In a joint appearance at a security conference on Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster exposed a central tension in the Trump administration’s efforts to counter the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Both officials stressed that North Korea was rapidly approaching a milestone that might prompt the U.S. military to go to war with Kim Jong Un. But they claimed that their current approach consists of peacefully exerting economic and diplomatic pressure on Kim until he agrees to begin dismantling his nuclear arsenal—the kind of campaign that typically takes years to succeed, if it succeeds at all. The timing, in other words, doesn’t add up.
“We’re not out of time, but we are running out of time” to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program, McMaster said at an event organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Previous administrations had kicked the North Korea can down the road, he argued, and now we’re all out of road.
Pompeo explained why. Kim Jong Un and his scientists are fine-tuning their nuclear-weapons capabilities with each successive missile and nuclear test, he noted, including the capacity to credibly threaten the United States with nuclear weapons by fitting a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile. “They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a U.S. policy perspective, we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective,” Pompeo said.
Intelligence estimates can be inexact, he cautioned, but “when you’re talking about months, our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant—whether it happens on Tuesday or a month from Tuesday, we are at a time where the president has concluded that we need a global effort to ensure that Kim Jong Un doesn’t have that capacity.”
“We all want to resolve this without resort to military activity. The president is intent on that as well,” Pompeo said. “And we’re going to pull every arrow in the quiver until such time as we conclude that there’s no alternative. At that point, the president’s made very clear he is prepared to ensure that Kim Jong Un doesn’t have the capacity to hold America at risk [with nuclear weapons], by military force if necessary.”
Yet the “global effort” that Pompeo and McMaster proceeded to describe involves persuading China to crack down on North Korea in ways it has resisted for decades, and compelling North Korea to do something it insists it won’t and that only one other country has done before: give up the nuclear-weapons arsenal that it painstakingly built. It took many years for international economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation to force Iran to agree to restrictions on its nuclear programs. And Iran never possessed nuclear weapons or a superpower patron like China.
The time mismatch suggests that one of two things may soon have to give: either the Trump administration’s economic and diplomatic “pressure” campaign against North Korea, or the red line it has drawn on North Korea acquiring the ability to reliably strike the United States with nuclear weapons.
Pompeo hinted that it could be the latter when he offered an expansive definition of what precisely the president’s red line is. When he was asked whether the threat from North Korea would fundamentally change when Kim Jong Un obtained the capability to nuke U.S. cities, the CIA chief admitted that “I’m not sure it changes dramatically, given where we find ourselves today. They are so far along.”
“It’s now a matter of thinking about how do you stop the final step,” he continued. “And then, beyond that, it’s one thing to be able to deliver a single missile along a certain set of trajectories to a certain destination, and another thing to have a country with the capacity to not only process the fissile material at a high volume, but deliver missile systems, technology, guidance systems, all of the pieces to develop a truly robust capability to deliver those types of weapons. So even once you hit the ‘he can do it once’ moment, there’s a great risk that proceeds from the continuation of the development of those programs that far exceeds” the risk of Kim Jong Un being able to fire a single nuclear-tipped missile at the United States.
McMaster, for his part, acknowledged the high-wire act that the administration was trying to pull off. “We are in a race to resolve this short of military action,” he said. “We all know it across the departments and agencies. Our allies and partners know it. China knows it. Russia knows it. So what we need to achieve now is really an unprecedented level of international cooperation.”
“I think the prospects for that are pretty good,” McMaster added, without elaborating on how he could be so optimistic about accomplishing something without precedent.
During an emotional address at the daily White House press briefing, Chief of Staff John Kelly defended President Trump’s handling of a phone call with a Gold Star family and described his own son’s death in Afghanistan. Former President George W. Bush warned against the rise of “nativism” and said bigotry in America “seems emboldened.” Ohio Representative Pat Tiberi said he’s resigning from Congress to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable. Senator John McCain threatened to seek a subpoena to get more information on the attack in Niger that killed four U.S. service members. Former President Obama will speak at a rally for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam in Richmond at 6 p.m. ET.
‘How Money Became the Measure of Everything’: It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that Americans started using economic terms to quantify their well-being. (Eli Cook)
Problematic Influence: Publishers like Google and Facebook are increasingly targeting readers with personalized news—a development that comes with a lot of risks. (Adrienne LaFrance)
Is Public Corruption Legal?: Matt Ford explains how a 2016 Supreme Court ruling could have long-term effects on America’s republican institutions.
Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.
Victory on His Watch: Since Donald Trump’s inauguration nine months ago, ISIS has lost much of its territory—and Trump has played a significant role in that transformation. (Jonathan S. Tobin, National Review)
Order in the Court: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is reportedly irritating his colleagues on the bench—especially Justice Elena Kagan. (Mark Joseph Stern, Slate)
A Fight for Honor: Former White House strategist Steve Bannon and Senator John McCain represent two rival factions within the Republican party: the hedgehog versus the honey badger. (Bret Stephens, The New York Times)
Rigged: Ari Berman explains how voter suppression helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. (Mother Jones)
Leaked: An internal White House “wish list” obtained by Crooked Media shows the objectives and fixations of the Trump administration—from sex education to childhood obesity. (Brian Beutler)
‘Nationalism without a nation’
by Elizabeth Bruenig
In a short but insightful blog post, Bruenig reasons that the nationalism most closely associated with Trump is more transactional in his mind than it is for many of his devoted followers.
—Senior editor Adam Serwer
‘I’m Crying for My Motherland’: In the past two months, nearly 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Burma to Bangladesh to escape persecution. See photos of the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. (Alan Taylor, The Atlantic)
Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley are two of the oldest and longest-serving members of Congress, and both could be sticking around for the foreseeable future. The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle reported on Monday that younger politicians are growing frustrated with what they view as out-of-touch lawmakers clinging to power by continuing to serve well into their 70s and 80s.
Do you think there should be an age limit for politicians? Why, or why not?
Share your response here, and we'll feature a few in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.
-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)
Political News: Amid controversy over President Trump’s condolences for fallen soldiers’ families, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly gave a deeply personal defense of the president, condemning those who politicize military deaths—but implicitly criticizing Trump, who started the scandal by doing just that. And California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have made Obama-era federal guidance on campus sexual assault into state law, becoming an unexpected ally for the Trump administration’s effort to change these policies.
Environmental Threats: As deadly wildfires continue to burn in Northern California, their destructive effects will be felt not only in lives lost and property decimated, but also by businesses and the workers they employ: The fires are a major threat to the wine industry that anchors the region’s economy. Meanwhile in western Germany, scientists found an 80 percent decline in flying insect populations over the last 30 years, pointing to a potential crisis for other species—including humans.
Tech Troubles: Facebook and Google’s push to personalize news is transforming the media landscape, not to mention the way their users see the world—but the tech companies won’t admit the influence they have, writes TheAtlantic.com’s editor Adrienne LaFrance. And an internet tale with a happier ending: A woman in London was catfished by a stranger on an online dating site, only to find love with the model whose identity he’d stolen. Read their story here.
Eli Cook on how money became the measure of human well-being:
Money and markets have been around for thousands of years. Yet as central as currency has been to so many civilizations, people in societies as different as ancient Greece, imperial China, medieval Europe, and colonial America did not measure residents’ well-being in terms of monetary earnings or economic output.
In the mid-19th century, the United States—and to a lesser extent other industrializing nations such as England and Germany—departed from this historical pattern. It was then that American businesspeople and policymakers started to measure progress in dollar amounts, tabulating social welfare based on people’s capacity to generate income. This fundamental shift, in time, transformed the way Americans appraised not only investments and businesses but also their communities, their environment, and even themselves.
Keep reading here, as Cook traces the logic of money back through American history.
China’s investment in massive infrastructure projects abroad is rapidly turning it into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. Encouraged by the waning American influence in Southeast Asia, it is expanding its footprint in the region, emboldening autocratic leaders from Malaysia to Cambodia with its policy of noninterference. But China’s investments don’t necessarily benefit its trading partners: This week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the Indo-Pacific region against falling for China’s “predatory economics,” in which China provides loans to vulnerable developing countries for infrastructure projects that they struggle to repay.
Can you remember the other key facts from this week’s global coverage? Test your knowledge below:
1. A textile researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden claims to have discovered Muslim symbols in ancient burial clothes from the ____________ culture.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
2. British parliamentarians have proposed a total of ____________ amendments to the bill that would lay out the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
3. The ripple effects from sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein have reached France, where a Twitter campaign similar to #MeToo seeks to raise awareness with the hashtag #____________.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
Fast-rising cities across the U.S. are suddenly littered with blocky mixed-use glass buildings. (You know the type.) Here’s why that “economically vibrant, fun for the family, and totally flavorless” design—call it Fast Casual Architecture—is a problem.
Editorialists and city rankers have been quick to declare Pittsburgh all the rage recently. But for the filmmaker Chris Ivey, there’s no way to tell the story of the city’s trendy real-estate zones without shining light on the families sacrificed in the pursuit of gloss.
You’ll want to add these to your to-watch list: a rare look into Pyongyang in 360 degrees; this doc about a prescient yet unrealized ’60s sci-fi utopia; and the L.A. Metro’s wild new PSAs (really).
For more updates from the urban world, subscribe to CityLab’s daily newsletter.
In our November issue, Andrea Wulf argues that Henry David Thoreau’s journal is his greatest masterpiece. This reader is not a fan:
I’ve despised this “sanctimonious beatnik” (as P.J. O’Rourke put it) since I was forced to read him in high school. He hardly roughed it, often going to dinners and parties in town, and he sent his laundry out to be cleaned (he’d inherited a successful pencil factory from his dad).
A different reader defends Thoreau:
I believe that Emerson’s and Thoreau’s journals are some of the most important American contributions to literature. They are formally important as well as substantively important. They bring life and art into a spiritual unity. They establish a world of cross-references across a lifetime. They give readers an experience of the profound effort to put life into words, and to give words life. They prove, to me, that to achieve the kind of self that these journals make possible is also to achieve a self that is most open to experience, most open to what is not self. I need to read them again now.
Happy birthday to Nikki (born around the time Sputnik I was launched); to Carmen’s son Jake (a year younger than the euro); to Brenda (twice the age of The Simpsons); and to Andrea’s husband, Christoph (the same age as NASA).
Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up here.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made some extraordinary remarks during Thursday’s White House briefing. They were extraordinary not only because Kelly seldom speaks on the record to the press and was doing so for the second time in a week, but also for the deeply personal nature of what he said—discussing the death of his son in combat, a topic he has in the past been careful to avoid. Yet Kelly’s defense of President Trump, who is embroiled in a self-inflicted crisis over his condolences for the families of fallen servicemembers, also contained the grain of a strong rebuke to the president.
Kelly began with a description of what happens when a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman or -woman is killed in battle. Then he said:
Who are these young men and women? They are the best 1 percent this country produces. Most of you as Americans don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any one of them. But they are the very best this country produces and they volunteer to protect our country when there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate but required.
Kelly’s point is correct—as my colleague James Fallows wrote in 2015, the military is increasingly cut off from the mainstream of American culture, with terrible consequences for both. (It is a critique that sweeps in the president, who assiduously avoided serving in Vietnam.)
On Wednesday, Representative Frederica Wilson said that in a call to the family of Sergeant La David Johnson, who died in Niger earlier this month, Trump had told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what he was getting into when he signed up.” Trump denied ever saying that, but as I wrote on Wednesday, it seemed possible that Trump had simply been speaking about soldiers’ sense of duty. And that’s what Kelly, contradicting Trump’s denial, said. Kelly said the president had asked him what to tell the family.
I said to him, “Sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families. Let me tell you what I tell them, let me tell you what my best friend Joe Dunford told me, because he was my casualty officer, he said, ‘Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were. Because we’re at war. And when he died’—in the four cases we’re talking about Niger and my son’s case in Afghanistan—‘when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends.’ That’s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.”
Kelly then laced into Wilson. “It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me,” he said. “When I listened to this woman and what she was saying and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them. Because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery. Went over there for an hour and a half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.”
He then continued to attack Wilson on other matters, but the core of his critique was that she had improperly politicized the matter. (Wilson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
It’s hard to hear or read Kelly’s words about his son’s death and not be moved, especially given his reticence in the past; his decision to open up now seems telling, even if it’s not immediately clear what it tells. Likewise, his defense of the president’s call as well-intentioned is plausible, and his comments about the insulation of military grief from most of society are important. But the charge of politicization is less credible, not because of anything Kelly said, but because of who he works for.
After all, it’s Trump who, when asked about the deaths in Niger during a press conference on Monday, opted to personalize the question and treat it as a challenge to his reputation for offering condolences. It is also Trump who, in that answer, unfairly and inaccurately accused previous presidents of not offering condolences. (Kelly confirmed that he had told Trump that Obama did not call him after his son’s death, though he added, “That was not a criticism.” Contra Trump’s jab, he suggested it was reasonable for presidents not to call every family, especially during periods when there are many casualties.) And it was Trump who, as further reporting has revealed, was not telling the truth about having called all or nearly all of the families of servicemembers who died during his presidency.
Kelly argued that the political debate over the past few days was proof of the coarsening of American culture.
“When I was a kid growing up a lot of things were sacred in our country,” Kelly said. “Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we’ve seen from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, was sacred. That’s gone. Religion. That seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.”
It wasn’t clear what “recent cases” Kelly meant; it would be surprising if it was a reference to allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein and others, coming from the chief of staff for a man caught on tape boasting about sexual assault. It’s hard to know exactly what Kelly meant with that final sentence, but one reading is that it is a swipe at Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents who spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Trump responded to that speech with days of insult and attacks on the Khans. Kelly may very well have a valid point about the politicization of military suffering, but if he wants to single out culprits in that desacralization, he could start with his boss’s comments, from both last summer and this week.
The “Yes Means Yes” bill was a big deal when Jerry Brown, the governor of California, signed it into law in 2014. Among other things, it made California the first state to pass an “affirmative consent” law (New York and Connecticut followed), which lays out rules for college students to engage in ongoing agreement while having sex. Essentially, it requires all parties to get consent for each touch each time; silence can not be interpreted as consent. Now, it seems, Brown is not so certain about what has been wrought. This week, in an unexpected move, Brown vetoed a new bill that would have broadened the definitions and rules regarding alleged sexual misconduct for students attending California colleges and universities.
The now-defunct bill would have codified into law controversial guidance issued by the Obama administration’s Department of Education on Title IX—the federal law that forbids gender discrimination in education. Some of that Obama-era guidance was recently rescinded by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who said it had created a “failed system,” one that has not brought fairness either to accuser or accused. In a letter explaining his veto, Brown wrote he could not endorse the bill because of troubling concerns that have arisen in recent years. He noted that since he signed Yes Means Yes, “thoughtful legal minds have increasingly questioned whether federal and state actions to prevent and redress sexual harassment and assault—well-intentioned as they are—have also unintentionally resulted in some colleges’ failure to uphold due process for accused students.”
To my knowledge, Brown is the first prominent elected Democratic official to raise such questions of fundamental fairness in regard to how the country’s campuses now deal with sexual-misconduct allegations. Additionally, he expressed concern about the lack of transparency about how current rules are affecting the lives of students—particularly people of color. “We have no insight into how many formal investigations result in expulsion, what circumstances lead to expulsion, or whether there is disproportionate impact on race or ethnicity,” he wrote. His concerns, and his action, put Brown, whose term ends next year, at odds with his state party (the bill passed unanimously among Democrats) and the national one.
Last month, in a three-part series for The Atlantic, I argued that the worthy initiative by the Obama administration to address sexual misconduct on campus had in many ways gone awry. I wrote about the systematic deprivation of due process for the accused, the junk science that had infiltrated many adjudications, and concerns that a disproportionate number of men of color have been accused. I find Trump to be troubling and dangerous, so it has been strange to find myself agreeing with much of the reforms his education secretary has proposed so far regarding campus sexual-misconduct policy. Now Brown has written a letter that echoes many of the concerns raised by DeVos about previous policies.
In my series, almost all the critics of the Obama administration’s policies were Democrats and feminists. They have spoken out because of their own increasing worries in recent years that the legitimacy of the fight against sexual assault was being undermined by new rules on campus that had the effect of potentially turning any sexual encounter into a possible violation. Except for Brown’s singular statement, Democratic elected officials have not widely acknowledged—or perhaps do not understand—that their constituents equally desire the safety of their college-age daughters and sons, and that they want their sons to get through college without being labeled as predators because of a normal, if stumbling, teenage sexual encounter. Numerous Democratic members of the House and Senate have vowed to do everything in their power to oppose any Trump administration reform of Title IX. Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, just introduced federal legislation that mirrors the bill Brown vetoed.
In reporting on this topic for the past several years, I’ve been struck at how blithely the federal Department of Education, state legislators, and college administrators have taken the ending of the educations of young men (they are almost all young men) accused of campus sexual misconduct. Being suspended or expelled for a sexual violation on campus can prevent someone from getting an undergraduate degree and may permanently bar him from many professions. Brown acknowledged the gravity of such punishment in his letter: “Depriving any student of higher education opportunities should not be done lightly, or out of fear of losing state or federal funding.”
While there is national movement to rethink the harsh sentencing and mandatory minimums that led to the disaster of mass incarceration, the massive University of California system last year imposed its own mandatory minimums on students found responsible for sexual misconduct. The typical minimum is a two-year suspension (although those accused of “fondling” could be suspended for one year)—the maximum penalty is expulsion. In 2015, Brown vetoed another piece of legislation that would have made such punishments mandatory at virtually all California institutions of higher education. He objected because the bill prevented the crafting of punishments tailored to individual circumstances. The president of the UC system, Janet Napolitano, was a prominent supporter of an Obama administration initiative to make it easier for young people who had been convicted of crimes to enroll in higher education. Increasing the opportunity of those with a criminal past to lead productive lives is a laudable goal. If only Napolitano would champion the due-process rights of those students who find themselves caught up in the draconian Title IX system on her campuses. Additionally, Napolitano was one of the earliest critics of the Obama Title IX policies, laying out her concerns in a scathing law review article in 2014. But with the election of Donald Trump she did a 180 on her previous critique and endorsed the now-vetoed California bill.
The most immediate salutary effect of Brown’s veto could be how it prompts other states to respond to similar legislation to codify the now-rescinded Title IX guidance. (Massachusetts, for example, has such a bill.) It probably is too much to hope that on this vital topic, Democrats and Republicans could agree that their hatred for each other is less important than making sure they are doing right by all the young people in their charge.
For a few days earlier this month, it looked like the years-long corruption probe targeting New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez would fall apart seven weeks into his trial. At issue was the prosecution’s “stream of benefits” theory, which argues that the steady flow of donations and gifts from a wealthy Florida doctor to the Democratic senator—and the flow of favors from the senator to the doctor—amounted to quid pro quo corruption.
During a hearing last week, Judge William Walls seemed to signal that argument was dead on arrival by citing a recent Supreme Court ruling that has vexed public-corruption investigators across the country. “I frankly don’t think McDonnell will allow that,” Walls told prosecutors, referring to the decision in McDonnell v. United States that fundamentally changed the standard for bribery.
Walls eventually decided to let the case proceed, declining to throw out most of Menendez’s charges. But the close call underscores the continuing fallout from McDonnell last year. That ruling, like a series of others from the Court in recent years, recast actions once eschewed in politics as reasonable behavior for elected officials. The justices have portrayed these rulings as necessary on First Amendment grounds. But the long-term effects could imperil the public’s faith in democratic institutions.
