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International New York Times - 20 December 2017

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In Australia,
fervor over
China risks
going too far
Brexit takes
more than
just bluster
Susan McKay
Legislation aims to curb
Beijing’s influence, but
many fear a backlash
DUBLIN This month, as Arctic winds
have swept down through Britain,
Brexit has led the government of
Prime Minister Theresa May into a
blizzard of humiliations.
It is two weeks since the Northern
Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which
is propping up Mrs. May’s minority
government, made a show of her. She
was in Brussels for a working lunch,
about to smile her way through the
carefully choreographed announcement of a deal that guaranteed “regulatory alignment” between Northern
Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But Mrs. May was called offstage to
take a call from the leader of the D.U.P.,
Arlene Foster, who told her that the
party would not tolerate a deal that
distinguished Northern Ireland from
the rest of Britain.
Ms. Foster’s concern
There has
was that the deal
been nothing
would effectively
clear about
move the border to
strategies for
the Irish Sea, creatleaving the
ing the illusion that
E.U. There
Ireland was united
may not even and separate from
“the mainland.” That
be any.
would be anathema
to unionists, for
whom the border
that winds across the island of Ireland
is the last frontier of the empire. (The
D.U.P. has loved the way that Brexit,
with its strutting nationalism, has
brought out in the rest of Britain the
Union Jacks that festoon the parts of
Northern Ireland that are loyal to the
Four intense days after the D.U.P.’s
intervention, the European Union and
Britain reached a new deal that weakened the British Brexiters’ position,
strengthened that of the Irish government and had the support of the rest of
the bloc. This time it spelled out that
there would be “full alignment” between Britain and Ireland in relation to
the rules of the single market and the
customs union; and that Northern
Ireland’s peace deal, known as the
Good Friday Agreement, would be
But Brexit Secretary David Davis
promptly and breezily confided on a
British television show that this hardwon deal was “much more a statement
of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing.”
The European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, shot back that
there would be no final deal unless
Britain respected the agreements it
had made. Rubbing it in, the European
The New York Times publishes opinion
from a wide range of perspectives in
hopes of promoting constructive debate
about consequential questions.
tions, something the company has denied. “We weren’t told it was not safe,”
Mr. Deyro said. So far, he said, his son,
who is 10, has had no worrying symptoms. But, he added, “They made my
son and other students as guinea pigs.”
When Craig Chung, an up-and-coming
Sydney city councilor, meets with former American officials, neither the media nor his constituents seem to care.
But for events with Australia’s ethnic
Chinese community, he errs on the side
of caution. He researches the people involved. He sidesteps certain photographs and publicly declares whom he
talks to and why — all to ensure that he
doesn’t end up accused of associating
with someone tied to the Chinese Communist Party.
“There is this fear that we may work
closely with somebody who is accused
of being an agent of another government,” said Mr. Chung, 49, who is ethnic
Chinese. “We’re in a position now where
people are running scared.”
Australia has been thrown into turmoil over allegations that China is trying to buy its politicians and sway its
elections, charges that have led to increased scrutiny of the rising superpower’s efforts to influence Australia. But
there are also fears that a campaign to
stamp out Chinese influence risks becoming a McCarthy-esque witch hunt.
The Chinese government has been using proxies in Australia for years to polish its image and press for its priorities,
including reunification with Taiwan and
sovereignty over much of the South
China Sea. These efforts have intensified under President Xi Jinping, who
seems to view Australia — which has
benefited greatly from trade with China
— as a laboratory for efforts to sway
opinion abroad and increase China’s
global influence.
In practice, that means tycoons born
in China with ties to the Communist
Party have exploited Australia’s weak
campaign finance laws to donate millions to Australian political parties. Chinese diplomats have also mobilized Chinese students for rallies and to speak
out against what they see as anti-Chinese views, while local Chinese-language media tends to follow the fiercely
nationalistic tone set by China’s staterun outlets.
But a thunderous backlash has now
arrived, with a public outcry condemning anyone accused of links to Chinese
influence, and a series of new measures
that would strengthen espionage laws,
outlaw foreign political donations and
criminalize efforts to interfere in Australia’s democracy.
Critics, including human rights
groups, worry that the legislation, and
the intensity of anti-China sentiment,
will stir hysteria and unfairly target
Australia’s large and diverse ethnic Chi-
A creek south of Manila. Dengue is a disease spread by mosquitoes that infects about 400 million people worldwide. Infection rates are high in the Philippines.
When a vaccine causes harm
Anger rises in Philippines
after warnings on danger
of Sanofi’s dengue drug
The first promising vaccine for dengue
— a disease that afflicts hundreds of millions of people around the world — is in
jeopardy after the Philippines suspended it, amid widespread fears about
its safety and growing public anger over
its use in 830,000 schoolchildren.
The Philippines government has begun investigations into the rollout of the
immunization program by the French
drug maker Sanofi, which has come under fire for discounting early warnings
that its vaccine could put some people at
heightened risk of a severe form of the
disease. The newly revealed evidence,
confirmed recently by Sanofi’s review,
found that in rare cases, Dengvaxia can
backfire: If people who never had
dengue are vaccinated and later become
infected, the vaccine may provoke a
much more severe form of the illness.
The situation has become a public-relations debacle for the drug maker,
which spent decades developing the
world’s first dengue vaccine, Deng-
vaxia. Politicians in the Philippines are
demanding information about Sanofi’s
advertising campaign and their government’s aggressive push, against the advice of some experts, to vaccinate a million children. The backlash has alarmed
researchers who worry that Sanofi’s
stumble could stoke mistrust in vaccines around the globe. Sanofi’s vaccine
is approved in 19 countries and is the
first to combat dengue, a disease spread
by mosquitoes that infects about 400
million people worldwide. Dengue puts
500,000 people in the hospital each year
and kills 25,000, mostly in Latin America and South Asia.
Infection rates can reach 90 percent in
the Philippines, according to Sanofi.
Death rates are highest among children, and just last week a 7-year-old girl
who had not been vaccinated died from
dengue in the Philippines, according to
news reports there.
Late last month, Sanofi said its new
analysis showed that vaccination
should not be recommended for people
who have never had dengue, advice that
was echoed last week by the World
Health Organization. But that only adds
to the confusion, because there is no rapid test to tell if someone has had the disease. Even though the risk from the vaccine is low, families fear it has turned
their children into time bombs, in whom
Iran Lustre at home near the creek. He had dengue a few years ago and has since received the dengue vaccine. When he got sick, his parents feared he had dengue again.
the virus could set off a life-threatening
Leovon Deyro, whose youngest son
received his last injection of the vaccine
two weeks ago, said he suspects that
Sanofi conspired with corrupt Philippine officials to circumvent regula-
An oasis of provocative art
in a playground of the rich
Not far from Mar-a-Lago
is the Bunker Artspace,
packed with eccentricities
Beth Rudin DeWoody, the owner of the recently opened Bunker Artspace in West Palm
Beach, Fla., an area trying to get a piece of the art scene pizazz of Miami.
Beth Rudin DeWoody, the art world doyenne born into a New York real estate
fortune, was walking through the
Bunker Artspace, a renovated Art Deco
building here that she recently opened
as an exhibition space for her renowned
and eccentric collection.
Although just two miles from Mar-aLago, the building is another world, and
an indication that this serene, largely
residential area is making a play for
some of the art scene pizazz of Miami, a
bit more than an hour’s drive south.
“This is the X-rated area,” Ms. De-
Woody, a slim woman in her mid-60s,
was saying downstairs in a corner
gallery of the Bunker. Dressed in tropical-fruit colors, and with her third husband, Firooz Zahedi, a photographer,
and their small white poodle following,
she passed a Paul McCarthy white silicone bust with a sex toy. A Nick Cave assemblage had one, too.
There was a painting depicting a crucifixion by George Condo that might not
be pleasing to some of her more conservative neighbors, and a deer’s head
made of zippered black leather likely
only to please a sadomasochist. Nearby,
were John Waters’s doll-size sculptures
of Michael Jackson and Charles Manson
having a play date.
Ms. DeWoody, who is president of the
Rudin Family Foundations and on the
boards of the Whitney Museum of
American Art and the Hammer Museum, owns more than 10,000 pieces of
art, including a vast array of work that is
Y(1J85IC*KKNMKS( +@!"!$!,!=
Andorra € 3.60
Antilles € 3.90
Austria € 3.20
Bahrain BD 1.20
Belgium €3.20
Bos. & Herz. KM 5.50
Cameroon CFA 2600
Canada CAN$ 5.50
Croatia KN 22.00
Cyprus € 2.90
Czech Rep CZK 110
Denmark Dkr 28
Egypt EGP 20.00
Estonia € 3.50
Finland € 3.20
France € 3.20
Gabon CFA 2600
Great Britain £ 2.00
Greece € 2.50
Germany € 3.20
Hungary HUF 880
Israel NIS 13.50
Israel / Eilat NIS 11.50
Italy € 3.20
Ivory Coast CFA 2600
Jordan JD 2.00
Kazakhstan US$ 3.50
Latvia € 3.90
Lebanon LBP 5,000
Lithuania € 5.20
Luxembourg € 3.20
Malta € 3.20
Montenegro € 3.00
Morocco MAD 30
Norway Nkr 30
Oman OMR 1.250
Poland Zl 14
Portugal € 3.20
Qatar QR 10.00
Republic of Ireland ¤ 3.20
Reunion € 3.50
Saudi Arabia SR 13.00
Senegal CFA 2600
Serbia Din 280
Slovakia € 3.50
Slovenia € 3.00
Spain € 3.20
Sweden Skr 30
Switzerland CHF 4.50
Syria US$ 3.00
The Netherlands € 3.20
Tunisia Din 4.800
Turkey TL 9
U.A.E. AED 12.00
United States $ 4.00
United States Military
(Europe) $ 1.90
Issue Number
No. 41,919
In 1893, Frédéric Boucheron is the first of the great contemporary jewelers to open a Boutique on the Place Vendôme
page two
An oasis of provocative art
a standout
at Olympics
and in Army
lyrical, artisanal and playful. But she
has a special fondness for the big buttonpushers that other collectors of her caliber might be more inclined to eschew. “I
think art should be provocative,” she
The Bunker Artspace, which is open
by appointment, is in a workaday area in
West Palm Beach, Fla., across the Intracoastal Waterway from Palm Beach and
Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s resort.
Hers is not unlike the spaces of other
collectors, including those of the Rubell
family, Martin Margulies and Rosa and
Carlos de la Cruz — all in Miami and now
open with regular visiting hours. But the
Miami area, with its mammoth fair, satellite fairs and myriad museums, including the newly reopened Bass Museum
and the Institute of Contemporary Art,
is in a state of art overdrive.
Until now the area that encompasses
Palm Beach and West Palm Beach —
with only one art museum, the Norton,
that sometimes shows contemporary
work, has been mostly considered a
place for safe and sedate exhibitions.
Collectors here, including the United
States commerce secretary, Wilbur
Ross, tend to have more recognizably
blue-chip art. Contemporary galleries
stick to the familiar, too — catering to
customers who have art advisers and
decorating needs for winter homes.
Along with Ms. DeWoody, a few
provocateurs are shaking things up.
Sarah Gavlak has a contemporary
gallery that doesn’t shy away from selling sexually explicit and politically confrontational art on Worth Avenue in
Palm Beach, home to luxury stores and
dealers offering soothing work by recognizable artists. (A recent front-page
article in The Palm Beach Daily News
about Ms. Gavlak’s organization of the
city’s first art weekend ran next to one
about a local descendant of Pocahontas
who is a Mar-a-Lago club member.)
Yvonne Force Villareal, who helped
found the Art Production Fund, a nonprofit that helps support risk-taking art
around the world, was recently in West
Palm Beach to collaborate on a video
and sound installation inside an abandoned Macy’s.
“There are good people around,” said
Andrew Hall, a financial trader, who
along with 600 invited guests attended a
lavish opening night party for the
Bunker on Dec. 2. Mr. Hall has a Palm
Beach home with his wife, Christine,
and oversees exhibition spaces showing
his own vast collection in Vermont, Germany and at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Mass. “Seeing a space like this
open up right now is kind of reassuring,”
he added.
Ms. DeWoody breezed through a
room with early works by Edward Hopper, Man Ray, Jim Dine, William Wegman and Jean-Michel Basquiat. She
stopped and smiled at a lurid ceramic
sculpture, a miniature with a cartoon
quality called “The Mad Doctor’s Operation” by Clayton Bailey and Peter Saul
from the 1970s Bay Area Funk movement.
“I’m just a hopeless and perpetual collector, and I know I’ve overdone it,” she
said, “but it’s just very hard for me to say
Beth Rudin DeWoody’s collection includes, from left: Alec Egan’s “Book #2” above Ti-Rock Moore’s “Flint”; Hank Willis Thomas’s “Amandla”; and Ray Beldner’s “Gelt Suit.”
“I’m just a hopeless and
perpetual collector, and I know
I’ve overdone it, but it’s just very
hard for me to say no.”
Art is organized by theme at the Bunker. The Food Room includes works by Vincent Olinet, Bertozzi & Casoni and Olaf Breuning.
This is what has made Ms. DeWoody a
fairy godmother to many young artists,
waving around her checkbook like a
magic wand.
“She’s the consummate art shopper
and gets in on artists early,” said Angela
Westwater, the gallerist who sold Ms.
DeWoody early work by Tom Sachs.
Ms. DeWoody, who grew up in Manhattan and uses the surname of her first
husband, James DeWoody, an artist
(her two adult children are from that
marriage), has homes in New York, Los
Angeles and West Palm Beach.
Often she makes introductions to help
promote a young artist’s career.
Years ago, she visited the small
Harlem studio of Kehinde Wiley, when
he was struggling. The $5,000 she spent
on one of his portraits, he later told her,
was more important than bigger sums
that followed because it helped him sur-
vive. Now he is an art world superstar
and has been selected to paint the official portrait of former President Barack
Obama for the Smithsonian’s National
Portrait Gallery.
“I don’t think of buying art as investing,” Ms. DeWoody said. “But at times it
works out that way.”
In every corner of the Bunker’s
guests were taking in a collection of
about 300 works that had been humorously curated into rooms by Phillip Estlund, Laura Dvorkin and Maynard
Monrow. Each had a theme: early and
atypical work, art about art, food, ecology, the color silver.
“It’s all very Beth,” said Melissa
Soros, an arts patron.
The occasion seemed to provide a
balm to residents of a place of royal
palms — and a reminder to step away
from the drama of politics to let art uplift
and amuse. Drag performers handed
out “Fallen Fruit” cocktails. Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, was there, as was the artist Mike
Starn, her husband. So was Harry Benson, the celebrity photographer. The list
included all political stripes and affiliations from the art world and beyond.
Well, almost. Ivanka Trump, a contemporary collector, was not invited.
Late in the evening, Adam Weinberg,
the affable Whitney director, hustled
around with Ms. DeWoody. “Her collection is more intuitive and associative
than linear,” he said. “And it’s all about
opening up, not shutting down.” Ms. DeWoody showed him one work after another, from an early Cindy Sherman collage to a drinking fountain by Ti-Rock
Moore emitting brown water with a sign
that said “colored” above it, recalling the
days of segregation. She had something
to say about each artist, as if they were
“Come,” Ms. DeWoody said as she
nudged Mr. Weinberg along. “I have to
show you something else.”
Australian anti-China fervor risks going too far
nese community.
“The issue is real, but it’s easy to exaggerate it, and I think we’re in danger
of that at the moment,” said Hugh White,
a prominent defense strategist who has
himself sounded the warning about
China, saying that its rise could drive
Australia to acquire nuclear weapons.
“There’s been a head of steam built up
around this, and it’s not too far from a
moral panic.”
Mr. White and others say that the suspicions about China and Chinese-Australians reflect broader anxieties about
an emerging geopolitical reality: The
United States has become less reliable,
while China plays an increasingly dominant role in both Australia’s economy
and its changing demographics.
For the past five years, more of Australia’s new immigrants have come from
China than any other country, according
to the 2016 census. Australia’s ethnic
Chinese community now numbers more
than one million, making up 5.6 percent
of Australia’s overall population, a percentage on par with the size of the entire
Asian-American population of the
United States.
The resulting influence, both economic and cultural, is a sensitive subject. Australia’s largest trading partner
is China, whose voracious consumption
of Australian iron ore, coal and other exports has lifted Australia’s economy.
But many Australians become more
ambivalent when discussing Chinese
university students — who pump $18 billion per year into the university system
— or Chinese investment in Australian
real estate and agricultural land.
“We don’t really know how to think
about China because it’s not an ally but
it’s not an enemy,” said Mr. White, who is
now a professor at Australian National
University. “We are really facing something that is new in our national experience.”
Many of Australia’s institutions have
yet to catch up. Despite Australia’s
proud multiculturalism, Chinese language classes are still uncommon in
public schools. Cities like Sydney are
highly segregated by race. And if Australia’s Parliament were a suburb, as
one writer recently put it, it would be
among the least diverse in the country.
Given the furor over Chinese political
influence, many Chinese-Australians
fear that the new legislation could further isolate them.
Beijing has expressed similar concerns. “Words and actions brimming
with prejudice are spoiling the normal
atmosphere of Chinese-Australian relations,” said a recent editorial in People’s
Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.
But Australia’s Chinese community is
not as monolithic as Chinese — or Australian — media suggest. Its roots in
Australia reach back more than a century, and its growing numbers include
populations from Taiwan, Hong Kong
and elsewhere, not just mainland China.
As an ethnic minority, some ChineseAustralians see their identity as tied up
with China and a stronger China as a
path to more respect. Others have family and business ties in China that make
them afraid to express dissent.
Many are quick to gush about Australian life. But they also demand to know
why Chinese-Australians are so absent
from boardrooms and media, and why
simply buying an apartment is viewed
by many Australians as suspicious.
“The Chinese community cops a fair
bit of discrimination just based on the
way that people look already,” said Mr.
Chung, a fourth generation ChineseAustralian who is a member of the governing center-right Liberal Party. “I’m
concerned that this legislation is going
to set aside Chinese-Australians from
every other Australian.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has
Premier Li Keqiang of China with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia in
Sydney in March. Mr. Turnbull said proposed laws were not explicitly aimed at China.
emphasized that the proposed laws are
not explicitly aimed at China, or Australia’s Chinese community. “We must ensure Australian democracy is resilient
to all threats, from any country,” he said
when he introduced the bill on Dec. 7.
George Brandis, Australia’s attorney
general, added that the legislation is
drawn from the intelligence community’s assessment of global threats. He
also said it was American-inspired, reflecting the lessons from the 2016 presidential election in the United States and
the evidence of Russian attempts to
meddle in the outcome.
He said the proposed Australian legislation will be similar to American laws
banning foreign donations and requiring registration for those working on behalf of a foreign country or organization,
but with a broader mandate for what
must be disclosed, plus tougher enforce-
ment for a range of activities.
This includes criminalizing actions
that fall short of outright espionage but
that are deemed to interfere with an
“Australian democratic or political right
or duty.”
“One of the striking features of the
American system is its vagueness or the
highly generic way in which political interference is defined,” Mr. Brandis said.
“Under the Australian scheme there is a
very specific description of what constitutes foreign interference.”
Many Chinese-Australians with firsthand knowledge of Beijing’s heavy hand
have welcomed the bill. “This is an exciting development indeed, although it
should have happened earlier,” said
Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at
the University of Technology Sydney,
who was detained last year by Chinese
authorities during a research visit.
He and several other prominent critics of China said that at the very least,
the law would deter China from pressuring Chinese students at Australian universities, and from using proxies to influence politics with donations.
The latter issue has already claimed
the career of one politician: An opposition Labor Party senator, Sam Dastyari,
resigned this month amid accusations
that he did China’s bidding at the behest
of China-born donors.
Chinese influence also became a focal
point of the recent race for an open seat
in Parliament from a heavily Chinese
area of Sydney, with candidates condemning each other for being either too
pro-China or China-phobic.
The Liberal candidate, John Alexander, a former professional tennis player,
survived accusations that the government was whipping up anti-China sentiment to win the seat, preserving Mr.
Turnbull’s majority.
But concerns about Chinese influence
show no signs of abating. Australia’s intelligence services have been anonymously leaking information to eager
media outlets about what they describe
as more potentially compromised politicians, including 10 as-yet-unidentified
political candidates in local and state
elections whom they describe as having
ties to Chinese intelligence services.
Many of these alleged “Manchurian
candidates” are in areas with large immigrant populations, adding to the swirl
of accusations and paranoia.
“What we’re seeing play out there are
the somewhat toxic politics of national
security, which have swamped countries around the West since 9/11,” said
Mr. White, the defense strategist.
“There is a grave danger of us overreacting.”
Jacqueline Williams contributed reporting from Canberra, Australia, and Christopher Buckley from Beijing.
Lones Wigger Jr., a career Army officer
and two-time Olympic champion who
was hailed as the most decorated rifle
shooter in the world, died on Thursday
at his home in Colorado Springs. He was
The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, the United States
Olympic Committee, also known as
Team USA, said.
At 5 feet 7 inches and 180 pounds in his
prime, with a round build and round face
under a military crew cut, Wigger may
not have looked the part of a sports
champion, but he dominated competitive shooting for two decades. The magazine Gun Week called him “by far the
greatest shooter in history.”
“I’m like a golfer,” Wigger told The
New York Times in 1983. “I’m like any
athlete who uses his mind and has to
concentrate. I train like an athlete in any
Wigger broke 29 world records and
appeared in three Olympics, in 1964, 1968
and 1972. He also qualified for the 1980
Games in Moscow, which the United
States boycotted in protest of the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan.
In the 1964 Games, in Tokyo, he won
the gold medal in the sport’s showcase
competition: the small-bore rifle, threeposition (prone, kneeling and standing).
At the same Games he took the silver
medal in small-bore rifle, prone, missing
the gold on a tiebreaker.
In 1972, in Munich, he won the gold in
free rifle, three-position.
Wigger also won 58 United States
championships and more than 20 on the
world stage. In five Pan-American
Games, from 1963 to 1983, he won eight
gold medals.
Lones Wigger Jr. after winning a gold
medal in shooting at the 1972 Olympics.
He acknowledged that he was competing in a sport with a relatively small
fan base, even when under the Olympic
spotlight. “People don’t know me outside of shooting,” he said.
Inside the sport, he was self-effacing.
“I’ve never been gifted with a lot of talent,” he once said. “I probably succeeded because I persevered.”
Perseverance, he told Sports Illustrated in 1987, involved “constant,
steady practice, week in and week out,
all year long.” He told The Times, “I
think most anybody can be a champion
in our sport if he has the desire and will
put in the work.”
Lones Wesley Wigger Jr. was born on
Aug. 25, 1937, in Great Falls, in northern
Montana, and lived for many years in
Carter, about 30 miles to the northeast,
where his father ran a local rifle range
and a junior shooting program sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
started shooting at age 12 — by his account because Carter (population 300)
did not have any organized sports, including Little League baseball.
He attended Montana State University, where he was captain of the rifle
Wigger graduated in 1960 with a degree in agronomy, became an Army officer and rose to lieutenant colonel,
mostly based in Fort Benning, Ga., as a
riflery instructor. He had two tours of
duty during the Vietnam War and
taught American soldiers there marksmanship.
After three weeks of training in Vietnam, he told Sports Illustrated, his
snipers were hitting their targets at 600
meters with the first shot from their
“My best sniper was a ghetto kid from
Chicago,” he said. “A Chicano we called
Poppa Leech. He had all the patience in
the world. He’d sit out there on a trail for
three days straight, in the heat and the
dark and the bugs.”
Wigger retired from the Army in 1987.
In later years he won numerous senior titles and was director of the United
States shooting team, a consultant for a
cartridge maker and a star attraction at
shooting clinics. He was also active in
training young people and promoting junior events in competitive shooting.
In 1991, Wigger was one of the first
four shooters inducted into the USA
Shooting Hall of Fame. He was inducted
into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 2008.
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Elegance is an attitude
Aishwarya Rai
The Longines Master Collection
New York bomb suspect’s cryptic act of mercy
Before he tried to blow
himself up, he delivered
aid to Rohingya refugees
Before Akayed Ullah returned home to
New York from his native Bangladesh
and tried to blow himself up with a pipe
bomb in a crowded Manhattan subway
station, he had one last thing to do — an
all-night bus ride by himself to help Rohingya refugees.
