Why the copyright terms on a goldmine of works from 1923 are about to expire.
Felix the Cat. Image: Wikimedia Commons
When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, movies, songs, and books created in the United States in 1923—even beloved cartoons such as Felix the Cat—will be eligible for anyone to adapt, repurpose, or distribute as they please.
A 20-year freeze on copyright expirations has prevented a cache of 1923 works from entering the public domain, including Paramount Pictures’ The Ten Commandments, Charlie Chaplin’s The Pilgrim, and novels by Aldous Huxley.
Such a massive release of iconic works is unprecedented, experts say—especially in the digital age,as the last big dumppredated Google.
“There is certainly great value in effectively restarting the public domain, but the mistake was having extended the term of protection for already created works in the first place,” Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, told Motherboard.
The Act lengthened copyrights of corporate “works made for hire” to 95 years (from 75 years) from their first publication, or 120 years from their creation—thus delaying Mickey Mouse’s earliest entrance into the public domain until 2024; and it alsogranted copyright coverageto works published on or after January 1, 1978, to “life of the author plus 70 years.”
The terms for works published in 1923 were retroactively amended, and have remained copywritten for 95 years.
Compared to Canada, Japan, and New Zealand, America’s copyright laws are in ways more limited, and the decision to gatekeep entire eras of history has been characterized as enormously harmful to society,Motherboard has previously reported.
The end of the “dark ages” of copyright terms could usher in a Renaissance of creativity.
“Stuff from our distant past reappears when copyright goes away,” Christopher Sprigman, a law professor at New York University, told Motherboard.
“[Disney] had things like early Mickey Mouse cartoons that they may ideally want to stay in copyright forever. But that isn’t good for creativity,” Sprigman added.
In 2013, Paul Heald, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,conducted a survey of books for sale on Amazon. He found that more books were for sale from the 1880s than the 1990s.
Public domain waspartly responsiblefor the internet you’re using, and permits Wikipedia editorsto use photos of famous people on their Wikipages. It’s how books become translated into multiple languages, and how researchers can share their scientific findings.
“The public domain of course is the default for creativity and innovation,” Jessica Silbey, co-director of Northeastern University’s Center for Law, Innovation and Creativity, told Motherboard.
“Most people create and invent without expectation of exclusivity that IP law provides,” Silbey added. “Before there was IP, and outside of formal IP systems, there is and was plenty of creativity and innovation. “
What’s certain is that works spanning the Great Depression, the Fifties, and the Computer Age will finally be released yearly over the coming decades—opening a floodgate of free and public knowledge, and perhaps kickstarting an exciting revolution of creative ingenuity.
“Celebrating the return of a yearly expansion of the public domain is the appropriate response,” Sibley said.”
The nail salon industry is expected to grow at almost twice the rate of other U.S. industries in the next decade, and report authors make recommendations for key stakeholders: ensure quality jobs and labor protections for nail salon workers…
Preeti Sharma, Saba Waheed, Vina Nguyen, Lina Stepick, Reyna Orellana, Liana Katz, Sabrina Kim, and Katrina Lapira UCLA Labor Center
Key issues, trends, and areas of oversight in the multibillion dollar nail salon industry are highlighted in Nail Files: A Study of Nail Salon Workers and Industry in the United States. This report is the first to examine the nail salon industry nationally with a focus on labor conditions.
Among other discoveries, the report finds:
78% of nail salon employees are low-wage workers. This is more than double the national rate of 33% for all industries.
Nail salon workers experience challenging work conditions and labor enforcement issues. Misclassification as independent contractors is also a key concern.
Nail salons are primarily owned and staffed by immigrants and refugees. The majority of salons are small mom-and-pop businesses with 68% having fewer than 5 employees. The labor force is predominantly Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Nepali, Tibetan, and Latinx, with 81% women and 79% foreign-born.
The nail salon industry is expected to grow at almost twice the rate of other U.S. industries in the next decade, and report authors make recommendations for key stakeholders: ensure quality jobs and labor protections for nail salon workers; guarantee workplace protections and their enforcement; support high-road businesses and good employers; and assure health and safety of nail salon workers.
Nail salons in the United States are a booming multi-billion dollar industry. Due to immigrant and refugee labor and changes in technology, the nail salon industry grew from a high-end, luxury service to an affordable service available to low- and middle-income clients. Nail salons include their predominantly Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Nepali, Tibetan, and Latinx immigrant and refugee labor force. These immigrant and refugee communities have not only created economic niches that are unique to the industry but also developed health, labor, and community organizing initiatives that advocate for quality and safe jobs. They continue to shape the parameters of beauty service work, but they are also a key facet of today’s service economy, subject to its market forces and labor issues.
While there have been some studies focusing on health and safety conditions in salons, few have explored labor conditions. The UCLA Labor Center launched this study in collaboration with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative to gain a deeper understanding of the nail salon industry through existing literature, policy reports, worker stories and government and other relevant data sources. This is the first report to look at the industry nationally through a labor lens. The report focus on three primary areas: workers, industry, and oversight.
National data sources estimate there are between 126,300 and 212,519 nail salon workers though this is most likely an undercount. State board data suggests that government sources only account for 33% of certified nail salon workers in California and 47% in New York. Nonetheless, national data do provide a useful profile of workers. The following are key data and issues related to nail salon workers:
Nail salon workers have strong participation in the labor workforce.
Most are in the labor force (92%) and the industry has low unemployment (3%). The majority (72%) work full-time and year-round (81%).
Self-employment rates are high for nail salon workers.
30% are self-employed which can include independent contractors, sole proprietors, or members of a partnerships. This rate is three times higher than the national average.
The majority of nail salon workers earn low wages.
Nearly 8 in 10 workers earn low wages, defined as 2/3 of the median full-time wage. This rate is significantly higher than the national rate of 33% for all workers.
The industry continues to employ a largely immigrant and female workforce.
The industry is predominantly women (81%) and foreign-born (79%), comprised largely of Vietnamese workers. Nearly half of those born abroad have low English proficiency.
Most nail salon workers support family members.
A third are heads of households and almost two-thirds have at least one child.
The industry faces challenging working conditions.
Small sample studies and investigative reporting have found that wage issues in the industry include low wages, being paid a flat, rather than hourly rate, minimum wage and overtime violations, and harassment and surveillance.
Misclassification is a key concern in the sector.
The industry has a high rate of self-employed workers which includes independent contractors. Some workers may be legitimate independent contractors, but there are concerns that many manicurists are purposely misclassified to avoid
labor laws and protections.
Nail salon workers are at risk for many different short- and long-term occupational health conditions.
Nail salon workers are exposed to hazardous ingredients and materials present in products and salons and are likely to experience work-related ergonomic body pain.
According to the County Business Patterns, there are an estimated 23,745 nail salons in the United States.
Similar to the worker estimates, the number of salons may also be an undercount, as some salons may be
unregistered. The following are some key industry trends in the sector:
Most salons are small mom-and-pop operations.
The industry is dominated by small salons with 9 out of 10 salons having fewer than 10 employees.
Nail salons are a growing and vibrant industry.
Total revenue for nail salons in 2015 reached $4.4 billion, up 15% from the previous year. Over the next decade, employment in the industry is expected to grow by 13%.
New developments in cosmetics, fashion, and nail polish technology have set the pace for trends in the nail salon industry.
Nail trends include nail art, gel polish, and dip systems while salon cosmetics ingredients are moving towards more “natural” products. Also, the nail salon industry has been trying to attract male-identifying customers.
Social media and digital technology has also affected salons. Nail art is one of the top five most tagged items on both Pinterest and Instagram. Also, Yelp contributes to salons’ customer engagement and management.
The gig economy creates on-demand, app-based manicure services. These salons allow customers to order manicures or pedicures through a cell phone app. The manicurist meets customers where they are, though some workers will only go to workplaces or corporate events.
New and large chains are entering the market. Nail salons have traditionally been mom-and-pop operations, but the sector is seeing some large chains enter the market and/or expand. Industry Oversight and Enforcement In the United States, the nail salon workplace is governed by federal and state regulatory bodies, legislation,and other rules; county and local policies and programs; and state and federal court decisions.
The following is an overview of some of key areas of oversight and challenges:
Various federal and state agencies oversee labor conditions but face challenges in enforcing labor rights.
Challenges include investigations that are complaint-driven rather than investigator-driven,and are filed against owners whom cannot pay judgments. Additionally, workers and employers have a lack of understanding of labor laws, misinformation, a mistrust of investigators, and a lack of employer record keeping.
There are also continuing challenges in ensuring safe and healthy conditions in nail salons.
Federal agencies can conduct more research on the environmental effects of chemicals found in nail salon products and push for more legislation, such as those to control toxins that are released into the air. Training about workplace hazards and safety information is inaccessible and many workers are not trained in safe chemical handling.
There are many programs in local jurisdictions, with volunteer or elected staff, designed to improve work conditions in nail salons.
Programs like the Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Programs (HNSRP) provide a plan to ensure healthy workplaces including safer nail polishes and products, ventilation, and staff training. Programs may also recognize green business practices in salons and introduce green solutions and alternatives.
State legislation and policies have provided improvements in areas such as language rights, labor protections, health and safety protections, and industry standards.
Some examples include ensuring agencies increase staff, provide materials/forms and licensing in languages other
than English relevant to working populations, provide workers’ rights education for owners and workers, and require cosmetics manufacturers to report chemicals found in their products that are known carcinogens or reproductive toxicants to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Nail salon advocacy over the past decade has helped to improve working conditions and provide healthier workplaces.
Many of the efforts to improve nail salon conditions mentioned here have resulted from worker-led, community organizing and advocacy. Two examples include the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (Collaborative) and the New York Healthy Nail Salons Coalition (NYHNSC), and such efforts are bourgeoning across the United States.
Nail salons are a thriving and growing industry shaped by immigrant entrepreneurship and industry
innovation. As the industry expands, we must continue to ensure safe and quality jobs for the workforce.
The following are recommendations for key stakeholders to ensure labor protections and standards as well
as to continue to advance policies and practices that create environmentally safe and healthy salons for
workers, employers and consumers alike.
1. Ensure quality jobs and labor protections for nail salon workers.
Agencies need to safeguard worker wages and benefits, address issues of misclassification, mandate safety, health, and workers’ rights training for employers and address language barriers in materials.
Policy makers should expand worker protections and policies that improve job quality, remove barriers to licensing and address gaps in government data.
Advocates should develop a continuing education program and curriculum that provides workers with the skills to advance.
Employers must create pathways for workers to increase their skill sets and provide opportunities for wage increases.
Researchers should provide technical guidance on future research efforts.
2. Guarantee enforcement of workplace protection.
Agencies must support workers’ rights through culturally appropriate worker education, addressing barriers to filing claims, creating model agreements and educational materials for independent contractors to use, and funding community partnerships that are better able to build trust with workers to provide necessary information.
Advocates must center workers by giving them decision-making power, ensuring that organizing initiatives represent the needs of workers, creating multi-stakeholder collaborations and learning best practices from other campaigns, industries, and regions.
Researchers must conduct further studies to better understand working conditions, labor issues, enforcement efforts, and other needs of the sector, particularly experiences not captured in public government data sets.
3. Support high-road businesses and good employers.
Agencies should support salon businesses by creating programs on how to run financially and environmentally sustainable and just businesses, educating nail salon consumers on why it is important to pay a fair price for nail services, creating public campaigns that educate customers about nail salon fair and healthy working conditions and safer beauty product alternatives.
Employers should meet with other high-road employers in the sector to share best practices and business models.
4. Assure health and safety of nail salon workers.
Agencies should expand healthy nail salon practices that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, raise awareness about safer products and practices, provide health and safety trainings, conduct outreach to workers, run health and safety awareness campaigns, provide informational materials to reduce worker exposure, and use worker health outcomes as indicators of safety, instead of possibly outdated exposure limits.
Policy makers should address the impact of harmful products by allocating and requiring cosmetic manufacturers and distributors to conduct further studies, requiring proper labels on products that may be hazardous and making products safe by ending the use of harmful ingredients. They should also provide access to healthcare for workers who are particularly vulnerable to health issues in the industry.
Advocates should continue to engage workers on health and safety issues and best practices through participatory and peer-to-peer programs.
Employers should participate in healthy nail salon programs that include guidelines on and support in the creation of a healthier workplace.
Researchers should continue to conduct and expand research on the cumulative effects of chemicals and exposures on worker health and continue to conduct and expand research on green chemistry to reduce the use of hazardous substances in products and ultimately improve the health and safety of consumers and workers.
The German weekly Der Spiegel, one of the top-selling publications in Europe, is reeling from a scandal that revealed that a star reporter has reportedly faked stories for years.
Many of the faked stories written by Claas Relotius were centered in the United States or in the Middle East.
So far, Der Spiegel editors said Wednesday, they had found that Relotius “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 of the 60 stories examined so far. But they said the investigation is only beginning. The editors said they were “astounded and sad” by the discovery, which they called “a low point in Der Spiegel’s 70-year history.”
And so far none of the other outlets that ran Relotius’ work over the years have checked in. He had freelanced for Der Spiegel for years before joining full-time a year ago.
The German journalists’ union said it was the biggest fraud scandal in journalism since the “Hitler diaries” published by Stern magazine in Germany and Newsweek in the US in 1983.
It was reminiscent of past scandals in the US including the Jayson Blair snafu at the New York Times, the Stephen Glass scandal at the New Republic and the revoked Pulitzer Prize won by Janet Cooke at the Washington Post.
In one article that came under intense scrutiny, Relotius spent three weeks living in Fergus Falls, Minn., in early 2017, purportedly to try to explain why voters in a typical Midwest town came to support Donald Trump for president. But an article in Medium.com by Fergus Falls residents Michele Anderson and Jake Krohn found that many characters and anecdotes were fake.
“What kind of institutional breakdown led to the supposedly world-class Der Spiegel fact-checking team completely dropping the ball on this one?” they asked after it emerged that Relotius had been forced to resign.
The Der Spiegel editors originally said he “distorts reality” in the piece entitled “In a Small Town.”
Among the many falsehoods Anderson and Krohn found, there is no sign in the town that reads, “Mexicans Keep Out.”
The Clint Eastwood film “American Sniper,” which Relotius claimed had been playing to sell-out crowds for two straight years in the local cinema, had not played there since February 2015.
In one anecdote, he claims a town administrator carried a Beretta pistol on the job, had never seen the ocean and had never been with a woman.
The Fergus Falls writers produced a photo of that same administrator on a vacation trip to the ocean with his longtime live-in girlfriend. The administrator said he owned no Beretta and never carried a weapon at work.
Another picture in the disputed article shows a man described as a “coal plant worker.” In reality, the picture is of a United Parcel Service worker who once ran the local gym. In another, Relotius has a picture of a Mexican woman whom he claimed owned a Mexican restaurant and suffered from kidney disease. In reality, she was a waitress in the restaurant owned by her sister- in-law but was never interviewed.
In another instance, he describes locals watching the Super Bowl — at a pizza place that wasn’t open on the day of the game.
In another instance, he said a local diner had windows facing the coal power plant — when in reality the diner was underground with no windows.
Der Spiegel said it was another one of its reporters, Juan Moreno, who co-authored a piece entitled “Hunters Border” with Relotius in November on a pro-Trump vigilante group said to be involved in hunting down illegal immigrants on the Arizona-Mexico border, who alerted it to sourcing problems. Moreno told editors he had been suspicious of the sourcing on the story all along and on a subsequent trip to the US, he contacted two of the subjects quoted extensively in the article by Relotius.
Both of the subjects said they had never spoken to Relotius.
In an apology to readers, Der Spiegel acknowledged, “For three to four weeks, Moreno went through hell because colleagues and those senior to him did not want to believe his accusations at first.”
It said that Relotius rebuffed the accusations at first “until there came a point when that didn’t work anymore, until he finally couldn’t sleep anymore, haunted by the fear of being discovered.”
As recently as this month, Relotius won Germany’s Reporter of the Year award for a story about a young Syrian boy in which much of the sourcing has now been deemed suspect.
In 2014, he was named CNN’s Journalist of the Year for an article that appeared in a Swiss magazine.
Among other stories that Der Spiegel discovered fabricated was an article in which he claimed to interview the parents of Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who decided to kneel during the playing of the US national anthem before games to protest police brutality.
In his confession, according to the magazine, Relotius said, “I am sick and I need to get help.”
“It wasn’t because of the next big thing,” he was quoted as saying. “It was fear of failing. My pressure to not be able to fail got even bigger the more successful I became.”
Yet, there was a method to his ‘madness.’ Relotius wasn’t just making random ‘mistakes’ in his ‘reporting.’ Relotius was feeding a narrative. In the reporting from Syria Relotius was backing the US, EU and Saudi Arabia’s opposition to the Syrian secular government. Relotius was supporting the insurgent Islamic ‘rebels’ and Al Qaeda types fighting alongside of the Islamic State. In the US Relotius was backing the Liberal establishment media narrative that white working class Americans oppose mass immigration for illogical racist reasons. In the Ukraine conflict Relotius dressed up the fascistic Ukrainian street fighters as innocent democracy protesters facing Soviet made tanks. Relotius picked a side in every conflict and he did so to back the main stream narrative. He never made ‘mistakes’ that went against the main idea the media was pushing to manufacture consent.
With the skill of a fiction writer who knows what his audience wants invented interviews, created malevolent characters, described years long theatrical performances in public that never happened, and described public billboard advertising that simply did not exist in the real world. But his ‘editors’ never noticed? Why? Because they see their job as manufacturing consent for the narrative they push as job number one. Checking facts is done only to the extent that it must be to maintain some credibility.
From Syria to Ukraine to the US border with Mexico Relotius was repeating establishment media propaganda with a single minded devotion that was not bogged down in verifiable ‘facts.’ Relotius won awards, and even won an award after his absurd Mexican vacation reporting was being exposed. Relotius was a top propagandist for the Ministry of Media Truth, until he wasn’t. Darn those pesky ‘fact checkers.’ So what if there really isn’t a billboard in a small American town that says “Mexicans Keep Out!” The image is so chillingly stark that readers flock to a story reporting the billboard. The political movement created by the reporting and support for cause of immigrants rights is more important than the mundane truth to reporter/activists like Relotius. But surely he did not become an establishment media fiction writing activist because of ‘pressure’ or mental failings. Relotius just doesn’t like getting caught.
“I am sick and I need to get help.” wrote Relotius. Is that the answer for someone who is devoted to the Right Wingers in Ukraine, supports the armed Islamic ‘rebels’ in Syria, and opposes Americans who support Trump? Is holding any of these political positions and using the news media to advance them a ‘sickness?’ Relotius is still writing fiction.
Stories about interstellar colonization, magical civilizations, and alternate space races
If there was any bright point in the year, it was that 2018 also brought with it a bumper crop of fantastic science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels that served as an oasis to examine the world around us, or to escape for brighter pastures.
The best books of this year told stories of interstellar colonization, of fantastic magical civilizations, optimistic alternate worlds, and devastating potential futures. They brought us fantastic characters who sought to find their places in the vivid and fantastic worlds they inhabited.
Here are our favorite science fiction and fantasy reads of 2018.
Robert Jackson Bennett is one of those authors who attracts a huge amount of acclaim for his books, and after reading Foundryside, I can see why. It’s an epic, breathtaking novel that’s as much cyberpunk as it is fantasy. We follow a desperate thief named Sancia Grado, who is hired to steal a mysterious box from a warehouse. Sancia has a special ability — she can sense magic imbued in objects, which makes her job easier in a world where magic is everywhere.
Bennett lays out a fantastic story ladened with fantastic characters, but it’s his take on magic that stands out here. It’s treated a bit like computer code, and in this world, people use it for everything: to strengthen city walls, to provide city lights, and imbue weapons with greater powers. Sancia stumbles on a plot to use this power to utterly remake the world, providing a chilling commentary on the lengths that people and corporations will go to ensure that they remain in power.
A long-standing trope in science fiction is that moment when humanity first meets life from somewhere else in the universe. That’s the focus of Sue Burke’s debut novel, Semiosis, which recognizes that alien life likely won’t take the form of a bumpy-headed alien, but something that we might not recognize as intelligent at first blush.
Such is the case here: a spaceship departs from Earth with the mission to build a utopian civilization on a new world. But when the colonists crash-land on a planet named Pax, their focus becomes surviving among the planet’s hostile plant-life. Burke’s novel jumps from generation to generation, following the colonists and their descendants as they realize that not only are they not alone, but that co-existence is a difficult proposition.
One of the more delightful science fiction worlds to hit bookshelves in recent years is Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers “trilogy” — a series of books set in the same world, but which otherwise stand alone. The latest is Record of a Spaceborn Few, which follows the descendants of the last flotilla of starships to depart Earth, who have clung to their way of life aboard the aging fleet.
Chamber’s novel is a beautiful look at a community that is grappling with impending change. It opens with the destruction of one member of the fleet and follows the paths of several characters — parents, newcomers, alien researchers, and others — who work to make their way through life. At its core, the book takes an optimistic view of the importance of traditions and one’s way of life, but the equal importance of bending to change with circumstance.
Myke Cole started his career with his Control Point trilogy — a military fantasy series in which magic appears in the real world. His latest foray is a grim jump over to epic fantasy with The Armored Saint and The Queen of Crows, the first installments of a trilogy that are pointed tales on the dangers of fascism.
The first novel introduces readers to a villager named Heloise who witnesses the brutality of the tyrannical Order, which nominally protects the world from wizards with the power to summon horrific demons. Heloise takes a stand against the order and brings destruction to her home, and in the next installment, becomes the figurehead of a growing movement to oppose and topple the Order. The concluding volume will be out next year.
In the midst of this is a WASP pilot named Elma York, who has the skills and ambition to assist with the effort. In the first novel, she faces systemic sexism and racism as she works to break into the astronaut corps as they set their sights on the Moon. In the second, she joins the first mission to Mars, and contends with not only the challenges of spaceflight, but the attitudes and biases of her crew. These two books are the first steps into a vivid, exciting world, and fortunately, there’s more to come.
R.F. Kuang’s debut novel The Poppy War is the promising opening salvo for an upcoming military fantasy trilogy inspired in part by the atrocities that occurred during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It follows a bright young woman named Rin who earns admission into the Nikara Empire’s elite military academy, Sinegard, an escape from servitude in her impoverished province.
Once she arrives at the school, however, she finds that the road before her will be difficult: she contends not only with her classmates’ racism and a challenging course load at the school, but the onset of a brutal and horrific war. As she enters the fight, she learns that power comes at a horrific cost.
Each story in this collection simmers with a righteous fury at the state of the world. Her characters often find themselves at the end of systematic injustice, and her stories, a mix of cyberpunk, epic and urban fantasy, hard science fiction, and more, critique modern life.
In “The City, Born Great,” a young man comes to terms with his status as the manifestation of New York City, while in “Red Dirt Witch” a mother faces down a powerful creature that represents white supremacy, and is forced to contend with the sacrifices that she and her family must make to ensure that they have a future. For fans of her Broken Earth trilogy, there’s also “Stone Hunger,” in which a girl will stop at nothing to hunt down a man who destroyed her life. The rest of the collection’s stories are just as fantastic and timely.
Set in the distant future, humanity survives on a planet wrecked by climate change and plagues in Larissa Lai’s latest novel The Tiger Flu, which follows a community of cloned women who are battling for their very survival waged by illness and economics.
Lai’s story follows two women: Kirilow, a doctor of Grist Village whose lover Peristrophe dies of a new strain of flu. Peristrophe was vitally important to their community — she could regrow her limbs and organs, and following her death, Kirilow sets out to Salt Water City to try to find someone to replace her. There, she meets Kora, a woman living in the city who might be able to save her community, but who resists leaving her family behind. Lai’s story is an intriguing post-apocalyptic novel, one rife with biotech and the remnants of the world from before.
Cixin Liu is best known for his fantastic Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy — Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End — which begin in the 1970s and run all the way to the heat death of the universe. In his latest novel, Liu explores how obsession can lead to dark and dangerous places.
The book follows a young man named Chen who witnesses the death of his parents in a freak accident — they’re incinerated by a ball lightning strike. The incident leads him down a path to study the phenomenon, leading him across the world. Along the way, he meets an obsessive army weapons engineer named Lin Yun, who wants to harness the power of ball lightning into a new weapon. Liu approaches the story with the same interest in physics and technology as his other books, and highlights the dangers that power and technology can bring.
The book follows a Native American woman named Maggie Hoskie in Dinétah, the traditional homeland of the Navajo tribe. Protected from the chaos of climate change and war by massive, magical walls, she’s one of a small group of people who have exhibited magical powers and finds work as a monster hunter. When a magical construct snatches a young child from a village, she realizes that there’s a powerful force that threatens her community, and is pulled into the struggle to stop it before they’re wiped out.
Cixin Liu might be one of the best-known Chinese science fiction authors, but there’s a growing effort to bring more fiction from the country to the West. Wellesley College professor Mingwei Song and UCLA professor emeritus Theodore Huters have assembled a fascinating anthology of some of the contemporary stories coming out of China today.
Those include established authors like Cixin Liu, but also newcomers like Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Bao Shu, and others, telling stories about alternate realities, other societies, and potential futures for the ascendant nation. The stories range from interstellar wars, messages from a long-dead human race, as well as AI, robotics, and cybernetics. The stories represent just a slice of China’s science fiction community, but it’s an engrossing window into a fascinating body of work.
Time travel is a tricky proposition — science fiction has endlessly explored the possibilities and consequences of changing the past or future, and Tom Sweterlitsch’s book is a complicated take on the trope.
Sweterlitsch opens in the 20th-century with a time-traveling NCIS agent named Shannon Moss who is tasked with investigating a particularly gruesome murder. Moss jumps back and forth in time to try to unmask the killer, exploring different timelines and suspects. It’s a vivid, complicated story that blends crime fiction with cosmic horror that doesn’t release you until the last page is turned.
Comedy in science fiction is often a tricky thing to accomplish — it’s hard to live up to the likes of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. But Catherynne M. Valente accomplished that and more with her novel Space Opera.
“Space opera” is the catch-all term for the type of science fiction novels set in big galactic empires or following starships as they work their way across space. Valente turned it into an excellent pun after a conversation about Eurovision. The book follows a washed-up glam rocker named Decibel who is brought on to represent Earth in a Megagalactic Grand Prix — an interstellar music competition that will judge whether or not Earth can join the greater galactic civilization. It’s side-splittingly witty and wonderfully written, with almost every line in the novel telling a story of its own.
Martha Wells’ first Murderbot novella, All Systems Red, came out last year, and was a huge hit — eventually earning the 2018 Nebula and Hugo Awards for its category. This year saw the rest of the series hit bookshelves, continuing the story of the grumpy-but-good-hearted security android that calls itself Murderbot.
Each story roughly stands on its own, but they make up a larger story in Wells’ universe, following Murderbot as it bounces from planet to planet and tries to figure out its purpose in the universe. Along the way, it finds itself helping people caught up in conflicts against the domineering mega corporations that rule the space lanes, and ultimately helps to take down one that’s been gunning for its friends. While this series has wrapped, Wired just published a new Murderbot short story, and Wells is hard at work on a new novel about the character.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi; Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson; The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander; The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark;
European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss; Points of Impact by Marko Kloos; The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel by Jeffrey Lewis; War Cry by Brian McClellan; Time Was by Ian McDonald; Severance by Ling Ma; Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci;
Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee; Star Wars: Last Shot by Daniel José Older; Gunpowder Moon by David Pedreira; Bandwidth / Borderless by Eliot Peper; Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson; Head On and The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi; Vengeful by V.E. Schwab; The Book of M by Peng Shepherd;
The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith; Mutiny at Vesta by R.E. Stearns; Rosewater by Tade Thompson; Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar; Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas; Side Life by Steve Toutonghi; The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay; On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden; TheFreeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts; and The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang.
In the introduction, Kick writes of the project’s ethos, all three volumes of which were edited simultaneously and thus bear the same editorial sensibility:
I asked the artists to stay true to the literary works as far as plot, characters, and text, but visually they had free reign. Any style, any media, any approach. Spare. Dense. Lush. Fragmented. Seamless. Experimental. Old school. Monochrome. Saturated. Pen and ink. Markers. Digital. Silk-screened. Painted. Sequential art. Full-page illustrations. Unusual hybrids of words and images. Images without words. And, in one case, words without images.
The Canon was always meant as an art project, part of the ages-old tradition of visual artists using classic works of literature as their springboard. It was also conceived as a celebration of literature, a way to present dramatic new takes on the greatest stories ever told. It turned into a lot more — a survey of Western literature (with some Asian and indigenous works represented), an encyclopedia of ways to merge images and text, a showcase of some of the best (and often underexposed comics artists and illustrators. And a kicky examination of love, sex, death, violence, revolution, money, drugs, religion, family, (non)conformity, longing, transcendence, and other aspects of the human condition that literature and art have always wrestled with.
