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How to Identify Serial Harassers in the Workplace

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 03:00 AM PST

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that sexual harassment violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, vindicating Mechelle Vinson, a bank teller fired after a higher-up subjected her to years of unwanted sexual aggression, many employers have behaved as if the most important aspect of workplace culture is reducing or eliminating exposure to liability.

That paradigm helped some victims of sexual harassment to recover damages, and it prompted changes that presumably spared others from being victimized.

But its shortcomings and inadequacies have been laid bare by the allegations against Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, and others whose alleged misbehavior was exposed or anonymously described in the #MeToo campaign. "I've received somewhere between five and 20 emails every day from women wanting to tell me their experiences: of being groped or leered at or rubbed up against in their workplaces," Rebecca Traister, one of the most eloquent chroniclers of this outpouring, wrote at The Cut. "They tell me about all kinds of men—actors and publishers; judges and philanthropists; store managers and social-justice advocates; my own colleagues, past and present—who've hurt them or someone they know. It happened yesterday or two years ago or 20. Few can speak on the record, but they all want to recount how the events changed their lives, shaped their careers; some wish to confess their guilt for not reporting the behavior and thus endangering those who came after them."

She went on to describe one inadequacy of the movement and the journalists covering it: "There are also women who do want to go on the record, women who've summoned armies of brave colleagues ready to finally out their repellent bosses," she noted. "To many of them I must say that their guy isn't well known enough, that the stories are now so plentiful that offenders must meet a certain bar of notoriety, or power, or villainy, before they're considered newsworthy."

If #MeToo at its height cannot give a hearing to most victims of serious abuse, or trigger accountability or change in any industry sufficiently removed from the creative class, what happens when it fades from social media, headlines, and public consciousness? Absent a structural change, most employers and human resources departments of the future are likely to remain inadequate to the problem—a judgment seemingly shared by the anonymous creators of the "Shitty Media Men" list, who sought to formalize the "whisper networks" that have long existed in different industries to warn against abusers outside of  official channels.

Their approach was untenable, as observers quickly realized: The ability to publicly and anonymously accuse others of serious misconduct invites abuses and unjust outcomes, especially if it encompasses people unknown to one another personally—the scale necessary to effect significant reductions in sexual harassment.

Yet a different kind of third-party information sharing may still be possible.

A scholarly article published in 2012 by Ian Ayres and Cait Unkovic defined the challenge: Many are reluctant to be the first person to accuse someone of sexual harassment, in part because the accused "routinely responds by trying to impeach the credibility of the accuser." Yet first accusations often lead to more accusers coming forward. That's a dynamic that tends to protect recidivist harassers.

What if a system of "information escrow" existed instead?

We propose the use of an allegation escrow to allow victims to transmit claims information to a trusted intermediary, a centralized escrow agent, who forwards the information to proper authorities if (and only if) certain prespecified conditions are met. The escrow agent would keep harassment allegations confidential, unutilized, and unforwarded until the agent has received a prespecified number of complementary harassment allegations concerning the same accused harasser. For example, if the escrow agreement specified the accumulation of two additional allegations as a triggering event, then the agent would wait until the escrow had received three separate allegations concerning a particular alleged harasser before forwarding the information to specified authorities and initiating a complaint.

A variation on that idea is already being used by the nonprofit organization Callisto, a third-party reporting system for victims of sexual assault on college campuses.

Jessica Ladd, the company's founder, built Callisto after extensive consultations with students who'd been frustrated by the process of reporting that they were sexually assaulted. It is already being used on campuses including Stanford, the University of Oregon, USC, and Pomona College. It offers three options to students: They can save time-stamped written accounts of a sexual assault; report the allegations electronically to campus authorities or police; or report the assault only if another victim names the same perpetrator.

The intent is to increase reporting rates and identify repeat offenders. Its web site states, "15 percent of sexual assault survivors who opted into our matching system have been assaulted by the same perpetrator as another survivor in the system."

Sooner or later, a similar approach will almost certainly be tested on workplace sexual harassment. Dozens of variations are possible. For example, imagine that a worker in most any industry could choose to report unwanted sexual behavior to a third-party sexual-harassment clearinghouse.

It might permit accusers a number of options:

  • Submit a sealed, sworn affidavit to document an instance of harassing behavior in the moment, without deciding to take any further action at that moment.
  • Submit a sworn complaint about workplace harassment that is sealed until some number of other people file similar complaints about the same company or individual, triggering notifications to all the victims.
  • Submit a ticket that alerts an HR department that an anonymous employee, verified to be working at their company, is concerned by an aspect of workplace culture.
  • Submit a ticket that generates a private alert to an individual notifying him or her that an unnamed co-worker asks that they voluntarily change a behavior.

Carefully designed and administered, a system like that might have stopped alleged serial abusers like Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein years ago by giving their victims access to a transformative insight: that they were far from alone. It might offer victims who dread the idea of going to HR but who also fear that others might be harmed if they stay silent an empowering option. Its mere existence would surely be a deterrent to some serial workplace harassers. And it might be a constructive way for well-intentioned people who cluelessly make a colleague (or several) uncomfortable to grasp how their actions affect others, without the need for an awkward confrontation or a formal intervention by management.

There are probably unintended consequences or vulnerabilities to abuse that I've failed to anticipate; I may be overestimating benefits or underestimating costs; and there are likely tweaks that would improve even the best of my suggestions.

When I ran them by Lara Stemple, the director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA, she liked that my design anticipated low-level abuses and offered a range of responses. "I think there's a huge issue right now concerning the breadth of definitions," she said. "Smaller infractions are at risk of being treated like large ones, creating huge amounts of uncertainty that threaten to undermine the legitimacy of new efforts."

But she also had reservations. "The only worry I have about anonymity would be along the lines of the toxic workplace culture that Amazon reportedly created with its anonymous reporting about co-worker performance," she added.

Readers will surely think of other shortcomings, either with my specific thoughts, or with "information escrows" more generally. But there's little question that there's a pressing need for devising structural reforms to address workplace harassment.

#MeToo has been cathartic for millions who've been mistreated; it has prompted overdue, guilty introspection among some who've behaved badly; and it has been educational, constructive, and empathy-building for many besides. But as a mechanism for accountability, it relies so heavily on public shaming and stigma that its time horizon is limited, as are the number of victims who can be heard, especially beyond the privileged classes. And it remains extremely vulnerable to excesses and subversion, making abuses and cultural backlash likely.

It is made more vulnerable in part by the standard some of its adherents are suggesting: not Hillary Clinton's insistence that "every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported," which is of course true, but the more extreme claim that because false accusations of sexual misconduct are atypical—and they are—everyone who makes an accusation must be believed, not only by their supervisor or the police, but by literally everyone.

That standard is untenable.

It is untenable because the prejudices and impulses that have led to pogroms and lynchings are not gone from humanity, and still put marginalized groups at special risk; because if adopted, the Duke lacrosse team would now be wrongly imprisoned; because when adopted, it caused Rolling Stone to be sued for libel, with an administrator at the University of Virginia among its victims; because if adopted going forward, the most vile political operatives would generate false accusations against senators in states where the governor belongs to a different party; and because even absent excesses of that sort, adherents sympathetic to most accusers, like Lena Dunham, who once tweeted, "Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don't lie about: rape," will sometimes be inclined to defend a particular accused person.

The ways Western culture has often treated accusers of sexual misconduct, whether women in the workplace or boys in the Catholic church, is abhorrent and unacceptable. But the flaw in those historical norms wasn't a reluctance to believe all accusations—rather, it was the tendency to disbelieve almost all of them.

The remedy is not a new norm that will be undermined or discredited if even a single alleged victim is shown to have lied. Such a norm is setting accusers up for certain failure. Perfection is far too much to ask of a population of hundreds of millions.

But there is a new norm that could survive scrutiny and remedy the historic injustice: "Don't reflexively disbelieve allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse." Or, "Don't reflexively disbelieve women accusing men. Every person deserves to have their claims of abuse heard and investigated with due diligence." Using that norm, The Washington Post has published numerous accurate accusations after verifying their credibility, but did not fall for a trap sprung by a right-wing provocateur who recruited a woman to make a false accusation.

Of course, even that tenable norm will never be embraced with unanimity, as many Donald Trump and Roy Moore supporters are demonstrating every day. But who needs unanimity? If a majority of Americans simply decline to reflexively dismiss sexual-harassment allegations, even as accusers are empowered with an effective information-escrow system, alerting victims to one another's existence as they decide what comes next, that could be sufficient to hold serial abusers accountable, regardless of any disbelievers who persist.

The approach is at least worthy of further study. Maybe a pilot program is in order. Let's test information escrows for sexual harassment—in the U.S. Congress.

The Republican Tax Bill Might Need an Escape Hatch to Pass

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 02:00 AM PST

Republican Senate leaders have sold their proposed tax cuts as a surefire jolt to the economy—one that will eventually refill the nation's coffers with revenue generated through more jobs and higher wages. But what if it doesn't?

One of the final pockets of resistance to the GOP plan is coming from senators who have seen firsthand the darker side of those lofty promises. Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma and Jerry Moran of Kansas have each raised concerns in recent days about the budgetary impact of the chamber's tax bill, citing the experiences of their states as cautionary tales. Both Kansas and Oklahoma have had to close large budget deficits years after slashing taxes, forcing state governments to cut back on programs and services and prompting voter backlash at the polls.

Opposition from Lankford and Moran would likely derail the GOP's hopes of passing the Senate bill by the end of the week. With all Democrats expected to oppose the plan, Republicans need votes from 50 out of their 52 members, and several others have either raised different objections or have yet to commit to backing the bill. Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana, for example, are opposing the current version on the grounds that its benefits are too skewed toward corporations rather than small businesses. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to vote on the measure on Tuesday afternoon, and a vote to open debate on the floor could follow soon after.

Lankford said on Monday he wants the legislation to include some sort of "backstop" that would trigger an increase in tax rates if federal revenues fall short of projections in the next few years. "To me, the big issue is, how are we dealing with the debt and deficit? Do we have realistic numbers, and is there a backstop in the process just in case we don't?" he told reporters at the Capitol. Republicans are relying on projections that their proposed cuts to the corporate and individual income-tax rates will boost economic growth by 0.4 percent a year. They believe that would offset the $1.5 trillion the bill would otherwise add to the debt.

But other fiscal analysts have disputed that forecast. The hawkish Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget predicts the GOP tax proposals will generate no more than 0.1 percent in annual economic growth—a difference that would amount to hundreds of billions in lost federal revenue. And in Oklahoma and Kansas, similarly rosy predictions never panned out, whether because the tax cuts were not as effective as Republican legislators believed they would be, or because a drop in oil-and-gas prices hammered the states' economies.

"I think it's important that we learn some of those lessons that we've seen in states and to be able to put into place, at the beginning, a backstop procedure to make sure that we're guarding against this," Lankford said.

The Kansas legislature, aided by a coalition of newly-elected moderate Republicans and Democrats, earlier this year actually rolled back the steep tax cuts enacted in 2011 and 2012 under conservative Governor Sam Brownback. Some of those GOP legislators have urged their counterparts in Congress to heed their example. The state's House delegation ignored those warnings in voting to pass the GOP tax plan earlier this month. But Moran suggested he'd listened to their concerns during a town hall he held in Kansas over the weekend. "I'm also cognizant of what people saw happen in Kansas," Moran said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. "The issue of tax cuts would be easier if you actually had faith that Congress would hold the line on spending. It's two components. It's how much revenue you take in and how much money you continue to spend." While Republicans ultimately want to cut the size of government, Congress is likelier to increase spending during a year-end appropriations deal to accommodate President Trump's demand for more money for the military.

Lankford did not specify his requested changes, and a spokesman for the senator said he was "not ready to talk about his proposal in detail." The Senate bill already includes revenue triggers for certain, smaller provisions. But setting up additional possible tax increases would be complicated for a number of reasons, said Scott Greenberg, a senior analyst with the Tax Foundation. For one, if revenues fall off in the next few years, it could be a sign that the economy is in recession, and tax increases would likely slow the economy even further. And a trigger could be "self-fulfilling," Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania told Bloomberg: The mere possibility that taxes could go up in a few years could cause businesses not to make investments they would make if the new rates were sure to stay in place; that's a major reason why Senate Republicans set their individual tax cuts to expire and made the corporate rate cuts permanent.

While a number of states have used revenue thresholds to trigger tax cuts in the future, Greenberg told me he was not aware of triggers being used to reverse tax cuts that were already in place. Nor is it clear, he said, that Lankford's idea would comply with the Senate's strict rules requiring that the tax legislation deal only with spending and revenue in order to pass with a simple majority instead of a filibuster-proof 60 votes.

In addition to Moran and Lankford, Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee have repeatedly warned party leaders that they won't vote for a plan they believe adds too much to the debt. And Senators John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine have not committed to the tax bill after opposing the GOP in its earlier attempts to unravel Obamacare.

Complicating the Republican challenge even further are the objections from Johnson and Daines, who want changes that could push the bill in the opposite direction from where Moran and Lankford want to see it go. Johnson and Daines want to expand exemptions for so-called "pass-through" businesses—companies whose owners file taxes as individuals. But deep cuts for those companies were in large part what blew a hole in Kansas's deficit, since they prompted many more owners to structure their taxes to take advantage of the provision.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are betting that the holdouts will come around—that the GOP's urgent, even desperate, need for a legislative win will override concerns about particular provisions in the bill. That belief is undermined by polls showing the Republican tax proposals remain unpopular, and by an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office validating Democratic criticisms that the tax cuts flow disproportionately to the wealthy rather than lower and middle-income earners.

Still, the GOP leaders' bet might yet prove correct. The party's internal critics do not seem as hardened as were Republican opponents during the health-care fight, and each of them has signaled a desire to ultimately vote in favor of the tax bill. The proposal won an important endorsement Monday from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the conservative who has frustrated Trump and GOP leaders with his votes against the Obamacare and budget bills.

Johnson, Daines, and Corker all said they were in talks throughout the weekend with the White House and Senate leaders, and Trump met with a group of GOP senators for lunch on Monday to discuss changes. "The Tax Cut Bill is coming along very well, great support," the president tweeted. "With just a few changes, some mathematical, the middle class and job producers can get even more in actual dollars and savings and the pass through provision becomes simpler and really works well!"

The question is how quickly Republicans can find the final pieces to their tax puzzle. Trump wants to sign a bill by Christmas, both to notch his first big policy achievement by the end of the year and to avoid the complication of losing a Republican seat in the Senate in January if Democrat Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore in Alabama next month. The House and Senate likely will still need to vote again on a final version. But to meet that deadline, the upper chamber first needs to pass its plan this week, and for the moment, Republicans look like they're still a few votes short.

Why Trump's Attack on the Time Warner Merger Is Dangerous for the Press

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 02:00 AM PST

There are several reasons the Trump administration move to block a proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner raised eyebrows. It was without recent precedent, and was contradicted, within just a day, by the cancellation of so-called net-neutrality regulations, undermining the administration's argument about protecting the little guy.