“There’s a way in which a lot of the Supreme Court decisions have been ever narrowing what corruption means,” Tara Malloy, a staff lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, told me. “And McDonnell is one further example of it.”
The case narrowed what could be defined as an “official act” under federal corruption statutes—the quo of a quid pro quo, so to speak. Since McDonnell, it only applies to direct exercises of a government official’s power, like voting for legislation or signing an order. More seemingly mundane activities, like urging other officials to intervene in someone’s favor or setting up meetings for donors, do not qualify.
Before the decision, federal prosecutors brought cases against Democrats and Republicans alike by arguing that “official act” applied to all sorts of actions taken by public officials. Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican, was convicted in 2015 after taking more than $175,000 in luxury gifts, personal loans, and more from Johnnie Williams, a Virginia businessman who received favors from the governor. On appeal, McDonnell argued his actions were part of being an elected official and fell beyond what federal bribery laws could prohibit.
The Supreme Court agreed. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the Court’s opinion, appeared to anticipate a public backlash. “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that,” he wrote. “But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.” All eight justices sided with McDonnell, with the ninth seat vacant after Antonin Scalia’s death in February.
“The concern of the Court was that the prosecution not define ‘official act’—which is what the statute there required—too broadly,” Malloy said. “They thought that ‘official act,’ according to the prosecution, was basically anything a public official did by reason of their position or through the resources of their position. And the Court said, ‘No, no, no.’”
At the same time, Roberts also took an exceedingly generous view of McDonnell’s activities. Where the Justice Department saw an elected official providing special perks for a lucrative donor, the chief justice saw the risk that “conscientious public officials” could be hauled in by prosecutorial zealots. “Officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse,” he mused, as if to suggest judges and juries would not be able to tell the difference.
Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor, described McDonnell to me as “a lawyerly opinion in the worst sense of the word.” By focusing on just one aspect of the statutory definition of “official act,” he said, the Court missed the broader issues with the relationship between McDonnell and an influential donor who showered him, and his wife, with lavish gifts. He offered a jarring hypothetical that illustrates how officials could leverage their power in a post-McDonnell world:
Currently, I could set up a system where I’m a governor and I tell everybody who might want to meet with someone in my cabinet to make a pitch, or try to get a contract, or advocate for some program. I could say, “Okay, I’ll set up a meeting for you. The cost is $10,000.” And that just goes in my pocket. That’s not a campaign contribution; it’s not going to be reported to the public anywhere. That’s just going to be a gift for me, and I’ll set up the meeting. I’m not going to tell anybody what to do, I’m not going to tell them what to decide, I’ll just get you in the room. And if you don’t pay me, no meeting.
Eliason and other legal observers had thought McDonnell could prevail in his appeal, but the scale of the ruling came as a surprise. “I mean, access is valuable, right?” Eliason told me. “And you can just pay for access as long as the official doesn’t actually agree to decide something for you, but can get you in the room with the other movers and shakers who are going to do it. Now that’s not considered corruption.”
Three months after the ruling, the Justice Department abandoned its efforts to prosecute McDonnell and his wife. “After carefully considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision and the principles of federal prosecution, we have made the decision not to pursue the case further,” it said in a terse press release. McDonnell celebrated the outcome, telling reporters his “wrongful” conviction was “based on a false narrative and incorrect law.”
If it hasn’t already, McDonnell could affect how prosecutors build corruption cases and limit the range of behaviors for which they’ll pursue charges. Those watching the Menendez case in New Jersey could be even more motivated to do so. But Malloy also warned that McDonnell fits into a broader pattern of how the Roberts Court approaches corruption in politics, and what it could do in future cases.
“We’re not simply talking about these criminal prosecutions. We’re talking about the full range of laws that attempt to protect the integrity of government,” she said, citing statutes on ethics, political transparency, and campaign finance the justices have taken a narrower view of. Malloy attributed the shift to the departure of Sandra Day O’Connor in 2005.
“Once upon a time, for instance, a campaign-finance law could be justified if there was a concern that money could provide influence or access to officials,” she explained. “The Supreme Court in recent years has said, ‘No, no, no, we don’t really care if your campaign contribution gets you access or ingratiation or a whole bunch of favors. We think corruption is much more like quid pro quo and maybe even just cash for votes.’”
In the 2003 case McConnell v. FEC, for example, O’Connor voted with the majority to uphold most of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law. Seven years later, a five-justice majority—including Samuel Alito, O’Connor’s replacement—overturned McConnell in Citizens United v. FEC to allow unlimited independent expenditures in political campaigns. And in 2014, the Court struck down aggregate limits on campaign donations in McCutcheon v. FEC.
Following the justices’ decision last year, McDonnell’s impact quickly reverberated through other public-corruption cases, including two high-profile prosecutions in New York. In July, a three-judge panel in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the conviction of Sheldon Silver, once the powerful state-assembly speaker. The judges ruled that the jury instructions had conformed to the pre-McDonnell standard of “official acts” and couldn’t be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Three months later, in September, the Second Circuit also overturned the conviction of Dean Skelos, the state senate’s former majority leader, on similar grounds.
Silver had been convicted of extortion, fraud, and money laundering in 2015. Prosecutors said he helped funnel state funds to a Columbia University cancer researcher in exchange for millions of dollars; they also connected him to favorable-treatment deals for two real-estate development firms. Skelos was found guilty of eight corruption-related charges the same year for allegedly using his influence to secure jobs and payments for his son. Federal prosecutors plan to seek retrials for both Silver and Skelos, who were known as power brokers in the state.
McDonnell also came down as federal prosecutors were preparing to go to trial against Menendez, a senator since 2006. At the crux of the case is his friendship with Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist and frequent campaign donor. Prosecutors have depicted Menendez as a personal legislator of sorts to Melgen. He allegedly used his political influence to help obtain visas for Melgen’s girlfriends, secure contracts for him in the Dominican Republic, and intervene in a Medicare billing dispute with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Menendez has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers argue the favors don’t rise to the newly heightened standard of official acts. Federal prosecutors, for their part, argue that the stream of benefits that flowed from Melgen to Menendez meet the threshold under federal law without linking specific quids to specific quos. Even though Walls declined to dismiss the charges against the lawmaker, he could still dismiss some of them later in the trial if the prosecution fails to present enough evidence. And like McDonnell himself, Menendez could also challenge any convictions under the stream-of-benefits theory on appeal.
Behind these legal doctrines and prosecutorial theories are questions about the popular legitimacy of the republican system—about voters being able to trust that the officials they elect aren’t the puppets of the country’s richest patrons. What McDonnell and other recent public-corruption rulings risk are institutions where cash and favors flow freely, where consequences are exceptional, and where public vice is made indistinguishable from civic virtue. No Americans expect a government of saints, but they expect their government to be able to root out the sinners in its midst.
ST. HELENA, Calif.—When the winemaker Jean Hoefliger arrived at his small Napa Valley winery at 3:30 a.m. on October 9, the morning the Northern California fires broke out, he had a multimillion-dollar business decision to make. Two fires on opposite sides of the valley tore down the hillsides toward nearly $14 million worth of almost-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes still hanging on vines at Alpha Omega Winery, where Hoefliger is the head winemaker. Smoke plumed high overhead, snowing ash down on what are the vineyard’s most valuable grapes.
That morning, Hoefliger faced a simple question: to pick, or not to pick?
It’s a question countless other winemakers across Napa and its wine-producing neighbors, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, have had to answer as deadly wildfires carry on throughout the region for a second week.
Compounding the already tremendous losses of life and property in Northern California is the fires’ blow to the region’s most vital industry, which now faces crop loss, and, in some cases, harvests tainted by exposure to smoke. The businesses that make up this industry provide jobs and economic security to thousands throughout the area. Many immigrant workers, who make up the majority of the workforce in Northern California’s wine country, could be forced to leave, as fires have reduced the region’s already low supply of affordable housing—further bad news for a state whose agriculture industry has been in desperate need of more workers for years.
It is as yet unclear exactly what effect the fires will have on Napa’s wine business, which, together with Sonoma County’s, generates over $10 billion in annual sales and brings in billions of dollars more in tourism, according to Robert Eyler, a professor of economics at Sonoma State University. The wine industry employs roughly 40 percent of Napa County’s workforce, Eyler says.
By sunrise on that first morning, Hoefliger, fearing the smoke would ruin the grapes, had his 23-person crew racing through thousands of trellises, yanking grapes off vines as the fires tore down the hillsides on either side of them. (He would have hired extra workers, but many had already fled the area.) In three days, as firefighters battled the flames, Hoefliger’s crew picked 230 tons of grapes, which would normally take a team of the same size three weeks to pick. At times, the smoke was so thick, Hoefliger said, that the crew became disoriented, getting lost in the vineyard’s rows.
“Smoke taint is like a sunburn. If you’re at the beach, the only way to avoid it is to not be exposed,” Hoefliger says while sitting on the winery patio, watching flames several miles away send black smoke pluming high above the valley floor. It’s also like a sunburn in that the risk of smoke taint increases with exposure time and as the concentration of the smoke increases, according to Anita Oberholster, of UC Davis’s viticulture and enology department. While not all grapes exposed to smoke will be unusable, a 2015 research paper by the Australian Wine Research Institute found that exposing grapes to heavy smoke for just 30 minutes was enough to produce undesirable aromas in the resulting wine. (That paper came in response to wildfires that led to millions of dollars worth of lost wine in Australia’s Adelaide Hills wine region. Northern California’s wine country was last hit by wildfire in 2008, when smoke caused many wineries to sell off the affected vintages in bulk or blended with non-smoky wines at lower prices.)
Oberholster says most winemakers, including herself, can’t taste smoke taint by simply eating grapes off the vine. As a result, many winemakers are taking samples of their grapes to local laboratories to measure the levels of free guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol, two compounds in smoke that can spoil the grapes.
Now, with the winery’s fermentation vats already full, Hoefliger’s grapes sit in hundreds of barrels scattered across the winery. He has been working anxiously to keep them cool. If the barrels get too warm, the wine could be ruined. Out of desperation, Hoefliger has been using dry ice to cool the barrels, an effort that has cost his winery over $200,000.
Not all winemakers have gone the same route. Bruce Regalia—the head winemaker for Napa’s relatively small Materra Winery, which employs about 30 people—also arrived at his winery in the early morning hours after the fire broke out. Regalia described a scene of flames surrounding the grapes, under a dark sky. “It was pretty spectacular,” he said. At that point, he wasn’t just worried about smoke taint; he was worried the whole property would burn.
But, unlike Hoefliger, Regalia’s instincts led him to keep his grapes on the vine, believing they weren’t ripe enough to make good wine. If he ended up with tainted wine, he reasoned, he’d attempt to filter the smoky aromas out by pumping the wine through a filter and then adding powdered carbon to further separate out the smoky compounds. But he said these measures wouldn’t be guaranteed to work.
The rush to pick grapes and quickly turn them into wine before smoke taint sets in has the region’s fermentation vats being used far more heavily than they normally would be. Materra, for example, has 48 vats that it rents out to clients across Napa Valley. Normally, Regalia processes, or “crushes,” just over 20 tons of grapes per week for his winery and others. After the fires broke out last week, he crushed over 50 tons, working more than 15 hours a day. When electricity was scarce across the valley, he rewired the winery’s switchboard himself to divert power from other parts of the grounds to help keep the vats cool.
For now, one of the biggest points of uncertainty for winemakers is how much their grapes—which would normally have been processed this fall, left to ferment for up to a month, and then sold one or several years later—have been impacted by smoke from the fires. Until the recently picked grapes are turned into wine, nobody can know for certain which vineyards’ grapes were hit with the worst of the smoke taint. “Smoke taint varies greatly by location, even within the same region,” says Jim Lapsley, an adjunct associate professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis.
From a business standpoint, larger, mass-market wineries—which account for a relatively small proportion of Sonoma and Napa Valley’s wine production, in monetary terms—are better positioned to absorb an economic blow, such as from a smoke-tainted yield, than smaller wineries. That said, wineries that produce lots of wine can be exposed to greater risk because they oftentimes have large long-term contracts to fill, according to Eyler, the Sonoma State professor.
“We don’t know yet how many vineyards have been impacted,” Eyler says, adding that the region will likely spend many months assessing the damage to harvests. That process has many winemakers’ minds on possible insurance payouts, since most take out policies on their crops to hedge against the possibility of a bad harvest.
Regalia says he and other Napa Valley winemakers are bracing for what could be a tedious, drawn-out battle with insurance companies over the real value of grapes in the valley. While insurance plans differ, recoupment is widely based off what winemakers call the “Napa Valley average.” Premium Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, for example, are assessed at almost $7,000 per ton. While that is far above the statewide average of $800 per ton, it creates problems for the valley’s super-high-end winemakers, which value their Cabernet Sauvignon at upwards of $12,000 per ton and add hundred-dollar markups on bottles of wine made with essentially the same grapes grown by less prestigious wineries. “It’s a value-added business,” Regalia says. “If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be here.”
As he stood near rows of grapes, I asked Regalia how much his grapes had been affected by the smoke. He said he didn’t know, but that his dog Arlo, a yellow lab who followed us around the winery and regularly eats mouthfuls of grapes off the crush-facility conveyor belt, may be the best judge. “He usually loves Malbec and Grenache,” Regalia said. “But I tried to give him some the other day and he spit them right out.”
He’s five months into his term, and French President Emmanuel Macron is wasting little time. Since his meteoric ascent to the Élysée Palace last summer, the 39-year-old leader has already pushed through an ambitious overhaul of the French labor code, honored his campaign pledge to scrap the country’s wealth tax, and replaced France’s two-year-old state of emergency with a permanent counterterrorism law. Among the other things on Macron’s to-do list: Shake up the country’s unemployment insurance and push for eurozone reform.
But the young president faces another urgent challenge: his image. In an unusual break from his policy of keeping the press at arms length, Macron ended his media silence this week to challenge the criticism that he is aloof and out of touch with the French people—a characterization Macron has often faulted the press for, arguing that the media is preoccupied with scrutinizing his communication style rather than the content of his message.
In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel published last Friday, Macron insisted: “I am not aloof,” adding, “When I am with French people, I am not aloof because I belong to them. My view is that the French president belongs to the French people, because he emanates from them. What I do is this: I am putting an end to the cronyism between politics and the media. For a president, constantly speaking to journalists, constantly being surrounded by journalists, has nothing to do with closeness to the people.”
Addressing the topic again during his first live televised interview Sunday, Macron told the French broadcaster TF1 that he has “the fullest respect” for French citizens and “I will continue to breathe the air, to exchange with our citizens, to say what I think.”
But saying what he thinks hasn’t always helped Macron. His characterization of his presidency as that of a “Jupiterian” leader who remains above the fray of day-to-day politics earned him criticism early on, with some detractors accusing him of being “pharaonic.” Subsequent statements—such as dismissing those who disagree with his labor reforms as “slackers,” suggesting his thoughts are “too complex” for journalists, and advising workers protesting layoffs at an auto-parts firm to look for jobs instead of “kicking up a bloody mess”—haven’t helped either. And while Macron may not be deterred by these gaffes (he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month that he has no interest in chasing public approval because “at the very beginning of your mandate, you have political capital—you have to use it”), his popularity has proven less resilient. His popularity declined 22 points to 40 percent within the first three months of his term, making him less popular than his two predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and and François Hollande, at the same stage of their presidencies.
Meanwhile, he’s pursuing his agenda. Despite opposition to his labor code overhaul (demonstrations drew some 220,000 people—a markedly lower attendance than similar protests held against labor reforms under Hollande), Macron still managed to push through the reforms using a presidential decree, and even opted to broadcast himself signing them with a special televised ceremony reminiscent of those held by President Trump.
While Macron’s latest comments could be seen as an attempt to reframe his public perception (“I am not arrogant to the French—I am determined,” he told Der Spiegel), Benoît Dillet, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath, told me it could be more for show than anything else. “[It] hasn’t signaled any particular turn in the presidency, just the fact that he wanted to be a little more in the media and do some publicity for his policies,” he said.
Rainbow Murray, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, came to a similar conclusion. “This is still a Jupiterian, ‘rise-above’ mentality,” she told me in an email, noting that Macron’s continued insistence that he won’t bend to public opinion suggests “he is subtly contrasting himself here with his predecessors, especially Hollande, who craved public approval and allowed this to dictate their policies and behavior. In contrast, he is willing to take a hard line, to remain aloof, in order to do what he considers to be in the best interests of the people rather than his own political best interests.”
His popularity aside, Macron hasn’t faced much in the way of parliamentary opposition—he holds a legislative mandate that, paired with fragmented opposition parties on the left and the right, has put few barriers in his way. While it certainly isn’t a political calculus Macron can take for granted forever, it’s one he appears more than willing to exploit now—regardless of the costs. “He’s been elected and he’s on a mandate to introduce meaningful economic reform, and that reform is going to be unpopular,” David Lees, a researcher on French politics at Warwick University, told me. “If he wants to achieve that kind of reform, then ultimately he will have to be unpopular, and therefore I doubt very much he will be changing tack in any real way.”
Almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing the violence in Burma's Rakhine state, since August 25. Many of the refugees tell distressing stories of their villages being attacked or burned by Burmese soldiers, or of their neighbors or family members being injured or killed. The United Nations has accused Burmese troops of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign. The new arrivals in Bangladesh join an already-existing large population of Rohingya refugees, which has prompted the government to announce plans to build one of the world’s largest refugee camps to house more than 800,000 stateless Rohingya, replacing hundreds of makeshift camps that are popping up near the border. Local medical teams, supported by UNICEF and WHO, have started a massive immunization drive in the camps, racing to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases. The UN Refugee Agency has called the current crisis the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world today.
It took 130 million years for astronomers to see the light. On August 17, scientists observed through telescopes a small, glowing orb, the remnants of a collision between two neutron stars in another galaxy that triggered universe-bending gravitational waves. They watched as the sphere changed from royal blue to crimson red, as lighter chemical elements in the cloud of radioactive debris gave way to heavier ones, like gold, platinum, and silver. About a week later, it faded.
The light show may be over in the night sky, but it can be found on the internet and replayed, over and over, as a dreamy short video:
Luís Calçada created the video for the European Southern Observatory, whose fleet of telescopes in Chile tracked the aftermath of the collision. Calçada is a member of ESO’s education and public-outreach department, a team of astronomers and science-communication specialists in Munich.
“We wanted to have something striking, but we wanted it to be correct,” Calçada said.
The clip is another addition to a rapidly growing volume of illustrations and animations of wondrous astronomical objects and phenomena. As the rate of discovery of exoplanets has picked up in the last several years, so has the production of visualizations of these worlds. Often, scientists and illustrators have only a few pieces of the puzzle, like the mass, temperature, and orbit. They look carefully at how these factors have shaped the celestial bodies that we can see, and use it as inspiration to create a full picture of those we can’t. When astronomers discovered the presence of seven Earth-sized planets in a star system 39 light-years away, illustrators turned tiny blips in data into colorful alien worlds.
Calçada has worked at ESO for about 11 years. He was studying astronomy in school when he started experimenting with computer graphics. He eventually decided that he wasn’t going to be a scientist, and he went into science communication instead. The ESO gig, he said, is the perfect mix.
When exciting research papers come in at ESO, it’s up to Calçada and the rest of the team to create compelling visuals out of the data. They come up with designs for illustrations and videos, send it to the paper authors for feedback, and exchange notes until everyone’s happy with the product. When scientists have few specifics, the animators have some creative freedom. “But of course, some other times, they say no, that wouldn’t happen because the star is too big or the temperature is too high,” Calçada said.
