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Respect the Elderly
Crises can elicit compassion, but they can also evoke callousness. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve witnessed communities coming together (even as they have sometimes been physically forced apart), and we’ve seen individuals engaging in simple acts of kindness to remind the sick and quarantined that they are not forgotten. Yet from some quarters, we’ve also seen a degree of cruelty that is truly staggering.Earlier today, a friend posted on Facebook about an experience he’d just had on the Upper West Side of Manhattan: “I heard a guy who looked to be in his 20s say that it’s not a big deal cause the elderly are gonna die anyway. Then he and his friend laughed … Maybe I’m lucky that I had awesome grandparents and maybe this guy didn’t but what is wrong with people???” Some have tried to dress up their heartlessness as generational retribution. As someone tweeted at me earlier today, “To be perfectly honest, and this is awful, but to the young, watching as the elderly over and over and over choose their own interests ahead of Climate policy kind of feels like they’re wishing us to a death they won’t have to experience. It’s a sad bit of fair play.”[Read: America’s nursing homes are bracing for an outbreak]Notice how the all-too-familiar rhetoric of dehumanization works: “The elderly” are bunched together as a faceless mass, all of them considered culprits and thus effectively deserving of the suffering the pandemic will inflict upon them. Lost entirely is the fact that the elderly are individual human beings, each with a distinctive face and voice, each with hopes and dreams, memories and regrets, friendships and marriages, loves lost and loves sustained. But they deserve to die—and as for us, we can just go about our business.It is bad enough if we remain indifferent to the plight of our elders; it is far worse to dress up our failings as moral indignation.As a rabbi and theologian watching this ethical train wreck, I find myself thinking about the biblical mandate to “honor your father and mother.” The Hebrew word usually translated as “honor,” kabed, comes from a root meaning “weight.” At the deepest level, then, the biblical command is thus to treat the elderly as weighty. Conversely, the Bible prohibits “cursing” one’s parents. The Hebrew word usually translated as “curse,” tekalel, derives from a root meaning “light.” At bottom, then, the biblical proscription is on treating the elderly lightly, as if they are inconsequential.Why do I say “the elderly”? In its biblical context, the obligation to honor parents is a command given to grown children (as are the Ten Commandments more broadly—you don’t tell children not to commit adultery nor to covet their neighbors’ fields). When you are an adult, the Bible instructs, you must not abandon the elderly. Giving voice to a pervasive human fear, the Psalmist prays, “Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me!”What does it say about our society that people think of the elderly so dismissively—and moreover, that they feel no shame about expressing such thoughts publicly? I find myself wondering whether this colossal moral failure is exacerbated by the most troubled parts of our cultural and economic life. When people are measured and valued by their economic productivity, it is easy to treat people whose most economically productive days have passed as, well, worthless.From a religious perspective, if there is one thing we ought to teach our children, it is that our worth as human beings does not depend on or derive from what we do or accomplish or produce; we are, each of us, infinitely valuable just because we are created in the image of God. We mattered before we were old enough to be economically productive, and we will go on mattering even after we cease to be economically productive.[Yascha Mounk: Cancel everything]Varied ethical and religious traditions each find their own ways to affirm an elemental truth of human life: The elderly deserve our respect and, when necessary, our protection. The mark of a decent society is that it resists the temptation to spurn the defenseless. It is almost a truism that the moral fabric of a society is best measured by how it treats the vulnerable in its midst—and yet it is a lesson we never seem to tire of forgetting. “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old,” the Bible says—look out for them and, in the process, become more human yourself.
2020-03-12 14:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The Solar System Is Full of Volcanoes
Rosaly Lopes spent five years carefully inspecting a churning landscape where molten rock spilled forth like the arced jets of a water fountain. Using data from an orbiting probe, she picked out eruptions across the fiery surface, eventually spotting 71 active volcanoes that no one had ever detected before.“People used to joke with me, ‘Oh, you found another active volcano!’” Lopes told me. “‘You’re going to be in the Guinness World Book of Records’”—until one day, one of those offhand comments made its way to somebody who actually worked for Guinness World Records. Lopes ended up in the 2006 edition, recognized for discovering the most active volcanoes anywhere.None of the volcanoes were on Earth, though. They were several hundred million miles away, on a moon of Jupiter called Io.Today, Io is known as the most volcanically active place in the solar system. Other volcanic spots are scattered across our neighboring planets and moons, too, and probably countless more in other solar systems across the universe. Recently, NASA announced it would fund proposals for four new robotic missions, all headed for a close look at these kinds of worlds—Io, Venus, and Triton, a moon of Neptune.Not long ago, Earth held the title for the most volcanic spot in the solar system. As a rule, volcanic activity indicates that a world is cooling off; after planets and moons form—an extreme and fiery process—they can spend billions of years ejecting heat from their interiors through cracks in the surface. Small bodies, like our moon, should go cold faster than others, and spurts on the surface can reveal the invisible contours of a world deep within. “Volcanism is like a window into the interior of the planet,” says Sue Smrekar, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is leading one of the proposed missions.In the 1970s, as the Voyager mission cruised toward the outer planets, scientists predicted that the spacecraft would find moons like our own. The moons around Jupiter, for example, are about the size of our moon or smaller, so it stood to reason that they, too, would be cold, still, and speckled with craters. Instead, Voyager found the first, surprising evidence of volcanic activity somewhere besides our planet. “It was very hard for people to accept that such a small moon like Io could still have active volcanism, because Io should have cooled a long time ago,” Lopes said.In the 40 years since, planetary scientists have moved from monitoring eruptions on Earth to finding them sprinkled across the solar system. Soon, perhaps, they will get a closer look at what exactly makes these extraterrestrial blasts tick.The team targeting Io knows about a phenomenon the Voyager scientists didn’t, called tidal heating. Io orbits between Jupiter and two of the planet’s other moons, Europa and Ganymede, and this configuration means that Io is subject to the gravitational forces of all three. The constant tugging heats up Io’s interior, melting rock into lava. As the moon stretches and shrinks over the course of a brisk 42-hour orbit, cracks emerge on its surface, and the lava escapes through.“It’s changing the shape of the whole planet,” says Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at the University of Arizona who is leading the mission concept to Io. Lava, loosed from the interior, flows like muddy waters in a flash flood and fills in craters, regularly smoothing out the moon’s terrain. Many of the exoplanets that astronomers have discovered so far orbit close enough to their stars to experience the same kind of tidal heating, which makes Io a particularly suitable analogue for understanding worlds beyond our neighborhood, McEwen says.Closer to home, there’s Venus, where the surface is a mosaic of volcanic features, from peaks to plains, shaped from eons of roiling activity. “We see huge fields of small volcanoes in places on Venus that remind us of the little guys we see in Iceland,” says James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the lead on one of the Venus missions. The planet’s volcanoes, numbering in the hundreds, are thought to have petered out long ago, but scientists have found evidence that some activity might be under way right now.A few years ago, an infrared camera on a European spacecraft peered through the planet’s thick atmosphere and caught spots on the surface suddenly heating up and cooling down again. Smrekar’s mission to Venus would send a spacecraft to orbit the planet, map its topography, and determine whether there’s still some churning going on. Another mission, led by Garvin, will drop a probe through Venus’s atmosphere into a potentially volcanic area, moving down “as if we were descending in a helicopter ourselves,” he says. The probe would have the capability to analyze atmospheric gases and pick out signatures of recent eruptions.Farther out, on Triton, the lava plumes are made of ice. In 1989, the Voyager mission revealed a world surfaced, cantaloupe-like, with bumps and ridges, and so cold that nitrogen exists as shiny frost on the surface. In quite the stroke of luck, the spacecraft, as it flew past, caught geysers of particles erupting from the surface and drifting downwind in the moon’s thin atmosphere.Spacecraft haven’t been back since, and scientists are eager to investigate Triton in more depth—particularly the intriguing possibility that the plumes could be coming from a hidden, subsurface ocean. A briny body of water, even this far from the warmth of the sun, could harbor some of the basic components that could give rise to life in the same way that Earth’s dark seafloors have.“[Triton] is five times further away than Saturn. Understanding even worlds that far out in the solar system could still have some of the ingredients of a habitable world would basically revolutionize our understanding of what it means to be a habitable world,” says Louise Prockter, the director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston and head of the proposed Triton mission.NASA has doled out $3 million to each team to develop their mission concepts. Next year, the agency will pick one or two of them to move forward, toward spaceflight construction. The Venus missions would reach their target in the early 2020s, while the Io mission won’t arrive until 2031 and the Trident mission until 2038, when scientists’ knowledge of these distant volcanic worlds would be nearly half a century old. By then, it’s possible that astronomers, using the most powerful telescopes, would have discovered volcanic plumes bursting from worlds deep in space, around other suns. The findings in our own solar system have shown that the cosmos is trembling with the rumble of churning worlds. Someone will have to discover all those volcanoes—Lopes’s record won’t stand forever.
2020-03-12 13:30:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Trump Doesn’t Grasp What Americans Are Going Through
In a crisis as severe as the coronavirus pandemic, government officials owe the general public two things: reliable numbers and an honest basis for hope. That’s what citizens get if politicians step aside from the microphone and let experts speak. When Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, testified before a House committee yesterday, he warned that COVID-19 has a death rate 10 times that of the seasonal flu; that the worst is yet to come; and that, without more aggressive containment measures, “many, many millions” of Americans could become infected. This was a sobering message, but his audience could at least take comfort in knowing where things stand.That has not been true of President Donald Trump, who has pooh-poohed the danger of the new disease, played down case counts, and insisted that the new disease will soon taper off. In a televised address last night, he was visibly uncomfortable and talked about the pandemic not as a deadly health problem but as a venue for global competition. His portrayal of the new pathogen as a “foreign virus” and his boast that the United States had the “best response” to the virus did nothing to alleviate fears Americans might have about their health and the massive disruptions now occurring in society. His showiest move—his announcement of a ban on travel from Europe—showed little regard for the fact that COVID-19 is already spreading in the United States.For some time, Trump and his White House have acted as if they had only a public-relations problem to contend with. When Trump designated Mike Pence as leader of the administration’s coronavirus task force, the vice president promptly moved to tighten messaging and take control of public appearances by government experts. Reuters reported yesterday that the White House is insisting that top-level coronavirus meetings be treated as classified—a designation that inhibits scientific transparency and excludes important experts without security clearances.But a lack of message discipline is not what caused the stock-market crash this week. Investors see all too clearly that the federal response to the coronavirus has been disjointed, lagging in even providing the basic test kits to determine the magnitude of the threat.Under any presidential administration, every major disaster is a mess. While some threats to human health and national security are in some way predictable, the government agencies that respond to them are always at a disadvantage. The entire emergency-management apparatus—the incident command response, as it’s known in homeland-security jargon—is positioned to activate only after the terror attack, hurricane, oil spill, or disease outbreak is under way and some amount of death and destruction have already happened. By the time the federal government gets involved in the first place, going back to the status quo ante is no longer a choice.An administration does have the power to engage citizens in mitigating the consequences of a disaster. The problem for Trump, however, is that doing so would mean providing both numbers and hope.Entire communities, no less than the professionals in charge of managing any emergency response, benefit from situational awareness. Which is to say, average citizens need factual information not only about the magnitude of destruction but also about the seriousness of the response. Regardless of the nature of a crisis, people need information about how many have been killed or harmed, about which agencies are providing how much aid, about how many hospital beds, shelter beds, meals, and gallons of water are available.The Trump administration is providing numbers about tests, but those numbers seem untethered from reality. Pence said Monday that more than 1 million coronavirus tests had been distributed and that 4 million would be distributed by the end of this week. Also on Monday, The Atlantic could only verify, based on local data, that 4,384 people had been tested in the United States.The administration’s lack of candor does nothing to give the public hope. Citizens need to know that their government and its leaders adequately understand what has gone wrong and that they are capable of ameliorating it. After a disaster, the measure of a successful government response isn’t whether everything returns to normal. It’s whether people foresee opportunities for improvement. Most people can sense when they are being lied to, and they appreciate leaders who will tell them the truth.As for giving hope, that job can’t be delegated. Trump—who went golfing both days last weekend—appears simply incapable of grasping the magnitude of the situation before us. Calm and cool have their benefits in stressful times, and making sure that the public does not overreact is an important job for elected leaders. But Trump’s efforts to minimize the disease look delusional against everything we know about it. The United States is just entering the mitigation stage of this crisis, during which cities and states will severely curb movement and social interactions to slow the spread of the disease and relieve burdens on our health-care system. For weeks to come, Americans will become accustomed to this jarring sense that time and basic social norms are suspended.After falsely saying the coronavirus is essentially contained, then not seeming to show much interest until the stock market took notice, Trump has shown no empathy for what the nation is now suffering. By all evidence, he is deeply concerned with how the pandemic will make him look. But as Craig Fugate, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, used to tell his teams, the best way to get good press is to do a good job.Americans need to brace for impact. Trump’s standard tactics—blaming immigrants and outsiders, promising fantastical walls, wearing red hats with slogans—are powerless against a global pandemic. While the coronavirus is by far the most dangerous crisis that the United States has faced since Trump took office, he has not participated in its resolution in any meaningful way.But a president isn’t allowed to be irrelevant at a moment of national crisis. Or, to put it another way, an irrelevant president is a harmful one. Last night Trump felt obliged to intervene more strongly—just not with the kind of information and leadership that will prepare Americans for a disturbing new reality.
2020-03-12 13:30:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The Arbitrariness of Trump’s European Travel Ban
Last night, a few thousand Atletico Madrid supporters crammed into a corner of Liverpool’s Anfield stadium to watch their soccer team knock the reigning European champions out of the continent’s premier competition, the UEFA Champions League. As they woke in their hotel rooms and Airbnbs this morning, they discovered, as Madrileños, or, more important, Europeans who live in the no-border Schengen Area that operates on the continent, they are now barred from traveling to the United States. The 50,000 Liverpool fans who were also in the stadium last night, or at least those who happen to be British or Irish, awoke chastened by their team’s defeat—but not banned.If there is an award for the most absurd spectacle capturing the arbitrariness of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, this surely wins it.President Donald Trump’s decision to ban most European citizens from traveling to the U.S., except those from the United Kingdom and Ireland, appears to make no sense, and to inject past grievances and prejudices into delicate scientific and political equations. In this spiraling thriller cum horror novel, Trump’s emergence, full of hostility and conspiracy, with warnings of foreign viruses, heralds a darkening turn—an early indication of the power of a pandemic to infect global decision making and international relations.Politics, domestic and international, is already morphing under the strain of the coronavirus, and all signs indicate that it will continue to do so. Some governments will rise to higher ideals, to duty and justice, equity and science; others will simply be unable to meet the test or, worse, disgrace themselves. Some systems will allow combinations of various measures, and some political leaders will take decisions in good faith, based on good science, but still get it wrong. This, though, is the stage when politics comes to the fore, where the values of those with power are revealed. More than that, this crisis is becoming a test of the international order, formal and institutional or informal and cultural, to cope with the pressures placed on it by nationalism, quackery, corruption, ignorance, or malevolence.[Read: Trump’s dangerously effective coronavirus propaganda]Yesterday, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, slashed interest rates in a coordinated stimulus effort with the British government. He declared that 2008 revealed the danger that the new globally integrated financial system posed, but that today this very system could help, not hinder. In his world, global institutions and a culture of coordination had developed. The giants of the financial crash had learned the lessons from the 1930s and moved quickly and globally in the knowledge that a beggar-my-neighbor policy in a global depression beggars everyone in the end. Today, it is sobering simply to wonder whether anyone is applying this lesson to the pandemic—an even more obvious case of the stupidity of petty nationalism.And yet, as ever with the American president, the rationale for his decision carries its own peculiarly Trumpian worldview, exposing both how he sees the world and the weaknesses of who he sees as his adversaries. Trump is nothing if not alive to the flaws of his enemies. In this case, it is not without logic to treat the European Schengen Area as one country. While it clearly isn’t one and doesn’t overlap neatly with either the euro or the European Union (Norway, which is not an EU member, is part of Schengen; Ireland, which is both an EU member and part of the eurozone, is not), it is a core feature for almost all EU member states, a common travel area in which there are no internal checks. Schengen is one of Europe’s core strengths and accomplishments, but also a structural weakness that continues to challenge its legitimacy in the eyes of many of its citizens.The EU is a proto-state. It has the institutions of a state, a central bank and parliament, currency and court. And yet it is weaker than a conventional state, mostly unable to take effective collective action in times of crisis, whether diplomatically, fiscally, or militarily. Its weakness is in handling migration and debts, refugees and Russian aggression. The worry today is that this weakness will be exposed, even though the coronavirus is exactly the type of cross-border challenge that highlights one of the EU’s fundamental strengths: its ability to coordinate continentally.Trump’s logic appears to be that the coronavirus is on the loose in Europe and because there are no restrictions within Europe, the only sensible thing to do is to apply a ban to all those countries without restrictions. That worldview is undermined by the reality of life: European soccer, for example. Ultimately, Britain might not yet be as badly affected as Italy or France, but the U.K. government is under no illusions that it will be. Where does Trump’s logic go then?In 2008, the United States and Britain led the world in the response to the financial crisis. Today, Britain is responding with quiet resolution that some fear is too calm, even if it is led by scientific advice. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government will be judged by the results of its decisions. In the end, though, London is clear that ultimately it cannot control a global outbreak—life goes on, and it is global, whether that be in the realm of soccer, medicine, or financial transactions. It is contained globally or not at all is the mantra. Does America any longer feel the same? Whether it does or not, that’s the reality. The truth, though, is that politics is not ignorant of borders, even if the pandemic largely is.
2020-03-12 13:26:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
What Happened to Jake Millison?