The relatives merits of allowing the merger—and of blocking it—have been argued extensively by better-versed minds. What worries me is the possibility, aired by AT&T's chief executive among others, that the Time Warner cable channel CNN is a sticking point in the dispute. CNN, of course, is President Trump's favorite punching bag—sometimes nearly literally, as in Trump's retweet this summer of a video featuring a Trump look-alike throttling a CNN stand-in. The Justice Department has denied political interference from Trump, but it's also hard to overlook Trump's public comments that the proposed AT&T/Time Warner deal was "not good for the country," or to ignore his repeated attacks on CNN as "fake news."

This has gotten some worried attention, but not nearly enough. This should be a wake-up call for American journalists.

I have seen this play out so many times before—in Russia, that scary place portrayed as one with no press freedom and dead journalists stacked like cords of wood. I have spent most of my professional life writing about Russia, and whenever I have lived there or travel there, Americans ask me, "Aren't you afraid to report there?" Whenever my Russian journalist friends meet Americans, they get asked the same thing, "Aren't you afraid for your life?"

It's not a completely silly question, given the recent attack on journalist Tatyana Felgengauer, who was stabbed in the neck in her radio station's office, and the infamous death toll of journalists working in Russia. But it reflects an ignorance of the greatest danger facing journalists in Russia today: It is not a violent death, but a quiet starvation. After years of outcry and bad press for the Kremlin every time a Russian journalist met a grisly end, Putin figured out a better way to keep the press in line: economics.

Take, for example, TVRain, the only national independent TV channel in Russia. It existed outside the rules that governed television, which Putin ruthlessly nationalized as one of his first orders of business when he became president in 2000. In the winter that spanned 2011 and early 2012, TVRain extensively covered the pro-democracy—and anti-Putin—protests in Moscow, giving voice to their organizers and participants. (State TV barely showed the protests, and minimized them when they did.) This did not please the Kremlin, and so, as pro-European protests seized Kiev in the fall of 2013 and terrified Putin, the Kremlin cracked down on TVRain, which also reported on Ukraine's EuroMaidan protests extensively.

The Kremlin didn't kill anyone who worked for TVRain, it didn't even beat anyone up or arrest anyone. Instead, it applied financial pressure. First, seemingly independent loyalist activists raised a public outcry that TVRain ran a segment that offended World War II survivors. Behind the scenes, government officials called advertisers and intimated that it wouldn't be such a good idea to advertise with TVRain anymore. They called the national satellite and cable providers and hinted that it might be a good idea to cut TVRain out of their cable packages. These companies, for whom TVRain represented just a fraction of their business, immediately got the hint and dropped TVRain. In a matter of days, TVRain went from one of the most watched channels across the country to a marginal channel you could only watch online for a subscription fee.

No one died, no one was arrested, but the channel, suddenly strapped for cash, had to fire half its staff. Those that remained had their salaries cut in half. Many of them had families to support, so they left voluntarily, looking for more remunerative work. Some left journalism altogether. The Kremlin, meanwhile, had a ready excuse: What happened had nothing to do with politics. If advertisers and satellite operators didn't want to do business with TVRain, what did the Kremlin have to do with it?

Or take the example of RBC, Russia's rough equivalent of Bloomberg. It is owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who also owns part of the Brooklyn Nets. In 2015, a team of investigative journalists not only found the name of Putin's younger daughter but discovered that she oversaw a slush fund of nearly $2 billion, allegedly funded by her father's friends, meant to expand Moscow State University. They also uncovered a whole lot of things that Putin didn't want them to uncover, like his private oyster farm. Soon, the FSB appeared at Prokhorov's holding company, which held billions of assets of which the media company was a tiny part, with a search and the threat of a criminal case. Prokhorov got the message, and the entire investigative reporting team, including the editor in chief, was pushed out in less than a month. The new editor in chief made the rules very clear to the new team, and RBC now avoids stories about Putin's family and personal wealth.

There are too many other examples to enumerate, but the death of independent Russian media—and it is in its death throes—did not come about through mass murder. It was achieved by applying subtle political pressure on large businesses whose media properties, or the advertisements they placed in the media, were just a small, dispensable part—much like CNN is a small, dispensable part of Time Warner. And though Time Warner and AT&T are going to contest the Trump administration's decision in court, who knows if the next media owner will decide it's too expensive—and exposes the rest of his assets to too much risk? If Trump really goes after The Washington Post, as he threatened to do, how hard will its owner Jeff Bezos fight in the face of possible threats to his other properties— Amazon, WholeFoods, or the Blue Origin rocket venture?

These aren't hypotheticals. Remember how quickly advertisers fled Shakespeare in the Park's production of Julius Caesar that featured a Trump-like Caesar? Or Hulk Hogan's well-financed legal attack—backed by Trump supporter Peter Thiel—on Gawker? The Gawker case, in particular, shows how powerful individuals can shut down an entire media organization just through legal action. Donald Trump is openly hostile to the media and now has more tools at his disposal than the mere wealth he wielded as a private businessman: He ultimately controls the Justice Department. He's got a chilling precedent to follow and the resources of the federal government with which to follow it, if the Justice Department and the courts let him.

Russian journalists are watching us right now, and they're mystified. After Trump shut down CNN's Jim Acosta at his first press conference as president, the Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev offered Putin's press conferences as a warning. "Don't expect any solidarity or support" from peers in the media, he wrote. "If your question is stonewalled/mocked down/ignored, don't expect a rival publication to pick up the banner and follow up on your behalf." I recently saw a former TVRain reporter, and he said he wondered why we give press freedom awards to foreign journalists for their bravery, and then introduce strict social media guidelines that seem to him motivated by fear of antagonizing the Trump White House. He didn't understand why, in his view, we've given up so much of our journalistic freedom before we've even been asked to.

What they don't understand is that we feel we have a lot to lose—like the good jobs that most of them have already lost—and that some Americans are looking for signs of danger to press freedom in the wrong place. If we're waiting for the bodies of journalists to start showing up, we're missing all the other warning signs in the meantime.

How the U.S. and China Differ on North Korea

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 01:50 AM PST

Last week, President Trump named North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, tagging the communist country with the label almost a decade after the Bush administration removed it. "In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil," Trump said last Monday, adding that the "North Korean regime must be lawful. It must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development, and cease all support for international terrorism, which it is not doing." The next day, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on individuals and entities with links to North Korean financial institutions, including three Chinese companies. North Korea responded by calling the U.S. designation a "serious provocation and violent infringement."

For Washington, the road to a diplomatic solution with North Korea goes through Beijing. But despite public statements to the contrary, the United States and China are quite divided on some key questions, including why North Korea pursues nuclear weapons in the first place, and on the reasons why previous agreements to halt its illicit activities failed. Unless they can bridge these gaps, any lasting resolution of the North Korean crisis is unlikely.

The Trump administration has said that its goal is to isolate North Korea, in the hope that pressure through sanctions will compel it to renounce its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs and seek dialogue with the United States. But China, North Korea's largest trading partner and chief political benefactor, dismisses that idea. Beijing believes that for Washington to convince Kim Jong Un to come to the negotiating table, it must assure him that regime change is off the table. On several occasions, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said precisely that, but contradictory messaging from the White House has sent conflicting signals to North Korea—and China—about America's intentions.

In a recent meeting with a group of U.S. reporters in Beijing, Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinhua Center for Global Policy said that, if backed into a corner, the North Korean regime isn't going to back down. "It is more likely to enhance its military threats because for North Korea this is basically a game of risk-taking between Pyongyang and Washington," he said.

North Korea has a long history of provocation in the face of what it regards as threats from the United States and South Korea. It has warned of a "merciless strike" in retaliation against their joint military exercises, and said it would accelerate its nuclear-weapons program in response to the deployment in South Korea of the Terminal High Altitude Thermal Defense System, a U.S. anti-missile defense network. It has also warned that it would strike the U.S. territory of Guam after Trump  vowed to bring "fire and fury" against North Korea if it threatened America or its allies. But within these threats, Chinese analysts said, lies a fundamental disagreement between the United States and China over the nature of the threat posed by North Korea.    

Chinese experts believe North Korea's leaders pursue nuclear weapons because they feel genuinely threatened by the United States and South Korea. In a Brookings Institution strategy paper published in May 2017, Fu Ying, a retired diplomat who represented China in multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons, wrote that in the early 1990s, Pyongyang felt especially vulnerable following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main diplomatic and financial benefactor during the Cold War. Around the same time, China opened diplomatic relations with South Korea, the North's nemesis, while the United States and the South continued their military exercises, which the North viewed as a provocation. Feeling isolated, North Korea began its pursuit of nuclear weapons in earnest.

The view from Washington is quite different. Government officials and experts alike believe North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons has aggressive and offensive objectives. Pyongyang, they believe, will use its nuclear weapons to push U.S. forces out of South Korea and then force reunification of the Korean Peninsula on its terms. Trump administration officials said that North Korea must first commit to giving up its existing nuclear weapons (experts estimate the country has enough fissile material to build 20 such weapons). That position is a nonstarter in Pyongyang, and Beijing is sympathetic to its view.

"For the Chinese, we feel we can tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea in the foreseeable future while we work out the long-term disarmament strategy," Zhao said. "But for the Americans, they are less likely to even accept a nuclear-armed North Korea for the near-term future."

The U.S. position can be better understood through the lens of a pair of earlier failed agreements with North Korea—failures caused, in Washington's view, by Pyongyang. The United States pulled out of 1994's Agreed Framework, under which then-leader Kim Jong Il agreed to freeze his country's nuclear program in exchange for certain concessions, because it believed the North had secretly restarted a uranium-enrichment program. The 2012 Leap Day deal, under which the North agreed to suspend work on its uranium-enrichment program in exchange for U.S. food aid, collapsed because the North launched a satellite into space—a violation of the agreement, the Obama administration said. Both agreements hinted at what could be achieved through diplomacy. Alternately: They also served as cautionary tales of the perils of negotiating with an untrustworthy partner.  

China interpreted these failures differently. As Chinese experts explained, Beijing contended that Pyongyang's secret uranium-enrichment program did not violate the Agreed Framework because that deal prohibited only plutonium enrichment. Additionally, opposition to the agreement in the U.S. Congress sent mixed signals to Pyongyang about U.S. intentions, they said. The experts argued that this forced it to develop its clandestine uranium program as a hedge in the event the United States reneged on its commitment to the deal.

As for the Leap Day agreement: China believed there was never an agreement between the United States and North Korea to begin with, because they disagreed over whether a satellite launch constituted a ballistic-missile test. (Washington equated satellite launches with ballistic-missile testing; Pyongyang did not.) Consequently, the Leap Day agreement died when Pyongyang launched a satellite soon after it was signed.

"The Chinese interpretation of North Korea's behavior was [that] they, by and large, are still trustworthy partners," Zhao said. "They wanted to implement their commitment—they're not evil cheaters who want to take advantage of every agreement. So that really affects how China drafts its North Korea policy."

So what does China want? Its plan to resolve the crisis is the so-called "freeze-for-freeze" proposal, in which North Korea would halt its missile and nuclear programs in exchange for the United States and South Korea suspending their joint military exercises—a nonstarter for Washington, which prefers to increase pressure on North Korea while holding open the offer of dialogue.

Unless China adopts America's approach, at least in part (or vice versa), the crisis is unlikely to diminish. "Even though at the surface level they appear cooperative, deep down their approaches of dealing with North Korea are fundamentally different," Zhao said. Ultimately, Zhao said, the nature of the disagreements between Washington and Beijing ensures that the crisis of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs will remain unresolved for some time to come.


Reporting for this piece was funded by the China-United States Exchange Foundation.

<em>The Atlantic</em> Daily: Something That Never Existed

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 07:14 PM PST

What We're Following

Regulatory Controversy: Two would-be acting directors showed up for work at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday morning. The agency's deputy director, Leandra English, has filed a lawsuit arguing that President Trump does not have the right to install Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in the post. Meanwhile, as the Justice Department attempts to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, Trump's continued Twitter attacks on the news network are casting the government's motives in a sinister light.

The Bombing in Egypt: More than 300 people were killed last Friday in an attack on a mosque in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, where worshippers were targeted by a bomb during prayers and then shooters attacked the fleeing victims and first responders. Though no group has claimed responsibility, the massacre fits ISIS's pattern of attempting to demonstrate its strength with extreme violence against those it deems heretical, including Sufi Muslims, with whom the mosque is affiliated. However, Sufism is not so heterodox as its detractors—and many of its Western admirers—assume, and the aftermath of the attack has revealed widespread misconceptions about Sufi beliefs.

Trump Talk: The president used his offensive "Pocahontas" nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has described herself as part Cherokee, at an event honoring the Navajo code talkers of World War II. He has also reportedly expressed doubts about the authenticity of the Access Hollywood tape, in which he was recorded boasting about groping women without their consent, despite having acknowledged and apologized for the tape during the presidential campaign.

Rosa Inocencio Smith


Snapshot

Goats are lined up in the Opal Village Market, along the route of the ancient Silk Road, in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. See more scenes from the Silk Road here. (Eric Lafforgue / Art in All of Us / Corbis via Getty)

Evening Read

Stephen Metcalf reviews a new book by Nancy Schoenberger on the friendship between the director John Ford and the actor John Wayne:

Schoenberger, an English professor at William & Mary, gamely argues that the masculine ideal, as championed by Ford and embodied by Wayne, is still salvageable, honorable even, and she cites her admiration for her own father, a test pilot. Stoic, humble, gallant, self-sufficient, loyal—put that way, who could disagree?

But that is not the whole story. Schoenberger has hidden a provocative thesis inside a Christmas present for Dad. She asks us to remember the beauty of masculine self-mastery as Ford presented it in his very best films. And yet, from the bulk of the evidence here, masculinity (like the Western) is a by-product of nostalgia, a maudlin elegy for something that never existed—or worse, a masquerade that allows no man, not even John Wayne, to be comfortable in his own skin.

Listen to Metcalf discuss how Wayne came to define a toxic version of masculinity on the latest episode of Radio Atlantic, and read about a new, subversive take on the Western here.


What Do You Know … About Education?

Good teaching moves with the times, and California teachers are using the past year's plethora of natural disasters to revitalize classroom lessons about history and environmental science. But is there such a thing as too much innovation too soon? As one Colorado school district replaces parent–teacher conferences with an online data system, parents and teachers worry that the change will widen the gap between engaged parents and absent ones, and isolate parents who don't speak English.