After visiting relatives here in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, he traveled
across the country, slept in a mosque
and under a tree, and passed out a few
hundred dollars’s worth of medicine in
the crowded refugee camps.
“When he left, he seemed happy,” said
his mother-in-law, Mahfuza Akhter.
“But when he returned, he was so upset.
He said those people were living in hell,
each and every minute.”
The reason for that lonely trip across
Bangladesh in September remains a
mystery. Was Mr. Ullah following Al
Qaeda, which had just urged Muslims to
deliver medicine — and weapons — to
the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group
whose members have been raped, brutalized and massacred in neighboring
Or was he following his own heart, reflecting some sort of inner struggle as he
headed toward his first known act of violence and self-destruction?
A few weeks after his cross-Bangladesh trip, United States investigators
said, Mr. Ullah, 27, returned to Brooklyn
and began building a bomb out of matchheads and a piece of pipe he found at a
construction site. He detonated it on a
busy Monday morning, Dec. 11, in a Manhattan subway station, wounding himself and a few passers-by but doing far
less damage than he could have. He was
apprehended on the spot.
From a bed at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, he has been cooperating with investigators, saying he was inspired online by the Islamic State to
strike against the United States for its
policies in the Muslim world. Charged
with several terrorism-related offenses,
he may never get out of jail. In many
ways, his is an open-and-shut case.
But extensive interviews with more
than a dozen friends, relatives and acquaintances, in Bangladesh and the
United States, still leave a hole as to why
Mr. Ullah did this. He comes across as
impulsive, angry, riveted to militant social media and outraged by injustices inflicted on Muslims.
He was also described by several people who know him well as loving and giving. And he did not seem hopeless, a
classic characteristic of people about to
take their own lives, nor was he isolated.
He was close to his family — his mother
and siblings — and he was building a
new one with his wife and infant son.
“This is a little different,” said Mohammed Abdur Rashid, a retired army
general who now runs a research institute on conflict in Dhaka. “He had fewer
reasons to feel desperate.”
Bangladeshi police officials have put
15 officers on this case. Mr. Ullah, especially his last actions in the Rohingya
camp, represents the union of some of
their greatest fears.
The Kensington section of Brooklyn is a hub for Bangladeshi immigrants in New York. The bombing suspect, Akayed Ullah, arrived in the city with his parents seven years ago.
Both American and Bangladeshi investigators say Mr. Ullah was not a jihadist export from Bangladesh, but was
radicalized after he arrived in New York
in 2011. Before that, he did not seem interested in militant groups.
Bangladeshis are deeply worried
about this phenomenon — young members of the diaspora becoming radicalized overseas. Mr. Ullah is hardly the
first. The mastermind of one of the worst
terrorism attacks Bangladesh has ever
suffered — the slaughter of more than a
dozen foreigners at a bakery last year —
grew up and went to college in Canada.
Analysts say it is much easier for young
Bangladeshis to be buffeted by jihadist
propaganda once they are in the West.
“You guys in the West are naïve,” Mr.
Abdur Rashid said. “You give more
space for the preachers, the hate
speech. We don’t tolerate it.”
Bangladesh is more on guard now
than ever. It has become home to the
newest magnet for Muslim extremists:
the sprawling Rohingya camps along
the border with Myanmar.
Myanmar is a majority Buddhist
country, and this year, Myanmar’s army
wiped out thousands of Rohingya civilians after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts. Nearly one million Rohingya
have run for their lives into Bangladesh,
and the Rohingya’s plight has become a
rallying cry across the Muslim world.
Already agents from half a dozen different Islamist militant groups are circulating in the camps, analysts said, try-
Mr. Ullah in an ambulance after being
apprehended in New York.
Journalists attempting to talk with Mr. Ullah’s family members at a building where he
used to live in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
ing to stoke a hunger for revenge.
In September, around the time Mr. Ullah was passing out tablets of acetaminophen, stomach salts and other basic
drugs in the camp, Al Qaeda issued a call
to arms, urging Muslims to bring the Rohingya “money, medicines, food, clothing, weapons” and to use their “souls
and wealth” to “rescue their brothers.”
It is not clear if Mr. Ullah was responding to that specific call; investiga-
tors in Bangladesh said he was closely
following several jihadist websites.
Relatives said his one-man aid mission to the Rohingyas was driven by his
deepening religiosity and a desire to
connect with Muslims in peril. Maybe at
that moment he could have gone either
“Oh, I wish he would have kept doing
that aid work,” said Ms. Akhter, his
mother-in-law, who has emerged as the
reluctant, teary spokeswoman for Mr.
Ullah’s family in Bangladesh.
For decades, Bangladesh, a poor, almost purely Sunni Muslim country of
160 million people, has been fighting a
shape-shifting terrorism problem that
has taken the form of highly coordinated
bomb attacks — more than 400 in one
day, in one hour — to slicing up young
bloggers with machetes.
Since it divorced itself from Pakistan
in 1971 and became its own country,
Bangladesh has veered between secularism and Islamism. Pakistan defined
itself as an Islamic country (its official
name is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (its official name) tried to define
itself in opposition to that, making secu-
larism and tolerance its foundation.
But a sizable portion of the Bangladeshi public never wanted to break off
from Pakistan. And over the years, the
Islamist hold here has tightened.
In Hazaribagh, the packed Dhaka
neighborhood where Mr. Ullah grew up,
many women wear full veils, just a narrow rectangle of exposed skin around
their eyes, and many men keep their
beards bushy, their mustaches trimmed
and their pants carefully hemmed above
the ankle, potential signs of a stricter
form of Islam.
As a boy, Mr. Ullah and his mother
made the rounds in Hazaribagh, knocking on doors and asking neighbors to go
with them to the mosque to pray. They
were members of Tabligh Jamaat, a
peaceful Muslim outreach group.
That was about as religious as Mr. Ullah got, his friends said. The son of a grocer, he attended some of Dhaka’s better
private schools.
“He didn’t smoke, he didn’t misbehave, he was always cordial, he was the
type of guy who couldn’t commit any
crime,” said one of his high school
friends, Wazidur Rahman, who used to
play cricket with him.
“My phone kept ringing that whole
first night,” recalled Mr. Rahman of the
day Mr. Ullah tried to set off the bomb.
“Everyone was asking the same question: ‘Wait, that’s our Akayed Ullah?’ ”
Mr. Ullah left Dhaka seven years ago
with his parents, heading to New York
on an immigrant visa to stay with other
relatives who had already been living in
the United States. He worked as a driver
and a part-time electrician.
Bangladesh is a poor, crowded country, a labor factory to the world. Bangladeshis serve as badly paid crews on
oceangoing cargo ships, clean up oil
wells in Kuwait and drive taxis in New
York. It seems every Bangladeshi has a
friend or relative working in America or
knows someone desperate to get there.
Mr. Rahman said he had recently
heard about a squad of 15 Bangladeshis
who went to America “the unofficial
way” from Brazil to Colombia up to Mexico and across to Texas; two had
drowned in a river.
“Akayed was so lucky,” Mr. Rahman
When Mr. Rahman saw Mr. Ullah
again at Mr. Ullah’s wedding in Dhaka in
January 2016, it was as if he was meeting
a different person. Mr. Ullah had grown
a big beard, he was austere and he broke
off from the festivities and from catching up with old friends to pray by himself.
Hasan Rafique, a former member of
an Islamist group now trying to work
against militancy, said the Rohingya
camps that Mr. Ullah visited were now
prime recruiting territory for Bangladeshi and Pakistani militant groups.
“Definitely someone helped him
around those camps,” Mr. Rafique said.
“You need to find out who.”
Mr. Ullah’s family said they did not
know; aid agencies said many people
had showed up at the Rohingya camps
on their own to pass out food, money or
medicine for a few days.
Mr. Ullah found enormous satisfaction in doing the charity work, his family
said. That raises the question of how
deeply radicalized he was at that point.
“It shows you how powerful that propaganda must be,” said Mr. Rahman, his
old high school friend. “How could he
forget his friends, his family, his baby’s
Brutalized by the police, Mexican women hope for justice
Struggle of 11 victims
has cast a shadow over
the nation’s president
She still relives the day the police officers shoved her to the back of a bus.
Three of them stood over her.
“They ripped my pants off, started biting my arms, my breasts, my lips, then
they penetrated me with their fingers,
taking turns,” Norma Aidé Jiménez Osorio said.
She was an art student at the time, a
witness to a police crackdown on a social
protest movement in the Mexican town
of San Salvador Atenco 11 years ago.
Then she became a victim.
Ms. Jiménez, now 34, embarked on a
decade-long struggle for justice that is
finally moving closer to resolution. The
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
is considering the case of Ms. Jiménez
and 10 other women who were sexually
abused, tortured and jailed, their lives
irrevocably altered.
In an accusation that has become emblematic of human rights violations by
the police in Mexico, the women are
seeking accountability from the people
who ordered the crackdown on the protests and tolerated its abuses — a group
they say includes President Enrique
Peña Nieto. At the time, Mr. Peña Nieto
was the governor of Mexico State,
where the crackdown took place.
Her hands clasped, Ms. Jiménez told a
court last month that the police beatings
Norma Aidé Jiménez Osorio testifying in San José, Costa Rica, last month. Now 34, she
embarked on a decade-long quest for justice that is moving closer to resolution.
had broken her fingers and that the pain
had forced her to quit art school. She still
struggles to sleep.
Bárbara Italia Méndez testified that
officers had dragged her to the back of a
bus before “all hell started.”
The assailants ripped off her underwear, grabbed her breasts and beat her
with nightsticks. They penetrated her
with fingers and called out to the officers
at the front of the bus to join in, she said.
Thrown into jail, Ms. Méndez, now 38,
was denied gynecological attention
even after she reported the sexual assault. When a doctor arrived to stitch a
bleeding head wound, she said, he did
not use anesthesia.
As she cried out in pain, the doctor
laughed and replied, “Suck it up.”
Five of the 11 women testified at the
hearing in San José, Costa Rica, where
the court is based. The Mexican government was due to send its final arguments, which are not public, by Sunday,
and the court is expected to issue a ruling next year.
In making their case against Mr. Peña
Nieto, the women’s lawyers cited written testimony they said he had given to
the Mexican Supreme Court during an
investigation in 2009. Not only did he order the police crackdown, they said, he
also “learned about police abuse” at the
time. “When he was asked about what
actions he had taken the moment he
learned about the situation, he does not
mention having taken any concrete
measure to make the unfolding abuses
stop,” one of the lawyers said.
The lawyers did not provide details
about what information Mr. Peña Nieto
learned, and it is impossible to independently confirm the statements because the Supreme Court testimony is
not publicly available.
The Mexican government, in a written statement Monday, rejected the
claim that he knew of the abuses. In the
initial phase of the crackdown on the
protesters, the statement said, there
was “no concrete evidence of abuses or
violations of human rights.” It said Mr.
Peña Nieto had ordered an investigation
into what happened the moment he
learned about it.
The women’s lawyers said, “The Supreme Court concluded that the violence in Atenco was encouraged and
permitted by the chain of command.”
But in its final resolution, the Mexican
court chose not to hold Mr. Peña Nieto
and other high-ranking officials responsible for the abuses.
If the battle lays bare how routine police torture has become in Mexico, it also
reveals the impunity torturers often enjoy when victims try to hold them and
their supervisors to account.
Speaking for the Mexican government at the hearing, Miguel Ruiz
Cabañas, the undersecretary for foreign
relations, admitted that the abuse had
taken place. But he argued that women
had no “objective data” to show that the
beatings and torture had been carried
out under a direct order or that they had
been a “state strategy.” In an admission
that the abuse had occurred, the federal
government offered to pay reparations
to the women in 2013. The women re-
fused the money and scholarships and
pressed for a full investigation.
Mr. Ruiz Cabañas rejected the women’s argument that the crimes had gone
unpunished, pointing to what he called
an “exhaustive investigation” by the Supreme Court. But he admitted that none
of the 52 people originally arrested in
the women’s case — mostly police and
jail officials — had been convicted.
“The victims have asked for every
one of those who are allegedly responsible to be investigated,” Mr. Ruiz
Cabañas told reporters. “The investigation, although it is not finished, is on its
way and is very far advanced.”
Sexually abused, tortured and
jailed, their lives forever altered.
The testimony by Mr. Ruiz Cabañas
seemed not to convince the judges, who
asked how, with no convictions, the government can argue that there is no impunity.
In its final ruling, the Inter-American
Court could order the Mexican government to carry out a new investigation,
under guidelines to examine the chain of
command above the police, said Santiago Aguirre, deputy director of the
Agustin Pro Juárez Center for Human
Rights in Mexico City, which represents
the women. Such a ruling could raise
new problems for Mr. Peña Nieto.
The case goes back to a violent police
operation to dislodge flower vendors
who were protesting in the central
square of San Salvador Atenco.
Two people were killed and 200 detained in the two-day clash. Of those, 40
were women who were pushed onto
buses and driven to jails hours away.
Unable to obtain justice in Mexico, 11
took their case to the Inter-American
Commission of Human Rights in Washington, which agreed that the Mexican
authorities had not investigated the
abuse properly. The commission demanded a more thorough inquiry and
sent the case to the court.
For the women — some activists and
students, others housewives or vendors
who happened to be in the square — the
legal fight has been psychologically exhausting.
The details of the attacks, which the
women described in interviews with
The New York Times last year, outline a
picture of systemic abuse. They were
raped, beaten and penetrated with metal objects. One was forced to perform
oral sex on several officers. Others were
forced to tell jokes as they were being
Five of the women were charged with
minor offenses and spent as long as two
years in jail before their cases were dismissed.
As the women await the court’s ruling, their struggle to deal with the
trauma lingers. “It’s been a very difficult
road, since I wasn’t able to get my life
back after it happened,” said Claudia
Hernández, now 34, weeping, as she testified last month.
She was a political science student at
Mexico’s national university at the time,
writing a thesis on the Atenco social
movement. “I felt dirty, humiliated and
worthless,” she said.
Her partner keeps asking her to start
a family, but she fears that her children
could one day face the same sort of
abuse, she said.
“I won’t take that risk.”
The former site of a used-car dealership in Morgan County, Ala. Sheriff Ana Franklin invested $150,000 of public funds in the business.
The interior of Sheriff Franklin’s car. Earlier in life, she ran a bridal shop, posed as a nightclub “calendar girl” and ran a fitness center.
The sheriff vs. the blogger
Alabama official in center
of controversy over her
behavior and use of funds
One evening last fall, an informant for
the Morgan County sheriff entered the
office of a small construction business
near this old river town and, he said, secretly installed spyware on a company
computer. He had no warrant.
The sheriff, Ana Franklin, wanted to
know who was leaking information
about her to a blogger known as the
Morgan County Whistleblower.
The blogger had been zeroing in on
the sheriff’s finances, specifically
$150,000 that by law should have gone
toward feeding inmates in the county
jail. Instead it had been invested in a
now-bankrupt used-car dealership run
by a convicted bank swindler.
Now the sheriff has become ensnared,
along with others, in a wide-ranging
United States government investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking at her stewardship of taxpayer money, as well as the dealership
and its financial links to prominent people in Decatur, Ala., including several
state law enforcement agents, according to more than a half-dozen people
who say they have spoken to the F.B.I.
What, if anything, investigators have
uncovered is not known. But The New
York Times found that since taking office in 2011, Sheriff Franklin has failed to
comply with court orders, has threatened critics with legal action and has not
publicly accounted for tens of thousands
of dollars raised through charity events.
Her activities point to questions about
the broad powers afforded America’s
county sheriffs, newly emboldened in
the era of President Trump. Unlike appointed municipal police chiefs, sheriffs
answer only to voters, giving them often-unfettered dominion not just over
county law enforcement but over the jail
and the service contracts that go with it.
“In certain jurisdictions, there is a
feeling by sheriffs that this is my fiefdom — I am in charge, my way or the
highway,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer
at the Southern Center for Human
Rights in Atlanta, which has filed lawsuits against a number of sheriffs.
“Sometimes that kind of culture can lead
to sort of a sheriffs-gone-wild kind of behavior.”
The apotheosis of the idea that federal
and state law is subordinate to local authority is Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona
sheriff who earned notoriety for his aggressive pursuit of unauthorized Latino
immigrants. After the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., hundreds of
sheriffs allied with Mr. Arpaio signed a
pledge not to enforce the Obama administration’s gun-control proposals.
Ultimately, Mr. Arpaio was convicted
of contempt for defying a federal judge’s
order to stop violating immigrants’ constitutional rights. But Mr. Trump pardoned him over the summer, seemingly
endorsing his view of local authority. Indeed, the Trump administration has instructed sheriffs to disregard federal
law and detain undocumented immigrant suspects longer than a number of
federal judges have said is constitutionally allowed. And when the president
announced this month that he was drastically shrinking two national monuments in Utah, he cast the decision in
terms of protecting citizens from “federal overreach.”
While some see that attitude as a defense of liberty, others worry that it is
simply license for sheriffs to act as if
they are above the law.
“There’s a glorified notion of local
sovereignty that flies in the face of 200
years of constitutional progress in the
United States,” said Michael Waldman,
president of the Brennan Center for Jus-
tice, a nonprofit focusing on issues of democracy and equal rights. “Sheriffs
have an important role, but the fact that
they’re elected does not mean they’re
not required to operate within the law
and the Constitution.”
County governments have budgetary
control over sheriffs, but little else. They
can threaten to withhold money, but
open themselves up to criticism that
they are endangering law and order.
In Arizona, voters kept re-electing Mr.
Arpaio despite his long record of misconduct complaints. And in Putnam
County, N.Y., Sheriff Donald B. Smith repeatedly and falsely accused the local
district attorney, Adam Levy, of shielding an undocumented immigrant during
a rape investigation.
It took a defamation lawsuit for Sheriff Smith to finally admit this year that
he had lied; the suit was settled with
$125,000 in public funds.
The sheriff’s office also did not comply with a judge’s order that an inmate
not be allowed to work outside the jail
because he posed a danger to the community. Sheriff Franklin said she had
since changed jail policy to prevent that
from happening again.
Sheriffs have found other ways to
squeeze money out of inmates. Some
take a percentage of service contracts,
including commissary sales and telephone charges. In Morgan County, a
company that just won the jail phone
contract pays the county a 90 percent
commission on all its revenue from prisoners’ calls.
In Morgan County, the sheriff oversees 19 different income streams and
collects 25 percent of inmate wages.
None of this money is supposed to personally benefit the sheriff.
Sheriff Franklin said she stayed
within her budget, economizing, for example, by hanging inmate clothes on the
line to dry. “It saved me $63,000,” she
Ana Franklin, Alabama’s only female
sheriff, did not follow a traditional path
into law enforcement. Raised in this
working-class city a short distance
across the Tennessee River from
Huntsville and the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, she ran a bridal shop, posed as a
nightclub “calendar girl” in miniskirt
and fishnets, trained German shepherds and ran a fitness center.
She was elected in 2010, defeating an
unpopular incumbent. But she had another advantage, at least according to
Glenda Lockhart, otherwise known as
the Morgan County Whistleblower: She
comes across as “just the most sweet, innocent, hard-working person you could
ever imagine,” Ms. Lockhart said.
Now in her second term with plans to
run for a third, Sheriff Franklin, 53,
broke into police work in neighboring
Limestone County, under the tutelage of
its longtime sheriff, Mike Blakely.
It was there that she learned the importance of annual rodeos for fund-raising and publicity. No one in the state did
it better than Sheriff Blakely. With a skybox selling for $650, the events have
raised close to a million dollars for law
enforcement and for reinvestment in rodeo operations, he estimated.
Voters must take him at his word, because rodeo money is not among the
nine revenue streams audited by the
state, records show.
The Morgan County rodeo had been a
smaller affair until Sheriff Franklin took
office. She installed an A.T.M. just outside the gate, allowing people to pay
cash not only for admission but for concessions. And she asked employees and
volunteers to sell advertisements to local businesses. Before long, the ad book
more than tripled in size.
In interviews, the sheriff gave differing accounts about who processed the
rodeo cash. First she said the money
went through a tax-exempt organization
set up a couple of years ago called Morgan County Sheriff’s Rodeo. Before that,
the money was kept in a regular account, she said.
After The Times could find no group
by that name registered with the Internal Revenue Service, Sheriff Franklin
corrected herself, saying rodeo proceeds had actually gone to a different
nonprofit: Morgan County Sheriff’s
Mounted Posse, founded in 1963.
Normally, tax-exempt organizations
must file annual financial reports for
public inspection. But Sheriff Franklin’s
is exempt from public disclosure because of an I.R.S. loophole for charities
affiliated with government agencies.
“The I.R.S. assumes organizations controlled by governmental entities will be
good tax citizens,” said Marc Owens, former director of the I.R.S. division of exempt organizations.
The mere mention of Ms. Lockhart is
enough to shear off Sheriff Franklin’s
folksy veneer. A liar, a fabricator, a crazy
woman: That is how she describes Ms.
Ms. Lockhart stands by her postings.
The diminutive grandmother became a
whistle-blower after retiring as a securi-
Sheriff Franklin, above left, at her rodeo last year. In interviews, she gave differing accounts about who processed the cash made by her
events, meant to benefit law enforcement. Questions arose after a blogger, Glenda Lockhart, below, zeroed in on the sheriff’s finances.
ty manager at the Redstone Arsenal, using her military research skills to shadow the sheriff and her allies.
Ms. Lockhart first took an interest in
the sheriff after deputies came to her rural home in July 2011 to investigate a supposed disturbance. What happened
next is in dispute, but she and her husband, Harold Lockhart, say the officers
found nothing but refused to leave.
Deputies arrested the couple after Mr.
Lockhart, a retired military police officer, said he had had enough and was
calling his lawyer. The Lockharts successfully sued the sheriff for false arrest. And while the sheriff was not
present for the arrest and later said she
knew nothing about it, Ms. Lockhart did
not forget.
“I decided then I was not going to sit
back and take it,” she said. “Some people
can’t afford to fight it, so I started watching.”
With a profitable construction business, Ms. Lockhart had the resources to
pursue complaints big and small. “I
waited until employees were fired —
then I would tell them I was the Morgan
County Whistleblower,” she said.
This year, she even went so far as to
hire a pilot to fly her over southern Alabama, where she videotaped a stretch of
land that she believed the sheriff had secretly obtained for her horses. That suspicion, Sheriff Franklin says, is not
backed by a scintilla of evidence.
There was, however, more than
enough evidence to link the sheriff to
Priceville Partners L.L.C., a get-richquick scheme that spread a toxic cloud
over the business community.
A used-car dealership offering title
loans, Priceville Partners had begun
opening branches around the county,
and investors were welcome. Ordinarily,
law officers might investigate rather
than invest in a business co-owned by
the likes of Greg Steenson, who had
done prison time for a multimillion-dollar check-kiting scheme. But several officers from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, along with Morgan
County deputies, became financially involved, records show. One agent texted
another asking if he wanted a onemonth $7,000 profit on a $10,000 investment. Sheriff Franklin’s father worked
there; her daughter did the bookkeeping.
The sheriff invested $150,000. She
would later say that she had not known
Mr. Steenson was a co-owner, even
though her daughter said that was clear
from her first day on the job.
Ms. Lockhart had begun blogging
about the dealership in 2015, after noticing the proximity of the lawbreaker and
the law enforcers. She was not the only
one watching. So was the F.B.I. in
Huntsville, which soon became a popular destination for those with stories to
tell about the sheriff or the dealership.
In local lingo, they “went across the
In January, after Ms. Lockhart published a copy of Sheriff Franklin’s
$150,000 cashier’s check — signed over
to Priceville Partners — the sheriff’s
lawyer, Barnes F. Lovelace Jr., accused
the blogger of obtaining it illegally. “A
criminal investigation has been initiated,” he wrote to Ms. Lockhart. No
charges have been filed.
Sheriff Franklin eventually admitted
the money had been withdrawn from an
account earmarked for feeding inmates.
For some Alabama sheriffs, that wouldn’t have posed a problem. But Morgan
County was different.
Ana Franklin had her eyes on inmate
food money even before she took office.
In preparing for her new job, she
asked the county attorney if surplus
food money would be hers to keep. His
answer, according to press reports at the
time, was no.