On some rare occasions, illustrators get to check their designs against the real thing—they just have to wait for technology to catch up with them. In 2009, astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope published some research about Pluto’s thin atmosphere, which is mostly nitrogen with some methane. Calçada whipped up a short video to accompany the research. The clip, “filmed” from the perspective of a camera panning over the surface of the dwarf planet, showed a hazy, bluish atmosphere over gray, Arctic-esque terrain. When the New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto in 2015, it returned images of the dwarf plant that looked eerily similar.
Illustrations and animations of scientific research make the cosmos look like a radiant place bursting with color. But it’s worth remembering that the universe doesn’t always look that way to the scientists doing the work, Calçada notes. “They’re usually looking at boring code on the computer,” he said.
Many astronomers rely on spectroscopy, a technique that involves measuring the light across the entire spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Astronomers use spectroscopic instruments in telescopes to observe different wavelengths coming from an object, from radio waves to visible light to gamma rays. The data, known as spectra, appears to astronomers as a simple squiggly line on a plot, like a cosmic electrocardiogram. But the spikes and dips can reveal a lot about the object in question, whether it’s a single star or an entire galaxy, like its mass, temperature, and chemical composition. In other fields of scientific study, Calçada said, “you can go outside, you can study the rocks, you can study the plants, you can look at the fossils. But astronomers, they only have light.”
Light was exactly what astronomers wanted to find in this kind of discovery. Before this week, scientists had detected gravitational waves four times, but the ripples came from collisions of black holes, which don’t emit any light. Astronomers had no way of knowing where exactly the waves originated. The new finding marks the first time we have seen the source.
Space illustrations sounds like they should evoke wonder at all times, but for the people making them, they can seem pretty routine. Calçada said his first few exoplanet projects were exciting, but as more and more were discovered, the work of animating them began to feel a little mundane. Oh, look! Another rocky planet. Eventually, perhaps soon, the work of visualizing cosmic collisions might lose some of its thrill, too; the scientists running the gravitational-wave detectors predict the extremely sensitive instruments will detect one or more mergers a week.
“But don’t worry, there’s going to be more exciting astrophysics and astronomy,” Calçada said. “There’s always going to be something more exciting and new coming out. I’m not worried of getting bored.”
The news of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to open its programs up to girls has inquiring minds wondering what it means for the Girl Scouts. After all, the girls’ organization has expressed concerns about the decision, citing skepticism about the Boy Scouts’ motives and a perceived lack of involvement in the decision, among other criticisms. But one of Girl Scouts’ biggest objections is a philosophical one: that an all-girls organization has the ability to empower and support girls in a way that a coed institution can’t.
All-women’s organizations have been fading from the country’s social fabric over the past few decades. The most dramatic example is that of women’s colleges: While there were about 230 women’s colleges in 1960, today there are around three dozen. Like the Girl Scouts, women’s colleges have long argued that they are poised to offer resources and experiences to women that a coed institution can’t provide. But even so, most of them crumbled as men’s colleges began to coeducate in the mid-20th century.
Are Girl Scouts similarly going to become all but obsolete? It’s unlikely; as my colleague Elaine Godfrey reported, experts doubt that the Girl Scouts’ membership will be significantly affected. Still, the organization does stand to lose some members, and it also may find itself struggling to forge a new identity in a coed scouting world. The history of women’s colleges could be the source of guidance, or of warning signs, for the Girl Scouts’ new era.
Susan Poulson, a professor of history at the University of Scranton who has studied how women’s colleges dealt with the rise of coeducation, sees more “alarm bells” than encouragement for the Girl Scouts in the history of women’s schools. The 1960s brought a new cultural climate in which fewer students gravitated toward single-sex colleges. It was also a trying financial time for many schools. Men’s colleges had to increase their enrollment numbers to stay afloat, and faced with a choice between lowering the caliber of the students admitted and inviting in women, many schools opted for the latter option, leaving the women’s colleges with uncertain futures. Poulson identified three patterns for how women’s colleges, many of them small Catholic schools, contended with this rise in coeducation: Some simply disappeared or were subsumed by a larger or more powerful coeducated institution; a handful managed to retain their identities and thrive; and the remaining institutions went, as she put it, “through tremendous contortions to stay alive.”
Being in an urban environment was key to helping women’s colleges survive, because cities offered bigger and more diverse populations from which the schools could recruit students. A notable example is Notre Dame of Maryland University, which according to Poulson was a sister college of sorts to Loyola University Maryland. When Loyola went coed in 1971, Notre Dame’s enrollment numbers dropped, and so it experimented with new programming, including a weekend college (which drew in middle-aged women), a continuing-education program, and a mentorship program for black students. Since it was located in a big city, the school found what Poulson called a “ready population” for these programs, and the school’s student body began to diversify well beyond its original demographic of the 1930s-50s: predominantly white, Catholic 18-22-year-old women. “It survived by changing its programs to find new populations it could serve,” Poulson said.
Poulson also pointed to physical improvements as critical to some women’s colleges’ success; they often built new science buildings or athletic facilities to remain in demand to prospective students. “Whereas a lot of women’s colleges were always good in the arts,” Poulson said, these renovations often aimed to create “more career-oriented, competitive ... facilities on campus”—facilities, one could argue, that catered to traditionally “male” college offerings.
Even while new programing sometimes brought men to women’s college campuses (graduate programs tended to be coeducational), the women’s colleges that survived were able to hold onto their identities as undergraduate single-sex institutions; with the rise of coeducation among men’s schools (and even of several women’s schools), Poulson said, women’s colleges amped up the branding of themselves as such. The schools had always marketed themselves as spaces for women, but as they struggled they tended to rely on this kind of focus more heavily. “There was simply feminism in the atmosphere of higher education” in the 1970s, Poulson said. And the women’s-only institutions that have been most successful—such as Wellesley College in Massachusetts and Spelman College in Georgia—have continuously marketed themselves as uniquely capable of empowering women and offering them personal career support, often drawing upon their successful alumni of female leaders.
Women’s colleges will continue to struggle when it comes to enrollment. “It’s a market environment,” said Poulson; colleges must appeal to prospective students in order to survive, and with the rise of coeducation, many girls found the prestige and the resources of Harvard, for example, more appealing than Radcliffe. But there are compelling reasons for women to choose single-sex schools. “I think that [students] are often drawn by feeling that these women’s colleges will help them as individuals do better,” Poulson said, suggesting that the opportunities and support that women’s colleges offer can be hard to come by at other schools. “At many institutions, students … may find an appeal in the greater resources or prestige, but the don’t feel like they get that space and resources directed at them as young women.” This “niche,” she continued, “is an asset for [our] entire society—not just for girls but for everybody.”
Still, to Poulson the tale is a sad one overall, and “a dire forecast” for the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts “can look at [the history] and see that most women’s colleges have disappeared, and that the ones that haven’t have either dramatically transformed themselves or drawn upon resources and facilities to increase the number of students that would be interested in them,” she said. While Poulson stressed that she isn’t a Girl Scouts expert, she conjectured that the organization’s situation could be especially precarious given that if it does see declining membership, it wouldn’t be able to find new populations to serve in the same way as women’s colleges did. “This is the fire bell in the night,” Poulson said, borrowing a line from Thomas Jefferson. “To me it means that the Girl Scouts can survive, but they will have to transform, and their leadership and vision will be critical.”
It’s worth noting that the Girl Scouts have long been cultivating an identity that’s quite different from the Boy Scouts; their model prioritizes girls’ leadership and promotes their involvement in STEM, and some have even argued that these initiatives pulled focus from traditional Boy Scout activities like camping. Girl Scouts have also been known for their progressive streak, taking strong stands on issues like desegregation and transgender inclusion, and experts have argued that this progressive attitude has helped boost their membership, while the more conservative Boy Scouts saw its membership decline. How things could change with a coed Boy Scouts of America is still unknown, but perhaps they can rely on these attributes to stave off the women’s-college alarm bells.
Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.
She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love.
It was a customer who had caused Emma’s heartache, two months earlier. Connor was one of London’s dashing “city boys,” and 11 years her junior. He had telephoned her at work to ask her on a date, which turned into an eight-month romance. They went night-fishing for carp near his parents’ home in Kent, where they sat holding hands in the darkness, their lines dangling in the water. One day at the train station, Connor told her it wasn’t working; he liked nightclubs more than he liked being in a relationship. When she protested, Connor said that he’d never loved her.
To raise her spirits, Emma huffed and puffed her way through a high-energy barbell class called Bodypump, four times a week. Though she now felt prepared to join the 91 million people worldwide who use dating apps, deep down she did not believe that computers were an instrument of fate. “I’m a romantic,” Emma told me, two years after the internet turned her life upside down. “I love to love,” she said, in a thick French accent. “And I want to be loved too.”
As soon as her dating profile went live, Emma’s phone started to bleep and whistle with interest from strangers. The app allowed her to gaze at a vast assortment of suitors like cakes in a coffee-shop window, but not interact with them until she subscribed. That evening, a private message arrived in her inbox. It was from a dark-haired Italian named Ronaldo “Ronnie” Scicluna, who looked to Emma like a high-school crush. But the text was “floue,” Emma told me, not knowing the English word for “blurred.” The app was holding Ronnie’s message ransom.
That night, Emma FaceTimed her sister and showed her Ronnie’s photos: “Oh my God, look at the guy!” she giggled, as they swiped through his profile pictures. He was boyish yet mysterious, like the kind of dangersome male model who steers sailboats through cologne commercials. But according to his profile, Ronnie was a 34-year-old electrician in England’s West Midlands, just 100 miles away.
Gaëlle, Emma’s twin, lived in France and was married with an 11-year-old daughter. The sisters had gossiped on daily video calls since Emma emigrated to the United Kingdom five years earlier. Emma had to learn English “chop-chop”—as Londoners say—and now she too was ready to meet someone special. Ronnie seemed exciting, so she paid the £25 ($34) subscription to Zoosk.
Ronnie’s message materialized. It said: “You look beautiful.”
A rally followed. Emma discovered that she and Ronnie were two lonely Europeans working blue-collar jobs in England. Charming Ronnie attempted a little French, but when Emma wrote to him in Italian, she was surprised that he didn’t speak it. His mother was English, Ronnie explained, his Italian father spoke English too, “except when he swears.”
Their conversation moved from Zoosk onto WhatsApp, a free messaging app. Each morning on the train to work, Emma sat glued to her iPhone. She wondered how a guy like him was interested in her. “I’m very natural,” Emma said. “I mean, I’m nothing. I’m very simple you know ... so I was flattered.” In her favorite photograph, Ronnie wore a leather jacket that made him look like a pop star. As a teenager, Emma had obsessed over the British boy band Take That. But Ronnie was the opposite of a celebrity; he was down-to-earth.
“You could easily have picked someone else,” Ronnie told her one day.
“No. You’re the only one I wanted to talk to ... I paid because of you,” she replied.
“As soon as I saw your picture I wanted you,” he wrote.
“Makes me happy to know that,” Emma replied.
When four red heart emojis appeared on her screen, Emma was thrilled. Unlike her ex-boyfriend, Ronnie seemed mature and attentive. Ronnie was easy on the eyes, funny, and caring, but there was one problem: He did not exist.
* * *
Ronaldo Scicluna was a fictional character created by Alan Stanley, a short, balding, 53-year-old shop fitter—a decorator of retail stores. Alan lived alone in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Like one of the Bard’s shape-shifting characters, Alan used a disguise to fool women into romance, and to prevent himself from getting hurt. His alter ego “Ronnie” was a ladies’ man, charming, and attractive—everything Alan was not. “I was in a pretty lonely place,” he told me during an emotional interview. “I wasn’t feeling the most attractive of people, I might say. You know, I always struggled with self-confidence and ... I was going through a messy separation and I was just feeling like I needed somebody to talk to.”
When his marriage of 22 years failed, Alan, who has an adult daughter, was devastated and found himself uninterested in the opposite sex. “I’d just had enough,” he explained. For almost a year, he allowed his decorating work to consume him, but boredom set in. Alan wanted to “mix” with new people, he said, but feared public rejection in his close-knit town. Then one day he noticed the online-dating service Zoosk.
Alan elected to bypass the company’s selfie-based verification system, a spokesperson for Zoosk told me, following an internal investigation. He admitted using photographs of a random male model from Google that he had stolen. “I’m always nervous about posting personal images of myself,” he explained. “I just don’t like pictures of me. It goes back a long way, to be honest.” Emma’s profile was the first he saw. He was captivated.
Alan had done it before, at least five times, he admits. He’d become online pen pals with single women from all over the world, but avoided video calls and meetings. He found the thrill of the chase electrifying, with none of the awkward stuff like first dates. Emma was just another mark, and their flirty exchanges were innocent fun, he said. “Catfishing is prevalent across the internet,” he told me, “Everybody does catfishing.”
Catfishing was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2014. It refers to a person who creates a fake social-media profile, usually with the goal of making a romantic connection. The term was coined during a 2010 documentary, Catfish, when a subject told a story about the journey of live cod from the United States to China. Apparently, to prevent the cod from becoming lazy and their flesh turning to mush, seafood suppliers add to the tanks their natural enemy, the catfish. A predator creates excitement.
Alan was right. Online, catfishing was growing in popularity. “Now you don’t need the imagination of a Tolstoy or Dickens to create a totally believable but fictional identity,” said the cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken, author of The Cyber Effect, “It’s a matter of cut and paste.” The results can be devastating. In 2006, a 13-year-old girl in Missouri was duped into an online relationship with a fake teenage boy created by neighbors. After their online romance soured, Megan Meier committed suicide. By June of this year, catfishing was so prevalent that Facebook announced it is piloting new tools to prevent people from stealing others’ profile pictures, like Alan did.
His flirting with Emma soon progressed from small talk to in-jokes, pet names, and late-night telephone calls. To Emma, his lilting West Midlands accent somehow fit perfectly with the images of the model. In October of 2015, she wrote how happy she had become since “meeting” him.
“Are you not usually happy, stinky?” he asked.
“I am,” she said, “but you changed something.”
They both agreed to delete the dating app. Emma constantly asked for a physical date, but was crestfallen when Ronnie made excuses. This had happened before. Alan knew how to prolong the relationship with a combination of evasion and false promises. He told Emma that decorating new shops took him all over Europe. Any free time was spent drinking whiskey with his father, or on vacation at his parents’ villa in Spain, he said. Maybe one day she could stay in “bedroom three.” Emma just wanted a local dinner—they lived only 100 miles apart.
“It’s hard to keep everyone happy,” Ronnie complained. “Dad loves me working and wants me to keep doing better. Mum wants me to quit. She worries about me. My health. Stress. Dad thinks I handle it well.”
“I think what you need is a [girlfriend] to look after you,” said Emma, before he changed the subject.
“Do you want to know why I started online dating?” she asked him one night. “Because I wanted to ... meet that someone and to start something with that someone ... not to have a broken heart ... which is even more painful when you have never met someone.”
“Me too,” said Ronnie. “We both want the same thing.”
“Give me a date then,” Emma wrote. “I will suit your availability.”
She waited for his reply.
“I don’t think you realize how difficult it is for me to get time off,” he wrote.
“Just a dinner to start with,” Emma begged. “I can do the travel ... then if the connection is really there we will find a way.”
“Do you think it will be there?” he asked.
“I have never been so sure.”
“Do you have faith in us?” he asked.
“It could work perfectly well,” Emma wrote.
“And I love you,” he wrote.
“And I love you too,” she replied.
* * *
Little scientific research exists about catfishing, but experts say that victims tend to be lonely, vulnerable, or missing something in their lives. John Suler, a clinical psychologist and author of Psychology of the Digital Age, said that victims without a real-world social network can overlook what is too good to be true: “It always helps to have friends and family reality-check relationships online,” he said. But Emma had few close friends or family in London. And Emma was looking for love.
Emma met her first boyfriend at age 15. When their high-school romance ended a decade later, she ran away, high into the French Alps, to find seasonal work. She did not find love there, and decided to keep running, this time to England, where she had dreamed of living since visiting as a child. When she arrived, aged 28, there were 127,601 French-born residents in London, and by 2015 that number had doubled, making it the sixth-biggest French city, according to London’s mayor. But the language barrier nearly made Emma quit after two months. “It’s not like the same as you listening to that song in your bedroom when you’re 16,” she said.
She loved talking to Ronnie, whose conversations were full of construction-site bonhomie, British slang, and flirtation. One day, she received a black-and-white modeling photograph of him wearing a tiny pair of Speedos. Emma fired back emojis with laughing faces stained with tears of joy.
“I love that picture thank you,” she replied, “I saved it.”
Alan, who is a fitness fanatic, was now spending his mornings on long-distance runs. Decades of manual labor had kept him fit, but he was resentful about losing his hair at a young age. “In my 30s it started falling out,” he said. “I was exactly like my dad.”
To him, Emma had become not just a friendly voice on the phone, but a project. When he discovered that Emma spent three hours a day commuting to work, Alan encouraged her to find a local job. “I was on her journey in life, trying to guide her,” Alan said.
By January of 2016, Emma was thrilled to receive a job offer three miles from her home at an Italian chain restaurant. As the new assistant manager of Zizzi in Richmond, she managed a team of Poles, Spaniards, and Greeks (there are no real Italians in this story). When Emma boasted about her “long-distance” love, the busboys asked why they’d never met. Emma told them he was “extremely busy.”
Alan was running out of excuses. “It was eating at me because I knew the longer it went on, the more problematic it would become in the long term,” he said. Like Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Alan had donned a ludicrous disguise to win the affections of his Olivia. And in a world where Alan felt ugly and invisible to the opposite sex, Emma showered him in “adoration.” In his mind, Alan minimized his lie: “Everything I told her about me, apart from who I was, and the age, was true.”
One night, after the last customers left Zizzi, Emma closed the restaurant with a popular, baby-faced Spanish waiter named Abraham. As they shut down the huge pizza oven, and packed away the cutlery, Emma revealed how she longed to meet her mysterious boyfriend. Abraham listened for a while, then turned to his manager and said: “But Emma, the guy doesn’t want to meet you ... maybe it’s not even him.”
Emma insisted that they’d talked on the phone.
Abraham said her boyfriend was “probably an old man.”
Then he said he’d heard about an app that could help.
“He could be a psycho,” he added.
Emma was hurt and confused. After Abraham left, she found herself alone in the restaurant. Looking through the window she watched the happy couples walking along the black cobbles of King Street. She longed for the day when Ronnie would appear at Zizzi, sweep her off her feet, and prove them all wrong.
By the spring of 2016, Emma’s family recommended that she cut off all communications with Ronnie. He had refused to meet her after six months, they said. “I didn’t want to listen to them,” Emma said. But one evening after work, she laid on her bed and downloaded to her iPad an app called Reverse Image Search. It is one of many apps that crawls the internet to find the original source of a profile picture.
“Believe me I was scared to use it for the first time,” Emma said. She uploaded the photograph of Ronnie wearing his leather jacket. The results arrived in seconds: The man in the photographs was a model and actor from Turkey, called Adem Guzel. Emma was confused. She found his model-management website, an official Twitter account, and his Facebook. Adem’s closest connection to the United Kingdom was that he had studied at the Gaiety School of Acting in the nearby Republic of Ireland.
“Do you have anything to tell me about Adem Guzel?” she wrote in a text message.
“It is me,” Alan replied, thinking fast. Those were his modeling pictures, he said. He’d once used another name.
“It was a long time ago,” he promised.
