The Atlantic
The Atlantic Daily: AHCA Assessment
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

What We’re Following

Health-Care Diagnoses: The Congressional Budget Office found that by 2026, 23 million people would lose insurance under the GOP health-care bill that passed the House earlier this month. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is—the CBO projected a figure of 24 million under the first, failed version of the bill.) As the Senate gets to work on revisions to the plan, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has come under fire for loading the working group with conservatives—though his long-term strategy may be more complicated. And as the White House proposes budget cuts to SNAP, some studies have linked the food-stamps program to higher levels of obesity.

Terror Investigation: Manchester police say they’re investigating a “network” surrounding 22-year-old Salman Abedi, who’s been identified as the bomber in Monday’s attack. In the early stages of the investigation, U.K. officials shared intelligence with U.S. counterparts who leaked information about the suspect’s identity to news organizations, causing the U.K. some aggravation. Abedi was known to the country’s security services before the bombing, but wasn’t considered an immediate threat—circumstances that point to the challenges of terrorism prevention.

Global Governments: After he declared martial law in the Philippines’ southern region of Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte says he may extend the declaration throughout the country “to protect the people” from Islamic militants. In Brazil, protesters stormed government ministries with calls for President Michael Temer to step down over corruption allegations. And in Indonesia, the outgoing governor of Jakarta withdrew his appeal of a two-year jail sentence over blasphemy, a conviction international observers worry will undermine freedom of expression in the country.


An abandoned house filled with sand in Kolmanskop, Namibia, on July 23, 2013. More photos of a world without people here. (Jerome Delay / AP)

Evening Read

Alice Su on the exploitation of migrant workers in the Middle East:

There’s a neighborhood in Amman nicknamed “Manila Street” where many migrant workers live and congregate on their days off, setting up Filipino food markets, buying phone cards, and visiting the Western Union to send money home. Many of the Filipina women who live there are “runaways,” meaning they lack regular papers and can be arrested or exploited on the streets at any time. When I visited the area, a Filipina woman at the street market explained why police kept pulling me over. “They will try to make you their ‘girlfriend,’” she said. “Sometimes they are police and sometimes they are just pretending. They say: ‘You have iqama [residency papers]?’ If you don’t have, they ask you for money, or drive you somewhere to do fucking. Or else they can send you to jail, or back to your country. I hear too many stories like this.” Several other migrant women later told me the same thing.

Read more here, as Su reflects on the women whose cruel working conditions she’s reported on—and on the women who are often responsible for exploiting them.

What Do You Know?

1. Three of the world’s top five most profitable companies are located in ____________.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. A blue whale can hold up to ____________ tons of water in its mouth.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. In a recent study of low- and moderate-income households, just ____________ percent could count on a steady month-to-month income with no significant dips or spikes.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Answers: Silicon Valley, 120, 2

Look Back

“On May 24, 1976,” writes Marina Koren, “a group of French wine experts gathered in the capital for a blind wine tasting”:

The event was organized by Steven Spurrier, a British sommelier who ran a wine school and shop in the center of town. American visitors had brought him wine from California, and Spurrier became curious to see how it would stand up to French wines, regarded as the best in the world. Spurrier and the judges, as well as other sommeliers and observers, went into the tasting thinking the California offerings didn’t stand a chance, and that the tasters would be able to discern the flavors even when their identities were hidden.

But that’s not what happened.

Read more on the so-called “Judgment of Paris” here.

Reader Response

In our ongoing series on technology and democracy, Juliette De Maeyer argues that podcasts are the new talk radio—with the power to convince audiences to care and think deeply about political and social issues. On the TAD forum, this reader is enthusiastic:

It’s a less distracting medium [than TV], which I love. There’s no crawl at the bottom of the screen, or dizzying graphics, or multiple people trying to get words in edgewise. I just started listening to podcasts, and it has cut my TV news watching down to almost nothing.

But another reader is skeptical:

Podcasts are good, but there are so many out there that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them all, which will likely result in people staying even more firmly in their information bubble. I’ve listened to plenty of conservative talk radio in my day, but only because there wasn’t much else on the radio where I was driving. I can’t imagine myself ever downloading and listening to a Rush or Mark Levin podcast.

More reader discussion (and some podcast recommendations) here. Also, that fragmentation caused by “information bubbles” is part of why why Utah Senator Mike Lee is studying civic engagement.

Time of Your Life

Happy birthday to Eli, who’s never lived in a world without the World Wide Web; to Maria’s sister, who’s twice the age of CD players; and to Lynn and Mark, who were born on the same day in 1950—right around the time Greece got a new prime minister, Sofoklis Venizelos. Check out their shared Life Timeline:

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


Mentorship modeled, remake flubbed, superheroes self-sabotaged, flamingos stabilized.

The Atlantic Daily is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. To contact us, email

What the New CBO Score Reveals About the AHCA
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

The Congressional Budget Office has spoken. The enigmatic number-crunching office has finally released an updated score on the American Health Care Act, just three weeks after the Republican Obamacare replacement passed the House without a score.

Despite the suspense, speculation that the law wouldn’t save enough to pass muster under Senate reconciliation rules, and an entertaining waiting game on Twitter, the CBO score shows a law that will go to the next chamber almost precisely as broken as it was after its first score, even after key fixes to high-risk pools that Republicans claimed would help the sickest Americans.

First, the numbers. The CBO estimates that the new-and-improved AHCA will save the government $119 billion by 2026, and will increase the number of uninsured people by 23 million over estimates for that same period under current law. That’s about a third of the federal savings of $337 billion under the draft of the AHCA scored in March, but only a decrease of 1 million over its estimate of 24 million people losing insurance by 2026. To summarize the top-line differences between the two versions of the bill, the final version the House voted on spent an additional $218 billion to insure 1 million additional people.

Much of the substantial changes in the final version of the House bill came from amendments that expanded funding for state high-risk pools in the Patient and State Stability Fund, as well an amendment from Representative Tom MacArthur that would provide additional Patient and State Stability Fund money to states that waive certain aspects of essential health benefits and community rating. That amendment proved controversial because it essentially allows states to permit barebones insurance packages in exchange markets, and gives insurers some limited flexibility to price out people for pre-existing conditions or discontinue coverage for services like maternity care. These provisions were expected to have a net effect of decreasing overall premiums while potentially increasing them for certain vulnerable groups in some states.

The CBO score finds that the AHCA amendments would do just that. Overall, the CBO finds employers would be more likely to provide coverage in states that chose to waive some essential benefits, which means more healthy and young people would be able to sign up for insurance coverage than under the original draft. But on balance, fewer people overall would sign up for coverage in the exchange markets. Most of them would have slightly lower premiums than under the original law, but sicker people or those in need of services excluded in state waivers would face much higher premiums. “Such services include coverage for maternity care, mental health care, substance abuse, rehabilitative and habilitative treatment, and pediatric dental care,” according to the CBO.

In lowering average premiums for healthy people and increasing coverage via employers, the new additions to the AHCA obscure just how dramatically it warps insurance coverage for sicker people. Under the original draft, premiums for older, low-income people in exchanges could increase by as much as eight times their current amounts. The new AHCA doesn’t change that increase much in waiver states that choose to bolster their high-risk pools, and actually increases the spike in states that choose not to modify their essential health benefits:

Congressional Budget Office

Additionally, the newly-amended law provides more avenues for price-gouging and denial of people who need more services, including for maternity care, mental-health services, and even hospitalizations. The bolstered Patient and State Stability Fund and its state high-risk pools are simply not even close to enough to offset premium increases for the sickest people, and for those unable to afford care. These changes, of course, come in addition to drastic cuts to the Medicaid program that would diminish the health safety net and would be less able to absorb sick people who can’t afford private insurance.

The amendments not only fail to solve the original AHCA’s problems; they also have the potential to make things much worse. The CBO report finds that under the MacArthur amendment’s waivers, “about one-sixth of the population resides in areas in which the nongroup market would start to become unstable beginning in 2020.” For sicker people, community-rated premiums in states that choose to waive federal insurance protections would increase, to the point where they “would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all—despite the additional funding that would be available under H.R. 1628 to help reduce premiums.”

In layman’s terms, the CBO predicts that about 54 million people live in places where under the AHCA people with pre-existing conditions and severe illnesses won’t be able to afford insurance on the exchanges at all within a matter of years.

As Mark Mazur of the Tax Policy Center notes, the new AHCA “looks a lot like the old one.” The core of the law is still a major tax break for wealthier families that offsets their lost revenues by making health insurance unavailable or unaffordable for many people with the highest health-care costs. Though highly touted, reforms like high-risk pools and state waivers don’t change the internal logic of the law, even if they slightly ameliorate the law’s large increases in uninsured people. Indeed, in many places and for many people with pressing health needs, the AHCA that will go on to the Senate is somehow a worse bill than the AHCA in March.

The Known Unknowns of the Russia Investigation
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

New reports about the initial stages of the Russia investigation last year are only raising more questions.

A series of accounts published this week sheds some light on how the U.S. intelligence community discovered the country’s covert efforts to influence the American political process. The New York Times reported Wednesday that American spies picked up conversations between top Russian officials discussing ways to influence two top members of President Trump’s campaign: Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman who resigned last August, and Michael Flynn, a foreign-policy surrogate who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser after his inauguration in January.

Both men have well-documented ties with Russia. Manafort worked for Moscow-aligned political candidates as a consultant in Ukraine prior to the Euromaidan revolution in 2014, and Flynn received payments from Russian business sources, including the Kremlin-financed media network Russia Today. According to the Times, the senior officials hoped to use those ties to influence the Trump campaign. The story doesn’t offer details about what their ultimate aim was.

“Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn,” the Times report said, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence sources. “Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.” Flynn and Manafort have denied any wrongdoing in the ongoing Russia investigation.

On Friday, CNN reported on similar Russian conversations held last summer about Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who spent two years as chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency under the Obama administration. Those exchanges prompted a “five-alarm fire” within the American intelligence apparatus, according to an anonymous U.S. official quoted by CNN. The Times reported that the findings were then passed to the FBI, which opened a counterintelligence probe that eventually grew into the sprawling investigation that has consumed Trump’s nascent administration.

Many questions still remain about the inquiry’s origins. It’s not clear if the FBI and other agencies already had other curious information in their possession before learning about Russian officials’ conversations and deciding to launch the probe. Both outlets’ descriptions of the talks suggest a familiarity with Trump campaign staffers and a desire to sway them somehow. They also underscore the lopsided efforts to undermine last year’s presidential election, a plot that U.S. intelligence officials concluded in January was designed to hinder Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

But the accounts are not evidence of guilt on Flynn or Manafort’s part. The descriptions do not indicate whether any contacts or efforts to collude with them actually took place. Former CIA Director John Brennan testified Monday it was still unknown to him when he left his post in January whether Moscow had succeeded in its efforts to collude with Trump campaign officials. The answer will likely be determined by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose inquiry could determine the fate of Trump’s increasingly troubled presidency.

The CBO Renders Its Verdict on the Republican Health-Care Bill
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Updated on May 24 at 5:51 p.m. ET

The House-passed Republican health-care bill would leave 23 million more people uninsured over a decade and could dramatically increase costs for people with preexisting conditions in many states, the Congressional Budget Office projected in a highly-anticipated analysis released Wednesday afternoon.