That sheriffs would be able to profit
from inmate food money comes down to
an unusual provision of Alabama law: In
most counties — Morgan included —
food money is deposited not into government accounts, but into sheriffs’ personal accounts. Nearly a decade ago, when
inmates’ lawyers demanded to know
how much of this money Alabama sheriffs were keeping for personal use, the
state sheriffs’ association instructed
them not to answer.
But while other sheriffs have legally
kept the surplus money, Sheriff Franklin
was bound by a federal consent decree
that all her inmate food money be used
for just that — food.
That court order stems from a legal
action that the Southern Center brought
against Sheriff Franklin’s predecessor,
Greg Bartlett, who had been underfeeding inmates while taking $212,000 in
food money for his personal use. In a signature moment as sheriff, Mr. Bartlett
paid half-price for a truckload of unsold
corn dogs and for three months fed them
to inmates for breakfast, lunch and din-
“I decided then I was not going
to sit back and take it. Some
people can’t afford to fight it, so I
started watching.”
ner, earning himself the sobriquet
“Sheriff Corn Dog.”
After the source of the $150,000 came
to light, Sheriff Franklin said that because of bad legal advice, she had not realized she was violating the court order.
Besides, she said, she had returned the
money, and her prisoners received nutritious meals.
Ms. Geraghty, the Southern Center
lawyer, disagreed. She sent the sheriff a
letter this year reporting inmate complaints of “reduced or watered-down
portions,” and food that was frozen, had
mold or contained rocks or, in one case, a
nail. “During a recent meal at which
chicken was served,” Ms. Geraghty
wrote, “many inmates reportedly received cooking liquid from the pan in
place of meat because the kitchen ran
out of chicken.”
Those complaints, the sheriff’s lawyer said, amounted to a tiny fraction of
all meals served — a record any restaurant would be pleased with. Ms. Geraghty did not press her case, citing the
“exceedingly low constitutional bar” required to satisfy the consent decree’s
mandate for improved food. The food order was ultimately lifted, but not before
a federal judge found Sheriff Franklin in
contempt of court and fined her $1,000.
In October last year, armed with a warrant, the sheriff’s drug task force seized
Ms. Lockhart’s computers and electronic devices, court records show. In
preparing for the raid, the sheriff hired
an unusual spy — Ms. Lockhart’s 19year-old grandson, Daniel Lockhart,
who aspired to work in law enforcement.
Mr. Lockhart said the sheriff’s technology expert had instructed him on
how to plant spyware. The raid took
place about a week after he said he installed the software.
Mr. Lockhart had been living with his
grandparents and working in their business. He gained access to the office after
hours, he said, by telling Ms. Lockhart
that his girlfriend needed an office computer for homework. Ms. Lockhart said
she later discovered the spyware on her
home computer as well and took it to the
F.B.I., which has retained it.
The sheriff denied that the seizure
was retaliatory, telling the news media,
“Not until her personal agenda, her
hatefulness and her vengeance to try
and tear this office down, to take this office and myself down, and prepare for
another election, did she cross the line of
criminal activity.”
But more than a year later, Ms. Lockhart has yet to be charged, and says she
broke no laws. The investigation continues, the sheriff said, though she was unsure who was directing it. “It’s not my
investigation,” she said.
Sheriff Franklin admits to hiring the
grandson, but denies that she or anyone
in her office asked him to install spyware. “We have absolute proof, ” Mr.
Lovelace, the sheriff’s lawyer, wrote to
The Times. He produced an analysis of
Ms. Lockhart’s business computers by a
firm he hired that, he said, found no spyware. Several parts of that report were
omitted, he said, because of a continuing
criminal investigation that he was not at
liberty to describe.
The sheriff’s denial is undercut by
four people who told The Times separately that they had knowledge that the
sheriff’s office taught Mr. Lockhart how
to install the spyware. Among them was
Ricky Brewer, the sheriff’s former technology officer, who said he told the F.B.I.
that his replacement acknowledged giving the grandson the software.
Mr. Lockhart said in a sworn statement that he had been paid several hundred dollars and participated only because he had been told that the investigation focused on the county jail warden, not his grandmother, and that she
would not get in trouble.
All the while, the Morgan County
Whistleblower continues to fire away.
“There is no way of stating how terrified
Sheriff Ana Franklin is right now,” Ms.
Lockhart wrote last month. And she
added, “She is scared to death that some
of her loyalists will cross the river and
Rebecca R. Ruiz and Ellen Gabler contributed reporting. Agustin Almendariz
and Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
Anti-apartheid hero wins leadership battle
South African businessman
and Mandela protégé is
poised to be next president
It was a humbling rebuke to President
Jacob Zuma. The choice of Cyril
Ramaphosa to lead South Africa’s governing party amounts to a victory for reformers in the African National Congress who want to root out corruption
and woo back foreign investors.
Mr. Ramaphosa was a protégé of Nelson Mandela, who pushed unsuccessfully to name him as his successor in the
late 1990s. But after a close vote on Monday, Mr. Ramaphosa, an anti-apartheid
hero and a business tycoon, is now
poised to take over the party and, in
2019, win the presidency.
His supporters say he will bring a
much-needed boost to a party and a nation that have been deeply tarnished by
the eight-year rule of Mr. Zuma. Mr.
Ramaphosa beat out Nkosazana
Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran politician and
Mr. Zuma’s former wife, for the job.
“Ramaphosa has a better chance of
renewing confidence, not only in the
markets but also inside the A.N.C.,
where reformers may now feel they
have a place,” said William Gumede, the
executive chairman of the Democracy
Works Foundation, a good-government
advocacy group. “The mood in this
country in the last couple of years has
been so depressed that he’ll bring a new
But as a wealthy member of Mr. Zuma’s government who was largely silent
in the face of cronyism and corruption,
Mr. Ramaphosa is seen by critics as
more a creature of that system than an
honest broker and corruption fighter.
“Ramophosa doesn’t have a reputation for being gung-ho,” said Steven
Friedman, a political analyst at the University of Johannesburg. “He’s not the
kind of muscleman politician that will go
in and clean up. He’s more of a conciliator and bridge mender. There are all
these wild expectations now.”
Besides the vote for party president,
the A.N.C. delegates voted on five other
top party positions. The six posts were
evenly split between the two factions.
Mr. Zuma, who will cease to be party
leader this week but whose term as the
country’s president does not end until
2019, will leave his successor a number
of problems, but one above all: a onceheroic liberation party that has now become associated with graft, cronyism
and incompetence and that has been losing core supporters.
As delegates waited for the official results to be announced Monday evening
in Johannesburg, Mr. Ramaphosa could
be seen joyfully greeting and hugging
well-wishers on the stage and posing for
selfies. Ms. Dlamini-Zuma mostly sat
expressionless. President Zuma sat sipping a cup of tea.
As expectations of a Ramaphosa victory heightened, South Africa’s currency, the rand, gained sharply — reflecting the business community’s preference for him.
When the results were finally announced, Mr. Ramaphosa’s supporters
erupted in celebration while his rival’s
backers sat in stony silence.
With his victory, Mr. Ramaphosa is almost certain to become South Africa’s
next president, thanks to the A.N.C.’s
dominance in Parliament, which
chooses the nation’s leader. A Ramaphosa victory, experts and allies have
said, will strengthen the A.N.C. before
the elections in 2019.
“He’s always been, in his history, an
incredibly smart negotiator,” said Barbara Hogan, an anti-apartheid veteran
who served in Mr. Zuma’s cabinet for
two years and supported Mr.
Ramaphosa. “He’s always got the long
view in mind.”
“Ramaphosa has a better
chance of renewing confidence,
not only in the markets but
also inside the A.N.C.’’
Largely because of older black voters
who intimately remember the A.N.C.’s
heroic past, the party is still considered
the favorite to win the next general election. But party leaders have been
alarmed at the A.N.C.’s rapid decline,
and Mr. Zuma is so widely discredited
that party leaders could replace him
with Mr. Ramaphosa before the 2019
elections to improve the A.N.C.’s
In last year’s local elections, the party
lost control over nearly all of the nation’s
major urban areas, where disillusioned
middle-class black voters rebelled
against the party.
The A.N.C. officials are hopeful the
party can regain its previous stature under Mr. Ramaphosa, whose core supporters are precisely in those categories
— city dwellers and business owners,
along with the black middle class — that
had begun to drift away.
“We don’t want to be relegated to a rural party,” said Gwede Mantashe, the
A.N.C.’s secretary general and a
Ramaphosa ally. “We want to regain the
metros and be a strong A.N.C.”
The two contenders embodied opposing strains in the A.N.C., the heroic 105year-old liberation movement that, in
recent elections, clung increasingly to
its glorious past to bring voters to the
ballot box.
Under Mr. Zuma, whose presidency
has been marred by a series of personal
and political scandals, the A.N.C. had be-
African National Congress delegates, top, after voting Monday on a party leader. The winner, Cyril Ramaphosa, at a meeting Saturday.
come a patronage machine that rewarded the faithful and made them dependent on the party.
Neither candidate offered a clear vision or detailed program on how to ad-
dress the myriad problems afflicting
South Africa, the continent’s most sophisticated economy but a deeply unequal one.
A skilled union organizer, Mr. Rama-
phosa served as Mr. Mandela’s key negotiator in the talks that led to the end of
apartheid in 1994.
He was Mr. Mandela’s choice to become deputy president and eventually
his successor as the nation’s leader. But
the powerful coterie of anti-apartheid
leaders in exile pressed successfully for
Thabo Mbeki.
Mr. Ramaphosa turned down Mr.
Mandela’s offer to become foreign minister and eventually entered the private
sector, though he remained on the
A.N.C.’s national executive committee.
Using his ties to the party, Mr.
Ramaphosa quickly became one of the
richest businessmen in the country and
on the continent. He acquired interests
in many areas, including South Africa’s
McDonald’s restaurants, and served on
a multitude of corporate boards.
He was on the board of Lonmin, a mining company, when the police shot and
killed 34 wildcat strikers at a platinum
mine in Marikana in 2012, in the deadliest killing of civilians since the end of
apartheid. Though an official inquiry
into the massacre absolved him of guilt,
it found that he had tried to intervene
with the authorities on behalf of the
“The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labor
dispute,” Mr. Ramaphosa wrote in an internal email after the first 10 strikers
had been killed. “They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterized as such. In line with this characterization, there needs to be concomitant
action to address this situation.”
Mr. Ramaphosa later apologized for
the language he used but said that he
was trying to prevent more deaths.
To many, Mr. Ramaphosa became the
symbol of an A.N.C. elite that had enriched itself by betraying the people it
had once promised to serve. In another
episode in 2012, Mr. Ramaphosa was
widely criticized for bidding $2 million
for a prize buffalo cow at a livestock auction.
He apologized for that as well. “It is a
mistake in the sea of poverty. I live in a
community,” he said. “The damage has
been done, I will live with it.”
That same year, Mr. Ramaphosa returned to politics, and he has served
since 2014 as deputy president under Mr.
Mr. Ramaphosa supported Mr. Zuma,
staying largely silent as the president’s
ethical problems and erratic policies
damaged the economy.
More recently, though, Mr. Ramaphosa began to distance himself from
Mr. Zuma. Last month, he gave a long
speech on the economy, focusing on the
importance of fighting corruption.
His supporters portrayed him as the
man capable of righting the A.N.C. Jackson Mthembu, the party’s chief whip,
said on Twitter that he had cast his ballot
for Mr. Ramaphosa and “other five incorruptible leaders” for the party’s top
six posts. “My vote is to save” the A.N.C.
“and my country. We must!!”
But to others, it is not yet clear that an
insider can dismantle the very system
that so richly rewarded him.
Dengue vaccine maker tacks on a warning, igniting anger
The Philippine health secretary, Francisco T. Duque III, said the government
is demanding a refund from Sanofi for
the 3.5 billion Philippine pesos, or about
$69 million, it spent on the vaccine. It is
also asking the company to set up a fund
to cover the treatment of any children
who develop severe dengue.
“It’s been very devastating for almost
the entire country,” said Dr. Leonila
Dans, an epidemiologist and pediatrician at the University of the Philippines Manila who had been an early
critic of the vaccination program. “Even
those who are not vaccinated are very
emotional about it, because they feel for
the kids who had the vaccine.”
The episode could prove to be a cautionary tale for pharmaceutical companies, who have already been reluctant to
invest in vaccines and drugs that are
used mainly in the developing world.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious
disease expert at Vanderbilt University
in Nashville, said, “It’s hard to think of
another circumstance when a major
public health program was introduced
with this much controversy.” The problems with the vaccine rollout have “cast
a pall” on other efforts to develop
dengue vaccines, he said, and public
health experts are worried that the distrust could spill over to other vaccination programs.
Sanofi has said that the risk to people
who get the vaccine is still extremely
small. Moreover, in those who have previously been infected, the vaccine works
well. In people older than 9, Dengaxia is
about 66 percent effective. It is even
more effective — 81.9 percent — in those
over 9 who were previously infected.
But that has not allayed fears in the
Philippines, where Sanofi has said 10
percent of the children who were vaccinated probably had no prior exposure to
the virus.
Dr. Su-Peing Ng, the head of medical
affairs for Sanofi Pasteur, the company’s
vaccine division, said in an interview
that “there is no cause for alarm,” adding, “those vaccinated in high-exposure
settings are much more protected than
those who were not.”
The World Health Organization,
which published guidelines on how to
use the vaccine in 2016, has distanced itself. “We did not give a blanket recommendation that the vaccine should be introduced,” said W.H.O.’s representative
in the Philippines, Dr. Gundo Weiler.
“This is a decision for governments and
Iran Lustre broke out with these marks, left, after completing his vaccinations against dengue. It was not clear if he caught the disease or chicken pox, his family, right, said.
governments alone.”
Dengvaxia was first approved in 2015,
and Brazil and the Philippines initiated
campaigns. Brazil’s government said it
would continue its program but that it
would follow Sanofi’s recommendation
to avoid vaccinating people who have
never had dengue.
The company has told investors that it
expects to lose 100 million euros, or
about $117 million, as a result of diminished sales. Sanofi is one of the world’s
biggest pharmaceutical companies, reporting sales of nearly €34 billion in
2016. Two other dengue vaccines are in
late-stage development and could
threaten future sales of Dengvaxia if
they show better results.
“It’s a huge disappointment and it’s a
big lesson in humility,” said Michel De
Wilde, the former senior vice president
of research and development at Sanofi
Pasteur, who oversaw the vaccine’s development until he left the company in
The illness, also called breakbone fever, can be excruciating, with high fevers, headaches, muscle and joint pains
and lingering weakness. Sometimes the
disease causes hemorrhage or shock,
which can be fatal.
Some deadly cases have been linked
to the fact that there are actually four
different types of dengue virus. Research has found that severe illness can
occur in people who had one type and
later become infected by another. The
body’s immune response to the first virus is thought to make the second illness
worse, a discovery credited to Dr. Scott
B. Halstead, who has been studying
dengue since the 1960s.
In February 2016, as the Philippine
program was getting underway, Dr. Halstead warned in a scientific article that
the vaccine could put people at risk if
they had not previously had dengue. He
said the issue was well known. “We’ve
been talking about this for years,” he
said recently. “It isn’t any hidden secret.”
He and others pointed to a trial of
Dengvaxia in children, published in
2015, that seemed to confirm fears that
the vaccine could be harmful to those
with no previous exposure. The potential danger is not from the vaccine itself,
but from the immune response to it. The
researchers found that in children under
9 years old, those who were given Dengvaxia and later caught dengue were
more likely to be hospitalized for severe
illness than those who had not been vaccinated. The finding originally led
Sanofi to restrict Dengvaxia to children
9 and older, although the company did
not concede that the higher hospitalization rate among younger children was
due to their lack of prior dengue exposure. A panel set up by the World Health
Organization recommended that the
vaccine be used only in places where the
incidence of dengue was high.
Brazil decided to limit its government
program to people who are over age 15.
Even as Sanofi pushed back against
researchers’ warnings, it ordered another analysis of the data.
Dr. Ng, the Sanofi official, said that before the additional analysis, “there wasn’t a robust way in which we could answer that question. It’s only this new
analysis that has given us this insight.”
“If we wait for the perfect
vaccine, we will probably be
talking about this 50 years
from now.”
The new analysis found that lack of
past infection was tied to an increased
risk of severe dengue. But the risk was
small — two extra cases per 1,000 previously uninfected people vaccinated,
over five years of follow-up. And there
were no deaths reported.
But how to tell if someone has had
dengue? Doctors and patients cannot always tell because symptoms can be
vague. No rapid test exists. Current
tests take a few days to produce results,
and may have trouble distinguishing
dengue from Zika, a related virus. Trying to use them would further complicate a vaccination process that is already cumbersome, because it requires
three visits. Sanofi has said it will invest
in efforts to develop a better test.
At a Philippine Senate hearing on
Dec. 11, Thomas Triomphe, a regional
Sanofi official, emphasized the vaccine’s
benefits and said that to permanently
remove it would leave 90 percent of the
population “at the mercy of an epidemic
which has been found to be preventable.” But parents feel they have traded
one risk for another that might be
worse. Maria Brenal Bernal said her
daughter, Reyna Rose, had been sick on
and off since receiving her first shot of
Dengvaxia in August.
Mrs. Bernal had traveled to the Philippine Health Department in Manila,
hoping for help. “Her gums were bleeding,” Mrs. Bernal said. “She has fever.
We don’t know if it’s dengue, but she has
been sick about a week.”
The Philippine Health Department
has said it will cover the expenses of any
child hospitalized for severe dengue.
Sanofi saw the Philippines as a key
market. In the fall of 2016, the company
initiated a “disease awareness” campaign that did not name Dengvaxia but
directed people to a Facebook page
where Sanofi was mentioned.
The ad concluded: “Ask your doctor
about dengue vaccination today.”
The Philippine Food and Drug Administration ordered Sanofi to halt its
campaign and in October fined Sanofi
and Watsons, a drugstore chain that had
started its own promotional campaign,
5,000 Philippine pesos, or about $100, for
violating advertising laws.
The enthusiastic rollout had its critics, including local health experts who
raised the same safety questions as Dr.
Halstead. Some pointed to the vaccination campaign’s cost of 3.5 billion Philippine pesos, more than the rest of the
country’s immunization program combined, according to local news reports.
Still, countries like the Philippines,
with endemic dengue, were eager to
have a vaccine. “There was a lot of pressure for Sanofi to proceed, and of course
they wanted to make money from it,”
said Vincent Racaniello, a professor of
microbiology and immunology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
In 2016, Dengvaxia brought in €55 million, which fell far short of the €200 million that the company had previously estimated. Sanofi has recorded €22 million
in sales of Dengvaxia for the first three
quarters of this year.
Experts in infectious diseases say the
vaccine is too valuable to be abandoned.
“If we wait for the perfect vaccine, we
will probably be talking about this 50
years from now,” said Duane Gubler, an
emeritus professor at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, who favors using the vaccine, especially where
dengue is highly endemic. He is one of
the inventors of a competing dengue
vaccine made by Takeda and has consulted in the past for Sanofi.
The Takeda vaccine and another by
the United States National Institutes of
Health, which will be mainly sold by
Merck, could be approved for use soon.
According to the research so far, the
American vaccine, which is administered in a single dose, “gives a very potent response against all four of the serotypes,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is
overseeing the vaccine’s development.
Some analysts said Sanofi’s struggles
could have a chilling effect on investment in vaccines, which are greatly
needed in developing countries.
“I think anybody who deals in emerging markets noticed this one,” said Les
Funtleyder, a health care portfolio manager at E Squared Capital Management
who invests in domestic and emerging
markets. He said that many investors
were likely to “ask the big companies,
why are you doing this? It’s like, all risk,
no reward.”
Felipe Villamor contributed reporting to
this article from Manila.
Drought, wildfires and an ocean ‘blob’
Scientists find driver
between extreme weather
events and global warming
Over the past few years, a large patch of
unusually warm water has appeared off
the coast of Alaska, popularly known as
“the blob.” These warm waters have allowed toxic algae blooms to spread
across the region, killing seabirds by the
thousands and forcing local fisheries to
A new study, led by John E. Walsh of
the University of Alaska, called the blob
“unprecedented” and argued that it
“cannot be explained without anthropogenic climate warming,” although natural factors such as El Niño and atmospheric variability also played an important role. The study also concluded that
more such blobs were likely to occur
with further warming, which “will result
in a profound shift for people, systems,
and species.”
Extreme weather left its mark across
the planet in 2016, the hottest year in recorded history. Record heat baked Asia
and thawed the Arctic. Droughts
gripped Brazil and southern Africa. The
Great Barrier Reef suffered its worst
bleaching event in memory, killing large
swaths of coral.
Now scientists are starting to tease
out which of last year’s calamities can,
and can’t, be linked to global warming.
In a new collection of papers published last week in the Bulletin of the
American Meteorological Society, researchers around the world analyzed 27
extreme weather events from 2016 and
found that human-caused climate
change was a “significant driver” for 21
of them. The effort is part of the growing
field of climate change attribution,
which explores connections between
warming and weather events that have
already happened.
To judge whether global warming
made a particular extreme weather
event more likely to occur, scientists
typically compare data from the real
world, where rising greenhouse gases
have heated the planet over the past
century, against a modeled counterfactual world without those rising emissions. This technique has gained
broader acceptance among climate scientists in the last decade.
Here are five extreme weather events
from 2016 that scientists now think were
made more likely by global warming:
Last year, Earth reached its highest
temperature on record, beating marks
set in 2015 and 2014. While that partly reflected the influence of El Niño, a cyclical event in the Pacific Ocean that can
raise global surface temperatures, a
study led by Thomas R. Knutson of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a United States government agency, concluded that the record
warmth worldwide “was only possible
due to substantial centennial-scale human-caused warming.”
Two separate studies also found that
unusually high temperatures across
Asia and the Arctic in 2016 “would not
have been possible without humancaused climate change.” Such forceful
assertions are rare: Typically, scientists
will only go so far as to say that global
warming made an extreme weather
event more likely to occur. In these
cases, they went further, finding that
such extreme warmth could not have
happened in a world without rising
Over the past two years, unusually
warm waters in the Pacific have caused
bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, a
phenomenon in which coral expel vital
algae from their tissue and take on a
ghastly white appearance. If the warm
Clockwise from above: A researcher reaching into melted ice near Utqiagvik, Alaska. Studies have found that high temperatures in the Arctic “would not have been possible without human-caused climate change”; smoke near Fort McMurray, Alberta, as wildfires erupted in May 2016; bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia in March.
flash droughts had tripled in the region
over the past 60 years, with global
warming “mainly responsible” for the
Climate change can’t be blamed for all
recent dry spells, however. In a separate
study, researchers looked at a five-year
drought in Northeast Brazil but “could
not find sufficient evidence that humancaused climate change increased
drought risk.”
water temperatures persist, many corals can die off, with dire consequences
for the marine ecosystems that depend
on them. Here, scientists were more
measured in putting all the blame on
global warming, in part because the impact of El Niño was tough to disentangle: A study led by Sophie C. Lewis of
Australian National University con-
Underwater volcano spat out
a Pacific island. Like Mars?
How is a little Pacific island like the planet Mars?
Let James Garvin count the ways.
In December 2014, an underwater volcano amid the islands of Tonga in the
South Pacific erupted.
When the eruption ended and ashes
settled a month later, a new island had
emerged, rising 400 feet above the
ocean’s surface.
Scientists unofficially named the island Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, a
concatenation of two older, uninhabited
islands it nestles between.
Since then, scientists have been tracking how the new land mass has eroded
and shifted. What they have found could
make the island a Rosetta Stone to understanding volcanic features on Mars
that also appear to have erupted underwater, providing clues about when the
red planet was wet several billion years
“We see things that remind us of this
kind of volcano at similar scales on
Mars,” said Dr. Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight
Center in Greenbelt, Md. “And literally,
there are thousands of them, in multiple
He and colleagues presented the findings this month at a news conference
during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans.
Networks of river channels chiseled
into Mars persuasively argue that liquid
water once flowed across the red planet,
but the current thinking of many planetary scientists is that Mars remained
frozen through much of its history, punctuated with episodes of melting and
flowing water.
Some Martian volcanoes that look as
if they erupted underwater could offer
clues. By analyzing these leftover structures, scientists may be able to tease out
information like how deep the water was
when the volcanoes erupted and how
long water persisted.
