- A Republican Plan Could Worsen Rural America's Food Crisis
- A Hopeful Vision for the Future of Islam in Europe
- The Problem With Trump Dictating His Own Medical Assessment
- Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Understand Journalism
- <em>The Atlantic</em> Daily: The Shadow of 2016
- <i>The Atlantic</i> Politics & Policy Daily: Doctor Estranged
- 'These Are Very Dangerous Questions for the President'
- Emmanuel Macron and the Ghosts of 1968
- A Slave Who Sued for Her Freedom
- Images of Disappearing Jobs
- Benjamin Netanyahu: TV Star
- Fly Me to the Sun
- When ‘Universal’ Child Care Isn’t Universally High-Quality
- Can Barbie Really Have It All?
- The 'Caravan' Migrants Have a Long Road Ahead of Them
- There’s Nothing to Stop the 2018 Elections From Being Hacked
- A Witness to the Desegregation—and Resegregation—of America's Schools
- <i>The Terror</i> Is More Than a Chilling Monster Show
- The Limits of Rags-to-Riches Stardom
- The University of California Stands Out Among Top Schools When It Comes to Serving Poor Students
- Even Amid Scandal, Facebook Is Unstoppable
Posted: 02 May 2018 03:00 AM PDT
The quinquennial reapproval of the Farm Bill is back before Congress, only this time with a bit more drama than the past. The draft under consideration in the House will implement sweeping changes—including strengthened work requirements in the SNAP program—in nutrition program eligibility.
The defenses of the proposed changes and the attacks against them both center on a set of racialized urban stereotypes, with conservatives invoking the ghosts of "welfare queens," and liberals charging the new rule will merely produce more hungry, deserving people. But few of those arguments consider the plight of the rural areas where the Farm Bill most dominates public life. Residents of those areas are already facing rising nutrition pressures. With new restrictions on SNAP, they could see true hunger return.
Many of the arguments in favor of work requirements in the Farm Bill currently cycling through Congress operate from the assumption that SNAP is too generous, and that food is generally accessible. "I think the principles of food stamps and continual dependency is one that's worth fighting for," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in April, in a statement of support for the Farm Bill. In his framing, the matter of work requirements in SNAP is one of individual dependency and industriousness, and not one of survival.
That framework clearly fails, though, in America's rural areas, which rely on SNAP more heavily than cities, and where poor adults and children can suffer deep food instability and jobs are ever harder to come by. A map from the Food Research & Action Center illustrates the places in America with the greatest SNAP participation rates. With few exceptions, the counties with the highest percentage of SNAP recipients are rural, with a third or more of all the families in the poorest rural counties receiving assistance. In all, rural households are about 25 percent more likely to receive SNAP benefits than urban households.
The increased reliance of rural households on SNAP means that, in many rural areas, SNAP keeps fragile nutrition networks afloat, and the program's meager average daily benefit is all that stands between recipients and hunger. It may seem counterintuitive, given the common association of rural areas with agriculture, but rural areas are home to most of the country's "food deserts," where fresh produce and healthy options are often out of reach. Long drives for food and groceries are common, which means that time and transportation costs are appended to food costs in family budgets. The number of rural grocery stores is declining precipitously nationwide, tightening the food supply and increasing costs.
Poverty is also high in rural areas, where, according to the Census Bureau, 16 percent of all people are under the poverty line, versus 12 percent of people in urban areas. People in rural areas are older and more likely to be disabled than their urban counterparts, as well. County maps of poverty and child poverty from the Census Bureau, as well as disability from the University of Montana, all look fairly similar to the map of SNAP participation rates.
These factors conspire to make American food insecurity a uniquely rural problem. As Jessica Leigh Hester reported last year at CityLab, "of the U.S. counties with the highest rates of food insecurity, 76 percent are rural." The food-bank network Feeding America defines food insecurity as the likelihood of a household to be unable to afford or find health food options. That likelihood is controlled by poverty, welfare benefits, and by the price and availability of food. Feeding America's map of food security in American counties also produces a similar vista to views of SNAP participation and poverty. The most food-insecure counties—where a third or more of all families have to chose between food and other necessities—lie in a swath of rural counties in the South.
It's in such places where any major change in SNAP will have their biggest effects.
And there are several changes afoot. The draft of the Farm Bill that recently passed the House Agriculture committee would reauthorize and expand the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI), providing $275 million over the next five years to the grant program that helps extend SNAP and cash incentives to farmers' markets and supports other ways to connect farmers and low-income consumers. It also would fund a $1.2 billion pilot program over 10 years to reimburse retailers and grocers that provide discounts on some fresh produce and milk, and increase funding for food education programs.
All in all, as the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details in a recent report, those provisions might moderately enrich the average benefits package and enhance access to healthy foods for people who do receive SNAP.
But in the next stroke, the draft Farm Bill would seriously curtail the number of people who receive SNAP. It would institute a policy that would require able-bodied adults under the age of 60 without young children to prove monthly that they are working or participating in a work program for 20 total hours each week in order to qualify for assistance, with a month's buffer between losing a job and sanctions. For the first strike, noncompliance could result in a loss of individual benefits for a year, with subsequent episodes of joblessness imposing a lockout of up to three years. In 2026, the work requirement would increase to 25 hours a week. These rules would deepen the existing work requirements in the program, which currently limit childless adults under 50 to three months of assistance in three years if they fail to work 20 hours a week, with a three-month buffer between job loss and sanction.
The effects of those requirements on the overall accessibility of SNAP would be dramatic. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that work requirements would cut costs by $9.2 billion dollars over 10 years, with the annual amount of savings spiking after the implementation of even more strict requirements in 2026. CBPP estimates that the total amount of savings from SNAP benefit cuts would be $23.1 billion over 10 years. Since the size of the average family benefit actually increases with this bill, all of the savings come from millions of people who won't have access to them.
Of course, "savings" will accrue most heavily in places with the highest SNAP participation rates, and also with the greatest impediments to finding jobs. That means the true impact of work requirements will be felt doubly hard in rural areas. Employment has long been depressed in rural areas, and the share of employed adults who'd meet SNAP's 20-hour-a-week work requirements has been markedly lower in rural areas than in urban ones for at least a decade. The Great Recession destabilized labor markets in cities, suburbs, and rural counties alike, but the rebound in job growth has occurred almost exclusively in cities and suburbs.
Additionally, of the jobs that still exist in rural areas, farm and related work is often seasonal, meaning even the hardest workers in rural areas might face the loss of their benefits, with less of a grace period. While federally-funded "work programs" or some other service activities could theoretically be an alternative to meeting the requirements, so far federal work-support programs have struggled to meet the needs of an increasingly isolated rural America, and could themselves impose significant burdens on people struggling to travel to participate—or those who don't have the broadband internet access required to complete online programs or job applications.
In all, applying stricter work requirements to more (and older) Americans would create a unique drain on rural communities. Food insecurity is already entrenched in rural America, in spite of the high SNAP participation rates. Groceries stores offering fresh produce are disappearing, and the remaining grocery stores owe much of their survival to SNAP's current caseload and meager benefits. Both obesity and malnutrition are most abundant in rural areas. In the poorest rural counties, somewhere between a third and half of all residents have to choose between eating and keeping the lights on. And a host of other related issues—aging, incarceration, the grip of the opioid crisis, and increasing instability of agriculture—keep the pressure on.
SNAP and its predecessors are remembered as the programs that eliminated the kinds of abject poverty and hunger that most believe simply is no longer possible in the United States. That perceived distance from the hookworms and bloated bellies of poverty in the developing world has allowed Republicans—who passed this Farm Bill through committee with no Democratic votes—the ability to credibly state that the current problem with food assistance is dependency. But, just like the hookworms, that kind of poverty still sticks around in some pockets of America, waiting for the safety net to thin.
Posted: 02 May 2018 02:00 AM PDT
Akbar Ahmed was born a subject of the British Raj. He devoted his career to building a modern Pakistani state, accepting some of his government's most dangerous jobs, including political commissioner in the tribal agency of Waziristan. He rose to represent Pakistan as its high commissioner in the United Kingdom. Since retiring from government, he has taught at American University in Washington, D.C., where he has written books and produced documentaries about Islam's place in the modern world. His newest book, Journey into Europe, is the culmination of years of study of the Muslim migration northward, which has accelerated dramatically since the Syrian Civil War. Ahmed and I have debated the impact of this migration for years. We continued the conversation recently over a long written exchange.
David Frum: You are promoting a new book, about Islam in Europe. As so often in your intellectual career, you perceive potential harmony where others see mostly conflict. Terrorism in the name of Islam has claimed many lives in Europe over the past two decades—and the reaction to mass migration from the Islamic world is shaking the politics of the continent.
Meanwhile much of the Muslim world seems to be turning away from the liberal values that have defined Europe since 1945. You see this especially in Turkey, once a candidate for entry into the European Union, now an increasingly authoritarian and religiously chauvinist state. Why are you so hopeful?
Akbar Ahmed: There have been too many deaths due to Muslim acts of terrorism—though more like hundreds rather than thousands—and undoubtedly Islam is now a highly debated "hot" issue in Europe today. As a social scientist who rests his analysis on field research and facts, I am concerned about the potential for violence and conflict in the future. But as a humanist with faith in the pluralist legacy that exists in Europe, I have hope that with wisdom, compassion, and courage, the leaders of Europe will be able to guide the continent through this difficult time.
Frum: Let's begin with the first part of your analysis, within Europe. Speaking to the new Bundestag on March 21, Chancellor Merkel drew a distinction between the places of Islam and Christianity within Germany: "It is beyond question that our country was historically formed by Christianity and Judaism. But it's also the case that with 4.5 million Muslims living with us, their religion, Islam, has also become a part of Germany." That comment, I should add, drew some protest from some members of the Bundestag—but even on its face, it underscores that the politician who welcomed more Muslims into Europe than any other in history, almost 1.5 million people over the past three years, still sees Islam as a new and uncertain graft upon the European trunk. Your Journey Into Europe seeks to reassure her. But if even Angela Merkel is unsure, isn't this a truly overwhelmingly difficult project?
Ahmed: There was a time when Muslim scientists, astronomers, surgeons, and mathematicians were at the cutting edge of their disciplines. Muslims were then seen as representing a powerful, sophisticated, and rich world civilization. Today, ironically, Muslims are seen as destitute refugees escaping mad and bloodthirsty Muslim rulers. In this guise it is understandable that Europeans will not see Islam as part of European civilization. Therefore they would be put at ease if they appreciated their own history, when Muslims were very much part of European culture and history, and impacted the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment. While many people talk of a "Judeo-Christian" Europe, the fact is that it is the Judeo, Christian, and Islamic religions, i.e. the Abrahamic faiths, that came together, while engaging with Greek philosophy, to create and nourish what we now know as European civilization. Chancellor Merkel's welcoming of some million migrants was an act of compassion for which many including me have applauded her. It is the kind of gesture that perhaps only one other person in Europe can match—Pope Francis washing the feet of the migrants and welcoming them to Europe.
Frum: Isn't the Muslim world even more prone to view the West with hostility rather than the other way around?
Ahmed: I see three broad, sometimes overlapping, categories within Islam: literalist Islam—those Muslims who believe that to be a good Muslim should mean to adhere to the letter and spirit of Islamic law; the mystics—those who believe in a warm, inclusive embrace of humanity which reflects the love of the divine for all creation; and finally the modernists—those who believe in balancing faith with modernity. Those in this final category believed that modernity, with its characteristics of democracy and accountability, and Islam were compatible. It is this category that is under threat directly from the literalists.
Frum: Perhaps the conflict is generated by conceptualizing people—who come from across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia—as "Muslims" rather than as (for example) descendants of certain ethnicities or nationalities. Maybe the very project of imagining people from many different places and cultures—and especially people who may not personally be very religious at all—as "Muslims" imposes an identity that so many people from Muslim-majority lands seek to escape?
Ahmed: In each European country the relationship of the Muslim minority to the host country is different and depends on the historical relationship with their country of origin and the circumstances of their arrival. After 9/11 however, the common factor that defined Muslims in the U.S. and Europe was that they were seen simply as Muslim—that is, defined by religion and no longer by their nation of origin, ethnicity, sect, class, or profession. We were told for example by a German ambassador, when we asked him about German identity and Muslims living in Germany, that before 9/11 they were called Turks. Now he said, they are all known as Muslims, whether they are Turks, Kurds, Iranians, or Pakistanis. The third generation of Muslim immigrants born as citizens in the U.S. or Europe feels the full backlash of the prejudice against Muslims, and it is from here that some young men and women are susceptible to the preaching and allure of the more extreme literalists who argue that there can be no coexistence between Islam and the West. At the same time we must not overlook the fact that Muslims are also contributing to Western societies in significant ways— [as] the mayors of London and Rotterdam, [as] more than a dozen members of the House of Lords and Commons, [as] members of parliament in places like Germany and France, [as] major television presenters, and [as] sports heroes in cricket and football.
Frum: European Muslim communities seem to assimilate at different rates and in different ways. A Pew survey from 2006, Pew found that 42 percent of French Muslims defined themselves as "French first, Muslim second"—the highest such rate in any of the European countries Pew surveyed. Only 7 percent of British Muslims identified as "British first, Muslim second." I'll personally note—and perhaps you've shared this experience—that it's not uncommon to meet people of North African Muslim origin at senior levels of the French security services, something highly uncommon for their counterparts in the United Kingdom.
Ahmed: The answer to this question is rooted in the colonial encounter—the French saw Algeria, for example, as an extension of France, and therefore the immigrants from this part of Africa carried that sense of identity with them to France, seeing themselves as French with the dominant philosophy of laïcité. Thus their Muslim identity was colored by laïcité. Whether they are fully accepted as French is a separate question, and I have explored it in detail in the book. As far as the British colonies were concerned, in India for example, after the 1857 uprisings that almost toppled British rule on the subcontinent, the British consciously left religion alone. [This] allowed Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs to maintain their religious identity and even nourish it. Besides, there was a distinctly different approach to imperialism between the British and the French—after 1857 the former tended to be more inclusive and promoted schools, colleges, and participation in the army and civil services, while the French ruled their African colonies through harsh military force and compelled their subjects to give up their Islamic identity. Yet it's also true that many Muslims in Britain told us we are proud to be British and proud to be Muslim, as distinct from France, where Muslims constantly expressed their sense of alienation, anger, and feeling of rejection by French society.
