The climate blogs have been swept by quite a scoop in the past few days. An anonymous leaker identified only as "Heartland Insider" has dumped a cache of documents on climate blogs purporting to reveal the inner workings of the Heartland Institute, a vigorous promoter of skepticism about anthropogenic global warming.
Over the course of a few days, details have emerged. According to Heartland, someone contacted them pretending to be a board member, and requested that the organization "resend" their annual meeting board package to an alternative email address. And apparently some gullible staffer actually complied. The result is here. There are loads of juicy details about who donates what, and who gets money from Heartland.
Predictably, climate blogs are having a field day. Much of the attention has centered around an explosive document titled "2012 Heartland Climate Strategy", which contains stuff like their plans for "dissuading [K-12 teachers] from teaching science".
Heartland has confirmed the provenance of most of the documents, in a blustery press release which I think they're going to end up regretting heartily:
The individuals who have commented so far on these documents did not wait for Heartland to confirm or deny the authenticity of the documents. We believe their actions constitute civil and possibly criminal offenses for which we plan to pursue charges and collect payment for damages, including damages to our reputation. We ask them in particular to immediately remove these documents and all statements about them from the blogs, Web sites, and publications, and to publish retractions.
But in that press release, they unequivocally deny that the "Climate Strategy" memo came from them, or anyone in their employ. And after reading through the documents, I'm inclined to believe them.
Full disclosure: One of the donors in the apparently authenticated documents is Charles Koch, and my husband did a year-long fellowship with the Koch Foundation. However, nothing I'm going to write either defends or indicts Mr. Koch, who's actually pretty incidental to both Heartland's funding, and this story.
I should also probably note that I disagree pretty strenuously with Heartland's position on global warming. I not only believe that anthropogenic global warming is happening, but also support stiff carbon or source fuels taxes in order to combat it. While I've expressed some dismay at the behavior revealed in the leaked Climategate memos, they haven't changed my mind about the reality, or the danger, of global warming. I'm not defending Heartland's stance on climate science; I'm mostly interested in this because I have a longstanding fascination with fakequotes and documents.
Now, caveats out of the way, here's why I think that memo is probably fake:
1. All of the documents are high-quality PDFs generated from original electronic files . . . except for the "Climate Strategy" memo. (Hereinafter, "the memo"). That appears to have been printed out and scanned, though it may also have been faxed.
Either way, why? After they wrote up their Top Secret Here's All the Bad Stuff We're Gonna Do This Year memo, did the author hand it to his secretary and say "Now scan this in for the Board"? Or did he fax it across the hall to his buddy?
This seems a strange and ponderous way to go about it--especially since the other documents illustrate that the Heartland Institute has fully mastered the Print to PDF command.
It is, however, exactly what I would do if I were trying to make sure that the document had no potentially incriminating metadata in the pdf.
2. The date on the memo file is different from the other documents. And indeed, when you look at the information on the PDFs that Heartland acknowledges, almost all of them were created by printing to PDF on January 16th, the day before Heartland's board meeting. There is a Board Directory that was created on the 25th of January, also by printing to PDF. And then there is the memo, which was created via an Epson scanner at 3:41 PM on February 13th.
That seems to be just about 24 hours before this broke on the climate blogs. The timing seems odd, and somewhat suspicious. The fact that this document, and it alone, was scanned rather than printed to PDF or emailed as a word document, is even more so.
2. Every single verifiable fact that's in the memo is found in another one of the documents, or available in a public source; in fact, many of the sentences are cut and paste jobs from the fundraising document, the binder insert, or the budget.
Substantial overlap is to be expected. But perfect overlap is surprising--there was nothing they wanted to elaborate on about their Climate Strategy that wasn't found in their fundraising or budget documents? There's actually much less information about their climate efforts than can be found in the budget and fundraising packets. The only new material is a bit of editorializing, and suspiciously, it is editorializing that makes Heartland sound much worse than the authenticated documents do.
The editorializing tends to fall into one of two categories: they leave out the facts that make Heartland sound not quite so bad (like a huge drop in corporate donations) or they recast the activities of the Heartland Institute in a somewhat less favorable light than the presentation in the authenticated documents.