Can you remember the other key facts from this week's education coverage? Test your knowledge below:

1. In a letter urging Donald Trump to support worker-training programs, Ammar Campa-Najjar noted that these programs—known as ___________—sound a bit like Trump's reality-TV series.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. As part of their science curriculum, elementary-school students in the region of California near Lake Tahoe monitor the activity of ___________ to see how humans affect these animals' habits.*

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. The online system that Colorado's Adams 14 school district is using to offer parents information about their kids' schoolwork is called ___________Campus.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Isabel Fattal

Answers: apprenticeships / bears / infinite


Look Back

In honor of The Atlantic's 160th anniversary, we're sharing one article every day to mark each year of the magazine's history. From 1873, James Parton breaks down how Thomas Jefferson succeeded as president:

The Jeffersonian theory of government is precisely the one that tasks the intellect and stirs the passions least, because it excludes even from consideration seven tenths of the questions which usually most perplex governments, its chief object being to protect rights, not interests. Interests are complex; rights are simple ...

But there never was a time when the politics of the world were so difficult as then. "Every country but one," as Jefferson said, "demolished; a conqueror roaming over the earth with havoc and destruction, a pirate spreading misery and ruin over the face of the ocean. Indeed, my friend, ours is a bed of roses. And the system of government which shall keep us afloat amidst this wreck of the world will be immortalized in history." It was a bed of roses, because the simple aim of the Republican administration was to have nothing whatever to do with this prodigious and astounding broil, except to sell refreshing provisions to both combatants, and pick up anything in the way of a Louisiana or so that might get loose in the contest.

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


Reader Response

After Adam Serwer argued that white nationalism can't deliver the prosperity that its supporters want, one reader reflects:

I'm not sure the promise of white nationalism is prosperity. Its real promise is the privilege of feeling superior to someone else—or at least the privilege of blaming others for your personal failures.

Another reader adds:

Or simply being respected as champions with legitimate grievances, kind of like how Trump pumped his crowds. It doesn't take much.

Yoni Appelbaum wrote about "The Banality of White Nationalism" here.


Verbs

Landmark politicized, deception democratized, boys surpassed, prince engaged.


Time of Your Life

Happy birthday from Fernando to Suzan (twice the age of Macintosh computers); to Ray's wife, Ruth (a year younger than the Beatles); to Daphna's daughter Shira (twice the age of Wikipedia); and to our business fellow, Steven (one-seventh the age of The Atlantic).

From yesterday, happy birthday to Zen's mother, Purita (one-third the age of The Atlantic); to Shari (born around the time that Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a fourth term as president); and to Cynthia, the mother of our copy editor Jake (a year younger than The Cat in the Hat).

And from Saturday, happy birthday from Amelie to Dorothy (who was 18 when Angela Merkel became Germany's first female chancellor); to Glauber's daughter Laura (a year younger than the International Space Station); to John (a year younger than sunscreen); and from Shelly to Bellah, who at 12 is too young for the Timeline, but just the right age to go to college.

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


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

Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up here.


* This newsletter originally stated that Lake Tahoe is in Utah. We regret the error.

<i>The Atlantic</i> Politics & Policy Daily: A Tale of Two Acting Directors

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 02:58 PM PST

Today in 5 Lines

President Trump met with Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee to discuss changes to their tax plan. Texas Senator John Cornyn told reporters that the chamber will vote on the legislation this week, although it's not clear that the bill has enough votes to pass. A White House official said the president has no plans to campaign for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, despite Trump's defense of Moore against sexual-misconduct allegations. In his first news conference since he was accused of groping several women, Minnesota Senator Al Franken apologized, but said he will return to work. Trump referred to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas" during an event honoring Navajo code talkers who served during World War II.


Today on The Atlantic

  • Monday Morning Madness: The battle over who will lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began when two different acting directors showed up at the office. (Gillian B. White)

  • Ominous Words?: The Department of Justice is opposing the AT&T-Time Warner merger on antitrust grounds. But Trump's hostility toward CNN, which is owned by Time-Warner, makes the challenge far more sinister, argues David Frum.

  • Red-State Revolt: In Oklahoma, a state where 65 percent of voters backed Trump just a year ago, Democrats are taking advantage of a budget crisis unfolding in the Republican-led government. (Russell Berman)

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


Snapshot

President Trump gestures as he hosts a White House event honoring code talkers, including Thomas Begay (left) and Peter McDonald. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)


What We're Reading

Inside the East Wing: Sarah Ellison interviewed Melania Trump's staffers, friends, and advisers to better understand the first lady and her motivations. According to one friend of the Trumps', "This isn't something she wanted, and it isn't something he ever thought he'd win." (Vanity Fair)

What Does It Mean?: The lawyer for former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn reportedly met with members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. (Matthew Mosk, Mike Levine, and Brian Ross, ABC News)

Worse Off: New analysis of the Senate tax bill from the Congressional Budget Office shows it would place a much bigger burden on low-income families than originally thought. (Heather Long, The Washington Post)

'I've Raised My Voice': John McCain discusses his life- and career-changing year—and the legacy he hopes to leave behind. (David Usborne, Esquire)

Misunderstanding Due Process: David French argues that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's defense of Democrat John Conyers, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, demonstrates that "the 'icon' defense is alive and well." (National Review)


Staff Pick

'The New York Times Can't Figure Out Where Nazis Come From In 2017. Pepe Has An Answer.'
by BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel

The New York Times raised a furor over the Thanksgiving weekend with its profile of Tony Hovater, a 29-year-old white nationalist from Ohio. What I found elucidating was Warzel's follow-up piece that dove into Hovater's online record of racist and hateful posts. There's been no shortage of writing on white nationalists this year, but the best of it has taken the epidemiological approach Warzel displays here: probing the vectors of Hovater's "infection" by a bigoted ideology and dissecting the "symptoms" he's displayed as it's progressed.

—Associate editor Matt Ford


Visualized

A Timeline of the Trump-Russia Scandal: This visual guide summarizes each newsmaking event in the story of alleged collaboration between Trump's campaign and the Russian government. (Vox)


Question of the Week

In a recent story in The New York Times, reporter Richard Fausset described the relatively ordinary life of Tony Hovater, a white nationalist living in Ohio, referring to him as "the Nazi sympathizer next door." Critics argued that the piece didn't offer context and left white-nationalist ideas unchecked. (In this vein, The Atlantic's James Hamblin wrote a parody of the story.) Fausset soon followed up with a piece describing his reporting process.

What do you think? Do stories like this normalize people with extreme viewpoints?

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

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey), Lena Felton (@lenakfelton), and Taylor Hosking (@Taylor__Hosking)

A Mafia State Within a Totalitarian Society

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 03:02 PM PST

It is a skill, actually, to make someone feel as though they are drowning in words. If you've ever read a transcript of a Donald Trump interview, you know what the experience is like. Next-level incoherence is disorienting—and can be oddly powerful.

The American-Russian journalist Masha Gessen has thought a lot about Trump's rambling and disjointed way of speaking—in part because it reminds her so much of Vladimir Putin's style. In Russia, Putin uses words yet means their opposites. At times, he seems to render words meaningless.

"He just keeps talking," Gessen says. "And throwing numbers out there. Most of them wrong."

Then there's Trump: "He talks and you don't even know where the punctuation marks fall. And the more you try to engage with those words, the less they mean."

In the latest episode of The Atlantic Interview, Gessen speaks with The Atlantic's editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, about the similarities between Putin and Trump, the way intergenerational trauma can shape a political movement, and why the United States is marching away from democracy.

An edited and condensed transcript of their conversation is below.


Jeffrey Goldberg: Do you think  Donald Trump was brought to power by Russians or by Americans?

Masha Gessen: I think Donald Trump was brought to power by Americans. They voted for him.

Goldberg: Do you think we are overemphasizing Russia's nefarious—either intent or actual—actions in this moment?

Gessen: These are leading questions, but yes. Absolutely. I do think that we're overemphasizing it. And I think we're overemphasizing it at the expense of actually being able to think about the election.

Goldberg: What do you mean?

Gessen: Americans voted for Trump. A lot of people in this country feel the system of representative democracy hasn't worked for them for a long, long time. And those are the issues that this election gives us an unfortunate opportunity to engage with. And engaging instead with the Russia conspiracy takes up that bandwidth.

Goldberg: Is the Russia conspiracy real?

Gessen: I don't know. I mean, we don't know, right? But it's not a terribly important question or answer.

Goldberg: Whoa. Wait, why?

Gessen: Well, because ultimately it doesn't matter what Russia wanted. Right? What matters is whether there was an actual arrangement with the Trump campaign. That's the part we actually don't know yet.

Goldberg: Let me just push back a little bit and say that if if a foreign power is actively trying to meddle in an American election it still seems to matter, no?

Gessen: Okay, let me give you an example. The weekend before the election I was in Philadelphia with my daughter, canvassing for Hillary. And there was this church where they handed out the clipboards. And so we're standing in line for clipboards, and a busload of Dutch tourists get off and get in line. And my first reaction was like, Oh these people are Dutch. They shouldn't be canvasing. And then I thought, okay, these people over in Amsterdam—if Donald Trump is elected, they will live on this planet that will risk being annihilated by a nuclear holocaust and damaged by irreparable climate change. And do they have less right to ask the people of Philadelphia to vote in a particular way than I, as a New Yorker, have to ask the people of Philadelphia to vote in a particular way?

Goldberg: So you're not a huge fan of sovereignty as a concept.

Gessen: As a concept, no, not a huge fan.

Goldberg: As someone who does believe in American sovereignty, I'm offended by the idea that any country would try to interfere in our domestic affairs. But even more so when you have a government that is adversarial.

Gessen: Russian attempts to sow discord—first of all, they're predictable. Second of all, they're ridiculous. They've been doing pretty much the same thing for at least 50 years. American political reality has moved a lot closer to the Russian perception—what used to be a really distorted perception, it used to be a total caricature—which I think is a little disturbing.

Goldberg: We are becoming more like Russia?

Gessen: No, we're becoming more like what Russia imagines us to be. Easily manipulated, absurdly polarized, torn apart by issues that really divide cultures in this country into two separate realities. And that you can play these realities against each other, and that will actually work.

Goldberg: This goes to a larger point that you make which is that Putin is not the Bond villain mastermind of global chaos.

Gessen: It's an incredibly circular thing because he, of course, wants to be the Bond villain. That's what he dreamed of doing his entire life. He always wanted to be the secret agent who rules the world from the shadows. He never wanted to be a public politician. This behind-the-scenes stuff, that's the real fun part. And I don't think he's very good at it. What we have seen now of what Russia did in the campaign is mostly ridiculous. And yet the way that Americans have reacted to it—or a large number of Americans have reacted to it—has actually elevated Putin exactly to the level of the Bond villain that Putin aspires to be.

Goldberg: Are you surprised that American liberals now are on the Russia-paranoia bandwagon?

Gessen: I am really surprised, and I'm really disappointed.

Goldberg: The idea that [Trump's campaign] would want to do something—if they actually did want to do something—with Russia is profoundly disturbing, but they're so bad at this.

Gessen: [Laughs]

Goldberg: Which one is worse: the idea that the Trump people would want to collude, or that Russia was engaged in an effort to create dissension and anxiety in America?

Gessen: One can actually argue that no matter what happens with the investigation, we're not going to learn anything new about this. Because we have known for years that Russia tries to create dissension in America. But I don't know that it tells us anything significant about the political moment we're in. I think the significant stuff is actually in the voting data and in the states that voted for Trump.

Goldberg: What is happening in America? How are we becoming more like a dysfunctional non-democracy?

Gessen: There are a couple of ways to use the word democracy, and the way that I think is productive is to think about democracy as not a state that can actually be achieved, but as an ideal. It's an aspirational ideal and the ideal is always changing. But at this point this country is not moving toward democracy. It's marching away from democracy.

Goldberg: You write in your book, The Future Is History, about Homo Sovieticus.

Gessen: Homo Sovieticus is basically the human being who evolved to survive under conditions of state terror. Any person faced with an ongoing traumatic situation develops certain survival skills, certain coping mechanisms—the personality fragments, and different parts of the person get activated depending on these rapidly shifting circumstances.

The hypothesis that I write about in the book, on the part of the sociologist who invented the term Homo Sovieticus, was that it was generationally bound. And once enough time had passed since state terror ended, since the 1950s, Homo Sovieticus was just going to die out, and then the Soviet Union was going to collapse. And the Soviet Union seemed to collapse right on schedule. But then it turned out that Homo Sovieticus didn't go anywhere, because there's such a thing as intergenerational trauma. And those coping skills—those ways of behaving and thinking—are actually passed on from generation to generation in society as a whole.

So society as a whole has cultural institutions that sort of kick into gear as soon as they start getting signals that they interpret as signals from a totalitarian past. And I think that's what's happened under Putin. Putin set out to build a mafia state. He didn't set out to build a totalitarian regime. But he was building his mafia state on the ruins of a totalitarian regime. And so we end up with a mafia state and a totalitarian society.

Goldberg: How does Trump relate, in behavioral ways, to what you're talking about?

Gessen: Two things. There's a direct parallel in this appeal to the imaginary past. That's what Putin does, and that's what Trump does. And they do it in some really remarkably similar ways. This vague idea of traditional values. This idea of making America great again, making Russia great again.

And it's not clear which "great" it is, but it communicates in a very comprehensible way: You can go back to the time when you felt more comfortable, when you could understand the world that you lived in, when you were not constantly confronted with things that make you uneasy—those things can be homosexuals, immigrants, transgender people—and I'm going to take you back to a comfortable past ... At this point it's pretty sort of traditional isolationist.

Goldberg: When I hear Trump talking about invading Iraq and taking the oil, or language that is intemperate and that could trigger a war with North Korea, I don't think he's an isolationist. I think he believes that the world is America's for the taking. This is why he's so offended—but also so impressed—by people who argue for strong trade deals on behalf of their own countries ... But go back to the Trump voter.

Gessen: I want to really think differently than the very consistent liberal-media line of, Well if they just knew better they would vote differently. They're under-informed, they're under-educated. I think it really misunderstands something, which is that, just because people are not acting rationally in accordance with what you think is rational, doesn't mean that they're not acting rationally. And I think there's perfectly rational voter behavior in voting for Trump. For economic reasons and social reasons.

Life is getting worse. You are less comfortable in your own house, in your own town, in your own skin. Your outlook for the future is worse with every passing year. And you conscientiously voted for people through this entire time. So it is actually an established fact that the system did not work for you. This representative democracy thing. And so you go and lob a grenade at it, when the grenade becomes available. And that is rational.

Goldberg: In your book, you draw a picture of Russia in seemingly permanent decline—a decline caused by trauma and corruption and unexamined psychological duress. Is there any off-ramp?

Gessen: After Putin is over—and he will be over eventually, everything ends—Russia will not maintain its current borders. I'm pretty sure of that. It's an empire that is experiencing more and more tension, and it's holding together as a result of a combination of both fear and greed. So Putin either instills fear in the regions, or buys them off. That system will break down the moment the Kremlin is thrown into disarray, which it will be when Putin is gone. Putin is definitely aware of the challenges to Russian territorial integrity.