It was weird that no one had heard from Jake Millison in a few days.Maybe someone who didn’t know him, an outsider to Gunnison, a small Colorado town on the western slope of the Rockies, might assume he was flaky or unreliable. At 29, Jake still lived with his mom and spent most nights at the local dive bar, the Alamo. But Jake’s friends knew he was deliberate, a creature of routine. If you had plans to go to the movies on Saturday, he’d text you on Wednesday: What time should I pick you up? And then again on Thursday and Friday just to confirm. On a motorcycle trip to California, Jake was the one who brought tarps and first-aid kits. He definitely wasn’t the fall-off-the-face-of-the-Earth type.Jake had spent most of his life on the 7-11 Ranch, his family’s property just outside Gunnison. He’d drive into town most evenings, work out at the gym, then stop by the Alamo. He always sat at the same table and always ordered the same drink: a Coke, because anything stronger made him nervous. His friends, a close-knit group of half a dozen guys, would show up after their shifts at the mechanic shop or the lumberyard. They’d shoot pool for a couple of hours, then Jake would head home to the ranch. “Everything was like clockwork with him,” his friend Antranik Ajarian told me.On Wednesday, May 20, 2015—five days since anyone had heard from Jake—his friends Nate Lopez and Randy Martinez drove out to the 7-11 Ranch. They turned into the driveway, then drove past the barn decorated with the antlers of deer, elk, and moose, testaments to the property’s glory days as a hunting camp. They didn’t see Jake, although they did spy his truck, his motorcycles, and his dog, Elmo.In the horse corral, they spotted Jake’s mother, Deb, a wiry woman whose frail frame belied her stubborn strength. Deb told Lopez and Martinez that Jake had gone to Reno, Nevada, to train at a mixed-martial-arts gym; he wasn’t responding to their texts because he’d dropped his phone in an irrigation ditch and left it behind to dry out in a bag of rice. Her explanation was logical enough. But the more they thought about it, the more it didn’t sit right with them.Another few days passed, and still no word from Jake. His friends called and stopped by the ranch. They weren’t sure what else to do. I’ll let you know when he’s back, Deb would say. Were they paranoid, or did she seem annoyed to see them? The situation felt weird, they kept saying to one another. It just felt weird.After about a week, a Gunnison County patrol sergeant named Mark Mykol, alerted to Jake’s sudden disappearance, called the ranch. Deb said her son had taken off with a friend whose name she didn’t know. She thought they were headed to Reno to go camping. He did this sometimes, just up and vanished, and she seemed less worried than irritated. Mykol marked the case status as “unfounded”—nothing to see here. But Jake’s friends kept insisting that something was wrong. A week later, Mykol called the ranch again. This time, Deb admitted that she and her son had been arguing; he was almost 30 and still living at home, after all. He’d grabbed some camping equipment, a gun, and a wad of cash, then gotten into a car with someone she didn’t recognize. She figured he was in Nevada looking for work, or in California with friends, or in New Mexico with his father; she’d stopped trying to keep tabs on him.But Deb’s story only left Jake’s friends more confused. It was as if she were talking about an entirely different person from the Jake they knew.Hokyoung KimIn the ski mecca of Crested Butte, the median price for a house is $750,000; Gunnison is its more rugged, affordable neighbor 30 miles south, a windswept town of hunting outfitters and craft breweries, and the home of Western Colorado University (motto: “Learning, elevated”). Gunnison’s 6,500 inhabitants are an eclectic mix of hippies, hunters, college kids, ranchers, and professional mountain bikers. At the Trader’s Rendezvous, you can pick up an antique rifle or a taxidermied wildebeest; a few blocks down the street is Shamans Corner, a combination massage parlor, tattooist, and metaphysical gift shop.When I visited Gunnison in November 2018, the big news was a local ranch’s cattle relocation: “Cows will be walking down HWY 135 … between 9-noonish,” the Gunnison Regional 911 Center’s Facebook page warned. “With the snow please be safe and budget a few extra minutes as the girls make fast retreat down valley. Thanks for the patience.”Jake’s parents split up when he was 6 and his sister, Stephaine, was 7. His father, Ray, whom Ajarian described as “an old crazy gun guy” (he meant this as a compliment), eventually moved to rural New Mexico. Deb got remarried, to Rudy Rudibaugh, a widowed rancher two decades her senior. When I stopped by Trader’s Rendezvous, everyone had a story about Rudy. He was a “tough little turd,” as one man put it, who had served as a frogman in World War II, lurking in rice paddies and breathing through a straw as he stalked the enemy. After the war, Rudy bought the 7-11 Ranch and based a successful hunting business there.Rudy was known for doing things his own way. In the pre-cellphone era, he used carrier pigeons to send messages between hunting camps. When Jake and Steph were little, Rudy and Deb bought an African lion cub; they kept it chained in the horse corral and fed it a diet of roadkill. Neighbors complained that it frightened the livestock; eventually somebody shot and killed it from the highway—the Gunnison County equivalent of a drive-by shooting.[From September 2013: Hanna Rosin on murder by Craigslist]Jake and Stephaine were homeschooled by Deb, in part so they could help out on the ranch. There was always plenty of work on the 700 acres: branding calves, baling hay, repairing tractors, leading hunting trips, caring for the horses. As Rudy got older, he had a harder time keeping up—and Jake was expected to pick up the slack. The family was often the last to finish putting up their hay for the season, because Rudy and Jake handled all the work themselves, Jake’s friend and former neighbor Adam Katheiser told me. And when Rudy was no longer able, it was just Jake.As a teenager, Jake began attending public school for the first time. Early on, he got in trouble for the rifle in the back of his truck; he hadn’t realized you weren’t supposed to bring firearms to school. After spending much of his youth isolated on the ranch, Jake began to amass a group of friends. He and Ajarian, both introverts, found it easy to be quiet around each other. Their crew grew to include other guys with similarly low-key temperaments. They went camping, fiddled with their motorcycles, and made fun of one another for all the project vehicles that never quite got all the way fixed.After high school, Jake stayed at the ranch while most of the crew rented apartments in town. Jake could be standoffish with strangers, but he was inseparable from his friends. He seemed to have a boundless—occasionally exhausting—appetite for hanging out. He could be a know-it-all, and if he thought you were doing something stupid, he wouldn’t hesitate to tell you so. His friends sometimes rolled their eyes, but they appreciated that they always knew where they stood with him. “We used to say, ‘Yeah he’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole,’ ” Ajarian said.Jake was 23 when Rudy died, in 2009. Stephaine had already received an inheritance of $30,000. Jake didn’t get any money; the assumption was that he and his stepbrother, Shane—Rudy’s son from his first marriage, who lived in Texas—would eventually inherit the ranch. Now the full burden of maintaining the property fell on Jake’s shoulders. If he thought about shirking his obligations, he never did. “Gunnison ranchers don’t move away,” Jake’s friend Tom Page told me. Jake was tied to the land, to his family—and to a dying way of life.Hokyoung KimThough the mythology of the American rancher looms large in our national imagination, economic pressures and climate change have made small-scale ranching ever more precarious. Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has suffered an unprecedented period of drought, and low commodity prices and the rising cost of living haven’t helped matters. The suicide rate in Gunnison and other rural Colorado counties is more than twice the national average.Faced with a deficit of water, Colorado’s booming cities have turned to a “buy and dry” policy, in which farmers agree to let their land lie fallow and lease their water rights to thirsty urban areas hundreds of miles away. By the time Jake took charge of the family ranch, the gulf between rural and urban Colorado was vast: the agricultural land of the Rockies’ western slope lying uncultivated and slowly drying up, while in Denver so many new buildings were being erected that there was a waiting list to rent a crane.Ranch life was becoming the purview of wealthy hobbyists who could afford to indulge in cowboy fantasies. In Gunnison County, not far from the 7-11 Ranch, the billionaire businessman Bill Koch built his own private replica of an Old West town, complete with a saloon, church, jail, and train station; the property’s 21,000-square-foot mansion is stocked with memorabilia, including firearms that belonged to Jesse James and Sitting Bull.News accounts would later refer to 7-11 as a “$3 million ranch,” but when Jake disappeared, “it was kind of a junkyard,” Lopez told me. Jake lived in the lodge, a building that had been intended for big gatherings and camp suppers; now it was so cluttered with Deb and Rudy’s collections—stuffed rattlesnakes, old bits and bridles, ancient guns, antique machines with unclear uses—that it barely had enough room for his bed.Jake once asked Katheiser to help brand calves. Katheiser had helped friends out before, and knew that typically a calf was herded into a mechanical chute, where a clamp closed around the animal’s neck, immobilizing it and then flipping it on its side. Katheiser was surprised to see that the 7-11 Ranch had no such equipment. It was a day of rough, physical work—snagging the calves with a rope, wrestling them to the ground, then holding them down to be branded. The corral itself needed maintenance. But Jake could never get to it, “because the fences need fixing, the truck needs fixing, and we’ve got to brand all these cows now,” Katheiser said.Faced with more than they could handle, the family sold off much of their livestock and stopped hosting hunting trips. Money became a source of tension between Deb and her son. Jake didn’t receive a paycheck for the hours he put in at the ranch; his eventual inheritance of the property was supposed to be payment enough. In the meantime, if he wanted to go to the movies or the Alamo, he’d have to ask Deb for cash.Frustrated, Jake found other ways to scrounge up money. He cut and sold firewood. He worked part-time for a landscaping company. He came up with a scheme to grow marijuana to sell to college students, which his friends found hilarious: Dude, you don’t smoke weed—how are you going to test your product? He cultivated psychedelic mushrooms and looked into starting a chimney-sweeping business.One summer, Jake made good money working on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska—but when he returned home, he ended up giving Deb $15,000 to help keep the ranch afloat. “He was always pissed off about that,” Ajarian told me. “He always said he should’ve just said Fuck the ranch and kept it.” But while Jake may have talked about the property as if it were an anchor dragging him down, he was unwilling to walk away. What if the ranch was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? What if he could restore it to greatness?However much Jake worked, it wasn’t enough for his mother. If the ranch wasn’t thriving the way it had under Rudy, it wasn’t due to the drought or the economy or any of the other forces that plagued ranchers across the western states. The problem was that her son wasn’t trying hard enough. She complained that he slept too late and left jobs unfinished. “Whenever you were out there,” Ajarian said, “they’d be at each other’s throats.”When Jake vanished, some of his friends hoped that he’d finally reached his limit and taken off: Fine, you guys deal with this place. It was nice to imagine him somewhere sunny, California maybe, free to do as he pleased. But that daydream never quite felt plausible. Maybe he would’ve abandoned his family, Jake’s friends thought, but he never would’ve abandoned them.Hokyoung KimIn June, Jake’s friend Max Matheny and his sister, Molly, met with Mykol at the sheriff’s-department headquarters. Molly had called Ray, Jake’s dad; he said he hadn’t heard from his son in weeks, and suggested that she file a missing-person report.Mykol didn’t think that was necessary. Everything Deb had said had checked out so far: It seemed that Jake had just taken off. But the sheriff’s office did reopen the case, and alerted law enforcement in Reno to be on the lookout for Jake.Ajarian, too, says he tried to file a missing-person report. The sheriff’s department, Ajarian told me, “kept saying the family doesn’t want it.” Several of Jake’s friends said they were told that only family members could file such reports, although according to Colorado law “any person with relevant, credible information suggesting that a person is missing may make a missing person report to a law enforcement agency.”Nate Lopez spent “a lot of time” talking with local law enforcement. “They just told me that the only people they can really believe is the family. If they say that Jake went on a trip, and they’re the last people to see him, that’s what you have to go by until there’s evidence that shows otherwise,” Lopez told me.Jake’s friends refused to let the matter go. Steph messaged one of her brother’s friends—“do you have any idea who keeps reporting jake missing? I would really like [if they] could just call mom instead,” she wrote. But Jake’s friends called the ranch so often that the sheriff told them to knock it off.It was dismaying, if not surprising, that law enforcement seemed slow to wonder whether Jake Millison had been the victim of a crime. Most murder victims in the U.S. are male—typically young men of color—but you wouldn’t know that from watching TV, where the victims who get the most airtime tend to be young, attractive white women. As a culture, we’re not as attuned to young men’s vulnerability to violence.While law enforcement seemed to accept Jake’s family’s story, his friends found themselves bumping up against an uncomfortable possibility: that one of his family members was complicit in his disappearance.Three years before Jake went missing, Steph, who had been living in Denver, moved back to Gunnison with her husband and son. She earned money taking tourists on horseback rides, and dreamed of giving her son a country upbringing—crisp mountain mornings; lying in the tall grass, aiming a rifle at soda cans. Though Steph described herself as “not good with backhoe things,” she was a skilled horsewoman who identified as a country girl.Despite their shared upbringing, Steph and Jake never got along. “Yes hes mellow with his friends but with family he is a complete dick most of the time,” Steph texted a friend around the time she moved back to Gunnison. Jake made it clear he was unhappy that his sister was back in town. Steph had already used her inheritance to put a down payment on her house in Denver; now he worried she was trying to stake a claim on the ranch, too.Steph and Jake had worked out a kind of sibling détente, which is to say that they mostly avoided each other. But things were different with Steph’s husband, Dave. Where Jake was reserved, Dave was cocky. Everything about him seemed to grate on Jake, including Dave’s car—a white Ford station wagon with flames painted on it. Jake’s friends say his annoyance was undergirded with fear; he saw Dave as unpredictable, potentially violent. He made awkward half-jokes about keeping a gun nearby in case Dave attacked him.Hokyoung KimJake began training at a jiu-jitsu gym in Gunnison. He took to it right away; the tactics and technicalities and focus on self-mastery suited his temperament. “Jiu-jitsu translates as ‘gentle art,’ ” Page, who trained at the same gym, told me. “There’s no striking—it’s all about distance management, leverage, control. It’s like playing chess with the human body.” Jake had always been chubby and withdrawn; jiu-jitsu helped him grow more comfortable in his body, more used to asserting himself.Jiu-jitsu emphasizes personal development in all areas of life, and Jake became preoccupied with bettering himself. He adopted a strict diet and chided his friends when they ate at Taco Bell. He chugged a gallon of water a day for a few weeks, briefly convinced that hydration was the secret to health. His mania for improvement extended to the ranch, which he periodically tried to clean up, whether his mother liked it or not. He told Ajarian he was bringing junk into town on the sly and tossing it into Dumpsters.With Dave and Steph back on the ranch, things could get heated. One day, Jake plowed snow into huge banks that blocked Dave’s car; in the argument that ensued, Dave took off his jacket, revealing a gun. (Dave later claimed that he was planning to set the gun aside so they could fight with their fists.) That afternoon, Jake filed for an order of protection against his brother-in-law. Had it gone into effect, it would have essentially banned Dave from the ranch. Jake withdrew his complaint a few days later, but the animosity between the two men remained so strong that Deb declared they couldn’t be on the property at the same time.Steph was furious when she and Dave had to move to an apartment in town. “My younger brother is trying to ruin my life,” she wrote on the website Moms.com in 2014. “How can I make [my mom] see that it is unhealthy for him to be there controlling her and her property like he owns it?”By the following year, Deb seemed to have taken her daughter’s advice. “My mom might be kicking my brother out soon,” Steph messaged a friend on Wednesday, May 13. That Friday night was the last time anyone saw Jake. A few days after that, Steph posted on Facebook: “Have you ever been woken up with such awesome news you wanted to run outside screaming?”“No more jake????” a friend replied.“Apparently Reno,” Steph wrote. “Long story tell you soon.”Hokyoung KimAs the weeks ticked by, Jake’s friends grew more and more frustrated. No one seemed to be treating Jake’s absence as the emergency they felt it was. Steph and Dave moved back to the 7-11 Ranch and were acting like nothing was wrong. If the sheriff’s own son had vanished, Ajarian couldn’t help thinking, the deputies would certainly be doing more than they were. Finally, the friends decided they couldn’t rely on official channels for help.Ajarian was in the hardware-store parking lot when he spotted the first significant clue: Jake’s beloved 1976 Harley Sportster, albeit with a new, slapdash paint job and a modified gas tank. Dave was riding it. “If Jake ever saw Dave Jackson breathing on his motorcycle, it would’ve been the end of the world,” Ajarian told me. “And this guy is riding around on it. And why is it spray-painted all these shitty different colors?”Two other friends were shopping for used bikes when they discovered a couple more of Jake’s motorcycles for sale in a local shop. They obtained a copy of the title to one, a Honda, which had both Jake’s and Deb’s signatures on it. To Ajarian’s eye, Jake’s looked like a blatant forgery. “You could see Deb’s signature and you could see Jake’s signature underneath it, and it’s the same fricking handwriting,” he said. To Jake’s friends, these motorcycle clues were a blatant sign that Deb’s story didn’t make sense. If Jake’s family expected him to return, why were they selling his stuff?One day, Ajarian ran into Deb at the grocery store. He barraged her with questions: Where was Jake? And if she didn’t know, why hadn’t she filed a missing-person report? She muttered something about not wanting to get in trouble for filing a false report if Jake turned up.Finally, three months after Jake was last seen, Deb Rudibaugh officially reported her son missing, claiming that his interest in martial arts had brought him into contact with a bad crowd. “I figure he got in over his head with something and is either in witness protection or in hiding or dead,” she later told investigators.Ajarian created a Facebook page called “Where is Jake Millison.” He posted photos from their motorcycle trip out West—Jake posing next to a giant redwood; Jake wearing a helmet, making goofy faces—and asked people to share any information that might be useful. Someone reported seeing Deb, Steph, and Dave burning Jake’s mattress days after he vanished. Someone else pointed out that shortly after Jake disappeared, Dave had changed his Facebook profile picture; in the new photo, he was posed on one of Jake’s motorcycles—another thing Jake never would have tolerated. The tips that came in to the Facebook group were shared with law enforcement. The accumulation of facts, plus Jake’s friends’ persistence, began to convince the department “that this was a serious matter here,” Mykol said.Winter brought “bad times” out at the 7-11 Ranch, Dave texted a friend. With Jake gone, much of the work fell to him. “I’m sick of being a slave for [Steph] and her mother on this ranch while she is in the lodge warm cozy f****** around on her phone,” he wrote. When he threatened to leave, Steph brandished a gun and fired a bullet at the floor. Around the same time, Deb’s health began to deteriorate. Within a year, she was admitted to the hospital for a collapsed lung; a biopsy revealed that she had Stage 4 breast cancer.Despite Jake’s friends’ attempts to keep the investigation energized, months passed without much development. A year went by, and then another. Ajarian was alarmed to realize that he’d gotten used to Jake being gone. He and his friends sometimes joked about a gray-haired Jake popping up in 50 years, cackling about the epic prank he’d played on them, but the unspoken truth was that they all assumed he was dead. Not knowing why or how, or where his body was, was maddening. There had been no funeral where they could make speeches about how much he’d mattered to them and cry together for his loss. His family continued to live as if he’d never existed. With no official action, it was hard not to feel as though Jake’s disappearance—and his life—didn’t matter. The friend group slowly began to disperse: Lopez moved to Texas; Katheiser was in Colorado Springs. Sometimes Ajarian thought of Jake almost as a ghost—there and not there at the same time.Although the investigation stalled for years, the Gunnison County sheriff’s department disputes the idea that it didn’t take Jake’s friends’ concerns seriously. “We were working pretty hard,” Mykol told me. “It just takes a really long time. You can’t just show up somewhere and search—there’s a thing called the Fourth Amendment, you know what I mean?” Mykol also pointed out that the department had only one investigator for the entire county.Finally, the sheriff’s department asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for help on the case. Two years after Jake’s disappearance, Ajarian met with a CBI agent who told him they were making progress. “She said, ‘I can’t tell you anything—but things are in the works for you guys.’ ”On July 17, 2017, official vehicles crowded the county highway by the 7-11 Ranch. As ambulances and fire trucks waited, search teams and dogs spread out over the 700 acres. “Later on that day there are reports that they’ve found a body, and you just know,” Katheiser recalled. “There’s not another reason for a body to be out there.”The news spread fast across the small town. While Jake’s friends had been calling the sheriff, visiting the ranch, posting on Facebook—for nearly all of that time, his body had been wrapped in a tarp and buried in a manure pile in the corral.Hokyoung KimThe fact that Jake’s body was found on the 7-11 Ranch seemed to confirm that at least one member of his family had played a role in his death. But which one? There were almost too many potential motives: Steph’s lifetime of animosity toward her brother, plus the tension over who would inherit the ranch; the constant clashes between Deb and her son. And then, of course, there was Dave. In the weeks before he vanished, Jake had told friends that if anything ever happened to him, Dave would be responsible.[From October 2018: A shocking number of killers murder their co-workers]Investigators questioned Deb, Steph, and Dave separately many times. Their stories were contradictory, confusing, and self-serving. Everyone agreed that Jake had once been his mother’s favorite, but that in the years before his death, the dynamics in the family had shifted; Deb began complaining to Steph about Jake, and Steph was happy to egg her on. As Deb told investigators, Steph was insistent that her mother evict Jake. He was a freeloader, she argued. Without tough love, he’d never become independent. Sometimes she hinted that more drastic measures might be necessary. “The only way that he’s going to leave here voluntarily,” Deb claimed Steph had said, “is if he’s in a body bag.”Steph’s efforts at persuasion seemed to work. Investigators found an amended version of Deb’s will, dated three weeks before Jake vanished. Instead of leaving the ranch to Jake and Shane, the property—and everything else she owned—would now go to Steph. Jake would get nothing.Deb told investigators that the week Jake went missing, she had been exhausted from working the night shift at a nursing home. She’d asked Jake to take care of an errand; he’d left the job half finished, then gone into town. This, she said, was the last straw. She waited until he fell asleep that night and shot him in the head. She claimed that she disposed of his body on her own. The investigators pressed her on this point. How was this possible, considering how small and frail she was? “Yankee ingenuity,” Deb said. She had rolled his body in a plastic sheet, then used tow straps and a winch to maneuver it out of the lodge and onto an ATV. She insisted that Steph and Dave had known nothing.When investigators told Steph that her mother had confessed to murdering Jake, she broke down. “Oh my God,” she said, sobbing. “Are you fucking serious? I can’t breathe.”But the officers suspected that she knew more than she was letting on. There was that Facebook post about “awesome news” once Jake was gone, and her apparent lack of concern for her brother. They kept pressing her.“Okay,” Steph said eventually. “Honestly I didn’t know anything until a couple months ago.” Dave had been digging in the manure pile when he’d uncovered the body of what looked at first like a large animal, she said. It was partially mummified, and wrapped in plastic. Dave had encountered plenty of carcasses while living on the ranch, but this one unnerved him. He could see parts of a rib cage poking out. He’d called Steph over. “Is that what you think it is?” he asked.“Maybe,” Steph replied. “I’m going to call Mom.”Deb told her daughter to stay away from the body, Steph said, claiming that it was a mountain lion or a bear Jake had shot. “It’s illegal game; that’s all I’m going to say,” Deb said. She told her daughter to cover it back up with manure and leave it alone.In the ensuing weeks, Steph and Dave made awkward jokes about what they’d found. They said they talked about calling the police but never did. Then the investigation ramped up again. With officers sniffing around the ranch, Steph insisted that the remains be reburied somewhere more secure. The family avoided articulating what they were really discussing. Sometimes they called the body “it”; sometimes they referred to it as “the bear.” But Steph eventually admitted that was a ruse. “I knew in my heart it was Jake,” she said. One afternoon, Dave used the backhoe to dig a hole inside the corral. A couple of days later, the “bear” was gone from the manure pile, and the hole was packed with fresh dirt.There were reasons to doubt each of these accounts. According to Deb’s medical records, she weighed 97 pounds at the time of Jake’s murder, and was still weak from the gallbladder surgery she’d had nine days before. At work, she’d been assigned to “light duty”; at the ranch, she wasn’t able to lift a bale of hay. When her doctor examined her a few days after the murder, none of her stitches had torn. Jake had weighed at least 170 pounds. Would it have been physically possible for her to drag his body from the second story of the lodge all the way to the manure pile, even with a winch and straps?Many of Jake’s friends assumed that Deb, dying of cancer, was covering for her daughter, and perhaps also her son-in-law. Ray, Jake and Steph’s dad, also resisted the idea that Deb had murdered Jake. “No matter how bad it was, I just can’t see her shooting her own boy,” he told investigators. Cellphone records showed that Steph had been awake in the early-morning hours when Jake was killed. “Deborah didn’t gain anything by killing Jacob,” a CBI agent later testified in a court hearing. But Steph, who would gain “sole ownership of the ranch after Deborah passes,” did have a motive.One thing was clear. Whoever pulled the trigger, whoever helped bury the body, they were banking on the idea that everyone else would see Jake the way they did—as insignificant, even disposable. That no one would raise a fuss over the disappearance of a quiet, working-class guy who lived with his mother off a rural county highway.Hokyoung KimOur families are supposed to be the people who know us best, but that often isn’t the case. Sometimes the hardest people to see clearly are the ones we’re closest to.After the discovery of Jake’s body, and the multiple and confusing confessions from his family members, what seemed to upset his friends most was how they mischaracterized Jake. According to Deb, her son was a drug addict and a drunk, a violent MMA fighter, someone who physically assaulted her and threatened to kill his sister and her family. According to Steph, Jake was a worthless waste of space, lazy and useless. No wonder Jake clung so strongly to his friends. His chosen family was perfectly aware of his flaws—his stubbornness, his arrogance—but equally attuned to his loyalty, generosity, and dedication.On May 13, 2019, almost four years after her son’s death, Deb pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a 40-year sentence. Dave Jackson had already been sentenced to a decade in prison for his role in moving Jake’s body. When I visited Gunnison last fall, the question on everyone’s mind was what would happen to Stephaine. She was scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder the next fall, but Ajarian worried that she, like her mother, would end up getting a plea deal. The official version of Jake’s death, codified in plea agreements and court filings, didn’t strike him as the full story; without a trial, he feared he’d never know what had really happened to his friend, or why. Sure enough, several months after my visit, Steph pleaded guilty to tampering with a dead body. In November, Deb Rudibaugh died in jail; two days later, Steph was sentenced to 24 years in prison.Ultimately the system had worked: Law enforcement had located the body, elicited a confession, and secured convictions. But even after the case was legally closed, it still felt unsettled, incomplete.One evening, I met Ajarian at a pizza place. Under his mechanic’s uniform, he wore a T-shirt that said punker than you, and his dark hair was styled in messy spikes. His grief over his friend’s death expressed itself as a kind of grasping for purpose. When Jake had first disappeared, when his friends were searching for clues and urging the sheriff’s department to act, they’d been of use. Now there was nothing left to do—except maybe hold a memorial service for Jake. Perhaps that would help him feel as though his friend had finally been put to rest. But where would he host such an event? Gunnison was too full of bitter memories—but it was also Jake’s only home.The next day, I met Katheiser in his tidy basement apartment in Colorado Springs. He, too, was plagued with thoughts of what might have been. “A lot of mornings when I wake up, I think about Jake, what his life would have been,” he told me. “I like to think that he could’ve sold the ranch for quite a bit of money and maybe just gone and worked a regular job somewhere. Bought a house. Maybe he would’ve met a girl and whatever. And he doesn’t get that opportunity. That’s what I would have hoped for him. Just that he could’ve gotten into a life that he wasn’t frustrated at every day.”This article appears in the April 2020 print edition with the headline “What Happened to Jake Millison?”
2020-03-12 13:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
The Chaos Coming for the U.S. Election
Prepare for total chaos. This summer, the Supreme Court will decide whether to completely reshape how the American public elects the president of the United States, and the 2020 election—one of enormous consequence—will be the test run for the new rules.The general rules for electing the president have been established for centuries: The candidate who receives the most votes in each state wins that state’s electoral votes, and the candidate who wins the most electoral votes becomes president.[Vikram David Amar: How to—carefully—surmount the Electoral College]But these rules could go out the window when the Supreme Court issues a decision, anticipated by June of this year, on lawsuits out of Colorado and Washington. These cases challenge the constitutionality of legal requirements that presidential electors—the people who physically cast their state’s electoral votes—must vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state. The electors bringing these lawsuits argue that the Constitution gives them the right to vote for anyone for president, regardless of the will of the voters in the state they represent.If, as many experts expect, the Court’s originalist majority agrees with the electors, the entire Electoral College system will be upended just months before voters go to the polls. A ruling to “unbind” presidential electors from their home-state voters will create new legal loopholes at the worst possible time.First among these: Numerous federal laws require elected officials and policy makers to follow financial ethics and transparency rules. These rules seek to ensure that officials act in the public’s interest rather than for their own financial advantage. Presidential electors, however, have never been considered true elected officials or policy makers, so these laws don’t currently cover them.If the Supreme Court unbinds presidential electors, the laws will need to be broadened right away to ensure that electors are subject to the same anti-corruption rules as government officials, because they suddenly will be vulnerable to the same sorts of enticements that can sway regular politicians. Electors could legally accept contributions worth millions of dollars in connection with their official duties, and the public would never know. This is not a problem if electors are required to simply follow the will of their states’ voters. But the absence of transparency laws combined with unfettered discretion is a recipe for corruption that could threaten the legitimacy of the presidential election.Second, the identities of the individual presidential electors will go from irrelevant to crucially important. It will be essential for voters to be able to identify and select electors who will carry out their duties responsibly. Right now, the nomination of electors is a backroom process completely opaque to voters. Electors are not listed on most general-election ballots, and many voters who select a presidential candidate on a ballot don’t even know they’re actually voting for electors, much less have any idea who those electors are.[Wilfred Codrington III: The electoral college’s racist origins]States will need to urgently reconsider every aspect of nominating and selecting their presidential electors. The nomination process will need to be taken away from the party operatives who currently control it and modernized. Potential electors will need to make public position statements on who they will vote for if elected and convince voters that they will keep that promise. Already-overburdened state officials will need to divert resources from important antihacking and coronavirus-preparation efforts to disseminate extensive information about the new Electoral College rules to voters in a rushed and highly charged preelection environment.The argument for unbinding presidential electors is based on the premise that in the late 1700s, the Electoral College would gather and deliberate over who should be president. Admittedly, this might have been true in the elections of 1788 and 1792 (which were, in any event, unanimous). In fact, back then many states did not conduct presidential elections at all, instead leaving the choice of electors to state legislatures.But for more than two centuries, voters in every state have had a direct voice in choosing the president. America’s entire election process has been built around this fundamental popular sovereignty. To revert to 18th-century procedures would be to wrongly ignore the many advances—including several constitutional amendments—that make clear that choice for president now rests with American citizens.The Supreme Court’s potential overthrow of the long-standing election system could become a catastrophe. If 2020 Election Night results show a close race in the Electoral College, the whims of a few semi-anonymous individuals may hold the nation’s future in their hands. At that point, it will be too late to update the laws that govern the process.Reasonable people can debate the wisdom of the Electoral College system more broadly. But if that is the process the country will be using, the legitimacy of American democracy demands that the country act now to make sure it is fair, transparent, and protected from corruption. However far from perfect the current system may be, the chaos of an unbound Electoral College would be much worse.