But to fully understand the terrain on
Mars, researchers need a model to compare it against, and that’s where the new
island comes in.
While Tonga is in the middle of the
ocean, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai and
its neighbors sit on the rim of a large volcano that rises about a mile above the
deep ocean floor. Thus the water around
the island is shallow, perhaps similar to
what existed around the Martian volcanoes.
Since the eruption, satellites have repeatedly viewed the new Tongan island,
not much more than a square mile in
size, allowing scientists to generate detailed maps of the shifting topography.
Scientists have also made visits to
map the surrounding seafloor and walk
around for up-close examination. That’s
an advantage that Earth scientists have
over Mars researchers — they can directly compare what satellites see from
orbit with samples they pick up.
Islands formed by explosive underwater eruptions are usually short-lived,
the ash washed away by crashing
waves. In the initial months of its existence, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai
shifted in shape quickly. Initially oval,
the island’s southern shore eroded rapidly, allowing the Pacific Ocean to break
through into the lake at the center of the
island. Steep walls around the lake appeared in danger of collapse, and it
looked as if the island might have been
about to vanish.
But then a sandbar formed, sealing off
the lake again, and the landscape stabilized.
When conditions are right, chemical
reactions with warm water cement volcanic ash into resilient rock, and the scientists speculate that similar reactions
may have occurred on Hunga TongaHunga Ha’apai. It is only the third such
island in the last 150 years to survive
more than a few months. They estimate
that the island could now last for decades.
cluded that human greenhouse gas
emissions “likely increased the risk of
the extreme Great Barrier Reef event”
by increasing thermal stress in the
ocean. The study also warned that
bleaching risks were likely to increase.
In the first few months of 2016, severe
droughts and heat waves spread across
much of southern Africa, causing local
food and water shortages that affected
millions. While such “flash droughts”
are often associated with El Niño, scientists now say climate change plays an
important role, too.
A study led by Xing Yuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that
In 2016, wildfires burned about 8.9 million acres of western Canada and the
United States, including a particularly
destructive fire in Alberta that forced
mass evacuations and destroyed 2,400
Here, climate change most likely
played a supporting role.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that global warming had
made “extreme vapor pressure deficits”
five times more likely across the region
during the summer months — a measure of changes in atmospheric moisture
that is associated with the drying of vegetation and wildfire risk. But this finding
came with a caveat: The increased fire
risk linked to climate change did not
hold for the month of May, when the Alberta fire broke out.
Climate attribution remains easier for
some weather events than others. Temperature records are the simplest to link
to climate change. But droughts —
which are influenced by a complex interplay of temperature, precipitation
and soil moisture — can be trickier to
connect to warming trends. And hurricanes are more difficult still, because
they occur so rarely.
Over all, however, attribution science
has improved significantly since the
Bulletin of the American Meteorological
Society began publishing its annual investigations into weather extremes six
years ago, said Heidi Cullen, chief scientist at Climate Central, a news organization that focuses on climate science.
“In 2011, people were still of the mindset that you couldn’t attribute any individual event to climate change,” Dr.
Cullen said. “But with each subsequent
issue, people are able to say that climate
change really is increasing the risk” of
certain extremes occurring.
Crucially, however, the journal does
not explicitly set out to prove links between specific weather extremes and
global warming. Instead, the editors accept proposals to investigate certain
weather events before the results are
known, in order to minimize publication
In some cases, scientists either ruled
out or could not find a significant role for
climate change, effectively arguing that
a given weather extreme could just as
likely have occurred in a world without
global warming. That was true of
Brazil’s brutal drought, which was
largely influenced by El Niño, as well as
a major snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic
United States.
“A few events from this past year
were judged to have been of such a magnitude that they would not have been
possible in the climate of a few hundred
years ago,” said Martin P. Hoerling, a
meteorologist at NOAA who edited the
collection. But, he added, “not everything is being made demonstrably more
severe because of climate change.”
In the future, scientists are hoping to
refine and standardize their attribution
methods, so that a community hit by a
storm, wildfire or other extreme event
can learn much more quickly how that
event might have been swayed by global
warming — and take steps to adapt.
Fossil found of a very old, tall penguin
The 57 million-year-old fossil is both
fearsome and comical: a long-beaked
penguin that stood 5 feet 7 inches tall
and weighed about 220 pounds.
“It was as tall as a medium-sized
man,” said Gerald Mayr, a paleontologist at the Senckenberg Research
Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, and
lead author of a report in Nature Communications on Dec. 12 that announced
the discovery.
By comparison, the tallest living
species, the emperor penguin, reaches
about four feet in height. Kumimanu
biceae, as the fossil was named, would
have towered above the emperor, and
above just about all other known ancient penguins.
Kumimanu wasn’t just exceptionally
big; it also ranks among the oldest
penguin fossils yet found. Both its age
and its size make Kumimanu important to understanding the astonishing
transformation that turned a lineage of
flying birds into flightless swimmers.
The 18 modern species of penguin,
ranging from the coast of Antarctica to
the Galápagos Islands at the Equator,
are impressively adapted to aquatic
life. Rigid, blade-shaped wings enable
them to shoot through the water at up
to 22 miles an hour, nearly four times
faster than the fastest human.
But their adaptations to water have
also left them unable to fly. When
penguins haul out to rest or rear their
young, they can only waddle about on
stumpy legs. “They’re so unbirdlike
that many people would not know they
are birds,” Dr. Mayr said.
While penguins may look profoundly
different from other birds, their DNA
points to a close kinship to such
species as albatrosses and petrels.
These birds all fly over water to hunt
for prey, hinting that the ancestors of
penguins may have, too.
The Kumimanu biceae had a beak like a stork’s that probably was used to spear prey.
Auks, which can dive over a hundred
feet underwater, may be a living model
of the first penguins.
Birds accumulate mutations in their
DNA at a roughly clocklike rate, allowing scientists to estimate when their
lineages branched apart. Studies suggest that penguins diverged around
the time mass extinction struck the
planet about 66 million years ago.
A combination of massive volcanic
eruptions and an asteroid impact are
believed to have been responsible for
the global catastrophe. Among the
victims were giant marine reptiles and
dinosaurs (with the exception of birds,
which are feathered dinosaurs). The
mass extinctions marked the end of the
Mesozoic Era and the beginning of the
Cenozoic, which continues today.
The first penguin fossils were uncovered in 1859, and since then more than
50 species have been identified. The
oldest of these, found in New Zealand,
date back about 60 million years.
Known as Waimanu, the oldest known
penguins lived just a few million years
after the mass extinctions.
The new fossil penguin, Kumimanu,
was discovered from bones packed in a
rock on a New Zealand beach. Realizing that it was almost as old as
Waimanu, Dr. Mayr and his colleagues
eagerly studied Kumimanu for a better
picture of early penguin evolution.
To see how it was related to other
species, the scientists drew an evolutionary tree and found that Kumimanu
and Waimanu belonged to its farthest
branches. Their lineages have been
extinct for tens of millions of years.
By contrast, all living penguins
belong to a young branch of the tree.
They share a common ancestor that
lived only about 15 million years ago.
Kumimanu and Waimanu were
already flightless, but they still held
onto some primitive traits not found in
living penguins.
“Their beak looked much more like a
stork’s,” Dr. Mayr said. “Probably they
speared their prey.”
The early penguin wing was not yet
the short, stiff blade found on living
penguins. “They were probably able to
bend it a little farther than penguins
can today,” Dr. Mayr said. “There was
more possibility for flexing.”
Waimanu and Kumimanu differ in
height, though. Waimanu stood just
two and a half feet high.
“We already knew penguins were
around, and flightless, just a few million years after the extinction,” said
Daniel T. Ksepka, a paleontologist at
the Bruce Museum in Greenwich,
Conn., who was not involved in the
new study. “The new fossil shows they
achieved immense sizes very rapidly
as well, which is cool.”
Dr. Mayr speculates that the dramatic origin of penguins was sparked
by the mass extinctions that marked
the dawn of the Cenozoic. Suddenly the
oceans were emptied of many of their
biggest predators. Penguins could
adapt to catching prey underwater
without much competition, or fear.
One way to test that hypothesis
would be to uncover earlier fossils.
“What would be cool would be to have
a flying ancestor of penguins,” Dr.
Mayr said.
The early Cenozoic oceans didn’t just
open up the way for the evolution of
flightless aquatic birds, Dr. Mayr speculated. It may have fostered the evolution to big sizes. Natural selection
favors lightweight flying birds because
they have to work hard to stay aloft.
Penguins don’t pay that cost. Getting
bigger might have advantages, like
making it harder to be killed as prey.
The tree drawn by Dr. Mayr and his
colleagues also shows that penguins
became giants many times over. While
Kumimanu belonged to an early lineage of big penguins, other lineages
produced their own giants as recently
as 27 million years ago.
The rise of marine mammals may
have doomed giant penguins. As mammals moved into the oceans and
evolved into whales and seals, they
may have outcompeted the birds.
Both seals and penguins need to find
safe beaches where they can mate and
raise their young, for example. Seals
possibly pushed the giant penguins
out, while smaller penguins survived.
Real value
of Bitcoin?
Don’t ask.
Economic View
Puerto Rico’s next crisis: Foreclosures
Tens of thousands
face losing their homes
in mortgage meltdown
R O B E R T J. S H I L L E R
Dabbling in Bitcoin lies somewhere
between gambling and investing.
After all, true investing requires a
rational appraisal of an asset’s value,
and that is simply not possible at
present with Bitcoin. Real understanding of the economic issues underlying
the cryptocurrency is almost nonexistent.
It is not just that very few people
really comprehend the technology
behind Bitcoin. It is that no one can
attach objective probabilities to the
various possible outcomes of the current Bitcoin enthusiasm.
How can we even start estimating
the fundamental value of Bitcoin, with
its astonishing market value of more
than $275 billion? Any attempt would
soon sound silly.
Let’s try for a moment. It is possible
to imagine a future in which Bitcoin
replaces some fraction of money as we
know it today. Suppose that happens
Bitcoin is
soon. Note that one
more volatile
measure of the
United States money
supply, M1, is today
money, and
worth more than $3.6
trillion. But don’t get
relatively few
too excited.
trust it as a
Could Bitcoin
store of value.
really replace a large
fraction of conventional money? There
are reasons to be skeptical. Bitcoin is
vastly more volatile than conventional
money, and relatively few people trust
it as a store of value. Even if that hurdle is crossed, how much cryptocurrency would people need?
Putting it in economic terms, could
the demand for Bitcoin have the same
velocity as the demand for money?
Would there be the same number of
hoarders? And what about all the other
cryptocurrencies that exist today, and
those that may arise in the future?
Bitcoin might well be replaced by
something different and better, and
end up being worth nothing at all.
I won’t go further down this road.
Many people are making analogous
attempts to put a fundamental value on
Bitcoin — but such efforts are intrinsically and absurdly inaccurate. The
results of an attempt to assess Bitcoin
value can only be ambiguous.
Ambiguity in economics is an important and developing subject.
Many academic economists still
embrace the efficient markets theory,
which states that markets generally
respond accurately to genuine new
information about fundamentals, and
react only to such information. But
Bitcoin is an example of ambiguity, and
the efficient market theory does not
capture what is going on in the market
for this cryptocurrency. There has not
been enough genuine new information
coming in day after day to rationally
justify Bitcoin’s huge price swings.
Something else is afoot.
One narrative that seeks to explain
the price increases this year is that
Puerto Rico has had an awful decade —
and it’s about to get worse.
First came a brutal 10-year recession
and financial crisis that drove businesses from the island and left 44 percent of the population impoverished.
Then, in September, Hurricane Maria, a
powerful Category 4 storm, shredded
buildings, wrecked the electrical power
grid and possibly led to more than 1,000
Now Puerto Rico is bracing for another blow: a housing meltdown that
could far surpass the worst of the foreclosure crises that devastated Phoenix,
Las Vegas, Southern California and
South Florida in the past decade. If the
current numbers hold, Puerto Rico is
headed for a foreclosure epidemic that
could rival what happened in Detroit,
where abandoned homes became almost as plentiful as occupied ones.
About one-third of the island’s 425,000
homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments to banks and Wall Street
firms that previously bought up distressed mortgages. Tens of thousands
have not made payments for months.
Some 90,000 borrowers became delinquent as a consequence of Hurricane
Maria, according to Black Knight Inc., a
data firm formerly known as Black
Knight Financial Services.
Puerto Rico’s 35 percent foreclosure
and delinquency rate is more than double the 14.4 percent rate in the United
States during the depths of the housing
implosion in January 2010. And there is
no prospect of the problem’s solving itself or quickly.
“If there is no income, the people cannot make payments,” said Ricardo Ramos-González, coordinator of a consumer legal aid clinic at the University
of Puerto Rico School of Law. “Thousands have lost their jobs, thousands of
small business have closed, and thousands more have left the country.”
Residents won a reprieve when the
United States government imposed a
temporary moratorium on foreclosures,
which stopped banks and investors that
bought mortgages at cut-rate prices
from evicting delinquent borrowers or
starting new foreclosures. Many lenders also have agreed to waive missed
payments during the moratorium.
But that moratorium is scheduled to
expire in early 2018, and lawyers and
housing counselors expect that to unleash a surge in foreclosures.
“We will see an avalanche of cases,”
said Josue Castellanos-Otero, a lawyer,
who said many of his housing clients
were focused on getting insurance companies to pay to fix their damaged
Repairing the housing market in
Puerto Rico will take more than rebuilding storm-damaged homes and the electrical grid. It will involve banks and investors reworking tens of thousands of
troubled mortgages and waiving missed
payments. The looming housing crisis
threatens to upend the social structure
on the island and means the aftereffects
of the storm will be felt for years to
come. It could be particularly painful for
the elderly, who often have limited incomes and whose homes tend to be their
most valuable assets.
Even before the storm, Puerto Rico
Clearing rubble in San Juan, P.R., after Hurricane Maria. A federal moratorium on housing foreclosures after the storm is due to expire in early 2018.
was mired in a severe housing slump.
Home prices over the past decade have
fallen 25 percent, and lenders have foreclosed or filed to foreclose on 60,000
home loans, according to the Puerto
Rico state court system. Last year, there
were 7,682 court-ordered foreclosures —
a roughly 33 percent increase from 2007.
Some 13,000 foreclosure cases are pending, Black Knight estimates.
And that is how Wall Street got into
the mix.
In the past several years, a slew of bargain-hunting banks, hedge funds and
other financial institutions descended
on Puerto Rico to scoop up distressed
residential mortgages and foreclosed
homes. The list includes big investment
banks like Credit Suisse and Goldman
Sachs and smaller boutiques including
Perella Weinberg and an affiliate of the
private-equity firm TPG Capital, which
is an investor in a Cayman Islands mortgage investment company.
The recent devastation is likely to further depress housing prices. That’s
partly because the “mass exodus” of
Puerto Ricans going to the continental
United States means the demand for
housing “has gone down substantially,”
said Laurie Goodman, a co-director of
the Urban Institute’s Housing Finance
Policy Center.
If normal patterns held, that would be
bad news for the investment firms that
gambled on Puerto Rico’s housing market. But normal patterns don’t necessarily apply here, given that some mortgages are guaranteed by a federal insur-
Amelia Báez and José González-López in their home in Bayamón, P.R. Finance of America Reverse has tried to foreclose on it three times.
ance fund. Consider the Blackstone
Group, the big private equity firm.
Blackstone owns a company, Finance of
America Reverse, that specializes in a
type of home loan called a reverse mortgage, which is guaranteed by the United
States government.
The loans are a way for people 62 or
older to tap the equity they have built up
in their homes; the principal and interest are payable when the borrower dies.
The loans require borrowers to keep
paying taxes and homeowner’s insurance on a property. Reverse mortgages
have a history of abuse. Lenders often
don’t fully explain the loans’ terms.
There are 10,000 reverse mortgages in
Puerto Rico, and Finance of America
controls about 40 percent of the market,
according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the government
insurance fund that guarantees a lender
will be repaid on a reverse mortgage.
If Finance of America sells a foreclosed home for less than the value of
the mortgage, the firm can make a claim
to the insurance fund to make up the difference. In that case, American taxpayers would be on the hook
Court records show that the Blackstone-controlled company is aggressive
in its pursuit of — and foreclosures on —
borrowers. Since 2015, Finance of America and a predecessor firm have filed 500
foreclosures in federal court.
José González-López “feels harassed” after Finance of America initiated a foreclosure case against him for the
third time in two years, according to his
lawyer, Juan Carlos Cancio-Reichard.
He said the first two cases had been dismissed after the lender incorrectly
claimed Mr. González-López, 73, had not
paid for homeowner’s insurance on the
property. Now Finance of America has
claimed Mr. González-López did not pay
property taxes on the house — something the borrower disputes. Mr. CancioReichard said his client had recently
gotten the Puerto Rico Treasury Department to certify there were no unpaid taxes on his account. The lawyer is
asking Finance of America’s lawyer to
voluntarily dismiss the case.
“José thinks they want to get him out
of the house,” Mr. Cancio-Reichard said.
Sara Sefcovic, a Finance of America
spokeswoman, said the firm could not
speak about specific cases, but “foreclosure is a last resort for our company.”
She added that the firm is “required to
follow federal guidelines for this program and have virtually no discretion
over whether or not to initiate a foreclosure proceeding.” To file a foreclosure
for any reason other than the death of
the borrower, a reverse mortgage lender
must get approval from an outside mortgage-servicing firm working for the DeMORTGAGES, PAGE 12
China unveils emissions-trading plan for its energy sector
China is the world’s No. 1 polluter. It
burns more coal than the rest of the
world combined. It produces more than
a quarter of the world’s human-caused
global warming gases, nearly as much
as North America and Europe put together.
On Tuesday, China set out to claim another title that reflects its ambitions to
change all that: keeper of the world’s
largest financial market devoted to
cleaning up the air.
China released plans on Tuesday to
start a giant market to trade credits for
the right to emit planet-warming greenhouse gases in the next couple of years.
The nationwide market would initially
cover only China’s vast, state-dominated power generation sector, which
produced almost half of the country’s
emissions from the burning of fossil fuels last year.
The long-awaited announcement
could give global efforts to combat climate change a lift after President
Trump signaled this year that the
United States would back away from
Obama-era vows to curb emissions. It
could also serve as a big — though ultimately government-controlled — laboratory for such carbon markets, after
earlier efforts in Europe and at the local
level in China stumbled.
“China’s move to create the world’s
largest carbon market is yet another
powerful sign that a global sustainabili-
Pollution in Shanghai last year. The Chinese public has grown increasingly worried
about environmental issues like smog, water quality and soil pollution.
ty revolution is underway,” Al Gore, the
former United States vice president and
a prominent climate change advocate,
said in a statement.
China’s announcement could disappoint those who were hoping the longpromised emissions market would
cover the country’s broader economy,
the world’s second-largest, after the
United States. China’s booming car culture, its industrializing agriculture sector and its huge chemical complexes, cement factories and steel mills are also
big emitters.
Still, environmental groups welcomed the move. Nathaniel Keohane,
vice president for global climate at the
Environmental Defense Fund, said the
market for power-sector emissions
alone would cover 3.3 billion metric tons
of annual carbon dioxide releases. The
European Union’s trading system covers about two billion tons of emissions.
“This is like the Mount Everest of climate policy,” Mr. Keohane said. “It’s an
incredibly ambitious undertaking.”
China is reacting to pressure at home
and abroad to clean up its act. Rising sea
levels would devastate its heavily populated coast. The Chinese public has
grown increasingly worried about
broader environmental issues like urban smog, water quality and soil pollution. China has invested heavily in green
technologies such as electric cars, wind
turbines and solar panels.
China’s emissions of greenhouse
gases from the burning of fossil fuels like
oil, coal and natural gas have nearly tripled since 2000, according to data from
the International Energy Agency in
Paris. The high tonnage partly reflects
its huge population; Chinese emissions
per person are still somewhat less than
the average per capita figure in the
United States, although the gap has
been narrowing.
If it works as intended, an emissions
market will give Chinese power companies a financial incentive to operate
more cleanly. Under such markets,
power companies and others effectively
pay for the right to pollute beyond a government-mandated limit. Those that cut
their emissions could sell dirtier companies permits to pollute, ideally at a
healthy price.
So far, emissions markets have been
underwhelming. Efforts in Europe and
at the provincial level in China faltered
because the authorities issued too many
credits to existing polluters. That gave
companies little reason to buy credits, or
to cut their own emissions and sell the
Zou Ji, the president of the China arm
of the Energy Foundation, one of several
Western nonprofit groups that advised
the Chinese government on the new
market, said that China was likely to issue many credits starting early next
year in response to domestic political
pressures, and then gradually tighten
annual allocations to force up the price.
Beijing officials had been signaling
for many months that the country would
move beyond its existing experimental
markets for emissions rights in five cities and two provinces. These provincial
programs cover a variety of sectors, including electricity generation, steel
mills, cement factories, chemical complexes and other energy-intensive industries. But the trading volume has
been very low, with just $400 million in
credits traded on all the exchanges com-
“It’s an incredibly ambitious
bined in the first four years through last
June, according to monitoring funded
by the World Bank.
The national market could face its
own political interference that could
hurt its chances of becoming a model for
others to follow. Electricity generation
in China from coal and natural gas is
dominated by five giant, state-controlled companies. A sixth runs the civilian nuclear power sector. Regardless of
effectiveness or economics, the companies will probably do what Beijing wants
them to do.
Beijing’s efforts sometimes go awry.
Just in the past few weeks, China has
had to retreat temporarily from an ambitious plan to cut coal use in some parts
of the country and rely more on natural
gas, which produces fewer emissions.
“I don’t take the carbon market seriously,” said Derek Scissors, an economist who specializes in China with the
American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group. “The first
thing I would ask people is, ‘What mar-
kets in China do you think work really
well?’ ”
The national emissions trading system being started in China will initially
cover power companies that emit at
least 26,000 tons a year of carbon — the
equivalent of burning 10,000 tons of coal
a year, and a threshold high enough to
cover mainly larger users of coal and natural gas. Experimental markets in the
seven original provinces and cities,
which other cities and provinces are
starting to replicate, will continue to
cover the cement and steel industries as
well as other manufacturing and industrial sectors, with the goal of eventually
moving them into the national market.
Beijing already regulates emissions
from China’s electricity sector. On the
other hand, having them trade with each
other might help the central government figure out more rules to regulate
trading in less regulated sectors, and
also to identify which companies are the
most efficient at reducing emissions.
The announcement comes as the
United States under Mr. Trump prepares to eliminate an Obama-era plan
for reducing America’s emissions. The
United States has also removed climate
change from its new national security
strategy and has vowed to abandon the
Paris agreement, under which nearly
200 nations pledged to curb greenhouse
gases voluntarily and help poor countries cope with the consequences of climate change.
Owen Guo in Beijing contributed research. Keith Bradsher reported from
Shanghai and Lisa Friedman from
Hurricane recovery, one boat at a time
Hundreds of vessels litter
the storm-ravaged shores
of the U.S. Virgin Islands
The wrecks lie half-sunk in marinas,
fully submerged in coves, tangled in
mangrove roots, tossed akilter against
trees, or piled atop one another, a jumble
of punctured hulls, snapped masts and
bent propellers.
The hurricanes that raged through
the United States Virgin Islands in September damaged or destroyed not only
thousands of buildings, but also hundreds of boats, from tiny sailboats to 50foot luxury yachts.
In a territory that is heavily dependent on tourism, where no spot is more
than three miles from the sea, boats are
as integral to the economy as the islands’ beaches and their now-battered
hotels. Boats are the livelihoods and
even the homes of many locals, and for
the mainlanders who leave their vessels
there year-round, they are a big reason
to spend time and money on the islands.
“Even if our boat had made it, we
would really be struggling, because the
customers aren’t here,” said Justin
Cofield, 34, an owner of St. John Yacht
Charters, whose 46-foot sailing sloop,
Survivan, was destroyed.
He and his partner, Ashley Coerdt,
had insurance on the boat, and they
want to use the money to buy another
one, “but it would not be a good business
move right now,” Mr. Cofield said. “The
timing depends on how fast St. John
bounces back, how fast the tourists
come back, and nobody knows the answers yet.”