In the introduction, Kish contrasts his two projects:
Every illustrator, no matter what the project, is confronted with choices. In considering how to approach Heart of Darkness, I had to make a lot of choices, and they were never simple. What struck me while illustrating Moby-Dick was just how vast Melville’s novel seemed. It’s an enormous book that, to paraphrase Whitman, contains multitudes. It contradicts itself in style and tone in gloriously messy ways and it’s strong enough to carry the visions of dozens of artists. . . . With Melville, there is room.
Conrad is something entirely different, particularly when it comes to Heart of Darkness. There is a terrifying feeling of claustrophobia and a crushing singularity of purpose to the story. It’s almost as if the deeper one reads, the further down a tunnel one is dragged, all other options and paths dwindling and disappearing, until nothing is left but that awful and brutal encounter with Kurtz and the numbing horror of his ideas. Where Moby-Dick roams far and wide across both land and sea, Heart of Darkness moves in one direction only, and that is downward.
While it never could have been an easy task to take a well-known piece of literature and breathe some different kind of life into it with pictures, the inexorable downward pull of this black hole of a story — this bullet to the head — made demands that I couldn’t have imagined.
And yet Kish met those demands head-on, with equal parts creative bravery and respect for Conrad’s sensibility, all the while drawing us into that black hole with irresistible magnetism.
I was looking through the classic audio books that were offered on the music service Spotify. I saw ‘Sons and Lovers’ by D. H. Lawrence and remembered that the 1913 semi-autobiographical novel was considered one of the best of the 20th century and in the top 100 list. So, I gave the first chapter a listen. The audio rendition of the 1913 novel was well done and I liked the voice of the person reading the professionally produced reading. So, I looked up the work and found the Project Gutenberg text – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/217/217-h/217-h.htm and also a free Libravox version – https://librivox.org/sons-and-lovers-version-2-by-d-h-lawrence/ for anyone who doesn’t have Spotify, or myself if I’m on a different device and want access to the story. I do hunger for stories.
I saw that there were a number of movie and television series made based on the work. I look it up on Youtube and found a very good version from the UK’s ITV in 2003. Three hours long in two parts, but a real chance to see what the England looked like for some people circa 1910. The movie also has a chance to show how people dressed, and what the insides of the houses of lower class people looked like. A visual chance to look at a long gone time.
For that cost, we’ve destabilized the region to the point ofabject chaos, inspired millions of Muslims to hate us, and torn up the Geneva Convention and half the Constitution in pursuit of policies like torture, kidnapping, assassination-by-robot and warrantless detention.
It will be difficult for each of us to even begin to part with our share of honor in those achievements. This must be why all those talking heads on TV are going crazy.
UnlessDonald Trump decides to reverse his decision to begin withdrawals from Syria andAfghanistan, cable news for the next few weeks is going to be one long Scanners marathon of exploding heads.
“Today’s decision would cheer Moscow, ISIS, and Iran!” yelped Nicole Wallace, former George W. Bush communications director.
“Maybe Trump will bring Republicans and Democrats together,”said Bill Kristol, on MSNBC, that “liberal” channel that somehow seems to be populated round the clock by ex-neocons and Pentagon dropouts.
Kristol, who has rarely ever been in the ballpark of right about anything — he once told us Iraq was going to be a “two month war” — might actually be correct.
Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan will lay bare the real distinctions in American politics. Political power in this country is not divided between right and left, and not even between rich and poor.
The real line is between a war party, and everyone else.
This is why Kristol is probably right. The Democrats’ plan until now was probably toimpeach Trump in the House using at minimum some material from the Michael Cohen case involving campaign-finance violations.
That plan never had a chance to succeed in the Senate, but now, who knows? Troop withdrawals may push a collection of hawkish Republicans like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse andmaybe even Mitch McConnellinto another camp.
The departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — a standard-issue Pentagon toady who’s never met an unending failure of a military engagement he didn’t like and whose resignation letter is now being celebrated as inspirational literature on the order of the Gettysburg Address or a lost epic by Auden or Eliot — sounded an emergency bell for all these clowns. The letter by Mattis, Rubio said:
“Makes it abundantly clear we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.”
Talk like this is designed to give political cover to Republican fence-sitters on Trump. That wry smile on Kristol’s face is, I’d guess, connected to the knowledge that Trump put the Senate in play by even threatening to pull the plug on our Middle Eastern misadventures.
You’ll hear all sorts of arguments today about why the withdrawals are bad. You’ll hear Trump has no plan, which is true. He never does, at least not on policy.
But we don’t exactly have a plan for staying in theMiddle East, either, beyond installing a permanent garrison ina dozen countries, spending assloads of money and making ourselves permanently despised in the region as civilian deaths pile up through drone-bombings and other “surgical” actions.
You’ll hear we’re abandoning allies and inviting massacres by the likes of Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If there was any evidence that our presence there would do anything but screw up the situation even more, I might consider that a real argument. At any rate, there are other solutions beyond committing American lives. We could take in more refugees, kick Turkey out of NATO, impose sanctions, etc.
As to the argument that we’re abandoning Syria to Russians — anyone who is interested in reducing Russian power should be cheering. If there’s any country in the world that equals us in its ability to botch an occupation and get run out on a bloody rail after squandering piles of treasure, it’s Russia. They may even be better at it than us. We can ask the Afghans about that on our way out of there.
The Afghan conflict became the longest military engagement in American historyeight years ago. Despite myths to the contrary, Barack Obama did not enter office gung-ho to leave Afghanistan. He felt heneeded to win there first, which, as anyone who’s read The Great Game knows, proved impossible. So we ended up staying throughout his presidency.
We were going to continue to stay there, and in other places, forever, because our occupations do not work, as everyone outside of Washington seems to understand.
Trump is a madman, a far-right extremist and an embarrassment, but that’s not why most people in Washington hate him. It’s his foreign-policy attitudes, particularly toward NATO, that have always most offended DC burghers.
You could see the Beltway beginning to lose its mind back in the Republican primary race, when then-candidate Trump belittled America’s commitment to Middle Eastern oil states.
“Every time there’s a little ruckus, we send those ships and those planes,” he said,early in his campaign. “We get nothing. Why? They’re making a billion a day. We get nothing.”
As he got closer to the nomination, he went after neoconservative theology more explicitly.
“I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore,” he said, in March of 2016. He went on: “I watched as we built schools in Iraq and they’re blown up. We build another one, we get blown up.”
Trump was wrong about a thousand other things, but this was true. I had done a story about how military contractors spent $72 millionon what was supposed to be an Iraqi police academy and delivered a pile of rubble so unusable, pedestrians made it into a toilet.
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstructionnoted, “We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate.”
SIGIR found we spent over $60 billion on Iraqi reconstruction and did not significantly improve life for Iraqis. The parallel body covering Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, concluded last yearthat at least $15.5 billion had been wasted in that country between 2008 and 2017, and this was likely only a “fraction” of financial leakage.
Trump, after sealing the nomination, upped the ante. In the summer of 2016 he said hewasn’t sure he’d send troops to defend NATO members that didn’t pay their bills. NATO members are supposed to kick in 2 percent of GDP for their own defense. At the time, only four NATO members(Estonia, Poland, the U.K. and the U.S.) were in compliance.
Politicians went insane. How dare he ask countries to pay for their own defense! Republican House member Adam Kinzinger, a popular guest in the last 24 hours, said in July 2016 that Trump’s comments were “utterly disastrous.”
“There’s no precedent,” said Thomas Wright, a “Europe scholar” from the Brookings Institute.
We have brave and able soldiers, but their leaders are utter tools who’ve left a legacy of massacres and botched interventions around the world.
NATO? That’s an organization whose mission stopped making sense the moment the Soviet Union collapsed. We should long ago have repurposed our defense plan to focus on terrorism, cyber-crime and cyber-attacks, commercial espionage, financial security, and other threats.
Instead, we continued after the Soviet collapse to maintain a global military alliance fattened with increasingly useless carriers and fighter jets, designed to fight archaic forms of war.
NATO persisted mainly as a PR mechanism for a) justifying continued obscene defense spending levels and b) giving a patina of internationalism to America’s essentially unilateral military adventures.
We’d go into a place like Afghanistan with no real plan for leaving, and a few member nations like Estonia and France and Turkey would send troops to get shot at with us. But it was always basicallyTeam America: World Policewith supporting actors. No wonder so few of the member countries paid their dues.
Incidentally, this isn’t exactly a secret. Long before Trump, this is what Barney Frank was saying in 2010: “I think the time has come to reexamine NATO. NATO has become an excuse for other people to get America to do things.”
This has all been a giant, bloody, expensive farce, and it’s long since time we ended it.
We’ll see a lot of hand-wringing today from people who called themselves anti-war in 2002 and 2003, but now pray that the “adults in the room” keep “boots on the ground” to preserve “credibility.”
Part of this is because it’s Trump, but a bigger part is that we’ve successfully brainwashed big chunks of the population into thinking it’s normal for a country to exist in a state of permanent war, fighting inseven countries at once, spendinghalf of all discretionary funding on defense.
It’s not. It’s insane. And we’ll never be a healthy society, or truly respected abroad, until we stop accepting it as normal.
Incidentally, I doubt Trump really follows through on this withdrawal plan. But until he changes (what passes for) his mind, watch what happens in Washington.
We’re about to have a very graphic demonstration of the near-total uniformity of the political class when it comes to the military and its role. The war party is ready for a coming-out party.
Germany has been rocked by a scandal involving one of the top reporters writing for the reputable Der Spiegel magazine, who turned out to be a fraudster. What made a fabulst into a star? Let’s look at some of his stories. Claas Relotius, the ‘brilliant reporter’-turned-fabricator, carved his way to pages of some of the most prestigious German newspapers with curious, sentimental and touching human stories from everyday life. Although, some of these intimate private stories clearly had some political angle.
Syrian ‘Resistance’ hero
The piece that brought him his latest (and probably the last) journalist award delved into a much more high-profile and much more politicized topic – the Syrian crisis. The articlecentersaround the plight of a Syrian teenager living in the city of Deraa, who stood against the Syrian President Bashar Assad, using graffiti as a tool to express himself.
Written in summer 2018, when the city was still at the hands of the militants, the piece calls Deraa the last “resistance” stronghold and the start of the Syrian conflict a “revolution” while the teenager himself is described as “Syria’s liberator” and a “legend” to “thousands.” Now, Der Spiegel has to embarrassinglyadmitthat this story that so vividly depicted the rebels’ selfless fight against their supposed oppressors was mostly fabricated and many details described in the articles were just made up by the author.
Children ‘orphaned’ by Assad
Another report Relotius dedicated to the dire plight of Syrians tells the readers about a heartbreaking story of two Syrian siblings. “They had lost everything – their parents, their house and their country” at the hands of “dictator” Assad and his soldiers, the article says, inconspicuously interweaving the two orphans’ personal story with that of the battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo.
The piece also puts the blame for the tragedy of the Aleppo residents almost entirely on the Assad government and the Syrian Army, missing on the many extremists, who kept the city hostage.
Death threats over joke
Sometimes, the journalist also entertained his readers with the reports from a little bit more exotic corners of Earth. One particularly eyebrow-raising story recounts a haunting experience of a Scotsman, who was mercilessly chased and almost killed by the people of an entire country – Kyrgyzstan – just for a low joke about their food.
Trump’s ‘border hunters’
Notably, Relotious also often wrote about the US but apparently could not stay unbiased here as well. One of his latest pieces, which became a starting point of Spiegel’s investigation against him, used made up details to play to the popular anti-Trump angle in the complicated situation on the US-Mexico border. It tells the readers about a group of self-styled “border hunters” militia.
Its somewhat unlikeable members praise President Donald Trump and viciously hate all illegals seeking to come to the US. One of the supposed group members, who goes in the story by the imposing alias ‘Pain’, says “he wants to kick the devils, who are running into America, out just like Donald Trump.
This man, however, turned out to be nothing but a phantom born in the fraudster’s inventive mind as the story turned out to be made up as well. Now, Der Spiegel has announced it established a special commission to investigate all Relotius’ works and develop recommendations to help it improve its control mechanisms.
However, it alsoadmittedthat “even with the sincerest of intentions, it is impossible to fully rule out” such incidents in the future as their causes lie in “human frailty” and journalists are just as “fallible” as any other people. So what made it so difficult for Der Spiegel and other reputable media outlets to see that Relotius was a fraudster?
Maybe, he just was that good at delivering the German media what they themselves craved for so much. His pieces seem to be a blend of heartbreaking personal stories perfectly fitted into the ‘liberal’ narrative touted by the Western media. An ideal deception.
Once again, a reporter has been accused of writing fake stories – over a span of years – reinforcing the suspicion that we are living in a post-truth world where words, to paraphrase Kipling, “are the most powerful drug.”
This week, Der Spiegel, the German news weekly, was forced toadmit that one of its former star reporters, the award-winning Claas Relotius, “falsified his articles on a grand scale.”
Indeed, it seems the disgraced journalist was motivated more by the writing style of fiction writers John le Carre and Tom Clancy than by late media heavyweights, like Andrew Breitbart and Walter Cronkite.
Relotius, who just this month took home Germany’s Reporterpreis (‘Reporter of the Year’) for his enthralling tale of a Syrian teenager, “made up stories and invented protagonists,” Der Spiegel admitted.
There is a temptation to rationalize Relotius’s multiple indiscretions, not to mention the failure of his fastidious employer to unearth them for so long, as an unavoidable part of the dog-eat-dog media jungle. After all, journalists are not robots – at least not yet – and we are all humans prone to poor judgment and mistakes, perhaps even highly unethical ones.
That explanation, however, falls short of explaining the internal forces battering away at the foundation of Western media, an institution built on the shifting sand of lies, disinformation and outright propaganda. And what is readily apparent to those outside of the Western media fortress is certainly even more apparent to those inside.
A good example is Russiagate. This elaborate myth, which has been peddled repeatedly and without an ounce of 100-percent real beef since the US election of 2016, goes like this: A group of Russian hackers, buying a few hundred social media memes for just rubles to the dollar, were able to do what all the Republican campaign strategists, and all the special interests groups, with all of their billions of dollars in their massive war chest, simply could not: keep Democratic voters at home on the couch come Election Day – a tactic now known as “voter suppression operations” – thereby handing the White House to Donald Trump on a silver platter. Or shall we say ‘a Putin platter’?
Don’t believe me? Here’s the opening line of a recent Washington Post article that should be rated ‘R’ for racist: “One difference between Russian and Republican efforts to quash the black vote: The Russians are more sophisticated, insidious and slick,” wailed Joe Davidson, who apparently watched too many Hollywood films where the Russkies play all of the villains. “Unlike the Republican sledgehammers used to suppress votes and thwart electorates’ decisions in various states, the Russians are sneaky, using social media come-ons that ostensibly had little to do with the 2016 vote.”
Meanwhile, Der Spiegel, despite being forced to come clean over the transgressions of Claas Relotius, will most likely never own up to its own factual shortcomings with regards to their dismal reporting on Russia.
For example, in an article published last year entitled ‘Putin’s work, Clinton’s contribution,’ the German weekly lamented that “A superpower intervenes in the election campaign of another superpower: The Russian cyber-attack in the US is a scandal.” Just like their fallen star reporter, Der Spiegel regurgitated fiction masquerading as news.
However, there is no need to limit ourselves to just media-generated Russian fairytales. The Western media has contrived other sensational stories, with its own cast of dubious characters, and with far greater consequences.
Consider the reporting in the Western media prior to the 2003 Iraq War, when most journalists were behaving as cheerleaders for military invasion as opposed to conscientious objectors, or at least objective observers. In fact, two reporters with the New York Times, Michael Gordon and Judith Miller, arguably gave the Bush administration and ahardcore group of neocons inside Washington, which had been pushing for a war against Saddam Hussein for many years, the barest justification it required for military action.
Just six months before the bombs started dropping on Baghdad, Gordon and Miller penned a front-page article in the Times that opened with this stunning claim: “Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.”
The article in America’s ‘paper of record’ then proceeded to build the case for military action against Iraq by quoting an assortment of anonymous senior administration officials, anonymous Iraqi defectors, and anonymous chemical weapons experts. In fact, much of the story was based on comments provided by one ‘Ahmed al-Shemri,’ a pseudonym for someone purported to have been connected to Hussein’s chemical-weapons program. The authors quoted the mystery man as saying: “All of Iraq is one large storage facility.”
Gordon and Miller also claimed their source had said that “he had been told that Iraq was still storing some 12,500 gallons of anthrax.” Several months later, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq commenced, US Secretary of State Colin Powell invited the UN General Assembly to imagine what a “teaspoon of dry anthrax” could do if unleashed on the public.
Powell, who later said the testimony would be a permanent “blot” on his record, even shook a tiny faux sample of the deadly biological agent in the Assembly for maximum theatrical effect.
Shortly after the release of the Times piece, top Bush officials appeared on television andalludedto Miller’s story in support of military action. Meanwhile, UN inspectors on the ground in Iraq never found chemical weapons or the materials needed to build atomic weapons. In other words, the $1-trillion-dollar war against Iraq, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, was a completely senseless act of aggression against a sovereign state, which the US media helped perpetrate.
Aside from the question of whether readers really put much faith in these fantastic media stories, complete with pseudonymous characters and impossible to prove claims; there remains another question. Does the Western media itself believe its own stories? The answer seems to be no, at least not always.
With regards to the Russiagate story, for example, an investigative journalism outfit, Project Veritas, caught a few Western journalists off-guard about their true feelings in relation to the claims against Russia, and their feelings in general about the state of the media.
“I love the news business, but I’m very cynical about it – and at the same time so are most of my colleagues,” CNN Supervising Producer John Bonifield admitted, unaware he was being secretly filmed.
When pushed to explain why CNN was beating the anti-Russia drum on a daily basis, things became clearer: “Because it’s ratings,” Bonifield said. “Our ratings are incredible right now.”
In the same media sting operation, Van Jones, a prominent CNN political commentator who has pushed the anti-Russia position numerous times on-air, completely changed his tune when caught off-air and off-guard. “The Russia thing is just a big nothing burger,” he remarked.
This brings us back to the story of the fallen Der Spiegel journalist. It seems that a deep cynicism has taken hold in at least some parts of the Western media establishment. Journalists seem increasingly willing to produce extremely tenuous, fact-challenged stories, many of which are barely held together by a rickety composite of anonymous entities.
And why not? If their own media bosses are permitting gross fabrications on a number of major issues, not least of all related to Russia, and further afield in Syria, why should the journalists be forced to play by the rules?
Under such oppressive conditions, where the media appears to be merely the mouthpiece of the government’s position on a number of issues, those working inside this apparatus will eventually come around to the conclusion that truth is not the main priority. The main priority is hoodwinking the public into believing something even when the facts – or lack of them – point to other conclusions.
Thus, it is no surprise when we find Western reporters imitating the greatest fiction writers, because in reality that is what they have already become.
An overstuffed bookcase (or e-reader) says good things about your mind.
By Jessica Stillman
Lifelong learningwill help you be happier, earn more, and even stay healthier, experts say. Plus, plenty of the smartest names in business, fromBill Gatesto Elon Musk, insist that the best way to get smarter is to read. So what do you do? You go out and buy books, lots of them.
But life is busy, and intentions are one thing, actions another. Soon you find your shelves (or e-reader) overflowing with titles you intend to read one day, or books you flipped through once but then abandoned. Is this a disaster for your project to become a smarter, wiser person?
That’s the argument author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in his bestsellerThe Black Swan. Perpetually fascinating blog Brain Pickings dug up and highlighted the section ina particularly lovely post. Taleb kicks off his musings with an anecdote about the legendary library of Italian writer Umberto Eco, which contained a jaw-dropping 30,000 volumes.
Did Eco actually read all those books? Of course not, but that wasn’t the point of surrounding himself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things he didn’t know, Eco’s library kept him intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever-growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you, Taleb writes:
A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations — the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half-know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself toward the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.
“People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did,” Taleb claims.
Why? Perhaps because it is a well-known psychological fact that it’s the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really.It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.) It’s equally well established that the more readily you admit you don’t know things,the faster you learn.
So, stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people.
Too weak to invade Donbass, too weak to carry out the Minsk peace deal, too weak for the EU to care about his fate, too weak to postpone the election. He is a goner.
Rostislav Ishchenko is arguably the leading international analyst focused on the extraordinarily turbulent Russia-Ukraine relations. He posts regularly on Ukraina.ru, with frequent English translations here.
In contrast to the 24/7 “Russian aggression” demonization campaign effective on all corners of the Beltway and spreading towards selected European capitals, Ishchenko’s analysis, for instance of the information war deployed on all fronts of the Russia-Ukraine saga comes as a breath of fresh air.
Although we were not able to meet in person during my recent visit to Moscow, due to conflicting schedules (the meeting will take place later in the winter), Ishchenko graciously accepted to answer my most pressing questions regarding what could happen next on the Russia-Ukraine front, with translation by Scott Humor.
Ishchenko’s answers on the situation in Donbass should also be expanded to Crimea, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed he had information about Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko planning an armed provocation on the border with Crimea in the last ten days of December.
Escobar: Considering the terrain in winter is usually propitious for tank advance, would Poroshenko, in desperation, go for a major provocation in the Donbass, perhaps between Christmas and New Year’s Eve?
Ishchenko: First of all, this winter is too warm and the area is not yet favorable for an offensive. Second, even if frost strikes and an attack becomes possible, it is too big of a risk for Poroshenko. He does not have enough military power to defeat the DPR/LPR forces, without even mentioning that surprises are still possible as it happened in August 2008 in South Ossetia. After all, the Minsk peace agreement has not been canceled yet, and it is unlikely that the West will be able to stand against Russia in a consolidated manner at the moment when Russia is conducting a peace coercion of the confectioner, who is out of his mind with fear, and whom the West has already written off. The West requires a mandatory holding of elections, and any war would mean a cancellation of elections. If the war is facilitated by Poroshenko, he will be blamed for the cancellation of the elections and there will be no need to protect him.
Escobar: Is there any possibility of the Minsk agreements being fulfilled in case of a slightly less anti-Russian government in place in Kiev after the next elections?
Ishchenko:No, it’s not possible. Kiev is unable to implement the Minsk agreements because this would imply the federalization of Ukraine, while the Kiev elites are able to rule only within the rigid vertical of the unitary state. They basically do not imagine a different system of relationships. Since 2014, the internal resources which could satisfy appetites of oligarchic groups were exhausted, and there is no material basis for compromise. Therefore, they are doomed to fight among themselves for the dominance. Even if Russia, Crimea, Donbass and the whole world would suddenly vanish, the civil war in Ukraine, no longer restrained from the outside, would only intensify.
Escobar: Is Kiev aware that in case of a military attack on Donbass, the Russian response would be devastating? And that in Brussels, as I confirmed with many diplomatic sources, nobody really cares about Poroshenko’s fate anymore?
Ishchenko: I think that he knows this very well. That’s exactly why he organized his provocations in the Kerch Strait and also in Kiev (attacking the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate), but not in Donbass.
A children’s speech pathologistwho has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalfwas filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.
The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children of her own.
Amawi began working in 2009 on a contract basis with the Pflugerville Independent School District, which includes Austin, to provide assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community. The children with whom she has worked span the ages of 3 to 11. Ever since her work for the school district began in 2009, her contract was renewed each year with no controversy or problem.
But this year, all of that changed. On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.
She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”
The language of the affirmation Amawi was told she must sign reads like Orwellian — or McCarthyite — self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading:
That language would bar Amawi not only from refraining from buying goods from companies located within Israel, but also from any Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank (“an Israeli-controlled territory”). The oath given to Amawi would also likely prohibit her even from advocating such a boycott given that such speech could be seen as “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”
This required certification about Israel was the only one in the contract sent to Amawi that pertained to political opinions and activism. There were no similar clauses relating to children (such as a vow not to advocate for pedophiles or child abusers), nor were there any required political oaths that pertained to the country of which she is a citizen and where she lives and works: the United States.
In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolinain protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the world — except Israel.
That’s one extraordinary aspect of this story: The sole political affirmation Texans like Amawi are required to sign in order to work with the school district’s children is one designed to protect not the United States or the children of Texas, but the economic interests of Israel. As Amawi put it to The Intercept: “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights.”
Amawi concluded that she could not truthfully or in good faith sign the oath because, in conjunction with her family, she has made the household decision to refrain from purchasing goods from Israeli companies in support of the global boycott to end Israel’s decadeslong occupation of the West Bankand Gaza.
Amawi, as the mother of four young children and a professional speech pathologist, is not a leader of any political movements: She has simply made the consumer choice to support the boycott by avoiding the purchase of products from Israeli companies in Israel or the occupied West Bank. She also occasionally participates in peaceful activism in defense of Palestinian self-determination that includes advocacy of the global boycott to end the Israeli occupation.
Watch The Intercept’s three-minute video of Amawi, as she tells her story, here:
Video by Kelly West
When asked if she considered signing the pledge to preserve her ability to work, Amawi told The Intercept: “Absolutely not. I couldn’t in good conscience do that. If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust and thus, become complicit in their repression, but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully.”
As a result, Amawi informed her school district supervisor that she could not sign the oath. Asher complaint against the school districtexplains, she “ask[ed] why her personal political stances [about Israel and Palestine] impacted her work as a speech language pathologist.”
In response, Amawi’s supervisor promised that she would investigate whether there were any ways around this barrier. But the supervisor ultimately told Amawi that there were no alternatives: Either she would have to sign the oath, or the district would be legally barred from paying her under any type of contract.
Because Amawi, to her knowledge, is the only certified Arabic-speaking child’s speech pathologist in the district, it is quite possible that the refusal to renew her contract will leave dozens of young children with speech pathologies without any competent expert to evaluate their conditions and treatment needs.
“I got my master’s in this field and devoted myself to this work because I always wanted to do service for children,” Amawi said. “It’s vital that early-age assessments of possible speech impairments or psychological conditions be administered by those who understand the child’s first language.”
In other words, Texas’s Israel loyalty oath requirement victimizes not just Amawi, an American who is barred from working in the professional field to which she has devoted her adult life, but also the young children in need of her expertise and experience that she has spent years developing.
The anti-BDS Israel oathwas included in Amawi’s contract papers due toan Israel-specific state law enactedon May 2, 2017, by the Texas State Legislature and signed into law two days later by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill unanimously passed the lower House by a vote of 131-0, and then the Senate by a vote of 25-4.
When Abbott signed the bill in a ceremony held at the Austin Jewish Community Center,he proclaimed: “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”
The bill’s language is so sweeping that some victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017,were told that they could only receive state disaster relief if they firstsigned a pledge never to boycott Israel.That demand was deeply confusing to those hurricane victims in desperate need of help but who could not understand what their views of Israel and Palestine had to do with their ability to receive assistance from their state government.
The evangelical author of the Israel bill, Republican Texas state Rep. Phil King,said at the time that its application to hurricane relief was a “misunderstanding,” but nonetheless emphasized that the bill’s purpose was indeed to ensure that no public funds ever go to anyone who supports a boycott of Israel.
At the time that Texas enacted the law barring contractors from supporting a boycott of Israel, it was the 17th state in the country to do so. As of now, 26 states have enacted such laws — including blue states run by Democrats such as New York, California, and New Jersey — while similar bills are pending in another 13 states.
This mapcompiled by Palestine Legalshows how pervasive various forms of Israel loyalty oath requirements have become in the U.S.; the states in red are ones where such laws are already enacted, while the states in the darker shade are ones where such bills are pending:
Map: Palestine Legal
The vast majority of American citizens are therefore now officially barred from supporting a boycott of Israel without incurring some form of sanction or limitation imposed by their state. And the relatively few Americans who are still free to form views on this hotly contested political debate without being officially punished are in danger of losing that freedom, as more and more states are poised to enact similar censorship schemes.
One of the first states to impose such repressive restrictions on free expression was New York. In 2016, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order directing all agenciesunder his control to terminate any and all business with companies or organizations that support a boycott of Israel. “If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you,” Cuomoproudly tweeted, referring to a Washington Post op-ed he wrote that touted that threat in its headline.
As The Interceptreported at the time, Cuomo’s order “requires that one of his commissioners compile ‘a list of institutions and companies’ that — ‘either directly or through a parent or subsidiary’ — support a boycott. That government list is then posted publicly, and the burden falls on [the accused boycotters] to prove to the state that they do not, in fact, support such a boycott.”
