Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who broke the NSA leaks, is photographed leaving his hotel in Hong Kong. (Vincent Yu/AP)Yesterday, an American defense contractor named Edward Snowden identified himself as the man responsible for leaking sensitive material to TheGuardian, stating unequivocally that he wanted to inform Americans of the country's vast, secretive government surveillance program. Snowden, who was based in Hawaii, has now taken up residence at a hotel in Hong Kong, a destination he chose for its "spirited connection to free speech and the right of political dissent."
In a comment about the case published this morning, my colleague James Fallows brought up a salient point about Hong Kong: it isn't a sovereign country, and remains very much a part of the People's Republic of China -- a country which notably lacks free speech or any right of political dissent. And while Hong Kong has a different currency, political structure, and legal system from the mainland, divisions between the two are actually far murkier than Snowden's explanation indicates.
In 1997, when sovereignty over Hong Kong transferred from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China, the two countries agreed that the status quo in the territory would remain unchanged for the next 50 years. Under the Basic Law, which went into effect the day of the handover, Beijing is responsible for Hong Kong's national defense and foreign policy, while Hong Kong retains control over basically everything else.
But in the case of Edward Snowden, which is likely to involve an extradition request by the United States, the Basic Law is less clear. Hong Kong, unlike China, has an extradition arrangement with the United States. But China has the right to intercede in an extradition request if Beijing has an interest in "defense or foreign affairs." In other words, if China wants to detain Snowden as a useful intelligence asset, Hong Kong couldn't legally do much about it. And that illustrates an important part of Hong Kong's current situation: its free speech and political dissent really only go as far as Beijing lets it.
So what's going to happen to Snowden?
Hong Kong nearly always cooperates with the United States on extradition requests, and has signaled that it intends to do so in Snowden's case, if Washington wants it. Once this happens, China can then decide to either halt Snowden's extradition and seize him as an intelligence asset, or simply stay out of the matter and let Hong Kong take care of it. The risk of the latter course of action is this: China risks losing a potentially valuable source of information about a major geopolitical competitor. But the risks of the former are greater, for two main reasons.
First, even though Snowden's revelations have embarrassed the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Obama Administration -- which has accused his leaks of being "damaging" -- it's unclear whether Snowden was senior enough to have access to truly valuable information. Beijing's intelligence apparatus probably already knows Washington uses sweeping surveillance techniques for gathering data. Why risk an international incident with the United States in order to obtain information China already has, or can find out easily?
Second, Snowden's revelations come on the heels of the recent summit between the leaders of China and the United States, an event which culminated in a pledge for friendlier relations between the two countries. By staying out of a matter that is essentially a domestic concern of the United States, China would act in this spirit as well as remain consistent with its own policy of non-interference.
Snowden has made it clear that he doesn't intend to stay in Hong Kong for the long-term; he has said he'd like to move to a country like Iceland, a place noted for its transparent government. But will Iceland offer Snowden asylum? According to University of Pennsylvania law professor Jacques deLisle, this is unlikely: countries seldom offer asylum to those who attempt to defect via a third country, and Iceland likely has reason not to anger the United States by taking in Snowden.
These possibilities aside, it's become increasingly clear that Snowden's decision to go to Hong Kong was a serious miscalculation. The idiosyncratic territory may in some ways be a libertarian paradise of free speech, robust media, and low taxes, but is in no way independent of China. If Snowden's ultimate goal were to damage the United States government as much as possible, then going to a Chinese territory would make some sense. But this obviously isn't what he wanted; in The Guardian interview, Snowden disagreed with Glenn Greenwald's characterization of China as an "enemy" of the United States by stressing the healthy trade relationship between the two countries. Aiding China -- whose record of state surveillance and abrogation of civil liberties is inarguably worse than the United States -- would go against the entire moral foundation of Snowden's decision to leak the NSA secrets.
Ivana Trump’s new book is a parenting memoir—and an ode to being better than everyone else.
There’s a story Ivana Trump tells in Raising Trump, her new memoir of parenting, work, and marriage. It was New Year’s Eve, 1977; she and Donald Trump were together in the hospital room after their first child had been born, discussing the matter of what name to give their new infant. Ivana suggested that the son should be named after the father: Donald Trump Jr. Donald, however, balked at this.
“What if he’s a loser?” he said.