Three months after the Category 5
Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the
islands, about half of the customers remain without electricity, and about onequarter of the territory still lacks cellphone service. Thousands of homes and
other buildings were damaged or destroyed; the total number is unknown,
but the Army Corps of Engineers has installed 3,600 temporary blue plastic
roofs, and 11,000 families have applied
for disaster assistance.
Among the many arduous tasks that
remain in their early stages are identifying the owners of lost boats, recovering
the vessels, salvaging those that can be
fixed and disposing of the rest.
The Coast Guard has identified 459
Lifting a damaged sailboat off St. Thomas, one of the United States Virgin Islands, this month. The Coast Guard has identified 459 boats that were left derelict.
boats in the United States Virgin Islands, population 106,000, that were left
derelict by the storms — more than in
nearby Puerto Rico, which has more
than 30 times as many residents.
That figure understates the true number of wrecks. The Army Corps of Engineers removed some early on because
they posed a threat to navigation, and
the Coast Guard is still finding more
In Benner Bay on St. Thomas and Coral Harbor on St. John, as many as 50
boats in each location lie thrown togeth-
er. “We don’t know what’s under there,”
said Cmdr. David J. Reinhard, the Coast
Guard officer directing the salvage operation.
“It’s very likely we’re going to find
many more,” he said.
Commercial vessels like Survivan
were required to have insurance, but
most of the boats owned for personal
use were uninsured.
“I couldn’t afford the insurance, and
neither could just about anyone I know,”
said Philip Faulkenberry, 57, who lived
alone on his 41-foot ketch rig sailboat,
Nugget 2. Hurricane Maria ripped it
from its moorings at Christiansted, on
St. Croix, and deposited it on a beach,
leaning against the roots of an upturned
tree. After the storm, he said, people
stripped it of anything of value.
The day before the hurricane hit, he
flew to Louisiana, where he grew up, for
temporary work in an oil refinery. Three
days later, the company that had hired
him sent him back to the Virgin Islands
to work on a damaged refinery there.
“When I got off the plane, I couldn’t
believe it — it looked like Hiroshima or
Nagasaki,” he said, referring to the Japanese cities hit by atomic bombs in
World War II. “There wasn’t a leaf on a
tree, not a blade of grass.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied his claim for housing assistance, he said, because the
storm took the paperwork he had that
showed that the boat was his home. So
for months, he has slept on an air mattress in a back room of the scooter store
and bar he owns.
He said his business, which was also
looted, had only liability insurance, so he
was not covered for damage or lost inventory. Like many people in the territory, he thinks about closing up shop and
relocating to the mainland.
“I think I’ll go work at least a few
months in the States to build up some
cash,” he said. “I plan to come back and I
want to come back, but honestly, I can’t
see how I can get back to where I was
FEMA’s mandate for responding to
disasters includes preventing or responding to hazardous material spills;
that means recovering boats, which often have fuel, oil, batteries and other pollutants aboard. Boat salvage is delegated to the state or local environmental
agency — in this case, the Virgin Islands’ Department of Planning and Natural Resources — and the Coast Guard.
The costs are covered by a federal grant.
“We raise them, clean them, take all
the potential hazards off, and return
them to their owners when we can,” said
Chief David Mosley, a spokesman for
the Coast Guard operation. “They range
from being in pretty good condition to
total losses.”
About 100 people have been engaged
in the effort, Commander Reinhard said,
and it has been slow going.
Fewer than one-third of the boats
have been recovered so far — primarily
by the Coast Guard, but also by boat
owners and their insurers — and many
of the recovered boats were damaged so
badly that the owners declined to take
them back.
One of the first and most difficult jobs
has been finding those owners. The
Coast Guard has located only about 60
percent of them despite extensive public
outreach, including through ads on radio, television and websites, and simply
having personnel walk through marinas, talking with people.
Some owners have been reluctant to
step forward because they expect to be
charged for the salvage, or because they
are unsure what to do with their property once they get it back. Others live on
the mainland or in other countries.
Private contractors do most of the recovery of damaged or sunken boats, using barges with cranes or scuba divers
who attach pontoons and inflatable
airbags to wrecks.
The work is expected to take months.
The limited number of qualified contractors are stretched thin, with thousands
of storm-tossed boats needing to be recovered along the coasts of Florida,
Texas and numerous Caribbean islands.
What’s stalling mass production of electric cars
“We are already in touch with some
battery makers,” Richard Pavlik, manager of a European Metals subsidiary
overseeing the work in Cinovec, said as
he watched the drilling crew.
Despite a tiny market share,
automakers are betting
billions on their success
On the slope of a thickly forested Czech
mountain, three men in hard hats and
mud-spattered fluorescent vests dig for
the metal that could power a new industrial revolution.
They watch carefully as a mobile rig,
mounted on tank treads, hammers and
spins a drill bit hundreds of yards into
the bedrock. Water gushes from the
bore as the bit punctures an underground spring.
The men are prospecting for new
sources of lithium, a raw material now
found primarily in China and Chile that
could become as important to the auto
industry as oil is now.
Faster than anyone expected, electric
cars are becoming as economical and
practical as cars with conventional engines. Prices for lithium-ion batteries
are plummeting, while technical advances are increasing driving ranges
and cutting recharging times.
“Once the trend gets going, it can happen very fast,” said Guido Jouret, chief
digital officer at ABB, an electronics
company based in Zurich whose businesses include constructing charging
But this electric-car future is still
missing some pieces. Some crucial raw
materials are scarce. There are not
enough places to recharge. Batterypowered cars still cost thousands of dollars more than many gasoline vehicles.
Car companies are racing to overcome these obstacles. They, and the millions of people they employ, risk becoming irrelevant.
“Many people are nervous about how
fast this is coming and how much they
have to invest,” said Norbert Dressler, a
senior partner at Roland Berger in
Stuttgart, Germany, who advises the
auto industry.
Here’s a look at what needs to happen
before electric cars take over the world.
• Price of an electric car powertrain:
• Price of a conventional car powertrain: $6,000
Electric cars will go mainstream when
• Average range of a gasoline-powered
car: 475 miles
• Average range of an electric vehicle:
190 miles
A battery factory at a Daimler subsidiary. Carmakers are racing to secure steady and affordable supplies of resources for batteries.
the cost of the motor and other components that make the car go forward —
the so-called powertrain — is the same
as or less than that of a car that burns
gasoline or diesel. How soon that day arrives is almost solely a function of the
price of batteries.
Battery prices, measured by the
power they produce, have already fallen
by more than half since 2011, according
to analysts at Bank of America Merrill
Lynch. The unexpectedly rapid drop in
prices has sped up the timetable.
Merrill Lynch analysts now expect
electric vehicles will be cheaper to own
in the United States by 2024. A year ago,
they estimated it would take until 2030.
One reason battery costs are falling is
that manufacturers are ramping up production. The greater the supply, the
lower the price.
Car companies like Daimler are getting into the battery business. Daimler
has invested $590 million in a new battery plant in Kamenz, a city in a rural
part of eastern Germany.
“This is an important investment in
the future,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of
Germany told Daimler executives and
other dignitaries at a groundbreaking in
May. Within a few months, workers had
erected prefabricated concrete walls for
the enormous new building and assembled the roof girders.
• Price of cobalt: Up 115 percent this
• Price of lithium: Up 45 percent
• Price of graphite: Up 30 percent
Carmakers are racing to secure ingredients like cobalt, lithium and graphite
that are essential to batteries. They
need to avoid shortages that would
drive prices too high, making electric
vehicles unaffordable.
But manufacturers are also dealing
with a geopolitical dimension. Threequarters of the world’s reserves of
lithium, a crucial ingredient in the most
common kind of electric car battery, are
in China and Chile, according to the
United States Geological Survey. As demand surges, China could deploy its natural resources as a diplomatic cudgel
the same way that Saudi Arabia uses oil.
The risk that a few countries could
control most of the ingredients for electric car batteries is what spurred the
drilling crew to the mountainside in
Cinovec in the Czech Republic. As early
as the 1300s, miners dug tin — “cin” in
Czech — from the mountains around the
town. Later, the area was an important
source of tungsten, but the last shaft
closed in 1993. Demand for lithium has
made mining there attractive again.
European Metals Holdings, an Australian company, is drilling into the bedrock and hauling out core samples to
map deposits. The company plans to
complete a feasibility study next year
and begin mining and processing the ore
in Cinovec soon after.
Even when people can buy an electric
car for the same price or less than a gasoline model, they face another problem:
where to plug it in. And they won’t want
to wait all day for the car to recharge.
Electric cars will become commonplace once there is a dense network of
high-voltage charging stations where
drivers can refill their batteries in the
time it takes to use the restroom and
drink a cup of coffee.
At the moment, a cross-country drive
in an electric car is an adventure.
But an array of start-ups and established companies like ABB are busy installing charging stations around the
world, and they are on their way to becoming commonplace.
There are already about 16,000 public
charging stations in the United States,
up from a few hundred in 2010. That
compares with about 112,000 gas stations.
Volkswagen’s emissions scandal has
accelerated the rollout. As part of its settlement with diesel owners in the United
States who bought cars with illegal software, Volkswagen agreed to spend $2
billion to promote electric cars and build
infrastructure. Electrify America, a
company established to invest the settlement money, plans to install more
than 2,000 fast chargers nationwide by
mid-2019, with thousands more to follow.
• Time from 0 to 60 m.p.h., Audi A8: 4
• Time from 0 to 60 m.p.h., Tesla Model
S: 2.3 seconds
One of the biggest barriers for electric
vehicles is psychological. People are
used to internal combustion engines
and the sensations that go with them —
the odor of the fuel, the shifting of the
transmission, the sound of the engine as
the car accelerates.
Electric cars have a different personality that people need to get their heads
around before they will buy one.
They may be pleasantly surprised.
The physics of electric motors give them
exceptional acceleration. A $135,000
Tesla Model S clocked by Motor Trend
magazine went from zero to 60 miles per
hour faster than Ferraris, Lamborghinis
or Porsches costing hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
Electric cars are quiet and nearly vibration free and don’t smell like gasoline
or exhaust. They don’t need oil changes.
They cost less to operate — about 1 cent
per mile compared to 10 cents per mile
for a gasoline-powered car. Electric cars
hug the road because heavy battery
packs, typically arrayed underneath the
passenger compartment, provide low
centers of gravity and high stability.
“There is no question that an electric
car gives you significantly better performance,” Edwin Stafford, a professor
of marketing at Utah State University,
said. “I don’t think the mainstream
driver is going to understand that unless
they experience it.”
• Carmakers’ investment in electric vehicles: $100 billion by 2020
• Carmakers’ annual profit: $400 billion
The industry is racing to invest in the future, as electric cars portend sweeping
economic and societal changes. The
transition will be painful for traditional
carmakers and suppliers, potentially
even catastrophic.
Electric cars have about 25 percent
fewer parts than conventional autos.
Companies that make engine parts like
pistons, fuel injection systems and
spark plugs will have to find new products to sell, or die. Some workers’ skills
will no longer be needed.
Governments will lose fuel tax revenues. Filling stations and auto repair
shops will go out of business. To compete with Tesla, which allows customers
to buy cars online, car companies will
have to radically streamline their dealership networks.
“The cake will be smaller,” said Volkmar Denner, the chief executive of
Bosch, the auto parts maker.
Big car companies recognize the
threat and say they can deploy their
enormous manufacturing networks to
build electric vehicles faster than Tesla,
which has struggled to meet demand.
“We won’t have a problem building
one million cars,” said Herbert Diess,
chief executive of the division that
makes Volkswagen-brand cars.
Puerto Rico
is facing
a crush of
partment of Housing and Urban Development. Over the past three years, the
agency has given more than 1,500 such
approvals to reverse mortgage lenders
in Puerto Rico.
Many offshore lenders like Finance of
America file foreclosure lawsuits in
United States District Court In San
Juan, P.R., where proceedings move
much faster than in the island’s territorial courts.
It’s not just speed. In federal court, all
legal filings are in English. In local court,
they are in Spanish. Not being able to
read legal filings puts defendants at a
“Sometimes people don’t show up in
federal court because they don’t even
know they have been sued,” said Carmen Cosme, a housing counselor.
Ms. Sefcovic said Finance of America
“will provide documents for borrowers
in Spanish to the extent allowed by
H.U.D. and the law,” referring to the
American housing agency.
The moratorium imposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the more than 117,000 mortgages it insures in Puerto Rico, such as
the reverse mortgage on Mr. GonzálezLópez’s home, will expire on March 18. A
Legal filings in English put
defendants at a disadvantage.
moratorium on mortgages backed by
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage finance
giant, is due to expire on Dec. 31, although it is likely to be extended for a
few months.
Others continue to battle Finance of
America in court despite the moratorium. Leila Hernández Umpierre said her
parents, both in their 80s, were being
sued for a second time by Finance of
America. Ms. Hernández Umpierre, a
lawyer, said that her parents, who
bought their house in Bayamón, P.R., in
1958, had been living without electrical
power since the storm hit and that the
stress of the looming foreclosure was
adding to their anxiety.
“My father and mother don’t have
much money, as do many older people in
Puerto Rico,” said Ms. Hernández
Umpierre, who spoke on behalf of her
parents, Minerva Umpierre Vazquez
and Jorge Hernández Rodríguez. “My
father doesn’t want to talk about it. It is
very stressful for him.”
Finance of America, in court papers,
said the foreclosure was warranted because the couple had failed to pay for
homeowner’s insurance.
But the couple’s lawyer, Jorge A. Fernández-Reboredo, said there was proof
the insurance was paid. When the lender raised a similar claim in a 2015 foreclosure lawsuit, a federal judge dismissed the case, noting that Finance of
America’s “complaint fails to sufficiently specify grounds on which plaintiff seeks to initiate foreclosure.”
“They are being pretty aggressive,”
Mr. Fernández-Reboredo said.
International Funds
For information please contact Roxane Spencer
For online listings and past performance visit:
Tel.: +41 61 205 70 00
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Value of Bitcoin? Don’t ask.
they have something to do with the
difficulty of betting against — making
short sales of — Bitcoin. Absent the
opportunity to engage in short sales,
“smart money” can only watch from
the sidelines while prices soar. Or so
the efficient market theory claims.
But pessimistic investors hoping to
profit from a Bitcoin price fall actually
have had the opportunity to make
negative investments. Bitcoin exchanges such as Bitfinex allow shorting of Bitcoins, and it is possible to
short Bitcoin-linked exchange-traded
notes on online brokerages like the
Bitcoin Investment Trust, GBTC. Both
of these options suffer from lack of
liquidity and of trust in these new
institutions; GBTC has not tracked
Bitcoin prices accurately, for example.
Still, if enough people had managed to
take a short position, that might have
helped to limit the increases in Bitcoin
prices that we have seen.
It is possible that the Bitcoin market
will change in a meaningful way now,
given the decision of Cboe, the Chicago
Board Options Exchange, to start a
Bitcoin futures market on Dec. 10 and
of the CME Group to do so on Monday.
The academic literature tells us that
volatility of an underlying asset often
falls after the establishment of new
futures markets for it. But the ability to
short an asset more easily won’t necessarily overcome the power of investor
In 1936, John Maynard Keynes suggested why. He played down the role of
quantitative analysis and probability
estimates in human thinking of the
assessment of ambiguous future
events. People in such situations are
vulnerable to a play of emotions and at
times a “spontaneous urge to action”
that he called “animal spirits.” He
argued that much of what happens in
financial markets has to do with people
learning, from price movements, about
each other’s animal spirits.
I believe that Mr. Keynes was correct about animal spirits in general
and how they affect markets like the
one for Bitcoin. George Akerlof and I
expanded on his perspective in our
2009 book ‘‘Animal Spirits,’’ which
argued that the driving force behind
human enterprise cannot be reduced to
the rational optimization emphasized
by traditional economics. Darwinian
evolution produced a human species
whose behavior sometimes seems to
be emotionally driven.
Neuroscientists, psychologists and
economists are leading us toward new
models of human decision-making.
They may help to explain phenomena
like the Bitcoin price rise.
Scott Huettel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, and other researchers showed in
2006, for example, that when making
decisions involving ambiguity, people
do not use the parts of the brain required for calculations of probabilities
and expected values. And the economists Anat Bracha of the Boston Federal Reserve and Donald Brown of Yale
University have provided an alterna-
tive to conventional economic theory of
human behavior under uncertainty.
They define a different kind of rationality — one based on Mr. Keynes’ views,
not on calculations of utility — in ambiguous situations.
Furthermore, a paper by neuroscientists including Benjamin Lu that was
presented at the Society for Neuroeconomics annual convention in Toronto
in October, showed that psychologi-
cally stressful experiences can result
in changes in neurological processes
when ambiguous situations arise.
In short, the Bitcoin market is a
marvelous case study in ambiguity and
animal spirits. It is providing invaluable information about how millions of
human brains process stimuli coming,
in this case, from public acceptance,
imagination and innovation surrounding cryptocurrencies.
This is fascinating from a psychological and neurological perspective. But
it isn’t grounded in solid economics. No
wonder the Bitcoin market has been so
Robert J. Shiller, Sterling Professor of
Economics at Yale, is an adviser to the
Chicago Mercantile Exchange, part of
the CME Group. These are his views,
not those of the exchange.
Ally of the ‘little guy’ in words, but not in actions
Instead of tearing down
establishment, Trump has
propped it up, critics say
President Trump rarely misses a chance
to offer himself up as the champion of
“forgotten” Americans, men and women
who feel ignored or derided by elites and
believe, as he frequently says, that the
“system is rigged” against them.
“You will never be ignored again,” he
said this month at a campaign-style
rally in Pensacola, Fla., a phrase that became the banner headline the next
morning in the local newspaper.
But this week, the president hopes to
sign with great fanfare a tax bill that
would deliver its largest benefits, not
only in dollar terms but also as a percentage increase in income, to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. His
own family stands to gain from tax
breaks maintained or extended for corporate real estate ventures, and his
heirs have reason to celebrate the doubling of the exemption from estate
taxes: Under the bill, the Trump children and grandchildren could inherit
$22 million tax free, though they would
have benefited more from a cut in the estate tax rate or an abolition of the tax altogether.
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Mr. Trump’s
pick as chairman, Ajit Pai, reversed the
Obama-era policy known as net neutrality, over the objections of consumer
groups and owners of small internet
businesses, who fear that without the
protection, giant internet service
providers like Comcast and Verizon will
charge internet companies for offering
“fast-lane” speeds and slow down the
content of companies that do not pay or
even block them. Consumers could be
charged variable rates for internet access, depending on which websites they
In the coming weeks, the Education
Department plans to roll back protections for college graduates saddled with
student debt from sham for-profit universities. And in the opening months of
his presidency, Mr. Trump signed congressional resolutions permanently reversing rules that would have required
companies seeking significant federal
contracts to disclose violations of labor
standards, and would have required oil,
gas and mining companies to disclose
President Trump at a rally this month in Pensacola, Fla. He knows his audience and
almost always returns to the theme of being the guardian of the working class.
payments made to foreign governments
in exchange for access to drilling or mining rights.
By reversing one rule, the administration impeded states from establishing
retirement programs for private-sector
workers whose employers do not offer a
retirement plan. Another rule that was
eliminated would have required retirement planners to agree that financial
advice had the client’s best interest at
heart, not the investment company’s.
While Mr. Trump’s insurgent populist
message helped send him to the White
House, he has yet to fulfill his promise to
storm the castle of the establishment. In
fact, in many ways he has helped prop it
“If you want to call yourself a populist,
you better be ready to stick up for the
little guy, whether she punches a time
sheet or swipes a badge, makes a salary
or earns tips, whether he works behind a
desk, on a factory floor, or behind a
restaurant counter,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. “Because
populism is for the people — not these
people, or those people, but all people.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White
House press secretary, pushed back on
the criticism, pointing to economic gains
in the last year as evidence that Mr.
Trump had helped ordinary Americans.
“It’s been a great year for the American economy and the American labor
that powers it, with pensions up 39 percent and nearly 160,000 manufacturing
jobs added since the president took office,” she said.
“President Trump has been focused
on the American worker since the very
first days of his administration, during
which he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, signed an executive
order promoting domestic manufacturing in pipeline construction and stopped
the previous administration’s job-killing
regulatory overreach in its tracks.”
And the views of Mr. Trump among
his stalwart supporters are not likely to
be altered by in-the-weeds regulatory
rollbacks, or even tax breaks that benefit the wealthy. Kathleen Hall Jamieson,
the director of the Annenberg Public
Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said that while “elites” in
places like Washington might find dissonance between what Mr. Trump says
and does, his supporters are most likely
viewing him primarily through the lens
of a steadily improving economy.
“There’s a difference between the
world that elites live in, the world in
which they pay close attention to news
and are highly attuned to the political
discussion, and the rest of the country,”
she said. “The Trump voter is going to
be saying: ‘When I see my paycheck,
am I going to see more money or less
money in it? Are my neighbors employed or unemployed? Are my children
getting jobs?’ ”
They will not, she said, be debating
the nuances of net neutrality or the arcana of the tax code.
The tax bill could ultimately make a
political difference. Millions of middleclass taxpayers are likely to see their
taxes go up, though the typical middleclass taxpayer would see a tax cut next
year. And the structure of the tax cut
tends to favor owners of businesses over
drawers of paychecks. While the tax
cuts for corporations would be permanent, those for individuals carry an expiration date. Special interests preserved
numerous tax breaks and carved out
new ones.
Mr. Trump continues to say that the
bill would hurt the wealthy and offer an
enormous lift to ordinary Americans,
writing on Twitter on Sunday: “As a candidate, I promised we would pass a massive TAX CUT for the everyday working
American families who are the backbone and the heartbeat of our country.
Now, we are just days away.”
If economic growth, buoyed by the
corporate tax cut, does show up in workers’ paychecks, he could be vindicated.
If not, a tax cut that polling indicates is
already unpopular might become even
more so.
Other elements of Mr. Trump’s economic message may also be subject to
reality checks. The president has often
talked of how he loves “clean, beautiful
coal” and the miners who unearth it,
pointing to them as a ready exemplar of
his working-class sympathies. “I’m going to put the miners back to work,” he
said last year in Charleston, W.Va., before donning a hard hat.
Mr. Trump said this year that his effort to revive the industry by clearing
away regulations had helped produce
45,000 mining jobs. But the Labor Department reported in November that
the country had gained just 1,500 coal
mining jobs over the previous year, after
losing tens of thousands in recent years.
Just a week ago, an official for the
United Mine Workers union said 260
workers would lose their jobs at a mine
in northern West Virginia.
On Thursday, Mr. Trump congratulated the billionaire Rupert Murdoch on
his deal to sell most of 21st Century Fox
to the Walt Disney Company. While it
will be a financial boon to Mr. Murdoch,
analysts say the deal could lead to hundreds of job losses.
The same day, the president showcased what he called the “most farreaching regulatory reform” in American history. His deregulatory efforts
have been cheered by businesses, and
economic indicators have shown increased business confidence, but environmental groups and consumer advocates say the rollback has left Americans with fewer protections.
Being the champion of the “little guy”
is a staple of presidential rhetoric, and
wealthy occupants of the Oval Office like
Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy have used it to great effect. But Mr.
Trump has taken it to a new level, and
Democrats have been quick to note that
there is little in his background to suggest any basis for empathy for those
who live paycheck to paycheck.
“Unfortunately, all too often the president has broken the promises he made
to Ohio workers on the campaign and
thrown in with Mitch McConnell to cut
back-room deals for Washington special
interests,” Mr. Brown, the senator, said
in an emailed response to questions, referring to Senator McConnell, the Republican majority leader.
Ms. Jamieson said such criticism
might not stick — no matter what happens to the economy.
“When he doesn’t succeed, he has
what I call universal rebuttal,” Ms. Jamieson said. “It works everywhere: ‘I
tried. The rigged system did me in.’ ”
“The core of the Trump appeal was to
say to people who didn’t have a voice, ‘I
am voicing your anger,’ ” she added.
“And to those who didn’t know who to
blame, ‘Here’s who to blame, and in a
rigged system I will take on your enemies.’ ”
Mr. Trump’s campaign-style rallies,
like the one in Pensacola, are packed
with supporters who sign up for tickets
“The core of the Trump appeal
was to say to people who didn’t
have a voice, ‘I am voicing your
anger.’ ”
in advance, and he rarely hears dissident voices. He knows his audience, and
he almost always returns to the theme of
being the guardian of the working class.