2020-03-12 13:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
Trump’s War Against His Own Government
Donald Trump is at war with his own government. And on at least one front of the administration’s campaign—the demolition of the State Department—the damage is even more severe than we imagine. It is also more reparable.What makes the White House’s efforts so destructive is not just the venality and vindictiveness of the president, or even the stupidity of sidelining or driving away professional diplomats at a moment when the coronavirus is spreading, great-power competition is simmering, and regional conflicts are bubbling. George Packer’s recent dispatch from the front lines of Trump’s war paints a vivid portrait not only of the targeted strikes against experienced and honorable public servants, but also of the indiscriminate attacks on the institutions they animate and, in turn, the citizens they serve.[William J. Burns: Trump’s bureaucratic arson]If that was all that was arrayed against our institutions, however, their defense and recovery would not be so daunting. The State Department also faces a set of deeply rooted challenges.At home, the currents of congressional abdication and enablement have been flowing for many years, but now they are accelerating—with partisan investigations growing in number and intensity in inverse proportion to sensible, proactive legislation and oversight. A skeptical and distracted American public, so conditioned by our discourse to see the government as the source of all ills, is blinded to the risk of the government’s hollowing out. Administrations of both parties have intensified the drift in American diplomacy, and the State Department—sluggish, passive-aggressive, and risk-averse—has often gotten in its own way. Across the government, belittled public servants are less able to protect democratic guardrails, which are only as sturdy as the people who defend them.The view from abroad is equally troubling. Allies, adversaries, and everyone in between are concluding that Trump’s nativist bluster, erratic transactionalism, and unilateral diplomatic disarmament are not an aberration, but a reflection of what Americans want and what America has become. The idea of America—the sense of inclusivity and possibility that attracted so many people around the world, even as they often resented our power and policies—is badly corroded.While the battle losses are mounting, the war is not yet over. Packer is right that the key to any hope of reversal—let alone reconstruction and recovery—is confining the Trump presidency to a single term. The damage assessment after a second term is not difficult to imagine, with alliances ruined, rivals emboldened, rules abandoned, and institutions both foreign and domestic collapsing.But seeing the back of Donald Trump is not enough. His defeat is just the essential starting point.Americans can’t be satisfied with the restoration of an old, already fading status quo or the replication of diplomatic institutions and strategies of the past. The State Department needs to not just rebuild but rebuild differently—honest about the fact that the United States is no longer the only big kid on the geopolitical block, mindful of the importance of connecting global ambitions to domestic priorities, and careful about the crusading impulses that sabotaged so much of our post–Cold War primacy. Without losing the sense of enlightened self-interest and pride in the American idea that has driven U.S. foreign policy at its best, the next administration will need to be more disciplined and pragmatic, qualities that sometimes seem unnatural in Washington.The early months of a post-Trump presidency, if that’s what November’s election brings, will offer a window to pursue reforms that in the past seemed too hard or too outside the box. But that window will not stay open for long. It will inevitably be overtaken by other crucial priorities and unforeseen events, suffocated by inertia, torn apart by special interests within the national-security bureaucracy, and entrapped in the same congealing bureaucratism and empty faddishness that paralyzed and diverted prior efforts at structural change.Precisely because of these risks, and precisely because the task of repairing our democracy at home will rightly take precedence over almost anything else, rebuilding American diplomacy won’t be easy. In his famous 1947 speech launching another recovery from another war, Secretary of State George Marshall spoke of aiming for “a cure, not a palliative” in helping Europe get back on its feet after the devastation of World War II. A serious effort at a cure for what ails the State Department after Trump’s onslaught, and after decades of trouble, has at least three parts.[Read: The Marshall Plan that failed]First, in much the same sense that Marshall’s concept relied on European self-help, State will have to show what it can do for itself, not just what the next president or Congress can do for it. Neither State nor other beleaguered institutions can simply wait for relief to be delivered. They’ll have to start by making the case themselves, through their own example, pursuing reforms that don’t initially require additional authorities or expenditure of political capital.At the State Department, these actions should include stripping away layers of bureaucracy, streamlining decision making, and pushing accountability and responsibility downward in Washington and outward to well-qualified ambassadors overseas. A reform effort will have to address the atrophy of tradecraft and core skills within the diplomatic corps, the shameful diversity deficit, and the lack of fluency in areas such as economics, climate change, and new technologies. Reform also means reshaping antediluvian approaches to leadership, management, recruitment, and performance, and most of all, rediscovering the honor and purpose exemplified by career professionals during the Trump impeachment hearings, and upholding that example even when inconvenient to professional progress.Second, sustaining that initiative will require rebalancing U.S. national-security tools—in both budget and policy terms. Much as Marshall appreciated the significance of priming the pump in Europe, a new administration and Congress will need to be supportive. Some of this will inevitably be financial, enough of a budgetary boost to allow a “training float” so that much more systematic professional training will be possible; to accommodate the return to service of some of those driven out in recent years; and to allow for the injection of talent and experience from key sectors, such as technology, where State lacks in-house expertise. Money isn’t the first or second answer to most needs at State, but it matters—especially at a moment when our greatest rival, China, has doubled spending on diplomacy.The most important rebalancing will be in policy, not resources. That begins with reemphasizing diplomacy as America’s tool of first resort and reversing the post-9/11 trend toward the militarization of foreign policy. The next administration should reverse the debilitating habit, far more pernicious in the Trump era than ever before, of filling unprecedented numbers of senior (and not-so-senior) jobs in Washington and ambassadorships abroad with political loyalists, many of whom have questionable qualifications and motivations.[David A. Graham: The experts strike back]Finally, a renewed State Department will have to make a new effort to connect effectively not only with other parts of the executive branch and Congress, but also with the wider America it serves. Marshall and his colleagues spent time selling their recovery plan on the Hill and across the country. His successors understood the institutional challenge of making the case for American diplomacy, which lacks the natural constituencies of the U.S. military, and the political imperative for trying to do so. James Baker, who served as secretary of state under George H. W. Bush, titled his memoir The Politics of Diplomacy—he knew better than most that without a firmer political foothold, the State Department and the policies it seeks to implement would both suffer.Restoring American society’s faith in our foreign policy ought not be a lost cause today, given the increasing range of players, from governors and mayors to business executives and civil-society groups, who share a stake in disciplined American leadership around the world, and whose connection to the needs and aspirations of the middle class ought to inform the substance and conduct of our diplomacy. Building differently is about realizing that Washington does far too much preaching of the gospel of U.S. leadership to the American heartland, and not enough listening.If new leaders learn from past missteps, if they avoid the illusion of restoration to a normal that has long lost its normalcy, and if they approach the task of rebuilding with the mix of daring and humility that defines American diplomacy at its best, the State Department—and American institutions more broadly—can climb out of the deep hole it’s in, despite Trump’s furious excavation project.Packer’s essay was painful to read. It illuminated the raw wounds of Trump’s war on diplomacy, as well as some old scars, exposing a professional culture that has often been torn between the discipline required of any career public service and the integrity and drive with which that code of behavior has to be paired.Like so many other Americans, I was deeply proud of my former colleagues who spoke truth to power, defended our national interests over the president’s political ones, and upheld their oaths with dignity during the impeachment hearings. I worry about the corrosive effects of their mistreatment at the hands of their own government, especially the impact on a culture already prone to bouts of going along to get along. But I hope that those still in the arena will persevere, keep their character intact, and defend one another and the Constitution. And I hope that young people, stirred by all that’s at stake at this moment of testing for our country and its place in the world, will be moved to serve, and to do their part to contribute to what will be a generational effort to revitalize our institutions and our republic.
2020-03-12 12:45:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
No Sick Man Is an Island
As COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, spreads in the United States, it is becoming clear that America’s individualistic framework is deeply unsuited to coping with an infectious pandemic. Right now, one of the most important things Americans can do is deploy measures like social distancing and self-quarantining, even if they do not feel sick and are not at risk of the worst effects of the disease, in order to “flatten the curve” (epidemiologists’ term for slowing down the natural progression of an outbreak). This requires a radical shift in Americans’ thinking from an individual-first to a communitarian ethos—and it is not a shift that is coming easily to most, especially in the absence of clear federal guidelines.[Read: When keeping your distance is the best way to show you care]This month, along with about 8,000 other writers, I was supposed to fly to San Antonio for an annual conference sponsored by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. I had decided early on not to go, mainly because I had already been in touch with many virologists and epidemiologists (I’m writing a book about chronic illness in the United States) who’d been calling for proactive social distancing since February. I watched on social media as colleagues weighed their decision, and was struck by the fact that so many were discussing whether to go based on how they perceived risk to themselves; some even pointed out that the danger was “only” to the elderly or people with preexisting conditions. Others subtly shamed those who were expressing concern. They joked about “freak-outs” and “germaphobes.”As the crisis deepens, behavior is changing, but some public figures, and some in the media, continue to frame reasonable levels of anxiety and the necessary, pragmatic steps of preparation more as “panic” than prudence. (There will always be people who panic, but most of what I’ve seen is a justifiable concern about how to prepare for a disease the true scope of which we don’t understand.) Until this week, many institutions were unwilling to take proactive steps to limit community spread of the coronavirus. Schools near me in New Haven, Connecticut, continued to have students shake hands with teachers every morning until the city told them to stop.Why this unwillingness to change behavior, this lingering suspicion that somehow it is weak or a form of “panic” to adopt practical measures? Some of this is sheer denial; Americans today are not used to the notion that an infectious disease we have no treatment for might sweep through the nation. It startles the mind that our high-tech, modern medical system, which routinely wrests sick people from the arms of death, could actually be overwhelmed by a challenging but not remarkably deadly virus. One hundred or so years ago, most deaths in the U.S. were caused by infectious disease. Today, most are caused by chronic conditions. This is new to us.But we also live in a country stubbornly hung up on a damaging idea of self-reliance, a nation pathologically invested in the idea that we should all “just do it”—an attitude that challenges us to muscle through it—whatever it might be. We have no shared discourse for the idea that the hard thing to do, the truly challenging thing to do, might be to do less in order to help another. Or: to do nothing at all. To stay home. We are so addicted to the concept of individual responsibility that we have a fragmented health-care system, a weak social safety net, and a culture of averting our eyes from other people’s physical vulnerability. This manifests in dangerous policy: Many Americans don’t have paid sick days and lack good child-care options. They are therefore likely to continue to show up to work or school even when sick—or risk losing their jobs.[Read: The problem with telling sick workers to stay home]When you’re sick with an illness that doesn’t resolve easily, as I was from 2012 to 2014, you realize quickly how strange our obsession with individualism really is. The experience of being ill is one that underscores our interconnectedness. Most of us will struggle with some kind of sickness one day. So I emerged from my own illness with a new sense of compassion—and, frankly, a fresh horror at my privileged indifference to others in the years before I’d gotten ill.As the social scientist Arthur Frank reminds us in The Wounded Storyteller, the body in illness is not a “monad”—meaning a unit of one—although our entire health-care system is built on this notion: the individual hospital beds, the sense of isolation. Rather, it is inherently “dyadic,” because the body is never not in relation to others, especially in cases of contagious illness. The sick body is always in dialogue with the medical system, with spouses, and so on. Research showing that diabetic patients with empathetic doctors have better outcomes than those with brusque doctors, for example, highlights the material and corporeal reality of Frank’s point: The body is a social encounter, not just a vessel for our hyper-individualism.You have probably read or heard the poet John Donne’s famous formulation “No man is an island” many times. He wrote this line after almost dying from spotted fever in 1623. Donne was 51 and the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral when he fell gravely ill. His daughter was engaged to be married when he got sick; he urged her to wed while he was in the hospital, so he would know she was taken care of. From his bed, he listened to the church bells toll the news of weddings and of deaths from the epidemic around him.Physically, Donne felt largely alone. “Variable, and therfore miserable condition of Man; this minute I was well, and am ill, this minute,” he wrote. “As sicknes is the greatest misery, so the greatest misry of sicknes, is solitude.” And yet the very loneliness of lying in bed was what led him to his most famous insight about the human experience.No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.One doesn’t have to be Christian to see that he was entirely right when he wrote “No man is an island”: It is a fact as much as a way of living. Today, perhaps the best way to acknowledge this reality, to live as “part of the main,” is to embrace solitude. In other words, with COVID-19, the best way to be community focused is to be physically isolated—to avoid large groups, to “reduce your touch points,” as Alana Levine, a rheumatologist affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery and New York Presbyterian-Cornell, told me. Unfortunately, there is no prescription for the “right” thing to do, no answer to the question of whether to have the playdate or fly to Florida right now. But there is an ethos to cling to: If you are privileged enough to skip an event or work from home, you may save lives—even though the lives you save may not be your own. It might be the life of your cousin with cancer, or your colleague’s brother, who has diabetes.[Read: What you can do right now about the coronavirus]Americans have allowed ourselves to believe that the self, rather than the community, must do all the healing. COVID-19 is a stark reminder that the community, rather than the self, may be the first line of protection. To be ill is to know our interconnectedness, but to be ill in America today is to be brought up against the pathology of a culture that denies this fact.COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to frame our fears not in the context of panic or overwhelming anxiety, but as care. Our interconnectedness is part of the very meaning of life. That more and more Americans sense this is evident from many of the platforms of 2020’s Democratic presidential candidates. No person is an island; the nation that believes in individuals more than it values community risks its own survival. Accepting and embracing this might be the tougher path than muscling through, each by each, whatever comes.
2020-03-12 12:30:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Floodlines: The story of an unnatural disaster
“We know why the levees broke. We already built levees that won’t break the same way again,” narrates the Atlantic staff writer Vann R. Newkirk II in Floodlines. “But as for the people—those who couldn’t come back—the neighborhoods and communities that just stand as memorials now while others thrive, there are lots of things that no levees could fix. Some things that were maybe even deeper than earth and water.”It’s this story, of what lies deeper than earth and water—of a disaster waiting just below the surface, seeped into the legacy of America—that forms Floodlines, a gripping eight-part podcast from The Atlantic examining what happened in New Orleans after the levees broke. Reported and hosted by Vann R. Newkirk II, executive produced by Katherine Wells, and produced by Alvin Melathe and Kevin Townsend, Floodlines revisits the story of Hurricane Katrina through the experiences of four New Orleanians—Le-Ann Williams, Fred Johnson, Alice Craft-Kerney, and Sandy Rosenthal—who remained in the city through the storm and its aftermath, and who are still living with the consequences.All eight parts of Floodlines, spanning nearly four and a half hours, are available to listen to in full today on any podcast app (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play) and at theatlantic.com/floodlines. Woven throughout is the music of the New Orleans composer Christian Scott, which forms a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.Floodlines shows that the catastrophic outcome of the levee breaches in New Orleans was the result not of a natural disaster, but of an unnatural one: the failure of government, media, and society, leading to one of the most misunderstood events in modern-day America. In taking listeners through the experiences of Le-Ann Williams, Fred Johnson, Alice Craft-Kerney, and Sandy Rosenthal, and in hearing the conspiracies and rumors that fueled media reports and clouded the official response, Newkirk shows that the government failed at its most basic job. Craft-Kerney describes it to Newkirk this way: “As a person of color, you always have it in the back of your mind that the government really doesn't care about you. Katrina validated that. It cemented it.”Floodlines also questions and occasionally unearths new regrets from the officials responsible for the country’s response: Michael Brown, the former FEMA director; Lieutenant General Russel Honore, lauded as a “black John Wayne” for coordinating the evacuation of the Superdome and the convention center; and the former New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass. Brown’s interview with Newkirk lasted six hours; at one point, he wrestled with whether to apologize, and for what.In one exchange, Newkirk asked Brown about the lack of response and acknowledgement that thousands of people were stranded at the convention center. How could his agency have missed this? Brown replied: “We didn’t. We knew they were there. I knew immediately. I knew immediately.” Newkirk pressed: “Is it unreasonable for somebody to come and say, ‘We see you’re here’? Or ‘We’re gonna come get you’? You can walk from the Superdome to the convention center. Nobody walked or tried to make it in the 36 hours?”Brown responded: “I think the acknowledgment piece—I think you’re right. I think you’re right on that one. I think you’re absolutely right … There is no explanation for it other than, I think, by that point the system was overwhelmed … I just think we have this unrealistic expectation that this massive federal bureaucracy can just instantaneously do stuff. And it just cannot.”For 163 years, The Atlantic has been home to long-form storytelling; Floodlines builds on this tradition and represents The Atlantic’s first foray into long-form audio. Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg explains that returning to the story of the day the levees broke “provided a way to explain issues of race and class, and truth and lies. We knew it was a way to explore our relationship with nature itself. But we did not know then how chillingly relevant it would be. Katrina marked a breakpoint in the history of our country, a moment when Americans came to understand that, sometimes, the cavalry isn't coming.”###Press Contacts:Anna Bross + Helen Tobin // The Atlanticpress@theatlantic.com
2020-03-12 12:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Introducing Floodlines
Dear Reader,The coronavirus pandemic represents, among other things, a lesson about the importance of competent government leadership.But we’ve learned this lesson before.Last year, Vann R. Newkirk II, one of our staff writers, and our podcast chief Katherine Wells, came to me with an idea for a thorough reassessment of Hurricane Katrina, 15 years later. We knew that the story of Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans was a crucial one to tell. We knew that it was a way to explore our climate future, and our relationship with nature itself. We knew that it would help explain issues of race and class, and truth and lies. But we did not know then how chillingly relevant it would be. Katrina marked a breakpoint in the history of our country, a moment when Americans came to understand that, sometimes, the cavalry isn't coming.Floodlines, the mesmerizing podcast series that grew out of these conversations, is The Atlantic’s first foray into narrative audio. For 163 years, The Atlantic has specialized in great storytelling; Floodlines builds on this tradition. Vann, Katherine, and their team have taken a story we think we know and have made it dramatically, shockingly, new. They unearth human stories that take us to the heart of the tragedy; they investigate the failures of politicians and the media; and they question the officials who were in charge: the tormented former police chief of New Orleans, and the former FEMA chief Michael Brown—“Brownie”—among them. They achieve something great here, the deepest understanding of what Vann calls “an unnatural disaster.”I hope you listen to Floodlines. You can subscribe on any podcast app (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play) or visit our website at theatlantic.com/floodlines.I thought I knew most of what there was to know about Hurricane Katrina. But then I listened to Floodlines.
2020-03-12 12:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Biden Needs the Tik Tok Coalition
The youths Of America are not for Joe Biden—at least not yet.They have not embraced a candidate who emblazoned the word malarkey on his campaign bus, who summoned the ghost of John Wayne to chastise a college student, who urged parents in the 21st century to keep a “record player” on for their children, and who hasn’t been able to match the unlikely cool factor of a rival a year even older than himself.Over the last 10 days, the former vice president has reassembled the multiracial, urban, and suburban coalition that powered Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and Democrats to a House majority in 2018—with one major exception. Even in double-digit defeats, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has dominated Biden among primary voters under the age of 30, extending a wide generational gap that defined his race against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and that might have contributed to her loss to Donald Trump that fall. In Michigan and Missouri, Sanders won 70 percent and 76 percent of the vote among voters under 30, respectively, according to exit polls.Younger voters have not shown up in numbers nearly large enough for Sanders to overcome Biden’s strength among older Democrats; a surge in turnout among older people has obscured any gains in the youth vote, relegating Millennials and first-time voters to a smaller share of the primary electorate than they made up four years ago. But while the relative lack of enthusiasm from voters in their teens and 20s is bad news for Sanders in the short term, it could also be worrisome for Biden in the long term. In the general election, Democratic presidential candidates rely on huge margins among younger voters to counteract the conservative tilt and higher turnout rates of middle-aged and older Americans.Four years ago, Clinton could not match Obama’s margins with younger voters, and in the decisive states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, they were far more likely to back third-party candidates than were older voters, exit polls found. Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, blamed this migration among millennials for her defeat in the weeks after the election.Biden supporters cheerfully note that he is outperforming Clinton among a number of key groups, which they have taken as a hopeful sign heading into a likely general-election campaign against Trump. And indeed, the former vice president is seeing impressive turnout among African Americans and white suburban voters, particularly in areas that flipped from Obama to Trump and where Democrats flipped Republican congressional seats in 2018.But Biden’s most glaring vulnerability remains his lack of support among younger voters, and Obama veterans are urging him to address it more aggressively. “Improving his standing with young voters needs to be a top priority for the Biden campaign,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior Obama adviser, told me today. “It is the biggest weak spot in his coalition and Biden needs to make real, substantive moves to ensure they are with him on Election Day.”David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager in 2008, said on MSNBC on Tuesday that energizing youth turnout needed to be “a Manhattan Project” both for the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party.Even Sanders, during his remarks in Vermont yesterday, urged the Democratic establishment—and implicitly, Biden—to pay more attention to younger voters. While acknowledging Biden’s commanding lead in delegates, Sanders claimed a partial victory in “winning the generational debate.” “Today I say to the Democratic establishment: In order to win in the future you need to win the voters who represent the future of our country and you must speak to the issues of concern to them,” he said. “You cannot simply be satisfied by winning the votes of people who are older.”Lackluster support among younger Democrats isnot a new problem for Biden, who has moved a bit to the left on policy (and left for him) but has resisted embracing the priorities of young progressives like Medicare for All and student debt cancellation. As my colleague Elaine Godfrey reported in January, progressive organizers have long worried that a Biden nomination would dampen enthusiasm on the left, endangering mobilization efforts in the fall.Read: [The progressive deflation]Alexandra Flores-Quilty, a Sanders supporter and the former president of the U.S. Student Association, a youth advocacy organization, told me yesterday that while she thought young people would ultimately vote for Biden, she worried that they would be less likely to help persuade others to show up at the polls.“He’ll also need young folks knocking on doors, making calls, and doing the majority of the work on the ground that it takes to get people to vote,” she said. “What he’s going to have a hard time doing, which is essential, is getting them to do the hard work essential to win the election. It’s more than just voting.”“That,” she added, “could be a serious problem.”Progressives have a few ideas for how Biden can energize the youths, starting with a more fulsome embrace of the Green New Deal to combat climate change and more aggressive proposals on student debt, among other issues. Ahead of Sunday’s debate in Arizona, group of youth organizations is pushing the Democratic National Committee to ensure that the debate—perhaps the final one of the primary—addressed “issues that are facing our generation.”And yesterday, Sanders challenged Biden to have answers ready on those and other issues, including his signature Medicare for All proposal, immigration reform, mass incarceration, and income inequality.Biden’s choice of running mate will also be key. “Starting with a super inspirational vice presidential candidate who captures the imagination would be smart,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told me.Biden began the effort of bringing in Sanders supporters—and young voters more broadly—by praising their “tireless energy and passion” during his victory speech on Tuesday night. Green, whose group backed Senator Elizabeth Warren in the primary, said his words “sent a signal of magnanimity,” but Biden needed to do more.“People are just incredibly scared that if we don’t build the coalition needed to win, we will lose to Trump,” he said. “Winning this primary because you were seen as the safe choice for the right couple of weeks is certainly not an ideological verdict on the future of the party and is not enough to excite the coalition needed to win. There’s active work to do.“So far there are signs that he gets that,” Green said of Biden.The Biden campaign takes a rosier view of the former vice president’s standing with younger voters. It noted that in Michigan, a key swing state, the former vice president won the counties that are home to the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, which went heavily for Sanders in 2016. “We are turning out voters across the board,” spokesman T.J. Ducklo told me. “We’re seeing that reflected in younger voters as well.”Ducklo said Biden was performing well among the voters who were once the young base of the Obama coalition but who are now in their 30s. But he acknowledged the campaign had work to do to win over Democrats who were too young to vote for Obama, many of whom cast their first ballots for Sanders either in 2016 or this year. “It is incredibly important, and we are going to work really hard to earn that vote,” Ducklo said.