Given the opportunity, Alan couldn’t tell the truth. “I would have lost someone that I really treasured,” he told me. But Emma demanded that he reveal himself. FaceTime was “for teenagers,” he said. When she insisted, he yelled: “Stop! Don’t ask me anymore!”
But Emma still wanted to believe in the fantasy, not the truth.
“I couldn’t believe it because, you know ... when you talk to someone every day, and you share your life ... he was my confidente.”
And why would somebody claim to be someone else online?
Julie Albright, a digital sociologist at the University of Southern California, says catfishing can be addictive: “Suddenly finding success with romantic partners online is exciting, and in fact intoxicating for certain people,” she said, adding that catfish often target more than one victim: “Putting several hooks in the water and getting several relationships going is the way to hedge your bets.”
In August of 2016, nearly a year after his and Emma’s relationship began, Alan had computer troubles. He bought a new one, but set it up using his personal email address. When he sent Emma a message, it sounded like Ronnie, but the email address said “Alan Stanley.”
It was his first mistake.
“I lied,” Alan told me. “I said, no, I bought this computer from somebody else and they haven’t changed it yet.”
Emma was now overwhelmed with doubts.
During that summer of 2016, Emma allowed her long-distance relationship to continue as she started what she proudly calls “my investigation.” One day Ronnie sent her a photograph from an aquarium, the fish from Finding Nemo. It was either a False Percula clownfish or a True Percula clownfish—only a saltwater aquarist could tell the difference—but Emma was more interested in uploading it to her app. “This Nemo sent me to TripAdvisor,” she said. It illustrated a review written by “Alan S.”
“I knew,” Emma told me. She typed Alan’s email address into Google.
I asked what she found.
“Everything, everything,” she sighed. “His Twitter accounts. Where I’ve seen his face.”
“It was devastating and I felt sick,” she said. “You have no idea how much I’ve been hurt inside.”
Alan was in early-morning traffic when his cellphone rang.
“Is your real name Alan?” Emma asked.
“No.” he replied.
“But it is, it is, it is!” Emma said, sobbing. Alan accused her of having trust issues.
“Don’t talk to me about trust, Alan Stanley!” Emma yelled. The call, and Alan’s masquerade, was over.
From a quiet corner of a half-decorated shop, Alan called Emma back. “I could not be any more apologetic,” he told me. “I told her everything.” Emma told him she felt like a fool. They both cried. It was, Alan said, a “big error of judgment, the worst and biggest mistake of my life.” But even in his telling of “the truth,” Alan told Emma he was 50, shaving off a few years.
Emma had questions. Was he a pervert? Alan sent her a real photograph of himself, wrinkles and all. “It might sound cruel what I’m going to say,” Emma told me, “but I carried on talking with him, after I knew who he was, only because I wanted to know why he did that to me,” Emma said. “I’m 34 at the time, but maybe another girl, when she finds out, she could maybe go too far, maybe kill herself.” After the big reveal, Emma asked Alan if he wanted to meet her. “I really wanted to go, to end the story,” she said. But was Alan dangerous?
Emma decided that she needed to protect others from his scam. On September 16, 2016, she wrote a Facebook message to the Turkish model:
“Hello Adem, we don’t know each other but a year ago I met a guy online and that man is using your picture and pretends he is you under another name. I wasn’t sure if getting in touch with you was a good idea but I needed you to know, kind regards, Emma.”
* * *
Adem Guzel nearly ignored the message. The shy, 35-year-old model woke up in the Bohemian district of Cihangir, near Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square, suffering from a cold. This was not the first message he had received of this nature. Adem poured a cup of tea in the kitchen of his aparthotel, a type of bed-and-breakfast that had once been popular with travelers, before political instability and terrorist attacks killed off Turkish tourism. He drew a hot bath, undressed, and sank into the water. Maybe it was the head cold, Adem thought, but it was like an invisible person was yelling in his ear: “Pick up the phone!”
Adem toweled off and found his iPhone. Something about the sincerity of Emma’s message stuck in his mind. He wrote back in broken English. “And the conversation just started,” Adem told me, in a gruff, Turkish voice. When he heard how Alan had tricked Emma, Adem was furious. Emma asked him if he wanted to video call.
Emma was on a bus in Richmond when she read the message. She dashed home and showered, with a strange flutter in her stomach. When Adem’s face appeared on her iPhone, Emma was hysterical. “It was crazy,” she said. “I wasn’t sure it was him, I was always in doubt.” But there he was, talking, smiling, nervously running his fingers through his hair. “I never do FaceTiming,” Adem said. “But somehow I wanted to do it with her.”
“You are so real,” Emma said, crying. “You really exist!”
Emma had questions. In English, their shared second language, Adem explained that he had grown up in a coastal Turkish village, then moved to Istanbul and enjoyed a prosperous modeling career. But his plans to become a television actor had stalled when he refused to enter a Turkish reality show, which he said operated on a “casting-couch” basis. Instead, Adem moved into a friend’s deserted aparthotel as a temporary manager.
As they talked, Emma summoned her sister on FaceTime, and showed the iPad to her iPhone. Gaëlle and the Turkish model waved at each other from opposite sides of Europe. After the call, Adem and Emma exchanged text messages, but Adem soon packed his bags and returned to the village whence he came. Şarköy, pop. 17,000, had the cellphone signal of a small Turkish village, and their conversation fizzled out.
* * *
On Friday, November 11, 2016, Alan Stanley stepped off a train at London’s Paddington Station. He strolled to a nearby row of white-pillared Georgian townhouses and checked into the Arbor, a swanky, boutique hotel with views of Hyde Park. That evening, Alan walked out of his hotel, and into the nearby London Hilton, where Emma was nervously waiting in the lounge. She said she needed closure, and to see the truth with her own eyes. Alan “needed to apologize to her face-to-face,” he said.
His face was red with shame. “The hug went on for about a minute,” he told me, “I was just, like, quite tearful.” Emma pulled up an armchair and they sat uneasily side-by-side, making small talk. Then, Alan said he was sorry.
He said he did it to escape the agony of loneliness. When Emma studied him, she saw a man just two years younger than her own father.
Emma and Alan left the Hilton for some fresh air, and strolled along a tree-lined pathway known as Lover’s Walk. In Alan’s telling, they passed Hyde Park’s “Winter Wonderland” where couples were riding a Ferris wheel or whizzing around an ice-skating rink. The walk—20,000 steps, according to his iPhone’s health app—was one of the longest and best of his life.
“We talk, talk, talk,” Emma said. She asked him about drinking whiskey with his father. Was even that true? “He said his dad passed away a few years ago.”
While Alan considered the evening a date, Emma’s memory of the walk was quite the opposite of romance. The park was “empty” she said. Her only memory was pausing at a memorial to the 52 victims of London’s July 2005 bombings.
“It was a perfect night,” Alan said. “She paid for dinner that evening. Italian restaurant in Paddington.”
Alan even insinuated that Emma had stayed the night at his hotel. “As a gentleman I’m very reluctant to talk about this side of it,” he said. Emma flatly denied it.
“I was pleased I met him obviously,” Emma said curtly, “And that was it.”
But that wasn’t it. Emma could not erase Alan from her life. After their meeting in London, they met several times. Just before Christmas of 2016, Alan presented her with a Swarovski bracelet. “She bought me Hugo Boss socks,” Alan told me, “They’re not cheap.”
“It was a relationship that we built ... You develop a friendship, you talk ...” she explained, her voice breaking as she described their toxic relationship. She was helplessly bonded to Alan and he was obsessed with her, high on virtual validation: “She made me feel like I was a teenager again,” he told me.
I wondered if Alan arrived in London hoping that Emma would overlook the difference between him and the model. Maybe his email slipup was just part of a “bait and switch.”
But Emma could tell the difference. “Things started to get a little bit sour between us,” Alan said. “There was a kind of breakdown after Christmas ... her attention suddenly turned more focused toward finding him.” Alan sensed he was competing with the Turkish model for Emma’s affections. He had deleted his fake accounts, and focused his attention on her. Now, he dreaded he would lose her to the man he had unwittingly thrown in her path—an ironic demise worthy of Shakespeare. “I just put two and two together,” Alan said. “I reckoned that they are talking behind the scenes.”
* * *
By January of 2017, the conversation between Emma and Adem had reignited. “I’m not a religious guy,” Adem said, but it felt like fate had pulled them together. They stopped talking about Alan’s scam, and very slowly the conversation between the shy model and Emma, who had so recently been burned, became emotionally charged. But Emma told her sister, Gaëlle, that she felt like she was just starting another long-distance affair. This time, she wouldn’t be played for a fool, and she wouldn’t waste a moment. She invited Adem to London. “It wasn’t to flirt, believe me,” Emma insisted. Adem said yes immediately. He was curious to meet this beautiful French girl, and sure, in London!
On March 31, 2017, Emma sent her catfish a goodbye text message:
“Alan I wanted to tell you that tomorrow I’m going to pick up Adem at the airport. And I still don’t know if it’s good or bad but I’m going to meet ‘my Ronnie.’ You built up all this shit, I’m not sure if I should thank you or detest you for that. But this is happening.”
It was April Fool’s Day, 2017, when Emma stood beneath the giant arrivals board at London’s Heathrow Airport, searching for Adem’s flight. When a lady beside her noticed her shaking hands, Emma explained that she was waiting for a man from the internet, whom she had never met. The woman froze. “You have to be very careful!” She warned, on the internet not everyone is who they say they are.
“Well actually, I know ...” Emma began, but the Turkish passengers were already flooding into the arrivals hall.
“Oh my God, it’s happening,” she thought.
When the crowd parted, she saw him walking toward her in a white T-shirt and a blue cardigan, the man in her photographs, come to life. Adem was taller than she expected, and when he recognized her, she felt breathless. As they hugged in the middle of the airport, Emma thought that he smelled “fantastique.”
In a quiet corner, Emma produced an egg-and-mayonnaise sandwich, which she had bought in case Adem was hungry. When he lifted it to his mouth, she noticed his hands were shaking too. “I was really nervous,” Adem said. They walked into the bitter cold air, and Emma summoned an Uber. It seemed to take forever. Adem was very quiet and there was a nervous energy between them. When he stepped off the curb to look for their car, Adem turned around and found Emma at eye level.
Inexplicably, she kissed him.
“Three minutes later I felt like I know her a long time,” Adem said. The spark was undeniable. She gave him a key to her apartment, and together they discovered the city like tourists, goofing around with a selfie stick. Later, when Adem opened his suitcase, Emma spotted the leather jacket from her favorite photograph, and felt starstruck. And Adem couldn’t believe his luck—his soul mate had appeared in his inbox as if by magic.
On April 23, 2017, their story became a tabloid sensation in England. “My catfish became cupid,” Emma told the Daily Mirror, “And now we’re living happily ever after.” Soon, other victims of Alan Stanley reached out to Emma. One woman from New York said she had been in a relationship with Ronnie for “years.” When the newspapers described Alan as a “love rat,” he endured summits about his behavior with his colleagues and employer, and an “awful” conversation with his daughter.
“These last few months have been beyond stressful,” he told me. “I don’t think I’ve slept properly for three or four months now.” Overwhelmed by shame, he moved to a faraway town. But even Alan felt relieved that the story ended in comedy, not a tragedy.
“I think it’s brilliant Emma and Adem have met,” he said. “It’s almost like fate.” Alan added that he no longer uses fake identities, and has since met someone special, he said, on Twitter: “A European lady, younger than me, younger than Emma.” There is someone out for there for everyone, he added. “I don’t consider myself to be particularly good-looking ... I’m not a David Beckham, or a Tom Cruise, or an Adem Guzel.”
When I spoke to the couple in September of this year, they had been living together in London for six months. “He’s lovely,” Emma said, “He’s a lovely man.” Currently, Adem is chasing his acting dreams in London, and says he recently auditioned for Aladdin, the original, Arabian catfishing story. He read for the lead, a street urchin who uses a genie’s magic to pass himself off as a prince to win over a princess—before realizing that he must be himself.
At home there has been confusion. Emma was making a coffee one day when she looked over and realized: God, this is Adem, not Ronnie. She says Adem is quite different from the gregarious character invented by Alan—he is quiet and sensitive. There are other challenges: Turkey is not yet in the European Union, so Adem can only stay in London for six months at a time, and cannot work. But Emma now admits that the internet is an instrument of fate.
One evening, not long ago, Emma was closing down Zizzi after a busy shift. Night shifts were once her loneliest times, when she would long for “Ronnie” to materialize from the internet and sweep her off her feet. But that night, she noticed Abraham, the disbelieving Spanish waiter, and the rest of the crew, staring at the handsome gentleman waiting in the doorway, ready to take her home.
All of the most riveting human drama in Robin Campillo’s Beats Per Minute takes place in a cramped lecture hall somewhere in Paris, at the site of a weekly meeting of the city’s chapter of the HIV-AIDS advocacy group ACT UP. This is an epic period film about that small room, filled with dozens of activists who helped shape a global conversation, and their story is heartbreakingly relevant to the ways people think about protest to this day. Beats Per Minute is 140 minutes long, and the majority of that running time is devoted to those crowded discussions—but every second is full of life.
Campillo and his co-writer Philippe Mangeot were both involved with ACT UP Paris in the early 1990s, when the film is set, and they drew on their experiences in scripting the movie. That authenticity shines through constantly—this is a film that operates on a granular level and finds real tension in debates over the meaning and manner of dissent. As an ode to the gay community, Beats Per Minute is necessarily insular and sometimes claustrophobic, a reminder of a time not long ago when the AIDS crisis was both roundly ignored and deeply stigmatized.
ACT UP, started in New York by gay activists including Larry Kramer in 1987, was a group devoted to direct action and raising global awareness about the AIDS pandemic, rejecting what they saw as political timidity by existing LGBT-rights groups. As Beats Per Minute depicts, its Paris chapter was similarly confrontational, rushing the stage at medical conferences and barging into pharmaceutical headquarters to challenge what they saw as a heartless, capitalistic approach to conquering the crisis. As the film begins, a demonstration ends with a pharmaceutical rep getting handcuffed to a stage and pelted with fake blood. The question before the group, which later reconvenes in their lecture hall, is: How radical is too radical?
It’s a question Beats Per Minute doesn’t try to definitively answer—Campillo is much more interested in the push and pull of each discussion, and in making sure there are no straw men to root against. Even as the ensemble of Beats Per Minute tosses ideas back and forth, there’s an urgency to the movie that manifests in their performances, and in the history being told. Paris’s gay community in 1992 is facing a critical situation where people are dying, and others are still willfully ignorant of the disease.
The first meeting in the film starts with the ACT UP member Eva (Aloïse Sauvage) giving a straightforward eulogy for a founding member of the chapter who recently died of AIDS-related complications. Her tone is not without emotion, nor is it resigned, but you get the impression it’s the sort of speech she’s had to give many times before. That hint of realism turns even mundane, clerical exchanges into something riveting. Rather than simply using these organizing meetings to deliver blank expositional dialogue, Campillo lets them run on and on, forcing viewers to engage with the nitty-gritty of the issue rather than concentrate on its lurid aspects.
Not that the director shies away from more sensational moments. The scenes of direct action are surprising, enervating, and occasionally shocking as the group finds what lines they’re willing to push up against and others they’re prepared to fully cross. Campillo also shows his heroes dancing at clubs, marching in pride parades, and falling in love with each other. But whether he’s focusing on the political or the personal, he never zooms out, giving an impression of just how isolated the gay-rights activist community might have felt in the early ’90s.
In one scene, four ACT UP members ride the Metro, having just exited police custody, exulting in what they’ve accomplished. On the edge of the frame, we see an older man stand up and move away from them, looking unnerved. But Campillo’s camera doesn’t follow him, instead sticking with the characters at the center of his story. He’s conveying, at once, the strength the group draws from their solidarity and also their alienation from a more “mainstream,” prejudiced France. They might share the same subway car, but the distance between their lives is vast.
Beats Per Minute is a true ensemble film, but it’s told through the eyes of Nathan (Arnaud Valois), an HIV-negative man who is new to the group; he eventually falls in love with Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), one of the more militant members of ACT UP. Their relationship, and Sean’s experience with AIDS, dominates the second half of the movie, as Campillo shifts from a broader storytelling perspective to an intimate one. Despite some powerful material, the film does wander a little in its final hour, as the realization sinks in that even if things will eventually change, it will happen too incrementally to save every life.
Campillo’s film is timely even as it chronicles a public-health crisis that younger audience members might not be familiar with. Beats Per Minute is specific in topic, to be sure—this is a moving account about the gay experience at a particular point and place in history—but it’s also fascinating to consider from a wider angle, as many people continue to grapple with how to carry out different kinds of political protests. Beats Per Minutes lives in the details of those serious and dynamic conversations, making it all the more resonant in 2017.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps a Most Wanted list for flu viruses. The agency evaluates every potentially dangerous strain, and gives them two scores out of 10—one reflecting how likely they are to trigger a pandemic, and another that measures how bad that pandemic would be. At the top of the list, with scores of 6.5 for emergence and 7.5 for impact, is H7N9.
Influenza viruses come in many flavors—H5N1, H1N1, H3N2, and so on. The H and N refer to two proteins on their surface, and the numbers refer to the versions of those proteins that a particular virus carries. H1N1 was responsible for both the catastrophic pandemic of 1918 that killed millions of people, and the most recent (and much milder) one from 2009. H5N1 is the bird-flu subtype that has been worrying scientists for almost two decades. But H7N9? Until recently, it had flown under the radar.
H7 viruses infect birds, and only very rarely jump into humans. H7N9 in particular had never been known to infect humans at all before 2013, when it caused an unexpected epidemic in China. It was billed as low-pathogenic (or “low-path”) because it only caused mild disease in chickens. But in humans, the story was different: Of the 135 people infected, around a quarter died.
Every year since, there’s been a new epidemic, and the current one is the worst. H7N9 has evolved, acquiring mutations that allow other flu strains to reproduce more effectively in both birds and mammals. It has started killing birds. In one year, H7N9’s highly pathogenic (“high-path”) strains have caused as many human infections as the previous four epidemics put together. As of September 20, there have been 1,589 laboratory-confirmed cases, and 39 percent of those people have died. “It was a matter of time,” says the flu expert Yoshihiro Kawaoka, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It wasn’t surprising to see this change.”
Kawaoka and his colleagues have now studied the new high-path strains collected from one of the people who died this year. They’ve shown that these strains reproduce efficiently in mice, ferrets, and monkeys, and cause more severe disease than their low-path ancestors. They can spread through the air between captive ferrets, and in some cases, kill the animals they land in. Perhaps most worrying, some strains have already evolved the ability to resist Tamiflu, a frontline drug that’s used to treat flu infections.
These are, of course, just animal studies, and they’re an imperfect reflection of how the high-path viruses behave in humans. “The little data available to date does not reveal an obvious increase in virulence for humans,” says Malik Peiris, from the University of Hong Kong, “but this is very difficult to assess because we only see the more severe infections who present to hospitals. This is an issue that needs to be closely monitored in the upcoming winter season.”
“When you compare H5 and H7 viruses, I think H7 are more worrisome,” says Kawaoka. That’s because the H5 viruses need several further mutations to spread between mammals, as Kawaoka showed in controversial lab experiments where he engineered strains with those mutations. But H7 strains apparently don’t need such tweaks. The strains that are out there right now are already capable of spreading between ferrets.
And yet, there’s no strong evidence that they’re hopping from person to person. Some of the cases this year have occurred in family groups, but it’s hard to say if they passed H7N9 between them or simply acquired it from the same birds. For now, the CDC still notes that “the risk to the general public is very low,” since most people who were infected had been in direct contact with birds, whether in poultry markets, vehicles, or their own homes.
