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The New York Times International - 08 02 2018

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North Korea
finds its way
to Olympics
World braces
as an era of
easy money
draws to end
Se-Woong Koo
Stock plunge is a reminder
that global market still takes
its cues from U.S. economy
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA In the run-up to
the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang,
some South Koreans have been grumbling that this may as well be the
“Pyongyang Games.”
Since the North Korean leader, Kim
Jong-un, announced on Jan. 1 that he
was interested in sending a delegation
to the Games, there has been a flurry
of inter-Korean agreements.
Twenty-two North Korean athletes
will participate in the Olympics, and
they will arrive with some 230 cheerleaders in tow. The two Koreas are
fielding a joint women’s ice hockey
team. And at the opening ceremony on
Friday, they will march under a single
flag, the Korean Unification Flag.
The international news media has
been buzzing about the new prospects
for a secure peace on the Korean Peninsula, but not everyone in the South is
happy about the welcome the North is
receiving. And this time it’s not just the
usual South Korean
conservatives who
Many South
are moaning.
Koreans are
The idea that
unhappy with people in the South
the warm
belong with their
Northern brethren
isn’t universal, espePyongyang
cially among the
will receive
at the Games. young. The exigencies of daily life —
jobs, housing, income inequality —
are far more pressing than uniting with
what may as well be an alien country.
Unification increasingly sounds like an
abstract ideal, taught only in school
and repeated ad nauseam by the political class.
President Moon Jae-in appears to be
paying a heavy political price for the
rapprochement. Engagement to foster
peace is worth exploring. But pulling
out all the stops to accommodate
Pyongyang on the basis that the two
Koreas are one “minjok” (nation) — as
Mr. Moon seems to be suggesting —
comes across as outdated and out of
After all, we have seen this before.
The two Koreas sent a joint team to
the 1991 World Table Tennis Championship, and the women won a gold
medal against China. That same year,
they signed an agreement on reconciliation and nonaggression, seen as a
significant step toward unification.
Most South Koreans over 40 remember
the national euphoria over these
More hopeful years followed under
the so-called Sunshine Policy of PresiKOO, PAGE 11
The New York Times publishes opinion
from a wide range of perspectives in
hopes of promoting constructive debate
about consequential questions.
A changing Chechnya
Performers of Vainakh dance, a Caucasus staple, at the opening ceremony of a new ski resort in Chechnya. On slopes that once harbored
Islamist militants, the multimillion-dollar Veduchi resort opened with a hotel, a helicopter pad, a spa and only one modest, half-mile lift, serving just one trail. PAGE 5
Rogues, despots and P.R.
When British firm ignited
maelstrom in South Africa,
it charted its own downfall
If an autopsy could have been performed on Bell Pottinger, Britain’s most
audacious public relations firm, the
cause of death may have been summarized as “acute embarrassment.”
This is ironic because Bell Pottinger
always seemed defiantly beyond
shame. During its 30 years in the upper
echelons of Britain’s spin-doctoring
game, it sought to polish the image of
dictators (Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus), repressive regimes (Bahrain and
Egypt, to name two) and celebrities accused of despicable crimes (the Olympic
runner Oscar Pistorius after he was
charged with murder).
But in early 2016, Bell Pottinger
signed a client that ultimately buried it
in disgrace. The company worked for
the Guptas, three brothers from India
who built a sprawling, multibillion-dollar corporate empire in South Africa.
Ajay, Tony and Atul Gupta had earned
fantastic sums leveraging their friendship with President Jacob G. Zuma. By
bullying officials and bending regulations to their will, they secured contracts in fields as varied as armaments,
mining and railways. They offered ministerial jobs to politicians of their choosing. The Guptas and Mr. Zuma were so
intertwined that critics had taken to referring to the “Zupta regime.”
As the power of the Guptas and their
holding company, Oakbay Investments,
gained attention, the family wanted the
public relations equivalent of a stun
grenade — a distraction that would
draw attention away from them and
onto their many enemies. So Bell Pottinger was retained and given an assignment that initially sounded benign
enough: grass-roots political activism
intended to help poor blacks.
By the following year, Bell Pottinger
was embroiled in a national maelstrom.
In TV reports, editorials and public rallies, it stood accused of setting off racial
tensions through a furtive campaign
built on Twitter bots, hate-filled websites and speeches. All were pushing a
highly toxic narrative, namely that
whites in South Africa had seized resources and wealth while they deprived
blacks of education and jobs. The mes-
A protest against President Jacob G. Zuma of South Africa last year. Critics say the public
relations firm Bell Pottinger, working for allies of Mr. Zuma, exploited racial tensions.
sage was popularized with an incendiary phrase, “white monopoly capital.”
How Bell Pottinger went bankrupt is a
tale of corporate skulduggery. During
the Gupta disaster, a vicious boardroom
struggle unfolded, one that pitted a co-
founder, Tim Bell, against James Henderson, who ran the firm in the years before it went under. Their conflict centered on the perennials of business potboilers, namely power and money.
Mere days ago, in what feels like a different era now, the biggest thing that people in control of money appeared to fear
was complacency. Stock markets in the
United States were surging, enthralled
by the regulation-slashing, tax-shrinking predilections of President Trump.
Every major economy in the world was
The worst that could happen, the
money masters averred, was that investors would be lulled into reckless investments, taking on too much risk in
the belief that the dangers of the marketplace had been tamed.
As it turns out, the dangers were already at work. A decade-long era of easy
access to money engineered by central
banks in Asia, Europe and the United
States was ending, opening a new chapter in which corporations would have to
pay more to borrow and ordinary people
would have to pay more to finance
homes, cars and other purchases.
To digest the wild swings in stocks
and bonds from New York to London to
Tokyo is to absorb this uncomfortable
realization taking hold.
Investors concluded that interest
rates would rise faster than they had anticipated, almost certainly in the United
States, and perhaps eventually in Europe and Asia, too. They yanked their
treasure out of stocks and entrusted it to
safer repositories of wealth like bonds
and cash.
A wave of selling commenced in New
York on Friday, continued in Asia and
Europe on Monday and then completed
its transglobal journey with a sharp
drop where it had all started. While a
global rout continued into Tuesday,
anxiety subsided in the United States,
with the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index up 1.7 percent at the close. The gains
helped erase some of the losses over the
past week, although the S.&P. 500 is still
more than 6 percent off its peak in late
No degree in finance was required to
divine the lesson of the moment: Markets go down as well as up, a reality often drowned out by the euphoric celebrations to greet one record or another
being shattered.
While trading in the United States
was clearly the initial source of alarm,
the concerns spread to everywhere that
Economic data and bonds are better
indicators than stock indexes of what
investors can expect. PAGE 8
Investors who bet big on continuing
calm in global stock markets are feeling rattled. PAGE 8
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‘Hollywood is changing,’ veteran activist says
The actor Tim Robbins
muses on Trump and the
Weinstein scandal’s fallout
So Tim Robbins and Donald Trump walk
into a bar.
Not together.
They just happened to be in the same
Greenwich Village club in New York
City one night in the mid-1990s. But given the fact that fame is an irresistible
magnet for Mr. Trump, the two men naturally ended up in a picture.
“I was throwing a private party for a
friend, and he tried to crash it and I
wouldn’t let him,” Mr. Robbins recalls.
But Mr. Trump is not that easily put off,
even when his quarry has disdain for
“We were in a little roped-off section
of the club that I had rented out and I
was leaving to go to the bathroom and
all of the sudden, there he is. And before
I know it, I turn around and there’s
Y(1J85IC*KKNPKP( +&!"!$!z!]
“I was throwing a private party for a friend, and he tried to crash it, and I wouldn’t let
him,” Tim Robbins said about Donald Trump before Mr. Trump became the president.
photo flashes, and it was weird. He
wanted a photo with me because I was
famous. He used to do that a lot, by the
way. He wanted to be photographed
with famous people all the time.”
It is strange that this onetime cardboard-cutout celebrity popping up at
Gotham parties has turned into a psychic dentist drill, boring into Americans’
deepest, most painful schisms on race,
gender and inequality.
“Think about this,” Mr. Robbins says,
over scallops, fries and espresso in the
bar at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo.
“You pursue celebrities your entire life
when you’re a real-estate developer, and
then you become the most powerful person in the country and no one wants to
be photographed with you. This is the
time when most celebrities will go to
your side, and no one is going to his.”
The Washington traditions that you’d
think President Trump would have enjoyed, given his old party-surfing, glitterati-fawning ways — like the White
House Correspondents Dinner and the
Kennedy Center Honors — he has
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Issue Number
No. 41,960
page two
‘Hollywood is changing,’ activist says
lennial midlife crisis will be one for the
He avidly supported Bernie Sanders
in the primary before switching to Hillary Clinton in the general. (His ex Susan
Sarandon, also an independent spirit,
got heckled by Hillary supporters for refusing to support Mrs. Clinton; she said,
“I don’t vote with my vagina,” and then
switched to Jill Stein after Mr. Sanders
was out.)
“I think the Democratic Party is making a huge mistake right now, trying to
caustically marginalize those people
that voted for Bernie, because they’re
not going to be shamed,” Mr. Robbins
When he started his career, Mr. Robbins got offered a lot of roles as psycho
killers. Then came “The Player.” Now, at
59, he says that “most of the parts I get
offered are middle-aged dudes having
existential crises.”
He’s depicting another in Alan Ball’s
new HBO series, “Here and Now,” which
has its premiere on Sunday. Mr. Robbins’s character is a depressed philosophy professor named Greg Boatwright
who plays Candy Crush and cheats on
his wife, played by Holly Hunter, with a
young hooker.
In addition to their biological daughter, the couple, who met at Berkeley, has
the “great experiment” of three adopted
children (black, Asian and Hispanic),
now grown.
The show centers on the dynamics of
having this pocket of progressivism in
Portland, Ore., when white supremacy
groups are lurking right outside of town.
Mr. Robbins’s gloomy character sees
“ignorance, hatred, terror and rage”
winning, which makes his wife yearn to
“smack him in the face with a big, wet
Mr. Robbins has also been working on
a memoir about growing up in a onebedroom railroad apartment with a dog,
two cats, a rabbit and his folk singing
family — his father, Gil, was a guitarist
and songwriter with the Highwaymen
— and meeting a lot of “crazy creative
geniuses” in Greenwich Village. (Mr.
Robbins lived nearby in Chelsea during
his long relationship with Ms. Sarandon.)
“My dad’s way of dealing with his depression was to build something, a harpsichord or cabinets or a loom,” he says.
“I still have some of the things from his
weaving period.”
Mr. Robbins says he is “super-proud”
of his children. Ms. Sarandon’s daughter
with Franco Amurri, Eva — Mr. Robbins
refers to Eva as his daughter — has two
children and writes a parenting blog
called “Happily Eva After.”
Mr. Robbins has been producing short
films for his oldest son, Jack, who got
into Sundance last year and this year.
And his younger son, Miles, is going on
tour with his band and has roles in the
upcoming “X Files” and “Halloween”
Perhaps because he got used to wearing the garter belt of Ms. Sarandon’s
character in “Bull Durham,” Mr. Robbins was not bothered by Miles’s op-ed
in HuffPost talking about how, even
though he is “mostly heterosexual” —
he has kissed a few men — he likes to
wear dresses on stage sometimes or to
parties. “He’s a showman,” said his father, adding that he himself wouldn’t do
it because “You’ve got to have nice legs
for that.”
He is still very private about his twodecade romance with Ms. Sarandon,
noting that accounts of stars’ personal
lives are inevitably “artificial or manufactured because when you’re promoting a movie, you’re trying to tell people
what they want to hear. And they’re operating in stereotypes from the past —
younger man, older woman, whatever it
is — different perceptions that have
nothing to do with reality.”
After dating for years, he says, “I’m
with someone right now that I’ve been
with for a while. I like my life right now.”
He lives in Venice, Calif., in a charming house, where he has fun art parties
and writes poetry and music and plays
and screenplays. (His latest, “The
Heretic,” is about a trio of Jesuses, one of
whom gets waterboarded because his
message of love is too radical for Christian consumption.)
He is still busy with the Actors’ Gang,
which he founded in 1981. Through the
Actors’ Gang Prison Project, Mr. Robbins, who starred in “The Shawshank
Redemption,” has had some success
over the last decade in renewing interest and funding for arts programs in California prisons, which he believes can
help change the behavior of criminals
and teach social skills. Former Attorney
General Eric Holder was a strong supporter, given the soaring incarceration
rates, and Mr. Robbins says his prison
plays, mingling black gang members
and white supremacists, should be a bipartisan project. He says he would meet
with Jeff Sessions, if Mr. Sessions were
willing. He’s doing a documentary on
the project.
The latest production of the Actors’
Gang, “The New Colossus,” opens on
Feb. 8, with 12 actors from 12 different
parts of the world reminiscing about or
playing their ancestors in their journeys
from oppression to freedom.
“All of our ancestors are related in a
common desire,” Mr. Robbins says. “The
tribalism, dividing us by race, is not who
we are. It’s being manipulated for an
economic cause. One night we had people from all over the world in our little
hundred-seat theater and I was like,
‘This is America right here in this room.’
And it was so powerful. The division
that’s happening now is all an illusion.”
The other members of the group —
Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, Melvin
Franklin and Paul Williams — also sang
lead, notably Mr. Kendricks. But Mr. Edwards was an essential part of the
group’s new sound on songs like “I Can’t
Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion
(That’s What the World Is Today)” and
“Shakey Ground.”
Shortly after Mr. Edwards joined the
group, the Temptations won their first
Grammy, for the propulsive, upbeat
“Cloud Nine” (1968); they won another
for the funk anthem “Papa Was a Rollin’
Stone” (1971).
That song, like two other Temptations
hits from that period — “I Can’t Get Next
to You” and “Just My Imagination” (on
which Mr. Kendricks sang lead) —
reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
The group received a lifetime
achievement Grammy in 2013.
Mr. Edwards left the Temptations in
1977 to pursue a solo career but rejoined
them some years later. In 1989, he was
inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of
Fame, along with the five members from
the Temptations’ mid-1960s heyday.
Dennis Edwards was born to a
preacher in Fairfield, Ala., on Feb. 3,
1943, and grew up in Detroit. As a teenager he sang in a gospel group and studied music at the Detroit Conservatory of
Music before signing with Motown in
the late 1960s.
After parting ways with the Temptations, Mr. Edwards remained with Motown as a solo artist. In 1984 he had an
R&B hit with “Don’t Look Any Further,”
a duet with Siedah Garrett, which was
later sampled for records featuring rappers like Rakim and Tupac Shakur.
In the 1990s, he toured with a group
billed as Dennis Edwards and the Temptations, which led to a legal battle with
Otis Williams about the use of the Temptations name. He settled by touring as
the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards.
Mr. Edwards’s marriage to Ruth
Pointer, one of the Pointer Sisters, ended
in divorce. His survivors include his
wife, Brenda, with whom he lived in St.
Louis; five daughters, Issa Pointer,
Maya Peacock, Denise Edwards, Alison
Turner and Erika Thomas; a son,
Bernard Hubbard; and grandchildren.
shunned. “He doesn’t want to be in a situation where anyone has any kind of
power over him,” Mr. Robbins theorizes.
“And celebrities ultimately have the
power to say, ‘No, I don’t want to be photographed with him.’ ” Like Tom Hanks
saying he wouldn’t go to the White
House to screen “The Post,” even if he
were asked, or Tom Brady deflating
President Trump and refusing to go to
the Super Bowl ceremony at White
House, no doubt because he feared the
wrath of Gisele.
“He’s that guy at work that you used
to ignore, you know?” Mr. Robbins says
of the president. “It’s like, ‘Oh, God, he’s
at it again. Just leave him alone. Ignore
him.’ And then he’s all upset he wasn’t
invited to the party. ‘No, you’re an ass.
You don’t get invited to the party. I’m
sorry.’ ”
I muse that it must be uncomfortable
to follow the first African-American
president, known for his grace and exemplary family life, into the White
House and then have to spend all your
time denying that you’re a racist or that
you assaulted a string of women and
paid off a porn star (whose interview
with In Touch contained the revelation
that the country’s most famous germophobe didn’t wear a condom).
“‘Bob Roberts’ came true,” Mr. Robbins says, referring to the 1992 mockumentary he wrote and starred in.
He prefigured the Trump phenomenon in the film, which is about a charismatic television entertainer and rich
businessman who runs for office on the
Republican ticket, sugarcoating his corrupt ways with an appeal to family values. He is hailed as a savior by his fans
and as a crypto-fascist by his critics.
When a young woman sends an admiring note to Bob Roberts, he writes
back warning her to stay away from
crack because “It’s a ghetto drug.”
As Vincent Canby said in his New
York Times review, “Bob understands
the appeal of an ultraconservative political and economic policy even to those
who have nothing: anticipating the day
when they do have it all, they want to
make sure they will be able to keep it.”
Bob urges his followers to “take, make
and win by any means” and asks them:
“Why has your American dream been
relegated to the trash heap of history?”
When the movie was a big hit in
Cannes, Miramax signed on as a co-distributor and Harvey Weinstein began
hectoring Mr. Robbins to recut and reedit the film.
“He must have called me 20 times and
I just told him, ‘No, I’m not doing it,’ ”
Mr. Robbins says. “He was so powerful
because he had a company that was making movies that the studios weren’t making.”
Aside from his monstrous behavior
with women, Mr. Weinstein ravaged
Hollywood in other ways, Mr. Robbins
posits, adding that, though the producer
was hailed for his good taste, “you could
make the argument that Harvey’s overall impact on cinema was negative.
“What happened is, when Miramax
became as successful as it became, every studio all of a sudden wanted to have
an independent arm,” he says. “So they
all set up their little boutique companies
that would do ‘independent’ films, quote
unquote. And it wasn’t that they were independent or edgy or that the content
was risky or provocative. It was more
that it was independent of paying people
what the studios had to pay them. And
so it became this way of making films on
the cheap and not committing full studio
resources into those kinds of films.”
When Mr. Weinstein asked Mr. Robbins to star in an indie called “Smoke,”
shortly after the producer had sold Miramax to Disney for some $600 million,
the actor remembers confronting him,
saying: “‘Harvey, the talent made your
company and you’ve been paying them
scale for years. And you just put a fortune in your pocket. When are we going
to see some of that?’”
Left, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins in 1996 at the Academy Awards. Top right, inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center participate in the Actors’ Gang Prison Project, a
workshop in improvisational theater led by Mr. Robbins in 2011. Above right, Mr. Robbins and his son Jack Henry Robbins at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
He said that Mr. Weinstein called back
an hour later to say that he would pay
Mr. Robbins a million dollars to do the
part but ordered him not to tell the other
actors, who would still get scale.
“ ‘You don’t get what I was saying,’ ”
Mr. Robbins recalls telling him. “This
wasn’t a shakedown for me to get
money. This was about, What are you
going to do overall for talented people
now that you’ve been monetized in this
Mr. Robbins deadpans: “Needless to
say, I never worked for him again after
that conversation. Also, he was person-
“I have been wise with my
money. I don’t need to be an
über-rich person. I’m happy
where I am.”
ally transforming the Oscars into an advertising campaign that was about a relentless pursuit of gold.”
Mr. Robbins, who loves old Hollywood, is rueful about the dearth of great
movies: a decay in Hollywood standards that gave Mr. Weinstein power, and
cover, for a long time.
“Since I won the Oscar for ‘Mystic
River’ in 2004, I think I’ve worked in one
studio film as a lead actor, which was
‘Catch a Fire’ at Universal,” Mr. Robbins
says. “But I don’t know why that is. The
way I look at it is, every movie I have
done, I am proud of, other than one I did
for money, ‘Green Lantern.’ Is it ‘Green
Lantern’ or ‘Green Arrow’? I forget. I do
have to pay the bills occasionally. But
I’m not broke. I have been wise with my
money. I don’t need to be an über-rich
person. I’m happy where I am.”
He agrees with the philosophy of the
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg
Popovich, who explained recently why
charitable contributions matter: “Because we’re rich as hell, and we don’t
need it all, and other people need it.” And
you’re a jerk if you don’t give it.
Asked about the tectonic shift for
women in Hollywood, Mr. Robbins says
he is happy that “the incredibly libidinous atmosphere in Hollywood is
changing” so that men will be more
afraid “to intimidate women into compliance in horrible, rapey ways.”
“Everybody knew,” he says in a disgusted whisper about Harvey Weinstein. “Everybody knew.”
He thinks there might actually be a
fundamental shift, “not just on the manwoman thing but the male-male thing,
too. That’s been happening for a long
He knows this is a supercharged moment, given the opprobrium that has descended on stars such as Matt Damon,
who said people should acknowledge “a
spectrum” of bad behavior among men.
“It’s really, really important that
women have the floor now to talk about
this because it has been so pervasive
throughout every industry as long as
I’ve been alive,” Mr. Robbins says. But,
he adds, “I don’t trust mobs of any kind,
even when they’re advocating for things
I support. People losing their careers
based on innuendo or accusation is troubling for me. There is a process for this:
a legal system. Convicting someone on
an accusation is really dangerous territory to be living in.”
He worries about overreach. “Is it
possible for me to do a feminist film or a
film about race and speak with any authority, or am I limited to telling stories
about white men?”
Mr. Robbins is passionate about politics but protests that he is not a radical.
He does cop to driving in Santa Monica many years ago with his older son,
Jack, when he was about 12, and when
Mr. Robbins saw Henry Kissinger coming out of the posh Ivy at the Shore
restaurant, he leaned out and yelled,
“War criminal!”
“And my son was like, ‘What? What?
Why are you doing that?’ ”
He does not regret speaking out
against our misguided wars, even
though, during the Iraq fiasco, he got denounced by conservatives as a “terrorist supporter” and a “Saddam lover.”
“My children were young when 9/11
happened, and that was a traumatic experience,” he says. “And they saw how a
traumatic experience was turned into
using manipulated information to
produce another catastrophe, which
was the war. So it’s kind of a double
trauma. And I don’t think they trust the
institutions of power and so they’re looking to create their own. Many of our
leaders are no longer on moral high
ground. The millennials are living in a
society where if you fail you succeed,
from the bankers who almost brought
down the economy and then got bonuses
to Trump and his bankruptcies. It
started with Nixon. The degradation of
it all. Wouldn’t we be living in a different
country right now if Richard Nixon went
to jail?”
He laughs, noting wryly that “the mil-
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His resonant voice led the Temptations
Dennis Edwards, who became a lead
singer of the Motown hitmakers the
Temptations in 1968 as they embraced
psychedelic funk and won Grammy
Awards for the songs “Papa Was a
Rollin’ Stone” and “Cloud Nine,” died on
Feb. 1 in Chicago. He was 74.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed on Friday by Rosiland Triche
Roberts, one of his booking agents. She
did not specify the cause.
Mr. Edwards’s resonant, powerful
voice, burnished from years singing
gospel, was perfect for the driving soul
music of the 1970s.
“Marvin Gaye was a friend of mine,
and he used to say, ‘Man, I wish I could
sing like you, if I could have that growl in
my voice,’ ” Mr. Edwards told The Tallahassee Democrat in 2013. “And I said,
‘Man, are you kidding me? I want to sing
like you. Everybody wants to sing like
you.’ ”
Before joining the Temptations, Mr.