Like the Texas law, Cuomo’s Israel order reads like a parody of the McCarthy era:
So Cuomo mandated that his own state employees boycott two other states within his own country, a boycott that by design would harm U.S. businesses, while prohibiting New York’s private citizens from supporting a similar boycott of a foreign nation upon pain of being barred from receiving contracts from the state of New York. That such a priority scheme is so pervasive — whereby boycotts aimed at U.S. businesses are permitted or even encouraged, but boycotts aimed at Israeli businesses are outlawed — speaks volumes about the state of U.S. politics and free expression, none of it good.
But now, as The Interceptreported last week, a modified version of the bill is back and pending in the lame-duck session: “Cardin is making a behind-the-scenes push to slip an anti-boycott law into a last-minute spending bill being finalized during the lame-duck session.”
The ACLU has also condemned this latest bill because “its intent and the intent of the underlying state laws it purports to uphold are contrary to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment guarantee of freedoms of speech and association.” As the ACLU warned ina recent action advisory:
While that “new version clarifies that people cannot face jail time for participating in a boycott,” the ACLU insists that “it still leaves the door open for criminal financial penalties” for anyone found to be participating in or even advocating for a boycott of Israel.
More dangerous attackson free expression are difficult to imagine. Nobody who claims to be a defender of free speech or free expression — on the right, the left, or anything in between — can possibly justify silence in the face of such a coordinated and pure assault on these most basic rights of free speech and association.
One common misconception is that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech only bars the state from imprisoning or otherwise punishing people for speaking, but does not bar the state from conditioning the receipt of discretionary benefits (such as state benefits or jobs) on refraining from expressing particular opinions. Aside from the fact that, with some rare and narrow exceptions, courts haverepeatedly held that the government is constitutionally barredunder the First Amendment fromconditioning government benefits on speech requirements — such as, say, enacting a bill that states that only liberals, or only conservatives, shall be eligible for unemployment benefits — the unconstitutional nature of Texas’s actions toward Bahia Amawi should be self-evident.
Imagine if, instead of being forced by the state to vow never to boycott Israel as a condition for continuing to work as a speech pathologist, Amawi was instead forced to pledge that she would never advocate for LGBT equality or engage in activism in support of or opposition to gun rights or abortion restrictions (by joining the National Rifle Association or Planned Parenthood), or never subscribe to Vox or the Daily Caller, or never participate in a boycott of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, or Russia due to vehement disagreement with those governments’ policies.
The tyrannical free speech denial would be self-evident and, in many of those comparable cases, the trans-ideological uproar would be instantaneous. As Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, warned: “[T]his template could be re-purposed to bar contracts with individuals or groups affiliated with or supportive of any political cause or organization — from the political Left or Right — that the majority in a legislature or the occupant of a governor’s office deemed undesirable.”
Recall that in 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to block zoning permits allowing Chick-fil-A to expand, due to his personal disagreement with the anti-LGBT activism of that company’s top executive. As I wrote at the time incondemning the unconstitutional natureof the mayor’s actions: “If you support what Emanuel is doing here, then you should be equally supportive of a Mayor in Texas or a Governor in Idaho who blocks businesses from opening if they are run by those who supportsame-sex marriage — or who oppose American wars, or who support reproductive rights, or who favor single-payer health care, or which donates to LGBT groups and Planned Parenthood, on the ground that such views are offensive to Christian or conservative residents.”
Those official efforts in Chicago (followed by mayors of other liberal cities) to punish Chick-fil-A due to its executive’s negative views on LGBT equality were widely condemned even by liberal commentators, who were horrified that mayors would abuse their power to condition zoning rights based on a private citizen’s political viewpoints on a controversial issue. Obviously, if a company discriminated against LGBT employees in violation of the law, it would be legitimate to act against them, but as Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum correctly noted, this was a case of pure censorship: “There’s really no excuse for Emanuel’s and [Boston Mayor Thomas] Menino’s actions. … You don’t hand out business licenses based on whether you agree with the political views of the executives. Not in America, anyway.”
The ACLU of Illinois alsodenounced the effort by Chicago against Chick-fil-Aas “wrong and dangerous,” adding: “We oppose using the power and authority of government to retaliate against those who express messages that are controversial or averse to the views of current office holders.” That, by definition, is the only position that a genuine free speech defender can hold — regardless of agreement or disagreement with the specific political viewpoint being punished.
Last week, the ACLU’s Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane explained why even the modified, watered-down, fully bipartisan version of the Israel oath bill pending in the U.S. Congress, and especially the already enacted bills in 26 states of the kind that just resulted in Amawi’s termination, are a direct violation of the most fundamental free speech rights:
This is a full-scale attack on Americans’ First Amendment freedoms. Political boycotts, including boycotts of foreign countries, have played a pivotal role in this nation’s history — from the boycotts of British goods during the American Revolution to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the campaign to divest from apartheid South Africa. And in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, the Supreme Court made clear that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in political boycotts.
The lawsuit which Amawi filed similarly explains that “economic boycotts for the purposes of bringing about political change are entrenched in American history, beginning with colonial boycotts on British tea. Later, the Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on boycotts to combat racism and spur societal change. The Supreme Court has recognized [in Claiborne] that non-violent boycotts intended to advance civil rights constitute ‘form[s] of speech or conduct that [are] ordinarily entitled to protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.’”
Who can justifythat — as a condition for working with speech-impaired and developmentally disabled children — Amawi is forced by the state to violate her conscience and renounce her political beliefs by buying products from a country that she believes (inaccordance with the U.N.) is illegally and brutally occupying land that does not belong to it? Whether or not you agree with her political view about Israel and Palestine, every American with an even minimal belief in the value of free speech should be vocally denouncing the attack on Amawi’s free speech rights and other Americans who are being similarly oppressed by these Israel-protecting censorship laws in the U.S.
As these Israel oath laws have proliferated, some commentators from across the ideological spectrum have noted what a profound threat to free speech they pose. The Foundation for Middle East Peace’s Friedman, for instance, explained that “it requires little imagination to see how criminalizing Americans’ participation in political boycotts of Israel could pave the way for further infringements to Americans’ right to support or join internationally-backed protests on other issues.” She correctly described such laws as “a free speech exception for Israel.”
The libertarian lawyer Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies,similarly warned: “It is not a proper function of law to force Americans into carrying on foreign commerce they personally find politically objectionable, whether their reasons for reluctance be good, bad, or arbitrary.”
National Review’s Noah Daponte-Smith last year denounced the Cardin bill seeking to criminalize advocacy of the Israel boycott as “so mind-bogglingly stupid that it’s hard to know exactly what to say about it,” adding that the bill “penalizes political beliefs and so is both unconstitutional and unconscionable.” The conservative writer continued: “The senators who currently support it should be, quite frankly, ashamed of themselves; they have lost sight of one of the founding principles of American government, allowing it to be overshadowed by the spectral world of the Israeli–Palestinian dispute.”
Meanwhile, though, there is an entire pundit class that has made very lucrative careers from posing as defenders and crusaders for free speech — from Jonathan Chait, Bill Maher, and Bari Weiss to theglittering renegades of the intellectual dark web — who fall notoriously silent whenever censorship is aimed at critics of Israel (there are some rare exceptions, such aswhen Chait tweetedabout Cardin’s bill: “BDS is awful, but this bill criminalizing it sounds insane and unconstitutional,” and when Weiss criticized Israelfor barring a Jewish-American boycott advocate from entering).
Put simply, it is impossible to be a credible, effective, genuine advocate of free speech and free discourse without objecting to the organized, orchestrated, sustained onslaught of attacks on the free speech and free association rights undertaken specifically to protect the Israeli government from criticism and activism. Self-professed free speech defenders who only invoke that principle whentheir political allies are targetedare, by definition, charlatans and frauds. Genuine free speech advocates object to censorship even when, arguably especially when, thefree speech rights of their political adversariesare assaulted.
Anyone who stands by silently while Bahia Amawi is forced out of the profession she has worked so hard to construct all because of her refusal to renounce her political views and activism — while the young children she helps are denied the professional support they need and deserve — can legitimately and accurately call themselves many things. “Free speech supporter” is most definitely not one of them.
Being told no is inevitable in most creative endeavors. But maybe I could win by losing.
By Emily Winter
Ms. Winter is a comedian.
My dog wags her tail whenever I say no.
Bingo is a rescue, and I’ll never know where she picked up the idea that “no” means “yes,” but it’s about as annoying as you’d imagine when you’re trying to get her to stop eating poop, for example. On the other hand, she’s the happiest creature I’ve ever met. So at the end of 2017, I wondered what my life would be like if I could turn no into yes, and I made it my 2018 New Year’s resolution to get 100 professional rejections.
If 100 seems absurd, recall all those stats about how today’s young adults are essentially rejection magnets: We change jobs and careers more frequently than ever before, are more likely to rely on the gig economy, relocate more and need new friends in those new cities, and we’re marrying later. It feels as if the only constant is change, and that means we’re forever at the whim of other people’s judgments, opinions and decisions. It’s unsettling at best. At worst, it’s crippling.
My particular treacherous path is as a writer and comedian. My gigs tend to be short, and I’m at the mercy of “right place, right time.” I can send off a great script or writing packet, or have a killer set at a packed stand-up show, but if the decision maker happens to be grumpy, or is in the bathroom during my set, or already read a similar submission, or is pals with another candidate, or thinks my look isn’t trending, or used to date someone with a similar name, or thinks I’m too old, or too young, or too liberal, or too conservative, or gets laid off right before she intended to hire me, I’m back to square one, wondering what I did wrong.
As 2018 began, though, I felt empowered by the knowledge that turning my failures into accomplishments would mean I’d be gaming the system. Both acceptances and rejections would count as a sort of win, and I liked those odds.
In pursuit of 100 rejections, I put myself forward for opportunities I’d previously thought were for smarter, funnier, cooler people. And sometimes I wasn’t rejected. I wrote for new publications, got a joke-writing gig on my favorite comedian’s radio show and interviewed guests on my podcast who I’d thought wouldn’t waste their time on me. At a stand-up show this fall, a peer told me the thing every comedian wants to hear: “I see your name everywhere! You’re killing it!”
But, of course, I couldn’t just take the compliment and move on. Instead, I explained that statistically speaking, I’m a giant, pathetic failure.
And I was failing, more than ever. Writing jobs, script contests, auditions, magazine pitches, comedy festivals — the turndowns piled up. I’d convinced myself that this experiment would shield me from the pain of individual rejections, and guess what? It didn’t. I’d be waiting on the subway platform, nonchalantly scrolling through my emails and bam! A rejection. I’d look around and wonder: “Do these commuters know they’re standing next to the saddest of all sad sacks?! They must. It’s obvious. I’m a bumbling fail potato.”
Over the summer, two of my best friends in my field realized some of their professional dreams. I was thrilled for them. But. Well, you know the but. Alone, I got so jealous that I lay on my apartment floor and cried until a line of cry-drool wrapped around my colossal, quivering head. Then I felt guilty for being jealous, and cried about that. Then I looked at my rejection list in disgust. Why had I spent eight months clinging to defeat? What a stupid plan! It suddenly felt as though I’d spent the year cocooning myself in a comforting blanket, and just realized the blanket was made of worms.
Had it all been a terrible idea? I emailed Angela Duckworth, the author of “Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance,” to ask her what she thought of my rejection resolution. She made me feel scientifically sane.
Dr. Duckworth explained that what I was doing was “exposure therapy”— making myself more comfortable with failure to reduce my fear of it. It was a relief, sitting at my desk, scrolling through the same inbox that contained messages like “not at this time,” “not a fit” and “unfortunately,” to see an expert in tenacity and achievement say that all this rejection was actually helpful. She argues that grit is more important than innate talent when it comes to success. So I kept at it.
It’s the middle of December and I have 101 rejections and 39 acceptances. I’m so tired, and that’s how I know I did it right. If I weren’t exhausted, it would mean I’d just spent the last year asking for things without putting in the work to earn them. To me, there’s nothing more off-putting than entitlement.
And when you think about it, entitlement is rampant in so many aspects of our lives. This fall, I caught up with a single friend, Andy, who was sick of going to weddings alone, and frustrated by the idea that love would find him, that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” Waiting is its own form of entitlement, and Andy wanted to do the work. So in October, he decided to treat his search for a meaningful, monogamous relationship as if he were on the job hunt: He’d cast his “résumé” out as far as he could and go on as many “interviews” as possible until he found a great fit, making it clear that he wasn’t up for gigs or part-time arrangements. By going on a date almost every night instead of once a month, he’d put less pressure and nervous energy into every meeting.
When we compared notes, we admitted that our experiments weren’t a magic solution. Andy is still unattached, and I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. But we’ve taken more chances and come closer to getting the things we want.
So I don’t regret committing to this masochistic rejection project. It made me feel embarrassed, depressed, overwhelmed and self-indulgent. But I also felt that I was moving forward instead of standing still.
Emily Winter (@EmilyMcWinter) is a comedian and contributor to NPR’s “Ask Me Another.”
Pawtucket RI – Toy manufacturer Hasbro today presented a new version of the classic strategy board game Risk which will be commercially available from spring 2018. In Risk Syria, up to 32 players (Russia, USA, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Germany, Iran, etc.) can engage in a proxy war on the battleground of Syria using an unending series of dice games to dispute the bombed-out city of Aleppo and the handling of so-called ‘Islamic State’.
The special feature of Risk Syria (€55.99, US$ 64.99) is that neither Assad’s government in Damascus nor the extremists take part in the game as powers in their own right. Instead, they are just game characters (soldier=1, tank=5, combat helicopter with barrel bomb=10) who are mercilessly played off against one another and sent to the slaughter by the real powers in the background.
One of 25 mission cards included in the game
Risk fans will quickly become confident with the mechanics of the game. Many rules are quite close to the original, such as the workings of attack and defence. The novelty here is that for every defeated soldier unit, five Syrian civilian units must also be removed from play.
The game is finished when there are no more Syrians. After a duration of about 37 hours, which is typical for Risk, the power that benefitted most of the civil war has won. Mission cards are drawn at the beginning of the game and define the players’ goals. These include increasing your profile in your home country, strategic access to natural resources, increasing your sphere of influence and strengthening your domestic arms industry.
If the Syria edition of Risk is well received on the board game market, Hasbro has plans to develop further board games relating to topical events. Potential future projects include a Greek version of Monopoly, Akropoly (all players start with horrendous debts), Trump Jenga (the player who builds the tallest tower wins the right to grope the female players) and ‘IS’ Chess (with a veiled queen who always follows one square behind the king; camels instead of knights; eight suicide bomber pawns).
From even crazier rent to low pay to no weekends and shitty bosses, it’s a lot like the world we live in now—just worse.
It’s mid-afternoon in late June two decades from now, and the weather in New York City is gross: hot, humid, slimy. You’re trying to find your way to a job interview when you pass a child yanking on her father’s arm, confused by a throng of people marching in a circle in front of them. They seem angry—there’s a lot of yelling and chanting and jockeying going on—but the most confusing part, at least to the toddler’s eye, is a giant inflatable rat.
“Dad, what’s that?”
You know what it is, of course. Maybe your mother was a labor organizer way back when. Maybe your cousin helped unionize an online postcard startup that went bankrupt before any employees could see the benefits of a contract. But the child’s father, perhaps 35 years old and gainfully employed at an Amazon subsidiary, doesn’t know or doesn’t care. He shrugs and pulls the kid down a side street to avoid the hubbub.Many Americans today would recognize what was going on back there as a picket line. Labor unions and impassioned workers interested in forming them—or winning concessions from management without an official union—have picketed workplaces across the United States for well over a century. Along the way, as documented in countless films, books, songs,classicSimpsons episodes, and even memes, they won incredible victories: the 40-hour workweek, healthcare benefits, an end to child labor, and much more. Union density—the percentage of American workers who belong to one—peaked at over a third of the total labor forcein the mid-1950s, thanks in part to a sort of pact between business and organized labor after World War II. Unions were institutions stitched into the fabric of mainstream America just like churches or Rotary clubs.
About seven decades later, unions are in decline and workers are in as much trouble as they have been since the 1920s. Inequality is out of control, right-wing populism is on the rise, and,thanks to a bombshell Supreme Court ruling Wednesday, organized labor is about to shrink. Union members and advocates hope the latest frontal assault from the rightcould help rally its membershipto put up a renewed fight, but that fight is going to be a brutal one.
Despite the downward trend, the worst-case scenario is rarely contemplated: What would happen if unions actually disappeared entirely? It might seem like a crazy proposition, sincepolling data shows young people are high on organized labor. On the other hand, breaking unions is pretty clearly an end desired by the right-wing billionaires dictating who gets to serve as judges in the courts and hold elected office.
Obviously, if unions were erased from America, the income of unionized workers would fall. But according to research from left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI), declines in unionization are linked toa drop in the pay of nonunion workers, too. And the implications of organized labor’s total collapse go way beyond paychecks. Without unions, racism and tribalism might get worse, cities could look physically different, rent would likely be even harder to keep up with, and weekends might become a thing of the past.
More than anything else, what emerged from conversations with economists, labor experts, sociologists and futurists is that a society without unions would look a lot like the increasingly gilded-age reality we live in now—just worse. And it’s not nearly as implausible as you might think.
“We don’t have to sort of wonder and fictionalize it,” Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at EPI, told me. “History gives us an indication—before we had meaningful labor representation and unions—of what our economy looked like.”
LESS MONEY AND MORE DANGER
McNicholas was referring to the era before the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which enshrined collective bargaining in American law at the height of the Great Depression. The preceding era was not a pleasant one. Strikes were brutally and bloody put down by private security forces contracted by nervous—or just plain vindictive—bosses. Labor actions could resemble actual combat, like West Virginia’s “Mine Wars.” Workers were literally locked inside factories, sometimes resulting in their deaths. And pay was often so low as to make them wonder how they might endure next day, much less the next week or year.
“Paychecks would very much continue to erode because labor standards would be under attack,” Jared Bernstein, a former economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank, told me.
There’s a potential 2038 where you might find yourself trying to cope with postmodern versions of those same pre-NLRA forces. Maybe your gig at on online retailer’s “fulfillment center” that paid you five dollars an hour would require dealing with 80-plus degree temperatures in a windowless warehouse with no one around in the event a machine impaled a worker against a wall. Why would the bosses bother with basic safety protections if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had been trimmed down to a shadow of its former self by a corporate-dominated Congress?
To wit: Unions don’t just negotiate pay-rates or basic benefits like healthcare for workers. They also hold bosses accountable for shady shit going on at the workplace. “Unions are a political force, particularly public-sector unions, which is exactly why the right has been tilted against them for so long,” Bernstein explained.
Right-wing interest groups like ALECand Republican politicians like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have long framed their dismantling of collective bargaining as a matter of fairness or budget issues. Why should union workers have it better than everyone else, especially if—as in the case of public-sector workers—their generous contracts come at the expense of taxpayers? But these seemingly practical concerns mask a deeper agenda: transferring wealth from workers to their bosses and the investor class. Unions effectively siphon money from management and government and give it to workers; if you could keep more of the money produced by your business—or the government you consider an extension of it—wouldn’t you? It’s no surprise that the relentlessly pro-business Republican Partyhas been on an anti-union crusade for decades. And if unions did not exist—and labor protections were further weakened as a result—the slope could get slippery, fast.
RACISM AND TRIBALISM WOULD BE ON THE RISE
Unions’ dissipation wouldn’t just affect the lot of people at the workplace or their economic life—it might change the face of American culture. Among other things, experts said, it could unleash even more ethnic tension and foment the kind of nativism preyed on by demagogues like Donald Trump. Suffice it to say it’s probably not a coincidence that the reemergence of straight-up white nationalism in mainstream American politics came after decades of union decline.
“The solidarities that feel real to people tend to be tribal,” said Todd Gitlin, a social-movement historian at Columbia University. “There’s a lot of evidence that unions are the best anti-racist institutions we have.”One study by historian Timothy Minchinfound that membership in the AFL-CIO* made white voters who might otherwise have been reluctant to embrace the first black major-party presidential nominee more willing to give the new guy a shot.
By their very nature unions bring people together to talk about their shared problems. Workers of the future may be in dire need of that—remote work is on the rise, and a lot of app-enabled occupations are solo endeavors where you’re basically taking orders from your phone. In the post-union future, there’s no reason for you and your fellow “independent contractors” to actually gather in the same physical—or even online—space to chat. In fact, your boss won’t allow that kind of scheming. Without your workplace exposing you to people from diverse backgrounds, your knowledge of other ethnic, gender, and cultural identities will largely be confined to what you see when streaming internet content from one of the two providers that will enjoy a joint monopoly over such services.
“The retreat into more tribal identities fills the gap when you have no set of durable organizations to bridge those divides,” explained Washington University in St. Louis sociologist Jake Rosenfeld. Specifically, white men have sometimes been brought into the fold of modern social tolerance in part by affiliations with labor. “Even today, with unions at their weakest state, unions are the only organization that brings that otherwise very conservative on all dimensions part of the body politic”—white men—”in a more progressive direction, and tempers those other passions.”
Of course, it hasn’t always been true that pro-union elements were forces for social tolerance. The William Jennings Bryan-led populist revolts of the 1890s and early 1900soften leaned in to white supremacy. But in the last century, as the progressive era gave way to the Civil Rights movement, unions have often been a partner in fighting for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and other groups seeking equal protection under the law. An end to unions means those voices will be more difficult to hear.
DAILY MISERY WITH NO WEEKEND IN SIGHT
Of course, a union-less future might not exactly be devoid of workers’ groups vaguely devoted to something resembling solidarity. But such organizations might be like theweak Independent Drivers Guildthat formed in 2016 to represent Uber workers in New York. That group gave drivers a voice on issues at their workplace, helping them advocate for minimum-pay rulesand even win changes to tipping policies, but denied them the power to collectively bargain contracts with Uber. That means it can’t secure full-time employee status for its members, much less demand better, more structural pay or health or other benefits. And it should be noted it only seemed to come into existence at all because an actual union—the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers—helped organize for it.
The total elimination of organized labor might seem like a fantasy, but everyone from union skeptics to pro–labor movement historians suspect the way workers band together, if they do at all, is due for a change soon.
“Our disrupted society is going to need some different way of having workers, somehow, respond,” Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, California, told me. Kotkin actually believes workers currently do better in low-union-density environments like right-to-work Texas where housing is cheaper on average than union bastions like Washington State and New York. But even as he cheered the idea of public-sector unions’ power being reined in, he painted a dark picture of an America where gig workers who lack unions essentially rely on the goodwill of rich people who want to keep things calm.
“If you look at the long-term vision of the oligarchs, it’s really a society where very few people make money,” he told me. “Everyone else is propped up to live a decent—they don’t live in hovels, but they never accumulate anything, and they become essentially serfs, which is where we’re headed.”
Whether you like or hate unions—or have mixed feelings about them, as Kotkin does—it seems perhaps most clear their continued demise or outright vanishment would not only affect inequality but what every American’s daily life looks like. In a not-implausible 2038, you and your partner might struggle to pay the $4,000 rent on your halfway-decent one-bedroom apartment in a large city. Unions and their allies in the Democratic Party and broader progressive movement have tended to be at the forefront of forcing the business community to include affordable housing in their latest massive projects. If the rent is too damn high now, it’ll get higher still once that movement is kneecapped. And if your pay is minuscule and you have no one fighting to guarantee you halfway plausible living expenses, things could get ugly.
“If I didn’t have a union job, I would not be able to pay my rent,” said Rosy Clark, a 30-year-old DSA member living in Brooklyn whose public-sector teachers’ union will be affected by the recent Supreme Court decision. “I would have to live differently. I would have to live with more people. I would have to live further away from where I work. And I would have to have a less comfortable living situation by leaps and bounds.”
Unions have been instrumental in securing things we now take for granted like a 40-hour work week. Without them, businesses might try to roll back even basic benefits, especially for lower-paid workers. In a union-less future, Clark suggested, you might not even have a weekend.
POLITICS WOULD GET UGLIER AND EVEN MORE TILTED TOWARD THE RICH
If thestudy earlier this year that found a 3.5 percent decline in Democratic presidential vote-share in “right-to-work” (or anti-union) locales was on point, it’s fair to assume the drop-off would even bigger were unions to fold entirely. If unions weren’t around to provide tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of foot soldiers every election day, progressive candidates would face an even heavier climb, especially outside big cities. The Democratic Party would suddenly be struggling in ways it’s hard to imagine today.
“The party would not collapse because its base of support is much broader than only organized labor—the coalition includes civil rights groups, feminist organizations, immigrant right groups, suburban educated voters and more,” Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, told me in an email. “That said, it would be devastating since—even in 2018—organized labor still is one of the few sources of mass mobilization that exists for the party.”
Thanks to the collapse of the labor movement in recent decades, we’re already getting a sense of what this looks like in states and localities nationwide.
If you wanted to run for office 20 years from now as a progressive in an America without unions, doing so would be an even heavier lift unless you were able to fund your own campaign. The study that showed how the collapse of union protections could erode Democrats’ political power also found that as a consequence of states passing anti-union laws, fewer working-class people sought—and won—positions of power.
The complete disappearance of unions is not an absurd hypothetical—this is a near-term possibility that is effectively already the case in some southern states that have always done everything they can to crush labor.
“For a lot of people in a lot of places, we already live in a union-less society,” Peter Frase, an editor at Jacobin magazine and author of Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, told me.
Frase cautioned, like Gross and some other experts and activists, against assuming workers wouldn’t find new ways to organize even in union-hostile states. More than one pointed to the teachers’ strikes in Oklahoma and West Virginia and hotel workers in Nevada as examples of how people can build solidarity even when the law is stacked against them.
On the other hand, people are increasingly working independently or in jobs that don’t build solidarity through physical proximity, as factory gigs once did. That would make building some kind of new model from scratch increasingly difficult. And if cities that currently have unions helping advocate for affordable housing were to suddenly be free to let the forces of capital develop as they see fit, places like Seattle and San Francisco might be even more unlivable, further complicating the project of gathering like-minded liberals in one place to force change.
Kotkin, for his part, anticipated an “increasingly feudalistic society” where the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world might believe, say, that “everybody should get a rent subsidy so they can live in a little one-bedroom apartment.” On the path we’re on, he suggested, tech gurus will essentially be left to set social policy on their own. Who knows, sometimes that might work out to their benefit if the guru in question wanted to help them.
“But they’ll never own anything and they’ll never have their own company,” he told me. “They’ll just be serfs to the lord.”
*AFL-CIO is the umbrella union that includes VICE writers and editors.
A potential ruling that could block public sector unions from representing nonmembers would deliver another blow to organized labor, which is still reeling from the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that cut off the collection of union fees from public workers who are not members.
A conservative advocacy group’s effort to upend exclusive representation in the public sector will get its first test later this month in federal court.
The Buckeye Institute is supporting plaintiff Kathleen Uradnik, a political science professor at St. Cloud State University, in her First Amendment lawsuit challenging the Inter Faculty Organization’s authority to represent her and other workers who aren’t union members. A Minnesota federal judge on Sept. 20 will consider her request for a temporary order to block the union from acting as nonmembers’ sole bargaining agent.
A ruling in Uradnik’s favor could put the poli-sci professor and her university in uncharted territory, potentially leaving her on her own to negotiate wages and benefits while freeing the school from its obligation to bargain with the IFO. And more cases are in the pipeline.
The Buckeye Institute has filed federal lawsuits on behalf of public employees in three different states, challenging a union’s authority to act as the sole representative for all workers in a bargaining unit.
Union Power in a Post-Janus World
The Supreme Court’sJanus v. AFSCMEdecision in June banned public sector unions from collecting fees from nonmembers that would be used to pay for nonpolitical expenses while also calling exclusive representation into question.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Janus majority opinion that a state’s requirement that a union must serve as public workers’ exclusive bargaining agent is a “significant impingement on associational freedoms that would not be tolerated in other contexts.”
Relying on Janus, Uradnik’s lawsuit says the Inter Faculty Organization’s designation as her exclusive bargaining representative violates her rights to free speech and association protected by the First Amendment.
“This is about the free speech rights of workers and whether they can be compelled in matters of public concern,” Buckeye Institute President Robert Alt told Bloomberg Law. “Janus dealt with one part of this question—can you be forced to subsidize a union’s speech—and raised grave questions about whether you can be forced to associate with a union.”
An injunction against the Inter Faculty Organization would extend beyond just the representation of Uradnik and other employees at St. Paul State University, Alt said. The union represents professors, coaches, librarians, and other employees at seven state university campuses in Minnesota.
IFO President Brent Jeffers cast the lawsuit as “part of a nationally coordinated strategy by powerful forces aiming to destroy collective bargaining.”
“It is a direct attack on our shared values and collective voice,” Jeffers told Bloomberg Law in a prepared statement.
It’s unclear whether public employers would have an obligation to negotiate with unions that aren’t designated as a bargaining unit’s exclusive representative, University of North Carolina labor law professor Jeffrey Hirsch told Bloomberg Law. States with anti-union officials would likely resist negotiating unless they absolutely had to, he said.