2020-03-12 11:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The Worst Outcome
At every turn, President Trump’s policy to coronavirus has unfolded as if guided by one rule: How can I make this crisis worse?Presidents are not all-powerful, especially not in the case of pandemic disease. There are limits to what they can do, for good or ill. But within those limits, at every juncture, Trump’s actions have ensured the worst possible outcomes. The worst outcome for public health. The worst outcome for the American economy. The worst outcome for American global leadership.[Read: Trump’s dangerously effective coronavirus propaganda]Trump’s Oval Office speech of March 11 was the worst action yet in a string of bad actions.Here are the things the president did not do in that speech.He offered no guidance or policy on how to prevent the spread of the disease inside the United States. Should your town cancel its St. Patrick’s Day parade? What about theaters and sporting events? Schools and colleges? Nothing.He offered no explanation of what went wrong with the U.S. testing system, nor any assurance of when testing would become more widely available. His own previous promises of testing for anyone who needs it have been exploded as false. So what is true? Nothing.Layoffs are coming, probably on a very large scale, as travel collapses and people hunker at home. Any word for those about to lose their jobs? Only the vaguest indication that something might be announced sometime soon.It’s good to hear that there will be no copays on the tests nobody seems able to get. What about other health-care coverage? Any word on that? Nothing.The financial markets have plunged into a 2008-style crash, auguring a recession, perhaps a severe one. The Trump administration has had almost two months to think about this crisis. It has trial-ballooned some ideas. But, of course, fiscal policy would require assent from the House of Representatives. Trump is still pouting at Speaker Pelosi. So—aside from some preposterously unconvincing happy talk about the economy—again: Nothing.[Thomas Levenson: Conservatives try to rebrand the coronavirus]There was one something in the speech: a ban on travel from Europe, but not the United Kingdom. It’s a classic Trump formulation. It seeks to protect America by erecting a wall against the world, without thinking very hard how or whether the wall can work. The disease is already here. The numbers only look low because of our prior failure to provide adequate testing. They will not look low even four days from now. And those infected with the virus can travel from other countries and on other routes. Trump himself has already met some.The travel ban is an act of panic. Financial futures began crashing even as Trump was talking, perhaps shocked by his lack of an economic plan, perhaps aghast at Trump’s latest attack on world trade. (Trump’s speech seemed to suggest an embargo on European-sourced cargo as well, but that looks more like a mental lapse of Trump’s than a real policy announcement. The ban on cargo was retracted by a post-speech tweet, although the ban remains in the posted transcript of the speech.) Among other things, the ban represents one more refutation by Trump of any idea of collective security against collective threats. While China offers medical assistance to Italy, he wants to sever ties to former friends—isolating America and abandoning the world.This crisis is not of Trump’s making. What he is responsible for is his failure to respond promptly, and then his perverse and counter-productive choice of how to respond when action could be avoided no longer. Trump, in his speech, pleaded for an end to finger-pointing. It’s a strange thing for this president of all presidents to say. No American president, and precious few American politicians, have ever pointed so many fingers or hurled so much abuse as Donald Trump. What he means, of course, is: Don’t hold me to account for the things I did.But he did do them, and he owns responsibility for those things. He cannot escape it, and he will not escape it.More people will get sick because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. More people will suffer the financial hardship of sickness because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. The medical crisis will arrive faster and last longer than if somebody else were in charge. So, too, the economic crisis. More people will lose jobs than if somebody else were in charge. More businesses will be pushed into bankruptcy than if somebody else were in charge. More savers will lose more savings than if somebody else were in charge. The damage to America’s global leadership will be greater than if somebody else were in charge.There is always something malign in Trump’s incompetence. He has no care or concern for others; he cannot absorb the trouble and suffering of others as real. He monotones his way through words of love and compassion, but those words plainly have no content or meaning for him. The only thing that is real is his squalid vanity. This virus threatens to pierce that vanity, so he denied it as long as he could. What he refuses to acknowledge cannot be real, can it?And even now that he has acknowledged, he still cannot act, because he does not know what to do. His only goal now is to shove blame onto others. Americans have to face that in the grip of this epidemic, the Oval Office is for all practical purposes as empty as the glazed eyes of the man who spoke from that office tonight.
2020-03-12 04:52:13
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The Best Thing Bernie Sanders Can Do Is Drop Out
Bernie Sanders’s signature issue is Medicare for All: a vision of state-financed health care for every American. But Sanders’s defeat could drag his issue down with him, instead of it lofting him into the presidency.Yet he has an opportunity before him at least to advance his idea. The spread of the coronavirus is raising demand for a more socialized approach to health care: free vaccinations, stricter control of insurance companies, paid sick leave, income support for laid-off workers. By ominous coincidence, the number of known COVID-19 cases in the United States passed 1,000 on the same day that Sanders lost primaries in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri. That sequence of defeats extinguishes any last hope that Sanders could win the Democratic nomination in 2020.Sanders now faces a crucial choice. He could respond creatively to the political and medical news. He could return to the Senate, and there use his high profile and his massive mailing list to lead the fight for a generous response to the epidemic—achieving, at last, the big legislative legacy that has until now eluded him.Or he could do as President Donald Trump is urging him to do, not to mention Jill Stein and thousands of bots on Twitter: Continue his doomed campaign for the nomination, not with a view to winning, but with a view to inflicting as much damage as possible on Joe Biden. In 2016, Sanders played an important role in legitimating Trumpist attacks on Hillary Clinton: She was bought and paid for by Goldman Sachs; she’d plunge us into World War III over Syria. In the end, a large group of Sanders voters—perhaps as many as 12 percent—crossed lines to vote for Trump. Unknown numbers of others dropped out of the political process altogether. Trump slavers for a repeat of that performance in 2020.Amid the accelerating economic decline—and after the Trump administration’s catastrophic mishandling of the outbreak’s initial stages—Sanders may be the only person who can save the presidency for Trump. The question for Sanders now is this: Will he cooperate with Trump?Every decision can be rationalized. Sanders and his inner circle can surely devise many justifications for extending their fight to help Trump.But the justifications will be excuses. Everything they say they want to do for their principles and their movement can be better done by building health-care coalitions in the U.S. Senate. The only thing they can actually do by prolonging Sanders’s campaign is sustain Trump in his work of defamation against Biden.Some Sanders employees may relish that. There has always been a fringe of the Sanders movement that quietly—or not so quietly—prefers Trump to a conventional Democrat. If you fantasize about toppling the American system in a spasm of revolution, or if you regard the U.S. as an evil empire that must be weakened from within before it can be overthrown, then of course you’ll prefer the destructive Trump to a moderate reformer who might improve the system you detest.But that fringe is a fringe. Most Sanders voters just want a better deal. And in 2020, much more than 2016, Sanders himself has voiced from the start a clear commitment to beating Trump at all costs. The time has come for him to do what he promised—and to turn his back on those supporters who chose Sanders less because they liked him than because they hated the party Sanders sought to lead.Even as he nears 80, Sanders still has a future. In the next three days, he will decide how that future will be written: whether as the health-care champion he has long wished to be, or as Trump’s deluded tool.
2020-03-11 15:11:47
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
It’s Over
After two insurgent campaigns that rattled American politics, Bernie Sanders’s dream of becoming the Democratic presidential nominee is effectively over.Tapping an enormous wave of grassroots energy in both bids for the White House, Sanders galvanized young people, transformed online fundraising, and changed the terms of debate in the Democratic Party on issues ranging from health care to college affordability. But as his defeats last night made clear yet again, his unflinching call for a “political revolution” could not build a coalition broad enough to capture the ultimate prize.Former Vice President Joe Biden remains well short of the 1,991 delegates needed for a nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention in July. But his resounding victories last night, and his widening delegate lead, prompted even some of Sanders’s ideological allies to question whether the senator from Vermont should continue his campaign.“Sanders should start thinking through what outlet he has to draw concessions from Biden, and it’s not clear to me that continuing a presidential campaign that does not have a path to victory is one of those options,” says Sean McElwee, a co-founder and the executive director of the liberal research and advocacy group Data for Progress, which has been polling extensively in the primary states. “I think he should … think soberly about the reality. I don’t think there are any states right now he is favored to win.”[Read: Bernie Sanders has a choice to make]Others on the left did not go so far. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which had endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts before she withdrew, issued a statement urging Sanders to remain in the race at least through this Sunday’s scheduled CNN debate in Phoenix. Robert Reich, a leading liberal economist and a former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, likewise told me Sanders should push forward through the debate.“People are going to be asking themselves as they watch that debate who is going to be better able to take on Trump one-on-one,” Reich said. “The stampede toward Biden was remarkably fast. That shows that his support is not absolutely steadfast, so it’s at least possible that if his debate performance is very bad on Sunday, Bernie Sanders could have a renaissance.”But across much of the party, Biden’s triumphs in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, and Idaho confirmed the message sent by his victories on Super Tuesday: that the question is no longer whether, but when, the former vice president becomes the party’s nominee against Donald Trump.As in last week’s contests, Biden last night dominated among African Americans; led among college-educated white voters; and even topped Sanders, albeit more narrowly, among blue-collar white voters, who had preferred the senator in each of the year’s first four contests. Compounding Sanders’s problem across the country, the young voters who generally preferred him by large margins over Biden consistently represented a smaller share of the total vote than they did four years ago, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for a consortium of media organizations.“If he’s not going to win working-class [white voters], and he’s going to lose [black voters] massively, and the turnout is all with his opponent’s people and not his … there is just no path to victory,” says Tad Devine, who served as a senior strategist for Sanders in 2016 but is unaffiliated with any campaign this year. “It’s just that simple.”Biden tried to project confidence in his victory speech last night, delivering conspicuously calm and measured remarks focused on the general election. And he offered the kind of conciliatory praise for Sanders that usually comes at the end of a primary race. “We share a common goal, and together we will defeat Donald Trump,” Biden said. “We will defeat him together.” Sanders, meanwhile, spoke volumes about his precarious situation by choosing not to speak at all last night.While Democratic leaders more or less tolerated Sanders’s continuing his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton until June of that year, the party’s desire to beat Trump will likely make it much less forgiving of another extended crusade, Devine told me. “Biden needs the spring and the summer without Bernie,” he said. “I think Bernie is smart enough and reasonable enough to recognize that [it’s irrational] to keep this thing going for the sake of—what?”Another option for Sanders could be to remain in the race in order to keep attention on the policy issues he cares about, but to mute his criticism of Biden. Jesse Jackson, who endorsed Sanders last weekend, followed that model in the latter stages of the 1988 Democratic primary, which Michael Dukakis ultimately won. Several Democratic operatives, though, say one major difference between 2020 and 1988 could complicate this approach: Sanders’s aggressive network of supporters is unlikely to muffle its criticism of Biden even if the candidate himself does. That could translate into escalating demands for Sanders to quit.Beyond Democrats’ concerns about Trump, McElwee believes that Sanders will likely face more pressure to cede the field because of the coronavirus outbreak and the new constraints on campaigning. Such concerns prompted both Biden and Sanders to cancel events yesterday.“Two things that are different about this year than 2016: One is … there are not going to be any races that he has any plausible shot at winning where he is going to be able to rebound,” McElwee told me. “And I think you had a little bit more mood among the electorate and establishment at large [in 2016] that said, ‘Let’s have a guy out there making a moral case.’ At this point … I think the Democratic base is much more terrified of Trump this cycle than last cycle and [is] going to respond less well to a long, drawn-out primary, particularly in the midst of a pandemic.”The calendar doesn’t offer Sanders any reprieve. Next Tuesday, he must compete in Florida, where polls show him facing a cavernous deficit following his recent comments praising aspects of Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba; Ohio, where he lost badly in 2016; and Illinois, where the state Democratic leadership has rallied around Biden and polls show the former vice president holding a hefty lead. Only Arizona, with its large Latino population, seems like it could be hospitable to Sanders, but even there the most recent survey found Biden comfortably ahead. Georgia, whose large black population establishes Biden as the clear favorite, follows a week later.[Read: Bernie Sanders reached out to black voters. Why didn’t it work?]For Sanders, the losses last night were especially stinging because they came mostly in states where he ran well against Clinton four years ago. In that race, Sanders narrowly won the primary in Michigan; captured about two-thirds of the vote or more in Idaho, North Dakota, and Washington (where the elections were held as caucuses last time); and finished only 0.2 percentage points behind Clinton in Missouri. Only in Mississippi was he routed.This time, though, Sanders continued to struggle to expand his support beyond the enthusiastic base that has filled his arena-size rallies and swelled his fundraising totals. Even at the outset of voting this year—when Sanders finished in a virtual tie for first place in Iowa and then won the subsequent contests in New Hampshire and Nevada—he attracted only between one-fourth and one-third of the total vote.The big question for Sanders at that point was whether he could add to his coalition once the race consolidated, which it did with stunning speed when both former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota ended their candidacies and endorsed Biden just before Super Tuesday. Warren followed them off the field that Wednesday, after failing to win a single state the night before.So far, Sanders, in key states, has failed to add to his base. On Super Tuesday, he exceeded 37 percent of the vote only in his home state of Vermont. In a two-person race last night, he drew only about 37 percent in Michigan, 35 percent in Missouri, about 33 percent in Washington, and an anemic 15 percent in Mississippi. Only in the smaller contests of Idaho (which he lost) and North Dakota (which he won) did Sanders cross 40 percent of the vote.Demographic patterns largely followed the grooves cut on Super Tuesday. Biden ran up significant margins among college-educated white voters in Missouri and Mississippi, and carried them more narrowly in Michigan, a state where Sanders posted a double-digit advantage among them in 2016. Preliminary exit results also showed Biden winning those voters in Washington. Starting on Super Tuesday, Biden has won white-collar white voters in 13 of the 16 states in which exit polls have been conducted.Biden last night also maintained his substantial advantage among African American voters. He won the support of nearly nine in 10 of them in Mississippi. As in 2016, Sanders has run more competitively among black voters outside the South. But even so, the exit polls last night found Biden winning about two-thirds of them in Missouri and Michigan, almost exactly matching Clinton’s performance last time. Biden has carried African Americans in every state with enough of these voters to measure in an exit poll.Perhaps most disappointing for Sanders, the exit polls in Missouri and Michigan found Biden also narrowly winning the support of white voters without a college degree. (Not enough of them voted in Mississippi for the exit poll to record their preferences.) The preliminary exit results also showed Biden winning them by a slim margin in Washington.Sanders carried non-college-educated white voters in Missouri and Michigan last time (no 2016 exit poll was conducted in Washington), and he targeted them this year by lashing Biden over his support for free-trade agreements and his earlier openness to cutting Social Security as part of a “grand bargain” with Republicans to reduce the deficit. Since Super Tuesday, Biden has carried blue-collar white voters in 12 of the 16 states in which exit polls were conducted (assuming his lead in Washington survives the final exit-poll revisions).The sweep of Biden’s victory last night was best captured in the Detroit metro area. He beat Sanders by about 20 percentage points both in Wayne County, which includes heavily African American Detroit, and Oakland County, a white-collar suburb that has moved toward the Democrats in recent years. He also beat Sanders by about 17 points in Macomb County, the home of white, blue-collar “Reagan Democrats” who have drifted toward the GOP.One final headwind battered Sanders. In a repeat of Super Tuesday, Biden dominated among voters who self-identified as Democrats in Missouri, Michigan, and Mississippi alike, and he carried them more narrowly in Washington.[Read: The coronavirus campaign]After losing partisan Democrats badly in his 2016 run, Sanders had performed more competitively among them in the first contests this year. But at his moment of greatest triumph this cycle, after winning New Hampshire and Nevada, he sent a series of belligerent signals to the party. Among them: insisting he is running against “the Democratic establishment,” renouncing any general-election help from the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, and declaring that he would only pick a vice president who supports Medicare for All.These factors likely contributed to Biden’s winning streak: He’s now won self-identified Democrats in every state with an exit poll since Super Tuesday, save for Vermont, California, and Colorado.“The other flawed theory of this [Sanders] campaign is that you can win the nomination of a major political party by running against that political party,” Adrian Hemond, a Democratic consultant in Michigan, told me. “Democratic activists have invested the last 25, 30, 40 years of their lives in the party, and he was saying this was all bullshit. How’s that supposed to work?’”On Tuesday, at least, the answer was that it didn’t work. Now, at 78, with his second campaign facing a lower ceiling of support than his first, Sanders and his leagues of ardent supporters are confronting the near-certainty that after years of organizing and struggle, he will never conquer the Democratic Party as its presidential nominee.
2020-03-11 15:06:55
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
What If You Held a Political Revolution, and Nobody Came?
Throughout the presidential primary, Bernie Sanders promoted his long-held theory of change.“Real change never takes place from the top on down,” he wrote in his 2016 book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. “It always takes place from the bottom on up,” he insisted. “It takes place when ordinary people, by the millions, are prepared to stand up and fight for justice.”Perhaps so. But his campaign’s claim––that the movement Sanders leads, and only that movement, could propel real change––was all but refuted Tuesday when Sanders lost primaries in Mississippi, Idaho, Missouri, and Michigan despite a field cleared of all contenders for the nomination save Joe Biden. (North Dakota and Washington State remain too close to call.) The results, together with Sanders’s unexpectedly weak showing last week on Super Tuesday, suggest that the democratic-socialist candidate lacks the support he’d need to secure the Democratic nomination.Turnout surged, but Sanders still didn’t have the votes. And if he ekes out an improbable victory over Biden and beats Donald Trump? Even then, the primaries to date suggest that he would command insufficient support to pass the agenda that he himself describes as a political revolution.Like Barack Obama, Sanders would face an uphill battle to enact his legislative agenda, dividing Democrats and facing nearly united opposition from Republicans. Yet the Sanders coalition appears to be less numerous and less diverse than the Obama coalition; there is no reason to think it would achieve more.If Sanders were younger, his success among 18-to-29 year old voters, a cohort he won 77 to 19 percent in Michigan, might bode well for his political future. But he is 78 years old. Campaigning for president at 82 after losing in successive primary cycles seems unlikely. It will be interesting to see who Sanders voters support in future Democratic primaries. How many are most attached to Sanders himself? How many are loyal to democratic socialism? How many would be attracted to an honest-seeming populist who campaigned against the establishment with a different ideology?Democratic socialists may one day marshal bottom-up pressure to pass parts of the Sanders agenda. But after Tuesday, the chance that Sanders himself will sign their bills into law is vanishingly small. He’s led their movement more successfully than anyone would have imagined circa 2015. Come 2021, the movement may need to find a new leader to secure its future.