The new report is likely to exacerbate the political backlash against Republicans who voted for the party’s replacement for the Affordable Care Act without an updated estimate of its impact. It will also factor heavily into the deliberations on health care in the Senate, where Republicans decided to start from scratch rather than try to fix an unpopular House bill that many of them consider deeply flawed. The top-line numbers in the report from the nonpartisan congressional scorekeeper changed little from an earlier version of the American Health Care Act, which the CBO said would have resulted in 24 million fewer people having insurance after a decade and an initial increase in the cost of coverage premiums.

But that analysis did not account for several significant changes Republicans made to the bill in order to secure more votes, including amendments that weaken federal protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Once the GOP leadership locked in the 216 votes it needed for a majority, Speaker Paul Ryan did not want to risk losing support while waiting for a new CBO score—a highly unusual move for such far-reaching legislation and one that drew condemnation from Democrats and independent policy analysts.

The most consequential revision Republicans made was to allow states to obtain a waiver exempting them from federal requirements that insurers cover a range of essential health benefits and a prohibition on charging higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions. The CBO’s task was to project how many states might take advantage of that flexibility, and what it would mean for insurance coverage and costs. The budget office estimated that about half the population lives in states—controlled by Democrats, presumably—that would not seek a waiver and adhere to the Obamacare regulations. In those states, average premiums would fall by a modest 4 percent. About one-third of the population lives in states, the CBO projected, that would opt out of some but not all of the requirements, and average premiums would fall by about 20 percent, with sharper drops for younger people and less change for older.

The biggest changes, however, would occur for the remaining Americans in states that obtained the maximum exemptions from the federal insurance standards. While the average premiums would go down overall, they would vary significantly based on health status and the types of benefits they provided. “Less healthy people would face extremely high premiums, despite the additional funding that would be available under H.R. 1628 to help reduce premiums,” the CBO wrote. “Over time, it would become more difficult for less healthy people (including people with preexisting medical conditions) in those states to purchase insurance because their premiums would continue to increase rapidly.” In those same states, the individual health insurance market would become unstable beginning in 2020, in part because people with higher medical costs would be unable to afford comprehensive insurance plans.

Democrats found validation in the findings, which backed up their warnings that the GOP bill would benefit younger, higher-income people at the expense of older and sicker Americans. “If you are sick, if you have ever been sick, you are at risk of losing your health care,” Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told reporters. “That’s plainly what CBO says.”

The fresh projection did bring relief to Republicans in one respect: The CBO found that the House-passed bill likely complied with budget reconciliation rules that it decrease the deficit after the first decade of enactment.  The AHCA would cut the budget gap by $119 billion over a decade, according to the report.

At its heart, the Republican bill is a sharp reduction in the scope of the federal government’s role in health care. It cuts taxes on the wealthy that Democrats increased to pay for expanded coverage and benefits under Obamacare. And it reduces federal spending by about $1 trillion. An $834 billion cut to Medicaid and another $276 billion in lower subsidies accounts for the lower spending, overcoming the loss of $664 billion in revenue through tax cuts and another $210 billion in penalties from the repealed insurance mandate.

A finding that the AHCA increased the deficit would have fatally doomed the bill in the Senate, forcing House Republicans to make more revisions and hold another vote to comply with the complicated legislative procedure they initiated to circumvent a Democratic filibuster and pass their bill with just a simple majority in the Senate. In another unusual move, Ryan held the measure in the House for weeks after it passed while waiting for confirmation from the CBO that it contained sufficient deficit reduction. Democrats on Wednesday said they were still looking at the score to see if it fully complied with reconciliation rules, which require that deficit savings come from the jurisdictions of separate congressional committees.

The speaker told reporters on Tuesday that he did so “out of an abundance of caution” while noting that CBO can be unpredictable. “We have every reason to believe we’re going to hit our mark,” he said. The most recent CBO report in March found that the GOP bill would have reduced the deficit by $150 billion, leaving Republicans plenty of room to maneuver. They added only $8 billion in new spending to boost support for people with pre-existing conditions earlier this month, but policy analysts warned that late changes allowing states to opt out of Obamacare’s insurance regulations—which won the crucial support of conservatives—could lead to a much greater drain on the federal budget.

Republican supporters of the AHCA have tried to sidestep the impact of the CBO’s findings throughout the process, either by disagreeing with its assumptions or cherry-picking more favorable parts of its analysis. They dismissed its core projection that the bill would cause a spike in the uninsured rate, arguing that it was a predictable result of repealing Obamacare’s mandate that all Americans purchase insurance. In response to the report on Wednesday, Ryan highlighted its deficit findings and ignored those for insurance coverage. “This CBO report again confirms that the American Health Care Act achieves our mission: lowering premiums and lowering the deficit,” he said. “It is another positive step toward keeping our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Democrats, however, were relishing Wednesday’s release with all the excitement of a wrestler about to body-slam his opponent—for a second time. The CBO’s confirmation of coverage losses resulting from the AHCA will be plugged into attack ads that Democrats run against Republican incumbents in the House, perhaps as soon as in the special election the party hopes to win in Georgia next month. “This morally bankrupt bill will cause incredible pain for hardworking Americans, and that’s why it’s passage will haunt every single House Republican through Election Day,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Republicans have made lowering premiums a priority of their effort to replace Obamacare, and they were hopeful that the CBO would score their amendments allowing states to opt out of the law’s insurance regulations as a savings on the cost of an average health-care plan.  They have acknowledged the potential political cost of passing legislation that, polls show, is backed by only about one-fifth of the public. But they argue that action is necessary to fix an individual insurance market that GOP lawmakers and President Trump have said is “collapsing.” Republicans seized on the announcement Wednesday that Blue Cross Blue Shield would exit the market in Kansas City, leaving parts of Missouri and Kansas without an insurer on the Obamacare exchange. Democrats, however, have accused the Trump administration of sabotaging the law by refusing to guarantee future payments of subsidies that insurers need to make a profit.

The practical ramifications of the CBO’s latest report were more limited than its immediate political implications. The House bill, as written, will not become law. Whatever proposal the Senate comes up with will have significant differences and will need a separate assessment by the CBO before a vote. Then either the House would have to accept that version, or the two chambers would reconcile the differences in a conference committee. And whether McConnell can get 50 out of his 52 members to agree on any health-care bill is unclear.

Though the Republican conference as a whole and a smaller working group of 13 members have been meeting on the issue multiple times a week, the majority leader and other senior members have been skeptical about their prospects for success. “I don't know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment. But that's the goal,” McConnell told Reuters on Wednesday. After the CBO score arrived, Senator Lindsey Graham offered a more ominous suggestion: that the GOP should abandon its legislative efforts until the law fell of its own weight. “With today's news,” Graham tweeted, “the ‘Collapse and Replace’ of Obamacare may prove to be the most effective path forward.

The Storming of Brazil's Government Ministries
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Ministerial buildings were set ablaze in the Brazilian capital Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against government corruption, renewing calls for Brazilian President Michel Temer to step down.

Federal troops were deployed to protect the country’s government buildings after protesters, of which government authorities estimated there were 35,000, set fire to the ministry of agriculture, prompting its employees to flee. Police responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas; other government ministries were subsequently evacuated.

While most of the protests were reportedly peaceful, some demonstrators threw stones at the officers and managed to break into buildings. Here’s what the inside of the agriculture ministry looked like:

The  protest was prompted by revelations last week that Temer was recorded approving bribes to silence a possible witness in Brazil’s ongoing corruption scandal , dubbed “Operation Car Wash.” Temer denied the allegations and reaffirmed he would not quit despite calls for him to do so. Still, protesters have insisted that Temer resign, calling for new elections and an end to the country’s austerity reforms.

Temer is not the first Brazilian politician to face corruption allegations. As I previously reported, the scandal has implicated virtually every member of Brazil’s political class, including the senior members of Temer’s ruling party. If Temer is forced out as his predecessor former President Dilma Rousseff was, and since he has no vice president, he would likely be succeeded by Rodrigo Maia, the leader of Brazil’s lower house of Congress who has also been implicated in the scandal. After 30 days, Congress would conduct an indirect election and pick a new president to rule until the next scheduled general election, which is slated for October 2018.

The Atlantic to Convene Full Day Summit on State and Future of Health Care With Leading Experts from Across U.S.
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Washington, D.C. (May 24, 2017) -- While the future of federal health care policy remains on the brink of a major legislative overhaul, new technologies and innovations are making once impossible breakthroughs reality. At this juncture in the U.S. health care landscape, The Atlantic will convene the inaugural “PULSE: On the Front Lines of Health Care,” a daylong summit gathering medical experts, industry leaders, patients, and policymakers for intensive conversation about the future of health care in the United States. The event will take place on Tuesday, June 13 at the State Room (60 State Street, 33rd Floor) from 9AM-5PM EST.

PULSE will gather more than 250 professionals together with dozens of speakers from Boston and across the country for talks exploring four topic tracks: Health Policy; Public Health; Future Technology; and Doctors and Patients. Conversations will be moderated by The Atlantic’s editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, editor at large Steve Clemons, and leading writers and editors from The Atlantic’s health and science team, including senior editors Ross Andersen and James Hamblin and health staff writer Olga Khazan. STAT is partnering with The Atlantic on the summit, with STAT Senior Science and Discovery writer Sharon Begley and Biotech reporter Damian Garde also serving as moderators.

“With such a thriving biotech and medical community, Boston is the ideal backdrop for The Atlantic to convene PULSE,” said Margaret Low, President of AtlanticLIVE. “We are looking forward to what promises to be a fascinating day, grappling with the challenges and opportunities facing health care in America.”

Speakers and topics planned for PULSE include (additional speakers and details to be announced next week):

  • The Future of Health Care in America with Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA (**interview via Skype**)

  • Global Public Health with Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; and Vanessa Kerry, CEO, Seed Global Health

  • Cost of Care with Alan Warren, Chief Technology Officer, Oscar; and Audrey Shelto, President, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation

  • Deploying Data with Kyu Rhee, Chief Health Officer, IBM and IBM Watson Health; and Paul Bleicher, CEO, OptumLabs

  • Medical Education with Alison Whelan, Chief Medical Education Officer, Association of American Medical Colleges; and Fidencio Saldaña, Dean for Students, Harvard Medical School

  • Crowdsourcing Antibiotics with Erika Kurt, President & Executive Director, Small World Initiative; and Kevin Outterson, Executive Director, CARB-X

  • Re-envisioning the Future of the Health System with Thomas Goetz, Co-Founder, Iodine

  • The Anti-Vaxxer Movement with Paul Offit, Director, Vaccine Education Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (**interview via Skype**)

  • Accessing Mental Health Care with Nneka Jones Tapia, Executive Director, Cook County, IL, Department of Corrections; and Christine Runyan, Professor of Family Medicine, UMass Medical School

  • Addressing the Opioid Epidemic with Richard Barth, Jr., Chief of General Surgery, Dartmouth-Hitchcock; Jennifer Waljee, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan School of Medicine; Co-Lead, Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network

  • A Patient Perspective with Tom Marsilje, Senior Research Investigator, Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation;
    Blogger, Adventures In Living Terminally Optimistic (**interview via Skype**)

  • Future of Cancer with Barrett Rollins, Chief Scientific Officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Sameek Roychowdhury, Medical Director, CLIA Cancer Genomics Laboratory, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center

In addition to plenary sessions, the summit will also feature a series of in-depth breakout sessions on Health and Science Communication; Genetics, Ethics, and Privacy; Innovating Mental Health; and The View from Kendall Square and Boston’s biotech landscape.

The event is open to print and broadcast media, outside cameras welcome. To RSVP please respond directly to this email or contact The Atlantic’s Sydney Simon (, 202-266-7338).

