Notes
First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress

Quoted

Gary Cameron / Reuters

Good fucking riddance,” a former DNC staffer on the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

“Everything that Bernie said was what I'd been thinking all along. I didn't think there was anyone else out there. I was just one old crazy lady,” Susan, a protester at the Democratic National Convention, on why she still supports Bernie Sanders.

To call [the comments] irresponsible might imply that Trump really had an understanding of what he was doing. And I don’t get the impression that he does,” Michael Mandelbaum, who studies American foreign policy, on Trump’s remarks about NATO.

“I'm more interested in who these 750,000 people were that purchased a VCR last year. I would have given them mine for free,” an Atlantic reader, on the death of the VCR.

Should the Risk of Rape Keep Women From the Draft?

A reader, Susan Carpenter, raises that question for us:

I’d be fine with drafting women when DoD establishes a credible process for adjudicating sexual assault allegations and demonstrates that it works. The number of women affected by sexual assault to date is horrifying. It’s one matter for women to volunteer; it’s another to compel women under such circumstances.

In 2013, when Congress last gave the issue of sexual assault in the military serious attention, Garance Franke-Ruta provided this snapshot of the problem:

Of 3,374 reported cases of sexual assault in 2012, only 238 convictions were handed down, according to the annual Department of Defense report to Congress released Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s anonymous surveys of members of the military led it to estimate that more than 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted in the U.S. Armed Forces last year. That number represents a sharp jump from the previous year’s estimate of 19,000 assaults. (In the wake of the growing attention to the problem of military sexual assault, thanks in part to the release of the documentary Invisible War last year, some of that increase may be due to greater willingness of assault survivors to speak up about what they’ve experienced -- something the Pentagon says it wants them to do.)

Here’s a trailer for the film:

Garance gets to the heart of the structural problem:

A woman who is assaulted and wants redress has to report the crime to her commanding officer -- her boss -- and press charges against one of her colleagues in the military, often someone who also works for her boss, all the while continuing to live near her attacker in a thick soup of overlapping interpersonal and professional relationships between her and his friends. The commanding officer, in turn, is held responsible for crimes committed in his unit, and penalized if a flood of reports and convictions come in, as they are seen as a negative reflection on his leadership. And it’s entirely up to him whether or not to push forward with taking a complaint to trail; he also has power to overturn convictions without explanation.

Another reader and ethics professor, Debra, also worries about rape for female servicemembers and conscripts—but from perpetrators outside their ranks:

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Track of the Day: 'We'll Meet Again'

From reader Thaddeus:

Dr. Strangelove is one of my all-time favorite movies (I’d probably call it #1 if somebody threatened to chop a limb off to make me choose) and this scene has always been my favorite. I’ve watched the movie since I was tiny (it’s my dad’s favorite too), and I can’t remember ever not being able to appreciate the irony. It’s probably a big part of shaping my odd sense of humor.

Vera Lynn’s full version of the song is here. Some quick background:

“We’ll Meet Again” is a 1939 British song made famous by singer Vera Lynn with music and lyrics composed and written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles. The song is one of the most famous songs of the Second World War era, and it resonated with soldiers going off to fight and their families and sweethearts. The assertion that “we’ll meet again” is optimistic, as many soldiers did not survive to see their loved ones again.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

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Throwing Shadism

A reader in New Orleans responds to the reader who started this whole conversation:

I feel that Allene is conflating two things I’d consider separate. One thing she describes is shadism/colorism, where Black people will judge other Black people based on their relative skin tone, hair texture, nose and lip shape. As a lighter-skinned, loose-curled, Creole Black person, I once met a Black woman who was genuinely astounded that I not only found women darker than me attractive, but that I’d be comfortable introducing a dark-skinned girlfriend to my family. And there are some dark-skinned Black people who reactively resent lighter Black people in return (as you might too, if people who were themselves brown skinned refused to date you because you were only a few shades darker). This same colorist mentality is what leads some Black people to be called “Oreos” for “acting White” (although you also see festivals like Afropunk celebrating “alternative” Black styles.)

AFRO OF THE DAY #1260 pictured: @kiki_kyanamarie #afro #natural #black #hair

A photo posted by AFROPUNK (@afropunk) on

The other thing Allene describe is activists demanding that Black people put Blackness at the forefront of their identity and a very specific interpretation of Blackness at that.

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Trump Time Capsule #57: Russia, and Taxes

Donald Trump yesterday in North Carolina. (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.

But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.

  • “Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
  • The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
  • The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.