It's hard to imagine why someone at Heartland would have written a memo that didn't contain any new information, or even useful new spin. On the other hand, if I were trying to make sure that the memo couldn't be conclusively shown to be a fake, this is exactly the approach I'd take: borrow 100% of the facts, and most of the language, from real documents.
3. The style is different. Most institutions have a sort of house style for things like board packages. That style drives writers nuts, because it's flabby and repetitive, but it's also generally consistent, and professional-sounding. The other documents are all written in the same basic style: formal-ish, overlong, and written at about a tenth grade reading level. A lot of fairly brief paragraphs, a carefully titrated modicum of self-praise. Except for the required legal notices, which are double spaced, they're all using approximately the same formatting.
Then there's the memo, which uses a different format and what seems to be a different font size or weight. It's in run-on paragraphs that read as if they had been exhaled in one long breath. The writing is sloppy in many places, including word choices ("dissuading them from teaching science") that should never have made it past a second set of eyes, and certainly not all the way to the board.
4. It's too short. Memos like this are usually padded with references to the bright future, the glorious past, the sterling efforts of the team members. The other documents are far longer than they need to be to make rather simple points, and larded with tables, charts, bullet points, and headers. As I mentioned above, the memo is a clip job that contains less information than the other documents the board is already getting, and the person who wrote it could barely be bothered to bold their paragraph headers. Why waste their time, or yours, with tedious and poorly-formatted repetition?
5. The worldview is different. In my experience, climate skeptics see themselves as a beleaguered minority fighting for truth and justice against the powerful, and nearly monolithic, forces of the establishment. They are David, to the climate scientists' Goliaths. This is basically what the authenticated documents sound like.
The memo, by contrast, uses more negative language about the efforts it's describing, while trying to sound like they think it's positive. It's like the opposition political manifestos found in novels written by stolid ideologues; they can never quite bear (or lack the imagination) to let the villains have a good argument. Switch the names, and the memo could have been a page ripped out of State of Fear or Atlas Shrugged.
Basically, it reads like it was written from the secret villain lair in a Batman comic. By an intern.
6. There's no name, date, or identifying information in the memo. Memos are usually written by someone, to a specific audience. In this case, the writer says "I propose that at this point it be kept confidential and only be distributed to a subset of Institute Board and senior staff". Okay, so where's the distribution list? Who is "I"? People do not usually chattily speak in the first person without identifying themselves.
Of course, maybe this was sent in an email or a Word doc from the original author--but in that case, why was it scanned rather than printed to PDF?
Or maybe the memo was scrubbed . . . but why? The other documents weren't, and this memo was never supposed to be seen by outside eyes.
If I weren't too familiar with Heartland's internal personnel, this is the sort of information I'd probably leave off, to make sure that I didn't name someone who was, say, verifiably on vacation or at a funeral when the memo was allegedly written, or simply obviously not senior enough to have written it.
7. Heartland says that this was erroneously emailed to someone impersonating a board member. If this memo is so secret, how did the staffer get a hold of it to email? Did a "senior staffer" really not recognize a member of the board's inner circle?
Related question: Why is this memo super-secret, when there's nothing in it that isn't also in the materials distributed to the entire board?
Overall, like the fake documents and quotes of earlier posts, it just feels too convenient. It's a super-handy roadmap to all the most incendiary portions of the other documents, and it contains absolutely nothing that does not serve that purpose--no formulaic self-puffery, no mentions of problems that you would think a legitimate memo would have covered, like the precipitous cuts in their global warming programs that they were forced to undertake when their anonymous donor delivered less cash than expected in 2011. It reads like it was written for climate activists. And I don't get the feeling that the folks at Heartland are much interested in helping out their friends at ClimateProgress and Grist.
Below the fold, my section-by-section analysis of what makes me uncomfortable.
This is the memo's opening.
January 2012 Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy
Given the increasingly important role the Heartland Institute is playing in leading the fight to prevent the implementation of dangerous policy actions to address the supposed risks of global warming, it is useful to set priorities for our efforts in 2012. This document offers such a set of priorities. I propose that at this point it be kept confidential and only be distributed to a subset of Institute Board and senior staff. More details can be found in our 2012 Proposed Budget document and 2012 Fundraising Strategy memo. In 2012 our efforts will focus in the following areas:
This seems like the sort of strained declaration I would have given a novel villain when I was in high school--where I take what I think is actually true, and add swinish sarcasm, and SEE! VILLAIN!!!