The Atlantic's “PULSE: On the Front Lines of Health Care” is produced in partnership with STAT (, a Boston-based national news organization that covers health and medicine.

Bayer is the Founding Underwriter of PULSE. The Leukemia & Lymphoma
Society and Pfizer are Presenting Underwriters.


The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: CBO No They Didn’t
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Today in 5 Lines

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the American Health Care Act would leave 23 million more people uninsured by 2026. Earlier in the day, in an interview with Reuters, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s unsure how the chamber will garner the 50 votes it needs to pass the health-care bill. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Pope Francis encouraged President Trump to keep the United States in the Paris climate agreement in a private meeting at the Vatican. The Trump administration is reportedly widening its search for an FBI director. During a House appropriations subcommittee hearing, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declined to say whether the government would step in to prevent private schools from discriminating against students.

Today on The Atlantic

  • Unlikely Friendships: President Trump’s private meeting with Pope Francis appeared to go well, despite the stark differences between the two leaders. Is Francis the Trump whisperer? (Emma Green)

  • ‘Known to Security Services’ The Manchester bomber was previously known to British authorities. The fact that he was able to carry out his plot highlights the limits of information collection in preventing terrorist attacks. (Henry Wilkins)

  • Victory for the Resistance: This week, Democrats in New Hampshire and New York pulled off upsets in two elections in districts that Donald Trump won in November. Liberals say it’s a sign of progressive momentum heading into 2018. (Clare Foran)

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


Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds waves as she arrives before being sworn in as governor at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall / AP

What We’re Reading

Domino Effect: The Washington Post reports that a dubious Russian document “played a significant role” in how former FBI Director James Comey handled the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. (Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett)

Doesn’t Add Up: The White House claims President Trump’s newly released budget will balance the nation’s bottom line, but the proposal “is unusually brazen in its defiance of basic math.” (Michael Grunwald, Politico)

Who Was Salman Abedi?: The New York Times reports that the 22-year-old perpetrator of the terrorist attack in Manchester was a college dropout, and had recently returned from visiting his family in Libya. (Katrin Bennhold, Stephen Castle, and Suliman Ali Zway)

Trump’s Base Is Shrinking: The conventional wisdom is that, while Trump is unpopular overall, his supporters love him unconditionally. But current polling proves that theory wrong, writes Nate Silver: Trump’s base appears to be eroding. (FiveThirtyEight)

The Story of a Story: For seven days, rumors swirled on social media and Fox News that Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee staffer killed in Washington D.C. in 2016, was murdered for leaking documents to WikiLeaks. David Weigel traces the evolution of the conspiracy theory. (The Washington Post)

Trump Bashing: Ben Shapiro argues that Democrats don’t actually need to unite behind a common agenda in order to win back seats in 2018. They only need to vehemently oppose Trump. (National Review)


‘On Tour With Trump’: These photos taken by Mandel Ngan, a photographer with Agence France-Presse, chronicle the president’s first trip abroad. (CNN)

Question of the Week

A photo of President Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi placing their hands on a glowing orb went viral, drawing comparisons online with comic-book villains and the Palantír from The Lord of the Rings. In 2015, a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel gesturing in front of a seated President Obama in Bavaria, Germany, was also shared widely on social media.

What moments do you remember from trips taken by past presidents?

Send your answers to and our favorites will be featured in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

ABC's Dirty Dancing Remake Is a Sad, Strange Production
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Inside ABC’s tonally bizarro update of the seminal 1987 romantic drama Dirty Dancing are about four different projects trying to get out. There’s the most obvious one, a frame-by-frame remake of the original that’s as awkward and ill-conceived as Gus Van Sant’s 1997 carbon copy of Psycho. There’s the one Abigail Breslin’s starring in, an emotionally textured and realistic coming-of-age story about a clumsy but engaging wallflower. There’s a musical, in which Breslin and Nicole Scherzinger mime along to their own singing voices in a strange dance rehearsal while half-heartedly exploring the idea that power emanates from the vagina. And there’s the most compelling story, a Wide Sargasso Sea-inspired spinoff starring Debra Messing as a lonely housewife coming to terms with the turbulent depths of her own desire.

What was ABC thinking? How could a simple remake go so wrong? How did the wholesome family location of Kellerman’s become a raunchy karaoke joint where Katey Sagal performs such a steamy rendition of “Fever” that an aghast Dr. Houseman tells his wife she needs to leave? Is that Jennifer Lopez’s former toyboy juggling watermelons? The questions, they abound. If you’re determined to tune in on Wednesday evening, rest assured there will be ample commercial breaks during the turgid three-hour running time to ponder all of them.

This made-for-TV remake, directed by Wayne Blair, is the latest in a fleet of extravagant television musicals, with ABC seemingly panicking in its rush to capitalize on a heaving new trend (its upcoming production of The Little Mermaid will be performed in October in a mind-bending amalgam of animation and live performance). Dirty Dancing, like Fox’s recent remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, suffers from being pre-taped, and therefore having nothing to distinguish it from the far superior original movie other than incessant advertising interludes. Breslin plays Baby, a bookish teenager heading to a Catskills vacation resort with her father (Bruce Greenwood), her mother (Messing), and her sister, Lisa (Sarah Hyland), who’s been inexplicably transformed from an abrasive antagonist to a sweet and supportive sibling.

For the first hour or so, everything is pretty much standard-issue imitation: Baby carries a watermelon, Baby crashes a party and becomes enamored with a pelvis-thrusting bad boy in leather (Colt Prattes), Baby learns to dance, amid churlish comments about her “spaghetti arms” and a soundtrack of ’60s classics. But even the songs, recorded by the likes of Karmin and Lady Antebellum rather than The Shirelles and Otis Redding, ring hollow. In the 1987 movie, the music evoked a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era. Now, the updated covers evoke nostalgia for nostalgia, an Inception-like feat of physics that only reminds you how much better this all was when Patrick Swayze was in it.

That’s not to insult Prattes, a Broadway actor who does his best with an impossible ask in emulating Swayze’s febrile, snake-hipped magnetism. His Johnny is convincingly vulnerable, masculine, and chippy, and he has negative chemistry with Breslin, whose performance as Baby seems to have been interpreted for a high-school Ibsen play rather than a TV musical. Swayze and Jennifer Grey famously hated each other, which perhaps sparked some of the passion in their scenes together; Breslin and Prattes have all the ritual awkwardness and squelched physicality of a father-daughter dance.

The most interesting part of Dirty Dancing is its expansion of Marjorie Houseman from a cheery and oblivious young Emily Gilmore to a tragic operatic heroine continually begging her husband to sneak back to their room for a quickie. This is presumably how Blair persuaded Messing to come on board, sweetening the deal with a musical number, in this case a sad-eyed performance of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” The ballad of Marjorie is amped up with the expanded presence of Vivian Pressman (Sagal), a predatory divorcée who shoves Rolexes into Johnny’s jeans and laments how she can’t sleep alone at night because the walls creak. It’s a fascinating psychosexual exploration of middle-aged female desire that’s completely at odds with everything else going on. More to the point, when Baby’s discovery of her burgeoning womanhood is superseded by her mother’s, there’s a problem.

All of this only gestures to how unlikely a hit the original was: a ’60s dance movie with ’80s costumes starring two relative unknowns that Roger Ebert dismissed as “a tired and relentlessly predictable story of love between kids from different backgrounds.” But for the most part, it kept things simple, relying on the physical energy of Grey and Swayze to spin a summer-lovin’ fantasy. This contemporary version, stuffed with subplots and extended dance sequences and terrible writing (“We’re all gonna be worm food, anyways,” Baby tells Johnny in one impressively lust-squashing shrug of a line) can’t decide whether it wants to emulate the original Dirty Dancing or transform it into Chekhov. Either way, it’s less the time of your life and more three hours you’ll never get back.

A World Without People
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

For a number of reasons, natural and human, people have evacuated or otherwise abandoned many places around the world—large and small, old and new. Gathering images of deserted areas into a single photo essay, one can get a sense of what the world might look like if humans were to suddenly vanish from the planet. Collected here are recent scenes from abandoned construction projects, industrial disaster zones, blighted urban neighborhoods, towns where residents left to escape violence or natural disasters, derelict Olympic venues, ghost towns, and more.

This Is What 20 Years of Mentorship Looks Like
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

This spring, nearly 40,000 students will graduate from law school in America. For many who are about to become lawyers, it’s a milestone reached with the assistance of mentors who have helped them along the way. But that milestone can be more difficult to attain when aspiring lawyers don’t see themselves reflected across the profession.

Even with increasing calls for diversity, a number that remains surprisingly low is the share of black law school graduates, and ultimately, lawyers. Despite some visible advances, just 5 percent of America’s 1.3 million licensed attorneys are black, according to 2010 data. The data also shows that black law-school students make up a higher share of summer associates than actual law-firm employees.

There are, or course, plenty of reasons why the black students who aspire to be lawyers don’t wind up at the firms they work for during law-school summers. But part of  the reason the law profession has such a hard time attracting and retaining black Americans may have to do with dearth of black lawyers to help model the experience.

Lisa James-Beavers, who earned her law degree from Villanova in 1988, was able to provide that model for Lisa Helem, who received her J.D. from the University of Michigan in 2009. The two share a hometown, a first name, a commitment to a legal profession that is more inclusive of black women—and 23 years of mentorship. The two Lisas have built two very different careers centered around the law—one as an administrative judge for the state of New Jersey, and one as the managing editor of the National Law Journal—but their connection has only strengthened over time.

For The Atlantic’s series about mentorship  “On The Shoulders of Giants,” I talked to the pair about what they have learned from one another over the past two decades. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

B.R.J. O’Donnell: How did your relationship as mentor-mentee come to be?

Lisa Helem: I think from my end, it was [thinking], “This is someone that I really admire, this is somebody who has gone where I would like to go at some point, so let me stick with her.” Lisa’s really lived by example in terms of the strides that she’s made, first as an education lawyer, and now as an administrative law judge. And she’s always encouraged me to pursue the next thing.

I don’t know that we sat down and said, “we’re formally mentor and mentee,” but that’s the essence of what the relationship is: someone who you can look to and get advice from, someone who is always supporting your aspirations, your endeavors. And that’s always been Lisa.

O’Donnell: Can you take us back to when you first met, when Lisa Helem was 14? I’d love to hear more about your first interactions all those years ago.

Helem: Every other year, Alpha Kappa Alpha’s [a historically black sorority] chapter in southern New Jersey, held a cotillion for high-school girls, I met Lisa through that. She was actually the sponsor for another debutante, but we talked about my interest in the law, we talked about some of my aspirations, and she took me under her wing. She was the first black woman lawyer I met.

Lisa James-Beavers: When we asked the debutantes what they wanted to do, Lisa said she wanted to be the first female African American Supreme Court Justice. I thought, “okay, I like her.” And she reminded me so much of me, because I knew at a very young age I wanted to be a lawyer.

One of the the things I tell students who say they want to go into law is to be a good writer, and this contest came up, it’s called the New Jersey Bar Association Minorities in the Profession essay contest. I told Lisa about it and said, “you should try to enter one of these contests for high school students.” She was one of the winners.

Helem: And ever since, I always tell Lisa she’s responsible for my first piece of published writing. That really helped get me started.

O’Donnell: What does it mean to see Lisa Helem grow from a teen to the editor of a law journal? How has your relationship shifted over time?