None of this is proof. But it is a vivid manifestation of a long-building reality: the chaos that can be unleashed in the new era in which everything is known and anything can be leaked. Concern about these effects goes beyond party. The very conservative defense figure Edward Timperlake wrote about it recently. In Slate, Franklin Foer says the DNC episode is “Watergate, but much worse.” Paul Waldman of the WaPo writes to similar effect. Thomas Rid, a security expert at King’s College, London, says that because “all signs” indicate Russian involvement the U.S. should respond:

American inaction now risks establishing a de facto norm that all election campaigns in the future, everywhere, are fair game for sabotage—sabotage that could potentially affect the outcome and tarnish the winner’s legitimacy.

***

These new developments underscore the importance of an old, familiar point: now, more than ever, Donald Trump must release his tax returns. To put it differently, the press should no longer “normalize” his stonewalling on this issue.

As another veteran figure in the defense world and political affairs wrote to me this morning:

In normal times, this [the Russian hacking] would be the lead on all network news. But these are not normal times.

I am having trouble getting through to some people that this is a real thing. The very people who always say “follow the money” with regard to the Pentagon [or other boondoggle bureaucracies] don’t see that (a) Trump has been kept afloat for about 15 years by Russian oligarchs; and (b) Russia has a powerful incentive to see a US president who will end economic sanctions.

So Donald Trump should release his tax returns because in modern times that is the basic price-of-entry in national politics. (Along with a plausible — rather than Pyongyang Daily News-style — medical report.) He should do it whether or not Vladimir Putin ever existed or there was any Russian hack. That would be true in any candidate’s case, but especially this one. George Will has come out and said that Trump should release his returns because of questions about his ties to “Russian oligarchs.”

With 100-plus days until the election, a nominee about whom there are graver-than-usual financial questions is saying that, unlike previous candidates, he won’t make his finances public.  

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America by Air: River of Mist

Katy McDevitt

A long-time reader, Paul, checks another state off our list of 50:

I mostly grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, so I am very used to the view of mist rising from the water in the early morning. But in all my years of flying, I guess I’d never headed out until later in the day. When my wife, Katy, recently peeled off to Montreal with our daughter really really early in the morning, and she showed me the photos she’d taken after takeoff, I was really amazed to see what my riverine memories looked like from the air.

Her iPhone geo-located the photo at Nicholasville—a bit south of Lexington. The source of the mist is the Kentucky River, deep in its gorge at this point, and the shape of the river is recognizable from the map. The river is about 500 feet below the bluegrass plateau and the gorge is a quarter-mile wide or so. That is a lot of water vapor!

If you have a great aerial photo of your own to share, especially from one of the states we haven’t covered yet—CT, DE, GA, ID, IN, IA, ME, MS, MT, NV, NM, ND, RI, TN, VT, WV—please send our way, ideally with a part of the plane showing: hello@theatlantic.com.

(America by Air archive here. Submission guidelines here.)

'The Very Real Racism' Within the Black Community, Cont'd

From a reader who grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and went to college in Minneapolis:

My name is Jareesa, and I’d like to respond to the reader letter from Allene on racism in the Black community. As a Black American woman, I don’t share her views at all. I think she’s misguided in her assertion that Black people require others to be Black first, and to conform to a specific form of Blackness in order to be accepted. It’s been my experience that White America—not my fellow Black people—has foisted a caricature of Blackness on me.

Growing up, I was a nerdy kid with glasses who loved to read and was into science—an existence that was foreign to my White classmates, teachers, and their parents. I lived in a racially diverse area, went to racially diverse schools, and did lots of activities—engineering clubs, the Quiz Bowl team, theater club, Japanese club, and more. I wasn’t required to join any of the “Black” clubs, but I did so because I needed that community. I needed to be in spaces where I didn’t have stereotypical judgments from non-Black people, where I could just be myself, and where I never felt that I had to conform to some “standard of Blackness,” whatever that is.

Throughout K-12, my intelligence was questioned, especially when I expressed a desire for a career in engineering. White people were just amazed at how “articulate and well read” I was (and that continues even now, as an adult). I had White people assume I grew up in a single-parent home (I didn’t), or that I had a child in high school (I didn’t), or that I was really good at sports (I wasn’t).

In college, as one of the two Black women in the chemistry program at my state university, I was told by a classmate that I was only there because of affirmative action. Most of my other classmates simply viewed me as some kind of anomaly, as if I had three heads. And so I found sanctuary in the Black Student Union and my school’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers—places where I found acceptance, kindred spirits, and people who could relate to the things I was going through.

Sure, I’ve gotten comments about “talking White” from other Black people, but those comments were nowhere near as hurtful as the comments I’ve received from White people in my life. My Black life has been dominated by love and acceptance from other Black people, and acceptance for all of me.

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Quoted

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

“I think pro-wrestling is like ballet with violence,” Jesse Ventura, a former pro wrestler.

