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Elizabeth Warren’s Early Stroke of Genius

Posted: 20 Jan 2019 04:20 AM PST

CLAREMONT, N.H.—Elizabeth Warren wants the look on her face to be funny. It's somewhere between stern and confused and disappointed, complete with fists briefly on her hips, like she's playing a mom in a commercial who just found an adorable kid making a mess on the floor.

That's how the Massachusetts senator responds late Friday when I ask her what she thinks will happen if the rest of the Democratic primary field doesn't follow her lead, and put talking about the economy at the center of their campaigns.

"I don't know how anyone could not talk about the economy—and corruption!— and diagnose what's wrong in America today. I just don't know how they could do it," she says, then added with a little snark creeping in to her voice, "Good luck…"

[Read: Elizabeth Warren Doesn't Want to Be Hillary 2.0]

The long photo line was done, and she was still standing on the small platform where she'd just done an hour of a town hall in front of 300 people. They'd come out on a cold night to the (naturally) Common Man Restaurant, which offers free crackers and cheese out of big crock jars up front of the dining room, and New Hampshire beer on tap. She'd started by laying out her three-part pitch to change Washington, change the economy, and change the rules of politics—and not just "little pieces around the margins, little nibbles here," she said, but "big structural change in this country." She'd ended with another thread of her stump speech, placing herself in an American tradition that connects abolitionism, women's suffrage and the Civil Rights movement—"they organized, they persisted, they made real change."

Warren would like this all to end with her and her husband and the dog she's slowly making famous by attaching a body camera to his leash all moving into the White House. But even if she doesn't, she has a vision for what she wants her campaign to do in changing the rules for corporations and lobbyists, and in changing how her party works—beginning with how it picks a nominee.

Some campaigns decided that they weren't quite ready to announce, others decided that there were specific advantages to waiting. Between them, there was a lot of snickering at Warren's timing, announcing her  exploratory committee early in the morning on New Year's Eve. Most people were on vacation or sleeping in, they said. What a ridiculous time to announce, they said.

But now that the dam of Democrats is about to burst open, the result of Warren's decision is that she had two weeks largely to herself to help define what's ahead for all of them.

"If Democrats are going to win and make real change, we've got to build a movement, and that happens at the grassroots. It doesn't happen from super PACs, or self-funding billionaires or corporate money. It happens because we built it one person, one $10 contribution at a time all across this country," she said.

[Read: There's a Reason Many Voters Have Negative Views of Warren—But the Press Won't Tell You Why]

Of course, that's a pitch that describes exactly the campaign she wants to run, and which cuts at the campaigns that some of her strongest competitors may try to mount.

Until Kirsten Gillibrand walked out onto Stephen Colbert's set on Tuesday and then flew out to Iowa for the weekend, the only competition for attention among the expected heavyweights was Kamala Harris, doing a mostly biography-focused tour to promote the book she obviously wrote as a placeholder for launching her campaign. (Julián Castro announced last weekend and was here in New Hampshire on Wednesday, and John Delaney was campaigning here on Saturday after flying in from Iowa, but so far, neither has generated nearly as much steam).

For Warren, that was two weeks dominating media coverage, two weeks getting crowds of hundreds who probably would have showed up for whoever the first heavyweight to go to Iowa was.

That gave her first crack at questions that had dominated early speculation and coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary race: when was it going to get started already? What were people going to do about taking super PAC money? What happens when Donald Trump tweets his way in? What happens when people bring up Hillary Clinton? How are people going to handle women running this time around? How open are campaigns going to be to reporters chasing them down for comment on everything?

[Read: Elizabeth Warren Illuminates the Left's Foreign-Policy Divide]

While the rest of her opponents have been huddling, locking down the final logistics around their launches, Warren was laying down markers. She even was the first 2020 candidate to get on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, played by Kate McKinnon.

It's early yet. Over a year until the Iowa caucuses. A lot of campaign to go. But she's hoping these early moves matter because she was the one who got to answer first.

Now no candidate can get away with accepting super PAC cash without seeming to be going against Warren, and the standard she's set. No reporter can credibly write anymore about "likability" or echoes of Clinton—even her prospective opponents leapt to Warren's defense when those topics, suffused with suggestions of sexism, became part of the early coverage of her exploratory committee announcement.

Not just that: as big of a flop as the roll-out of her DNA test in October was, and as much as it remains a topic for the chattering class, the issue has been neutralized among her opponents, at least for the moment. Trump's greeted her entry into the race with two tweets. One mocked her percentage of Cherokee ancestry, and the other used his racist "Pocahontas" nickname to write that she should have livestreamed "from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb." They will make it next to impossible for any of her opponents to pick at that controversy, or employ similarly low-ball politics about her or anyone else, without seeming to play into Trump's hopes to divide Democrats.

[Read: Trump, Warren, and America's Racial Essentialism]

Along the way, Warren's decision not to respond to the cyberbully-in-chief, and instead pause before dismissing and condemning him, has laid out a path that Democratic voters have been hungering for even if Democratic tweeters haven't been.

"I can't stop Donald Trump from hurling the racial insults that he throws out on a regular basis, but what I can do is decide how I'm going to live my life," she told a man on Friday in New Hampshire who was clearly a fan, but also clearly frustrated that she let herself be drawn in by Trump on this.

After years of dodging almost every reporter or interview request that came her way, she's now also trying to make a point about media engagement to her competitors, deliberately appealing to reporters in the most basic, but often most effective, way: talking to them. She only spent a few minutes in front of the microphones that assembled outside her house the day the announcement video went out, but that was enough to make an impression on a press corps battered by Trump's abusive behavior toward the press, and by Clinton's dripping disdain and distance for all of 2016.

There's an energy bubbling off Warren's already growing team. They know she's had a good couple of weeks, they like the crowds she's getting, and they like hearing about each set of new staff hires that have been impressing even skeptics in the political world for the level of skill and experience she's been able to nail down.

That energy is also showing up in the response Warren has been generating more widely. Since she announced her exploratory committee, 50 percent of the people who've donated to her campaign had never donated to her before, according to Warren campaign aides. Her digital staff, which by last year was already bigger than what most of the other campaigns will be able to assemble for months still, has been going through the data on those new people and comparing their issue concerns to the people on their existing list.

The size of that list of emails and phone numbers is a closely kept secret, and her aides declined to say how much it's grown since New Year's. But right after her announcement video went out, they turned the key on a personalized texting operation. It centered on existing supporters in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada that has already begun generating huge response from donors, sign-ups from volunteers and feedback on issues.

From climate change to health care to voters' struggles to pay their rent, Warren addresses issues with serious policy analysis. But so far, none of her prescriptions have become as much of a sensation as the tweets about her dog, to the point that they've looked into starting a separate Twitter account just for him.

At the town hall, another man asked how she expected to win, given the size and dynamics of this field. "I'd like to be able to tell you I have this really great strategy worked out," Warren said, leaning in to the aw-shucks, never thought she'd be here running for president story she tells. "I don't."

After it ended, when her staff brought her over to the waiting reporters for three and a half minutes of questions, she seemed surprised when I asked her how she thought the race was about to change with a much more crowded field.  

"I don't know. I just don't have any idea," she said.

Afterward, speaking just the two of us, she insisted that was really the case. Politics? Strategy? Competition? Nah, she insisted.

"I'm in this race because everything I've fought for, for pretty much my whole grown-up life intersects with this moment in time, and the only thing I can do is be true to that fight," she told me. "I'm explaining why I'm in this fight. I can't be in this fight for any other reason. This is the heart of what's happening in America."