Goldberg: Let's assume that it's his attempt, personally, to interfere or weaken American unity and American morale. Is it of a piece with his successful attempt to occupy Crimea? I'm going to make the stronger country—that's my rival—weaker, and I'm going to build out the Russian empire because I know that the Russian empire is actually so weak. In other words, are these the actions of a weakling?

Gessen: Well these are the actions of somebody who does feel permanently threatened—threatened personally [and] to the extent that he doesn't actually perceive a boundary between himself and the state. He has continuously come in—and this is actually another weird parallel between him and Trump—he has continuously campaigned on the threat to the country. His message has consistently been, We're on the brink of catastrophe and I'm the only person who can hold things together. And if I step away, everything will fall apart. I think that he sincerely believes that. He believes that even more sincerely because he has been watching Putin TV for 17 years. And so he says to the television what it should say, and then it says it, and then he believes it. Which is also not dissimilar from the media bubble that Trump is intent on creating—or has, to a large extent, created for himself.

Goldberg: Fox and Friends, the Russia Today of America.

Gessen: Fox and Friends and Breitbart. So, yes, there is deep moral justification that Putin feels for things like the annexation of Crimea, and interference in a variety of Western elections—because all those things pose a threat to Russia.

Goldberg: You've spoken a lot about Trump's use of language—and misuse of language. Does Putin engage in the same practices? Making words mean the opposite of what they mean?

Gessen: Similar practices. Putin came to power after 10 years of a transitional state in Russia, and 70 years of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism was marked by a kind of new-speak where words were used to mean their opposites. One of my favorite examples is what they called voting, "the free expression of citizen will," when "the free expression of citizen will" was actually somebody having to go to your precinct under penalty of law and having to put a check mark next to the one name on the ballot. And then Putin came and renewed the practice of having words mean their opposites, but also introduced the new practice of having words mean nothing. He just keeps talking. And throwing numbers out there. Most of them wrong.

It's meant to create the impression that he knows what he's talking about. But it's also just meant to drown you in meaningless stuff. And Trump actually does both of those things.

I think he has an incredible instinct for assimilating words and phrases from the liberal discourse and making them mean their opposite—"safe space," "witch hunt," "fake news." But he also just creates word salad. So he talks and you don't even know where the punctuation marks fall. And the more you try to engage with those words, the less they mean, because you just drown in them. And so, in that sense, they're both do the same thing. They do it so differently, but the effect is so similar.

Trump's Most Egregious 'Pocahontas' Joke Yet

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 05:53 PM PST

At the end of last month, President Trump declared that in November, the U.S. would honor Native American heritage. "This month, I encourage all of our citizens to learn about the rich history and culture of the Native American people," he wrote.

On Monday, he stood in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson to thank World War II Navajo code talkers, using the opportunity to mock a senator who claimed Cherokee descent, by using a Powhatan name.

"I just want to thank you because you're very, very special people," Trump said, after a characteristically vague and nearly meaningless description of the role played by the men, who during World War II served in the Marines, using native languages as a code that the Japanese couldn't break. Then he added: "You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her 'Pocahontas.'"

That is, of course, Trump's favorite nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who described herself as part Cherokee earlier in her career. Trump's comment was astonishing. During an event honoring a specific group of Native American veterans of the Second World War, Trump suddenly veered into congratulating the men as exemplars of the all Native American peoples since time immemorial. He did so while standing in front of a portrait of Jackson, infamous for driving Native Americans out of the southeastern United States. And he used the ceremony to snipe at a political rival, delivering a personal insult while using an offensive nickname.

Native American groups have long criticized Trump for calling the senator Pocahontas. While he means to belittle Warren, they feel that it is also belittling to them. The nickname insults the original Pocahontas, a tragic figure who was kidnapped, and then later traveled to England with her husband John Rolfe, where she died; it conflates Pocahontas's Powhatan heritage with other groups; and it is frequently used to mock Native Americans.

The president continues to use the nickname at this point not because he is ignorant of the offense he is causing but because he seeks to cause offense. According to a pool reporter, Trump's comment was met with silence in the room. The men did not object, but they were hardly in a position to do so: They are veterans being honored by the commander in chief, and given that they are also seeking support for a code-talker museum, they have little incentive to criticize him. (Trump loves using captive audiences who can't object to his offensive comments.)

Although the point of this particular insult may not be to offend Native Americans, it's no surprise that Trump is indifferent to their complaints. The president has a long history of offensive comments about Native Americans. His October 31 statement about Native American Heritage Month is extremely fraught. "Beginning with the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth Colony and continuing until the present day, Native American's [sic] contributions are woven deeply into our Nation's rich tapestry," Trump wrote, a statement that makes no historical sense.

For one thing, English settlers interacted with Native Americans (yes, the Powhatans) at Jamestown 13 years before the Pilgrims' arrival. Moreover, American history does not begin with the arrival of Europeans. Native Americans were contributing to what would become the United States long before Jamestown or Plymouth. Trump also wrote that "They helped early European settlers survive and thrive in a new land," which reduces them to a Tonto-style supporting role and glosses over the violence committed against them by the same European settlers.

Minutes after Trump's remarks, reporters at the White House briefing asked Press Secretary Sarah Sanders about what he'd said. Sanders rejected a characterization of the "Pocahontas" nickname as a racial slur. It is true that the name is not offensive per se, even if the specific use of it is. Trump has, however, endorsed the use of other anti-Native American slurs, saying that the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins is "a positive" and that attempts to change it are "unnecessary political correctness."

Sanders insisted that the real story was that Warren had claimed Native American heritage in order to advance her career. "I don't understand why that isn't constantly covered," Sanders said. There are reasons why it's not constantly covered, as Sanders knows: It's been extensively covered. Warren's claims of Native American heritage are not supported by any evidence, as Garance Franke-Ruta explained here in 2012. However, there's also not any evidence that Warren benefited professionally from her claim of Cherokee blood.

The Trump administration should perhaps be careful about casting this particular stone in their glass house. While battling an attempt to establish Native American casinos that would have competed with his Atlantic City casinos, Trump said, "I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations." Even more damningly, Trump himself for years followed in his father's footsteps by lying about his heritage in order to advance his career, saying his family came from Sweden rather than Germany. "Our country was at war with Germany," he told The Boston Globe last year. "So being from Germany didn't necessarily play so well for a period of time."

Learn about rich Native American traditions, don't lie about your heritage to advance your career—for the president, these are apparently matters of doing as he says, rather than as he does.

The Decades-Long Quest to Make Virus-Proof Mosquitoes

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 07:09 PM PST

In the summer of 1922, as Simeon Burt Wolbach and Marshall Hertig slid their scalpels into 13 common house mosquitoes, they had no idea that they were about to stumble across one of the most successful microbes on the planet, nor that a century later, their discovery could potentially save millions of lives.

In those dissected mosquitoes, the duo found a new bacterium, and 14 years later, Hertig christened it Wolbachia after his colleague. Having named it, they ignored it. But in the subsequent decades, long after Wolbach's death in 1954, scientists started to realize that his bacterial namesake is omnipresent, devious, and powerful.

It infects around four in 10 species of insects and other arthropods, which are themselves the most diverse and numerous animals in the world. It manipulates the sex lives of its hosts, changing some from males to females and allowing others to clone themselves, all so that it can spread quickly into the next generation. It even contains multitudes of its own: Nestled within its genome is a virus, and hidden within that virus are genes that originally came from spiders.

Wolbachia also makes some of its hosts resistant to viruses—a quality that a team of Australian scientists, led by Scott O'Neill, have spent decades trying to harness. When they implant the bacterium into the mosquito Aedes aegypti, the insect can no longer transmit the viruses behind dengue fever, yellow fever, Chikungunya, and Zika. And best of all, the bacterium is so good at manipulating its hosts that it can rapidly spread through a wild population. Release Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes into the wild, and within months, all the local bloodsuckers change from carriers of disease into culs-de-sac.

This approach, which I've written about before, is now being tested in 10 tropical countries around the world. It's testament to the value of research for the sake of it: There was no way Wolbach and Hertig could have predicted where their arcane explorations of mosquito carcasses could have led.

The project also shows just how long it takes to translate basic discoveries into life-changing tools: It took decades for O'Neill's team to successfully inject Wolbachia into mosquito embryos, to show exactly how the bacterium acts against viruses, to simulate its spread among wild insects to show that their approach could work in the field, and to get all-important community support for their work. You can watch their quest in the video below—the fourth in a series of online films produced by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, which adapt the stories in my book, I Contain Multitudes.

A Photo Trip Along the Ancient Silk Road

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 01:55 PM PST

Recently, while reading an XKCD comic about temperature preferences, the name "Turpan" caught my eye, which led me down an internet rabbit-hole that eventually led me to create this trip along the ancient Silk Road for you, using photographs, traveling from east to west. Starting in Xi'an, China, the route winds its way through parts of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. I invite you to come along through the Gobi Desert, past the Flaming Mountains, the Singing Sands, the City of Screams, and other ancient and modern artifacts—and many spectacular vistas—along the main branches of this ancient trade route.

The Dangerous Myths About Sufi Muslims

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 12:09 PM PST

The attack on Al Rawdah mosque in the Sinai last Friday, during which Islamists claimed at least 305 lives, was quite possibly the deadliest terrorist atrocity in modern Egyptian history and one of the largest terrorist attacks worldwide. Because the mosque was often frequented by Muslims linked to a Sufi order, the massacre also brought to light the deeply flawed ways Sufism is discussed—both by those who denigrate Sufism and by those who admire it.

Extremist groups like ISIS promote the idea that Sufism is a heterodox form of Islam, and then go further to declare Sufis legitimate targets. But it's not just violent extremists who foster the heterodoxy misconception. In Saudi Arabia, for example, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman claimed on Sunday that "the greatest danger of extremist terrorism is in distorting the reputation of our tolerant religion"—yet intolerance with regard to Sufism is the bedrock of much of the purist Salafi approach that underpins the Saudi religious establishment.

That's not to say that all those who self-describe as "Salafi" claim that Sufism ought to be met with violence. But many, if not most, deny its centrality within Sunni Islam. Certainly the vast majority of the Saudi religious establishment espouses that kind of belief, which is a massive challenge that the crown prince will have to tackle if he's serious about his promise to spread "moderate" Islam.

The birth of the purist Salafi movement (which many pejoratively describe as "Wahhabism") saw preachers inspired by the message of 18th-century figure Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab attacking Sufism writ large in an unprecedented way. While presenting themselves as the orthodox, these types of purist Salafis were actually engaging in a heterodox approach. Many of these figures had to ignore or rewrite large chunks of Islamic history in order to present Sufism and Sufis as beyond the pale.

Ahmad bin Taymiyya, a commonly quoted authority for Salafis, for example, was reportedly a member of the Sufi order of Abdal Qadir al-Jilani. The Sufi affiliations of many medieval authorities have been airbrushed from history in several modern editions of their texts published by Salafi printing houses. Yet, there were virtually no prominent Muslim figures who cast aside Sufism in Islamic history. When followers of ibn Abdul Wahhab attempted to do so by describing Sufis as outside the faith, they were themselves decried by the overwhelming majority of Sunni Islamic scholarship as indulging in a type of heterodoxy because of their intolerance and revisionism.

While some who portray Sufis as heterodox do so with malicious intent, many fans of Sufism in the West seem to agree that Sufis are heterodox—it's just a type of heterodoxy that they prefer to the normative mainstream of Islamic thought, which they seem to think is different from Sufism. Ironically, the well-meaning nature of this misinformed perspective echoes the fallacy that extremists promote.

And it is an extraordinary fallacy. Until relatively recently, it would have been unthinkable for students in Muslim communities to consider Sufism anything other than an integral part of a holistic Islamic education. The essentials of theology, practice, and spirituality—that is, Sufism—were deemed basic, core elements of even elementary Islamic instruction. And religious figures known for their commitment to Sufism would not have been considered a minority; they would have been by far the norm. Indeed, the very label of an Egyptian "Sufi minority" being bandied about since the mosque attack is a peculiar one: Sufism isn't a sect—it's integral to mainstream Sunni Islam.

The most famous Sufi in the West, as shown on Amazon bestseller lists, is Rumi, Afghan poet extraordinaire. Another renowned figure is Ibn Arabi, a Spaniard of the 12th century. But few in the West seem to realize that such figures, while indeed Sufis, were very much within the Islamic mainstream. Rumi, for example, was an author of fatwas and a specialist in an orthodox rite of Sunni Islamic law (the Hanafi school); Ibn Arabi was even more steeped in Sunni legal expertise, to the point where he was described by many medieval authorities as being capable of forming his own school of law.

That doesn't mean that Sufis were never singled out for criticism in traditional Islamic scholarship—they were. Those criticisms were issued by Sufi scholars themselves, much as expert jurists criticized what they saw as shoddy attempts in jurisprudence, and specialized theologians critiqued amateurish forays into theology. One modern critic, a famed Sufi of the Comoros, said, "If we were better Sufis, everyone else wouldn't think we are anything but good Muslims."

Another myth is that Sufis are generally apolitical or eschew any martial activity. Historically, that certainly was not the case. Sufi figures like Abu-l-Hasan al-Shadhuli and Ibn Abdal Salam (the latter a famous jurist of his time) were at the forefront of campaigns to defend Egypt from the armies of King Louis of France. The Libyan struggle against the Italian fascist occupation was led by Sufis of the Sanusi order of Sufis, including the famed Omar al-Mukhtar. Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jaza'iri was a militant opponent of the French invasion of Algeria in the 19th century, while Imam Shamil of the Caucasus fought against the Russian incursion into his own land. But while they most certainly believed in that martial endeavour, and called it jihad, it was a jihad that meant that the likes of al-Jaza'iri fought to protect Christians; a jihad that meant that al-Mukhtar refused to mistreat prisoners of war; in other words, a jihad that was constrained by the mainstream understanding of Sunni Islam.  

This activist trend among Sufis remains in existence today. In my own research over the years, I came across teachers of Sufi texts like Shaykh Seraj Hendricks of South Africa and Shaykh Emad Effat in Egypt. The former was detained for activism against apartheid, while the latter was killed in the midst of protests in late 2011. This is to say nothing of the scores of members of Sufi orders in Syria who participated in the Syrian revolutionary uprising against the Assad regime, as well as against ISIS. It is also true that some Sufi figures engaged in actively supporting autocrats and repressive governments—which other Sufis critiqued for what they saw as inconsistency. That critique has everything to do with what such Sufi figures see as orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the Islamic tradition.

It's too easy to cast Sufis as a quasi-sectarian group that is somehow detached from Islam. Sufism never betrayed Islamic orthodoxy; if anything, it is Islamic orthodoxy in its purest form. Both those who denigrate Sufis, like ISIS and the Saudi religious establishment, and those who admire Sufis, like Rumi-loving Westerners, would do well to finally recognize this. Otherwise, we all risk betraying Islamic history.