But others see a yawning gap between the emerging list of winners in the
Trump era and the little guy he pledged
to help.
Mike Walden, a retired Teamster from
Ohio who drove a truck for more than 30
years, visited Washington last week to
try to lobby for pension security. He did
not vote for Mr. Trump, but he has voted
for Republicans like his home-state senator, Rob Portman. The president, he
said, has done little to help the workers
in his union.
“He got elected to the office of president because he talked about the issues
of the working man and labor,” Mr.
Walden said. “We have not heard one
word from him about that.
“Where is this ‘I am for the working
man’? I don’t see anything there,” he
said, adding: “What has he done for the
working man? I am not totally against
him. He’s president of the United States.
But on the same hand, you don’t get
elected by the working class and then
throw them under the bus.”
The Bitcoin boom: In code we trust
Bitcoin may
be in a
bubble, but it
is part of a
much bigger
trend that is
here to stay:
a shift in
trust from
to technology.
Tim Wu
Contributing Writer
You don’t need brilliant financial analysis skills to notice that Bitcoin is in a
bubble. It has grown in value from about
39 cents to over $15,000 in just eight
years and recently attracted broad
media attention by doubling in just a
few days. The conventional wisdom had
been that illegal and illicit transactions
— buying drugs or transferring money
out of Argentina — accounted for much
of Bitcoin’s value. Today the mainstream view sees mere greed and speculation.
Yet as Bitcoin continues to grow,
there’s reason to think something
deeper and more important is going on.
Bitcoin’s rise may reflect, for better or
worse, a monumental transfer of social
trust: away from human institutions
backed by government and to systems
reliant on well-tested computer code. It
is a trend that transcends finance: In
our fear of human error, we are putting
an increasingly deep faith in technology.
Bitcoin may be in a bubble, but not all
bubbles are created equal. Some are
shimmering nothings, reflecting little
more than an underlying pyramid
scheme. But others are like ocean
swells that could become enormous
waves. Consider the tech stocks of the
late 1990s — a bubble, to be sure, but in
retrospect, was Amazon really overvalued?
What gives the Bitcoin bubble significance is that, like ’90s tech, it is part of
something much larger than itself.
More and more we are losing faith in
humans and depending instead on
well-tested computer code. The transformation is more obvious outside of
finance. We trust in computers to fly
airplanes, help surgeons cut into our
bodies and simplify daily tasks, like
finding our way home. In this respect,
finance is actually behind: Where we no
longer feel we can trust people, we let
computer code take over.
Bitcoin is part of this trend. It was,
after all, a carnival of human errors and
misfeasance that inspired the invention
of Bitcoin in 2009, namely, the financial
crisis. Banks backed by economically
powerful nations had been the symbol
of financial trustworthiness, the gold
standard in the post-gold era. But they
revealed themselves as reckless, drunk
on other people’s money, holding extraordinarily complex assets premised
on a web of promises that were often
mutually incompatible. To a computer
programmer, the financial system still
looks a lot like untested code with weak
debugging that puts way too much faith
in the idea that humans will behave
We trust in
properly. As with any
computers to
bad software, it can
fly airplanes
be expected to crash
and help
when conditions
surgeons cut
We might add that
into our
major governments
bodies. In
— the issuers of
this respect,
currency, the guaranfinance is
tors of banks and
enforcers of conbehind.
tracts — do not always inspire confidence. Governments
can be been tempted to print money
recklessly or seize wealth brazenly
from their citizens — Venezuelan
hyperinflation and Indian demonetization are recent examples. But even the
most trusted governments can be dubious. Europe, riddled by internal struggles among states, is still in shock about
the planned departure of Britain from
the European Union. China is a secretive authoritarian state that can lash out
against its citizens and rivals when it
feels insecure. The United States, perhaps the main guarantor of world solvency, is some $20 trillion in debt, constantly on the verge of default and
headed by a serial bankruptee who
prizes unpredictability. It is little wonder that the world’s citizens might be
looking for alternatives.
Bitcoin’s fans don’t entirely distrust
human institutions. It is rather that
they’d prefer not to need to trust humans to keep their promises, when we
know that we humans are deeply fallible. That might seem cynical, but perhaps it is appropriately humble. As
Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym for
the person or persons who invented
Bitcoin, puts it, “the root problem with
conventional currency is all the trust
that’s required to make it work.”
This all helps explain the popularity
of Bitcoin as an asset independent of
government, mainstream banks and
their various shenanigans. But still, is it
really worth anything at all? It is based
on a “blockchain,” a technology that
creates a decentralized public ledger
and rigorously tracks transfers. It is
maintained by its users, and no govern-
ment can mint more coins. Bitcoin isn’t
backed by any sovereign, and unlike a
stock or a bond, it gives you a claim to
nothing other than Bitcoin itself. Yet
that illusory quality is true of most
forms of money, a shared hallucination
that we tolerate as long as it works. If
enough others value something, that
can be enough to make it serve as a
store of value. Sure, Bitcoin will crash
again, but over its lifetime, it has already withstood multiple crashes, runs
and splits. It actually feels tested.
This isn’t to idealize Bitcoin. Despite
its virtual nature, it is still a human
institution, facing its own misdeeds and
governance problems. Odds are that
Bitcoin may never function well as a
general medium of exchange (something you can buy things with) because
of its wild fluctuations, but might work
fine as a store of value that you can sell.
It may, like Netscape circa 1995, be
portending changes to come. But Bitcoin has captured something. As much
as we may love other humans, it is now
in code we trust.
is a law professor at Columbia
and the author of “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside
Our Heads.”
America’s blind eye to a tyrant in Honduras
Why does
the United
continue to
support a
who abets
and destroys
Silvio Carrillo
“He may be an S.O.B., but he’s our
S.O.B.” That quip — of uncertain origin,
but often traced to Franklin D. Roosevelt about Nicaragua’s ruthless dictator
Anastasio Somoza — became a shorthand excuse for dubious American
foreign policies during the 1930s and the
Cold War. It touched policy in Southeast
Asia, the Middle East and particularly
Latin America. It backfired often —
notably in Central America, Cuba,
Vietnam and Iran — but was never fully
Now it appears that the State Department has given the strategy new life. In
Honduras, President Juan Orlando
Hernández, having twisted his country’s laws to allow himself to seek reelection and having presided over a
vote count so suspicious that his opponents and international observers
called for a new election, has now officially been pronounced the winner by
the country’s discredited electoral
commission. That allows him to achieve
his second, unlawful, term after all.
To all of which, the administration in
Washington has turned a blind eye.
Why? Perhaps the Trump administration, like the Obama administration
before it, believes Mr. Hernández to be
good for Honduras and American interests there. A Honduran military base
houses hundreds of United States military personnel. Maybe that outweighs a
list of authoritarian actions that Mr.
Hernández and his government minister, Arturo Corrales, have committed
for years to keep themselves in power.
Protesting the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández in the capital of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Monday.
The list is long: widely documented
corruption, illegal changes to the Constitution, documented ties to drug
traffickers, attacks on a free press,
criminalization of peaceful protests,
repeated violations of human rights by
security forces, one of the highest crime
rates in the world, manipulation of
homicide statistics that affect Hon-
duras’s access to United States aid and a
permissive attitude toward political
Full disclosure here: That last outrage — assassination — is a very personal matter for me. Its best-known
victim was my aunt, Berta Cáceres. She
had become a thorn in the side of Honduras’s business elite as she helped
organize an indigenous population to
oppose a government-sanctioned appropriation of their land to build a dam
without the indigenous group’s agreement. That appropriation violated a
treaty signed by the Honduran government in 2011, as well as a United Nations
treaty that protects the right of consultation for indigenous peoples. Two
years ago, my aunt was murdered for
her efforts. President Hernández’s
administration has yet to punish the top
conspirators who ordered the killing,
although they have been identified in
part by a group of international legal
experts carrying out an independent
investigation on behalf of my family.
And now he clings to power when he
should be stepping down.
At one point on election night, Mr.
Hernández was losing by 5 percent of
the vote with almost 60 percent of the
total polling places counted, and Honduras’s electoral commission declared
the lead mathematically insurmountable. In a festival-like atmosphere,
thousands of people filled streets all
over Honduras to celebrate. It seemed
that for once, a small Central American
nation would manage to dismiss an
authoritarian leader in a peaceful election.
Then reality kicked in. The electoral
commission, composed predominantly
of supporters of Mr. Hernández, suspended announcements about the count
for several hours. When its updates
resumed, the president was in the lead,
setting off deep suspicions of electoral
Confusion reigned; President
Hernández told CNN that the count
hadn’t stopped, that it had only slowed
down. But the commission’s president
himself said the updates had stopped —
because “the server was overloaded.”
At that point, it was clear something
was amiss. Statements came flooding in
from governments around the world,
and some members of the United States
Congress expressed outrage at the
irregularities. Even some staunch
My year of no shopping
A.G. SULZBERGER, Deputy Publisher
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
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
CHARLOTTE GORDON, V.P., International Consumer Marketing
In America,
a 20 percent
deduction on
real estate
income would
help the
president and
a senator
whose vote is
crucial on the
tax bill.
To understand the cynicism and mendacity underlying
the Republican tax bill, look no further than a provision
that would benefit President Trump and other property
tycoons that is in the final legislation Congress is expected to vote on this week.
The provision would allow people who make money
from real estate to take a 20 percent deduction on income they earn through limited liability companies,
partnerships and other so-called pass-through entities
that do not pay the corporate tax. The beneficiaries
would also include members of Congress like Senator
Bob Corker, who last week decided he would vote for
the bill even though Republican leaders did nothing to
address his concerns about an exploding federal deficit.
The biggest winners would be people like Mr. Trump,
his family and similarly advantaged developers who
make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars every year
on swanky office towers and luxurious apartment buildings.
Republican leaders and Mr. Corker, who owns a real
estate partnership in Tennessee, say the new loophole
was not put in place to win over his vote.
All told, the 20 percent deduction for pass-through
income would cost the government $414.5 billion in lost
revenue over 10 years, according to Congress’s Joint
Committee on Taxation. To put that number into context, it is about 29 times as much as the roughly $14
billion a year that the federal government spends on the
Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers
nearly nine million kids from low-income families. Congress let authorization for that program lapse at the end
of September.
The tax bill’s generosity toward real estate titans
stands in stark contrast to its stinginess toward the
average wage earner as well as its very real damage to
taxpayers in high-cost states. Average wage earners
who would get modest tax cuts in the early years would
see them evaporate into thin air after 2025. Homeowners and others in high-cost states like California, New
Jersey and New York would see their once-sizable deductions for state and local taxes shrink to a maximum
of $10,000 a year, which could in turn reduce home values.
Details aside, here in broad numbers is the bill’s impact 10 years from now, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center: Nearly 70 percent of families
with incomes of between $54,700 and $93,200 a year
would pay more in taxes than they would under current
law. By contrast, 92 percent of families whose incomes
put them in the top 0.1 percent of the country would get
a tax cut averaging $206,280.
This bill is bad enough. No less revolting is the dishonest and sneaky way it was written.
has censored
and spied on
whose views
don’t sync with
the president’s.
Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta were told not to use the terms
“vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,”
“fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” in budget documents they are producing, The Washington Post
reported last week.
Environmental Protection Agency contractors had
done opposition research for the Republican Party and
submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for
emails of agency employees suspected of being critical
of the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt.
They are just two recent examples of this administration’s continuing effort to mute, censor and spy on employees in federal agencies whose words or views don’t
sync with President Trump’s agenda.
This began as Mr. Trump took office, when two Department of Interior retweets, one depicting his lackluster inauguration crowds and one noting the disappearance of policy material from the White House website,
vanished from the department’s Twitter feed.
The same month, word went out to federal agencies
that department social media content and “outward
facing” communications should halt, pending reviews
from on high. Content for L.G.B.T.Q. communities was
removed from White House and State Department
websites. References to the threats posed by climate
change were deleted from the White House website,
along with Interior’s.
In March, the administration stripped questions
about sexual orientation and gender identity from the
Department of Health and Human Services’ national
survey of older Americans, an annual study that helps
determine how to allocate federal funding to groups
that aid elderly people. In April, the E.P.A. deleted its
website’s climate section, saying that after a review the
site would be “updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership.”
Looking at nearly a year’s worth of ideological word
changes, censorship of government communications
and now efforts to dig up dirt on employees who object
to “the approach of new leadership,” most Americans
would reach a different conclusion on just who’s misleading whom.
Ann Patchett
NASHVILLE The idea began in Febru-
ary 2009 over lunch with my friend
Elissa, someone I like but rarely see.
She walked into the restaurant wearing a fitted black coat with a high
“Wow,” I said admiringly. “Some
She stroked the sleeve. “Yeah. I
bought it at the end of my no-shopping
year. I still feel a little bad about it.”
Elissa told me the story: After traveling for much of the previous year, she
had decided she had enough stuff, or
too much stuff. She made a pledge that
for 12 months she wouldn’t buy shoes,
clothes, purses or jewelry.
I was impressed by her discipline,
but she shrugged it off. “It wasn’t
I did some small-scale experiments
of my own, giving up shopping for Lent
for a few years. I was always surprised
by how much better it made me feel.
But it wasn’t until last New Year’s Day
that I decided to follow my friend’s
of rules for the year. I wanted a plan
that was serious but not so draconian
that I would bail out in February, so
while I couldn’t buy clothing or speakers, I could buy anything in the grocery store, including flowers. I could
buy shampoo and printer cartridges
and batteries but only after I’d run out
of what I had. I could buy plane tickets
and eat out in restaurants. I could buy
books because I write books and I
co-own a bookstore and books are my
business. Could I have made it a full
year without buying books? Absolutely. I could have used the library or
read the books that were already in my
house, but I didn’t; I bought books.
Gifts were the tough one for me. I’m
a gift-giver, and I could see how gift
shopping could become an easy loophole. I decided to give books as gifts,
but I didn’t always keep to it. My editor
married in 2017, and I wasn’t about to
give him a book as a wedding present.
Still, the frantic shopping for others
needed to come to a halt. The idea that
our affection and esteem must manifest itself in yet another sweater is
reductive. Elissa said she gave people
time, a certificate to watch their kids or
clean their house. “That,” she told me,
“turned out to be the hardest thing.
dental floss. It turns out I hadn’t
thrown away the hair products and
face creams I’d bought over the years
and didn’t like; I’d just tossed them all
under the sink.
I’m using them now, and they’re fine.
In March I wished I had a Fitbit, the
new one that looked like a bracelet and
didn’t need to be connected to a smartphone. For four days
I really wanted a
Fitbit. And then —
poof! — I didn’t want
one. I remember my
of endless
parents trying to
browsing is
teach me this lesson
when I was a child:
‘What do I
If you want someneed?’ What
thing, wait awhile.
I needed
Chances are the
was less.
feeling will pass.
The trick of no
shopping isn’t just
that you don’t buy things. You don’t
shop. That means no trawling the sale
section of the J. Crew website in idle
moments. It means the catalogs go into
the recycle bin unopened on the theory
that if I don’t see it, I don’t want it.
Halfway through the year I could go to
a store with my mother and sister if
they asked me. I could tell them if the
At the end of 2016, our country had
swung in the direction of gold leaf, an
ecstatic celebration of unfeeling billionaire-dom that kept me up at night. I
couldn’t settle down to read or write,
and in my anxiety I found myself
mindlessly scrolling through two particular shopping websites, numbing
my fears with pictures of shoes,
clothes, purses and jewelry. I was
trying to distract myself, but the distraction left me feeling worse, the way
a late night in a bar smoking Winstons
and drinking gin leaves you feeling
worse. The unspoken question of shopping is “What do I need?” What I
needed was less.
My plan had been to give up what
Elissa gave up — things to wear — but
a week into my no-shopping year, I
bought a portable speaker. When I got
it home I felt ridiculous. Shouldn’t “no
shopping” include electronics?
I came up with my own arbitrary set
Time is so valuable.”
I was raised Catholic and spent 12
years in a Catholic girls school. In the
same way a child who grows up going
to the symphony is more likely to enjoy
classical music, and a child raised in a
bilingual household is probably going
to speak two languages, many children
raised Catholic have a talent for selfdenial. Even now my sister and I plan
for Lent the way other people plan
family vacations: What will we let go
of? What good can we add?
My first few months of no shopping
were full of gleeful discoveries. I ran
out of lip balm early on and before
making a decision about whether lip
balm constituted a need, I looked in my
desk drawers and coat pockets. I found
five lip balms. Once I started digging
around under the bathroom sink I
realized I could probably run this
experiment for three more years before using up all the lotion, soap and
dress they were trying on looked good
without wishing I could try it on myself.
Not shopping saves an astonishing
amount of time. In October, I interviewed Tom Hanks about his collection
of short stories in front of 1,700 people
in a Washington theater. Previously, I
would have believed that such an
occasion demanded a new dress and
lost two days of my life looking for one.
In fact, Tom Hanks had never seen any
of my dresses, nor had the people in
the audience. I went to my closet,
picked out something weather appropriate and stuck it in my suitcase.
I did a favor for a friend over the
summer and she bought me a pair of
tennis shoes. Her simple act of kindness thrilled me. Once I stopped looking for things to buy, I became tremendously grateful for the things I received. Had I been shopping this sum-
mer I would have told my friend, “You
shouldn’t have,” and I would have
meant it.
It doesn’t take so long for a craving
to subside, be it for Winstons or gin or
cupcakes. Once I got the hang of giving
shopping up, it wasn’t much of a trick.
The trickier part was living with the
startling abundance that had become
glaringly obvious when I stopped
trying to get more. Once I could see
what I already had, and what actually
mattered, I was left with a feeling that
was somewhere between sickened and
humbled. When did I amass so many
things, and did someone else need
If you stop thinking about what you
might want, it’s a whole lot easier to
see what other people don’t have.
There’s a reason that just about every
religion regards material belongings as
an impediment to peace. This is why
Siddhartha had to leave his palace to
become the Buddha. This is why Jesus
said, “Blessed are the poor.” It’s why
my friend Sister Nena, an 85-year-old
Catholic nun, took a vow of poverty
when she entered the convent at 18.
Sister Nena was my reading teacher
when I was in the first grade, and in
the years since, she has taught me
considerably more. When I ask her if
there’s anything she needs me to get
for her, she shakes her head. “It’s all
just stuff,” she says, meaning all of the
things that aren’t God. If you’re in the
market for genuine inspiration on this
front, I urge you to read “Barking to
the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship,” by Gregory Boyle, a book that
shows what the platitudes of faith look
like when they’re put into action.
The things we buy and buy and buy
are like a thick coat of Vaseline
smeared on glass: We can see some
shapes out there, light and dark, but in
our constant craving for what we may
still want, we miss life’s details.
It’s not as if I kept a ledger and took
the money I didn’t spend on perfume
and gave that money to the poor, but I
came to a better understanding of
money as something we earn and
spend and save for the things we want
and need. Once I was able to get past
the want and be honest about the need,
it was easier to give more of my money
to people who could really use it.
For the record, I still have more than
plenty. I know there is a vast difference
between not buying things and not
being able to buy things. Not shopping
for a year hardly makes me one with
the poor, but it has put me on the path
of figuring out what I can do to help. I
understand that buying things is the
backbone of the economy and job
growth. I appreciate all the people who
shop in the bookstore. But taking some
time off from consumerism isn’t going
to make the financial markets collapse.
If you’re looking for a New Year’s
resolution, I have to tell you: This
one’s great.
What I still haven’t figured out is
how the experiment ends. Do I just
start shopping again? Shop less? I
called Elissa. I hadn’t seen her in
years. She told me that after she
bought the black coat, she decided to
re-up for another year.
“I realized I had too many decisions
to make that were actually important,”
she said. “There were people to help,
things to do. Not shopping frees up a
lot of space in your brain.”
So for now I’ll leave my pledge in
place. Who knows how far I can go? In
a country hellbent on selling us
dresses and shirts with the shoulders
cut out (though I like to think I wouldn’t have fallen for that one even if I had
been shopping), it’s good to sit on the
bench for a while.
Or as the great social activist Dorothy Day liked to say, “The best thing to
do with the best things in life is give
them up.”
is the author, most recently, of the novel “Commonwealth”
and the co-owner of Parnassus Books.
America’s blind eye to a tyrant in Honduras
American allies of Mr. Hernández who
had helped support his government
with millions of dollars in American
foreign aid — Representative Norma
Torres, a California Democrat, and
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a
Florida Republican, among them —
called for unequivocal transparency
from the election commission.
The American Embassy, on the other
hand, kept fairly quiet. Heide B. Fulton,
the chargé d’affaires, currently the
highest-ranking American diplomat in
Honduras, asked the Honduran people
to be calm. This played right into Mr.
Hernández’s hands; he declared a state
of emergency and imposed martial law,
securing for himself a wide berth to use
Honduras’s American-trained security
forces to repress opposition.
With help from Mr. Corrales, and from
the Washington-based public relations
company Keybridge Communications,
Mr. Hernández blamed ensuing violence on the opposition, even though the
security forces had fired live rounds and
killed more than a dozen people taking
part in peaceful demonstrations.
Indeed, the protests were peaceful
enough to inspire a backlash among
some members of the security apparatus; in an elite unit known as the Cobras,
some refused to repress protesters and
ultimately joined in the demonstrations.
Mr. Hernández and his security minister, Julian Pacheco, who reportedly
has strong ties to drug trafficking,
quickly fired those who rebelled and
gave the rest raises. They are now on
the job, repressing Hondurans.
On Nov. 28, two days after the election
became enmeshed in confusion, the
State Department certified that Honduras had made progress in protecting
human rights and attacking corruption.
This allows for the release of millions of
dollars in United States assistance to
the Hernández government. Again
there were eruptions from some members of Congress, calling out the State
Department for appearing to provide
Mr. Hernández with a blank check.
Since then, Ms. Fulton has assisted
Mr. Hernández by appearing with David Matamoros, the election commission’s leader and a confidant of Mr.
Hernández, at a commission facility —
seemingly legitimizing the problemplagued process as it continued its slow
count for another three weeks until
Sunday, when it announced the inevitable: victory for Mr. Hernández.
The story here isn’t the machinations
President Hernández and his henchmen have used in this election. It’s the
acceptance of those machinations by
the State Department and the American
President Juan Orlando Hernández at a
news conference in the capital this month.
Embassy in enabling Mr. Hernández to
stay in power.
This is the tyrannical regime that
killed my aunt because she stood up for
the rights of Honduran people — rights
that include the most fundamental one
we in the United States enjoy, the right
to choose our elected leaders and hold
them accountable.
That is what voters in Honduras were
trying to do on Nov. 26. They voted and
rejected Mr. Hernández, his cronies and
some 80 years of destructive United
States policy: the policy that arms and
trains Honduran security forces who
commit human rights abuses against
their own people; the policy that accepts knowingly flawed crime statistics
to help Honduras secure American
assistance; and the policy that allows
corrupt strongmen to enrich themselves and those around them.
The Trump administration has focused on how to stop refugees from
Central America from becoming immigrants to the United States. Indeed, a
recent Pew Research report shows that
the number of Hondurans fleeing their
country each year to the north is rising.
So Americans need to ask ourselves:
Isn’t it time to stop enabling dictators
like Juan Orlando Hernández?
It’s clear that his misrule is what
Hondurans have been running from.
Yes, dictators are by definition S.O.B.s.
But any president who thinks this one is
“ours” is a fool.
is a freelance film and
news producer based in California
whose work has included coverage for
CNN, Al Jazeera English and The South
China Morning Post.
Passing through to corruption
Paul Krugman
Trump’s security strategy is a farce
Roger Cohen
The Trump Administration has put out
its new national security strategy. This
is a farce. On any one issue, President
Trump and his team have several
contradictory positions. That’s what
happens when your priority as president is to use foreign policy to throw
red meat to your base while other
cabinet members are scrambling to
stop Armageddon.
“It’s impossible to know what the
United States position is on any number of subjects,” a European ambassador told me last week. “We could go
sleepwalking into a war.”
Let’s start with North Korea, whose
small but growing nuclear arsenal is
overseen by Kim Jong-un, a leader as
volatile as Trump. Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the
Trump Administration’s policy toward
North Korea is “really quite clear.” He
said, “We’re ready to talk anytime
North Korea would like to talk, and
we’re ready to have the first meeting
without precondition.”