Abolition of exclusive representation could also open the door to multiple members-only unions representing different factions of employees working alongside one another, Hirsch said.
Catherine Fisk, a labor law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said a successful First Amendment challenge to exclusive representation in the public sector also could eventually bleed into the private sector.
A state action that violates the First Amendment is more obvious when it’s the government acting as an employer, Fisk told Bloomberg Law in an email. But there might also be state action in the private sector because government agencies, through the authority of the National Labor Relations Act or the Railway Labor Act, appoint unions as exclusive representatives if the unions win majority support of workers in bargaining units, Fisk said.
Union Armored With Knight Precedent
The IFO says the Supreme Court has already rejected a First Amendment challenge to a union’s exclusive representation of faculty in the Minnesota community college system. It cited the high court’s 1984 decision inMinnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knightin its bid to kill Uradnik’s motion for a preliminary injunction.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit also recently reaffirmed the constitutionality of exclusive representation under Minnesota law in its Aug. 14 ruling in Bierman v. Dayton, the union said. The circuit court said in that ruling that Janus didn’t mention Knight nor supersede it.
But Uradnik said in her motion that Knight doesn’t support the IFO’s exclusive representation of nonmembers. While Knight upheld a restriction on exclusive bargaining representatives in certain bargaining activities, there was no issue of compelled speech, she said.
This summer, the Supreme Court gutted America’s public labor unions with the Janus ruling. Now, another case has the potential to further destroy the very basis of organized labor in America. This is serious.
Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Org is a case brought by the right wing Buckeye Institute with the specific aim of dismantling a key part of U.S. labor law. The case seeks to end the practice of exclusive representation in public unions—the rule that a union represents all of the workers in a workplace. In the case, a college professor is arguing that the requirement that the union in her workplace negotiate on her behalf even if she does not want to be a union member is an infringement of her free speech. The case is a part of a long-term strategy by right wing groups to use the pretext of free speech as a way to destroy protections for organized labor. The Janus case—in which the Supreme Court ruled that nobody has to pay public unions for representing them (not even “agency fees,” which just cover the cost of representation) if they don’t want to—was the most successful manifestation of this strategy.
The Uradnik case could be the next step. It has just been appealed to the Supreme Court. If they decide to hear it, the outlook is not good. (And if they don’t decide to hear it, there are more identical cases in the pipeline.)
Both Janus and Uradnik deal exclusively with public employees, not private employees. But that just means they have the most potential to damage the union movement in America, because public employees are unionized at a far higher rate than private employees; and on top of that, it is quite possible that the blows to public unions can be translated down to private employee unions in time. This Bloomberg story from September lays out the implications of the Uradnik case, should the Supreme Court choose to pursue it:
It’s unclear whether public employers would have an obligation to negotiate with unions that aren’t designated as a bargaining unit’s exclusive representative, University of North Carolina labor law professor Jeffrey Hirsch told Bloomberg Law. States with anti-union officials would likely resist negotiating unless they absolutely had to, he said.
Abolition of exclusive representation could also open the door to multiple members-only unions representing different factions of employees working alongside one another, Hirsch said.
Anti-union forces know that the Janus ruling will make it much harder for public unions to sustain themselves financially. Add in the abolition of exclusive representation—and add to that a sustained, well-financed campaign targeting public employees to try to convince them to abandon their unions, which is already underway and is sure to intensify—and you will absolutely see a serious decline in union power in public workplaces, which they will then try to translate into private companies as well. If this case is successful, unions that were solid and powerful one year ago could soon find themselves underfunded, with their membership riddled with defectors and free riders and stupid or completely cynical competing factions in the workplace, and on top of that, with employers refusing to even negotiate at all. It would be bad.
If there is a silver lining to this possibility, it is this: the entire structure of modern labor law was to a large degree set up to enable collective bargaining because it was considered better than endless labor strife in the streets. If business interests think that they will win a decisive victory over working people by destroying collective bargaining, they will find themselves again facing angry workers whose only outlet is street protests, wildcat strikes, and other direct action that grinds business to a halt.
Right wingers are greedy. And foolish. They may get what they’re asking for. In the meantime, unionize your workplace.
Nearly two years before the U.S. government’s first known inquiry into the activities of Reddit co-founder and famed digital activist Aaron Swartz, the FBI swept up his email data in a counterterrorism investigation that also ensnared students at an American university, according to a once-secret document first published by Gizmodo.
The email data belonging to Swartz, who was likely not the target of the counterterrorism investigation, was cataloged by the FBI and accessed more than a year later as it weighed potential charges against him for something wholly unrelated. The legal practice of storing data on Americans who are not suspected of crimes, so that it may be used against them later on, has long been denounced by civil liberties experts, who’ve called on courts and lawmakers to curtail the FBI’s “radically” expansive search procedures.
(Aaron Swartz killed himself because he wanted to work for the government and thought his conviction for computer crimes would prevent that)
In November 2008, days before Swartz’s 22nd birthday, FBI investigators were combing the internet for any information they could find on the young man fated to become one of the internet’s most celebrated figures. At the time, the bureau was working to determine whether Swartz had violated any laws when he downloaded millions of court documents from an online system known as PACER.
The FBI would ultimately conclude that no crime had been committed and that the court records already belonged to the public. (Some three years later, the U.S. government charged him with crimes related to mass-downloading from another database.) But on that day in November, the investigators would leave no stone unturned.
Drawing from information published on Wikipedia and using investigative tools such as Accurint, FBI employees began quietly building a profile of the oft-described technology “wunderkind,” noting, for example, his involvement in the creation of the formatting language Markdown and RSS 1.0, and jotting down the various code frameworks that Swartz had helped to create and organizations that he had helped to found. Eventually, with all open source avenues exhausted, an FBI employee sat down at a computer terminal that, to most people, would appear plucked straight from the 1980s. The employee ran a search using the bureau’s automated case support system, a portal to the motherlode of FBI investigative files.
When the FBI worker typed in Swartz’s internet domain—aaronsw.com—he got a hit. A single file popped up bearing the case number 315T-HQ-C1475879. The prefix, 315, is a numerical classifier that was assigned to the file when it was created nearly two years before. It told the FBI employee that Swartz’s domain was linked, though not precisely how, to an international terrorism case. And then they cracked it open.
This case has been something of a mystery since its existence was first unearthed by journalists and researchers who engaged the FBI in lengthy court battles over records related Swartz, a celebrated internet rights activist, who, while being targeted by overzealous prosecutors in January 2013, died by suicide.
As mentioned, the newly released document, obtained first in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by transparency group Property of the People, reveals that Swartz was already of investigative interest to the FBI years before he was criminally charged with downloading millions of articles and documents from JSTOR, an expansive digital library of academic journals, in early 2011 and, more importantly, nearly two years before the Justice Department considered charges against him related to his PACER activity—the first known law enforcement probe to involve him, until now.
The FBI has long argued in favor of growing its profound authority to acquire Americans’ private communications data in huge quantities without a judge’s approval. But the document obtained by Property of the People, which was formerly classified “secret,” appears to exemplify, using a rather high-profile figure, the many inherent risks in allowing police agencies to secretly stockpile data on innocent Americans in the name of national security.
The document appears to show that in early 2007, the FBI cataloged a substantial amount of email metadata from the computer science and IT departments of the University of Pittsburgh, citing as justification the pursuit of a terrorism lead.
The terrorist group at the center of the investigation is also identified by name—Al Qaeda.
That any information about Swartz was collected during an Al Qaeda investigation—only to be retrieved nearly two years later for totally unrelated purposes—adds a familiar and sympathetic face to a controversial procedure in intelligence gathering commonly referred to as a “backdoor search.” That is, the FBI gathering information about Americans who are not accused of crimes, often without a warrant; storing that information in databases, sometimes for years; and later accessing it during the course of another investigation that ultimately has nothing to do with terrorism whatsoever. (Backdoor searches are most commonly associated with Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an authority that was unavailable to the FBI at the time.)
While the substantive details of this terrorism investigation remain a mystery, legal experts who spoke to Gizmodo said they were alarmed—but not the least bit surprised—to hear the FBI used information gleaned in a terrorism case as it tried to build a criminal one against Swartz long after.
“It’s disturbing that the FBI is mining this information for unrelated criminal investigations that have nothing to do with why it was collected in the first place,” said Neema Singh Guliani, the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative counsel. This practice, she said, is another example “of the way in which this authority has been abused by the government and underscores the need for reform.”
Certain types of electronic information, most of which can be described as “metadata,” may be acquired by the FBI without a warrant, provided it certifies there’s a “specific and articulable” link to suspected terrorist activities. This is basically the legal equivalent of a hunch, a threshold which is floors below probable cause. And this key: Obtaining that same information under any other circumstance—except in the case of espionage—would otherwise require a court order.
How specifically the FBI came to possess Swartz’s email data remains unclear.
But after reviewing the document and other related files, several legal experts told Gizmodo the most likely explanation was that the FBI had used a National Security Letter (NSL), a ubiquitous tool for obtaining email header data at the time. An NSL would have enabled federal agents to demand access to the data and then impose a gag order to maintain secrecy around the investigation, all without a judge’s approval.
Authorized under the Stored Communications Act, in cases of suspected terrorism or espionage, these letters enable the FBI to seize a variety of electronic records under its own authority. While agents cannot use an NSL to acquire the contents of an email message, the FBI’s notes appear to show that, in Swartz’s case, it sought only “email headers,” data the FBI would argue falls well within the scope of its power to seize.
Property of the People co-founder Ryan Shapiro, who holds a PhD from MIT, told Gizmodo that the Justice Department was “particularly aggressive” in court while trying to keep its prior, and formerly undisclosed, investigative interest in Swartz under wraps. It only relented, he said, when it seemed the U.S. attorney feared an unfavorable ruling, which could impact the Justice Department in future court cases.
“The FBI does nearly everything in its power to maintain its functional immunity from the Freedom of Information Act. As one element of its anti-FOIA efforts, the FBI is notorious for the deliberate poverty of its FOIA searches,” he said. “In this case, the Bureau even made the ludicrous claim that documents about Aaron Swartz’s email address, email header data, and domain weren’t related to him, and therefore were outside the scope of the FBI’s search for records about Swartz. It took us years of litigation to force the FBI to finally search for and even partially release this important document.”
The FBI declined to comment on the case and instead pointed to Justice Department guidelines that define the scope of the FBI’s authority. “The manner in which the FBI acquires information must meet a legal threshold, and the use of that information is governed by legal statutes and guidelines on investigations established by the Attorney General. In addition, the FBI’s use of its legal authorities is subject to robust oversight by all three branches of government,” it said.
While heavily redacted, the document obtained by Property of the People offers multiples clues as to the origin of the collected email data. It almost certainly originated from the University of Pittsburgh (PITT). At the time of writing, however, it remains unknown what connected the University to an investigation involving Al Qaeda in 2007. (Several key portions of the records are redacted, with exemptions referencing the National Security Act of 1947.)
Notably, the document references two sets of email data labeled “Computer Science” and “CSSD” (“Appendix A” and “Appendix B,” respectively).
While “Computer Science” is admittedly ambiguous—though clearly related to an academic department somewhere—“CSSD” has special relevance to Pittsburgh. As University literature describes it, Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) has long provided the “network infrastructure and telecommunications backbone for the University community,” offering among other forms of support, computer resources and training to students and faculty members alike.
The term “CSSD” is also unique to the Pittsburgh campus. The University, which today accommodates more than 28,000 students and a staff of nearly 5,000, further describes it as follows:
“Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) supports the teaching and research missions of the University by providing mechanisms (infrastructure, consulting, development and training) to students engaged in academic activities and to faculty in their laboratories and classrooms. CSSD is responsible for maintaining a contemporary IT environment, while exploring the next generation of technology, innovative computing, and telecommunication solutions.”
Only two pages of the document were released—a cover sheet and a second page pulled from one of the “email header” lists—so it is unclear precisely how much data the FBI may have acquired.There are clues, however, that suggest it may have been a substantial amount.
The page with Swartz’s email address is labeled page 26. When the FBI looked up the file, it noted the address was contained in Appendix A (“Computer Science”). So we know the first email header list takes up at least 26 pages, but maybe more. There is no reference to the size of Appendix B. The total size of the file, then, could be anywhere between 27 pages and 50 pages or 100 pages or 2,000—only the FBI knows for sure.
It is also unclear why Swartz was, presumably, in contact with a student or staff member in the PITT computer science department, though he is known to have been involved in multiple software development projects at the time, and had by then realized his own passion for collecting and sharing—frequently with other academics—datasets containing massive amounts of information, which he earnestly believed should be free and easily accessible to everyone.
“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves,” he later wrote in his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. “Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.”
Scientists Just Rescued One of the Last Sumatran Rhinos to Save the Entire Species
Gizmodo contacted the university in early November. After a week, PITT said it was still “digging” into the matter. On November 20, Gizmodo informed PITT that it was planning to publish a story stating that the FBI obtained the communications data of staff and students in connection with a terrorism investigation. Following that, correspondence from the University ceased for over a week.
In response to a later email raising the possibility that a National Security Letter was used to acquire to data on staff and students, a PITT spokesperson replied: “I’m afraid we have no comment.” The spokesperson would also not say whether the University had a policy of challenging the government gag orders that accompany NSLs, which are designed to prevent people and institutions from ever notifying the public about the letter’s existence.
National Security Letters
In 2007, the FBI would not have required a warrant to obtain the email headers from a public university. The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, significantly lowered the threshold for using NSLs and also made them much easier to acquire by expanding the number of FBI officials who could sign them. Today, the most senior agents at the FBI’s 56 nationwide field offices—special agents in charge (SAC)—are able to approve the use of an NSL.
NSLs may be used to acquire sans warrant a range of consumer credit information and other transnational records. But importantly, the statute authorizing their use in cases of electronic communications—under Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act—do not permit the FBI to acquire the content of emails without a warrant. NSLs may be used, however, to acquire evidence in pursuit of secret warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), for developing evidence prior to the initiation of a terrorism investigation, and to corroborate information obtained by other means.
While the FBI informed Gizmodo that its use of such tools is governed by legal statutes and guidelines established by the U.S. Attorney General, the bureau has routinely violated and misinterpreted those guidelines, according to the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel and the FBI’s own inspector general. Notably, these abuses were rampant around the time that the FBI appears to have acquired the PITT email data.
Between 2003 and 2006, the FBI reported the issuance of more than 192,000 letters, according to 2009 testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. However, the FBI’s inspector general also determined that this figure was also inaccurately low.A review of four field offices revealed the reported number of letters was, in fact, 22 percent lower than the actual number of letters issued. It also identified 26 possible intelligence violations, including the issuance of NSLs “without proper authorization.”
Out of 77 FBI files, the inspector general foundthat 293 letters had been used. Of those, 22 possible violations were discovered that had not been previously reported. The violations included “improper requests under the pertinent national security letter statutes” and “unauthorized collections.” Moreover, some of the justifications used to obtain the letters were overly convenient and inherently flawed.
The FBI Pittsburgh Field Office, which requested the analysis of the email headers linked to Swartz, also has a “troubling” history with regard to the monitoring of peaceful activists, notes a 2010 inspector general report.
In response to suspicions of illegal spying on anti-war activists raised by California Representative Zoe Lofgren, the FBI launched an internal investigation to determine whether it had targeted “domestic advocacy groups” based solely on activities protected under the First Amendment. Notably, even the issuance of an NSL cannot be based solely on observations of constitutionally protected speech. (Lofgren is, incidentally, the author of Aaron’s Law, a bill that sought to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, under which Swartz was charged prior to his death. The bill did not pass.)
The inspector general’s report contradicted the 2006 congressional testimony of then-FBI Director Robert Mueller over FBI surveillance of a peaceful protest held in Pittsburgh four years earlier. While he claimed the bureau had a solid lead on a person of interest in a terrorism case, who just so happened to be a prominent local Muslim, the report found that the FBI had no evidence linking the man to anything. Even worse, it wasn’t until an agent was already undercover at the rally that the FBI learned he was there. Prior to that, it didn’t have “any reason to believe” he’d be in attendance, the report says.
“The fundamental issue with an NSL,” says Reporter’s Committee director and lawyer Gabe Rottman, returning to the subject, “if one was used in this case, is that the FBI can issue it on its own discretion and can collect pretty sensitive information, such as email headers.” But at the time, the FBI also claimed the authority to collect arguably much more sensitive data without a warrant or court order, such a person’s web browsing history.
It’s particularly worrying, he said, that the FBI can use what oftentimes turns out to be imaginary threats to national security as an excuse to stockpile U.S. citizens’s private data, even when no proof exists they’ve committed a crime. “Just as Aaron’s email was apparently picked up here,” he said, “you could have a reporter or some of their source information get scooped up and mined later. And that’s a matter of great concern.”
It’s not too late yet to find that perfect holiday gift that carries a union label and is made in America. Below is a wide range of gift possibilities, from clothes to games to sports equipment and more, made by members of UNITE HERE, Boilermakers (IBB), Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), Machinists (IAM), United Steelworkers (USW), Teamsters (IBT), UAW, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW (RWDSU/UFCW) and United Farm Workers (UFW).
This list is compiled from Union Plus, the AFL-CIO Union Label and Service Trades Department (UL&STD) and the BCTGM website. Check them out for even more gift ideas.
You might think the best book to read to your young child is one they’ll love. One that, when you close the final page, makes them shout, “Again, again!” One that, before you even say, “Go pick out a bedtime book,” is already in their hand and waving in front of your face, an old and familiar friend.
Or you might think that that book, the one you’ve read 652 times and counting, should meet its untimely death in a pizza oven.
While it’s a good thing that your kid wants you to read the same book over and over—after all, the repetition can bring about a sense of security—it can start to fray on your nerves. To say the least.
Maintaining sanity is easier, however, if you choose excellent books from the outset. The kind of books that you won’t mind reading for the hundredth or thousandth time.
Here are my picks for Books-That-Stand-Up-to-Multiple-Readings:
“Dear Farmer Brown, The barn is very cold at night. We’d like some electric blankets. Sincerely, The Cows.”
Parts (by Tedd Arnold)
What a great sense of humor! This poor lil dude is convinced he’s falling apart, which will keep you chuckling even after the dozenth read:
“Next day when I was outside playing with the water hose, I saw that little bits of skin were peeling from my toes. I stared at them, amazed, and then I gave a little groan, to think that pretty soon I might be peeled down to the bone.”
Rosie Revere, Engineer (by Andrea Beaty)
This story—encouraging little Rosie to follow her dreams without embarrassment or fear of failure—is so touching, you might never not tear up when you read it to your daughter or son:
“Her great-great-aunt Rose was a true dynamo who’d worked building airplanes a long time ago. She told Rosie tales of the things she had done and goals she had checked off her list one by one.”
Here’s a positive book with a lovely message. Even if it’s the seventh night this week you’re reading it, you’ll feel good about reading:
“I like me wild. I like me tame. I like me different and the same.”
The Pigeon books (by Mo Willems)
The lessons in the Pigeon books are important ones, teaching kids to handle the word “no,” how to ask for things, how to share. The stories are fun and simple and familiar to anyone living with tiny humans.
Take “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!” about, yes, the pigeon finding a hot dog, and his curious (and innocent?) chick friend, who says, “I have a question. I’ve never had a hot dog before … What do they taste like?” The pigeon gushes about the snack for a while before realizing the chick may have ulterior motives, saying … “Wait a second. This hot dog is MINE. I found it!”
“Here is how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. No matter what. That’s the deal. That’s the rule. So that means … Even if the words say … BLORK. Wait—what? That doesn’t even mean anything. Bluurf.”
All things Dr. Seuss
Since 1937, when the first Dr. Seuss book—“And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street”—was published, these books have been staples for little kid libraries. Why? Well, we love books that rhyme, don’t we? They’re fun to read, and, if we pick right, we can find plenty of Seuss books with a pretty killer message.
Take “The Lorax” and his message of preserving the forests:
“NOW … thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground, there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ‘round. And my poor Bar-ba-loots are all getting the crummies because they have gas, and no food, in their tummies!”
In the Night Kitchen (by Maurice Sendak)
Some of the best stories for kids have hidden messages, an extra layer for adults. “In the Night Kitchen” has incredible artwork and a kooky storyline for kids, but according to Sendak, his book actually references the Holocaust—just not in a way little ones would understand:
“(…) the bakers who bake till the dawn so we can have cake in the morn mixed Mickey in the batter, chanting: Milk in the batter! Milk in the batter! Stir it! Scrape it! Make it! Bake it! And they put that batter up to bake a delicious Mickey-cake.”
“On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, ‘Life will never be the same.’ Because there had never been anyone like you … ever in the world.”
We have reached a new height of dating-app fatigue: Even the online matchmakers have given up on finding you a soul mate.
It’s not that you’re hopeless. You’re wonderful! You’re a unique snowflake – so unique, in fact, that you should keep swiping and stay single as long as possible.
If you’ve seen ads for OkCupid or Tinder recently, you might notice something conspicuous: There’s little mention of love or partnership. Instead of trying to convince users that their perfect match is just a click or a swipe or a wink away, OkCupid and Tinder are touting the joy of meeting new people yet remaining unattached.
Both brands are advertising in high-traffic areas in Washington. OkCupid has its edgy “DTF” ads at select Metro stations, and Tinder’s video ad cycles through huge screens on the side of Capital One Arena. Tinder’s ad shows a gaggle of diverse young people throwing their hands in the air and roller-skating under dreamy pink and blue neon lights – as if footage from a night out has been put through the Amaro Instagram filter. “Single is a terrible thing to waste” is superimposed over the carefree images. They skate in single-file, alone together – no one holding anyone’s hand.
OkCupid’s message depicts a range of relationship types. It rebrands “DTF” – that acronym that’s slang for promiscuity, starts with “down to” and isn’t fully printable in a family newspaper – by recasting that F into all sorts of permutations. The images from artists Maurizio Cattelan (the provocateur of golden-toilet fame) and Pierpaolo Ferrari feature interracial and same-sex pairs. A few of the messages depict passion: Down to Fall Head Over Heels and Down to Furiously Make Out. But they’re also playful: Down to Focus on My Chakras. Down to Farmer’s Market. Down to Forget Our Baggage. Some are political: Down to Fight About the President. Down to Filter Out the Far Right. And others make comments about gender politics: One reads Down to Foot the Bill. (The company says those many permutations mirror the dozens of questions OkCupid users can answer to help get matched.)
In these ads, being single is a terrible thing to waste, while other companies’ ads cast it as a terrible thing – to be fixed. A decade ago, commercials for Match.com, eharmony and others focused on reducing the stigma of online dating. They featured smiling, happy couples gushing about how lucky they are to have found each other – and noted how everyone seemed to know of an online dating success story. This kind of magic was theoretically waiting for you, if only you would look for companionship online, too.
Now that the stigma has been dismantled, Match.com still hawks itself as a place to find a committed relationship. But what if you’re not ready for something that serious? OkCupid and Tinder are reminding you that there’s a different app or site for each stage in a single person’s life – and Match.com’s parent company, IAC, owns both of those and more. The longer you’re swiping or searching, the longer these apps can monetize those matches through their premium memberships.
Of course, Tinder can’t say that outright. “We are pro-couples; we want people to meet people,” says Jenny Campbell, Tinder’s chief marketing officer. But, she adds, “We also want to be there when you’re out there exploring.” And that’s exactly what Tinder’s ads communicate: Finding lasting love before 30 would be tantamount to squandering your freedom.
The dating app’s other ads proclaim: “Congrats on your big breakup”; “Single does what Single wants”; “Single never has to go home early.” Based on grammar alone, Tinder is making a statement: Single is a noun, a state of being, not an adjective that might apply for a short time. It’s recognizing that its target 18-to-29 demographic isn’t necessarily looking for that soul mate just yet. The app is also owning up to the criticism it gets – that it’s only for hookups and casual connections – rather than showing you footage from Tinder weddings.
“There’s less of a focus on finding The One and more on finding yourself and living your best single life,” Campbell says of today’s 20-something lifestyle.
These new ads also have an implicit feminist message. One of the goals of Tinder’s ad campaign, Campbell says, was “to help alleviate the social pressures women face. There’s so much judgment out there. This is a time in your life where you should be savoring experiences.”
Similarly, Melissa Hobley, OkCupid’s chief marketing officer, says the site’s DTF campaign is an attempt to take an acronym that can be aimed negatively at women and spin it as a positive thing. “The idea was: We wish there were some things we could change about dating, including the DTF phrase,” she says, noting that “the F should be whatever the F you want it to be.”
These implied meanings and the politically themed “Fs” also reflect how important politics have become in singles’ dating lives. Hobley noted that in the past two years, the dating site has seen a 1,000 percent increase in political terms showing up in daters’ profiles.
But those buying the advertising aren’t always willing to take such definitive stances. Washington’s Metro system rejected OkCupid’s ads that read Down to Fantasize About 2020 and Down to Filter Out the Far Right, with an image of a woman dropping a gun into a toilet. (OkCupid kicked white supremacist Chris Cantwell off its platform in 2017 shortly after the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.) Hobley says New York City’s subway system also rejected the ad against the far right.
For both online dating portals, it’s their first foray into formally marketing their products. Tinder got its start through word-of-mouth advertising on college campuses in 2012; OkCupid has been around since 2004 and was ripe for some rebranding.
Both companies seem to be conveying a lightness to combat the drudgery of swiping. Brian Delaurenti, 28, of Portland, Oregon, is one-half of the popular Instagram account @thegaybeards with his best friend Johnathan Dahl. OkCupid is one of the many brands Delaurenti and Dahl have partnered with, partly because they know how hard it can be to be single and looking.
“You start to feel inadequate or you feel rejected,” Delaurenti said in a phone interview. However, OkCupid’s ad campaign “makes you realize [dating] is not so much sitting down and grabbing a drink, but instead reminding yourself that meeting someone and putting yourself out there can lead to all these incredible things you can do.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling was expected to diminish union membership. But so far, many unions have actually increased their numbers since the verdict. Conservative groups are working to reverse that trend in the long run.
December 10, 2018
(Boston MA: Striking UNITE HERE Local 26 hotel workers – October 2018)
The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling was expected to lead many members to drop out of unions.
But so far, union membership remains steady or is actually increasing in some places.
This can partially be attributed to actions that states have recently taken to protect unions.
Conservative groups will seek to build on their Janus momentum in state legislatures next year with legislation that further erodes union power.
Five months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt what was seen as a massive blow to unions in Janus v. AFSCME.The justices banned the collection of union fees from public workers who receive union-negotiated benefits but choose not to belong to the union.
The ruling had an immediate negative effect on union finances. In Pennsylvania, for instance, refunding fees to nonmembers resulted in a roughly 15 percent loss of the $42.5 million that unions collected from executive branch members and nonmembers in 2017, according to the state’s Office of Administration.
The court’s decision also led many to predict that massive defections of union members would follow. But so far, even as anti-union organizations wage campaigns to convince members to drop out, most are staying put. Some unions have actually increased their numbers since the Janus verdict.“I think the right wing thought this would decimate public-sector unions, and they were clearly wrong,” says Kim Cook of the Cornell University Worker Institute, which provides research and education in support of unions and workers’ rights.
According to Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, “After the Janus case, public-service workers are choosing to join AFSCME at a much higher rate than those who drop.”
But Ken Girardin, analyst for the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy in New York, says that many employees are still uninformed about their right to leave unions and that it will take a few years to see significant declines in membership.
“Based on what we’ve observed, you will likely see a multi-year drop in membership, driven chiefly by the fact that people aren’t going to join in the first place,” says Girardin. “The next cohorts of employees won’t join at the same rate as the retirees they are replacing.”
In the meantime, state unions are seeing similar trends to AFSCME.
In Pennsylvania, 50,072 state executive branch employees were members of unions at the time of the Janus decision. That number has increased to 51,127, according to the state’s Office of Administration. In Oregon, the Local 503 chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reported in September that new union members have outnumbered dropouts by three to two. In California, data from the Controller’s Office show a small increase in state employee union membership, which totaled 131,410 in October — up a small fraction from 131,192 in June.
“The decision didn’t have the major impact on membership that was anticipated,” says Science Meles, executive vice president of a Chicago chapter of SEIU, which had about 23,800 members in August 2017 and now has about 26,000.
While the National Education Association, which represents roughly 3 million employees of schools and colleges, says it immediately lost dues from 87,000 people who were nonmembers being charged, it has not seen a significant drop in membership. According to Staci Maiers, the group’s senior press officer, “Our affiliates have signed up more new members as of October 1 than they have previously by this point in time.”
Why Hasn’t Union Membership Dropped Since Janus?