Why There Are No Nuclear Airplanes

Posted: 20 Jan 2019 04:00 AM PST

The U.S. Navy recently asked Congress for $139 billion to update its fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Unlike "conventional" submarines, which need to surface frequently, nuclear submarines can cruise below the sea at high speeds for decades without ever needing to refuel. Defense planners expect that the new submarines will run on one fueling for the entirety of deployment—up to a half century.

[Read: What it felt like to test the first submarine nuclear reactor]

The advantages of nuclear submarines over their conventional cousins raise a question about another component of the military arsenal: Why don't airplanes run on nuclear power?

The reasons are many. Making a nuclear reactor flightworthy is difficult. Shielding it from spewing dangerous radiation into the bodies of its crew might be impossible. During the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear apocalypse led to surprisingly pragmatic plans, engineers proposed to solve the problem by hiring elderly Air Force crews to pilot the hypothetical nuclear planes, because they would die before radiation exposure gave them fatal cancers.


The Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi had introduced the idea of nuclear flight as early as 1942, while serving on the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. As World War II drew to a close, the United States began work to realize Fermi's dream of nuclear-powered flight. From 1946 until 1961, vast teams of engineers, strategists, and administrators toiled in a whirl of blueprints, white papers, and green bills in an attempt to get the idea off the ground.

The advantages of nuclear-powered airplanes mirrored those of nuclear submarines. Nuclear submarines did not need to surface for fuel, and nuclear airplanes would not need to land. A 1945 proposal at the Department of War (now the Department of Defense) promised, "With nuclear propulsion, supersonic flight around the world becomes an immediate possibility." A secret Atomic Energy Commission memorandum now held in the Eisenhower Presidential Library explained the promise of nuclear flight in a more measured tone. Nuclear energy "should make possible ranges of one or more times around the world with a single loading of the reactor." The idea of a nuclear-powered bomber became a strategic dream for the military; it could stay aloft for days to cover any number of targets throughout the world, before returning to the United States without refueling.

[Read: The true story of the government programs that tried to build an atomic heart]

The problem of refueling airplanes occupied many Cold War minds. Bombers would strain to reach their targets and strand in enemy territory with too little fuel to return home if they flew on only a single tank. Aerial refueling offered a solution, but a poor one. Planes caught in the act over enemy territory were prone to anti-aircraft fire. Evasive maneuvers would uncouple the two planes, prevent successful refueling, and endanger the mission.

To minimize the need for dangerous refueling, the United States relied on a global network of Air Force bases. Such bases—usually close to the U.S.S.R.—allowed planes to reach their targets and return on a single tank of fuel. Procuring the bases, however, proved expensive and unpopular. At one point, the United States offered $100 million in gold to purchase Greenland from Denmark and gain a new strategic location for bases. In the end, Denmark decided to keep Greenland, but the proposal illustrates the lengths the United States had to go to compensate for its planes' limited range. A nuclear-powered airplane could avoid all of these issues.

But nuclear power came with its own problems. The reactor would have to be small enough to fit onto an aircraft, which meant it would release far more heat than a standard one. The heat could risk melting the reactor—and the plane along with it, sending a radioactive hunk of liquid metal careening toward Earth.

The problem of shielding pilots from the reactor's radiation proved even more difficult. What good would a plane be that killed its own pilots?

To protect the crew from radioactivity, the reactor needed thick and heavy layers of shielding. But to take off, the plane needed to be as light as possible. Adequate shielding seemed incompatible with flight.

Still, engineers theorized that the weight saved from needing no fuel might be enough to offset the reactor and its shielding. The United States spent 16 years tinkering with the idea, to no avail. The Soviet Union pursued nuclear aircraft propulsion too, running up against the same problems. By 1958, an infamous article in Aviation Week, mostly made-up, claimed that the Soviets were already testing a functional nuclear airplane. Shortly after, President Dwight Eisenhower counseled calm and denounced the article as contrived. A representative of the Soviet program explained that "if we had flown an atomic-powered aircraft, we would be very proud of the achievement and would let everyone know about it." Unfortunately for atomic-flight enthusiasts, both countries had little to brag about.

Neither program managed to overcome the problems of shielding and weight. The development of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the 1950s, moreover, weakened the case for developing nuclear-powered bombers. The nuclear airplane became redundant from a military point of view, as ICBMs avoided the problems of manned nuclear flight. They had only one-way missions, needed no refueling, and did not have pilots to shield. Without a military justification for atomic flight, funding withered away.


The nuclear airplane began to die a slow death. In the late 1950s, the Eisenhower administration cut the program's budget. Nikita Khrushchev slashed funding for the Soviet equivalent. By 1961, both countries had dismantled their projects for manned nuclear-powered airplanes. Atomic flight seemed doomed.

In a last-ditch effort to keep the nuclear airplane on the table, military strategists considered a radical solution: They could use pilots closer to death. The Air Force would use crews old enough to die of natural causes before the harmful effects of radiation could show up and thus, the logic went, sidestep the shielding problem. As the nuclear-policy expert Leonard Weiss explained in an article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the proposal would have made radiation shielding unnecessary and decreased the weight of the plane significantly. It might have let the nuclear airplane take flight.

[Read: The 60-year downfall of nuclear power in the U.S. has left a huge mess]

The image of a corps of irradiated elderly pilots patrolling the world's skies ready to unleash nuclear catastrophe drew on a form of ageism that pervaded Cold War apocalypse planning. In civil-defense plans for surviving a nuclear apocalypse, the old were always sacrificed first. Joe Martin at the University of Cambridge's department of history and philosophy of science explained to me that Herman Kahn, one of the purported inspirations for Dr. Strangelove, made a ranking of food uses after nuclear catastrophe that reflected this Cold War age bias. The scale ranged from grade A (high-quality food reserved for pregnant women) to grade E (radioactive food only good for feeding animals). People over the age of 50 composed group D. Kahn put it bluntly in his book On Thermonuclear War: "Most of these people would die of other causes before they got cancer."

Even that shocking proposal failed to save the nuclear airplane. The Eisenhower administration concluded that the program was unnecessary, dangerous, and too expensive. On March 28, 1961, the newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy canceled the program. Proposals for nuclear-powered airplanes have popped up since then, but the fear of radiation and the lack of funding have kept all such ideas down.

The Air Force still maintains its affinity for older pilots. It has the highest enlistee age limit of any branch in the military, and it increased that limit to 39 years old in 2014. Some pilots could be much older. Last year, in response to a shortage of nearly 2,000 pilots, the Air Force beckoned back retired service members as part of the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty (VRRAD) program. VRRAD gives 1,000 former airmen and airwomen the option to return to active duty, possibly including combat duty. Referring to the placements of these retirees, an Air Force spokesperson said last year, "Everything is on the table." Almost everything, at least: None of these pilots will ever fly a nuclear aircraft.

The Equal Rights Amendment Strikes Again

Posted: 20 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Four decades ago, I was among the crowd jammed into the gallery of the Virginia House of Delegates chamber as the members of that august body refused to hold a vote on the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Conservative Republicans and Democrats had bottled the measure up in committee; supporters sought a vote to bring it directly to the floor.

They fell short; the ERA effort in Virginia seemed to have died.

That was a very different General Assembly and a very different Virginia. On January 15, 2019, the Virginia Senate voted to approve the ERA. The resolution now goes back to the House that rejected it 40 years ago.