Ivana got her way, in this instance as in many she describes in Raising Trump, which begins and ends with the premise that none of the three children Ivana and Donald Trump created together have been consigned to a life of loserdom. The book may be a parenting memoir; it may feature practical tips about punishments and allowances and the compulsory writing of thank-you notes; it may even feature a curated selection of awkward family photos and treasured family recipes; but it is about parenting, as most people practice it, in only the most superficial sense. By virtue of its core characters—a man who becomes the American president, a daughter who becomes his advisor, a son-in-law who becomes responsible for criminal justice reform and opioid crisis managementand bringing peace to the Middle East—Raising Trump is less a straightforward memoir than it is a teasing exploration of the workings of the presidential family. Here are the oft-discussed “Trump family values,” as explained by the woman who helped to create them.
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.”
The director is blaming the critical aggregator for dooming more complex films, but the deeper problem is studio neglect.
Last weekend, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, a drama about the creator of the famed comic-book character, became the latest mid-budget casualty. It was marketed on the back of its connection with Wonder Woman, one of the biggest hits of the year. It received a moderately wide release and got strong reviews, but its three-day box-office total was just $736,883—a flimsy average of $600 per theater, which essentially doomed any future chance of success. Critics and industry insiders alike have lamented for years the decline of modestly budgeted movies aimed at grownups, the sort of film that was once the backbone of Hollywood.
Professor Marston would likely have at least one sympathizer in Martin Scorsese, who recently wrote an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter on how many good, artistic movies are struggling to find receptive audiences in this new era for the industry. “Box office is the undercurrent in almost all discussions of cinema, and frequently it’s more than just an undercurrent,” said the Academy Award-winning director, who also works tirelessly in the field of film preservation. Indeed, in most cases, a movie is judged a flop or a hit within the first few days of its release. Box-office prognosticators can predict a film’s final grosses almost immediately, and there’s very little chance for word-of-mouth to help build up hype, except in the cases of certain smaller independent works.
A pair of key senators has reached a deal to stabilize the law, but Republican leaders in Congress—not to mention President Trump—could still sink its prospects.
Updated on October 17 at 5:42 p.m. ET
When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, Congress may fix what President Trump tried to break.
Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington state announced a tentative agreement on Tuesday that would shore up Obamacare’s shaky insurance exchanges, offering the first glimmer of bipartisan dealmaking after months of GOP attempts to rip out the law.
The accord between Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate health committee, and Murray, the panel’s top Democrat, would restore for two years the payments to insurance companies that Trump canceled last week. And in what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described as “anti-sabotage provisions,” the deal would also force the administration to spend $106 million in funds that it cut from outreach programs to encourage enrollment in the health law’s exchanges.
The staggering scope of the country’s infrastructure initiative—and what it means for the international order
The Pakistani town of Gwadar was until recently filled with the dust-colored cinderblock houses of about 50,000 fishermen. Ringed by cliffs, desert, and the Arabian Sea, it was at the forgotten edge of the earth. Now it’s one centerpiece of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, and the town has transformed as a result. Gwadar is experiencing a storm of construction: a brand-new container port, new hotels, and 1,800 miles of superhighway and high-speed railway to connect it to China’s landlocked western provinces. China and Pakistan aspire to turn Gwadar into a new Dubai, making it a city that will ultimately house 2 million people.
China is quickly growing into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. By way of comparison, after World War II, the Marshall Plan provided the equivalent of $800 billion in reconstruction funds to Europe (if calculated as a percentage of today’s GDP). In the decades after the war the United States was also the world’s largest trading nation, and its largest bilateral lender to others.
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 last seventy-five years of American foreign policy are not the story of a country consistently pursuing democratic ideals, only to see them undermined now by a fearful “blood and soil” isolationism.
Being a liberal in the Donald Trump era is tricky. On the one hand, you’re grateful for any conservative who denounces the president’s authoritarian lies. On the other, you can’t help but notice that many of the conservatives who condemn Trump most passionately—Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin—remain wedded to the foreign policy legacy of George W. Bush. And in criticizing Trump’s amoral “isolationism,” they backhandedly defend the disastrous interventionism that helped produce his presidency in the first place.
The godfather of this brand of hawkish, anti-Trump conservatism is John McCain. Sure, McCain—being a Republican Senator—doesn’t condemn Trump as forthrightly as his “neoconservative” allies in the press. But the terms of his critique are similar.
Instead of explaining to Americans why four soldiers were killed in Niger, the president commandeered the news cycle, focusing on a narrow and unrelated claim.
With the political press in a volley of anonymous leaks and counterleaks about how Barack Obama did or did not console John Kelly after his son’s death, it’s important to reflect on how we got here—and what it shows about President Trump’s methods of controlling the media and the news cycle.
First, a brief timeline. On October 4, four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger, a country where the United States is not formally at war, and where American troops were supposedly in an advisory and training role. For 12 days, Trump said nothing about the deaths, even as he opined about plenty of other things. The White House was not forthcoming with information, either.
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.
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.