2020-03-11 14:35:29
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
TV’s Age of Algorithm Anxiety
Devs, the new eight-part drama written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), is the kind of series that signals its grandiosity from the word go, with an abstract montage featuring choral music, saxophone interruptions, and fragmented scenes of San Francisco. In the opening seconds, the camera pans in slowly on the darkened features of Forest (played by Nick Offerman), a tech-company CEO with a bedraggled beard and a frozen expression, like a Geico caveman who’s seen some stuff. Then it cuts to a triptych of video installations featuring a small girl blowing puffy white seeds off a dandelion. Devs is immediately ponderous, alienating, and full of unintentionally funny details: Why is there a 100-foot-high sculpture of that same small girl in the middle of the redwoods? Has the Golden Gate Bridge always seemed so IKEA-poster generic? Why is the most high-tech coding campus in Silicon Valley as gilded and blandly opulent as a Mandarin Oriental business center?With Devs (one of the first shows to air on Hulu under the “FX on Hulu” mantle), and with the third season of Westworld, which debuts on HBO on Sunday, TV seems to be entering its age of algorithmic anxiety. There are no robots in Devs, but the characters are so flatly preoccupied with determinism—and with data’s potential ability to assess and contain the complexity of human lives within lines of code—that there may as well be. Every character in the show seems oddly muted in some way, tranquilized into mechanical acquiescence. It’s not that Offerman doesn’t have the range to play Forest, the delphic overlord of a “quantum AI” company called Amaya, with its unspecified products and creepy child logo. It’s that on-screen, the actor practically bursts with ebullience, and this is a whimsy-free zone. I burst out laughing when, in one scene, Forest shoved salad into his face without using any utensils, like a combless Amy Klobuchar. It was the one scene in eight plodding hours when Devs, for a minute, seemed as if it were in on the joke.Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina) plays Lily, a young employee at Amaya who commutes cozily to work from San Francisco each day on the company bus with her boyfriend, Sergei (Karl Glusman). In the first episode, Sergei is handpicked by Forest to join “devs,” Amaya’s top-secret development initiative. The story unfolds in obtuse layers: Sergei’s walk down a (literal) garden path toward devs’ concrete-sealed headquarters; his introduction to the code that spells out what devs actually does; his visceral shock in response. By the time Sergei goes missing, viewers have seen enough to know that the “official” security footage of his dramatic self-immolation at the feet of Amaya’s enormous child idol is entirely unreliable.Devs is one several recent shows whose characters are flatly preoccupied with data’s ability to contain the complexity of human lives within lines of code. (FX)Devs is only the latest in a series of puzzle-box shows more preoccupied with their own cleverness and their labyrinthine twists than with the burden of watchability. The past two seasons of Westworld have prized complexity over coherence; the work of Sam Esmail, specifically USA’s Mr. Robot and Amazon’s Homecoming, has set a tone for jarring, dour auteur-driven drama. Garland’s own style is distinct (think the chilling, philosophical agitations of Ex Machina or the vivid eco-horror of Annihilation), and yet the director seems to have come to television, like so many of his film peers, with little sense of what the medium offers other than extra time. The mysteries of Devs don’t unspool so much as eke out in a torturously slow drip. And the show’s aesthetic details—the score by Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, the Kubrickian jumps and color-blocked portrait shots—feel so detached from the story that they’re often insufferable.The overarching theme within Devs is the relationship between data and determinism. The more data tell us about ourselves, the more we can predict human behavior and the more free will is eroded, Garland suggests. Forest and his deputy, Katie (Alison Pill), talk about the delineations and divides within determinist theory in surprising detail (although the show’s casual treatment of quantum computing and the meaning of the multiverse might send you straight to Google). The universe, Forest explains to Sergei in the first episode, is “godless and neutral and defined only by physical laws.” Humans “fall into an illusion of free will,” he argues, “because the tramlines are invisible.” But they’re there, all the same.Oddly, Garland seems flummoxed by simpler dialogue. “Sir, you’ve got more money than God,” an employee tells Forest. “You think I care about money?” he replies. “You did once.” “Well now I don’t.” Lily’s ex-boyfriend tells her, “I know you. You do stuff. The stuff other people only think about, you go ahead and do it.” By the time a character in the final episode trots out the old “Don’t blame me; it was predetermined” excuse, it’s hard to believe that these characters are human beings at all.The more data tell us about ourselves, the more we can predict human behavior and the more free will is eroded, Garland suggests. (FX)Garland was an art-history major, and Devs leans heavily on the idea that art in particular is what separates humans from advanced artificial intelligence. A pivotal character quotes Larkin and Yeats and cites Bach and Coltrane as the pinnacle of human significance. So it’s ironic that Devs is so robotic. Interactions between characters are as languid and ambiguous as a Harold Pinter play, without the accompanying tension. If Garland is trying to make the point that working in tech has robbed these people of their soul, he’s succeeded. But he has also left his show devoid of animation, of passion, of any emotion that might pull the story out of the automated culture he’s trying to indict.The determinism-driven paranoia of Devs dances through Season 3 of Westworld, which for the first time leaves the park of the show’s title to explore what real life looks like in a world that abuses robots. The first two seasons of Westworld explored the idea that the AI “hosts” were being tortured—not only by the physical and sexual violence they endured at the hands of the park’s glumly sadistic visitors, but by the scripted narratives, or story loops, that suppressed their agency, their ability to think or feel for themselves outside of their coding. In Season 3, whose tagline is “Free will is not free,” the show suggests for the first time that the robots aren’t the only ones whose lives conform to existing scripts. One of the new villains in the first four episodes is Serac (played by the French actor Vincent Cassel), a reclusive trillionaire who’s found an algorithm that uses data to predict the future for every human on Earth.The show’s creators, Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, seem bruised by some of the criticism of the second season, with its indecipherable strata of conceits involving the Man in Black, the mythical game-within-a-game, the potential immortality of both humans and robots, and a timeline jumpier than a flea circus. So in Season 3, everything is markedly different. In a futuristic, Blade Runner–esque Los Angeles, a new character, Caleb (played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), tries to navigate life as a veteran, unfulfilled by his day job as a construction worker and disaffected by his nighttime activities of app-enabled petty crime. Through Caleb, Westworld suggests that humans outside the park are being manipulated into following the same prewritten paths, the same “tramlines,” as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Maeve (Thandie Newton), and the other hosts.Westworld Season 3’s tagline is “Free will is not free.” The show suggests for the first time that the robots aren’t the only ones whose lives conform to existing scripts.Determinism aside, this is a zanier, sillier Westworld, and much more entertaining for it. When Caleb successfully commits crimes, his app tells him, “You made bank, now get drank.” Self-flying drones transport the ludicrously wealthy from one rooftop poolside martini bar to another. Dolores apparently escaped Westworld at the end of Season 2 to joyride motorcycles in scarlet bandage dresses, as if she’d somehow teleported into the Fast and the Furious franchise. Marshawn Lynch plays a new character whose T-shirt acts as a mood ring, spelling out whether he’s angry or amused or bored.But through it all, the show’s anxiety about free will—and its extension of that conundrum to its human characters—is apparent. That everything takes place in a near-future landscape complete with product placement for Coach and Tory Burch only makes the show’s willingness to untangle subliminal cues more ironic. How much do we actually decide things for ourselves, Westworld wonders, and how much are we steered by the systems around us? “You and I are a lot alike,” Dolores tells Caleb in one scene. “They put you in a cage, Caleb. Decided what your life should be. They did the same thing to me.” If Devs is angsting over the moral and existential significance of technology that still seems—for now—out of reach, Westworld is taking the data mining and user profiling of contemporary life to its logical, dystopian extreme. The requisite “We’re not so different, you and I” speech here comes not between hero and villain, but between human and robot.
2020-03-11 14:28:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The People Selling Hand Sanitizer for 10 Times Its Price
“I saw a little bit of an opportunity. Worst-case scenario, I have hand sanitizer for the next six years,” Anthony Del Zio, a 39-year-old Long Island man who owns an industrial-power-washing company, told me on the phone.Two weeks ago, Del Zio went to the drugstores near his house, as well as a Dollar Tree, and stocked up on hand sanitizer. At the time, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in New York State, but he had a hunch that his efforts would be worthwhile. As of yesterday, 173 cases have been confirmed in New York, a large share of the 1,015 nationwide. In response to the exploding case numbers, people all over the country have been preparing for worst-case scenarios of prolonged quarantine by panic-buying supplies such as food, toiletries, and other household staples—along with hand sanitizer and face masks, which they hope will protect them from the disease when they do venture out in public. But Del Zio was a little faster. He said his experience trading baseball cards on eBay taught him how to anticipate a financial win: “You learn supply and demand.”Del Zio is one of a wave of coronavirus price gougers, buying up basic supplies in the midst of the crisis and then upcharging people. Last week, he said, he found a bottle of Purell at Rite Aid for $7.99 and sold it on eBay for $138 the same day.[Read: What you can do right now about the coronavirus]eBay has since banned the sales of both face masks and hand sanitizer, saying that the prices on some listings may be so high as to be illegal. In emails to sellers, the company has also cited its “disaster and tragedy” policy, which prohibits attempting “to profit from human tragedy or suffering.” Amazon is still allowing third-party sales of hand sanitizer, although it told The Wall Street Journal that it is taking down listings that price gouge or make “deceptive claims.” Many sellers, for example, were writing that their products could “kill” the coronavirus, which is not an approved medical claim for hand sanitizer, though it does effectively reduce many types of germs. Facebook Marketplace announced a temporary ban on sales of medical face masks last week, though The Verge reported Monday that the site was still “littered” with listings—some asking for up to $1,000. Hand-sanitizer listings are still allowed, but with the same caveats as Amazon, and an added prohibition against implying a sense of urgency or limited supply.After eBay disallowed hand-sanitizer sales, Del Zio switched his operation over to Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, where new listings are going up every hour. (Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment about whether it was considering any bans on sanitizer sales.) Del Zio said he doesn’t feel moral qualms about charging online buyers 17 times what he paid for a bottle of Purell because he doesn’t consider it to be an essential supply. “I’ve always washed my hands and used hand sanitizer wherever I went,” he said, but added that he doesn’t think sanitizer is going to protect anyone from the coronavirus—you touch your phone and your keys and the subway railings, and you can’t soak your hands in Germ-X all day long. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy caused gas shortages and power outages on Long Island, Del Zio remembers neighbors paying $25 a gallon for gasoline for their generators. Now he said he knows people who fill up jugs of gasoline every time there’s a particularly gnarly-sounding forecast—both to prepare for their own needs and to sell at a markup. This kind of strategizing is just good sense in general, in his opinion. In any case, he gave some of the sanitizer away to his family and to friends of his elderly mother, who couldn’t get to the store themselves.Del Zio repeated some common misinformation about the novel coronavirus: “I know most of the cases are in China. I’m hearing stories that it’s from bats being boiled into soup. I don’t know how true that is.” (For the record, the virus is spreading faster outside China than within it. And the virus likely originated with bats, but not because they were boiled into soup.) He said he isn’t particularly worried about contracting COVID-19. “Me and my friends were concerned about the flu more than anything.” (There is not yet enough information to say exactly how the mortality rate of COVID-19 compares to that of the flu.)[Read: What happens if you get sick]Densely populated areas like New York have had trouble keeping hand sanitizer in stock for the past week, so the “For Sale” categories on local Craigslist pages have started to look like super-expensive sanitation-themed yard sales. In New York, single eight-ounce bottles of Purell are listed for as much as $25 apiece. A listing from Brooklyn advertises 78 bottles of industrial sanitizer for $750, while a California man is offering to ship 25 single-ounce bottles to New York for $150—which works out to $6 an ounce. “Fight the COVID-19 with easy [sic] and protect yourself and your love ones [sic],” a listing in Queens reads. It also suggests that the buyer use a contactless form of payment, as cash is a vector of disease.Russ, a 43-year-old IT specialist in Michigan, listed his stock of hand sanitizer on the Craigslist pages for six major cities. I agreed to identify him and others in this story by only his first name because it was the only way he would agree to explain his decision to price-gouge antibacterial gels. Russ offers to ship bottles and accepts cryptocurrency payments. (His area is not yet experiencing a shortage.) When he first heard there might be a demand in some cities, he told me in a phone call, he bought just five bottles and listed them on eBay for $15 each. They sold out within 30 minutes, so he bought 15 more bottles and upped the price to $20. He sold eight of them before eBay announced the ban on hand-sanitizer sales, so now he’s selling the rest of his stock on Craigslist for $25 each.“I know what you want to ask me. I weighed whether or not this was a moral thing,” he said. “My conclusion was: If I don’t do this, someone else is going to. That allowed me to do it.”Not everyone shares his assessment. Somebody on eBay messaged him and called him a “dick,” he said, in addition to informing him that God is watching. “I’m not trying to sell someone an eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer for $100, which I’ve seen. I’m not a bad person,” Russ said. He argued that the people who are going online to buy hand sanitizer are the same people who are buying out grocery stores, spending thousands of dollars on supplies. If he can make a little money off someone who’s willing to spend any amount to make herself feel safer, who really loses?Personally, Russ washes his hands and is now avoiding handshakes, but as for hand sanitizer, “you can buy a bottle of vodka and pour it on your hands and it will do the same thing.” (It won’t. Don’t buy a bottle of vodka and pour it on your hands.) “If hand sanitizer somehow became a miracle cure, I would give it away,” he said.[Read: 20 seconds to optimize hand wellness]I contacted half a dozen Craigslist hand-sanitizer sellers, and not all of them were so relaxed. David, a 35-year-old Brooklyn man, told me in a phone call that he had been buying face masks in early January specifically to sell on eBay, but that business dried up after his suppliers stopped being able to fulfill his orders. He’s “a little bit of a prepper,” he said, adding that he’d bought a second freezer so that he could stock up on food in case of a coronavirus lockdown.After the masks, he started buying as much hand sanitizer as he could: about 100 bottles. He’s not buying any more, he said, because he started to think it was immoral to even imply that hand sanitizer is something people need. “I don’t even know for sure how much it helps with the coronavirus.” (Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good way to help prevent the spread of the virus, though washing your hands with soap is equally helpful.) He made only about $300 and said it wasn’t worth the effort.As the coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, Americans will have to consider the morality of stockpiling, price gouging, and even commuting to work. They’ll also have to consider how to avoid behaving stupidly.Sam, a doctoral student in Manhattan, was concerned about the possibility that he could “look like an ass who tried to take advantage of a crisis to profit.” He wound up with an excess of hand sanitizer because he panicked and bought 250 ounces of it on Amazon for $160 about a week ago. “Which is nuts since I make, like, 25K a year,” he explained over text. “I wish I hadn’t bought it in the first place.”[Read: The coronavirus is more than just a health crisis]He started selling the sanitizer on Craigslist just to make his money back, he said, and has sold about 210 ounces for $165; he plans to keep the remaining 40 ounces. “I am slightly embarrassed about buying so much, given the shortage,” he said. “It was a moment of anxiety.” He’s not worried about getting COVID-19, but he was startled by his own behavior, and what he’s witnessed from the people around him. It’s led him to the conclusion that “the atomized American soul is being laid bare.” Everyone is acting in their own best interest, he said, and the government is totally unequipped to deal with the crisis.“I am worried about living in a society that is completely unprepared for this,” he said.
2020-03-11 13:59:52
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Stop Trying to Make ‘Wuhan Virus’ Happen
Until recently, Representative Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, was most famous for tweeting a lie: a faked photo of President Barack Obama shaking hands with Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran. This weekend, Gosar made news with another tweet: In response to the report that he had been in contact with a man confirmed to have contracted the novel coronavirus, he announced that he was placing himself in self-quarantine from what he called the “Wuhan virus.”Scientists are using the internationally accepted name COVID-19 to describe the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that was discovered late last year. But a number of prominent conservatives—including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas—are going with Wuhan virus, as if the deadly new pathogen were one more scourge to be blamed on the Chinese. As many of the responses to Gosar on Twitter pointed out, this kind of rhetoric invites the public to see a global epidemic in racial or (at best) geopolitical terms.Defenders of the term pointed out both that the virus did appear first in a real place called Wuhan, and that diseases are often named after the site of a first or famous outbreak. That’s true of the viral hemorrhagic infections Ebola and Marburg, tick-borne Lyme disease, and many others. But the geographical defense has to be weighed against the rhetoric that says out loud what locating the current threat to Wuhan only implies.In the past five years, Donald Trump has explicitly promoted the notion that foreigners carry contagion. In 2015 he proclaimed that Mexicans were to blame for “tremendous infectious disease … pouring across the border,” a charge he has repeated as president. Meanwhile, the deliberate cultivation of fears of infectious disease from China has a long, nasty history in the United States—one that even today’s bitter partisans should be willing to acknowledge.Hawaii had been in turmoil through much of the 1890s, especially after 1893, when white immigrants from the United States overthrew the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani. Her efforts to regain power failed, and the United States annexed the islands in 1898. The next year, in November, a ship outbound from Hong Kong made port in Honolulu. At least one passenger made his or her way to the city’s Chinatown. On December 12, the disease that unidentified traveler had carried announced itself in the death of a 22-year-old Chinese bookkeeper named You Chong, the first victim on American territory of what is now known as the third global pandemic of the bubonic plague. Four more Chinatown residents became sick and died soon after.Local officials reacted swiftly and decisively. Chinatown was cordoned off, locking about 10,000 people in place, and the local board of health acted on its theory of the infection: The bubonic plague was caused by the dirt—the word used was “filth”—and packed conditions in which Honolulu’s Chinese residents lived.If the muck the white authorities saw bred into the lives and habits of the Chinese really was the cauldron in which disease brewed, then the solution was obvious. As the historian Nayan Shah writes, the head of the board of health, Henry Cooper, ordered the creation of a literal firebreak between the supposed reservoir of disease in Chinatown and the rest of the city. On January 20, officials set what was supposed to be a controlled burn, a strategic disinfection. Just as the first fires ignited, the wind picked up, embers flipped to neighboring roofs, and within the day, all of Chinatown was in flames. The fire burned for more than two weeks; 45,000 people lost their homes.A similar sequence of malign ignorance, combined with a depressingly contemporary money-motivated blindness would play out over the next few years as the disease moved on. The pandemic was already more than a century old when it reached Honolulu. It had started in Yunnan province in China in the 1770s, but had remained a mostly local outbreak until the 1850s, when a combination of civil war and the globalization created as European powers extended their empires sped the disease on its way. The plague reached China’s coast in the 1870s, and from there, the ships that bore imperial trade carried the plague across the globe.Infection in Hawaii 20 years later delivered a clear message: The disease was still on the move. There was little doubt about its next destination: the American West Coast, and most likely its busiest port, San Francisco.Its journey didn’t take long. The first documented victim, a Chinese laborer named Wong Chut King, died in San Francisco’s Chinatown on March 6, 1900. The outbreak that followed lasted until 1904, killing more than one hundred people, most of them Chinese. The established racial mythology of the day—that the Chinese were alien threats, vectors of social contagion—molded the city’s response. On March 7, the day after Wong died, a rope barrier appeared around Chinatown, and police forced every ethnic Chinese person to remain confined in the area—while allowing white people to leave. (For my account of these events I’ve relied on Gunther Risse’s Plague, Fear and Politics in San Francisco’s Chinatown; Nayan Shah’s Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco; and David K. Randall’s Black Death at the Golden Gate.)The quarantine didn’t hold—but in its place came proposals for a much more radical solution. If the packed and impenetrable Chinese neighborhood was the source of a dread disease, why not simply eradicate it, to achieve by design what Honolulu’s firebrands had accomplished by accident? As the historian Gunther Risse reports, a newspaper said the quiet part out loud: Chinatown was a “foul spot” and “the only way to get rid of that menace is to eradicate Chinatown from the city … and give the debris to the flames.” Burn it down, start again (not coincidentally, on a patch of prime real estate), and as for those who lived there? A member of the San Francisco Board of Health knew what to do: “Every Chinese in Chinatown ought to be removed to a detention camp somewhere in the hills.”San Francisco’s Chinatown survived the threat, of course; it’s still there today. Its residents were not marched to the hills; California’s Asian concentration camps would not appear until 1942 with the internment of residents of Japanese origin. But in a wholly depressing anticipation of our present-day predicament, the focus on an alleged ethnic link to the emergence and spread of the disease both fueled ongoing discrimination and made a terrifying epidemic worse.Then as now, leaders at first tried to minimize the sense of danger. Just as Trump and other political leaders initially downplayed the threat from COVID-19, city and state officials in California in the early 1900s tried to deny that the Chinatown deaths were due to the plague. Hoping to limit the economic damage news of an epidemic would cause. They belittled the scientists and ignored their brand-new understanding that plague was caused by a bacterium carried by fleas riding on rats.Once the reality of the outbreak was undeniable, the characterization of the plague as a disease born of a specifically Chinese squalor within the Chinatown ghetto delayed the response that the handful of trained public health experts in place knew was necessary: eradicating the rats that could carry the disease beyond any quarantine line San Francisco’s city fathers might choose to draw. As a result, the disease gained time and space in which to spread—first, three years after San Francisco’s last case in 1904, across the bay in an almost all-white population, and then into rodent populations that spread across the American west, where plague remains endemic to this day.That’s the epidemiological price we’re still paying for allowing racist tropes to drive disease response over a century ago. And that provides the context in which to judge Gosar, Pompeo, Cotton and others who seek to rebrand COVID-19 as a Chinese problem and blame one more of our afflictions on a malign outside entity. As in 1900, to insist on a geographical definition of disease today is to locate responsibility somewhere other than here. This is a cowardly evasion. But that’s not the worst of it, at least in pragmatic terms. Now as then, emphasizing place rather than on the clinical details of how a disease works and spreads means that epidemics get a head start.What’s in a name? Life and death.