Trump's Rejection of Observable Reality

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 05:54 PM PST

Speaking before he left Washington for Thanksgiving, President Trump laid out a coldly rational case for backing Roy Moore, the troubled Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama. Despite the multiple women who have aired allegations running from sexual assault to merely deeply creepy behavior, Trump said, he preferred a solid vote for his agenda in the Senate.

But less noted was his analysis of the actual accusations against Moore. "Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it," Trump said. "That's all I can say. He denies it. By the way, he totally denies it." That isn't much response to multiple allegations that even Trump's own daughter has deemed credible, and the answer appears even stranger in light of a New York Times report over the holiday weekend.

"He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous 'Access Hollywood' tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women's genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after," the paper reported. Sensible enough: As I and others have noted, there's a strong analogy between those cases, and Trump's survival offers the best hope for Moore.

But the paper added: "He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently."

The White House's stance is that all 16 women who have accused Trump of sexual improprieties, harassment, or assault are lying. Trump's old position on the Access Hollywood tape was that he was lying. The view he now apparently holds privately is that the tape itself is lying.

But the tape is authentic. Trump acknowledged as much when it was revealed, and apologized for his words (though not to the women upon whom he boasted about preying) while claiming that he had not actually done the things he bragged about having done. Billy Bush, the television host with whom he was speaking on the tape (and who, unlike Trump, lost his job simply for not reacting with disgust to the comments) also acknowledged it was real.

In short, the suggestion that it was not Trump on the tape is either deeply dishonest or unhinged from reality, or both. While Trump lies with abandon, and has done so throughout his career, this is a particularly curious case, one where not only is there no real dispute about reality, but in fact documentary evidence in the form of a recording of Trump discussing the acts himself.

In the early days of the Moore allegations—before Beverly Young Nelson, before the stories about how Moore's preference for young girls was well-known, before stories about how he'd been banned from the Gadsden Mall, before the story of him calling one object of his affection at her high school—many Republicans took a cautious track, refusing to pass judgment on the claims. After the deluge, most of them quickly announced they believed the women.

The president remains an outlier. What evidence of sexual assault or harassment would Trump accept? In the Moore case, the White House's initial move was to say that if the accusations against Moore were true, he should step aside. Then came a string of additional accusations, independently lodged but similar enough in contour to suggest a consistent approach by Moore. They were backed by various forms of circumstantial evidence. Many Republicans, from Mitch McConnell to Ivanka Trump, deemed the allegations credible. But Trump himself both reversed the White House's previous stand, saying he backed Moore regardless of the claims, and also endorsed Moore's denials.

This is, in a way, consistent with Trump's approach to the allegations against him, which he has made great jumps of logic to dismiss. First there were a few stories about unwanted attention to women, ranging in degree of seriousness. Then came more, including serious allegations from Jill Harth, who said Trump repeatedly groped her and tried to force her into a bedroom at Mar-a-Lago. Finally came the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump openly boasted about improperly touching women. One didn't even need to take the women's allegations as truth to believe that the president's behavior was unacceptable. Trump claimed at the time that he hadn't really done what he said he had.

Is there any evidence that would prove allegations against Trump? If a tape of Trump making the claims himself can be explained away, even a videotape of the act might be insufficient.

Although Trump has clear motives for dismissing the Access Hollywood tape, that doesn't indicate whether he is simply lying or really believes it. The president has no hesitations about feeding the public untruths. During his trip to Asia, he deferred comment on Moore, telling reporters, "Believe it or not, even when I'm in Washington or New York, I do not watch much television." That statement is belied by his frequent tweets about specific segments on TV, his constant complaining about some outlets (including a fresh spree over the weekend), and his similarly frequent free advertising for Fox News. As commentators have been noting for months, the president often seems to be gaslighting the public, insisting that they can't believe their own lying eyes, or ears. This is a potentially potent method of demagoguery, given psychological research on the fallibility of memory.

Yet there are also signs that Trump is sometimes incapable of discerning real life from fiction. The fact that the president shared his doubts about the tape not via Twitter but in private conversations—including, amazingly, with a U.S. senator—might suggest that the problem is not that Trump is out to fool the public but that he himself has fallen into the trap of rewriting his memory. That the president could be so inconstant on a matter of provable fact is for obvious reasons worrisome in the policy sphere.

It turns out, though, that there are some claims the president is prepared to accept. Trump has been quick to credit allegations made against political opponents, from groping claims against Senator Al Franken to the multiple sexual-assault and rape claims against Harvey Weinstein.

It may be that the president's approach to the claims against Moore reflects a similarly bald political calculus. Monday morning, a White House official told the AP that Trump would not travel to Alabama to campaign on Moore's behalf, which may represent White House pessimism about Moore's prospects. If the president sticks to that—and as we've seen, he frequently reverses his own staff's statements—it would represent a remarkable act of Solomonic baby-splitting. On the one hand, the president doesn't think it's worth hitting the trail for Moore, yet he also is willing to stake his credibility on dismissing all evidence against Moore. For Trump, the truth is something that can be played with, but politics is serious business.

Björk's Distant, Motherly Feminist <i>Utopia</i>

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 05:03 PM PST

Would it surprise you to learn that the new Björk album is full of birds chirping, keyboards gurgling, and the consonant "s" being treated in much the same way a pasta maker treats semolina? Or that the Icelandic icon sings of forests and mountains and souls and "a matriarchal dome"? Or that her latest videos encase her face in rainbow-robot prosthetics, her hair in golden butterflies, her heart in CGI color swirls? Probably not, as this all accords exactly with the overly simple public image of Björk: the SNL fairy, the swan lady, the MoMA exhibit.

However: Maybe it would surprise you to learn there's a song called "Sue Me," in which she sings about a court battle over child custody. Perhaps you don't go to a Björk album expecting to hear her pronounce "MP3." Or to have her describe visiting a record store, or clubbing in Brooklyn, or using Google.

Björk matters not because she can seem untethered from reality, but rather because she uses the otherworldly to communicate, with frightful intensity, what it is to exist on Earth. Her previous album, 2015's monumental Vulnicura, journaled her breakup with her long-term partner Matthew Barney over lachrymose strings, epic song lengths, and jagged rhythms. Her new one, Utopia, continues to draw directly from her life, and though the palette is happier, the music has somehow become even stranger and more specific to one person's brain. More than ever, the listener will have to find their own way in.

Birdsong knits together the album's 14 tracks, generated both by field recordings and synths that emanate at unusual intervals, creating the effect of walking through a cyborg jungle. There's also a big emphasis throughout on the classical pastoral: woodwinds, harp, and choral singing. This could easily have be the sound of a gentler, more inviting new sound, but it's actually not. While Björk has never been slavish to rhythmic, structural, or melodic predictability, Utopia's songs are particularly uninterested in orienting the listener.

The opener, "Arisen My Senses," introduces the sonic palette in a series of cresting waves, in which Björk's multi-tracked voices deliver overlapping, upwards-arching phrases. She has said the music was specifically written to contrast with the tightly wound tunes that, in retrospect, gave Vulnicura its strange accessibility as pop: "It's almost like an optimist rebellion against the normal narrative melody," she told Pitchfork.

Beneath these "optimist rebellions" are harsh electronic blasts in the low end—the signature sound of Arca, a Venezuelan producer whose solo albums played at enough volume might register on the Richter scale. Björk brought Arca in to assist on Vulnicura, and for that album his nightmarish approach accentuated the horror of the loss Björk sang about. He plays a yet-larger role on Utopia—perhaps too large of one. Björk is clearly interested in juxtaposing musical lightness and heaviness in order to convey how joy intertwines with pain. But at times Arca's rumbles push songs from aurally difficult to nearly unlistenable.

Björk nails the Utopia musical blend—flutes, birds, chaos—most aptly on a series of late-album songs including "Losss," "Tabula Rasa," and "Saint," all of which feature bracing vocal performances. "Tabula Rasa" is especially powerful, with the singer emitting high, echoey bleats amid calls to shield daughters from the "fuckups of the fathers." The motherly feminist thread extends to "Saint," a semi-comic description of a mythical woman who "attends funerals of strangers" and whose "strongest memory is feeding children with leprosy." The point, Björk sings, is that this goddess has an analogue in music itself: Songs can be utopia.

The most effective parts of the album lucidly explore this same, somewhat meta theme. Over the delicate harp recital of "Blissing Me," Björk tells a charming story of "two music nerds" (perhaps she and Arca?) developing a romance—deeply, but platonically. "I just fell in love with a song" Björk says at once point, later asking, "Did I just fall in love with love?"  

The link between romance and music also grounds the standout "Features Creatures," an eerily minimalist—and eerily relatable—duet between Björk and a ghostly choir. Her brain, the song suggests, functions as a computer program that constantly evaluates passersby to see if they resemble her beloved, whether in height, facial hair, or accent. The shock of recognition she describes is like the shock listeners enjoy in those precious moments when, for all its idiosyncrasies, Björk's world begins to feel like their own.

The Tools of Espionage Are Going Mainstream

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 09:23 AM PST

Deception is getting real. This month, lawyers for Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified before Congress, facing hard questions and ugly truths about Russia's online operations to inflame American divisions and undermine American democracy. The story keeps getting worse. Twitter has now found more than 2,700 accounts controlled by Russians and 36,000 suspected Russian "bots"—accounts that automatically generated 1.4 million election-related tweets receiving 288 million impressions during the final 10 weeks of the 2016 presidential election. Google has discovered that suspected Russian agents uploaded more than 1,000 YouTube videos about divisive social issues. And Facebook revealed that Kremlin-instigated content may have reached 126 million Americans. That's more than a third of the U.S. population. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr even had his own Cuban missile crisis moment—bringing out the big posters to show the world smoking gun evidence of Russian duplicity. But instead of secret missile sites, his pictures displayed two popular Facebook groups: Heart of Texas and United Muslims of America.

Heart of Texas and United Muslims of America weren't created by Texans or American Muslims. They were conjured up by Russia's deceptively named "Internet Research Agency" to lure American followers. And lure them they did. In 2016, each group grew to more than 250,000 followers. Then Russia struck. Heart of Texas announced a "Stop Islamization of Texas" protest to be held on May 21, at noon, outside a Houston mosque. Muslims of America announced a "Save Islamic Knowledge" protest on its Facebook page for the same day, time, and place. The result: angry protests pitting real Americans against each other on the streets of Houston, all instigated by the Kremlin.

It used to be that great-power deception meant tricking leaders and leaving the rest of us out of it. D-Day victory hinged on convincing Hitler and his top military commanders that the allies would invade France at Pas-de-Calais, not Normandy. British intelligence staged an elaborate deception operation, turning nearly all of Germany's spies into unwitting double agents and feeding them false information about invasion plans. The allies even invented a fictitious army called the First United States Army Group, led by Lieutenant General George Patton. This phantom force had dummy landing craft, fake oil storage depots, airfields, vehicle tracks and more—all to deceive any possible German observers or aerial reconnaissance. The deception worked so well, Hitler delayed sending reinforcements to Normandy even after the allies landed there because he was convinced it was a diversion, and that the real invasion would still be at Pas-de-Calais. As Winston Churchill famously remarked, the truth had to be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.

Cold War deception was also an elite affair. The Cuban missile crisis was the ultimate spy-on-spy moment. The Soviets went to great lengths to hide their plans for deploying nuclear missiles from everyone, even the Soviet ship crews carrying them. Captains were told only to head to coordinates in the Atlantic Ocean where they would unseal an envelope in the presence of a KGB officer. Inside was a note with the actual destination in Cuba. And just to make sure nobody else on board knew, the last sentence of the note read, "After familiarizing yourself with the contents of this document, destroy it."

Meanwhile Khrushchev and his foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, were busy reassuring President Kennedy that the Soviet military buildup in Cuba—which was obvious and heavily reported by U.S. intelligence agencies—was purely defensive in nature. They lied. And Kennedy believed them. Had American U-2 spy planes not flown over the Western part of Cuba when they did—at the insistence of CIA Director John McCone, who was convinced the Soviets couldn't be trusted—Khrushchev's surprise would have worked.

Today, deception is often not designed to trick a handful of leaders. It's designed to trick us all. Deception has gone viral, thanks to global platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. These neutral platforms aren't looking so neutral anymore. Russia showed just how easy it is to influence what millions of Americans see, who they like, who they hate, and what they do about it. We are moving to a world where the tip of the spear isn't a soldier or a spy, but everyday citizens on their smart phones. Russia is playing the role of virtual Mephistopheles, encouraging our worst instincts, one tweet and Facebook friend at a time. Russia may be the first to embrace massive online geopolitical deception, but it is unlikely to be the only one.

And that's not even the really bad news.

Recent advances in artificial intelligence are making deception even more realistic. Tweets and rally notices on Facebook pages are stone-age tools compared to what's coming. Deception 2.0 will use images and videos that will look, sound, and feel exactly like the real thing. Just last month, the graphics chip maker Nvidia released a study showing how an AI technique called "generative adversarial networks" can create life-like photos of nonexistent celebrities. Essentially, one computer algorithm tries to generate a realistic image of something while another algorithm tries to decide whether that image is real or fake. Other researchers at the University of Washington and Stanford are making significant advances in creating fake video using artificial intelligence and lip syncing.

What does all this have to do with American national security? A lot. Words are good at influencing ideas. Images are good at influencing emotions. Hollywood has made billions by manipulating our feelings with images, 90 minutes at a time, even though we're eating popcorn, sitting in a room full of coughing strangers, and know that what we're seeing isn't real. If you're like me, even animated characters (Why can't Wilbur save Charlotte? Why? Why?) can make you cry every time.

Now consider how much more you could be manipulated by images you actually believed were real. After all, it was photos that set off the Cuban missile crisis. While human assets were reporting suspicious-looking cylindrical objects being transported on trucks and extreme secrecy precautions at Cuban ports, human sources were also reporting all sorts of other things—most of it nonsense. Pictures really were worth a thousand words.

Today, real-looking images could just as easily set off real crises on false pretenses. The possibilities get scary fast.

Here are just a few: A video shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussing a clandestine nuclear weapons program that violates the Iran deal. It's fake but there's no way to know it, and Rouhani's protestations cannot be believed.

A surveillance camera captures footage of a terrorist attack in an American shopping mall, with a clearly identified attacker. Twitter explodes with first-hand accounts. A manhunt is quickly mobilized. Only the attack never happened, and the "terrorist" is a local Pakistani-American college student.

In a tight European parliamentary election, just days before voters head to the polls, fake video surfaces depicting a majority party leader molesting a child. He denies it, but the evidence appears incontrovertible.

Or imagine that someone creates fake photographs showing the families of U.S. troops evacuating from South Korea—which Kim Jong Un mistakes as preparations for an American attack, so he launches a preemptive nuclear strike on Seoul. If you think that's far-fetched, think again. On September 21, with tensions between Washington and Pyongyang running high, someone actually did send fake text and social media messages ordering U.S. military families and non-essential civilian personnel to evacuate the Korean peninsula. U.S. Forces Korea had to issue a notification to ignore the fake "Official Alert."