Frum: It's a very striking thing about your body of work that you regard "modernist Islam" as also a liberal Islam. But isn't there something also very modernist about the project of Islamic extremism—which rejects so many established spiritual and political authorities, empowers just about anyone to set himself up as a preacher and leader, and promises ordinary people that they can lead extraordinary lives through redemptive violence? You yourself have often pointed out how un-traditional groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS are.
Ahmed: To understand modernist Islam we need to disentangle the three categories from each other. Modernist Islam by definition cannot promote violence, because it is based in democracy and the rule of law. Literalist Islam, which sets out to be the champion of Islam and draw boundaries around the faith, can sometimes act as a catalyst for violent groups. These groups may well use modern technology such as the internet, and therefore are wrongly assumed to be purveyors of modernist thinking. It is the failure of the modernist category to provide democracy, accountability, and human and civil rights that creates a backlash against modernity and gives space for the emergence of the Taliban, ISIS, and so on. Baghdadi dominated ISIS with a demented brutality just as Saddam did ruling Iraq—just as the former failed to live up to any ideal of Islam, the latter failed to represent modernist Islam. In Pakistan today, we see the irony of militant groups inflicting violence on all sections of society including school children, law and government offices, and patients in hospitals in the nation created by [Ali] Jinnah, the quintessential modernist, lawyer, and constitutionalist.
Frum: As much as you emphasize the potential for harmony, you conclude Journey into Europe with nightmare visions of possible conflict. You cite the recent vote in Switzerland to ban construction of minarets—and glimpse a vision of, in your phrase, "more dangerous and deadly solutions." You observe, too, a seeming rise in pathological behaviors among second- and third-generation Muslims in Europe. Which vision seems to you more likely to be realized? Is there a gap between your intellect and your emotions in your anticipations of the future?
Ahmed: After several years of research in the field, my team and I concluded that Europe stands at the crossroads. If its leaders rediscover its pluralist and humanist traditions and adapt them to the 21st century, Europe can once again be a beacon of civilization to the world. If not, then we need to take very seriously [the rise in extreme rhetoric about] creating concentration camps and making soap out of the minorities, the nightmare vision of the 1930s, that we are hearing once again. [Some] Europeans are talking openly about the "external enemy," by which they mean Muslims, and the "internal enemy" by which they mean Jews. We had said "Never Again" after the Holocaust and we must remind ourselves never to allow those terrible atrocities to be repeated.
Frum: But wait—the special horror of what happened to the Jews of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s was that the persecution originated in a mad paranoid delusion. As you yourself show, the friction between a Europe that wishes to preserve its historic identity—and newcomers who wish to escape their own countries and move to Europe—is real, not a delusion. You acknowledge atrocities like the Rotherham sexual "grooming" of underage girls—and the appeal of ISIS to so many European Muslims. Your book puts the onus on both sides to change for the sake of peace. Isn't the very attempt to borrow Jewish history for other people's purposes itself one of the things that causes so many Europeans—even the most liberal-minded—to mistrust this new claim on their continent?
Ahmed: While both Muslims and Jews are under pressure from the European far right, there [are] also the Muslim attacks on Jewish museums, schools, and individuals, for example in France. Fortunately, there are also many examples we found of harmony between Jews and Muslims, such as the several synagogues that were tended to by neighborhood mosques. There are also many Muslims and Jews we met, often young people, who are actively promoting better relations. Dr. Amineh Hoti, my daughter, who obtained a Ph.D. in anthropology from Cambridge, was the first director of the first Jewish-Muslim center in Europe located in Cambridge. In Bosnia, Ambassador Finci, the head of the Jewish community in Bosnia, told us that anti-Semitism is virtually unknown there. On this journey, I had the privilege of meeting some of Europe's greatest and wisest sages who gave me hope. One of them, Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the U.K., shared with me the Jewish saying tikkun olam, to heal a fractured world. I believe this should be a motto for Muslims and non-Muslims, Europe and the world, in the 21st century.
Posted: 01 May 2018 09:50 PM PDT
This has been a tortured administration for doctors. The respective scandals of physicians Tom Price, Ronny Jackson, and Harold Bornstein are raising questions for the profession about how it polices itself—and about what role doctors should play in the political process.
On Tuesday, in contradiction to his previous statements, Bornstein claimed that he had taken dictation from then-candidate Donald Trump himself in his health assessment. (This was the letter to the American people that bore Borenstein's name and which said that Trump's "physical strength [was] extraordinary" and that he "will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.")
"He dictated that whole letter. I didn't write that letter," Bornstein told CNN. Trump has not yet responded publicly to confirm or deny the claim.
How unusual would this be?
My editor asked me this question—and if such an act could cost Bornstein his medical license. I thought the answer was obvious, but then a reader on twitter asked much the same: "What does this mean, as a doctor? Is this against standards and regulation?"
Yes. It is. For a patient to dictate his own assessment is not just rare, but unheard of. If a doctor offers to let you dictate your own assessment, seek a new doctor. It is unethical, unprofessional, and dangerous.
In a basic, elementary-school ethical sense, it is always wrong to sign one's name to the words of someone else. Even if you entirely agreed with the words, and could have foreseeably written them yourself, it would be misleading to imply that they were yours.
At the very least, doctors' assessments must be their own words. A doctor does rely on a patient's reports in reaching that assessment, of course. The doctor may write that a person has no problem with headaches, for example, if the patient denies having headaches. But at least then the doctor is acting in good faith, to the best of her knowledge.
The absence of headaches would also be a reported fact in a medical record, in a section distinct and different from the doctor's subjective assessment. Even if a patient lies throughout an interview—denying any sort of symptoms or medical history—it is up to the doctor to synthesize and decide what to make of everything in the ultimate assessment.
If what a patient is reporting to a doctor aligns with what the doctor can examine physically, a doctor will typically proceed under the pretense that people are generally honest with their doctors because they want help. For example, people want headaches to go away, so they don't lie about not having headaches. Dishonesty prevents help. But the dynamic changes when a person is undergoing evaluation for purposes of a job. Here the skepticism bar is raised. For example, in many jobs it is insufficient for a doctor to simply ask about recreational drug use. Instead they administer a urine test.
There is no formal demand for empiricism in the evaluation of a president or presidential candidate. I've argued previously that there should be. A committee of appointed and accountable physicians could administer a battery of tests and use a transparent evaluation process to ensure that a candidate was able to execute the duties of office, and that the American people were at least aware of any potential issues, so that could be factored into voting, or removing a person from office.
Without such a process, we are left with the opaque assessment of individual doctors. Both who have cleared Trump for office have now been disgraced, raising questions for the American people, much less the global community, about the President's fitness.
Still the most relevant question is not about Trump's health. Nor is it an ethical question about the actions of Bornstein. What matters most are the actions of Trump, now the most powerful person in the world. If he indeed dictated this letter—and this is well supported even by a glancing linguistic analysis—then it is his ethics that should be called to question.
Whether or not Harold Bornstein loses his medical license is not material to all but a few hundred gastrologically afflicted residents of Manhattan's upper east side.
Billions more people are implicated if this letter is evidence of Trump's willing to lie to circumvent and subvert a critical vetting process, to baldly misrepresent himself by using people like Bornstein for his own gain. The relevance of Trump's actual health status—whether or not he takes a medication for hair loss, and if his body-mass index does indeed qualify him as "obese"—all of this sort of data pales compared to what such an act of forgery would say about his morality; his sense of honesty, transparency, decency, and accountability; his actual fitness to serve as President of the United States.
Posted: 01 May 2018 10:14 PM PDT
Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know that he cares, really cares, about journalism.
"I view our responsibility in news as two things," he said in a wide-ranging conversation with a small group of news editors and executives assembled in Palo Alto for a journalism gathering known as Off the Record on Tuesday afternoon. "One is making sure people can get trustworthy news."
The other, he said, "is building common ground in society." It turns out that "common ground" is suddenly Zuckerberg's preferred euphemism. (That, and "community.")
"You're not going to be able to bridge common ground," he said, unless you have a "common set of facts so that you can at least have a coherent debate."
And here's where the contradictions flood in.
Zuckerberg runs a media company that distributes news, but doesn't have a proper newsroom. He runs a media company that has—with Google's help—dominated the vast majority of digital ad dollars and eviscerated the journalism industry's business model, all while preaching about the importance of journalism. He runs a media company that, he says, believes deeply in the need to sustain independent journalism, but won't pay publishers to license journalistic content. And he runs a media company that has decided to show its users less news from professional outlets—it's really not what people want to see, he says—in favor of more individual opinions.
According to Zuckerberg, the way you find common ground—a common set of facts—is not through professional news outlets, but via individuals. And Facebook, with its 2 billion or so users, has plenty of them. But while Zuckerberg said Facebook is now ranking news outlets by trustworthiness—in person, he didn't seem to distinguish among the quality of opinions.
"I do think that in general, within a news organization, there is an opinion," he said. "I do think that a lot of what you all do, is have an opinion and have a view."
And Facebook, he says, simply "has more opinions." Show users more opinions, and you give them more options. "It's not about saying here's one view; here's the other side," Zuckerberg said when I asked him to reconcile the contradiction. "You should decide where you want to be."
Deciding what to believe based on other people's opinions is not only not journalistic, it's arguably hostile to the press as a democratic institution. The truth may be nuanced, but reportable facts are often quite straightforward. As any journalist can tell you, the best answer to the question "what happened?" is not why don't you ask a bunch of your friends what they think, organize their views along a spectrum, and then decide where to plant yourself.
I was, apparently, not the only journalist in the room who took issue with Zuckerberg's reasoning. His view isn't just reductionist but outright Trumpian, argued Joseph Kahn, the managing editor of The New York Times, and particularly harmful to journalistic institutions at a time when the president of the United States has made an argument not unlike Zuckerberg's to attack the free press. "The institutional values of most really good media companies should transcend any individual opinion," Kahn said. And to say that journalism can be categorized the way Zuckerberg suggests is "part and parcel of the polarization of society."
There was a pause.
"I think that's fair," Zuckerberg said. In a newspaper, he continued, publishing opinions in close proximity to the news is "pretty dangerous." Facebook, on the other hand, is surveying readers to determine which professional news organizations are broadly trustworthy.
Facebook wants its users to see less news on its platform these days, and most publishers are feeling the pain. The latest algorithm tweaks were meant to prioritize information posted by users' friends and family—community! common ground!—rather than by professional news outlets. The average decline in Facebook-referred traffic to top publishers in recent months, Zuckerberg said, is something like 20 percent.
At one point, Zuckerberg hinted at the need for government subsidy of American journalism—alluding to the public-television licensing model that supports the BBC. Couldn't Facebook pay publishers directly by licensing their stories or programming? "Yeah," Zuckerberg said, "I'm not sure that makes sense."
"I think news is incredibly important to society and democracy," he added. "It's just that it's a pretty small minority" of what people are reading on Facebook.
And besides, unlike the journalists in the room, he's not worried about the ad-based revenue model falling apart on Facebook. "In our case," he said, very slowly, surely aware of the perspective of the assembled group, "I think it's okay."
Investigative journalism is "sacred," he said. "We have a responsibility to do a lot more," he said. But also: "We don't write the news."
"So Facebook is a media company?" I asked him, as the conversation wound down. He chuckled. "That's a real question," I insisted. He laughed again.
Posted: 01 May 2018 02:54 PM PDT
What We're Following
'Dangerous Questions': A list of questions leaked to The New York Times reveals what Robert Mueller plans to ask President Trump if he agrees to be interviewed in the special counsel's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Among other matters, the questions deal with Trump's decision to fire James Comey as FBI director, and what the president knew about the contacts that members of his team had with Russia. According to Clint Watts, a former FBI agent, the risk of Trump contradicting accounts given by other witnesses makes these "very dangerous questions for the president."
Midterm Matters: Since her election loss in 2016, Hillary Clinton has continued to discuss the external factors involved in Trump's victory. That could put her party at a disadvantage going forward, Michelle Cottle writes. Congressional Republicans haven't moved on from 2016 either, at least in one respect: They haven't matched their counterparts' commitments not to use hacked documents in their campaigns. As for the lawmakers set to leave office in this year's midterms, recent history suggests that rather than leaving Washington, D.C., behind, many of them will become lobbyists.
Facebook's Fate: In spite of the scandals over its data-protection practices and its role in allowing the spread of misinformation to voters, Facebook's advertising business hasn't flagged. The social-media giant held its annual conference on Tuesday, after earning the highest quarterly income in its history. As Alexis C. Madrigal writes, "The company's financial performance is more of a reflection of Facebook's unstoppability than its cause."
Who We're Talking To
William G. Thomas III, the producer of the new short film Anna, describes how he and his collaborators pieced together the story of an enslaved woman who sued for her freedom—and won.
Some of the 1.1 million people who put their names on a microchip bound for the sun on a NASA probe explain why they wanted to participate. As Shaun Lawson puts it, "If I myself couldn't make it into space, then at least my name could."
Mansi Choksi profiles Collin Ishaq, a migrant worker in Dubai who got started on a path to celebrity when he began to win singing competitions:
Keep reading as Choksi tells Ishaq's rags-to-riches story of stardom and its limits.
What Do You Know … About Family?
Quebec has one of North America's most well-respected universal day-care systems. To provide space for every kid, the province had to supplement public child-care programs with private ones, resulting in very different experiences for different families. Meanwhile, a new report finds that unmarried parents in the U.S. are now more likely to live together with their kids than they were in the past, replacing "shotgun weddings" with "shotgun cohabitations."
Subscribe to "The Family Weekly" to receive more on American family life in your inbox each Saturday morning.
1. Relationship counselors use the term ____________ to describe the degree to which partners are comfortable with having diverging thoughts, habits, opinions, and interests.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
2. In the event of an unplanned pregnancy, a couple is ____________ times more likely to move in together than to get married.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
3. In Quebec, ____________ percent of mothers with children ages 5 or younger participate in the labor force, compared with 65 percent of a similar set of American moms.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
For more updates like these from the urban world, subscribe to CityLab's daily newsletter.