Fearing a loss at the Supreme Court, unions have been running aggressive membership drives since before the Janus ruling. Their membership may also be sustaining or thriving because people aren’t aware of the Janus decision or because of actions taken by states to protect unions. As we previously reported, some Democratically controlled states have recently made it harder for public employees to leave unions.
New Jersey limited the time frame when government workers can withdraw from their union. New York banned state agencies from releasing employees’ personal data that could be used by union-busting groups to persuade members to pull out. California, New Jersey and Washington now prohibit public employers from discouraging union membership and guarantee unions full access to hiring orientation sessions so they can explain the advantages of membership. In New Jersey, employers that break this law will be forced to reimburse unions for any lost dues.
Due to procedural hurdles and union tactics, the “number of folks who have successfully resigned post-Janus is much smaller than the number that have attempted to resign,” says Maxford Nelsen, director of labor policy for the Freedom Foundation, which has waged an aggressive campaign in the Northwest to urge public-sector employees to give up their union membership.
Meanwhile, labor experts believe that counter-legislation will emerge that seeks to lessen union power. When conservative lawmakers convened at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference last month, Mark Janus himself, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, urged them to champion the model bills ALEC is pushing that would further hurt unions.
In Pennsylvania, a Senate committee held a hearing at the end of October to consider a comprehensive bill that would change the commonwealth’s practices to make it easier to leave unions.
“If the rules aren’t settled now by legislation, they will be determined by aggressive tactics by unions to keep their members,” said Terrence J. Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, at the Senate hearing.
Groups that cheered the Janus ruling are also continuing to take laws that protect unions to court. The Fairness Center, self-described as “a public interest law firm that provides free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials,” is suing AFSCME over a Pennsylvania law that lets unions impose a limited time frame in which members can drop out.
But some say the ultimate survival of public-sector unions will depend not on preventing dropouts but on their ability to convince new employees that union membership is important.
“As new employees are hired, unions have to make a pretty strong case that people should join,” says Cook of the Worker Institute. “We’re feeling good about the lack of impact so far on union membership because of the Janus decision. But that’s no guarantee for the long run.”
So it appears the privatization of France isn’t going quite as smoothly as planned. As I assume you are aware, for over a month now, the gilets jaunes (or “yellow vests”), a multiplicitous, leaderless, extremely pissed off, confederation of working class persons, have been conducting a series of lively protests in cities and towns throughout the country to express their displeasure with Emmanuel Macron and his efforts to transform their society into an American-style neo-feudal dystopia. Highways have been blocked, toll booths commandeered, luxury automobiles set on fire, and shopping on the Champs-Élysées disrupted. What began as a suburban tax revolt has morphed into a bona fide working class uprising.
It took a while for “the Golden Boy of Europe” to fully appreciate what was happening. In the tradition of his predecessor, Louis XVI, Macron initially responded to the gilets jaunes by inviting a delegation of Le Monde reporters tolaud his renovation of the Elysée Palace, making the occasional condescending comment, and otherwise completely ignoring them. That was back in late November. Last Saturday, he locked down central Paris, mobilized a literal army of riot cops, “preventatively arrested” hundreds of citizens, including suspected “extremist students,” and sent in thearmored military vehicles.
The English-language corporate media, after doing their best not to cover these protests (and, instead, to keep the American and British publics focused on imaginary Russians), have been forced to now begin the delicate process of delegitimizing the gilets jaunes without infuriating the the entire population of France and inciting the British and American proletariats to go out and start setting cars on fire. They got off to a bit of an awkward start.
For example, this piece by Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian‘s Paris Bureau Chief, and her Twitter feed from the protests last Saturday. Somehow (probably a cock-up at headquarters), The Guardian honchos allowed Chrisafis to do some actual propaganda-free reporting (and someinterviews with actual protesters) before they caught themselves and replaced her with Kim Willsher, who resumed The Guardian‘s usual neoliberal establishment-friendly narrative, which, in this case, entailed dividing the protesters into “real” gilets jaunes and “fake” gilet jaunes, and referring to the latter fictional group as “thuggish, extremist political agitators.”
By Sunday, the corporate media were insinuating that diabolical Russian Facebook bots had brainwashed the French into running amok, because who else could possibly be responsible? Certainly not the French people themselves! The French, as every American knows, are by nature a cowardly, cheese-eating people, who have never overthrown their rightful rulers, or publicly beheaded the aristocracy. No, the French were just sitting there, smoking like chimneys, and otherwise enjoying their debt-enslavement and the privatization of their social democracy, until they unsuspectingly logged onto Facebook and … BLAMMO, the Russian hackers got them!
And, see, this is the problem the corporate media (and other staunch defenders of global neoliberalism) are facing with these gilets jaunes protests. They can’t get away with simply claiming that what is happening is not a working class uprising, so they have been forced to resort to these blatant absurdities. They know they need to delegitimize the gilets jaunes as soon as possible — the movement is already starting to spread — but the “Putin-Nazi” narrative they’ve been using on Trump, Corbyn, and other “populists” is just not working.
No one believes the Russians are behind this, not even the hacks who are paid to pretend they do. And the “fascism” hysteria is also bombing.Attempts to portray the gilets jaunes as Le Pen-sponsored fascistsblew up in their faces. Obviously, the far-Right are part of these protests, as they would be in any broad working class uprising, but there are far too many socialists and anarchists (and just regular pissed-off working class people) involved for the media to paint them all as “Nazis.”
Which is not to say that the corporate media and prominent public intellectuals like Bernard-Henri Lévy will not continue to hammer away at the “fascism” hysteria, and demand that the “good” and “real” gilets jaunes suspend their protests against Macron until they have completely purged their movement of “fascists,” and “extremists,” and other dangerous elements, and have splintered it into a number of smaller, antagonistic ideological factions that can be more easily neutralized by the French authorities … because that’s what establishment intellectuals do.
We can expect to hear this line of reasoning, not just from establishment intellectuals like Lévy, but also from members of the Identity Politics Left, who are determined to prevent the working classes from rising up against global neoliberalism until they have cleansed their ranks of every last vestige of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so on. These leftist gatekeepers have been struggling a bit to come up with a response to the gilets jaunes … a response that doesn’t make them sound like hypocrites. See, as leftists, they kind of need to express their support for a bona fide working class uprising. At the same time, they need to delegitimize it, because their primary adversaries are fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and assorted other isms and phobias, not the neoliberal ruling classes.
Nothing scares the Identity Politics Left quite like an actual working class uprising. Witnessing the furious unwashed masses operating out there on their own, with no decent human restraint whatsoever, Identity Politics Leftists feel a sudden overwhelming urge to analyze, categorize, organize, sanitize, and otherwise correct and control them. They can’t accept the fact that the actual, living, breathing working classes are messy, multiplicitous, inconsistent, and irreducible to any one ideology. Some of them are racists. Some are fascists. Others are communists, socialists, and anarchists. Many have no idea what they are, and don’t particularly care for any of these labels. This is what the actual working classes are … a big, contradictory collection of people who, in spite of all their differences, share one thing in common, that they are being screwed over by the ruling classes. I don’t know about you, but I consider myself one of them.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. According to The Guardian, as I am sitting here writing this, the whole of Europe is holding its breathin anticipation of the gilets jaunes’ response to Macron’s most recent attempt to appease them, this time with an extra hundred Euros a month, some minor tax concessions, and a Christmas bonus. Something tells me it’s not going to work, but even if it does, and the gilets jaunes uprising ends, this messy, Western “populist” insurgency against global neoliberalism has clearly entered a new phase. Count on the global capitalist ruling classes to intensify their ongoingWar on Dissentand their demonization of anyone opposing them (or contradicting their official narrative) as an “extremist,” a “fascist,” a “Russian agent,” and so on. I’m certainly looking forward to that, personally.
Oh … yeah, and I almost forgot, if you were wondering what you could get me for Christmas, I did some checking, and there appears to be a wide selection of yellow safety vests online for just a couple Euros.
C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and political satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant. He can be reached at cjhopkins.com or consentfactory.org.
In the past two weeks, the United States and NATO countries have opened still another line of attack on Russia in their ongoing high pitch information war: the seizure by the Russian navy of three Ukrainian vessels attempting unsanctioned entry to the Kerch Straits, together with the arrest of their crews who have been treated medically, as necessary, and dispatched to a prison in Moscow for interrogation.
In light of the sound and fury over the Ukrainian sailors, it seems to me that the moment is especially opportune to bring to the attention of the world community, and in particular to the attention of Amnesty International, the Council of Europe and other institutions and political forces defending the cause of human rights the following inhumane treatment by the government in Kiev of prisoners of war and prisoners of conscience.
Here the objective is not to score propaganda points but to secure urgently needed assistance to named individuals currently in Ukrainian detention centers.
As happens in cases like this, I received the list from friends of friends serving in the Moscow embassy of an EU country. Accordingly I have every reason to believe in its accuracy and impartiality.
List of prisoners of war and political prisoners in Ukraine who are in need of urgent medical assistance and material aid
1. Medical care is not being provided.
2. Their cases are not really being examined by the courts. The cases are being transferred from tribunal to tribunal, where the court sessions only consider the question of extending the preventive detention measures.
3. Complaints have been filed with international organizations with respect to numerous violations of human rights law, namely : abuse of power of the forces of law and order, violations during the examination of files by the judges (at all stages of the judicial proceedings). Ukrainian government authorities have responded in a formalistic manner and propose to investigate the violations (practically none of these cases has been brought to trial).
It makes a certain amount of sense that Matt Groening’s third TV series would be Disenchantment. If The Simpsons tackles our heightened present through the eyes of a dysfunctional nuclear family, and Futurama skewered an imagined future influenced by the whims of 20th century science fiction, then Disenchantment broadly examines “the past” via the medieval fantasy genre. Like Groening’s previous shows, Disenchantment sports an impressive setting bounded only by the writers’ imagination, in this case the kingdom of Dreamland, and an ever expanding cast of characters, two elements crucial for his brand of humanism and satire to flourish. Anyone weaned on Groening’s work will find that his new series fits exactly in his wheelhouse but with one obvious difference: It’s streaming on Netflix instead of airing on television.
Now, that’s not necessarily a prohibitive factor, but Netflix’s few creative restrictions and seemingly limitless budget constitute a double-edged sword for TV writers, especially those weaned on writing for network. Groening and showrunners Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley are all veterans of the traditional half-hour sitcom, complete with commercial breaks and tight act structure, and they have done some of the medium’s best work within those constraints. Will the platform’s freedoms affect the quality of Disenchantment or will it be business as usual but with ten episodes at once instead of weekly installments?
Unfortunately, Disenchantment’s pilot, “Chapter I: A Princess, an Elf, and a Demon Walk Into A Bar,” falls into a familiar streaming trap: It plays like an extended first act rather than a discrete episode. Written by Groening and Weinstein, the pilot inelegantly introduces the series’ main characters without much regard for pacing or timing, taking its sweet time playing in the world of Dreamland but rushing through the character relationships. It begins haphazardly and ends on a semi-literal cliffhanger, and while plenty of events occur in between, none of it carries much weight or significance. Worst of all, it’s all around light on jokes. “Chapter I” scans as an introduction ostensibly satisfied in the knowledge that audiences will forgive its flaws because they’ll most likely just power through to the next episode right away. While that might be true, Disenchantment’s first impression still isn’t terribly strong. (It should be noted that future episodes of Disenchantment are stand-alone installments and don’t necessarily have this problem.)
Disenchantment introduces us to Princess Tiabeanie (Abbie Jacobson)—the rebellious party animal daughter of King Zøg, ruler of Dreamland—who is set to be married off to Prince Guysbert of the nearby kingdom of Bentwood in order to secure an alliance between the two empires. Naturally, she’s opposed to the wedding, but has reluctantly accepted that her impeding nuptials represent her lot in life. On her wedding day, she discovers that she’s been cursed with her own personal demon (Eric Andre), Luci, who is tasked to steer Bean towards the darkness, unaware that she’s primed for that direction anyway. Meanwhile, in the hidden world of Elfwood, the young Elfo (Nat Faxon) chafes against the cloying cheeriness of his homeland, reminiscent of Smurf Village only adorned with candy. After being caught cavorting with Kissy the Elf, he’s sentenced to death by hanging (from the Gumdrop Tree, of course), but escapes Elfworld in search of a new life. He ends up in Dreamland just as Bean is about to be married. All hell breaks loose and the three eventually escape the kingdom. Prince Merkimer (Matt Berry), Guysbert’s brother and Bean’s new groom after Guysbert is fatally impaled by a chair at the wedding, chases after them at the behest of Zøg.
There are a handful of good moments here and there—Elfo expressing frustration at the nonsensical candy economy in Elfworld, the jester cracking wise at Zøg’s expense only to be thrown out a window by an executioner, the Wish Master being a Wash Master—but “Chapter I” doesn’t put nearly as much effort into establishing character as it does setting. Granted, there’s only so much work one can accomplish in a pilot, but most of the main relationships on Disenchantment feel too convenient (or, worse, arbitrary) because it takes way too long to bring the trio together. Compare this episode the Futurama pilot: Fry meets Leela four minutes into the episode and then meets Bender eight minutes in. Meanwhile, it takes 24 minutes to bring Elfo into the fold.
Sure, Disenchantment relies on some character shortcuts—Luci is the devil on Bean’s shoulder while Elfo harbors what’s bound to be an unrequited attraction to her, whadya need a road map?—but they don’t compensate for the general lack of care involved. By the time the trio are jumping off a cliff together to avoid returning to Dreamland, the show acts like their bound by friendship, but it feels unearned. The world is fully formed from the get-go, but the people are so far too thin. Even Bean feels pretty one note and we spend the most time with her character.
Obviously, Disenchantment will develop and relationships will fall into place, but the goal of a first episode, regardless of whether it premieres on TV or the Internet, should be to get audiences to stick around. It feels like Disenchantment is banking on audiences liking the fantasy world enough to just soldier on, but Groening’s best work always foregrounds character as well as setting, grounding proceedings in balanced emotion. There’s a moment when Bean asks her new companions to identify the feeling inside her that she doesn’t want to drink away, and Elfo believes that it’s hope. It’s a nice moment that connects with the character’s waywardness, but it feels untethered to the wackiness that precedes and follows it. Disenchantment will likely clarify all of this in subsequent episodes, but right now, everything feels like a means to service the world when it should be the other way around.
On Disenchantment Signage: 1. “Welcome to Dreamland: Now With 5 Village Idiots”; 2. “Now Entering Enchanted Forest: Beware of Racist Antelope.”
I appreciate the numerous Futurama alums in this show. There’s John DiMaggio as Zøg, sporting a Queens accent by way of some Bender, and Billy West, but there’s also Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeile, and David Herman.
Out of the three main voice performances, Andre’s comes across as the most natural, Faxon’s is the most forced, and Jacobson’s lands somewhere in the middle. However, voice acting is a unique beast, and actors’ comfort with their characters tends to organically develop over time. I can easily see everyone settling into their respective roles soon enough.
My favorite joke of the episode was hands down the Humble Farmers who are appalled at Elfo’s gratitude. As he leaves, Elfo thanks them again for their food. “It was delicious!” he says. “You’re ruining our lives!” they cry in response.
Groening and Weinstein take some broad pot shots at religion via the woman leading the service at the church: “I mean, nobody knows anything for sure, but if I talk with confidence, you dopes will believe anything I say!”
“On my wedding day, I also had butterflies in stomach. I shouldn’t have eaten so many.”
“Yeah, singing while working isn’t happiness. It’s mental illness.”
“Hey! He’s making fun of my dreams. That’s what friends do!”
Macron’s European army has arrived. It goes by the name Gilets Jaunes
Anyone who’s ever tasted teargas will attest how unpleasant it is. I tasted it in Paris on Saturday 8 December as the city turned into a war zone.
I am writing these words in a hotel room in central Paris in the aftermath of a day of rage, unleashed by the self-styled gilets jaunes (yellow vests) mass movement of latter-day ‘enrages’ (angry ones) of French revolutionary repute. And it was indeed a day that bore the hallmarks of a revolution underway. Even now, just after 8pm, the unrest continues, with the sound of wailing police sirens and helicopters hovering overhead the unceasing mood music to my thoughts.
This chaos is taking place not in Syria, Venezuela or Ukraine but in Paris, the city most synonymous with the affluence, culture and liberalism of a European continent that increasingly finds itself beset by social unrest and political disruption.
The French capital is now, for all intents, the frontline in a growing struggle against neoliberalism and its bastard child, austerity, across a European Union whose foundations are crumbling. They are crumbling not due to the devilish machinations of Vladimir Putin (as an increasingly unhinged and out of touch Western liberal commentariat maintains), but instead as the result of a neoliberal status quo that provides far too few with unending comfort and material prosperity at the expense of far too many, for whom dire misery and mounting pain are its grim fruits.
Not only is this mass grassroots movement of Yellow Vest protesters a problem for Macron, but it is also increasingly a problem for an EU political and economic establishment that is yet to wake up to the fact that the world has changed, and changed utterly.
Throughout human history hubris has been the undoing of the rich and powerful, along with the empires forged in their name; and hubris is currently well on the way to being the undoing of an EU whose proponents have embraced the unity not of its peoples but of its banks, corporations, and elites.
Emmanuel Macron is a poster boy for ruling class hubris in our time, a leader widely referred to in France as the ‘president of the rich’. His unalloyed contempt for the plight of ordinary people across the country has only woken them up – and from what I have seen, they will not be going back to sleep anytime soon.
From the perspective of Macron and his government the inchoate character of this Yellow Vest movement, which is mounting the most serious challenge to neoliberalism in Europe yet seen, has to be the most worrying aspect of the current crisis. Thus far it is a movement that lacks a concrete programme and recognizable leadership, with neither Macron nor the French authorities, it is obvious, clear about what it is they are dealing with.
All they know at this point is that whatever it is, its momentum elicits no evidence of slowing down – buoyed by a level of public support that governments which genuflect at the altar of austerity can only dream of.
This being said, the lack of a concrete political programme and coherent ideology, though a strength now, may prove the movement’s undoing down the line. Because it’s quite simple really: if you don’t have your own programme, sooner or later you will inevitably become part of someone else’s. Of this, the fate of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 leaves no doubt.
The traditional Left keeps a distance from these protesters in the street. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the middle-class student leader in May 1968, shamelessly slandered the ‘yellow vest’ protests as fascistic, telling Germany’s taz newpaper that “the large majority of the yellow vest movement comes from the National Front, from the reservoir of the extreme right.” Stalinist General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union leader Philippe Martinez insinuated the same thing, darkly hinting that the “yellow vests” are “people we can’t be seen with.”
The few protesters I talked to were adamant that this is a non-political movement (or perhaps that should be non-politics as usual), with no room for right or left – no support for either Marine Le Pen or Jean-Luc Mélenchon. They are, they said, opposed to the system and political parties in their entirety. They demand Macron’s resignation, a new constitution, and popular referenda in order to return power to the people.
As to the EU, one young man I talked to called David voiced support for a reformed model of European unity – one that places people first. Macron’s EU is finished, he averred. It is not democratic it is autocratic, delivering not justice but injustice; distributing economic pain rather than prosperity to those whose only crime is to be young and old and ordinary in a world governed in the interests of the rich and the connected.
I also talked to Rafiq, a young guy of Moroccan descent. He proclaimed that Macron’s arrogance and indifference to the problems of the people had gone too far. When the people have no hope, he said, they have no choice but to rise up.
But surely, I put it to him, rioting and violence is not the way to go about making change in a democracy. What democracy, he retorted. In France democracy is for the rich. In Macron’s eyes, nobody else matters.
They descended on central Paris, refusing to be cowed or deterred by the heavy police presence, or the warnings issued in the days leading up by the authorities of a heavy crackdown should any trouble break out. Along Boulevard Haussmann they marched towards the Champs Elysees. They were singing, waving flags, shouting anti-Macron slogans and epithets, propelled on by a sense of unity and confidence in their own strength and purpose.
They had come from all over the country, reminding the city’s affluent residents, its bourgeoisie, that Paris is not France and France is not Paris.
But where were they, these rich and affluent shoppers and denizens of Macron’s Paris? Where were the usual fleet of luxury vehicles, the army of tourists and shoppers that normally colonized this part of the city?
On Saturday, rich Paris was in retreat; the Gucci and Louis Vuitton boutiques, the lavish department stores, upscale restaurants and wine bars boarded up to make way for the arrival of the kind of European army Macron did not have in mind when he issued a call for one.
The struggle being waged by the Yellow Vests here in Paris and across France is not indigenous to one country. It is the struggle of millions across a continent who have had enough of being held in contempt by elites who couldn’t give a damn about them or their families. It is a struggle common to the masses in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy – in Ireland and across the UK. It is the struggle of men and women of no property, pitting those who have nothing against those who have everything.
If Macron had expected the Yellow Vests to return to the obscurity from whence they came, after caving into their initial demand of canceling the proposed fuel tax hike, he miscalculated. As Paris burns, so does his legacy – the legacy of a leader who has come to symbolize the end of the road for neoliberal Europe.
We are, once again, experiencing one of the greatest housing booms in United States history.
How long this will last and where it is heading next are impossible to know now.
But it is time to take notice: My data shows that this is the United States’ third biggest housing boom in the modern era.
Since February 2012, when the price declines associated with the last financial crisis ended, prices for existing homes in the United States have been rising steadily and enormously. According to the S&P/CoreLogic/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (which I helped to create) as of September, the prices were 53 percent higher than they were at the bottom of the market in 2012.
That means, on average, a house that sold for, say, $200,000 in 2012 would bring over $300,000 in September.
Even after factoring in Consumer Price Index inflation, real existing home prices were up almost 40 percent during that period. That is a substantial increase in less than seven years.
In fact, based on my data, it amounts to the third strongest national boom in real terms since the Consumer Price Index began in 1913, behind only the explosive run-up in prices that led to the great financial crisis of a decade ago, and one connected with World War II and the great postwar Baby Boom.
The No. 1 boom occurred from February 1997 to October 2006, when real prices of existing United States homes rose 74 percent. This was a period of intense speculative enthusiasm — for houses and for financial instruments based on mortgages as investments — and it was also a time of great regulatory complacency. The term “flipping houses” became popular then. People exploited the boom by buying homes and selling them only months later at a huge profit.
That boom ended disastrously. Soaring valuations collapsed with a 35 percent drop in real prices for existing homes, ushering in the financial crisis that enveloped the world in 2008 and 2009.
The second greatest boom, from 1942 to 1947, had more benign consequences. Over this five-year interval, real prices of existing homes rose 60 percent.
Booms and busts are rooted in popular narratives with complex social-psychological roots. This boom centered on a war-induced housing shortage, an enormous increase in the number of new babies and families who would need housing after the war, and the 1944 G.I. Bill, which subsidized home-buying by veterans. Home prices did not fall significantly after this boom ended.
Today, signs of weakness in the housing market are being taken by some as a signal that the prices of single-family homes may fall soon, as they did sharply after 2006. The leading indicators, which include building permits and sales of both existing and new homes, have all been declining in recent months.
But with few examples of extreme booms, we cannot be sure what such indicators mean for the current market.
Low interest rates — imposed by the Federal Reserve and other central banks in reaction to the financial crisis — are the most popular culprit in the current boom. There is some apparent merit to this view, since these three biggest nationwide housing booms all included very low interest rates.
But the market reaction to interest rates is hardly immediate or predictable. The housing market does not react as directly as you might expect to interest rate movements. Over the nearly seven years of the current boom, from February 2012 to the present, all major domestic interest rates have increased, not decreased. So, while interest rates have been low, they have moved the wrong way, yet the boom has continued.
Another explanation is simple economic growth. But, as a matter of history, prices of existing homes — as opposed to the supply of newly built homes — have generally not responded to economic growth. There was only a 20 percent increase in real prices of existing homes in the 50 years from 1950 to 2000 despite a sixfold increase in real G.D.P.
The simplest narrative being given for the current boom is just that the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the so-called Great Recession are over and home prices are returning to normal.
But that explanation does not cut it either. In September they were 11 percent higher than at the 2006 peak in nominal terms, and almost as high in real terms. This is not a return to normal, but a market that appears to be rising to a record.
It is difficult to assess the contribution of President Trump to the current boom.
It is certainly less obvious than the role of President George W. Bush in the 1997-2006 boom. Mr. Bush extolled the benefits of “the ownership society” and in 2003 he signed the American Dream Downpayment Act, which subsidized home purchases. In his 2004 re-election bid he boldly asserted: “We want more people owning their own home.” This seems to have contributed to an atmosphere of high expectations for home price increases.
The Trump administration’s attitude toward housing is less clear. President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” has overtones of the “American dream.” But provisions of his Tax Reform and Jobs Act of 2017 were unfriendly to homeowners.
Even without major further interest rate increases, there would seem to be a limit on how much the prices of existing homes can increase. After all, people must struggle to cover a range of living expenses, and builders are supplying fresh new offerings to compete with the existing houses on the market.
Perhaps the home price increases are now a self-fulfilling prophesy. As John Maynard Keynes argued in his 1936 “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” people seem to have a “simple faith in the conventional basis of valuation.”
If the conventional basis is now that home prices are going up 5 percent a year, then sellers, who would otherwise have no idea what to ask for their houses, will just put a price based on this convention. And likewise buyers will not feel they are paying too much if they accept the convention. In the United States, we may believe that the process is all part of the “American dream.”
It can’t go on forever, of course. But when it will end isn’t knowable. The data can’t tell us when prices will level off, or whether they will plunge catastrophically. All we do know is that prices have been roaring higher at a speed rarely seen in American history.
Robert J. Shiller is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale.
A. J. Liebling, the greatest reporter—and the keenest Francophile—ever to write for this magazine, said that a reporter tells you what he’s seen, an interpretive reporter tells you the meaning of what he’s seen, and an expert tells you the meaning of what he hasn’t seen. Not having been there to actually see—or sense, hear, or witness—what is going on right now in France, mere expertise should watch its step and often curb its tongue. Yet, although not the same as being there, looking at the background and the history of an event can often help to make sense of it, even in brief retrospect. So, the gilets jaunes, or yellow vests, in France, have been the subject of anxiety, controversy, and, at times, shameless political opportunism on all sides.
They are a popular movement of no clear political view or ideology; they take their name from the yellow vests that drivers in France are required to keep in their cars, to be worn in the case of a breakdown. (They can be seen in the dark that way.) Their ostensible ignition point was a rise in fuel taxes, engineered by the government of President Emmanuel Macron, for, as it happens, impeccably green reasons: the plan was to wean France off fossil fuels by making them more expensive, and to encourage the use of renewable sources.
This tax hike seemed to the group, which gathered followers mostly through social media, the last insult of metropolitan Paris to rural France, and they began protesting and blockading highways across the country.
Last week, the protests reached Paris, where the gilets jaunes—or, by most reports, members of the largely rural group aided by extreme leftists and even more extreme rightists, both prepped for street battle—rioted on the Champs Élysées, vandalized the Arc de Triomphe, and broke into stores, creating a crisis of a kind that has brought down or impeded the progress of French governments continuously throughout the postwar era.
That fact is, in itself, the first fact to pay attention to: the local causation of the yellow-vest movement, this tax hike or that insult by Macron—or even the larger draining away of his mandate—seems less significant than that the group is one in a series that, since at least 1995, has taken to the streets to protest a program of what governments of the right, the left, or the center have imagined as “reform.” In this way, the attempt to understand the movement in narrow, immediate political-economic terms rather misses the point.
The dynamic of violent street demonstration resulting in government recoil—on Tuesday Macron’s government folded and suspended the fuel-tax hikes—is not only familiar in France, it is pretty much the most predictable cycle of its modern political life. As “France’s Long Reconstruction,” a fine new history of the Fifth Republic by Herrick Chapman, a professor of history at New York University, makes explicit and highly explanatory, the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, as established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, so centralized power in the Presidential palace that it had the unintended cyclical effect of making street protests and manifestations the only dynamic alternative to government policy. Even the National Assembly is meant to be subsidiary to the Élysée Palace, where the President resides.
This is not a bug but a feature of the regime. Anyone who recalls the much larger demonstrations of late 1995, which brought the Juppé government to an end, over pension reforms that seem, in retrospect, minute, will recognize the permanence of the dynamic. Indeed, it is an irony of the movement that it takes its name from a rule of centralized government: those mandatory yellow vests. Overcentralized authority produces incoherent, spontaneous protest. The Fifth Republic French feel that, to be seen at all by centralized authority, they have to take to the streets in, so to speak, luminescent vests.