James-Beavers: It’s great, and I’m so proud of her—incredibly proud. I know she doesn’t always think so because she’s chosen another path, with journalism. But that was my interest as well. I was the editor-in-chief of a newspaper in college. And I think of what law and journalism have in common— it’s that we get to talk to people outside of our profession, and learn what other people do, and it’s just fascinating. It’s been wonderful to watch her growth trajectory. And our bond, the age between us certainly shrinks over time, I don’t feel like I’m a lot older than her, as much as I am.

O’Donnell: How did Lisa James-Beavers influence you throughout your career, even as your work ranged from becoming a writer for Newsweek, to law school and working as an associate attorney, and then circling back to journalism again?

Helem: So between undergrad and law school, I spent five years in journalism, starting at the local paper in South Jersey and then going to Newsweek and People. During that time, Lisa was still very supportive. Whenever I had an article out, she’d mention it if she saw it. She just really encouraged me to write well and continue what I was doing, but she also [pressed me] to keep in mind the long term goal—going to law school, and getting that legal education. She never tried to make me into a certain type of lawyer, she recognized I had this interest in writing as well, and encouraged me to go for it.

O’Donnell: What do you think has helped your relationship endure all this time?

James-Beavers: For me, it just takes a willingness to keep reaching out, because it is easy for life to get in the way. When I met Lisa in 1994, I was married, and now I have a 20 year old son! So it certainly could have fallen apart at some point. But you can’t be afraid, if you haven't heard from one or the other in a while, to be the one to reach out. When Lisa was in law school, I don’t think we talked that much, but she knew I was always here for her. Just stick to it, that’s all, it doesn’t matter if it’s been a year.

O’Donnell: What role do you think mentorship can play when it comes to building a legal profession that looks more like America, especially when it comes to the inclusion of more women of color?

Helem: Mentoring builds connections. It allows you to go from potential energy to kinetic. Whether you see a career goal, or a position, or something that you think that you might be able to do. You just have a vague idea, as I did, since I was eight years old, that I wanted to be a lawyer. But what does that look like? What does a lawyer do, operationally?

It was so helpful, and so instructive, to have the actual example. Here is Lisa, she is an excellent lawyer, she has just made all these strides, and then she also happens to be a black woman. So you can visualize. To be able to call her up every now and then over all of these years was just so invaluable, because, let’s face it, the legal profession has made huge strides in terms of diversity over the last fifty years, but we still have a ways to go. It’s always helpful when you can identify people that are at the place where you want to go one day.

Got a mentorship story to tell? Let us know at

The Trump Organization Says It's 'Not Practical' to Comply With the Emoluments Clause
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Days before taking office, Donald Trump said his company would donate all profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, part of an effort to avoid even the appearance of a conflict with the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

Now, however, the Trump Organization is telling Congress that determining exactly how much of its profits come from foreign governments is simply more trouble than it’s worth.

In response to a document request from the House Oversight Committee, Trump’s company sent a copy of an eight-page pamphlet detailing how it plans to track payments it receives from foreign governments at the firm’s many hotels, golf courses, and restaurants across the globe. But while the Trump Organization said it would set aside all money it collects from customers that identify themselves as representing a foreign government, it would not undertake a more intensive effort to determine if a payment would violate the Constitution’s prohibition on public office holders accepting an “emolument” from a foreign state.

“To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand,” the Trump Organization wrote in its policy pamphlet, which the company’s chief compliance officer said had been distributed to general managers and senior officials at all of its properties.

The statement drew an angry response from the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who said the policy “raised grave concerns about the president’s refusal to comply with the Constitution.” In a letter replying to the company, Cummings said it would be easy for a government like Russia to funnel money to the Trump Organization through unofficial entities, such as RT, its state-run television station. “Those payments would not be tracked in any way and would be hidden from the American public,” the Democrat wrote.

While the committee’s Republican, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, joined Cummings in the original request for documents from the Trump Organization, he did not sign the latest missive in response. Chaffetz has announced he will resign from Congress at the end of June. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In a statement accompanying his letter, Cummings said the president had two options if his company could not adequately track payments from foreign governments. One would be to do what Democrats and independent ethics officials have long urged: fully divest from his businesses. Short of that, Trump could submit a proposal to Congress asking for its consent to a different arrangement.

The president has given no indication he intends to do so, and his attorneys have described his decision to donate foreign government profits to the Treasury as voluntary, since they argue the president is not subject to the emoluments clause of other conflicts-of-interest laws governing most federal employees. Ethics experts in both parties, however, have disagreed with that interpretation. “Rep. Cummings is right,” tweeted Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “This is a wholly inadequate response to the president’s constitutional violations.”

The Creativity of Southern Cooking
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

The food of the South is one of the most complicated, complex, contradictory cuisines in the U.S. This is the region where a monumental mixing of crops and culinary traditions gave way to one of the most punishing, damaging monocultures in the country; where food born in violence and slavery led to delicious, nutritious dishes. It’s also the region that laid the tablecloth for seasonal, farm-to-table dining, as well as drive-through fast food. In this episode, authors Michael Twitty and John T. Edge, two of the nation’s leading voices on Southern food, take listeners on a tour through their shared history.

Chef Michael Twitty, author of the forthcoming The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African-American Culinary History in the Old South, describes the South in the first centuries after Europeans arrived as a “dazzling new foodscape”—one that could not have existed before 1502, the first documented account of an enslaved African transported to North America by Europeans. Along the southeastern seaboard, Native Americans, with their indigenous plants and culinary traditions, mixed with Europeans, who had brought crops from home, and slaves from across West Africa who, even shackled, smuggled seeds across the ocean. It was those Africans who, as enslaved farmers and chefs, blended their own diverse culinary and agricultural traditions with those of the people around them to create an entirely new cuisine—one that “people had to invent a whole new language” to describe, Twitty told us.

While Twitty explores the deeply rooted legacy of slavery in the South in shaping America’s foods, John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and author of the new book The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, brings the recent history of Southern food into sharp focus. Edge recounts stories of the Southern innovation and entrepreneurship that led to modern fast food, as well as the Southern creativity—led, once again, by African-Americans—that paved the way for today’s food sovereignty movements, as well as for the style of seasonal, chef-driven fine dining often referred to as “New American.” As Edge points out, Alice Waters, often considered the mother of such cuisine, found her inspiration in Edna Lewis, a 1970s chef raised in rural Virginia. “We too often hear from the likes of Paula Deen (the TV personality known for deep-fried macaroni and cheese, among other such dishes), and not often enough hear from the likes of Edna Lewis,” said Edge.

In this episode, Twitty and Edge help right that wrong, by telling a story that explores the connection between King Cotton and today’s food deserts, and ranges from famed voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer’s Pig Bank to the aspirational pages of Southern Living magazine. Listen in to learn why the history of Southern food is far more complex than today’s stereotypes of biscuits and gravy would have you believe—and why its future should matter to us all.

This article appears courtesy of Gastropod.

Duterte's Call for Nationwide Martial Law
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte suggested Wednesday he may extend the martial law declaration in the country’s south to cover all of the Philippines, a move he said was necessary to combat Islamist militants.

“I had to declare martial law in the Mindanao group of islands,” Duterte said Wednesday in reference to the Philippines’s southern islands, adding he “might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people.”

The announcement comes a day after Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao island, where the country’s military has clashed with Muslim separatists and other rebel groups, some of which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. At least 21 people have reportedly been killed in the fighting and several residents of Marawi, a Muslim-majority city on the island, are trying to evacuate.

The Philippines’s constitution allows the president to declare martial law for up to 60 days to stop an invasion or rebellion, during which time the military can be used to enforce the order and people can be detained without charge. This is the second time martial law has been invoked in modern Philippines history. Despite the 60-day limit, Duterte suggested he could extend the order for longer.

“If it would take a year to do it, then we’ll do it,” Duterte said in a video. “If it’s over within a month, then I’d be happy.”

He added: “It would not be any different from what President Marcos did,” in reference to Ferdinand Marcos, the U.S.-backed dictator who kept the country under martial law for 14 years before being ousted in 1986.

Duterte’s pledge to be “harsh” is not unsurprising given his role in overseeing the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people—his so-called war on drugs that has prompted widespread international condemnation.

President Trump, however, has offered Duterte a warmer reception. In addition to extending an invitation to the Philippines president to visit the White House, Trump reportedly praised Duterte during a phone call last month for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” According to a transcript of the call, Trump told Duterte that “many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Do a Pair of State House Wins Portend a Democratic Wave?
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Democrats are looking to wins in state and local elections for signs of a comeback, as the party tries to prove it can channel voter enthusiasm under the Trump presidency into votes and expand its reach after losing the White House. Democratic candidates in New Hampshire and New York pulled off upsets this week, flipping state legislative seats in districts Donald Trump won.

On Tuesday, Democrat Edith DesMarais won a New Hampshire House of Representatives seat while Christine Pellegrino, another Democratic candidate, won a New York state assembly seat. Both races took place in districts previously under Republican control that Trump won in November.

The Democratic bench severely eroded at the state level during former President Obama’s time in office, leaving the party with fewer potential candidates for federal office to choose from with a track record in government.

To rebuild, the party will need to win back state legislative seats held by Republicans. Regaining control of state legislatures as well as governorships will also be crucial for Democrats to exert any kind of meaningful influence on the redrawing of congressional district lines after the 2020 Census.

The party that does not control the presidency historically wins seats in midterm elections. The outcome of two state races, however, isn’t enough to demonstrate that a Democratic wave is on the horizon for 2018. Indeed, outright victory has so far eluded Democrats in high-profile congressional special elections in Kansas and Georgia since Trump took office, though Democrats have improved on Hillary Clinton’s performance in races taking place in conservative strongholds.

There’s time left for Democrats to change that: A special election taking place in Montana on Thursday will offer another chance for a Democratic pickup, and the Georgia race has advanced to a run-off that will take place in June.

For now, however, the lack of Democratic victories in the congressional special elections that have received the most national attention may motivate progressives and liberals to look elsewhere for signs of a comeback.

After the party notched victories in New York and New Hampshire, Democratic congressional Representative Ted Lieu framed the wins as a sign of things to come. Lieu called the New Hampshire result a “canary in the coal mine for Republicans,” on Twitter. In reaction to the New York win, the congressman tweeted: “Every. Republican. Is. At. Risk.”

In announcing the victory, the New Hampshire Democratic Party declared on Twitter: “Tonight, Democrats put our 1st cracks in the GOP Majority,” noting that the district had gone to a “Dem for 1st time in history.”

In New York, Pellegrino had the backing of progressive groups, including the Working Families Party and Our Revolution, an organization formed as a spin-off of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, which have held up the result to argue that populist candidates are the way for Democrats to win in Republican strongholds.

“Bold progressive populism that puts working people’s issues front and center—this is how we win in Trump country,” Bill Lipton, the New York state director for the Working Families Party, said in a statement celebrating the victory.

Liberals pointing to state and local wins as evidence of progressive momentum risk over-interpreting the results of any one race, however. For an example of how that might play out, look no further than an April headline in The Washington Post after a Democratic candidate won a race for clerk of court in Prince William County, Virginia. “Virginia Democrats say victory in obscure local races signals end of Trump,” the headline read.

What It's Like to Use an Original Macintosh in 2017
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

I’m a reporter first, and a writer second, which means I often find myself writing in odd places. Not just geographically unusual, though there’s that, too. I write everywhere, with whatever technology is at hand.

Most of the time, I’m typing away in a plain text editor on my laptop. But I still write first drafts in reporter’s notebooks, and in the Notes section of my iPhone, and on scraps of paper when necessary.