Sadly, this was not as artistic as I believed at the time. But I digress.
Another question quickly springs to mind: If the memo was written in January, as it claims, how come it was scanned into a computer on February 13th, instead of being made into a PDF along with the rest of the board package in mid-January?
And why aren't there any other strategy documents, on things like health care, net neutrality, and so forth?
Did the anonymous leaker leave them out because they weren't relevant to the climate blogs? (But why not email them to, say, open internet blogs?)
And if so, why did they include less-than-exciting filler like the legally required notice of an impending board meeting?
The next section is their climate change fundraising strategy:
Our climate work is attractive to funders, especially our key Anonymous Donor (whose contribution dropped from $1,664,150 in 2010 to $979,000 in 2011 - about 20% of our total 2011 revenue). He has promised an increase in 2012 - see the 2011 Fourth Quarter Financial Report. We will also pursue additional support from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. They returned as a Heartland donor in 2011 with a contribution of $200,000. We expect to push up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to their network of philanthropists, if our focus continues to align with their interests. Other contributions will be pursued for this work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.
This is all accurate. In fact, it's almost too accurate. The Anonymous Donor data comes from this table:
Here's the first Koch reference in the same document:
The Charles G. Koch Foundation returned as a Heartland donor in 2011. We expect to ramp up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to the network of philanthropists they work with.
It's almost eerily similar to the language in the memo above -- as if someone were being very careful not to make any claims beyond what is backed up in the other documents.
To be fair, people do cut and paste from their memos. But this paragraph is as notable for what it does not say, as for what it does. The document has a lot to say about the gyrations in support from "Anonymous". Yet it doesn't mention two things which feature fairly prominently in the original fundraising document:
1. Corporate donations fell by nearly $1 million in 2011
Receipts from corporations were almost exactly $1 million below budget, whereas income from individuals was almost exactly (101%) of the budgeted amount. Corporate gifts were down partly due to economic changes - our corporate donor base is mostly older manufacturing businesses that were especially hurt by the economic downturn - but largely because of staff turnover. Rachel Rivest was new to corporate relations management in 2011 and did no traveling. We expect this will be an area of major recovery and improvement in 2012.
2. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation gave nothing in 2010, and only $25,000 in 2011.
Note that the fundraising excerpt does not say that they expect global warming to be at the heart of their corporate strategy. Moreover, this is not how they describe it anywhere else in the document, and clearly not the source of all their corporate donations--they get some donations from energy companies, but they also get large sums from technology firms, presumably for their work on net neutrality.
Here's how Heartland describes their corporate and large-donor strategy in the fundraising document: "While ideologically motivated individual donors are apt to contribute for general operating, corporations and (increasingly) foundations want project-specific proposals. We try as best we can to tailor our programs to meet both the requirements of our mission - to discover, develop,and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems - while also exciting new donors to make the contributions needed to fund our programs"
Of the ten major programs they list, three involve global warming, and one involves a weakly related topic (fracking). The rest are in health care, finance, public unions/debt, and education. Obviously, global warming is very important, particularly to their anonymous donor. But it's far from the only issue. And more to the point, they do not self-describe their efforts as marketing their services to corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies. They describe themselves as "promoting free market solutions".
Nor does this section mention the apparently huge impact that the decline in donations from the anonymous donor had on their climate programs in 2011; apparently, almost all of the lost money came out of those programs: "The anonymous donor reduced his giving from $1,664,150 in
2010 to $979,000 in 2011. We are extinguishing primarily global warming projects in pace
with declines in his giving, and we were careful not to hire staff based on his past generosity."
It seems odd to be so specific about "Anonymous" and so vague about the others. It also seems odd to be so specific about the general size of the donations from Anonymous, and so vague about the funds earmarked for global warming. And it does seem to me that the omissions tend to run in the direction of making Heartland sound scarier, more powerful, and better funded--particularly by anti-AGW corporations--than they actually have been, at least for the past few years.
The next section has attracted a great deal of attention from climate bloggers:
Development of our "Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms" project. Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain - two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science. We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000 for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.
