaps the nation's quintessential swing district. It has changed parties five times in the last six elections, and Shea-Porter faced the same Republican opponent in four consecutive races. (She won twice.) With her retirement, the district is once again considered a toss-up.
Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts 3rd district
Tsongas will retire after more than a decade in the House, and her district should stay in Democratic hands. She is the widow of Paul Tsongas, the former senator and Democratic presidential candidate.
Gene Green, Texas 29th district
The onetime chairman of the House Ethics Committee announced in November that he would retire after more than a quarter-century in the House. He was first elected in 1992.
Ruben Kihuen, Nevada 4th district
Kihuen's time in Congress will be brief after he faced accusations of sexual harassment less than a year into his first term. Facing calls from Democratic leaders to resign, he announced instead that he would serve out his term but not seek another one in 2018. His exit will leave a competitive open seat in Nevada that Republicans might take a serious run at picking up.
Rick Nolan, Minnesota 8th district
This is actually the second time Nolan has voluntarily given up his seat. The Minnesota Democrat first served in the House in the 1970s and left after three terms. He returned to politics in 2012 after three decades in business, capturing a Republican-held seat. With his retirement after a total of six terms, the GOP will have a good shot at winning back the district.
House Republicans Running for Higher Office in 2018
Diane Black, Tennessee 6th district
First elected in 2010, Black served this year as chairwoman of the House Budget Committee before deciding not to seek reelection and run for governor instead. With the 2018 budget finally adopted, she may leave her seat early to focus on her next campaign.
Luke Messer, Indiana 6th district
Now serving his third term in the House, Messer is facing off against fellow Indiana Representative Todd Rokita in a primary for the right to challenge Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly. He represents the seat once held by Vice President Mike Pence.
Todd Rokita, Indiana 4th district
Rokita entered Congress one term before Messer. He made a brief bid for governor in 2016 after Pence was named as Donald Trump's running mate, but he was able to retain his House seat after Republicans picked Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb. He won't have that luxury if he loses the Senate race because the primaries for the Senate and House are on the same day.
Steve Pearce, New Mexico 2nd district
After serving two separate stints covering seven terms in the House, the conservative Pearce is running to succeed Susana Martinez as governor of New Mexico. Republicans remain favored to keep his House seat.
Raul Labrador, Idaho 1st district
Labrador defeated a GOP establishment-backed candidate in a 2010 primary before beating a centrist Democratic incumbent during the Tea Party wave that November. His decision to run for governor may be a blessing for GOP leaders, as he was a frequent conservative critic and member of the House Freedom Caucus during his tenure. Republicans should hold his seat easily next year.
Jim Renacci, Ohio 16th district
One of the wealthiest members of Congress, Renacci originally announced plans to leave the House after four terms to run for governor of Ohio. But in January he decided to run for Senate instead after a leading Republican candidate, Josh Mandel, withdrew from that race.
Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania 11th district
Barletta was a Trump Republican before Trump and became one of the first to endorse the president's campaign. A longtime crusader against illegal immigration, his Senate candidacy challenging Democratic incumbent Bob Casey will be a test of Trump's brand in a formerly blue state that the president flipped red in 2016. Though it was held by a Democrat until Barletta won it in 2010, the 11th district is not currently expected to be competitive in the 2018 general election.
Kristi Noem, South Dakota at-large
Noem defeated Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in one of the closest races in the 2010 Republican wave. She's giving up her House seat to run for governor, and Democrats will have a tough time winning it back.
Evan Jenkins, West Virginia 3rd district
Jenkins knocked off one West Virginia Democrat, Nick Rahall, to win his House seat in 2014. He'll try to beat another, Senator Joe Manchin, in 2018. As with many of the seats Republicans are giving up to run for higher office, the 3rd district is less favorable to Democrats than it used to be.
Ron DeSantis, Florida 6th district
A conservative in his third term, DeSantis announced in January he would run for governor, not Congress, in 2018. His decision came just a couple weeks after Trump offered him an unexpected endorsement in a pre-Christmas tweet.
Martha McSally, Arizona 2nd district
McSally launched her long-expected Senate campaign in January for the seat Jeff Flake is vacating. Serving her second term in the House, she had become famous as the first American woman to fly in combat during the 1990s. Republicans leaders see her as the best candidate to hold the Senate seat, but her departure gives Democrats another strong pick-up opportunity in the House.
House Democrats Running for Higher Office in 2018
Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona 9th district
Sinema announced her candidacy for the Senate before Flake decided to retire. A member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, she has occasionally voted with Republicans on health care, taxes, and border security. She's also the first openly bisexual member of Congress. Though Sinema's first election in 2012 was very close, her district has trended more Democratic in the years since.
Jared Polis, Colorado 2nd district
Another of Congress's most wealthy members, Polis is running for governor after five terms in the House. The district includes Boulder and is considered a safe Democratic seat.
Tim Walz, Minnesota 1st district
Walz's decision to run for governor of Minnesota after six terms in the House gives Republicans one of their best pickup opportunities. He won his 2016 race by only about 2,500 votes.
Beto O'Rourke, Texas 16th district
O'Rourke won his House seat in 2012 after defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent, Silvestre Reyes, in a primary. He'll have an even tougher challenge in 2018: knocking off Ted Cruz in a Senate race. His district in El Paso, meanwhile, figures to remain blue.
John Delaney, Maryland 6th district
The former entrepreneur is unique among all of the congressional retirees. Delaney is not leaving to run for Senate or governor—he's already running for president in 2020. Despite his considerable wealth, he's a heavy long-shot, but he's hoping a super-early start will help. Delaney's ouster of Republican Roscoe Bartlett in 2012 was aided by Democratic gerrymandering, and the district continues to favor Democrats as an open seat in 2018.