In our April issue, William Brennan wrote about a speech pathologist's plan to help young speakers of African-American English succeed in school by teaching them to "code switch" between different dialects. Johanna Rubba, a former linguistics professor in Grover Beach, California, calls for additional lessons:
Find more reader letters, and read Brennan's response.
Time of Your Life
Happy birthday from Santos to Nidhi (a year younger than Shark Week); to Joe's sister Janet (the same age as the musical Singin' in the Rain); to Karen's husband, Xander (a year younger than Microsoft Windows); to Renida (a year younger than the International Space Station); to Jet's son Joe (a year younger than Amazon); to Kelly's dad, Gary (twice the age of the Disney Channel); to Dhirendef (the same age as NATO); and from Rosa to Emma (one-sixth the age of The Atlantic).
Posted: 01 May 2018 02:37 PM PDT
-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)
Today in 5 Lines
Today on The Atlantic
What We're Reading
What Does Mueller Want to Know?: These are the questions the special counsel wants to ask President Trump—and what they mean. (Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt, The New York Times)
'Neo-Fascist Becky, Right Here': Here's how a small campus protest at the University of Nebraska came to represent the larger war over the future of campus politics. (Steve Kolowich, The Chronicle of Higher Education)
The Deal Is Bad: Israel's claim that Iran lied about not pursuing nuclear weapons when it signed the nuclear agreement proves Trump was right for wanting to withdraw from the deal, argues Tom Rogan. (Washington Examiner)
On the Other Hand: Israel's claims actually prove that the Iran deal is worth preserving now more than ever. Here's why. (Fred Kaplan, Slate)
Different Kinds of Democrats: A new poll breaks down the differences between three factions of the Democratic Party. (Aaron Zitner and Gabriel Gianordoli, The Wall Street Journal)
Posted: 01 May 2018 02:30 PM PDT
A leaked list of potential questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask President Trump in a potential interview highlights the risks faced by both Trump and his inner circle.
"The odds are so huge that the president will make a misstatement or an implausible statement that looks like a lie, or that he will answer evasively in a manner that looks like an effort to obstruct the investigation, or that he will give testimony that, together with other evidence, is incriminating," said Bruce Green, a former associate special counsel in the Iran-Contra affair and a law professor at Fordham. "Even a careful, deliberate witness would be at risk here, and there is no reason to think that the president will be a careful, deliberate witness."
On Monday night, The New York Times reported a wide-ranging list of questions Mueller wants to pose to the president, ranging from what he knew about his aides' contacts with Russia to Trump's reasoning behind firing former FBI Director James Comey in May of last year. Mueller is investigating whether the 2016 Trump campaign aided a Russian disinformation effort aimed at helping Trump win the White House, and whether the president sought to interfere with the federal investigation into that effort.
Former prosecutors and investigators say that the Mueller questions likely only skim the surface of what Mueller knows or wants to ask—and that given the length of the inquiry, the special counsel has a clear picture of what he thinks happened from other witnesses, and wants to see if those accounts mesh with what the president says. Therein lies the risk for both the president and his allies—if the president's account contradicts those of other witnesses, he could strengthen an obstruction-of-justice case against him. And even if Mueller believes the president's version of events, if other witnesses have said something different, then they could be subject to prosecution for misleading investigators.
"When they finally get around to interviewing Trump if they do, they've already got all the evidence that they need, they've already gotten the pieces of the puzzle they need," said Dave Gomez, a former FBI agent and a fellow at George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. "They try to get the last pieces of the puzzle from the president, and then put the picture together. If the pieces from the president don't fit the picture, that's a problem."
The fact that Mueller sent Trump's legal team the questions in the first place indicates a level of deference to the president not typically afforded the subjects of federal investigations. Prosecutors might give a defense lawyer some sense of the scope of an interview by outlining topics or events, but they rarely offer the actual questions in advance. Nor do Mueller's queries indicate whether he might ask to follow-up on the president's answers.
"Those are very dangerous questions for the president, because he doesn't know everything the Mueller team knows, and the president never seems to do good vetting of his own people or know what they were up to," said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. "He could give a different story, and what some of the Republicans have not really thought through, is what if the president gives a different story, and he's adamant about it, and everyone moves to support the president, and someone who gives a different account is hung out in the wind?"
Responding to the leak of the questions in the Times Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted, "So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were "leaked" to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see … you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!"
The president later added, "It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!"
The Times reported that the questions were "read by the special counsel investigators to the president's lawyers, who compiled them into a list," and that they were then passed on "by a person outside Mr. Trump's legal team." The questions did, in fact, broach the subject of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. And as a legal matter, no underlying crime need be proven for a charge of obstruction of justice.
"The president is legally incorrect—just wrong," said John Q. Barrett, a former associate special counsel in the Iran-Contra affair and a law professor at St. John's University. "If his theory were the law, anyone facing criminal investigation would have an incentive to try to obstruct, so as to make it harder to prove underlying crime and thereby making the endeavor to obstruct a noncriminal 'freebie.'"
Mueller is unlikely to indict Trump, given Justice Department regulations that state a sitting president can't be prosecuted. But depending on what he uncovers, he might provide a report to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation, that concludes Trump obstructed justice. None of the former prosecutors I spoke to said that, were they on Trump's legal team, they would recommend that the president submit to an interview with Mueller.
"Perhaps from a political perspective, there's a benefit for the president if he testifies rather than taking the Fifth or being perceived to be doing so," Green said. "In the court of public opinion, silence is incriminating. But from a criminal prosecution perspective, testifying is all risk and no reward."
Asked whether he would recommend sitting down with Mueller if Trump were his client, Green said, "not in a million years."
Posted: 01 May 2018 02:21 PM PDT
PARIS—May Day, the traditional May 1 Labor Day holiday, has been particularly charged in France this year. It marks the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 student and worker uprisings that convulsed France, transforming the country and the world. It was a dramatic, romantic moment, one that shaped a generation.
Not the generation of President Emmanuel Macron. The first French head of state to come of age in the '90s, not the '60s, didn't spend the holiday making speeches on the Left Bank, the epicenter of the French student protests. Instead, he hopped a flight halfway around the globe—to Australia—leaving behind a country simmering with labor unrest.
Simmering, but not quite boiling. Yes, groups of troublemaking leftist agitators threw Molotov cocktails in some demonstrations here in Paris on Tuesday, providing telegenic images that distort the bigger picture. Yes, the railway workers have called rolling strikes—two strike days every three days through June—maddening travelers. The strikes are to protest Macron's desire to end early retirement for some railway workers and lifetime employment for new railway hires—changes Macron's opponents believe will open the door to privatizing the national railway. Air France pilots have called intermittent strikes, demanding a 6 percent pay raise. Students have been occupying universities, protesting changes to make France's chaotic university-admissions system more selective—and been evicted by riot police. Workers in many other sectors are upset. But the labor movement isn't as strong as it was in the past. The seven major labor unions didn't manage to assemble a united front in Tuesday's annual May Day demonstrations. Fewer workers have been on strike. A recent poll found only four in 10 people in France were in solidarity with the railway strike.
Since last year's election campaign, Macron has sought to shift the balance of power in France, or at least the perception of that balance. He has cast himself as the revolutionary, and organized labor as the revanchists holding on to a vision of the past that he argues is holding the country back. But the unions, and the leftist intellectuals of France who find Macron market-driven, cold, and imperious, are vocal in their critique. It's an ideological struggle as much as a practical one, and it reveals competing visions of France and its economy. It's also a fight between labor models of the past and the future, and Macron is the referee.
On national television on May Day morning, Philippe Martinez, the old-school-mustache-wearing leader of the CGT union, decried Macron's "arrogance" in his treatment of France's workers. Macron flies around the world, he goes to the United States and Australia, but the president needs "to get a grip on the reality" of French citizens, Martinez said. It's that "divide" that's worrisome, he added.
Martinez is a former Renault worker who has led the CGT, a union with historic ties to France's Communist Party, since 2015. When I met with him in January, along with other journalists in the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris, he conceded a lot of points to Macron. He said he didn't agree with the president on many things, but respected him as a man of his word who said he'd make certain changes and did, even if Martinez himself wasn't so keen on those changes. "Macron campaigned on revamping the French economy," he said then.
So why the strikes? Martinez was asked on television on Tuesday. To protest the Macron government's social politics, including what he called "social dumping," or companies' hiring low-wage workers, Martinez said. There may be other factors. Martinez is fighting for reelection inside the union. The CGT has been losing members. Only about 11 percent of French workers are in unions, although anyone employed in France, unionized or not, has worker protections that go far beyond the at-will-employment model of the United States—as well as functional, if strained, national health care, and universal public education from pre-K to Ph.D.
The unions and other critics of Macron fear that those pillars of the French social-welfare model are at risk. Macron's supporters see Macron's job as transforming the economy to create enough jobs so that the tax base can support the social-welfare model. It's not just a battle between left and right, it's about competing visions of how to contend with globalization. In recent decades, some former communist workers have begun supporting the hard-right National Front. Martinez on Tuesday said the CGT had blocked that party from participating in its demonstration. "The National Front goes against our values," he said. (Marine Le Pen, that party's leader, met Tuesday in Nice with the leaders of other far-right parties from across Europe, pausing to place flowers beneath a statue of Joan of Arc, who looms large in their iconography as a defender of France.)
Throughout the 20th century, the French Socialists and Communists clashed over how to revolutionize society, over a vision of the future more than the past, which was fertile terrain for nostalgic strains on the French right. Macron's strength as a leader is partly derived from his having broken, or transcended, the traditional divisions between left and right in France. But this has also left him isolated. I recently asked Benjamin Griveaux, the government spokesman and one of Macron's closest allies, what the challenges were for Macron as a post-ideological president in a deeply ideological country. "He's not non-ideological," Griveaux answered. "That doesn't mean being outside ideology. ... It's not that I think the intelligible world is superior to the sensible world. We start from the sensible world. And that is without a doubt a small revolution in France."
Griveaux, who like Macron is 40 and a skillful rhetorician, speaks in a way that underscores how in France, the line between power politics and abstract philosophy can be elegantly porous. France is the country of Pascal and Descartes, rational philosophers, he said, and the Macron government's approach is more "Anglo-Saxon," he added, more based in practice than theory. "So it's really hard to understand what we're doing." Here, Griveaux began an elaborate explanation of how he believed Macron isn't a centrist, but rather "central." "There are probably measures in [Macron's] program that philosophically are more to the left and others that are philosophically more to the right, if I can caricature it. But because we started from reality, not ideology—since if we were to start from ideology we'd become prisoners of it—we're stuck and rapidly run up against the lines that have traditionally characterized French political life."
Many on the French left who supported Macron—against far-right Marine Le Pen—are upset by what they see as a market-driven agenda that will hit the middle class. We thought we voted for Tony Blair, and it turns out we voted for Margaret Thatcher, one friend told me. Others have argued Macron is less like Thatcher, who dismantled organized labor in Britain in the '80s in ways that are still resonating, and instead wants a Scandinavian model of "flex-security," in which workers, not jobs, are protected.
Recently, some leftists of the '68 generation, one Italian and one German, asked me how Macron was doing, and I said it was still unclear whether he'd prevail against the cheminots—the category of railway workers who can retire a decade earlier than most workers—and rein in their privileges. "Since when are they privileges! They're rights," the Italian snapped. I understood his point. But for better or worse, that world has irrevocably changed. Youth unemployment rates range between 20 and 40 percent in different parts of France and elsewhere in Europe. If the biggest struggles of the 20th century were between right and left, the biggest ones of the European 21st century so far are generational, between older workers and younger ones shut out of the labor market.
One example of that divide between an older, more idealistic generation that came of age with job protections and financial security and the younger one without it is in an interview Daniel Cohn-Bendit gave the other day to Le Monde's wine supplement. Known as "Danny the Red" when he was the leader of the 1968 student rebellion, he's now 73, and retired in 2014 after 20 years as a member of the European Parliament from the European Greens party. He's been a vocal Macron supporter. He didn't talk to Le Monde about 1968, which he's sick of discussing, but rather about his exploits as an amateur vintner, having bought a country house in Languedoc, in southern France. "I Generally Prefer Red," the story's headline read. Nice for him.
Still, it's hard to get a good read on history when it's in progress. In the first round of last year's presidential election here, around 30 of voters aged 18–24 supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his left-wing France Insoumise party. Reports say that younger Europeans have been rediscovering Marx since the 2008 financial crisis and have been inspired by the popularity of the French economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the 21st Century, about income inequality. Marxism isn't what it used to be, but in Europe at least, maybe the future looks a lot like the past.
Posted: 01 May 2018 02:37 PM PDT
In November 1815, a slave known only as Anna jumped from the third-floor window of a tavern in Washington, D.C. The 24-year-old was then sold for $5 by interstate slave traders from Georgia and separated from her husband and four children. Though she broke her back, Anna survived. The story was reported widely at the time; in many instances, it was used as fodder for the abolitionist movement. But following the incident, history lost track of Anna.
Thirteen years later, a slave named Ann Williams filed a petition for her freedom—and won. It turned out to be Anna. But for 200 years, "no one knew that she had sued for her freedom," William G. Thomas III told The Atlantic. Together with director and animator Michael Burton and writer Kwakiutl Dreher, Thomas produced the short film Anna, based on Williams's story. It premieres on The Atlantic today.
The filmmakers stumbled upon Williams's lawsuit in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. while researching the case files of slaves who petitioned for their freedom. "We began putting the pieces of her story together," Thomas said. "We were moved by the resilience of the human spirit. Anna's story gives us an unflinching look at slavery—it shows us how enslaved people made a way out of no way."
"We wanted to tell Anna's story from her perspective and from the perspective of an enslaved person," said Dreher, "avoiding common tropes and bringing the viewer into her everyday life." Dreher adapted a screenplay based on Anna's words in several written accounts, and Burton compiled a database of images and contextual information for each scene, containing references of local buildings, structures, tools, utensils, clothing, and hairstyles. Burton rotoscoped the film, a labor-intensive animation process that involved "first filming the actors in costume, then tracing over every other frame of the footage with acrylic or digital paint, then overlaying each of the animated characters onto a background painting," he said. "I wanted to create a distinct style that drew on early 19th -century etching techniques to create a kind of lifelike version reminiscent of that earlier style." Nine animators worked over the course of a year and a half to animate each scene.