Again, this is basically a summary of what's found in the fundraising plan:
Many people lament the absence of educational material suitable for K-12 students on global warming that isn't alarmist or overtly political. Heartland has tried to make material available to teachers, but has had only limited success. Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. Moreover, material for classroom use must be carefully written to meet curriculum guidelines, and the amount of time teachers have for supplemental material is steadily shrinking due to the spread of standardized tests in K-12 education.
Dr. David Wojick has presented Heartland a proposal to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools that appears to have great potential for success. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. He has a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science and mathematical logic from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.S. in civil engineering from Carnegie Tech. He has been on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon and the staffs of the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Lab.
Dr. Wojick has conducted extensive research on environmental and science education for the Department of Energy. In the course of this research, he has identified what subjects and concepts teachers must teach, and in what order (year by year), in order to harmonize with national test requirements. He has contacts at virtually all the national organizations involved in producing, certifying, and promoting science curricula.
Dr. Wojick proposes to begin work on "modules" for grades 10-12 on climate change ("whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy"), climate models ("models are used to explore various hypotheses about how climate works. Their reliability is controversial"), and air pollution ("whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial. It is the global food supply and natural emissions are 20 times higher than human emissions").
Wojick would produce modules for Grades 7-9 on environmental impact ("environmental impact is often difficult to determine. For example there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather"), for Grade 6 on water resources and weather systems, and so on.
We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $5,000 per module, about $25,000 a quarter, starting in the second quarter of 2012, for this work. The Anonymous Donor has pledged the first $100,000 for this project, and we will circulate a proposal to match and then expand upon that investment.
But as with the previous section, whoever wrote the memo has offered a gloss which is either incredibly clumsy, or purposely designed to make them sound as bad as is plausible in a memo that is supposed to come from Heartland itself.
The next section covers "funding for parallel organizations". Here's what's in the strategy document:
Funding for parallel organizations. Heartland is part of a growing network of groups working the climate issues, some of which we support financially. We will seek additional partnerships in 2012. At present we sponsor the NIPCC to undermine the official United Nation's IPCC reports and paid a team of writers $388,000 in 2011 to work on a series of editions of Climate Change Reconsidered. Expenses will be about the same in 2012. NIPCC is currently funded by two gifts a year from two foundations, both of them requesting anonymity. Another $88,000 is earmarked this year for Heartland staff, incremental expenses, and overhead for editing, expense reimbursement for the authors, andmarketing.
Now, here's the same activity described in the fundraising document:
Heartland sponsors the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), an international network of scientists who write and speak out on climate change. Heartland pays a team of scientists approximately $300,000 a year to work on a series of editions of Climate Change Reconsidered, the most comprehensive and authoritative rebuttal of the United Nations' IPCC reports. Another $88,000 is earmarked for Heartland staff, incremental expenses, and overhead for editing, expense reimbursement for the authors, and marketing.
NIPCC is currently funded by two gifts a year from two foundations, both of them requesting anonymity. In 2012 we plan to solicit gifts from other donors to add to what these two donors are giving in order to cover more of our fixed costs for promoting the first two Climate Change Reconsidered volumes and writing and editing the volume scheduled for release in 2013. We hope to raise $200,000 in 2012.
I can believe that someone at Heartland is going around clipping the content of other documents into some sort of a strategy memo. I find it harder to believe that they are rewriting those activities to make themselves sound more evil. Have you ever heard anyone describe themselves as "undermining" something? It's a word that implies sneaking and underhanded behavior, which is why only bad movie villains usually apply it to their own activities.
Note also that whoever wrote the memo has hashed the math--they added in the $88,000 for internal resources twice. And they changed "scientists" to "writers", which is not consistent with how these same people are described in the authenticated documents. It is, on the other hand, consistent with how climate activists view the kind of people who work for Heartland. Which makes it feel as if the paragraph had been written by someone who couldn't quite bring themselves to deploy Heartland's self-approving language.
The next section involves external personnel:
Funding for selected individuals outside of Heartland. Our current budget includes funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist AGW message. At the moment, this funding goes primarily to Craig Idso ($11,600 per month), Fred Singer ($5,000 per month, plus expenses), Robert Carter ($1,667 per month), and a number of other individuals, but we will consider expanding it, if funding can be found.