2020-03-11 13:30:00
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theatlantic.com
What Happens If You Get Sick
COVID-19 is not the flu. We have a vaccine for the flu. We have anti-viral medications designed to treat the flu. We have a sense of what to expect when we catch the flu, and when it’s necessary to seek medical attention. Doctors have experience treating the flu, and tests to help diagnose the flu, right there in the office, while you wait.Against the new disease, we have none of this. The coronavirus is new to our species. Once it breaks into one of our cells, the extent of its spread through the body seems to vary significantly and unpredictably. The experience can slowly progress from the familiar—cough, congestion, fever—to a life-threatening inflammatory response as the virus spreads down into the lungs, filling the airways with fluid. Survivors can have permanent scarring in the lungs. The virus can also spread into other organs, causing liver damage or gastrointestinal disease. These effects can play out over longer periods than in the flu, sometimes waxing and waning. Some patients have begun to feel better, then fallen critically ill. The disease can be fatal despite the optimal medical care.[Read: You’re likely to get the coronavirus]None of this is meant to cause panic. Panic is not useful. But as we all begin to comprehend the nature and extent of the new virus and its spread, questions should arise about what to do with those early, familiar symptoms. At what point should you ask for testing? When do you need to self-quarantine, and for how long? Who needs to be in a hospital, and who can ride things out at home? If you’re sick, should you bring your illness into a crowded clinic or emergency department, possibly shedding virus that infects others? Should you stay home, maybe using telemedicine, and risk infecting roommates or family members?The source of most panic is uncertainty. While much remains uncertain in the realm of virology and immunology, other sources of anxiety could be mitigated. Everyone could have clarity and certainty on those fundamental questions, or at least on the most immediately pressing: What should I do if I start to feel sick?In an ideal outbreak scenario, at the first signs of illness—or even after a concerning exposure—everyone would go get a quick test. It could assure them that they’re okay to go to work, or to go to a public gathering, or even to go home. If a test were positive, that person’s close contacts would be alerted of an anonymous exposure. They would be advised to come get tested. The process would be fast, easy, ubiquitous, and free.Given the nature and spread of this particular virus, though, this textbook public-health approach to tracking and containment has proven infeasible. Even if perfect tests were widely available, and everyone agreed to get tested as soon as possible whenever they felt sick, demand for screening and evaluation would overload existing doctors’ offices and hospitals.Emergency funds could theoretically be used to set up makeshift screening clinics in parking lots and public spaces. After being screened, some people could be escorted to a hospital for further treatment and evaluation. Others could be reassured that they were clear and go back to work. Still others could be advised to self-isolate at home until the illness passes, and to call, text, or return if symptoms escalated.A series of tents in a field adjacent to University Clinical Hospital in Wroclaw, Poland, now precede the entrance to the emergency department, March 4, 2020. (Agencja Gazeta/Krzysztof Cwik/Reuters)That level of monitoring and communication will prove vital to determining who needs hospital beds in the midst of a rapidly spreading, temperamental disease. Without it, to simply tell people to “stay at home if you’re sick” will be inadequate. Most cases of COVID-19 are reportedly “mild,” but that term can be misleading. As the World Health Organization adviser Bruce Aylward clarified last week, a “mild” case of COVID-19 is not equivalent to a mild cold. Expect it to be much worse: fever and coughing, sometimes pneumonia: anything short of requiring oxygen. “Severe” cases require supplemental oxygen, sometimes via a breathing tube and a ventilator. “Critical” cases involve “respiratory failure or multi-organ failure.”The disease can escalate unexpectedly, and even healthy young patients will need people checking in on them. They may be fine at home initially, but would need to know precisely what to watch out for, and when to seek care. [Read: What you can do right now about the coronavirus]People who do require medical supervision—but not hospital care—need a place to go and stay. This could include people with escalating symptoms or underlying risk factors. Even patients with a mild case will need places to self-isolate if they live with others who have not yet been infected, especially if those people are older or immune-compromised.China addressed this issue by mandating that sick people in Wuhan go into quarantine for two weeks, at one of the dozens of hastily adapted or constructed emergency facilities that look almost like military field hospitals. People are given food, beds, and medical monitoring. They can socialize with other sick people, and they can be transferred to a hospital if that became necessary.In the U.S. and most other countries, the process of removing oneself from society for two weeks is not so straightforward—or even possible, for many people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ordered some mandatory two-week quarantines, but so far only for a few hundred travelers. The contained have passed their days at military bases, of which the country has 15 with designated space for quarantines. The capacity for housing and feeding larger numbers of people is nowhere near what may be needed. In February the Pentagon “ramped up” the military bases in preparation to quarantine 1,000 people. Though mandatory quarantining at large scales would be infeasible (and legally treacherous), governments might at least offer facilities for people who have nowhere else to go when they get sick. To that end, Washington State’s public-health officials have already procured an Econolodge. Others could anticipate similar needs and secure local hotels, or retro-fit empty stadiums or dead malls, or even cruise ships at port. Ideally the accommodations would be nicer than military bases and would not feel punitive—or else people will not use them.Given the expanding global recommendations to avoid large gatherings and limit travel, such arrangements might also keep the hospitality industry from collapsing.[Read: We can still avoid the worst-case scenario]If all of this were happening, the United States might be able to avoid the sort of widespread shutdowns of cities, businesses, and institutions that are playing out in Italy, China, and elsewhere. But it is not happening. People who are sick are told only to go home. A shortage of tests means that many people are staying home who do not need to. Many others are going out because they can’t afford to stay home and miss work. Many don’t have health insurance, or fear the costs of being hospitalized. There is a strong financial incentive to conceal symptoms, to try to keep working and caring for children, and by consequence spreading the virus.As of last week, at Prohealth clinics in central Connecticut, patients who arrive with a fever and respiratory symptoms are instructed to wait in their car and call the clinic to announce their arrival. Then a doctor or nurse dons a full shield mask, a gown, and gloves and comes out to the parking lot. The patient is to roll down a window and be evaluated on the spot. If a flu test shows no sign of the flu, the patient is to wait in the car while the clinic contacts the state health department.Health officials are then faced with a challenge. What to do with this person, sick and alone in their car, and not allowed into their own doctor’s office? This is where a test for the coronavirus would be of use. Until this week, though, the state of Connecticut had received only one coronavirus testing kit from the CDC. Testing capacity is increasing now, in partnership with private labs. But as of last night, an ongoing Atlantic investigation could only confirm that 6,674 tests had been conducted nationally.This number is projected to increase quickly, but not instantly. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with JAMA that aired on Monday: “The goal over the next week or two is to get to the point of having a million diagnostic tests ready for shipment.”A doctor prepares a test kit at a drive-in coronavirus check at a hospital in Germany. (Gross Gerau / Reuters)Expectations are tempered; a similar promise from Vice President Mike Pence of 1.5 million tests by the end of last week did not come to pass. But even when these tests eventually are available, some limitations will have to be realized. Among them, these are diagnostic tests, not screening tests—a distinction that should shape expectations about the role doctors will play in helping manage this viral disease.The difference comes down to a metric known as sensitivity of the test: how many people who have the virus will indeed test positive. No medical test is perfect. Some are too sensitive, meaning that the result may say you’re infected when you’re actually not. Others aren’t sensitive enough, meaning they don’t detect something that is actually there.The latter is the model for a diagnostic test. These tests can help to confirm that a sick person has the virus; but they can’t always tell you that a person does not. When people come into a clinic or hospital with severe flu-like symptoms, a positive test for the new coronavirus can seal the diagnosis. Screening mildly ill people for the presence of the virus is, however, a different challenge.“The problem in a scenario like this is false negatives,” says Albert Ko, the chair of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health. If you wanted to use a test to, for example, help you decide whether an elementary-school teacher can go back to work without infecting his whole class, you really need a test that will almost never miss the virus.“The sensitivity can be less than 100 percent and still be very useful,” Ko says, in many cases. But as that number falls, so does the usefulness of any given result. In China, the sensitivity of tests has been reported to be as low as 30 to 60 percent—meaning roughly half of the people who actually had the virus had negative test results. Using repeated testing was found to increase the sensitivity to 71 percent. But that means a negative test still couldn’t fully reassure someone like the teacher that he definitely doesn’t have the virus. At that level of sensitivity, Ko says, “if you’re especially risk-averse, do you just say: ‘If you have a cold, stay home’?”“An inaccurate test—one prone to false positive or false negative results, can be worse than no test at all,” Ian Lipkin, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University, told me in an email. The CDC has not shared the exact sensitivity of the testing process it has been using. When Fauci was asked about it on Monday, he once again hedged. “If it’s positive, you absolutely can make a decision,” he said. If it’s not, that’s a judgment call. Usually a second test is recommended, and it depends on the patient’s symptoms, exposures, and how sick they appear to be.The tests involve other variables, too. Samples must be taken using a long cotton swab that goes into the back of the patient’s nose (or mouth, though this seems to be a less sensitive method). In either case, sometimes you just don’t get enough mucus on the swab. It can be hard to know if that was the cause of a negative test result when results come in from the lab a day later.[Read: The official coronavirus numbers are wrong, and everyone knows it]In attempt to increase sensitivity of the testing process, China not only swabbed people multiple times, but also added CT scans for an additional clue. The scans can sometimes help identify the unique patterns of lung damage caused by the virus, says Howard Forman, who practices radiology in the emergency department at Yale–New Haven Hospital. But scanning is a slow process to do at large scales, and it’s costly and involves exposure to radiation. “You would need dedicated scanners as well, so as not to contaminate other patients,” he told me. “So it becomes very difficult to use CT for high-level screening.” Given the number of variables, widespread screening test for the virus are not looming on the horizon as a way to obviate the urgent need for widespread social distancing.Some hope is being placed in biotech companies that are working to develop quick, mobile tests that could give results anywhere—be it at a doctor’s office or in a modified parking lot. “The goal would be to allow people to know if they have a cold or if they have the virus and need to self-quarantine, right there in the doctor’s office,” says William Brody, a radiologist and former president of Johns Hopkins University. He is currently working one such project with Hong Cai, a molecular biologist, at a small company called Mesa. The duo told me this is, at best, months away from being tested widely. Even then, its sensitivity will remain to be seen, and will likely be less than that of the current, slower tests. But she says her team is working as expeditiously as possible to solve the problem.In the absence o a quick, sensitive, ubiquitous screening test that can decisively rule out coronavirus infection—and send healthy people back out into the world to work and to live— we face unique challenges. The World Health Organization is lately signaling that a declaration of pandemic is imminent. Leaders point to dramatic shutdown and mass quarantine measures taken in China in laudatory terms—as evidence that lives can be saved, and this is how. Other countries are already following China’s example. Italy has banned weddings and funerals as the number of cases exploded in recent days. Japan has closed schools for a month. France has banned large public gatherings, and Iraq has banned even small ones. The United Nations has canceled all in-person meetings to address climate change.For now at least, it seems, minimizing damage will involve sweeping and imprecise action. To shut down a city, or a country, is to gamble that incurring disastrous economic consequences in the short term will prevent even more disastrous consequences in the longer term. In the nightmare scenario that everyone is trying to avoid, the disease spreads so quickly that a country’s health-care system is overwhelmed, and people go untreated amid panic and chaos.A pandemic is like a slow-motion hurricane that will hit the entire world. If the same amount of rain and wind is to hit us in any scenario, better to have it come over the course of a day than an hour. People will suffer either way, but spreading the damage out will allow as many people as possible to care for one another.Slowing the disease requires asking people to isolate themselves and, in most cases, stop working. Most of the world cannot shelter in place for long without income. When people are asked to survive alone—without the cultural, social, and financial inputs that typically keep us alive—new ways of attending to basic needs become immediately necessary. “For people who can’t afford time off work, we absolutely need to come up with out-of-the-box solutions right now,” Ko says.Among them is the idea that everyone receive cash, immediately. People need to feel able to skip work and still make rent and feed their family. They need cash without strings attached, and they need it now, not via a complex omnibus economic stimulus package next month. With each day that such bills are debated by skeptical senators, people will continue to go into their communities, out of a need to work, and spreading the disease simply because they have no other choice.Emergency cash transfers are already happening in Hong Kong, where citizens have received the equivalent of $1,282, in an effort to keep both the economy and people alive. In response to a month of nationwide school closures in Japan, the government is paying out $80 per worker per day to help cover child care or the costs of staying home to parent. Other government payments could be conditional on taking sick leave—a sort of emergency national sick-leave policy, whereby your employer might simply have to verify that you did indeed miss work for two weeks. Or, as with President George W. Bush’s $152 billion economic-stimulus bill in 2008, people could simply get a check in the mail.[Read: The problem with telling sick workers to stay home]“There’s precedent internationally for this idea,” says Natalie Foster, who studies economic policy at the nonprofit Economic Security Project. She says the cash could easily come in the form of earned-income tax credits. “We have an entire tax system that has been doing this for decades … We could expand and modernize it for this precarious moment.”“Unconditional or conditional cash transfers may be wise in a situation like this, where you’re asking people to stay home to protect themselves and others,” says Paul Farmer, a global-health professor at Harvard Medical School. “If people know there will be support, and other things like soup kitchens and nursing care at home, those would make a big difference overall in suffering involved with an illness like this. If people feel like Hey, we got you, they would be a lot less lonely and frightened. Pandemics bind us together, and often not in great ways. But sometimes in great ways.”
2020-03-11 13:00:00
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theatlantic.com
China Hawks Are Calling the Coronavirus a ‘Wake-Up Call’
Donald Trump has in many ways made good on his campaign promises to confront China. He’s waged a trade war, urged allies to restrict relations with the Chinese, and reoriented Washington toward long-term competition with Beijing.Now, with the spread of a new coronavirus originating in China and rapidly descending on the United States, another front has opened in the struggle between the world’s most powerful nations. The global outbreak has served as a stark reminder that the human race is all in this together and that collaboration among countries is the only way out of this nightmare. But rather than focus on the demands of interdependence, a number of prominent figures in the Trump administration and Congress are seizing the moment to highlight the dangers of America’s dependence on other nations in general and China in particular.As Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro and Senator Marco Rubio both told me, the crisis is an alarming “wake-up call” about American vulnerabilities in a globalized world—one that the United States has for decades played a leading role in sustaining.[Read: Italy’s coronavirus response is a warning from the future]President Trump has so far refrained from publicly criticizing Chinese leader Xi Jinping and, besides issuing travel restrictions, from taking antagonistic actions akin to the tariffs he imposed in response to China’s trade practices. Yet some of the nationalist hawks in his administration, who are engaged in a long-running struggle over China policy with the president’s more internationalist, dovish advisers, have been outspoken about how the public-health emergency could factor into Trump’s “America first” agenda. In January, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated that he didn’t “want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” only to then predict a possible victory: that the outbreak in China “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”Navarro, the director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, told me that the coronavirus epidemic illustrates how the United States is “dependent on foreign sources” for crucial medicines and medical supplies.Nearly all surgical and most respirator masks used in the U.S., for instance, are manufactured in other countries such as China and Mexico, resulting in shortages during the current crisis. But the challenges extend beyond medical supplies central to the coronavirus outbreak. Yanzhong Huang, a global-health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that China is the largest exporter of medical devices to the United States, and that about 80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients in American drugs come from China and India. “Chinese pharmaceutical firms have captured 97 percent of the U.S. market for antibiotics and more than 90 percent of the market for vitamin C,” he wrote. “In 2018, 95 percent of ibuprofen, 91 percent of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of acetaminophen, and 40–45 percent of [the blood thinner] heparin imported to the United States came from China.”Navarro argued that the “the Obama-Biden administration” was repeatedly reminded of America’s reliance on other countries but ultimately “did nothing,” whereas Trump has focused on “bringing supply chains, jobs, and production home” and aims to “reduce this dependency, strengthen our public-health industrial base, and protect the American people.” (The Trump administration has yet to prove that its policies have brought about a renaissance in American manufacturing, which was in recession during the second half of 2019.)Navarro proposed that the U.S. government should encourage high-tech domestic manufacturing of medical supplies and ensure that everything it procures across federal agencies “is domestically sourced.” This “buying American” should include “not just the finished products, like the pills and face masks and ventilators,” but also “the critical components, precursor chemicals, and advanced pharmaceutical ingredients we need for production,” he said.His conception of the world in the grips of an epidemic is more dog-eat-dog than lion-lying-down-with-lamb, with America left alone to fend for itself just like every other country. Navarro, an architect of Trump’s “America first” trade policies and author of such books as Death by China and The Coming China Wars, has suggested that while America’s foreign-dependency problem has a lot to do with China, it even encompasses the United States’ closest friends. “In crises like this, we have no allies,” Navarro noted on Fox News recently, alleging that Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom “denied us what we needed” in terms of medical provisions during the 2009 swine-flu outbreak. “We got to get [medical supply chains] back onshore” from China, India, and Europe, he said.Trump has yet to adopt all these policies. But the fallout from the global outbreak, which coincides with his reelection bid, could motivate him to do so. “Coronavirus is the intersection of 3 issues @realDonaldTrump has been right about all along: border control, American manufacturing, China hawk,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted recently, in a preview of a possible campaign message.[Read: The strongest evidence yet that America is botching coronavirus testing]And, if implemented, such policies could upend global supply chains and renew a push to unwind economic integration between the world’s two largest economies, which could significantly reverse globalization. (This had slowed somewhat after the U.S. and China struck an interim trade agreement in January.) “Globalism,” with its unwieldy ... complex systems tied to yet more complex systems,” could be the biggest “casualty in the war on the coronavirus,” Curtis Ellis, the policy director of America First Policies, the nonprofit arm of a pro-Trump super PAC, wrote last month.These arguments have been echoed by China hard-liners in Congress. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Rubio and another Republican senator, Josh Hawley, have proposed separate bills to lessen America’s reliance on China for medical supplies. Whether the administration will support these initiatives isn’t clear. During a congressional hearing last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he shared Rubio’s concern about America’s reliance on China for active pharmaceutical ingredients. Yet he cautioned that disentangling globalized supply chains in favor of domestic manufacturing can’t be accomplished “overnight” and could raise health-care costs for Americans.Rubio has previously warned of the risks that China poses to the U.S. health-care industry and challenged Beijing on numerous issues, including its efforts to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. He told me that “the depletion of America’s manufacturing sector has left us with a huge national-security vulnerability,” necessitating “a 21st-century, pro-American industrial policy.”The bids to break free from America’s bonds with Beijing, moreover, go well beyond the medical sector. Mac Thornberry, the ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, has stated that while “we want to get coronavirus contained [and] eliminated as fast as we can … maybe we can also take this opportunity” to reduce America’s reliance on China for defense-related products and components.When I asked Rubio why he was taking a more confrontational approach to China during a global emergency that seemed to call for international cooperation, he maintained that “the Chinese Communist Party has proven it is not a reliable or responsible global power.”China “impeded efforts of international researchers and failed to share information on the source of the virus or best practices,” he said. “Their Communist Party is more interested in ‘saving face’ and stamping out internal dissent [than] in helping [to] prevent the spread of [this] dangerous disease.”U.S. officials have similarly criticized the leaders of Iran, another adversary hit hard by the coronavirus. Richard Goldberg, the former director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction on the National Security Council, told me that these critiques have to do with the nature of the political systems in China and Iran, not simply the fact that both are foes of the United States. Authoritarian governments are especially likely to hinder international responses to global threats, he argued.[Graeme Wood: Coronavirus could break Iranian society]“Anywhere you see a closed, centralized, nontransparent regime, you see the inability to flex quickly as crisis emerges,” explained Goldberg, now a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Democracies, too, “can fail,” he allowed, but they also “can respond to failure and correct [themselves] quickly.” As democracies including the United States struggle mightily to contain the virus, that purported capacity to self-correct is on trial.Explaining on Friday why he calls the new coronavirus the “Wuhan virus,” in reference to the Chinese city where it began, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that the terminology highlights “the risks when you have an interconnected world.”“We create wealth through this interconnectivity,” he said. “But when you have an entity like the Chinese Communist Party who is providing data sets that aren’t transparent and aren’t clear, this is the risk.”The Trump administration still hopes to emerge from this crisis having minimized the downside of globalization while maintaining its upside. But in a 2004 report on what the world might look like in 2020, U.S. intelligence officials forecast that only one development “short of a major global conflict” could stop the relentless advance of globalization. That development? A pandemic.
2020-03-11 13:00:00
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theatlantic.com
Humanity’s Long History of Making Epidemics Worse
Every day, new evidence emerges of the havoc that the disease known as COVID-19 is wreaking all around a thoroughly globalized world. As a new pathogen sweeps nations and continents, people are being quarantined in hospitals and aboard ships in distant ports, and the movement of labor and vital supplies has been profoundly disrupted. What’s becoming clear—from China to Iran to Italy to the United States—is that the new pathogen isn’t the only thing putting human life at risk. The shortages and other disruptions that an epidemic causes, not to mention the social inequities that it aggravates, massively amplify the consequences caused by the disease itself.And yet these dynamics—far from being unique to the current pandemic—have recurred time and again for at least half a millennium. As a historian of slavery and medicine, I often come across bleak accounts of smallpox outbreaks that happened 200 to 500 years ago. Then as now, the poorest and least powerful people were usually at the greatest risk of infection—and the public-health measures of the time either neglected these people or actively harmed them. This treatment frequently enabled otherwise containable disease outbreaks to spread.In my historical research, I study the period between from 1500 to 1800, a three-century span during which millions of people endured warfare, displacement, confinement, labor exploitation, insufficient access to medical treatment, and unsanitary living conditions. This period was also defined by then-unprecedented levels of regional and global travel, trade, conflict, and forced and voluntary migrations.During the period I study, everyone’s well-being was at some risk in some way during a smallpox epidemic, regardless of whether a person was the colonist or the colonized, the enslaver or an enslaved person, rich or poor, or of African, Native American, or European descent. The first recorded smallpox outbreak in the Americas struck the Caribbean roughly 500 years ago, a European man arrived in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola carrying the disease in 1518. This outbreak ultimately killed thousands of free and bound Taino people who performed agricultural and mining labor on the island. Many native Americans were particularly vulnerable during smallpox outbreaks because they had not previously been exposed to the disease and were therefore not immune.Only people who developed smallpox immunity after contracting the disease naturally or by inoculation, were safe from the Variola virus. But, smallpox epidemics still imperiled those who survived and gained immunity. After epidemics passed, survivors grieved deserted towns whose inhabitants had either died or fled in panic. Descriptions of deceased and ailing enslaved or bound African, Native, and European labors punctuate early modern correspondence about famines that ensued after agricultural labor became untenable. Goods weren’t the only thing in short supply. Clergymen, slaveholders, and colonial officials lamented the suspension of normal religious, social, and political gatherings.Contagious diseases spread and kill when humans create the social and material conditions for them to do so, and they harm entire societies, often in unpredictable ways.One might be tempted to believe that human conditions have radically improved since the early modern period, yet the new coronavirus is arriving in societies ripe for contagion. It is now spreading in states where tens of thousands of people are without permanent shelter or sanitary living conditions and rely on food banks for survival. COVID-19 is also spreading in states with large populations of incarcerated people, where inmates and detainees live in crowded conditions and lack adequate healthcare, food, and hygiene. Many of the states listed in the CDC’s latest situation report boast key international ports, transit hubs, and manufacturing and agricultural centers—locations whose importance to global trade and distribution networks frequently does not translate into adequate pay or health insurance for the people who work in them. Farm, factory, and transit workers in many states are notoriously underpaid and underinsured, if insured at all, and may travel have to perform “super” commutes on public transit daily. These conditions are perfect for novel viruses to spread and disrupt trade and distribution networks, supply chains, and daily life within and beyond the borders of any one country.The historian Paul Kelton has documented how European colonists’ actions often abetted the spread of smallpox epidemics and impeded native people’s access to food, shelter, and medicines. In a sobering account of the 1519 outbreak, the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas explained that the lack of adequate food, shelter, taxing labor, and “little or no care for their health and conservation” on the part of the Spanish caused the Tainos to perish rapidly. Spanish and indigenous maritime networks spread the disease in the Caribbean and the North and South American mainland, where thousands more perished, and overwhelming indigenous healers in the region. When access to food, medicine, shelter, and treatment excluded any subset of the population, smallpox typically continued to spread and the comorbid consequences were catastrophic.As the epidemic persisted, Roman Catholic friars in the Caribbean recorded that the decimated labor force could no longer support the brutal mining and burgeoning sugar industries. Injustice led to more injustice, as the friars requested recompense from the Spanish crown in the form of enslaved Africans. The crown obliged. In the decades that followed, Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans became acutely aware of the harrowing conditions aboard slave ships enabled smallpox to spread among enslaved Africans and to those living in and around colonial settlements.In the 1600s, European colonists began to enforce maritime quarantines for slave ships arriving from Africa. If enslaved Africans appeared to be ill with smallpox or other contagious diseases colonial officials sent them to the Isla de Cabras in Puerto Rico, Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, Tybee Creek in Georgia, the Goat Pens in Jamaica, the Îles du Salut in French Guiana, the Isla de Aves in Venezuela, and countless other islets, coves, estuaries, and coast locations. Slave traders would either disembark the enslaved or keep them aboard the ship for anywhere from two weeks to a few months, until the contagious disease ran its course. While many enslaved Africans who were quarantined for smallpox survived that virus, their lengthy quarantines aboard ships and on remote islands enabled comorbid infections, parasites, and dysentery to spread. These consequences reveal just how exclusionary “public” health policies can be. Because of European colonists’ public-health practices, smallpox became associated with the slave trade, and enslaved Africans were treated as the sole or primary source of all smallpox outbreaks. At times, the narrow focus on the slave trade blinded early Americans to other vectors. As the historian Peter McCandless has explained, the British were caught off guard when smallpox spread from the Catawba nation, whose members lived inland in the Carolinas, to Charleston in 1759. British troops reputedly carried the disease from the interior to the port city after a campaign against the Cherokee. The outbreak severely disrupted the South Carolinian economy, as panic spread, businesses closed, and people fled. The public health needs of the colony overwhelmed local physicians, who struggled to inoculate and treat the thousands of free and enslaved people who needed care. Though humanity’s medical and public health practices have advanced significantly since the 1700s, our deeply imperfect sense of disease geographies continues to inform how and when we prepare for public health threats.Over the last two months, the public has been inundated with images that map the coronavirus onto geopolitical borders. These images simplify dense information in ways that create the illusion that contagious diseases are linked to particular peoples and places. These maps also reinforce the illusion that international and domestic borders are somehow impermeable and deemphasize the travel, trade, conflict, and migration routes by which epidemics can spread or along which supply chains might be disrupted. In her book Pox Americana, an account of the smallpox epidemic spread throughout North America during the American Revolutionary War, the historian Elizabeth Fenn demonstrated just how far conflict, trade, and travel can spread a disease.Today, people in the United States are seeing how quickly coronavirus can spread and precipitate supply shortages. In the last week, alone Americans have seen hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and surgical masks fly off of the shelves at local drugstores. Pervasive anxieties about COVID-19 and necessary public health precautions within and beyond our borders have already disrupted international and domestic trade and slowed or stopped the manufacture of certain pharmaceutical ingredients. Likewise, the demand for protective medical equipment and technologies has overwhelmed global markets, making it more difficult for medical providers to get the materials they need to do their life-saving work.Disruptions to distribution networks and labor forces can be just as hazardous as supply shortages. For example, in the 1680s an epidemic variously described as smallpox, measles, chicken pox, or some combination of the three afflicted San Juan, Puerto Rico. Enslaved people faced the highest mortality rates, but clergy, free people of color, Spanish colonists, and troops perished in high numbers as well. One bishop collected medicines and formed an apothecary to distribute them to those in need. The bishop enjoyed some success. However, he later recounted the deaths of clergymen, who were unable to provide sacraments to the dead, and chastised secular authorities for failing to slaughter cattle and distribute supplies—a failure of planning that helped precipitate a famine. This story reminds us how crucial careful coordination, inclusive public health practices, and the preservation of the health of laborers can mitigate the consequences of epidemics.Epidemics always test the limits of our societies and political imaginations, but history holds some unmistakable lessons: Societies further their own destruction whenever they fail to provide anyone health care, housing, or dispensation from work because of their employment, socioeconomic, or immigration status. The world we live in today is radically different from the early modern world that I study—but in some ways it’s very similar. Epidemics continue to remind us of our shared humanity because they show us how our individual survival is bound up in one another’s well-being.