That was Tuesday at the Atlantic
Council. By Friday, at the United Nations, Tillerson was setting conditions.
North Korea must cease “threatening behavior” before talks can begin; it must “earn its way back to the
table;” and pressure will “continue
until denuclearization is achieved.”
Denuclearization is not going to
happen in the real world. If that’s the
condition, there will be no talks. As for
Trump, he has said Tillerson is “wasting his time trying to negotiate with
Little Rocket Man.” He has warned
that the United States is “locked and
loaded.” He has never embraced talks
without preconditions, favored by
France, Britain and sometimes Tillerson.
Clear enough already?
Oh, I should add that Nikki Haley,
the United States ambassador to the
United Nations, was not present when
Tillerson spoke. Great optics there:
Haley and Tillerson are known to be at
loggerheads, with the secretary of
state (regarded by some as a dead
man walking) suspecting Haley wants
to succeed him.
Now, effective pressure on North
Korea has three components: China,
China and China. Trump’s new national
security strategy identifies China as “a
strategic competitor.” It suggests the
United States will get tough on Chinese
“cheating or economic aggression.”
Great timing there: Trump is asking
President Xi Jinping to cut off crude oil
exports to North
“It’s impossible Korea as his “strategy” lambasts
to know what
China. Our presithe United
dent believes everyStates position
one will do his
is,” says a
bidding because he
says so. Hello! You
want a favor? You
don’t double down
The adminison confrontation.
tration has no
I mentioned red
policy. It has
meat: war with
North Korea, tearing up the Iran
nuclear deal, recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital
and promising to move the American
embassy there some day — all this
gets the blood up for Trump’s base. (Of
course, words exceed action and appearance is all, as with everything in
Trump’s world). I also mentioned
Haley, who did not show up for Tillerson but put on quite a show over Iran
the day before at a military base in
Before I get to the Haley show, involving some Iranian-made missiles
“on loan from Saudi Arabia,” a little
background on Iran is needed. The
2015 Iran nuclear deal sent the country’s nuclear program into reverse,
guaranteed rigorous international
inspections, and put the country much
further from a bomb than it had been.
In return, Iran got sanctions relief. The
deal, concluded with the United States
and five other world powers, is working. It was not intended to usher in an
American-Iranian love-fest or realign
Iranian policy in Syria. It was intended
to stop Iran going nuclear. Tearing it
up would be a colossal strategic error.
Tillerson recognizes this; he’s urged
preservation of the deal. Trump calls it
“the worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated” and, in October, declined to recertify it. This kicked to Congress the issue
of whether to reimpose sanctions
within 60 days. It did not, and from
what I hear the White House did not
press for sanctions. (Remember, noise
without action is Trump’s only discernible “national security strategy.”)
By mid-January, Trump has to decide whether to sign waivers on Iran
sanctions. My guess is he will to avoid
blowing up the deal. Meanwhile, the
administration is reviewing whether to
block Boeing’s agreed $20 billion sale
of jetliners to Iran. So what’s the policy
here? Show implacable hostility to
Iran, possibly short of destroying the
deal, barring a mishap.
Clear enough, already?
Enter Haley with her Iranian missiles of dubious provenance demonstrating no provable infringement of
international law. What a performance! “Absolutely terrifying,” she
declared, before saying that “the nuclear deal has done nothing to moderate
the regime’s behavior in other areas.”
It was not supposed to do that.
Iran has a nasty regime that does
despicable things from time to time. It
also has a substantial moderate wing,
headed by President Hassan Rouhani.
Moderates have been reinforced by the
nuclear deal. The best way to lock in
hard-liners for the next two decades
would be to tear it up.
On North Korea and Iran, on IsraelPalestine and Syria and Saudi ArabiaQatar, the Trump administration is all
over the place. As Tillerson noted last
week, it has no “wins” in diplomacy.
That’s not surprising. It also has no
national security strategy. It has outbursts.
Unless something drastic happens, this
will be the week Republicans ram
through a tax cut that adds more than
a trillion dollars to federal debt while
undermining health care for millions.
They will do so by violating all previous norms for major legislation, having
held not a single hearing and rushed to
a vote before the new senator from
Alabama could be seated.
The question is, why are they doing
this? For this bill isn’t just a policy
crime; it also seems to be a political
mistake. It will, however, be good, one
way or another, for the bank accounts
of quite a few Republican members of
Congress. Is that why it will pass?
About the politics: Normally, politicians willing to add a trillion dollars
to the debt can hand out enough goodies to make their plans popular, at least
for a while. The George W. Bush tax
cuts heavily favored the rich over the
middle class, but they contained
enough clear middle-class tax cuts to
have broad public approval, at least at
This bill, however, faces heavy disapproval. Ordinary voters may not be
able to parse all the details, but they
have figured out that this bill is a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy
that will end up hurting most families.
This negative view isn’t likely to
Nevertheless, Republicans have
persisted. Why?
One answer may be that they really
believe that tax cuts will unleash a
huge economic boom. There’s almost
complete consensus among experts
that it will do no such thing — but the
G.O.P. has been waging war on expertise in all fields. (Among the terms
reportedly banned by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention are
“evidence based” and “science based.”)
So you get people like the Republican congressman who told CNBC’s
John Harwood that his colleagues told
him there are models predicting huge
gains (there aren’t), that he doesn’t
know what those models are, but that
he trusts his party’s line.
Another answer may be that Republicans believe that legislative victories
put “points on the board,” helping their
electoral prospects, even if the bills are
unpopular. Obama officials thought the
same thing back in 2009 — but they
were wrong: Major legislative victories on economic stimulus, health
care and financial reform did nothing
to stop disastrous losses in the 2010
midterm elections.
The final, and most disturbing, possible explanation for the behavior of
Republican legislators is that they’re
supporting legislation, knowing that
it’s bad for both the country and their
party, because it’s good for them personally.
Some Republicans have been quite
open in saying that they felt compelled
to push forward on corporate tax cuts
to please their donors. But I’m talking
about more than campaign finance;
I’m talking about personal payoffs.
Raw bribery probably isn’t the issue,
although insider trading based on close
relationships with companies affected
by legislation may be a much bigger
deal than most realize. But the revolving
door is an even
bigger deal. When
focused more
members of Conon their
gress leave their
pockets than
positions, voluntarily
or not, their next
jobs often involve
lobbying of some
kind. This gives
them an incentive to
keep the big-money guys happy, never
mind what voters think.
One perverse effect of this incentive
is that recent G.O.P. electoral losses
may have strengthened the party’s
determination to do unpopular things.
Suppose you represent a mildly Republican-leaning district in, say, California
or New York. Given what looks like a
building Democratic wave, your odds
of keeping that seat next year look low
whatever you do — so it’s time to focus
on pleasing your future employers on
K Street.
And when it comes to the Senate,
bear in mind that many senators are
personally wealthy, meaning that they
might be swayed by policies that enhance their personal fortunes. Which
brings us to the “Corker kickback.”
Senator Bob Corker, citing concerns
about the deficit, was the only Republican to vote against the Senate version
of the tax bill. Now, however, he says
he will vote for a final version that is
no better when it comes to fiscal probity. What changed?
Well, one thing that changed was the
insertion of a provision that wasn’t in
the Senate bill: Real estate companies
were added to the list of “passthrough” businesses whose owners will
get sharply lower tax rates. These
pass-through provisions are arguably
the worst feature of the bill. They will
open the tax system to a huge amount
of gaming, of exploiting legal loopholes
to avoid tax.
But one thing they will also do,
thanks to that last-minute addition, is
give huge tax breaks to elected officials who own a lot of income-producing real estate — officials like Donald Trump and, yes, Bob Corker.
Corker denies that he had any role in
adding that provision. But he has
offered no coherent alternative explanation of what changed his mind about
voting for a bill that explodes the
We may never know exactly what
happened with Corker. But there’s
every reason to believe that Republicans in Congress are taking their cues
from a president who openly uses his
office to enrich himself. Goodbye,
ideology; hello, corruption.
Give the Facts.
Give the World.
Give The New York Times.
It takes more than bluster for a Brexit
Commission reminded Mrs. May that
she had “shaken hands” on a “gentleman’s agreement.”
At a working dinner in Brussels on
Thursday night, Mrs. May had to
tolerate being slapped on the wrist by
one European leader after another: All
agreements entered into in the first
phase, which covers financial arrangements, the Irish border and citizens’
rights, were to be “translated faithfully
into legal terms.” Otherwise, phase
two, which will deal with Britain’s
transition toward Brexit and future
trading arrangements with the common market, would not proceed. Thus
admonished, Mrs. May was ushered
out from the dinner like an 18th century lady banished to the drawing
room, while the leaders of the other 27
states stayed behind at the table to
smoke cigars and drink port — or at
any rate to discuss the future of Europe.
The Brexit that is taking shape
around the hapless Mrs. May is not the
one hard-line Brexiters promised when
they vowed to “take back control.”
Locking the door on migrants and free
trade with purveyors of chlorinated
chickens look increasingly unlikely. To
avoid making a special case of Northern Ireland, Britain has been forced
already to concede a “soft Brexit.” In
effect, it is going to be stuck with European Union rules — it just won’t have
any say in making them.
A Conservative rebellion last week
that saw Mrs. May defeated in the
House of Commons means that any
final Brexit deal she reaches with the
European Union must be submitted to
Protesters at a rally over the Irish border
this month in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Parliament for debate before it is
signed into law. The government had
hoped to rely on a constitutional precedent established by that old British
bulldog, King Henry VIII, to avoid this
scrutiny. A government spokesman
hastily issued a statement that said,
“We are as clear as ever . . . ”
But there has been nothing clear
about this government’s strategies for
leaving the European Union. It may
not even have any. Earlier in this
month of mortification, Mr. Davis was
forced to admit that he had actually
carried out no assessments on how
Brexit would impact the British economy, despite having claimed on multiple occasions that he and his officials
had carried out from 50 to over 100
such assessments, which he said went
into all aspects in “excruciating detail.”
He escaped indictment for misleading
Parliament with the support of the
Faced now with the requirement of
stating its plans in language capable of
being turned into laws and protocols,
the government looks more and more
foolish. Mrs. May’s attempts to stride
purposefully on the international stage
look increasingly like someone floundering, lost, through the snow.
There were a few emollient words
for the prime minister before she was
sent home across the English Channel
on Thursday, but they just sounded
patronizing. Any embarrassment over
a debacle authored entirely by Britain
is looked upon coldly. If the country
makes a fool of itself, all the better —
an unedifying spectacle is sure to
discourage other restless member
states down the road.
After their summit, European Union
leaders sent a message to London: The
government must urgently “provide
further clarity” on its plans. Mrs. May,
who has never been a convincing
advocate for the cause she must champion, now has three months to put
together a coherent set of proposals to
bring back to the European Union,
while getting on with the legally
fraught task of implementing the first
If Mrs. May and her blustering crew
represent the best of British diplomacy,
then post-Brexit Britain will be a sorry
Irish border.
is writing a book about the
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In play, Nadal inhabits a new role: Gay icon
Playwright imagines
a love affair with the
straight tennis star
Rafael Nadal has been the face and body
of a Tommy Hilfiger underwear campaign. He has been a shirtless love interest in a Shakira music video. He is not
bashful on the tennis court, either, taking off his shirt after each victory to the
delight of many in the crowd.
But Nadal has probably never been
depicted the way he has in “The Rafa
Play,” written by Peter Gil-Sheridan and
directed by Morgan Gould, which had its
final performances last week at the Flea
Theater in New York.
Gil-Sheridan, using a main character
based on himself, imagines getting a job
at the ATP offices in Florida and entering into a searing romance with Nadal,
which he brags about to his awe-struck
“The fantasy was never that I was actually in Majorca with Nadal, but that I
was coming back to New York and
telling everyone about what my life was
like now,” Gil-Sheridan said in an interview. “It was ultimately this giant escape fantasy. I was coming back and
talking about my success.”
The real Nadal is not gay, and his longtime girlfriend, Xisca Perelló, is a courtside fixture at his matches. But in GilSheridan’s fantastical, farcical script,
Nadal, as played by Juan Arturo, is an
exaggerated embodiment of the 16-time
Grand Slam champion who finished this
year atop the men’s rankings. To keep
the play grounded in unreality, Rafa is
surrounded by surreal side characters,
including a scorned one-eyed cat.
“It’s not what would be akin to a
biopic; Rafa functions as symbol in the
play,” Gil-Sheridan said. “I think, in that
way, so many of these top tennis players
function as symbol to us. Like Serena
Williams: She is such a huge symbol in
our culture. But who is Serena the woman versus Serena the symbol? I think it’s
similar for Rafa. And for me, as a gay
man, him as a masculine ideal is what
I’m looking at. So it’s kind of him, and
Nadal at the Madrid Open in May. The play exaggerates some of his traits; in one scene,
Nadal gleefully fist-pumps at news that his favorite potatoes are going to be served.
Juan Arturo, left, plays Rafael Nadal in “The Rafa Play,” and Olli Haaskivi is Peter, a character the playwright based on himself.
kind of not him. It’s a funny thing. He’s
not being portrayed as a gay man; he’s
being portrayed as a gay icon.”
Arturo, a Nadal fan since watching
him on TV in Spain during his gold medal run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said
he had to work to make sure his portrayal of the tennis player was something
audiences could “reconcile with the actual human being.”
He said he watched video of Nadal’s
matches — incorporating, for example,
his signature ear-and nose-touching tics
in his pre-serve routine — and “hit the
gym, hard.”
“There’s a moment in the play where
the trainer comes up and starts examining my muscles onstage, with the line
‘exquisite abdominals,’ and I thought:
Oh, man, I need to get to work,” Arturo
said. “But that work kind of helped me
get in the mind-set of it, because people
out, what would it actually be? And of
course it would never work,” Gil-Sheridan said. “I’m a nebbish playwright —
and he’s not even gay! That’s what the
play starts to come down to: that the Rafael Nadal that I’ve created in the first
act is a huge figment of my imagination.”
As the demands and high standards of
an elite athlete come into focus, the relationship crumbles. Many of the stresses
Gil-Sheridan has imagined in Nadal’s
touring life ring true — like weariness
about traveling to Asia for tournaments
there. Gil-Sheridan said Nadal’s generally good behavior makes him less
knowable than other players.
“He doesn’t present in as complicated
a way as Andy Roddick or Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic,” Gil-Sheridan
said. “Those guys, they kind of show
their hand a little bit more; you see their
its indisputable scoreboards.
“Artists don’t have that clarity,” he
said. “You’re always walking around
asking, ‘Am I doing O.K., or am I messing up my life?’ In tennis, you get some
real direct feedback: The match ends
and you know the result; you know your
Several plays with tennis themes
have been staged in recent years, which
“The Rafael Nadal that
I’ve created in the
first act is a huge figment
of my imagination.”
Gil-Sheridan believes speaks to the
sport’s power as “metaphor for the
game of life.”
“There are these crushing defeats
that can happen at any time, no matter
how good you are,” he said. “And then
there are victories that can happen no
matter how much you’re struggling;
you can come through and suddenly find
yourself winning. I think that’s always
been really meaningful to me. As a tennis fan, I so relate to the underdogs and
so root for them, and am so excited when
they prevail — even over Rafa, sometimes.”
No. 2012
Created by Peter Ritmeester/Presented by Will Shortz
(c) Distributed by The New York Times syndicate
who go to the gym a lot have a different
way of holding themselves and acting
around people. It helped me find my way
into the character a lot.”
Arturo bears scant resemblance to
Nadal, but his exaggerated physicality
— gunshots are heard when he flexes
his biceps — quickly dominated the 46seat theater when he entered at the end
of the first act. Rafa’s accent was exaggerated as well, adding a heavy Spanish
lisp to endearments like “You are like
my Australian Open title: singular.”
The ludicrously lascivious climax of
the first act in Peter and Rafa’s relationship gives way to a reckoning in the second act, set in Nadal’s home in Majorca,
where the pair’s incompatibility becomes starkly clear and Peter (Olli
Haaskivi) clashes with Nadal’s mother
(Annie Henk).
“If you actually played this fantasy
negative stuff happening. I feel like Rafa
doesn’t do that as much. He’s more diplomatic in the way he talks about things.
He’s the hardest character to write in
the second act.”
He did not contact Nadal or his representatives for permission to use him as a
character in the play; satire and parody,
particularly of public figures, have long
been protected from libel and defamation lawsuits in the United States.
Gil-Sheridan’s vigilant fandom pays
off in several details. Nadal’s real-life
love of “The Phantom of the Opera” is
mentioned, and when his character is
wearily discussing the wear and tear of
life on tour, he mentions “the cramps in
my calves that make me collapse beneath tables,” a reference to an incident
during a news conference at the 2011
United States Open.
Some details are more incongruous.
At one point, Rafa wears an Adidasmade Manchester United jersey — an
unlikely choice for the real Nadal, a
Nike-sponsored supporter of Real Madrid.
But tennis fans will appreciate when
Rafa gleefully fist-pumps at the news
that his favorite potatoes are going to be
Gil-Sheridan said one of the things he
found most enviable about tennis was
Fill the grid so
that every row,
column 3x3 box
and shaded 3x3
box contains
each of the
1 to 9 exactly
For solving tips
and more puzzles:
No. 1912
CROSSWORD | Edited by Will Shortz
Fill the grids with digits so as not
to repeat a digit in any row or
column, and so that the digits
within each heavily outlined box
will produce the target number
shown, by using addition,
subtraction, multiplication or
division, as indicated in the box.
A 4x4 grid will use the digits
1-4. A 6x6 grid will use 1-6.
For solving tips and more KenKen
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1 Russian ruler
5 Themes
Answers to Previous Puzzles
27 V.I.P. at boot camp
52 Food or air
28 Dunham of “Girls”
53 19th-century Midwest
29 Some businesses:
with a shared interest
13 Pennsylvania, for
31 Assessing, with “up”
33 & 34 Another way to
make 60-Across
14 Nixes, as a proposal
35 Colorful bird with a big
16 Bibliophile
37 Dole (out)
18 Sunrise’s direction, in
38 Carrier of electricity
all the good that a
simple ___ can do”:
Mother Teresa
make 60-Across
card table
the banks of the Nile
59 Voiced
60-Across: Abbr.
3 Had a date, say
4 Like cutting in line
6 Sunset’s direction, in
8 Person native to an
7 60-Across, in baseball
Solution to December 19 Puzzle
5 Deface
48 Absurd
50 Opera set partly on
25 Designer Jacobs
58 Network (with)
2 Month number
46 & 47 A third way to
41 Be flippant with
make 60-Across
24 Game-ending cry at a
57 Like paradise
39 Electricity, e.g.
21 & 22 Certain way to
Mermaid, notably
1 More concise
45 Office data: Abbr.
60 This puzzle’s theme
17 Possess, in the Bible
55 Annie and the Little
11 Gathering of people
20 “We shall never know
KenKen® is a registered trademark of Nextoy, LLC.
Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved.
9 Kind of station
10 First name in women’s
11 2016 Disney film set
in Polynesia
12 Pretend to be
14 Singer Yorke of
15 Ado
19 Nestful
23 Mate for a bull
33 Left bereft
44 Gains yardage?
26 ___ 60-Across (state
35 What transported
46 Arrive, as a storm
of euphoria)
27 Difficult
28 A cat is said to have
60-Across of them
30 ___ Jacquet, director
of “March of the
32 Problem before a big
date, informally
Dorothy to Oz
36 Burst in space
37 Gregor who
pioneered in genetics
38 Upbraids
40 Small dam
42 “Relax, soldier!”
43 Greta Garbo or Ingrid
49 Prefix meaning
51 Possible score after
52 German homophone
of 60-Across
54 “___ now!”
(infomercial phrase)
56 Japanese “yes”
Once a distillery, now an art showplace
The Kanaal complex
in Belgium is reinforcing
Antwerp’s cultural stature
The Kanaal cultural and residential complex, top, was built around a distillery that dates from 1857. Above, new hangings by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui on display in one of the galleries.
give them a quieter state of mind.”
“I love the way art creates positive energy, and there’s so much negative energy in the world,” he said. “The art market has gone too much toward money,
money. It’s become too materialistic.”
But isn’t a development of luxury
apartments and galleries filled with
works by internationally renowned artists simply a cultural playground for the
Mr. Vervoordt does not see it that way.
The dealer and his son Boris Vervoordt,
who runs the art and interior design
sides, both pointed out that Kanaal is
open to the public with no admission fee.
And the inaugural presentations do feature minimalist stone sculptures by the
Belgian artist Lucia Bru, who has made
pieces priced by the dealership at 4,000
euros, or about $4,700.
But living at Kanaal is quite exclusive.
Finished apartments range from
€730,000 to €900,000, with a few large
penthouses priced from €2 million. So
far, 85 of the 98 units have been sold, according to Anne-Sophie Dusselier, the
company’s publicist.
For Mr. Vervoordt, historic real estate
and art dealing have always gone hand
in hand. In 1969, he bought and restored
a street of 16th-century houses in Antwerp near the Cathedral of Our Lady,
then developed his art and antiques
The art dealer and interior designer Axel Vervoordt, who developed the Kanaal site.
business. In 1984, he moved to Kasteel
van ‘s-Gravenwezel, a medieval castle
on the outskirts of the city, from which
he still trades, by appointment only.
“I’ve always loved architecture where
there are traces of the old. Time becomes art,” said the dapper, ever-smiling Mr. Vervoordt. “I’ve never had a
shop. I want to live with artworks, and
show others how they can have that experience.”
Being both a highly successful dealer
and interior designer, Mr. Vervoordt is
perhaps unique in the upper levels of the
contemporary art world, helping Antwerp loom larger on the radar of international collectors.
“Ten years ago Antwerp was stronger, then Brussels took over, but now Antwerp is coming back again,” said Marianne Hoet, a senior specialist in 20thcentury and contemporary art at
Phillips, the auction house. Phillips announced in October that it planned to
open an office in Antwerp, led by Ms.
Ms. Hoet pointed out that Antwerp
has a growing network of contemporary
art dealerships, with Axel Vervoordt,
Zeno X (which represents Luc Tuymans,
who lives in the city) and Tim Van Laere
(who represents Adrian Ghenie) among
the more prominent gallerists.
But above all, Ms. Hoet said, it is Belgium’s famously astute community of
collectors that has prompted Phillips to
set up an office in Antwerp. She estimated that more than 100 people in the country were prepared to spend at least
$20,000 on a serious contemporary
work. Beyond that, she added, Belgian
collectors have a knack for spotting artists before they become expensive stars.
These collectors, she said, “are very
knowledgeable, they travel widely, and
they buy early.”
The Belgian capital depends on fairs
such as Art Brussels and Independent
Brussels to attract international collectors, but Antwerp uses its May
gallery weekend, Antwerp Art, to draw
a new audience to the city.
“We don’t need a fair. We can build on
the gallery weekend,” said Mr. Van
Laere, one of more than 60 gallerists
who participated in this year’s edition of
Antwerp Art. He is currently exhibiting
a range of works by the Austrian artist
Franz West, priced at €95,000 to
“I don’t believe in the rivalry between
Antwerp and Brussels,” Mr. Van Laere
said. “It’s a small country, and everyone
sees everything. If you put on a good
show, the collectors will come.”
Asked if the opening of Mr. Vervoordt’s Kanaal project would make a difference to the Antwerp art scene, Mr.
Van Laere replied: “Everything adds.”
The reception room at Kanaal is lined
with books devoted to Mr. Vervoordt’s
vision as a dealer and decorator. In
“Stories and Reflections,” he describes
how the Japanese aesthetic of wabi
sums up his approach, embracing “the
spirit of thinking globally and acting locally.”
Increasingly, Antwerp is becoming
that kind of town.
Moët & Chandon ® Champagne, © 2017 Imported by Moët Hennessy USA, Inc., New York, NY.
Gray walls, bare floor, moody spotlighting. An ancient Egyptian marble bowl
here, an eighth-century Thai sculpture
there. And dominating one end of the
room, above a Le Corbusier armchair, a
huge abstract that a Japanese artist
painted with his feet.
This is the distinctive look associated
with Axel Vervoordt, an international
art dealer and interior designer with
galleries in Belgium and Hong Kong. Mr.