“Clearly this is a virus that we don’t want to become any more transmissible between humans,” says Wendy Barclay, from Imperial College London. “But it’s not already transmissible enough to cause a pandemic—otherwise, we would have seen one.” She also notes that, in Kawaoka’s study, the high-path strains didn’t spread any more easily between ferrets than their low-path cousins. Even though this year’s epidemic is unprecedentedly big, the viruses don’t seem to be any more transmissible than when they first emerged in 2013.
There’s also a silver lining to the Tamiflu-resistant strains that Kawaoka identified. The mutation behind this resistance works by changing the shape of a protein on the virus’s surface—a protein that Tamiflu normally attacks. But the same protein is also part of the infection process; by changing its shape, the strains weaken themselves. They cause milder disease in both mice and ferrets (although they still spread with the same ease as the drug-sensitive strains).
That’s good news, but it’s no reason to rest on our laurels. In 1999, scientists discovered a mutation called H274Y that made H1N1 strains resistant to Tamiflu, but that also reduced their ability to infect mouse and ferrets. The scientists thought that this mutation was “unlikely to be of clinical consequence.” They were wrong. H1N1 picked up other mutations that compensated for H274Y, creating flu strains that were infective and resistant. By 2008, almost all the seasonal strains of H1N1 had become resistant to Tamiflu. With H7N9, history could well repeat itself.
But Tamiflu isn’t our only weapon against influenza. There’s an experimental new drug called Avigan (or favipiravir) that, rather than going after a surface protein, attacks an enzyme that the virus uses to copy its genetic material. Even Tamiflu-resistant strains of H7N9 fall to this drug, as do other kinds of flu that Kawaoka has looked at—at least in animals. “Whether that’s also the case in humans, we don’t know,” he says.
The viruses could eventually evolve to resist this new drug, too. But, Kawaoka says, “many people, including us, have looked for viruses that are resistant to favipiravir, and I don’t think anyone has found one yet.” And Barclay suggests that scientists should start running clinical trials that test both drugs together. “It still astonishes me that we continue to treat flu patients with a single drug when we know that the virus is highly mutable,” she says. “It’s almost inevitable that drug-resistant viruses can evolve.”
In the meantime, vaccines are being developed to match the viruses seen in the fifth and current epidemic. Other control measures have waxed and waned. When the first of the epidemics struck, Chinese health ministries closed markets and slaughtered birds. But as Helen Branswell reports in STAT, some of those containment efforts became more lax in 2015 and 2016.
Again, there is some good news: H7N9 infects chickens very well, but unlike H5N1, it seems to avoid ducks. That matters because Chinese ducks are often housed outside, and domestic birds can mingle with wild ones. Aboard ducks, bird flu can easily spread from one infected farm to other parts of the world. “That may be a major difference that may make it easier to control H7N9 compared to H5N1.”
It might also be a blessing in disguise that the high-path strains have emerged. The low-path strains were very hard to detect because they didn’t cause symptoms. But the high-path viruses kill infected birds, which means “they might be easier to eradicate from chickens since they can be more easily detected,” says Adolfo García-Sastre, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “However, one would need a very well-organized eradication campaign to eliminate them from poultry before they spread to other areas beyond China. I’m afraid that this will not happen, since it did not happen with the H5N1 viruses, which were first detected in 1997, and finally disseminated to most of the rest of the world starting in 2003.”
“When you first start writing, you’re going to suck,” says David Sedaris in a recent interview with The Atlantic. In this animated video, Sedaris reveals that he kept a diary for seven years before he started writing stories and sharing them publicly. “More people are documenting their lives now,” he continues. “The difference is the degree to which they’re sharing. And there’s a lot to be said for not putting things out there.”
The bottles were getting emptier: That was the first sign that something awful was happening.
Since 1989, scientists from the Entomological Society Krefeld had been collecting insects in the nature reserves and protected areas of western Germany. They set up malaise traps—large tents that funnel any incoming insect upward through a cone of fabric and into a bottle of alcohol. These traps are used by entomologists to collect specimens of local insects, for research or education. “But over the years, [the Krefeld team] realized that the bottles were getting emptier and emptier,” says Caspar Hallmann, from Radboud University.
By analyzing the Krefeld data—1,503 traps, and 27 years of work—Hallmann and his colleagues have shown that most of the flying insects in this part of Germany are flying no more. Between 1989 and 2016, the average weight of insects that were caught between May and October fell by an astonishing 77 percent. Over the same period, the weight of insects caught in the height of summer, when these creatures should be at their buzziest, fell by 82 percent.
“We were expecting declines, but the extent of them was tremendous,” says Hans de Kroon, who was involved in analyzing the Krefeld data. “If this was in agricultural settings, we wouldn’t be quite so surprised. But it’s especially alarming that it happened in nature reserves.”
There have long been signs of such a decline. Studies have also shown that populations of European butterflies have halved since 1990, honeybee colonies have fallen by 59 percent in North American since World War II, and populations of British moths have dropped by 30 percent per decade. But most of these surveys focused on particular groups, whereas Hallmann’s group looked at the entire spectrum of flying insects. “It confirms the widespread, windscreen phenomenon,” he says. “Any truck driver in the developed world will tell you that they used to squash a lot of insects on the windscreen. Now the windscreens stay clean.”
“The study makes visible what otherwise has been an invisible decline in insect abundance,” says Michelle Trautwein, from the California Academy of Sciences. “Our mistreatment of the planet has been recognizably bad for elephants and coral reefs, but it seems likely that it has also been just as bad for flies, moths, beetles.”
This is, to put it mildly, a huge problem.
Insects are the lynchpins of many ecosystems. Around 60 percent of birds rely on them for food. Around 80 percent of wild plants depend on them for pollination. If they disappear, ecosystems everywhere will collapse. But also, insects are the most diverse and numerous group of animals on the planet. If they’re in trouble, we’re all in trouble.
There’s a debate about whether the Earth is in the middle of a sixth extinction—an exceptionally severe period of biological annihilation of the kind that has only happened five times before. One of the talking points in this debate is that, as Peter Brannen recently wrote, “when mass extinctions hit, they don’t just take out big charismatic megafauna, like elephants ... They take out hardy and ubiquitous organisms as well—things like clams and plants and insects.”
But remember that the German study only looked at one particular region. And it raises a question: If insects have disappeared by such a large degree, wouldn’t other species that depend on them be in much worse shape? Wouldn’t Germany’s flowers, birds, spiders, and reptiles also be plummeting? “We see great declines of insectivorous species—but not to this extent in most cases,” de Kroon acknowledges. “Some species could switch food sources, but we don’t really know what’s going on. We do know that we see declines in even common species, like blackbirds, starlings, and sparrows.”
Another unanswered question: Are all groups declining equally? “It would be interesting to see the list of species they collected, as Malaise traps are very good at collecting certain species and poor at collecting others, like dragonflies,” says Jessica Ware, from Rutgers University. “If insect [groups] vary in their response to climate change, temperature, habitat change, or other factors,” that could change the implications of the study’s stark percentages. (Hallmann notes that identifying the thousands of individuals in a single trap, let alone all 1,503, would mean months of work for a team of specialists. That’s why they focused on total weight.)
Also, what’s behind the insect downfall? Pollutants and pesticides are likely to be a problem. Neonicotinoids—the world’s most popular insecticides—can mess with bees in myriad ways, impairing their memory, befuddling their spatial skills, and preventing them from finding food.
More surprisingly, the German team couldn’t find any evidence that the two usual suspects—habitat loss and climate change—were important culprits. The declines were similar in every kind of habitat, whether healthy grasslands or nutrient-poor wastelands. And although weather patterns in the region could explain the numbers of insects across a season, they couldn’t account for the year-on-year decline.
But neither line of evidence is clear-cut. The team didn’t look at larger-scale climate events, like prolonged droughts, and they couldn’t measure the effect of habitat fragmentation—cutting up the land available to insects rather than merely reducing it. Indeed, the nature reserves in the German study are small, too distant from each other for insects to travel between, and locked in by agricultural land. Those are “hostile environments” for insects, de Kroon says, so species that thrive in the reserves could drain into the surrounding no-man’s-land—and be lost.
Ware wonders if some of the vanished insects are simply migrating into other areas. “We know that certain dragonflies, for example, are changing their ranges in response to climate change,” she says. “So are neighboring countries experiencing a similar loss, or are specific species moving northward?”
That’s why researchers need to do similar surveys in other countries, says Crystal Maier, from Chicago’s Field Museum. “We could actually do that. We have similar samples here at the museum, for similar ranges and time periods. You could spend a lot of time identifying species but they just weighed the samples. That’s something we don’t usually do but it’s so simple, and it would be interesting.”
In the meantime, “we should use anything we have to enhance insect populations, like adding flower-rich areas around the margins [of agricultural land],” says Hallmann.
“We don’t want people to get depressed,” says de Kroon. “Ecosystems are very resilient. They’re still functioning quite well despite this loss. Let’s make use of that resilience. We can’t wait till we know exactly what’s leading to these losses. We have to act.”
Derrick “Strawberry” Cox found out that he had HIV on March 14, 2011. He’s been managing the virus ever since, an effort that’s supported by his mentor, Tony Burns—who has been managing his own HIV for nearly three decades. Their relationship centers not just on how their antiretroviral-therapy drugs are working for them, or how nutrition factors into the success of their care, but also on making sure that life remains bigger than their diagnosis. “People ask me if I’m positive,” Cox told me, “and I’ll tell them, HIV is not me, I have HIV.”
Cox and Burns met through the +1 peer-mentor program at Whitman-Walker Health, a nonprofit community-health center in Washington, D.C. The organization is open to all patients, but emphasizes health-care accessibility for the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV—two groups that have often experienced discrimination from medical professionals when seeking care. The +1 peer-mentor program pairs people who have been newly diagnosed with those who have been dealing with HIV for years and have experience finding the right treatment, managing stigma, and building a supportive community.
For The Atlantic’s series, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” I talked to Cox and Burns about adjusting to their diagnoses, cultivating intergenerational support, and the power of visibility to challenge assumptions about what life looks like with HIV. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
B.R.J. O’Donnell: Tony, you started mentoring others well before you met Derrick. How did you first become a mentor?
Tony Burns: This was a decade ago. I hadn’t really ever thought about mentorship before. One day, I was at Whitman-Walker and the two founding managers, Justin Goforth and Meghan Davies, came to me and said, “Tony, we’ve got someone here who tested positive for HIV.” This young man was having a really difficult time handling it, and Justin and Meghan thought, “Let’s get him somebody to talk to right now, somebody who has been through it,” and so they came and got me. As God or fate would have it, that young man was 31 years old, which is the same age I was when I was diagnosed. And at that point in time, I had been managing HIV for the better part of 17 years.
I told him, “It’s not going to be an easy road, but if you are willing to try, and muster up the strength to fight, you can still live well.” Here is the thing: Either you’re going to acquire the strength, and acquire the team of support to help you—or you’re going to fold.
O’Donnell: Do you feel like you were able to connect with that young man?
Burns: I told him, “I know a little bit of what you are feeling. There were a lot of years when I was just waiting to die. My wish for you is that you can sit across the room and speak to someone the same way I’m speaking to you one day, maybe 17 years from now.” Before I said that to him, I could see his mind was racing, but [those words] landed, and he lifted his head and looked me straight in the eye, and then a connection began. That moment was a revelation to me as well. Something happened to me that day, that I don’t think I’d ever experienced before, and it was the benefit, and the blessing that I came to understand—that by having HIV and living with it for so long, I would be able to help support, encourage, and inspire somebody else.
O’Donnell: Derrick, what’s your relationship like with Tony?
Derrick Cox: Meeting Mr. Tony for the first time was awesome. He helped me to use my positivity for something else other than just keeping it to myself. Me and Mr. Tony, he’s like that uncle that’s always there for you. He calls to talk to me, and I can call to talk to him. He’ll check up on me and make sure I’m good, and make sure that the mentees I have on my own team are good, so we are in constant communication with each other. He keeps it real, no matter what. That’s one strong virtue that I definitely love.
O’Donnell: What’s a typical meet-up with Derrick and your mentorship group like?
Burns: We meet up at a restaurant, so that we get out of a clinical setting and into a social one.
Cox: Even though we can all meet up and explain what we are going through, it’s so important to have a night to step outside of just focusing on HIV. Yes, people staying on their meds is important, but we have to do something other than just focusing on that. We can still check in and make sure everyone is good, and if they’re not, we address it. But let’s have fun, let’s show there is a life after HIV, a life during HIV.
O’Donnell: Can you tell me about the beginning of your relationship with Derrick?
Burns: I’m very proud of him. I can remember when he first came on board as a mentee that he was having problems with employment and housing. One of the things that I believe in is there has to be a practical approach. Is your housing stable? Do you have a job? What about school? Are you in a safe place? All those kinds of considerations matter because if those things are not in sync, then there will be challenges to you staying adherent to your HIV medication and staying engaged in your care.
O’Donnell: What are your thoughts on how mentorship can be a weapon against stigma impacting people living with HIV? How do you and Derrick talk about managing stigma?
Burns: Even to this day stigma is still very much alive and well, and Derrick and I have talked about that. In Washington, D.C., in the African American community, we have experienced really high levels of HIV. I agreed with some organizations that thought, “Let’s show people how to manage HIV, let’s give them the support that they need, and for those who wouldn’t mind sharing their stories, let’s give them a space to do that.” And I think that using those strategies are some of the ways that we can combat and confront stigma. One of the things Derrick and I have done together is that we partnered with Whitman-Walker for their media campaign called “I See You.” That media blitz is one of the ways where we put our faces out there, and our stories out there.
O’Donnell: Derrick is mentoring other people now. What are the lessons that you want to pass on to Derrick about being an impactful mentor for other people learning how to manage their own HIV?
Burns: What I have said to him many times, is that we are not the be-all and end-all, and we cannot save anybody. Those same folk who will sometimes put you on a pedestal, they can still be quick to tear you down. Yet I tell him it’s undoubtedly worth it to be a mentor. He’s still in his 20s, so he’s still growing and maturing. There is a responsibility that comes with this. It’s a balancing act when it comes to visibility and advocacy and just living well.
O’Donnell: How do you reach those who are finding their HIV diagnosis traumatic?
Cox: I would say to them that they are still the same people today. Any time I talk to a newly diagnosed person, I will let them know that, like your doctor said, or your therapist said, it’s not a death sentence. It’s okay, you can still live. I tell people I see my ART like a men’s One A Day, like a vitamin pill. And if you have any type of stress or trauma behind anything, you have people that you can talk to. I’ll let them know that they are definitely not alone: Whether you experience a good or bad thing, trust me—you’re not the only person that's been through it.
O’Donnell: Tony, what does mentoring mean to you now, a decade after you sat with that young man in a doctor’s office and realized you wanted to become a mentor to other people dealing with HIV?
Burns: I will say this to you. Last year, I had the experience of being diagnosed with early-stage cancer, and while I was waiting to find out what stage of cancer I had, I had 72 hours to mull over what I had done with my life. And Friday and Saturday were really rough for me, but then that Sunday came and went, and I began to think about what I had done with my life as it related to HIV.
I think that being a mentor is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Mentoring has given me a gift that I never could foresee coming. I’ve seen folks who were in temporary housing get their own place. I’ve seen folks who didn’t have a job get a job, and go on to go to school. I see their eyes become clearer when they have figured out a way to get through the fog of HIV. It is just the best thing, one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of, or had a chance to witness. I have been able to fight stigma and confront it in real life, in real time, with my faith, my story.
In 1928, the leaders of 15 countries committed to renouncing war as a tool for resolving international disputes. They enshrined this commitment in the Kellogg-Briand Pact (sometimes referred to as the Paris Peace Pact) and were later joined by 47 other countries. But war, of course, continued, and the pact is generally remembered as a well-meaning but ineffectual fantasy—when it is remembered at all.
Now, Yale law professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, the authors of The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World, seek to reinterpret the pact’s historical significance. Their book argues that it’s because war was made illegal in 1928 that nations rarely go to war with each other anymore (though wars within states are another matter).
Critics have taken issue with this “ambitious causal claim,” noting that the pact is far from the only explanation for the decline in wars between states. What about the aversion to conflict brought about by the horrors of World War I and World War II? Or the development of nuclear weapons as a tool of deterrence? Or the rise of the United States as the dominant world power? Or the increasing economic interdependence between states?
Although their thesis is controversial, the authors of The Internationalists have revived an often-forgotten episode in political history—and its implications are urgent. “We see lots of signs that we are once again at a tipping point in the world,” Hathaway told me. I spoke with her and Shapiro about the lessons to be drawn from the pact today. Below is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation.
Annabelle Timsit: The premise of your book is that the Pact outlawed war, marking a shift from an Old to a New World Order. Can you talk about what that means in today’s context?
Oona Hathaway: The book argues that the countries of the world succeeded in outlawing war in 1928, but outlawing war is not the same thing as ending war. … Much of the story that we tell is the way in which that set in motion the gradual construction of a New World Order, built around the idea that states couldn’t just go to war for whatever purpose they desired; that, in fact, aggressive war was no longer allowed and that they had to find other ways to resolve their disputes. That moment of outlawry of war, though it didn’t succeed in ending war, set the stage for everything that followed, and in particular for the UN Charter and for the modern legal order.
Timsit: You consider the rise of intrastate conflict [civil wars] a tradeoff for the large decrease in the number of interstate conflict [wars between countries] in the New World Order. Do you think one is worse than the other?
Hathaway: First of all, no war is good. It is the case that, historically, wars between states have led to a lot more people dying, because states tend to have more powerful [militaries] and machinery. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be deeply concerned about the rise of civil war. And in fact, part of what we want to say is that there are downsides to the international legal system that we have today.
The upside is that there are significantly fewer wars between states; that conquest has effectively come to an end (with rare exceptions); and that we have unprecedented prosperity around the globe. The downside is that we see a rise in conflict within states, and part of the reason for that is the fact that we’ve outlawed war between states. That is a dark side of the modern legal order, but in our view, it’s not a reason to throw out the system—there’s much that we can do to address the scourge of intrastate war, including by building capacity for states to effectively govern themselves.
Timsit: The modern legal order didn’t prevent, say, the 2003 Iraq War. So has the system begun to fail, and is the Old World Order already returning?
Hathaway: We end the book with a warning that we once again find ourselves at a turning point in history. The postwar consensus on the illegality of war is under greater assault today than it has been in seven decades. There are many reasons for this, including the threat from ISIS and Russia’s willingness to flaunt the global legal order (in particular, its seizure of Crimea and efforts to foment unrest in Ukraine and Georgia). Meanwhile, China’s attempts to assert sovereignty over disputed rocks and islands in the South China Sea, Iran’s support for terrorist groups, and North Korea’s repeated threats of military force against its neighbors and others are also deeply corrosive. And, as you point out, the testing of the system is not entirely new. The decision of the United States and its allies to use force against Iraq in 2003 under a legal justification widely viewed as tenuous at best, and deeply cynical and disingenuous at worst, dealt a terrible blow to the legal order and weakened the system even before these more recent challenges arose.
But the test of the international legal system is not whether we can point to instances where the law was violated. We should instead look to whether the law has largely, if not perfectly, worked. To that the answer is clearly “yes.”
Timsit: Your book’s thesis that law alone has stopped war is controversial. What would you respond to realist critics of your book, who say it’s really just power that matters?