If you're confused about the ERA's status, that's only natural. Until recently, the Equal Rights Amendment itself—the heart of it says, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex"—seemed like a dead letter. When Congress proposed the amendment in 1972, the resolution said it would become effective if approved by three-quarters of state legislatures "within seven years."

[Read: The American woman who wrote equal rights into Japan's constitution]

At the time, ratification seemed a foregone conclusion; both parties had supported the ERA for nearly 20 years. But the nascent religious right mobilized to block it. Ratification stalled at 35 states—three short of the three-fourths majority required. In 1978, Congress passed a new resolution extending the deadline to June 30, 1982—but no new states ratified.

Since then, women's advocates have repeatedly tried to get Congress to adopt a new ERA resolution and begin ratification anew—to no avail.

But advocates also formulated a new path to ratification, which they dubbed the "three-state strategy." It is this: (1) Win ratification in three of the 15 states that have not yet ratified the amendment—thus bringing the total number of ratifications to 38, and then (2) Win passage of a congressional resolution retroactively extending the deadline.

Step one is nearly complete; the Nevada legislature approved the amendment in 2017, and Illinois did so in 2018. If Virginia approves it this time, the three-state strategists will ask Congress to pass a statute proclaiming that the measure has been approved by 38 states.

Then the real fight will start.

The "new" strategy is actually 25 years old. It has its roots in 1992, after the adoption of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment.

Quick! What is the Twenty-Seventh Amendment? Don't worry, nobody remembers: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened." It means that one Congress can't vote itself a pay raise; it can only raise (or lower) the pay of the next Congress, thus requiring the members to face voters at the polls before pocketing extra cash.

Although this congressional-pay amendment entered the Constitution in 1992, it had actually been proposed by Congress two centuries earlier, in 1789. It passed through both chambers and went to the states. There it disappeared, ratified by only six legislatures.

[Read: How the U.S. Congress keeps getting paid to do nothing]

Flash forward to 1982, when a University of Texas undergraduate named Gregory Watson wrote a term paper suggesting that citizens could still push the pay amendment to ratification. His instructor gave him a C, but Watson devoted himself to the project for the next decade, until on May 9, 1992, Michigan became the 39th state to sign on.

Final ratification took place amid a national outcry against Congress after a (by today's standards) very mild scandal involving generous check-cashing privileges at a bank for members of Congress. Public opinion was such that no member had the nerve to obstruct it. So on May 18, 1992, the archivist of the United States certified the amendment as part of the Constitution, and both chambers later affirmed his decision.

Note that Article V of the Constitution doesn't even mention time limits, and they didn't come into use until the 20th century. In 1921, the Supreme Court held that Congress could put such limits into a proposed amendment—but not that it is required to do so. Of 20th-century amendments, the Eighteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-First, and Twenty-Second Amendments included limits in the text of the proposed amendment. The Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Third Amendments included no time limit at all. And the drafters of the ERA, by design or luck, did not put the seven-year time limit into the text of the proposed amendment itself—instead, as in three other 20th-century amendments, it is in the resolution language proposing the text.

All of this has led the ERA's supporters to wonder: If the congressional-pay amendment could come back from the dead after two centuries, why not the ERA after a mere decade and a half? Since the ERA limit has already been changed once by Congress, why can't another Congress change it again, retroactively?

The main theoretical work behind the three-state strategy is a student note by three University of Richmond students published in 1997. That's a bit thin, but so was Watson's term paper, and that led to the Twenty-Seventh Amendment. In fact, the process of constitutional adoption and amendment has since 1787 been marked by desperate improvisations and sudden power plays.

The delegates to Philadelphia weren't supposed to write a new constitution, but they did so and sprang it on the public without warning. The Articles of Confederation weren't supposed to be amended except by unanimous vote of the states; the Philadelphia delegates decided instead that the new constitution would be valid after nine of the 13 states signed on. The Harvard Law professor Michael J. Klarman recently published a book on this process called The Framers' Coup. Pauline Maier's brilliant book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 details the sharp elbows Federalists used to bully the first nine state conventions into ratification. James Madison's Bill of Rights amendments, for all their grandeur, were also a partisan ploy to block Patrick Henry's campaign for a second convention that would dismantle much of the work of the first.

This pattern goes on. The Thirteenth Amendment was written by a wartime Congress without Southern members, but ratified by the North and South after Appomattox; the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted by a peacetime Congress that still excluded Southern members; the all-Northern Congress then required Southern ratification at the point of a bayonet. Church groups muscled the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) to ratification while American soldiers (who, by reputation, enjoyed a drink) were still overseas. The Twenty-Second (presidential term limits) was jammed through Congress by the Republican leadership as a petty slap at Franklin D. Roosevelt, then freshly in his grave. Adoption of the Twenty-Seventh, as we've seen, was a bit less dignified than an episode of Veep.

[Read: The students suing for the constitutional right to an education]

Toni Van Pelt, the president of the National Organization for Women, told me that NOW and a broad alliance of women's-rights groups "are really focused on Virginia." If that effort falls short, advocates will try in North Carolina and Arizona. If the amendment passes somewhere, "the legal scholars will determine" the validity of the ratification, she said.

In fact, the amendment would have to traverse two obstacles. The first would be congressional approval of a new time frame. Beyond that, after the ERA was proposed, four states that had ratified it subsequently passed resolutions of "rescission"—that is, claiming to void their ratification. Even before that, one state had included a "sunset" clause revoking its original ratification if the amendment did not gain approval by 1978. It's unclear, however, if rescission or sunset is allowable.

During the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, two state legislatures rescinded previous ratifications; Congress rejected those moves and counted the states toward ratification anyway. The idea is that Article V mentions ratification but does not mention rescission; once a state has ratified, its role in the process is at an end. (By analogy, a state can't rescind its ratification of the Constitution itself; what's done is done. However, a proposed amendment hasn't gone into effect yet. The Constitution has.)

During the extended ratification period for the ERA, a federal district judge held that Idaho's rescission was valid—and, for good measure, held that the 1978 deadline extension was unconstitutional. Before the Supreme Court could hear the case, however, the deadline passed—so the high court vacated the Idaho decision as moot.

Note that at every stage of the amendment process, it is Congress—not the courts—that takes the leading role. The language of Article V puts Congress at the center of the action, but it doesn't specify exactly how Congress should determine which amendments have been validly adopted. And Congress hasn't covered itself with glory in that regard.

In short, ratification, rescission, deadlines, and extensions are a constitutional mess, and will continue to be one. I've been trying to make sense of Article V on and off since law school, and the more I think about it, the less clear it is. Underneath the high-toned language, it's bare-knuckle politics all the way down.

The Yellow Vests Are Going to Change France. We Just Don’t Know How.

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 10:00 PM PST

PARIS—This past week, President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated a vast national debate, a kind of ongoing town hall and airing of grievances that will unfold across France for the next two months. The grand débat, as it's called, is the government's response to the "yellow vest" protest movement that began in November with citizens protesting a fuel-tax hike and has grown exponentially into a massive groundswell of popular discontent, peppered with occasional flare-ups of violence.

By organizing these discussions, which will be mediated by mayors, the government is essentially acknowledging that frustrations now run so deep that they can't be ignored. Much of the anger has been aimed at Macron, who was elected on a platform of change but has come to be seen as arrogant, imperious, and tone-deaf to the concerns of the less fortunate. The French leader didn't exactly dispel that perception when he sent an open letter to the nation outlining the themes of the debate—the environment, taxes and public spending, political representation and public services—essentially saying, "We can talk about anything you want, as long as it's what I want."