In the antebellum South, many hundreds of slaves brought freedom suits. Among the most famous cases is 1857's Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African Americans were not and could never be citizens of the United States and denied Missourian slave Scott his freedom.
Williams is believed to have won her case due to a violation of the Maryland Act of 1796, a legal provision designed to prevent enslavers from using Maryland as a way station in the transatlantic slave trade. She won freedom in court for herself and her children in 1832.
Posted: 01 May 2018 02:13 PM PDT
Over the past couple of months, Agence France-Presse photographers have been finding and photographing people who hold job titles that are becoming very rare, such as lamplighter, street clerk, rickshaw puller, plowman, or elevator attendant. On May Day, these portraits provide a glimpse of a wide array of jobs that are vanishing under the pressures of automation, inexpensive mass production, and other technological and societal changes. Here are photos from workshops, street stalls, farms, cathedrals, darkrooms, and DVD stores, illustrating how technology has ushered in rapid changes to the services and products available worldwide.
Posted: 01 May 2018 10:29 AM PDT
Benjamin Netanyahu's breathless presentation on Monday about Iran's nuclear program didn't reveal anything particularly surprising about Iran's nuclear program. Using a batch of stolen Iranian documents that detailed the program, the Israeli prime minister purportedly proved that Tehran pursued a nuclear-weapons program before 2003, and has been lying about it ever since. Which is what most experts already assumed. Even Fox News anchor Brit Hume acknowledged that the "Netanyahu revelations, it seems, make clear Iran has repeatedly lied about its nuclear intentions, but do not establish violations of the Iran nuclear deal." That's right. They did not establish any violations because—according to 10 International Atomic Energy Agency reports, along with Trump's own defense secretary and State Department—Iran (unlike the United States) is complying with the deal.
The real significance of Netanyahu's presentation has nothing to do with Iran. It has to do with Donald Trump. For more than a year now, Washington politicos and world leaders have been conducting a vast experiment in child psychology: How do you sway an American president who has the attention span, self-discipline, and self-awareness, of a child? Two primary strategies have emerged.
The dominant strategy among world leaders has been gaudy flattery. Foreign governments have exploited Trump's tendency to conflate the way they treat him with the way they treat the United States. Vox's Zeeshan Aleem offered some examples. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has given Trump a $4,000-golden golf club, insisted that Trump's golf game is far superior to his own, and presented the president with a hat festooned with the words (in gold thread, of course): Donald & Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater. Xi Jinping, the president of China, made Trump the first U.S. president to dine in the Forbidden City. France's President Emmanuel Macron has appealed to Trump's love of military pageantry by making him a guest of honor at Bastille Day. In Riyadh, the Saudis projected Trump's face onto the side of a hotel.
Washington politicos, however, can't dazzle Trump with exotic splendor. Instead, many have pursued a different strategy: Appearances on television. Trump, The Washington Post noted, has been "hiring people who've been auditioning on television." From John Bolton to Larry Kudlow to Anthony Scaramucci, Time observed, Trump "Keeps Hiring Cable TV Pundits." Saying things on cable news that Trump likes to hear has become a proven path to a job in his administration. It's also become a good way of influencing policy, since Trump often recycles ideas he hears on Fox.
Which brings us to Netanyahu's presentation. It's the first example of a foreign leader using television to sway Trump in the way American politicians and pundits do. Most foreign leaders lack the linguistic and cultural fluency to speak to Trump like a Fox News contributor does. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has been preparing for that role his entire adult life.
Netanyahu's political career is as much a product of television as Trump's. In 1982, at the age of 33, he arrived in Washington as the Israeli embassy's political attaché. American journalists were challenging Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Then, as now, America was led by a president who didn't read much. So Netanyahu, blessed with the fluent English he learned as a high-school student outside Philadelphia, made himself a TV star. In their 1998 book, Netanyahu: The Road to Power, Israeli journalists Ben Caspit and Ilan Kfir write that Netanyahu often rented television cameras and a television spotlight, turning his living room into a makeshift studio. Netanyahu's then-wife, Fleur, "was the interviewer and Bibi had to reply … Afterward, they would run through the tapes and analyze how Bibi responded." Since his boss, the Israeli ambassador, preferred to work behind the scenes, Netanyahu quickly became Israel's face in the United States. He grew friendly with Larry King, Charlie Rose, and Ted Koppel, in particular, on whose show he appeared so frequently that, according to Vanity Fair, "wags began referring to 'Ted Netanyahu' and 'Bibi Koppel.'" When Netanyahu moved to New York to become Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, he sought out a speech consultant named Lilyan Wilder, who often critiqued his performances on Nightline with Koppel.
In the late 1980s, Netanyahu returned to Israel and became deputy foreign minister. He was given the task of going on American television to defend Israel's response to the first intifada. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Netanyahu became an even bigger star. While Saddam Hussein was striking Israel with SCUD missiles, Netanyahu appeared on CNN wearing a gas mask. As one article put it, he became "for all intents and purposes, the Cable News Network's bureau chief in Jerusalem." The Washington Times suggested he be awarded an Emmy.
Netanyahu's prominence on American television only grew more frequent after he was elected Israel's prime minister in 1996. But in his first stint in the job, and after returning to it in 2009, he served opposite Democratic presidents in Washington who distrusted him and disagreed with his uber-hawkish views on the Palestinians and Iran. So Netanyahu often used his television appearances to rouse Bill Clinton and Barack Obama's Republican opponents, and to sway the American people.
Now it's different. In Trump, Netanyahu faces a U.S. president who is more personally and ideologically sympathetic to him than his predecessors, knows far less, and is addicted to television. Like other foreign leaders, Netanyahu has wielded flattery to win Trump over. After Trump addressed the UN last September, Netanyahu tweeted that, "In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech." But, unlike them, he has also figured out how to appeal to Trump via television.
Consider his remarks on Monday, which were perfectly tailored for Trump. Although speaking from Tel Aviv, Netanyahu delivered his presentation mostly in English. He appealed to Trump's appetite for drama with phrases like, "[t]onight we're going to show you something that the world has never seen before." He used simple, macho, Trumpian language: "Iran lied. Big time." He employed props, at one point theatrically pulling off black curtains to reveal the binders and files Israel had stolen. (Perhaps Netanyahu knew that Trump, as an aide recently told The New Yorker, is "a visual person" who likes to have arguments made "pictorially.") He bashed Obama: "This is a terrible deal. It should never have been concluded." And he ended by making Trump the star of the show. "In a few days' time, President Trump will decide, will make a decision on what to do with the nuclear deal. I'm sure he'll do the right thing," he said.
From Netanyahu's perspective, doing the right thing means scrapping the Iran deal. His presentation didn't actually make the case for doing that. As a chorus of experts have noted, Netanyahu merely showed that Iran pursued a nuclear weapon before 2003, and subsequently lied about it. He offered no evidence that it is still pursuing one, or is cheating on the 2015 nuclear agreement. But Netanyahu understood his audience: A president bored by policy details, surrounded by advisors like John Bolton, who have long argued for abandoning the deal.
Sure enough, Trump responded that Netanyahu's revelations "showed that I've been 100 percent right" in calling the nuclear agreement the "worst deal" ever signed. That's false. Netanyahu's evidence didn't undermine the Iran deal at all. But Trump, in all likelihood, wasn't following Netanyahu's evidence. He was watching the show.
Netanyahu has long yearned to be not only the leader of the Jewish people, but the leader of "The West," like his idol, Winston Churchill. Under Barack Obama, he was in opposition, like Churchill during the wilderness years. Now, in Trump, Netanyahu has an ally who is sympathetic to his worldview but incapable of coherently articulating it. Which allows Netanyahu to play the role he's long dreamed of—spokesman for the Judeo-Christian world in its battle with "radical Islam."
On Monday, Netanyahu didn't just use television to sway Donald Trump. He used it to act like the historical figure he's always wanted to be.
Posted: 01 May 2018 10:29 AM PDT
This summer, a NASA spacecraft will launch into space from the coast of Florida, headed for the sun. After making several flybys of Venus to slow itself down, the Parker Solar Probe will come within 4 million miles of the sun's scorching surface, closer than any spacecraft in history.
NASA is never one to miss an opportunity to drum up publicity for upcoming space missions, especially the less flashy ones. Sending something to study the star we see every day may sound less thrilling, for example, than launching a mission to find exoplanets around 200,000 stars. So in March, the space agency announced a little campaign to promote the Parker Solar Probe: Send us your names and we'll put them on a microchip inside a spacecraft bound for the sun. (They even got Star Trek actor William Shatner to help promote it.)
The call for names, which closed at the end of last week, received more than 1.1 million submissions, according to a spokesperson at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, which designed and built the Parker Solar Probe. On the surface, the campaign was little more than a quirky act to get the public interested in space exploration. But considered more deeply, it represents the human desire to find ways to outlive ourselves and our bodies, to be remembered once our time here on Earth is up.
Okay, okay, that sounds a little ridiculous. But I invite you to overthink the significance of the name-filled microchip, anyway.
As the deadline to submit names drew to a close last week, I messaged people who had tweeted about participating and asked them why they did. Some said adding their name to the Parker Solar Probe seemed like the only way they could travel to space themselves. "I think the main reason would be the knowledge that if I myself couldn't make it into space then at least my name could," said Shaun Lawson, who lives in the United Kingdom.
Rydon Samaroo, of Coral Springs, Florida, felt the same. "I wanted to participate because I've always been fascinated with exploring space since before I can remember," Samaroo said. "I may never be an astronaut but in my small way, I was able to contribute to pushing the final frontier."
Some wanted to leave behind a legacy. "Seemed like a cool idea to get my name to live on as my husband and I aren't having kids," said Nicole Abuhakmeh, who lives in Pennsylvania.
And others saw their participation as a lasting achievement. "I suppose as an average person who did not accomplish anything great in life, sending my name to the sun will give me a false feeling that I did something great," said Ali Mudarris, also of Pennsylvania. "To be honest, I didn't think about it, but when you asked me why this is what comes to my mind. I wanted to feel that I did something big."
The reasons varied, but they were held together by a common thread: the desire to leave a mark. The people who submitted their names to the Parker Solar Probe had the same motivations as travelers who etch their initials into trees or the sides of mountains. As the prisoners in the Tower of London who chiseled their final words into the stone walls. Even as that teenager who carved his name into a 3,500-year-old Egyptian temple and got in trouble for it. "I was here," they declared.
This need, to record our existence on something bound to outlive us, has existed for millennia. "Eventually, there's going to be no overt reminder of your time on this Earth, and I think it's very difficult for people to accept," says Mark Harris, the author of Grave Matters, an exploration of non-conventional burial practices. "We never really fully embrace the idea that we're going to die. Maybe we accept it intellectually, but at the end—probably when we start thinking less intellectually and more emotionally—we just really are not comfortable with our mortality and maybe, beyond that, with what we've accomplished with our lives."
In the 1970s, people started taking this desire to space. The Golden Record, a collection of sights and sounds from Earth, was essentially one giant postcard shouting to anyone who might listen, we were here! This year, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy carried a Tesla with a little label announcing it was "made on Earth by humans."
As launches become more frequent and routine, so will the desire to send a piece of humanity along with them. It's "the idea of wanting to matter," says Phil Olson, a Virginia Tech professor who studies funeral practices. "Like your name, your life, your individuality meant something bigger than just your confines to this little planet. You matter beyond this." And it's much easier to do it now. Microchips can hold a lot more data than gold-plated copper disks.
The Parker Solar Probe won't be around forever, however. NASA has targeted 2025 as the end of the mission, but the spacecraft will likely remain in orbit around the sun for years after. A pair of spacecraft NASA launched in the 1970s to study the sun stopped transmitting data in 1985, but they remain in orbit. Eventually, the sun's gravity will drag all of them to a fiery demise, taking any evidence of human existence with them. Few of our markers of human existence last forever, Harris says, even microchips in space.
Posted: 01 May 2018 11:04 AM PDT
It was one of the more surprising presidential vetoes in U.S. history. Having passed Congress in 1971 with bipartisan support (and with input from the Nixon administration), the Comprehensive Child Development Act arrived on President Richard Nixon's desk with decent prospects. The country was poised to rebuild the national child-care system it had built during—and abandoned after—World War II.
But it was not to be. In announcing his decision to veto the bill, Nixon warned that a universal child-care system would "commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing over against the family-centered approach." The veto bolstered conservative skepticism of public funding of child care, which has helped stymie efforts to expand early-childhood education ever since.
Today, the U.S. is somewhat of an outlier among developed countries, which tend to offer more-substantial public support for paid parental leave and child care. The Canadian province of Quebec, for example, is two decades into a policy experiment that provides generous parental leave, monthly cash benefits families can use for their children, and a heavily subsidized child-care system. The politique familiale ("family policy")—which was launched in 1997 with a policy brief entitled Les enfants au cœur de nos choix, or "children at the heart of our choices"—shows how such programs can be framed as economic imperatives. It also reveals that a universal child-care system doesn't have to be a singular, unitary institution: It can be delivered via numerous different types of care centers, both public and private.
Quebec's family policy begins with up to 55 weeks of paid leave for parents when they have or adopt a child, as well as a yearly allowance of anywhere from $500 to about $1,900 (in American dollars) that families receive per kid under the age of 18. But the policy's central piece is Quebec's full-day, year-round child-care program for all children under 5, which the province annually subsidizes with roughly $2 billion in public funding. Quebec families cover part of the costs on a sliding scale, with the wealthiest families paying around $17 per day for their first child. In 2016, nearly 300,000 children were enrolled in the province's system.
But just because the program is "universal" does not mean it is uniform. A plurality of the province's young children attend centres de la petite enfance (CPE)—publicly subsidized, nonprofit child-care centers that collect small daily fees. Families apply through a centralized lottery system, with many kids granted preference to a given center if their siblings are already enrolled there or (in some cases) if their parents work in the same building. But funding limitations mean CPEs can't serve everyone who wants their services. Families say it's normal to spend several years on CPE waitlists before getting a slot.
