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2018-06-08 Newsweek International

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Remembering RFK / Debunking the Deep State
08.06.2018
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INTERNATIONAL EDITION
JUNE 08, 2018 _ VOL.170 _ NO.21
FEATURES
PROFILE IN COURAGE
MICHAEL O CHS ARC HIV ES/GET T Y
Robert F. Kennedy in 1964, a year after his
brother, President John F. Kennedy, was
assassinated. He would be killed four years
later, during his own presidential campaign.
COVER CREDIT
Photo illustration by Picturebox Creative
for Newsweek; Photo of Suu Kyi by
SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty
18
28
‘What Does
The
the Lady Want?’ Assassination
of RFK
Once hailed as a heroine of human
rights, Myanmar’s Aung San
Suu Kyi is now being condemned
for mistreating Muslims.
June 5, 1968, felt like the end of
hope—a feeling acutely familiar
to many Americans today.
BY LENNOX SAMUELS
BY NINA BURLEIGH
For more headlines, go to
NEWSWEEK.COM
1
GLOBAL EDITOR IN CHIEF _ Nancy Cooper
CREATIVE DIRECTOR _ Michael Goesele
INTERNATIONAL EDITION
JUNE 08, 2018 _ VOL.170 _ NO.21
NEWS DIRECTOR _ Cristina Silva
DEPUTY EDITORS _ Mary Kaye Schilling,
R.M. Schneiderman
OPINION EDITOR _ Laura Davis
EDITORIAL
In Focus
Periscope
04 Lisbon, Portugal
08 SpyTalk
Bull Fights Men
06 Tegucigalpa,
Honduras
Plane Goes Down
BIG BREAK
Joy Nash stars as
Plum Kettle in AMC’s
adaptation of Sarai
Walker’s best-selling
novel, Dietland.
Gaza City, Gaza
Another Funeral
Paloha, Hawaii
A Volcano’s Path
Is the CIA Now
Monitoring Trump?
12 World
How Russia Benefits
From New U.S.
Sanctions on Iran
14 Politics
Turkey’s Imprisoned
Presidential
Candidate
Horizons
38 By the Numbers
Volcanoes
40 Fresh Evidence
A Tragic Benefit of
the Opioid Crisis:
Organ Donation
41 Space
One Step Closer
to Determining
Cosmic Dawn
Culture
42 Music
Liz Phair’s GirlySound Tapes
46 Television
Dietland
48 Parting Shot
Ocean 8’s Awkwafina
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Janice Williams, Christina Zhao (*Contributing)
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In Focus
4
NEWSWEEK.COM
THE NEWS IN PICTURES
J U N E 08, 2018
LISBON, PORTUGAL
Bull
Whipped
At a bullfight at Campo Pequeno on
May 17, the Coruche forcados meet the
wrath of their prey head-on. The forcados,
a group of eight sometimes called the
“Suicide Squad,” confront bulls directly,
without any protection or weapons.
RA FAEL MARCHANTE/REU TE RS
→ R A FA E L M A R C H A N T E
5
CLO C KWISE FRO M BOT TOM L EFT: MAHMU D HAMS/A FP/GET T Y; FERNAND O ANTONIO/AP PHOTO; U.S. GEOLO GICAL SURVEY/AP PHOTO
In Focus
6
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS
GAZA CITY, GAZA
PAHOA, HAWAII
Have a Nice Flight
Open Wounds
Hustle and Flow
Firefighters spray foam on a private
Gulfstream jet, broken in half during a
crash landing on May 22 at Toncontín
International Airport—ranked the
second most dangerous on the
planet by the American History
Channel because of its difficult
approach. Remarkably, some on
board walked away without injury.
Mourners at the May 19
funeral of Palestinian Moein
al-Saai, shot while protesting
the relocation of the U.S.
Embassy to Jerusalem. The
51-year-old man was among
the 60 Palestinians killed
and thousands injured at the
Israeli-Gaza border on May 14.
Lava spews from fissures on May
19 caused by the eruption of the
Kilauea volcano, which began a new
round of dangerous activity in early
May. Many have evacuated the Big
Island, where homes have been set
ablaze and toxic gas, or “laze,” caused
by molten rock pouring into the
ocean, has raised safety warnings.
→ FERNANDO ANTONIO
→ MAHMUD HAMS
→ U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
NEWSWEEK.COM
7
Periscope
NEWS, OPINION + ANALYSIS
WATCHDOGGING
Hayden, a former
four-star general and
director of the CIA
and NSA, has become
an outspoken critic
of the president.
8
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
“Iran’s loss…will be Russia’s gain.” » P.12
SPYTALK
Mission
Critical
LE FT:
CR EDIT
DAVIDTKHU ME KENNE RLY/GET T Y; TOP R IGHT: ZO ONA R GMBH/ALAMY
After decades in the shadows, former American
intelligence officials are taking on a new and very
public role: keeping an eye on Trump
least not in my ‘facts,’” including the finding by
a few months into the trump
U.S.
intelligence that Russian President Vladimir
administration, former CIA Director Michael
Hayden took a reconnaissance mission of sorts
Putin favored Trump and labored mightily to get
to Pittsburgh, where he grew up in a blue-collar,
him elected. When Hayden asked how many in the
Roman Catholic family and worked summers in
bar still believed the president’s claim that Barack
Steelers training camps. He’d asked his brother to
Obama had spied on Trump Tower, hands shot up.
gather a couple dozen people to talk politics in a
Why? “They simply replied, ‘Obama.’”
sports bar “over some Iron City beer,” a local brew.
A year later, the partisan divide over Russiagate’s
“I knew many of the participants, indeed had
well-established facts has widened into a dangerous
grown up with several,” Hayden writes in his
chasm. With his popularity creeping up in the polls,
troubling and important new book, The Assault
the president recently sharpened his attacks on the
on Intelligence: American National Security in an
FBI, accusing the bureau of spying on his campaign
Age of Lies. “But we could have been from different
and demanding the Justice Department turn over
planets.” Virtually everyone in the crowd, he recalls,
the identity of an informant reporting on Russian
were supporters of the erratic New York business
contacts with Trump associates.
mogul who had improbably won election and
U.S. intelligence veterans fought back. “Complete
moved into the White House a few months earlier.
nonsense,” responded former FBI Special Agent
Clint Watts, a cyberwarfare expert and author of
“He is an American,” they would say. “He is genuine....
Messing With the Enemy: Surviving
He is authentic.... He doesn’t filter
in a Social Media World of Hackers,
everything or parse every word.”
Terrorists,
Russians and Fake News.
Most distressing to Hayden,
BY
“This
fabricated
conspiracy will run
though, was the revelation that Preswild
and
be
repeated
as truth by
ident Donald Trump’s supporters
JEFF STEIN
his
supporters,
further
hurting U.S.
were uninterested in facts—“or at
@SpyTalker
NEWSWEEK.COM
9
institutions.” Former CIA Director
John Brennan implored Republican
leaders in Congress to block Trump
from subverting the Justice Department. “If Mr. Trump continues along
this disastrous path,” he tweeted, “you
will bear major responsibility for the
harm done to our democracy.”
Trump’s assaults have cast U.S. intelligence agencies into the unprecedented role of public “truth tellers,” Hayden
writes in his book, likening them to
“scholars, journalists, scientists.”
This is rich. CIA leaders long ago
forfeited the right to expect the unquestioning faith of the American
public. Their role in attesting to the
George W. Bush administration’s false
claims of Iraq having chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons
comes to mind. Then there was James
Clapper, the former head of national intelligence, who lied under oath
about surveillance by the National
Security Agency. And the FBI still lives
with the stain from its long-ago operations to destroy Martin Luther King
Jr. Black Panthers and antiwar groups
during the conflicts in Vietnam and
Central America. More recently, they
enticed feckless terrorist-wannabes
into bombing conspiracies.
Now comes Hayden (who as
NSA director in the aftermath of
9/11 oversaw the illegal monitoring
of Americans’ emails) to make the
case that today’s national security
agencies deserve the support of the
American people against a Russiabacked president who’s trying to
destroy their independence.
Irony aside, he’s right. Trump’s unprecedented attacks on key American
national security institutions demand
an unprecedented response. The president’s claim that this amounts to a
“deep state” assault on him is bogus,
Hayden and other top U.S. intelligence
veterans argue again and again.
10
NEWSWEEK.COM
SPYTALK
“I have worked in intelligence for
over three decades. I know what antidemocratic forces look like,” Hayden
writes. “I have seen them in multiple
foreign countries,” meaning the secret police and military officers that
hold the keys to power in places like
Turkey. “There is no ‘deep state’ in the
American republic,” he adds. “There is
merely ‘the state’—or, as I characterize it, career professionals doing their
best within the rule of law.”
But how do U.S. intelligence agencies, which traffic in secret sources
and classified information, transition to a public role? Not easily. Last
year, the NSA’s then-chief, Admiral
Mike Rogers, and then–FBI Director
James Comey were clearly uncomfortable on the Hill publicly torpedoing Trump’s claim that Obama or
his British friends had wiretapped
him during the campaign. But that
hardly slowed Trump. He only upped
his conspiratorial theme, distributed
through constant tweets, that special
counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation
into suspected collaboration between
Trump campaign officials and the
Kremlin is “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT.”
It’s one thing for U.S. intelligence
leaders to counter Trump’s claims
when they’re called to testify under
oath in congressional hearings; it’s
another matter entirely when they
continue their campaign out of office
via tweets or leaks: They risk validating the president’s theme that the
“deep state” is out to get him. Hayden’s
attempt to recast the intelligence
agencies as an extension of the fourth
estate also “misses an obvious point
about the essence of truth telling,”
Mark Galeotti, an authority on the
Russian mafia, wrote recently. “Spooks
funnel their truths to their own cadre
while engaging in duplicity and misdirection with most everyone else. This
has never been an easy line to walk,
and in an age when truth is suffering,
it only gets more treacherous.”
Damn the torpedoes, say Hayden,
Brennan and Clapper, who has called
Trump’s tweets “a very disturbing
assault on the independence of the
Department of Justice.” Hayden
revisits the many instances of candidate Trump attacking the leadership
of the CIA and FBI before the 2016
election—a practice the president
has continued in office, even after
installing Mike Pompeo, his own Tea
Party Republican spy chief, in Langley
and firing Comey for refusing to drop
his investigation into Russiagate. But
Hayden is equally concerned about
Trump’s alliance with conspiracy
mongers and racists of the so-called
alt-right, whose messages are amplified by Russian cyberwarriors and automated bots that “grab any divisive
social issue they [can] identify.”
Judging by the political discord
that has exploded with Trump’s rise,
Hayden concludes, the Kremlin’s
social media strategy has been
effective enough to pose an existential
J U N E 08, 2018
CLO C KWISE FRO M TOP: AL DRAGO/BLO O MBERG/GE T T Y; EVY MAG ES/GET T Y; KEVIN LAMARQUE/FILE PHOTO/REUTERS
Periscope
PRIVATE EYES
Clockwise from
top: Trump with
U.S. Secretary of
State Pompeo after
he was sworn in on
May 2; former CIA
Director Brennan;
and CIA Director
Haspel at a May 9
confirmation hearing.
threat to American democracy. In
this, he sees a faint echo of the ethnic
wars that broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He even opens
his book in the wreckage of postwar
Sarajevo, which was a “cultured, tolerant, even vibrant city” until Serbian nationalists launched ethnic wars
that eventually left 100,000 people
dead and 2 million displaced. “What
struck me most as I walked through
the city was not how much Sarajevans
were different from the rest of us,” he
writes, “but how much they weren’t.
The veneer of civilization, I sadly concluded then, was quite thin.”
“There is no
‘deep state’ in the
American republic.”
Trump may not (yet) be a Slobodan
Milosevic, but he’s already proved
such an outlier, Hayden concludes,
that nobody with a reputation worth
preserving should take a job in his
administration. A few months after
Trump was sworn in, Hayden got a
call from a former colleague, who
said he was being considered for
a “very senior position” in the new
administration. What should he do?
Hayden, who devoted 41 years to
government service, counseled him
to turn down the job, arguing that
he wouldn’t make a difference in a
regime that values loyalty over expertise. “You’ll be frustrated and then
tarred by the other activities of the
administration,” Hayden advised, and
probably won’t last through the first
term. “You’re a young man. Don’t put
yourself at risk for the future.”
In early May, I asked Hayden if
he’d given the same advice to Gina
Haspel, the controversial CIA lifer
nominated to run the spy agency.
No, he says. He’d talked with Haspel,
who was confirmed only after a bitter public debate over her roles in
the agency’s secret counterterrorism
renditions and “enhanced interrogations” program. “It was clear after
our conversation that she knew the
challenges she was embracing and
was doing it on behalf of the agency
and all of us,” Hayden says. Plus, he
added, she had “no further ambitions,” unlike other senior career officials whose service to Trump could
well leave a permanent stain on
their résumés. Haspel could afford
to tell Trump to go to hell, Hayden
was implying, or block some illegal
or unethical machinations related
to Russia, China, Iran and the like.
Only time will tell how that turns out.
At a recent retirement ceremony
for a CIA officer, Hayden says, he
gazed at the assembled group of agency employees and wondered whether
they “realized how much we are now
counting on them.” It reminds me of
something in The Assault on Intelligence: “We are accustomed to relying on their truth telling to protect
us from foreign enemies,” he wrote.
“Now we may need their truth telling
to save us from ourselves.”
NEWSWEEK.COM
11
Periscope
WORLD
Crude Gesture
U.S. sanctions on Iran are driving up oil prices
around the globe—and helping Vladimir Putin
when pre sident d onald
development so that no obstacles and
Trump declared in May that
circumstances interfere as we and
he was withdrawing from the Iran
only we determine our own future.”
nuclear deal, he vowed to reimpose
But behind the scenes, Putin was rapsome of “the strongest sanctions that
idly burning through the country’s
we’ve ever put on a country.” Among
$125 billion reserve fund to cope with
the biggest targets: Iran’s booming oil
a punishing economic storm.
fields, an economic engine that fuels
Since the U.S. first imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014
Europe and Asia with 4
for annexing Crimea
million barrels of crude
and
sponsoring sepaa day. But as Tehran and
BY
ratist
rebels in Ukraine,
other world leaders
recoiled, one country
the ruble has lost nearly
OWEN MATTHEWS
celebrated: Russia.
@owenmatth
half of its value, inflation
The reason? Supply
has hit double digits,
and many Russian business moguls
and demand. The new sanctions will
likely remove a million barrels of
have been cut off from international
Iranian oil a day from world markets
financing. Falling international oil
prices—crashing from more than
once the restrictions fully kick in this
$110 a barrel to just $30 between
fall, and few are in a better position
March
and June 2014—contributed
to reap the benefits of the resulting
price surge than the Kremlin. Russia
to a fiscal crunch; oil and natural gas
is the world’s biggest energy exporter,
make up about 50 percent of Russia’s
but for the past four years, sagging oil
exports. To offset those losses and
prices have severely hurt the counmaintain military and social spending,
try’s economy, leading to budget
Putin tapped the reserves the Kremlin
deficits and austerity plans. Trump’s
had set aside during boom times.
actions could reverse that.
But by January, Russia’s Finance
Ministry announced that the cup“We have to thank Donald Trump for
board was bare: The Reserve Fund,
giving us an unexpected present,” says
down
to just $17 billion, was being
Moscow-based oil analyst Alexey Gavrilov. “Iran’s loss…will be Russia’s gain.”
closed down. The Kremlin even drew
For Russian President Vladimir
Putin, the oil rally represents a new
political lifeline. In March, as he
took his fourth oath of office in the
gilded St. George Hall of the Grand
Kremlin Palace, he promised the
assembled political elite that Russians
would “create our own agenda for
“We have to thank
Donald Trump
for giving us an
unexpected present.”
12
NEWSWEEK.COM
up plans for an unpopular overhaul of
the pension system that would raise
the retirement age from 55 for women
and 60 for men to 65 for everyone.
The dire circumstances were a stark
reminder that the price of oil remains
the single biggest factor in Putin’s
ability to run Russia as he wishes
and throw his weight around on the
world stage. Now, as the price of oil
surges—as of May 23, crude topped
$80 a barrel, a three-and-a-half-year
high—experts predict an emboldened
Kremlin with little incentive to dial
back its international interventions
in Ukraine and Syria. Over the past
four years, despite falling revenues,
Putin boosted spending on arms to a
whopping 5 percent of Russia’s gross
domestic product. (NATO, by contrast,
requires members to spend 2 percent,
and most spend much less.)
According to Timothy Ash, a
senior strategist at London-based
J U N E 08, 2018
FROM TO P: A NDR EY RUDAKOV/BLO OMBERG/GET T Y; MIKHAIL KLIMENT YEV/TASS/GET T Y
OILED UP Left, Russia’s Novokuibyshevsk
refinery plant. Below: The price of oil
remains the biggest factor in Putin’s
ability to run Russia as he wishes.
BlueBay Asset Management, Putin
sees Russia in a “long-term battle
of wills” with the U.S. and Europe.
“Higher oil prices will help him play
for more time against the West.”
U.S. policies, analysts say, are setting
the stage for a sustained rally. News of
the reimposed Iran sanctions sent
tensions soaring in the Middle East,
a region that holds 47 percent of the
world’s oil reserves. In South America,
Venezuela, another key oil producer, is
also reeling. In late May, Washington
announced restrictions on Venezuela’s oil companies in response to a
widely condemned presidential election, with tighter sanctions likely to
follow. That will take even more crude
off international markets.
Meanwhile, OPEC—that often dysfunctional cartel—has been coordinating efforts for the past two years
to cut supply by 3 percent in order
to steadily nudge prices upward. And
since a 2016 deal brokered by Saudi
Arabia, Russia has been on board with
OPEC’s supply squeeze too, reducing
production by 300,000 barrels a day.
Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of French oil
giant Total, predicts a return to $100
a barrel oil within months. “We are
in a new world,” Pouyanné told oil
business leaders in late May. “A world
where geopolitics are dominating the
market again.”
For Russia, soaring oil markets
are not without risk. The country
is dependent on crude, but higher
prices suddenly spark investments
in more efficient and cheaper electric engines and batteries. Moreover,
they give a boost to the Russian oil
industry’s biggest strategic nemesis:
U.S. shale gas production. An oil price
“in the $50 to $55 range…suits Russia’s
best interests,” says Chris Weafer
of the London-based consultancy
Macro Advisory. In other words, high
enough to balance the Kremlin’s budget but not so high that it jeopardizes
the long-term future of oil by juicing
alternative sources and technologies.
Indeed, fear of another runaway,
shale-fueling boom-and-bust cycle is
why Russia, paradoxically, opposed
Trump’s plans to scrap the Iran
nuclear deal. Foreign Minister Sergey
Lavrov accused Washington of “trampling international law” in backing out
of the deal. Another reason: A slew of
Russian investments in Iran’s oil industry—including majority stakes in projects across Iran’s untapped natural gas
fields and the planning of pipeline corridors from Iran to Syria and onward
to Europe—could be compromised.
But with oil at $80 a barrel, the
immediate future looks bright: Russia will earn some $10 billion more
per month than it needs to balance
the federal budget. Goldman Sachs
has forecast economic growth of 3.3
percent for 2018, outstripping both
the European Union and the U.S. And
inflation has dropped to just 2 percent
in this year’s first quarter, despite new
rounds of U.S. sanctions intended to
punish the Kremlin for meddling in
America’s last presidential election.
Putin says spasibo.
NEWSWEEK.COM
13
Periscope
KURDS AND WAY Left: The youthful and
stirring Demirtaş has been called the
Kurdish Obama. Opposite below: Erdogan.
on opposition groups. Demirtaş and
nine other HDP leaders found themselves behind bars, branded as terrorists. Among the dozens of charges
heaped on him: insulting the president.
Now, the 45-year-old Demirtaş is
mounting a comeback, albeit from
his two-man cell in Edirne Prison.
On June 24, he will challenge Erdogan
for the presidency. The centerpiece
of his campaign: his own imprisonment. Holding a political figure for
14 months for making disparaging
remarks, Demirtaş argues, is evidence
of how Erdogan has replaced democracy with a repressive one-party state.
Over the past year, prosecutors have
added dozens of charges, for a total
of 142 years in jail.
“It is not entirely accurate to call
this process a trial,” Demirtaş tells
POLITICS
Newsweek in answers to written questions passed on by his legal team. “I
am being held as a political hostage.”
(Requests for a response from Erdogan went unanswered.)
Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition leader insulted Erdogan and
As leader of a primarily Kurdish
landed in jail. Now, he’s running for president from his cell
party, Demirtaş has little chance of
defeating Erdogan in a country where
Kurds make up just 25 percent of the
three years ago, selahattin
his executive powers. “As of this hour,
population. But Demirtaş is no token
Demirtaş was celebrating a
the debate about the presidency, the
challenger: In June 2015, the HDP won
debate about dictatorship, is over,”
political revolution in Turkey.
votes outside its Kurdish heartlands
Demirtaş
declared on election night
Alarmed by the increasingly autoby championing the rights of women
in June 2015. “ Turkey narrowly
cratic rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
and minorities, helping deprive
the Kurdish former human rights
Erdogan of a majority. And Erdogan
averted a disaster.”
lawyer had formed a new political
and his fellow nationalists fear a
The victory was short-lived. Erdoparty—the People’s Democratic
repeat,
with Demirtaş winning just
gan challenged the results, and five
Party, or HDP—and led it to victory
enough votes to deny the 50 percent
months later he regained his parliain a historic election. For the first
mentary majority in a snap election.
the president needs to
time, the country’s long-suppressed
Violence swept the country, with
win. In that scenario,
various opposition
Kurdish minority was poised to take
Kurdish militants and Turkish forces
BY
groups
could then
seats in Parliament, depriving the
resuming a long-running war. After
unify
against
Erdodivisive president’s party of a majorsurviving a failed coup in 2016, ErdoORLANDO CROWCROFT
ity and curbing his plans to expand
gan ordered a widespread crackdown
@ocrowcroft
gan in a second round
Prison Break
14
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
FROM L EFT: JOHN THYS/AFP/GET T Y; SIMO N DAWSON/BLO O MBERG /GET T Y
of voting. Dreading comparisons of
Demirtaş to Nelson Mandela, nationalist politicians unsuccessfully tried to
blunt Demirtaş’s popularity by calling
for his release. “He showed his ability
on a rhetorical level to struggle with
Erdogan in a way other opposition
leaders have failed to,” says Ege Seçkin,
a research analyst at IHS Markit.
For Erdogan, this election is crucial.
Last year, he narrowly won a constitutional referendum that gives the
Turkish president sweeping new powers—establishing a so-called executive
presidency that abolishes the post of
prime minister and gives the president the power to hire and fire Cabinet members, judges and civil servants.
But Erdogan has to win re-election to
assume the position he designed.
While he retains significant support with conservative and religious
Turks, his overall popularity appears
to be slipping. By Erdogan’s order, the
country has been living under a state
of emergency for two years, a period
in which tens of thousands of journalists, teachers and civil servants have
been dismissed from their jobs and
jailed. The president claims that these
“terrorists” are linked either to Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based cleric whom
he accuses of orchestrating Turkey’s
violent 2016 coup, or the Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK), the militant
group—deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S.—that has waged a
bloody, decades-long war for self-rule.
Amid the political upheaval, a steep
decline in the Turkish lira is also
sparking fears of an economic crash.
Facing approval ratings below 50 percent for the first time, Erdogan hastily called elections for June—nearly a
year and a half earlier than scheduled.
“Although it seems there are no serious issues arising, as the president and
the government are working in harmony, the diseases of the old system
“It is not entirely
accurate to call this
process a trial.
I am being held as a
political hostage.”
can confront us at every step,” Erdogan said in announcing the speedy
election. “For our country to make
decisions about the future…and apply
them, passing to the new governmental system becomes urgent.”
Publicly, Demirtaş is optimistic
about his chances—“I expect to win,
naturally,” he says—and it is fair to
say that his incarceration, although
uncomfortable, has been a boon.
For Kurds sympathetic to the struggle against the Turkish state, doing
jail time for the cause is a badge of
honor—particularly when the politician has been incarcerated for making a speech, even having a sense of
humor. (In 2015, Demirtaş joked that
Erdogan had “fluttered from corridor
to corridor” trying to get a photo with
Vladimir Putin at a conference.)
But the political calculus makes
victory nearly impossible: Neither he
nor the HDP has been invited to join
the anti-Erdogan coalition headed by
Turkey’s largest opposition party, the
Republican People’s Party (CHP). And
the HDP’s Kurdish roots make the
party a tough sell for many, including
religious Kurds, who associate Kurdish politics with the PKK.
The ties have been particularly
problematic for Demirtaş, whose
brother, Nurettin, is a PKK member currently in exile in Iraq. While
Demirtaş has defended his brother,
the link has proved useful for Erdogan, who has argued that the HDP—
or any mainstream Kurdish political
party—is a front for the PKK.
Demirtaş, however, blames Erdogan for inflaming the conflict since
2015, when the cease-fire between
Ankara and the PKK broke down. If he
was elected, he argues, the HDP could
end the conflict between the PKK and
the Turkish state within six months.
“The Kurdish issue in Turkey should be
solved by nonviolent means, by opening a channel of peaceful dialogue, by
political means,” he says. “I believe the
PKK will take [the] decision to disarm.… If we come to power, we would
be able to solve this problem.”
For now, Demirtaş’s campaign
continues quietly—with an audience
of one: his cellmate, HDP parliamentarian Abdullah Zeydan, sentenced
to eight years on terrorism charges
in May. The pair are kept apart from
other prisoners. Each week, Demirtaş
is allowed one hour with his wife and
two young daughters, and four hours
of exercise. He also receives letters,
reads international newspapers and
watches TV. As such, he has followed
the rise of Donald Trump, which has
taken place during his imprisonment.
(“We feel you have broken the heart of
the first lady,” he says of the U.S. president. “Please make amends with her.”)
As the election approaches, Demirtaş says the guards treat him within
the law. “Despite everything, we
are strong, our morale is high,” he
says. “We have lost nothing of our
determination in struggle. We believe
justice will be done.”
NEWSWEEK.COM
15
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J ONATHAN NAC KSTR AND/AFP/GET T Y
BY LENNOX SAM UELS
Photo illustration by PictureBox Creative
18
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
‘What Does the Lady Want?’
NEWSWEEK.COM
19
here’s a low buzz at house of
Memories, a popular restaurant in
Yangon, where two 20-somethings in
T-shirts are listening impatiently to a
visitor’s questions about Aung San Suu
Kyi, the leader of Myanmar. Some 600 miles away
from the main city, the military allegedly has been
ethnically cleansing Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, and the visitor wants to know if
they think Suu Kyi has condoned these actions.
The two munch on seafood salad and batter-fried
vegetables, point out the Japanese tourists dining at
the next table and murmur asides to each other before one finally declares, “I love her,” his tone at once
plaintive and defiant. “And anyway,” he says of the
Rohingyas, “those are not Burmese.”
That’s a common refrain among Myanmar’s Buddhist Burmans, the country’s ethnic majority. They
see Suu Kyi, 72, as one of their own. She’s the adored
youngest daughter of Major General Aung San, who
led the fight against the British before rival politicians assassinated him just months before London
granted the country independence in 1947. She’s the
Oxford-educated patriot who opposed the military
regime, which seized power in 1962 and introduced
totalitarian rule. She’s the defiant dissident who became the face of nationwide protests against the
military in 1988, before the army cracked down on
them, killing thousands of citizens. The Lady, as Suu
Kyi is known in Myanmar, spent more than a decade
under house arrest. Her resistance was so fierce, she
even refused to travel to England for the funeral of
her British husband, Michael Aris, for fear that the
junta would not let her return home. In 1991, she
won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to
nonviolent struggle, democracy and human rights.
That struggle continued for another two decades, and by 2015, then-President Thein Sein
decided to hold a free election in a bid to make
sure the West didn’t reimpose crippling economic
sanctions against the country. Suu Kyi’s party, the
National League for Democracy (NLD), won and
formed a civilian government that the former dissident now heads as state counselor.
Today, however, some three years after that contest, critics have condemned her for, among other
offenses, sacrificing the stateless Rohingyas, backsliding on press freedom, failing to forge a peace
with militant groups and believing she can bring the
20
NEWSWEEK.COM
generals around on all of the above. “The reality is,
Suu Kyi was great as a democracy icon working from
the outside,” says Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based
analyst with Jane’s, a British company that provides
military, defense and national security intelligence.
“She made the mistake of getting into power. She’s
become a fig leaf for and hostage of the military.”
Not that the generals are happy with any cover
she’s provided. “She has not lived up to her side of
the bargain and has failed to protect the army from
Western pressure,” says a retired senior officer with
links to the commander in chief, Senior General Min
Aung Hlaing. (Like others interviewed for this story,
he asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of
the matter. Neither Suu Kyi nor her office responded
to requests for comment.)
Suu Kyi’s fall has been precipitous. But many say
she is a victim of high expectations from those who
always saw her as a cross between Mother Teresa and
Joan of Arc. “I’m just a politician,” she protested in an
interview with the BBC last year. After she won the
election, she went from an outsider-activist to the ultimate political insider—but one who is trapped between two parallel governments. Ostensibly the head
of Myanmar, she is constrained by the country’s
powerful military, which remains in charge by constitutional mandate. Her party hasn’t demonstrated
CLO C KWISE FRO M TOP: THIERRY FAL ISE/LIGHTRO CKET/GE T T Y; PATRI CK
AVE NTU RIER/GAMMA­R APHO/GET T Y; KE YSTO NE/HULTON ARC HIVE /G ET T Y
ASIA
great skill at governing or maneuvering around the
cunning generals, analysts say. And many believe Suu
Kyi has been paralyzed by her cautiousness and need
for control; she has failed to ameliorate the Rohingya crisis because she’s too wary of the nativist majority’s deep hostility toward the Muslim group. “She’s
a nationalist,” says Khin Zaw Win, a former political
prisoner who now directs Yangon’s Tampadipa Institute, a public advocacy think tank. “Many Burmese
detest the Rohingyas, and she’s among them.”
Three years ago, when Suu Kyi romped to victory,
her followers were euphoric but also aware of the
obstacles ahead. Yes, the military had allowed the results to stand—but it did so knowing it would retain
THE LONG STRUGGLE Suu Kyi’s reputation has
been tarnished. But many say she is a victim of high
expectations. Clockwise from top: The Lady addressing
supporters in 1996; Karen students with guns in 1988;
and Major General Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father, in 1947.
most of the power. In 2008, the generals rammed
through a new constitution that reserves for the military 25 percent of the parliament’s seats, along with
control of key ministries: Defense, Border Control
and Domestic Affairs. The last one put the military
in charge of a sprawling bureaucracy that collects
taxes and registers everything from land purchases
to deaths. Such powers left it with extraordinary access to citizens’ personal and business information,
as well as the levers of the country’s wealth.
The armed forces also inserted a clause in the
constitution barring from the presidency any
person with family members who are foreign citizens. Critics maintain this provision was expressly aimed at thwarting Suu Kyi, who not only was
married to Aris but had two sons with him who
are British subjects. When the NLD won, Suu Kyi
adopted the state counselor title because the constitution barred her from being named president.
(“The principles in the 2008 constitution are the
best safeguard for the country’s continued peace
and stability,” insists the retired military officer.)
Today, Suu Kyi’s defenders blame that constitution for preventing her from stopping the forced
expulsion, maiming, rape and killing of Rohingyas
in Rakhine state. The military’s crackdown on the
Muslim group started in the 1970s. The latest crisis
began last August, and since then, some 700,000 of
the country’s approximately 1.1 million Rohingyas
have fled to Bangladesh. The United Nations and
human rights organizations say the military carried out a pogrom, torching the villages of fleeing
Rohingyas. Suu Kyi supporters point out, accurately,
that she has no control over the generals. The military operates independently, even setting its own
budget, which in 2017 totaled $2.14 billion, almost
14 percent of state expenditures.
Cynics allege that the military brass wants to sabotage any attempt to reach a deal with the country’s
ethnic groups, least of all the despised Rohingyas.
“She [Suu Kyi] talks peace and reconciliation, and the
military launches more offensives in ethnic areas,”
says Zin Linn, a media consultant who served two
separate jail terms as a political prisoner.
The generals do want peace, the retired officer
tells Newsweek, “but we will not surrender power or
territory to the ethnic armies.” Either way, in early
April, fresh fighting erupted between the military
and the Kachin Independence Army, a militia that
NEWSWEEK.COM
21
fields 8,000 fighters, according to Jane’s. So far, the
violence has driven more than 6,000 Kachins from
their homes in Myanmar’s northernmost state,
located just south of China. “The truth is, Daw Suu
did not want another bloodbath in this country,” Zin
Linn says, using the Burmese honorific for an older
woman or one in a senior position. “She wants unity.... That’s why she’s been so cautious.”
Perhaps, but Suu Kyi not only has declined to
condemn anti-Rohingya atrocities; she never actually uses the word Rohingyas, which some say underscores her reluctance to recognize them as a separate
group entitled to their rights. And critics say she has
minimized what the U.N. has called “acts of genocide” and a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” Last
September, in her first comments about the crisis,
Suu Kyi blamed “fake news” for exacerbating Muslimrelated tensions, citing a “huge iceberg of misinformation.” In March 2017, her office dismissed allegations of sexual assault on Rohingya women by
Burmese soldiers as “fake rape.”
“They’re saying, ‘Where is the evidence of rape?’”
says the Tampadipa Institute’s Khin Zaw Win. “Well,
the evidence is all on the people there [in Rakhine],
especially on the women. If DNA tests were performed, that would be the evidence. For Aung San
Suu Kyi to say ‘Show me the evidence’ is not enough.”
Others go further in criticizing the Lady. “The
military commits crimes against humanity against
the Rohingya,” says Phil Robertson, deputy director
of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “And then,
inexplicably, she goes out to defend their cover-up.”
Yet publicly supporting Rohingyas and other
ethnic groups is not a winning political strategy.
Myanmar has no reliable polling, but analysts say an
overwhelming majority of Buddhist Burmans loathe
the Rohingyas, whom they consider foreigners and
call “Bengalis.” Brought in from what is now Bangladesh by the British colonizers to work, they remain
stateless, with no rights in the country they immigrated to roughly two centuries ago. For decades, the
junta tried to strengthen the power of the Burman
majority by giving it dominion over all other ethnic
groups. “They [the military] try to ensure Burman
supremacy. It’s partly intentional and partly incompetence on the part of the authorities,” says Dr. Ma
Thida, a surgeon, writer, activist, former Suu Kyi aide
and erstwhile political prisoner.
The military recognizes 135 ethnic groups, which
22
NEWSWEEK.COM
make up 25 percent of the nation’s 54 million people; Burmans, or Bamars, make up 75 percent. The
biggest minority groups include the Shan, Karen
(or Kayin), Rakhine, Kachin and Chin. Burmans
have preyed on these groups for generations, most
recently under the auspices of military strongmen. Many resorted to resistance, spawning the 21
“ethnic armed organizations” now operating in the
country. Since 2012, the military and its quasi-civilian governments—and now the governing administration—have pushed for a cease-fire agreement
to achieve a national reconciliation, end hostilities
and defang the armed groups. “A deal can only be
worked out if the ethnic groups sign the cease-fire
agreement,” says the retired officer. But those organizations demand autonomy in their regions; the
cease-fire deal does not resolve that issue, so fewer
than half of the groups have signed on.
In 2015, numerous ethnic voters backed the NLD,
seduced, like everyone else, by Suu Kyi. “The Chins
did not vote for the NLD; they voted for her,” says
Cheery Zahau, a political activist and country director for the Project 2049 Institute, a U.S.-based think
THE LADY VANISHES
Suu Kyi, above, not only
has declined to condemn
anti-Rohingya atrocities,
like the ones carried
out against Mumtaz
Begum, right, but never
actually uses the word
Rohingyas, which some
say underscores her
reluctance to recognize
them as a separate group
entitled to their rights.
J U N E 08, 2018
ASIA
Aung San Suu Kyi,” the reverend says. “She’s not
focused on ethnic issues. She’s focused on democracy and dealing with the Western governments.
That’s why people are disappointed in her. She’s
too close to the military.”
That disappointment is unlikely to abate as military operations against ethnic groups continue to
escalate. In mid-May, at least 19 people were killed in
Shan state, when the military battled the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, an insurgent group known
for its operations against opium cultivation, near
the border with China. Hkalam Samson says Suu
Kyi’s peace strategy has foundered.
After years of flinging rhetorical bombs at the
generals, Suu Kyi maintains an uneasy relationship
with them. She says privately that “there’s no relationship, no communication” between her and General Min Aung Hlaing, according to someone who
knows her. She tried to cozy up to the general after
the election, but the violence in Rakhine ended that
effort. The leaders of the “two governments” have
tussled ever since, says a second person who knows
Suu Kyi. But in the spirit of realpolitik, the Lady has
eschewed condemnation and confrontation with
FROM TO P: YE AU NG THU/AFP/GE T T Y; ALL ISON J OYCE/GET T Y
tank. “Ordinary people thought Aung San Suu Kyi
would come and feed them food herself.” Cheery
should know: She ran for parliament in impoverished Chin state and lost to the candidate from Suu
Kyi’s party. “Now, many realize Suu Kyi won’t save
them,” she says. “Chin people have to save themselves.”
Kachins seem to have experienced a similar epiphany in their state, especially after the military’s April
attacks, the latest outburst in off-and-on fighting dating back to 2011, when a 17-year-old cease-fire fell
apart. The state government, run by Suu Kyi’s party,
approved camps and authorized rescue operations
for those displaced by the conflict. But Myanmar’s
army has blocked such efforts, apparently to mask
the extent of the upheaval.
It was another case of the nation’s “two governments” in inaction. “We have two entities working
separately,” the Reverend Hkalam Samson, general
secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, says in
a phone call from Myitkyina, a Kachin city awash in
anti-military protests. Roughly half of the state’s approximately 800,000 residents are Baptists, and the
evangelical group provides assistance to villagers
and displaced people. “We are very confused on
NEWSWEEK.COM
23
STORYTAG
24
NEWSWEEK.COM
N OV E M BE R 24, 2017
THE FORGOTTEN
KE VIN FRAYER /GET T Y
Brought in from what is now
Bangladesh by the British
colonizers to work, the
Rohingyas remain stateless,
with no rights in the country
they immigrated to roughly
two centuries ago. Critics say
Suu Kyi has minimized what
the U.N. has called “acts of
genocide” and a “textbook
case of ethnic cleansing.”
NEWSWEEK.COM
25
the military. The second person close to her says
she acknowledges in private that the army engages
in ethnic cleansing in Rakhine—but she’d never use
anything close to that language in public.
Suu Kyi’s critics acknowledge her constitutional
limitations but argue that she missed an opportunity to leverage her popularity right after the 2015
election. “She had massive international support—
including China—and massive domestic support,”
says Davis, the Jane’s analyst. “That would have been
the time for a smart politician to push for constitutional change. The military probably would have
blinked. She could have had half a million Burmese
in the streets of Rangoon in a half an hour.”
Maybe, but the military rarely has hesitated to
kill thousands. Bo Bo Oo, an NLD member of parliament, says Suu Kyi and the civilian government
opted to take “an evolutionary approach” of nonviolence and “no people in the streets.” He stipulates
that the generals are in charge, so “we have to choose
another way”—apparently to speak softly and carry
a small stick. Asked to identify some of Suu Kyi’s accomplishments in the past two years, the lawmaker acknowledges that “the very rigid constitution
is difficult to change,” then lists tax reform—“tax
income is quite increased”—and improvements in
education and health care. If that sounds meager, it
is, says Khin Zaw Win, the former political prisoner.
You could credit the government with simplifying
regulations to boost investment, and for proposals
to improve the country’s infrastructure. But it’s still
not much, he notes. Mostly, government officials
have thrown rhetoric at tough policy issues, as if
they can talk the nation’s problems out of existence.
Kyaw Kyaw Hlaing, chairman of Smart, a group
of oil and gas companies, says the government appoints officials not for their skills or zeal for certain
portfolios but connections to Suu Kyi. “Everything
is getting bottlenecked,” he says. “Nobody wants to
make a decision. Everything has to go to Daw Suu or
a minister…who sends it to her.” Pantomiming frantic officials waving their hands in the air, he parodies
the bureaucrats: “‘What does the Lady want? What
would the Lady do?’” He adds, “They’re not scared of
her; they’re scared of losing their positions.”
It doesn’t help that Suu Kyi employs an imperious
management style, some analysts say. Even before
the NLD won the 2015 election, she announced
that while the constitution bars her from becoming
26
NEWSWEEK.COM
president, she would be “above the president.” Indeed, the civilian president—first Htin Kyaw, who
resigned in March, and now Win Myint—has functioned mostly as a conduit for Suu Kyi. The Lady is
also foreign minister. “She has a personalized and
centralized form of government, and all the ministers are deathly afraid of her and don’t dare criticize
her,” says Khin Zaw Win. “This centralized system
could work if Suu Kyi were more decisive, critics say.
But as Smart’s Kyaw Kyaw Hlaing puts it, “She’s too
focused on consequences in making decisions.”
Such dithering could harm Suu Kyi’s 2020 election prospects, analysts say. “She had better hope
that the Burmese people focus on her legendary
THE GENERAL AND HIS LABYRINTH
Suu Kyi’s party remains popular, and voters don’t have a
lot of choices. The best alternative: the military. Above,
clockwise from top left: Soldiers march during a military
parade in Naypyidaw; Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo is
escorted by police after a hearing in Yangon; workers pave
a highway near Dawei; and Buddhists protest the use of the
term Rohingya. Right: Min Aung Hlaing, the military’s leader.
ASIA
CLO C KWISE FRO M BOT TOM L EFT: SOE ZE YA TUN/RE UTERS; THET AUNG/AFP/GET T Y; JORGE
SILVA/RE UTERS; SEONGJO O N C HO/BLO OMBERG/GET T Y; SOE ZEYA TUN/REUTERS
past rather than what she’s accomplished in power
when they go to the polls again in 2020,” Human
Rights Watch’s Robertson tells Newsweek. But the
Lady intends to win, even if she can’t tout many
achievements. Bo Bo Oo, the NLD lawmaker, insists
that voters are less focused on big-picture issues,
such as federalism and peace, and more concerned
about improving electricity and garbage collection,
creating new parking lots and dog shelters. “Issue by
issue, I try to solve,” he says. “And they still believe the
NLD is the best party to address such issues.”
He may be right. The NLD remains popular, and
voters don’t have a lot of choices. The best alternative is the military, through its Union Solidarity and
Development Party. Some say the generals are content to leave governing to the civilians and instead
focus on strengthening the armed forces and making money. Others say Aung Hlaing could seriously
challenge Suu Kyi in 2020.
Would he run? There are some indications—he’s
made public appearances and is now using social
media. The armed forces normally repulse Myanmar’s democracy-supporting populace, but the
general is gaining some traction among Buddhist
Burmans because he has brutally cracked down on
Rohingyas and other ethnic groups. Some Burmans
even see him as a defender of the faith.
Conveniently, having allowed Suu Kyi and her
party to take over most ministries, he gets to blame
her for policy failures and can also use her as a shield
against international grumbling about the country
not being democratic. “For Min Aung Hlaing, military...support would be reinforced by a genuine
popularity among many Burmans as a capable,
strong leader…who has travelled abroad extensively
while projecting himself at home as the defender of
a Buddhist nation which sees itself as increasingly
embattled,” Jane’s Davis wrote.
But the extent of the general’s popularity is debatable. Despite his public support, some of his own
colleagues are suspicious of his ambitions. “There
are many in the military who find this distasteful,”
says the retired officer. “Many junior officers believe
he is more interested in personal power and wealth
than the interests of the country.”
If Suu Kyi were to be outmaneuvered by Min Aung
Hlaing, the armed forces could take total control of
the country. “What the military had always thirsted
for was legitimacy,” says Ma Thida. “With the 2008
constitution and then the election, they got it. That’s
why there will never be another military coup. They
don’t need a coup.” They would have even less need
for a coup if they were to triumph at the ballot box.
Suu Kyi, whose halo may never have quite fit,
seems determined to avoid such an outcome. Her
unwillingness to confront the military on the
Rohingya crisis, or to get too far ahead of the generals on the peace process, underscores her recognition of the political stakes, says Khin Zaw Win.
So does her apparent lack of effort in freeing two
Reuters reporters who have been jailed in Myanmar
since last December, when they were investigating
the killing of 10 Rohingya in Rakhine state. And so
does Suu Kyi’s mistrust of a free press, exemplified by
a paucity of interviews and occasional instructions
to underlings to not talk to reporters.
Even now, however, her disappointed backers
declare their allegiance while they also vent their
frustration. Hkalam Samson, the Kachin leader, is
one of them. “We know she alone cannot move
this monster,” he tells Newsweek. “That’s why we
pray for her. We still love her.”
With reporting by Larry Jagan
NEWSWEEK.COM
27
28
NEWSWEEK.COM
PHOTO GR AP HS BY GET T Y
BROKEN DREAMS
The Reverend Martin
Luther King Jr.,
Robert F. Kennedy
and President
John F. Kennedy—
assassinated at 39, 42
and 46 respectively.
P
The assassination of
Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968,
felt like the end of hope,
which sounds acutely familiar
to many Americans today
by NINA BURLEIGH
hoto illustration by GLUEKIT
NEWSWEEK.COM
29
CLO C KWISE FRO M RIGHT: ANDREW SAC KS/GET T Y; FR ANK HUR LEY/NY DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE/GET T Y; ROBERT W. KELLEY/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GET T Y
LEGACY
obert f. kennedy was
killed 50 years ago June 6—the third in a trio
of high-profile assassinations during that
decade, the bloody coda to an era of political
violence. Today, in our divided, uncivil time,
it’s worth remembering that Americans survived the horrors of the 1960s and early ’70s,
which began with the murder of Robert’s
older brother, President John F. Kennedy, in
1963. But 1968 was something of a watershed:
“The year that shattered America,” as Smithsonian has called it, demolished the hippie fever
dream of the ’60s with an explosive cocktail
of escalating war, racially charged riots, police
brutality and the assassinations of Martin
Luther King Jr. and then RFK.
There was no 24-hour news cycle back then.
Social media was not spreading hate or forging
divisive bubbles. The president wasn’t fanning
flames with regular tweets, covert Russian
COURSES OF ACTION
And Robert Kennedy was, for a moment, the
Above: RFK, in 1968, greeting
hackers weren’t propagating fake news, and
man who could lead the nation out of darkfans on the campaign trail.
books proclaiming the end of democracy
ness. RFK had been his older brother's attorOpposite top: Martin Luther
hadn’t become a lucrative sideline for pubKing Jr. with fellow leaders of
ney general and remained in that position for
the 1963 March on Washington
lishers—all of which exacerbates our current
several months after Lyndon B. Johnson was
for Jobs and Freedom.
turmoil, which can feel intractable.
sworn in as president. But he left to run for the
Opposite, bottom: Jackie
And yet, in 1968 we experienced far worse.
and John F. Kennedy, then
U.S. Senate from New York in 1964 and won the
the Democratic presidential
“As strange and terrible as these times seem—
seat, veering further and further left—well benominee, at a 1960 ticker tape
and they are indeed strange and terrible—
yond JFK's more conservative ideology—champarade in New York City.
it’s hard for younger people who are despairpioning the poor, civil rights and labor activing over Trump to imagine what it felt like
ism and speaking out against the Vietnam War.
to my generation, coming of age in the late
RFK entered the 1968 presidential primary late, announcing on March 16. He would challenge Johnson
1960s,” David Talbot, author of Brothers: The Hidden History
of the Kennedy Years, tells Newsweek. “A hideous imperial war
and Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was running on
that kept grinding on and on, despite massive protests in the
an anti-war platform. But unlike his rivals, the Ivy League–educated Kennedy had a remarkable ability to speak to both black
streets; long-repressed racial rage exploding every summer in
our cities; a Washington power structure that seemed incapaand working-class voters, creating a coalition in a time of intense
ble of understanding these protests and eruptions, let alone do
political antagonism. “What other reason do we have really for
anything substantial about it.”
[our] existence as human beings unless we’ve made some other
Peter Goldman, who wrote for Newsweek at the time (see page
contribution to somebody else to improve their own lives?” he
23), remembers “a widespread sense that we were in big trouble.
said in one of his speeches, typically peppered with erudition
The foundations of the country we knew were crumbling. Our
and an almost ecclesiastic, Catholic compassion.
popular culture was changing.” America, Goldman says, seemed
In an interview with Kerry Kennedy for her book, Ripples of Hope, commemorating the anniversary of her father’s
to have “come loose from its moorings.”
NEWSWEEK.COM
31
LE G A C Y
assassination, Barack Obama (who turned 7 in 1968) says he
yelling, “God bless you!” In an introduction to her book, Kerry
took inspiration from RFK’s ability to change his views, becomKennedy writes that her father’s hands were rubbed raw and
ing more progressive on race and poverty. “By the time he was
his shirt cuffs torn at the end of each campaign day.
running for president, you had a sense of somebody who had
The nation, meanwhile, was drowning in death. The Tet
really gone inward and examined himself,” Obama said.
Offensive that started in January of that year led to the war’s
The rich and privileged Kennedy was also remarkably opposed
bloodiest period for U.S. troops, with 1968 its deadliest year:
to the interests of big business (a 1968 Fortune article called him
16,592 American soldiers killed. The year would also see a peak
the most unpopular candidate since FDR). The gross domestic
of more than half a million men fighting the war.
product, he famously said in a post-announcement speech in
And then, on April 4, just weeks after RFK entered the race,
Republican Kansas, “measures neither our wit, nor our courMartin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at a motel in Memphis,
age, neither our wisdom nor our learning,
Tennessee. Anger and despair erupted in black
neither our compassion nor our devotion to
communities across the nation, with riots in
our country. It measures everything, in short,
cities like Chicago, Baltimore and New York.
except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Kennedy was campaigning in Indianapolis
LBJ quickly realized the implications of
that night, and local police urged him to canKennedy’s popularity; he pulled out of the
cel his rally, held in a mostly black neighborAMERICAN TRAGEDY
race on March 31, leaving it wide open.
Members of the Ohio National
hood. Kennedy wouldn’t hear of it, speaking
Guard, with gas masks and
Footage in a new Netflix documentary
extemporaneously with a few jotted notes. He
fixed bayonets, advance
series, Bobby Kennedy for President, shows
quoted Aeschylus, calling him “my favorite
on students protesting at
his charisma. That, coupled with a nation
Kent State University on
poet”: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot
May 4, 1970. Four students
still mourning his brother’s death, led to
forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until,
were eventually killed and
profound public yearning. As he plunged
in our own despair, against our will, comes
nine injured when weapons
into crowds, people would grab his hands,
were fired into the crowd.
wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Sad-eyed but with a dazzling smile, Kennedy
stumped across the nation through April and
May. His chance of winning the Democratic
nomination wasn’t certain, but the likelihood
was strong. Millions—progressives and others—
saw in Kennedy the light and love that could, as
King had preached, drive out darkness and hate.
But on June 5, the night of the California
primary—then the last one in the Democratic
primary season—any hope of salvation was
destroyed. Kennedy was shot to death in the
kitchen area of the Ambassador Hotel in Los
Angeles at what was supposed to have been his
victory party. In the hours before his murder,
as success became clear, supporters were ecstatic. “It was like everything you could ever
hope and wish for was going to happen,” recalled labor organizer Dolores Huerta.
Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian incensed over
Kennedy’s support of Israel, was convicted of
killing Kennedy and remains in prison; the
incident is considered by some to be the first
act of violence on American soil stemming from
the Arab-Israeli conflict. A few months later, benumbed Democrats nominated Vice President
Hubert Humphrey at a Chicago convention
32
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
THE
A S SA S S I NAT I ON
EDITOR
A veteran journalist recalls reporting on the life
and death of Robert F. Kennedy BY ZACH SCHONFELD
FROM LEFT: HOWAR D RUFFNE R/GE T T Y; BET TMANN/GET T Y; NEWSWEE K
► PETER GOLDMAN WAS AT HOME IN NEW
York, watching the results roll in from the
California presidential primary. It was
early in the morning of June 5, 1968, and
for a fleeting instant, Robert F. Kennedy
seemed poised to capture the Democratic
nomination and perhaps follow his slain
brother’s footsteps into the White House.
NBC went off the air, but Goldman,
a 35-year-old national affairs writer for
Newsweek, stayed awake, flipping through
other news channels. Suddenly, he saw
footage of a shaken Steve Smith, Kennedy’s
brother-in-law and campaign manager,
ascending to the podium at Los Angeles’s
Ambassador Hotel “and announcing that
something horrible had happened.”
As Goldman would observe in his
subsequent Newsweek cover story, there
was a sense of “sickening familiarity” in
the night’s sequence of events, coming as
it did just two months after Martin Luther
King Jr.’s assassination: “the crack of the
gun, the crumpling body, the screams,
the kaleidoscopic pandemonium.”
The senator was rushed to the hospital for
emergency surgery, but any expectation of
recovery soon evaporated. Bobby Kennedy
was declared dead on June 6. “I was kind of
the assassination editor back in the ’60s,”
says Goldman, who is now 85 and has retired
from journalism to write crime fiction. “I did
the Jack [Kennedy] cover. I did the MLK cover.
I did an inside piece on Malcolm X, an inside
piece on Medgar Evers.…” A prolific chronicler
of a remarkably tumultuous era, he would
write more than 120 cover stories between
1962 and 1988. Somebody, it seems, had
to bear witness to a nation’s unraveling.
But, briefly, Goldman saw a man who
might stitch it back together. “Bobby had
an extraordinary magnetism, and it was the
reverse of what we usually think of as magnetism in politics. It was a kind of counter-charisma. There was sadness in his eyes. I think
he ended his life still grieving for Jack.” And
perhaps anticipating his own death. Goldman
remembers an anecdote from a reporter who
covered Kennedy's presidential campaign.
At one point, there was a small birthday
celebration for a member of his staff that
included balloons. When one of them popped,
“Bobby cringed and looked terrified. I think he
knew a gun was waiting for him somewhere.”
Understandably, then, Kennedy was
an uneasy candidate. Goldman did travel
with the campaign for a short time, and he
remembers RFK's hands shaking when he
was speaking in public. “Bobby just carried
this wounded, vulnerable look about him—to
the point where you wanted to put your arms
around him and say, ‘It’s gonna be OK.’
“The only time I saw him comfortable," he
goes on, was at a stop in Indianapolis. Kennedy was met by a throng of young children
outside a day care center. “The change in
[Bobby’s] demeanor was, to me, remarkable,” says Goldman. One boy, disoriented
by the flesh-and-blood materialization of
a celebrity, approached and asked, “How
do you get out of the TV?” The candidate
smiled but did not laugh at or mock him.
Kennedy died on a Thursday morning, and
Goldman had finished most of the story by
late Friday, using the files of reporters working
around the country. He wanted to end on RFK’s
funeral on Saturday. He watched it at work,
drinking a bottle of bourbon his editor had
pulled from his desk drawer. “The two of us
were sitting there pretty near tears, which is
not what journalists are supposed to be doing.”
Goldman believes that the events of 1968
indirectly led to the current rift between
liberals and conservatives. “Some of the fissures that were opening in the ’60s widened
the division between the two parties, and
the division on a lot of social and cultural
issues,” he says. Freed from any obligation to
impartiality (a quaint journalistic expectation
of the past), he speaks plainly about the 45th
president. “I’ve lived under one-third of American presidents [Herbert Hoover only when
Goldman was an infant]. I’m an old dude.
And Trump is the first one who kind of scares
me. He has no idea what he’s doing. What
he’s substituting for expertise, it’s chaos.”
Half a century later, Goldman can also
confess to some political partiality during his
career. “I was very drawn to Bobby—as was
the entire traveling press corps,” he says.
“It was the most remarkable thing I’ve ever
seen, the flying love affair on that plane.”
When he died, “I was sadder than I would
have been about any other candidate.”
NEWSWEEK.COM
33
“THE FOUNDATIONS OF
THE COUNTRY WE KNEW
WERE CRUMBLING.
AMERICA HAD COME LOSE
FROM ITS MOORINGS.”
34
NEWSWEEK.COM
N OV E M BE R 24, 2017
FROM LEFT: TIM PAGE/C ORBIS/GET T Y; DAVID FENTON/GET T Y
STORYTAG
WAR AND PEACE
Demonstrators on and
around the Peace Monument
at a massive anti-war rally in
Washington, D.C., on April 14,
1971. Opposite: U.S. soldiers
patrolling the Mekong Delta
in Vietnam in 1968. The war
would last for another seven
years, ending April 30, 1975.
produce, and they had all been assassinated.
And from this time forward, things would get
worse: our best political leaders were part of
memory now, not hope. The stone was at the
bottom of the hill and we were all alone.”
That sense of despair, however, was not
shared by all. Representative John Lewis, the
longtime congressman from Georgia and a
civil rights leader, tells Newsweek that he and
other progressives fought to maintain faith in
the future. “During the ’60s, in spite of [those
three] assassinations, we never became bitter,”
he says. “We never became hostile. We never
hated. We kept holding on—we kept dreaming.
Although something died in all of us, we kept
the faith. We kept dreaming for a better day.”
And better days did come. Fifty years on, the
U.S. poverty rate is dramatically lower, and tolerance and equality are dramatically higher:
Gay marriage is legal, and there is increased
awareness of discrimination against women
and minorities. Obviously, there is still much
to be done, yet if we have learned anything, it
is that Americans can turn again toward hope.
Kennedy adviser and labor leader Paul
WE SHALL OVERCOME
scarred by protests and police violence. Richard
Schrade was at the Ambassador Hotel and was
State troopers swing billy
Nixon was elected president in November. Two
shot in the head during the attack. His spiritual
clubs to break up a civil rights
years later, National Guardsmen killed four sturecuperation took much longer than his long
march in Selma, Alabama,
on March 7, 1965. The man
dents at Kent State University in Ohio. By 1974,
physical recovery. He left his job as an organizer
being beaten is future U.S.
Nixon was facing impeachment and resigned.
and went back to work in an aerospace factory
Representative John Lewis,
Author Talbot was 16 and a passionate
for several years, “because I wanted a quiet
pictured, opposite, with
President Barack Obama, at
place,” he tells Newsweek. But Schrade joined
supporter of Bobby Kennedy when he heard
an event marking the 50th
the news of the assassination on his car
peace marches in the early 1970s—which he
anniversary of that march.
radio. “That burst of gunfire not only morcredits with leading to the end of the Vietnam
tally wounded RFK, it deeply damaged the
War. And while he doesn’t think the country
dreams for a better America that had been
has ever really come back from the era of
assassinations, at 93 he still has unwavering faith in the power
embraced by millions of people like me,” he says. “For many
in my generation, these wounds haven’t healed; we still have
of progressive movements. “I am as appalled at Trump as many
trouble believing in our country’s future.”
people, but we are, I think, turning a corner with Black Lives MatYoung Americans, energized by the enormous promise of JFK,
ter, the #MeToo movement, and with the students against guns.”
RFK and MLK, were left reeling. Journalist Jack Newfield, present
Obama maintains his belief in the country that elected him as
at Bobby’s murder, eloquently summed up the feeling in his 1969
its first black president, finding lessons, even inspiration, in Amermemoir, RFK: “Now I realized what makes our generation unique,
ica’s worst moments, as RFK did. “If we’re going to talk about our
what defines us apart from those who came before the hopeful
history, then we should do it in a way that heals, not in a way that
winter of 1961, and those who came after the murderous spring
wounds, not in a way that divides,” he said at a rally last October.
of 1968. We are the first generation that learned from experience… “That’s how we rise up. We don’t rise up by repeating the past. We
that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overrise up by learning from the past and listening to each other.”
come. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already
“In spite of what is happening today,” says Lewis, “we shall,
glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could
and will, overcome.”
36
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
FROM LEFT: AP PHOTO; SAU L LO EB/A FP/GET T Y
LEGACY
Horizons
MILLION
B E H I ND THE NUMBER S
Hot Take
38
NEWSWEEK.COM
FAHRENHEIT
2,140º
Lava’s temperature range when first ejected.
The eruption temperature at Kilauea is about
The year Kilauea—
about 14 percent of
the Big Island’s
land area—began
its current phase
of continuous
eruptions.
1,300º
The height ash
soared when
Kilauea, on
Hawaii’s Big
Island, erupted
on May 17.
Groundwater and
hot rock had
interacted, a
combination the
U.S. Geological
Survey says can
produce dramatic—
though not huge—
explosions.
2,200º
Recent eruptions from Kilauea have caused school closings,
temporary relocations and concern about larger explosions
to follow. But against the backdrop of volcano history,
Kilauea’s current activity is nothing out of the ordinary
30,000 feet
6
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY + HEALTH
Estimated number of active volcanoes in
the U.S., the majority in Alaska, with most
others in Hawaii and on the West Coast.
169
1,500
Estimated number of active volcanoes
in the world, not including those on
the ocean floor. Many are located in
the Pacific Rim’s “Ring of Fire.” About
500 have erupted in recorded history.
Number of people living within 60 miles
of Campi Flegrei, an active volcano in
Italy with an explosive recent past.
NINETY–TWO
THOUSAND
The most fatalities
from a single event,
after Indonesia’s
Tambora erupted
in 1815. Starvation
was the major
cause of death,
though the worst
incidents (like
Italy’s Pompeii)
usually kill people
through ash, mud
and lava flows.
23 → Number of large volcanic eruptions
across the globe in the 21st century.
J U N E 08, 2018
GLOBE : C SA IMAGES/GE T T Y; VO LC ANO: CO RBIS/GET T Y
80,000ft
The height of the
eruption column
that deposited ash
on 11 U.S. states
when Mount St.
Helens erupted in
1980, killing 57
people and causing
an estimated $3.03
billion in damage.
NEWSWEEK.COM
39
Horizons
Are organs from people who’ve
died from drug abuse safe?
We examined the outcomes of people who received organs from people addicted to drugs—specifically
heart and lung recipients. Those
organs are the most vulnerable
to low oxygen, which is ultimately
what kills most people who die from
overdoses. The outcomes, at least
through the first year following the
transplant, are the same as those
seen with other donor sources.
F R E S H EVIDENCE
Life After Death
A HARVARD DOCTOR UNCOVERS A DISTURBING
BENEFIT FROM OVERDOSE FATALITIES
The opioid epidemic ravaging the
U.S. is killing tens of thousands a year,
with over 63,600 overdose deaths in
2016. Although opioid prescriptions
have started falling, the crisis is not
abating. When pills aren’t available,
many users turn to heroin or its more
dangerous cousin, fentanyl. But a
strange phoenix has risen from these
ashes: life-saving organs available
for transplantation. After Mandeep
Mehra and a colleague at Harvard
Medical School noticed an increase
in the number of donors, they tracked
the source to opioid-related deaths.
Newsweek spoke with Mehra, a professor of medicine, about the discovery of this disconcerting correlation.
How did you uncover the
connection?
For many years, the number of donors
was stagnant. When we noticed an increase in recent years, we wondered if
Americans had started donating more
or if some other factor was at play. We
How do you reconcile the benefit
of more organs with such a
disturbing source?
The drug epidemic is a societal ill
that we have to deal with. The one
silver lining to this very, very cloudy
situation is that many lives are saved
by one life lost—the heart, two
lungs, two kidneys and the liver can
all be donated.
Every time an organ transplant
recovery is performed, the team
observes a moment of silence and
offers gratitude and thanks for this
gift of life. But as a community of
transplant professionals, we should
not consider this a sustainable
donor source. —Jessica Wapner
“Three years
after my kidney
transplant I
won an NBA
Championship
with the Miami
Heat. If not for
my donor, I
would have been
hooked up to
dialysis machines
and may not have
even survived.
Each of the
120,000 people
on the waiting list
has great things
to accomplish in
the future ahead
of them.”
— ALONZO MOURNING,
former Miami Heat
center, in a 2016 email to
the White House
SURPRISING FIND I N G
No Thanks
A new study from the University of Helsinki found that expressions of gratitude are infrequent
in many languages. Among more than 1,000 samples of conversations in eight languages from
five continents, people expressed thanks for a request granted just 5.5 percent of the time.
Even among the most verbal thankers—English speakers—the rate was only 14.5 percent. The
absence does not mean that people aren’t thankful, say the authors, but simply that we expect
to cooperate with one another. “Care should be taken,” the authors write in Royal Society Open
Science, “not to conflate the emotion of gratitude with the act of expressing it.”
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
FROM TO P: STUART KINLO UGH/GET T Y; PAUL ZIMMER MAN/W IREIMAGE /GET T Y; DANE MARK/GET T Y
reviewed 17 years of data, from 2000
to 2016, on organ donors and saw an
elevenfold increase in donors who
had died from drug abuse.
We also looked at the same span
of data from Eurotransplant, a
collective of eight transplant centers
in Europe, and were shocked to see
this particular donor source was
absolutely flat over time.
LIGHTS OUT
A dying star captured
by the Hubble
Space Telescope.
SPACE
A Bigger Bang?
NASA/ESA /HUBBL E HERITAGE TEAM
A new discovery could tell us when the first stars appeared in the universe
the universe began
nearly 14 billion years
ago as a vast and dark mix
of protons and electrons.
Hydrogen formed gradually,
along with helium and some
lithium. That was the extent
of variety in the universe
until the first stars emerged.
It would take those nuclear
fusion machines to create oxygen and all the other, heavier
elements that make up life. So
pinpointing cosmic dawn—
the time when the first stars
formed—has long been a
quest for astrophysicists. Now,
they are one step closer.
Stars explode when they
die, at which point the oxygen
forged inside them merges
with the gas in the rest of its
home galaxy. But light is an
escape artist; it always leaves
its source. That means astronomers can spot the glow of
oxygen even from very far away.
Using a powerful array of
radio telescopes in Chile, an
international team of astrophysicists did just that. They
found the faint, infrared
glow of oxygen coming from
a distant galaxy known as
MACS1149-JD1, or JD1 for short.
Waves of light stretch as they
travel farther from their source,
like a rubber band pulled by
the expanding universe. The
team knew that measuring
the wavelength of the oxygen’s
glow—in other words, how
stretched out the rubber band
was—would tell them exactly
how far away JD1 is and when
the light first left its source.
According to their May 17
report in Nature, the oxygen
left its star 13.3 billion years
ago—or 500 million years
after the Big Bang. That makes
this oxygen the most distant
that we have ever found. Since
this light first left its source,
the universe has expanded
nine or 10 times.
But that’s not all. Because
the light from this oxygen
could only have escaped from
a dead star, the stars in JD1
must have formed even earlier.
Using images from the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes, the
team calculated that the galaxy
formed about 250 million years
after the universe began. That
moment might be cosmic dawn,
says study co-author Richard
Ellis, professor of astrophysics
at University College London.
Because the Spitzer images
were blurry, it’s possible that
“an interloping galaxy” may
have skewed the results, says
NASA astrophysicist Jane Rigby.
But, notes Rigby, the James
Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2020 and designed to
study galaxies at cosmic dawn,
could confirm the findings.
Ellis believes cosmic dawn
is as important as the Big Bang
to understanding the universe.
“It marks the beginning of the
synthesis of elements that
make up you and me,” he says.
“Life, of course, comes much
later.” —J.W.
NEWSWEEK.COM
41
Culture
HIGH, LOW + EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
GIRL! GIRL! GIRL!
1992 Polaroids of
Phair recording at
Idful Music in Chicago.
Center: with Exile
in Guyville guitarist
and engineer Casey
Rice and producer
Brad Wood.
MUSIC
Phair Play
The long, strange journey of the
‘Girly-Sound’ cassettes—the
legendary 1991 recordings that
led to Liz Phair’s Gen X classic
Exile in Guyville
42
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 08, 2018
POL AROIDS CO URTESY OF BRA D WO OD AND MATAD OR RE COR DS; CASSET TES BY GET T Y; TOP RIGHT: ERIK MADIGAN HECK/AMC
FAT CHANCE
Weight watchers get militant in
AMC’s adaptation of Dietland » P.46
tae won yu received a cassette tape in
In 1989, during her junior year, she spent some
the mail. It was 1991, when bootlegs flowed
time in New York interning for the artist and activfreely through the postal service, like pollen in
ist Nancy Spero. Two crucial things happened:
springtime. Vanilla Ice had the top-selling album
Phair wrote a ton of songs, and she befriended Yu.
in America, and Nirvana was months away from “She was like a sister or a best friend almost immebreaking through to the mainstream, but the
diately,” he says. “I felt like I’d known her all my life.”
underground scene was vibrant. Yu, then the
They both lived in the East Village and shared an
guitarist for a rock duo called Kicking Giant, freinterest in music, though she remained secretive
quently received homemade tapes from musicians
about her songwriting.
After graduating from Oberlin, Phair decamped
he knew in the indie fanzine world: Bratmobile.
Bikini Kill. Daniel Johnston.
to San Francisco, and Brokaw happened to be
This particular cassette was special. The songs—
friends with her roommate. When he spent a week
bracing and raw—had been recorded at home by
crashing at their loft in late 1990, the two became
Yu’s friend, an unknown 23-year-old songwriter
closer. Phair had a guitar in her room, and he
named Liz Phair. “It was astounding and fully
asked her to play him one of her songs. Brokaw was
formed—both the sound and the ease of her lyrimpressed: “I was like, ‘Man! Play me another one.’”
ical dexterity,” says Yu. “I felt very lucky and also
She ended up playing a few, and he remembers each
jealous of my friend.”
as shockingly good. Brokaw asked her to make him a
For over 25 years, the tapes—recorded under the
tape, and a month later, after moving back into her
parents’ suburban Chicago home, she did.
name Girly-Sound—have circulated among fans,
first in analog form and then as digital
The first Girly-Sound cassette,
files, amassing a reputation as the holy
recorded in her childhood bedroom
in late 1990 or early 1991, was cheekgrail of alternative-era bootlegs. Now,
BY
ily titled Yo Yo Buddy Yup Yup Word
after decades of semi-legitimate circuto
Ya Muthuh. It had 14 songs, and so
lation and word-of-mouth mythology,
ZACH SCHONFELD
did
a second tape, Girls! Girls! Girls!,
the complete tapes are being commer@zzzzaaaacccchhh
recorded
a month later. The tracks
cially released for the first time, comhad
an
invigorating
sense
of emotional and sonic
piled in Girly-Sound to Guyville, a boxed set honoring
intimacy,
with
vocals—double-tracked
over a
the 25th anniversary of Phair’s 1993 debut and masterpiece, Exile in Guyville.
barely amplified guitar—that were low, wobbly and
This is the story of how those homespun cassettes
untrained. At times, Phair sang quietly, like a teenlanded Phair a record deal (with some serendipitous
ager who doesn’t want her parents to hear her from
assistance from Yu). It’s also the story of how talent
the next room.
could be spotted in ways both primitive and miracuYet there was nothing timid about the lyrics,
which confronted sex, rejection and desire with
lous, long before the advent of Spotify playlists.
startling frankness. By 1993, Phair had an audi‘LIKE A SISTER OR A BEST FRIEND’
ence enraptured by her ability to speak plainly to
It all began at Oberlin College, where Phair studied
the vulnerabilities and indignities of being a young,
visual art during the late 1980s. “Everyone had a
unfulfilled woman. (The beloved example is “Fuck
band,” she recalled in a 1994 profile. (Phair was not
and Run,” whose fed-up narrator swears off casual
available to be interviewed for this piece.) “There
sex and declares: “I want a boyfriend/I want all that
was a lot of rock ’n’ roll spirit, but it was an intense
stupid old shit, like letters and sodas.”) But in early
place.” It was here that she met a young musician
1991, Phair had no “audience”; she had friends.
named Chris Brokaw, later of the bands Come and
She mailed copies of the first tape, then the secCodeine. “She was dating someone I knew,” Brokaw
ond, to Brokaw and Yu, followed by a third, Sooty,
says now. “She was just my friend’s girlfriend.”
featuring an early version of the gloriously profane
Photo Illust rat ion b y G L U E K I T
NEWSWEEK.COM
43
Culture
“Flower,” in which Phair inverts the
male gaze and fantasizes about having her way with a shy male crush.
“The lyrics had an urgency and a
directness that you find in literature
and films, but it was rare to find it in
rock music,” says Brokaw. “It was certainly rare to hear it in a female voice.”
The tapes revealed Phair’s blunt
sensibility—and her humor: She
experiments with goofy voices on
“Elvis Song” and cartoonish accents
on the spoken-word gem “California.”
Brokaw made copies for his
then-manager and his sister. Yu
went further: He made dozens of
copies—“I daresay over a hundred,”
he estimates. “He thought she was
a genius,” says Brokaw, “and I don’t
know what possessed him, but he
sent those tapes everywhere.”
There was no aim to profit. It’s
important, Yu says, to understand the
anti-corporate cassette-sharing ethos
that flourished back then. “A very
engaged community of people communicated through mixtapes and tapes,”
he says. “We were rejecting the idea of
waiting for a label or corporate backing to be ‘legitimate.’ ‘Have you heard
this amazing thing?’ was the subtext
behind much of our correspondence.”
Yu was in regular correspondence
with underground artists and DIY
punks around the country. They
exchanged postcards, tapes, zines—
the noncorporate music press that
flourished before blogs—and he
introduced all of them to Phair’s
music. “I sent it beyond my circle
of friends, to Calvin Johnson [of the
band Beat Happening and founder
of K Records] and Mark Robinson
[founder of TeenBeat Records].”
Another recipient: Yu’s pen pal, Allison Wolfe, the lead singer of Bratmobile, part of the pioneering feminist
punk movement riot grrrl. When she
heard Girly-Sound, she was enthralled.
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MUSIC
“Her lyrics were so explicit,” says Wolfe.
“She was singing about alternative guys
and saying how they’re the same old
sexist jerks as anywhere else.”
Wolfe brought the cassettes to the
West Coast when she went to Evergreen State College and put the song
“Open Season” on mixtapes. Her punk
friends were unimpressed. But one
day, as she was buying food at a collectively run café, a student worker
approached her. “I heard you have
these Liz Phair tapes,” she said. “Can
I please dub them?”
That student was Mirah Yom Tov
Zeitlyn, an 18-year-old musician who
would achieve indie fame under the
name Mirah. “I loved every song and
every sound,” Mirah recalls in an
email. “That tape is what made me
determined to train my little hands
to play barre chords, and it impacted
my songwriting too.”
Phair’s tapes zigged and zagged
through the underground, becoming
popular in the zine universe. At some
point, Yu wrote an effusive review of
Girly-Sound for the fanzine Chemical Imbalance. (The review included
Phair’s address and implored readers
to “send her some cash for a tape.”) “I
really wanted the world to know about
this brilliant talent,” he says.
By Phair’s own account, this was
an aimless period for her. She had
stage fright, rarely, if ever, performing live. “I was living this completely
“We were
rejecting the idea
of waiting for a
label or corporate
backing to be
‘legitimate.’”
post-college, flat-broke, only-caredabout-going-out-at-night existence,”
she said in a 2013 Spin interview.
Through a friend, she met Brad
Wood, who would become a trusted
collaborator and produce her eventual album. Wood told Phair, “You
need a label.” On a whim, she dialed
up Matador Records in New York.
Her timing was miraculous: “I get a
lot of silly, audacious calls,” Matador
co-owner Gerard Cosloy told The
New York Times in 1994. “But the day
before, I’d read a review of a GirlySound cassette in Chemical Imbalance.” It was, of course, Yu’s review.
The label was intrigued.
AN UNEXPLODED BOMB
If you’ve read this far, you know what
happens next: Matador signed Phair
in 1992. Exile in Guyville (much of it
adapted from the Girly-Sound tapes)
was instantly revelatory and widely
acclaimed. She got famous. She got
J U N E 08, 2018
C OURTESY MATAD OR RE COR DS (2)
AXE TO GRIND Phair playing Lounge
Ax in Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1993.
an early Exile in Guyville show.
widely imitated and debated.
But even as Phair graduated to professional status, she kept returning to
Girly-Sound. In 1994, when her second
album, Whip-Smart, came out, Phair
appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.
“I go in there and rip stuff off,” she said
of the tapes. “It’s like a library.”
Nine Girly-Sound songs wound up
on Guyville with fuller arrangements
and, in some instances, new titles; five
more appeared on Whip-Smart, and
two more on 1998’s whitechocolatespaceegg. Only in the new millennium,
when Phair tried to remake herself
as a glossy pop singer on a polarizing,
self-titled album in 2003, did she seem
to leave the cassettes fully behind.
The 1994 Rolling Stone piece
reported that Phair would “not
release the tapes anytime soon.” Back
then, she seemed a little embarrassed
by their unpolished nature. But her
unwillingness to officially release the
recordings only contributed to their
mystique. (“You had to know someone who had it to get it,” Mirah says.)
Much as Guyville was sequenced as a
track-by-track response to the Rolling
Stones’ Exile on Main St., the GirlySound tapes could also be slotted into
a classic-rock tradition: the sought-after bootleg. For boomers, it was Bob
Dylan’s Great White Wonder or the
Beach Boys’ aborted SMiLE. Gen Xers
had Girly-Sound.
“If albums are the signposts of rock
history, bootlegs are a portal to rock’s
shadow history,” Steven Hyden writes
in his new book, Twilight of the Gods:
A Journey to the End of Classic Rock.
“ The only music greater than the
music that moves you is the music
you’ve been told over and over would
move you if only you could hear it.”
Thankfully, plenty of people did
hear Phair’s cassettes. As her profile
rose, the tapes spread far beyond
Yu’s underground network of collectors. “You can imagine the contrast
between Liz as she existed in the early
’90s, on the cover of Rolling Stone,
versus this very quiet voice singing
incredibly heartfelt songs into a
recorder,” Yu says. “The idea of these
incredibly pregnant songs existing,
unknown, without a label—it was
like an unexploded bomb.”
By 2006, the tapes were 15 years
old, and bootleg culture had shifted
from CD-trading to file-sharing. Ken
Lee, a self-described Liz Phair archivist who had founded the Phair fan
site Mesmerizing, managed to obtain
low-generation dubs of the first two
tapes—which he made digitally available to fans on GirlySound.com—but
he couldn’t find copies of Sooty. Lee
urged fans to aid in the search. “They
gotta be out there somewhere, doing
time as squeegees, as drink coasters....
So PLEASE (with fucking candy sprinkles on top) LOOK for them!”
By this point, Phair’s views on releasing the tapes seem to have evolved,
and in 2008 she reissued Guyville for
its 15th anniversary. In an interview
with Pitchfork’s Stephen Deusner, she
mused about passing out the tapes
for free, “just like they were originally.”
When Lee hand-delivered the singer
CD copies of his dubs, “she was OK
with it,” he says now. “She asked if I
made any money off of them. I never
did, as it was a labor of love for me.”
Subsequently, Phair included 10
Girly-Sound songs as a bonus disc
with her 2010 album, Funstyle. In
recent years, they have influenced an
entire new generation of songwriters,
some not yet born when they were
recorded. “I would say those tapes are
why I write music,” Lindsey Jordan,
the 18-year-old musician who records
under the name Snail Mail, recently
told Phair. “They’re so honest.”
In 2017, Matador asked Yu to dig
out the original tapes, in preparation
for release. Yu still has a boom box,
and he listened to them for the first
time in years. “The freshness still hits
me,” he says. “They’re incredible.”
NEWSWEEK.COM
45
Culture
TELEVISION
Go Figure
dietland wants to teach you
how to say the word fat. The
new dark comedy from AMC, based
on Sarai Walker’s 2015 best-seller of
the same name, features a character,
Plum Kettle, who is not “heavyset,”
“chubby” or “curvy.” She’s fat.
Joy Nash, the actor who plays Plum,
weighs 293 pounds. She’s fine with
fat. In fact, she’ll have a problem if
you don’t use the word. “It’s a bit of a
litmus test,” says Nash. “You only need
a euphemism when the truth is so
terrible you can’t talk about it. There’s
nothing wrong with being fat.”
Dietland is not, in other words,
going to be like the first season of
46
NEWSWEEK.COM
This Is Us, which lost points with
many in the fat community after
Chrissy Metz, its Emmy-winning
star, signed a contract with NBC to
lose weight along with her character.
Plum might begin the series
loathing herself and desperately
yearning for weight loss surgery, but
she soon joins a feminist empowerment group that espouses turning
self-hatred outward. At the same
time, a terrorist group,
called Jennifer, begins
abducting, torturing
BY
and killing rapists who
got away with it—in
ANNA MENTA
one case, dropping a
@annalikestweets
man out of a plane, onto the streets
of New York City. Walker’s novel,
which is about “women’s unleashed
anger and rage,” is not something the
author thinks viewers see enough of
on TV. “I’m talking Thelma & Louise,”
she says. “Have young people even
seen that movie?”
Marti Noxon, the show’s creator,
read Dietland in 2016. “I couldn’t
help wondering, Why haven’t
women ever taken up arms?” Noxon
is a recovering anorexic, so weight
issues have preoccupied her since
adolescence. “Almost every choice
women make, including around
food, is filtered through ‘Am I good
J U N E 08, 2018
PATR IC K HARBRO N/AMC
In AMC’s Dietland, women pursue violent extremes to take control of their lives
WEIGHTY ISSUES Nash, right, as
Plum Kettle, who, after scheduling
weight loss surgery, is radicalized
by a female empowerment group.
enough?’” Noxon says. “Plum’s journey
isn’t about learning how to love being
obese or thin, but how to love how she
feels best. If that’s being 300 pounds,
whose business is it but hers?
“One of the sly things about the
book,” she goes on, “is that it has
conventions of a romantic comedy.
The cover is a little cute—the main
character’s name is Plum Kettle, for
Chrissakes! But there’s a Fight Club
quality to it, and it connects on a
level of anger I didn’t know I had.”
Noxon, who is a rape survivor, got
her start writing for Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, the show that popularized the
snarky female avenger; she went on to
create, among other series, Girlfriends’
Guide to Divorce. “I’m no fan of extremism, and Jennifer goes too far—the
violence is really over the top,” Noxon
says, “but it’s the philosophical question of when you’re starting a revolution, [extremism can] feel necessary. I
wanted to take Plum on this journey
of who is she going to be in this fight.
Is she going to change? Is she going to
run away, take a more pacifist route?
Or is she going to become a terrorist?”
When Noxon and her largely female
Dietland staff were writing the series
last July, they were still reeling over the
election of Donald Trump, on record
as a sexist. They joked that they hoped
the president wouldn’t be impeached
before the show aired, to capitalize
on the millions of women equally
incensed. They got an even better peg
a few months later: Harvey Weinstein.
Dietland now seems as if it were written expressly for this moment.
She and her writers (including
Walker, who consulted on the show)
remained faithful to the book, with
a few notable tweaks: When Emmywinning actress Julianna Margulies
joined the show as Plum’s beauty magazine boss, the role expanded. And
Plum’s best friend, the owner of her
local café, is now a man. Some fans
of the book, however, after viewing
the trailer, perceived Nash as a radical departure: She wasn’t fat enough.
In fact, the actor is just 7 pounds
lighter than Plum, but she was viewed
as too attractive to be the victim
of incessant bullying.
Nash, who, prior to this, had small
roles on The Mindy Project and the
Twin Peaks revival, admits she hasn’t
experienced the sort of daily abuse
Plum endures. At the same time, she
finds the criticism frustrating. “I’ve
gotten that a lot: ‘You’re not actually
fat.’ What that says to me is ‘When
am I allowed to be justified in my
bigotry? When am I allowed to really
be grossed out by somebody?’”
Walker, however, was thrilled with
the casting. The author had been
inspired by “A Fat Rant,” a viral YouTube video that Nash made in 2007.
In it, the actress—then 224 pounds
and considered obese by her doctor—
refers to herself as fat, criticizes the
lack of plus-size clothing in mainstream stores and deflates the myth
of dieting, citing its shockingly low
success rates. “Joy’s video was one of
the first fat-positive things I’d ever
seen,” Walker says. “It was amazing
to someone like me, who had always
“There’s a Fight
Club quality to it,
and it connects on
a level of anger I
didn’t know I had.”
felt shame about being fat.”
At the same time, Walker gets the
backlash. “When people were asking me to option the book, I was like,
‘Oh my God, this is gonna be like
Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit!’ That
nightmare kept me up at night, and
that’s been the biggest fear fans of
the book have expressed to me. Hollywood’s idea of fat is not what most
people consider fat.”
Nash sees notable improvements
for women her size, particularly
with shopping options. “When I
made ‘Fat Rant’ 10 years ago, there
were two stores that a person over
a size 15 could shop at: Lane Bryant
and Torrid. Now, there’s tons.”
Walker is less optimistic. While
she thinks the positivity movement
is great, “I don’t want to overestimate its reach. Fat shaming is a
deeply entrenched problem.”
While on the Dietland book tour
in 2015, the author was attacked
by online trolls, subjected to frequent questions about her eating
habits and even lectured for being
unhealthy. The experience prompted
her New York Times op-ed titled “Yes,
I’m Fat. It’s OK. I Said It,” and the
author worries Nash may experience similar treatment with her first
starring role. “People find happy, fat
women threatening,” says Walker.
Nash appears unconcerned. Her
own confidence began to improve
at 18, after reading Marilyn Wann’s
book FAT!SO?—which doesn’t mean
she can’t relate to her character.
“Plum thinks that when she’s thin,
her life will blossom,” she says. “And
I used to think, If I can just get a man
to love me, then life will start.”
At the very least, Nash hopes Dietland “reminds people that life is already
happening. Do something with it.”
—Additional reporting by Mary Kaye
Schilling
NEWSWEEK.COM
47
Culture
Illustration by B R I T T S P E N C E R
P A R TING SHOT
Awkwafina
tucked into the a-list-loaded credits for the all-female ocean’s 8
(Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna...) is a name that
might throw some for a loop: Awkwafina. The New York–raised Asian-American
rapper, born Nora Lum, is best known for her 2012 video “My Vag,” a tongue-incheek ode to exactly what it sounds like. (“My vag a chrome Range Rover/Yo vag
hatchback ’81 Toyota.”) But her career, simmering since with small roles on TV
and in film (Girl Code, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), is about to boil. On June 1,
she dropped her second EP, In Fina We Trust; the blockbuster-assured Ocean’s,
about a jewel heist, opens June 8; and in August she’s playing Constance Wu’s best
friend in the highly anticipated Crazy Rich Asians. Awkwafina tells Newsweek that
while she’s grateful to hear “2018 is her year,” it’s giving her agita. “I’ve been having
stress dreams every night, like someone posts ‘She’s terrible’ on Facebook, and it
gets 905 likes,” she says. “Guess that means I have something I don’t want to lose.”
“Every day
people tell me
my name is
ridiculous. There
are subreddits
dedicated
to that!”
What were you doing before
“My Vag” went viral?
I was working at an office job.
YouTube wasn’t really a thing when
I made the video, so I sent it to a
couple of friends; I never wanted
it to go beyond that, but I still got
fired for the content of the video!
After that, I had nothing to lose, so I
put it [on YouTube]. Before I pushed
that publish button, I thought,
There is a chance that I will never
be able to walk into a job interview
again. Fortunately, the bar is low for
waitressing, and that’s mostly what
I did. It was just a normal shitty life,
trying to make rent.
Is there a memory that stands out
on the Oceans set?
I was walking to my trailer, wrapping
up this incredible movie, and I saw
the building where I had worked in
the night sky—the office that I was
essentially disgraced from. I had
come full circle. It felt good.
What’s the story with Awkwafina?
I came up with it when I was 15,
recording songs at LaGuardia High
School [alma mater of Nicki Minaj].
It’s a play on Aquafina—the water
brand. I never imagined anyone
would literally call me that. When
someone says, “Awkwafina!” I’m still
like, “Who is that? Oh, right, it’s me.”
Every day on social media people
tell me my name is ridiculous. There
are entire subreddits dedicated to
that! [Laughs.] But I’ve learned to
love it. —Anna Menta
48
NEWSWEEK.COM
J U N E 8, 2018
Tinalbarka wants to be a lawyer.
She and her family fled violence in Mali.
PHOTO: © UNHCR / A . DRAGA J
We stand together
#WithRefugees
www.refugeeday.org
Conquest V.H.P.
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