Hathaway: Realists fail to understand how law works. … When it is most effective, the law does not induce states to act contrary to incentives; it changes those incentives themselves. To take one example: After war was outlawed, conquest was no longer legal. As a result, when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, the U.S. and the states that were party to the League of Nations refused to recognize the conquest, pointing specifically to Japan’s violation of its legal obligations under the Pact, which Japan had ratified. This change in the rules thus changed the incentives states faced—they could still seize land with force, but they could no longer enjoy the fruits of their conquests.
The realist might respond that, even if the change in the law changes behavior, that doesn’t prove that law matters: The law is simply a tool of the powerful—great nations create law that is in their interests, and when the law changes behavior, power is doing the causal work, not the law. But to say that the powerful shape the law to reflect their interests is not to say that law is merely a byproduct of power. Power may lead to rules, but rules take on lives of their own. They change behavior by changing the incentives for action—not just for the weak but for the strong as well.
Scott Shapiro: So much of our book is an attempt to show that the law is playing such a strong role in the way states behave that we don’t even notice it. It’s hiding in plain sight. So it’s kind of a triumph of the outlawry of war that we don’t even recognize it at work. But, even though we’re lawyers and think law is really useful, we also think that the law has limits, that is, that there’s not always a legal answer to all the questions that arise. When that happens, there are arbitral bodies [such as] the International Court of Justice.
But let me also back up by saying that, in some sense, the challenge of the modern global order is the fact that states no longer have the tool to respond to violations of the law with war. War was a tool of law enforcement before 1928. And so really, the question that the internationalists had to wrestle with, and states had to wrestle with, was: How do we live without war? If we renounce war as a way of resolving our disputes, how do we respond to violations of international law?
Timsit: What’s the answer to those questions?
Shapiro: When Russia annexed Crimea, what would have been an appropriate, non-violent response in that case? We developed this idea in the book of “outcasting”—that is, in a world in which war is no longer a legitimate way of enforcing the law, states outcast the rule-violator, they refuse to do something with the rule-violator. In the case of Crimea, extensive sanctions were placed on Russia and on Russian officials to make their conquest and annexation of Crimea painful. Most of the world does not recognize Crimea as being part of the Russian Federation, and consequently airplanes don’t fly there directly, credit cards don’t work there, the ATMs don’t work. … Basically, what has happened is that Crimea has been outcasted from the international system. So this is the way in which international law has evolved to live without war as a tool of law enforcement.
Timsit: But what happens when outcasting doesn’t work? Crimea is still in the Russian Federation, not Ukraine.
Hathaway: Sanctions don’t always work immediately; they often take time, they’re not as flashy as an invasion, though they can in the long term actually be more effective. Moreover, the technology of outcasting has improved a lot over the last several decades since it was first deployed in 1931: It has become much more targeted, all the way down to the individuals that are responsible for devising illegal policies that the countries of the world want to reject. And being able to target particular sectors and long-term growth, and in fact, even close off an entire banking sector from the rest of the world, as the world did with Iran, which was key to bringing the Iranians to the negotiating table.
The second thing is that the system does have an escape valve in cases that are truly dangerous. So the UN Charter permits states to act in self-defense under Article 51, and of course the Security Council can authorize interventions. We saw that when Iraq invaded Kuwait. So there are tools under the international legal system that kick in, in cases where outcasting doesn’t succeed, but the hope is that they will only be used where other options aren’t available.
Timsit: What are we supposed to think about the global backlash against this interconnectedness, against globalization, international institutions, and so on? Does international law function without these things?
Hathaway: The law doesn’t work by itself. It does need states and institutions to abide by it, and to work in support of it, and we’re very much concerned that we’re at a moment where that commitment is being questioned and we are seeing real backtracking with regard to commitment to the international legal order. … For all its problems, the international legal order has been remarkably successful in bringing peace and prosperity to the world for the last seven decades and that doesn’t happen on its own, that requires a commitment by states to make the system work. And when that commitment begins to ebb, then the system itself is put at risk. And that’s really the message of the book: Don’t take that for granted.
Shapiro: I also want to emphasize that the book is very much a non-partisan, maybe post-partisan book. It is a lesson that people from both the left and the right need to re-learn, or take to heart, which is that the illegitimacy of war as a way of resolving disputes is central to the modern legal order. Seeing war as the answer to problems is not the province of the right, it’s also a problem on the left, and so the book is trying to speak to both sides of the spectrum.
Money and markets have been around for thousands of years. Yet as central as currency has been to so many civilizations, people in societies as different as ancient Greece, imperial China, medieval Europe, and colonial America did not measure residents’ well-being in terms of monetary earnings or economic output.
In the mid-19th century, the United States—and to a lesser extent other industrializing nations such as England and Germany—departed from this historical pattern. It was then that American businesspeople and policymakers started to measure progress in dollar amounts, tabulating social welfare based on people’s capacity to generate income. This fundamental shift, in time, transformed the way Americans appraised not only investments and businesses but also their communities, their environment, and even themselves.
Today, well-being may seem hard to quantify in a nonmonetary way, but indeed other metrics—from incarceration rates to life expectancy—have held sway in the course of the country’s history. The turn away from these statistics, and toward financial ones, means that rather than considering how economic developments could meet Americans’ needs, the default stance—in policy, business, and everyday life—is to assess whether individuals are meeting the exigencies of the economy.
At the turn of the 19th century, it did not appear that financial metrics were going to define Americans’ concept of progress. In 1791, then-Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton wrote to various Americans across the country, asking them to calculate the moneymaking capacities of their farms, workshops, and families so that he could use that data to create economic indicators for his famous Report on Manufactures. Hamilton was greatly disappointed by the paltry responses he received and had to give up on adding price statistics to his report. Apparently, most Americans in the early republic did not see, count, or put a price on the world as he did.
Until the 1850s, in fact, by far the most popular and dominant form of social measurement in 19th-century America (as in Europe) were a collection of social indicators known then as “moral statistics,” which quantified such phenomena as prostitution, incarceration, literacy, crime, education, insanity, pauperism, life expectancy, and disease. While these moral statistics were laden with paternalism, they nevertheless focused squarely on the physical, social, spiritual, and mental condition of the American people. For better or for worse, they placed human beings at the center of their calculating vision. Their unit of measure was bodies and minds, never dollars and cents.
Yet around the middle of the century, money-based economic indicators began to gain prominence, eventually supplanting moral statistics as the leading benchmarks of American prosperity. This epochal shift can be seen in the national debates over slavery. In the earlier parts of the 19th century, Americans in the North and South wielded moral statistics in order to prove that their society was the more advanced and successful one. In the North, abolitionist newspapers like the Liberty Almanac pointed to the fact that the North had far more students, scholars, libraries, and colleges. In the South, politicians like John Calhoun used dubious data to argue that freedom was bad for black people. The proportion of Northern blacks “who are deaf and dumb, blind, idiots, insane, paupers and in prison,” Calhoun claimed in 1844, was “one out of every six,” while in the South it was “one of every one hundred and fifty-four.”
By the late 1850s, however, most Northern and Southern politicians and businessmen had abandoned such moral statistics in favor of economic metrics. In the opening chapter of his best-selling 1857 book against slavery, the author Hinton Helper measured the “progress and prosperity” of the North and the South by tabulating the cash value of agricultural produce that both regions had extracted from the earth. In so doing, he calculated that in 1850 the North was clearly the more advanced society, for it had produced $351,709,703 of goods and the South only $306,927,067. Speaking the language of productivity, Helper’s book became a hit with Northern businessmen, turning many men of capital to the antislavery cause.
The Southern planter class, meanwhile, underwent a similar shift. When South Carolina’s governor, the planter and enslaver James Henry Hammond, sought to legitimize slavery in his famous 1858 “Cotton Is King” speech, he did so in part by declaring that “there is not a nation on the face of the earth, with any numerous population, that can compete with us in produce per capita … It amounts to $16.66 per head.”
What happened in the mid-19th century that led to this historically unprecedented pricing of progress? The short answer is straightforward enough: Capitalism happened. In the first few decades of the Republic, the United States developed into a commercial society, but not yet a fully capitalist one. One of the main elements that distinguishes capitalism from other forms of social and cultural organization is not just the existence of markets but also of capitalized investment, the act through which basic elements of society and life—including natural resources, technological discoveries, works of art, urban spaces, educational institutions, human beings, and nations—are transformed (or “capitalized”) into income-generating assets that are valued and allocated in accordance with their capacity to make money and yield future returns. Save for a smattering of government-issued bonds and insurance companies, such a capitalization of everyday life was mostly absent until the mid-19th century. There existed few assets in early America through which one could invest wealth and earn an annual return.
Capitalization, then, was crucial to the rise of economic indicators. As upper-class Americans in both the North and South began to plow their wealth into novel financial assets, they began to imagine not only their portfolio but their entire society as a capitalized investment and its inhabitants (free or enslaved) as inputs of human capital that could be plugged into output-maximizing equations of monetized growth.
In the North, such investments mostly took the form of urban real estate and companies that were building railroads. As capital flowed into these new channels, investors were putting money—via loans, bonds, stocks, banks, trusts, mortgages, and other financial instruments—into communities they might never even set foot in. As local businesspeople and producers lost significant power to these distant East Coast investors, a national business class came into being that cared less about moral statistics—say, the number of prostitutes in Peoria or drunks in Detroit—than about a town’s industrial output, population growth, real-estate prices, labor costs, railway traffic, and per-capita productivity.
Capitalization was also behind the statistical shift in the South, only there it was less about investment in railroad stocks or urban real estate than in human bodies. Enslaved people had long been seen as pieces of property in the United States, but only in the antebellum Deep South did they truly become pieces of capital that could be mortgaged, rented, insured, and sold in highly liquid markets. Viewing enslaved people first and foremost as income-yielding investments, planters began to keep careful track of their market output and value. Hammond, in his speech, had chosen to measure American prosperity in the same way that he valued, monitored, and disciplined those forced to work on his own cotton plantation.
As corporate consolidation and factories’ technological capabilities ramped up in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, additional techniques of capitalist quantification seeped from the business world into other facets of American society. By the Progressive Era, the logic of money could be found everywhere. “An eight-pound baby is worth, at birth, $362 a pound,” declared The New York Times on January 30th, 1910. “That is a child’s value as a potential wealth-producer. If he lives out the normal term of years, he can produce $2900 more wealth than it costs to rear him and maintain him as an adult.” The title of this article was “What the Baby Is Worth as a National Asset: Last Year’s Crop Reached a Value Estimated at $6,960,000,000.” During this era, an array of Progressive reformers priced not only babies but the annual social cost of everything from intemperance ($2 billion), the common cold ($21 a month per employee), typhoid ($271 million), and housewife labor ($7.5 billion), as well as the annual social benefit of skunks ($3 million), Niagara Falls ($122.5 million), and government health insurance ($3 billion).
This particular way of thinking is still around, and hard to miss today in reports from the government, research organizations, and the media. For instance, researchers in this century have calculated the annual cost of excessive alcohol consumption ($223.5 billion) and of mental disorders ($467 billion), as well as the value of the average American life ($9.1 million according to one Obama-era government estimate, up from $6.8 million at one point during George W. Bush’s presidency).
A century ago, money-based ideas of progress resonated most with business executives, most of whom were well-to-do white men. Measuring prosperity according to the Dow Jones Industrial Average (invented in 1896), manufacturing output, or per-capita wealth made a good deal of sense for America’s upper classes, since they were usually the ones who possessed the stocks, owned the factories, and held the wealth. As recognized by the Yale economist Irving Fisher, a man who rarely met a social problem he did not put a price on, economic statistics could be potent in early-20th-century political debates. In arguing for why people needed to be treated as “money-making machines,” Fisher explained how “newspapers showed a strong aversion to the harrowing side of the tuberculosis campaign but were always ready to ‘sit up and take notice’ when the cost of tuberculosis in dollars and cents was mentioned.”
John Rockefeller Jr., J.P. Morgan, and other millionaire capitalists also came to recognize the power of financial metrics in their era. They began to plan for a private research bureau that would focus on the pricing of everyday life. Those plans came to fruition in the 1920s with the formation of the corporate-funded National Bureau of Economic Research. The private institution would go on to play a major role in the invention of Gross Net Product in the 1930s (and continues to operate today).
Most working-class Americans, though, were not as enthusiastic about the rise of economic indicators. This was largely because they believed the human experience to be “priceless” (a word that took off just as progress became conceptualized in terms of money) and because they (astutely) viewed such figures as tools that could be used to justify increased production quotas, more control over workers, or reduced wages. Massachusetts labor activists fighting for the eight-hour workday spoke for many American workers when they said, in 1870, that “the true prosperity and abiding good of the commonwealth can only be learned, by placing money [on] one scale, and man [on another].”
The assignment of prices to features of daily life, therefore, was never a foregone conclusion but rather a highly contested development. In the Gilded Age, some labor unions and Populist farmers succeeded in pushing state bureaus of labor statistics to offer up a series of alternative metrics that measured not economic growth or market output, but rather urban poverty, gender discrimination, leisure time, indebtedness, class mobility, rent-seeking behavior, and exploitation of workers. The interests of businessmen, though, won the day more often than not, and by the mid-20th century economic indicators that focused on monetary output came to be seen as apolitical and objective.
That shift carried tremendous social ramifications: The necessary conditions for economic growth were frequently placed before the necessary conditions for individuals’ well-being. In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor, the efficiency expert who dreamed of measuring every human movement in terms of its cost to employers, bluntly articulated this reversal of ends and means: “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.”
In the end, men like Taylor got their wish. Since the mid-20th century—whether in the Keynesian 1950s or the neoliberal 1980s—economic indicators have promoted an idea of American society as a capital investment whose main goal, like that of any investment, is ever-increasing monetary growth. Americans have surely benefited materially from the remarkable economic growth over this period of time, an expansion wholly unique to capitalist societies. Nevertheless, by making capital accumulation synonymous with progress, money-based metrics have turned human betterment into a secondary concern. By the early 21st century, American society’s top priority became its bottom line, net worth became synonymous with self-worth, and a billionaire businessman who repeatedly pointed to his own wealth as proof of his fitness for office was elected president.
With most big cities’s economies continuing to grow, the most pressing issue they face is how to connect their low-income communities to the opportunities that growth creates. New efforts developing in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Chicago show the many creative alternatives cities are exploring to respond to that challenge—and the obstacles they face.
From 2010 through 2015, all of the 100 largest metropolitan areas added jobs, and 98 of them increased their total economic output, according to calculations by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.
But in most cities, that revival has largely bypassed communities of concentrated poverty, like large swathes of Chicago’s predominantly African-American South Side or mostly Hispanic East Charlotte. Across the country, many cities have fueled their growth by importing streams of young college graduates from elsewhere, while struggling to place their own low-income kids on a track to obtain the education necessary to compete for those same jobs. Compounding the problem, longtime residents and commercial establishments in moderate- and low-income neighborhoods can find themselves pushed out by rising rents as developers pursue young white-collar workers flocking to urban environments.
These frustrations echoed through a panel I moderated this week in Charlotte at an Atlantic conference on race and criminal justice. Since 2010, according to Brookings, the area has ranked in the top 20 among large metros for growth in terms of jobs and overall economic output. But activists in Charlotte’s African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods uniformly said that dynamism had failed to reach their communities. “It’s growing so much, but it’s leaving a lot of people behind,” said Oliver Merino, an organizer at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy who works mostly with Hispanic families.
More mayors are confronting these complex issues head-on. They are looking for ways to channel more of their growth into neglected neighborhoods, or trying to leverage the tax resources the growth provides, or both. “The common thread is mayors and other local leaders see outsized growth coming into their communities … and want to make sure it is equitably distributed,” said Brooks Rainwater, the director of the National League of Cities’s Center for City Solutions.
Charlotte has examined these problems more systematically than most. After a study led by Stanford University economist Raj Chetty ranked it last among the 50 largest metropolitan areas in promoting upward mobility for low-income kids, local leaders convened a task force on opportunity that produced an extensive report this spring. That effort urged the city to focus mostly on three areas: expanding access to early-childhood education, building a better bridge between high school and post-secondary education, and strengthening families.
In late September, a follow-up report from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners presented a detailed plan for advancing the most important of those recommendations, the one on early-childhood education. Today, the county study noted, less than one-third of the roughly 12,000 children who enter kindergarten each year attend publicly funded preschool for four-year-olds. The study laid out a plan to cover all of them—at no cost to families earning twice the poverty level or less, and with sliding-scale tuition fees for those from more affluent families. Simultaneously, it said, Charlotte should invest in upgrading the quality of its preschool teachers.
The report proposed raising either sales or property taxes to help fund an annual cost for preschool that would reach about $75 million when fully phased in. Endorsing those taxes would mark a tangible first step toward Charlotte’s leaders demonstrating they are committed to tapping the community’s growing prosperity to expand opportunity for all their residents.
In Chicago—a less genteel place where these issues of growth versus need provoke even more friction—Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already undertaken most of the initiatives the Charlotte opportunity task force proposed. (He’s funded a big expansion of pre-K, as well as a community-college scholarship for high-school graduates who maintain good grades.)
In the city budget Emanuel released on Wednesday, he charted a new way for cities to provide opportunity for the many by tapping resources that now mostly benefit a few. Emanuel proposed a first-in-the-nation fee on ride-sharing services like Uber to fund mass transit. The city estimates the fee (eventually up to 20 cents per ride) would provide $20 million annually to help fund the Chicago Transit Authority’s massive ongoing upgrade of bus and subway services.
That tactic creatively responds to the risk that ride sharing will affect mass-transit systems exactly as Federal Express affected the U.S. Postal Service: by siphoning away more affluent consumers, while leaving the public service with diminished resources to serve those who can’t afford alternatives. While ride sharing has usefully expanded people’s choices for getting around, to ensure that transportation remains affordable and accessible for all residents, “I have to keep mass transit competitive,” Emanuel told me.
All of these initiatives would be easier for cities if their respective states or leaders in Washington were helping them. But while Republicans with few ties to urban America are controlling Congress and most state houses, that help isn’t likely.
Even so, Emanuel’s unexpectedly difficult reelection in 2015, and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts’s defeat last month in a Democratic primary, shows that mayors can’t be complacent about waiting for growth to trickle down into all of their neighborhoods. They will need to keep advancing the kind of ideas Charlotte and Chicago are now considering—and likely go beyond them to confront even more difficult dynamics of racial segregation and bias in housing, education, and policing. Cities face a future of inexorably rising tensions if the renewed flow of opportunity now coursing through them only widens the moat between their places of prosperity and need.
The latest experiment in a universal basic income will be coming to Stockton, California, in the next year.
With $1 million in funding from the tech industry–affiliated Economic-Security Project, the Stockton Economic-Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) will be the country’s first municipal pilot program. As currently envisioned, some number of people in Stockton will receive $500 per month. That’s not enough to cover all their expenses, but it could help people with rising housing costs, paying student loans, or simply saving for life’s inevitable problems.
Last year, Stockton rents rose more than 10 percent, putting the city’s rental price growth among the top 10 in the nation. This is quite a surprise in what Time called “America’s most miserable city” just three years ago. The average rent remains a modest-by-Bay-standards $1,051, but Stockton has a per-capita income of just $23,046, more than $6,000 less than the U.S. median and a full $8,500 less than the California median. If you made the per-capita income of the city, average rent alone would eat 55 percent of your income.
As the tech boom that began in the mid-00s continues, its financial blast radius keeps expanding. Tech workers have been streaming into the Bay, yet few homes have been built in the Bay Area’s cities. Home prices and rents have exploded. Longtime residents and newcomers alike have been getting pushed ever further out. And in recent years, Stockton—once one of the cheapest cities to live in California—has become the eastmost outpost of the insane Bay housing market.