Russia's online influence operations are just the beginning. Deception has always been part of espionage and warfare. But now deception is getting big time in real-time—coming through your cell phone and social media friends. And that's a whole new world.

<em>Darkest Hour</em> Is a Thunderous Churchill Biopic

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 12:56 PM PST

Viewers don't meet Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) for the first 10 minutes of his new biopic, Darkest Hour. The director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) wants to give the British leader an appropriate drumroll: The film melds impressive archival footage of troop buildup in Europe as the Second World War gets underway with scenes in Parliament of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stepping down and debate raging over who his successor should be. Churchill is the only man palatable to the opposition parties, but he's a horror to the reigning Conservatives, including the stuffy Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane), who commiserates with Chamberlain over the brute they're about to invite into their midst.

In short, Churchill's reputation precedes him—both in Britain in 1940 and for any viewer watching today—and Wright knows that. He's happy to celebrate the theatricality of the man, the thundering bulldog who became emblematic of the British blitz spirit, and an international symbol of resistance to Nazi rule. When Churchill finally enters the film, it's in the grandest manner possible, first shrouded in darkness, then briefly illuminated as he lights his cigar. But, as it turns out, he's ensconced in bed at home, fretting over his own worthiness for a post he's sought his entire career.

That's the dichotomy Wright is trying to pick apart in Darkest Hour. He's reminding viewers of the undeniable power of Churchill the politician at a pivotal time in his life, when his oratory helped bolster Britain's resolve to stay in the war after the fall of France and before the entry of the United States. But the director also wants to get at the interiority of this famed public figure, to explore Churchill's insecurity and fits of depression, and to present a portrait of a man who wasn't entirely sure he was doing the right thing when he demanded "victory at all costs" from his country.

Wright's approach works because of the narrow focus of his story. The film's script, written by Anthony McCarten, is centered on the five weeks between Churchill taking office as prime minister in May 1940 and the evacuation of Dunkirk in June. At the time, Britain's future as a nation seemed most under threat, and political leaders like Halifax were seriously entertaining negotiating peace with Hitler after watching him sweep through mainland Europe. Outwardly defiant yet inwardly fearful of failure, Churchill is Wright's perfect embodiment of that tenuous moment.

Wright has found an ideal collaborator in Oldman, an actor who knows how to embrace his most dramatic side but who still excels in his quieter moments. Buried under folds of jiggling, high-tech makeup, the naturally small-framed Oldman should be almost impossible to recognize; the artists who designed his Churchill suit have done a wonderful job, somehow managing to keep the actor present in every scene. It's a performance practically designed in a lab to win an Academy Award (and I'm sure it will), but it's also the crucial ingredient in Wright's mix of high-stakes action and subtler, more graceful character work.

For fans wanting a movie that closely adheres to the day-to-day history of the moment, Darkest Hour will fall short. It's a broad-strokes biopic, to be sure, more of a Churchill ballet than a thorough reconstruction. All the key points are there—Churchill's loving, but argumentative relationship with his wife Clementine (an unsurprisingly poised Kristin Scott Thomas), his pitched battles with the more dovish elements of his cabinet (represented by the aggressively posh Halifax), and his close reliance on his personal secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James, playing a character who didn't actually show up in Churchill's life until a year later).

Most important is Churchill's relationship with King George VI, played here by Ben Mendelsohn with far more remove than the warm portrayal the monarch has gotten from actors like Colin Firth (in The King's Speech) and Jared Harris (in The Crown). To George, Churchill is an impolite oaf, not to be trusted with the delicate British soul; to Churchill, the king is an alienating presence, far too insistent on halting, stifling protocol. Wright makes their evolving relationship, and their eventual closeness, the emotional crux of his film, which is fitting given that the king supposedly exists as a symbol of the British state and its people.

Even more on the nose is a moment that comes later on in Darkest Hour as Churchill hits an especially low ebb and the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk looks like it will be an epic disaster. Wright and McCarten stage an entirely fictional scene in which the prime minister rides the London Underground and holds court with the common folk, asking their opinions of the war and whether Britain should hold fast in its resistance to the Nazi invasion. It's simplistic and patronizing stuff, but I couldn't resist the glorious silliness of it. As a director, Wright has been known to lean into pure melodrama—it worked for him in movies like Anna Karenina, not so much in his most recent feature Pan—and in moments like the one in the Tube, he makes effective use of Churchill the grand diva. Were Darkest Hour just a symphony of World War II nostalgia, it'd probably still be a good watch. But because the film makes the effort to go deeper, it becomes something much more memorable.

The 3 Things That Make Organizations More Prone to Sexual Harassment

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 07:58 AM PST

In the first earnings call after the head of Amazon Studios, Roy Price, resigned amid sexual-harassment allegations, Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos said nothing about Price's departure. Bezos' silence on the matter continued a pattern of inaction by the company.

Allegations were first made against Price in July of 2015. After an investigation, the only punishment meted out, according to a New York Times account attributed to an Amazon employee briefed on the matter, was that Price was told to watch his drinking at work functions. Despite an investigation and despite The Hollywood Reporter's inquiry about the incident last spring, nothing more was done until recent news articles created a PR problem for the company. (Amazon declined to speak on the record.) Amazon then, finally, did make a change: In the end, Price was put on leave last month and resigned a few days later. The delay in meaningful discipline for Price led some current and former employees to wonder if that leniency was in some way connected to the company's lack of women in senior leadership positions—according to the tech-news site Recode, Amazon has just one woman among its 18 top executives.

They weren't wrong. Amazon seems to be typical of the sort of organization that researchers have found to be particularly prone to sexual harassment and abuse: male dominated, super hierarchical, and forgiving when it comes to bad behavior.

To start with, having more women employees, particularly in leadership roles, can reduce the incidence of harassment. Why? It's not that women are somehow themselves preventing the behavior—in fact women too can be perpetrators—but that male-dominated organizations are more likely to have cultures characterized by aggressive and competitive behaviors and so-called locker-room culture. In addition, compared with women, men tend to have more trouble recognizing when women are being treated in an unfair or sexist way. This sets the stage for harassment: In such contexts, norms of professionalism can give way to boorish interactions in which women are treated as sexualized pawns rather than as valued and competent work colleagues. And if men are less likely to label what their male colleagues are doing as inappropriate, it can make matters worse.

What's more is that in these hypermasculine settings, when women rise up the ranks, men can feel that their dominance is being threatened. In fact, the most common form of harassment is not the solicitation of sex, but rather what's called gender harassment—sexist comments, obscene gestures, publicly displayed pornography—which serve as tools for putting women "in their place." Women who violate feminine ideals by having a "man's job" or behaving in "masculine" ways such as expressing strong opinions, being assertive, and having supervisory roles are more likely to experience such harassment.

Another general principle is that hierarchy seems to increase the odds of harassment occurring. Of course, most organizations are hierarchical to some extent, but what matters is the degree of the power imbalances among different people in the system. Studies have found that having power enables people to do as they please, often at the expense of taking other people's perspectives into consideration. Research has also shown that in the minds of men with a high proclivity to harass, power and sex are closely linked. Moreover, their power shields them from scrutiny, criticism, and punishment. As a result, having power over others is often corruptive, in that it can lead people to behave badly, lack empathy, and even to engage in socially inappropriate or sexualized behavior. In contrast, powerlessness is associated with fear and embarrassment and a heightened sensitivity to threat. In contexts with greater hierarchy, higher-ups may be more inclined to behave badly, while at the same time subordinates are less able to push back.

A type of hierarchical situation that is rife for sexual harassment is one in which powerful individuals have a lot of discretion and a singular capacity to make or break an underling's career. The Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual assault and harassment, was for decades able to launch an unknown actress into stardom. (Holly Baird, a spokesperson for Weinstein, told The Atlantic that Weinstein "unequivocally denie[s]" any allegations of nonconsensual sex.) The venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck, who has been accused of unwanted and inappropriate advances, was in a position to provide badly needed funding to women entrepreneurs. (Caldbeck has denied the allegations and threatened to sue his accusers. He has also apologized and is now seeking to educate young men about "bro" culture. He declined to speak on the record for this article.) The U.C. Berkeley astronomy professor Geoff Marcy, who has been accused of behaving in an inappropriate and sexualized manner with students, had the power to write letters of recommendation to help women undergraduates get into graduate school. (Marcy disputes these accusations. A lawyer representing him referred The Atlantic to Marcy's earlier public statements about the matter.) The story often follows similar lines: A harasser's high status provides cover for their actions because victims and bystanders are leery of what will happen to them if they speak up. If the perpetrator holds the keys to your future, it can be hard to come forward or fight back. Time and again, harassers get away with it because there is a low probability of both discovery and punishment.

At its core, sexual harassment is about unequal power relations between men and women at work, at school, and in society at large. Vulnerability is a hallmark of both who gets targeted and why victims keep silent. The waitress earning minimum wage who is expected to put up with sexist comments from customers; the woman farmworker who is sexually assaulted in the field and then threatened into silence by her employer; the intern who must fend off repeated advances from a senior leader to keep her position. It is the most vulnerable women among us, those with less education, who hold low-paid service jobs or lower-level administrative jobs, who are racial and ethnic minorities, or who have been victimized before, who are harassed more frequently. And few victims ever come forward because of legitimate concerns that retribution could put them out of a job.

If power imbalances leave those at the bottom of the hierarchy vulnerable, more needs to be done to even out the scales. Strong HR departments that are empowered to protect employees and rewarded when they do, hotlines that are staffed (not recordings), and anonymous reporting mechanisms can do a lot to give voice to people who often have none.   

The third factor, and the single biggest predictor of sexual harassment on the job, is how permissive an organization is of this conduct. Permissive organizations are ones in which employees feel it is risky to report sexual harassment, think that their complaints won't be taken seriously, and believe that perpetrators will face few to no consequences. This may seem circular, and in a way it is—harassment begets more harassment—but it also implies an important lesson: Cracking down on harassers, severely and transparently, discourages the behavior across an organization.

Quintessential examples of these kinds of permissive environments are companies like Uber and Fox News. At Uber, Susan Fowler said her repeated complaints to HR about harassment and exclusion went nowhere. Instead she was told that no actions would be taken against the perpetrator because he was a top performer. At Fox News, Bill O'Reilly was given another four-year, $25 million-a-year contract even after he settled a harassment case for $32 million and despite 21st Century Fox knowing about these allegations against him (though not about the amount of the settlement). At each company, these weren't isolated incidents of unprofessional behavior. Rather, they reflected a larger problem. Uber ended up firing 20 people for harassment, bullying, and discrimination after an investigation of its workplace culture was conducted in the wake of Fowler's blog post. And, in addition to O'Reilly, former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and the Fox News host Eric Bolling have both left Fox News amid allegations of sexual harassment. (A spokesperson for 21st Century Fox said the company has taken "concerted action to transform Fox News," including "increasing the channels through which employees can report harassment or discrimination.")

What determines whether or not a company is tolerant of sexual harassment? In a word, leadership. Do managers work to prevent harassment by talking about company policies and modeling appropriate ways of treating and interacting with coworkers?  Do they ensure that claims of harassment are promptly investigated and that punishments are handed out—even when the perpetrator is a top performer or a higher-up? When leaders take sexual harassment seriously, it's less likely to occur. The odds of it happening go up when company leaders condone misconduct by ignoring it, discouraging people from coming forward, failing to act, or engaging in harassing behaviors themselves.

Sexual harassment leads to many negative outcomes. Targets of harassment can have reduced mental and physical health, lower job satisfaction, and greater workplace withdrawal. They suffer real costs to their careers. When women have to quit to get away from threatening situations, they often wind up in lower-paying jobs with worse long-term professional prospects. There are organizational consequences as well, all of which hit the bottom line. Not only are the costs of litigation high, but in environments that are more hostile to women there can be more team conflict and reduced workgroup productivity.

As bad as all of this is, there is also the implication that companies can do a lot to address and prevent sexual harassment. Strong policies—with real teeth—and training are essential. In both, harassment should be clearly defined, protocols established for what employees should do when they see it happening, disciplinary consequences should be clear, confidentiality for the victim should be maintained, and retribution against him or her prohibited.

Gender equity efforts are also central. If male-dominated structures uphold a system of sexual harassment, such structures need to be changed, and women need to be promoted to upper levels. Even so, more women in management won't alone eliminate sexual harassment, and plenty of organization with women in top leadership positions still have problems. But greater numbers of women can create more equity in the power men and women hold inside companies. More women can also do a lot to tamp down hypermasculine cultures that degrade and demean women. It appears Amazon Studios is cleaning house and moving in this direction, putting women executives into key leadership positions. This leadership shake-up came just weeks after Roy Price and a few of his male colleagues suddenly departed from the company and as Amazon Studios began an investigation into allegations that the Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor harassed a former assistant. (In a statement provided to Deadline, Tambor described the allegation as "baseless." He also denied a separate allegation of harassment, and indicated he plans to leave the show.)

Men play an important role in counteracting sexism as well. Research shows that people take men's complaints about sexism more seriously than they take women's, perhaps because men are not seen as directly benefiting from doing so (and, perhaps, because people implicitly trust men more on these matters than they trust women, even though the vast majority of perpetrators are men and the vast majority of victims are women).                 

Ultimately, all of this comes down to whether senior leadership takes this issue seriously or not. A study from the military found that when women felt that their leaders were working to combat sexual harassment and modeled respectful behavior they reported experiencing less harassment and, if they filed a complaint, were more satisfied with what happened. Thus, when leaders take visible, consistent, and firm stands that sexual harassment won't be tolerated, it creates safer and more inclusive environments. When leaders remain mum, as Jeff Bezos did on the earnings call, it can do the opposite.

Monday Morning Drama at Trump's Most Hated Agency

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 01:22 PM PST

Monday morning got off to a weird start at the normally staid Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, when two potential leaders for the government agency showed up to work the same job. Leandra English started the day with an email to staff, sharing her excitement about working with them in her new role as acting director. But that didn't stop Mick Mulvaney, Trump's controversial pick for the job, from showing up with doughnuts in hand and taking a seat in the director's office.

The battle over who will run the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau may be headed to court. But until a judge rules on who has the right to choose a temporary director, or one party decides to give up their claim, things at the Bureau will get more and more confusing.

While both sides say that law is abundantly clear about who has the power to determine the Bureau's interim leader, no one can seem to agree on what that means. All of this is not only awkward, it also highlights the fact that, despite claims to the contrary, determining who has control of this government agency right now is pretty complicated.

On Sunday, English, the agency's deputy director filed a lawsuit that attempts to block the president from installing his own pick as acting director instead of her. In that suit, English's lawyer, Deepak Gupta (who formerly worked for the Bureau) asserts that, "The law is clear: Leandra English is Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau until the Senate confirms a new Director."