Jacky Rosen, Nevada 3rd district
Rosen had barely started her first term in the House this year when she announced she would challenge incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller in 2018. Though she has the support of Harry Reid's powerful political operation, the race is a risk for Democrats, since her exit creates an opening for Republicans to take back a seat they held until Rosen's victory in November.
Colleen Hanabusa, Hawaii 1st district
Hanabusa held this seat for four years before giving it up for a failed bid for Senate. After a year back in the House, she's leaving again to run for governor. Though the seat was briefly held by a Republican in 2010, it's a solidly Democratic district.
Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico 1st district
Lujan Grisham won her first race for the House and is now running for governor. She is currently serving as chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
With additional reporting from Priscilla Alvarez.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 08:22 AM PST
To celebrate the 2018 Winter Olympics, here's an animated tour of the history of sports.
The first recorded sport in history was spear throwing, which arose in 70,000 BC out of a need for ancient hunters to practice their skills. Bowling was the first known ball game, appearing in Egypt in 3,200 BC; later, there was Pitz, played by the ancient Maya in 2,500 BC, followed by Episkyros, known as "common ball" to Greeks living in 8th century BC.
Long before the Olympics, there were the Tailteann Games, which the ancient Irish held around 1,800 BC. At the first recorded Olympic Games in 760 BC, there was only one event: a footrace.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 11:33 PM PST
For reasons that are now obscure to me—and were by definition ill-conceived—I read Fifty Shades of Grey at that terrible moment in American history when it seemed that everyone else was reading it too. I don't believe that I read either of the book's sequels, though I can't attest to that with much confidence. Suffice to say that I made either the wise decision to skip them or the only marginally less-wise decision to repress all memory of them.
But writing about movies is something I'm paid to do, and occasionally that entails a degree of professional self-sacrifice. This week, the name of that sacrifice is Fifty Shades Freed.
The third and final—let's pause and savor that word for a moment—adaptation of the "erotic romance" novel series by Erika Mitchell (pen name: E.L. James), Fifty Shades Freed is precisely as atrocious as one might imagine. Which is to say, it is far worse than the first movie—which, though awful, in hindsight looks like Citizen Kane, only with more discussion of dildos. I'd place the new film more or less on a par with the second one, Fifty Shades Darker, which makes sense given that both were filmed concurrently, were directed by James Foley (whose principal recommendation is that he directed Glengarry Glen Ross many, many years ago), and were adapted by Niall Leonard (whose principal recommendation is that he is married to Erika Mitchell).
The good news—and, yes, we are grading on a curve so steep that it's essentially a vertical drop—is that Fifty Shades Freed is marginally less retrograde and offensive than Fifty Shades Darker. The bad news is that it is even more idiotic, which is in its way a remarkable achievement.
In any case, like its predecessor, it is eminently deserving of one in my occasional series of spoilereviews: a linear enunciation of all the stupid elements of the film that I managed to scribble into my notebook during the screening. (Other examples of the microgenre have included Lucy, Fantastic Four, The Happening, and The Gunman.) To be clear: What follows will give away as many plot developments as possible, as it is intended to serve as an alternative to actually seeing the movie. But I feel confident that the universe of people who would like to laugh at this film is considerably larger than the universe of those who are actually willing to sit through it. So here goes.
1. To catch up anyone who is either unfamiliar with the series or as adept as I may be in the art of repression: In the first film, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a virginal college student, was persuaded by billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) to become his S&M sexual "submissive." She rebelled vaguely at the end of the film, only to be successfully wooed again in the second, which largely set aside the naughty S&M theme that had been the entire rationale for the enterprise in the first place. (Its "climax" was that Christian took Ana to his Red Room of Pain and … applied massage oil.) The only other bits that I think were of any importance are that 1) Ana's boss at the Seattle publishing house where she worked sexually assaulted her, so Christian pulled strings to have him fired; and 2) Christian proposed marriage, offering a ring large enough to double as a bocce ball, and Ana accepted.
2. So Fifty Shades Freed opens with a wedding. We watch the gorgeous lace of Ana's wedding dress being buttoned; we marvel at the hefty, masculine majesty of Christian's cuff links. Alas, their vows are heartbreakingly conventional: "I promise to love, trust, and protect you"; "I give you my hand and my heart, for as long as we both shall live." Boo! Where are the references to domination and submission, to flogging and spanking, to the Red Room? What movie is this?
3. After some dancing, Christian tells Ana, "Let's get out of here. I'm sick of sharing you with all the riff-raff." Not to get all class warrior here, but that may not be the best phrase for a billionaire to throw around with his now billionaire-by-marriage wife. It sounds a tad, let us say, Steve Mnuchin-y.
4. Christian whisks Ana to the airport, where a private jet is waiting. "You own this?" she asks, incredulous. Hello? He's spent two movies taking her up in gliders and helicopters and out on million-dollar sailboats. She's surprised he has a private jet? Ana actually seems to remember what happened in those films even less than I do.
5. Paris! If the Eiffel Tower didn't give it away, the movie adds the Arc de Triomphe as a secondary clue. They go to the opera. They hold hands. They have tasteful, from-a-distance, no-nudity sex. This may be the worst advertisement for marriage of all time. Your most conservative grandparent is probably getting bored about now.
6. They continue on to the Côte d'Azur. At a topless beach, Ana wants to take off her bikini top, but lifelong-pervert-turned-sudden-prude Christian forbids it. When he goes for a swim, she takes her top off anyway, which may be the most self-actualized thing she's done in all the movies combined. Progress, I guess.