“There’s not a shortage of housing. There’s a shortage of money to buy housing,” said Fred Sheil, a member of STAND Affordable Housing in Stockton. “Unless you’ve got Bay Area income, they aren’t interesting in talking to you.”
That’s garnered the attention of city leaders, especially Mayor Michael Tubbs, who became the youngest-ever mayor of a medium-sized city when he won a landslide election in 2016. Tall, gregarious, often besuited with a trim beard, Tubbs could become the new face of universal basic income, or as people abbreviate it, UBI.
Stockton won’t be the first UBI project in the Bay (pilots are already in the field in West Oakland and San Francisco), but it would be the first public attempt to show what a basic income can do for people. Unlike the secretive other projects, both the local government and the participants will be reporting what the cash does for them. And the project will be occurring within the context of a regular city government, with all the community engagement that entails.
“The [UBI] conversation is not being had with the people who are going to be impacted,” Tubbs said. “Mark Zuckerberg don’t need $500 a month.”
So, in Stockton, they are planning a six- to nine-month design process to incorporate the city’s residents into the program design, including precisely how the cash stipends will be awarded.
“My bias is that it should go to people who need it the most, but that’s not truly universal. That’s targeted,” he said. “The way our country is now, for something like this to work, everybody has to feel like they are a part of it.”
One idea they’re kicking around is that a specific number of slots would be reserved for what they call their “promise zone” in south Stockton, where they’ve done a lot of existing economic research and development work.
Tubbs, too, approaches the idea of a minimum income from an entirely different place than Silicon Valley’s scions. Most of the tech proponents of UBI have approached the topic through the lens of automation and the massive devaluation of human labor that they think could result from further developments in artificial intelligence. While giving cash to everyone has an egalitarian ring, when the message is delivered by the ultra-wealthy of Menlo Park and San Francisco, it can feel as if UBI is the crumbs being swept off the real-money table to buy off the masses.
But Tubbs referenced a strain of African American thought expressed by no less a leader than Martin Luther King Jr. “The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income,” King argued in 1967. Though Tubbs didn’t mention them, the previous year, the Black Panthers came out with their famous 10-Point Program. And there it is in point number two: “We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every man employment or a guaranteed income.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising that different black thinkers in the 1960s came to the conclusion that a guaranteed income would be an effective way to fight the poverty that resulted from structural racism. They’d just seen a generation of federal programs make white Americans much, much wealthier, while also seeing how those same policies discriminated against them. The big programs that were created during the New Deal were boxed in by what historian Ira Katznelson calls “the Southern cage.” In exchange for creating socialistic Federal programs, the then-Democrats of the south required policies that would reinforce the racial hierarchy of the country. Black people’s freedom and economic prospects were the bargaining chip that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Congresses he worked with slid over to former slave states in exchange for their support of sweeping legislation.
For example, FDR would create the Federal Housing Authority, but segregation and redlining would combine to create disinvestment in increasingly segregated black neighborhoods across the nation. FDR would get Social Security, but many job categories in which black people predominated would be exempted from inclusion. The GI Bill might have helped black people get an education, but they could not take equal advantage of the Veterans Administration housing benefits because of racist real-estate practices. Job and social programs might seem nice, but the experience of what could happen to nice ideas within American bureaucracy might have made simple cash payments seem more racism-proof than the alternatives.
But Tubbs is not a theoretician or activist. He is the mayor of a poor city, and he knows that people in Stockton need money not just to survive, but to try to lever themselves out of the lower-income brackets through education or entrepreneurship.
In preparation for the UBI project, Tubbs had a convening in his old city-council district (where he grew up) in south Stockton with upper-income, middle-income, and poor people.
“We said, ‘What would you do with an extra $500 a month?’” Tubbs said. “One woman said, ‘It’s summer, so that’d be great because my kids are coming back from college and my bills go up. One person said, ‘I’d probably save that up to start a business. One person said, ‘I’d go back to school.’ It wasn’t: ‘I’m gonna buy a TV or a car.’”
For the poorest people in Stockton, it could help them transition from being on the streets into some kind of housing, or from temporary housing into something more permanent. Extra cash could help people stay in their homes, rather than getting evicted. “Don’t get me started talking about Evicted,” he told me, referencing the surprise hit book by Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond about the lives of poor people in Milwaukee.
“There was one line where he said, ‘Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out,’” Tubbs said. Locked into prison, locked out of homes from which they’d been evicted.
The lessons of the book hit close to home. He grew up in south Stockton, spending his elementary-school days in Louis Park Estates, a few blocks of nearly identical two-story condos just across the water from Rough and Ready Island. (Yes, that is its real name.)
“I’m not sure why they call it ‘estates.’ It’s a bunch of condominiums with stray cats walking around,” Tubbs jokes. “Growing up, when I'd throw out the trash, I’d toss it and dart because all the cats would come running. That’s why I still don’t like cats.”
On a recent afternoon, there were kids playing in the small and connected front yards, a few older folks perched on plastic chairs. An ancient gentleman in a brown zoot suit that might have been purchased in that cut’s heyday stepped creakily out of a Cadillac. It was closer to idyllic than dystopian, but every window had a set of heavy bars, even the second-story ones. And on one lawn, a family’s possessions were scattered everywhere, around a U-Haul that had been driven up onto the grass. If it was not an eviction, the scene spoke of some kind of hasty retreat.
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Soon, there will be 1,000 more jobs in South Stockton. Amazon recently committed to building a 600,000-square-foot facility in the area.
That’s on top of a million-square-foot facility in a huge and developing logistics hub in Tracy. That’s about 20 minutes down I-205, right at the base of the Altamont Pass, which separates the Central Valley from the East Bay.
Once a sleepy agricultural area, it finds itself a logistics hub for dozens of companies. The wealthy Bay Area is nearby. There is great highway access. The Port of Oakland is through the pass. The land is cheap. And most importantly, the companies want to access “a laborshed” that extends outside the Bay.
A single developer, the logistics-focused real-estate investment trust Prologis, is developing 1,800 acres next to existing facilities for Costco and Safeway. Their first big lease went to Amazon, which snapped up a million-square-foot building that was the first warehouse to be built in the Central Valley after the Great Recession. Now thousands of people work in the warehouse alongside a fleet of robots.
“When I got in the business 10 years ago, people cared about how many truck stalls do you have, how many doors do you have, what’s your clear height,” Ryan George, the Prologis investment officer working on the Tracy project, told me. “That’s all still important, but what drives the discussion now is where is my labor? How do I compete to attract and retain labor?”
Several logistics-industry publications back up George’s assertion. There is a widely acknowledged labor “shortage” in logistics, which has been exacerbated by Amazon’s growth. That’s driven up wages beyond traditional brick-and-mortar retail jobs, but not high enough to retain employees in high-cost regions.
And that’s why Stockton and the surrounding small towns are so attractive. “Some companies are trading transportation advantages for locations that have a desirable labor pool,” wrote Logistics Management in August of this year.
At the same time, a report from the Material Handling Institute and Deloitte Consulting found that many companies expected a major increase in adoption of automation and robotics over the coming years in part because of how hard it is to find the cheap workers that make e-commerce go.
“The fact is that there are 600,000 [warehouse] jobs that are going unfilled in the United States and that gap is getting bigger and bigger,” Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise told me late last year. “The turnover rate for any manufacturing or warehouse job is about 25 percent. And so, there is a need for automation because people aren’t showing up to do the work.”
And ever more e-commerce, which requires a ton of shipping, has added a new wrinkle to the structural problems: It’s highly seasonal. That’s where places like Tracy come into the equation. It’s close enough to serve the Bay Area’s wealthy, but can tap the labor pool not just in Stockton and Sacramento, but all the way out to the migrant workers of the Central Valley.
“The Central Valley in general has a big advantage. To put it in the simplest terms, there are folks out there picking tomatoes in the summertime,” George told me. “They don’t have anything to do in November, December, January. So that’s when they are helping when Amazon triples their employees. And it’s not unique to Amazon.”
Faced with these labor-market conditions, companies have a few options. They can pay out more in wages and offer more perks. They can add tech, in the form of robotics, trying to drive down the amount of labor they need. They can reduce the amount of training and responsibility the average worker needs, so all the people who churn through are roughly interchangeable.
The problem is that that latter two decisions usually make the jobs even worse, exacerbating the wage problem.
George takes me on a driving tour of the vast development. Out here in the back end of e-commerce, drought-tolerant plants line the boulevards, fed only by recycled water. There are bike paths and glassy office parks and little hints of the area’s previous life: an irrigation canal, a railroad crossing.
George stops so that we can watch the construction of a perfectly flat plane onto which concrete will be poured to create the foundation of another enormous building. We talk about how the town of Tracy has received the new development. Though the city has been supportive, some residents don’t want the new development.
“People don’t realize this is where the future is. No one’s going to shopping malls. Shopping malls are going into here, right?” he says, pointing at the soon-to-be building.
Looking around, this does seem like the perfect place for a warehouse. We’re surrounded by highways, a wind farm, huge transmission lines, aqueducts. This is the shadow infrastructure of the Bay Area, the place where the physical systems that underly even the most phone-dependent life take shape. There are jobs in making those systems work, but they may not be ones that people want to do.
It’s a fascinating paradox. While Mayor Tubbs worries about how to structure UBI and get decent jobs into his city, the logistics people are fretting about not having enough workers to fill the slots and how to purchase more robots to reduce the need for human labor.
Even out here, two hours from Silicon Valley on a good day, the tech industry is shaking up civic and economic life. Would a truly universal UBI make hiring even more difficult, thereby driving even more automation? Given that not enough people seem to want warehouse jobs, is that necessarily a bad thing?
In San Francisco, the idea of a universal basic income can drive derisive snorts as a payoff from the tech overlords, but in Stockton, they’ll take all the help they can get.
Niel de Jong raised his sons on the music of bands like Metallica, Pink Floyd, and Rage Against the Machine. In the evenings, in their home in Auckland, New Zealand, they played a game called “Guess the Record,” where they’d look up obscure songs on YouTube and challenge each other to name the artist. De Jong’s enthusiasm for music was matched by his love of Māori culture and history, which he was determined to pass onto his boys. From an early age they were enrolled in immersion schools known as Kura Kaupapa Māori, where lessons were taught entirely in the indigenous language. Soon, they were fluent.
The family eventually moved to a small town in the far north of the country, where Henry and Lewis—now 17 and 15, respectively—formed a metal band called Alien Weaponry along with their friend and bass player Ethan Trembath, 15. Their father stepped in as band manager. A mixture of fast, aggressive drum beats and defiant lyrics sung in Māori, the band’s songs trace their people’s history, telling stories of colonization, oppression, liberation, and death. One single, “Rū Ana Te Whenua” (The Trembling Earth), describes a violent battle between British soldiers and Māori in 1864 that claimed the life of one of their ancestors.
“Metal has the power and anger that allows you to express deep emotions,” Lewis told me over Skype. “It helps us bring light to some unjust actions in the past.” Henry, sitting next to him, nodded in agreement, his long brown hair pulled back in a bun. The teenagers, who are of the tribes Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Tuara, have faced repeated questions about their heritage (they are both light-skinned), and were initially worried about how the Māori community might take their music. But the reaction so far has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Henry said. Last month, Alien Weaponry won the coveted APRA Maioha Award for Māori artists and signed a three-year management deal with the German music agency Das Maschine. The band has been invited to play a host of festivals across Europe next year.
Alien Weaponry’s celebration of Māori language, which is also known as te reo, comes at a critical time in New Zealand, as the rate of proficiency continues to decline. The latest census data shows only 21 percent of Māori could speak the language in 2013 compared with 25 percent in 2001. Across the total population, less than 4 percent can hold a conversation in Māori. The problem is not isolated to New Zealand. It’s estimated that of the roughly 6,000 languages in the world, at least 43 percent are endangered. The UN estimates one language is lost every two weeks. As governments struggle to develop strategies to preserve languages, contemporary bilingual musicians like Alien Weaponry are gaining throngs of young fans and offering a fresh avenue outside traditional models. “Music gets to places that other things don’t, even education and other sorts of campaigns,” said the Wellington-based author, broadcaster, and music historian Nick Bollinger. “If it’s happening unconsciously rather than through some sort of deliberate didactic method, then I think that’s probably the best sign.”
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Māori pop music first began to emerge in New Zealand in the 1960s, taking on a reggae-inspired sound in the early 1980s. (Traditional Māori music and dance, meanwhile, goes back several centuries.) Since then, there has been an “almost conscious attempt to keep it niche,” Bollinger said, adding that “mainstream commercial radio would never go near it.” Lydia Jenkin, a representative of APRA, the organization behind New Zealand’s prestigious songwriting award, the Silver Scroll, told me that the group has received approximately 2,000 entries in the past 10 years; only five of the 14 entries sung partially or completely in Māori have ever made the longlist. Bollinger remembered being on the judging panel one year and witnessing a fellow judge reject a Māori entry because it didn’t include subtitles. (APRA this year committed to having a Māori expert on every judging panel, Victoria Kelly, a representative, wrote me in a later email.)
While there’s no simple solution to the problem of dying languages, the approach of encouraging young people to pick up the mantle—critical as older speakers die out—is rapidly evolving. Around the world, emerging bands experimenting with language are finding young audiences through social media and the internet. In Toksook Bay, a remote Alaskan village, a teenager named Byron Nicholai has gained an international following for his songs sung in the Yup'ik language through his Facebook page, “I Sing. You Dance.” In Canada, an indigenous DJ collective, A Tribe Called Red, sold out shows around the world with music that blends imagery, stories, and sounds from their culture, and draws attention to issues including systemic disadvantage, poverty, and cultural appropriation. (At one point the band, whose single “Stadium Pow Wow” has been viewed more than three million times on YouTube, pleaded with non-indigenous fans to stop wearing headdresses to their shows.)
In Auckland, a young bilingual band called SoccerPractise is also on the rise. Known for mixing Māori lyrics with synth sounds and kaleidoscopic visual displays, the group released the single “Amene”—the word is Māori for Amen—which went No. 1 on four alternative New Zealand radio charts in June and July. In September, the hit Disney film Moana was released in Māori in New Zealand. And in 2016, a group of more than a dozen Māori artists made headlines with “Maimoatia” (“Cherish It”), a collaborative song that beat Justin Timberlake to the top spot on the iTunes singles charts in New Zealand. It opened with a rallying cry: For the language’s survival, speak it. For the language’s survival, sing it.
* * *
Those fighting to preserve a language will inevitably face an existential question: Does saving it even matter? While Māori is recognized as an official language in New Zealand, most of the population speak English. And whatever happens, vestiges of Māori will endure in the form of songs and greetings. The country’s public broadcaster, Radio New Zealand, encourages its announcers and reporters to introduce themselves in Māori, and many words have become part of the local vernacular, including kia ora (hi), kai (food), and whānau (family). The haka, a traditional dance, is arguably one of the world’s most famous indigenous performances because it’s featured at the start of many international sporting events televised to millions.
The Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter noted in a piece for The New York Times that languages each have their own fascinating quirks, often credited with offering insights into different worlds. “In Russian there’s no word just for blue; you have to specify whether you mean dark or light blue,” he wrote. “In Chinese, you don’t say next week and last week but the week below and the week above.” But, McWhorter told me, the need to save languages comes down to something far more fundamental. Having a language “is part of constituting a culture to have a code you can speak in that no other culture has; it's part of the definition of a culture,” he said.
For New Zealand’s first people, their entirely oral language went beyond communication and “into the realm of identity and metaphysics,” the historian Paul Moon wrote in his 2016 book Ka Ngaro Te Reo: Māori Language Under Siege in the Nineteenth Century, serving as a “conduit linking the physical and spiritual worlds.” But the language did not fare well under colonization. After the Native Schools Act was passed in 1867, te reo was banned from classrooms and children were beaten for speaking it. By the 1980s, with less than 20 percent of the Māori population able to speak the language fluently, a national movement was launched to try and save it, including grassroots initiatives such as the establishment of Māori-language pre-schools. The movement is still held up as a pioneering example of language preservation today, but it remains unclear whether the damage of significant and prolonged marginalization can be undone.
Geneva Alexander-Marsters, the 27-year-old lead singer of SoccerPractise, first started experimenting with contemporary bilingual music by covering Māori songs she learned at school as a kid. Born to a white mother and Māori father, she has adopted what she calls a “gray area” (“too brown for the white kids, too white for the brown kids”), which made her a bridge between both worlds. “SoccerPractise speaks to that,” the singer told me from her home in Auckland. “We’re a bilingual band. We look like this and we do this.”
Alexander-Marsters said she believes her music opens the door to the language for people who may feel too outside the culture to walk in. “There are people who are interested in Māori, but they think they don’t know enough,” she told me. “Music is really powerful as an educational tool because you just have to listen to it over and over again to start understanding the words and meanings.”
McWhorter sees this comfort level as crucial. “Not all people understand that reviving a language—if one really wants it to live again in anything like the form that it once had—means getting people using it spontaneously in real life, including speaking it to their children,” he told me. “Art, and I would say especially music, is a great way to inculcate this ingrained sense of using the language, with real expressiveness, with the infectiousness of music and its sense of cultural authenticity.”
Anna Luisa Daigneault, a development officer at the Oregon-based nonprofit Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, has researched bilingual music and bands extensively in Canada and Latin America. She believes the key to their artistic success is cultivating a strong local following. “[These bands] do lots of performances. They care about the elders. They care about the youth. They’re genuinely doing all the grassroots stuff it takes to reach a wider audience, and it takes years,” she told me. But there are limitations to being a bilingual band. The immediate audience is small, there’s a glut of competing musicians promoting themselves through social media every day, and the likelihood of people being put off by lyrics they can't understand or a song name they can’t spell in Google is real. On top of that, it’s difficult to measure how someone might be affected by exposure to bilingual music in daily life, as little research has been done. Daigneault said she was only aware of studies that focused on music within a school curriculum.
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Music has the power to immortalize and preserve languages. Classical music, for example, has a history of using Latin in liturgical motets like Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate. And many contemporary composers are now incorporating threatened and extinct languages into their work—detailed by the writer Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim in her 2016 Times article “Vanishing Languages, Reincarnated as Music.” But is music simply a document of history and a means of preserving language, or can it attract new speakers? “For the Māori language to be cool through music is more valuable than [young people] having books to read about it,” Niel de Jong told me. “Māori will stay alive with young people if it’s cool.” Indeed, the power of popularity and exposure can’t be understated. In 1913, 90 percent of Māori school children grew up speaking their language. Today, there is a national debate about whether te reo should be made compulsory in all New Zealand schools, to address the low rates of proficiency. “A lot of Māori students all across the country are disengaged with their language, their culture, their people,” Paora Trim, a teacher with Kapiti College, told the Education Review earlier this year.
Next year, Alien Weaponry will take Māori thrash metal across the world and aim to release their first album in February 2018. They plan to spend three months touring Europe, de Jong told me (he will travel with the band). And if the teenagers stand out alongside other acts, it won’t be a new feeling. They have searched online but haven’t found any other bilingual Māori metal bands, let alone ones drawing attention to New Zealand’s contentious history. Ultimately, the musicians believe that singing about colonization and the widespread confiscation of Māori land—issues still being redressed today—is more powerful in their ancestors’ tongue. “To get people to learn you have to make them interested,” Henry told me. “You can’t just shove it down their throats. You can’t force someone to learn a language, or a history.”