“Withdrawal [is] certainly not as bad as a serious illness. It’s more like giving up the love of your life,” Maia Szalavitz, an addictions expert and former drug addict.

“If we just want to be happy, all of us would just quit our jobs, and work on a beach, and just hang out. The reason why most of us have chosen not to do that is because we don’t just want to be happy,” Charles Duhigg, author of a book about productivity.

“Four years ago the GOP nominee said Russia was our greatest global threat. The GOP nominee now is Russia's greatest friend,”an Atlantic reader, on the claim that Russian hackers were behind the DNC email leak.

(Previous quotes from our sources here)

A Bernie Voter, From Ukraine, on the Putin Story

I think this is very interesting: a reader who knows Russia and Ukraine, on how he reads the unfolding “Putin angle” news.

I’m a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant, now a naturalized citizen of the United States. I also was a Bernie Sanders voter in the primary, who will be voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election.

This is probably the weirdest year of my life politically. On the right, the anti-immigrant and antisemitic fervor is really a choice cut of hate. The apparent mutual interest of Russia and the Trump campaign has meant that on both the right and left, there is legitimate critique. However, it has also meant there’s a home for a very familiar panic about Eastern Europe and, honestly, people using the critique as cover for rank bigotry who were interested in that bigotry long before Trump and Russia were even a story. Lastly, the DNC e-mails specifically regarding Sanders’ religious views and raising it as an issue with voters WITHIN the Democratic electorate, was a dispiriting reminder that despite what has been a pretty nice life, given enough opportunity bigotry can have a house anywhere, even among friends.

However, I’m writing today to provide context for Russia’s actions, from my own experience. When Russia invaded Ukraine, they did it while putting their arms up and saying it wasn’t them, even as it was clear to everyone that it was. There were the anecdotes, of course, about the Russian military insignia of the people coming into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine being torn from their uniforms. Regardless of the truth of those anecdotes—of basically Russians barely modifying their own uniforms, doing the least amount of work to seem not like the Russian army—they got at what is a reality: the transparent cynicism of Russia, the tendency to do the terrible thing and tell the whole world they’re not doing it until they’re years deep into a conflict they can’t escape.

I wanted to mention that because in the recent stories, there’s been this emerging picture of Russia as a legitimate threat to the United States, run by a chessmaster. Russia is not a legitimate threat, and Putin is not a chessmaster. Russia is a transparently desperate country. The sanctions and financial freezes have spread Russia thin. They’ve impacted the oligarchs that run the country. They’ve impacted its long-term capacity to use war as an economic plan and perpetually hold sovereign states as territories on a whim. They’ve reduced its capacity to control its client states.

The well is running dry. And what they’re doing is the same thing they did in Ukraine. The world was getting away from them, they had something they could not control or overwhelm, so they went in to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and tried to take it through brute force—all the while putting their hands up in the air and denying they had anything to do with it. Even now, in Putin’s speeches, it is clear he is coming not from a position of strength, but one of great weakness, asking essentially for a mercy that he does not currently deserve, seeing things like the banning on the basis of doping as signs of additional punishment.

So Russia may be behind the DNC hack. We may be seeing this fight because they’re desperate to elect the man they resemble the most, because it’s the only way out of it they see for themselves. It’s not prowess or intelligence though; it’s desperation and lashing out. Putin took the spirit of the Russian people and defaced it for years, replacing it with militarism and the use of the church as a prop for the state. This was sustained by capital, by investment. And it just isn’t there any more. Robbing the people of their spirit, the rulers of the country now have lost the capacity to fund the things that occupied the void. Their enterprises in Ukraine and Syria look more like past recipes in Chechnya, Georgia and elsewhere for forever war. It’s only a matter of time before the client states, the installed rulers, are once again challenged but do not find the support they once had. It is just history cycling.

But to be clear, Russia is not a danger to us so much as it is a danger to itself. A smarter government would have figured out a way other than the invasion of Ukraine, other than perpetually hostile acts such as this hack. A smarter government would not be in a position where it basically has to cut all its own domestic programs to fund wars that will go on forever. A more gifted politician wouldn’t be in a position of accumulating strikes against themselves while demanding mercy. I think this is already the view President Obama holds, as documented in his statements on Russia with Jeffrey Goldberg.

I think this election was and remains a choice between being governed by fear and being governed by perspective, between seeing monsters all over and understanding where we all really are respective to one another. Russia’s latest transparent ploy, even as its consequences are currently being felt deeply, will eventually be seen for the desperate and unsophisticated acts they are. Donald Trump’s series of transparent ploys, his perpetual financial and moral bankruptcy, will be seen the same way, the desperate, angry flicker of a flailing movement unable to navigate a changing world. And we will live this coming January in the same country as this past January—a fractured place working to rebuild itself, to be better than its past, and hopefully a little smarter.