7. They go back to the luxury yacht they're staying on. Christian, still peeved that Ana disobeyed him re: toplessness, pulls out handcuffs. She seems aghast. Once again, it appears that she has no recollection of the previous two movies. Is there a roofie subtext to the whole trilogy that is never made explicit?
8. Alas, the honeymoon is cut short. A female subordinate of Christian's calls to tell him that someone broke into his company's "server room" and detonated an "explosive device." Watching the security footage, Ana recognizes the intruder as Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), the former boss who attacked her and was essentially fired by Christian. "Why would he do that?" Ana asks. Really? Crazy or not, his motive seems pretty self-evident. Or is it?
8a. Yes, Jack "Hyde" easily wins the otherwise close competition for most ridiculously metaphorical surname.
8b. As I noted in the spoilereview for the previous movie, with the exception of security guards, virtually all subordinates in the Fifty Shades universe are female. I may be missing some small exception somewhere, but perhaps the most consistently clear message of the whole series is that women always work for men and not the reverse.
9. Back at Christian's penthouse apartment in Seattle, Ana meets the staff and is flabbergasted at the question of how she wishes to "run the household." I swear she was unconscious throughout the first two movies. How I envy her.
10. Ana dismisses the cook for the night because she wants to make dinner. Christian: "I could get used to you in the kitchen." Ana: "Barefoot and pregnant?" Christian is obviously nonplussed by this response, and it doesn't appear that it's over Ana's possible neglect of footwear. This is what in introductory screenwriting classes is called foreshadowing.
11. Ana shows up at work at the publishing house that exists to imply that she has a "job" even though she almost never seems to perform it. There she learns that she has been promoted to "fiction editor." A subordinate, Liz (of course: a woman), tartly points out that the promotion occurred despite the fact that "you weren't even here."
11a. Unless I'm sorely mistaken, Ana was already promoted to fiction editor in the last movie, after Christian fired the previous fiction editor, her sexually-assaulting then-boss, Jack. Maybe she was only acting fiction editor? Or maybe this movie has no better sense of what's already transpired than Ana herself?
11b. It's also very much worth noting that in the last movie Christian purchased the publishing house where Ana works, becoming, as they joke repeatedly, her "boss's boss's boss." (Funny!) Could this have played a role in Ana's meteoric rise from just-graduated newbie assistant to senior editor? Duh, although no one seems to notice but that cranky subordinate Liz. (More on her later.) One could almost imagine Fifty Shades Freed having a deeper, subversive level, in which the wildly rich, constantly self-indulgent Ana and Christian are the villains, and their many lower-income foils and employees are the heroes. But this is a movie that could hardly make more conspicuous that it doesn't have "levels."
12. Christian barges into Ana's office, as he frequently does. He's mad that she hasn't changed her email address to "Anastasia Grey." She explains that she wants to use her maiden name at work and that she loves her job. He explains that she "can't love it as Anastasia Steele." (Lest we forget, he is her boss's boss's boss, after all.) He adds that she got her job "through hard work and talent." Pretty much everyone at the screening I attended laughed.
13. He shows her his fancy new product-placed Audi sports car. She pleads, "Can I drive? Let me drive. Let me drive it." He ignores her and drives it himself.
14. He takes her to a beautiful lakeside mansion, and she says she feels as though she's been there before. He reminds her that she saw it when they were out on the sailboat in the previous movie, so he bought it for her.
15. He's hired an architect, Gia, who meets them at the house. She is beautiful and clearly has her eyes on Christian. Will she be the foil/complication that this limp film so desperately needs? No, she will not. This is the only time we see her, although characters will refer back to how wonderful her breasts are on multiple occasions.
16. Gia wants to tear down the entire mansion and replace it with an ultra-modern "smart home" featuring self-cleaning windows. Ana hates this idea and hates the way Gia looks at Christian, so she tells her, "You may call me Mrs. Grey. Or you can get back into your shit-colored car and drive back to Seattle." It's genuinely head-spinning how quickly Ana has changed her mind on the whole surname question and gone from Nice Girl Next Door to Nasty Entitled Rich Person. But at least she doesn't call Gia "riff-raff."
17. Christian is so impressed with Ana's transformation that he allows her to drive the car. That puts him a full four months ahead of Saudi Arabia, which has announced that it is rescinding its ban on women drivers in June. Delighted at her newfound right, Ana enthuses, "I'm a race car driver!" Attentive viewers may notice the echo of the last movie, in which Christian let her take the wheel of the sailboat and she gushed, "I can't believe I'm doing this! I'm the captain!"
18. A mysterious SUV starts tailing them—is it Jack?—leading to what may be the least dynamic car chase committed to celluloid since the retirement of the Model T. After losing the SUV, they pull into a parking lot. Ana climbs onto Christian's lap and they have sex. Ana giggles.
19. Christian needs to go to New York for meetings. Ana offers to give him a haircut and asks where the scissors are. He says they're in his desk, and when she goes to look for them she finds a revolver. Is this an example of the dramatic principle of "Chekhov's gun"? Of course it is. While Ana cuts Christian's hair, he gropes her. She giggles.
20. Christian, concerned about the possible threat from Jack, makes Ana promise to come directly home from work while he's out of town. Instead, she goes out drinking with her friend Kate. When she gets back to the apartment, Jack is waiting for her with a kitchen knife. Luckily, he's captured by Ana's two security guards. One says, "You better restrain him." The other replies: "I don't have anything." Ana announces: "We do." This is the high point of the movie so far, and perhaps the only intentionally comic moment of the series to date.
20a. It's worth noting that Jack, whose only job that we're aware of was as a fiction editor, has essentially become a super-criminal, capable of penetrating extensive security to attack Christian's corporate office and very nearly kidnap his wife. Keep this in mind the next time you piss off a fiction editor.