So, in 2003, provincial leaders created a tax credit that reimburses families for up to 75 percent of tuition at private child-care centers and home-based care options. This new option helped ease Quebec's child-care-undersupply problem for more families. It also helped the number of seats in unsubsidized private centers in Quebec skyrocket: Slots in these centers, many of them for-profit ones, grew by 3,000 percent between 2003 and 2016, reaching more than 55,000 seats. The total number of child-care seats in the province grew by a relatively modest 73 percent during the same period.
Cristian Cano, a restaurant manager who immigrated from Chile and has lived in Quebec for 21 years, is among the thousands of parents who ended up enrolling their kids in an unsubsidized private center because of the CPE space limitations. Cano and his wife resorted to a home-based child-care center run by a Haitian woman they knew. While happy with the outcome, Cano argued that the provincial government ought to allocate more funding to CPEs.
A visit to a CPE—one of the nonprofit, publicly subsidized centers—makes it clear why these centers are so popular with Quebec families. CPE Populaire St-Michel is located in a borough just northwest of downtown Montreal, where almost half of the residents are immigrants. Its 220 children are spread across three programs—the infants are in a nursery that employs five adults per child; older kids are grouped by age in noisy, cheerful classrooms connected by a purple hallway.
Teachers put kids in charge of their learning, its director explained, encouraging them to move and explore. Part of a local cooperative aimed at getting more children outdoors, CPE Populaire St-Michel's courtyard features a sandpit and (in the spring) a butterfly garden. If children get dirty, they can wash off using hoses with showerheads that accompany the padded mats, balls, and the bucketful of hockey sticks in the center's motricite ("movement") room. St-Michel even keeps its children active during the long winters when it's too cold outside, letting kids ride bikes up and down the hallway. Then it refuels them with fresh lunches prepared on-site. When I visited, the kitchen served kids broccoli omelettes with mixed salad and grilled potatoes; they were slated to have Greek turkey dumplings and herbed rice with tzatziki sauce the following day.
In and of itself, variability in the delivery of public education isn't a bad thing. Families have diverse needs and preferences—parents' schedules can be inflexible, their kids may have allergies, and so on. A single curriculum, delivered through a single type of child-care center, is unlikely to meet everyone's needs. What's more, new public early-education initiatives don't arise in isolation. It was easier for policymakers to provide public support for private child-care providers than it was to dramatically expand the CPEs.
But Quebec's example shows that a diverse system of child-care providers also comes with challenges. The government imposes stricter learning standards on the publicly subsidized CPEs; it has less oversight of the private providers. As a result, a given private provider may be able to attract families concerned primarily with cost not by its educational quality but rather by its low tuition. As part of a 2014 government study, observers rated the CPEs considerably higher than they did private providers across a range of factors, including teachers' interactions with infants, the facilities, and educational programming. The upshot: In creating the tax credit, Quebec may have achieved one prong of the family policy's mission at the expense of another. As the University of Quebec at Montreal economist Pierre Fortin put it, "We have two tiers of child care: One that is of very high quality and one that is of low quality."
Still, in subsidizing such programs, Quebec has ultimately made well-resourced, affordable early-childhood education the norm. When the provincial government had to cut the equivalent of about $93 million in CPE funding several years ago as part of austerity measures, a 2016 Montreal Gazette article lamented that one center "had to ration food" by reducing the amount of meat it served and halting its fresh-fish offerings; the center, the article noted, could "no longer afford to make sandwiches with croissants." Such cuts certainly aren't negligible—CPE St-Édouard's director Luce Vandemeulebroecke, for example, had to reduce her teachers' hours, and many centers have found themselves increasingly reliant on philanthropy. Still, that a rollback on croissants made headlines attests to the relative strength of public commitment to the program.
While CPEs serve children from birth to 5 years old, most American public prekindergarten sites only serve 3- and 4-year-olds. For comparison's sake, a cut of $93 million would eliminate about 40 percent of the pre-K spending in Washington, D.C., which runs one of the country's most widely accessible early-education systems. D.C. preschoolers wouldn't just lose field trips and balanced meals. The program would cease to exist—at least as a system striving to serve all children.
It doesn't have to be that way. Quebec's CPEs show that it's possible to create an expansive, publicly funded system of high-quality child care and early-education centers whose reach extends far beyond the most impoverished kids. Of course, "expansive" sounds expensive, and new public funding is always challenging to come by.
Fortunately, Quebec's family policy also demonstrates that these systems produce economic benefits for the public by means of easing pressures on working families, especially when combined with paid parental leave and child allowance programs. Eighty percent of Quebec mothers with children 5 or younger participate in the labor force, according to Fortin—9 percentage points higher than mothers living in other Canadian provinces. In the United States, that figure is 65 percent of mothers with children 6 or younger.
Increases in the number of working mothers generate additional tax revenues and help offset the province's labor shortage caused by the province's aging population, with data suggesting that the increased productivity helps the universal-child-care program pay for itself. One study estimates that the program raised the province's annual GDP by the equivalent of about $3.9 billion. Quebec's business community was initially wary of the policy because of its high costs, noted Michel Leblanc, the president and CEO of Montreal's chamber of commerce. "But very rapidly the impacts on the participation of women in the workforce were very clear," he said, "While Quebec was lacking in this regard before," he said, "now Quebec is leading Canada."
The business case for expanding early education and family-support programs can help expand political coalitions for these systems. After all, the United States's first large, public child-care system wasn't designed as an entitlement program, but rather as a means of funneling more mothers to the World War II assembly lines.
Posted: 01 May 2018 09:30 AM PDT
In 1965, four years before the moon landing, a great American went into space. Astronaut Barbie wore a silver metallic jumpsuit, moon boots, and a kicky white plastic helmet, all the better to breathe with in a vacuum. It didn't matter that it would be another 18 years before the first American woman, Sally Ride, would actually set foot on the Challenger, or that Astronaut Barbie's blue eyeshadow predicted the NASA-issue makeup kit that Ride's male colleagues later assumed she'd need. For Barbie, not even the sky was the limit.
Since then, Barbie has conquered other frontiers that long remained maddeningly out of reach for nondolls. She's been a Major League Baseball player, an Army ranger, a Nascar driver, and even president (running in 2016 on an all-female ticket). With Barbie, the slogan goes, you can be anything. No children's toy has been more keyed in to shifts in popular culture when it comes to women, large and small. But Barbie's relevance comes at a cost. Since her inception, she's been an avatar for every debate about what modern women should be, do, say, represent, and (most of all) look like. It's a heavy burden for an 11.5 inch doll to carry—no matter how uncommonly diverse her resume might be.
It's also the subject of Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, a new documentary by Andrea Nevins recently released on Hulu, which follows the efforts to transform Barbie into a more 21st-century toy. Nevins follows the designers and marketers attempting to rebrand Barbie's public image by remodeling her appearance. Along the way, Nevins interviews feminist historians and writers including Gloria Steinem, Amanda Foreman, Peggy Orenstein, and Roxane Gay about their own impressions of Barbie dolls. As Nevins loops in cultural touchstones like beauty pageants, Dreamhouses, and John Berger's Ways of Seeing, it gradually becomes apparent that a history of Barbie is nothing less than a history of Western womanhood. Our Barbies, ourselves.
From her very conception, Tiny Shoulders reveals, Barbie was problematic. Prior to her creation, the only toy dolls available for children came in the form of babies, which encouraged little girls to see themselves in nurturing roles. But Ruth Handler, who managed sales for her husband's toy-manufacturing company, noticed that her daughter would routinely assign adult personalities to cut-out paper dolls while playing with them. She came up with Barbie, a grown-up doll—with a specifically adult figure—upon which girls could project their own evolving identities and ideas of what they might become. On a trip to Europe, Handler encountered the Bild Lilli doll, a sexualized joke toy sold to adult men in tobacco shops, and based the first Barbie prototype on this model.
Barbie's physicality has been a lightning rod ever since. As Nevins points out, the doll's figure has been tweaked several times during her almost 60-year history: her breasts enlarged, her waist taken in. Mattel, the toy company founded by Handler's husband and his partner, claimed that Barbie's streamlined figure made it easier to dress and undress her. Critics and researchers have pointed out that Barbie's statistics, scaled to a real woman's size, would be about 36-18-33, and that her frame is so underweight she'd be unable to menstruate. Her feet, permanently distorted into the shape of high-heeled shoes, made it impossible for her to stand, let alone serve in Operation Desert Storm or perform surgery. Not to mention that Barbie's blonde hair and white skin perpetuated the idea to girls that ideal beauty conformed to a single ethnicity and hair color.
As Nevins goes inside Mattel HQ in El Segundo, California in 2015, it's clear that Barbie has reached a crisis point. At the time, her sales are down 21 percent globally and the power of her brand is waning. Something has to be done to make Barbie more appealing to modern moms. But the top-secret process of reinventing her, codenamed Project Dawn, is a fraught one, rife with flash points, cultural landmines, and potentially explosive debates around gender, race, and body image. Plus, there are practical issues to consider, like whether taller Barbies will fit on custom-sized store shelves, and how different shapes of Barbies require the size of everything else to change accordingly: bicycles, shoe sizes, even the doors of the Dreamhouse. When you consider how complicated everything becomes, a Barbie designer tells the camera, it's easier to understand why it's taken so long.
What's so unique about Barbie, Tiny Shoulders argues, is that she's a microcosm for larger debates and trends in the real world. In the early 1960s, when only 22 percent of American women were in the workforce, Barbie was forging a career as a business executive (with side hustles as an air stewardess and a fashion designer). From 1959 to 1971, Barbie's eyes were painted to be cast down demurely; her straight-ahead gaze coincided with the crest of feminism's second wave. As Kim Culmone, Mattel's head of Barbie design, works to reimagine the dolls in all kinds of shapes and skin colors, she has to navigate a wealth of issues regarding language and packaging that Handler could never have imagined.
The camera captures Culmone's crestfallen face as she watches a focus group of girls playing with prototypes of a curvier Barbie. "Hello, I'm a fat person," one of the children says in a mock-Barbie voice, while the others giggle. But the movie also documents how uncontrollably thrilled Mattel's mostly female team is when they receive mockups of the redesigned Barbies, dressed in an array of peplum tops and distressed denim. "It's like Christmas morning," one woman says. There's something about these dolls that still captures their imagination. Is it nostalgia? Barbie's wardrobe? Or what she still represents? "Work from 9 to 5 and then change in a sec for an evening with Ken," as a TV ad from the '90s advertising a day-to-night Barbie puts it. "We girls can do anything."
The most suspenseful arc of Tiny Shoulders hinges on how the new Barbies are received in the world, which I won't spoil. But the most fascinating aspect of the movie is how it uses Barbie as a metaphor for a culture that's still infinitely more preoccupied with what a woman looks like than what she says. In one scene, Nevins films Michelle Chidoni, Mattel's VP for global communications, as she drives to work in her car. On the radio, a fleet of commentators dissect what Hillary Clinton is doing right in her landmark presidential campaign. Her jacket is too expensive, they agree, but her new full-time makeup artist is helping, since Clinton overall looks much better. For comparison, the blurb on a 2016 "President Barbie" box touted her "leadership in polished outfits worthy of the White House." The doll might have broken through one glass ceiling, but there are others even she can't seem to shatter.
Posted: 01 May 2018 10:37 AM PDT
After a weeks-long journey to the United States, more than 100 Central American migrants, part of a caravan that once consisted of 1,200 people, finally reached the southern border Sunday in hopes of applying for asylum. Upon arriving, they were faced with the first of what's likely to be many obstacles toward being granted asylum in the United States: a port of entry too full to process them.
Customs and Border Protection said that the San Ysidro facility, near San Diego, was filled up to capacity, though it did not release how many people were being processed in the center, which can hold about 300. The standstill raised questions about if and when the administration would start processing migrants whose trek from the Guatemalan border has gained national attention. Then, late Monday, CBP began processing some of those migrants.
"We reached capacity at the San Ysidro port of entry over the weekend, and were temporarily unable to bring additional persons traveling without appropriate entry documentation into the port of entry for processing. We began processing undocumented arrivals again on Monday," CBP said in a statement. The New York Times reports that the group admitted included three mothers, four children, and an 18-year-old man.
President Trump has repeatedly denounced the caravan and urged the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border, not to let the migrants in, many of whom are seeking protections. But once they present themselves to CBP, the United States is required to consider asylum claims under international law, though there's no guarantee they'll be granted protection. Entering the United States through a port of entry, like many of these migrants are attempting to do, is not illegal. Many of them plan on turning themselves over to immigration officials and requesting protection. Under normal circumstances, processing of undocumented arrivals can take several days.
This isn't a typical situation. CBP said San Ysidro did not have space earlier this week to process individuals, so while they've since begun processing individuals, it's unclear how quickly they'll be able to get through the dozens of migrants waiting to apply for asylum. In its statement, the agency said, "The number of inadmissible individuals we are able to process in a day varies based on the complexity of the cases, resources available, medical needs, translation requirements, holding/detention space, overall port volume, and enforcement actions."
Facilities temporarily shutting down is not unprecedented: Centers have filled up in the past and, as a result, required the administration to put a pause on asylum applications. In December, the San Ysidro facility was in a similar position. "Facilities do fill up on occasion," said former CBP Commissioner David Aguilar, who served under President George W. Bush. "In fact, I would say frequently and it all depends on the type of flow that the area is experiencing."
In fiscal year 2018, more than 1,000 unaccompanied children and more than 1,300 families were apprehended in the San Diego sector, according to CBP figures. The region, like many others, has seen an uptick in unaccompanied children trying to cross the southern border. Overall, however, the number of apprehensions since October has been lower than it was during same time the previous year. What threatens to overwhelm the San Ysidro facility, according to Aguilar, is the sheer number of those who are seeking asylum.
With an overwhelmed immigration court system, asylum seekers may have to wait years before their hearing. According to a 2017 DHS report, more than 223,433 asylum cases were awaiting adjudication by USCIS by the end of 2016. And when the hearing does happen, what qualifies as a credible claim could change. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for example, is reviewing an asylum case that could have big implications for women fleeing domestic violence abroad.
The process starts when an individual encounters a CBP officer and, in this case, claims asylum. CBP will then take the person into custody and take down basic information and biometrics, conduct a screening interview, and alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That alone can take hours.
Migrants are then turned over to ICE custody. During that time, USCIS will conduct a "credible-fear" interview to assess whether the individual is indeed fleeing dangerous conditions and/or at risk of being persecuted upon return to his/her origin country. One of two things can happen after that: Officials can find that a migrant's credible-fear claims are valid, and have him or her stay in ICE custody until their hearings, where a judge will ultimately decide if he or she will be granted asylum; or order that the individual be returned to their origin country. (Asylum seekers can appeal an officer's decision if their claims are found to be invalid.) Due to the limited space in ICE detention, migrants are sometimes released with ankle bracelets or under certain conditions, like checking in regularly with immigration officials.
"Historically, the training has been that you are overinclusive," said John Sandweg, who previously served as the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Obama administration, referring to the credible-fear interview. "Better to send someone to an immigration hearing than to send them home to be persecuted." The Obama administration faced periods of increased border crossings in the spring of 2014 and fall of 2016. CBP erected tents in the Rio Grande valley to deal with the overflow of migrants being processed.
It's not clear if the caravan migrants will face elevated scrutiny, given the hardline immigration positions of the administration, and in that same vein, how many, if any at all, will be found to have valid claims. But at the very least, immigration officials will have to hear them. And that alone may provide some hope to the dozens of migrants waiting to make their case.
Posted: 01 May 2018 10:10 AM PDT
Russia's successful interference in the 2016 election—when Moscow hacked both Democrats and Republicans—has spurred fears of a recurrence in 2018. But although congressional Democrats are pledging not to use stolen or hacked materials in their campaigns this fall, their Republican counterparts have so far declined to match that commitment. That partisan split could leave the November elections open to malicious interference.
"There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations," Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February. Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo added that officials had "seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle." "We need to inform the American public that this is real," Coats said, "and that we are not going to allow some Russian to tell us how we're going to vote." Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election, which involved hacking the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee and leaking the documents via WikiLeaks and an online persona known as Guccifer 2.0.
Both parties face high stakes this November—Democrats hope to take back the House and the Senate, whereas Republicans are clinging to their majority as a wave of GOP lawmakers choose not to run for reelection. The committees' senatorial counterparts, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee, did not return requests for comment.
The DCCC is "committed" to ensuring that "illegally stolen and hacked materials are not weaponized in any campaigns," its communications director, Meredith Kelly, said. A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee—who requested anonymity to discuss the committee's policies—was more circumspect, saying that the committee is "open to working with anyone to tackle cybersecurity issues." Democrats are irked that the NRCC hasn't responded to their written requests for cooperation, a decision the NRCC spokesman attributed to a lack of "trust."
The divide has further complicated the parties' ability to offer a unified response that could discourage future election attacks. "The antidote to future election hackings is unity, unity of Democrats and Republicans banding together to say we won't weaponize what others stole," Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell said. "If we take away a big stage for hackers to showcase their work, they'll hack less. The GOP's refusal to sign this agreement invites more attacks on our democracy. It's time to unite."
It is not clear how the NRCC would react if it were given a damning email or text hacked from an opponent. Setting aside the potential legal liabilities, using hacked documents in a campaign could encourage cybercriminals to continue meddling in U.S. elections. There is also never a guarantee that the stolen documents are authentic. Asked whether the NRCC is formulating policies or guidelines for its candidates surrounding the use of hacked material in campaigns, the spokesman said he "can't comment on a hypothetical scenario."
The NRCC, however, is already working to encourage its own candidates to protect themselves against attacks. At least one Republican official, former Republican National Convention deputy finance chair Elliott Broidy, says he was targeted by foreign hackers this year. Russian hackers gained "limited" access to RNC computer systems in 2016, former FBI Director James Comey testified last year. The spokesman reiterated that he "can't detail our conversations with campaigns, but I will say that hacking and cybersecurity is something we've discussed at length with them." He said later that Steve Stivers, the NRCC chairman, "is open to working with anyone to tackle cybersecurity issues." A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan declined to comment on the record.
Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University and a Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow, said the committee might be reluctant to issue a blanket statement objecting to the use of hacked material because it is often difficult to differentiate between material that has been leaked and material that has been hacked. "So if they make some kind of announcement, and then use something that they thought was leaked but was actually hacked, they'll look like hypocrites," Watts said. Still, he argued, "there should be a policy."
Kelly did not respond to a request for clarification over whether the committees would refrain from weaponizing media coverage of hacked documents. The NRCC spokesman said only that the committee "recognizes that cybersecurity is a nonpartisan issue and will work with anyone on it."
Vince Galko, a political strategist who served as a consultant on Republican Representative Ryan Costello's successful midterm campaign in 2016, opted not to employ unflattering material hacked from Costello's opponent Mike Parrish during that election. "When news broke that this material had likely been stolen by a foreign actor, we immediately said, 'We're not going to use it,'" Galko told me. He said that he could not speak to what other campaigns should do if they come across material that's been "obtained in a nefarious way," but noted that attack ads and other research used against an opponent need to be vetted. "The standards have lowered a bit," he acknowledged, but the common practice is to provide a source for the claims you're making against an opponent. If the claims rely on hacked documents, it is difficult to know whether they are authentic, he said.
Officials from both the NRCC and DCCC pointed to a letter written by the chairman of the DCCC, Ben Ray Lujan, to Stivers asking that the committees team up on combating hacking ahead of the midterms as the moment when efforts at cooperation went awry. Republicans were furious that the letter—in which Lujan asked Stivers for his "steadfast commitment that the NRCC will refrain from the use of any stolen or altered documents or strategic information as part of any past or potential future hack on our Committee or campaigns" and "strongly" rebuke the GOP's use of "any illegally obtained information"—was promptly leaked to the press. An NRCC spokesman told me that, following "internal discussions last year to team up on cybersecurity" with the Democrats, the NRCC decided the DCCC "couldn't be trusted to partner with us because shortly before we approached them, they engaged in a political stunt where they sent an intern with a cybersecurity letter that was immediately leaked to the press." Lujan "saw and talked to Stivers numerous times before and after the letter was delivered and never once brought it up," the spokesman added. "So we decided that they viewed cybersecurity and defending against hacking as a PR issue. Why would we partner with someone on such a sensitive issue that thinks like that? How could we trust them? And frankly, they've done nothing to disabuse us of that thought since."
The DCCC pointed to Lujan's letter, too, when asked whether it was prepared to commit to discouraging the use of hacked documents in the midterms. Kelly, the DCCC spokesperson, noted that the letter "went unresponded to by the Chairman's counterpart." In a statement last summer, the DCCC called the accusation that it had been behind the leak "a disturbingly flippant response to a simple request that we set partisan politics aside and work together to better protect our elections from foreign adversaries and their cyberattacks."
In an earlier letter sent in August 2016, after the NRCC used a hacked document in an ad attacking Florida Democratic candidate Randy Perkins, Lujan asked Walden to publicly "oppose any use by the NRCC and other Republican campaigns of materials stolen by the Russians." He received no reply, according to the Democrats. "We remain committed to cybersecurity and ensuring that illegally stolen and hacked materials are not weaponized in any campaigns, and are willing to work with anyone to protect the integrity of our elections," Kelly said. An aide to Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Pelosi "concurs with that pledge."
"If you are an American, and are offered stolen materials on your opponent, pick up the phone, and call the FBI," Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic consultant and adviser to Hillary Clinton, told me. "If this is not something you are willing to do, there is a man named Robert Mueller who would be very interested in speaking with you."
Posted: 01 May 2018 03:03 PM PDT
Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America's most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of novice educators. In 1988, the average teacher had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, the average teacher had spent just five years leading a classroom. The Atlantic's On Teaching project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the first in our series.
On Rebecca Palacios's first day in front of a classroom, one of her white students picked up his chair and threw it toward her, declaring that he refused to be taught by a "Mexican teacher." It was 1976, Palacios was 22 years old, and many of her first-grade students were at the school because of a recently launched busing program in Corpus Christi, Texas, that the courts had mandated in an effort to racially integrate campuses. Large numbers of white students were now traveling across town to her school—Lamar Elementary—which for generations had served mostly working-class Mexican American children.
Growing up in the 1950s and '60s, Palacios learned about American discrimination against Latinos first-hand. Her father, a World War II veteran who worked for the public-park service in Texas, spoke frequently about the daily humiliations of being a Latino in America—of not being able to eat in certain restaurants or use certain water fountains. He would recount stories of teachers prohibiting him from speaking Spanish in school, sometimes hitting him when he spoke it with his friends.
The use of Spanish was still discouraged in Corpus Christi school buildings when Palacios became a student in the 1950s. Designed to funnel Latinos into vocational tracks such as factory jobs or secretarial work, these segregated schools didn't offer academically ambitious students like Palacios the advanced classes they needed to attend college. But thanks to her high-school teachers—both white and Latino—who created the necessary coursework using their own resources, Palacios became the first person in her family to go to college.
Those teachers had a profound impact on Palacios's life, and, in turn, on the thousands of students she taught in Corpus Christi. Over the three decades that followed that September day in 1976, Palacios would go on to became one of the most distinguished early-childhood educators in the country, renowned for promoting her students' sense of agency, intellectual curiosity, and love of learning. The arc of her career captures some of the major shifts—desegregation, resegregation, and declines in public funding—that have shaped America's schools over the past several decades.
Palacios's first two years of teaching at Lamar Elementary were some of the toughest in her life, she recalled earlier this year, sitting in her office in downtown Corpus Christi. Palacios retired in 2010 and now works as a consultant for the district as a coach of teachers. Behind her, pictures of Palacios's five children, her husband, and their grandchildren dotted a bookshelf.
The Corpus Christi busing program that began around the time Palacios started teaching was the byproduct of a ruling by a federal judge in 1970 that made it the city the first in the United States to extend the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to Mexican American students. Prior to the 1970 ruling, Corpus Christi officials argued that Brown only applied to black-white segregation. It wasn't until Jose Cisneros and 23 other fathers—all members of the United Steelworkers union—sued the district for isolating Latino students in inferior, underfunded schools that the courts recognized Mexican American students as a minority group with their own history of discrimination in education. In establishing that Latino children deserve the same protections as their black peers, the Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District ruling had far-reaching consequences for every school in the nation: It prompted additional rulings that eventually extended Brown's protections to all historically marginalized students of color.
Around the same time that the Corpus Christi district started providing funding for its busing program, the federal government began sending money to schools serving children who'd grown up in poverty. Project Follow Through, which was part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, funded intensive coaching of teachers, medical care for children, engagement of families in school governance, and parenting classes. These investments, which at their peak had a budget of $60 million, contributed the most to Palacios's teaching successes as a bilingual early-childhood educator early on.
About half of Palacios's first-graders at the time were white, and many of their parents weren't happy about the new busing arrangement. But many supported the idea of integration and lobbied district officials to bring in new resources to the school, like art and science supplies, and advanced classes. Palacios recalled those years as an intense period of growth that pushed her to go beyond traditional teaching methods focused primarily on content delivery and memorization. She yearned to create engaging learning environments that challenged her students to ask questions, deliberate answers with their peers, and learn how to integrate diverse ways of thinking about the world.
In 1982, Palacios enrolled in the graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin to work toward her doctorate in education, which would, she reasoned, help her ground her innovations in the latest research, and give her more authority to bring those changes beyond the confines of her classroom. The following year, Eduardo Torres, who had left Lamar to become the principal at Zavala Elementary, asked Palacios to join his team as an early-childhood educator, where Palacios ended up working for 24 years, focusing her methods entirely on preschool-age children.
While at Zavala, Palacios developed an innovative curriculum—in collaboration with her colleagues—that the district adopted for all preschools from 2001 to 2010. Palacios's two-week units were based around the theme of families: human, animal, plant, and insect "families." With that change, for instance, rather than reading a book on farm animals, and then developing vocabulary by answering simple questions about the book, and memorizing key words and concepts, Palacios's lessons now integrated multiple disciplines in every hour of instruction, including literacy, math, science, and social studies. As students investigated farm animals—often guided by their own questions about the topics—they could leverage and build on previous knowledge they learned while exploring other families.
Because integration of different disciplines helps children engage with new concepts through familiar themes and patterns, such approaches can make classrooms more inclusive and engaging for diverse children with varying skills and interests. A child who finds certain math tasks, like memorization and repetition, boring or too abstract, for example, forgets that she is engaging in those tasks by counting the wheels of the farm trucks or comparing the shapes of the buildings on a farm.
For Palacios, such approaches—which fall under the rubric of teaching "the whole child," in education jargon—require well-trained educators, sustained funding for learning materials, such as building blocks or paint, and supportive administrators like Torres. "When my teaching partner and I would come to the office of Mr. Torres, asking for something to implement our latest innovation, he'd always say, 'If it's for the kids, we're going to make it happen.' Having that stance was a critical base for my ability to succeed and stay in teaching as long as I did."
Just as Palacios reached a degree of success in her sixth year of teaching at Lamar, the Corpus Christi school district, the courts, and the Cisneros plaintiffs were sparring over the mechanics of busing. District officials were constantly changing bus routes and school assignments, which exacerbated the growing resistance to integration among many parents. By 1982, the plaintiffs agreed to end the court-mandated busing, settling for a district program that would allow students to attend schools outside of their neighborhoods but wouldn't cover the cost of transportation. The court also mandated increased funding to high-poverty schools like Zavala and Lamar as the means of fulfilling the 1970 ruling.
This marked the end of one of the 20th century's most significant civil-rights battles. Corpus Christi schools soon resegregated. Today, 93 percent of students at Zavala Elementary are Latino, and 95 percent are poor. Roughly two-thirds of its students, meanwhile, are labeled as "at risk of dropping out" based on their achievement levels and disciplinary issues. Most of the extra local funding that came as a result of the Cisneros lawsuit also disappeared over time, compounded by the deep state cuts, which have reduced the overall pool of funding for all of Texas public schools.
Meanwhile, Palacios continued to refine her methods, developing "journals" to detect what her 4-year-olds—who typically can't yet read or write fluently—learned every day. Students would respond to Palacios's questions by drawing pictures and telling stories about them, using new concepts and words they'd learned. She also started coaching parents every six weeks, including by modeling lessons on how to teach reading at home, which she said became one of the most effective strategies she'd implemented in her career.
"The hardest part about teaching before I retired was seeing the disintegration of support for public schools," Palacios said over lunch at a local restaurant, during an all-day training session for preschool teachers she organized in collaboration with the district. "What I've seen over time, especially in the last 10 years, [is that] there are so many new, unfunded demands and programs. STEAM [science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics] initiatives, for example, require resources. You can't talk about granite if the kids haven't seen granite. You can't talk about water pressure, water displacement, or buoyancy without water droppers, PVC pipes, or water tables that make up these experiences."
When touring classrooms in the Corpus Christi district a few years ago as part of a teacher-training initiative, she observed that worksheets had replaced the paint, glitter, and building blocks that once dominated preschool learning spaces.
Despite the retreat from integration efforts and anti-poverty programs by the courts and the government, Palacios still views the legacy of the Cisneros case as crucial progress. "Schools resegregated, but the eyes were open: Separate is not equal."
These days, as Palacios coaches dozens of teachers in Corpus Christi, she talks to them about the importance of leadership and advocacy, just as much as she talks about teaching practices. Palacios tells them how she created a pre-kindergarten professional association, which, at one point, convinced the school board not to cut the district's paraprofessional positions. She also hosted a yearly open house in preschools for school-board members and administrators across the district to show them the promise of effective and engaging teaching through sustained funding.
"I know it takes a lot of energy to do all that, but if you're going to complain about it, it's never going to make a difference," Palacios said at the end of a long day of coaching teachers. "You've got to be in there, be the advocate, and make the changes for the children."
Posted: 01 May 2018 10:12 AM PDT
In 1845, two ships under the command of Captain John Franklin set sail from Britain on a mission of exploration. Three years later, both disappeared in the Arctic. None of the 129 men on that expedition came back, and the battered wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were found in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Quite how Franklin and his crew died remains a mystery. Historians have only scattered Inuit reports, a few abandoned messages, and the remains of disease-wracked and partially eaten bodies. What's all but certain is that the sailors' predicament was terrifying, and their demises horrific.
It's perhaps little surprise that The Terror, AMC's chilling new 10-part series about the expedition, would decide to make that horror more explicit by adding a monster. The show, adapted from Dan Simmons's 2007 novel by the same name, proceeds from a simple, killer hook: two ships trapped out on the ice, a crew under increasing strain, and a murderous, largely unseen presence stalking them through the howling snows. The basic setup is familiar from Alien, The Thing, and plenty of other creature features.
But while the seven currently aired episodes of The Terror offer their share of monstrous thrills, the show's real strength lies in the ways it plays with the trappings of survival horror, a category broadly concerned with the fear of being caught unprepared in an exceedingly dangerous situation. Through careful writing and by avoiding the genre's more common pitfalls—weakly sketched characters, pat philosophies about the fragility of civilized behavior, exoticized natives—The Terror offers what is perhaps television's first good example of survival horror.
When viewers meet Captain John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) in the show's pilot, he has no reason to think he's not a modern argonaut embarking on a great colonial adventure. Sure, the two ships under his care—the Erebus and the Terror—are inauspiciously named, and their mission to locate the fabled Northwest Passage is a treacherous one now that the Arctic summer is winding down. But the only immediate trouble at first seems to be minor personal tensions between Franklin and Captain Crozier (Jared Harris) of the Terror, a sharp-tongued alcoholic whose affectionate relationship with his commander has grown strained. When the Erebus breaks its propeller on floating ice, the optimistic Franklin decides to forge ahead in hopes of reaching open water. It's a bad gamble, and soon both ships are irretrievably stuck.
Over the next six episodes, the ramifications of that mistake echo outward. A mission to a nearby shoreline ends in a glimpse of a terrible, loping shape out in the dark, the accidental shooting of an Inuit shaman, and the capture of the shaman's daughter, whom the crew dubs Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen). Provisions begin turning up spoiled, or riddled with bits of lead that leave crew members with splitting headaches and rotting teeth. When they can get Lady Silence to speak, she warns them in her own language of something called a "Tuunbaq," and tells them they must leave as soon as possible. But as the elements and monster close in, it becomes clear that leaving or staying are likely to mean the same thing: death.
Survival horror is a nebulous term, and one that's more popularly applied to video games—the Resident Evil franchise is one classic of the genre. Still, when you look at other media, you could argue that Jack London's short story To Build a Fire and films like The Descent or Open Water are good narrative examples of survival horror. In these kinds of works, there's never enough food—much less bullets—and no help is coming. The genre tends to cast wild environments as both lethal in their own right and as an impediment to characters facing a more actively aggressive foe.
The spelunkers of The Descent are stuck in utter darkness below the Appalachian mountains even without cannibal troglodytes; to be left alone out in the Atlantic Ocean, as in Open Water, is awful enough without sharks. When the sharks and troglodytes show up, they do so as extrapolations of the environment's existing dangers, not as an injection of horror into an otherwise normal place. This is part of what makes The Walking Dead franchise, television's best known member of the genre, a marginal case—a zombie apocalypse certainly counts as an environmental hazard, but it isn't exactly a logical outgrowth of the Georgia countryside.
By paying careful attention to landscapes, however, The Terror harkens back to the tradition of setting-specific films like The Descent. As rendered using green screens and soundstages, the pack trapping the ships is subtly off-kilter, a maze of ice laid out in alien geometries. Rocky shorelines stretch away beneath empty skies; a brief dip beneath the ice-pack reveals the endless dark waters below the ships. The Arctic temperatures are a constant and deadly enemy: Characters who touch ropes or metal without gloves get the skin ripped off their palms or lose their toes to frostbite. Life below deck is accompanied by the endless creak and groan of the ice pressing against the ships' wooden hulls. The result is an overwhelming claustrophobia, even in the middle of a punishing void.
The show's interludes back in London serve only to underscore the crews' desperation. In The Terror's fourth episode, Lady Franklin goes before the assembled admirals of the Royal Society in a fruitless attempt to organize an official rescue. Once, she tells them, she went out shoeless in the snow to see how long she could last; she made it barely two minutes. "Our men have been out there in unimaginable temperatures for more than a million minutes," Lady Franklin says, her voice flat. "No one can convince me that optimism or confidence is warm enough."
Yet to begin with, optimism and confidence are all the crews of the Erebus and Terror have, and they last a surprisingly long time. (In his review for Vox calling The Terror "a near masterpiece of survival horror," Todd VanDerWerff praised the show's slow pacing as effectively anxiety-inducing.) Other shows in the genre, like Fear the Walking Dead, tend to quickly set characters at each other's throats in an effort to show that civilization is a kind of communal dream, easily cast aside in favor of barbarism.
Here, The Terror zags: Officers and sailors alike cling to decorum and discipline with nervous ferocity. In the third episode, Franklin refuses to let Crozier go for help, worried it will demoralize the crew; the argument that follows cloaks personal grievances in language about protocol and the chain of command. In the fourth episode, Crozier orders the lashing of a seaman who kidnaps Lady Silence. Both scenes are upsetting, and both focus on men playing out social structures that have come all the way from England. Those structures are restrictive and ugly in their own right, but it takes seven episodes and an immense amount of strain for them to finally begin to crumble.
Of course, societies are made of people, and the people—that is, the men—at all levels of the ships' crew are presented with a keen and sympathetic eye. Crozier's bitterness stems partially from his Irish heritage, which has hindered both his professional and personal ambitions; yet he's also a perceptive and caring officer whose addiction is getting the better of him. Franklin's friendliness masks both quiet desperation and flashes of prejudice that are all the more cutting coming from such an apparently kindly man. For a show set in subzero temperatures, there's quite a bit of warmth on display, much of it courtesy of the junior medical officer Harry Goodsir (Paul Ready), a man who reveals himself at every turn to be decent despite being in wildly over his head.
The result is a contrast to The Walking Dead, which often uses a convenient shorthand to mark members of the group as seemingly dispensable, or gives them only a single characteristic to play, before killing them off. Characters in The Terror by and large don't act in arbitrary or foolish ways just to move the plot along: Viewers spend enough time with them in smaller moments that their panicked actions tend to make sense. As doomed as the crew is, you don't want to see them get eaten.
Several of them do, of course. The consistency of the writing and acting means that The Terror doesn't really need a monster to be gripping, but it does have a memorable one. The Tuunbaq is mainly introduced by the carnage it leaves behind: ripped tents, broken flesh, and huge footprints circling the ships. For the first half of the show, the Tuunbaq functions almost as a personification of the aggressiveness of the landscape, like Open Water's sharks. Its initial invisibility makes it an extension of the Arctic's hostility, as if the winds and snows had conspired to kill the interlopers. The Tuunbaq's first fleeting appearances suggest something like a polar bear, though the more the crew sees of the animal, the less certain that description becomes. The officers are slow to awake to the severity of the threat. "Educate this creature as to the dominion of the Empire and the will of the Lord behind it," Franklin jovially tells a group of marines in the third episode. Judging by what happens next, neither God nor Empire has much power in the Arctic.
The Tuunbaq's presence is an expression of an old colonial trope: the idea that savage magic lurks in unexplored places and among "uncivilized" peoples. Survival horror has an uneasy relationship with this theme. While the genre can function as a critique of classic adventure fiction—in which the wilderness is dangerous but can be tamed—it tends to present nature as actively malevolent, and those who live too close to it as inherently suspicious, whether they're the sinister tribe of Eli Roth's The Green Inferno, or the degenerate backwoods-men of Deliverance and other such films. Indigenous cultures and legends often get associated with nature's alien viciousness—consider the way the 2008 horror film The Ruins uses lost Mayan pyramids as a setting for its carnivorous vines. Native peoples often appear as portentous figures, intended to signal to viewers that the (usually Western) protagonists have entered a realm where civilization cannot reach.
The Terror largely manages to sidestep these dicier implications by treating its main Inuit character, Lady Silence, as complex and human in her own right. A lot of this owes to Nielsen's expressive performance: Her eyes flick around every room she's brought into, sizing up the men around her with an analytical and worried gaze, and when she does speak, it's as if the words are pouring out despite her efforts to keep them in. But the show takes pains to emphasize through translated dialogue that she's just as desperate, unsure, and terrified as the men around her—in other words, she's not conspiring with the brutal environment and has been dragged by accident into something beyond her control. And while her relationship with the Tuunbaq is less immediately murderous, it isn't friendly; and like everything else, that connection is bound to deteriorate.
Works of survival horror tend to have a nasty view of humanity. Social structures immediately collapse; protagonists must suffer for being weak, unready, and unfit. If this gives the genre an ugly, often fascistic edge, it also taps into an ambivalent fear in contemporary Western society: that in severing people from nature, civilization has made them easy targets. The outcome of the Franklin expedition is unfortunately inevitable: two abandoned ships, and a lot of dead bodies. But by honing both the complexities of its characters and the essential danger of the Arctic itself—a danger the Tuunbaq symbolizes—The Terror manages to have it both ways. The expedition is doomed, and so is the crew. The show's genius is how it aligns the hopes of viewers and characters alike: that someone, anyone, might make it out alive.
Posted: 01 May 2018 02:30 PM PDT
In the winter of 2008, Collin Ishaq traveled from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates to work as an air-side operator at Dubai's international airport. He moved into a shared room in an industrial dormitory, known as a labor camp, that was built to accommodate a wave of migrant workers coming from South Asia. His camp was on the outskirts; from there, even the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, looked like a distant star. It was the kind of dispiriting place where everyone understood that their dreams were maxed out.
On a whim one evening, Ishaq tried his luck at a Bollywood singing competition called Camp Ka Champ, meaning Champ of the Camp, an annual goodwill exercise by a money-transfer firm. The firm's business came mostly from migrants working as construction laborers, drivers, cooks, electricians, or cleaners, who relied on the service to send money home to their families. After Ramadan each year, the singing competition went from camp to camp, like a traveling carnival. Workers often auditioned year after year in the hope of winning. That year, Ishaq won on his first attempt.
When I met Ishaq in 2015, he was already a small celebrity. After winning the show in 2008, he had been selected as a finalist in 2012, and had moved out of the camps and into an apartment in the city, where he had launched a part-time singing career. That evening, during a semifinal of Camp Ka Champ, I watched a group of workers haul him into the air until his feet were floating. He had just finished channeling the Pakistani singer Atif Aslam with a song from a Bollywood movie, Race 2, and his singing had sent the crowd into a delirious uproar. In the air, bobbing up and down on the shoulders of workers, many with cheeks that looked as if they had turned into leather from working in the smoldering sun, Ishaq looked content.
"When you become a star, something goes off in your head," he told me that evening. "You have to remember to thank God." At the time, Ishaq was 26, with a baby face and a middle part, and riding on a wave of success. In recent months, he had appeared on a TV show called Asia's Singing Superstar, an Indian-Pakistani version of American Idol, and begun booking independent singing gigs. He was also the lead singer of Five Vocalz, a band he had formed with four colleagues. A few months earlier, he had married a Pakistani woman named Carmel, which he called "a love marriage that was arranged by parents." He dined downtown, spent money on his appearance, and carried himself with reckless optimism, as if fame and fortune were apps he could download as soon as he got Wi-Fi.
Ishaq and I kept in touch on Facebook Messenger over the years. When I moved back to Dubai last fall, I wrote to ask how he was doing. He told me that his band had split, but he had picked up a singing gig on a cruise after his airport shift. He sent a series of photos—the cruise lit up with fairy lights, its buffet spread, smiling diners. Three months later, as I was looking to take him up on his invitation to visit the cruise, another text came in. "I left cruise last month and already resigned from my company," he wrote. "I am going back to my home country."
In 1966, oil was discovered in an offshore field in Dubai. This bolt of fortune transformed this desert land into a megacity within decades, as if the rulers were "playing SimCity for real," as the authors Greg Lindsay and John D. Kasarda put it in their book Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next. Today, Dubai has the world's tallest tower, an artificial palm-shaped archipelago, and countless luxury hotels, malls, residential buildings, and office towers. Lindsay and Kasarda write, "Everyone and everything in it—its luxuries, laborers, architects, accents, even its aspirations—was flown in from someplace else."
In 1971, the country established a guest-worker program, known as the Kafala Sponsorship System, which required that the worker's visa and legal status be linked to a local sponsor firm, which would retain the right to prevent a worker from switching to another employer. In 2006, the kafala system, a norm across the Arabian Gulf, drew criticism from human-rights groups for making workers vulnerable to exploitation. In response, the Emirati government pledged that it would introduce laws to safeguard workers' rights.
In theory, the new decrees gave migrant workers more control. Many of them, though, knew nothing of these changes. The rush of workers who have come from South Asia, chasing opportunities to make double or triple what they can earn at home, has been so enormous that they now account for more than half of the population in the U.A.E. Since most blue-collar workers are male, the influx skewed the country's population, making it one woman to three men. The culture in camps is largely centered on survival. There is so much else to pay attention to—paying off debt, sending a child to school, affording health care, keeping the kitchen at home running. The inscrutable acts of politicians seem irrelevant to the matter of earning a living. Mohammed Zaffar, an electrician from Bihar, India, told me, "You come, you work, you earn money, and you go home."
Ishaq grew up middle-class in Karachi, Pakistan, in a three-bedroom home with his parents, his brother, and his sister. Their house was always brimming with visiting relatives. As a boy, he spent his afternoons playing cricket or antakshari, a singing game. His father, a manager at an oil company, made them laugh. His mother, the disciplinarian, poured her love into preparing burgers and sandwiches for her children.
After high school, Ishaq worked as a data-entry operator for local elections, translating votes from Sindhi to English. Later, for roughly a year, he worked as a call-center executive for a car-tracking firm. But Ishaq fell in with what his father considered bad company—friends who had done nothing with themselves. One evening in 2008, Ishaq's father heard that recruiters from Dulsco, a manpower-supply company in Dubai, were conducting interviews in Rawalpindi, a city in northern Pakistan. Weeks later, Ishaq was on a plane to Dubai to join work as an air-side operator. He was 19.
When the plane landed, Ishaq thought Dubai looked a lot like Karachi. People called Karachi the city of lights; Dubai, too, looked awake. But when his bus pulled into the labor camp, Ishaq's stomach sank. "I haven't seen this kind of life before," he told me. The camp was a compound of low-rise buildings with rooms crowded with bunk beds. The workers shared bathrooms and a kitchen. Ishaq moved into a room with six men from Pakistan; they cooked together and shared stories of their lives. In the early weeks, the group of friends visited the malls, spent a Friday at the beach, checked out a nightclub. But after a while, their work schedules precluded much else. "We would go to work in buses and come back to the camps in buses," Ishaq said. "There was no time to enjoy this Dubai life."
A month later, Ishaq's brother, Tanveer, arrived. He was so miserable in the camps that he would burst into tears in the middle of sentences. "He called my dad and started crying," Ishaq said. "He says, 'I don't want to work here. I miss mom. I want to come back.'" Their father asked them both to come home. Tanveer did, but Ishaq decided to stay. "There was something in my heart that said, 'No, I will become something on my own.'" he said.
During the months that followed, whenever there was a chance to make extra cash, working overtime or singing at Camp Ka Champ, Ishaq would take it. Within a year, Ishaq had saved enough to move into a two-bedroom apartment with six friends. The new apartment would turn into a rehearsal space for Five Vocalz. Ishaq would sing "Mohabbat Barsa De Na Tu," a love song, and the others would close their eyes to listen. Soon, the band was invited to sing at a 1,600-seater auditorium. They booked gigs in other emirates. It seemed that Ishaq was clearing his own path to mobility in a society where that seemed impossible for most. But within six months, arguments erupted. The others felt that Ishaq was hogging the limelight. Ishaq's verdict: "We split because everyone wants to come on the front page and everyone cannot."
The band had broken up. Tanveer had gone home. And Ishaq's visa didn't allow family members to join him, so Carmel was able to visit only for a few weeks each year, on a tourist visa. Ishaq decided that he would focus on himself, using a karaoke app to rehearse and uploading videos to YouTube. He picked up independent gigs at Indian gatherings and was still a favorite at Camp Ka Champ. But he felt that no matter how successful he became, he would never be respected as a professional singer. Collin Ishaq the singing migrant worker; people saw it as a gimmick, nothing more. Year after year, the Camp Ka Champ organizers would invite him to sing but then send him home with nothing other than taxi fare. "I told them, 'If you will pay me, I will come, I will sing,'" Ishaq said. "But they gave me a Tissot watch. If I wanted a watch, I would go out and buy it myself."
Earlier this month, days before Ishaq was set to leave Dubai, I met up with him again. It had been almost 10 years since his arrival. We were sitting inside a Starbucks on the third floor of a mall, and Ishaq was contemplating all the places he wanted to visit, the restaurants he wanted to try, the beaches he wanted to see one last time before he left. His phone kept ringing, with updates on a farewell party that his friends had organized in the Sonapur labor camp. There would be cake, singing, jokes, and maybe a drive out into the dunes. Ishaq had gotten a new job at the Karachi airport. He would finally get to live with his wife, Carmel, and start a family. At home, he imagined, Sundays would be exactly what they had been in his childhood. Morning service at the church, halwa puri for breakfast, a mid-morning nap followed by a big lunch prepared by his mother. Everyone would watch a movie together and then get burgers for dinner. "For something good," he said, "you have to do something that feels a little bad."
Three years after I'd first met him, Ishaq seemed different, a little bitter and exhausted. Within minutes of our conversation, he emphasized his unease with being associated with labor camps. Yes, he worked for a labor company and previously lived in a camp but he was tired of being typecast as a blue-collar worker. Days earlier, he had walked out of the cruise job, where he sang three evenings in a week, in a fit of rage. "It is only fun as long as they pay you on time," he told me. The people who praised his singing also somehow managed to make him feel like a charity case. It was as if he had become trapped in the narrative that catapulted him—the rags-to-riches story of a guy from the camps—even though the whole world had conspired to see that a singer from the camps would only go so far. Ishaq seemed ready to retreat to a simpler life. "I don't want to become a star anymore," he said. "All I want from life is to stay with my family. I have changed my mind."
Posted: 01 May 2018 07:17 AM PDT
The idea is clear, simple, and generally agreed upon: Colleges need to do more when it comes to enrolling and graduating low-income students. If college degrees are "the great equalizer"—though some research has disputed that characterization—then expanding access to those degrees will help make society more equal. Are any colleges succeeding in doing that?
A new report from Third Way, a center-left think tank, tries to answer that question—and the results for many colleges are not pretty. One of the most common ways to understand how colleges are serving low-income students is by looking at how well they are helping students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants, or need-based federal grants for low-income students. Three-quarters of Pell Grant recipients come from families that make less than $40,000 a year.
The report finds that fewer than half of first-time, full-time Pell students (meaning students who are attending college for the first time, not transfer or return students, who are a slightly different population) graduate at the institution they started at within six years. By contrast, those who do not receive a Pell Grant are doing much better, and nationally are 18 percent more likely to graduate within that time period. This report represents some of the first significant analysis done on Pell-recipient graduation rates, as the federal government had not made these data available until last fall.
But the report found that one system stands out: Schools in the University of California system are doing significantly better than other four-year colleges and universities in the country when it comes to enrolling low-income students and seeing them across the finish line. Of the public and private nonprofit schools with a higher-than-average Pell-awardee enrollment rate (the schools this study examined), the UCs occupy five of the top 10 slots in terms of graduating students. Among only public institutions, they are the top seven.
Schools With High Pell-Awardee Enrollment and Graduation Rates
"Every single time we do these outcome measures, the UC system stands out," Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, who leads the social policy and politics program at Third Way, told me. A 2016 report from Third Way on outcomes for students at public colleges similarly found that colleges in the UC system fared better than their peers.
Why is that? The state money available for higher education makes a big difference—and the UCs have remained among the better-funded colleges in the country, as institutions in other states have seen sharp cuts. They devote a good portion of that funding to getting low-income students onto campus in the first place. In recent years, colleges have placed increased emphasis on outreach to low-income communities to diversify the socioeconomic makeup of their student body, including sending recruiters to schools they haven't traditionally frequented and helping with college counseling.
The UCs do those things, and a bit more. For starters, they provide academic preparation for high-school students at underserved schools to ensure that they meet the requirements to attend the colleges, and hold academic-enrichment programs in the summer. When students are seniors, the UCs help them with their applications and financial aid. That early outreach is crucial for students, Yvette Gullatt, a vice provost of the university system, told me, because it allows them to build a relationship with the university—perhaps making it more likely that they will apply. More than 100,000 students are enrolled in these programs, according to Gullatt.
Representatives from the UCs also go to local high schools and churches to demystify college, which can be an important step. Applying for college can be daunting, especially if one is not from a wealthy family—the sticker price alone is enough to dissuade many students from applying—or if one is the first in the family to attempt to get a postsecondary education. "We explain to them that a family with an income of $80,000 or below is not going to pay tuition at the University of California," Gullatt said. "That often unlocks the door for families who realize that UC is within their reach financially as well as academically."
Just as important as getting students to campus, however, is supporting them while they're there. As Janet Napolitano, the system's chancellor, told me, "A student needs to have access to whatever support they need in order to help them succeed." The idea isn't novel, but when executed properly, the results are clear. According to the Third Way report, the University of California at Los Angeles has an 88 percent Pell-student graduation rate; the University of California at San Diego is at 85 percent, as is the University of California at Irvine. Those numbers are roughly on par with the graduation rates for non-Pell recipients.
Similarly, last year, The New York Times reported that the UCs were among the top colleges in propelling students to higher income brackets. According to data released by the Equal Opportunity Project, UCLA enrolled the most low- and middle-income students among elite colleges. And the University of California at Irvine was fourth among colleges that propelled students from the bottom fifth of the income distribution to the top three-fifths.
Though the UCs are making a concerted effort to enroll and retain low-income students, it is also worth noting that the schools' efforts are buoyed by a healthy state economy. A recent paper found that labor markets are also a contributing factor in mobility.
"We know that it is possible to succeed with Pell students, which is why our policies must find ways to reward and scale up programs that have proven results with this population," the report says. But several states have not had such success. In fact, according to Third Way, some states—including Wyoming, Colorado, Mississippi, and Lousiana—have few, if any, institutions that both enroll a high share of Pell students and serve them well. And as the trend of state disinvestment in higher education continues, there are fewer resources for ambitious efforts.
Posted: 01 May 2018 06:29 AM PDT
When Mark Zuckerberg takes the stage on Tuesday at F8, Facebook's big annual conference, I expect him to gesture briefly at the troubles of the last year and a half, and then look grandly forward, talking up the future of augmented and virtual reality, the company's commitments to fostering "community," and Facebook's growth outside the United States.
It will feel a little strange. Wasn't this company "besieged," "beleaguered," and "beset" by problems mere days ago? Haven't they experienced a brutal 18 months since the 2016 U.S. presidential election set off what The Economist (among others) called a "techlash"?
Facebook metabolized these criticisms, and turned them into fuel for what they say is a renewed sense of their mission. Take a look at Facebook's newest ad. It explicitly calls out the problems of clickbait and fake news on the platform, but then concludes, over a montage of milestone videos, "When this place does what it was built for, we all get a little closer." Facebook has retrenched into its core mission, which is to "connect people," as the company has defined it.
In the end, maybe none of it mattered. Not the congressional hearing. Not the leaked Cambridge Analytica documents. Not serving as the primary conduit for Russian disinformation campaigns. Not fake news. Not conservative consternation about the liberal politics of the company's employees. Not the preparations for complying with Europe's General Data Protection Regulation. Not the UN special rapporteur hitting Facebook for contributing to the Rohingya's plight in Myanmar. Not the anti-monopoly criticisms aimed at the company. Not yesterday's resignation of WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum.
The company's financial performance is more of a reflection of Facebook's unstoppability than its cause. Despite personal reservations about Facebook's interwoven privacy, data, and advertising practices, the vast majority of people find that they can't (and don't want to) quit. Facebook has rewired people's lives, routing them through its servers, and to disentangle would require major sacrifice. And even if one could get free of the service, the social pathways that existed before Facebook have shriveled up, like the towns along the roads that preceded the interstate highway system. Just look at how the very meaning of the telephone call has changed as we've expanded the number of ways we talk with each other. A method of communication that was universally seen as a great way of exchanging information has been transformed into a rarity reserved for close friends, special occasions, emergencies, and debt collectors.
Even if one were to quit the core service, there are many other ways of being roped into the Facebook ecosystem. There's Instagram and WhatsApp, sure, but the company also maintains "shadow profiles" on refuseniks. Besides, the rest of the digital-advertising sharks would still be circling. Hundreds of companies create data about people on the internet from Google to umpteen obscure little companies. Most are accountable to no one. Opt out of Facebook, and all those other places are still mining your online profile, and often selling it to the highest bidder.
Facebook rents out access to your attention, but it doesn't give Nike or Pottery Barn your data. This protects users to some extent and makes Facebook even more central and powerful. They have all the data, as fresh as it can be, with comparisons possible across 2 billion other people. So, as millions of companies attest, Facebook (and Instagram) ads can do well, especially if they use Facebook's full suite of products for measuring the precise financial outcomes advertisers are pushing.
Most of the general pressures on the internet industry's data practices, whether from Europe or anywhere else, don't seem to scare Facebook. Their relative position will still be secure, unless something radical changes. In the company's conference call with analysts last week, Sheryl Sandberg summed it up.
"The thing that won't change is that advertisers are going to look at the highest [return-on-investment] opportunity," Sandberg said. "And what's most important in winning budgets is relative performance in the industry."
As long as dollars going into the Facebook ad machine sell products, dollars will keep going into the Facebook ad machine.
As long as their friends are still on Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, people will keep using Facebook products.
In the past, tech empires have risen and fallen, once momentum starts to work against them. Intel is a shadow of its former self. IBM has been contracting for much of the decade. Maybe Facebook won't be forever, but what my colleague Rebecca Rosen wrote in 2011 still stands today: "Our discomfort grows commensurate with Facebook's power, such that the more that Facebook is indispensable, the greater our discomfort, and yet the less that discomfort matters."
In this context, the last 18 months make more sense: Civil societies are struggling against Facebook not because the company is weaker than it has been in the past, but because it grows ever more powerful.
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