I believe this to be true of the United States. I hope one day it will be true for the Ukraine; that it will escape not just the specter of this war, but its older history of corruption as a necessary fact of life. And I hope in time it will be true for Russia itself, either through the reform of its current leaders or through their eventual displacement by those who want something more for their people than desolation and war. It was possible for Iran. These realities do change with the work of people who do not give up their hope even when it seems no one in power has much time for it.

I will be casting my vote this November for perspective, up and down the ballot, rather than for a Republican Party and a nominee that can only see a wolf at every door who wants to convince you that his own barking is coming from the outside. I will be describing, at the onset of whatever panic, this same world to my friends that occupy it with me, where our understanding is the antidote to our fear, where the strength of our country is in our knowledge of it.

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Track of the Day: 'Hey Jude'

A reader writes, “‘Hey Jude’ worked rather well in those scenes depicting the Prague Spring of 1968 in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” That’s Marta Kubišová’s voice, in her native Czech. She’s one of the most iconic cultural figures of Cold War Czechoslovakia:

During the Prague Spring [a brief period of liberalization in 1968 that ended when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia to halt the reforms], Kubišová recorded over 200 SP records and one LP, Songy a Balady (Songs and Ballads, released in 1969), which was immediately banned from stores. Her song “Prayer for Marta” became a symbol of national resistance against the occupation of Warsaw Pact troops in 1968. In 1970, the government falsely accused her of making pornographic photographs leading to a ban from performing in the country until 1989. She was a signatory of the Charter 77 proclamation. Her first LPs after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 were a re-issue of Songy a Balady and a compilation of old songs, titled Lampa.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

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'School Loans Weren’t Just a Choice; They Were a Necessity'

Mary in Pennsylvania has a new and crucial perspective to share:

This is in response to the recent reader note “Taking on Student Loan Debt Is a CHOICE.” Guess what? Like Kirsten, I’m tired of hearing about school loan debt, too. But I’m also in the middle of the experience.

Although taking on debt from student loans was a choice, my other options were not realistically viable. See, I was raised in poverty, and I was still in poverty when I started at a community college as a twenty-something adult working in a dead-end job and raising my three kids as a divorced mom. There was no drunken partying until the wee hours of the morning, or blowing off classes that Mommy and Daddy paid for. Try juggling three kids, one of whom was in diapers and child care, a job and a full schedule of college classes, complete with homework and labs. Without those loans that I “chose” to take out, I would likely still be working for minimum wage and living in poverty.

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Trump Time Capsule #56: Russian Quids and Quos

Strong man. (RIA Novosti / via Reuters)

Suspicions about foreign interference in U.S. politics have arisen before. In 1980, the Ayatollah’s Iranian government may have delayed the release of American hostages as a way of punishing Jimmy Carter in his race against Ronald Reagan. If you’d like a whole new field of inquiry, you can start digging into evidence on whether Richard Nixon’s campaign intentionally sabotaged the U.S.-Vietnam peace talks in 1968, thus prolonging the war and hurting (among others) Hubert Humphrey.

And of course the U.S. has both openly and covertly played a role in other countries’ politics for a very long time.

But (as is true so often this year) I don’t recall anything comparable to the current, open discussion about whether Vladimir Putin’s Russian government might be actively intervening to hurt Democrats and help elect Donald Trump. Josh Marshall of TPM makes this case today:  

Trump seems really, really focused on a series of issues of great concern to Putin: the level of US involvement in Ukraine, the robustness of our security commitment to the Baltic NATO member states, the continued existence of the EU, the continued existence of NATO.

For me, the notorious New York Times interview was a key thing. It showed a presidential candidate not only threatening to blow up a highly successful security framework which has served the United States, Europe and actually the world extremely well over almost 70 years. He showed the kind of swaggering, confusion and uncertainty generating talk which is probably the most likely path to a true super power confrontation in Eastern Europe which probably wouldn't lead to a nuclear exchange ... but, well, might.

Whenever we are looking for undue influence or malign alliances, we are always trying to unearth the quid quo pro. Quids are a dime a dozen. You seldom find the quos. With Trump and Russia we're overflowing with quos and as Trump might say the best quos. We definitely do not know if they're connected. But what Trump is giving is exactly what Putin would want for his help. This is really indisputable.

We don’t know what this really means or what it adds up to. For looking-back-on-2016 purposes, I’m adding it to the record of what was known, believed, and said about Donald Trump as he continued his rise.  

***

Update This item in Yahoo News by Michael Isikoff broadens the story, with (apparent) details of a Russian hack of a Democratic researcher’s personal email account. The researcher was looking into the Ukrainian-politics background of Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, while using an account separate from the DNC servers.

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