[Read: France's fuel-tax protests expose the limits of Macron's mandate]

That's one reason this national conversation may quell tensions for a while but probably won't end the yellow-vest movement for good. The gilets jaunes, so named for the roadside safety vests that drivers must keep in their vehicles at all times, are here to stay precisely because the movement is so inchoate in form, so leaderless in organization, and so diffuse in its demands. And also so successful in driving the debate. Political parties across the spectrum and labor unions have been trying to channel the movement's momentum, but so far to no avail. That puts France in uncharted political territory.

That is what makes this grand débat all the more complex. Normally, elections are held to gauge political sentiment. But how do you harness the concerns of citizens without undermining the government's own mandate, at a time when the government's only significant political opposition comes from the far right and the far left?

Some political scientists are calling Macron's approach an unprecedented step in representative democracy, a step toward greater citizen engagement and more direct democracy while still keeping France's august hierarchical structures in place. It's the country's attempt to capture some of the anger of the moment without forcing an array of issues into a Brexit-like referendum, a yes/no question whose answer doesn't solve any of the underlying problems.

The philosopher Bruno Latour this week compared France today to Britain ahead of the 2016 Brexit vote, when vague questions of national identity coalesced around membership in the European Union. The French situation has had its own elements of strange political theater, though, and Latour sees the grand débat as more of a kind of poll than a means of changing the government's program. We have "the yellow vests who don't know exactly what they want and a government that's completely incapable of listening," Latour told French radio.

As part of the national debate, citizens can register their concerns in cahiers de doléances, or grievance logs, a practice first put into use during the French Revolution. An online forum that polled citizens' concerns showed a vast range of issues: Some wanted to change unemployment compensation, or increase taxes for the rich and on second homes, or proposed the elimination of bank fees; others were upset that the government had reduced the speed limit to 80 km an hour. For his part, Macron asked his constituents to consider which public services they wouldn't mind reducing. That's something of a taboo in France, where citizens of every political persuasion rely on the state for all manner of support—the exact opposite of American-style mistrust of government.

"This grand debate is a kind of reality test," Étienne Balibar, a Marxist philosopher and scholar, said at a debate last week in Paris, where he expressed his enthusiasm about the yellow-vest movement. If the discussion unfolds the way the government hopes it will—peacefully, leading to constructive proposals that don't contradict the ones on which the government was elected—it will raise a tricky new question: What should the government do? "In what circumstances can a political power decide to choose not only to use chaos as blackmail, but to choose chaos as a political strategy?" Balibar asked.

Balibar's enthusiasm for the movement is indicative of how some on the left see in the yellow vests the potential for revolutionary promise, a chance to bring about more social equality and to increase awareness of regional inequalities—some of the same factors that led to the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump in the United States. But the yellow vests also seem to be anything and everything. Socialists see them as a way to claw back the terrain they lost to Macron's centrist La République En Marche party. The far right wants to harness the anti-government sentiment into an electoral victory in the European parliamentary elections in May. So, for that matter, does Macron's party.

Much like the Occupy movement in the United States, the yellow vests haven't transformed party politics, but they're certainly driving the conversation. And they're driving it all over the place. There's a strong social element. Demonstrators have enjoyed the conviviality of their gatherings at traffic circles and don't want the party to end. Catholic-inflected social conservatives are piling on and want to use the national debate to defend the traditional family. While some want more social justice and greater openness to migrants, others have made anti-Semitic gestures that have gone viral, entertained wild conspiracy theories in online forums, or shown disgust and even outright physical violence toward journalists from the mainstream media, raising fears that the movement is essentially veering to the far right.

There has been an undeniable current of violence, with some demonstrators smashing the windows of shops and banks, and setting fire to cars and scooters in central Paris. French police have brought more than 5,300 people in for questioning across the country since the protests began, and have sent more than 150 to jail, according to Le Monde. More than 1,700 demonstrators have been wounded since November, the paper reported, and authorities have opened 71 investigations into police violence. In Le Monde, Michelle Zancarini-Fournel, a political scientist, criticized the government for "criminalizing" dissent in ways she compared to the police crackdown during the student uprisings of May 1968.

[Read: Emmanuel Macron and the ghosts of 1968]

Macron, the first French president whose political life wasn't in some way shaped by 1968, kicked off the debate this week by meeting with 600 mayors in a gathering outside Paris, and has since been traveling the country meeting with other mayors. For hours he listened as they described problems that had been building up over decades, and he often responded with an impressive command of public-policy details. One mayor, Dominique Chauvel—a former Socialist and the mayor of Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, a town of about 300 people in Normandy—told the president she was deeply disappointed in his government and afraid France was abandoning the safety net that has been an essential part of the French social contract here for decades. "My country has men and women, young people and old people, people of all colors, all beliefs, and it leaves no one by the side of the road," she said, adding that mayors, of which France has a plethora, were the "social backstop."

Macron watched Chauvel intensely. He sat with his legs spread wide, his hands on his thighs and elbows out, as if he were huddling for a fight. He seemed at times glacial, or tired, with occasional flashes of what might have been empathy. He seemed aware that the stakes were very high. He was elected to change France, to make it easier for companies to hire employees whose taxes will prop up the system. His majority is strong, but he is surrounded by critics, and enemies. How the grand debate unfolds will define his presidency.

The Mayor of Covington, Kentucky, Explains What His City Stands For

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 09:11 PM PST

I don't know who the young man in the MAGA hat in this photo is. And I don't care to know.

His name, which the internet will inevitably turn up, really doesn't matter. It matters to his parents, of course—and to his teachers. I hope they will be reflective, and I know they should be ashamed: of this smirking young man and the scores of other (nearly all white) students from a Catholic school in Kentucky. Today, on the National Mall in Washington, they apparently mocked, harassed, and menaced a Native American man who had fought for the United States in Vietnam and who today represented both the U.S. and his Omaha nation with poise, courage, and dignity.

That man's name matters. It is Nathan Phillips.

The crowd members' names don't matter, any more than the names of their counterparts you see in the photo below, from Little Rock's Central High School in the 1950s. The young men from Covington Catholic High School should know that they will be immortalized, the way the angry young white people you see below were: as a group, a movement, a problem, beyond their identities as individuals.

If one of the priests or teachers with the Covington group today had stepped in to stop them—if even one of the students had said, "Come on, back off!"—that person would be remembered, too. But there is no sign that anyone, student or teacher or parent or priest, did.

Black students integrating Little Rock Central High School, 1957.  (AP)

Teenagers do stupid things, especially teenaged boys. I was once a teenaged boy, and my wife and I raised two sons.

But stupidity doesn't have to mean hatred and bigotry.  Someone taught these young people—those in Arkansas in the 1950s, those from Kentucky today—to behave the way they did.

Parents, priests, teachers, neighbors—someone taught these young men.


Here is another person who should be remembered: the mayor of Covington, Kentucky, Joe Meyer, who within hours of the Mall incident released a statement saying that the actions of the young people on the video were the opposite of his city's values.

His statement is worth reading in full. A sample:

Because of the actions of people who live in Northern Kentucky, our region is being challenged again to examine our core identities, values, and beliefs. Regardless of what exact town we live in, we need to ask ourselves whether behavior like this DOES represent who we are and strive to be. Is this what our schools teach? Are these the beliefs that we as parents model and condone?

Is this the way we want the rest of the nation and the world to see us?

In answer, let me—as Covington's mayor—be absolutely clear: No. The videos being shared across the nation do NOT represent the core beliefs and values of this City.