21. When Ana wakes up, Christian is back and is angrily morning-drinking. Later on, he will take her to the Red Room and torment her with a vibrator without allowing her sexual release. He explains that this is how he feels when she doesn't do what he asks. It doesn't seem like a very apt comparison.
22. Ana and Christian puzzle over why Jack (now incarcerated) has been out to get them. Once again, does anyone remember the previous movie, in which they had him fired for sexual assault, effectively ending his career?
23. Ana is back at work when Christian shows up unannounced. "I think you deserve a break," he declares, before bundling her onto a plane to Aspen. It's becoming increasingly clear that Ana's job at the publishing house is simply to wait around until Christian barges in crankily or whisks her away for an impromptu vacation.
23a. Could this last detail be semi-autobiographical? If the fiction editor in charge of Erika Mitchell's Fifty Shades novels spent all of her time on vacation, it might help explain the books' overall quality.
24. Ana and Christian are in Aspen, along with his brother, Elliott, her friend Kate—the two are dating—his sister, Mia, and her boyfriend. Christian plays "Maybe I'm Amazed" on the piano and sings, faux soulfully. Mia's boyfriend, speaking for the entire filmgoing audience, says, "Maybe I've heard enough." This is the movie's second high point. There won't be a third.
25. Ana has a nightmare about Jack. Christian wakes up to find her in the kitchen eating ice cream. She spoons some on his chest and licks it off. He spoons some on her inner thighs and licks it off. They have sex on the table. Ana giggles. Look, I'm all for having fun during sex, but if I were Christian I'd be concerned about the fact that Ana giggles every time he drops trou.
26. Christian's security guard has done a background check on Jack and determined that before coming to Seattle he was also a fiction editor in New York and Chicago. (That's probably how he learned to be a criminal mastermind.) Also, he was in and out of foster homes in Detroit. Christian says, "So was I." To quote the great Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: "What a crazy random happenstance."
27. Elliott proposes to Kate, but not before mentioning how promiscuous he was before he met her. Pro tip, fellas: Leave that part out.
28. Back in Seattle, Christian takes Ana to the Red Room and has her choose one of his assortment of butt plugs. Later, at work, she reminisces about the experience. So I guess that's a third thing her job entails. Meanwhile, a judge releases Jack on bail for no discernable reason whatsoever.
29. Ana goes to the gynecologist. It turns out she has repeatedly forgotten to take her contraceptive shots and is now six to seven weeks pregnant. But cut her some slack: It's hard to stay on top of every little bit of life maintenance when you spend all your time taking vacations and fantasizing about butt plugs.
30. Ana tells Christian about the pregnancy over dinner. He's furious. (Remember his "barefoot and pregnant" response?) He stays out late and gets drunk, and when he returns Ana learns that he's been out with Elena Lincoln, the older women who seduced him into S&M when he was 15. Now she's angry and locks herself in the Red Room to sleep. The fact that this is what it's now being used for tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the erotic quotient of the movie.
31. Ana tells Christian, "Babies happen when you have sex." A more accurate formulation would be, "Babies happen when you have sex and can't be bothered to keep up with a form of contraception that is specifically designed for its extreme ease of use."
32. At work, Ana gets a call from Jack, who has kidnapped Christian's sister, Mia. Ana must get him $5 million dollars in cash within a few hours or he'll kill her. Ana mustn't tell Christian.
33. Are you bored yet? I am. After all, the whole point of this exercise is to take less time than the movie itself. So let's cut to the chase. Through comically absurd machinations, Ana gets the money and meets Jack at an abandoned building on the edge of town. It turns out he has an accomplice: Liz, the subordinate who thought it odd that Ana got a big promotion despite not having been in the office for weeks. Jack punches and kicks Ana. But she brought the pistol from the desk—thank you, Chekhov!—and shoots Jack in the leg. The police arrive as Ana passes out.
34. After Ana returns home from the hospital, she and Christian receive more information about Jack. It turns out that—wait for it—he and Christian spent time in the same foster home in Detroit when they were kids. Christian was adopted by a rich family, while Jack was left behind, destined for a life of drudgery and destitution as a high-end fiction editor. That's why he was out to get Ana and Christian.
35. Christian feels bad about the charmed life he's led. Ana reminds him, "You're a man of honor. And you treat people well." She has literally forgotten every single thing that's happened throughout the course of these films.
36. The movie ends with a montage reminding us of all Ana and Christian's romantic moments together. (None, notably, are from the current film.) He saves her from a bicyclist; he takes her up in a helicopter, a glider, and a private jet; he takes her out on a sailboat. It was only now that I realized: This entire trilogy has been an R-rated version of Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. Which raises the inevitable question: Will Christian let Ana drive the pickle car?
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 08:51 AM PST
The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen by 1,000 points only twice in its 122-year history. The first time was Monday. The second was Thursday.
There are two points to make about this. First, stocks have had a miserable week. The Dow erased nearly $3 trillion in wealth with a 10 percent plunge that officially qualifies as what's called a market "correction."
Second, stocks have had a marvelous decade. The Dow has thousands of points to lose because it has accumulated thousands of points in the last few years, quadrupling since 2009. With this latest collapse, the index of 30 stocks has fallen way, way back to levels not glimpsed since the dystopian hellscape of … Thanksgiving 2017.
So, what's this all about? The stock market is a synthesis of stories about the future, a global anthology of investors' financial predictions. When stocks rise steadily with little volatility—as they have for the last few years—it suggests widespread agreement on the world's economic narrative. For a long time, the story went that corporate profits were rising in global unison for the first time in years, as both inflation and interest rates stayed low, creating a relatively risk-free environment for equities.