The lawsuit filed by English cites provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act that state that in the event that the director leaves, the deputy director will "serve as acting Director in the absence or unavailability of the Director." That language is why Richard Cordray, the Bureau's former director, promoted English to the post of deputy director as his final act on Friday in an attempt to thwart President Trump from putting his own candidate into the position. But Trump was undeterred.

When Cordray first announced his impending resignation, Trump looked to the Federal Vacancies Act, which gives the president the authority to fill vacancies on an interim basis unless some other method of filling them is expressly authorized. But many argue that the language of Dodd-Frank does exactly that.

Trump has not been swayed by either the provision in Dodd-Frank that outlines succession, or by the Cordray's bold move to install the acting director before leaving. Instead, the president doubled down on his choice, naming Mulvaney, who is the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as acting director of the CFPB on Friday. The president then tweeted about the Bureau, calling it a "total disaster" during Cordray's tenure and pledging to "bring it back to life!" Supporters of the agency pushed back against that characterization, noting that the CFPB has returned $12 billion to consumers over its six-year history.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump's controversial pick to lead the CFPB, showed up with doughnuts on Monday morning. (Aaron Bernstein / Reuters)

Things only got more complicated from there. An important detail about the lawsuit that English has filed in an attempt to gain control of the directorship is that she filed the suit on behalf of herself, not the Bureau. That's because the CFPB's lead counsel, Mary McLeod, is backing Trump's claim. In a memo to senior leadership on Friday, McLeod says that the president has the authority to name Cordray's successor. "I advise all Bureau personnel to act consistently with the understanding that Director Mulvaney is the Acting Director of the CFPB," she writes. A letter from the assistant attorney general, Steven Engel, comes to a similar conclusion. (It's worth noting that as recently as 2016, Engel was involved in defending payday lenders in lawsuits brought by the CFPB.)

Academic scholars aren't as convinced about Trump's ability to name both an acting director immediately and an official director in the future. Marty Lederman, a professor at Georgetown Law writes that the claim that the Vacancies Act supersedes Dodd-Frank, making Mulvaney the acting director is "is at the very least contestable." And after reviewing the pertinent laws, including the Federal Vacancies Act, Nina Mendelson, a law professor at the University of Michigan, argues that while Trump can at any time appoint a new director, who will then undergo Senate confirmation, he doesn't have the authority to install an acting director.

The fact that the succession plan for the agency has turned into a battle under the Trump administration shouldn't be surprising. Trump spent much of his campaign haranguing the agency as ineffectual, and many Republicans opposed the creation of the Bureau in the first place, and have criticized it since the get-go.

In her lawsuit, English asked for a speedy legal resolution to this dispute. But until that happens, the work of the Bureau, which includes regulating financial institutions, educating consumers, and punishing bad financial actors, remains at risk.

What Meghan Markle Means for the Royal Family

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 10:30 AM PST

LONDON—To most families, Meghan Markle might seem like the ideal daughter-in-law. The American actor and humanitarian graduated from Northwestern with a double major in theater and international relations. She's devoted to public service, acting as a global ambassador for World Vision and a United Nations advocate for women. And she has a distinctly entrepreneurial bent—until recently, Markle ran her own food and lifestyle website, thetig.com.

The British monarchy, though, is not most families. So the announcement on Monday morning that Markle was engaged to Prince Harry, the younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, signifies more than just a wedding in the spring of 2018 and a surefire media frenzy. It's also a sign that by accepting Markle—a divorced, biracial American who had a Catholic education—the monarchy is ready and willing to change. Markle, 36, is the first American set to marry into its ranks since Wallis Simpson sparked a constitutional crisis in 1936.

Rumors surrounding the impending engagement of Markle and Prince Harry peaked in recent days after Markle was seen accompanied by bodyguards from the Metropolitan Police's protection unit, signifying her upgraded status within the ranks of the royals. (Markle also reportedly listed Prince Harry's address in Kensington Palace on her two dogs' passports.) But the announcement on Monday from the Clarence House Twitter account—the organization representing Prince Charles, Harry's father—made the news official.

The phrasing of the statement seems noteworthy; the Queen, it reveals, was "informed," while Markle's family was the one whose approval was actively "sought." Nevertheless, a Twitter account representing the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh announced that both were "delighted for the couple and wish them every happiness." The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the principal leader of the Church of England, reportedly gave his blessing several months ago for Markle and Prince Harry to have a church wedding. And a spokesperson for Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were married in 2011, reiterated that the General Synod Ruling of 2002 approved marriages for divorcées within the Church of England.

The vehicle for announcing the engagement—a social-media platform founded in 2006—isn't the only sign of the times. Members of the British royal family have repeatedly been frustrated by protocol over the last century when it comes to finding spouses. Wallis Simpson, an American socialite, was married to her second husband when she met Edward, Prince of Wales. When George V died in January 1936, Edward ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII. But his intention to marry Simpson complicated his status irrevocably. At the time, the Church of England forbade marriages for divorced people whose former spouses were still alive, and as King, Edward VIII was the Supreme Governor of the church. Opposed by the Prime Minister, and facing a constitutional crisis, he abdicated the throne at the end of 1936, stating, "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love."

The Royal Family's resistance to "Catholics, commoners, and divorcées," as Vanity Fair puts it, endured for several more decades. During the 1950s, Princess Margaret, the Queen's sister, was forbidden from marrying Captain Peter Townsend, who had previously been married and had two children. Prince Andrew, the Queen's son, dated an American actress named Koo Stark in the 1980s, but the media interest in their relationship, and the Queen's reported disapproval of Stark's role in a "racy" film, led to his marrying Sarah Ferguson instead. And even for prospective partners who fit the bill, the requirements of the monarchy often overrode personal desire. Prince Charles's current wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was deemed an unsuitable choice for the future King when they first fell in love in the 1970s.

Markle, though, comes from a different generation, and is joining an institution that was battered by scandal and tragedy toward the end of the 20th century. Princess Diana's public statements about her husband's infidelity dispelled any notions that the Royal Family might be less susceptible to bad behavior than commoners. And her seeming incompatibility with her husband—despite being a perfect match on paper—undermined the idea that heirs to the throne had a responsibility to marry for more than love. Prince William's relationship with Kate Middleton, who hailed from a middle-class background, and whose mother once worked for an airline, confirmed the new status quo.

Hence the distinct lack of grumbling about Markle's biography, and the Queen's willingness not just to accept her, but to embrace her into the family. The monarchy is relatively popular in the U.K., even in 2017. Two thirds of citizens think there's still a place for the institution in modern Britain, and only 19 percent hope that the country will become a republic in the future. Still, the Queen is well aware that the Royal Family has to be seen as in touch with the priorities and the desires of modern Britons. In an interview to commemorate his grandmother's 60th anniversary as monarch, Prince Harry praised her ability to adapt. "She's managed to get the family to move with the times," he said. "I think that's incredibly important. You can't get stuck in a sort of an old-age situation when everything around you is changing."

Markle, who grew up in Los Angeles, has already experienced feverish media scrutiny on her background since her relationship with Prince Harry was announced in 2016. In November that year, following some erroneous  and offensive tabloid reports that Markle was "straight outta Compton," Prince Harry took the unprecedented step of releasing a statement condemning her "abuse and harassment" by the press, and the "racial undertones" of some of the commentary. "Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her," it said.

Markle's official status as his fiancée now affords her police protection. It also demonstrates that the 33-year-old Harry,  who's fifth in line to the throne, is more open-minded than much of the media in Britain. On her mother's side, Markle is descended from enslaved persons; on her father's, she reportedly shares a common ancestor with her husband-to-be, Elizabeth Bowes. In that sense, she's well placed to represent both the history of the British monarchy, and its future.

What <i>Godless</i> Says About America

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 12:18 AM PST

In the opening scene of Godless, Marshal John Cook (Sam Waterston) rides into the town of Creede, Colorado, as a dust storm swirls around him. The marshal lowers his bandana and squints into the distance, surveying the scene impassively as the landscape slowly comes into focus. He takes in the carnage of a firefight, a wrecked train, and countless bodies who seem to have all been shot in the head. Then one of his men directs him to the sight of something so awful that it makes the steely old-timer stagger a little, and fall to his knees in the dirt: the sight of a small boy, maybe 5 years old, who's been lynched from a post.

What can the Western, that hoary, craggy old relic, a staple of TCM movie marathons and Disneyland saloon experiences, say about life in contemporary America? Godless, written and directed by Scott Frank (Get Shorty, Minority Report) for Netflix, and executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, is a gorgeous, slyly subversive affirmation of the genre's power, even if it isn't quite the "feminist Western" it was marketed as. The seven-episode series has all the tropes of classic models: outlaws, train heists, brooding heroes, disillusioned lawmen, boundless scenery. But it also has the weight of a world in which something is out of balance. The tension between freedom and order, between outlaw individualism and functioning communities, has come to a breaking point.

In that, Godless is doing something quietly revolutionary. Westerns have long played a part in building the lore of American history. "No other nation," the historian David Hamilton Murdoch writes in The American West: The Invention of a Myth, "has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America's creation of the West." Westerns celebrate the heroic individual rather than the well-ordered—but inevitably vulnerable—community. They glorify domination, whether over Native Americans or the treacherous terrain of the frontier. And they fetishize guns, which unfailingly allow heroes to safeguard democracy—never mind the collateral damage of bodies littered in the streets after each epic confrontation.

Rather than endorse these motifs, though, Godless leads viewers to interrogate them. The series is built around an inevitable showdown between Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and Roy Goode (Jack O'Connell)—a battle between Goode and evil. Frank is a wickedly charismatic outlaw who dresses like a preacher and bestows biblical fury upon anyone in his path. Roy is his protegé turned mortal enemy, an orphan whom Frank unofficially adopted as his favorite son, and whose desertion precipitated Frank's most heinous act yet: the murder of an entire town, the wreckage of which is detailed in the opening scene. "Roy Goode betrayed me, and I will kill any man, woman, or child who harbors him," Frank tells a terrified newspaper editor in the second episode. "The good people of Creede let him walk their streets. And now they don't have any streets. Or people."

Roy seeks sanctuary at the home of a stranger, a widow named Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), who shoots him off his horse before she allows him into her barn to recover. Alice and her half-Native son are shunned by the local town of La Belle, New Mexico, which lost 83 of its male citizens in a mining accident a few years ago—almost all of the male population. The tragedy has tainted La Belle's reputation, and yet the women have managed to establish a functioning society largely by themselves. Maggie McNue (Merritt Wever), the wife of the late mayor, acts as de facto leader. The women are working together to build a church, and—in one of the show's slyer winks—Callie Dunne (Tess Frazer) has established a school in the now-customerless brothel, Magdalena's House of Rapture.

The concept of a frontier town without men is a captivating one, and so the biggest immediate disappointment within Godless is that it spends much less time with the women of La Belle than trailers had suggested it might. But to be fair to its creators, the idea of the series being a feminist Western seems to have been amped up in the marketing of the show, while their primary concerns were slightly different. Godless wants to unpack the layered mythology of the American frontier, and to do that it requires confrontations between law and outlaw. Frank is the dark core of the story, pitted against Roy, against Marshal Cook, and against Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy), La Belle's sheriff, whose deputy is a gangly kid named Whitey Winn (Thomas Brodie-Sangster).

Also central to the story—and emphasized in the name of the show itself—is the supposed absence of a higher power in the wild West. The church in La Belle is a construction site; the priest is supposedly en route from Pennsylvania but is several months late. When Frank happens across a small group of Norwegian settlers, he demands one of the women join him at night so he doesn't kill them all. "You are no man of God!" her husband cries out, observing Frank's dog collar. "God?" Frank hisses. "What God? Mister, you clearly don't know where you are. This here's the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake. It's the land of the bleeding and the wrathful. It's godless country. And the sooner you accept your inevitable demise, the longer you all are gonna live."

And yet Frank is a kind of god. Running roughshod through a region that offers little protection from thieves, rapists, and murderers, he's forged an autocracy around his definitive (if twisted) code. The West of Godless is full of strange mini-cults. There are groups of men wearing buffalo heads who traffic children and violate women, and Mormons dressed as Native Americans who killed Frank's parents, raped his sister, and then adopted young Frank, teaching him that "things were purified with blood." Frank's own band of brothers is made up of misfits whom he's saved from horrific situations and taken up as family. In one scene, Frank even steps into a house that a town has abandoned, helping the residents, who've been struck by an infectious fever. These moments of kindness from a brutal murderer add complexity to a fascinating character, but they also indict the idea that the culture of the Old West should ever be lionized. That the fearsome Frank Griffin—a killer of children—is often the most compassionate person around is a sign of a society gone very wrong.

Where Godless is most intriguing though, is in its treatment of guns. In terms of structure and style, it's a deeply conventional Western—all eight hours or so seem to be building toward a climactic battle in La Belle, and there are gunfights and heists and altercations throughout. But Roy, who acts as a father figure to Alice's son Truckee (Samuel Marty), has a more measured attitude toward guns than his own skill with them might attest. After a newcomer spits on Truckee, Truckee tells Roy that he could tell Roy wanted to pull his gun. "Say we all commence shooting at each other at the same time," Roy says. "Then what? … Then you could be dead, and if other people were standing in the street, they might be dead, too." It's a nod to the fact that, in reality, a good guy with a gun rarely bests a bad guy with a gun as simply as it looks in the movies. Even in the Old West.

This doesn't mean that Godless's gunfights aren't thrilling. But they're also terrifying. The camera pays attention to the violence of it all, to the impact of bullet hitting flesh, and to the needless waste of life. In For a Few Dollars More, Sergio Leone characterized the Old West as a place where "life has no value." Godless refutes that assertion. One of the virtues of it being essentially an eight-hour movie is that it spends enough time with ancillary characters that every single death feels like a powerful loss. While the show could have simply used the mining accident as a device to set up a town dominated by women, it instead takes time in one episode to recreate not the catastrophe itself, but the moments before—the slow, peaceful walk to work as the women kissed their husbands goodbye. It's somehow sadder and more moving seeing the preceding moments than the chaos of the explosion.

In choosing emotion over action in this instance, Godless asserts its priorities. In its worldview, there should be things that matter more than money or power. (Remember that the school in La Belle was only established after the brothel ran out of customers.) After Alice teaches Roy to read, he finally opens a letter his brother wrote him many years ago. "I've learned that life is a gift we are given, and we should live it with honor, and, God willing, leave something of our best selves behind," his brother writes. "I know now that money matters only to the man with the small mind. The harder thing is to do the best one can with what one has. I learned these words and thoughts from reading, something I should have learned how to do a long time ago. … The truth is, books have taught me that I am not at all the man I could have been. But I want to try." The true battle, Godless argues, isn't for wealth. It's education and self-improvement that can change the world, and leave the deepest impact.