Now here’s a first for me: I’m writing a story for The Atlantic in MacWrite 4.5, the word processing program first released with the Apple Macintosh in 1984 and discontinued a decade later. So here I am, awash in 1980s computing nostalgia, clacking away in an emulated version of the original software, thanks to the Internet Archive.

The only problem is, how am I going to file this story into The Atlantic’s 2017 web based content management system? (Also, the hyphen key isn’t working.) But more on that in a minute.

First, let me get out of here and switch back to my regular text editor. The Internet Archive’s latest in-browser emulator lets anyone with internet access play and use dozens of games and programs originally released for the first Apple Macintosh computers in all of their black-and-white, low-resolution glory. (Ah, so nice to have that hyphen back.)

I started writing this article in the a MacWrite emulator, a simulation of 1984. (Internet Archive)

Along with MacWrite, the collection includes MacPaint, Dark Castle, The Oregon Trail, Space Invaders, Frogger, Shuffle Puck, Brickles, Prince of Persia, and dozens more. The emulator doesn’t just launch the software itself, but situates users in the old-school Mac operating environment, meaning you often find yourself looking at a 1984-style desktop, and opening the program yourself.

“The presentation represents some shift in philosophies, in terms of what we wanted to do,” says Jason Scott, an archivist at the Internet Archive. Whereas Scott went with a “shock and awe” approach to earlier software emulators—making hundreds of programs available all at once—he decided to go for a more methodical, curated strategy this time. One big reason for this is quality control. He’s still fielding tech-support requests for the MS-DOS emulator the archive released in 2014. (It includes thousands of titles.) But Scott also knew the early Mac programs that people would want to see at the outset.

“The main one was Dark Castle,” Scott told me. “Everyone remembers Dark Castle because it was a particularly well-made, good-looking game—but not even a fun one, I want to point out! People playing it on the Mac emulation are not happy. There are reviews.”

Reviews like: “I can't tell if the emulator is laggy, making my controls unresponsive? Or is this just a terrible game? Maybe a bit of both,” as one person commented on the site.

“They are like, ‘This runs too slow for it to be good,’” Scott told me, “when what they really mean is the game was originally so unfair.”

“But it looks beautiful, and the sound is beautiful, so I knew Dark Castle would be a big deal,” he added.  

For what it’s worth, I only vaguely remember Dark Castle from when I had an Apple IIc. When I tried playing it on the emulator this morning I was repeatedly killed by rabid bats, which I can confidently say is a reflection of my own rustiness and has nothing to do with the emulator quality. (It seemed to run pretty smoothly to me.)

Screen shot of Dark Castle, as played in the Internet Archive’s emulator. (Internet Archive)

But regardless of how well they run, the big question is why it’s worth the drudgery and the painstaking work of presenting ancient programs this way in the first place.

“The existential questions,” Scott said. “What is all this for? What do people need from the original Mac operating systems in the modern era?”

The Internet Archive focused on the Apple II era for a few reasons: It was a finite period of time, it represents a particularly rich moment in computing history, and people remain especially interested in the era. “Nostalgia, to be honest, is a huge chunk of it,” he added. “You’ve got people who come in, and look at the old thing, and they’re happy about the old thing, and then they move on.”

If all goes a planned, the next two emulators will be for the Commodore 64, which predated the early Macintosh; then Windows 98, which came after it. (“That’s only if it works,” Scott emphasized.)

Emulators can be quite buggy, given their complexity. A browser-based system involves the emulated machine running inside the browser's javascript environment, all within the computer running that browser. So, basically, “you’re running a computer within a simulated computer within another computer," Scott says. “It’s crazy.”

Scott’s also hoping to stretch the very idea of what people can do with emulators.

“The initial burst to emulation on the web was about removing the barrier to old software,” Scott told me. “The next realm will be that you can output the data that’s being generated and export it to your modern machine. That’s basically one developer away from happening right now. That’s the kind of thing people eventually will want and get.”

In the meantime, you can’t copy and paste text from the MacWrite emulator back to a contemporary word processor, for example—which is why I had to retype the opening to this story, letter by letter, just to get it into The Atlantic’s web-publishing program. This is still much easier than my predecessors had it, back when the Macintosh was brand new. It was around that time that my colleague James Fallows wrote a long piece for The Atlantic about his own adventure into computerdom. In 1982, he was using a Processor Technology SOL-20 that had 48KB of random access memory. This was miraculous to him then, as were the floppy disks it took, and the printer he hooked up to the machine—it spit out about one page per minute.

It wasn’t all peachy, even for an early adopter like him. There was the time his computer broke in dramatic fashion, sending him back to his old Smith-Corona typewriter for a full month. And also, Fallows wrote: “Computers cause another, more insidious problem, by forever distorting your sense of time.”

What he meant was that computers change people’s expectations about what we should be able to do, and how quickly we should be able to do it. But this observation, made back in 1982 about machines that were quite different from the ones we use today, also got me thinking about how technology collides with people’s perceptions of time as we look back at it years later. Once-miraculous systems seem impossibly slow. They make contemporary software—and the hardware like smartphones running that software—seem newly extraordinary. Watching a 35-year-old program do what it was designed to do is also an implicit reminder that the best tools we have today will, before too long, seem absurd in their limitations.

And we’re able to see all this because so many people, improbably, save objects like old floppy disks and computers.  “I actually still have the SOL-20, walnut case and all,” Fallows recently told me when I asked him what ever happened to it. Scott, from the Internet Archive, says he’s been flooded with requests from people who want to share the programs they’ve held onto all these decades.

“One person, he wasn’t comfortable mailing his floppies to us, so we had to mail him the equipment,” Scott said. “And now he is bringing up one of a kind—or, I should say, extremely rare—software.” His programs, which will be added to the emulator, include original games that are highly sought-after by collectors, and at least one piece of software that was never available commercially.

“This emulation is bringing back into the froth of contemporary culture the existence of all these old programs,” Scott said. “They’re no longer just words on a page.”

Or in my case, they are words on a page. Words rendered in Apple’s familiar old Chicago typeface, materializing on the screen just the way I remember it from so very long ago.

How Zika Conquered the Americas
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

In April 1947, researchers in Uganda discovered a new virus in the blood of a feverish monkey. The following January, they found it again—this time in mosquitoes buzzing through the forest where the monkey lived. The virus eventually took the forest’s name: Zika. In the following decades, Zika was largely forgotten, as other newly discovered viruses hogged the limelight, including those that cause measles, the common cold, hepatitis, AIDS, Ebola, SARS, and more. But Zika hadn’t gone away. In fact, it was on the move.

In May 2015, a huge outbreak of Zika began in Brazil, infecting more than 200,000 people. From there, the virus spread explosively to dozens of other countries in the Americas, and all 50 U.S. states. And since Zika can cause microcephaly—a birth defect characterized by small head size—it caused fear wherever it landed. The outbreak has now abated, and just two weeks ago, Brazil finally ended its state of emergency. But as before, Zika hasn’t gone away. With summer approaching and mosquito populations rising, the key to predicting and controlling Zika’s future lies in understanding its past.

As viruses spread, they accumulate changes in their genomes. By collecting viruses from different places and comparing their genomes, scientists can work backward to estimate when and where an outbreak would have actually begun. A huge international team of scientists has now done just that for Zika.

Sequencing hundreds of viral genomes, they reconstructed the virus’s voyage into and around the Americas. They’ve shown how often it entered the U.S. and why Miami was a perfect and singular gateway for it. And perhaps most importantly, they’ve confirmed what many had believed: In almost every affected country, Zika was already there for months—or even years—before the first cases were reported.

“It’s a big reminder that surveillance is a major issue, and we need to double down on it,” says Pardis Sabeti from the Broad Institute and Harvard University, one of the leaders of the study. “We’re letting these things go undetected for a long period of time.”

Sabeti and her colleagues used a similar approach to trace the spread and evolution of Ebola during the recent West African outbreak. But Zika is a far more challenging virus. If you draw a milliliter of blood from someone with Ebola, you’ll pick up around 10 billion virus particles. If you do the same for a Zika patient, you’ll be lucky to pick up 10,000. These unusually low levels make Zika very hard to sequence.

To do so, Nicholas Loman from the University of Birmingham had to develop a new method for amplifying the virus in a blood or urine sample. He designed the technique to work on a USB-powered, pocket-sized DNA sequencer called the MinION, so his team could zip around Brazil in a mobile laboratory, screening more than 1,300 people for Zika and deciphering the viruses’ genomes on the fly.

Meanwhile, Sabeti and others were amassing similar sequences from at least 10 other countries and territories. And rather than sitting on their data while they waited to publish their papers, they immediately uploaded everything they had so that the entire scientific community could react.

Loman and Sabeti, together with Oliver Pybus from the University of Oxford, showed that all of their Zika strains descended from an ancestral virus that arrived in the Americas around January 2014—some 16 months before health authorities confirmed the first cases. It arrived in northeast Brazil, possibly using Haiti as a stepping stone. And having landed among people whose naïve immune systems had never encountered Zika before, the virus spread rapidly and established a staging ground.

From there, in the second half of 2014, it spread to populous southeastern cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and made incursions into Honduras, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and various Caribbean islands. In every case, it landed between four and 12 months before it was detected.   

“It’s relatively mild in most people, so it didn’t get picked up,” says Kristian Andersen from the Scripps Research Institute. “We weren’t looking for it at all because we didn’t know it was there.” Even when symptoms show, they often overlap with those of other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue. And even when doctors detect cases, says Sabeti, “it takes a while for every party to communicate enough to really notice what’s happening. … It speaks to the very disjointed way in which we do surveillance.”

The same pattern emerged when Zika stormed the United States. By comparing Zika genomes from patients and mosquitos across Florida, Andersen showed that the disease entered the U.S. on at least four separate occasions, and possibly as many as 42. “Most of these probably just led to one case that we never detected,” he says, but a few led to sustained chains of transmission. His team calculated that Florida’s mosquitos started spreading Zika within the state in the spring of 2016, months before the authorities confirmed local transmission in July.

Even though Brazil was the epicenter of Zika in the Americas, Andersen’s study suggests that the strains that hit the U.S. came from the Caribbean. This partly explains why Florida was so badly hit. In early 2016, it received 3 million visitors from the Caribbean, the vast majority of whom arrived by cruise ships. (That’s not to say that “going on a cruise ship will give you Zika,” says Andersen. “Zika isn’t on the ships; the ships are just the vessels.”)

Most of Florida’s Zika outbreak took place in Miami-Dade County, and that’s probably because it’s the only part of Florida with a year-round population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In other parts of the U.S., Aedes exists, but its populations bloom too late in the year and it doesn’t encounter large floods of tourists from Zika-heavy sites. “Miami is unique,” Andersen says. “It’s the only place where you have vast amounts of cruises and flights coming in from the Caribbean and this population of Aedes that’s increasing in number just as the virus is coming in,” Andersen says.

No traces of Zika have been found in Florida mosquitoes this year, but Andersen and his colleagues warn against complacency. “Strong preventive measures are necessary to keep levels of Aedes aegypti low,” says Pedro Fernando da Costa Vasconcelos, the director of Brazil’s National Institute for Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers, who was not involved in the study.

“We should think about helping to fight Zika in the countries where it’s coming from, like the Caribbean,” adds Andersen. “For the U.S., supporting healthcare in the source countries isn’t a bad investment.”

In an editorial accompanying the new studies, Michael Worobey from the University of Arizona says that insights like these need to arrive earlier. He used to be a forest firefighter, and he recalls how his colleagues would track storms over fire-prone areas, pinpoint lightning strikes, and fly over as soon as possible to look for smoke. By contrast, today’s disease fighters are more like “valiant bucket brigades organized after the fire is out of control,” he writes.