Then, rather suddenly, the story changed. On Friday of last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that wages had grown by 2.9 percent over the previous 12 months, a record high for the current expansion. This seems to have triggered fears that higher wages chasing a finite number of goods and services would lead to higher prices and furthermore that higher prices would encourage the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to combat inflation.
Just as low interest rates had buoyed stock prices for years, the fear of rising interest rates has the opposite effect, inspiring a "flight to safety" as traders switch from stocks to fixed-income investments, such as government bonds. As investors scrambled to move money from equities to bonds, many traders who had bet against this sort of volatility—through a (now controversial) financial instrument, called XIV, that essentially allowed people to place wagers on continued calmness in the markets—were nearly wiped out. It all led to the worst nominal loss in the history of the Dow.
And that was just Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, stocks whirled like a plastic bag in a hurricane, at one point recovering most of their losses. Then, on Thursday, everything fell apart all over again in the midst of a crowded news cycle, as China's trade surplus narrowed, and Republicans announced their plan to pass a deficit-swelling budget.
The significance of this week's market gyrations can be stated simply: There is no reason to believe that this is the beginning a global financial crisis. Nor is there reason to believe this is the foreshadowing of a U.S. recession. Assigning monocausal blame for soaring or plunging stocks is a rough business, but what happened this week is in all likelihood a tizzy over inflation.
But if markets are afraid of inflation, they are fearing a ghost. Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, warnings of incipient inflation have been both persistent and wrong. The Federal Reserve has routinely aimed for 2 percent inflation in the years following the housing crash, and its aim has been routinely low. In 2016 and 2017, wage growth accelerated for lower-income Americans. But annual growth in "core personal-consumption expenditures"—the Fed's most commonly used inflation measure—was 1.7 and 1.5 percent in those years. Wages perked up a bit. Prices didn't.
If investors are afraid of the Fed's approach to inflation, it is ironic that this season's research note from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is titled "Why is inflation so low?" "The U.S. inflation rate has been below the Fed's 2 percent inflation target since 2012," the paper begins, going on to cite "several reasons to be concerned about very low inflation," such as the risk of a recession caused by falling prices, or deflation. This isn't a purely American phenomenon, either. The world has been trapped for years in a steady state of low price growth. In 2017, annual inflation across the rich countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was just 1.7 percent.
Is this story about to change? Nobody knows. But one data point of 2.9 percent wage growth is just that: one point of data. It's not proof that wages are taking off. It's certainly not proof that accelerating wage growth is driving up prices. For now, it's just a statistic, yet it seems to have helped trigger a frenzy of fear across global markets that inflation—that ever-feared and never-appeared boogeyman—will finally materialize.
For years, stock prices have inflated in part due to constraints on labor costs. Now at the slightest sign that labor costs might themselves be inflating, equities seem to be crashing for fear the central banks might rein in their support of economic growth. That's quite a shame. If investors are wary of central bankers because they think bankers are wary of labor's gains, it sets up a dynamic where capital specifically defines risk-free success by its capacity to restrain the prospects of labor. Capitalism may be the best flawed economic system out there, but is it any wonder that more Americans are starting to doubt that it's working?
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 02:18 PM PST
Editor’s Note: Read all of The Atlantic's Winter Olympics coverage.
The two greatest moments of the Olympics, the ones that have been passed down through legend and archival footage, involve the Cold War. There was Al Michaels shouting "Do you believe in miracles?" at the 1980 winter games in Lake Placid when the unheralded U.S. hockey team faced—and defeated—the mighty Soviets. There was also the ill-tempered finish to the 1972 basketball final, when the Soviets were awarded gold after a controversial judging decision. As Mike Bantom, who was on the U.S. team, later said: "We didn't get beat, we got cheated."
The Cold War's U.S.-Soviet rivalry dominated the games from 1952, the first time the Soviet Union participated, until the demise of the USSR in 1991. The Soviets used sports to showcase their strength, pouring money into producing champion after champion. The U.S. embraced the competition. The all-time national Olympic medal counts for the Summer and Winter games are illustrative: The U.S. is No. 1 on the all-time Summer list with the Soviet Union at No. 2 (and East Germany at No. 9). On the Winter list, the U.S. is No. 2, with the Soviet Union at No. 4 (and East Germany at No. 11). This despite the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow games and the Soviet reciprocation at the Los Angeles games in 1984—and despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union more than two decades ago.
Today's games are less about geopolitical struggle and more about made-for-TV storylines. They allow for smaller, poorer countries to shine, like when Grenada became the smallest country to win a gold through Kirani James's 2012 victory in the 400-meter finals. They showcase virtuosos performances like Usain Bolt's eight golds over three games. They crown new heroes to adorn Wheaties boxes. But without great-power rivalry—and perhaps because rival athletes are sponsored by many of the same international companies—the more recent Olympics lack spirit.
"I think the Olympics in the Cold War drew a lot of their appeal from this direct [superpower] rivalry. … In the years since, you don't have that same interplay, you don't have that same rivalries to watch for," said Erin Redihan, who teaches history at Salve Regina University and is the author of The Olympics and the Cold War, 1948-1968. "When you think of the Olympic Games now … you lose that direct matchup." One of America's top international rivals at the moment, North Korea, is only competing in women's hockey, and there only jointly with an American ally, South Korea. And notwithstanding the Trump administration's declaration in its National Security Strategy that great-power competition is back, at the Olympics, it isn't. Russia is hobbled by a doping scandal. China is not yet a major force in the winter games, though it won nine medals in 2014.