Vervoordt’s minimalist fusions of East
and West, ancient and modern, have become the admired trademark of his
booths at fairs such as Tefaf Maastricht
and Masterpiece, as well as at his exhibitions in the Palazzo Fortuny during the
Venice Biennale. Kanye West, Sting and
Robert De Niro are among his
But Mr. Vervoordt has taken his approach to a new level with Kanaal, a giant cultural and residential complex on
the site of a disused distillery on the outskirts of Antwerp. The opening of the
private arts center reinforces Antwerp’s
resurgent reputation as a European cultural hub.
“It’s about creating the best place for
art,” Mr. Vervoordt, 70, said in an interview at the Nov. 30 opening, as a crowd
of well-to-do collectors filed in. “I fell in
love with the distillery building. Industrial architecture is real, and it just
wants to be useful. It’s very spiritual, intimate and religious, but I don’t know
what religion.”
Dating from 1857, the distillery’s original brick warehouses and concrete
grain silos have been supplemented
over the last decade with a number of
new buildings, some designed by Mr.
Vervoordt in collaboration with the Japanese architect Tatsuro Miki. The site
now features 98 apartments, 30 offices,
a restaurant, a bakery, an auditorium,
studios, workshops, and extensive exhibition spaces for both the Vervoordt art
dealership and for the nonprofit Axel &
May Vervoordt Foundation. Among the
foundation’s current exhibits are three
large-scale “Warrior” paintings from
the 1960s, painted (with those feet) by
the now-coveted Gutai School artist
Kazuo Shiraga, who died in 2008 and
whom Mr. Vervoordt has been championing since 2005. One of Shiraga’s paintings from the 1960s sold at auction three
years ago for $5.3 million, according to
the Artnet database of salesroom results.
Permanent installations at the complex include a chapel with a James Turrell light piece, “Red Shift,” from 1995,
and a separate building devoted to the
1998 Anish Kapoor sculpture “At the
Edge of the World,” which envelopes the
visitor in a domed echo chamber.
The Vervoordt Company’s stable of international artists includes the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, whose silver
and gold “bottle-top” hanging, “Fresh
and Fading Memories,” caused a sensation at the 2007 Venice Biennale when it
was draped across the facade of the Palazzo Fortuny. Kanaal opened with a presentation of seven new hangings by Mr.
Anatsui, each priced around $1 million.
Mr. Vervoordt is giving up his acclaimed exhibitions at the Palazzo Fortuny to concentrate on curating shows
at Kanaal. He said he wanted the new installations “to bring peace to people, to
From left, Sandra Dewey, Kristen Bell and Kathy Connell. Ms. Dewey is a Turner Broadcasting executive; Ms. Connell is executive producer of the SAG Awards show; and Ms. Bell will be the show’s first host.
At actors’ awards, women will have the leads
The presenters for SAG,
Hollywood’s biggest union,
are to be entirely female
Ask the producers and hosts of coming
movie awards shows how or if they’ll
be addressing the #MeToo moment,
and the responses are a grab bag of no
comments, dunnos, T.B.D.s and not
Ask the executive producer of the
Screen Actors Guild Awards, or the
Turner Broadcasting president responsible for the show, and they reply that
yes, indeed, things will be different at
their gala on Jan. 21: All 13 of their
acting awards will be presented by
women, as will be the two stunt
awards, which will be handed out
beforehand. (The show is to be broadcast on TNT and TBS.) The nominations, which were revealed last week,
were also announced by women, Olivia
Munn and Niecy Nash, and the awards
will have a host, their first: Kristen
“Culturally there’s always been a
conversation about equality,” said Ms.
Bell, chatting by phone a day before
the nominations were announced.
“Now there’s some mega-spotlights on
this conversation and, dare I say, some
pyrotechnics in the background.”
“I’m not the first female host,” she
added. “I’m the first host. The fact that
a female was chosen to be the first one
means my genitals become irrelevant.”
The woman behind the plan to have
women present all (or most) of the
awards was Kathy Connell, the executive producer. She has overseen the
ceremonies since the inaugural show
in 1995, and said the thought came to
her after she went to the Women’s
March in Washington with her daughter and some friends in January. The
idea gained new urgency, she said, as
accusations of sexual misconduct by
powerful men in the entertainment
industry began bursting forth.
“I feel pretty strongly about the
women’s movement,” Ms. Connell said.
“Women stepped forward in such a
huge way in this last year.”
Sometime in the fall, she took her
proposal to Sandra Dewey, a president
at Turner who oversees the network’s
interest in the show. Ms. Dewey said
that in the last three years, the network has hired about 400 women as
directors, writers, showrunners and
set designers, among other positions,
in an effort to rebalance an industry
overwhelmingly dominated by men. In
the summer, the network also began
holding informal “Feminist Friday”
events so women could discuss obstacles they were facing in their careers,
and propose solutions.
Turner jumped at Ms. Connell’s idea,
Ms. Dewey said. “For so many years,
there’s been so much ground to cover
in terms of trying to have women
statistically catch up,” she said.
“There’s some mega-spotlights
on this conversation.”
The SAG Awards are a bellwether
stop on the way to the Academy
Awards. With 160,000 members, and
Gabrielle Carteris as its president,
SAG-Aftra is the biggest union in
Hollywood, and its awards have special resonance for actors because of the
unmatched size of the voting pool —
Ms. Connell said 120,000 members are
eligible to cast ballots — and the fact
that the prizes come from peers.
Also, every year since 1996, eventual
best-picture Oscar winners have either
won or been nominated for the allimportant SAG Award for top performance by a cast. Sasha Stone of the
Awards Daily website, one of the very
few Oscar experts who forecast that
“Moonlight” would win the Academy
Award for best picture, has said the
fact that “La La Land” did not land a
SAG nomination for outstanding cast
performance was an early clue that it
wasn’t a runaway favorite, as most
prognosticators had assumed.
Last January’s SAG Awards also
turned out to be one of the most politically charged and scrappy shows of the
season. It was held two days after
President Trump’s Muslim travel ban
unleashed chaos and spurred protests
at major airports, and SAG winners
lent their voices to the outcry.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”), whose
father fled Nazi-occupied France,
called the ban “un-American” and “a
blemish.” Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) identified himself as a Muslim,
to cheers, and urged people to cherish
differences rather than war over them.
David Harbour of “Stranger Things”
vowed to “repel bullies,” “shelter
freaks and outcasts” and “hunt monsters,” as audience members jumped
up and roared their approval.
There will be at least one exception
to the all-female roster at the ceremony in January: The award for outstanding performance by a cast will be
introduced by men and women, though
the award itself will be presented by
women (SAG awards are customarily
presented by a man and a woman).
The names of the presenters, including
the person who will hand out the Life
Achievement Award, which is going to
Morgan Freeman, have yet to be announced.
The show’s change comes as the
entertainment industry — among
many others — grapples with unfolding sexual misconduct allegations that
seem to know no end, with prominent
figures including Harvey Weinstein,
Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Danny
Masterson accused of misdeeds ranging from harassment to rape.
Until this season, Mr. Weinstein was
a ringleader and fixture on the Oscars
circuit, but despite his downfall, and
what has followed, there has been
scant mention of the accusations at
early awards shows.
It is also unclear how or if the coming ceremonies will handle the issue,
admittedly a particularly tricky one to
address sensitively. Ms. Bell said she
was still deciding whether to bring up
the subject in her opening monologue,
and wondered what would be accomplished if she did.
“An awards show is not as serious as
the conversation deserves to be,” Ms.
Bell said. “And this night will celebrate
women more than any other SAG
Awards has, and possibly more than
any other awards show has.”
The organizations, producers and
hosts of several other ceremonies —
the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the
Directors Guild of America Awards —
either did not respond to requests for
comment on what they might do, or
replied that it was too early to say.
A representative for Jimmy Kimmel,
who will be the Oscars host, declined to
And, speaking to the Bagger’s colleague Dave Itzkoff for a coming article, Seth Meyers, the Golden Globes
host, said he almost certainly would be
addressing the sexual harassment
scandals in his opening monologue.
But Mr. Meyers added that he and his
team had yet to write specific jokes,
not least because news events change
daily. “The best jokes will be written
within a week of it,” Mr. Meyers said.
The Bagger asked Ms. Dewey of
Turner whether she thought it had to
be a woman who came up with the
all-female plan.
“I’m a straight shooter,” Ms. Dewey
said, “And my answer to this is yes.”
She continued, “I don’t want to say a
man couldn’t do it, but it’s awfully easy
to go forward, to go ahead with the
ways things have always been done.”
“Sometimes it takes persuasion to
say, ‘No, you need to do this,’ or a
provocation for change to happen,” she
added. “Sometimes it’s necessary to
shove things along.”
O little town
By Nicholas Blincoe. Illustrated. 271 pp.
Nation Books. $28.
Global Headquarters:
49 Charles Street  Mayfair  London  W1J 5EN
+44 (0)20 7290 9585
w w w. g r a y a n d f a r r a r. c o m
Telling the story of a city is a bold
undertaking — an act, depending on
the city, that entails parsing myth and
historical accounts, archaeological digs
and theological teachings, to distill the
very essence of a place. Nicholas Blincoe takes on this mission with verve in
his new book, “Bethlehem,” unveiling
the history of “the most famous little
town in the world,” a place whose
associations have long existed in the
sociocultural zeitgeist. It is the supposed birthplace of Jesus; a town
known for dissent in the face of invading forces; the site of much holiness
and bloodshed.
Blincoe’s thoroughness is nothing
short of impressive. The story of Bethlehem begins with an earthquake,
forcing long-submerged land upward,
some 20 million years ago. But it wasn’t until a few millenniums ago that the
city’s inherent wealth became apparent: Olive oil, a byproduct of a geo-
graphical climate “where the wilderness meets civilization,” put the town
on the map, making it precious in
terms of trade, a place worth conquering.
In focusing on a single, prized city
like Bethlehem, Blincoe is essentially
telling the story of colonization. Aqueducts combined with proximity to
Jerusalem made Bethlehem “heavily
militarized throughout antiquity.” As
Blincoe notes, “all it takes to conquer
Jerusalem is to seize its water supply.
. . . This is what every future invader
did.” Through these pages, we witness
the town fall to crusaders and Ottomans, the British Army and Israeli
forces, its streets brimming with soldiers and prophets and empresses.
From ornamental shells dating to
the eighth century B.C. all the way to
the fatal Oslo accords, Blincoe offers a
biography so vividly imagined that I
jumped when my phone buzzed, interrupting my reverie of Nabataean temples. If at times the historical rundown
feels dense, a bit rushed, the reward is
in the lush prose and personal accounts. Blincoe is a joyful writer, well
suited to the task of evoking place,
with passages like this one transporting the reader with mouthwatering
specificity: “The warren of streets that
An Orthodox Christmas ceremony in the
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.
make up Beit Sahour’s old town echo
with Arab techno music, the clink of
bottles of the local Taybeh beer, and
thick clouds of metallic tasting smoke
from shisha pipes.”
History humbles. It reminds us that
even the most recognized stories aren’t
finished being written yet. The story of
colonialism, for instance, is very much
alive and well in Bethlehem, a town
administered by the Palestinian Authority but under the military occupation of Israel, with the additional strain
— affecting access to everything from
natural resources like water to telecommunications and electric pipes —
of being surrounded by settlements
with a population of over 100,000. The
Balfour Declaration, which encouraged
“the establishment in Palestine of a
national home for the Jewish people”
and set into motion the most enduring
conflict of our time, hit its centennial
this year. Speaking of the contested
narratives of the region, Blincoe notes,
“the desert around Bethlehem was
never clean or empty. . . . . The urge to
wish everything away reflects the
desire of an immigrant to make a fresh
start in a new landscape.”
Nowhere is this more true than in
Bethlehem, a place where “people
came armed with their own ideas of
truth.” Blincoe handles his own narratives of Bethlehem delicately, like a
horticulturist pruning beloved orchids,
following its many iterations through
the rise and fall of civilizations as “a
place caught between worlds. . . . When
there are so many possibilities, there is
every reason to hope that one of the
possibilities might be a miracle.” More
than anything, his love for the place
leaps off the page; for all its chronicling of incursions and defeat, this is
ultimately a book about hope.
Hala Alyan is the author of the novel
“Salt Houses.”
Camping that includes a butler
On trips, Gabrielle Union
stays fully charged
Mobile camping experiences, with easily movable tents and gear, are popping
up all over the globe, allowing travelers
to explore unspoiled landscapes while
leaving a light footprint.
“Authentic connection with the natural
world is hard to find when staying in traditional accommodations,” said Tom
Marchant, a founder of the luxury travel
outfitter Black Tomato. The company’s
new mobile camping service, Blink, lets
guests customize their experiences, including the design of their tents. Camps
can be set up in locations like glaciers,
deserts or jungles, and they come with a
butler, private chef, local guide, driver
and masseuse. (All-inclusive rates start
at approximately $10,000 per person excluding airfare.) After guests depart,
the entire camp is broken down.
In Tanzania’s central Serengeti, Roving
Bushtops’ compact camping trucks unpack into six 1,000-square-foot luxury
safari tents. The area is abundant yearround with zebras, wildcats, giraffes
and elephants, and herds of wildebeests
migrate past the camp from November
to March. When taking a break from
daily game drives, guests can linger on
their private decks, enjoy unlimited
complimentary massages or take balloon rides. All-inclusive rates start at
$990 per person per night including butler service, à la carte dining and a private 4WD vehicle.
The landscape of Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt
Lake is so surreal that “Star Wars” is
featuring it as a fictional planet in its
coming film. Travelers can experience
its otherworldly appeal with Crillon
Tours’ camping expeditions in fully
loaded Airstream campers equipped
with comfortable beds, a kitchen table,
hot showers and a stocked minibar. A
private driver, guide and chef accompany guests as they explore the salt flats’
giant cactuses and flamingos and surrounding Andean villages. Rates for
one- to three-night packages start at
$2,499 per person.
An REI Adventures trek takes the Lemosho Route to Mount Kilimanjaro.
Smiling Albino offers a mobile camping
excursion in Tarutao National Park.
Guests arrive by boat on the island of Ko
Ra Wi, where a tent fitted with a king
bed, dressers, reading chairs, fans, a
kitchen and Western-style bathrooms
awaits. A camp manager is on hand to
organize activities around the archipelago. Local fishermen provide a daily
catch, which a private chef prepares for
sunset dinners overlooking the Andaman Sea. All-inclusive rates start at
$42,000 per couple for three-night stays.
Equestrians can explore the Okavango
Delta with weeklong horse safaris by
the travel outfitter Timbuktu, led by
guides from Ride Botswana. The camp
is transported by mokoros (traditional
dugout canoes), while guests spend
their days on horseback cantering elephant trails and spotting wildlife like
buffalo, giraffes and antelopes. Rates
start at $3,550 per person; dates are offered monthly throughout 2018.
Maya Trails recently introduced a fourday trek from the colonial town of Antigua to Lake Atitlán. The nearly 27-mile
hike traces sky-high ridgelines surrounded by volcanoes and winds
through highlands, rivers, fruit plantations and coffee farms. Nightly fireside
camping includes chef-prepared meals,
high-tech tents and hot Guatemalan coffee served each morning. Hikers also
have the chance to meet local farmers
and weavers keeping the ancient art of
backstrap weaving alive. All-inclusive
rates start at $249 per person per day,
based on two people.
On Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, hutto-hut hiking has typically been the
most comfortable way to summit Africa’s highest peak. Now travelers can
Shower door saves your scribbles
Don’t let those great ideas you get in the
shower evaporate.
Travelers who think big in the bath
now have a way to preserve their
strokes of genius. Marriott International has installed a new wired shower
door designed to record any inspiration
marked in the condensation.
When fogged over, the glass door, being introduced at the Irvine Marriott in
Orange County, Calif., acts like a tablet.
Anything written or drawn in the steam
— be it a doodle, a math equation or the
first line of the next great American novel — can be captured and emailed back
to the guest, saving him or her from running for a scratch pad or the nearest
computer while dripping wet.
“Travel is inspiring and inspires you
to think differently and gain new perspectives,” said Matthew Carroll, the
vice president of global brand management for Marriott Hotels & Resorts at
Marriott International. “We found a lot
of great ideas come to you in the
The wired shower door, called Splash
of Brilliance, is the latest high-tech de-
Fogged-over shower doors act like a
tablet at a Marriott hotel in California.
vice from Marriott, which runs an innovation lab called M Beta at the Charlotte
Marriott City Center in Charlotte, N.C.,
devoted to testing new concepts.
“One of our key philosophies is embracing the pace of change and trying
new things,” Mr. Carroll said. He called
the shower door “one of the smaller,
more fun, opportunistic ways” that the
company “engages and connects with
our guests.”
For now, the connected shower door is
only available in one of the 496 rooms at
the Irvine Marriott as the company tests
its appeal.
Whether it’s a fun gimmick or a useful
tool remains to be seen. But it fits within
the high-tech trend sweeping the hospitality industry, where the race is on to
create smart rooms and out-innovate
the competition.
Aloft Hotels, which introduced a robotic butler called Botlr in 2014, recently
announced ChatBotlr, an automated
text message service to handle guest requests. Keyless guest room entry that
relies on smartphone apps is available
at several hotel companies, including
Hilton and Marriott.
“In a couple of years, controlling the
light and heat and ordering room service, if it’s still available, through an app
will not be leading technology,” said
Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at the
New York University School of Professional Studies in the Jonathan M. Tisch
Center for Hospitality and Tourism.
“There’s a friendly war going on to hook
into the best and fastest. I think the
shower door is part of that.”
London takes on California cuisine
There are no fake palm trees or servers
wearing diaphanous, gold-hued dresses
at Malibu Kitchen in London, which is on
the ground floor (along with seven other
restaurants and bars) of The Ned, an upscale hotel and private club by Nick
Jones, who also founded the Soho
The 40-seat restaurant, which opened
in May, is tucked into the corner of the
vast, dimly lit, pillar-laden hall, separated from its culinary brethren only by
five-foot-high wood cubicles. During a
recent visit, the attentive staff members
were dressed in dark colors, and no one
was feigning a Southern California accent. As live jazz mixed with the cacophony of voices throughout the cavernous
chamber, my dining companion and I
perused the menu while sipping cocktails featuring turmeric-laced vodka
and beetroot-spiked gin.
The day before, the restaurant had
called to confirm my reservation, informing me of its 90-minute limit while
dining. While this has become the norm
among trendy and upscale restaurants
in England, it felt decidedly un-Californian. I was more skeptical of eating the
cuisine of my home state 5,000 miles removed from its celebrated sunshine and
soil. California cuisine is a culinary
genre that many associate with Alice
Waters and her groundbreaking Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse; it has migrated not just throughout the state, but
across the United States.
But Chez Panisse U.K. this is not. Instead, the menu here evokes a fictionalized California, an imagined place
This is a California on (organically
grown and seasonal) steroids, but
look past this stereotyped
approach, and Malibu Kitchen
can be a delicious trip.
where restaurants from Santa Monica to
Berkeley serve poke, kale salads, chia
seed flatbreads and sea bream tacos,
washed down with cold-pressed green
juice and chased with a wheatgrass
shot. If menus could speak, this one
would eschew a London accent for a lot
of misplaced “likes” and “literallys.” It’s
enough to make Alice Waters choke on a
forkful of mâche lettuce. This is a California on (organically grown and seasonal) steroids.
But look past this stereotyped ap-
proach, and Malibu Kitchen can be a delicious trip. Take our first dish: zucchini
flat bread. The crunch of the crust
(gluten-free, made from zucchini and
fennel seeds), the creamy almond paste
and the tangy tomatoes eased some of
my doubts. The refreshing bite-size
springs rolls, filled with raw veggies and
mango, further won over my palate.
For main courses, we shared the
roasted chicken, grilled and then finished in the oven; the result was tender
enough to require only a pair of forks.
The whole bass, splayed open to achieve
a crispy exterior, had hints of turmeric
and lemon in its juicy interior.
The short wine list, surprisingly, offers only a few bottles from the Golden
State; France, Spain, Argentina and Italy are also represented.
As our 90-minute deadline neared, we
waited to be approached by a manager
telling us it was time to go. But life went
on, and servers continued to refill our
water glasses and even asked if we
wanted to see the desert menu. We didn’t, but I left thinking maybe Malibu
Kitchen is more Californian than I
Malibu Kitchen, The Ned, 27 Poultry; 4420-3828-2000;
malibu-kitchen; dinner for two without
drinks or tip is £50 (about $68).
navigate the Lemosho Route’s rain forest and arctic terrain with REI Adventures’ “Signature Camping” experience.
Each evening, the REI staff sets up large
mobile tents with cushy cots for guests,
and warm dinners are served in a dining
tent. The 11-day package starts at $5,999
and includes most meals, bilingual
guides, camping and hotel stays.
Rothschild Safaris’ new 11-day “India
Under Canvas” adventure tracks tigers
and other wildlife through India’s Central Highlands, and includes a two-day
camping experience at Satpura National Park, home to native bison, antelope, leopards and wild dogs. At Jamtara
Wilderness Camp in Pench National
Park, guests can sleep under the stars in
a traditional machaan, an open-air platform bed built on high stilts, which allows guests to witness the jungle come
alive at sunrise. Rates start at $4,910 per
person (based on two people) including
domestic connecting flights.
The actor Gabrielle Union is currently
starring as the tempestuous news anchor of “Being Mary Jane,” a television
series on BET. Her collection of essays,
“We’re Going to Need More Wine:
Stories That Are Funny, Complicated,
and True,” was published in October.
Home for Ms. Union is Miami Beach,
but she films “Being Mary Jane” in Atlanta. She’s also frequently in Chicago,
Cleveland, Los Angeles and New York,
and when it comes to hotels, she has
plenty to recommend.
“I have my favorites. Mainly because
they have, like, my favorite kind of chocolate. L’Ermitage, in L.A., brought me
my sriracha popcorn and potato chips
instead of wine and champagne. The
James Hotel in New York — I love their
restaurants. The Andaz, near the public
library in New York, I love it, their
rooms are massive. And The Peninsula
in Chicago is one of my favorites.”
She doesn’t bring anything to make
the hotel rooms feel more homelike,
though. “As long as the hotel has HGTV,
I feel at home.”
When it comes to vacation, she has to
coordinate with the off-season of her
husband, the N.B.A. player Dwyane
Wade. “This year his off-season was a
little longer than it had been in the past,
so we had a lot more time to travel. We
did Rome and Florence, a week in Paris
and then a week on a yacht on the Amalfi
Coast. And then later in the summer, we
did a week in Mykonos with a group of
friends for our anniversary.”
Her packing secret? Ziploc bags. “I
like to pack my clothes in gallon-size Ziploc bags. It helps with wrinkles, but
you can also get more stuff in. It’s kind of
like it’s freeze-dried. You can fit more
clothes in your bag and you can organize
your outfits.” She will do almost anything to avoid checking a bag, including
sending clothes by FedEx to her destination. “It’s cheaper than paying for a
bag, and the wait for your bag can go up
to, like, an hour and a half” at the airport.
Here’s what she takes on every trip.
at all times because cat dander and I are
not friends.”
“I always have my two
plug-in chargers, one for Android, one
for iPhone, and then two of the cords for
charging on the plane. So I always have
four charging options. There’s nothing
worse than landing and your phones are
dead. My Beats earbuds, those are key.
My iPad, with my shows downloaded already. Right now, I’m on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ My God. I had no idea. I’m
very late to the party. It’s so good, and
crazy, and it kind of feels like that’s what
we’re moving toward now. Oh, and
‘Brockmire.’ The pilot episode of ‘Brockmire’ might be one the funniest pieces of
television I’ve ever seen, like, in life.”
“I always have a book. I just finished the latest Liane Moriarty, ‘Truly
Madly, Guilty,’ and I’m starting Roxane
Gay’s ‘Hunger,’ so that’s in my purse
now. I’m old-school, I like to turn the
page, I like the smell of books. I’m that
person. I am the person keeping Barnes
& Noble alive.”
“I keep old licenses. I have a fear of losing my license, and I think, ‘At least I’ll have this
old one just in case!’ So, I have a wallet
full of old licenses. With different hairdos.”
“I’m a big lover of Stance socks.
They’re like cool, funky socks. I keep a
pair in my purse just for warmth. It’s
chilly on those planes.”
ALLERGY MEDICINE “I always have allergy
medicine because of the people who like
to travel with their cats. I keep it on me
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