The solution is to use genetic sequencing to regularly screen animals and people for Zika and other potential diseases. “We should be detecting such outbreaks within days or weeks through routine, massive, sequence-based approaches — not months or years later, when clinical symptoms have accumulated,” he writes. “We will not put out every new fire, but we will catch some—and improve our ability to respond to the ones that get away.”

The techniques that the group has developed will be useful for sequencing other viruses that stay at low levels when they infect human patients. But more importantly, their teamwork sets the standard for research in the middle of an outbreak.

“As much as I’m proud of the scientific work, I’m prouder of the collaboration,” says Sabeti. She, Andersen, Loman, and their colleagues all started working on Zika independently, but when they learned about each other’s projects, rather than competing, they decided to pool their resources. They shared their methods and data. When they wrote the papers describing their results, they approached journals about publishing them as a unit. “Outbreaks breed suspicion, paranoia, and stress, and that environment can change how people interact with each other. But this is how things should be done.”

Lola and Her Tormentor
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

This article is part of a series of responses to Alex Tizon’s Atlantic article “My Family’s Slave.” The full series can be found here.

AMMAN, Jordan—I got my first glimpse of what it’s like to be a Filipina migrant worker in Jordan on an October day in 2013, shortly after I’d moved to the region. I was walking down a street in western Amman when a police car pulled alongside me on the road, the officers inside rolling down their window and beckoning me to stop. A man slouched in the passenger’s seat looked me up and down, then said, “Where is your passport?”

I was confused. I’d left it at home, as usual, I told him. He said, “Where do you live?”

I beckoned in the direction of my apartment, still perplexed until he said, “Where are you from? Filipina?” His colleague in the driver’s seat smirked.

I looked at the men. “No, I’m from America. USA.” The two officers sat up quickly, glancing at each other. “Welcome to Jordan!” one of them said as he rolled the window back up, his partner already driving the car away.

That incident repeated itself several times, always with the same progression: Men followed or pulled alongside me on the street, asking, “Philippines?” When I told them my nationality, they quickly backed off.

There’s a neighborhood in Amman nicknamed “Manila Street” where many migrant workers live and congregate on their days off, setting up Filipino food markets, buying phone cards, and visiting the Western Union to send money home. Many of the Filipina women who live there are “runaways,” meaning they lack regular papers and can be arrested or exploited on the streets at any time. When I visited the area, a Filipina woman at the street market explained why police kept pulling me over. “They will try to make you their ‘girlfriend,’” she said. “Sometimes they are police and sometimes they are just pretending. They say: ‘You have iqama [residency papers]?’ If you don’t have, they ask you for money, or drive you somewhere to do fucking. Or else they can send you to jail, or back to your country. I hear too many stories like this.” Several other migrant women later told me the same thing.

I’ve been reporting on migrant domestic labor in Jordan and Lebanon since January, visiting shelters, women’s prisons, and overcrowded neighborhoods where migrant women flock together for survival, often cramming as many as a dozen people into a small apartment. Jordan has about 50,000 migrant domestic workers, of whom the largest subgroup are from the Philippines. Lebanon had nearly 170,000 registered domestic migrants in 2016. Most of them—about 105,000—are from Ethiopia, but Filipinas are the second-biggest group, at roughly 18,300.

In Lebanon, migrant domestic workers are specifically excluded from labor laws, which means they have no legal guarantee for basic rights like a minimum wage and maximum work hours or days off, and nowhere to appeal when they are verbally or physically abused. Their work contracts require that they live in their employers’ homes. When abuse happens, they have nowhere to go. A startling number of migrant women jump off balconies, dying in either suicide or failed escape attempts. Lebanese General Security, the government’s intelligence and security agency, told me that the bodies of 110 migrant women had been repatriated from Lebanon in 2016 alone. That’s more than two a week. As of mid-April, 28 more women had died in 2017.

I’ve learned to tense up every time strange men ask me if I’m Filipina, and to quickly announce my U.S. citizenship, even as I feel sick for wielding my privilege as self-defense. I didn’t think about how trapped it feels to be a migrant domestic worker until I was exposed to leering men trying to exploit me because of my Asian face. My own response has been to report on what’s happening and try to understand and expose it. But in his essay “My Family’s Slave,” Alex Tizon went beyond exposure to self-exposure, which is why his story moved me.

Reporting on systemic injustice—analyzing a broken policy and telling the stories of its victims—is crucial work. But it offers a certain kind of psychological safety: Even as you expose yourself to heart-wrenching injustice, you write about it as a professional observer, removed from any guilt or complicity. It’s much harder to tell a story of injustice that—without excusing or explaining away evil acts—nonetheless acknowledges the humanity of the perpetrator, and admits that we all have the capacity for cruelty. Confronting the conditions that can lead someone to choose evil is an important part of understanding and preventing exploitation.

I recognize in Tizon’s descriptions of his mother and “Lola” a pattern I have seen in my reporting: how one exhausted, single immigrant mother turns all her fury and shame into abuse of another, weaker woman in her emotional and physical bondage. They remind me of a Filipina woman I met in a shelter here, who told me how her madam had starved her, threatened to turn her over to the police, and beat her so badly she jumped out of an upstairs window, injuring her hip and spine, to survive. I wrote all of that in an article, but couldn’t fit what she told me about her madam: that she was also a lawyer, single mother, and bulimic. That she used to cry, binge, and throw up at home every day, and that the worst beatings usually came after angry, screaming phone calls with her estranged husband. For months, I’ve been watching and wrestling with how to articulate this specifically cruel way that women can dehumanize and harm other women. I’ve often wished I could include a footnote to these stories: Sometimes the victimizers are victims themselves.

Two weeks ago, I visited a women’s prison with the Jordanian police’s anti-trafficking unit. They were interviewing detainees to determine whether any had been victims of trafficking. One Syrian woman started sobbing as soon as she saw the police. She was a refugee and single mother, she wailed, whose husband had been killed in the conflict and who just wanted to see her children again. The investigators told her to stop crying. Then she admitted that she had allowed paying customers to enter her unit in Zaatari Camp and rape a 15-year-old girl, another refugee even more vulnerable than herself.

My insides curl at these stories, the ones of hurt women hurting others, empathy and horror churning against one another. I meet mothers and sisters and daughters with such capacity to nurture and heal, but such ugly potential to be monsters as well. I wish they came in neat categories—the wicked stepmother versus the kind princess, the brave heroine versus the jealous queen—but they don’t. So often they are good and bad at once, which doesn’t in any way vindicate the bad, but rather helps us to comprehend it.

When I report these stories, I am terrified by my own understanding of the abuser and abused. I want to feel like I write: in third-person, distant from the villains, certainly incapable of the unforgivable crimes they commit. The power of Tizon’s approach—an openly guilty one—is that he turns the culprits from they to us. He uncovers his own shame instead of pretending that only certain people are evil and exploitative. His story strikes at my secret fear: that we are all capable of cruelty, dehumanization, or self-blinding complicity with injustices from which we benefit. He writes not about good people versus bad people, but about people who can do good or bad, and who give in, tragically, to the latter. How fearful to acknowledge that we can go either way, I think. But then again, how freeing to realize that we have a choice.

Where Does Trump Really Stand on NATO's Article Five?
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

When NATO leaders meet in Brussels on May 25, they will participate in a ceremony to dedicate the new NATO headquarters. To the left of the main walkway, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, will unveil a section of the Berlin Wall, signifying how NATO kept the peace during the Cold War. To the right, President Donald Trump will unveil a section of the World Trade Center, officially named “The 9/11 and Article 5 Memorial,” signifying the only time in its history that NATO invoked Article Five, the mutual defense clause. Over 1,000 soldiers from America’s NATO allies subsequently died in the Afghanistan War.

The Brussels mini-summit is supposed to affirm the relevance of the alliance in the Trump era but there is a risk that it could severely undermine it. President Trump is the only American president since NATO’s founding who has not explicitly endorsed Article Five. (His vice president and his secretary of defense, however, have.) If he fails to do so in Brussels, it could raise grave doubts about the credibility of the American security guarantee and provide Russia with an incentive to probe vulnerable Baltic states.

President Trump’s reticence on Article Five has been largely overlooked because of his recent affirmation that NATO is no longer obsolete. But, a close reading of Trump’s statements reveal that his policy shift is much smaller than it appeared at the time.

Donald Trump’s first major statement about NATO came in March 2016 in an interview with The New York Times. He said the alliance was obsolete for several reasons. The first was that Russia no longer posed the threat the Soviet Union did. The second is that NATO was not focused on counterterrorism. The third is the financial cost of NATO to the United States.

In the year that followed, Trump doubled down on this critique, particularly on terrorism and burden-sharing. He repeatedly argued that NATO members must pay up if they want to receive U.S. protection. In July 2016, he said, “I want to keep NATO but I want them to pay. …  I don’t want to be taken advantage of…We’re protecting countries that most of the people in this room have never even heard of and we end up in world war three … Give me a break.”

After taking office, Trump claimed credit for a shift on burden sharing and counterterrorism. He told a joint session of Congress that the “money is pouring in. Very nice.” When he met the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in April, he said: “I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change—and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

The crucial nuance is that Trump did not say that NATO’s original mission of countering Russian power in Europe is no longer obsolete. Indeed, he has never acknowledged this. The closest he has come is a general statement of strong support with caveats attached for burden sharing and counterterrorism. Trump’s failure to endorse Article Five is not an oversight. Members of his cabinet have unsuccessfully tried to insert this language into his remarks, including at his meeting with Stoltenberg.

Compare this with Trump’s predecessor. President Obama went to Estonia in 2013 and said:

“I say to the people of Estonia and the people of the Baltics, today we are bound by our treaty Alliance. We have a solemn duty to each other. Article Five is crystal clear: An attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, ‘who will come to help,’ you’ll know the answer—the NATO Alliance, including the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

One can criticize Obama’s Russia policy, but he understood the sacred importance of Article Five.

Others in the Trump administration have attempted to compensate for the president’s reticence. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence explicitly endorsed Article Five of the NATO Treaty at the Munich Security Conference in February of this year. Mattis called it a “bedrock commitment.” Pence said it is “one of two core principles that are central to” NATO’s mission and that U.S. support for the alliance is “unwavering.”

Mattis and Pence have helped bolster U.S. credibility on NATO, as has the continuing deployment of U.S. forces and assets to Eastern Europe which began under the Obama administration. But ultimately the decision to uphold U.S. commitments lies with the commander-in-chief. He alone decides whether and how the United States will respond to a Russian attack on a NATO member.

If NATO is to be as effective in the future as it has been in the past, it needs a firm commitment from President Trump. He has already moderated his position on U.S. alliances. When he stands beside a piece of the wreckage of the World Trade Center, he should complete his journey and say what every postwar president has said—the United States will stand by its allies in NATO by honoring its commitments under Article Five.

This article appears courtesy of the Brookings Institution.

What If Politicians Studied the Social Fabric Like Economists Studied GDP?
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah is worried. He is worried about the country’s economic trajectory, given rising inequality, the shrinking of the middle class, and the persistence of intergenerational poverty. And he is worried about its social trajectory, based on growing political and regional polarization, rising distrust in institutions, falling rates of marriage and churchgoing, the dearth of mixed-income neighborhoods, and declining voter turnout.  