Covington is a diverse community, in areas of race, national origin, ethnicity, religious preference, sexual orientation, and income…

We're not perfect. More progress needs to be made, and we will continue to work diligently on making it.

In the meantime, Covington is proud of being a welcoming City where bigotry, discrimination, and hatred will not be tolerated.

Congratulations to Meyer, who I hope more fully represents the values of his community than today's mob did.


12:30am EST update: Roughly twelve hours after the original incident and widely spread video, some right-wing sources have argued that the "real" story is the opposite of what has been reported, and that Nathan Phillips was in fact aggressively approaching the young men.

I wasn't there, and so I can't say first-hand. But watch the widely available long videos of the events, complete with students doing "tomahawk-chop" chants while Nathan Phillips is singing, and in other ways behaving as if they are mocking him. Anything is possible, but see if this looks as if he is taking advantage of them.

Trump’s ‘Major’ Border Deal Is No Deal for Democrats

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 04:39 PM PST

The 29th day of the partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, has been virtually indistinguishable from the first.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump entered the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House to reveal the "major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border" he had teased on Twitter on Friday. In some respects, it could be viewed as a major step toward ending the shutdown, with Trump outlining a new proposal to break a logjam that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers without pay. And yet in other ways—with Democratic leaders roundly rejecting the plan before it was even aired—it may as well have never happened.

The White House proposed three years of protection for two categories of immigrants. The first group comprises about 700,000 young adults, known as "Dreamers," who were brought to the United States as children without authorization; they had been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era policy that Trump sought to end before federal courts intervened. The second category, temporary protected status, covers people who were allowed to move to the United States after disasters hit their home country; Trump has similarly sought to cut back these protections, only to see his actions stopped in court.

In addition to three years of protection for Dreamers and TPS recipients, Trump also proposed $800 million for humanitarian assistance, presumably to the Central American countries where poverty and violence push migrants to leave for the United States; $805 million for drug-detection technology at the border; an additional 2,750 Border Patrol and law-enforcement agents; 75 new immigration-judge teams to reduce the backlog of nearly 1 million cases; and a system for Central American minors to apply for asylum from their home country.

And perhaps most important, the White House's offer includes $5.7 billion for the "strategic deployment of physical barriers, or a wall"—the price tag that in many ways catalyzed the current impasse.

"This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea," Trump said. "These are steel barriers in high-priority locations," covering about another 230 miles of the southern border.

Trump cast his proposal as a medium-term stopgap that buys time for Congress to negotiate a full-scale immigration-reform package, the sort of compromise that has eluded lawmakers for more than a decade. (In February, Democrats offered $25 billion for wall funding in return for a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, but the deal crumbled when Trump insisted upon further cuts to legal immigration.) A source familiar with the ongoing negotiations said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have the latest White House proposal ready for a floor vote by next week.

But a proposal that offers only temporary protections for DACA and TPS recipients—without a path to citizenship—has historically been viewed as a nonstarter by most Democrats, in part because it was Trump himself who has tried to revoke protections for both groups. And sure enough, as details of the president's offer leaked out ahead of his address on Saturday, Democrats were quick to pour cold water on it. "Initial reports make clear that his proposal is a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people's lives," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement before Trump's remarks. "For one thing, this proposal does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports."

"It's clear the President realizes that by closing the government and hurting so many American workers and their families, he has put himself and the country in an untenable position," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement following the president's address. "Unfortunately, he keeps putting forward one-sided and ineffective remedies. There's only way out: open up the government, Mr. President, and then Democrats and Republicans can have a civil discussion and come up with bipartisan solutions."

Trump's offer changes nothing, Democrats concluded. They remained firm in their demand that the president first reopen the government before entertaining further talks on immigration policy. "His 'major announcement' was just the exact same racist demand for a wall," said one House aide, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. "Let his legacy be two more years of closed government if he won't be reasonable."

But Republicans were nonplussed by Democrats' swift refusal. According to multiple GOP lawmakers and aides, party leaders are newly confident that blame for the shutdown—which polling thus far has shown sits mostly with the president—will shift to Democratic leaders. The way Republicans see it, the White House is attempting to engage in good-faith negotiations with a party whose members still refuse to come to the table (quite literally, they point out, reiterating that moderate House Democrats all rebuffed Trump's lunch invitation to discuss the shutdown last week). The onus, they said, is now on Democrats either to advance Trump's proposal or to counter it with their own—simply rebuking it, they feel, is no longer politically viable.

"The question they never answer is: What is their offer, and when will they come back to the table to deliver it?" Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, a moderate Republican who engaged in talks with the White House last week, told The Atlantic.

And even conservative lawmakers, who've traditionally been a hard sell on legislative deals that include protections for DACA recipients, praised the president for attempting to move negotiations forward. "This is the latest and most significant step yet of POTUS showing his willingness to negotiate and compromise with Democrats on the issue of wall funding," the House Freedom Caucus member Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a close ally of Trump's, tweeted. "At this point, if Democrats refuse to come to the table, it will show they are not at all serious about solving this impasse."

The source familiar with the negotiations told The Atlantic that the White House's offer began to come together shortly after Pelosi proposed postponing Trump's State of the Union address, originally scheduled to take place on January 29. It was then that McConnell, the source said, urged Trump to announce a comprehensive offer to end the shutdown—and quickly. "The leader said to POTUS, 'Start thinking about what you want to do to shake things up.' Because it was clear to him then that Democrats just weren't going to move."

So on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence and the senior adviser Jared Kushner met with McConnell in his Capitol Hill office to begin ironing out the proposal. The source said the meeting was publicized intentionally, as a way to showcase the White House's continued efforts to reach a solution in the midst of the standstill.

But even in the lead-up to Saturday's remarks, Democrats felt that the administration's efforts were disingenuous, as they'd rejected similar offers from the administration in the past. And several took issue with the president framing the proposal as a bipartisan solution, when Democrats hadn't been consulted on it beforehand.

"We're bad at negotiating, but we're not that bad," said one House Democratic staffer. If the president had instead offered a more permanent solution—say, a pledge to sign the DREAM Act, a measure first introduced in 2001 that would allow undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the military to eventually gain legal status—Democrats might have been on board, the source said.

Saturday concluded as yet another day in which several things happened—a televised address, a flurry of statements from lawmakers and aides—but nothing changed. Ultimately, for all the dressings of a shiny new proposal, the White House's request for $5.7 billion for a border wall stayed firm. And it's unclear whether Democrats plan to respond to Trump's offer with a proposal of their own, or whether their demand that the White House reopen the government sans a new immigration policy remains absolute, like their opposition to the wall.

Early signs indicate that it will.

"Democrats," as one senior House Democratic aide told The Atlantic, "are not willing to negotiate at gunpoint."

The President’s Hostage Attempt Is Going Miserably Wrong

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 03:56 PM PST

President Donald Trump is trapped. He shut the government to impose his will on the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. That plan has miserably failed. Instead, Trump has found himself caught in the trap he supposed he had set for his opponents.

Now he is desperately seeking an exit.

Trump attempted Exit One on January 8. He spoke that evening to the nation from the Oval Office, hoping to mobilize public opinion behind him, pressing the Democratic leadership of the House to yield to him. That hope was miserably disappointed. Surveys post-speech found that Trump had swayed only 2 percent of TV viewers. In the 10 days since the speech, Trump's approval ratings have dipped to about the lowest point in his presidency. The supposedly solid Trump base has measurably softened.

