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.
The president touched off a brief firestorm with the unfounded charge, but real answers about why four service members were killed in Niger remain elusive.
On October 4, four American Special Forces soldiers were killed during an operation in Niger. Since then, the White House has been notably tight-lipped about the incident. During a press conference Monday afternoon, 12 days after the deaths, President Trump finally made his first public comments, but the remarks—in which he admitted he had not yet spoken with the families and briefly attacked Barack Obama—did little to clarify what happened or why the soldiers were in Niger.
Trump spoke at the White House after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and was asked why he hadn’t spoken about deaths of Sergeant La David Johnson and Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Dustin Wright, and Jeremiah Johnson.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
And there could be far-reaching consequences for the national economy too.
Four floors above a dull cinder-block lobby in a nondescript building at the Ohio State University, the doors of a slow-moving elevator open on an unexpectedly futuristic 10,000-square-foot laboratory bristling with technology. It’s a reveal reminiscent of a James Bond movie. In fact, the researchers who run this year-old, $750,000 lab at OSU’s Spine Research Institute resort often to Hollywood comparisons.
Thin beams of blue light shoot from 36 of the same kind of infrared motion cameras used to create lifelike characters for films like Avatar. In this case, the researchers are studying the movements of a volunteer fitted with sensors that track his skeleton and muscles as he bends and lifts. Among other things, they say, their work could lead to the kind of robotic exoskeletons imagined in the movie Aliens.
About 10 years ago, after I’d graduated college but when I was still waitressing full-time, I attended an empowerment seminar. It was the kind of nebulous weekend-long event sold as helping people discover their dreams and unburden themselves from past trauma through honesty exercises and the encouragement to “be present.” But there was one moment I’ve never forgotten. The group leader, a man in his 40s, asked anyone in the room of 200 or so people who’d been sexually or physically abused to raise their hands. Six or seven hands tentatively went up. The leader instructed us to close our eyes, and asked the question again. Then he told us to open our eyes. Almost every hand in the room was raised.
The two big headlines, pulling the plug on subsidies in Obamacare insurance markets and tossing the Iran nuclear deal to Congress, are both highly fraught. Yet with these two decisions, President Trump has brought himself closer to following through on major campaign promises than nearly anything else he has done as president.
There are two notable things about the moves. First, they are both incomplete. President Trump has neither repealed and replaced Obamacare, nor has he shredded the Iran deal. Second, they have real potential downsides. Ending the Obamacare subsidies could end with millions of people losing their health insurance, a disaster both moral and, potentially, political. And decertifying the Iran deal could allow it to build nuclear weapons, and undermine American credibility in the Middle East and beyond for decades to come. Taken together, though, they show how Trump’s accomplishments at this stage in his presidency are almost entirely destructive, rather than constructive. Trump made his reputation as a builder, but he’s made demolition his mode in the White House.
In the media world, as in so many other realms, there is a sharp discontinuity in the timeline: before the 2016 election, and after.
Things we thought we understood—narratives, data, software, news events—have had to be reinterpreted in light of Donald Trump’s surprising win as well as the continuing questions about the role that misinformation and disinformation played in his election.
Tech journalists covering Facebook had a duty to cover what was happening before, during, and after the election. Reporters tried to see past their often liberal political orientations and the unprecedented actions of Donald Trump to see how 2016 was playing out on the internet. Every component of the chaotic digital campaign has been reported on, here at The Atlantic, and elsewhere: Facebook’s enormous distribution power for political information, rapacious partisanship reinforced by distinct media information spheres, the increasing scourge of “viral” hoaxes and other kinds of misinformation that could propagate through those networks, and the Russian information ops agency.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
Four decades ago Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the U.S., the original Star Wars movie was released in theaters, and much more.
Four decades ago Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the United States, the original Star Wars movie was released in theaters, the Trans-Alaska pipeline pumped its first barrels of oil, New York City suffered a massive blackout, Radio Shack introduced its new TRS-80 Micro Computer, Grace Jones was a disco queen, the Brazilian soccer star Pele played his “sayonara” game in Japan, and much more. Take a step into a visual time capsule now, for a brief look at the year 1977.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the country’s most effective anti-poverty policies, but it mostly leaves out a huge segment of workers: those without children.
As the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans attempt to portray a tax plan slanted to the top 1 percent as “middle-class” tax relief, it’s worth asking what actual tax relief for American workers would look like. Among the ideas that should be at the top of the list should be expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a policy that provides millions of low-income American workers with up to a few thousand dollars when they file their taxes.
Just over 24 years ago, I was proud to be part of President Clinton’s effort to expand the EITC for families with two or more children. This expansion was a step toward fulfilling his campaign pledge that parents who worked full time should not have to raise their children in poverty. But the 1993 EITC expansion went beyond working parents, including smaller, but important, innovation: For the first time, the tax break would reach so-called “childless workers.”