Edwards sang with another Motown
group, the Contours, best known for
their 1962 hit “Do You Love Me” (recorded before he joined them). The Contours opened for the Temptations in the
late 1960s, and when the Temptations’
lead singer David Ruffin left the group
in 1968, he was asked to take over.
Mr. Ruffin told him personally that he
was going to get the job, showing up at
his house very early in the morning, Mr.
Edwards said. “I thought he was kidding,” he said.
But at his first show with the Temptations, and some later ones, he recalled,
Mr. Ruffin showed up, leapt onstage and
took the microphone from him to sing
some of his older hits. In time he left Mr.
Edwards alone.
Mr. Edwards joined the Temptations
just as the group, under the direction of
the producer and songwriter Norman
Whitfield, was developing a grittier
sound, one largely influenced by the
psychedelic soul of Sly & the Family
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Crayfish clones itself
over and over again
Frank Lyko, a biologist at the German
Cancer Research Center, studies the sixinch-long marbled crayfish. Finding
specimens is easy: Dr. Lyko can buy the
crayfish at pet stores in Germany, or he
can head with colleagues to a nearby
Wait till dark, switch on head lamps,
and wander into the shallows. The marbled crayfish will emerge from hiding
and begin swarming around your ankles.
“It’s extremely impressive,” said Dr.
Lyko. “Three of us once caught 150 animals within one hour, just with our
Over the past five years, Dr. Lyko and
his colleagues have sequenced the genomes of marbled crayfish. In a study
published on Monday, the researchers
demonstrate that the marbled crayfish,
while common, is one of the most remarkable species known to science.
Before about 25 years ago, the species
simply did not exist. A single drastic mutation in a single crayfish produced the
marbled crayfish in an instant.
The mutation made it possible for the
creature to clone itself, and now it has
spread across much of Europe and
gained a toehold on other continents. In
Madagascar, where it arrived about
2007, it now numbers in the millions and
threatens native crayfish.
The marbled crayfish is a mutant species
that is exploding in Europe but appears to
have originated only about 25 years ago.
The main gate at Auschwitz. By the end of World War II, six million Poles had been murdered, including three million Jews — nearly half of all the Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Rending a shared bond of pain
Poland’s Holocaust law
tears at historical wounds
inflicted during invasions
When the Nazis looked to build
Auschwitz, the most notorious death
camp of the Holocaust, they chose this
out-of-the-way village that had been
home to a Polish Army barracks.
Unlike France or Norway, Poland had
no collaborationist government. The
Nazis wanted to destroy the state and
enslave the Poles. By the end of World
War II, six million Poles had been murdered, including three million Jews —
nearly half of all the Jews killed in the
That shared pain has at times been a
source of understanding. But it became
a source of anger on Tuesday, when Poland’s president — over furious objections from historians, the Israeli government and others — signed legislation
making it a crime to suggest that Poland
bore any responsibility for atrocities
committed by Nazi Germany.
The law has two parts. One outlaws
the phrase “Polish death camps,” a term
that scholars agree is misleading, since
the camps were erected and controlled
by Nazi Germany.
More troubling, historians say, is the
second part of the law, which makes it a
crime — punishable by a fine or up to
three years in prison — to accuse “the
Polish nation” of complicity in the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. They
say that the nationalist government is
trying to whitewash the role of Poles in
one of history’s bloodiest chapters.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex W.
Tillerson criticized the law, saying that it
“adversely affects freedom of speech
and academic inquiry.” Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has gone
further, likening the law to Holocaust denial.
Poland’s government on Monday canceled a planned visit by Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, after he
criticized the law. “The blood of Polish
Jews cries from the ground, and no law
will silence it,” Mr. Bennett said in response.
The law is the latest controversial act
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“We may never have caught the genome of a species so soon after it became a species,” said Zen Faulkes, a biologist at the University of Texas Rio
Grande Valley, who was not involved in
the new study.
The marbled crayfish became popular among German aquarium hobbyists
in the late 1990s. The earliest report of
the creature comes from a hobbyist who
told Dr. Lyko he bought what were described to him as “Texas crayfish” in
The hobbyist — whom Dr. Lyko declined to identify — was struck by the
large size of the crayfish and its enormous batches of eggs. A single marbled
crayfish can produce hundreds of eggs
at a time.
Soon the hobbyist was giving away
the crayfish to his friends. And not long
afterward, the so-called marmorkrebs
was showing up in pet stores in Germany and beyond.
As the marmorkrebs became more
popular, owners grew increasingly puzzled. The crayfish seemed to be laying
eggs without mating. The progeny were
all female, and each one grew up ready
to reproduce.
In 2003, scientists confirmed that the
marbled crayfish were indeed making
clones of themselves. They sequenced
small bits of DNA from the animals,
which bore a striking similarity to a
group of crayfish species called Procambarus, native to North America and Central America.
Ten years later, Dr. Lyko and his colleagues set out to determine the entire
genome of the marbled crayfish. By
then, it was no longer just an aquarium
For nearly two decades, marbled
crayfish have been multiplying like
Tribbles on the legendary “Star Trek”
episode. “People would start out with a
single animal, and a year later they
would have a couple hundred,” said Dr.
Many owners apparently drove to
nearby lakes and dumped their marbled
crayfish. And it turned out that the marbled crayfish didn’t need to be pampered to thrive. The marmorkrebs established growing populations in the
wild, sometimes walking hundreds of
yards to reach new lakes and streams.
Feral populations started turning up in
the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia
and Ukraine in Europe, and later in Japan and Madagascar.
The rich genetic detail gave the scientists a much clearer look at the freakish
origins of the marbled crayfish.
It apparently evolved from a species
known as the slough crayfish, Procambarus fallax, which lives only in the tributaries of the Satilla River in Florida and
The scientists concluded that the new
species got its start when two slough
crayfish mated. One of them had a mutation in a sex cell — whether it was an egg
or sperm, the scientists can’t tell.
Normal sex cells contain a single copy
of each chromosome. But the mutant
crayfish sex cell had two.
Somehow the two sex cells fused and
produced a female crayfish embryo with
three copies of each chromosome instead of the normal two. Somehow, too,
the new crayfish didn’t suffer any deformities as a result of all that extra DNA.
It grew and thrived. But instead of reproducing sexually, the first marbled
crayfish was able to induce her own
eggs to start dividing into embryos. The
offspring, all females, inherited identical copies of her three sets of chromosomes. They were clones.
In December, Dr. Lyko and his colleagues officially declared the marbled
crayfish to be a species of its own, which
they named Procambarus virginalis.
The scientists can’t say for sure where
the species began. There are no wild
populations of marble crayfish in the
United States, so it’s conceivable that
the new species arose in a German
All the marbled crayfish Dr. Lyko’s
team studied were almost genetically
identical to one another. Yet that single
genome has allowed the clones to thrive
in all manner of habitats — from abandoned coal fields in Germany to rice
paddies in Madagascar.
In their new study, published in the
journal Nature Ecology and Evolution,
the researchers show that the marbled
crayfish has spread across Madagascar
at an astonishing pace, across an area
the size of Indiana in about a decade.
Thanks to the young age of the
species, marbled crayfish could shed
light on one of the big mysteries about
the animal kingdom: why so many animals have sex.
Only about 1 in 10,000 species comprise cloning females. Many studies
suggest that sex-free species are rare
because they don’t last long.
In one such study, Abraham E. Tucker
of Southern Arkansas University and
his colleagues studied 11 asexual
species of water fleas, a tiny kind of invertebrate. Their DNA indicates that
the species only evolved about 1,250
years ago.
There are a lot of clear advantages to
being a clone. Marbled crayfish produce
nothing but fertile offspring, allowing
their populations to explode. “Asexuality is a fantastic short-term strategy,”
said Dr. Tucker.
In the long term, however, there are
benefits to sex. Sexually reproducing
animals may be better at fighting off diseases, for example.
If a pathogen evolves a way to attack
one clone, its strategy will succeed on
every clone. Sexually reproducing
species mix their genes together into
new combinations, increasing their
odds of developing a defense.
The marbled crayfish offers scientists
a chance to watch this drama play out
practically from the beginning. In its
first couple decades, it’s doing extremely well. But sooner or later, the
marbled crayfish’s fortunes may well
“Maybe they just survive for 100,000
years,” Dr. Lyko speculated. “That
would be a long time for me personally,
but in evolution it would just be a blip on
the radar.”
by a government that has curbed media
and judicial independence, while pushing a populist narrative that casts Poland in a bitter battle with the European
Union to regain its sovereignty.
Germany is the dominant power in
the bloc, and analysts say it is no coincidence that Poland’s nationalist government talks regularly about the
crimes of World War II. For instance, it
routinely brings up the idea of Germany’s paying war reparations, an issue
that nearly all of the authorities consider settled as a matter of international
Critics say the new law pits two narratives of immense suffering against each
“It is understandable that Poles want
people to know their story,” said Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian who lamented that few people know that the
death toll in the failed 1944 Warsaw Uprising was higher than in the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.
“But the worst thing about a law like
this is that it convinces you that you understand yourself,” Mr. Snyder added.
“Your confidence in yourself grows as
your knowledge of yourself goes down.”
There is a widespread feeling among
many Poles — even those who oppose
the governing Law and Justice Party —
that the nation’s wartime experience, as
victim and resister, has not been properly told and is not adequately understood. Invaded first by the Nazis and
then by the Soviets, Poland and its people, gentiles and Jews alike, suffered immensely.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki
has compared the Nazis to bandits invading a home shared by two families: If
the bandits slaughtered one family and
killed several members of the other, he
suggested, how could the second family
bear any culpability in the bandits’
But nearly all scholars who have
weighed in call that analogy dangerously simplistic.
Although many Poles risked their
lives to save Jews, others energetically
took part in pogroms, murdering at least
340 Jews in the town of Jedwabne in 1941
and 42 in the city of Kielce in 1946, after
the war ended, to take two notorious examples. Still others extorted or betrayed
their Jewish neighbors.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem, formally
recognizes more than 6,700 gentiles in
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland at a museum dedicated to a family killed
for sheltering Jews. He said a new law aimed to ensure the telling of “true history.”
Poland as “righteous among the nations” because they risked their lives
during the war to save Jews — more
than from any other country in Europe.
It estimates that 30,000 to 35,000 Polish
Jews were saved because of such efforts.
In a statement last week, the center
said that the term “Polish death camps”
was undoubtedly a historical misrepresentation, but that it was a mistake to restrict what scholars can say about the
“direct or indirect complicity” of Poles in
the Holocaust.
Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda,
said he would ask a Constitutional Court
to review the legislation to determine
whether the law violates freedom of
speech and is clear about what kind of
speech could be prosecuted.
But the court is controlled by people
appointed by the governing party, and it
is unclear when the review would be
Historians say Poland has generally
been a responsible steward for the six
main Nazi extermination camps in Poland, including Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Here, visitors learn about suffering by
Poles, Soviet soldiers, Roma and Jews,
largely without politics getting in the
But how to refer to places like
Auschwitz is a matter of contention.
Poles have long chafed at the term “Pol-
ish death camps.” For years, one of the
tasks of interns in Polish embassies
across Europe was to scour news media
accounts for the phrase so that complaints could be filed, said Jagoda
Walorek, who worked in the Berlin Embassy in 2007.
Last week, the prime minister flew
with a group of foreign journalists to visit a museum dedicated to a Polish family
who were killed for sheltering Jews. On
March 24, 1944, Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma
were executed along with their six
young children and the eight Jews the
family had been harboring.
The aim of the new law, Mr. Morawiecki said, was to ensure the telling of
“true history,” adding that it simply
needed to be explained better.
Jan T. Gross, a Polish-born historian
at Princeton, was not reassured, saying
that the law was an attempt “to falsify
the history of the Holocaust.”
In an opinion piece for The Financial
Times, he said it could even put Holocaust survivors at risk of prosecution.
“I’ve read hundreds of survivors’ testimonies, yet I do not recall a single one
where the writer has not described an
episode of betrayal, blackmail or denunciation on the part of their fellow Polish
citizens,” he wrote.
Richard Pérez-Peña contributed reporting from London.
Secrecy shrouds U.K. decision to grant parole to serial rapist
Only a handful of people know what happened in a hearing at Her Majesty’s
Prison Wakefield, but all of Britain
knows the result: a decision to release
on parole one of the country’s most notorious criminals, a former London cabdriver said by the High Court to have
drugged and sexually assaulted more
than 100 passengers.
A decade ago, the case of John Worboys prompted charges of police incompetence and mistreatment of rape victims, led to promises of reform and
raised fears about the safety of a London
institution, the black cab. Now, it is once
again provoking criticism, this time
about a secretive parole process that
usually receives little attention.
For now, Mr. Worboys, 60, remains in
prison, pending a High Court hearing
this week. Some of his victims and accusers have petitioned the court to keep
him locked up and to order the parole
process opened to public scrutiny.
For victims and their advocates, the
cloak of secrecy surrounding parole decisions is a prime source of frustration.
The parole board does not release
records of its hearings, explanations of
its decisions or even the names of the
board members who hear and then decide a particular case.
“We don’t know what was said, we
don’t know who heard the statements
and we don’t know if they were able to
take into account the women who were
attacked but whose cases were never
prosecuted,” said Harriet Wistrich, one
of the lawyers for Mr. Worboys’s accusers, who are trying to have the parole
decision reversed.
Nick Hardwick, the chairman of the
Parole Board for England and Wales,
agrees, and said he would welcome
more openness. But the board is bound
by laws passed by Parliament and administrative rules set by the government, he noted, and only they could
change the process.
He also defended the work of the
board members who heard the Worboys
case, saying that they had reviewed 363
pages of records, heard testimony from
psychologists and prison staff members
and questioned Mr. Worboys at length.
Mr. Worboys’s accusers believe he remains dangerous, Ms. Wistrich said.
“Some of them are terrified for themselves, their daughters, their neighbors,” she said.
Victims say that Mr. Worboys, a former stripper and pornographic actor,
could be charming and persuasive, and
they expressed a fear that he had ma-
nipulated the parole board.
As a London cabby from 2002 to 2008,
he would show a passenger a satchel full
of cash, which he said he had just won at
a casino or in a lottery, and urge her to
share a celebratory drink that he had
spiked with a sedative. After assaulting
the drugged woman in the back of his
cab, he would drive her home.
Though their memories were cloudy,
several women reported the assaults,
but the police repeatedly declined to
take the complaints seriously, brushing
off the women’s claims of being drugged
and failing to connect the attacks despite obvious similarities. Several officers were later disciplined for their roles
in the case, which prompted the Metropolitan Police to create a unit focusing
on serial sex offenders.
In a lawsuit filed by the victims, a
High Court judge ruled in 2014 that the
police had made basic investigative mis-
takes and ignored their own policies for
handling sexual assault cases, allowing
Mr. Worboys to continue preying on
women. After Mr. Worboys was caught
in 2008, investigators said that he had
attacked well over 100 women, a figure
also cited in the 2014 High Court ruling.
But the charges against him excluded
most of those assaults. Prosecutors said
a broader case risked overwhelming the
jury and would have diluted the strongest charges with weaker ones.
The chief prosecutor at the time, Keir
Starmer, is now a prominent Labour
lawmaker. Though the prosecution
service has said that Mr. Starmer was
not directly involved in the case, some
critics of the parole decision have demanded that he explain why more
charges were not filed.
After Mr. Worboys was convicted in
2009 of 19 charges involving assaults on
12 women, a judge gave him an open-
ended sentence with eligibility for parole after eight years. Women’s groups
and his victims said the mandatory part
of the sentence should have been longer,
but prosecutors assured them that he
stood no real chance of being set free.
Then came the news in early January
that a parole panel had decided to release Mr. Worboys, a year after another
panel had decided that he was too dangerous to parole.
Victims are supposed to be alerted in
advance of a parole hearing, so they can
make statements to the panel — the job
of notifying them falls to another government office, not the parole board —
but many of the women assaulted by Mr.
Worboys were not told. Across the political spectrum, that prompted angry reactions, and insistence that if Mr. Worboys were to be released, he should be
subject to tight restrictions, like banishment from London.
President Jacob Zuma, left, of South Africa answering questions in Parliament in 2016; the London headquarters of Bell Pottinger; and Atul, left, and Ajay Gupta, two of the three brothers who earned fortunes leveraging their friendship with Mr. Zuma.
Rogues, despots and spin doctors
The story is also an inside look at the
tormented state of politics in South Africa. Allegations of Gupta-related corruption surfaced gradually over the
years, as officials and the media described how this once unknown family
was ransacking South Africa and its institutions. President Zuma has since
been swept up by investigations into the
brothers amid an outcry that he let them
hijack the government. With the economy sputtering, Mr. Zuma’s own party
has called for his ouster.
The scandal has engulfed the nation.
Mr. Zuma is a member of the African National Congress, the party of Nelson
Mandela and post-apartheid comity. His
alliance with the Guptas, and their exploitation of racial animosity, has underscored just how far the party has wandered from its roots after winning its
first election in 1994.
Though the only corporate fatality,
Bell Pottinger is just one of the companies tainted by the Guptas. A small coterie of multinationals is now under investigation by the South African authorities, including local units of three companies, the consulting firms McKinsey
and KPMG, and the software giant SAP.
The Guptas’ most devastating legacy
is the harm they did to the cause of economic reform. With so many blacks in
South Africa mired in poverty, the topic
is urgent, but discussion about it has
been debased by its association with a
notorious and self-serving P.R. campaign.
In the midst of that campaign, racial
tensions rose to levels that had not been
felt since apartheid. “White monopoly
capital,” a phrase that for years had
been confined to left-wing academic circles, was suddenly unavoidable. A political group with reported links to the
Guptas warned of a coming civil war.
When Bell Pottinger’s role became
public, protesters rallied against the
company, both in South Africa and outside the firm’s London office. A subsequent investigation by the Public Relations and Communications Association,
a trade group in Britain, ended with the
ejection of Bell Pottinger.
“In my years of running the P.R.C.A., I
have never seen anything worse, never
seen anything equal to it,” Francis Ingham, director general of the trade association, said in an interview. “The work
was on a completely new scale of awfulness. Bell Pottinger may have set back
race relations in South Africa by as
much as 10 years.”
Within days of the firm’s removal
from the trade association, clients were
fleeing. By the end of September, all 250
employees were laid off and Bell Pottinger was finished.
Clockwise from above left: The leaders of Bell Pottinger, Tim Bell, left, and James Henderson, in 2013, and some of their clients, the
former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko and the Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius.
the dark arts of search engine manipulation to people it thought were potential
clients. In fact, they were undercover
members of the Bureau of Investigative
Journalism, a nonprofit organization
that works with a variety of media. Posing as executives from the made-up Azimov Group, these “representatives”
said the company had ties to the Uzbekistan regime, which has been criticized
for repression and for using forced child
labor during its cotton harvest.
The Azimov executives said they worried about blowback.
Fret not, said Tim Collins, a Bell Pottinger managing director, per transcripts published by The Independent, a
British newspaper. After the company
applied its tech wizardry, “You get to the
point where even if they type in ‘Uzbek
child labour’ or ‘Uzbek human rights violation,’ some of the first results that
come up are sites talking about what
you guys are doing to address and improve that, not just the critical voices
saying how terrible this all is.”
Mr. Bell never challenged the transcripts, but he denounced the sting at
the time as an “unethical, underhand deception to manufacture a story where
none exists.”
employees recalled.
The corporate campaign was the first
sign that altruism had little to do with
the £100,000 a month, or about $140,000
a month, that Bell Pottinger would earn
during what was initially a three-month
project. The second was the anger of the
company’s other South Africa clients
when they learned of the arrangement.
But by the end of March, only one client — the banking and asset management company Investec — had severed
ties with the P.R. firm. After that, Bell
Pottinger tried to find middle ground by
signing a new contract with the Guptas,
this time with a codicil literally called an
anti-embarrassment clause. It allowed
the firm to terminate the account “without notice” if the brothers brought discredit to the business.
“The work was on a completely
new scale of awfulness. Bell
Pottinger may have set back race
relations in South Africa by as
much as 10 years.”
Mr. Bell said he soon resolved to quit
the company because he felt undermined and undervalued by Mr. Henderson. “He made my life a misery from
start to finish,” said Mr. Bell, speaking
one recent afternoon in the living room
of his home near Sloane Square in London. After negotiating a £3.5 million exit
package, Mr. Bell resigned in August
For his part, Mr. Henderson declined
in a recent interview to indulge in the
put-downs that come so easily to his antagonist. Seated at a conference table in
temporary offices in the Mayfair district
of London, where he is starting a new
P.R. firm, he said Bell Pottinger’s dissolution was too recent to discuss.
“I have huge empathy for all those impacted,” he said, “and believe now is not
the appropriate time to go into details.”
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London is now home to a cluster of P.R.
firms catering to foreign governments,
raising worries that the city has become
“the global capital of reputation laundering,” as The Evening Standard put it
a few years ago. Bell Pottinger established the template of this lucrative
niche. It was largely the brainchild of
Tim Bell, who had earned his reputation,
along with a knighthood, helping Margaret Thatcher win three elections. He
came to fame with the “Labour isn’t
working” ads that helped the Conservative Party gain control of Parliament in
the 1979 general election. Colleagues actually coined the phrase, and he talked
Mrs. Thatcher into adopting it.
“There were many conversations in
which she shouted at me and told me I
was an idiot,” he recalled. “I just had to
stand my ground and say, ‘I know what
I’m doing.’ ”
Now 77, Mr. Bell appears to have
stepped directly out of an Evelyn Waugh
novel with everything but a smoking
jacket. Gray haired with an owlish pair
of black glasses, he speaks with jaunty
indifference and ingratiating candor, a
combination that always made the tsktskers who disapproved of his client list
sound unworldly and naïve.
“Morality is a job for priests,” he deadpanned in a recent interview, between
puffs of an ever-present cigarette. “Not
P.R. men.”
With the company co-founder, Piers
Pottinger, Mr. Bell conceived a “go anywhere, do anything” ethos, as they
called it. When the pair started working
together in the mid-80s, Mr. Bell was
sought after by political leaders and corporations who wanted some of the communications magic he had provided to
Mrs. Thatcher.
When the company’s client list did not
generate news, its methods did. In 2011,
it was caught boasting about its skills in
Bell Pottinger’s slide into oblivion began
with a visit to the Guptas in January
2016. Mr. Bell, who had worked in South
Africa for years, said he had no idea
what the brothers wanted, but he and
several colleagues flew to Johannesburg to find out.
The family already had a fortune,
Tony Gupta told the small entourage.
Now, he and his brothers wanted to help
poor blacks. To that end, they wanted a
P.R. campaign that pushed the idea of
economic emancipation. “So we went
back to London and wrote a strategy,”
said Mr. Bell. “Town hall meetings,
marching in the street, that kind of
thing. Draw attention to the economic
imbalance, then tell people they should
protest and demand change.”
The company drafted a two-page proposal, a copy of which was reviewed by
The New York Times. Among its recommendations was “a non-party political
narrative around the existence of economic apartheid” that Bell Pottinger
would package “into speeches, news releases, website content, videos/broadcast content, slogans and other material
Soon, the Guptas said that their company needed communications help, too.
Most South Africans, the Guptas maintained, had an inflated notion of how
much of the family’s revenue came from
government contracts, which harmed
their interests, several Bell Pottinger
by the Guptas, like ANN7, a 24-hour
news channel, and The New Age, a daily
As the campaign spread, leaders at
groups like the A.N.C. Youth League
gave inflammatory speeches, decrying
the “stranglehold” that rich whites had
on the economy. Leaked emails would
later show that the groups received media training, and in some cases funds,
from Oakbay.
An atmosphere of menace slowly pervaded the country. In July 2016, the police minister announced the creation of a
task force to investigate the murder of
more than a dozen political figures. In
the run-up to municipal elections that
year, Mr. Zuma described the Democratic Alliance, the A.N.C.’s main rival,
as a “white party,” adding that it could
not “run this country no matter how
they cover up by getting a few black
New and radical groups like Black
First Land First sprang up, holding public rallies to fulminate against whites. At
one, in May 2016, a pastor named Xola
Skosana told the crowd, “We have been
wounded beyond measure. Let us find
the pillars and bring the house down.
Black people must be avenged.”
For the first time in years, whites felt a
rising sense of personal danger. Nicholas Wolpe, a white South African whose
father was a pioneer of the anti-apartheid movement, remembers a palpable
anxiety. “There was a shift toward intolerance,” he said. “Gradually, the debate
about white monopoly capital was everywhere and the people talking about it
were loud and belligerent. It struck a
In a related and secret campaign, the
Guptas were being recast as warm-
hearted people eager to help the downtrodden. A website connected to Black
First Land First ran editorials defending the brothers, suggesting in one that
they should be “praised for saving jobs.”
“Me and others felt that there was
something strange going on under the
surface of this onslaught,” said PieterLouis Myburgh, author of “The Republic
of Gupta.” “Long before Bell Pottinger’s
role became known, we smelled a rat.”
The campaign coincided with a period
in which the Guptas badly needed a
makeover. The brothers had moved to
South Africa from Uttar Pradesh State
in India in 1993 at the behest of their father, who thought the end of apartheid
was a terrific business opportunity. The
Guptas befriended a variety of A.N.C. luminaries, including Mr. Zuma. Relationships with politicians were soon producing results, said Mr. Myburgh. In
2016, South Africa’s Sunday Times listed
Atul Gupta as the seventh-richest man
in the country, with a net worth equivalent to more than $700 million.
The brothers had operated in relative
obscurity until 2013, when a jet filled
with some 200 guests attending the
four-day wedding of a Gupta niece was
given permission by a highly placed official to land at an air force base that ordinarily banned commercial traffic. The
public was incensed.
From there, the publicity would only
get worse. Politicians described being
summoned to the Gupta compound and
offered ministerial jobs and, on occasion, multimillion-dollar bribes.
In March 2016, a onetime A.N.C. member of Parliament, Vytjie Mentor, wrote
on Facebook, and later in a sworn affidavit, that the Guptas said she could become minister of public enterprises,
though only if she helped cancel the India route flown by South African Airways. (The Guptas had links to a rival.)
When she declined, Mr. Zuma ambled
into the room and told her, in Zulu, “It’s
OK, girl. Take care of yourself,” according to the affidavit.
Bell Pottinger’s work for the Guptas
was not widely known until November
2016, when a video interview of Ajay
Gupta, arranged by the company, leaked
to the media. The content of the interview was largely banal. It was proof,
though, that one of Britain’s most famous P.R. firms was helping the brothers. The leak alarmed Mr. Henderson
because the video resided exclusively
on the company’s servers. Mr. Henderson hired Pelican Worldwide, a corporate intelligence firm, to determine
whether someone had hacked Bell Pottinger’s system. When no signs of hacking were found, suspicion inside the
company fell on Jonathan Lehrle and
Darren Murphy, two executives who
would depart in December 2016 and
start a new P.R. firm with Mr. Bell.
Both men deny involvement.
Bell Pottinger’s links to the Guptas went
full-on radioactive in March of last year,
when a mysterious 21-page report was
posted on the website of the South African Communist Party. Written anonymously and without any cited sources,
the report laid out the history of Bell Pottinger’s work for the Guptas, tagging the
firm as the brains behind Twitter hashtags, like #HandsofftheGuptas and an
array of bogus social media accounts.
Mr. Henderson issued a news release
asserting the report contained statements that were “wholly untrue.”
He had a point.
Although Bell Pottinger was widely
blamed for the social media campaign, a
forensic analysis performed by the African Network of Centers for Investiga-
The P.R. campaign in South Africa,
which started in 2016, was intended to
raise the temperature of race relations.
And it worked.
More than 100 fake Twitter accounts
were created, all of them retweeting
content from other Twitter accounts
with names like @economycapture, according to media reports. Popular hashtags included #WhiteMonopolyCapital
and #RespectGuptas. The campaign involved some 220,000 tweets.
There were also attack websites with
names like WMC Leaks and WMC
Scams. Another part of this ecosystem
were mainstream media outlets owned
Demonstrators in South Africa in April 2017 against the president and the Gupta family
after the finance minister was ousted and the Guptas were allowed to buy a bank.
tive Reporting concluded that it was created and overseen by employees and affiliates of the Guptas.
Instead, the role of Bell Pottinger was
to keep a close eye on social media related to the Guptas and their enemies. A
cache of some 200,000 internal documents tracks mentions of the Guptas
and a list of hashtags and keywords,
some pro-Gupta, some anti-Gupta.
The 21-page document had credibility,
however, because it contained details
that only insiders could have known,
some of which were utterly gratuitous.
Like the cost to rent the Italian villa for
the wedding of Victoria Geoghegan, the
Bell Pottinger executive who led the
South African team.
A few days after the report went public, an anti-Zuma demonstration in
South Africa included anti-Bell Pottinger placards. One showed a photograph of Ms. Geoghegan with blood
dripping from her lips and the words
“Gupta’s Girl” over her head. A demonstration in front of Bell Pottinger’s London office soon followed.
In April, Bell Pottinger canceled its
deal with the Guptas, citing “increasingly strong social media attacks on our
staff and our business.” It didn’t help.
Nor did Mr. Henderson’s “unequivocal and absolute apology” in July, or his
resignation in September the day before
Britain’s P.R. trade group tossed out Bell
Pottinger. The company suffered £8 million worth of client losses in 48 hours
and layoffs began soon after.
Other companies linked, both directly
and indirectly, with the Guptas are just
beginning to deal with fallout of their
own. The South African Companies and
Intellectual Property Commission is
pursuing criminal complaints that
emerged from an investigation into
state contracts and the Gupta-Zuma
nexus, which have ensnared KPMG,
SAP and McKinsey.
A KPMG spokeswoman said in a
statement that apologies were made “to
those affected,” adding that nine senior
partners at the company had departed.
SAP, in a statement in October, apologized “wholeheartedly” and noted that
three staff members had been placed on
leave. McKinsey has denied involvement in acts of bribery or corruption and
issued a statement saying, “We are
sorry for the distress this matter has
caused the people of South Africa.
Its errors notwithstanding, Bell Pottinger ended up being blamed for an
even greater number of misdeeds than
it actually committed, and it is worth
asking how that happened.
Former employees contend that they
were the target of — what else? — a
furtive P.R. campaign.
The Gupta-Bell Pottinger campaign
backfired on just about everyone, especially the Guptas. In an August statement, the brothers said they intended to
sell all of their South African holdings by
the end of 2017.
Mr. Zuma could soon be removed by
his party over issues of corruption and
the stagnant economy. His term was
supposed to end in 2019, but Cyril
Ramaphosa, the man who became head
of the A.N.C. in December, has called for
Mr. Zuma to step down. A judicial inquiry was recently announced to investigate “state capture” and the president’s
relationship to the Guptas. A spokesman for the Guptas did not return
emails. President Zuma has repeatedly
denied all accusations of corruption.
Mr. Henderson lost everything when
the firm failed, starting with his reputation. He became known as the guy in
charge of a public relations company
that perished in a public relations fiasco.
But arguably the greatest casualty of
the Gupta-Bell Pottinger campaign is
the very cause it nominally championed, helping impoverished blacks. Like
most propaganda, the ideas promoted
by the Guptas contained kernels of
truth. The economic advancement of
blacks post-apartheid has indeed been
painfully slow.
The topic is now exponentially more
fraught, given its association with the
Guptas, who tried to use it as a way to
enrich themselves and expand their
power. For a young democracy that is
grappling with a history of institutionalized racism and trying to spread wealth
more evenly throughout the country, the
results have been tragic.
“The damage done by this campaign
is not over,” said Sipho Pityana, a businessman who headed the Department
of Labor under the Mandela administration. “It shapes the discourse about inequality in South Africa to this day.”
A shop at the ski resort selling traditional Chechen instruments. The resort opened with only one lift, serving just one trail.
Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, attended the resort’s opening. “I am confident it will become popular,” he said.
In Caucasus, seeing an upside to downhill
A ski resort is rising
on slopes that once
harbored Islamist militants
Sporting a camouflage ski suit, Ramzan
A. Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya,
pulled a gigantic ceremonial lever to
start this once war-wrecked region’s
first ski lift. “God is great!” some spectators yelled as the machine whirred to
High in the Caucasus Mountains, a ski
resort is rising on slopes that once harbored Islamist militants. The Veduchi
resort, which takes its name from the local village, is a multimillion-dollar development featuring a hotel and spa
center, chalets and a helicopter pad. It is
the centerpiece of an improbable effort
for Russia to ski and snowboard its way
out of a long-simmering insurgency.
The potential for winter sports as a
method of diplomacy came into focus recently in South Korea, which is preparing to welcome North Korean athletes to
the Winter Olympics this month. But
Russia has a longer-term strategy:
putting winter sports to use as a tool for
economic development and pacification
in a decades-old conflict in the Caucasus.
A state-owned company, North Caucasus Resorts, is building a string of ski
resorts in the restive, predominantly
Muslim areas of the Caucasus. Three
have opened so far, the most recent here
in the Argun Gorge of Chechnya.
The intention is to create jobs, though
even the developer conceded that it
might be difficult to convince winter
sports enthusiasts of the merits of
Chechnya, where Russia brutally repressed an Islamist insurgency and
where thousands of militants may be returning from Syria after fighting for the
Islamic State.
“I am confident it will become popular
not only with the Russian population but
also with foreign countries,” Mr. Kadyrov said at the opening this week.
Ruslan Timukayev, a spokesman for
the regional government, said the region had seen an uptick in tourism as
“Chechnya became a brand.” About
The Caucasus Mountains. About $35 million has been invested so far in the Veduchi ski resort in Chechnya. The plans call for 19 ski lifts and 28 miles of trails.
100,000 tourists came to Chechnya last
year, he said, adding with a shrug,
“Some people like extremes.”
About $35 million has been invested
so far in the Veduchi ski resort, which is
expected to cost $500 million when completed. The plans call for 19 ski lifts and
28 miles of trails fanning out over a serene alpine valley, though the resort
opened with only one modest, half-mile
lift, serving just one trail.
After pulling the lever to start the lift,
Mr. Kadyrov, who does not ski, hopped
on for a ride. The lift stalled briefly, leav-
ing him dangling for a few moments before jerking back into motion.
Professional skiers flown in from St.
Petersburg zigzagged down the slope
for the television cameras, and local
children were offered free lessons.
The war in Chechnya has mostly petered out; the last insurgent attack in
near Veduchi took place in 2009, officials
say, and the last significant terrorist attack in Chechnya was in 2014. But rights
groups have documented a staggering
cost of peace and of propping up the rule
of Mr. Kadyrov, a former rebel whose
powerful family allied with President
Vladimir V. Putin in 1999.
They have cataloged an array of continuing abuses, including arbitrary arrests, house burnings as punishment,
and the detention and torture last spring
of about 100 gay men.
“How is a ski resort going to solve all
that?” Tanya Lokshina, the Russia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a
telephone interview. “How is it going to
solve the problem of a state within a
state, where lawlessness and abuses are
the norm?”
More recently, rights groups have expressed alarm at what they see as a cruel and capricious response from Mr.
Kadyrov to the cancellation last month
of his Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram, said it had deactivated the accounts after Mr. Kadyrov was added to a
United States sanctions list over rights
The block came as a blow to Mr. Kadyrov, who had amassed millions of followers by posting pictures of himself cud-
dling a cat and lifting weights, along
with the dead bodies of his enemies.
“He rejoiced in it, really, and he was
clearly livid about losing it,” Ms. Lokshina said.
On Jan. 10, Oyub Titiev, the Chechnya
director of the rights group Memorial,
was arrested, ostensibly over possessing marijuana. But Mr. Kadyrov went on
television a few days later to criticize
rights activists as “enemies of the people,” adding that he would “break the
spines of our enemies.”
While talk like that might scare foreign tour operators and other visitors
from traveling to Veduchi, it seems to
have had little effect on the main market: Russians.
While conceding that many impressions of Chechnya start with a “negative
background,” Khasan Timizhev, the director of North Caucasus Resorts, said
market research had shown that Russian skiers were more concerned about
the condition and safety of the slopes
rather than lawlessness or terrorist attacks.
Whatever doubts outsiders might
harbor about Chechnya, the few who
turned out from nearby villages were
more enthusiastic, saying the only other
living to be made was in sheep herding.
“We think the Chinese will come,” said
Albert Rabuyev, principal of the ItumKale village middle school, gazing at the
chairs of the new lift gliding up and
down the mountain.
Mr. Rabuyev said he would even welcome gay men, because as visitors they
would “rent rooms, rent skis and then
Isa Abkarom, a vendor at a stand selling cups and other collectibles, said the
long-promised resort came as good
news for Chechnya. “Everybody was
just waiting for normal life to return,” he
said. “We are happy to see the last of the
The vision of ski resorts as pacification tools sprang from preparations for
the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black
Sea resort of Sochi.
The North Caucasus insurgency had
raged over mountain territory, and so
winter sports were a logical postwar development goal, officials said. Two additional resorts are planned by 2025, one
in Ingushetia and the other in Dagestan.
The two other resorts opened last season in neighboring regions reported
383,000 skiers combined.
Turkey gets help in Syria from rebels once backed by U.S.
he said. “They were very pragmatic to
gain their own ends — an independent
Syrians forced to flee to Turkey are
bitter at the Kurdish militants. As such,
the Free Syrian Army has embraced the
Turkish fight against the Kurdish militants with gusto.
Free Syrian Army soldiers posted video on social media showing themselves
heading to the border to join the Turkish
operation. Syrian volunteers have
flocked to a recruitment center in the
town of Urfa to sign up.
“People are volunteering,” Colonel
Hammadin said. “It’s good they want to
apply, but our numbers are enough.”
Hunched over a coffee table in another part of Kilis, two Syrian brothers,
Murshid and Bashar Sheikh Naif, explained why their family supported Turkey’s latest operation.
They had joined the uprising against
the Assad government from the start in
2011. Murshid, 32, a former policeman,
was imprisoned by the government for
18 months. He was released when the
Free Syrian Army exchanged captured
government soldiers for him.
Of eight brothers in the Naif family,
five have joined the Free Syrian Army
over the years. They have fought multiple enemies — first Syrian government
troops, then Russian and Iranian forces,
then extremists of the Islamic State, and
now American-backed Kurdish militias,
whom they blame for forcing them from
their home.
Two brothers were killed, one fighting
against the government and one against
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/W e П
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a mountain south of the border. He is a
former Syrian Army officer and a commander of the Levant Front, the largest
faction of the Free Syrian Army.
Colonel Hammadin, 40, explained
that his Syrian force shared aims with
Turkey, first in wanting to see Mr. Assad
go, but also in its dislike for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the
P.K.K., which has waged a separatist insurgency for three decades against Turkey.
Like most members of the Syrian opposition in Turkey, the colonel described
all the various Kurdish militant groups,
no matter which side of the border they
were on, as part of the same P.K.K. organization.
“Turkey has a right to attack the
P.K.K. for its own national security,” he
said. “It has the right to clear the area
because the P.K.K. can attack its cities
from the border.”
While he and his forces want Mr. Assad gone, they also want a united Syria.
The Kurds, whose population straddles
Turkey, Syria and Iraq, have long
wanted to carve out their own nation.
“The most important reason to fight
them is that they are separatists,” he
said. “They want their own cantons on
the northern border.”
The Kurdish militias had frequently
sided with the Syrian government
against the Free Syrian Army in the war,
he said, helping enforce the siege of
Aleppo, displacing Arab communities
from their villages, and oppressing their
own Kurdish people.
“They committed many violations,”
Turkey is relying on a newly reconfigured, 20,000-member American-trained
force with three army corps as it tries to
carve out a buffer zone within Syria. The
force has already taken 16 casualties in
two weeks of fighting on the front lines.
But the soldiers are not Turks. Rather,
they are the mostly Arab fighters of the
Free Syrian Army, once trained and assembled by the Central Intelligence
Agency and Western allies to oust President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Since the routing of the Islamic State,
alliances in Syria have been scrambled.
The latest round of the conflict, in fact,
features two American-trained forces
fighting each other.
The Free Syrian Army, out of favor
with the United States and badly depleted after seven years of fighting on multiple fronts, has long had common cause
with Turkey, whose incursion has angered the Americans.
On the other side are Kurdish groups,
under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are the United States’
favored fighting tool on the ground but
who are disliked by local Syrians for
driving them from their homes and seen
by Turkey as a security threat.
Last week, in a cafe in Kilis, a small
Turkish city a few miles from the Syrian
border, Lt. Col. Mohammed Hammadin
was back for a few hours after leading
an assault against Kurdish positions on
Syrian rebels alongside Turkish soldiers on the Syrian-Turkish border in January. Some
were formerly trained by the C.I.A. to fight against President Bashar al-Assad.
the Islamic State. Bashar, 22, was
wounded fighting the Islamic State in an
earlier operation alongside the Turkish
Two more brothers have joined the
latest operation against the Kurdish militias in the enclave of Afrin, they said.
“We were neighbors,” the elder Mr.
Naif said of the Kurdish fighters. “There
were no problems until the S.D.F. became an enemy and pushed us out of our
The family fled to Turkey as the Kurdish militia seized their hometown, Tal
Rifaat, and surrounding villages in 2016,
he said.
“So we have a common cause,” Mr.
Naif said. “There is a common interest
in fighting against the P.K.K. with Turkey. Turkey is our personal ally and they
helped the people a lot.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of
Turkey gave the Free Syrian Army a
strong endorsement in a speech on
Tuesday, comparing them to Turkey’s
National Forces, which fought for independence in the early 20th century.
“The Free Syrian Army is a civil for-
mation, organized by people who gathered to protect their own country,” he
said, addressing legislators from his
Justice and Development Party. “We are
happy to be side by side with our Syrian
brothers in their freedom struggle.”
Nationalist support for the military
campaign is running high in Turkey and
dissent largely stifled. About 300 people,
including members of the Turkish Medical Association, have been detained for
expressing criticism of the operation on
social media.
Some Syrian refugees in Turkey warn
that Syrian fighters are being used by
foreign powers.
“Afrin is not our battle,” said an opposition activist, Yusuf Mousa. “As Syrians, we respect that Turkey is an ally of
the Syrian revolution, but they are trying to make actions for their benefit.”
Yet while Turkey’s operation in Afrin
has been cast as a narrow fight against
Kurdish separatists, seizing the territory would raise the standing of the Free
Syrian Army.
The group has steadily lost ground as
an opposition force as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which the United States
regards as its most effective partner in
the fight against the Islamic State, have
gained prominence.
Colonel Hammadin did not say how
far his soldiers would go, but he ruled
out any confrontation with American
troops. He said he hoped for the United
States’ support against Mr. Assad.
“America has the ability to do anything,” he said. “We look forward to
them making the Assad regime leave.”
Alist of billionaires
who now may not be
Just as prices fall, Forbes
publishes register of rich
virtual currency holders
President Trump during a discussion on the dangers to the United States of the violent Salvadoran gang MS-13 on Tuesday at the White House.
Trump shifts on shutdown
President’s latest surprise
comes amid wrangling
over immigration policy
A week ago, President Trump stood before Congress as an improbable unifier.
“Tonight,” he declared, “I call upon all of
us to set aside our differences, to seek
out common ground and to summon the
unity we need to deliver for the people.”
This week, Mr. Trump is back to being
a disrupter. After accusing Democrats of
being un-American and even treasonous for refusing to applaud during his
State of the Union speech, he said on
Tuesday that he would welcome a government shutdown if he could not reach
a spending deal with Congress that
tightened immigration laws.
A week ago, Mr. Trump called for a
grand compromise with Democrats on
the legal status of the undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers — a deal,
he said, “where nobody gets everything
they want, but where our country gets
the critical reforms it needs.” After all,
the president added, “Americans are
dreamers too.”
On Tuesday, his chief of staff, John F.
Kelly, said that many Dreamers had
failed to register for protected status because they were “were too afraid to sign
up” or were “too lazy to get off their
asses.” He said he doubted that Mr.
Trump would extend the March 5 deadline that shields them from deportation.
Mr. Trump’s threat of a shutdown
seemed to have little effect on the delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill to raise
spending caps on military and nonmilitary spending — an agreement that, if
passed by both houses of Congress,
would pave the way for long-term deal
to fund the government.
It was also not clear whether Mr.
Kelly’s charged language about the
Dreamers would affect the charged negotiations on immigration that will soon
consume Congress, though it was the
latest evidence that Mr. Kelly, a retired
Marine general once viewed as a curb
on Mr. Trump, shares some of his most
hard-edge views.
Head-spinning reversals, of course,
are nothing new for Mr. Trump. His positions on issues can gyrate more wildly
than the Dow Jones industrial average.
His is a presidency that has made the
extraordinary ordinary.
After these latest remarks, the White
House swung into its customary role of
cleanup. The deputy press secretary,
Hogan Gidley, played down Mr. Trump’s
charges of Democratic treason as
“tongue-in-cheek,” while the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, muddied the waters on whether the president really planned a shutdown.
Mr. Trump’s casual embrace of a shutdown — after the last brief shutdown,
which he portrayed as a Democratic betrayal of America’s troops — drew an impassioned response from Representative Barbara Comstock, a Republican
who represents a moderate district in
Northern Virginia, an area that is home
to many federal workers.
“We don’t need a government shutdown on this,” she said, imploring Mr.
Trump. “Both sides have learned that a
government shutdown was bad. It wasn’t good for them.”
For others in Washington, however,
there was a creeping sense of numbness. Mr. Trump has said so many outrageous things, has broken so many taboos and has insulted so many people
that his latest outbursts no longer shock.
To some, they seem more of the same.
It fell to Senator Jeff Flake, the lameduck Arizona Republican who has
emerged as a prime nemesis of Mr.
Trump, to point out the novelty of an
American president branding members
of the other party as traitors because
they did not celebrate him.
“Have we arrived at such a place of
numb acceptance that we have nothing
to say when a president of the United
States casually suggests that those who
choose not to stand or applaud his
speech are guilty of treason?” he said
from the floor the Senate. “I certainly
hope not.”
For many, the breaking of taboos
has ceased to be a shock.
Mr. Flake noted that “the president’s
most ardent defenders use the nowweary argument that the president’s
comments were meant as a joke, just
sarcasm, only tongue-in-cheek.”
“Treason,” he thundered, “is not a
punch-line, Mr. President.”
Part of the problem is that Mr.
Trump’s most inflammatory comments
do sometimes appear tossed-off. His
claim that Democrats were guilty of
treason came during a rambling speech
at an Ohio factory, where his celebration
of the recent tax cut gave way to a litany
of complaints about the stone-faced
Democratic reception of his speech.
“Can we call that treason?” Mr.
Trump mused. “Why not? I mean they
certainly didn’t seem to love our country
very much.”
The president embraced the idea of a
shutdown during a White House meeting meant to dramatize the dangers of
the gang MS-13. After listening to Representative Michael McCaul, Republican
of Texas and the chairman of the House
Homeland Security Committee, talk
about how loopholes in the immigration
laws allow violent criminals to get into
the United States, Mr. Trump suddenly
upped the ante with Democrats.
“If we don’t change it, let’s have a
shutdown,” he declared. “We’ll do a
shutdown. And it’s worth it for our country. I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t
get this stuff taken care of.”
Later, Ms. Sanders noted that the
president did not view the spending bill
and immigration as “mutually exclusive,” meaning that he would not necessarily precipitate a shutdown if Congress agreed on spending without meeting his demands on immigration.
For many in Washington, the best defense against Mr. Trump is to treat him
as less than serious. On Monday, he
went after the ranking Democrat on the
House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California —
or, as Mr. Trump nicknamed him, “Little
Adam Schiff” — for being, he said, a liar
who illegally leaked confidential information.
Mr. Schiff has drafted a Democratic
rebuttal to the classified House Republican report that raised questions about
the conduct of the F.B.I. in investigating
links between the Trump campaign and
“Must be stopped!” Mr. Trump said
on Twitter of the congressman.
Mr. Schiff, taking a page from Senator
Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee,
when Mr. Trump subjected him to
ridicule on Twitter a few months ago, replied with the tone of a weary parent,
coping with an unruly toddler.
“Mr. President,” he wrote, “I see
you’ve had a busy morning of ‘Executive Time.’ Instead of tweeting false
smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and
helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or...really anything
The creators of the famous Forbes rich
list have made their first attempt to
identify the wealthiest people in the virtual currency industry. Yet the list that
was published on Wednesday, right after major drops in virtual currency
prices, inadvertently also served as a reminder of the fleeting nature of that
While the list in Forbes magazine,
which was assembled in recent weeks,
identifies about 10 virtual currency billionaires, most of them were not billionaires by the time the feature went online
on Wednesday morning. On Monday
alone, the prices of many virtual currencies plummeted over 20 percent, before
stabilizing on Tuesday.
At the top of the list is Chris Larsen, a
founder of the Ripple virtual currency.
Mr. Larsen was briefly estimated to be
wealthier than Facebook’s Mark
Zuckerberg last month when Ripple’s
price peaked, taking his net wealth to
nearly $60 billion.
Since then, the price of Ripple’s digital
token, XRP, has fallen more than 80 percent. Forbes put Mr. Larsen’s wealth at
around $8 billion, but the same holdings
were worth less than $6 billion by
Mr. Larsen is followed on the Forbes
list by Joseph Lubin, an early investor in
the Ethereum virtual currency network; Changpeng Zhao, founder of the
virtual currency exchange Binance; the
brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, longtime Bitcoin investors who
are famous from their legal battles with
Mr. Zuckerberg over Facebook; and
Matthew Mellon, the banking heir who
is now a major holder of XRP.
The list is a reminder of how the biggest gains in virtual currencies have
been reaped by a small number of early
adopters — despite the early promises
that virtual currencies could democratize the financial system and spread
wealth more evenly.
Nearly all of the people on the list either helped found virtual currencies or
have been involved with them for years.
Recent efforts to quantify the inequality
among Bitcoin holders have found that
it is significantly higher than in even the
most stratified countries, which may
sting many people who recently rushed
into virtual currencies and are now sitting on losses.
For early virtual currency adopters
like the people on the Forbes list, the recent price declines are not catastrophic.
The price of Bitcoin is still up 600 percent from a year ago, and up 70,000 percent from when the Winklevoss twins
began buying in 2012.
Identifying the richest people in the
secretive and paranoid virtual currency
realm is far from easy.
The normal Forbes billionaires list is
easier to compile because the richest
people in the world generally have most
of their wealth tied up in stock holdings,
which usually have to be disclosed for
big public companies. With virtual currencies, it is not necessary to disclose
your identity, and the system was created by people who were interested in protecting financial privacy.
Many large holders of virtual currencies are loath to acknowledge their holdings for privacy and security reasons,
and many people who are rumored to
have massive Bitcoin stockpiles are not
on the Forbes list.
Perhaps the most notable omission is
Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of Bitcoin, whose identity has been
guessed at many times but never confirmed. Researchers have guessed that
Satoshi, as the creator is known, likely
amassed about one million Bitcoins during the network’s first year, when few
other people were mining new tokens.
Those Bitcoins would now be worth
around $7 billion.
Others have publicly claimed to have
large holdings without verifying those
holdings. Brock Pierce, a former child
actor and the leader of a virtual currency community in Puerto Rico, has
said he would donate $1 billion of his virtual currency fortune to charity, but
Forbes said, “He refuses to provide documentation that proves he has anywhere near that much money.” The magazine estimated Mr. Pierce’s wealth at
between $700 million and $1 billion.
The list suggests that inventing virtual currencies can end up being less lucrative than investing in them. The magazine estimated that the inventor of
Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, is less
wealthy than two early investors, Mr.
Lubin and Anthony Di Iorio, who had
previously managed his family’s patiodoor business in Canada.
And while three big holders of Ripple’s token, XRP, are on the list, the inventor of the digital token, Jed McCaleb,
is not.
Bitcoin is up 70,000 percent from when the Winklevoss twins, Tyler, left, and Cameron,
began investing in the cryptocurrency in 2012.
Stimulus moves stoke fears of inflation and deficits
nomics at Bank of America Merrill
Lynch, wrote in a research note on Tuesday, “the U.S. stands out in terms of its
deteriorating deficit.”
The Republican tax law’s $1.5 trillion
deficit-financed price tag over the next
decade is front-loaded. It will reduce
federal revenue by $416 billion over this
year and next, before accounting for additional economic growth, the Joint
Committee on Taxation estimates.
Many corporations are showing evidence of that in their quarterly earnings
releases, as companies like JPMorgan
Chase & Company and Verizon project
billions of dollars in tax savings in 2018.
Administration officials say the law
will spark enough growth to pay for itself, a claim that no rigorous outside
analysis supports. They also say the
cuts will not stoke inflation, because
they will increase the supply of capital in
the economy and boost productivity.
Economic modeling by the administration suggests growth from such tax
cuts “does not put upward pressure on
prices,” Kevin Hassett, the chairman of
Mr. Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, told CNBC on Tuesday morning.
Still, he said, “it’s clear that the data are
so strong that the markets are beginning to worry about Fed policy” and rising interest rates.
Republicans have not offered similar
reassurances about deficit-financed
spending increases. Those appear increasingly likely as congressional leaders work toward a deal to shatter caps
on military and domestic spending, imposed in the back half of Mr. Obama’s
first term to instill fiscal discipline, to
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officials said last week that the United
States will need to borrow $441 billion in
privately held debt this quarter, the largest sum since 2010, when the economy
was emerging from the worst downturn
since the Great Depression.
The added stimulus is drawing some
quiet cheers from liberal economists,
who say a fiscal shot at a time of low unemployment could boost typical workers’ wages in ways unseen for two decades. But it is raising alarms among fiscal hawks.
“This is exactly the wrong fiscal policy at the wrong time,” said Maya
MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “We should be bringing down the
debt and ensuring we have room for
stimulus during downturns. Instead we
are overheating the economy and selling out the future. It’s shortsighted and
The threat of rate increases is a major
reason some economists, including
those at the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, project only a modest boost in economic growth from the
tax law over the next decade.
The tax cuts and spending increases
could add up to more than $800 billion in
additional federal deficits over the
course of 2018 and 2019. Analysts
project they will hasten the return of trillion-dollar annual budget deficits, and
set the United States apart from other
industrialized economies, which have
reined in their fiscal expansions as
growth picks up.
“In a world of deficit discipline,”
Ethan S. Harris, the head of global eco-
Republicans are pouring government
stimulus into a steadily strengthening
economy, adding economic fuel at a moment when unemployment is at a 16year low and wages are beginning to
rise, a combination that is stoking fears
of higher inflation and ballooning budget deficits.
The $1.5 trillion tax cut that President
Trump signed into law late last year,
combined with a looming agreement to
increase federal spending by hundreds
of billions of dollars, would deliver a
larger short-term fiscal boost than President Barack Obama and Democrats
packed into their $835 billion stimulus
package in the Great Recession.
The administration is also expected to
soon roll out its $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, which would include $200
billion in new federal spending, offset by
unspecified cuts elsewhere.
The question is how much added fuel
is good for the economy.
Fears that the extra economic boost
could spark faster inflation and prompt
the Federal Reserve to accelerate the
pace of interest rate increases appear to
be at least partially driving the stock
sell-off that has rattled markets over the
last several days. Higher interest rates
would raise federal borrowing costs as
the United States continues to borrow
heavily — the national debt has topped
$20 trillion and annual deficits are
creeping up toward $1 trillion. Treasury
help pave the way for a long-term
spending package.
The likely spending increases include
money for the military, domestic programs and disaster aid, along with a
plan to shore up faltering multiemployer pension plans. The Committee
for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that those increases will cost
more than $500 billion, and that con-
President Trump signing the $1.5 trillion
tax cut bill in December.
gressional negotiators are mulling
roughly $100 billion in revenue increases to offset them, yielding a deficit
increase of $400 billion.
Those figures do not include any potential deficit spending from an infrastructure bill, which the White House
hopes to push Congress to approve this
Mr. Obama’s American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act included about $300
billion in additional spending for 2009
and 2010, according to the Congres-
sional Budget Office, and slightly less
than $300 billion in tax cuts and refundable tax credits. Adjusting for inflation,
that would be a combined stimulus of
about $675 billion in today’s dollars.
Each of those amounts is lower than the
comparable projections for the new tax
law and the contemplated new spending
The 2009 stimulus package was passed when the unemployment rate was
almost twice as high as it is today, and
the national debt was half what it is now.
At that time, Republicans called it a dangerous borrowing spree. “This bill sends
us on a worldwide borrowing binge,”
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, now the House speaker, said in 2009.
“We’re going to go out and borrow four
times as much money this year than we
ever have in the history of this country
in a single year.”
Fiscal hawks say that assessment is
more applicable to the economy today.
“We have a growing economy, the labor market’s tight, we don’t have a lot of
idle resources,” said Matthew Mitchell,
the director of the Project for the Study
of American Capitalism at the Mercatus
Center at George Mason University.
“Basically, the very best argument for
Keynesian economics doesn’t apply
now. So it really is the time to be austere.”
While divided government in the last
six years of Mr. Obama’s term produced
constraints on spending, Mr. Mitchell
noted, Republican control under Mr.
Trump appears to be ripping them up.
Democrats are helping to do that on the
spending side. The spending agree-
ments pending in Congress appear to be
so large, in part, because Democrats
have demanded domestic discretionary
spending increases alongside large increases in military spending pushed by
Republican defense hawks.
Democrats largely denounce Republicans for playing down deficit concerns
now, after years of warning that government borrowing was holding the economy back. “There was a far greater need
for economic stimulus in 2011 than today,” said Neera Tanden, a former
Obama adviser who is the president and
chief executive of the Center for American Progress think tank.
But some liberals welcome the extra
fiscal juice and its potential to help
workers who struggled in the slowgrowth years after the recession.
Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist
at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who was one of the Obama administration’s stimulus architects in
2009, opposed the Trump tax bill but
supports efforts to stimulate the economy when unemployment is low, in
hopes of boosting wage growth.
“There’s a kind of recklessness of
Team Trump that could kind of rebound
to the benefit of people,” Mr. Bernstein
said in an interview, before alluding to
the possibility that there are still workers outside the labor force who could be
drawn back to work by a hotter economy.
“As long as there is still slack in corners of the labor market,” he said, “then
this kind of fiscal stimulus of the economy near full employment is a kind of
test I support.”
alarms over
what they
SpaceX reaches for the stars
Powerful new rocket
launched successfully
by private company
From the same pad where NASA
launched rockets that carried astronauts to the moon, a big, new American
rocket arced into space. But this time,
NASA was not involved. The rocket, the
Falcon Heavy, had been built by SpaceX,
the company founded and run by the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
“It seems surreal to me,” Mr. Musk
said during a news conference after the
launching on Tuesday.
The launching of this turbocharged
version of the workhorse Falcon 9
rocket, which has been carrying cargo to
space for years, is an important milestone in spaceflight, the first time a
rocket this powerful has been sent into
space by a private company, rather than
a government space agency.
The rocket carried a playful payload:
Mr. Musk’s red Roadster, an electric
sports car built by his other company,
Tesla. Strapped inside the car is a mannequin wearing one of SpaceX’s
spacesuits. They are expected to orbit
the sun for hundreds of millions of years.
“It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and
fun things are important,” Mr. Musk
The success gives SpaceX momentum to begin developing even larger
rockets, which could help fulfill Mr.
Musk’s dream of sending people to Mars
with a new-generation rocket called
B.F.R. (the B stands for big; the R for
rocket) that might be ready to launch in
the mid-2020s.
The near-flawless performance of the
Heavy on Tuesday “gives me a lot of confidence we can make the B.F.R. design
work,” Mr. Musk said.
He added that he hoped the launch
would encourage other companies and
other countries to aim for more ambitious goals in space.
“We want a new space race,” he said.
“Races are exciting.”
Mr. Musk’s visions include humans
living both on Earth and Mars. He’s part
of a new generation of entrepreneurial
space pioneers that includes Jeffrey P.
Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who has
said one of the goals driving his rocket
company, Blue Origin, is the prospect of
millions of people living in space. Planetary Resources, an American company
with a large investment from Luxembourg, hopes to mine asteroids for profit.
Moon Express, based in Florida, sees a
business in providing regular transportation to and from the moon.
For now, the Heavy will enable
SpaceX to compete for contracts to
launch larger spy satellites, and some
experts in spaceflight are encouraging
NASA to use private rockets like the
Heavy instead of the gigantic and more
expensive rocket, the Space Launch
System, that is currently being developed in part to take astronauts back to
the moon.
“It basically gives them another tool
in their toolbox for accomplishing the
Technologists who helped
build Facebook and Google
challenge the companies
Two of the Falcon Heavy’s boosters returning to Earth at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., eight minutes after takeoff.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, on Monday at Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space
Center, where the Falcon Heavy rocket behind him was launched on Tuesday afternoon.
space community’s goals,” said Phil Larson, an assistant dean at the University
of Colorado’s engineering school who
previously worked as a senior manager
of communications and corporate
projects at SpaceX.
Although delayed by high-altitude
winds, the countdown proceeded
smoothly, without any of the glitches
that have bedeviled other maiden
launches of new rockets.
The Heavy roared to life, a plume of
smoke and steam shooting sideways
from the launchpad. It rose from the
pad, with an impossibly bright glare of
27 engines beneath it.
Some eight minutes after launch, a
pair of sonic booms rocked the area as
the two side boosters set down in near
synchrony on two landing pads at Cape
Canaveral. In the past few years,
SpaceX has figured out how to routinely
bring a booster stage back in one piece
to fly again on future flights.
The one blemish on the mission was
that the center booster, which was to set
down on a floating platform in the Atlantic, slammed into the water instead, because some of the engines failed to ignite for the final landing burn.
Once in orbit, the rocket sent back video of the mannequin in the car, with a
hand on the steering wheel. On the dashboard were the words “Don’t Panic,” a
nod to Douglas Adams’s book “The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
The spacecraft journeyed through
Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt. About
seven hours after the rocket took off, Mr.
Musk announced that a third and final
burn had put his sports car on an elliptical orbit away from Earth and around
the sun beyond Mars’s orbit.
Since 2010, the company has been
sending the smaller Falcon 9 rocket into
orbit, deploying satellites and carrying
cargo to crews aboard the International
Space Station. The company has disrupted the global launch business with
its lower prices and reusable boosters.
The Falcon Heavy is capable of lifting
140,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit, more
than any other rocket today. Because all
three boosters are to be recovered to fly
again, a Falcon Heavy launch costs not
much more than one by the company’s
existing rocket, Mr. Musk said. SpaceX
lists a price of $90 million for a Falcon
Heavy flight, compared with $62 million
for one by Falcon 9. Mr. Musk estimated
that his company had spent more than
half a billion dollars on Falcon Heavy
and said that the program was almost
canceled three times.
SpaceX has booked coming Heavy
flights for Arabsat, a Saudi Arabian
communications company, and the
United States Air Force.
However, the market for the Heavy is
smaller than what Mr. Musk envisioned
when he announced development of the
rocket in 2011. Back then, he expected
that SpaceX’s launches would be evenly
split between Falcon 9s and Heavies.
But the development of the Heavy
took years longer than anticipated —
the central booster had to be redesigned
to withstand the stresses of the powerful
side boosters — and with advances in
miniaturization, the trend is toward
smaller satellites. SpaceX also boosted
the capability of the Falcon 9, which now
can launch many of the payloads that
would have originally required a Heavy.
Loss of dynamism is impeding growth
Eduardo Porter
Start-ups on the decline
The rate of business formation is declining in the U.S. and other nations.
Start-up and shutdown rates among
all United States firms
Can the market economy still deliver
That may seem an odd question to
ask when the United States is more
than eight years into a sustained expansion and the world’s major economies are finally following suit. Unemployment is at its lowest since the end
of the dot-com bubble at the end of the
Clinton administration. The stock
market’s sugar high, fueled by juicy
profits and falling taxes, is being tempered only somewhat by fear that the
Federal Reserve will take the punch
bowl away.
And yet a broad sweep of statistics
reveals a peculiar weariness spreading
through the economy. Belying breathless headlines about the fabulous opportunities that technology is about to
bestow on society, it suggests that
many rich market democracies have
lost much of their dynamism. Their
companies are getting old, and their
labor markets are getting stuck. Productivity growth has slumped. And
many workers in their prime are peeling off from the labor force.
The pattern is particularly striking
in the United States, where the share
of adults with a job remains well below
its peak at the end of the 20th century,
and productivity growth has trundled
along over the last decade at the slow-
Start-ups as a a share of all firms
In selected O.E.C.D. countries
Companies starting up
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est pace since the end of World War II.
But signs of lethargy are showing up
elsewhere in the industrialized world.
Productivity is at a crawl in most rich
economies. Though not as intensely as
in the United States, men in their
prime, 25 to 54 years old, are leaving
the labor force across the nations of
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. While women
have picked up some of the slack, the
labor supply across the O.E.C.D. as a
whole has flattened.
Most notably, the economy’s ability
to generate and support new businesses — agents of creative destruction that bring new products and methods into the marketplace — appears to
be faltering across the world. In the
United States, the rate of company
formation is half what it was four
decades ago. And it is slowing in many
industrialized countries.
One might blame the recession that
crippled the world almost a decade
ago, in the wake of the global financial
crisis set off by the implosion of home
values in the United States. But the
weariness extends beyond the latest
turns of the economic cycle.
The stagnation poses a threat to the
market economy’s main claim to legitimacy: that it delivers prosperity. The
income of the typical American household is roughly the same as it was in
the 1980s. It is unlikely to be a coincidence.
In a study published on Tuesday by
the Hamilton Project at the Brookings
Institution, Jay Shambaugh, Ryan
Nunn and Patrick Liu explore what
economists have figured out about the
American economy’s inertia and the
fallout for wages and living standards.
The evidence paints a distinct picture of decline: Fewer start-ups mean
fewer new ideas and fewer young,
productive businesses to replace older,
United States
New Zealand
Companies shutting down
’77 ’80 ’85 ’90 ’95 ’00 ’05 ’10 ’15
2001 – ’04
2005 – ’08
2009 – ’13
Sources: Brookings Institution, “How Declining Dynamism Affects Wages,” by Jay Shambaugh,
Ryan Nunn and Patrick Liu; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
less productive ones. Researchers have
found that the decline in companies
entering the market since 1980 has
trimmed productivity growth by about
3.1 percent.
The dearth of new businesses is also
cutting off one of the main paths to
workers’ advancement: the outside job
offer. Changing jobs allows workers to
shift to positions in which they are
more productive, and better paid. But
labor market fluidity — job switching,
creation and destruction — has been
declining since the 1980s.
Clear though the pattern may be, the
researchers acknowledge that we
haven’t yet figured out what is holding
the economy’s dynamism back. “This
is one of those big, economywide
trends,” Mr. Shambaugh told me.
“There is room for a lot of stories.”
Can the corporate landscape become
more dynamic again? “None of the
potential policy explanations have
been conclusively shown to account for
the bulk of the decline in dynamism,”
Mr. Shambaugh and his colleagues
note. The critical question that remains
is whether there is a set of policies that
might restore the economy’s vitality.
This isn’t just about demographic
and social change. Sure, we are aging.
Older workers will be less likely to
move to a new job across state lines.
Families with two earners will have a
harder time relocating when one gets a
new job offer. Stratospheric rents will
make it tough to migrate to some of the
most vibrant labor markets.
Policy has certainly played a role:
Labor market regulations can gum up
the sorting of workers into the best
possible jobs, where they will be at
their most productive and most highly
paid. Specifically, state occupational
licensing rules fence off some of the
most desirable, well-paid jobs.
But this alone cannot explain away
stagnation. Explaining stagnation
requires explaining not only why there
are so few well-paying jobs but also
why there are so few emergent companies ready to employ productive workers. Well into the information age, in a
business ecosystem with low barriers
to entry, where venture capital stands
ready to throw itself at the next good
idea, the economy has somehow forgotten how to create companies.
My best guess is that this is all about
the decline of competition. Mr. Shambaugh and his co-authors note how
noncompete agreements and other
devices used by businesses to stop
their employees from seeking jobs
elsewhere are preventing many workers from taking the better job that pays
more money. I would argue that the
failure is bigger: By allowing an
ecosystem of gargantuan companies to
develop, all but dominating the markets they served, the American economy shut out disruption. And thus it
shut out change.
This is not the only possible diagnosis, I understand. Many economists
will reject my proposition that the
nation’s economy has been given to
oligopolies; that antitrust law has
proved no match for the ferocious
concentration of market power in the
hands of a few businesses that have
been allowed to impose their will on
the economy as a whole.
It fits, however. An economy controlled by big, entrenched companies
will have little place for the kind of
disruption that could push productivity
onto a higher plane. That description
looks very much like the economy that
many American workers are coping
with today.
A group of Silicon Valley technologists
who were early employees at Facebook
and Google, alarmed over the ill effects
of social networks and smartphones, are
banding together to challenge the companies they helped build.
The cohort is creating a union of concerned experts called the Center for Humane Technology. Along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common
Sense Media, it also plans an anti-tech
addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the
United States.
The campaign, titled The Truth About
Tech, will be funded with $7 million from
Common Sense and capital raised by the
Center for Humane Technology. Common Sense also has $50 million in donated media and airtime from partners including Comcast and DirecTV. It will be
aimed at educating students, parents
and teachers about the dangers of technology, including the depression that
can come from heavy use of social media.
“We were on the inside,” said Tristan
Harris, a former in-house ethicist at
Google who is heading the new group.
“We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we
know how the engineering works.”
The effect of technology, especially on
younger minds, has become hotly debated in recent months. In January, two
big Wall Street investors asked Apple to
study the health effects of its products
and to make it easier to limit children’s
use of iPhones and iPads. Pediatric and
mental health experts called on Facebook last week to abandon a messaging
service the company had introduced for
The effort will be aimed at
educating students and teachers
about the dangers of technology,
including the depression that can
come from heavy use.
children as young as 6. Parenting
groups have also sounded the alarm
about YouTube Kids, a product aimed at
children that sometimes features disturbing content.
“The largest supercomputers in the
world are inside of two companies —
Google and Facebook — and where are
we pointing them?” Mr. Harris said.
“We’re pointing them at people’s brains,
at children.”
Silicon Valley executives for years positioned their companies as tight-knit
families and rarely spoke publicly
against one another. That has changed.
Chamath Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist who was an early employee at
Facebook, said in November that the social network was “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”
The new Center for Humane Technology includes an unprecedented alliance
of former employees of some of today’s
biggest tech companies. Apart from Mr.
Harris, the center includes Sandy
Parakilas, a former Facebook operations manager; Lynn Fox, a former Apple and Google communications executive; Dave Morin, a former Facebook
executive; Justin Rosenstein, who created Facebook’s Like button and is a cofounder of Asana; Roger McNamee, an
early investor in Facebook; and Renée
DiResta, a technologist who studies
The group expects its numbers to
grow. Its first project to reform the industry will be to introduce a Ledger of
Harms — a website aimed at guiding
rank-and-file engineers who are concerned about what they are being asked
to build. The site will include data on the
health effects of different technologies
and ways to make products that are
Jim Steyer, chief executive and
founder of Common Sense, said the
Truth About Tech campaign was modeled on antismoking drives and focused
on children because of their vulnerability. That may sway tech chief executives
to change, he said. Already, Apple’s chief
executive, Timothy D. Cook, told The
Guardian last month that he would not
let his nephew on social media.
Mr. Steyer said, “You see a degree of
hypocrisy with all these guys in Silicon
The new group also plans to begin lobbying for laws to curtail the power of big
tech companies. It will initially focus on
two pieces of legislation: a bill being introduced by Senator Edward J. Markey,
Democrat of Massachusetts, that would
commission research on technology’s
impact on children’s health, and a bill in
California by State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat, to prohibit the use of
digital bots without identification.
Global market bracing
for end to easy money
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The stock market has lost ground since the start of the year, thanks to the sharp sell-off Monday.
Ignore the slide on Wall Street
What is the stock market telling us with
its precipitous drop over the last several
days? In all likelihood, not much of anything.
That’s because the stock market,
though crucial in the long run for individuals accumulating wealth and companies raising capital, is so erratic as to
be useless in providing information
about the short run. The 8.5 percent
drop in the S. & P. 500 through Monday’s
close (before a 1.7 percent rebound on
Tuesday) could signify the onset of a
global recession. But it could just as well
mean only that some trading algorithms
at a big hedge fund collided in weird
For what really matters — the wellbeing of the economy and the ability for
individuals and companies to prosper in
the years ahead — look first to fundamental economic data, especially those
that tend to be leading indicators. Second, look to the bond market and other
financial market indicators that are
more reliable measures of investors’ expectations than stock prices.
There is good news on both fronts, as
both point to a global economy that will
continue growing steadily in the months
and years ahead, perhaps with inflation
that is a bit higher than in the recent
past. That contrasts this market sell-off
with drops in 2011, 2015 and 2016, which
coincided with pessimistic signals in
both economic data and the bond market.
The stock market can, when looked at
in concert with these other indicators,
provide some useful insight. Right now
it appears to be more noise than signal.
The economic data has been solid in
recent weeks. Just Friday, the Labor Department reported that the United
States added a robust 200,000 jobs in
January. The Federal Reserve Bank of
Atlanta tracks incoming economic data
to estimate current growth of gross domestic product, and its indicator is
pointing toward robust economic expansion — a 4 percent annual rate.
Of course, there is plenty of statistical
error built into those numbers, and they
may turn out to be incorrect. But even
many of the real-time indicators that
tend to work as early warnings of an
economic slump are looking just fine.
The Conference Board’s index of leading
economic indicators ticked up in its
most recent release, and weekly claims
for unemployment insurance benefits
have hovered near record lows in recent
Just Monday, the Institute for Supply
Management said its index of activity at
service companies rose sharply in January, which made it one of those curious
days when good economic news coincided with a steep market sell-off.
The bond market is also looking optimistic about the future, with prices suggesting that continued growth — without inflationary overheating — is the
most likely future.
Economic data and the bond
market paint a brighter picture.
The stock market has lost ground
since the start of the year, thanks to the
sharp sell-off Monday. But the yield on
10-year Treasury bonds is up in that
span, from 2.4 percent to 2.8 percent at
Tuesday’s close. That suggests bond investors think that continued steady recovery will allow the Federal Reserve to
raise interest rates gradually.
Bond investors are pricing in higher
inflation than the United States has experienced in recent years, but roughly in
line with the 2 percent the Federal Reserve aims for. Prices for inflation-protected bonds imply 2.09 percent annual
inflation over the coming decade, up
from 1.98 percent at the start of the year.
Other market indicators that might
signal global economic troubles, like the
price of oil, instead point to a steady-asshe-goes global economy.
None of this makes a case for economic complacency. There are plenty of
things that could go wrong in the world,
from conflict on the Korean Peninsula or
in the Middle East to destructive trade
wars. But if the stock market was actually giving us any insight into the likelihood of those outcomes, we would expect to see moves in bond and commodity markets that just aren’t happening.
Think of it this way. The economy is
like a horse race — and what we really
care about is which horse wins, places or
shows. The bond market is the equivalent of the people betting directly on the
race. And while of course gamblers get it
wrong sometimes, the market is efficient enough that there’s a fairly direct
relationship between the odds a horse
pays and its probability of victory.
The stock market, by contrast, is like a
weird side game in which people bet one
another on which gambler is going to
have the best day. It’s erratic, volatile
and a couple of degrees removed from
the underlying horse race on which it is
all based.
And that’s why the best way to make
sense of the drop in the stock market is
to think of it as a sideshow to the broader
trajectories of the United States and
global economy, which for now look perfectly fine.
Volatility inflicts pain without gain
Investors who bet big
on a continuing calm
are feeling rattled
Market volatility
The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, known informally as VIX,
through Tuesday.
“People are scared out of their
minds — they are in really
rough shape.”
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As stocks maintained their smooth and
steady climb in recent years, few trades
were as alluring, or as profitable, as a
bet that volatility as measured by Wall
Street’s so-called fear gauge had vanished.
Hedge fund titans in their Manhattan
offices and day traders in their living
rooms have poured billions of dollars
into opaque, debt-fueled funds known as
exchange-traded notes, racier versions
of the exchange-traded funds that track
every variety of index or investment
and can be bought and sold just like a
Now stocks are swinging wildly and
volatility is soaring — and investors who
piled into these funds, confident that the
calm would continue, are getting rattled.
On Tuesday, Credit Suisse, the sponsor
of the most popular fund for making
such bets, said it was closing down the
Credit Suisse closed the fund — informally called XIV, which moves in the opposite direction of the fear gauge, known
as VIX — after it experienced a fall of
greater than 80 percent, a price drop
that left XIV trading at a deep discount
relative to the value of its assets.
It had been an extraordinary ride for
XIV, formally known as the Velocity
Shares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term
ETN. It was one of a number of funds
tied to VIX, known officially as the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility
Index, some of which move in the same
direction, tracking the index up or down.
VIX, which measures investor expectations that stocks will rise or fall
sharply in the future, has been at extreme lows in recent years, making XIV
very attractive to investors and pushing
it to $1.8 billion in size. Just last week, it
took in a record $500 million, as invest-
Jan. 2
Jan. 8
Jan. 15
Source: FactSet
ors stuck even more firmly to their belief
that volatility was not a concern.
In the two years from January 2016 to
the middle of last month, XIV’s value
shot up more than 500 percent, reaching
a recent peak of $134.
After VIX surged on Monday, XIV
dropped like a rock, falling from $99 to
$7 in after-hours trading.
In just two days, investors in XIV and
a similar fund, ProShares Short VIX
Short Term Futures (SVXY), saw their
assets shrink dramatically, from a combined total of $3 billion to about $150 million.
“People are scared out of their minds
— they are in really rough shape,” said
Seth Golden, who left his job as a manager at a Target store to take up shorting
VIX as a full-time business from his living room in Ocala, Fla.
Profiled in The New York Times last
summer, Mr. Golden exemplifies, perhaps in a cautionary way, how easy it
has become to gamble on whether volatility in the stock market will be high or
He has been able to do so because in-
Jan. 22
Jan. 29
Feb. 5
vestment banks have created more than
30 high-risk, high-return securities that
allow any investor to bet against VIX.
Some of the products require large
amounts of leverage, debt that can amplify gains and losses.
Mr. Golden’s preferred vehicles are
the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures and ProShares Ultra VIX ShortTerm Futures, which he has been betting against for years in trades that have
been lucrative — until now.
After VIX shot up 100 percent, the
largest move in its history, to 35.73 on
Monday, Mr. Golden acknowledged that
he was feeling some pain. On Tuesday,
the index spiked again, reaching 50 before falling back to just below 30.
“It is really stressful,” he said. “I was
up until the wee hours, checking my
phone to see where VIX futures were
Nonetheless, he said on Tuesday that
he was still wagering 21 percent of his
portfolio, or $600,000, that volatility
would fall as it had in the past.
That Mr. Golden and others like him
are getting hurt on these risky niche
trades should not, in theory, have a
wider effect on the market. While investments in these funds have been substantial recently, their combined value is
just $4 billion, a blip in a market worth
trillions of dollars.
But volatility specialists have warned
for years that the popularity of the investments has skewed the broader VIX
index, keeping it artificially low in good
times and pushing it higher than it
should go in times of stress.
That was the case on Monday,
bankers and traders said, when XIV collapsed as VIX soared in late-afternoon
That was because as XIV and SVXY
plummeted, traders were forced to
scoop up hundreds of millions of dollars
in VIX futures to cover the short positions they had on the index.
That drove it higher and prompted
computerized trading systems to sell
stocks and bonds by the truckload.
“These products definitely had an impact on the VIX,” said Pravit Chintawongvanich, the head of derivatives
strategy at Macro Risk Advisors. “And
that exacerbated the decline in stocks. It
was a vicious circle.”
Some investors have taken the other
side of this trade, betting that the low
levels of volatility were distorted and
that the index was likely to spike soon.
When that happens, watch out, these
people warned, as they estimated that
$2 trillion in investor money had been
directly or indirectly wagered on the
markets remaining quiet.
“This is just an appetizer for what has
yet to come,” said Chris Cole of Artemis
Capital, a hedge fund for investors who
believe in such an outcome. “The world
won’t end tomorrow, but there has been
such a massive bet on stability and low
volatility that this could lead to a multiyear unwind.”
money changes hands. The American
economy had swapped the frivolity of a
stock market party for the grim trappings of a bedside vigil. The result was
gloom and anxiety in every reach of the
financial sphere.
“The United States is by some distance the largest market on earth,” said
Gaurav Saroliya, director of global macro strategy at Oxford Economics in London. “Growth in the United States has a
huge bearing on economies everywhere. If the largest market is selling
off, that has a very powerful effect on investment sentiment. It makes people
risk averse.”
The fear that seized the United States
was the spawn of good times. As the feeling sank in that stock trading was governed by a surplus of exuberance, the
odds increased that the Federal Reserve
would dampen the festivities by lifting
interest rates faster than policymakers
had previously telegraphed.
Not for nothing, central banks are
seen by investors as crucial yet funaverse grown-ups charged with solemnly watching for trouble. When crises emerge, they make money available
to encourage commerce while keeping
terror at bay. The global economic expansion underway now is in large part a
product of the Fed’s swiftly unleashing
an overwhelming surge of credit after
the start of the financial crisis in 2008,
combined with the slower yet, eventually, effective torrent of cash delivered
by the European Central Bank.
But when the party gets raging —
when economies accelerate and stock
prices ascend to levels out of whack with
fundamentals — central bankers play
killjoy, lifting interest rates to snuff out
attendant dangers.
Higher rates diminish speculation
that can end badly, by making credit
more expensive. They slow economic
growth while making stocks less appealing, because corporations must pay
more to keep up with their debts. Investors can make more just by keeping their
holdings in cash or bonds, rather than
by accepting the higher risk of stocks.
The bitter irony of the current swoon
is that it was set off by the emergence of
something the world has been awaiting
for years: higher wages for workers.
Even as unemployment rates have
lowered drastically in Britain, Japan
and the United States, companies have
continued to find new ways to make
more products and sell more services
without paying more to their employees.
This has been a major source of unhappiness among working people, and a
subject of consternation among policymakers.
Then, last Friday, the latest monthly
snapshot of the American labor market
revealed that wages had climbed 2.9
percent in January compared with a
year earlier. The tight job market was
forcing employers to pay more.
This appeared to presage a strengthening of American consumer power. If
more working people take home more
money, they will presumably be more inclined to buy houses and cars, generating jobs in construction and at auto
plants from Michigan to South Carolina.
They will fill restaurants, necessitating
more truck drivers to ferry the food, and
more mechanics to keep the trucks running.
This same virtuous cycle appeared to
be amplifying global growth. More cars
made in the United States would require
more brake linings made in Mexico and
more circuitry forged in China, using
copper mined in Chile. More construction would require equipment from Germany and Japan, and more iron ore from
Brazil to make steel.
This interconnectivity has been central to the anticipation that a strengthening economy in the United States
would lift fortunes around the world.
But the increase in wages for American workers meant something else. It
was a flashing warning to investors
about potential inflation, or rising
prices, which have crippled many economies.
The Fed, always vigilant, wields a
standard tool for snuffing out inflation if
necessary: higher interest rates.
This is how a positive jobs report, pre-
sumably a sign of a strengthening
American economy, wound up as the impetus for the dumping of stocks from
Taipei to Toronto. It enhanced the likelihood that the Fed would raise rates faster. It prompted investors to wonder how
long the European Central Bank could
maintain its own ultralow rates.
In the past year, the European Union
has shaken off perpetual worries of a
grinding decline to emerge as one of the
faster-growing major economies on
earth. Inflation remains weak in Europe, undergirding expectations that
the central bank will be slow to take
back its free money.
But if the Fed were to lift rates faster,
that could prompt Europe and perhaps
even Japan to follow suit. Otherwise, the
United States would be in a position to
capture an outsize share of global investment, as rates presumably rise on
American government bonds.
All of this is playing out amid a transition in central bank leadership. At the
Fed, Janet L. Yellen, the economist who
was the chairwoman of the Board of
Governors, on Monday completed her
term and handed power to her successor, Jerome H. Powell. Mr. Powell is
widely expected to continue Ms. Yellen’s
cautious march toward higher interest
rates. Still, as a newcomer taking the
tiller in the midst of extraordinary volatility, he is a variable.
Mario Draghi, the Italian who heads
the European Central Bank, is scheduled to complete his eight-year term late
next year. At the Bank of Japan,
Haruhiko Kuroda’s term as governor expires in April, and there is uncertainty
over whether he will be reappointed.
The return to higher interest
rates is inevitable, a healthy
turn for a world economy that
can finally close the books
on the global financial crisis.
Some economists think that the dour
talk is overblown and that the stock
markets are running on emotion untethered from economic reality, a narrative
that gained force as markets in New
York snapped back from the depths on
The fundamentals of the United
States expansion remain intact. Rising
wages should indeed give people money
to spend without resorting to some newfangled credit bubble that ends tragically.
Whatever the interest rates, central
banks retain trillions of dollars on their
balance sheets earmarked for buying up
financial assets, making credit available. And the return to higher interest
rates is inevitable, a healthy turn for a
world economy that can finally close the
books on the global financial crisis that
began a decade ago.
“We have gotten used to this low-interest-rate environment,” said Robert
Bergqvist, chief economist at SEB, a
global investment bank based in Stockholm. “This is not the normal situation.”
The global economic expansion has
occasioned hopeful talk that the world
now has multiple engines of growth, inoculating it against trouble in any single
region. But the events of recent days
have challenged that notion, given that a
sudden deterioration of stock prices on
Wall Street quickly burst into a global
Sentiments are clearly a viral phenomenon. Yet the distress in global markets also underscores the fact that real
economic fortunes are fused.
If General Electric, Ford and other
multinational companies see their share
prices brought down as borrowing costs
climb, they could limit plans for expansion. The trend would be felt in diminished orders for computer chips made in
Taiwan, flat-panel displays forged in
South Korea and auto parts built in the
Czech Republic. It could cool demand for
raw materials harvested from Argentina to India to South Africa.
“Business cycles across different
markets are more correlated than they
have ever been,” said Mr. Saroliya, of
Oxford Economics. “It’s the global supply chain.”
Bonds suggest an improving outlook
The bond market is not flashing warnings of economic weakness, even amid the
stock market downturn.
2.80 %
Treasury bond yield
Drop in
stock market
Source: U.S. Treasury Department
Pepé Le Pew vs. Donald Trump
What the
president has
in common
with Looney
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Contributing Writer
He grabs pussies. He kisses females
without concern for the revulsion and
horror they feel for him. He grabs
them in unexpected places. Does he
ever experience rejection? He does
not. “Most men would get discouraged,” he says, referring to those he
comes on to. “Fortunately for her, I am
not most men.”
He is Pepé Le Pew. Does he remind
us of anyone else?
In advance of Valentine’s Day, and to
better understand the inner workings
of a man who appears to have no inner
workings, I bypassed last week’s State
of the Union address and spent the
evening watching all 17 Pepé Le Pew
cartoons, from his 1945 debut in “Odorable Kitty” to 1962’s “Louvre Come
Back to Me!” And I can now share
what I have learned — about love, the
French, narcissistic personality disorder, men, women, the president of
the United States and the smell of
Limburger cheese.
But first, for younger readers: Pepé
Le Pew is a Warner Bros. cartoon
character, part of the Looney Tunes
stable during the golden age of American animation,
alongside Bugs
In the
Bunny, the Road
#MeToo era,
Runner, Daffy Duck
Pepé Le Pew’s and Porky Pig.
antics make
He was never a
you want to
marquee star of the
same magnitude of,
cover your
say, Bugs Bunny or
face with
the Road Runner. He
your paws.
appeared in just 17
stand-alone cartoons, virtually all of
them directed by Chuck Jones. Still, he
made a fragrant impression: “For
Scent-imental Reasons” (1949) won the
Academy Award for best animated
short film.
If it seems surprising that there
were only 17 Pepé Le Pew cartoons, it
may be because they seem so similar.
Each begins with a cat, usually but
(interestingly) not always female,
getting a stripe of white paint on its
back, usually (but not always) by
accident. This makes our hero, Pepé,
mistake the cat for one of his own kind
— and his response to those of his own
kind is always deep and passionate
He has a curious way of expressing
it, though. Even though he is French
(which in the Looney Tunes world is
shorthand for relentless amour), his
terrible smell repulses the objects of
his affection, who struggle valiantly to
get away, sometimes successfully,
sometimes not. “Odor-able Kitty” ends
with Pepé with a chain around his
ankle. “Now we are inseparable, are
we not, darling?” he says. The shot
follows the chain across the room to
the cat, whose leg is also bound. The
last we see of the pussy, she is desperately hacking away at the chain, trying
to get free.
That’s all, folks.
It is fair to say these cartoons have
not aged well (not a rare quality; see
also Disney’s “Song of the South”). But
in the #MeToo era, Pepé Le Pew’s
antics make you want to cover your
face with your paws. Virtually his
whole oeuvre is a series of jokes about
males who — no matter how clearly
the point is made — cannot possibly
comprehend the magnitude of their
own disgustingness.
Which leads us back to the president, who is kind of like Pepé Le Pew
with neither French nor stench. This
inspires me to ask you to join me in a
game, which we’ll call Who Said It —
Donald Trump or Pepé Le Pew?
“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful.”
“She thinks that by running away she
can make herself more attractive to me.
How right she is!”
“I just start kissing them. It’s like a
“I am stupid, no?”
“I’m like, smart!”
Answers at the end, if you actually
need them.
There is one thing that I did not
know about Pepé Le Pew before
watching his collected works: He’s not
really French. In his very first appearance, Pepé’s lovemaking is interrupted
by his wife, who calls out his name,
“Henry!” Behind her are Pepé’s two
little children. He tries to explain himself, and as he does, he speaks in his
real voice, which has an American
accent. His wife responds — not by
taking a plane alone to West Palm
Beach but by whacking him on the
head with an umbrella.
Pepé’s entire persona — the French
accent, the image of a carefree bachelor, his very name — is a delusion. Just
like Donald Trump and his failed university, and his failed steak company,
and his failed casinos. Pepé Le Pew is
fake meows.
It’s worth noting that Pepé Le Pew
isn’t the only Warner Bros. character
who provides a model for the looney
tunes era we live in now. In “Show Biz
Bugs” (1957), Daffy Duck and Bugs
Bunny are engaged in a talent competition; all of Bugs’s performances
succeed while Daffy’s fail. At the conclusion, in a last-ditch attempt to win
over his audience, Daffy swallows
gasoline, nitroglycerin, “a goodly
amount of gunpowder” and uranium-238. He lights a match and explodes. The crowd goes wild.
Is there a better metaphor for the
election of 2016? There we were,
mouths agape, as the most craven soul
ever to aim at the White House ran,
and won. Ratings went through the
roof as everything we ever thought we
knew about our country’s decency
But one wonders whether Donald
Trump has the same insight on the
consequences of this stunt that Daffy
does. When Bugs asks him for an
encore, Daffy, now a ghost, slowly
floats toward heaven.
It’s a great trick, he agrees sadly,
“but I can only do it once.”
Answers: Trump; Le Pew; Trump;
Le Pew; Trump.
is a professor of
English at Barnard College and the
author of the novel “Long Black Veil.”
.C a ГР
O t's У
/W e П
SN s"
Everyone is going all the way
There’s a
theme in
and many
hot spots.
Thomas L. Friedman
TEL AVIV It is hard to spend a week in
Israel and not come away feeling that
Israelis have the wind at their backs.
They’ve built an awesome high-tech
industry, and everyone’s kid seems to
work for a start-up. Even Israeli Arabs
have caught the bug — the number
studying for B.A. degrees at Israeli
universities rose 60 percent in the last
seven years, to 47,000. Regionally, the
Arabs and Palestinians have never
been weaker, and under President
Trump, Israel has never had a more
unquestioningly friendly United States.
Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, asking Israel for nothing
in return. The Arab states barely made
a peep.
Alas, though, all of this wind has
whetted the appetite of Israel’s settlers
and the ruling Likud Party to go to
extremes. Reuters reported on Dec. 31
that the “Likud Party unanimously
urged legislators in a nonbinding resolution . . . to effectively annex Israeli
settlements in the occupied West Bank,
land that Palestinians want for a future
Sure, the world would scream “apartheid,” but Israeli rightists shrug that the
world will get used to it.
And then it popped into my head: I’ve
seen this play before. It was May 17,
1983 — the day Israel, a year after invading Lebanon, signed a peace accord
with Beirut. “Signed” isn’t exactly right.
Israel (backed by the U.S.) imposed
virtually all its security demands on a
weak Lebanese government, including
a framework for normalizing trade and
Back then, Israel also had a rightwing leader, Menachem Begin, embraced by a superfriendly President
Ronald Reagan. Egypt had just signed a
peace treaty and dropped out of the
conflict, and another young Arab leader
— Lebanese Christian warlord Bashir
Gemayel — beckoned Israel to join him
in crushing the Palestinians and remaking the Middle East together.
My Washington Post Beirut colleague
Jonathan Randal wrote a book about
that moment, “Going All The Way:
Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers
and the War in Lebanon.”
I always loved that title — going all
the way. It’s a recurring theme out here,
and it almost always ends with a
“Thelma and Louise” moment — partners driving over a cliff — and so it did
with Israel in 1983.
Lebanese militias, led by Hezbollah,
quickly emerged to resist the May 17
treaty. On March 5, 1984, only 10 months
after it was signed, I
wrote in this paper
from Beirut: “Lebaand Louise’
non today formally
canceled its troop
all over.
withdrawal accord
with Israel,” marking
“the end of the socalled ‘Israeli era’ in Lebanese politics
and to shift Lebanon solidly back into
the Syrian-Arab fold.”
Why do I tell this story? Because
everywhere I look today I see people
going all the way.
I see Republicans trashing two of our
most sacred institutions — the F.B.I.
and the Justice Department — because
these agencies won’t bend to Trump’s
will. I see Iran controlling four Arab
capitals: Damascus, Sana, Baghdad
and Beirut. I see Hamas still more
interested in building tunnels in Gaza to
kill Israelis than schools to strengthen
Palestinian society.
I see Turkey’s president silencing
every critical journalist in his country. I
see the Egyptian and Russian presidents eliminating all serious rivals in
their upcoming elections. I see Bibi
Netanyahu trying to derail a corruption
investigation by weakening Israel’s
justice system, free media and civil
society — just like Trump and for the
same purposes: to weaken constraints
on his arbitrary use of political power.
Worst of all, I see an America — the
world’s strongest guardian of truth,
science and democratic norms — now
led by a serial liar and norms destroyer,
giving license to everyone else to ask,
why can’t I?
Can anything stop this epidemic of
going all the way? Yes: Mother Nature,
human nature and markets. They’ll all
push back when no one else will.
How so? Well, look at Gaza. Due
largely to Hamas’s malevolence and
incompetence, but also some Israeli
restrictions, Gaza has limited hours of
electricity each day. Result: Gaza’s
already inadequate sewage plants are
often offline, and waste goes untreated
straight into the Mediterranean.
Then the prevailing current washes
Gaza’s poop north, where it clogs Israel’s big desalination plant in Ashkelon
— which provides 15 percent of Israel’s
drinking water, explains EcoPeace
Middle East, the environmental NGO.
In both 2016 and 2017, the Ashkelon
plant had to close to clean Gaza’s crud
out of its filters. It’s Mother Nature’s
way of reminding both that if they try to
go all the way, if they shun a healthy
interdependence, she’ll poison them
Iran’s military boss, Qasem Suleimani, thinks he’s a big man on campus.
His proxies control four Arab capitals.
All bow down. But then out of nowhere
Iranians back home start protesting
against Suleimani’s overreach; they’re
tired of seeing their money spent on
Gaza and Syria — not on Iranians. And,
just as suddenly, the biggest internet
meme in Iran becomes an Iranian woman ripping off her veil and holding it up
on the end of a stick.
And if you don’t think markets have a
way of curing excesses, you didn’t read
the top story in The Times.
So to all of you going all the way, I say:
Watch out for the market, Mother Nature and human nature. Because, noted
Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi,
the first two are “uncontrollable and the
other is irrepressible.”
It’s time for an immigration enchilada
A.G. SULZBERGER, Publisher
Jorge G. Castañeda
Contributing Writer
DEAN BAQUET, Executive Editor
MARK THOMPSON, Chief Executive Officer
JOSEPH KAHN, Managing Editor
STEPHEN DUNBAR-JOHNSON, President, International
TOM BODKIN, Creative Director
JEAN-CHRISTOPHE DEMARTA, Senior V.P., Global Advertising
SUZANNE DALEY, Associate Editor
ACHILLES TSALTAS, V.P., International Conferences
CHARLOTTE GORDON, V.P., International Consumer Marketing
MEXICO CITY Immigration has been on
JAMES BENNET, Editorial Page Editor
HELEN KONSTANTOPOULOS, V.P., International Circulation
JAMES DAO, Deputy Editorial Page Editor
HELENA PHUA, Executive V.P., Asia-Pacific
KATHLEEN KINGSBURY, Deputy Editorial Page Editor
SUZANNE YVERNÈS, International Chief Financial Officer
the United States-Mexico agenda for
years. In recent times, three American
attempts at comprehensive immigration reform, which included amnesty
for undocumented Mexicans in the
United States and a temporary-worker
visa program, have failed. A bilateral
effort between 2001 and 2003 also
Nothing affects Mexico more than
United States immigration policy, and
the centrality of the issue in American
politics is more prominent than ever.
The most urgent challenge is to find
a way forward for the so-called Dreamers, the beneficiaries of President
Barack Obama’s Deferred Action on
Child Arrivals program. Nearly
800,000 young people brought to the
United States by their parents as children applied for and were given protected status by the Obama administration.
Thanks to DACA, they no longer
needed to fear deportation, were able
to work legally and had realistic hopes
that one day they would be on a path to
citizenship in the only country they
knew. More than three-fourths of the
Dreamers are Mexican. That’s why
people here follow their fate closely.
President Trump rescinded Mr.
Obama’s DACA policy. He has proposed a four-pillar overhaul of American immigration policy that most
Democrats and Latinos in the United
The global financial markets are not in crisis. Though
some pundits stoked panic with their coverage of several days of market plunges before Tuesday’s leap,
stock prices are still near their record highs, the economy is creating jobs and many workers are finally
getting decent raises after years of stagnant wages.
Which doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to worry
about. In recent months, time after time, both the
current administration and its allies in Congress have
called into question their credibility and competence to
manage the economy or handle a financial crisis if one
were to occur. President Trump has repeatedly patted
himself on the back for a surging stock market, seemingly unaware that stocks can go down, not just up.
His Treasury Department in December released a
one-page analysis that made outlandish economic
assumptions to justify giant tax cuts for corporations
and wealthy families. Republican lawmakers in Congress went even further, attacking the Congressional
Budget Office and Congress’s Joint Committee on
Taxation, both nonpartisan, because those analysts
had the temerity to warn that the tax law would add to
the federal deficit.
Mr. Trump wants everyone to know that his election
delivered a booster shot to the economy and stocks.
“The reason our stock market is so successful is because of me,” he told reporters in November. Truth is,
the president was just lucky enough to have inherited
a growing economy and a rising stock market. Though
his tax cuts were an expensive gift to investors, he has
not been in office long enough to have fundamentally
changed that trajectory. But his erratic behavior and
poor policy choices are clearly worrying the majority
of Americans who disapprove of the president.
One reason some investors have become nervous
recently is they fear that the tax cuts, which Mr.
Trump and Republican lawmakers sold as a way to
stimulate the economy, could end up hurting the economy in the not so distant future. The tax law and a
push by the Trump administration to increase military
spending will reduce federal revenue and force the
Treasury to borrow more money when the economy is
close to full employment. This could stoke inflation
and prompt the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary
policy. That, in turn, would slow the economy.
The prospect of a recession or financial crisis on Mr.
Trump’s watch is unnerving, because he is as confident in his own abilities as he is lacking in knowledge
and sound judgment. When confronted with criticism,
he lashes out like an intemperate child. On Monday, he
said Democrats who did not applaud during his State
of the Union address were un-American and treasonous. If the stock market falls further, will the president
try to reassure the public, or will he launch a Twitter
fusillade blaming the drop on, say, a conspiracy
hatched by the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager who wants Mr. Trump impeached?
Many people would have been more sanguine about
the Trump presidency had he surrounded himself with
competent aides and advisers. Instead, he has stacked
his administration with incompetent yes men, rightwing ideologues and Washington swamp dwellers.
Consider the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, a
former investment banker, who unnerved the currency
market last month by suggesting that the United
States was trying to weaken the dollar. His statement
broke with the longstanding practice followed by
Treasury secretaries from both parties to avoid making careless public pronouncements about American
currency. Mr. Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, the White
House’s chief economic adviser, also debased their
credibility last year by arguing with no evidence whatsoever that the Republican tax cut would pay for itself.
Over in Congress, the Republican House speaker, Paul
Ryan, tried to pass off as good economic news that a
public school secretary would take home an extra
$1.50 a week as a result of the tax law.
Then there is the harm wrought by the tax law. By
greatly expanding the deficit, it will limit the federal
government’s ability to stimulate the economy in the
future when it actually needs a jump-start. In many
ways the tax law is already having a perverse effect.
Mr. Ryan, for one, is citing the deficit to make the case
that the government needs to slash Medicaid, Medicare and other important government programs.
Other members of his party are using the deficits to
argue that the government cannot afford to repair and
upgrade the country’s dilapidated infrastructure.
A big drop in stock prices focuses minds, especially
when it comes after years of relatively steady gains.
But the real crisis is in Washington, not on Wall Street.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George W.
Bush and Obama.
Mr. Trump’s third pillar is the most
insulting for many Americans, since it
eliminates the family reunification
principle for accepting legal immigrants from abroad. Intended to deter
“chain migration,” it would replace the
family criterion with a merit-based
system. In the future, only spouses and
underage offspring (as opposed to
parents and siblings today) of American citizens would be allowed permanent residence, and eventually citizenship. The net effect would be to “whiten” immigration and limit the share of
Since the largest group of foreigners
applying for family reunification is by
far Mexican (three times as many as
Chinese citizens, for example), this
would reduce the number of applicants
from Mexico who get green cards.
Nearly 200,000 Mexicans got green
cards in fiscal year 2016; halving that
number through a lengthy and tedious
procedure that frustrates many Mexicans would not be as bad as shutting
down the whole program.
The last pillar would suppress the
lottery system that grants a small
number of immigrant visas to applicants from underrepresented nations,
mainly African. Again, this would
surely “whiten” immigration and is
thus a despicable proposal, but it does
not affect Mexico. There is no lottery
system for Mexicans.
So, viewed somewhat cynically from
the perspective of strict Mexican national interests, the four-pillar plan has
inconveniences for Mexico but also
many advantages. That it is racist as
well as unworthy of the American
immigration ideal and inflames the
worst demons in American society is
another matter. As Mr. Trump says,
countries have to look out for their own
To make this plan attractive to Mexico, its leaders need to persuade the
American president to increase the
number of temporary-worker visas.
Again, by far the largest number of
these permits are extended to Mexicans.
H-2A visas, for seasonal agricultural
workers, have no congressional cap;
H-2B visas, for seasonal nonagricultural activities, do, but it can be lifted and
has been for several years. The Trump
administration can increase these
numbers significantly without congressional approval.
An immense reconstruction effort is
underway in Texas and Florida after
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and, with
virtual full employment, there is a
huge demand for low-skilled, low-wage
labor in those regions. It can come only
from Mexico.
Were Mr. Peña Nieto to make such a
suggestion and were Mr. Trump to
accept it, both countries’ interests
would be well served.
In the early years of this century, a
comprehensive package like this was
called “the whole enchilada.” Half a
loaf, or whatever nutritional metaphor
one prefers, is not bad.
JORGE G. CASTAÑEDA, Mexico’s foreign
minister from 2000 to 2003, is a professor at New York University and a member of the board of Human Rights
Supporters of the Deferred Action on Child Arrivals program in Los Angeles this month.
Being a patient with the N.H.S.
Britain’s National Health Service turns
70 this year, amid warnings of an existential crisis. At the end of last year, we
interviewed several staff members to
ask them what they hoped and feared
for the system’s future. Now, readers
tell us about their and their families’
experiences with the N.H.S.
Here are their stories, edited for
length and clarity.
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What would
happen if a
financial crisis
occurred on
this president’s
States detest. Strangely enough, however, it might benefit Mexico, especially if it is accompanied by additional
changes in the issuance of temporaryworker visas, and in particular those
known as H-2A and H-2B.
The first pillar of Mr. Trump’s proposal — regularizing the status of the
Dreamers and a million other young
people who also could qualify for
DACA status with a long and winding
road to citizenship — works to Mexico’s advantage. Somewhere near 1.5
million of these
young people are
Mexico and
Mexican; that is
the U.S.
roughly one-quarter
would be well of all undocumented
served by an
Mexican citizens in
the United States.
Granting them the
based on the
equivalent of amnesfour-pillar
ty, with the beacon of
eventual citizenship,
satisfies one of Mexiby Trump.
co’s most crucial
immigration demands.
The second pillar — $25 billion for a
border wall — is obviously offensive to
Mexico, but the country’s lame-duck
president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has
been much more adamant in his opposition to paying for the wall than to its
actual construction. Mr. Peña Nieto
either doesn’t believe it will ever see
the light of day or lacks the backbone
to oppose it.
But Mr. Trump’s wall is something
Mexico can simultaneously reject and
live with, particularly if it will take
years to build and if it merely complements segments of fences erected by
In 2015 my husband died from cancer
at 35. It was a short time between
realizing something was wrong and
him dying, most of which we spent in
the hospital. The staff were all caring
and professional. I believe they did all
they could, and when it became clear
that he would die, they were very
supportive. I was 20 weeks pregnant at
the time, and they went above and
beyond to look after us both. One example: We had decided not to know
the sex of the baby, but when we realized he wasn’t going to make it to the
birth, the midwives in the hospital
brought a mobile scanner up to the
ward so that my husband could have a
last look at the baby, and we could
learn the sex together. That meant so
much to us. And after he died I had
extra appointments and scans (at no
extra cost) to reassure me that the
stress and emotions hadn’t affected the
baby. Again, not everything was perfect, but I just can’t imagine going
through all of that, and having to deal
with insurance companies and money
worries as well. — Kate Trouw, United
I am an American living in Britain. I
would not wish the U.S. medical system on anyone. When I had a baby in
Britain, all was paid for. Suspected
meningitis in my baby? Hospital stay
and all tests paid for. Sexual health
screenings? Free. Dermatologist
check-up on my Southern Californian
skin? Free. Possible cancerous mole
removal? Free. Father-in-law treatment for cancer? Free. End-of-life care
for my mother-in-law? Free. Lengthy
hospital stay plus live-in rehab unit for
an elderly grandparent? Free. If Britain reverts to a U.S.-style system, this
country will truly lose what it means to
be British: care and compassion for
everyone. — Jennie Vian, United Kingdom
We’re meant to lionize the N.H.S., here
in the U.K. But it’s not always that
My youngest son has been on waiting lists for the Child and Adolescent
Mental Health Services for four years.
The process is so slow, I had to get my
member of Parliament to intervene
just to get an initial assessment. We
wanted him to get some help for anxiety and autism-related problems before he moved on to senior school.
There’s been no help, and he had to
start senior school. It went very badly
for him. We’ve since had to withdraw
him from the school system.
The N.H.S. is full of wonderful clinicians and nursing staff who put patient
care first. But to refuse to acknowledge
its problems does it a disservice. —
Sean Fleming, United Kingdom
The N.H.S. is amazing and vital and
part of our national identity. One story
among many: My son had an infection
just after birth. The nurse who suspected something came back after her
shift was up as it was on her mind;
she’d just caught that his breathing
was very slightly fast. She herself was
going through a difficult break-up, it
was New Year’s, and she must have
been exhausted. And yet, but for that
sense of something not quite right, my
son would be dead. — Owen Hewlett,
United Kingdom
I have received mental health services
through the N.H.S. I was diagnosed
N.H.S., PAGE 11
Gulp. I’m guilty of treason.
Frank Bruni
Being a patient with the N.H.S.
with depression and anxiety, and at a
low point I was hospitalized at the
mental ward in an N.H.S. hospital. The
environment was safe and allowed me
to take the first steps to being a calmer,
happier person. A few years later I’m
able to have a job — something that
my intense anxiety wouldn’t have
allowed for beforehand. I also received
cognitive behavioral therapy which
has allowed me to regain control of my
life. I am so happy to have this resource as I know my family and I
would not have survived without it. —
S. Rae, United Kingdom
My husband and I (both Americans)
worked and lived in London from
2013-17, during which time we were
N.H.S. patients for our baby’s birth and
my cancer diagnosis. For us, the
N.H.S. was great until it was terrible.
When we moved to the U.K. for my job,
I was offered private insurance by my
company and turned it down because
the N.H.S. seemed high-quality. I gave
birth to our baby there in 2015, and we
loved the N.H.S. for so many reasons.
However, in 2017, I found a lump in
my breast. It took three visits and two
months to convince my N.H.S. doctor
that I should go to the hospital. He was
certain it was breast-feeding related,
which was a misdiagnosis. The N.H.S.
hospital revealed stage III breast
cancer. It took weeks to get the pathology results, then follow-up tests and
results. It took almost a month to get
staging, and it would have taken
months to get treatment. Delays at
every step, and lots of long waits.
Fears of operations cancelled or postponed. The delays were so agonizing
that we moved to the States. I’m so
disappointed because I wanted to love
the N.H.S., but I couldn’t. — Laura
Bacon, United States
I studied abroad at Swansea University in the United Kingdom as an undergraduate. I managed to avoid my
usual springtime cold up until the end
of my time in Wales — I got pretty sick
and figured I needed a check-up just to
be sure nothing more serious was
going on. I called up the local hospital,
and was stunned when I was put
straight through to a physician, who
calmly walked through my symptoms.
He advised that I come into the hospital that evening, to the Accident and
Emergency department, for him to
have a look.
As any American can understand,
my first question on arrival was: Do
you know if you accept my insurance?
The folks at the front desk had no idea.
I assumed I would need to make use of
my travel insurance, at the very least.
The concept was totally foreign to the
staff. Once I saw the doctor, found out I
was going to be just fine, and got some
good advice, I asked the same question
again: Where do I pay? Do you know if
my insurance is accepted here? Again,
a blank look. “Health care in Britain is
free at the point of delivery,” he said
proudly. He was incredulous that I had
come in worried about who would pay
for my simple check-up — and proud to
be part of a system in which such a
question would be considered absurd.
— Chris Collins, United States
With my grandma, there were a number of issues that went wrong. First,
when my family called the emergency
services, the ambulance came, and
they checked her over and they said
there wasn’t really anything wrong
with her. They said she was just playing up to be sickly, which would not
have been something my grandma
would do. They left her at her house,
and then about two hours later, a second ambulance was called. They decided that she did need to go to the
hospital, so they took her in. It took
quite a while to figure out what was
wrong. They wouldn’t listen to my
parents, who were describing the
symptoms she was presenting with. It
was only when she had a heart attack
in front of the medical staff that they
realized she’d been having multiple
heart attacks. She must have been in
tremendous pain, and it’s quite frustrating that the underfunding of the
N.H.S. meant the priority was “we
need a bed for someone who really
needs it” rather than providing decent
palliative, end-of-life care for someone.
Junior doctors just don’t get given
the time to familiarize themselves with
patients’ notes. And it’s very unfortunate because if they had had that extra
time, they would have seen the do-notresuscitate note. But unfortunately,
they brought my grandma back. She
survived the night and then the next
day she passed away. — Bryony Jackson, United Kingdom
North Korea comes to the Olympics
Institute of National Unification, a
state-funded think tank, revealed a big
gap in how the young and the old
approach unification (and North Korea
by extension): Nearly 50 percent of
respondents under 30 didn’t think
being a single people required a single
state, while only 20 percent thought
unification was necessary. Among
those 60 and older, the answers were
the other way around, with almost 50
percent saying there should be one
state for one nation.
And a study published by the institute on Jan. 30 showed that more than
60 percent of respondents in their 20s
said “unification is not an immediate
goal.” Across all age brackets, respondents greatly prioritized the economy
over unification.
Mr. Moon’s government has appeared to be blind to this critical shift
in popular sentiment, instead promoting the idea, to take a line from a presidential office Facebook post, that “We
are one” with the North.
As Mr. Moon pushed the one-nation
rhetoric, his approval ratings took a
dive, falling 10 percentage points in
January, which coincided with interKorean dialogue on the Olympics
(some say his attempt to regulate the
cryptocurrency trade, a hot topic in
South Korea, is another reason for his
decline in favorability).
His popularity has eroded even more
among voters in their 20s — usually
the more progressive segment of the
population — dropping 14 percentage
points between the second week of
January and the beginning of this
Even as a clear majority of South
Koreans seem supportive of North
Korean participation in the Games,
different polls indicate that people are
divided about flying the Korean Unification Flag, with one survey putting
the public opposition at nearly 50
To be clear, the Moon administration
is playing nice with Kim Jong-un for
strategic reasons. Yet the president’s
government is doing a poor job persuading those who say it’s unfair to
give North Koreans spots on the women’s ice hockey team at the expense of
South Korean players who trained
hard. Nor does the government appear
to have a credible strategy for when
Pyongyang acts out.
Moon Jae-in is in a tight spot. Reaching out to a thankless regime under the
pretext of shared nationhood may
contribute to an immediate reduction
in tensions, but he is alienating a large
segment of the South Korean electorate. The alternative — pursuing a hard
line — may seem like common sense,
but not when President Trump overtly
threatens war against North Korea,
thus putting the South in Pyongyang’s
cross hairs.
Mr. Moon needs to do a better job
explaining why it matters to court
Pyongyang at this time. It’s for the
safety and well-being of all Koreans,
not because of the shared blood between the two countries.
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dent Kim Dae-jung, the first progressive politician to take power since the
adoption of a democratic Constitution
in 1987, who held office from 1998 to
2003. The two Koreas marched together at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, flying
the Korean Unification Flag. Cooperative economic ventures, limited to
some border areas, were next.
Everything came to naught in late
2006 when Pyongyang conducted its
first nuclear test. And now North Korea seems closer than ever to becoming a real nuclear power (some say it
already is).
No matter who shoulders the blame
for the North’s nuclear status and the
tensions that have arisen as a result,
the fact remains that Pyongyang is a
difficult regime to deal with, one that is
quick to take offense and doesn’t hesitate to rain artillery fire on the South.
Young South Koreans, who have little
sense of connection to the North, tend
to see only these current realities.
Enthusiasm for unification is waning. A report last year by the Korea
North Korean cheering squads bound for the Olympics in Pyeongchang arriving at the
Korean-transit office near the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, this week.
the publisher of Korea
After more than five decades of reasonably virtuous living, I’m now told
that I have betrayed my country and
committed the ultimate crime.
I did not clap during President
Trump’s State of the Union address.
Granted, my hands were otherwise
engaged. They pounded my laptop’s
keyboard as I frantically took notes:
“clean coal,” “disastrous Obamacare.”
And I’m limited in my appendages and
much too clumsy to approximate applause with my feet.
But even if could, I wouldn’t have.
That’s not because I’m rooting against
America. It’s because I’m rooting for it
— and believe that we deserve better
than a leader who uses language as
sloppily and poisonously as Trump
does, who reacts to every unwelcome
message by smearing the messenger,
and whose litmus test for patriotism is
this and this alone: Do you worship
On Monday afternoon he visited a
manufacturing plant outside Cincinnati, where of course he complimented
himself, lavishly. He complained as he
often does about the insufficient credit
that he gets. He mused with audacious
selectiveness about all the blessings he
was bringing to us. No plummet of the
Dow punctures his self-regard.
But something that he said stood
out, not just because it went so ludicrously far, even by Trumpian standards, but because it so perfectly captured his distinctive madness and
Recalling that many Democrats sat
on their hands for much or all of his
speech before Congress last week, he
pronounced them “un-American,”
adding: “Somebody said ‘treasonous.’ I
mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we
call that treason? Why not? I mean,
they certainly didn’t seem to love our
country very much.”
My favorite touch is the “some-
body.” With Trump, the darkest and
most conspiratorial notions are never
his doing or responsibility. He heard it
somewhere. He read it someplace. And
he’s merely assenting in his openminded and agreeable way. “I guess.”
“Why not?” Far be it from him to
challenge this unspecified wisdom out
That meandering air masks a considered ploy: As a distraction and
deflection, he routinely accuses his
adversaries of the very wrongdoing
that can more credibly be attributed to
him. “Treason” is a word too grand to
be thrown around casually, but it applies better to a president who minimizes and denigrates clear evidence
that a foreign power meddled in an
American election — and makes no
real effort to prevent that from happening again — than it does to a bunch
of lawmakers who decline to salute
him. Their actions are largely theatrical. His are substantively dangerous.
Never has a president been so gifted
at projection, the psychological tic by
which a person divines in others
what’s so deeply
embedded in himself.
By Trump’s
Democrats, he said,
loose and
were “selfish,”
putting their own
feelings above the
a robust lot
country’s welfare.
The man who signed
of us are
un-American. tax legislation that
benefits his business
empire and spends
roughly one of every
three days at a Trump-branded property wouldn’t know anything about
He doesn’t engage the substance of
any opposition to him or investigation
of him. He just invalidates the agents
of it. That diverts the discussion from
facts to name-calling, which is a game
that nobody ever wins.
If journalists are documenting his
falsehoods, they themselves must be
fabulists. If judges rule against him,
they must be biased. If federal law
enforcement officials have suspicions
about him or people who worked for
him, they must be corrupt hacks. If
Democrats don’t congratulate him for
making America great again, they
must be traitors.
Soon there is no one to trust but
Trump, or no one to trust at all. That’s
the point. He’s inoculating himself, and
President Trump at the State of the Union
address last week. On Monday he called
Democrats “un-American” for not applauding during his speech.
no price — not the reputations of individuals who have behaved honorably,
not the viability of institutions that are
crucial to the health of our democracy
— is too steep to pay.
Treason: It’s a word that he has used
before, to characterize an F.B.I. agent
whose text messages made his distaste
for Trump clear. Maybe the president
is cheapening the term. When he degrades language, he diminishes its
potency against him.
But if you accept his loose definition
of treason, hasn’t he committed it? I’m
not referring to Russia; I’m referring
to his effort to delegitimize President
Barack Obama by insisting, with no
evidence, that he was born outside the
United States. That’s infinitely more
defiant and destabilizing than Nancy
Pelosi’s inert hands and anguished
mien as Trump delivered his big
speech. But he doesn’t mention it
anymore, so we, as good Americans,
are supposed to forget about it, too.
I think it does the country a greater
service to remember. I think it’s more
patriotic to withhold applause than to
grant it too readily.
Do I wish for Trump to be an excellent president? Yes, and I’ll clap heartily — with my hands and my feet — if
that happens. Until then I decline, and
if that’s treason, I plead guilty.
Whatever happens
next, we’ll help you
make sense of it.
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In the wake
of #MeToo
Talk about fighting for eyeballs.
Squeezed in between the Super Bowl
and the Oscars, competing with the
Olympics for attention, the first fashion
month of the post-Weinstein era may be
easy to overlook.
And yet, as the style circus moves
from New York (where it begins on
Thursday) to London and Milan, before
finally coming to an end in Paris on
March 6, there will be much to see, including designer debuts, political statements and many rumors to tease the
ears. Here’s what we’ll be watching for,
and what you need to know about the
forces that will shape our wardrobes in
the months to come.
Last year at this time, fashion became,
at least in New York, as politicized as it
has ever been, with words and phrases
appearing on catwalks and clothing.
There’s a good chance the trend will continue, given the recent popularity of using fashion to make a statement everywhere, from the Golden Globes to the
State of the Union speech. Curious
showgoers will keep their eyes peeled
not just for pins (Time’s Up and Recy
Taylor are possibilities, judging by the
president’s address), but also for slogans and shapes. And speaking of
Time’s Up . . .
Or rather, Marchesa is back . . . kind of.
Once a red carpet stalwart, thanks in
part to Harvey Weinstein and his understanding of film-fashion synergies and
strong-arm tactics, the label has been
conspicuously absent from the awards
But after going extremely quiet after
the Weinstein exposés were published
in The New York Times and The New
Yorker, Marchesa, designed by Mr. Weinstein’s estranged wife, Georgina
Chapman, and Keren Craig, is back on
the schedule.
Originally the designers had considered the usual runway show, which sent
the watching world into a lather, but in
the end they opted to tiptoe back into the
industry eye with one-on-one appointments for retailers, who have remained
Marchesa friendly and insist that the label continues to sell.
Discreet as it is, the fashion week appearance will be the first time Ms. Chapman and Ms. Craig have raised their
heads above the professional parapet
since the world changed. Will the
clothes they make, once heavy on fantasy and fairy tale, have changed, too?
It remains to be seen, but one change
is certain: Arguably the two biggest
draws of N.Y.F.W. (at least the buzziest),
and the names that changed the tenor of
the city, placing it at the forefront of fashiontainment, are off the schedule.
Last week Kanye West, gazumping
fashion week at its game, opted to replace his traditional show with direct-toconsumer Instagrams of his wife, Kim,
in his collection and viral memes of famous Kim-a-likes in the same clothes.
As fort, Rihanna, well, all we know is
that her Fenty x Puma brand is not on
the schedule, and the company is staying mum about future plans.
This will make for a very quiet New
York Fashion Week, even taking into account Philipp Plein, whose characteristically humble self-titled show “Space
Invasion: Conqueror of the Universe”
will feature a guest appearance by the
hip-hop trio Migos.
These days it just isn’t fashion week
without some designer churn or experi-
Before the bow
A designer may appear on the runway
for only 30 seconds at the end of a show,
sometimes merely poking her head out
from backstage to wave (Miuccia Prada,
Phoebe Philo), sometimes doing a full
catwalk canter (Michael Kors, Alexander Wang). Either way, they know people will be watching — and Instagramming. “We dress up and dress down on
purpose,” said Roksanda Ilincic, a London Fashion Week stalwart. “We are all
making statements.”
Here, three designers reveal what
they will be saying this season, and why.
set, followed by a blowout party.
In return, Tommy Hilfiger is bringing
his #Tommynow fun-fest to Milan. And
Poiret, the French design house that
closed in 1929, will return to the Paris
runway under a new chief executive,
Anne Chapelle (of Haider Ackermann
and Ann Demeulemeester), and the designer Yiqing Yin.
watch given to him by his father. “When
you go on a runway for 30 seconds and
receive some love and some hate, you
want protection and comfort,” he said.
WHAT “I always stick to skinny pants and
boots, sometimes with a jacket or white
shirt depending on my mood,” Mr.
Rousteing said. The pieces come from
the previous men’s wear show. He likes
to show skin because, he said, it gives
him confidence, especially now that he
runs the length of the catwalk. (At first
he would only step out from backstage.)
“Jackets can be formal and bland, so
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Creative director of Balmain, Paris Fashion Week
mentation with format. In New York,
Victoria Beckham is eschewing a full
show in favor of intimate small-group
chats, the way she did when she was
starting out — preparation, perhaps, for
next season when she is leaving New
York for London to celebrate her 10th
anniversary. This will also be Alexander
Wang’s last show during the New York
Fashion Week schedule — he is moving
to June and December later this year —
though what sort of #Wangfest is in the
offing is still a mystery.
The big goodbye in London will be
Christopher Bailey, holding his last
show for Burberry after 14 years as designer. And in Paris, Céline’s first postPhoebe Philo collection will be created
by the internal team to better clear the
decks for Hedi Slimane’s big debut come
September. (Ms. Philo’s own last collection was pre-spring, which will be released in May.) Bruno Frisoni is also
saying farewell, to Roger Vivier, after 16
New names to watch include Nathan
Jenden, introducing his first collection
for Diane von Furstenberg in a low-key
presentation — logical, given that he
only got the chief design officer job in
Bottega Veneta is ocean hopping from
Milan to New York to celebrate the
opening of its biggest store in the world
with the first-ever show at the American
Stock Exchange, where the designer
Tomas Maier collaborated with Scott
Pask (“The Book of Mormon”) on the
showing skin balances the formality,” he
WHY “You always remember the designers with a strong identity, like Yves Saint
Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld,” he said. And
there’s the commercial consideration:
“Customers buy what I’m wearing after
the show, and pop stars will want it, too.”
LUCKY CHARM A charm bracelet including
an evil eye from a Bali beach and a
Founder of Simone Rocha, London Fashion Week
WHAT A black and white dress or a skirt
with pockets and Nike sneakers or flats.
WHY “The black doesn’t distract me
when I’m working backstage,” Ms.
Rocha said. “The skirt length allows me
to move around, and I have always been
a skirt rather than a trousers wearer, so
this adds a level of femininity to a work
uniform.” Pockets are “good for carrying my phones, headphones and lip
WHEN She makes her final decision the
night before the show, having had the
chosen pieces dry-cleaned. “It’s one less
thing to think about on the day of the
show,” she said.
The treatment of models is still very
much on the agenda, with health issues
now having expanded to include sexual
harassment. Condé Nast has put a new
code of conduct in place to protect models on magazine shoots, but Sara Ziff of
the Model Alliance is skeptical about the
efficacy of single-player action, and has
corralled a host of industry insiders to
lobby for a third-party watchdog and enforcer to truly change the culture. And
models themselves are getting evermore vocal, using social media to call
out brands that they felt behaved badly.
People will be watching.
As they will Miroslava Duma, a front
row fixture and fashion-tech proselytizer who was at the center of a social media uproar at the couture shows thanks
to allegations of racism, homophobia
and transphobia. She was effectively
cast out of the front row as her behavior
spurred a discussion of fashion’s history
of willful blindness. Will she be back? Or
will some long-awaited industry soulsearching actually occur?
The next four weeks will tell.
Founder of Jason Wu and artistic director of Boss women’s wear, New York
Fashion Week
WHAT For his own label: Acne jeans, an
A.P.C. tee or an Undercover sweatshirt
and Adidas or Converse white sneakers.
For Hugo Boss: a Boss black silk suit
and tie, white shirt and brogues.
WHY “At Jason Wu shows, I’m presenting
as me because it’s my women’s wear label,” Mr. Wu said. “At Boss, I’m representing another brand, which has its
own DNA and men’s suiting, so I wear
something that represents them.” Stress
affects his style choices. “If I’ve pulled
an all-nighter, I’ll want to be as casual as
possible,” he said.
WHEN “After 10 years, I’m comfortable in
my own skin, so it’s last minute,” he said,
adding that his wardrobe is all black,
white and navy, and he has multiples of
everything, so it’s easy to choose an outfit at 6:30 a.m. on show day.
Left, Bella Hadid
and Prabal
Gurung at his
show during
New York Fashion Week last
February. Above,
the Marchesa
designers Keren
Craig, left, and
Georgina Chapman at their fall
2016 show in
New York.
From far left,
Olivier Rousteing, Simone
Rocha and Jason
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U.F.O. hovers over sacred terrain
Proposal in Norway raises
questions about protecting
Edvard Munch’s legacy
For the last 28 years of his life, the artist
Edvard Munch lived in a villa in a hilly,
forested area that was then on the outskirts of this city. He completed hundreds of paintings and drawings there,
and the estate, Ekely, has become a pilgrimage site for fans of his art. Although
Munch’s villa was demolished in 1960,
and an artists’ colony now exists on the
site, his enclosed winter studio remains,
and visitors can walk among the nearby
trees to discover the surroundings that
inspired many of his later works.
Recently, however, plans by a Norwegian artist and an architectural firm to
build an unusual home on a nearby hillock have set off a heated debate over the
preservation of the “Scream” painter’s
legacy. The proposed building, officially
untitled but generally referred to as “A
House to Die In,” is to be the home of
Bjarne Melgaard, one of the country’s
best-known and divisive contemporary
It has raised questions about how far
the Norwegian authorities should go to
protect the legacy of Munch, one of Norway’s most admired figures, and
whether the groundbreaking design of
“A House to Die In” is an exciting development in Norway’s culture or a threat
to it.
In the coming weeks, the country’s
top heritage conservation authority will
decide whether to grant a permit for the
project. Artists and journalists have
raised concerns in the Norwegian news
media that it would alter the last remnants of the landscape Munch painted
and would overshadow the historical
importance of the site.
The design for the house, like a black
crystalline U.F.O. resting on several columns shaped like woodland animals,
emerged from expressive drawings Mr.
Melgaard provided to Snohetta, the architecture firm behind the opera house
on the Oslo waterfront and the National
September 11 Memorial Museum in
New York City. Snohetta argues that the
Melgaard project represents a unique
fusion of art and architecture, and that
the concerns about the landscape are
Mr. Melgaard, who is gay, also suggested that the opposition was partly fueled by homophobia.
In an interview, he said that the
house’s unofficial moniker had emerged
from his desire to invert Scandinavian
architectural ideas around durability.
“Nothing continues forever, so I was interested in the notion that you can have
a house to die in, where you say, ‘It’s my
end station,’” he said.
He was also inspired by the homes of
drug lords, like the poppy palaces of Afghan opium barons, which are not just
haunted by the specter of death, he said,
but also “have these crazy mixes of architectural styles.”
Snohetta and Mr. Melgaard aim to use
burned wood for the house’s exterior,
and tentative plans for its interior include movable walls and a room that
combines an eating area and a swimming pool. Martin Brunner, one of the
Snohetta architects who worked on the
project, also explained that the firm had
tested a prototype for an item of inflatable furniture to be included in the
house, which he described as a “sex pillow.”
They also built a model for a “drug
room,” which the architects said would
be suspended from the house’s walls
and ceiling, and which is intended not
Above, a rendering of a “A House to Die
In.” From far left: Edvard Munch’s former
studio at Ekely, his estate in Oslo; the
artist Bjarne Melgaard, who is seeking to
build the new house; and Halvard
Haugerud, a painter who opposes it.
for the use of narcotics but to create a
feeling of disorientation. Proposals to include a cavernous, tiger-shaped underground studio and a 40-foot tower were
rejected by the preservation authorities.
Mr. Melgaard, who is known for exploring sexual and drug-related themes
in his work, is sometimes referred to as
the enfant terrible of Norwegian art. In
2014, his sculpture of a chair shaped like
a semi-naked black woman spurred a
mini-scandal, and a 2015 exhibition at
the Munch Museum in Oslo that juxtaposed his works with Munch’s drew outrage from some commentators.
“I believe this talk about the legacy of
Munch is ridiculous,” Mr. Melgaard said,
noting that the deceased artist’s property had already been altered by the
construction of the artists’ colony, and
that a building had stood at the site
planned for “A House to Die In” in
Munch’s day.
Opposition to the project has been
spearheaded by the residents of the artists’ colony, established in the 1950s and
home to 44 working artists. “This is the
only place where Munch lived and
worked for 30 years,” said Halvard
Haugerud, a painter who has lived in the
colony for two decades. “We just want to
keep what’s left of Munch.”
Munch, who was born in 1863 in
Adalsbruk, a village about 70 miles
north of Oslo, left behind an enormous
body of work. “The Scream,” a series of
expressionist depictions of an agonized
figure, is among the world’s most recognizable artworks, but he also completed
countless landscapes and other paintings, and he has become a particular
point of pride in Norway.
“On a conscious or unconscious level,
all Norwegians are influenced by Edvard Munch,” said Stein Olav Henrichsen, the director of the Munch Museum,
which regularly hosts events at Ekely.
“He’s a big part of our cultural history
and identity.”
Officials in Oslo are hoping that popularity will draw more visitors to the city:
A towering new building for the Munch
Museum is being built on the city’s waterfront.
As the debate over Munch’s legacy
has played out in the Norwegian news
media, it has taken on pointed turns. Mr.
Melgaard and Per Maning, one of the colony’s artists, have insulted each other’s
work in interviews with the Norwegian
Broadcasting Corporation, with Mr.
Maning calling Mr. Melgaard’s career
According to Snohetta, a protected
plant species was found on the site in the
second of two environmental assessments, arousing suspicions that someone might have put it there to derail the
project. The foundations of the demolished building at the proposed site for
the house were spray-painted with antigay graffiti.
Mr. Melgaard says that homophobia
has been a driving factor in opposition to
the project. “They are not interested in
gay men or women taking up too much
space in our society,” he said.
Hans Henrik Klouman, the chairman
of the board of the Edvard Munch’s Studio Foundation, which had raised questions about the project’s impact on sightlines from the studio, said the group was
merely trying to preserve Mr. Munch’s
The Directorate for Cultural Heritage,
Norway’s top authority for architectural
preservation, is set to give its verdict on
the project within the next few weeks. If
the project is approved, it will then go to
a building authority and to the City
Council for final approval.
“We have to recognize that it’s an
emotional debate,” said Kjetil Traedal
Thorsen, a founding partner of Snohetta. “If there weren’t any emotional
points of view connected to this, then it
would have meant most of the Norwegian population would have been ignorant of it.”
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In a dark forest, song and dance shine
A Washington company
brings a rare double bill of
Baroque works to the stage
The spirit behind Opera Lafayette’s
new double bill is so enterprising that
you applaud the idea as much as the
achievement. Both works are Baroque;
both are set in a dark forest; both take
their stories from the 16th-century
Italian poet Torquato Tasso. Opera
Lafayette, a company based in Washington, plays both pieces with period
instruments. The program — half
opera, half dance-drama — reached the
Gerald W. Lynch Theater in New York
last Friday night.
The first work is Act I of Alessandro
Scarlatti’s 1723 opera “Erminia” (the
only act that survives); the second is a
dance drama, Francesco Geminiani’s
“La Forêt Enchantée” (“The Enchanted Forest,” 1754/1761). The enterprise is made bolder by giving the
ballet to Kalanidhi Dance, a troupe that
performs the classical Indian genre of
Kuchipudi, choreographed by Anuradha Nehru. Richard Ouellette’s
décor, with a central pavilion amid a
grove, serves for both productions,
with slight emendations.
This Lafayette-Kalanidhi collaboration is a sequel to their 2013 work on
Félicien David’s opéra-comique “Lalla
Rookh” (1862), a drama set in India.
Last August, some of the Kalanidhi
“Lalla Rookh” scenes (set to taped
music) were brought to New York
under the aegis of the Erasing Borders
festival of Indian dance; I loved those,
especially Ms. Nehru’s use of tableaus
that, swaying as if in the wind, evoked
several layers of Orientalism.
In the new “Forêt” staging, however,
nothing in the Kalanidhi performance
matched the pulsating vigor of the
score. Tasso’s characters are Christians and Muslims in a fictional version
of the Crusades; it was perfectly fine to
translate them, as here, into Mughals
and Hindi Marathas. But the music
kept charging on, rattling through five
acts in less than an hour, whereas Ms.
Nehru’s choreography, seldom connected to the music’s strong meters,
concentrated on the picturesque elements. You saw the Maratha spirits
and rulers, the Mughal leader and
warriors — costumes, by Meriem
Bahri, were gorgeous and evocative —
but this was storytelling without force;
you did not sense any of the best aspects of Kuchipudi genre.
The Scarlatti “Erminia” — a tale of
love, jealousy and disguise, with shepherds real and counterfeit — was a
Left, members of Kalanidhi Dance rehearsing “La Forêt Enchantée.” Above,
André Courville and Julia Dawson in
rehearsal for “Erminia.”
very different kettle of fish. The orchestra was larger, with a more striking assortment of color, but much of
the music’s power was concentrated in
its four solo voices: the mezzo-sopranos Erminia (Julia Dawson) and Tancredi (Allegra De Vita), the bass Pas-
tore (André Courville) and the tenor
Polidoro (Asitha Tennekoon). In arias,
the coloratura writing is often intense,
so that — as in some Handel operas,
only more so — each character
plunges at once into a vortex of emotion conveyed by the knots and chains
of the rapid-moving vocal line.
Thanks to the conductor Ryan
Brown and the four singers, the recitatives between the set pieces stayed
suspenseful; the act took us through
quite a spectrum. At moments, admittedly, the immediate flare-ups of temperament in the succession of arias
become formulaic. Virtuoso emotional
display seems more crucial than character or narrative tension. But it is also
possible that Scarlatti wanted a yet
greater range of tone (absurdity, humor) than Lafayette gave us.
The emotionalism became more (or
less) three-dimensional according to
who was singing. Ms. Dawson, beautiful in face and voice, was commanding,
conflicted, touching as Erminia. Ms. De
Vita, in the smaller male role of Tancredi, proved yet more remarkable,
with incisive diction: Her vocalism
burns like a dark flame. It was a pleasure to hear the accomplishment of Mr.
Courville and Mr. Tennekoon; but their
vocal characters remained far sketchier and less engrossing.
How often do we hear music by
either Alessandro Scarlatti (father of
Domenico) or Geminiani? I cherish the
Lafayette impulse to fill a gap in audiences’ knowledge. Notwithstanding
more than 40 years of attending both
opera and dance, this was the first
theatrical performance I had heard of
music by either composer. Now I will
seek out more of both.
Stone Age tools, or art, or both?
A Texas show of artifacts
from the Paleolithic era
rewrites aesthetic history
The Nasher Sculpture Center here is
devoted to the art of the modern era,
and its elegant pavilion and garden,
designed by Renzo Piano, have recently welcomed exhibitions by living
masters like Roni Horn, Pierre Huyghe
and Giuseppe Penone. Its new show,
though, exhibits sculptures from far,
far earlier: so far back in human history that the artists — and we will
come back to whether that term applies — are not even of our own
“First Sculpture,” an alternately
fascinating and flummoxing exhibition
of Paleolithic stone artifacts, travels as
far from the present day as possible to
propose a new genealogy of art history.
Stones carved and collected by Neanderthals 150,000 years ago appear in
vitrines. Large hand axes, sitting in
view of steel sculptures by Mark di
Suvero and Richard Serra, date from
300,000 years ago or earlier. Think
those are old? “First Sculpture” also
includes tools from North Africa
800,000 years old, and a spheroid
gewgaw, found in South Africa, that
was collected by Australopithecus 2.5
million years before today.
Though you may have seen tools like
this in natural history museums, the
proposition of “First Sculpture,” from
its title onward, is that these are not
merely instruments but art; that they
were crafted not just for functional
reasons but for aesthetic ones. Moreover, the naturally occurring patterns
in some stones — holes or circular
depressions that resemble eyes, for
example, or protuberances like noses
— supposedly reveal a hard-wired
hunger for representation: an aesthetic impulse in our evolutionary
Are these 80-odd tools, eons more
ancient than the ancient world, indeed
artworks? Can we ever really know?
With no artistic statement from our
Stone Age ancestors, the show takes
on a strange admixture of science and
guesswork, paleoanthropology and
wishful thinking. Still, the uncertainty
of its thesis is part of its pleasure; a
great work of art, after all, is always a
thing we do not fully understand.
Whatever their status, the objects are
It convinces most in the section
devoted to hand axes. Stone Age humans, principally the species Homo
erectus, would use rocks, bones or
antlers to fracture larger boulders,
hewing sharp tools in a laborious
process known as knapping. Though
Australopithecus (four million to three
million years ago) made blunt cutting
tools, Homo erectus (1.9 million to
100,000 years ago) fashioned finer
implements, tapering from the butt to
the point and flaked on two sides, to
form the familiar teardrop now
paradigmatic of early man. There are
dozens here, and at a display by the
Clockwise from above: objects in the
Nasher Sculpture Center’s new exhibition; hand axes from Mauritania (center), Niger (left) and Israel (right); and
another from Niger.
entrance of “First Sculpture,” visitors
can handle three specimens, each 7 or
8 inches long and weighing about five
pounds, crafted by our fellow hominins
between 200,000 and 700,000 years
ago. Their satisfying heft and ergonomic shape offer an unnerving haptic
trace of human life before contemporary humankind.
The hand axes do disclose evident
aesthetic choices. Two examples,
crafted in England 300,000 years ago,
have curving edges whose sinuousness
offers no functional advantage — a
Paleolithic echo of Hogarth’s line of
beauty. Some are punctured with holes,
usually near the center of the tool.
(You could not use them as a grip; you
would break your finger.) One found in
England has a shell embedded in it.
Others have atypical colors or textures. An ax of iron stone from South
Africa has alternating yellow and gray
grooves, like the ridges of a topographic map; another, from Mauritania, was hewed from a block of striated
gneiss that could well have been chosen for its beauty. Five oversize axes,
more than a foot tall, would have been
too heavy for a single hand to wield;
they may also have been for show.
Most of these artifacts come from
the collection of Tony Berlant, a Pop
artist in Los Angeles and a lay authority on prehistoric art, who has cocurated “First Sculpture” with Thomas
Wynn, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado. (Collector-curator
shows can raise hackles — the museum’s prestige stands to increase the
collection’s value — but the catalog
notes that Mr. Berlant and Mr. Wynn
first sought loans from nearly two
dozen museums worldwide. Though
they borrowed objects from the Field
Museum of Natural History in Chicago,
the British Museum in London, and
institutions in France, Israel, Tanzania
and South Africa, the pair found that
Mr. Berlant’s own objects were often of
greater quality than those in public
collections. The Nasher’s director
clarified to The Times that Mr. Berlant
does not intend to disperse his collection in the future.)
The curators have surely put their
fingers on the scale by staging the
show at a modern art center, where the
hand axes and stones appear in an
immaculate light far from the dinosaur
bones and dioramas of the universal
museum. And they have overplayed
their hand on the question of aesthetic
intent. Can we really say that eight
hand axes from the British Museum,
as Mr. Berlant and Mr. Wynn claim,
were made by four individual members
of the species Homo heidelbergensis,
“by far the oldest individual artisans
ever recognized”?
Yet the axes themselves, finely
tuned weapons whose ridged faces
resemble oyster shells, certainly have
a visual attraction that exceeds pure
function. Even earlier hand tools, the
largest here 1.5 million years old, were
hewed into nearly ideal spheres whose
shape did not increase their utility. If
we define art as a form that exceeds
use, then these are indeed some of the
oldest aesthetic objects on earth.
Someone a little like us invested extra
time and effort to enforce these shapes
on hard stone.
Did they also find meaning in the
shapes those stones naturally displayed? The bolder, even foolhardy
second half of “First Sculpture” suggests so through a collection of “figure
stones,” or objects that early humans
supposedly appreciated for their resemblance to animals or human faces.
Some are functional objects, such as a
quartzite cleaver from Mauritania with
two circular bumps that produce, as
the catalog has it, “a feline face.” Others have no clear function. Mr. Berlant
has acquired a suite of stones from
Fontmaure, France, which Neanderthals supposedly chipped and knapped
to accentuate the faces they saw in
them. One large rock has two holes
above a jutting knob: a face, if you turn
right side up. Another bears an almost
comic resemblance to a Picasso profile.
It falls to us, the overdressed apes in
contemporary museums, to make
sense of these incomprehensible rocks.
On the one hand, imputing figures into
these stones projects modern ideas of
proportion and beauty onto “artists” of
not just another culture, but another
species. This is a primitivist impulse,
and should be avoided, especially
when these supposed art objects could
merely be junk from the cave floor. We
see faces here — but we see faces in
clouds, too.
On the other hand, art itself no longer means what it did when the first
paleoanthropologists ascribed artistic
intent to our fossil kin. Before the 20th
century, art was understood as a direct
act of creation, whose earliest manifestation would be cave paintings from
30,000 or 40,000 years ago (quite
recently, in the timeline of “First Sculpture”). After Duchamp’s invention of
the ready-made, the definition
changed. Art could be an encounter
between an object that already existed
— a urinal, a bicycle wheel, a stone in a
grotto — and an idea about that object,
fused into a new union beyond functionality.
By that definition, the 2.5-millionyear-old Makapansgat pebble, lent to
this show from the University of the
Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, could
indeed be the world’s first work of art.
It is made of jasperite, a stone not
present at the site where it was found,
and it bears two shallow indentations
like eyes, another beneath where a
mouth should be, and a hatch mark
like a brow above. A member of Australopithecus, whose brain was just a
third the size of ours, must have found
this stone and brought it some distance. And if he or she did see a face in
its surface — not out of the question;
other primates’ brains have evolved
for face recognition, one of the most
important skills in social relationships
— then this Australopithecus would
have been thinking like an artist.
We can never be sure whether any
individual stone or spheroid is an
intentional creation, or just a leftover
from prehistoric industry. What we can
say, and what this intelligent, imprudent and thoroughly enjoyable exhibition does show, is that art has a far
deeper tradition than usually acknowledged. Hegel famously argued that art
was born from spirituality, and that
modern painting and sculpture could
never equal the old stuff. But if “First
Sculpture” is correct, the impulse for
art predates that of religions by uncountable millenniums, and might
even predate humanity itself. Right or
wrong, that was a lot to absorb in
Dallas, as my eyes shuttled across the
Pleistocene and my fingers swiped the
touch-screen of the blunt hand ax I tote
The never-ending war
By Steve Coll. Illustrated. 757 pp.
Penguin Press. $35.
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Yet mission accomplishment remains nowhere in sight. Over the past
year, the Taliban have increased the
amount of territory they control.
Opium production has reached an
all-time high. And corruption continues
to plague an Afghan government of
doubtful legitimacy and effectiveness.
For a war now in its 17th year, the
United States has precious little to
show, despite having lost over 2,400 of
its own soldiers and expending an
estimated trillion dollars.
After 9/11, “the United States and its
allies went barreling into Afghanistan,”
Coll writes, “because they felt that
they had no alternative.” Once in, they
were soon plunged into a quagmire.
Rarely has a great power undertaken a
major military campaign with such a
flawed understanding of the challenges
ahead. Yet first Bush and then Barack
Obama concluded that the United
States had no choice but to persist, a
view that Donald Trump has now
seemingly endorsed.
Drawing on some 550 interviews,
Coll describes in granular detail how
senior officials, intelligence operatives,
diplomats and military officers struggled to comprehend the problem at
hand and to devise a solution. A neverending cycle of policy reviews, surveys
and reassessments, along with efforts
to find common ground with Afghan
and Pakistani counterparts, produced
one new strategy after another. None
lived up to expectations; in falling
short, each created a rationale for
trying something a bit different, the
Trump administration’s recently announced escalation — a few more
troops and lots more bombing — offering the latest example.
In each chapter of this very long but
engrossing book, Coll takes a deep dive
Steve Coll has written a book of surpassing excellence that is almost certainly destined for irrelevance. The
topic is important, the treatment compelling, the conclusions persuasive.
Just don’t expect anything to change
as a consequence.
The dean of Columbia’s Graduate
School of Journalism, Coll is a seasoned and accomplished reporter. In
2004, “Ghost Wars,” his account of
conflict in Afghanistan from the 1979
Soviet invasion to the eve of 9/11,
earned him a Pulitzer Prize, his second. “Directorate S” — the title refers
to the arm of Pakistani intelligence
that covertly supports the Afghan
Taliban — is a sequel to that volume,
carrying the story up to 2016.
That story is a dispiriting one,
abounding in promises from on high,
short on concrete results. In December
2001, with Operation Enduring Freedom barely underway, President
George W. Bush declared it America’s
purpose “to lift up the people of Afghanistan.” Bush vowed that American
forces would stay until they finished
the job. In December 2017, during a
brief visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul
— unannounced because of security
concerns — Vice President Mike Pence
affirmed that commitment. “We’re
here to stay,” he told a gathering of
troops, “until freedom wins.”
Members of the United States Army with an Afghan Army sergeant, right, in 2013.
into some particular facet of the conflict. Readers will eavesdrop on contentious policy debates conducted at
the highest levels in Washington. They
will also accompany soldiers and
spooks in the field.
Yet among policymakers and operators alike, the sense of futility is palpable. If “Directorate S” has a unifying
thread, it is this: Policies formulated
on the basis of trial and error are not
likely to work as long as they fail to
take critical factors into account. In
Coll’s telling, two such factors in particular stand out.
The first is an absence of trust between Washington and Kabul. The
longer the Americans stayed, the more
difficult it became to persuade Afghans
that their presence was helpful and
their purposes benign. Over time,
Hamid Karzai, the West’s chosen
leader of “liberated” Afghanistan,
came to see the United States as an
occupying power — part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
Karzai believed, not without reason,
that United States officials paid lip
service to his concerns, were willing to
cut deals behind his back and on occasion plotted to replace him with someone more accommodating.
For their part, Americans who dealt
regularly with Karzai concluded that
he was indecisive, unstable and given
to bouts of paranoia. When he first
became leader of Afghanistan in December 2001, Washington had celebrated Karzai as an Afghan Mandela. By
the time he vacated the premises 13
years later, he had become in American eyes an Afghan Mugabe.
Of even greater significance, in Coll’s
view, is Washington’s dysfunctional
relationship with the government of
Pakistan, or more specifically with the
Pakistani Army, which effectively calls
the shots on all matters related to
internal and external security. Pacifying Afghanistan was always going to
pose a challenge. Absent full-throated
Pakistani collaboration, it would become next to impossible. The United
States needed two things from Pakistan: first, that it would permit supplies bound for coalition forces in
landlocked Afghanistan to transit its
territory; and second, that it would
prevent Qaeda and Taliban remnants
from using Pakistan as a sanctuary
and operating base.
From Washington’s perspective,
these expectations, premised on an
assumption that Pakistan could be
cajoled into complying with America’s
purposes in Afghanistan, seemed
eminently reasonable. Yet that assumption proved wildly off the mark.
While the generals commanding the
Pakistani Army and directing the
Inter-Services Intelligence made a
show of cooperating, they were simultaneously working to undermine coalition military efforts. Imbued with the
conviction that Afghanistan is vital to
Pakistani national security, they had
no intention of allowing the United
States to determine its fate. So while
accepting subsidies amounting to
hundreds of millions of dollars —
Washington even elevated Pakistan to
the status of “major non-NATO ally” —
the Pakistanis still actively supported
the Taliban.
Pakistan’s military leaders were
playing a double game. United States
officials knew they were being had, yet
could do little about it. With its own
well-established record of having broken promises to Pakistan, Washington
was not exactly in a position to call in
any markers.
Despite being nominally the superior
power, the United States found that it
could exert minimal leverage. Officials
could ask, but not demand, while Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal limited its susceptibility to threats and sanctions.
Although American officials went to
almost comic lengths in attempting to
befriend or flatter their Pakistani counterparts — Adm. Mike Mullen, the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
called on Pakistan’s army chief no
fewer than 27 occasions — such efforts
proved to be of no avail.
In Afghanistan, Pakistan has never
ceased to support the very enemy that
the United States and allied forces have
been struggling to defeat. Its army and
intelligence service remained throughout “an incubator and enabler of extremism.” Coll concludes that Washington’s inability “to solve the riddle” of
the Inter-Services Intelligence and “to
stop its covert interference in Afghanistan” constituted the “greatest strategic
failure of the American war.”
“I believe victory is closer than ever
before.” The words are Mike Pence’s,
uttered during his recent trip to Kabul,
but the sentiment is one that any number of high-ranking American officials,
civilian and military alike, have expressed over the years. Readers of
“Directorate S” will find no reason to
take such assurances seriously. No
matter: The Afghanistan war will no
doubt continue on its endless course.
Andrew J. Bacevich is the author, most
recently, of “America’s War for the
Greater Middle East: A Military History.”
Above, Herat in Afghanistan, one of the Level 4 countries that the State Department advises travelers not to visit. Right, Porto in Portugal, a country that is ranked Level 1, the lowest risk. Many travelers found the previous ranking system difficult to grasp.
New advisories rank countries’ safety risks
U.S. State Department
has classified every nation
on a scale from 1 to 4
Planning to travel abroad this year?
The State Department has new advisories at that rank every country on a scale of one to four to
help travelers make informed decisions
about their personal safety. The agency
introduced the rankings this month to
replace its longstanding system of
warnings and alerts, which many travelers found difficult to grasp.
“Frankly, I personally was tired of explaining the difference between a travel
warning and a travel alert, even to some
of my colleagues,” Michelle Bernier-
Toth, the Bureau of Consular Affairs acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizens services, said during a conference call about the rankings.
Many people were not sure what differentiated travel warnings from alerts
and what they were supposed to do
when either was issued. Under the new
ranking system, the lower the number,
the lower the risk, with Level 1 being
“exercise normal precautions,” Level 2
being “exercise increased caution,” Level 3 being “reconsider travel” because of
serious risks to safety and security, and
Level 4 being “do not travel” because of
the greater likelihood of life-threatening
risks and the United States government’s limited ability to provide help.
On first blush, the rankings may seem
like laws. For instance, if you search for
a country and it’s a Level 4, as Afghanistan is, it has a bright red heading and the
words “Do not travel.” But the State Department does not bar private citizens
from traveling to a particular country —
even one that it advises they not visit.
(In the case of North Korea, however,
there is a general travel restriction on
the use of a United States passport.) The
rankings, even those that are Level 4,
are recommendations, not rules.
Each level has a corresponding color:
blue for Level 1, yellow for Level 2, orange for 3, and red for 4. What the department thinks each country’s particular risks are is detailed on its page. If a
country has a ranking higher than Level
1, the agency also shows certain letters
on the country page to indicate the
threat or threats at a glance: C for crime,
T for terrorism, U for civil unrest, H for
health risks, N for natural disasters, E
for a time-limited event like an election
that may pose a safety risk and O for
Ms. Bernier-Toth said the State Department had not changed how it assessed a level of threat in a country —
just the way threats are presented and
described to travelers. Iran, Libya, Syria
and Somalia are among the Level 4
countries with “do not travel” recommendations. Canada, Portugal, Cambodia and Vietnam are some of the Level 1,
lowest-risk countries.
Brazil, which said on its government
news site, BrazilGovNews, that it would
soon begin allowing American citizens
to apply for an e-Visa instead of making
an appointment at a Brazilian consulate,
is a Level 2 country, because of crime.
Cuba is an example of a Level 3 country,
a ranking that reflects the agency’s reduced staffing in Havana and limited
ability to help travelers, as well as concerns that Americans may be at risk after the mysterious attacks in 2016 that
affected employees of the United States
Embassy there.
In addition to an overall ranking,
there can be different rankings within a
country. Mexico, for instance, is a Level
2 country, which simply calls for increased caution — that’s the same ranking as other favorite vacation destina-
tions like France, Italy and Britain. Yet
certain areas within Mexico — Colima,
Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas states — that experience violent crime from gangs and criminal organizations were given the highest
ranking, Level 4. Those particular
states, not all of Mexico, have the same
ranking as countries like Afghanistan
and Somalia. Read what the State Department says about the states in Mexico and you will see that the threat is violent crime. In Afghanistan, the agency
says the threat is not only crime, but
also terrorism, civil unrest and armed
conflict. This is why it is important to
look not just at the ranking number,
which lacks that nuance.
The smartest way to use the rankings
to help decide if a trip is right for you is to
read the explicit risks on the country
page, which on the overhauled website
are more clearly explained.
In general, the guidelines, including
the differentiation between states in
Mexico, for example, are a reflection of
the restrictions that United States government personnel in the country adhere to. “Where they can go,” Ms.
Bernier-Toth said, “where they’re not allowed to go, where they can go with very
specific security precautions.” Travelers
who choose to follow the guidelines are
doing what United States government
employees themselves are doing.
The agency plans to routinely reassess the rankings. Levels 1 and 2 will
be reviewed at least once a year, unless a
new threat emerges or there has been a
change in circumstances that warrants
a review.
Level 3 and 4 countries will be reviewed every six months, or more if circumstances call for it.
Travelers who were already familiar
with the department’s online country
pages will still find entry and exit requirements, local laws and customs, and
health conditions. The website is now
mobile-friendly as well.
Getting the most out of Norway
Ms. Brennan encourages travelers to
book these instead of private tours because they’re often 75 percent cheaper
and are equally enjoyable when shared
with others. Learn more about available
group excursions through your hotel’s
concierge, an online search or through a
local tourist office.
Scandinavia can be one of the most expensive places in the world to visit, according to Kelly Brennan, a travel adviser at the New York City travel company
Indagare. However, Norway — a country with a bustling capital (Oslo), an unspoiled countryside and stunning fjords
— is the exception.
“Norway is a great choice for travelers on a limited budget who want a
luxury experience, because it’s still upand-coming in popularity,” Ms. Brennan
She offered some tips on how to enjoy
a luxury vacation in Norway without
emptying your wallet in the process.
The best hotels in Norway are a bargain,
compared with those in other countries
in Scandinavia and other global tourist
Luxury properties like the Storfjord
Hotel, which is the best place to stay to
explore the fjords and the charming
town of Alesund, have rates starting at
$200 a night. “Upscale tourism is still
new to Norway, so travelers don’t have
to break the bank to enjoy high-end accommodations,” Ms. Brennan said.
While Oslo receives very little sunlight
in the winter, the season is a great time
to visit the city because hotel rates and
prices for airline tickets and tours are at
their lowest. Ms. Brennan said that travelers will also be rewarded with a lively
Many of Norway’s best activities are offered as small-group experiences. Consider gathering a small group and booking a sailboat tour in the fjords, going
dog-sledding and ice-fishing in Tromso,
or enjoying a boat tour with cocktails in
Whether it’s spending the night in a 150year-old restored lighthouse in Alesund,
seeing the Northern Lights by car or another special excursion, Ms. Brennan
said that intimate activities are the ones
worth booking privately. She noted that
it’s not going to cost travelers more than
a few hundred dollars per person to
book for an individual or a couple.
Many of Norway’s iconic landmarks are
outdoor sites that are free to see. They
include the magnificent Geiranger
Fjord, the Trollstigen, a serpentine
mountain road, and National Tourist
Routes, a collection of scenic highways
throughout the country with great
The country also happens to be a paradise for driving, Ms. Brennan explained. “Car rentals are affordable,
driving around is easy, and if you get
lost, most Norwegians speak English,”
she said.
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Adventures in a sidecar
Sightseeing tours in motorcycle sidecars are taking off around the world.
Riding in a three-wheeled vehicle with a
driver who’s also your local guide is a
fun way for travelers to explore a destination.
It can be an attention-getting way to
explore a city, too. Remi Di Nino, a
founder of the Paris sidecar tour company Retro Tour Paris, said that spectators often snapped pictures of the sidecars during excursions. “They’re not
your typical way of getting around, so
people get excited when they see them,”
he said. “Also, the riders on the tours get
a completely different perspective of
Paris than they would by sitting on a
Mr. Di Nino’s company offers four excursions around Paris, ranging from 40
minutes to seven hours, in stylish Ural
The tours can be customized based on
what travelers want to see, or their
guides can lead the way and take them
to their favorite spots. Prices start from
69 euros ($85) a person; the price for a
A view of Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town.
second rider starts at €20 more. Book on
their website.
BrightSide Tours offers seven excursions in Barcelona, also in Ural sidecars.
The three-and-a-half hour Foodie Ride
is a popular pick, and the tour includes
stops at three popular tapas bars to enjoy traditional Spanish fare. It also includes a stop at Montjuic, a hill with
views of the city, for a toast with Spanish
sparkling wine. Prices start at €240 for
one passenger and €320 for two passengers. Book on their website.
AndBeyond offers an eight-hour tour
in and around Cape Town in a vintage
World War II motorcycle with a sidecar.
Travelers ride through the scenic suburb of Camps Bay, along the edgy cliffs
of Chapman’s Peak, to Boulders Beach
to see the colony of penguins, and to the
Constantia Winelands, where they’ll
visit two wineries. Bookings start at
$241 for two people. Reserve by email:
Beijing Sideways has several sidecar
tours of Beijing in a Chang Jiang 750
Chinese motorcycle. One option is the
two-hour Beijing by Night, which includes more than a dozen stops around
the city, including at the gate of the Forbidden City. Also among the destinations are the National Center for the Performing Arts, an eggshell-shaped building designed by the French architect
Paul Andreu, and Tiananmen Square.
Prices are about $181 for the first passenger and $91 for the second. Book by
Some hotels also offer sidecar tours.
The Royal Mansour, in Marrakesh, Morocco offers a sidecar excursion to the
home of the French perfumer Serge
Lutens. After tour, their driver will take
them on a ride to see popular sites in
Marrakesh. Prices are around $400 for
two people and are for hotel guests only.
Book by email:
President and C.E.O.
The Metropolitan
Museum of Art
C.E.O. and Wallis
Annenberg Director
Los Angeles County
Museum of Art
Founding Partner
Diller Scofidio + Renfro
The Marie-Josée and
Henry Kravis Chief Curator
of Painting and Sculpture
This April, The New York Times will convene
the new Art Leaders Network, a select
group of the world’s most distinguished art
experts and influencers—dealers, gallery
owners, museum directors, curators, auction
executives and collectors—to define and
assess the most pressing challenges and
opportunities in the industry today.
Through provocative interviews and
riveting discussions, senior New York Times
journalists will explore myriad topics, from
the impact of economic events on the arts
to the outlook for galleries in the era of the
mega-dealer, from the future of museums in
this technological age to the undiminished
fascination with contemporary art, and
much more.
This invitation-only gathering will take place
in Berlin, a city whose story of renaissance
and reinvention mirrors the essence of this
groundbreaking event.
Art Dealer and Owner
David Zwirner Gallery
Chairman, Americas
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