While he and other legislators seemed to have a decent understanding of the former, Lee told me, sitting in his Senate office last week, they had less data on the latter—trends that in his mind signaled a nationwide loss of social capital. “We have a lot of metrics by which we gauge the health of the economy and the health of the government,” he said. “There are other things that reflect the health of the country in one way or another that aren’t as frequently measured and even less frequently discussed by policymakers.”

An initiative he started this month addresses that imbalance. In a series of hearings and reports, his multi-year Social Capital Project is examining the decline in social cohesion and civic engagement in American life, and drawing legislators’ attention to it. Americans do less together than they did in the past, he said. They trust less. They participate less. And in some cases, they seemed to suffer for it.  

It is high-minded and far-reaching stuff. The project’s first report—authored by a Joint Economic Committee research team led by Scott Winship, formerly of the Brookings Institution—cites the Stanford mobility researcher Raj Chetty, the Obama economic adviser Alan Krueger, the groundbreaking Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, and Alexis de Tocqueville, among others. Its first hearing featured testimony from Mario Small and Robert Putnam of Harvard, Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, and Yuval Levin of National Affairs.

The report touches on themes popularized in Putnam’s 2001 Bowling Alone and Murray’s 2013 Coming Apart: That Americans are becoming more isolated from people of different backgrounds, and that along with economic distance has come social disconnection. Lee’s report looks at changes in “associational life” since the 1970s, meaning how “the web of social relationships through which we pursue joint endeavors” has shifted. Couples are less likely to marry and are having children later in life, though they are spending no less time with their kids, it notes. Organized religion and unions have become far less central. Neighborhoods have stratified by income, with people spending less time with coworkers and neighbors.

“Rising affluence has made associational life less necessary for purposes of gaining material benefits, but that we have lost much by doing less together,” it concludes. People are less likely to need to visit a public library to take out a book, ask a neighbor to borrow their lawnmower, or get a friend from church to pick them up at the airport.

The loss of the “middle layer” between families and the government and a broader fraying of the social fabric seem like somewhat unusual subject matter for a man who is among the most conservative legislators in Washington—one who, for instance, supports a balanced-budget amendment, barring gay marriage, and greatly reducing the federal government’s role in education. If the project did reveal deep scars on civic life, would it be Washington’s job to try to repair them? “I’ve long believed, and I still maintain, that government can’t create institutions. It can’t create civil society. If it tries to, it fails,” Lee told me. “They’re cultural, and they need to remain cultural. So what [the government] needs to be very acutely aware of is that while it can't create them it can harm them. It can undermine them.”

For that reason, he said, he had encouraged the elimination of the marriage penalty—which refers to a couple’s tax rate going up after they start filing jointly—and promoted an initiative to give private-sector workers the same flex-time provisions that government workers have, among other initiatives. “We want parents to be able to have more control over their own schedules so that they can be able to spend time with their families however they may choose to,” he said. And despite his conservative credentials, the senator has supported a number of ideas that break with party orthodoxy to support parents and help communities—including more than tripling the child tax credit and reforming sentencing to reduce the number of nonviolent, low-level offenders in prison.

Lee is aware of the possibility that Washington helped create this feeling of disconnection and distrust in the first place. “We’re only slightly more popular than the influenza virus, which I’m sure is gaining on us,” Lee said. “That, I think, should tell us something.”

Federalism might be one answer to the loss of social capital and disapproval of government, he said. “The Constitution already contemplates that there would be vast regional differences geographically, politically, the way people approach government, how they view the role of government, what they want their government to do, what they’re willing to entrust the government with and what they’re not,” he told me. “When you respect federalism more consistently and faithfully,” he said, “you allow more of the people in America to get more of the government they want and less of the government they don’t want.”

In other words, perhaps one way to get America to come together might be to let American communities grow apart.

Taiwan's Same-Sex Marriage Victory
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Taiwan’s constitutional court struck down Wednesday the island’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, in a landmark ruling that could make it the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

The court’s ruling gives Taiwan two years to either amend its Civil Code, which in its present form the court says violates people’s constitutional rights to human dignity and equality under the law, or enact new legislation to address same-sex couples. If the country pursues neither option, the court said in a statement, same-sex couples will “be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated at the authorities in charge of household registration.”

The months leading up to the decision prompted tens of thousands of people to protest in support of and opposition to draft legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage (though the bill passed its initial reading in Taiwan’s parliament late last year, it has since been stalled). This is how a crowd of people reacted when the ruling was announced:

The decision paves the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage—a move both the ruling and opposition parties support, as does Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who once said “every person should be able to look for love freely, and freely seek their own happiness.”

A majority of Taiwan’s public seem to agree. A 2015 online poll conducted in coordination with Taiwan's Ministry of Justice found that 71 percent of those polled favored the legalization of same-sex marriage.  

The Manchester Attack and the Difficulty of Prevention
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Just beyond the police cordon surrounding Manchester Arena, residents of the city gathered to lay tributes outside St. Anne’s Church on Tuesday afternoon. The mood was one of “horror and outrage,” said Mark Ashcroft, the bishop of nearby Bolton, after a suicide bomber blew himself up at an Ariana Grande concert on Monday evening, killing 22 and injuring 59 more, including children.

Clare Green, a Manchester native laying flowers at St. Anne’s said, “We do go to the arena a lot for concerts, so it’s a little bit close to home. … Manchester’s been on high alert for quite some time. I’ve always thought security can be better around big events. … It’s not exactly a strict procedure.”

The Manchester attack comes exactly two months after a single attacker drove a car into a crowd of pedestrians in Westminster, killing five people including a police officer and the attacker himself. Until Tuesday night in Manchester, that attack had been the deadliest in the U.K. since the London bombings of July 7, 2005—and the swift and professional response illustrated what security services had learned over the past decade. The 7/7 attack had led to increased investments in security, including specialized training for police officers in responding to terrorist incidents, and improved sharing of intelligence between organizations. And indeed, the measures appeared to have largely worked. As I wrote in March, according to the EU law enforcement agency EUROPOL, nearly half of 211 planned, foiled, or completed terrorist attacks across member states in 2015 were directed at the U.K., which suggested not only that the country was a frequent target, but also that it was uniquely successful at protecting itself. In April, police claimed to have thwarted two terrorist plots.

Salman Ramadan Abedi, who was revealed on Tuesday to have been the Manchester suicide bomber, succeeded anyway. And his plot involved a far more deadly level of sophistication than the use of a simple car and driver. “This is a much more professional-style attack,” said Chris Philips, the former head of the U.K.’s national counterterrorism office, on the BBC.

Manchester’s police chief has now said “this is a network we are investigating;” British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has pointed to the possibility that “he wasn’t doing this on his own.” And “making a bomb that works usually suggests the activity of more than one person,” said Rafaello Pantucci, the director of International Security Studies London’s Royal United Services Institute. “There are likely [to be] people who knew what he was up to at the very least,” he told me. Four people have so far been arrested in connection with the attack.  

Yet something else has changed since the 7/7 attacks, whose perpetrators were unknown to U.K. intelligence services until the attack was carried out. Abedi and the Westminster attacker were each among the roughly 3,000 religious extremists known to MI5, the U.K.’s domestic security and intelligence agency, but neither were thought to pose an imminent threat. This has become something of a pattern in recent terror attacks in Europe. Attackers in Belgium, France, and Germany were also known to security services prior to committing violence, suggesting the difficulty of distinguishing false alarms from real threats.

This also points to the limits of information collection in preventing attacks, and illustrates a broader point about terrorism prevention more generally: The threat is not always apparent until it is realized. Though EUROPOL’s data show the vast majority of plotted attacks are prevented, it also suggests that the U.K. must be inundated with information on possible suspects, and may lack the resources to keep track of them all. It has been reported in the U.K. media that security services have the resources for 24-hour surveillance on less than 50 individuals at any one time.

According to Samir Puri, a security expert at Kings College London, “Counterterrorism work is an art, it is certainly not an algorithm. This means that difficult judgment calls have to be made all the time, not least in terms of how acute the threat is as posed by individuals who may not yet have committed a crime. In this case, an awareness of the possible sympathies or associates of the person in question may not have been enough to accelerate the process of law enforcement intervention.”

As a result of the attack, all campaigning for the U.K. general election on June 8th has ceased for now, but this may not be the only impact for the election. Theresa May’s Conservative government is widely seen to be tough on security, especially in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party recently criticized for his past links to IRA terrorists. But voters may equally see the attack as a blight on the Conservatives’ security record. On Tuesday, I asked the U.K. Home Office whether the Manchester bombing could be considered a failure of anti-terror policy. They declined to comment beyond a statement made by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, which did not address that issue.

“Any successful attack is by definition a failure somewhere,” Pantucci told me. “Exactly where this failure lies, in policy, practice [or] intelligence ...  is unclear at this point.”

Pantucci added, “This [attack] shows a level of determination and commitment to cause which is found only amongst a few ideologies. To walk into a crowd of children and blow yourself up like this shows a level of callousness and anger at the world.”

Silicon Valley's Big Three vs. Detroit's Golden-Age Big Three
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Over the last 20 years, the technology industry has become the most powerful industry in the world, boasting seven of the 20 most profitable companies. Last year, Apple literally doubled the profits ($53.4 billion) of the second-most profitable company, J.P. Morgan Chase ($24.4 billion). And when it comes to market value, tech companies sweep the top five: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. These companies are not only huge and profitable; they’re also growing.

By most measures, though not all, this power is concentrated in one specific region, the Pacific Coast, and even more tightly centralized in the San Francisco Bay Area. Incredibly, three of those five most valuable companies are located in three adjacent little towns in Silicon Valley. The total distance from Facebook in Menlo Park to Alphabet (née Google) in Mountain View to Apple in Cupertino is just 15 miles.

These companies—with apologies to Intel, Oracle, and Cisco—have become the Big Three of Silicon Valley.

Detroit had a Big Three for decades: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. They were also amazingly profitable, industry-leading, and birthed a global industry. In the late 1950s, these three companies had over 90 percent market share in the U.S. car market, which was also the world’s largest.

Now, companies from a similarly small region occupy a similarly dominant role in the economy, which has powered economic growth over the last several decades. But a comparison between Detroit’s Big Three and Silicon Valley’s shows how much the economy around any individual company or place has changed.

* * *

Investors now value tech as they once valued automotive (and oil) companies.

It was the IPO of the decade. Thousands of people flocked to brokers hoping to get their hands on some of the paper from one of the century’s most innovative and respected companies. Finally, finally, the common person could share in the wealth generated by the genius of … Ford.

The year was 1956, and Ford, privately held since its inception by the Ford family and (later) the Ford Foundation, was accessing the public markets. More than 10 million shares went on the market and were immediately snatched up by hundreds of thousands of investors at an opening price of $64.50. The Ford Foundation made $642.6 million in the sale.

It was the biggest IPO ever, as befit the automotive industry, which was the biggest in everything around the mid-century. Likewise, at the time Ford went public, the true behemoth of the American economy, General Motors, was the nation’s most valuable stock, running $263.27. And for good reason.

These companies make a ton of money.

In the second (1956) edition of the Fortune 500, Ford held the third slot in revenue and profit. That year, the company made $437 million dollars. General Motors took the top spot by becoming the first company to break $1 billion in profit that year ($1.19 to be exact). Only 16 companies even made $100 million in 1956. Chrysler was the least profitable of those companies, eking into the echelon with $100.1 million in profits.

The only rival the car industry had was the oil industry, which had the number-two company on Fortune’s list, Exxon Mobil, as well as seven others in the top 20 most profitable companies.

All this to say: making cars and fueling them dominated the American profit-making enterprise. Hell, even the two big tire manufacturers were among the top 35 profit-makers of 1956.