In a still larger sense, of course, the rhythm of demonstration and street fighting—including violence—has been imprinted on French history since the Revolution. In the years before the Fifth Republic, one thinks of the right-wing riots that vandalized Paris as part of the mob warfare between the extreme left and the extreme right, which scarred France in the nineteen-thirties, or of the once hugely popular movement of the poujadistes, in the nineteen-fifties—a movement of small shopkeepers who, like the gilets jaunes, felt afflicted and ignored by the central government and had a similarly contradictory politics. The most famous of all the Fifth Republic protests, the events of May 1968, though they still shine in memory to many a utopian mind, had actual politics that were vague and, at times, grotesque—at the depth of the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution, Maoism was in vogue—and are rightly remembered best for their revolutionary emotion, as Woodstock is remembered best for the music, not the mud.
So, in the “vertical” direction of history, the current uprising in France seems not a new one but a part of a recurring one. In the “horizontal” direction, geographically, it also seems arbitrary to track the causes of the discontent too narrowly to this or that act of the Macron government, given that discontent of a similar kind has swept through Europe to America, and is still on the march in Brazil and other new frontiers. As with Brexit, Italian Berlusconism, Trumpism, and the extremist movements in Central and Eastern Europe which are awkwardly called “populist,” looking for a single local cause seems to miss the multiplied global point. Journalists have diligently gone out to inquire about the grievances of the gilets jaunes and have discovered economic complaints mixed with conspiracy theories and a resentment of “élites.” Certainly, the inequality that afflicts America afflicts France, too. And the rural-urban divide, which was so striking in our just concluded elections, seems equally strong there: the yellow vest is a rural emblem, rarely seen in the cities.
Naturally, pundits on both the left and the right want to seize on the French protest for a crumb of ideological comfort: the Wall Street Journal editorial page announced that the gilets jaunes provided more proof that the green élite doesn’t get the popular resentment of ecological, specifically climate-change, concerns. Macron, having positioned himself as the anti-Trump, becomes a favorite target of American Trumpism. Trump himself, with his usual grace, has taken the side of the gilets jaunes against green energy, though apparently because he thought they were endorsing him. Left-minded journalists in turn insist that the real arc of the movement is revolutionary and rooted in (what else?) a hatred of neo-liberalism. We are once again in the presence of a progressive insistence that all popular movements, no matter how reactionary their rhetoric or obnoxious their allies, are really left movements that have yet to discover their true nature. (Feelings of exclusion and dispossession doubtless exist throughout France, as they do in this country, but it also must be said that the pet social programs of Bernie Sanders progressives here—universal health care, paid maternity leave, and government subvented higher education—are already in place there.)
In France, too, the leadership of both the left and the right are trying to take advantage of the movement. However, given how well organized and how alarmingly popular the far right has been in recent decades, it is surely the most likely to benefit from a social rupture: in a contest between the far right and far left that might come in Macron’s wake, anyone would bet on the Le Pens. For that reason, the gilets jaunes seem more likely to become the French face of Trumpism—or of Orbanism, or even of Putinism—than of a more tolerant future. Indeed, the rhetoric of the movement, with its insistence that there is a globalized élite that, by manipulating finance and capital, are undoing French civilization, rhymes ominously with the classic forms of French right-wing nationalism, including indigenous French anti-Semitism. (Just as the economic anxiety of some Trump supporters seems rooted in a perception of lost status, as well as in racial resentments that date right back to the post-Civil War period.) Issues of identity and of meaning and conspiracy theories of manipulation from on high—whether from the “deep state” or the “global élite”—are more powerful in human affairs than many pundits of both left and right like to admit. It is doubtless true that the Macron government, not unlike the Obama Administration, has relied too much on the assumption of its own expertise, and has underestimated popular passions. But that does not make popular passions a basis for better government.
The notion that rage or even violence can be a positive force in social life is a persistent one—the romance of revolution remains very strong in France, dominating, particularly, memories of 1968—along with the idea that it would be exciting to live in such a time. Actually, it wouldn’t. We live in a time, as David Bennun wrote last week in the Guardian, when what Americans call liberal institutions, and the French call republican ones, have been in place for so long that people assume that they are so hardy, and somehow so natural, that they can be perpetuated even as the protections they offer come under assault by authoritarian extremists—some in power, some seeking it. In truth, republican institutions are frighteningly fragile, and, as we’re already seeing in Eastern Europe, can collapse more rapidly than one would have thought possible. There is no substitute for the hard work of republican, or democratic, government. Those of us among the governed need to recall this; the governing need to keep it in mind even more. Even a little modest expertise might help.
One can feel in France, and in the reactions to the events there abroad, an urge for expedience: they’re enraged at green taxes—they’re part of our rebellion! Or: they’re enraged at neo-liberalism and corporate control—that’s good for our side. Two truths hold: rage is ignored at its peril and must always be addressed, however irrational it may seem; and rage can never, in itself, constitute a politics. Those who bet that they can benefit from rage, or exploit it, eventually lose their bets, and sometimes their heads. It is vital, as the yellow vests symbolically remind us, that everyone in a nation is seen. But being seen is not the same as being saved. That takes the hard work of real reform.
‘War With Russia?’, like the biography of a living person, is a book without an end. The title is a warning – akin to what the late Gore Vidal termed “a journalistic alert-system” – not a prediction.
Hence the question mark. I cannot foresee the future. The book’s overarching theme is informed by past and current facts, not by any political agenda, ideological commitment, or magical prescience.
The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk. – Hegel
To restate that theme: The new US-Russian Cold War is more dangerous than was its 40-year predecessor that the world survived. The chances are even greater that this one could result, inadvertently or intentionally, in actual war between the two nuclear superpowers.
Herein lies another ominous indication. During the preceding Cold War, the possibility of nuclear catastrophe was in the forefront of American mainstream political and media discussion, and of policy-making. During the new one, it rarely seems to be even a concern.
In the latter months of 2018, the facts and the mounting crises they document grow worse, especially in the US political-media establishment, where, as I have argued, the new Cold War originated and has been repeatedly escalated. Consider a few examples, some of them not unlike political and media developments during the run-up to the US war in Iraq or, historians have told us, how the great powers “sleepwalked” into World War I.
Russiagate’s core allegations—US-Russian collusion, treason—all remain unproven. Yet they have become a central part of the new Cold War. If nothing else, they severely constrain President Donald Trump’s capacity to conduct crisis negotiations with Moscow while they further vilify Russian President Vladimir Putin for having, it is widely asserted, personally ordered “an attack on America” during the 2016 presidential campaign. Some Hollywood liberals had earlier omitted the question mark, declaring, “We are at war.” In October 2018, the would-be titular head of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, added her voice to this reckless allegation,flatly statingthat the United States was “attacked by a foreign power” and equating it with “the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”
Clinton may have been prompted by another outburst of malpractice byThe New York TimesandThe Washington Post. On September 20 and 23, respectively, those exceptionally influential papers devoted thousands of words, illustrated with sinister prosecutorial graphics, to special retellings of the Russiagate narrative they had assiduously promoted for nearly two years, along with the narrative’s serial fallacies, selective and questionable history, and factual errors.
Again, for example, the now-infamous Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for several months in 2016, was said to have been “pro-Kremlin” during his time as a lobbyist for Ukraine under then-President Viktor Yanukovych, when in fact he was pro–European Union. Again, Trump’s disgraced national-security adviser, Gen.
Michael Flynn, was accused of “troubling” contacts when he did nothing wrong or unprecedented in having conversations with a Kremlin representative on behalf of President-elect Trump. Again, the two papers criminalized the idea, as the Times put it, that “the United States and Russia should look for areas of mutual interest,” once the premise of détente. And again, the Times, while assuring readers that its “Special Report” is “what we now know with certainty,” buried a related acknowledgment deep in its some 10,000 words: “No public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.” (The white-collar criminal indictments and guilty pleas cited were so unrelated that they added up to Russiagate without Russia.)
Astonishingly, neither paper gave any credence to anemphatic statementby the Post’s own Bob Woodward—normally considered the most authoritative chronicler of Washington’s political secrets—that, after two years of research, he had found no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia.
Nor were the Times, the Post, and other print media alone in these practices, which continued to slur dissenting opinions. CNN’s leading purveyor of Russiagate allegations tweeted that an American third-party presidential candidate had been “repeating Russian talking points on its interference in the 2016 election and on US foreign policy.” Another prominent CNN figure was, so to speak, more geopolitical,warning, “Only a fool takes Vladimir Putin at his word in Syria,” thereby ruling out US-Russian cooperation in that war-torn country. Much the same continued almost nightly on MSNBC.
For most mainstream-media outlets, Russiagate had become, it seemed, a kind of cult journalism that no counterevidence or analysis could dent and thus itself increasingly a major contributing factor to the new Cold War. Still more, what began two years earlier as complaints about Russian “meddling” in the US presidential election became by October 2018, forThe New Yorkerand other publications, an accusation that the Kremlin had actually put Donald Trump in the White House. For this seditious charge, there was also no convincing evidence—nor any precedent in American history.
– At a higher level, by fall 2018, current and former US officials were making nearly unprecedented threats against Moscow. The ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison,threatenedto “take out” any Russian missiles she thought violated a 1987 treaty, a step that would certainly risk nuclear war. The secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, threatened a naval “blockade” of Russia. In yet another Russophobic outburst, the ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley,declaredthat “lying, cheating and rogue behavior” are a “norm of Russian culture.”
These may have been outlandish statements by untutored political appointees, but they again inescapably raised the question: Who was making Russia policy in Washington – President Trump, with his avowed policy of “cooperation,” or someone else?
But how to explain, other than as unbridled extremism, thecommentsby Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Moscow, himself a longtime professor of Russian politics and favored mainstream commentator?
According to McFaul, Russia had become a “rogue state,” its policies “criminal actions” and the “world’s greatest threat.” It had to be countered by “preemptive sanctions that would go into effect automatically”—“every day,” if deemed necessary. Considering the possibility of “crushing” sanctions proposed recentlyby a bipartisan group of US senators, this would be nothing less than a declaration of permanent war against Russia: economic war, but war nonetheless.
– Meanwhile, other new Cold War fronts were becoming more fraught with hot war, none more so than Syria. On September 17, Syrian missiles accidentally shot down an allied Russian surveillance aircraft, killing all 15 crew members. The cause was combat subterfuge by Israeli warplanes in the area. The reaction in Moscow was indicative- and potentially ominous.
At first, Putin, who had developed good relations with Israel’s political leadership, said the incident was an accident caused by the fog of war. His own Defense Ministry, however, loudly protested that Israel was responsible. Putin quickly retreated to a more hard-line position, and in the end vowed to send to Syria Russia’s highly effective S-300 surface-to-air defense system, a prize long sought by both Syria and Iran.
Clearly, Putin was not the ever-“aggressive Kremlin autocrat” unrelentingly portrayed by US mainstream media. A moderate in the Russian context, he again made a major decision by balancing conflicting groups and interests. In this instance, he accommodated long-standing hard-liners in his own security establishment.
The result is yet another Cold War trip wire. With the S-300s installed in Syria, Putin could in effect impose a “no-fly zone” over large areas of the country, which has been ravaged by war due, in no small part, to the presence of several foreign powers. (Russia and Iran are there legally; the United States and Israel are not.) If so, this means a new “red line” that Washington and its ally Israel will have to decide whether or not to cross. Considering the mania in Washington and in the mainstream media, it is hard to be confident that restraint will prevail. In keeping with his Russia policy, President Trump may reasonably be inclined to join Moscow’s peace process, though it is unlikely the mostly Democrat-inspired Russiagate party would permit him to do so.
Now another Cold War front has also become more fraught, the US-Russian proxy war in Ukraine having acquired a new dimension. In addition to the civil war in Donbass, Moscow and Kiev have been challenging each other’s ships in the Sea of Azov, near the newly built bridge connecting Russia with Crimea. On November 25, this erupted into a small but potentially explosive military conflict at sea. Trump is being pressured to help Kiev escalate the maritime war – yet another potential trip wire. Here, too, the president should instead put his administration’s weight behind the long-stalled Minsk peace accords. But that approach also seems to be ruled out by Russiagate, which by October 6 included yet another Times columnist, Frank Bruni,branding all such initiatives by Trump as “pimping for Putin.”
After five years of extremism, as demonstrated by these recent examples of risking war with Russia, there remained, for the first time in decades of Cold War history, no countervailing forces in Washington – no pro-détente wing of the Democratic or Republican Party, no influential anti–Cold War opposition anywhere, no real public debate. There was only Trump, with all the loathing he inspired, and even he had not reminded the nation or his own party that the presidents who initiated major episodes of détente in the 20th century were also Republicans – Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan. This too seemed to be an inadmissible “alternative fact.”
And so the eternal question, not only for Russians: What is to be done? There is a ray of light, though scarcely more. In August 2018,Gallup asked Americans what kind of policy toward Russia they favored. Even amid the torrent of vilifying Russiagate allegations and Russophobia, 58 percent wanted “to improve relations with Russia,” as opposed to 36 percent who preferred “strong diplomatic and economic steps against Russia.”
This reminds us that the new Cold War, from NATO’s eastward expansion and the 2014 Ukrainian crisis to Russiagate, has been an elite project. Why US elites, after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, ultimately chose Cold War rather than partnership with Russia is a question beyond my purpose here. As for the special role of US intelligence elites – what I have termed “Intelgate” – efforts are still underway to disclose it fully, and are still being thwarted.
A full explanation of the post-Soviet Cold War choice would include the US political-media establishment’s needs – ideological, foreign-policy, and budgetary, among others – for an “enemy.” Or, with the Cold War having prevailed for more than half of US-Russian relations during the century since 1917, maybe it was habitual.
Substantial “meddling” in the 2016 US election by Ukraine and Israel, to illustrate the point, did not become a political scandal. In any event, once this approach to post-Soviet Russia began, promoting it was not hard. The legendary humorist Will Rogers quipped in the 1930s, “Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it’s true.” Back then, before the 40-year Cold War and nuclear weapons, the quip was funny, but no longer.
Whatever the full explanation, many of the consequences I have analyzed in War With Russia? continue to unfold, not a few unintended and unfavorable to America’s real national interests. Russia’s turn away from the West, its “pivot to China,” is now widely acknowledged and embraced by leading Moscow policy thinkers. Even European allies occasionally stand with Moscow against Washington. The US-backed Kiev government still covers up who was really behind the 2014 Maidan “snipers’ massacre” that brought it to power. Mindless US sanctions have helped Putin to repatriate oligarchic assets abroad, at least $90 billion already in 2018. The mainstream media persist in distorting Putin’s foreign policies into something “that even the Soviet Union never dared to try.” And when an anonymous White House insiderexposedin the Timesthe “amorality” of President Trump, the only actual policy he or she singled out was on Russia.
I have focused enough on the demonizing of Putin – the Post even managed to characterize popular support for his substantial contribution to improving life in Moscow as “a deal with the devil” – but it is important to note that this derangement is far from worldwide. Even a Post correspondent concededthat “the Putin brand has captivated anti-establishment and anti-American politicians all over the world.”
A British journalist confirmedthat, as a result, “many countries in the world now look for a reinsurance policy with Russia.” And an American journalist living in Moscow reported that the “ceaseless demonization of Putin personally has in fact sanctified him, turned him into the Patron Saint of Russia.”
Again, in light of all this, what can be done? Sentimentally, and with some historical precedents, we of democratic beliefs traditionally look to “the people,” to voters, to bring about change. But foreign policy has long been the special prerogative of elites. In order to change Cold War policy fundamentally, leaders are needed. When the times beckon, they may emerge out of established, even deeply conservative, elites, as did unexpectedly the now-pro-détente Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s. But given the looming danger of war with Russia, is there time? Is any leader visible on the American political landscape who will say to his or her elites and party, as Gorbachev did, “If not now, when? If not us, who?”
We also know that such leaders, though embedded in and insulated by their elites, hear and read other, nonconformist voices, other thinking. The once-venerated American journalist Walter Lippmann observed, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” This book is my modest attempt to inspire more thinking.
Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University and a contributing editor of The Nation.
This article was originally published by The Nation and is adapted from the concluding section of Stephen F. Cohen’s War With Russia? From Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate, just published, in paperback and e-book, by Skyhorse Publishing.
I was hauling wood last night. Precious wood… How many board feet did I move? Some of the wood I carried was hearty hard wood with strength that soft pine could never see. I was toting wood that was first used as trim in my house in 1905. I was discarding what seemed like hundreds of piece of more or less good wood. I need to clear my cellar.
So into the construction dumpster the wood was going.
I was using a neighbor’s construction debris bags. Perhaps ‘deconstruction’ debris is a better word.
The house they live in caught fire. I remember the night. I was in deep sleep at about 2 am when my front door rang. I sprang out of bed and went to the front window. I peered at the porch in front of the door; no one was there. I looked to the street and saw a shaved headed man with no shirt on. Was he drunk? He went to the neighbor across the street’s house and rang the door bell. I wondered what he was looking for. I lost sight of him in the bushes in front of my windows.
I heard a woman’s voice call out, the man answered, “Call the fire department, my house is on fire.” He sounded so calm. I wondered which house it was as grabbed some shorts and a tank top and shoes. I heard him give the address to the woman but did not know the house on the main street off our side street. I went out and looked up Pope’s Hill and saw the red and orange flames coming out of a house I knew about fifty yards away. Joe and his wife and young daughter were people I saw every couple of days on the street as I skated, or put out the trash, or trimmed my hedges. They did not have a driveway so they parked on my side street.
Often when I was out skating at 5 o’clock in the morning I would look up on the hill there small house was on and see lights. I knew Joe’s wife liked to get to the gym early in the morning.
The night of the fire I was looking up the hill at a house with flames coming out of a window and licking up the side of the structure. The trees above where glowing with the light. The fire engines came very quickly and soon the double width street was filled with numerous fire and emergency vehicles. Up and down the steep hill there were red and white lights flashing and dozens of people standing around while a crew of ten men went up the steep steps to the house to put out the flames.
I saw Joe talk with fire marshals and he explained that he was asleep around 2 o’clock when he woke up to smoke and the smell of fire. He thought of his wife and daughter, but quickly remembered that they had gone on vacation a day before. I happened to be on the street inline skating when the family walked by to go to their car so Joe could drive his wife and daughter to the airport.
Within hours I was handing a spare shirt to Joe as he stood shirtless on the street watching his home burn.
The multiple crews of the fire brigade smashed their way through windows and doors and walls and put the fire out. The blaze had only been going for about half an hour when it was extinguished. The night was hot, and I heard the fire marshal explain that the men only put in twenty minutes of work before being relieved by another crew. But…the damage to the small house was total. I got a look inside later and saw everything burned, furniture, floor, books, electronic devices….burned and melted and blackened. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the inside of a burned home before. What a lesson in fire safety. That was part of the reason I was clearing all the dead wood out of my cellar.
So as the early evening fell and I was putting out the regular trash barrels and recycle bin I started collecting the waste wood I had from a torn down fence in the backyard. I saw a big crane lifting the full portable dumpster bags that looked like they were about twenty feet by ten feet and four feet high.
There were four of them arrayed on the lawn above the high wall of the hill house. I figured Joe would not mind if I used them, and that the workers would probably not notice the evening additions. I was planning to tell Joe the next time I saw him. I exchanged the t-shirt I gave him for the wood toss.
Despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars over the past several decades on the part of pharmaceutical companies, we still don’t have any meaningful treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, in a recent extensive study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the two most commonly prescribed medications for Alzheimer’s disease not only don’t work, but actually may worsen brain function.
In his inaugural address, President Kennedy stated, “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” We now know that to a significant degree, Alzheimer’s disease may well be preventable. So let’s get out the ladder and fix the roof.
Our most well-respected medical literature reveals powerful relationships between various lifestyle choices and risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, for example, revealed that deriving most of dietary calories from carbohydrates was associated with an 89% increased risk for either mild cognitive impairment, or full-blown dementia. In their study, those consuming the highest levels of fat actually demonstrated a 44% reduction in risk. And this is in-line with a New England Journal of Medicine Study showing how Alzheimer’s risk is increased in lockstep with blood sugar measurements, a reflection of dietary choices.
Higher levels of physical exercise translate into lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease as well. Even having good levels of vitamin D seems to be associated with a significantly reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
There are certainly a lot of factors that may be associated with either increased or decreased Alzheimer’s risk, but just paying attention to those listed above will move the needle in terms of improving brain health and function an increasing your resistance to Alzheimer’s disease.
I’m a board-certified neurologist with over 30 years of clinical practice under my belt. As a neurologist, I became increasingly frustrated with the idea of simply waiting for something to happen and then hoping there would be a drug to fix it. And to be sure, losing my father to Alzheimer’s disease certainly strengthened my mission to emphasize the importance of prevention as it relates to this devastating illness.
So, let me tell you how I personally leverage the very best science to reduce my Alzheimer’s risk.
• Eating few carbs, lots of healthy fat. Our dietary choices are hugely influential in our overall health, and perhaps nowhere else is this as evident as it relates to brain health. I limit my net carbs to around 30 to 50 g a day, and add in a lot of terrific fat in the form of extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and wild fish. I also supplement with the omega-3, DHA, 1000mg each day, as well as MCT oil, 1-2 tablespoons daily. This diet, along with the MCT oil, helps to create ketones, a specific type of fat that’s extremely beneficial for brain function and protection.
• Supplementing here and there. Other supplements supported by good science include vitamin D, whole coffee fruit concentrate, turmeric, a good probiotic, and B complex.
• Working out daily. Sure, we know that exercise is good for us and generally makes us feel good, but the extensive literature relating to higher levels of exercise to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease makes it clear that this is a lifestyle choice too good to turn down. So, I do at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day, including running, using an elliptical machine, or biking. Resistance training is also very important, and while I do favor free weights, I certainly spend plenty of time using machines as well. Finally, although I can’t specifically relate stretching to directly reducing Alzheimer’s risk, stretching can help reduce your risk of injury and therefore will help prevent you from getting sidetracked from your exercise program.
Hopefully, there will come a day when scientists do develop an effective Alzheimer’s treatment. But for now, we’ve got to do everything we can to implement the science that supports the idea that to a significant degree, Alzheimer’s is a preventable disease.
David Perlmutter, M.D.David Perlmutter, M.D., is a board-certified neurologist, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, and a New York Times bestselling author.
If you’re one of the millions of human beings who, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, still believe there is such a thing as “the truth,” you might not want to read this essay. Seriously, it can be extremely upsetting when you discover that there is no “truth” … or rather, that what we’re all conditioned to regard as “truth” from the time we are children is just the product of a technology of power, and not an empirical state of being. Humans, upon first encountering this fact, have been known to freak completely out and start jabbering about the “Word of God,” or “the immutable laws of quantum physics,” and run around burning other people at the stake or locking them up and injecting them with Thorazine. I don’t want to be responsible for anything like that, so consider this your trigger warning.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at how “truth” is manufactured. It’s actually not that complicated. See, the “truth” is … well, it’s a story, essentially. It’s whatever story we are telling ourselves at any given point in history (“we” being the majority of people, those conforming to the rules of whatever system wields enough power to dictate the story it wants everyone to be telling themselves). Everyone understands this intuitively, but the majority of people pretend they don’t in order to be able to get by in the system, which punishes anyone who does not conform to its rules, or who contradicts its story. So, basically, to manufacture the truth, all you really need is (a) a story, and (b) enough power to coerce a majority of people in your society to pretend to believe it.
I’m not going to debunk the Guardian article here. It has been debunked by better debunkers than I (e.g., Jonathan Cook, Craig Murray, Glenn Greenwald, Moon of Alabama, and many others). The short version is, The Guardian‘s Luke Harding, a shameless hack who will affix his name to any propaganda an intelligence agency feeds him, alleged that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, secretly met with Julian Assange (and unnamed “Russians”) on numerous occasions from 2013 to 2016, presumably to conspire to collude to brainwash Americans into not voting for Clinton. Harding’s earth-shaking allegations, which The Guardian prominently featured and flogged, were based on … well, absolutely nothing, except the usual anonymous “intelligence sources.” After actual journalists pointed this out, The Guardian quietly revised the piece (employing the subjunctive mood rather liberally), buried it in the back pages of its website, and otherwise pretended like they had never published it.
By that time, of course, its purpose had been served. The story had been picked up and disseminated by other “respectable,” “authoritative” outlets, and it was making the rounds on social media. Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, in an attempt to counter the above-mentioned debunkers (and dispel the doubts of anyone else still capable of any kind of critical thinking), Politico posted this ass-covering piece speculating that, if it somehow turned out The Guardian‘s story was just propaganda designed to tarnish Assange and Trump … well, probably, it had been planted by the Russians to make Luke Harding look like a moron. This ass-covering piece of speculative fiction, which was written by a former CIA agent, was immediately disseminated by liberals and “leftists” who are eagerly looking forward to the arrest, rendition, and public crucifixion of Assange.
At this point, I imagine you’re probably wondering what this has to do with manufacturing “truth.” Because, clearly, this Guardian story was a lie … a lie The Guardian got caught telling. I wish the “truth” thing was as simple as that (i.e., exposing and debunking the ruling classes’ lies). Unfortunately, it isn’t. Here is why.
Much as most people would like there to be one (and behave and speak as if there were one), there is no Transcendental Arbiter of Truth. The truth is what whoever has the power to say it is says it is. If we do not agree that that “truth” is the truth, there is no higher court to appeal to. We can argue until we are blue in the face. It will not make the slightest difference. No evidence we produce will make the slightest difference. The truth will remain whatever those with the power to say it is say it is.
Nor are there many truths (i.e., your truth and my truth). There is only one truth … the official truth. The truth according to those in power. This is the whole purpose of the concept of truth. It is the reason the concept of “truth” was invented (i.e., to render any other “truths” lies). It is how those in power control reality and impose their ideology on the masses (or their employees, or their students, or their children). Yes, I know, we very badly want there to be some “objective truth” (i.e., what actually happened, when whatever happened, JFK, 9-11, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Schrödinger’s dead cat, the Big Bang, or whatever). There isn’t. The truth is just a story … a story that is never our story.
The truth is a story that power gets to tell, and that the powerless do not get to tell, unless they tell the story of those in power, which is always someone else’s story. The powerless are either servants of power or they are heretics. There is no third alternative. They either parrot the truth of the ruling classes or they utter heresies of one type or another. Naturally, the powerless do not regard themselves as heretics. They do not regard their “truth” as heresy. They regard their “truth” as the truth, which is heresy. The truth of the powerless is always heresy.
For example, while it may be personally comforting for some of us to tell ourselves that we know the truth about certain subjects (e.g., Russiagate, 9-11, et cetera), and to share our knowledge with others who agree with us, and even to expose the lies of the corporate media on Twitter, Facebook, and our blogs, or in some leftist webzine (or “fearless adversarial” outlet bankrolled by a beneficent oligarch), the ruling classes do not give a shit, because ours is merely the raving of heretics, and does not warrant a serious response.
Or … all right, they give a bit of a shit, enough to try to cover their asses when a journalist of the stature of Glenn Greenwald (who won a Pulitzer and is frequently on television) very carefully and very respectfully almost directly accuses them of lying. But they give enough of a shit to do this because Greenwald has the power to hurt them, not because of any regard for the truth. This is also why Greenwald has to be so careful and respectful when directly confronting The Guardian, or any other corporate media outlet, and state that their blatantly fabricated stories could, theoretically, turn out to be true. He can’t afford to cross the line and end up getting branded a heretic and consigned to Outer Mainstream Darkness, like Robert Fisk, Sy Hersh, Jonathan Cook, John Pilger, Assange, and other such heretics.
Look, I’m not trying to argue that it isn’t important to expose the fabrications of the corporate media and the ruling classes. It is terribly important. It is mostly what I do (albeit usually in a more satirical fashion). At the same time, it is important to realize that “the truth” is not going to “rouse the masses from their slumber” and inspire them to throw off their chains. People are not going to suddenly “wake up,” “see the truth” and start “the revolution.” People already know the truth … the official truth, which is the only truth there is. Those who are conforming to it are doing so, not because they are deceived, but because it is safer and more rewarding to do so.
And this is why The Guardian will not be punished for publishing a blatantly fabricated story. Nor will Luke Harding be penalized for writing it. Luke Harding will be rewarded for writing it, as he has been handsomely rewarded throughout his career for loyally serving the ruling classes. Greenwald, on the other hand, is on thin ice. It will be instructive to see how far he pushes his confrontation with The Guardian regarding this story.
As for Julian Assange, I’m afraid he is done for. The ruling classes really have no choice but to go ahead and do him at this point. He hasn’t left them any other option. Much as they are loathe to create another martyr, they can’t have heretics of Assange’s notoriety running around punching holes in their “truth” and brazenly defying their authority. That kind of stuff unsettles the normals, and it sets a bad example for the rest of us heretics.
C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and political satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant. He can be reached at cjhopkins.com or consentfactory.org.
The single most effective weapon in the fight against climate change is the tax code – imposing costs on those who emit greenhouse gases, economists say. But as French President Emmanuel Macron learned over the past three weeks, implementing such taxes can be politically explosive.