2020-03-11 12:30:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
The True Danger of the Trump Campaign’s Defamation Lawsuits
Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is launching a legal war against the free press. In the past two weeks, while Americans worried about the coronavirus, the Trump campaign has sued The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN. These suits are, legally speaking, frivolous. They pose no danger in court, where they’re all but certain to fizzle and fail. But don’t let that disguise their import. Outside of court, these lawsuits are a real danger to democracy. They abuse the American justice system to attack and intimidate America’s journalists.[Read: Donald Trump’s unprecedented assault on the media]Each lawsuit alleges that a particular article defamed the Trump campaign by portraying it as in cahoots with Russia. The standards a plaintiff must meet to show defamation in these sorts of circumstances—when discussing a public figure’s role in an issue of public concern, such as Trump’s relationship to Russia—are very high. Relying on the First Amendment’s protection for speech, the Supreme Court held in 1964 that a public figure alleging defamation must prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant made a defamatory factual statement knowing that it to be false or showing reckless disregard for the truth. In the half century since, meeting that standard has always been difficult —just as the Court intended, so that vigorous expression about such figures could flourish.Two telling clues reveal these suits to be frivolous. First, all three lawsuits target opinion pieces—not news reports asserting factual claims. While in theory an opinion piece could meet the Supreme Court’s high bar for defamation of a public figure, in practice this is very hard to imagine. Second, the statements alleged to be defamatory in the three suits haven’t been proved false—rather, they’ve been vindicated. The Times piece said Russia helped Trump in 2016 because it anticipated pro-Russia policies if Trump won. The Post piece said Trump invited foreign election interference in 2020. The CNN piece said Trump has deliberately not taken steps to prevent the solicitation of foreign election interference in 2020. All of these statements have been corroborated—the first by Robert Mueller’s report, the second by Trump’s own words, and the third by Trump’s own (non)actions.But even if these lawsuits are unlikely to succeed, they can nevertheless do great harm. As Trump runs for reelection, the campaign may use these suits to boast that Trump is fighting the media, or what he calls “fake news.” The intention, it seems, is to scare away media outlets from publishing opinion pieces that use particularly critical words to describe his relationship with Russia. These tactics likely won’t work against the Times, the Post, or CNN. But think of smaller, local media outlets—whether newspapers, radio stations, TV news programs, or websites—that already are struggling to stay afloat as hundreds of other media outlets go under nationwide. For them, the prospect of having to litigate a defamation suit against the behemoth of the Trump campaign is intimidating—perhaps even prohibitively intimidating. An editor or lawyer at those outlets may pause on a particular adjective used to describe Trump’s relationship to Russia, think about the suits against the Times, the Post, and CNN, and then think really, really hard about softening that language. Going one step further, an individual writer may pause before even drafting words critical of Trump and his family—a likely effect of a November 2016 lawsuit filed by Melania Trump against a 70-year-old political blogger who writes from his Maryland townhouse.[Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner: Why a free press matters]That hesitation alone would amount to a severe blow to the free press that Americans rightly cherish and that the First Amendment protects. But Trump’s project seems even more malevolent. As he seeks reelection in the face of dismal approval ratings and widespread unpopularity, he’s given every indication that he will try to weaponize the organs of the government to help him. Trump already tried to exploit American military aid and diplomacy in order to damage a political rival via Ukraine. He has already asked his attorney general to investigate the very investigators who identified and prosecuted criminal activity by high-ranking figures associated with his 2016 campaign. And he already removed and replaced his acting director of national intelligence when a top official working for him briefed Congress honestly on 2020 election interference, installing a politically minded sycophant instead.The courts—both federal and state—are harder for Trump to manipulate than the executive branch is. But in filing these suits, Trump seems to be trying to turn America’s justice system into a campaign tool. While the cases remain pending, Trump can brag to his supporters and scare media outlets, all without ever getting a judge to accept a single legal argument. What’s more, when the suits eventually fail, Trump can campaign against the courts and judges themselves, claiming—falsely—that the rulings against his campaign are more evidence that the system is somehow “rigged” against him with “Obama judge[s]” and the like.Usually, any danger associated with lawsuits is that they’ll land a blow in court. The law—as usual—isn’t on Trump’s side. The danger with his campaign’s new lawsuits isn’t that he will win in court. It’s that, on the road to defeat, he’ll find ways to claim that he’s winning, while causing the same institutional damage to America’s courts that he’s wreaked in the executive branch.
2020-03-11 12:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
The Coronavirus Makes Politics Look Small
The human ego is programmed to believe that today’s moment is of historic importance—because that makes the people living through it important too. We are constantly experiencing changes that feel significant at the time, but that shrink from the collective view the further we pull away from the immediate drama, as we navigate new crises and challenges. In fact, moments of genuine historic change happen rarely, and most of us will exist during periods of time that future historians will ignore.Still, as the world starts to recognize the scale of the challenge posed by the coronavirus outbreak, the most immediate sensation one has is that this might be a moment that does not fade, but instead grows in importance, putting recent events—particularly those here in Britain—into perspective.For starters, it’s hard not to feel like the coronavirus has exposed the utter smallness of Brexit. With the global economy heading for potentially the greatest shock since the supposedly once-in-a-century crash of 2008, the costs and opportunities of Britain’s exit from the European Union boggle the mind—not because of their enormity, but because of their lack of it. In Britain, we have spent four years arguing about this issue, whether and how to Brexit, for what purpose and what price. Real understanding, however, comes with perspective. And now, as the outbreak spreads, one could be forgiven for asking: What was all the Brexit fuss about?[Read: Why Britain Brexited]If the worst fears are realized, the scale of the health and economic challenges posed by the coronavirus may well dwarf Brexit. Although the hardest of Brexits available, in which Britain and the EU fail to agree on a trade deal by the end of the year, is forecast to cause a recession, the mainstream view is that most other scenarios largely involve bargains of greater British autonomy in exchange for lower rates of economic growth. Take one example: On Monday, The Guardian published a story claiming that Britain leaving the Erasmus student-exchange program would “blow a hole” in its economy. What size hole, one might ask? About £243 million, or $315 million, a year—a tiny fraction of Britain’s £2.8 trillion economy. Equally, the British government estimates that the economic benefit of a trade deal with the United States—the big prize after Brexit—would amount to just 0.16 percent of GDP.The point is not to question the wisdom of Brexit—or even to dismiss the cost of leaving Erasmus, the single market, or the customs union—but to put Brexit in perspective with the challenge of a global epidemic. Ultimately, Brexit is a regional argument wrapped up in power and history, territorial disputes and pride, principles and high ideals. A cynic might argue that this debate has now moved on to the extent to which European economic hegemony is to be expressed in law and in practice. These are not unimportant issues, but they’re hardly the conversion of Constantine. Ultimately, Brexit is not a matter of life or death, literally or economically. The coronavirus, meanwhile, is killing people and perhaps many businesses. Its potential impact, if not managed and contained, is closer to that of the 2008 financial implosion. And like that crisis, it has the potential to radically change societies and even political regimes.Take the small and the big. In Britain, the government’s scientific advisers believe that draconian social restrictions can hold only for a limited period of time—the working assumption being about 12 weeks. If and when the outbreak is deemed uncontainable, the government will inevitably impose restrictions and introduce emergency legislation to ensure that public services and the economy are able to cope. The government has insisted that any such measures will be temporary.Yet the temporary often proves the most permanent. The permanent presupposes human foresight; the temporary has no such vanity. Income tax is the classic example: It was first introduced as a temporary measure in Britain to fund the Napoleonic Wars, and now it’s a fixture of life. The German constitution was written only for West Germany, and specifically stipulated that it would be dissolved upon reunification with the East. In the end, the West simply absorbed the East. Smaller examples include the Eiffel Tower, meant to last only 20 years; the London Eye, which had initial planning permission for just five years; and British pub opening hours, introduced by the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 to last for the duration of World War I, but which have remained in place long after. Ironically, the Northern Irish border—the main point of dispute in Brexit—was not supposed to be a permanent settlement, until it was, and then it almost derailed Boris Johnson’s eventual Brexit deal.So what temporary measures is the British government now considering? News reports have speculated about proxy voting in Parliament, new online teaching methods, flexible retirement to allow doctors and nurses to return to work during the emergency, mass home working, and improved sick-pay rights. The question is not necessarily about the government’s sincerity in returning to pre-coronavirus rules, but whether it is possible to unlearn what has been learned through these “temporary” changes.[Read: Italy’s coronavirus response is a warning from the future]Is it conceivable that electronic proxy voting for members of Parliament will be removed if it has been shown to work well? In the case of flexible retirement, if one can officially stop working but keep open the option of returning should the need arise, might this not be a model for a country with an aging population, outside the current crisis? In child care and working conditions, the revolution might be most intense: Should, and could, the British government’s recent extension of sick-pay rights really be undone? What if new, more efficient, and more effective models of educating children are discovered through necessity? Should they be dropped to arbitrarily return to what existed before?Perhaps the coronavirus will not be as serious or long-lasting as many now fear, and will not bring about any lasting social or political change. Perhaps we are being egotistical. But it’s not unreasonable to suppose that it might, and to prepare for that. After all, neither the virus nor its consequences can be contained in one country. How one government handles the outbreak will also affect how it is perceived, and in turn how its political system is perceived, potentially affecting some regimes, democratic and autocratic. This is a global epidemic with global repercussions that go far beyond the relatively limited economic impact of Brexit, which largely affects Britain and its closest trading partners in Europe.Crises come and go, changing the world by their very fact. For the past four years, a good chunk of Britain has been trying to rewind the clock to a world that existed before the 2016 vote to leave the EU—a task destined to fail even if it had succeeded in keeping Britain in the bloc, because the referendum result changed Britain. Similarly, the world after the coronavirus will be different from the world that came before. The real question is to what extent.
2020-03-11 07:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
What Does Bernie Sanders Do Now?
DETROIT—On Monday, Paul Sherlock drove up from Cleveland to Renaissance High School here for a Joe Biden rally—one that, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, may have been the last public campaign event for a while. He brought his own Bernie Sanders sign, and paced around the perimeter of the school, trying to get noticed. He’d written CHANGE MY MIND in black pen on his sign. But he didn’t really mean that. Sherlock was there for the arguments. I saw him get into one with two women (one wearing a Kamala Harris shirt, one wearing Biden buttons) in line for the Biden rally, pointing out Biden’s support for the Iraq War and pushing back on their complaints that Sanders isn’t a Democrat.Sherlock, who has a “namaste” tattoo on the right side of his neck, sheepishly told me that he makes his money off of owning property, so he’s “more at the top than at the bottom,” but said he recognizes the need for the revolution Sanders wants to make happen. He’s concerned about Biden’s mental stamina, which is suddenly the talk of Sanders and Donald Trump supporters. He’s panicked about climate change. He voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary, then Jill Stein in the general election, he told me. Biden is “on the wrong side of history,” he said. He’ll probably vote for Biden in November if he’s the nominee, though he worries that other Sanders supporters won’t, and that the former vice president will lose.He also said that unless Sanders starts winning more primaries, it might be time for him to wrap up his run.“It’s already a divisive party—if things continue the way they are, it’ll only get worse,” Sherlock said as the rain began to dribble down. “I don’t want further disruption of the party this time around.”Sanders and his aides know that the race slipped out of their fingers in the past 10 days. It’s hard for them to believe that the race seemed so close just last week, when Sanders woke up on Super Tuesday thinking that he was on track to be the nominee, and scheduled a big Super Tuesday rally in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, expecting a celebration. Now, after a dismal showing tonight, Sanders has virtually no path to the nomination.Rallies for both Biden and Sanders are canceled for the foreseeable future—starting with competing events Tuesday night in Cleveland that the candidates scrapped on short notice. The Democratic debate scheduled for Sunday night in Phoenix won’t have a live audience. The Tuesdays are getting less super. Biden’s delegate lead is mounting. The Sanders campaign has failed to get any new momentum, and the Biden campaign has been rubbing it in that Sanders is on record saying he thinks the nomination should go to whichever candidate shows up at the summer convention with a plurality of delegates.[Read: The coronavirus campaign]The campaign isn’t where it was expecting to be at this point, but Representative Ro Khanna of California, one of Sanders’s national co-chairs, is trying to hang on to hope.Sanders, Khanna told me on Tuesday afternoon, is “going to be running strong in the way of the millions of votes. He’s going to continue to get hundreds of delegates ... The point is that he still has a chance. There’s still going to be scrutiny on Biden’s record and Biden’s vision in a way he hasn’t really had.” He added, “Biden hasn’t faced real scrutiny since the beginning of the race—shouldn’t he have at least the same length of scrutiny that Bernie or [Elizabeth] Warren or [Michael] Bloomberg went through?”Optimism has collapsed into retrenchment. “Win or lose tonight, Bernie should stay in the race until the March 15th debate at the earliest” was the most that Maria Langholz, the press secretary for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, could muster in an email sent to reporters Tuesday afternoon. Her group had been all in for Warren and making the case against Sanders until a week ago, when it began urging members to vote “strategically” for him, to extend the race.Sanders’s expectation that he could win with a split field, and could take the nomination with just 30 percent of the vote—an idea that top aides to the senator gleefully spelled out for me in the spring, when the race looked very different—seems almost impossible now. His supporters’ attacks on other candidates have left him few friends—at the Biden rally on Monday night, I saw people sporting hats, buttons, and shirts from the campaigns of Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang. And Sanders’s continued attacks on “the establishment” annoyed some voters I talked with.“It concerns me because he’s not a Democrat,” said Reginald Jackson, an autoworker who was waiting in line to get into the Biden rally, adding that he’d always been a Biden voter. “We’re the establishment. Him saying that, that’s kind of disrespectful. We’re the voters.”The bitterness continued to spill out on Tuesday, after Biden said “You’re full of shit” to an autoworker who’d read a prepared question saying the former vice president wanted to get rid of the Second Amendment. Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, tweeted out a video of the incident, writing, “Oh no.” (Biden campaign aides, meanwhile, eagerly spread around the video, feeling that it showed the candidate having a direct and blunt conversation knocking down misinformation about an issue voters care deeply about.)Sanders has a choice to make about the next few months. Does he stay in a race that is becoming mathematically impossible to win? If he does, does he continue ripping into Biden like he has over the past week, getting crowds in Phoenix and St. Louis to boo repeatedly at the mention of the vice president’s name? Or does he shift to a campaign that is more about raising issues in a discussion, and hope that whenever America emerges from its coronavirus crisis, events or sudden shifts in politics suddenly realign the race against Biden? What role does he take in responding to the chatter circulating among some of his supporters, and promoted by his aides, that Biden is in hiding (he isn’t) because they say he’s in cognitive decline (latched onto via videos online showing Biden misspeaking and stumbling)?Biden’s campaign aides are frightened that Sanders will decide to torch their candidate. They’ve been stressing about how to respond if he does.[Read: Joe Biden is the candidate of the resistance]Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the polls closed, I spoke with Representative Mark Takano of California, who’d just announced his endorsement of Sanders. He told me that he’d been ready to do it at the end of last week, after his district went overwhelmingly for Sanders in the primary, and had been waiting on the Sanders campaign to get a video produced announcing his decision.“This contest between Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden is a good one. It’s important to have these conversations, this political discourse. We shouldn’t be in such a rush to get this done and over with right away,” he said. “We’ve seen dramatic turns happen in this campaign, in this race, and there could be dramatic turns that we don’t anticipate.”Takano isn’t blind to the results coming in. He is aware of the attacks on Biden. But he has a different plan.“There’s another way to talk about Bernie,” Takano said. Instead of slamming Biden, talk up Sanders’s record: voting against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, or fighting against President Barack Obama’s proposed cuts to Social Security, or shepherding through major Veterans Affairs reforms. “This is fair game. This is not nasty, dirty rhetoric. In a fair debate, if people can remind voters of the distinctions, I think people will see that Bernie does have a vision, does have core convictions, and is a strong voice who can defeat Donald Trump.”The point of the campaign going forward, Khanna told me, will be living up to its “Not me. Us” slogan, even in what looks like the end stages of the race. “He cares about the policies,” Khanna said. “He owes it to everyone who has voted for him and the millions of people and the delegates to push for these policies, and to make sure that the platform reflects that.”
2020-03-11 06:24:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
The Atlantic Politics Daily: An Alternate Coronavirus Reality
It’s Wednesday, March 11. In today’s newsletter: What the coronavirus outbreak looks like in the alternate reality of the fever swamp. Plus: Nearing the end of the line for Bernie Sanders?*« TODAY IN POLITICS »(Charlie Reidel / AP)An Alternate Coronavirus RealityWhile the coronavirus pandemic spreads, there’s a world of partisan media, conservative pundits, and digital propagandists hard at work, amplifying the more error-riddled parts of the president’s message, our deep-in-disinformation-land reporter McKay Coppins writes. The line: Pay no attention to the fake-news fearmongering about the coronavirus! It’s all political hype! Things are going great.It doesn’t matter that fact-checkers, scientists, and the president’s own top medical experts are trying to correct some of the White House’s misinformation (whether the virus is contained, how deadly it is, and if enough tests are being run), McKay reports—the president and his allies can still use his bully pulpit to drown information inconvenient to them. Trump has actually shown is that he doesn’t need to silence the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or censor the press to undermine politically inconvenient information about a public-health crisis—he can simply use his presidential bullhorn to drown it out. Read the full story here.—Christian Paz*« IDEAS AND ARGUMENTS »(GREG BAKER / AFP / GETTY1. “As Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro and Senator Marco Rubio both told me, the crisis is an alarming ‘wake-up call’ about American vulnerabilities in a globalized world.”Countries around the world face the challenge of organizing a united response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, as the number of reported cases rockets in the U.S. But some in the president’s circle are treating the pandemic as a wake-up call, pushing for more aggressive “America First” policies, Uri Friedman reports.2. “The intention, it seems, is to scare away media outlets from publishing opinion pieces that use particularly critical words to describe his relationship with Russia.”Over the last few weeks, the president’s reelection team has sued CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post over opinion articles written about Trump and special counsel investigation’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The president’s team will likely lose those cases, but the lawsuits’ primary purpose are is attempting to intimidate the press, two legal experts argue.3. “But a number of prominent conservatives...are going with ‘Wuhan virus’, as if the deadly new pathogen were one more scourge to be blamed on the Chinese.”While scientists and the international community have followed the formal name “COVID-19” to describe the disease caused by the new coronavirus, some leading right-wing politicians are trying to make the label “Wuhan virus” stick. That’s a foolish and offensive gesture, this professor of science writing argues.*« EVENING READ »(JEFF ROBERSON / AP)Staying in the race doesn’t mean having a path to victory.Senator Bernie Sanders announced today that he’d stay in the primary race, heading into Sunday’s 11th primary debate in Phoneix, Arizona. But his path to the nomination is effectively over, Ron Brownstein writes.It’s now not a matter of if, but when, former Vice President Joe Biden secures the nomination: Victories in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, and Idaho replicated his triumphs on Super Tuesday. Biden pulled together (older) black voters, college-educated white voters, suburban voters, and even some blue-collar voters to secure majorities in three of the six states that voted last night.Sanders now faces steep climbs in Florida, Ohio, and Illinois. “Only Arizona, with its large Latino population, seems like it could be hospitable to Sanders, but even there the most recent survey found Biden comfortably ahead,” Brownstein writes.Read the full analysis here.* Today’s newsletter was written by Christian Paz, a Politics fellow, and edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters. You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to politicsdaily@theatlantic.com. Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.
2020-03-11 06:00:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
Bernie Sanders Reached Out to Black Voters. Why Didn’t It Work?