There are plenty of other reasons to dislike the games. The Olympics, as The Independent's Sean O'Grady wrote in 2016, can seem like so much "running round and throwing things." O'Grady was referring to the summer version—in the winter, the games can also mean lying flat and sliding downhill, or perhaps scurrying about and doing … whatever curling is. They feature obscure sports that only enter the collective consciousness every two years. Cheaters inevitably seem one step ahead of the authorities; most Russian athletes have been banned from these games because of the widespread doping nobody caught four years ago. The cost of hosting the games can leave the host country worse off. The games might exist to promote the sporting spirit, but unsporting behavior is all too common. And then there's the International Olympic Committee, the giant bureaucracy that runs the games and that is reportedly being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department for corruption.
But for each of those reasons to tune out, there are storylines that keep the television audiences coming: the joint Korean women's hockey team that adds an incongruous feel-good moment to the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons; the Nigerian bobsled team; and the hockey-playing sisters from Minnesota competing on different national teams—one for America and one for Korea.
"Because the Olympics have become such a well-tuned symbol generator, clumsy at times … the trump card they always have is the athletes. There's always going to be amazing athletes," Jules Boykoff, who is a political science professor at Pacific University and author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, told me. "The athletes themselves will help you generate those crises, conflicts, interesting stories, etc. ... And then you've got this clumsy, wobbly behemoth, the IOC, that jets in, parachutes in for the Olympics, lives the high life ... and then goes onto the next venue."
Boykoff is a critic of the IOC. He points out that even without great-power rivalry, the games generate drama: the threat of crime in Rio; fears of terrorism in Sochi and London; and, of course, the very presence North Korea at the South Korean games. "Because the world is such a massive geopolitical tinderbox, no matter where the Olympics travel, there are going to be crises," he said.
But such crises come and go with each Olympics—there's no larger story arc unifying several games over several decades. The only thing that comes close to providing one year after year is the prohibitive cost of hosting the games. Ultimately the greatest threat faced by the games is not a lack of interest or financial mismanagement or even geopolitics. As Redihan put it: "The games themselves are growing to new heights and have become an all-out spectacle, to the point that some cities just can't afford to host them anymore."
The 2022 winter games, for example, were awarded to Beijing after all other potential host cities save Almaty, Kazakhstan, dropped out. As Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said toward the end of Oslo's bid for those games—with its estimated budget of $5.4 billion—"The Olympics would have been great, they would have been fun, but there are lots of other important matters we have to deal with." The growing difficulty of getting popular support to pay such sums prompted The Atlantic's Adam Chandler among others to wonder whether democracies would stop bidding to host the Olympics altogether.
"That's where you kind of have to see beyond the shiny, glitzy spectacle side of it, and see that fewer and fewer cities are keen to host," Boykoff said. "And that's going to be the real punch to the gut of the Olympic movement."
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 06:28 AM PST
Nearly half a century after Mao Tse-Tung banned religion in China, the country is home to an estimated 72 percent of the world's religiously unaffiliated people. Yet if Christianity continues to grow at its current rate there, in a few years there will be more Christians in China than in any other country in the world.
By claiming just a sliver of China's population of 700 million religiously unaffiliated people, religious groups can drastically change their size and influence. As Christian religions lose ground across much of the Western world, China is one of the few countries where Christianity is experiencing stunning growth—from approximately 3.8 million adherents in 1956 to an estimated 87 million today.
Knowing this, Christian leaders are participating in a kind of gold rush for Chinese faith. And the Protestants are winning.
That the vast majority of new Chinese converts are Protestants, not Catholics, represents an important reversal in a country where Catholic missionaries have historically had the most success converting the Chinese to a Christian religion. In 1956, there were roughly three Chinese Catholics for every Protestant. Today, there are between six and 10 Protestants for every Catholic. Those numbers don't look good to the Vatican—which may help explain why, over the last few months, Pope Francis has started to make a series of major concessions to the Chinese government. (Protestants don't hold the pope to be the head of their Church.)
At the end of January, the Vatican asked two of its Chinese bishops to step aside, replacing them with bishops approved by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), one of whom had been previously excommunicated. Ever since the Vatican and the Chinese government severed ties in 1949—when the CCP took power—the Chinese Catholic Church has been divided. It is now split almost evenly between underground house churches that submit to the Vatican, and state-approved churches that submit to the government. Under those circumstances, bishop selection has become a major point of contention between Rome and Beijing, with the Vatican appointing certain bishops and the CCP appointing others. Recently, the Vatican and the CCP have been collaborating on a plan to govern bishop selection. While details of that plan aren't yet public, the Vatican's decision to replace its bishops signals that the pope is ready to yield some of his authority in China.
Over the past two years, the Chinese government has been cracking down on both Catholics and Protestants—demolishing churches, issuing fines, replacing pictures of Jesus with pictures of President Xi Jinping in people's homes. But even if the Vatican cozies up to the CCP, Catholic leadership will probably still have a hard time keeping pace with Protestantism.
Particularly among young people in China, the Catholic Church has a messaging problem. Over the past few months, I've spoken to more than 30 young Christians at universities across the country. These students, who found Christianity through American teachers, student fellowships, or local churches, identify simply as Christians. None know the words "Baptist," "Lutheran," or "Presbyterian"—popular denominations of Protestantism—and most aren't sure what it means to be "Protestant" (the word doesn't translate into Chinese). They do, however, all know the word "Catholic"—and they're convinced it has nothing to do with Christianity.
"Catholics believe in Mary, but we believe in Jesus," said a senior at Hengyang Normal University in Hunan, China. "Catholics have a different bible or something like that." Another senior at Jiangxi Normal University said, "Catholics believe in Mary—that makes people believe in two Gods, and it's not right." When I told this student that I was raised Catholic, she looked concerned. "But does that mean you're in a cult?"