On Tuesday, France delayed for six months a plan to raise already steep taxes on diesel fuel by 24 cents a gallon and gasoline by about 12 cents a gallon. Macron argued that the taxes were needed to curb climate change by weaning motorists off petroleum products, but violent demonstrations in the streets of Paris and other French cities forced him to backtrack – at least for now.
“No tax is worth putting in danger the unity of the nation,” said Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, who was trotted out to announce the concession.
It was a setback for the French president, who has been trying to carry the torch of climate action in the wake of the Paris accords of December 2015. “When we talk about the actions of the nation in response to the challenges of climate change, we have to say that we have done little,” he said last week.
Macron is hardly alone in his frustration. Leaders in the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere have found their carbon pricing efforts running into fierce opposition. But the French reversal was particularly disheartening for climate-policy experts, because it came just as delegates from around the world were gathering in Katowice, Poland, for a major conference designed to advance climate measures.
“Like everywhere else, the question in France is how to find a way of combining ecology and equality,” said Bruno Cautrès, a researcher at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. “Citizens mostly see punitive public policies when it comes to the environment: taxes, more taxes and more taxes after that. No one has the solution, and we can only see the disaster that’s just occurred in France on this question.”
“Higher taxes on energy have always been a hard sell, politically,” said Gregory Mankiw, an economics professor at Harvard University and advocate of carbon taxes. “The members of the American Economic Association are convinced of their virtue. But the median citizen is not.”
In the United States – where energy-related taxes are among the lowest in the developed world – politicians, their constituents and their donors have repeatedly made that clear.
President Bill Clinton proposed a tax on the heat content of fuels as part of his first budget in 1993. Known as the BTU tax, for British thermal unit, it would have raised $70 billion over five years while increasing gasoline prices no more than 7.5 cents a gallon.
But Clinton was forced to retreat in the face of a rebellion in his own party. “I’m not going to vote for a BTU tax in committee or on the floor, ever, anywhere. Period. Exclamation point,” said then-Sen. David Boren, D-Okla.
The state of Washington has also tried – and failed twice – to win support for a carbon tax or carbon “fee.” In 2016, the state’s voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have balanced a carbon tax with other tax cuts. In 2018, a wider coalition sought backing for an initiative that would have poured fee revenue into clean energy projects, job retraining and early retirement plans for affected workers. The fee would have started at $15 a ton and gone up $2 a ton for 10 years. It, too, failed.
To be sure, some climate-conscious countries have adopted carbon taxes, including Chile, Spain, Ukraine, Ireland and nations in Scandinavia. Others have adopted cap-and-trade programs that effectively put prices on carbon emissions.
Only around 12 percent of global emissions are covered by pricing programs such as taxes on the carbon content of fossil fuels or permit trading programs that put a price on emissions, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Policy experts say that to some extent the prospects of carbon taxes may depend on what happens to the money raised.
Using the revenue for deficit reduction, as was planned in France, is a no-no.
“Even in the best of times, carbon taxes must be carefully crafted to avoid political pitfalls,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Senate Finance Committee staffer and Clinton White House climate adviser. “In particular, much of the revenue raised must be recycled back to middle-income workers. Macron’s approach put the money toward deficit reduction, stoking already simmering class grievances.”
Last year, a group of economists and policy experts – including former treasury secretaries James Baker III and Lawrence Summers and former secretary of state George Shultz – advocated a tax-and-dividend approach. It would feature a carbon tax of $40 a ton, affecting coal, oil and natural gas. The revenue would be used to pay dividends to households. Progressive tax rates would mean more money for lower- and middle-income earners.
“Because the revenue is rebated equally to everyone, most people will get more back than they pay in carbon taxes,” said Mankiw, who is part of the group. “So if people understood the plan, and believed it would be carried out as written, it should be politically popular.”
So far the group, called the Climate Leadership Council, has not been able to generate much support from members of Congress.
But Canada is about to offer a test case.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has unveiled a “backstop” carbon tax of $20 a ton, to take effect in January, for the four Canadian provinces that do not already have one.
Trudeau was elected partly on a promise of this sort of measure, but it’s costing him more political capital than expected. Conservative premiers oppose the plan, which looks set to become an election issue.
Trudeau’s policy, however, is designed to withstand criticism. About 90 percent of the revenue from the backstop tax will be paid back to Canadians in the form of annual “climate action incentive” payments. Because of the progressive tax rates, about 70 percent of Canadians will get back more than they paid. If they choose to be more energy efficient, they could save even more money.
The first checks will arrive shortly before Canadian elections.
Climate policy doesn’t only suffer from lack of enthusiasm. It also arouses the ire of right-wing populist movements.
Many of the people most angry at Macron’s tax come from right-wing rural areas. The German right-wing opposition party Alternative for Germany has called climate change a hoax. And in Brazil, a new populist president had indicated he will develop, not preserve, the Amazon forests that pull CO2 out of the air and pump out oxygen.
President Donald Trump, who has said he does not believe climate science, also took to Twitter to say Macron’s setback showed Trump was right to spurn the Paris climate agreement.
“I am glad that my friend @EmmanuelMacron and the protestors in Paris have agreed with the conclusion I reached two years ago. The Paris Agreement is fatally flawed because it raises the price of energy for responsible countries while whitewashing some of the worst polluters in the world,” he wrote. “American taxpayers – and American workers – shouldn’t pay to clean up others countries’ pollution.”
Fuel taxes, however, generate revenue that stays inside home countries without going to pay for others’ pollution. And the Paris agreement placed much greater responsibilities on developing countries than ever before.
A member of Trump’s beachhead transition team at the Energy Department also took to Twitter to celebrate the collapse of Macron’s fuel tax plan.
“It’s easy for politicians like #Macron to lecture us about #ClimateChange because the elites don’t notice the economic hit. Working class people do. Working class French people are ANGRY about unnecessarily higher fuel taxes that are only a #virtuesignal,” wrote Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research – a group funded in the past by Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute and Exxon Mobil.
Jason Bordoff, director of the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy, said the celebration “would be reading too much into what’s happening in France.” That’s because Macron was already seen as favoring the rich over the working class, he said.
Nicolas Hulot, a popular climate change activist and Macron’s former environment minister, made national headlines in August when he resigned from Macron’s cabinet during a live radio broadcast. His reason: that the French government was more word than deed when it came to fighting climate change.
On the heels of the French government’s abrupt reversal on fuel taxes Tuesday, Hulot praised what he couched as a necessary political maneuver, albeit one that was not good for the environment.
“I welcome a necessary, inescapable, courageous and common sense decision in the current context, which saddens everyone,” he said, speaking on France’s RTL radio. But, he added, there would probably be consequences from the popular uprisings against the diesel taxes, which the government has now suspended for six months.
“All that is not good news for the climate,” he said.
The key, said Hulot, is not to impose action on climate change in a technocratic way, in a way that ordinary people do not understand. “The ecological challenge shouldn’t be against the French,” he said. “We need every Frenchwoman and Frenchman. On that, there is obviously a huge amount of misperceptions and misunderstandings.”
It was around this time last year that things were starting to look a little dicey for the media industry’s once breathlessly-hyped digital unicorns. Both BuzzFeed and Vice made news for substantially missing their revenue targets. Mashable was sold at a dramatic price reduction. Vox Media was forced to terminate 5 percent of its workforce.
These companies, which once heralded the dawn of a new media age—replete with massive valuations, large fund-raising hauls, and millennial sex appeal—now appeared to exhibit some traits of the brands that they once attempted to disrupt. They were large, less nimble, and increasingly vulnerable to Facebook and Google. They seemed virtually encircled by competitors familiar and new. On one side was a new generation of smaller yet influential companies focused on monetizing their direct relationships with consumers, like Axios, TheSkimm, Crooked Media, and the Athletic, to name a few. On the other were a tandem of revitalized shit-kicking legacy players, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, who were converting subscribers at unforeseen levels in the Trump era.
A year later, the challenges have hardly abated. Mic canned the majority of its staff last week as part of a last-resort sale to Bustle for about $5 million—$95 million less than its previous valuation. Vice, under turnaround C.E.O. Nancy Dubuc, is in the process of trimming its 3,000-person global headcount by 15 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported Vice’s losses at more than $50 million in 2018. At Refinery29, 10 percent of the workforce received pink slips this fall. BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti recently floated in the pages of The New York Times the quixotic notion of a multi-company merger between BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox Media, Group Nine Media, and Refinery29, as a means to rival the Facebook-Google ad duopoly.
Boutique players have not been spared either. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s Lenny Letter shut down in October, and last week brought the end of Rookie magazine, the 21st-century answer to Sassy, created by precocious tastemaker Tavi Gevinson. “Digital media has become an increasingly difficult business, and Rookie in its current form is no longer financially sustainable,” Gevinson wrote in a farewell note to readers. Traditional magazine companies, meanwhile, are trying to adapt to the digital world. Hearst, whose holdings include Cosmopolitan and Esquire, has endured layoffs, restructuring, and a leadership shake-up. Condé Nast, which owns Vanity Fair, is looking for a new C.E.O. who can streamline and maximize its global clout.
The chilly environment has created an opening for bargain shoppers and turnaround artists. Bustle founder Bryan Goldberg has been a regular at the fire sales; Jon Miller, a former AOL and News Corp executive, is shopping for Web sites with funding from the private-equity titan TPG.
But everyone else seems to operate on a relentless pivot schedule. “It’s a moment of real pressure,” one digital media executive told me. “My sense is, it’s tougher times for everybody.” Summing up the latest portents, a veteran digital-media strategist warned, “I think this is the tip of the iceberg. I think it’s gonna get worse, not better.” Tony Haile, founding C.E.O. of the Web-analytics provider Chartbeat, echoed that sentiment. “No one’s looking forward to this Q1,” said Haile, whose latest project is a publisher-friendly subscription ad-blocking service called Scroll. “You’ve got that kind of thing going on where everyone’s for sale.”
Haile isn’t incorrect. Everything does seem for sale. As the threat of the so-called FAANGs—Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google—continues to grow, large legacy players, such as AT&T and Time Warner, or Disney and 21st Century Fox, are combining at a rabid pace. Certain heritage brands, like Time,Fortune, and The Atlantic, have landed in the warm bosoms of philanthropic billionaires. New York Media, the parent company of New York and a coterie of buzzy Web brands including The Cut, is pursuing a sale or strategic investment. A number of publications that ascended during the post-downturn digital gold rush have found safe harbors: HuffPost in Verizon (via AOL); Business Insider in Axel Springer; Quartz in the Japanese financial-intelligence firm Uzabase. But they, too, are under the gun to perform for their parent companies. Verizon’s media unit, for one, is in the midst of a rejiggering after falling short on advertising revenue. “The whole media sector is under pressure, unless you’re a FAANG company,” said Vox Media C.E.O. Jim Bankoff. “You can see that impact in all the big mergers that have been happening, but you also see it in companies that are scaling back or selling. Whether you’re a company that started in the past decade or a century ago, whether you’re funded by a billionaire or a V.C., you’re not immune to the changes in the industry, or the uncertainty that those changes bring.”
The stakes are arguably the highest, it appears, for the much ballyhooed cabal of independent, venture-funded, super-scale companies, such as Vice, BuzzFeed, and Vox. Reacting to Peretti’s confederacy-merger proposal, one prominent founder and C.E.O. wondered whether there was “a problem for the whole space,” or “a problem for a handful of companies that really over-raised and over-expected and are now trying to re-adjust.” Consumer spending is up, and billions of dollars are being sunk into content, this executive noted, and yet “you have this little pocket of the universe looking desperate. So the reality is: is there a problem in the digital-media space overall, or a strategy problem for a certain set of companies?” In a somber parting memo on the day of Mic’s mass layoffs, outgoing publisher Cory Haiklamented the current state of the media universe: “Our business models are unsettled, and the macro forces at play are all going through their own states of unrest. If anyone tells you they have it figured out, a special plan to save us all, or that it’s all due to a singular fault, know that is categorically false.”
BuzzFeed, Vice, and Vox share some common challenges. In an environment that values either enormity or monetizable premium appeal, they are somehow in the middle. They were also forged in an era of rapid-succession strategy pivots—first display advertising, then native, then video, and now broad diversification through things like subscriptions and events and other potentially promising remedies.
But in reality, these companies have their own unique headaches. Vice is staring down stalled growth, as well as viewership struggles at the flagship cable channel it launched in 2015. The company’s defenders would point to its large global footprint and diversity of revenue streams—that includes an HBO show and other licensing deals, a creative studio, an I.P. library, and a scripted-programming arm. Indeed, Dubuc appears to be moving Vice further away from the notion that it is a “digital” enterprise at all. As the Journalrecently reported, the plan she has outlined to the company’s board of directors involves consolidating Vice’s many Web verticals and focusing instead on growing its creative agency, Virtue, as well as making a greater number of shows and movies for third parties. But Dubuc has her work cut out for her. Asked about the company’s astronomical $5.7 billion figure at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit on October 9, she replied, quite carefully, “I’m not gonna speculate on what Vice is worth. Valuations are set at a moment in time.”
BuzzFeed, once a stubbornly pure native-advertising proposition, has likewise recognized the need to branch out. In addition to now running traditional banner ads, BuzzFeed is offering exclusive member content for $5 a month; getting paid to produce shows for Netflix and Facebook; opening a toy store in New York and selling cookware in a collaboration with Walmart; and playing the affiliate marketing game, in which a Web site takes a cut whenever, say, readers click a link to an Amazon product and hit “Add to Cart.” At the very least, it all appears to be a promising start to turning around the company’s revenues: sources told the Times that revenues are expected to surpass $300 million this year, up from a disappointing $260 million in 2017.
In multiple conversations I had for this piece, Vox Media seemed to be the horse that people were most willing to bet on, in part because it didn’t take as much money or drive its valuation as high as BuzzFeed or Vice. (Revenues for 2018 are projected to be up 15 to 18 percent—around $185 million—compared to 2017, according to someone with knowledge of the numbers.) Vox Media, too, has been diversifying, and is in the process of creating a consumer-revenue component where some of its Web sites—which include Vox, the Verge, and SB Nation—will charge for certain content, according to someone familiar with the plans. Vox Media has created a digital-advertising marketplace, Concert, with partners including New York Media, Rolling Stone, and Quartz; and it licenses an in-house content-management platform, Chorus, to other publishers. Vox also now has a TV unit whose productions include a popular Netflix show, as well as a conference business in Recode, which it bought in 2015 following an acquisition of the Curbed sites two years earlier.
More recently, people familiar with the matter told me, Bankoff took a look at Fortune (which has a robust events business) and New York Media (which has a suite of tony Web brands), but both opportunities were tricky due to their print components. (Neither opportunity was presented to the board.) In a meeting Bankoff had with CBS C.E.O. Les Moonves, before his #MeToo scandal became public and he was ousted in disgrace, Moonves floated the idea of buying Vox Media, according to sources with knowledge of the conversation, but the talks never progressed to a serious stage. Bankoff declined to comment on any of these discussions, but said the company might look at making acquisitions in 2019.
Vice, BuzzFeed, and Vox have achieved a level of scale and brand affinity that lesser players, the Mics and Mashables of the world, can only dream of. In that sense, the road ahead may very well be hardest for smaller, venture-funded companies that rely wholly, or close to wholly, on digital advertising. Someone who sits on the board of a large digital-media company broke it down like this: “They can’t compete in scale, they can’t compete in terms of quality and breadth of content, and they can’t compete because they only have one revenue stream.” This person added, “Companies who struggle, struggle disproportionately bad when things go bad.”
I searched online to see what I could see…with a search for ‘Xenagogue Vicene.’ Dozens and dozens of images, many from this blog. Youtube supplies copyright free music…
Or here without Youtube’s music…
These pictures go from cave art to satellites above the Earth, hand draw to computer generated. I love the area of images and melange of subjects and books and women and history and news. So many devices to capture and manipulate and create and recreate pictures. Straight lines and curved lines and dots and pixels. I have an art gallery at my fingertips.
Regular followers of WikiLeaks-related news are at this point familiar with the multiple serious infractions of journalistic ethics by Luke Harding and the Guardian, especially (though not exclusively) when it comes to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. However, another individual at the heart of this matter is far less familiar to the public. That man is Fernando Villavicencio, a prominent Ecuadorian political activist and journalist, director of the USAID-funded NGO Fundamedios and editor of online publication FocusEcuador.
Most readers are also aware of the Guardian’s recent publication of claims that Julian Assange met with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on three occasions. This has now been definitively debunked by Felix Narvaez, the former Consul at Ecuador’s London embassy between 2010 and 2018, who says Paul Manafort has never visited the embassy during the time he was in charge there. But this was hardly the first time the outlet published a dishonest smear authored by Luke Harding against Assange. The paper is also no stranger to publishing stories based on fabricated documents.
In May, Disobedient Media reported on the Guardian’s hatchet-job relating to ‘Operation Hotel,’ or rather, the normal security operations of the embassy under former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. That hit-piece, co-authored by Harding and Dan Collyns, asserted among other things that (according to an anonymous source) Assange hacked the embassy’s security system. The allegation was promptly refuted by Correa as “absurd” in an interview with The Intercept, and also by WikiLeaks as an “anonymous libel” with which the Guardian had “gone too far this time. We’re suing.”
How is Villavicencio tied to The Guardian’s latest smear of Assange? Intimately, it turns out.
Who is Fernando Villavicencio?
Earlier this year, an independent journalist writing under the pseudonym Jimmyslama penned a comprehensive report detailing Villavicencio’s relationships with pro-US actors within Ecuador and the US. She sums up her findings, which are worth reading in full:
“…The information in this post alone should make everyone question why in the world the Guardian would continue to use a source like Villavicencio who is obviously tied to the U.S. government, the CIA, individuals like Thor Halvorssen and Bill Browder, and opponents of both Julian Assange and former President Rafael Correa.”
As most readers recall, it was Correa who granted Assange asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Villavicencio was so vehemently opposed to Rafael Correa’s socialist government that during the failed 2010 coup against Correa he falsely accused the President of “crimes against humanity” by ordering police to fire on the crowds (it was actually Correa who was being shot at). Correa sued him for libel, and won, but pardoned Villavicencio for the damages awarded by the court.
Assange legal analyst Hanna Jonasson recently made the link between the Ecuadorian forger Villavicencio and Luke Harding’s Guardian stories based on dubious documents explicit. She Tweeted: 2014 Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry accused the Guardian of publishing a story based on a document it says was fabricated by Fernando Villavicencio, pictured below with the authors of the fake Manafort-Assange ‘secret meeting’ story, Harding and Collyns.”
Jonasson included a link to a 2014 official Ecuadorian government statement which reads in part: “There is also evidence that the author of this falsified document is Fernando Villavicencio, a convicted slanderer and opponent of Ecuador’s current government. This can be seen from the file properties of the document that the Guardian had originally posted (but which it has since taken down and replaced with a version with this evidence removed).” The statement also notes that Villavicencio had fled the country after his conviction for libeling Correa during the 2010 coup and was at that time living as a fugitive in the United States.
It is incredibly significant, as Jonasson argues, that the authors of the Guardian’s latest libelous article were photographed with Villavicencio in Ecuador shortly before publication of the Guardian’s claim that Assange had conducted meetings with Manafort.
Jonasson’s Twitter thread also states: “This video from the news wire Andes alleges that Villavicencio’s name appeared in the metadata of the document originally uploaded alongside The Guardian’s story.” The 2014 Guardian piece, which aimed a falsified shot at then-President Rafael Correa, would not be the last time Villavicencio’s name would appear on a controversial Guardian story before being scrubbed from existence.
Just days after the backlash against the Guardian reached fever-pitch, Villavicencio had the gall to publish another image of himself with Harding and Collyns, gloating : “One of my greatest journalistic experiences was working for months on Assange’s research with colleagues from the British newspaper the Guardian, Luke Harding, Dan Collins and the young journalist Cristina Solórzano from @ somos_lafuente” [Translated from Spanish]
The tweet suggests, but does not specifically state, that Villavicencio worked with the disastrous duo on the Assange-Manafort piece. Given the history and associations of all involved, this statement alone should cause extreme skepticism in any unsubstantiated claims, or ‘anonymously sourced’ claims, the Guardian makes concerning Julian Assange and Ecuador.
Astoundingly, and counter to Villavicencio’s uncharacteristic coyness, a recent video posted by WikiLeaks via Twitter does show that Villavicencio was originally listed as a co-author of the Guardian’s Manafort-Assange allegations, before his name was edited out of the online article. The original version can be viewed, however, thanks to archive services.
The two photographs of Villavicencio with Harding and Collyns as well as the evidence showing he co-authored the piece doesn’t just capture a trio of terrible journalists, it documents the involvement of multiple actors associated with intelligence agencies and fabricated stories.
All of this provoke the question: did Villavicencio provide more bogus documents to Harding and Collyns – Harding said he’d seen a document, though he didn’t publish one (or even quote from it) so readers might judge its veracity for themselves – or perhaps these three invented the accusations out of whole-cloth?
Either way, to quote WikiLeaks, the Guardian has “gone too far this time” and its already-tattered reputation is in total shambles.
Successful Propaganda, Failed Journalism
Craig Murray calls Harding an “MI6 tool“, but to this writer, Harding seems worse than an MI6 stooge: He’s a wannabe-spook, hanging from the coat-tails of anonymous intelligence officers and publishing their drivel as fact without so much as a skeptical blink. His lack of self-awareness and conflation of anecdote with evidence sets him apart as either one of the most blatant, fumbling propagandists of our era, or the most hapless hack journalist to stain the pages of printed news.
To provide important context on Harding’s previous journalistic irresponsibility, we again recall that he co-authored the infamous book containing the encryption password of the entire Cablegate archive, leading to a leak of the unredacted State Department Cables across the internet. Although the guilty Guardian journalists tried to blame Assange for the debacle, it was they themselves who ended up on the receiving end of some well-deserved scorn.
In addition to continuing the Guardian’s and Villavicencio’s vendetta against Assange and WikiLeaks, it is clearly in Harding’s financial interests to conflate the pending prosecution of Assange with Russiagate. As this writer previously noted, Harding penned a book on the subject, titled: “Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.” Tying Assange to Russiagate is good for business, as it stokes public interest in the self-evidently faulty narrative his book supports.
Even more concerning is the claim amongst publishing circles, fueled by recent events, that Harding may be writing another book on Assange, with publication presumably timed for his pending arrest and extradition and designed to cash in on the trial. If that is in fact the case, the specter arises that Harding is working to push for Assange’s arrest, not just on behalf of US, UK or Ecuadorian intelligence interests, but also to increase his own book sales.
That Harding and Collyns worked intensively with Villavicencio for “months” on the “Assange story,” the fact that Villavicencio was initially listed as a co-author on the original version of the Guardian’s article, and the recent denial by Felix Narvaez, raises the likelihood that Harding and the Guardian were not simply the victims of bad sources who duped them, as claimed by some.
It indicates that the fake story was constructed deliberately on behalf of the very same intelligence establishment that the Guardian is nowadays only too happy to take the knee for.
In summary, one of the most visible establishment media outlets published a fake story on its front page, in an attempt to manufacture a crucial cross-over between the pending prosecution of Assange and the Russiagate saga. This represents the latest example in an onslaught of fake news directed at Julian Assange and WikiLeaks ever since they published the largest CIA leak in history in the form of Vault 7, an onslaught which appears to be building in both intensity and absurdity as time goes on.
The Guardian has destroyed its reputation, and in the process, revealed the desperation of the establishment when it comes to Assange.
There is more than a dollop of irony in the release yesterday by Dmitri Peskov, press secretary to Vladimir Putin, of two email letters addressed to himself and to the Russian presidential administration back in January 2016 requesting assistance with the projected residential skyscraper, Trump Tower Moscow, that the Trump Organization was then negotiating with its business partners in the Russian capital. They were in need of land rights and building permits.
There is every reason to believe that what we are now seeing is the Kremlin turning on Trump and facilitating his removal from office. This is suggested by the timing of Peskov’s release of documents and comments on what further transpired. Peskov’s speaking out follows closely the admission by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen that he had lied to Congress over the project in Russia. At issue is the timing of Cohen’s solicitations in Moscow on Trump’s behalf.
Cohen had previously testified that the project died in January 2016. Now it is clear he pursued the presidential administration in Moscow well into the spring, during the American primaries, and perhaps as late as June, 2016, when Trump was already the Republican candidate. Though not confirmed by Peskov, there are suggestions circulating in social media that Trump’s minions intended to proposition Putin with a free penthouse atop the Trump Tower in exchange for land and permits.
Regrettably, the whole story of Cohen and the tower project in Moscow rings true, right down to the plans to bribe the Russian President. Donald Trump’s multibillion dollar real estate empire was managed by an inner circle of long-time associates whose main value to the boss was personal loyalty not competence.
The story also rings true to the “transactional approach” to government business that Trump’s critics have decried. The deal allegedly on offer to Putin betrays deep cynicism, the conviction that Donald’s interlocutors are as corrupt as he himself appears to be.
But there is still more in the bones of this scandal in formation to pick over.
Another feature of Donald Trump’s business life that is highly relevant to our understanding of what happened is the way he always has been surrounded by fortune seekers. That comes with his being a wealthy private entrepreneur rather than a corporate executive of a publicly listed company. Some of these opportunists have come to him with product ideas that were later branded as “Trump” and brought him incremental wealth. Others were no more than braggards and phonies who have only brought him trouble. It would appear that one such adventurer is Felix Sater, who was involved in this and prior attempts to sell Trump in Russia and who now is spreading the story of the 50 million inducement to Putin in 2016 for help with the residential building.
There can be little doubt that the outreach to “Russian oligarchs” whom such people alleged were close to Putin and “fix” a deal was empty of content. Hence the failure of the project to gain traction on the Russian side.
In a number of ways the failure of the 2016 bid to build a Trump Tower in Moscow brings back memories of Trump’s hopes for a real estate deal in Moscow back in 1996. Though mainstream reporting claims that Trump was for 30 years seeking to build a residential tower, my own inside information from a friend who was at the time in Trump’s entourage, tells a different story. In 1996, they flew into Moscow in his private jet hoping to cut a deal. However, it was not residential in nature: rather it was to convert the then derelict building opposite the Kremlin into a casino and hotel. Trump had dinner with one of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s celebrity friends, the sculptor Tseretelli. Tseretelli was supposed to be the intermediary to the Kremlin decision-makers. That was all just a tall story by people seeking to ingratiate themselves with Trump. On the spot, in Moscow, Trump understood he had been tricked by his fixers. And he left Moscow, not to come back until the Miss Universe pageant. The building in question is now home to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.
It is quite astonishing that Trump did not understand in 2016 that he could no longer afford to work with and through shady opportunists when he shifted gears from private businessman to candidate for the U.S. presidency. That, all by itself, points to a stunning lack of judgment.
The most charitable interpretation for Trump that one can put on the whole affair is that it demonstrates his own disbelief in possible victory in the November elections. His team was allowed to fish in Russian waters for economic advantage to the Organization that would come when he returned to private life.
The case surrounding Michael Cohen stands the arguments of the Russia-gate accusers on their head, though American mainstream media seem not to follow the dotted lines where they inevitably lead. What we have here is the minions of a US presidential candidate trying to take in hand a Russian president and also incidentally exposing the Russian to potential black-mail over bribe-taking. It is mind-boggling.
Quite possibly the Kremlin now wants to sink Trump. If Special Prosecutor Mueller can extract from Cohen and others the critical details that are now hearsay, meaning the supposed trade-off of a penthouse for land and building permit, then Trump will go down. For attempted collusion.
I think Moscow understands that apart from the lunatic Hillary, Donald is now the worst man for them as occupant of the White House. Trump is in it up to his neck and is acquiescing to all the wish list of the Russia haters on the Hill.
Does Russia actually control who sits in the White House? We may find out in the coming days.
Camille Paglia is one of the most interesting and explosive thinkers of our time. She transgresses academic boundaries and blows up media forms. She’s brilliant on politics, art, literature, philosophy, and the culture wars. She’s also very keen on the email Q and A format for interviews. So, after reading her new collection of essays, Provocations, Spectator USA sent her some questions.
You’ve been a sharp political prognosticator over the years. So can I start by asking for a prediction. What will happen in 2020 in America? Will Hillary Clinton run again?
If the economy continues strong, Trump will be reelected. The Democrats (my party) have been in chaos since the 2016 election and have no coherent message except Trump hatred. Despite the vast pack of potential candidates, no one yet seems to have the edge. I had high hopes for Kamala Harris, but she missed a huge opportunity to play a moderating, statesmanlike role and has already imprinted an image of herself as a ruthless inquisitor that will make it hard for her to pull voters across party lines.