The salaries are taken from the annual budget. The description, interestingly, is not. This is how the budget describes these payments:
The two tables below summarize the multi-year budget for the project and personnel costs for the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), an international group of scientists that produces critiques of the reports of the United Nation's IPCC. Heartland hosts and funds the effort. A growing number of scientists have been recruited by Craig Idso to be contributing authors and editors of NIPCC's major reports, a series titled Climate Change Reconsidered. Two volumes have been published so far.
Table 2 presents the proposed budget as it appears in the fundraising proposal for the NIPCC project. Table 3 shows projected personnel expenses for 2012. We do not expect to produce an interim report of Climate Change Reconsidered in 2012, so the only incremental expense for this project other than personnel is $1,000/month in expense reimbursements for Fred Singer. That amount appears in the Communications Department budget.
It seems to me somewhat telling that the memo's single biggest divergence from the authenticated documents comes in a section dealing with outsiders with whom climate activists have been doing battle for some time.
The final section involves Heartland staff. And it's just . . . weird.
Expanded climate communications Heartland plays an important role in climate communications, especially through our in-house experts (e.g., Taylor) through his Forbes blog and related high profile outlets, our conferences, and through coordination with external networks (such as WUWT and other groups capable of rapidly mobilizing responses to new scientific findings, news stories, or unfavorable blog posts). Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow highprofile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out. Efforts might also include cultivating more neutral voices with big audiences (such as Revkin at DotEarth/NYTimes, who has a well-known antipathy for some of the more extreme AGW communicators such as Rornm, Trenberth, and Hansen) or Curry (who has become popular with our supporters). AVe have also pledged to help raise around $90,000 in 2012 for Anthony Watts to help him create a new website to track temperature station data. Finally, we will consider expanding these efforts further, or developing new ones, if funding can be obtained.
To start with, why does the document feel a need to provide a bio for Wojick--who works closely enough with Heartland to have a bio on their website--but not for all the climate scientists and writers that it cites in this section?
Then there's the tone. I have never heard a warming skeptic refer to themselves as "anti-climate", or to their opponents as "communicators". And believe me, I get chewed out by climate skeptics with great regularity.
And in a way I find it hard to put my finger on, the worldview just feels . . . off. There are a bunch of little things--this is the only document in which the word "warmist" appears, for example. But it's much more than that. It's too nice to opponents ("high profile", "communicator"). And it views climate skeptics as far more powerful than they (in my experience) actually feel, and opponents as combating their messages, rather than the other way around. It seems to fundamentally misunderstand the paranoia of a movement that sees itself as under siege.
The commenters who attack me on my global warming views do not see us as equals doing battle on the plains of Mordor. They think of me as having been captured by a dubious consensus that is manufactured and maintained by social pressure, the general human tendency to alarmism about complex threats, and the self-interest of a few scientists--and in truth, they can point to some instances, like the longstanding belief that humans had 48 chromosomes, which were maintained against all evidence by a very powerful social dynamic. Obviously, I disagree with their analysis, but I do understand their reasoning process--and that they have a reasoning process. I don't feel like the writer of this memo understands either. It's more like they sat down at the computer and said, "What would I write IF I WERE AS CRAZY AS AGW SKEPTICS?"
And the stuff about Forbesis sheer lunacy, on multiple levels. The idea that conservatives view Forbes as their beachhead for control of world opinion is . . . well, I spend a fair amount of time with conservatives and libertarians, including those who work for think tanks, and I have never once heard them express such an opinion. If they did, I'd point out that neither their editorial, nor their readership, is that monolithic. Of course think tanks puff up their influence for donors, but they don't usually make themselves sound like they're on the verge of a megalomaniacal break.
Which makes it especially crazy to talk about how Heartland can "keep opposing voices out" of the Forbes editorial page. If they thought they had any shot at this, I'd expect to hear details about friendly editors, not mad ranting about the amazing power of Taylor's blog. But everything I know about the Forbes digital strategy indicates that they're interested in driving traffic, not a conspiracy to deny global warming.