Catholics pray to Mary as the mother of God, and many Protestants consider that, along with praying to various saints, to be idolatry.
Many of these students have parents or grandparents who engage in Buddhist or Daoist rituals, even if they don't identify with those faiths. In China, 44 percent of religiously unaffiliated people have worshipped at a burial site in the past year. Students I spoke with—both Christian and atheist—generally looked down on these traditions, calling them "superstitious" and "old-fashioned." Easten Law, a lecturer at American University who specializes in Chinese Christianity, believes this mindset may explain why more young Chinese aren't choosing to become Catholic.
"Catholicism is very high-liturgy," Law said. There's a lot of standing up, sitting down, kneeling, and repeating designated words at designated times. "From the outside, it can look like a lot of gesturing." The Catholic mass, he said, might remind young people of the rituals they see their parents perform—rituals they don't see as connected to religion. "The more you see things that are heavily ritualized, the more you think of chanting monks in Buddhist temples with incense, the more it seems highly orchestrated, the more it looks 'superstitious.'" Chinese young people, he said, want a more "modern" faith.
Even the decor of a church may invoke the Buddhist traditions from which young people are eager to distance themselves. "They walk into a Catholic church, and there are statues of the saints and candles lit for them—which obviously creates the same ambiance as lighting candles for the Buddha or any number of deities," Law said. Protestant churches in China, on the other hand, are a lot simpler. The only decoration is typically a large red cross, the symbol of the government-sanctioned Protestant church.
Catholics and Protestants have always been starkly divided in China, as they have elsewhere. They use two different words for God—Protestants use the term Shangdi, roughly translated as "Christ on High," while Catholics use Tianzhu, "heavenly Lord." Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Catholic and Protestant missionaries in China worked hard to differentiate themselves from one another. "They did such a good job that the government basically codified that difference," Law said. In the late 1970s, after the Cultural Revolution, the CCP slowly began allowing Christian churches to reopen. While the government refuses to recognize different denominations of Protestantism, it has perpetuated the idea that Catholics and Protestants have very little in common.
"The state came in and said, okay—this we call Christianity, the other we call Catholicism," said Fenggang Yang, a professor of Chinese religion at Purdue University. "Once that became the official discourse, the influence was huge. People simply became used to thinking along those lines."
There's some precedent for the Vatican's recent moves in China—and it does not necessarily suggest they will broaden Catholicism's appeal. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian compared the situation to communist Hungary in the late 1940s. When the Vatican struck a similar deal there, allowing the government to select its own bishops, the Hungarian Church started to shrink. "There was a lot less energy in a church run with the Communist Party pulling the strings," Piotr Kosicki, a professor of modern European history at the University of Maryland, told Ebrahimian. If history provides any indication, the Vatican's moves in China may backfire.
Posted: 09 Feb 2018 09:02 AM PST
Conservatism Without Bigotry
In December, Peter Beinart argued that conservatives would be more likely to reckon with their policies' discriminatory effects if liberals stopped carelessly crying racist.
Peter Beinart, in leaning over backwards to be evenhanded to conservatives and liberals, poses the wrong question. Before the election of Donald Trump, few liberals believed that all Republicans were racists. The right question is: Are Trump supporters racist themselves, or do they merely condone racism?
Given the endless demonstrations of Trump's own bigotry, I would argue that it is impossible to deny that he is a racist or claim to be unaware that he is one. So if the position of his supporters and of Republicans in Congress is, in effect, to wink at that aspect of his personality in order to advance a so-called conservative agenda, what does one call that posture other than condoning racism?
For Beinart to call this attitude merely "willfully naive," as if Republicans are unaware of the racial impact of their policies, is an insult to the reader's intelligence.
Peter Beinart's recent piece points out that conservatives are likely to get defensive about the suggestion that their ideas are racist, but misses the fact that there is a correlation between conservatism and racist attitudes. More important, by focusing on bigotry, which connotes individual bias, rather than on systemic white supremacy, sexism, and heterosexism, Beinart misses the bigger picture. If bigotry were wiped out tomorrow, these inequitable power structures would continue.
Throughout American history the dominant classes have been defensive about being called biased, as a means of deflecting criticism. Even the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, deny that they are racist. Beinart suggests that people can change if they get "new information"—and this can work on the individual level. But history shows that the larger structures of power based on race, gender, and sexual identity will change only in response to direct and forceful demands for justice.
We clearly need politics and media with more critical thinking and less mindless name-calling. While Beinart makes some good points, his argument contains a problematic assumption: that progressivism is an inherent force for good that "seeks ever-greater moral advance." This very logic lets liberals assume the responsibility to determine what morality means, and lets them label conservatives who disagree with their determination hateful and closed-minded. It also assumes that "moral advance" comes at no cost, at least to those who matter in liberals' calculus.
When conservatives are told that their religious beliefs are wrong, that certain words are unacceptable microaggressions, and that college campuses must have safe spaces to protect liberal sensitivities, they understandably question the newly imposed morality's legitimacy. Contrary to Beinart's assertion, the argument is not about right and wrong, but about who has the power to set society's moral compass. This power belongs to all Americans, not a self-selected group that claims to know what's right for everyone else.
In the end, whether the Republican Party is fundamentally racist boils down to a few simple questions that have little to do with the theoretical salience of their ideas: Do the policies they champion harm communities of color more than they help them—even if, in theory, they appear to be colorblind? Do the policies they champion aid white people disproportionately at the expense of those same communities of color? …
Despite Beinart's claims to the contrary, there's little evidence to suggest that treading more gently when it comes to confronting these iterations of GOP racism will actually erode GOP racism. In his advocacy for this approach, the author declines to name a single time in history when no longer using the "nuclear epithet"—calling conservative white people "racist"—has actually made them less racist. It's one thing to make room for nuance and avoid broad strokes. It is another to ignore proof when it's sitting in front of you. Beinart's piece suggests a fundamental Republican innocence and naïveté where the real fundamental element is bigotry.