Having failed to convince the public, Trump is now trying Exit Two. This idea is even more harebrained than the last, if that is even possible. Instead of appealing in prime time to the whole nation, Trump on Saturday afternoon advanced a detailed set of proposals intended to shift a critical mass of backbench Democrats to break with their leadership and deal directly with him. You don't need to do much more than articulate the idea out loud to appreciate its utter unrealism.

The Democratic majority is newly elected and highly cohesive. Why on earth would any appreciable number of Democrats break away from their leadership to do business as individuals with a president none of them trusts about an issue none of them thinks should be negotiable, reopening the government? They will not do it, and it should have been obviously predictable from the start that they would not do it. Trump could not even get moderate Democrats to come have lunch with him at the White House this week. How could he imagine that a TV talk would entice them to break ranks and destroy their own political future within their party?

The president will gain some immediate validation from his closed information system. Fox News, and talk radio, and MAGA Twitter will rant enjoyably about how mean it is for Democrats to reject Trump's latest self-help scheme. That will be nice for the president to hear. But Fox News, and talk radio, and MAGA Twitter cannot protect him from the real-world consequences of the shutdown he forced. They cannot erase the video showing Trump proudly talking about how he would be the one to do it. They cannot sustain his poll numbers among the large majority of America that is non-Fox, non-MAGA.

The sometimes Trump ally Senator Marco Rubio tweeted Saturday afternoon that it is not reasonable for Democrats to demand unconditional surrender by the president. But it was Trump who rejected the path of compromise when he shut down the government.

The shutdown was a demand for unconditional surrender. Unfortunately for him, the president lacks the political realism to recognize that he doesn't have the clout to impose that surrender. He's the one who will now have to climb down, and very soon, probably within days. The end of a hostage taking is not a surrender. But it will surely feel that way to the hostage taker—and deservedly, too.

What It’s Like for Secular, Liberal Pro-lifers at the March for Life

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 12:27 PM PST

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Friday morning, a few hours before the start of the March for Life—the 46th-annual event held to commemorate the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision and to call for its repeal—banners waved above the heads of some 60 people gathered on the wet, slushy grounds of the National Mall. Consistent Life Network: … End Abortion, End Poverty, End Racism, End War, read one. Secular Pro-Life: For the embryology textbook tells me so, read another—a sly riff on the "for the Bible tells me so" refrain of the Christian hymn "Jesus Loves Me." Protesters carrying signs (Destroy the patriarchy, not the preborn) and wearing buttons (War is not pro-life) stood in the cold listening as a teal-haired atheist with a nose ring addressed the crowd that had gathered: Why, she asked, if it is wrong to kill a person who'd been born already, would it be okay to kill a person who hadn't yet?

The #ProScienceProLife meet-up, this year's title for the gathering held annually ahead of the March for Life, served as a summit of sorts for groups such as Rehumanize International, the Consistent Life Network, Secular Pro-life, and Democrats for Life of America. These groups espouse something called the "consistent life" or "whole life" ethic—the belief that human life should be protected from violence and killing from the moment of conception onwards. So while these groups often protest abortion, they also protest police brutality, torture, war, human trafficking, and the separation of immigrant families.

The meet-up brings together some of the nontraditional pro-life groups at the march—that is, the nonconservative and nonreligious organizations—to hear a slate of speeches, many of them from nonreligious or left-leaning pro-life leaders. But Rehumanize International's communications director, Herb Geraghty, takes care to explain that these aren't meant to be counterprogramming efforts: "When we host these meet-ups, we're not protesting the March for Life," he says. He describes these events and the presentations given at them as supplementary to the main rally.

At the March for Life, and in the pro-life movement generally, Christianity is abundant; at this year's March for Life Expo, for example, held the day before the march, a majority of the tables set up at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C., belonged to churches or Christian groups. Conservatism, too, runs strong in the pro-life movement, and in recent years, so has support for Donald Trump's administration: In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence became the first sitting vice president to address the March for Life rally (held annually just before the march begins), and last year President Trump became the first sitting president to do so when he appeared at the event via live-stream. (This year, Pence spoke at a dinner following the march.)

[Read more: Abortion in American history]

But despite what the popular narrative might suggest—that the pro-life side of the abortion debate is conservative and the pro-choice side is liberal, and the two sides don't like each other—secular and left-leaning pro-lifers I spoke with said they felt welcome at the March for Life, and that most of the time they feel welcome in the pro-life movement in general, too.

They do, of course, know they're outnumbered. While I spoke with one marcher with a Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) sign, a stranger bedecked in pro-life memorabilia approached him, exclaimed, "You're a Democrat? Hallelujah!" and demanded a photo of him holding his sign.

"We're kind of like the counterculture within the movement," laughed Jongeun Lee, 32, another protester with the DFLA.

But as Aimee Murphy, the executive director of Rehumanize International, explained to me, groups that espouse the consistent-life ethic are the black sheep at just about any rally or protest they attend—and they're used to it. "We go to anti-war marches, to immigrant- and refugee-rights events like the ones this past summer, and we're like, 'Okay, we're here in support of the mission of this march,'" she says. "There'll be a group [nearby] that advocates for abortion, or advocates for the right to suicide, and we're just like, 'Eh, well. We have common ground on this issue.'"

"Movements are going to be fought with people coming together on one issue and having differences in other places," Murphy added. "We come together where we can."

Secular pro-life groups tend to put special emphasis on scientific evidence to support the idea that a human life begins at conception. When I spoke with Murphy last week, she told me she was heartened by the theme chosen for this year's March for Life, "Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-science." At the time, the March for Life had not yet unveiled its full slate of speakers for the pre-march rally, and Murphy was hopeful "that maybe one of our atheist pro-life friends will have the chance to speak from the stage, or at least be up there." In recent years, the lineup of speakers at the March for Life rally has mostly consisted of politicians (largely Republican), faith leaders, and sports and entertainment personalities. (Ultimately, no speakers on the March for Life stage on Friday publicly professed themselves to be atheists, but Murphy said she was at least pleased to see that a doctor, Kathi Aultman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, had made it into the mix.)

[Read: Science is giving the pro-life movement a boost]

The lineup of speakers did, however, include an equal number of Republican politicians and Democratic politicians this year (two each)—which Bill Samuel, the former president of the Consistent Life Network, sees as a positive development. Samuel, 71, has been attending the March for Life for more than 15 years, and he credits the march's current leadership with making nonconservative and nonreligious pro-life groups feel welcome at the event. There was a time, Samuel says, when pro-life Democrats and pro-life feminists were made to feel unwelcome at the march, but that's changed since 2012, when Jeanne Mancini became its president. "The march is still relatively conservative," Samuel says, but he believes the organizers "see the need for broadening." (The march's official policy, according to Mancini, is that it "unites pro-life groups who wish to stand up for the unborn. We are nonsectarian and nonpartisan, and welcome anyone who peacefully advocates for this cause. We only exclude groups who advocate for violence of any kind, including abortion, which is violence in the womb.")

The inclusion of Ben Shapiro, the founder of the conservative website The Daily Wire and the host of the podcast The Ben Shapiro Show, on the rally's lineup angered some left-leaning supporters of the pro-life cause; Shapiro is a popular figure among far-right conservatives, and a recent op-ed in The Washington Post warned that Shapiro's invitation to the main stage of the March for Life would alienate nonconservatives from the event. (Shapiro also made headlines Friday morning when he proclaimed that if he were given the chance to go back in time and kill baby Hitler, because of his pro-life beliefs, he would not.)