Cars were national. Tech is global.

But there are crucial differences between Detroit’s Big Three and Silicon Valley’s. One is that Silicon Valley’s companies are fully global enterprises.

Since 2015, the majority of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from overseas. Apple crossed that threshold in the first quarter of 2010, and now roughly two-thirds of the company’s revenue comes from abroad. Google, too, has long made a majority of its money outside the U.S., though its home country represents nearly half its revenue.

In fact, all the money that these companies are making overseas is one reason why they are valued so highly, Harvard Business School’s Shane Greenstein told me. “Since the election, the markets have factored in a presumed ‘tax holiday’ that allows firms to repatriate their foreign earnings without U.S. taxes,” Greenstein said. “That especially shapes the values of Apple and Google.”

Since the election, Facebook is up 11 percent, Google is up 21 percent, and Apple is up a gobsmacking 34 percent. Perhaps this is even more remarkable, given that tech company employees gave Hillary Clinton 60 times the money they gave to Donald Trump ($3 million to $50,000).

The tech labor force is a tiny fraction of the automotive industry’s.

The other crucial difference is that tech’s leading companies employee far fewer people than Detroit’s Big Three did. This point can be made in the single chart above,  but it’s worth unpacking in three ways.

One, even though the big industrial giants did employ a lot of people, by the 1950s they were already automating away some of the jobs that they’d just created by building huge factories. “Between 1948 and 1967—when the auto industry was at its economic peak—Detroit lost more than 130,000 manufacturing jobs,” the historian Thomas J. Sugrue has written. To me, that’s startling. This was the absolute golden age of manufacturing, yet in the seat of the most important industry, companies were shedding jobs.

Two, the car companies’ employees were far more concentrated in Detroit and the surrounding cities than the tech companies’. Apple only has 25,000 employees in the “Santa Clara Valley.” Google likely has around 20,000 at its home. And let’s call it at around 6,000 Facebook folks in Menlo Park.

Three, the tech companies have many, many, many subcontractors, from content moderators in the Philippines to manufacturing people at Foxconn in China to custodians on their own campuses to bus drivers dragging people up and down from San Francisco. The way modern companies work, they try to keep employees off their own balance sheets unless absolutely necessary, especially lower-wage workers.

The original Big Three were the motive power for a whole region’s economy. By employing so many people at decent wages, they created broad-based prosperity. In Silicon Valley, the wealth that the Big Three create goes to a much smaller slice of the population, building wealth for thousands instead of hundreds of thousands of workers. In 2016, Facebook generated $600,000 of net income per employee.

That is to say, the tech world, for all its disruptions, is a supercharged example of how the American economy as a whole works right now: The skilled and the already rich make huge amounts of money, and everyone else gets the leftovers.

Mother Nature 'Hard at Work' in Big Sur
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

A massive landslide inundated nearly a third of a mile of Big Sur’s Pacific Coast Highway under rock and dirt over the weekend, resulting in what authorities have called “unprecedented” damage to the scenic coastline.

Here’s what the landslide looks like:

The California Department of Transportation’s 5th district said in a tweet Monday that a third of a mile of the scenic roadway was covered by more than a million tons of rock and dirt ranging between 35 and 40 feet deep, adding that the incident was “Mother Nature hard at work.” Indeed, images from the scene show the roadway completely blocked.

Jim Shivers, the Caltrans District 5 spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times the landslide was “unprecedented,” adding that storms from the state’s wettest winter on record caused an estimated $1.3 billion in damage to state and local roadways this year—a cost that is likely to rise following this past weekend’s landslide.

Though it is unclear how long it will take the state to clear the roadway, the Pacific Coast Highway was already closed for repair to address earlier landslides.

Manchester Police Say They Are 'Investigating a Network'
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

Here’s what we know on Wednesday, May 24:

—Ian Hopkins, the Manchester police chief, says authorities are investigating a network responsible for Monday’s attack at the Manchester Arena. Earlier, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the attacker, Salman Abedi, was “likely” not acting alone.

—The U.K. raised its terror-alert level to critical—the highest possible level—for the first time in more than a decade.

—ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack that killed 22 people and wounded 64 others following an Ariana Grande concert. The extent of the group’s role in the attack is unclear.

—This is a developing story and we’ll be following it here. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -4).

Read On »

The Power of Predictable Paychecks
May 24th, 2017, 05:38 PM

While it’s well documented that income inequality and wealth gaps have been widening in the United States, there is another sort of economic inequality that is just as worrisome but harder to see. It has less to do with the total amount of money that people have, and more to do with how that money moves through their lives: Increasingly, financial stability is only enjoyed by a few.

This type of inequality lurks underneath the reams of official economic data that’s regularly collected and widely reported. It’s about whether workers can reliably predict the size of their next paycheck, how much of a financial cushion they can build, and whether or not they can do something as simple as set up automated bill payments without worrying about overdrafting or making ends meet.

As we undertook a study of Americans’ household finances, we came to understand how this instability manifests itself. For the study, called the U.S. Financial Diaries, we followed 235 low-income and moderate-income households that had at least one working member, tracking every dollar they earned, spent, saved, borrowed, or gave away for a full 12 months. The households we followed were diverse—urban, rural, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, recent immigrants, families that have been in the U.S. for generations, single mothers, inter-generational households—and located in five different states (New York, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, and California). When we started the study in 2012 we didn’t know how pervasive or persistent financial instability would be. But we found that many Americans, even some squarely in the middle class, worry as much about swings in income and expenses from month to month as they do their overall earnings.

Most financial surveys gather aggregated information such as annual income, or they provide snapshots such as the total amount owed on credit cards or held in retirement accounts. While useful in a macro sense, the standard measures of economic well-being—poverty and unemployment rates, the level of consumer debt—obscure what’s happening day to day. We had the chance to see how money moved through a family’s life over time. And, because our team collected the data in person, we got to ask why households made the choices they did.

Their stories often centered on the struggle to create stability amidst financial volatility. One family we met lives in a small town in Ohio, outside of Cincinnati. The husband (we’ve withheld the identity of study participants to protect their privacy) was the primary breadwinner, and he worked full-time, fixing long-haul trucks. During the year of the study, he was paid just over $40,000, enough in their town to support his wife and four children, albeit living modestly. Yet on one afternoon when we met with his wife, she was worried about whether or not to pay their mortgage bill. She had the money in hand, and she was eager to get it done. But she was worried that her husband’s next paycheck might be, in her words, “crap.” If so, she’d have to borrow money from her sister, and she didn’t want to have to do that.

There was a possibility that her husband’s next paycheck would be small because what he took home each month depended in part on what he earned on commission. Business is better for long-haul-truck mechanics in winter and summer than in fall and spring—trucks are more likely to break down in extreme weather—and this was October. Sunny, clear, and temperate, it was a perfect day for trucks to run smoothly and a poor day for the wife of a truck mechanic to feel confident about making a mortgage payment.

Many working families are familiar with this dilemma. On average, households in the Financial Diaries study had more than five months a year when the income they earned was at least 25 percent more or less than their average monthly income. But even that understates the volatility: The average monthly spike raised income to 52 percent higher than the mean, and the average monthly dip made it 46 percent lower than the mean. To put it another way, a family might earn $5,000 seven months out of the year, but those months might be interspersed with two great months of $9,000 and $7,000 and three tough months of $3,000 each. The annual total—$60,000—would be reported in surveys. That’s a notch above the median family income in the U.S., but it hides the fact that for at least three months of the year, money is very tight.

This type of volatility isn’t reserved for people like the Ohio family we met, whose incomes vary with the seasons. Workers who depend on tips and commissions experience it; the success or failure of the business falls partly on their shoulders. Workers who are self-employed or part of the gig economy do, too. Even full-time employees paid hourly wages, who account for over half of American workers, can face substantial fluctuations in the number of hours assigned each week. Many do not get paid leave, so a few days staying in with the flu or a child home sick from school can make a dent in people’s paychecks. Just 2 percent of the families in the Financial Diaries study had relatively steady income during the year, experiencing no spikes or dips of 25 percent or more.

The obvious advice is to save during the $9,000 month and the $7,000 month so that there’s an ample cushion during the $3,000 months. But that advice is far easier to dole out than it is to follow. What if the $3,000 months come three in a row, early in the year, right after Christmas spending, before the easy $9,000 month appears? What if a $3,000 month happens to coincide with the dying days of a clunky old car on its last miles?

Saving is also made difficult by the fact that inflation-adjusted incomes have stagnated for working families, even while the costs of housing, education, health care and transportation have risen. It’s not altogether surprising that families had a hard time saving the “extra” $4,000  from a $9,000 month for a rainy day. Instead, that $4,000 went to pay overdue bills, fees, and credit-card payments that had piled up during the low months.

The Ohio mechanic’s wife came up with her own solutions to these ups and downs. When her husband’s paycheck was small, she cleaned houses to pick up some extra income. She also clipped coupons and stocked the family’s pantry and her freezer whenever she saw a good deal. She knew that depositing money into a bank account would make more sense, but it had been hard to stop withdrawing from it for day-to-day expenses. So, by putting her savings toward filling the freezer, she was eliminating the temptation to spend frivolously when money was good, and lost less sleep wondering if her family would have to cut back on necessities when it wasn’t.

This system worked for her, and, over and over again, we saw households devise similar strategies. These families could not necessarily explain the standard ideas taught in financial literacy courses, like the power of compound interest, but they knew where the best deals could be found or which bills had the lowest late fees. More importantly perhaps, they could often identify human impulses that had to be managed in order to mitigate the ill effects of volatility. One woman in Mississippi parked her savings in a credit union an hour’s drive away and cut up her ATM cards, so that she would only withdraw the money for things she categorized as “really, really needs.” She cut up her checkbook too, so that she wouldn’t be tempted by high-priced payday loans (which typically require a signed check as collateral).

These kinds of strategies worked, but imperfectly. They were time-consuming and, despite being clever, didn’t prevent bad outcomes or errors. Over the course of our study, one-third of the families were threatened with (or actually experienced) eviction, the disconnection of utilities or cable, or repossession of an asset, most often their vehicles. Nearly half of those with bank accounts had at least one overdraft. Households were making only the minimum payment on about half of the credit cards that we tracked, which they’d often pay for dearly down the line.

Volatility is much easier to deal with for people with ample savings, access to good credit and insurance products, and/or social networks that can afford to lend a hand. But these coping mechanisms are currently reserved primarily for those with higher incomes—people who need them less. Those with low incomes are losing out in multiple ways. They are also more likely to have jobs with unpredictable incomes, and less negotiating power to change that. They are less likely to have access to low-priced credit to manage an emergency or invest in education or a home, and less likely to have friends and family with enough money to help out. Those with the most difficult financial lives are also the least able to get good financial advice.

As a result, a large share of people, even if they’re employed and even if they budget and plan, are financially unstable. It’s no wonder many people are frustrated by where the economy has left them, given that they’re doing a lot of things right and still struggling.

Conversations about inequality often miss something essential, something that the families we met felt strongly: The financial problem they were most immediately focused on wasn’t about relative earnings or wealth. It was about their ability to create stable lives in our uncertain world. Shortly after our regular data collection ended, the family in Ohio decided that attaining stability demanded a change. The husband switched jobs. He still fixes long-haul trucks, but now his wages are not dependent on commission and he has a guaranteed minimum number of hours. But to get that stability, he had to take on a longer commute, and he now actually earns less on an annual basis than he did when he worked on commission. It’s a hefty price, but one that he and his wife decided was worth paying.