Screechy Elizabeth Warren has never had a snowball’s chance in hell to appeal beyond upper-middle-class professionals of her glossy stripe. Kirsten Gillibrand is a wobbly mediocrity. Cory Booker has all the gravitas of a cork. Andrew Cuomo is a yapping puppy with a long, muddy bullyboy tail. Both Bernie Sanders (for whom I voted in the 2016 primaries) and Joe Biden (who would have won the election had Obama not cut him off at the knees) are way too old and creaky.
To win in the nation’s broad midsection, the Democratic nominee will need to project steadiness, substance, and warmth. I’ve been looking at Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Governor Steve Bullock of Montana. As for Hillary, she’s pretty much damaged goods, but her perpetual, sniping, pity-me tour shows no signs of abating. She still has a rabidly loyal following, but it’s hard to imagine her winning the nomination again, with her iron grip on the Democratic National Committee now gone. Still, it’s in her best interest to keep the speculation fires burning. Given how thoroughly she has already sabotaged the rising candidates by hogging the media spotlight, I suspect she wants Trump to win again. I don’t see our stumbling, hacking, shop-worn Evita yielding the spotlight willingly to any younger gal.
Has Trump governed erratically?
Yes, that’s a fair description. It’s partly because as a non-politician he arrived in Washington without the battalion of allies, advisors, and party flacks that a senator or governor would normally accumulate on the long road to the White House. Trump’s administration is basically a one-man operation, with him relying on gut instinct and sometimes madcap improvisation. There’s often a gonzo humor to it — not that the US president should be slinging barbs at bottom-feeding celebrities or jackass journalists, much as they may deserve it. It’s like a picaresque novel starring a jaunty rogue who takes to Twitter like Tristram Shandy’s asterisk-strewn diary. Trump’s unpredictability might be giving the nation jitters, but it may have put North Korea, at least, on the back foot.
Most Democrats have wildly underestimated Trump from the get-go. I was certainly surprised at how easily he mowed down 17 other candidates in the GOP primaries. He represents widespread popular dissatisfaction with politics as usual. Both major US parties are in turmoil and metamorphosis, as their various factions war and realign. The mainstream media’s nonstop assault on Trump has certainly backfired by cementing his outsider status. He is basically a pragmatic deal-maker, indifferent to ideology. As with Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump rose because of decades of failure by the political establishment to address urgent systemic problems, including corruption at high levels. Democrats must hammer out their own image and agenda and stop self-destructively insulting half the electorate by treating Trump like Satan.
Does the ‘deep state’ exist? If so, what is it?
The deep state is no myth but a sodden, intertwined mass of bloated, self-replicating bureaucracy that constitutes the real power in Washington and that stubbornly outlasts every administration. As government programs have incrementally multiplied, so has their regulatory apparatus, with its intrusive byzantine minutiae. Recently tagged as a source of anti-Trump conspiracy among embedded Democrats, the deep state is probably equally populated by Republicans and apolitical functionaries of Bartleby the Scrivener blandness. Its spreading sclerotic mass is wasteful, redundant, and ultimately tyrannical.
I have been trying for decades to get my fellow Democrats to realize how unchecked bureaucracy, in government or academe, is inherently authoritarian and illiberal. A persistent characteristic of civilizations in decline throughout history has been their self-strangling by slow, swollen, and stupid bureaucracies. The current atrocity of crippling student debt in the US is a direct product of an unholy alliance between college administrations and federal bureaucrats — a scandal that ballooned over two decades with barely a word of protest from our putative academic leftists, lost in their post-structuralist fantasies. Political correctness was not created by administrators, but it is ever-expanding campus bureaucracies that have constructed and currently enforce the oppressively rule-ridden regime of college life.
In the modern world, so wondrously but perilously interconnected, a principle of periodic reduction of bureaucracy should be built into every social organism. Freedom cannot survive otherwise.
What is true multiculturalism?
As I repeatedly argue in Provocations, comparative religion is the true multiculturalism and should be installed as the core curriculum in every undergraduate program. From my perspective as an atheist as well as a career college teacher, secular humanism has been a disastrous failure. Too many young people raised in affluent liberal homes are arriving at elite colleges and universities with skittish, unformed personalities and shockingly narrow views of human existence, confined to inflammatory and divisive identity politics.
Interest in Hinduism and Buddhism was everywhere in the 1960s counterculture, but it gradually dissipated partly because those most drawn to ‘cosmic consciousness’ either disabled themselves by excess drug use or shunned the academic ladder of graduate school. I contend that every educated person should be conversant with the sacred texts, rituals, and symbol systems of the great world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam — and that true global understanding is impossible without such knowledge.
Not least, the juxtaposition of historically evolving spiritual codes tutors the young in ethical reasoning and the creation of meaning. Right now, the campus religion remains nihilist, meaning-destroying post-structuralism, whose pilfering god, the one-note Foucault, had near-zero scholarly knowledge of anything before or beyond the European Enlightenment. (His sparse writing on classical antiquity is risible.) Out with the false idols and in with the true!
There’s a lot of buzz about the ‘intellectual dark web’. One of its leading figures is Jordan Peterson, who is in some ways like you — he provokes, he works in an array of disciplines, he encourages individual responsibility. I saw your podcast with him. What did you make of him? Why is he so popular?
There are astounding parallels between Jordan Peterson’s work and mine. In its anti-ideological, trans-historical view of sex and nature, my first book, Sexual Personae (1990), can be viewed as a companion to Peterson’s first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (1999). Peterson and I took different routes up the mountain — he via clinical psychology and I via literature and art — but we arrived at exactly the same place. Amazingly, over our decades of copious research, we were drawn to the same book by the same thinker — The Origins and History of Consciousness (1949), by the Jungian analyst Erich Neumann. (My 2005 lecture on Neumann at New York University is reprinted in Provocations.) Peterson’s immense international popularity demonstrates the hunger for meaning among young people today. Defrauded of a genuine humanistic education, they are recognizing the spiritual impoverishment of their crudely politicized culture, choked with jargon, propaganda, and lies.
I met Peterson and his wife Tammy a year ago when they flew to Philadelphia with a Toronto camera crew for our private dialogue at the University of the Arts. (The YouTube video has had to date over a million and a half views.) Peterson was incontrovertibly one of the most brilliant minds I have ever encountered, starting with the British philosopher Stuart Hampshire, whom I heard speak impromptu for a dazzling hour after a lecture in college. In turning psychosocial discourse back toward the syncretistic, multicultural Jung, Peterson is recovering and restoring a peak period in North American thought, when Canada was renowned for pioneering, speculative thinkers like the media analyst Marshall McLuhan and the myth critic Northrop Frye. I have yet to see a single profile of Peterson, even from sympathetic journalists, that accurately portrays the vast scope, tenor, and importance of his work.
Is humanity losing its sense of humor?
As a bumptious adolescent in upstate New York, I stumbled on a British collection of Oscar Wilde’s epigrams in a secondhand bookstore. It was an electrifying revelation, a text that I studied like the bible. What bold, scathing wit, cutting through the sentimental fog of those still rigidly conformist early 1960s, when good girls were expected to simper and defer.
But I never fully understood Wilde’s caustic satire of Victorian philanthropists and humanitarians until the present sludgy tide of political correctness began flooding government, education, and media over the past two decades. Wilde saw the insufferable arrogance and preening sanctimony in his era’s self-appointed guardians of morality.
We’re back to the hypocrisy sweepstakes, where gestures of virtue are as formalized as kabuki. Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.
Contemporary sleep evangelizers worry a good deal about our social attitudes toward sleep. They worry about many things, of course—incandescent light, L.E.D. light, nicotine, caffeine, central heating, alcohol, the addictive folderol of personal technology—but social attitudes seem to exercise them the most. Deep down, they say, we simply do not respect the human need for repose. We remain convinced, in contradiction of all the available evidence, that stinting on sleep makes us heroic and industrious, rather than stupid and fat.
“If we don’t continue to chip away at our collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success, we’ll never be able to restore sleep to its rightful place in our lives,” Arianna Huffington wrote a couple of years ago, in her best-selling how-to guide “The Sleep Revolution.” By way of inspiration, she offered her own conversion story. She was once lackadaisical about getting enough rest. She thought that to get on she had to stay up. Only when months of chronic exhaustion led her to pass out and break her cheekbone on her desk did she wake up, as it were, to the madness and masochism of her work ethos and set about repairing her “estranged relationship with sleep.” These days, she retires at an eminently sensible hour each night, takes a hot bath with Epsom salts, drinks a cup of lavender or chamomile tea, and, just before getting into bed, writes a list of the things she is grateful for—which is a great way, she tells us, to “make sure our blessings get the closing scene of the night.” As a consequence of her sleep-hygiene regimen, not only has her quality of life improved but her business has done fabulously, too. Sleep isn’t the enemy of success and ambition, she’s discovered, it’s the royal road to the corner office. “Sleep your way to the top!” she jauntily enjoins us.
Although Huffington’s book has doubtless been helpful for many, her proselytizing leaves the misleading and slightly infuriating impression that sleep is a life-style choice, a free resource, available to all who care enough to make it a priority. It is a beguiling idea, that one might transform one’s sleep, and the rest of one’s life, with a few virtuous acts of renunciation—no electronics in the bedroom, no coffee after 2 P.M.—and a few dreamy self-care rituals involving baths and tea. But the fact that some of the leading indicators for poor sleep and sleep loss are low household income, shift work, food insecurity, and being African-American or Hispanic suggests that the quest for rest is not so simple. Huffington does acknowledge, in passing, that “the vicious cycle of financial deprivation also feeds into the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation,” but she goes on to note, piously, that “the more challenging our circumstances, the more imperative it is to take whatever steps we can to tap into our resilience to help us withstand and overcome the challenges we face.” The tone here is reminiscent of Mrs. Pardiggle, in “Bleak House,” distributing improving literature to the slum-dwelling poor. Try telling the lady at the food bank that she should tap into her resilience and sleep her way to the top.
Or try offering that advice to an insomniac. Chronic insomnia, a condition that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currently afflicts some forty million Americans, is not really caused by coffee and Facebook, although it may certainly be aggravated by these things. According to the neuroscientist Matthew Walker—in his 2017 book, “Why We Sleep”—insomnia, strictly defined, is a clinical disorder most commonly associated with an overactive sympathetic nervous system, and it is triggered, typically, by worry and anxiety. Insomniacs can write twee lists of their blessings until the cows come home, but their cortisol levels will still tend to look as if they’re gearing up to storm the Bastille. Walker likens the insomniac’s problem to that of a laptop that won’t stop running, even after its lid is closed: “Recursive loops of emotional programs, together with retrospective and prospective memory loops, keep playing in the mind, preventing the brain from shutting down and switching into sleep mode.”
The same image appears in “Insomnia” (Catapult), a short, ludic book about long white nights, by the British writer, and veteran insomniac, Marina Benjamin:
On nights when I cannot easily will myself back to sleep because the switch has already flipped to ON, I begin to sense some unknown part of my brain, some lower-order, engine-room, grafter gland, busy itself running an hours-long system scan. . . . Patiently, systematically, this biological algorithm roots through my store of mental files, searching out broken bits of code—ideas that refuse to link up, shards and stray threads of mental activity—and desperately tries to join them.
There is much here about the misery and indignity of her condition. Benjamin likens her insomnia to a sad, coked-up old swinger who doesn’t want the party to end and insists on keeping her out on the dance floor, swaying along unhappily to his mortifying gyrations. She writes feelingly about the frustrations of being awake when you don’t want to be: the bleak thoughts that are apt to beset a person lying silent in the darkness at 3 A.M.; the intense loneliness; the desperation brought on by the impossible project of trying to relax. “I try to stay my galloping pulse,” she writes, “by thinking of water or mountains, or fluffy sheep. I tell myself I am heavy, heavy, heavy. I pursue sleep so hard I become invigorated by the chase.” One of the particular cruelties of insomnia is that any conscious effort to fall asleep tends to worsen the problem, which is why some therapists recommend the technique of “paradoxical intention”—tricking yourself into sleep, by trying to stay awake.
Yet for all her sorrow and self-pity Benjamin is rather pleased by her solitary nighttime self and the neurotic, “choleric” temperament from which she believes her insomnia springs. Cholerics, she writes, “are individualists and pioneers who like to lead and to seek out exhilarating experience. . . . Restless at night, they are assailed by indigestion and stress, or by violent dreams that jolt them into states of feverish or fiery readiness.” Her moans about her futile thought-loops alternate with flattering descriptions of her radiant nocturnal consciousness: “It is as if all the lights in my head had been lit at once, the whole engine coming to life, messages flying, dendrites flowering, synapses whipping snaps of electricity across my brain; and my brain itself, like some phosphorescent free-floating jellyfish of the deep, is luminescent, awake, alive.”
This slightly preening sense of specialness is not uncommon among insomniacs—particularly, it seems, the writerly sort. Bertrand Russell observed that “men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.” Such pride, he speculated, was a feint on their part—an effort to turn a frailty into an advantage—and perhaps he was right. Vladimir Nabokov’s famous dismissal of “the moronic fraternity” of sleep certainly sounds like someone turning up his nose at a club that won’t have him: “I simply cannot get used to the nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius. No matter how great my weariness, the wrench of parting with consciousness is unspeakably repulsive.” But in the insomniac’s self-satisfaction there is also, perhaps, a genuine fear of the nonbeing, the nullity, of sleep. When Benjamin discusses her dislike of mindfulness and meditation techniques, she remarks that she is terrified of the “stupefaction” and “blankness” to which she imagines they lead. She yearns for the replenishment of sleep, but she doesn’t want “to slip unknowingly from being into nothing.” Aristotle called sleep “a privation of waking,” and a simultaneous longing for and resistance to that privation seems to lie at the heart of insomnia’s torment.
Alice Robb’s book “Why We Dream” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a spirited rebuke to the idea of sleep as a mere parting with consciousness. In exploring the pleasures and uses of dreams, she seeks to persuade us that sleep is not just the “off” to waking’s “on” but another realm of being, a second consciousness, rich in adventure and wisdom. The contemporary indifference to our dream lives, she writes, is a regrettable historical anomaly, one that leads us to squander “five or six years’ worth of opportunity (20-25 percent of total time asleep) over the course of an average lifetime.”
The greater community of dream enthusiasts includes, by Robb’s own admission, a fair number of cranks. At the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, held in a medieval abbey in the Netherlands, she encounters people who believe in dream telepathy, and in using “energy fields” for dream interpretation. She also attends a dire-sounding Dream Ball, at which attendees dress up as characters and enact scenes from their dreams. Nonetheless, she is able to tread a careful and persuasive line between robust skepticism and open-mindedness, resisting the tendency of some dream explorers to conflate “their own intuition with evidence,” but also acknowledging that the line between mystic garbage and truth can be blurry. She quotes a Harvard psychology professor, Deirdre Barrett, who accepted a paper on extrasensory perception for the academic journal Dreaming, which she edits. “My stance is that what defines scholarly research is the approach and the design,” Barrett says. “It’s anti-science to insist on a conclusion.”
Science has long understood that REM sleep—the stages of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement, in which most dreaming takes place—plays a vital role in our mental health. The human need for REM is so uncompromising that, when it is inhibited over a long period by excessive alcohol use, the pent-up backlog will release itself in a form of waking psychosis, otherwise known as delirium tremens. For a long time, the scientific establishment suspected that dreams were a superfluous by-product of the REM state. But in recent decades, thanks in large part to the advent of brain-imaging machines, scientists have been able to establish that dreams themselves are essential to the benefits of REM sleep. First, dreams knit up the ravelled sleeve of care by allowing us to process unhappy or traumatic experiences. Typically, during the REM state, the flow of an anxiety-triggering brain chemical called noradrenaline is shut off, so that we are able to revisit distressing real-life events in a neurochemically calm environment. As a result, the intensity of emotion that we feel about these events in our waking lives is reduced to manageable levels. In “Why We Sleep,” Walker attributes the recurring nightmares of P.T.S.D. sufferers to the fact that their brains produce an abnormal amount of noradrenaline, preventing their dreams from having the normal curative effect. When the dreaming brain fails to diminish the emotion attached to a traumatic memory, it will keep trying to do so, by revisiting that memory night after night.
Dreams also help us to master new skills; practicing a task or a language in our sleep can be as helpful as doing so when we are awake. And they appear to be crucial in honing our capacity for decoding facial expression: the dream-starved tend to slip into default paranoia, interpreting the friendliest expressions as menacing. Perhaps most alluring, dreams help us to synthesize new pieces of information with preëxisting knowledge, and to make creative lateral connections. The long list of inventions and great works said to have been generated in dreams includes the periodic table, the sewing machine, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be,” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
According to Robb, there is a means by which we can harness the visionary and problem-solving capacities of dreaming: the lucid dream. This is the kind of dream in which a person is aware of dreaming, and is able to wield some control over events—to decide to fly, say, or to visit Paris. “Those who master lucidity,” Robb writes, “can dream about specific problems, seek answers or insights, stage cathartic encounters, and probe the recesses of the unconscious.” Fifty-five per cent of people have experienced lucidity at least once, apparently, but most of us need to train ourselves to dream lucidly with any consistency. The main training method requires you to ask yourself at regular intervals during the daytime whether you are asleep or awake. The idea is that, since waking habits have a tendency to show up in dreams, you are likely to pose the same question while you are asleep. When you ask yourself “Am I awake?” and the answer is no, lucidity should theoretically commence.
Oscar Wilde is said to have identified the most frightening sentence in the English language as “I had a very interesting dream last night.” Robb, who regularly attends dream groups at which people take turns analyzing one another’s dreams, fiercely disputes this prejudice. “One of the saddest consequences of our cultural contempt for dreaming is the trope that dreams make for boring conversation,” she writes. Whether she helps or hinders her argument by citing the dream-centric badinage of the Rarámuri tribe of northwestern Mexico is debatable. The Rarámuri, for whom “ ‘What did you dream last night?’ is rivalled only by ‘How many times did you have sex?’ as the most popular morning greeting among men” will strike many readers as an excellent advertisement for the virtues of discretion on oneiric matters.
The two chief factors determining your interest in someone else’s dreams would seem to be your level of emotional investment in the person telling the dream and the extent to which you believe that dreams can be intelligently interpreted. Nabokov, who had quite a rich dream life and often used dreams in his fiction, was briefly taken by a hokey theory that dreams were precognitive, but otherwise he maintained that they were without significance, a stance probably influenced by his extreme antipathy to Freudian theory. “I have ransacked my oldest dreams for keys and clues,” he wrote, “and let me say at once that I reject completely the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world of Freud, with its crankish quest for sexual symbols (something like searching for Baconian acrostics in Shakespeare’s works) and its bitter little embryos spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents.” By now, widespread disenchantment with Freud’s interpretive code has resulted in a wholesale dismissal of dreams’ latent content. In “Why We Sleep,” Walker concedes that dreams tell us something useful about our underlying emotional concerns, but he insists that the information they deliver is “transparent” and requires no interpretation. This is a convenient position for someone who is uncomfortable about the absence of any scientific method for validating interpretations, but it is not a very satisfactory one. What is the “transparent” meaning of the dream in which your teeth fall out? What is the unambiguous message of “Kubla Khan”?
Part of the charm of Robb’s book lies in her willingness to journey beyond the bounds of what is scientifically verifiable—to embrace the strictly unrigorous ways in which humans attempt to extract meaning from their dream lives. The readings that she and her fellow-enthusiasts come up with in their groups are amateurish, opinionated, riddled with vaguely therapeutic cliché—but so, too, are the literary interpretations generated in the average book club, or the stories that most of us tell ourselves about our waking behavior. In celebrating dreams as poetic artifacts, Robb offers a welcome antidote to the medicine administered by most sleep gurus. She is a more persuasive sleep saleswoman precisely because she does not champion slumber solely as a mental-health aid—an enhancer of acuity and efficiency, and so forth—but as an end in itself. She did not succeed in selling me on the concept of the dream group, but her spirited advocacy has persuaded me to make some modest efforts to remember my dreams and to keep a dream journal. The results, it has to be said, have not been very exciting so far. I appear to spend an inordinate amount of my dream life on the subway or squabbling with ex-boyfriends. The other night, I did encounter some famous figures, both living and dead, but, alas, I wasted my allotted time with them discussing, at rather tedious length, my desire to have a lucid dream. ♦
CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian actress is facing trial next month charged with public obscenity after she attended the closing ceremony of a film festival in Cairo wearing a see-through embroidered gauze dress that revealed the entirety of her legs.
Rania Youssef’s trial, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 12, follows a complaint to the chief prosecutor by a group of lawyers against the actress.
Egypt is a mostly conservative country with a Muslim majority. The Arab country of 100 million people has retained vestiges of secularism despite decades of growing religious conservatism, but Youssef’s case serves as a reminder that Islamic fundamentalism still pervades society five years after an Islamist president was ousted by the military.
Youssef faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
For years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans; in fact, in 2015 heart disease accounted for one in every four deaths. Although there are several types of heart disease, the most common is coronary artery disease (CAD), an accumulation of cholesterol and other substances along arterial walls. This buildup forms a plaque that over time narrows the arteries and impedes blood flow. Undiagnosed or poorly controlled CAD eventually weakens the heart and raises the risk for a heart attack.
What causes CAD? Of course genes are involved, as well as factors such as tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, a diet high in processed foods and saturated fat, stress, high blood pressure and obesity. However, a risk factor that is sometimes overlooked is the natural waning of reproductive hormones, i.e., estrogen and testosterone.
During a woman’s transition into menopause, a period often referred to as perimenopause, her progesterone, testosterone and estrogen levels begin declining. According to Cleveland Clinic, this raises a woman’s risk for CAD because estrogen increases good cholesterol (HDL), decreases bad cholesterol (LDL), relaxes blood vessels and absorbs free radicals in the blood that can potentially damage blood vessels.
As a man enters his 40’s, he begins experiencing andropause, an age-related decrease in testosterone. According to the Mayo Clinic, a man usually has a one percent drop in testosterone every year after age 40. Research published in Nature linked low testosterone levels with CAD risks such as obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, as well as an overall risk for cardiovascular disease.
To help offset the potential health problems associated with low hormone levels, scientists developed Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for women and Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) for men. However, various journals have published conflicting articles concerning the risks and benefits associated with HRT and TRT.
For instance, a study in the British Journal of Medicine suggested that HRT lowers the risk of heart disease; whereas, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association linked HRT with heart disease and breast cancer. As general guidance for the medical community, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends living a heart-healthy lifestyle and using HRT for specific medical conditions.
Additionally, articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and PLOS ONE reported an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes among men who began using TRT. Meanwhile, authors of an article published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics and a review in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that TRT contributed to maintaining heart health. Experts at Harvard Men’s Health Watch explained that evidence supporting the heart-health benefits of TRT is mixed, and the long-term effects are not fully understood yet.
Fortunately, there are tactics you can try to naturally boost your estrogen and testosterone levels. For example:
Controlling stress – When stressed, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone that may cause an estrogen imbalance and block the effects of testosterone. View tips to help you manage stress.
Strength training – Studies have suggested that intense strength training may help raise testosterone levels. When training, try to regularly increase the amount of weight being lifted, lower the number of repetitions and select exercises that work multiple muscles groups, e.g., squats. Be sure that you consult your MDVIP-affiliate physician before beginning or revamping an exercise program.
Eating foods that can help raise estrogen and testosterone levels.
Studies conducted by the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University indicated that eating plant-based foods that contain phytoestrogens may help women raise estrogen levels. Examples of such foods include:
Seeds: flaxseeds and sesame seeds
Fruit: apricots, oranges, strawberries, peaches, many dried fruits
Results from research conducted by the University of Texas at Austin suggested that men can help raise their testosterone levels by eating foods high in monounsaturated fat and zinc. Also, a study published in Biological Trace Element Research concluded foods high in magnesium can help maintain testosterone levels. That said, consider including the following foods in your diet.
Oils: olive, canola and peanut (monounsaturated fat)
Avocados (monounsaturated fat and magnesium)
Olives (monounsaturated fat)
Nuts: almonds and cashews (monounsaturated fat, zinc and magnesium)
Wheat germ (zinc)
Shellfish: lobster and crab (zinc)
Kidney beans (zinc)
Dark green leafy vegetables (magnesium)
Low-fat yogurt (magnesium)
Aside from maintaining appropriate hormone levels, you can also lower your risk of CAD by working with your physician.
I’m feeling something foreign, something I’ve never felt before. It takes me a moment to identify it.
I’m feeling sorry for the Clintons.
In the 27 years I’ve covered Bill and Hillary, I’ve experienced a range of emotions. They’ve dazzled me and they’ve disgusted me.
But now they’re mystifying me.
I’m looking around Scotiabank Arena, the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s a depressing sight. It’s two-for-the-price-of-one in half the arena. The hockey rink is half curtained off, but even with that, organizers are scrambling at the last minute to cordon off more sections behind thick black curtains, they say due to a lack of sales. I paid $177 weeks in advance. (I passed on the pricey meet-and-greet option.) On the day of the event, some unsold tickets are slashed to single digits.
I get reassigned to another section as the Clintons’ audience space shrinks. But even with all the herding, I’m still looking at large swaths of empty seats — and I cringe at the thought that the Clintons will look out and see that, too. It was only four years ago, after all, that Canadians were clamoring to buy tickets to see the woman who seemed headed for history.
It’s a sad contrast with the sold-out boffo book tour of Michelle Obama, who’s getting a lot more personal for the premium prices. But introspection has never been within the Clintons’ range.
I can’t fathom why the Clintons would make like aging rock stars and go on a tour of Canada and the U.S. at a moment when Democrats are hoping to break the stranglehold of their cloistered, superannuated leadership and exult in a mosaic of exciting new faces.
What is the point? It’s not inspirational. It’s not for charity. They’re not raising awareness about a cause, like Al Gore with global warming. They’re only raising awareness about the Clintons.
It can’t be the money at this point. Have they even spent all the Goldman gold yet? Do they want to swim in their cash like Scrooge McDuck?
The Clintons’ tin cup is worthy of the Smithsonian. They hoovered more than $2 billion in contributions to their campaigns, foundation and philanthropies.
After the White House, the money-grubbing raged on, with the Clintons making over 700 speeches in a 15-year period, blithely unconcerned with any appearance of avarice or of shady special interests and foreign countries buying influence. They stockpiled a whopping $240 million. Even leading up to her 2016 presidential run, Hillary was packing in the speeches, talking to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the American Camp Association, eBay, and there was that infamous trifecta of speeches for Goldman Sachs worth $675,000.
“What scares me the most is Hillary’s smug certainty of her own virtue as she has become greedy and how typical that is of so many chic liberals who seem unaware of their own greed,” Charlie Peters, the legendary liberal former editor of The Washington Monthly, told me. “They don’t really face the complicity of what’s happened to the world, how selfish we’ve become and the horrible damage of screwing the workers and causing this resentment that the Republicans found a way of tapping into.” He ruefully worries about the Obamas in this regard, too.
Indeed, in the era of Trump, greed is not only good. It’s grand. The stock market is our highest value. Mammonism rules.
But watching the Clintons hash over their well-worn tale of falling in love at Yale Law School, I realize that it’s not only about the money.
Some in Clintonworld say Hillary fully intends to be the nominee. Once more, in Toronto, she didn’t rule it out, dodging the question with a lame joke. She carries herself with the air of a president in exile. Her consigliere, Philippe Reines, has prodded reporters on including her name when they write about 2020 candidates.
And Bill has given monologues to old friends about how Hillary knows how she’d have to run in 2020, that she couldn’t have a big staff and would just speak her mind and not focus-group everything. (That already sounds focus-grouped.)
After losing to an orange puffer clown fish who will go down as one of the most destructive forces in American history and flushing the Obama legacy down the drain, that’s delusional. Some Obama associates say the former president has some regrets about throwing his support solely behind Hillary and knows he misread the anger and frustration of voters.
Bill was radioactive in the midterms and Hillary was the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her approval rating is at a record low of 36 percent. The only American who seems truly interested in her these days is President Donald Trump, who can’t stop tweeting about her. She’s still money in his book.
The Clintons refuse to be discarded. It has been their joint project for half a century to be at the center of the public scene and debate. The way that the whole thing came crashing down in 2016 is too hard for them to bear. They would like to rewrite the ending, but there is no way to do that.
Nothing they have done lately suggests that they have learned anything, including their obtuse post-#MeToo comments about Monica Lewinsky, who has been far more candid and sympathetic in the 20th anniversary retellings of the impeachment saga. The Clintons are still unable to hold themselves accountable. The formerly golden couple who dominated their party for nearly three decades is traveling North America in a bubble, shockingly un-self-aware.
Their pathological need to be relevant in America is belied by a Canadian arena, where stretches of empty seats bear witness to the passing of their relevance.