If it were just a stylish, cinematic revival of a Western, Godless would be worthwhile. Its production values are extraordinary, and the camera's epic sweeps along vast vistas capture the beauty of the American landscape like nothing else on television. It recalls the fear and heartbreak embedded in the frontier, as well as the bravery of many of the men and women who ventured there. But it does all this while challenging the notion of the Old West as an embodiment of American values. The conquest of the wilderness, it argues, was built on blood and cruelty. The mythologizing of the rugged individualists and gun-toting outlaws in the genre has led to darker stains on the American psyche that still persist. But it proves that truer stories can be told—ones that capture the allure of what brought so many westward in the the first place, while more honestly portraying history.

Trump's Sinister Attacks on CNN

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 07:09 AM PST

Days before the Thanksgiving holiday, the U.S. Department of Justice released its complaint against the proposed AT&T–Time Warner merger. The complaint is a history-making document. It announces a return to long-discarded approaches to antitrust, and argues that these old ways have regained relevance in the digital era.

The Justice Department's arguments for this rediscovery are sophisticated and even compelling—so much so that they raise a retrospective question: If this big merger of content creators and content carriers is banned as anticompetitive, why was the previous big merger of Comcast and NBC Universal permitted? The issues raised by AT&T–Time Warner were also presented by Comcast–NBC. What has changed between then and now?

The morning after Thanksgiving, however, President Trump tweeted his latest and most outrageous attack yet on CNN, a unit of Time Warner.

These are ominous words. Inside the U.S., CNN's reporting is protected by the First Amendment and the courts. Outside of the country, U.S.-affiliated journalists do ultimately depend on the protection of the U.S. government. Trump's tweet is a direct attack on those international journalists' freedom and even safety. Trump is inviting rogue regimes and other bad actors all over the world to harass CNN journalists—or worse. Trump's words inspired this lament from General Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Trump's animus against CNN raises a searching and troubling question. What if the Department of Justice is doing the right thing for the wrong reason? Or what if the president's personal determination to silence a crucial media institution—or, worse, to force its sale to an ally like Rupert Murdoch—explains the sudden pivot in the department's antitrust philosophy?

From the 1930s through the 1980s, antitrust lawyers worried a lot about vertical integration: companies that owned every step of production, from mine to showroom. In 1948, the Department of Justice won a case forcing the major movie producers to sell their chains of movie theaters.

The Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Paramount Pictures incidentally destabilized the careers of many B-movie actors who had until then enjoyed steady, predictable salaries under the old studio system. The shock jolted one of those actors, Ronald Reagan, from his former New Deal liberalism to burning rage against an over-intrusive federal government.

Indeed, the old concern with vertical integration did become progressively more intrusive. In the 1960s, makers of car radios brought a spate of lawsuits to stop carmakers from selling cars with radios preinstalled. Could cameras be sold with film? Insulin together with the infusion apparatus? How could an economy innovate if every product upgrade required government approval? Just think of how much of the office equipment of the 1980s—calendar, camera, calculator, dictionary—comes bundled in a modern phone!

When Reagan reached the presidency, in 1981, he oversaw the reinvention of antitrust law. The new thinking on antitrust—most powerfully expressed in Robert Bork's 1978 book, The Antitrust Paradox—denounced the old concern with vertical integration. The Justice Department, Bork argued, should zealously police mergers between companies that competed directly against one another: horizontal competition, in the argot. What happened up and down the product chain should be left to Mr. Market to decide. The Comcast–NBC deal was approved by that logic.

Unnervingly, however, the uses of market power that we confront in the 2010s look a lot more like the old motion-picture studios trying to control every inch of film content in their theaters than like car-radio makers trying to force consumers to buy two products at a higher price instead of one convenient bundle of car and radio at a lower price. Facebook seeks to seize for itself all of the value created by its users. Companies such as Comcast hope to use control of the content consumers want to extract purchases of content that consumers want less. Time Warner, the DOJ fears, hopes to extend this grasp to the emerging mobile world: maintaining the high profits of the old cable industry even as Americans sever cable's physical cords.

As social media emerge as the nation's, and the world's, true public square, hard questions arise about their owners claims to be mere platforms. Does Facebook really have no duty to police advertisers who request, "No blacks, please?" Can Twitter stand aside as its platform is used for harassment and threats?

The deregulated, postindustrial world of the 1980s and '90s seemed to banish old fears of industrial concentration. The world of Google, Facebook, and Amazon looks a lot more like the world dominated by U.S. Steel and General Motors. Suddenly, formerly antique antitrust ideas again seem relevant to our time.

Only … is that really what's going on?

From The New York Times, July 5, 2017:

White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary, a senior administration official said: a pending merger between CNN's parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T. Mr. Trump's Justice Department will decide whether to approve the merger, and while analysts say there is little to stop the deal from moving forward, the president's animus toward CNN remains a wild card.

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly denounced the merger, as he also attacked Amazon, the company founded by Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post. Bruised by The Post's reporting, Trump delivered this threat to Sean Hannity in May 2016: "[Bezos] thinks I'll go after him for antitrust. Because he's got a huge antitrust problem because he's controlling so much, Amazon is controlling so much of what they are doing. He's using The Washington Post, which is peanuts, he's using that for political purposes to save Amazon in terms of taxes and in terms of antitrust."

Strikingly, Trump had little to say about anticompetitive trends elsewhere in the economy. The banking industry underwent a huge consolidation during and after the financial crisis. The share of deposits held by the top 10 banks jumped from 30 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2010. The top 10 held 36 percent of loans in 2000, but 50 percent in 2010. The overwhelming majority of that concentration is explained by mergers: an average of 150 a year over that decade.

Monopolization even in the information economy does not interest him so long as the monopolizers refrain from reporting on him in ways he does not like. Trump has had nothing negative to say about Facebook or Google. He reserved his antitrust energy exclusively for companies connected to The Washington Post and CNN. That's fishy.

Likewise it's fishy that the assistant attorney general for antitrust who filed the objection to the AT&T–Time Warner merger saw "no problem" with it in a television interview before he joined the Trump administration. Something changed his mind after he took office.

The most sinister explanation of the change is that Trump's anti-CNN animus inspired the DOJ's intervention.

But here's a second explanation, rather less sinister but in its way just as disturbing. The career Justice Department staff wanted to move against the AT&T–TimeWarner merger because of reviving concerns about vertical integration and market power in the Facebook-Google-Amazon era. Their wish may well have been blocked under a more normal Republican president with more conventionally conservative, Bork-influenced views of antitrust. Trump's determination to strike at CNN, however, opened an opportunity for a more aggressive approach. In other words, we could be looking at a federal-enforcement action that is simultaneously credible in its substance—and also enabled by malicious motives.

In the litigation over the Trump travel ban, courts cited Trump's tweets as evidence that he had exceeded his proper powers. Historically, presidents have wielded large discretionary power over the entry of aliens into the United States. They can exclude any category or subcategory of aliens for any reason. In one case, the Supreme Court upheld an exclusion of an alien even when the executive offered no reason at all. But Trump's tweets avowed a deliberate intention to exclude people on the basis of religion. He had demanded a "Muslim ban" during the campaign and he reiterated his "ban" terminology as recently as November 24. Confronted with this repeated actual notice of discriminatory intent, the courts reacted by imposing new limits on long-established powers of the presidency.



What will they do as the Time Warner litigation moves forward—and the president's virulent comments are entered into evidence? Otherwise, legal governmental actions can be tainted as illegal and unconstitutional if done for improper reasons.

Donald Trump is a president with a unique lack of respect for constitutional rights, the rule of law, and the independence of news media. That disrespect shadows every measure of his administration—and haunts the debate we need to have about rethinking antitrust in this age of digital monopoly power.

Poor Girls Are Leaving Their Brothers Behind

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 07:48 AM PST

MERCED, California—Nita Vue's parents, refugees from Laos, wanted all nine of their children go to college. But Nita, now 20, is the only one of her brothers and sisters who is going to get a degree. A few of her sisters began college, and one nearly completed nursing school, she told me. Her brothers were less interested. "The way I grew up, the girls were more into schooling," she said. "Women tended to have higher expectations than men did."

This is not unusual. Across socioeconomic classes, women are increasingly enrolling and completing postsecondary education, while, even as opportunities for people without a college education shrink, men's rates of graduation remain relatively stagnant. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, 72.5 percent of females who had recently graduated high school were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, compared to 65.8 percent of men. That's a big difference from 1967, when 57 percent of recent male high-school grads were in college, compared to 47.2 percent of women.

Women from low-income and minority families especially have made great strides in recent decades. Just 12.4 percent of men from low-income families who were high-school sophomores in 2002 had received a bachelor's degree by 2013, compared to 17.6 percent of women. And in 2016, 22 percent of Hispanic women ages 25 to 29 had a bachelor's degree, compared to 16 percent of Hispanic men.

(While poor women are outpacing poor men, it is important to note that in the big picture, poor women are nevertheless far behind their richer counterparts. About 70 percent of women from a high socioeconomic status who were high school sophomores in 2002 had gotten bachelor's degrees by 2013, compared to 17.6 percent of women from low socioeconomic status.)

This gender gap in college completion has been a long time in the making. In the early 1900s, when some elite colleges started opening up to women, women quickly got better grades than men, according to Claudia Buchmann, a professor of sociology at Ohio State and the co-author of The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools. In the 1970s, as more women started attending college, they started graduating at higher and higher rates, while men's enrollment and graduation rates remained relatively flat. But until recently, the women attending college were mostly from elite families. Now, women from lower-income families are increasingly attending college.


Percentage of American 25-to-29-Year-Olds With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher

Steven Johnson / The Atlantic

This is a positive development for women, because a college education is increasingly important in today's economy. Out of the 11.6 million jobs created after the recession, 8.4 million of those went to those with at least a bachelor's degree, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown. But while women across socioeconomic classes are embracing the idea that education is important and are pursuing postsecondary degrees, many men from lower-income households are not. "The puzzle is—why don't boys get it? There's all this talk that we hear constantly, about the benefits of a college degree," said Buchmann.  

Some of the problem is that boys from low-income families appear to struggle more in school than girls do. They lag behind as early as kindergarten even though health tests show that, at the time of birth, they are just as healthy and cognitively able to learn as their sisters, a recent paper found. This is partly because they appear to be more affected by poverty and stress than girls are. "Boys are differentially sensitive to negative environments in general," one of the paper's authors, Northwestern professor David Figlio, told me. These findings dovetail with much-cited research out of the Equality of Opportunity Project that finds that childhood disadvantage is especially harmful for boys.

School quality is also more important for boys than for girls, Figlio said, and since many low-income families attend poor-quality schools, their sons, who are already lagging behind their daughters, fall even further behind. The paper found that lower-income boys often do worse in elementary and middle school than their sisters, and have more behavioral problems, which can lead them to disengage with school entirely or get kicked out.

Nita Vue told me she was always set on college, even when she was in grade school. Neither of her parents has a college education, and neither has worked recently, but they encouraged all of their children to focus on school. Nita, who is now a junior at the University of California-Merced, would come home from school and read while her siblings were listening to music. She always had good grades, and graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. In general, her sisters did better academically than her brothers did, her mother, Mai Kao Vue, told me. "The girls were more into schooling, and the boys were more outgoing," she said.

What is it about girls? The differences start young: Girls enter kindergarten more prepared than boys, and derive more satisfaction from pleasing parents and teachers than boys do, according to Buchmann. In one study, 62 percent of eighth-grade girls said that good grades were "very important," compared to 50 percent of boys, according to Buchmann and her co-author Thomas DiPrete. Girls also have more of the social and behavioral skills that are important for succeeding in school from an early age, Buchmann said.

Boys often feel pressured to act "masculine," which can lead them to eschew school —one study showed that boys put a lot of effort into school are often labeled as "gay" or "pussies." Yet boys who don't buy into those stereotypes and participate in music, dance, or art, do better than other boys academically in eighth grade, according to Buchmann and DiPrete. Those different levels of engagement can make a difference for college attendance: students who reported getting mostly As in middle school have a 70 percent chance of completing college by age 25, while those who get mostly Cs have only a 10 percent chance.

How parents raise children can exacerbate these dynamics. Pressures to be "masculine" are often stronger in lower-income or working-class families, Buchmann says. "The notion of what it means to be a boy and a man, especially among lower working-class boys, makes it such that they see doing well in school as something that girls and women do, and they don't want any part of it," Buchmann told me. This is especially true if boys see male role models like fathers or older family members working physical, blue-collar jobs that don't require an education. They may assume that they'll be able to work those jobs too, even if they're disappearing, and think that doing anything else is too "girly." By contrast, if boys have role models that are educated, they do better in school. Better-educated parents often teach their children a different concept of masculinity in which academic achievement is important. Moreover, they are more likely to know men in careers that require an education, and to have those men as their role models.


Percentage of Black and Hispanic American 25-to-29-Year-Olds With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher, by Gender

Steven Johnson / The Atlantic

Nita's brother, Por Vue, who is now 28, told me he thought he was deeply affected by his family's lack of knowledge about the educational system. He actually applied to and was accepted into Cal State Monterey Bay, but his parents advised him to instead go to a junior college closer to home, he told me. But the junior college was overcrowded and he couldn't get into many of the classes he wanted, so had to change his major. Then, while he was in college, he started a family, and later dropped out so he could support his wife and kids. He's now a manager at PetSmart, where he makes around $13 an hour. "I think if I'd had a better family background, I would have had knowledge that other people had, and I would have been able to go further," he told me.

Boys may also be more susceptible to short-term instant gratification than girls are, Buchmann told me. Boys may have a harder time slogging away at a college degree and paying for it when they know there are jobs available where they could get paid a decent wage, even if that job might not be a long-term proposition. I talked to a 31-year-old in Merced named Edward Vasquez who was one-and-a-half years into a two-year nursing program when he dropped out to take a job as a certified nursing assistant that paid $17.50 an hour. He's since lost his job and is looking for work.

This is not to say that men can't succeed if they don't have a college education. I talked to a woman named Olga Jimenez who was raised by a single mother, and who went to college when her brothers didn't. But her brother has still made a good career as a real-estate agent, and has a license and his own office, she told me. Meanwhile, Olga had to work three jobs at once while she attended Whittier College and is still paying off her college debt.

Yet Jimenez's brother is the exception, not the rule. People with just a high-school diploma make, on average, $692 a week, compared to $1,156 for those with a bachelor's degree. And the returns of a college education have grown over time. People with a bachelor's degree or higher earn 14 percent more than they did in 1979, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; people with a high school degree earn 12 percent less.

As the gender gap grows, there are wider implications for society. People are more likely to pair with others who have a similar educational background; as more women get postsecondary degrees than men, women will increasingly find their marriage prospects dimming. This is already happening in some areas of the country—I wrote in May about a town in Ohio where the women complained that all the men were on drugs or unemployed, while the women held down steady jobs. Their daughters will face a similar future, unless they can get their sons to succeed at—and care about—school.

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