At American University, a private university in Washington, D.C., the commitment to cultural diversity is an integral part of its marketing and outreach to prospective students. And for Janelle Gray, a black freshman from Northern Virginia, such advertising worked. Information sessions and campus visits emphasized that AU valued racial and ethnic diversity, a feature that Gray said drew her to the school.
In the spring of 2017, two days after accepting AU’s admission offer, Gray learned that bananas hung on rope fashioned into nooses—a symbol of racial terror and intimidation against black Americans—were found in several spots on AU’s campus. The incident coincided with the university’s first black woman student-government president taking office. Gray never reconsidered her decision to attend AU because she was equally drawn to its international-relations program. But she admits she arrived on campus last summer with a lot of uncertainty and fear. Then last month, it happened again: Ten confederate-flag posters with cotton stalks were pinned to AU’s campus bulletin boards. This time Gray was devastated. “I went to sleep that night, feeling like this situation is just so surreal,” she said. “We come here to learn, and we shouldn't have to deal with things like this.”
Gray’s experience, and the racist acts on her campus, is neither rare nor random. The episodes correspond with what the Anti-Defamation League identifies as an unprecedented increase in white supremacist activity on college grounds that began in fall 2016. Since the start of this academic year, black college students have been targeted in a rash of attacks—at an Ivy League university in New York, at a public college in Illinois, at a Catholic college in Pennsylvania, and at a flagship state university in Michigan. With another college-application season starting and a new crop of black students finalizing their selections, an overarching question persists: To what degree will racist incidents on college campuses—and colleges' response to those incidents—affect black-student enrollment? At risk are colleges’ and universities’ reputations as champions of diversity, as well as black students’ academic success.
According to data provided by American University, the percentage of black freshmen accepting AU’s offers of admission increased from 33 percent last year to 38 percent this year, continuing an upward trend for the third consecutive enrollment cycle. Notably, the banana and noose incident occurred in May after many high-school seniors, like Gray, had finalized which college to attend. To date, AU reports applications from black students for the fall 2018 semester are up 6.5 percent from that for the current semester. However, the full impact of last month’s event on black students’ decision to enroll has yet to crystallize.
In a prepared statement, Teresa Flannery, AU’s vice president of communication, said the university sought to address last spring’s racist episode “directly and promptly” with current and prospective students. Among the actions taken were a schoolwide community meeting and a webinar the first week of May for new students and families to address their worries. AU similarly held a town hall meeting after the confederate posters appeared in late September. “Though we have not found the effects of these events to be reflected in enrollment and retention, that does not mean we believe there were no negative effects,” Flannery wrote. “Certainly, we are concerned about the effects on students’ sense of belonging … and on their sense of safety and wellness.” While it’s hard to say whether AU has, compared to other universities, witnessed unusually high rates of racism on campus, the fact that it’s experienced particularly high-profile incidents makes it a case study worth analyzing.
In Gray’s observation, AU’s challenge is in translating the concern for black students into substantive action. “The administration did a really good job [at September’s town hall] … acting empathetic towards our situation,” Gray noted. But for her, too little has changed in the days since: “All I've seen are I give you my condolences, I feel bad for you, but what I want to see is … [visible change on] these issues of racism on campus.”
Others share her frustration. Sarah Pascarella, a Boston-based writer and editor who graduated from AU in 2000, points to racism at AU dating back two decades. During the 1996-97 school year, the school’s student newspaper was accused of racism against a black student-government candidate after it cited a “fear” that she would only cater to certain students in its endorsement of her opponent. When the young woman protested, her letter-to-the-editor was published above a comic containing monkeys. Pascarella, like Gray, was a freshman at the time. “As an alumna, I'm appalled at what black students are experiencing at American University,” said Pascarella, who’s white. “Same as in the late ‘90s, the university has much work to do to ensure these incidents are not tolerated, and that all students feel safe and welcome.”
Still, the degree to which racist acts adversely affect student enrollment remains an open question. A historic look at dramatic, high-profile events on and near college campuses offers an interesting point of comparison. The May 1970 Kent State University shootings—in which members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd killing students protesting the Vietnam War—caused a “tremendous blow to the reputation of the school,” according to an article on a student-news website, and that fall’s enrollment declined.
But more recent examples suggest that at in-demand schools such as American, enrollment rates are quite tenacious. At NYU, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 struck just south of its sprawling Manhattan campus, yet the school’s enrollment held firm. Fall enrollment following the April 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech—where a student killed 32 classmates and faculty members before taking his own life—remained steady. And there were no signs of an enrollment freefall at University of California, Davis, after a campus police officer doused student protesters with pepper spray in November 2011, which was captured on video and sparked national outrage.
It’s unclear, though, how targeted acts directed at a small, underrepresented group—rather than random, unpredictable violence—translates to college choices. The University of Virginia in Charlottesville is the state’s premier institution of higher education—and a campus where black students demonstrated in 2015 to call attention to racism and the challenges of black student life. Most recently, the school’s president and other administrators were harshly criticized for letting torch-wielding neo-Nazis and white supremacists march onto its campus the night of August 11, 2017. The next day a white nationalist rally in the city of Charlottesville turned violent as the governor issued a state of emergency and UVA students sheltered in place.
Marcus Martin, UVA’s vice president and chief officer for diversity, in a written statement highlighted the “significant progress” the university has made in the areas of black-student recruitment, enrollment, and graduation, citing a 43 percent increase in first-year black-student enrollment in the past five years. What’s striking, though, are black-student data from UVA’s “diversity dashboard” listing the offers rate (the percentage of applicants who were offered admission) and the yield rate (the percentage of students who accepted the offers of admission and enrolled.)
From 2012 to 2014, as the offers to black students gradually climbed from 30.4 percent to 34.8 percent, the yield rate gradually fell from 37 percent to 34.2 percent. The number of black students accepting UVA’s offer saw a brief jump in 2015 (36.1 percent) before falling back to 34.6 percent in 2016. More simply: 320 black students rejected UVA’s offer of admission in 2012, 350 in 2013, 455 in 2014, 432 in 2015, and 504 in 2016.
An admissions officer at UVA was unavailable for comment. But Tom Green, who oversees strategic enrollment management at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, warned against concluding that the dwindling yield rates mean black-student interest in UVA is declining. The data don’t reveal how many of the admitted students come from areas where there’s less demand for the university, for example.
Yet Lecia Brooks, the outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights nonprofit based in Montgomery, Alabama, predicted that black-student enrollment will begin to take a hit if college administrators allow racist threats and attacks to go unchecked. While some universities have continued to see incremental growth in their black-student populations, Brooks said the outlook could change as parents and students weigh their options, and the racial climate on campuses begins to factor into their decision-making.
“Students are paying attention to how administrators are responding to these incidents, and kind of watching to see [if] they really stand for these lofty initiatives around diversity and inclusion like they say they do,” she explained. Additionally, the Clery Act—a federal law that requires colleges and universities to collect and publish information about crimes on and around their campuses—mandates that crimes motivated by hate or bias be included in annual reports. Brooks said parents armed with these statistics will have “a real eye-opener … schools would be hard-pressed to act like [racism on campus] never touched them.”
Clery Act data show that the number of reported incidents of intimidation—the most common type of hate crime in 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available—increased from 260 in 2010 to 343 in 2014. The hate crimes were most frequently associated with racism and anti-LGBT bias. (The number of reported incidents of destruction, damage, and vandalism, however, decreased between 2010 and 2014.)
To address doubts that arise for black students and families, Brooks advised that universities require constant professional development with faculty and staff, and make combatting racial injustice on their campuses a genuine part of their programming and recruitment efforts. “But more than that,” she said, administrators have “a moral obligation to take a strong stand against the incursion of white supremacy on college campuses and ensure that every individual in that campus community feels safe.”
A tougher stance is vitally important for new students—and for black students who choose to stay and matriculate at schools with well-publicized racist incidents. Lauren Mims, of Fairfax, Virginia, earned her bachelor’s at UVA in 2012 and is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology. Mims credits UVA for incredible relationships and opportunities—“I feel like I grew up at the University of Virginia”—but has always felt like race relations at UVA could be better. “I would hear a lot of microaggressions in the classroom. There was an incident with Yik Yak where there were racial slurs calling black students monkeys. There have been racist posters put up [on campus],” she said.
Still, Mims has never considered leaving UVA, nor has she heard black classmates talk of transferring. Following the white supremacist rally, she and other black alumni gathered with current UVA students to address fears and offer support. Many students cited the prestige of the university and being first-generation college-goers for their pride in being at UVA. They also spoke of making painful compromises for a quality education—factors that can’t be measured on enrollment and retention graphs.
“Many students talked about how it is really hard being here as a black student,” Mims said. “It’s a university where I can get my degree, where I'm working towards my future career. All of that is just as important to me now as it was before August 11 and 12, even if it makes being a student here harder.”
Last year, a 77-year-old woman traveled to a clinic in Georgia to have stem cells injected in her eyes. She came in hope of a cure—or at least something that could help her macular degeneration, which causes a dark spot to appear in the center of vision.
The procedure was supposed to work like this: The clinic would take fat from her belly, separate out stem cells that naturally occur in fat, and inject them into her eyes to regenerate damaged tissue. The procedure cost $8,900. It had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and was not covered by insurance. To pay out of pocket, she had to raise money on a crowdfunding site.
Her vision did not get better. It got much worse. Within three months, her retinas—the eye’s layer of light-sensitive cells—had peeled away from the rest of her eyes. As a result, she can only make out hand motions in her right eye and light in the left, according to a recent case report. She could no longer walk on her own.
In March, eye doctors based primarily at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami had published a widely covered report describing three eerily similar cases: Three elderly women with macular degeneration got stem cells derived from their own fat injected into their eyes at a different stem-cell clinic in Florida. The same thing happened: Their retinas became detached, and they went blind. The doctors ended up examining the 77-year-old woman too, which led to the recent case report describing her condition.
And there are likely even more cases. Since writing the first report, says Ajay Kuriyan, an author on the report and now a retinal specialist at the University of Rochester, eye doctors around the country have come forward with similar stories of stem-cell injections gone awry. They are now preparing an article describing the additional cases.
* * *
Stem-cell clinics that offer seeming miracle cures for everything from back pain to erectile dysfunction have proliferated in the United States in the past decade. These cases of blindness now cropping up in the medical literature point to the potential dangers of letting hundreds of such clinics operate without oversight.
In August, the FDA moved toward a crackdown. It posted a warning letter to the Florida clinic that had treated the first three women and called the fat-derived stem cells an unapproved treatment. On the same day, the agency announced that federal marshals had seized live-virus vaccines from a California company that was injecting the viruses along with stem cells into cancer patients. After the news broke, says Mark Berman, a plastic surgeon and the California company’s director of stem-cell implantation,“I’ve actually had patients call me up, cancel their surgery, demand their money back, and tell me what a disgusting human being I am and I should be removed from this planet.” He criticized the initial news reports as “classic leftist kind of propaganda, fake news.”
Berman also cofounded the Cell Surgical Network, of which the Georgia clinic that treated the 77-year-old woman is an affiliate. The network trains affiliated doctors to use their equipment and follow their stem-cell therapy protocols.
The case report does not name the Georgia clinic, but The Atlantic has independently confirmed it is the Stem Cell Center of Georgia, which operates within the Ageless Wellness Center in Peachtree City. The clinic declined to comment for this story. A local news report from June 2016 quotes the center’s doctor as saying, “We have an ophthalmologist who is going to treat three people with macular degeneration with intraocular injections.”
Berman says that his network’s affiliates have performed about 15 eye procedures total. They stopped offering it after the woman went blind. (Cell Surgical Network and the Stem Cell Center of Georgia both still list macular degeneration on their websites.) The injections, he says, were part of a study approved by an institutional review board. At the clinic, the 77-year-old woman received injections into her two eyes one day apart. Berman concedes that they should have waited longer to make sure there were no serious side effects after the first eye. “That’s a pretty good lesson learned. Unfortunately it was learned by doing them,” he says.
Others say the clinic should have known better. “It’s just not a professional thing to take an unproven intervention and inject it in both eyes,” says Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota, who tracks stem-cell clinics. Kuriyan says that injecting both eyes and asking patients to pay out of pocket for their treatment are both highly unusual for clinical trials. “Those are all big red flags,” he says. A better approach, he says, would have been to test the injections in animals for safety first.
It’s unclear exactly why the stem-cell injections caused such a bad reaction in these women. Perhaps the stem cells had differentiated into cells that formed a membrane and then contracted, peeling the retina away from the rest of the eye. Or perhaps there was scarring caused by immune cells, which are part of the mix of cells in fat that can be injected along with stem cells into the eye.
Given the growing number of retinal detachments coming to light, Turner wonders if there are other consequences of stem-cell injections that have not been reported. Berman says that the Cell Surgical Network has performed 7,000 stem-cell injections into various parts of the body, and the 77-year-old woman’s case is “the only real significant problem we’ve had.” A FDA inspection report from July chastised his network for failing to investigate and report four “serious adverse events” to the FDA, including the 77-year-old woman’s case as well as a hip infection, another “severe infection,” and a case where a patient was hospitalized for confusion and headache.
The FDA has drafted guidelines on how to oversee stem-cell clinics. The agency says stem cells do not have to be regulated as drugs as long as clinics follow certain standards, like if they only minimally manipulate the cells and don’t change their purpose in the body. For example, transferring fat from the belly to breasts would not fall under FDA purview because the fat is still acting as fat. But if stem cells are being separated from fat and then injected to treat a disease, then the FDA may have reason to step in.
“The question to me is, ‘Will the FDA really dedicate the resources that are needed?’” says Turner. The FDA very publicly criticized a couple stem-cell clinics in August as a warning shot, but there are hundreds of such clinics in the Untied States, and overseeing them all would require a significant investment. In just the five years Turner has been closely tracking the stem-cell industry, he says, business seems to have been booming.
Presidential Messages: President Trump’s responses to the deaths of servicemembers are under scrutiny after he boasted he was more conscientious about calling grieving families than his predecessors; the family of La David Johnson, a soldier killed this month in Niger, says the president’s condolences were disrespectful and insensitive. Meanwhile, Trump is sending conflicting messages about a bipartisan health-care agreement aimed at stabilizing the Obamacare market: Though he initially seemed to praise the deal, he’s now tweeted that he can’t support it.
Foreign Policy: While some of Trump’s policies have been aimed at reversing Obama’s achievements overseas, he’s not to blame for all the developments undercutting the former president’s legacy. Take Burma: The Obama administration worked to encourage democratic developments there, but reduced international pressure may have emboldened the country’s military to turn back to its past of atrocities.
The Power of Information: In the wake of the allegations that the producer Harvey Weinstein abused multiple women over a period of decades, some right-wing pundits have accused the mainstream media of failing to expose Weinstein as a predator. But as Conor Friedersdorf writes, these pundits’ news organizations can’t replace the ones they critique. What enabled Weinstein’s abuse to continue? Nondisclosure agreements and other legal rules can discourage employees from speaking up about harassment, even when they’re protected by labor laws. Social media, though, can help raise awareness of the widespread problem of sexual assault—and in France, the Weinstein scandal has sparked a powerful conversation.
Vann R. Newkirk II reports from Puerto Rico:
Three weeks after the storm, the tropical green was just starting to come back, sprouting over the brown wounds of mud and giant trees pulled up from their roots. Here in Arecibo, a small municipality about 40 minutes from San Juan on a good day, high-water marks from the flood stood out on building walls, seven or eight feet high. Obliterated houses marked the deserted hamlets along the road. Smokestacks had been snapped in half and wires lay slack where giant power pylons had fallen. The Río Grande de Arecibo that cuts through the municipality remained an swollen brown expanse, still threatening to drown bridges and homes. Arecibo was a ghost town.
But [Myrna] Conty’s dismay was also about the destruction that couldn’t be seen. For Conty, an old-guard environmental warrior in the countryside, Arecibo had been one of the key battlegrounds in her groups’ fights to contain poisons that affect much of Puerto Rico. But all of the signs around us showed that the battle had been—at least for now—lost. Across the island, residents already beset by water and food shortages are also facing real threats of contamination that have already spread illness and worse. “All of this is just the beginning,” Conty said. “This is catastrophic.”
Keep reading here, as Vann outlines the environmental crisis that Hurricane Maria set in motion.
After President Trump signed an executive order on health care that might expand short-term plans and association plans—types of insurance with fewer benefit requirements than those sold on the Obamacare exchanges—Olga Khazan tested out short-term insurance for herself. The plans were cheaper than Obamacare and had similar deductibles, but didn’t cover preexisting conditions or basic needs like allergy shots. The White House also announced that it will stop subsidizing insurers’ coverage of low-income customers, an Obamacare feature known as cost-sharing reductions. Because the tax-credit system on the individual market remains unchanged, it turns out that people who weren’t subsidized are most likely to see their premiums go up.
Can you remember the other key facts from this week’s science, tech, and health coverage? Test your knowledge below:
1. Dogs ____________ with humans better than they do with each other.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
2. Astronomers theorize that precious metals like gold come from enormous explosions in space called ____________.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
3. Frances Glessner Lee became famous for her detailed dioramas of ____________ scenes.
Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.
The abolitionist John Brown’s raid on a federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, came to an end on this day in 1859, when Brown and his men were overpowered by U.S. marines. In our December 1875 issue, F.B. Sanborn described the aborted revolt:
When Virginia awoke on that October morning, the haughty commonwealth, mother of presidents and of slaves, beheld a gray-bearded old man, wearing the sword of Washington, standing amid the broken fetters of Virginia slaves, with a town of three thousand Virginians, white and black, at his mercy. No wonder that people went wild with terror and rage at the spectacle. ...
For twelve hours he held the town at his mercy; after that he was firmly caught in the trap he had entered, and the defeat of his foray was only a question of a few hours’ time. He drew back his shattered forces into the engine-house near the armory gate, soon after noon, but neither his men at the rifle works, nor those at the arsenal across the street, nor his son Owen, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, could join him. He fought bravely, and so did Kagi and his few men on the bank of the Shenandoah, but the latter were all killed or captured before the middle of the afternoon, and at evening, when Colonel Lee arrived from Washington with a company of United States marines, nothing was left of Brown’s band except himself and six men, two of whom were wounded, in his weak fortress, and two unharmed and undiscovered men, Hazlett and Osborn Anderson, in the arsenal not far off. His enterprise had failed, and apparently through his own fault.
After Brian Alexander described the national problems that stem from the loss of small-town communities, this reader argues that car-oriented sprawl is a big part of the problem:
The illusion of auto-based suburbia is that the suburbanite thinks he’s getting the best of both worlds—the city, urban sophistication and amenities, and the country with open fields and forests—but he ends up getting neither. But it’s not the automobile in and of itself that is the problem. Rather, it’s how we build around it, with endless—and unnecessary—man-made dead ends (cul-de-sacs) that ironically create not only horrendous car traffic for the greater area, but also facilitate isolation, disconnection, and the loss of that “sense of community.”
We should go back to building on grids, using cul-de-sacs only when topography demands them, with mixed-use zoning; sidewalks that go somewhere worth walking to; smaller front yards with shady avenues and parallel parking; and real “green space” (modestly sized public squares and greens, commons, etc.).
If you have street design ideas of your own, there’s an app for that.
Happy birthday to Nora and Maria’s sister (the same age as the commercial transistor radio); to Margaret Ann’s son Daniel (a year younger than The Simpsons); to Ikram’s brother Salah (twice the age of Instagram); to Chloe’s brother Quincy (a year younger than Google); to Julie (a year younger than Sesame Street); and to Katie’s youngest son, Bennett (twice the age of YouTube).
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