Two years ago, Bernie Sanders journeyed south to trace the history of a past revolution, and to imagine a new one.On April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., thousands of people gathered on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, for a rally and a march. Sanders was one of the speakers. He took the stage and gripped the podium with one hand, the microphone with the other. “Dr. King was not just a great civil-rights leader,” Sanders, who had not officially announced that he would run for president again, said. “He was a nonviolent revolutionary!” The crowd broke into applause as he paused for a moment. “He was a man who wanted to transform our country morally, economically, and racially.” It wasn’t enough to simply remember King, Sanders explained: People needed to follow in his footsteps.Later that day he traveled farther south, to Jackson, Mississippi, where, in June 1963, the famous civil-right activist Medgar Evers—who led economic boycotts and voter-registration drives in the state—was murdered in his driveway by a white supremacist after an NAACP meeting. The city’s mayor is now Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a 36-year-old who wants to make Jackson the most “radical city on the planet.” Onstage at the Thalia Mara Concert Hall, the pair had an hour-long conversation about economic exploitation—one of the three evils King railed against—and economic justice.Each stop on Sanders’s journey through the South doubled as early outreach to a demographic he would desperately need if and when he sought the presidency again.[Read: The establishment strikes back.]Sanders’s agenda—dismantling broken systems and replacing them with ones that benefit working-class people, regardless of race—is intimately bound up with the nation’s civil-rights legacy. But, some argue, Sanders has struggled to clearly articulate that connection in a way that earns black voters’ support.When Sanders first ran for president, in 2016, he excited white progressives who were not interested in Hillary Clinton’s brand of moderate politics. His base was young and energetic, but it was light on black support. Sure, a small majority of black voters under 30 supported him, but they made up just 3 percent of the black electorate in the primary. Black activists argued that his campaign did not pay enough attention to racial violence and inequities in the criminal-justice system. His speeches were frequently interrupted by members of Black Lives Matter, who sought to push candidates to be more aggressive on racial issues. They attempted similar protests of Clinton but were stymied. (At least on one occasion, they were blocked at the door by Secret Service agents.) Clinton’s events were stage-managed to the finest detail; Sanders’s were more DIY and raucous.Sanders has admitted that his 2016 campaign was “too white.” Indeed, his inability to excite a large group of voters beyond his majority-white base led to a pummeling across the South. Older black voters knew Clinton; Sanders was the one rolling the boulder uphill. He lost the black vote by 90 percent in Arkansas, by 86 percent in South Carolina, and by 89 percent in Tennessee. In Missouri, where he lost by the slim margin of 0.2 percent, he lost the black vote by 67 percent.For many voters, the 2016 election was their first introduction to the Vermont senator with the unkempt hair and radical ideas. He knew more people would know his name if he ran again in 2020, but he needed to do more: He needed to hire a more diverse staff, attend events at historically black colleges and universities, speak to black media and black people directly, and, perhaps more than anything, listen to black voices.He did all that. But despite his efforts, the support never quite materialized. From the South Carolina primary through Super Tuesday, among black voters, Sanders was trounced by former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders offered a revolution; voters rebuffed it. The black people who did support Sanders tended to be younger—and young people tend to vote at lower rates than older people do.Tonight, exit polls showed that Sanders lost the black vote in Mississippi by 71 points—84 percent of black voters supported Biden, and just 13 percent supported Sanders. Sanders’s performance among black voters was just 2 percentage points better than it was in 2016. Cable networks called the race as soon as the polls closed: another decisive victory in the South for Biden.The stagnant numbers raise interesting questions: Does Sanders’s revolution simply need more time? Did voters not know enough about what his policies could do for them? Or, more plainly, did they simply prefer Biden? If the Sanders movement—Not me. Us—is going to win, either now or in the future, it needs to figure out a way to sway southern black voters to its cause.Some black people in the South are already on board for radical change, though, and they are trying to bring others with them.[Read: A warning to the Democratic Party about black voters.]Lumumba, whose beard is just beginning to show flecks of gray at its ends, is a rising star of progressive politics. And he’s seen the limitations of politics as practiced.“No matter who’s been president, no matter whether we’ve been told that the economy is thriving or we’re in a recession, we’ve still been at the bottom,” Lumumba told me during his layover in Atlanta on Friday. He was headed to Detroit to join Sanders for a rally before the Michigan primary. “People may participate in the pageantry because they don’t believe that it’s really going to affect their lives in a grand way.”Voting becomes pageantry when those who do so aren’t able to actively engage with the candidates, their staffs, and, most important, their ideas, he said. A contender shouldn’t become the candidate through an exercise less participatory than procedural, he argued. He hoped that the people of his city—which is more than 80 percent black—would be able to experience the political process more deeply this time around.In mid-February, Arekia Bennett, an organizer with Mississippi Votes and the Movement for Black Lives, staged a “people’s caucus,” which involved more than 100 residents of Jackson. The event gave voters a chance to hear directly from staff members representing several candidates, including Biden, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Michael Bloomberg. Sanders won the caucus’s mock vote overwhelmingly, and Lumumba based his endorsement on that result.It was an intimate experience, the kind of thing Lumumba had imagined when he and three other southern black mayors wrote an open letter to candidates last September. The letter outlined the roadmap for 2020 Democrats to win not only their support, but the support of their communities. “We didn’t want it to be a perfunctory experience,” he told me. “It needed to be substantive.”But a little over 100 people is hardly representative of all of Jackson, a city of roughly 170,000. “My fear in Jackson, just like my fear around the nation, is that not enough people get a chance to experience that,” Lumumba confessed. “That was a small sample size of the city in an atypical situation not only for Jackson to get to experience, but that most other southern states don’t get to experience.”The primary process is such that candidates spend inordinate amounts of time and money in very white states—Iowa and New Hampshire—trying to convince voters that they are the right candidate to address their issues. That creates a lopsided process in which voters in places like Sumter County, Alabama, and Leflore County, Mississippi, have very little interaction with the presidential nominating contest. That does not mean voters in these states are uninformed; rather, they are not able to engage with contenders in the same way as they would if they lived in a place like Sioux City, Iowa. “People feel more comfortable when you can stand toe-to-toe with them and let them know what you stand for,” Lumumba told me. “That’s their opportunity to kind of gauge your sincerity.”Sanders has been criticized in recent weeks for skipping events where he might have had the opportunity to engage with more southern black voters. He did not attend the Bloody Sunday march in Selma after losing to Biden in the South Carolina primary, and canceled a rally in Jackson—where he was expected to appear with Lumumba—in order to campaign in the vital primary state of Michigan. (“I can’t imagine the demands of a national campaign,” Lumumba told me, and Sanders is not a stranger to the city, having held events there in the past, “so we understand.”)When I asked Lumumba about how the primary process could have gone differently for Sanders, he stopped for a moment. Then he considered how Sanders performed in caucuses rather than primaries; perhaps if there were ranked-choice voting, as in the Jackson people’s caucus, Sanders would have won a larger share of black voters. But he kept coming back to a central theme: If only more people knew how radically different their lives could be—perhaps then they would join the revolution.Sanders’s movement believes that progressive politics can fundamentally change lives by raising wages and making college affordable and health care more accessible. This is the message Jesse Jackson preached when he ran for president in 1984 and 1988. And it’s the one that led Jackson to endorse Sanders on Sunday. “A people far behind cannot catch up choosing the most moderate path,” Jackson said.[Read: Joe Biden is the candidate of the resistance.]If Jackson’s endorsement had come prior to Super Tuesday, it might have helped Sanders’s stock among older black voters. “It really anchors the progressive movement to a long-standing civil-rights agenda,” Katherine Tate, a professor at Brown University who studies black-voter behavior, told me. Her research has shown that black voters have become less liberal since the 1970s, and that they often take cues from elected officials who are willing to compromise on moderate policies.Christopher Towler, an assistant professor at Sacramento State who runs the Black Voter Project, a public-opinion-survey outfit, agrees. His research has found that black voters are most enthusiastic about candidates whose messages are framed by racial progressivism. “African Americans prioritize their racial identity more often than not, especially when it comes to politics,” he told me. And that’s particularly true of older black voters, “because everything that has been political in their lives has also been racial.”When Representative Jim Clyburn, the House majority whip from South Carolina, endorsed Biden, he explicitly made that connection. Barack Obama’s election is synonymous with racial progress, and Biden is inextricably linked to Barack Obama. “Joe will build on President Obama’s legacy,” Clyburn said as he announced his endorsement. Obama remains the most popular Democrat in America, and several candidates—now including Sanders—have used his purported stamp of approval in ads as a way to gain support not only among black voters but among Democrats more broadly.But Jackson’s endorsement could have potentially served as a counterweight to Clyburn’s, potentially blunting the beating in South Carolina and preventing the Biden wave on Super Tuesday. (A spokesperson for Jackson, Shelley Davis, told me that Jackson did not endorse sooner because he had been in active conversations with Elizabeth Warren, who departed the race after Super Tuesday. The Biden campaign, he said, did not contact Jackson seeking his support.)Still, even with Jackson’s endorsement, a revolution was not what black voters were after this time around, Tate suggested. “Had this been any other election without Donald Trump in the race, we would have seen a more earnest battle between the more progressive and moderate elements in the black electorate,” she said. That may be why the most diverse field in history has been winnowed to two white men in their 70s.Trump is a powerful motivator, but he shouldn’t be the only one, Lumumba said. “I certainly agree that [Trump is] important, but I want it to be substantively different for people living in Mississippi,” he told me. “And just being focused on [Trump] does not serve that end.”He paraphrased a quote from the Princeton professor Ruha Benjamin: “We can’t just dismantle the world that we don’t want to live in,” he says. “We have to be the most active participants in creating the world that we do.” Sanders, Lumumba, and other progressives, much like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. before them, are convinced that means radical change.They just have to find a way to convince black voters, too.Sanders's movement will outlast him. And its next leaders are unlikely to be elderly white men from Vermont. Lumumba is 36, old enough to run for president. And Sanders's most important and effective surrogate, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, will turn 35 in 2024. "In order for us to win, we have to grow," she told 10,000 Sanders supporters in Michigan on Sunday. "We must be inclusive. We must bring more people into this movement.''
2020-03-11 04:17:58
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
The Atlantic Politics Daily: Running for President During an Epidemic
It’s Tuesday, March 10. Ordered here by the number of delegates up for grabs: Michigan, Washington State, Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho, and North Dakota vote (in ND’s case, by caucus) today.In the rest of today’s newsletter: Out with the handshakes, in with the hand sanitizer—Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have both canceled rallies planned for tonight. Plus: From “Never Trump” to “Why not Trump.”*« TODAY IN POLITICS »(Charlie Reidel / AP)Out with the handshakes, in with the hand sanitizer.The raucous rallies and intimate retail politics that have been a hallmark of presidential elections are running head-first into the coronavirus outbreak.Both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have criticized President Donald Trump for his handling of the outbreak, but neither candidate had before today taken any significant measures to minimize risk on the campaign trail and at their rallies. That changed today, when both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders cancelled their pit stops in Cleveland.Welcome to the coronavirus campaign.How is the Trump campaign reacting? The president’s general-election mantra has been to paint his opponent—whether that’s ultimately Biden or Sanders—as a socialist who is out to stifle the free market. But the president’s own response to the epidemic isn’t exactly textbook Adam Smith. The COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates the emptiness of these sorts of ideological labels. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, in a national emergency, there’s no truly laissez-faire government. Read my colleague Peter Nicholas’s piece here.—Saahil Desai*« IDEAS AND ARGUMENTS »(Getty Images)1. “Tonight’s results will demonstrate whether Biden will continue to repeat the results of 2018.”Six states, including key states such as Michigan, are voting (or caucusing tonight). Many Democrats say that Joe Biden will win delegates tonight because “many voters are thinking and acting much like they did in the previous midterm elections, when Democrats—thanks to historically high turnout—flipped 41 congressional districts and regained control of the House,” Elaine Godfrey reports.For one: Six in 10 voters on Super Tuesday said they care more about nominating a Democrat who can defeat Trump than about anything else, according to some exit polling.2. “Give people and companies money.”Financial markets are in meltdown mode as the coronavirus courses rapidly and all too undetectably throughout the world. But there is a simple thing the U.S. government can do right now, which would both slow the viral spread and limit the economic harm.“Perhaps that intervention strikes you as a non sequitur,” Derek Thompson writes. But the U.S. needs the financial assistance, and soon.3. “For the first time in the eight years I’ve known my husband, we voted differently—I voted for Warren and he cast his ballot for Sanders.”Politics has introduced tension between the writer Ellen O’Connell Whittet and her husband, and it has so many other families. In O’Connell Whittet’s case, the wedge was the choice between two progressive candidates, and she’s mad. Really mad.*« EVENING READ »(The Atlantic)From “Never Trump” to “Why Not Trump”When a handful of Republicans from the foreign-policy establishment signed onto “Never Trump” letters back in 2016, they thought their opposition to the future president would sway a few voters. But three years later, Trump has crushed the movement and won back the support of some of them, Kathy Gilsinan reports. Here is one confession.* Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk, and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters. You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to politicsdaily@theatlantic.com. Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.
2020-03-10 23:43:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
When Keeping Your Distance Is the Best Way to Show You Care
Throughout most of his career in commercial real estate, Jonathan Tootell has been in the habit of greeting his clients and colleagues with a handshake. Last week, however, he noticed that some of his on-the-job interactions were beginning with hesitation, a tentative Are we doing this or not? If all parties were okay with it, he told me, then everyone involved would shake hands. If not, they refrained, which felt a little odd, he said—like a subtle snub.By the start of this week, though, Tootell said, it had started to go without saying that handshaking would not happen. SquareFoot, the commercial-real-estate firm where Tootell oversees the New York brokerage team, had not outright banned shaking hands or hugging on the job. But Tootell’s colleagues and business contacts all seemed to intuit that just waving was a better way to say hello—even at close range, no matter how silly it felt.The rules of politeness get inverted during an epidemic: Gestures involving touch, usually understood to convey affection or warmth, get replaced by distance—which, in its own way, conveys care. All over the globe, authorities are encouraging citizens to avoid nonessential close personal contact because coronaviruses of all kinds can be easily spread through skin-to-skin touching. As a result, kisses hello have been temporarily discouraged in countries where they’re traditional; companies worldwide are discouraging and even banning handshakes between associates; places of worship are temporarily modifying traditions that involve interpersonal touching or the use of communal objects. The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and the resulting cutback on physical contact with others have certainly helped illustrate why those gestures and touches are so important—but new and creative methods of greeting and parting have sprung up accordingly.[Read: Cancel everything]When I spoke to Tootell on Monday afternoon, he had just come from a lunch meeting with someone he’d known for more than a decade. Before they parted, “naturally, we went in for the hug,” he said, “and then we remembered.” They froze, backtracked, and said goodbye from what they both considered to be a safer distance. In the moments after he and his lunch partner had backed away mid-hug, Tootell said, it felt like their meeting hadn’t properly ended. For Tootell (and many people), a handshake or a brief hug helps signify that a social occasion has begun, then at the end, “you shake hands again—like, Thank you for your time!—and that closes out the interaction.” Ending lunch without a parting hug, Tootell said, “felt like we didn’t close the loop.”Still, Tootell said, at this particular moment in the United States, saying hello or goodbye in a fashion that feels weird or out of rhythm—or leaves one party “hanging,” so to speak—doesn’t have the same repercussions that it might in less wary times. “If I had an Italian company [visiting] and Americans still didn’t know anything about coronavirus, and someone from that company was like, ‘I’m not going to shake anyone’s hand,’ we’d be like, Wait a minute. They’re just not going to shake hands?” Tootell said. But because both awareness and anxiety about the virus are running high in the United States, he said, it’s much more likely that all parties involved will recognize the efforts to avoid skin-to-skin contact in public settings not as alienating “negs” but as public-health measures meant to help slow the spread of disease.Interpersonal touch is, of course, beneficial to humans’ overall health. As Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, told me in June of 2018, any pressure or movement on the skin helps increase the activity of the vagus nerve, which connects to every major organ in the human body. So touch from another human, she told me then, “slows down the heart. It goes to the GI tract and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system.” That vagal activity can also lower a body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol is known to harm the “natural killer cells” that can fight viral, bacterial, and cancer cells. When I spoke to Field again this week, she pointed out that right now, when people are especially stressed over potentially catching or spreading a virus, it’s a bit of a shame that they can’t hug or shake hands as usual.[Read: The exceptional cruelty of a no-hugging policy]That said, Field isn’t particularly worried about these particular COVID-19 precautions causing severe touch deprivation. The quarantining of individuals, she said, might lead to more touch deprivation than the disappearance of hugs or handshakes from daily life. But even in quarantine, she noted, stretching, exercise, and massage (among people quarantined together or administered to oneself) can provide some of the same benefits as interpersonal touch. “Simply stretching on the floor—because you’re moving the skin and increasing the stimulation to the pressure receptors, that leads to that whole chain of events reducing the stress hormones,” she said. “You can walk fast inside of whatever space you’re in, because that stimulates the pressure receptors in your feet.” Even hand-washing, she added—something people are being advised to do more often and more vigorously than usual these days—can provide opportunities for people to get their skin moving and give themselves a brief muscle massage.Plus, Field said, people seem to be finding moments of joy and amusement in their new shared awkwardness at hellos and goodbyes. She’s seen pairs of people forgo the handshake and then jovially work toward mastering the more epidemic-friendly “elbow bump,” and she’s seen people laugh at themselves as they try to pull off the foot-tap or “foot-shake” greeting that’s been steadily gaining popularity during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Similarly, at a church service I attended in Minnesota this past weekend, two congregants greeted each other merrily with an air five.) Joy, she reasoned, can itself have physiological benefits in high-stress times—and Field has noticed that when a quick hello involves an unfamiliar gesture like an elbow bump instead of a quick, muscle-memory hug or handshake, it often becomes a more prolonged, engaged moment of human interaction.“It looks like people are enjoying it. They smile and laugh after they do it,” Field said. Perhaps that’s because the choreography of the unfamiliar greeting still feels foreign and silly, she added. But in a time when every handshake or hug is a health risk, perhaps people have also begun to see new, less dermally intimate gestures like these as signals of real care.
2020-03-10 22:21:36
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
A Very Unwelcome Wedding Guest
Steven Zarnfaller’s elderly cousin couldn’t risk attending his wedding. Last week, Zarnfaller got a call from the 78-year-old, who has been like a mother to him. Given the news about the coronavirus, she told him, it was too dangerous for her to fly from New York to Oakland, California, for his April 5 ceremony. Since COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, appears to be especially deadly for the elderly, she had to avoid contracting the illness at the airport or on a plane.Zarnfaller decided that if someone that important to him couldn’t be there, the celebration wasn’t worth having. A few hours later, he and his fiancé canceled their 50-person wedding, sending out texts and emails to all their guests. Luckily, they hadn’t put down any nonrefundable deposits. But they still have to cancel their honeymoon. They had planned on going to Japan and Taiwan, two places that have had their own coronavirus outbreaks. “We had put a lot of work and effort into this amazing vacation,” Zarnfaller told me. “And now we have to basically start from scratch.”Wedding cancellations are just another way that the coronavirus outbreak is shaping American life. Along with scrapped conferences and quarantined cruises, private gatherings, including weddings, have become a logistical casualty of the disease. Already a time of intense jitters, wedding planning has only become more jittery thanks to a frightening virus that spreads quickly and forces people to stay in their homes.Weddings are an intensely intimate coronavirus disruption—both emotionally and financially. A canceled conference can have devastating effects on vendors, companies, and workers who rely on the event for income. Canceled weddings shake up families who thought they were planning the most significant day of their lives.Many of the suggested coronavirus precautions run counter to the very idea of weddings, which involve large groups of people, many of them elderly, convening in tightly enclosed spaces to dance with one another while eating food from shared trays. (Indeed, weddings are one of the types of gatherings currently banned in Italy.) Consider: Large segments of the American population are currently being told to avoid crowds. Older people—like young adults’ parents and relatives—really shouldn’t be flying. And with so many companies limiting nonessential travel, even people who aren’t at risk are wondering whether they should just avoid traveling if they can help it. All of this after several nonrefundable deposits to caterers, venues, and planners have been paid.[Read: America’s nursing homes are bracing for an outbreak]Interviews with wedding planners, brides, grooms, and insurance companies suggest that although for the most part the betrothed are not yet panicking, they are preparing. And they’re reading the fine print on their vendor contracts.Lauren Hagee, a public-affairs specialist in Washington, D.C., realized that the coronavirus might affect her May wedding when the shop where she bought her wedding dress in January warned her that she might not be able to get her dress in time because of “the news.” The coronavirus was then tearing through China, slowing down the factories that make wedding dresses. Hagee’s wedding, for which she’s already deposited about $10,000, is taking place in North Carolina, far from both her and her groom’s families. The couple hasn’t canceled anything yet, but “the real worry is that people are going to be getting very sick, and people are not going to want to travel at all,” she told me.For some weddings, guest counts are already going down because of worries about travel. And some brides- and grooms-to-be are asking for virtual rather than in-person meetings with their wedding planners. Lori Losee, the owner of a wedding-planning company called Elegant Affairs, in Lakewood, Washington, says she’s only had one client out of 25 raise the coronavirus question so far, and she’s advising clients not to panic—and not to cancel. Instead, she encourages them to consider putting on their wedding websites that if guests are sick, they should not come to the wedding. “Really think about what it means to cancel the wedding,” Losee told me. “You’re not going to get any deposits back from anything, because you’re going to be the one canceling.”Whether couples can get their money back depends on the vendor, says Rebecca Grant, a wedding planner in Seattle, the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. Grant will allow couples to transfer their wedding-planning funds to another date, as long as she’s available that day. “We as planners are trying to talk our couples off the ledge,” she told me. After all, it would be painful to call off a wedding months in advance only to find, in a month or two, that everything has returned to normal.Though this might be the recommendation from people whose livelihoods depend on weddings, public-health officials are not quite so sanguine. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, has warned that “disruption to everyday life might be severe.” Colleges and workplaces are shuttering to prevent the spread of the disease, and coronavirus cases in the U.S. are rising.Sarah, a bride near Seattle who did not want her last name used for privacy reasons, is following planners’ recommended protocol for her wedding in June. She said she’s prepared to either post a warning on her wedding website telling sick guests not to attend, or to simply retract her invitations and postpone the wedding to a later date, depending on the situation in a few months.Some couples might consider wedding-cancellation insurance, but finding coverage for coronavirus at this point would be difficult, says Steven Lauro, the vice president of Aon’s WedSafe Program, a wedding insurance provider, which provides wedding insurance. Even if you already have a policy, canceling simply because you fear you or your guests could get the coronavirus would likely not be covered. The fear of something happening, Lauro says, is not quite the same, in insurance terms, as a hurricane or an earthquake actually happening. Only if, say, flights were grounded to your wedding destination, or your venue canceled all events with no refunds, would your insurance kick in.Certain types of weddings, of course, have more need for a backup plan than others. Katja Schulz and her partner, who live in the U.K., were going to take a wedding cruise in July from Southampton to Norway. Except some countries, including the U.S., have now advised people not to take cruises because of how quickly the virus can spread in close quarters. Passengers aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship waited for days to disembark in Oakland, and they will be screened and potentially quarantined on military bases because of possible coronavirus exposure. Schulz and her fiancé are now debating whether to pay their next deposit for their spot on the cruise. “The question is, do we protect the $2,100 [we could avoid paying], or do we risk it all and hope that by then [the virus is] gone?” she says. Schulz says the cruise company told the couple in an email that it would understand if they want to cancel, though whether they’ll get back the money they’ve already spent is unclear.[Read: What you can do right now about the coronavirus]Two couples I spoke with are planning to marry this fall in Italy, which has seen more than 450 coronavirus deaths and which is completely on lockdown. Both couples, so far, are taking a wait-and-see approach. Solan Strickling and Adlin Cedeño hope that because so many of their wedding vendors are small, locally owned businesses, they’ll be up for negotiating on cancellation costs, if it comes to that. If the outbreak becomes so severe that the Summer Olympics are canceled, the couple told me they’d consider pulling the plug on their ceremony.The second couple is watching to see whether the quarantine measures that have spread across Italy last for several more months. “Many of our guests (including us!) already have travel booked, and changing the venue (which would likely also require a date change) would be a logistical nightmare,” Julia Ritz Toffoli told me in an email. “Not to mention the fact that we are very attached to our venue and would hate to have to plan a whole new wedding somewhere else.”For many, the uncertainty is the hardest part. Do you “continue planning like everything’s normal, and it’s going to be fine in May, which it very well could be?” Lauren Hagee asked. “Or do you start making your backup plan?”It’s a question that applies to many American families right now: Should they cancel their vacation or take the risk? Attend the event or forgo it? Should they be cautious, even if it’s painful? For those shelling out thousands of dollars for what’s supposed to be the most magical day of their lives, the question is even more pressing.
2020-03-10 20:43:00
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com
The Voices of the Loneliness Epidemic
In January 2018, Theresa May, then the prime minister of the United Kingdom, made an unusual appointment: Tracey Crouch would serve as the world’s first minister for loneliness. The position, May said, would address the fact that, for an estimated 9 million U.K. citizens, “loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.” At the time, Alice Aedy, a British filmmaker in her 20s, was disconcerted by the news. “The idea of a minister for loneliness sounded very dystopian—almost Orwellian,” Aedy told me. “I thought it was a disturbing reflection of the times.” The loneliness epidemic—as many experts are calling it—is a veritable public-health crisis. Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A lack of social relationships is an enormous risk factor for death, increasing the likelihood of mortality by 26 percent. A major study found that, when compared with people with weak social ties, people who enjoyed meaningful relationships were 50 percent more likely to survive over time. John Cacioppo, a neuroscience professor at the University of Chicago and the world’s leading expert on loneliness, discovered the deleterious effects of social isolation at the cellular level. “We found that loneliness somehow penetrated the deepest recesses of the cell to alter the way genes were being expressed,” he writes in his book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. These are alarming findings, considering that nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely most of the time. The problem is especially acute among young adults ages 18 to 22—a conclusion that is consistent among surveys conducted in the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. Why is Generation Z so lonely? It’s a question Aedy explores in her short documentary Disconnected, premiering on The Atlantic today. Following the announcement of Crouch’s appointment, Aedy set up a hotline for young people interested in contacting the new minister for loneliness. Within 24 hours, the mailbox was full. “Nothing could prepare us for how emotive the voicemails were,” Aedy said. “On the first night we received them, we stayed up until 3 a.m. listening, sometimes in tears.” Many callers ended their message by thanking the listener for the opportunity to share their feelings, which they said provided a sense of catharsis. A selection of these voicemails is heard in Disconnected. The testimonies are intimate and disarmingly honest. “It would have been difficult to get such revealing interviews in person or on camera,” Aedy said. It’s comforting to call an anonymous hotline, where “no one is there to respond or judge—as if you were stepping into a confession box.” One caller describes his experience of being alienated in a large city. “I sit in my flat and watch people walk by and think, How am I so alone in a place with so many people?” “Everyone else is having the time of their lives,” another caller says, “and you’re the anomaly.” Audio of the calls plays over haunting, atmospheric imagery of people navigating what appears to be a sci-fi dystopia. In fact, the 16-mm cinematography was shot in Lancashire, a “loneliness hot spot” in England. “There’s a lot going on in the voice messages,” Aedy explained, “so we didn’t want the visuals to be over-prescriptive. I wanted to reflect the mood I had personally experienced when listening to the voicemails.” As for the question she originally set out to answer, Aedy found that most of the anonymous callers referenced the strange dichotomy of feeling alone while surrounded by people. “This reinforced the notion that loneliness has little to do with being physically isolated, but more about a sense of disconnection from the people around you,” Aedy said. Cacioppo, the loneliness expert, believes that social media can create a profound sense of estrangement. In his book, he writes that internet communication is a kind of ersatz intimacy: “Surrogates can never make up completely for the absence of the real thing.” After making Disconnected, Aedy agrees. “The fundamental promise of the internet—better human connection—has failed,” she said. “While we may technically be more connected, I think we are actually more isolated from each other than we have ever been.”
2020-03-10 20:41:07
2021-05-08T10:21:34.000000
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theatlantic.com