Need I point out that this seems almost expressly designed as a counterweight to the ClimateGate emails which talked about keeping opposition voices out of journals and the IPCC report? Except ludicrous--even if it were true, can anyone imagine a climate skeptic saying to themselves, "Well, they've got the IPCC and the peer-reviewed jouranls, but thank God, we've got Forbes!"
The bottom line is that while the Times thought that "its tone and content closely matched that of other documents that the group did not dispute", to me, they aren't a close match at all. Rather, they read like, well, like someone without the imagination--or motivation--to pass an Ideological Turing Test wrote up a neat little executive summary for their ideological fellows.
The textual analysis alone would make me suspicious--but the fact that the document was created much later, using a different method, with different formatting--makes me fairly sure that while the other documents are real, this was written after the fact, by an author outside of Heartland. If there were any way to get conclusive proof, I'd bet heavily against this document being real.
That said, I think it's impossible to prove -- at least with my forensic skill levels. People do write crazy memos sometimes--there are lunatics in every movement, and most organizations. While this just doesn't feel like the right kind of crazy to me, it's possible I'm wrong.
And at some level, I'm not sure it really changes the story. The memo doesn't add new facts, just new spin. Naturally, because the spin is more lurid, it's what a lot of the climate blogs seized on -- I suspect, in the same way that Twitter and Facebook seized on the half-fake part of the Martin Luther King quote that went viral after Bin Laden was killed. The appended material had more momentary punch than the original, because it had been written for the moment.
In the next few days, there will still be entirely legitimate discussions of Heartland's funding sources, and what it was doing with the money. But we should probably be cautious about leaning too hard on this memo. And if its provenance can't be ascertained, we should probably also be asking questions about who wrote it -- and why.
The documents presented by the blog indicate "[the Foundation] returned as a Heartland donor in 2011 with a contribution of $200,000. We expect to push up their level of support in 2012...if our focus continues to align with their interests." But this is not so. The Foundation gave just $25,000 to Heartland in 2011 (the only such donation to that organization in more than 10 years) and that funding was specifically directed to a healthcare research program, and not climate change research, as was erroneously reported.
Statistically speaking, the Foundation's contribution represents approximately one-twentieth of one percent of Heartland's total funding over that ten year period. The Foundation has made no further commitments of funding to Heartland.
And indeed, when you look at the fundraising document, the coding next to Koch's donation is "HCN" which certainly seems to be their health care code--other donors with that code include Bayer, Amgen, EliLilly, and GlaxoSmithKline.
Unless there's an explanation I'm missing, that seems to clinch it--why would health care donations show up in their climate strategy report? Unless of course, it was written by someone who doesn't know anything about facts of the donation, but does know that the Kochs make great copy.
It isn’t the only democratic institution that finds itself in danger.
Four years ago, as a speechwriter for President Obama, I commissioned a binder full of women.
A little context. It was the morning of the Al Smith Dinner, the election-year tradition in which both parties’ nominees don white-tie attire and deliver comedy monologues to New York City’s elite. Our opponent, Governor Mitt Romney had recently used the words “binders full of women” while discussing gender parity in government. Eager to mock the clumsy phrase, I asked a staffer on the advance team to put together a prop.
But our binder never saw the light of day. Obama nixed the idea. I remember being disappointed by the president’s decision, and wondering if POTUS was phoning it in. Of the jokes that did make it into the final draft, one in particular stood out for its authenticity.
The easiest way to take down the web is to attack people’s access to it.
For more than two hours on Friday morning, much of the web seemed to grind to a halt—or at least slow to dial-up speed—for many users in the United States.
More than a dozen major websites experienced outages and other technical problems, according to user reports and the web-tracking site downdetector.com. They included The New York Times, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, GitHub, Etsy, Tumblr, Spotify, PayPal, Verizon, Comcast, EA, the Playstation network, and others.
How was it possible to take down all those sites at once?
Someone attacked the architecture that held them together—the domain-name system, or DNS, the technical network that redirects users from easy-to-remember addresses like theatlantic.com to a company’s actual web servers. The assault took the form of a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) on one of the major companies that provides other companies access to DNS. A DDoS attack is one in which an attacker floods sites “with so much junk traffic that it can no longer serve legitimate visitors,” as the security researcher Brian Krebs put it in a blog post Friday morning.
The candidates are back on the campaign trail, following the third, and final, debate on Wednesday night.