Some secular pro-lifers I spoke with could see the logic of inviting a popular figure with passionate pro-life views to speak at the rally. But others were less than thrilled about Shapiro's presence. For one thing, they didn't love that Shapiro, who recorded an episode of his podcast from the main stage, often referred to supporters of abortion rights as "the left." Geraghty, Rehumanize's communications director, referred to himself in conversation as a "leftist"; other pro-life protesters I spoke with described themselves as left-leaning or progressive. But as Josh Stanton, a 23-year-old attending the march who also supports causes such as Black Lives Matter, pointed out, derogatorily conflating "the right" and "the left" with "pro-life" and "pro-choice," respectively, is pretty common now, "on both sides."

Xavier Bisits, 24, who attended the march with the DFLA, said he had "a problem" with Shapiro's involvement. "I think we would say that his claim to be pro-life is not consistent with the other things that we support," Bisits said. For instance, he doesn't believe Shapiro supports "what I think is necessary intervention to support human life in other contexts. Things like government support for women who are struggling to find housing, which is obviously one of the biggest issues that women in crisis pregnancies are facing." (Shapiro did not respond to a request for comment.)

Still, most of the secular, left-leaning pro-lifers I spoke with agreed that they felt included and welcome at the March for Life event on Friday. Genevieve Aucoin, a 23-year-old hospice music therapist, especially appreciated the march's—and the movement's—recent pivot to science. "I don't think that abortion will be ended by religious proselytization. I think that it will be ended by making arguments that appeal to everyone," she said. "If my argument is based on what God says, okay. But not everyone believes in God, and not everyone believes God wants the same things I think God wants. I just think that going back to basic science, to human dignity, that's what can appeal to everyone—that every human has dignity."

[Read more: Personal stories of abortion made public]

And Cecilia Cervantes, a 26-year-old wearing two adjacent buttons reading Overturn Roe and Feminism: Equality for All, told me she's always felt welcome at both the March for Life and the Women's March—which in recent years she's attended back-to-back—and believes it's important to go to both, even though she doesn't feel her beliefs are perfectly represented by either's platform. "At the end of the day, you're trying to build solidarity with other people and put your message out there. Hopefully one day someone with a secular perspective or feminist perspective will be on the [March for Life] stage," she says. "You have to be at the table to be part of the conversation."

Cervantes also hopes that if she and other pro-life feminists attend enough Women's Marches, eventually women who represent pro-life groups might be invited to speak as part of the event. (The official page for the Women's March lists "open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education" as one of its foundational principles.)

Around half past 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon, Rehumanize's Murphy—in purple lipstick and a denim jacket adorned with a cartoon uterus and the words WEAPON-FREE ZONE—led her fellow secular pro-lifers down Constitution Avenue toward the Supreme Court. Cheery pop songs blared from the speaker that she and her fellow organizers rolled behind them on a cart, competing cacophonously with the singing of the black-robed men of the Polish Seminary, who were marching just a few feet away. At any moment their small, colorful crew risked losing one another in the throng. But should they drift apart, no big deal: There were long-standing plans in place to meet up later for karaoke.

As the protesters began to move forward, the marchers from the #ProScienceProLife meet-up stood out within the crowd, certainly, but they also stood squarely within it.

What Jazz in 2019 Will Sound Like

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 06:00 AM PST

The best improvised music destabilizes expectations. That could happen when a taut groove suddenly dissolves into a free-jazz breakdown, a trick the band Science Fair pulled in a set Saturday night at Winter Jazzfest in New York City. It could happen via the surfeit of groups at the festival, such as Science Fair, that are led by women in a genre that has long been male-dominated. Or it could happen when confronted with the scene a few blocks away at the Bowery Ballroom, where there were two unusual sights in the jazz world: long lines to get in, and patrons unable to resist the impulse to dance inside.

As I have written in the past, Winter Jazzfest is a good opportunity to take the temperature of jazz and improvised music each year. The festival, which is now in its 15th year, featured nearly 150 acts across 12 venues over more than a week this year, and while the stars may not be household names, they are among the brightest in the genre, including artists such as the pianist Vijay Iyer, the bassist Christian McBride, the saxophonist Gary Bartz, and the jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood. Because of the festival's sprawling size, neatly summarizing it is futile. But two big themes emerged from my own listening at this year's edition. First, while the relationship between jazz and hip-hop is decades old, there's an exciting moment today as musicians fluent in both genres produce newly mature hybrids. Second, the present and future of jazz are female. While women have been part of this music scene since the start, they've often been marginalized. Not this year, and not at this festival.

A sad milestone of 2018 was the premature death of Roy Hargrove, the trumpeter who cracked the code to melding hip-hop and jazz before any of his colleagues. Miles Davis had tried, gamely but ineffectively; Branford Marsalis got closer with Buckshot LeFonque. Hargrove rose to prominence as an avatar of orthodoxy, but he found a way to combine the genres that didn't cheapen either through his membership in the Soulquarians, the collective that played on records by the Roots, Erykah Badu, and D'Angelo around the turn of the century. (A festival event joined a Lincoln Center concert the same week in paying tribute to Hargrove.) His passing in November tacked a sad coda onto a year of noteworthy hip-hop inflected jazz, from the saxophonist and Kendrick Lamar associate Kamasi Washington's eagerly awaited, underwhelming Heaven and Earth to stronger outings including the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's Origami Harvest and the drummer Makaya McCraven's Universal Beings, both among 2018's best jazz albums. To me, these records feel more coherent and fully formed than prior excursions by musicians such as Robert Glasper—there's more grit, more grease, more groove.

McCraven played an outstanding (and oversubscribed) set at Jazzfest. On record, he takes extended jams and then edits the tape later. Live, that's not an option, but the extended jams suit the band just as well. The music is built on riffs and vamps rather than on melodies or chord structures—a concept that connects not only to hip-hop but also to Davis's oft-maligned '70s records. The result sometimes echoes sample-based music, but without sounding forced.

A series of broadly like-minded bands played the same stage over the course of a couple of nights. The Ezra Collective, a quintet of young Britons, represented London's thriving scene with a blazing set. (Nubya Garcia, a British saxophonist who has recorded with them, appeared elsewhere at the festival.) Sporting tracksuits and dropping "innits," the band mixed the same '70s Davis sound with influences from Sun Ra and the grime icon Skepta. It's not the most innovative music, but it was some of the most infectious. The drummer Chris Dave closed the festival out with guests including Pharoahe Monch and Thundercat. Another stickman, Justin Brown, played with his band Nyeusi and Georgia Anne Muldrow, an electric soul and R&B singer. Guitar and bass held down a riff while Brown gradually changed the beat underneath, tugging the music in different directions.

Something similar happened at another show later that evening in a different setting, and at a lower volume. In the packed basement at SubCulture, the saxophonist Dayna Stephens and the trumpeter Jason Palmer carried a relaxed melody, while below them the rhythm section of Science Fair worked up a frenzy. The band was one of two acts to feature the pianist Carmen Staaf and Allison Miller, a fidgety, funky drummer with a playful sense of humor and an ear for catchy tunes and band names. (Miller and Staaf co-lead Science Fair, which produced another of 2018's best; Miller and the violinist Jenny Scheinman front Parlour Game, which also appeared at the festival, while another Miller project is called Boom Tic Boom.)

Across the street at the Sheen Center, the venerable keyboardist and singer Amina Claudine Myers performed a set of classic gospel songs with a trio of vocalists. Mary Halvorson, who has solidified her position as the dominant guitarist of her generation, performed on the same stage. If last year's album Code Girl is at times more interesting than it is strictly enjoyable, its surprises make the effort worthwhile. Live, however, it became clear just how hard Halvorson's quintet—which includes the omnipresent, omnivorous young trumpeter Adam O'Farrill and the drummer Tomas Fujiwara—can swing.

Even more uncompromising than Halvorson's set was the saxophonist Lea Bertucci's. Her latest album is titled Metal Aether, and it's hard to summon a better description than that. Performing alone, with an alto saxophone, a laptop, and some effects pedals, Bertucci performed a series of minimalist drones and overtones. A horn note would emerge, warp slightly, crescendo dissonantly, then fade. The effect was awesome, in the biblical sense: transfixing, impressive, and at times nearly unbearable.

Nothing about shows featuring Miller, Myers, Halvorson, or Bertucci felt especially unusual per se. Together, they show the wide spectrum of types of improvised music that are thriving today. But they were also all led by women. Although women have long distinguished themselves musically and criticized sexism in the genre—Science Fair paid tribute to one pioneer, Mary Lou Williams, with a tune called "MLW"—the jazz world has recently grappled more openly with these problems. As many of the festival's acts showed, female composers, bandleaders, and players are at the center of the music. And this was only a sampling of the festival's bill. In addition to Garcia, the bassist and singer Meshell Ndegeocello was an artist in residence. Jaimie Branch, an offbeat trumpeter from Chicago, performed in her duo, Anteloper, and also led a late-night jam spotlighting the current efflorescence of jazz in the Windy City.

I saw at least a half-dozen other shows that deserve notice, including the innovative big band Big Heart Machine; a piano duet of Iyer and Craig Taborn; and back-to-back sets of the oddball Chicago composer Ben LaMar Gay and the Gnawa-inflected jams of Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society. On the festival's last night, J. D. Allen welcomed his fellow tenor saxophonist David Murray for a high-energy blowout. As the set wrapped up, Allen shouted, "I had fun. I hope y'all had fun!" It would have been hard to do anything else.

The Tricky Ethics of Transplants for Addicts

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 04:20 AM PST

"How many of you think we should do liver transplants for alcoholics?"

About half the hands were slowly raised, while the other members of the class looked around nervously. These were third-year medical students, and I was giving my monthly lecture on organ transplantation.

"How many of you think the potential recipient should have six months of absolute sobriety before being offered a transplant?"

This time, the majority raised their hands, and a look of confidence could be seen on most of the students' faces.

This post is adapted from Mezrich's new book.

"But what if they won't live six months? What if the patient is a 37-year-old mother of three, or a 26-year-old college graduate who didn't realize the damage he was doing to his liver? Would you stand over the young man, with his parents watching, and tell him you could save him but you've decided he doesn't deserve it?"

I continued: "How many of you think alcoholism is a disease?" Almost everyone raised his hand.

"What do you think the recurrence rate of this disease is after liver transplantation?"

A few people guessed about 20 percent, which is roughly accurate.

"How many of you think hepatitis C is a disease?"

Everyone.

"And the recurrence rate of that after transplant?"

One hundred percent.


In the early days of liver transplantation, saving patients with alcoholic liver disease was generally considered an inappropriate use of such a limited resource. Yet now that the practice has been supported by data showing that outcomes for these transplants are as good as or better than outcomes for other diagnoses, the policy has changed.

Many programs require candidates to have been abstinent for at least six months. The rule, which has been widely adopted at transplant centers around the country, came from a retrospective study of 43 patients who underwent transplant for alcoholic liver disease. In this analysis, abstinence for less than six months prior to transplant was considered a risk factor for recurrence.

[Read: A landmark study in the origins of alcoholism]

Multiple further studies have been equivocal on the specific length of abstinence required to reduce recidivism, or return to alcohol use post-transplant. To add to the confusion, a recent study from France showed that well-selected patients with a diagnosis of severe acute alcoholic hepatitis did just as well with transplant and had a similar recurrence rate as those who had abstained for six months.


Before he found out he needed a new liver, Herbert Heneman was not your typical corner-of-the-dive-bar alcoholic. Heneman, the Dickson-Bascom professor emeritus of management and human resources at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He had a happy childhood and a very supportive family. He describes his parents as somewhat heavy drinkers, particularly his father, but he remembers no health issues, legal problems, or family crises related to alcohol.

After Heneman finished college, he began graduate school and married his high-school sweetheart. Everything was falling into place.

Heneman doesn't remember a specific time when he suddenly increased his drinking. He doesn't remember a dramatic liftoff. Alcohol just slowly started to permeate everything he did. He started hiding his drinking from his wife and kids, and drinking alone. He found himself getting sick more often, episodes he described as the flu, or exhaustion, or general weakness. Eventually, his physician told him it was his drinking that was causing his health problems, but Heneman didn't buy it. He knew he could stop if he wanted to.

On Labor Day 1990, Heneman was hammered at a party—stumbling, sweating, and generally not looking well. A nurse who happened to be there thought he was having a heart attack, and an ambulance was called. En route to the hospital, a blood-alcohol level was taken, and it came back at 0.375. Heneman was placed in detox, and from there he went to a 28-day inpatient rehab program. He was sober for the entire four weeks and told everyone there he was committed to sobriety. He relapsed the first day out.

About two weeks later, Heneman went to detox again. Once he was sober, he agreed to be committed as an inpatient to the McBride Center for the Professional, a branch of the Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital where patients with successful careers can be treated for their addictions. In a regular rehab facility, it is too easy for people of Heneman's social status to look at the people around them who are also struggling with addiction, especially if they are from a different walk of life, and say, "I'm not like them. I can control this."

[Read: How helicopter parenting can cause binge drinking]

Even so, at McBride, Heneman resisted. He didn't really want to participate in the group sessions; he just wanted to read about alcoholism and beat this thing using his own brain.

"On a Sunday morning," he told me, "I went to a little interdenominational church service that was being held in the hospital. And as I walked in the door, this woman began playing 'Amazing Grace' on the piano. And that was my true turning point." Heneman owned up to his alcoholism and spent three months as an inpatient.

At the same time, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis. After Heneman was released from the psychiatric hospital, he found himself in the office of Münci Kalayoğlu, a transplant specialist. Münci told Heneman that if he was able to stay sober for a year, he would perform the transplant. But there was a catch: "If you ever, after your transplant, go out and drink again," Münci said, "I'm going to come over to your house with my pocketknife and take back the liver."

Heneman has grasped the fact that his alcoholism will never be "cured." It is always lurking, ready to come back with a vengeance. "The other thing that really helps keep me sober is that I was so fortunate to receive a transplant, particularly back then. It would be an absolute dishonor to my donor family for me to go out and drink again and somehow do any damage to my liver."

After his transplant, Heneman had one brief readmission for a rejection episode. Otherwise, he has had no problems with his transplanted liver for more than 25 years. I asked him how the transplant changed his outlook on life. "I think it changed it much for the better," he said. "I've led a much fuller life than I otherwise would have."

I asked for Heneman's thoughts on transplanting patients with acute alcoholic hepatitis, patients who clearly can't survive a waiting period of sobriety prior to transplant. He said, "My own experience was very much that recovery needs to be a very serious, lifelong commitment, one day at a time, and that people who try to go it alone are not very likely to succeed."


This post is adapted from Mezrich's new book, When Death Becomes Life: Notes From a Transplant Surgeon.