Zak Cheney Rice
What's College Good For?
In the January/February issue, Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, wrote that students don't seem to be getting much out of higher education.
Bryan Caplan argues that higher education "is a big waste of time and money" and that "students spend thousands of hours studying subjects irrelevant to the modern labor market." It seems to me that the arguments he is making are contradicted by their appearance in the very magazine in which they were published. My years of college education prepared me to function as a registered nurse in multiple health-care settings, but also to read, comprehend, and appreciate the articles that appear in The Atlantic on such wide-ranging topics as economics, science, sociology, politics, and the arts, just to name a few. College is good for building a foundation of knowledge applicable to one's career, but is also valuable in expanding one's world beyond that career.
Denise Jacob, R.N., Ph.D.
Bryan Caplan is right on the money when he suggests that many students, and not incidentally the economy, would benefit if we put less emphasis on bachelor's degrees and more emphasis on practical vocational training. However, I can think of no better argument for pursuing an academic degree than the notion that an economist has difficulty seeing its value. The main benefits of a degree are difficult to quantify, but the point is certainly not to prepare students for some sort of economic activity per se. The point of education in the liberal arts is to increase students' ability to cope with the new, the ambiguous, the alien—that which challenges our dearly held beliefs. I can think of no greater skill that a young person can acquire through education, especially at this political moment, than the ability to argue without becoming angry, to disagree without rancor, and to find in differences with others new possibilities about how to live, think, and approach life. This is a crucial function of citizenship not often on display in the U.S. these days, and it is understandably difficult to see if one reduces life to numbers or commerce.
James K. Foster
As a professor in the humanities I have asked myself many times whether it makes sense to educate everyone in the humanities and liberal arts. It's easy to think that Shakespeare and Plato are for the few. Let those who are intellectually gifted and ambitious learn literature, history, philosophy, political science, and so on if they want. (They will soon forget it anyway, according to Caplan.) Let those who are not gifted learn a trade or a skill and be done with it.
This kind of elitism is not humanistic, and it is not just. For one thing, it does not allow for the discovery of late bloomers, the intellectually talented many in the "underclasses" who have been undereducated by our racist, classist society. Second, it denies to many the richness of experience that comes from placing the present in the context of the larger civilization. Moreover, there is a commonality and bond among people who share these experiences. All people should have the opportunity to participate in this shared discourse, not just the few.
We need more and better public education that includes large doses of the humanities and social sciences. Education has the potential to bring us together through our shared heritage(s) and our shared skills. It is a primary tool for turning our diversity into a democracy.
Sharon Schwarze, Ph.D.
God's Plan for Mike Pence
In the January/February issue, McKay Coppins probed the vice president's past—and explored his role in an unorthodox administration.
McKay Coppins quotes me in his article "God's Plan for Mike Pence." This portion of the article contains some errors and omissions. My objections to these were ignored during the fact-checking process. Most significant is the account of the episode involving the "busting" of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity for a party with alcohol, which gave the impression that Pence turned on his fraternity to gain favor with college administrators. Such parties were forbidden on Hanover College's then-"dry" campus. On this occasion, members of the fraternity were caught holding a party with a couple of kegs of beer. As the president of the fraternity, Pence had to meet with the official who had broken up the party, and who was going to search the fraternity house from top to bottom for the kegs. He probably would have been able to find them. He told Pence that things would go easier if we cooperated with him. He also urged Pence to work with him in establishing a better, more open relationship between the administration and the fraternity. This was the context for Pence's decision to take the official to the kegs, a decision that others in the fraternity agreed with. He acted to protect the fraternity as best he could under unpropitious circumstances. Unfortunately, the promise of better treatment for cooperation proved to be false. Administrators proceeded to mete out a severe punishment. There was indeed a lot of anger in the Phi Gamma Delta house after this—directed at the administrators we believed had broken an agreement.
The article states that after this Pence managed to stay on good terms with the administration, implying that he had been currying favor when he turned over the kegs. This is not true. Pence endured the same social probation as the rest of us. Two years after the party incident, Pence was selected to be the student speaker at commencement. The selection process was driven by students, and reflected a respect for and a genuine liking of Pence. Months after graduation, he was given a job in the admissions office; it would have been foolish not to hire someone with Pence's charisma and communication skills.
My experience with The Atlantic has forced me to doubt that this journal has any real care for the truth.
McKay Coppins responds:
This article, like all articles that appear in this magazine, was carefully and exhaustively fact-checked, and we made numerous changes to address Daniel Murphy's concerns. But in the case of the fraternity party described in the story, he did tell me during our recorded, on-the-record interview last September that Pence "caught some flack" from some of his fraternity brothers, who were "mad" at him for his handling of the situation. Specifically, Murphy said, they were upset that Pence had led the administrator to the kegs, rather than letting one of the members "take the hit" in an effort to spare the rest of the fraternity from discipline.
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In "When the Presses Stop" (January/February), Molly Ball wrote that Bernie Krisher failed to help her with a health-insurance problem when he was her employer. The article noted that Krisher denied this, saying he had appealed to the insurance company without success. After the article went to press, Krisher found emails showing that he had offered to help Ball, but that the problem had by then been resolved. The article also stated that Sihanouk asked Krisher to give Cambodia a newspaper; in fact, he asked Krisher to help rehabilitate the country. Lastly, the article said that two alumni of The Cambodia Daily won Pulitzer Prizes. Only one did.
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