It’s Friday, October 21—the election is now less than three weeks away. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are back on the campaign trail to deliver their final pitch to voters, ahead of Election Day. We’ll bring you the latest updates from the trail, as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
“Light” events are some of the heaviest lifting in political life. Comedy is hard to begin with, and for the kinds of people involved in politics, jokes are vastly more difficult to write than “substantive” remarks. And for presidents or presidential aspirants, we’re talking about a special kind of joke. These eminent figures need to come across as “modest” and self-deprecatory, but only up to a humble-brag point. (That is, just enough so that the audience and reviewers will say, “Oh, isn’t it charming that he’s willing to laugh at himself!”) Real comedy often includes a “what the hell!” willingness to say something that will genuinely offend or shock, which national politicians can’t afford to do. The White House Correspondents Dinner, the Gridiron event, the Al Smith Dinner—these are hard (as David Litt, a former member of the Obama speechwriting team, explains in a very nice item just now).
AT&T is reportedly in advanced talks to buy Time Warner, South Africa says it will leave the ICC, ISIS attacks Kirkuk, and more from across the United States and around the world.
—The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a deal for AT&T to buy Time Warner could come as early as this weekend. More here
—South Africa has notified the UN that it is withdrawing from The Hague-based International Criminal Court. A government minister said South Africa didn’t want to carry out ICC arrest warrants against other African leaders—warrants, he said, that would lead to “regime change.” More here
—ISIS, under sustained attack in its last major Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, attacked the city of Kirkuk. At least 19 people are dead in the attacks. More here
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.
Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.
Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people. The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction. Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year.
Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were. Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?
Theories on what’s behind one of the biggest puzzles facing America today
U.S. economic growth is anemic, and the country needs to do something about it, quickly. This was one of the central themes of the third presidential debate. “China is growing at 7 percent. And that for them is a catastrophically low number. We are growing—our last report came out, and it is right around the 1 percent level,” Trump said Wednesday night. “Look, our country is stagnant.”
Trump is right that U.S. growth has not been very impressive of late, especially when compared to rates of the past. Though the United States gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a rate of more than 3 percent for much of the 1980s and 1990s, the rate has slowed significantly since the recession, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter of this year, for instance, GDP increased at a rate of just 1.4 percent. After a recession, an economy should come roaring back, but this time around, it hasn’t, and that’s left many concerned about the state of the economy. GDP growth, economists say, helps raise wages and living standards, and increases the size of the entire economic pie—making it possible for more people to have a bigger share.
Among the major sites that had trouble staying online or functioning properly: The New York Times, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, GitHub, Etsy, Tumblr, Spotify, PayPal, Verizon, Comcast, EA, and the Playstation network. Aside from the inconvenience to those attempting to visit those sites, there’s the question of how an attack like this affects the companies who run those sites. System outages—even seemingly brief ones—can have huge repercussions on the bottom line.
How the national mythos and U.S. labor laws influence geographic mobility.
Kevin Bacon moves from a big city to a small town in Middle America where dancing is outlawed. Ralph Macchio moves from New Jersey to California, where he learns the art of life and combat. Dianne Wiest moves with her two sons to a California town stocked with vampires.
The trope of American families settling in faraway places isn’t just a plotline for terrible 1980s movies, but a national phenomenon. Decades of data, including a more recent Gallup study, characterizes the United States as one of the most geographically mobile countries in the world. “About one in four U.S. adults (24 percent) reported moving within the country in the past five years,” the report noted. With the comparable exceptions of Finland (23 percent) and Norway (22 percent), Americans also move considerably more than their European peers.
Why her vow not to “add a penny to the debt” is an impossible pledge to keep
Hillary Clinton said nothing on Wednesday night that should derail her considerable chances of winning the presidency on November 8. But if she wins, one simple promise she repeated over and over again could come back to haunt her reelection bid in 2020.
“I also will not add a penny to the debt,” Clinton said toward the beginning of her final presidential-debate performance. She made a similar pledge two more times that night, and it’s a line she has used before on the campaign trail. It’s a short-hand reference to the fact that although she has proposed hundreds of billions in new federal spending for infrastructure, paid family leave, education, and other items, she would pay for those investments by raising an equal or greater amount in revenue through higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations.