On December 7, Jazmine Headley visited a Human Resources Administration center in Brooklyn in the hopes of getting a child care voucher for her 1-year-old son, Damone. After spending several hours in the office, there were no seats available, so she sat on the floor with her son in her arms.
Security officers at the center asked Headley to stand or leave the building, and when she said she would not, they called the police. Police also requested that Headley leave, and then decided to take a different route.
A video recording of the Friday incident shows three officers surrounding Headley, forcefully attempting to pull her son from her arms as she cradles him on the ground. “They’re hurting my son! They’re hurting my son!” Headley yells. Onlookers in the center can be heard telling officers to stop, but the officers continue to pull at Headley and her child. At one point, an officer pulls out a stun gun and waves it at the crowd.
A Brooklyn woman applying for food stamps sat on the floor as no chairs were available. The NYPD came and forcibly pulled her ONE-YEAR-OLD son out of her arms. She faces multiple charges and is being held without bail on Rikers.pic.twitter.com/vdTOpKsWWT
“I was just so disgusted,” Nyashia Ferguson, the person who recorded the video, told CBS New York. “I couldn’t believe they were doing that to that child. I just couldn’t believe it. It was crazy.”
Headley was arrested during the incident, and the video hasfueled a new wave of criticism of the NYPD, which has found itself at the center of several high-profile use of force incidents against black and brown New Yorkers in recent years.
It’s also led some local officials and policing experts to question just how committed the NYPD is to its effort to train officers in de-escalation and implicit bias, an initiative first announced in 2014.
“We were told after the death of Eric Garner that NYPD would receive ‘deescalation training,’” Alex Vitale, a sociology professor and coordinator for Brooklyn College’s Policing and Social Justice Project, tweeted on Sunday. “It obviously didn’t work.”
Video of police separating Headley from her son immediately drew national attention
Headley was charged with resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child, obstructing governmental administration, and trespassing. She has been held at Rikers Island without bail since the incident occurred, an action the police department has attributed to an unrelated outstanding arrest warrant for Headley in New Jersey.
On Tuesday, after the video went viral, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced that all charges against her would be dropped.
“The consequences this young and desperate mother has already suffered as a result of this arrest far outweigh any conduct that may have led to it: she and her baby have been traumatized,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “Continuing to pursue this case will not serve any purpose,” he added. Hours later, attorneys representing Headley announced that she would also be released from jail.
Headley still faces charges for credit card fraud stemming from the New Jersey warrant and is expected to appear in court on Wednesday for that matter, the New York Times reports.
Video of Headley’s arrest immediately sparked discussions about the criminalization of poverty, particularly as it affects poor black women shamed for needing government aid. “Being poor is not a crime. The actions of the NYPD in this video are appalling and contemptible,” New York City public advocate and state Attorney General-elect Letitia James said in a statement on Sunday.
“No mother should have to experience the trauma and humiliation we all witnessed in this video,” she added.
The arrest has also sparked concern among other local political figures. On December 9, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted that Headley’s violent arrest was “unacceptable, appalling and heart breaking.”
“The level of trauma inflicted here on this young mother and child is deeply upsetting, disturbing and unacceptable,” he added.
The NYPD has said that the incident was “troubling” and added that it would conduct an ”examination of all available video of the incident.” The Human Resource Administration officers involved in the arrest have not been named, and have been placed on leave, and will work on modified duty when they return according to agency commissioner Steve Banks.
But these statements have done little to quell criticism of the NYPD or of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. On Monday, de Blasio tweeted about the arrest, calling it a disturbing incident. “I have a lot of questions about how this was handled,” he wrote. “NYPD & HRA will get to the bottom of what happened.”
In a Tuesday morning tweet, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand argued that the situation required “a full investigation” and called the video “outrageous and horrific.” And according to Buzzfeed, there have been at least two protests in the city criticizing Headley’s treatment by police.
The NYPD has touted its new de-escalation training. Now critics are questioning if it really works.
Headley’s violent arrest comes after years of Mayor de Blasio and police department officials praising the NYPD’s increased emphasis on de-escalation and fighting implicit bias.
These changes began in 2014, after the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being placed in a department-prohibited chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in December 2014, prompting de Blasio to announce a massive officer retraining program that was slated to begin in 2015.
“I think you’re going to see a very different reality after this training has been achieved,” de Blasio said at the time. “This will protect our officers, it will protect live citizens. I have no doubt some tragedy will be avoided because of this training.”
The training, which included three days of discussions and lectures on topics like cultural sensitivity and use of force, was poorly received by some officers, who gave the program negative ratings in early 2015. Policing experts noted that the training was unlikely to accomplish its goals, arguing that a few hours of training over three days was not enough to change the policing culture in New York.
Later in 2015, a report from New York’s Department of Investigation unpacked just how deeply the problems were embedded, noting that the city’s police academy also offered insufficient training on de-escalation.
“In the Police Academy’s nearly 500 hours of coursework, OIG-NYPD identified only one nine hour course (entitled “Use of Force”) that directly pertains to an officer’s use of force,” the city commissioner noted. “Just one 4.5-hour course (entitled “Policing Professionally”) addresses de-escalation tactics — less than one percent of the total curriculum.”
These issues have received new attention since Headley’s arrest, and have led critics to note de Blasio’s extended silence on the matter prior to his Monday tweets. “Mr. de Blasio’s handling of the incident shows how far he has strayed from his righteous roots as a candidate promising to hold the police accountable and change the way they interact with minority residents like Ms. Headley, who is black,” the New York Times editorial board argued on Monday.
High profile events like Headley’s arrest come at a difficult moment for the police department, which has struggled to gain trust in communities of color even while the city promotes changes like efforts to reduce marijuana arrests and the end to controversial practices like stop-and-frisk.
These efforts have been further complicated by other incidents of police use of force, including an alleged use of a prohibited chokehold by an officer in 2017, and a recorded incident that same year where an officer threatened to Tase a group of teenagers.
As Brooklyn College’s Vitale explained to the Times, these events only make it harder for communities of color to interact with police. “This just reinforces their sense that police are a source of violence and injustice,” he said.
Why the founder of the Cannabition museum thinks cannabis is the perfect subject for an immersive experience.
Today, weed is a burgeoning, multibillion-dollar industry: Marijuana is legal for recreational use in 10 states and for medical use in 33. Sure, it was once associated with hippies and the stoner stereotype. But weed underwent a rebrand to become cannabis, and now the industry consists of artisanal edibles, organically grown crop, high-end glassware, and wellness products.
It’s a highly intriguing world (see what I did there), so it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone gave marijuana the “interactive experience” treatment lately applied to ice cream, avocados, pizza, eggs, colors, candy, and more. That someone: J.J. Walker, the entrepreneur behind Cannabition, a new interactive cannabis museum that opened in downtown Las Vegas in November (the name is a nod to Prohibition).
Walker’s aim is to educate visitors about cannabis, from the beginning stages of its seeds to its extraction, and serve as a fun and immersive space for cannabis consumers. For $24 a ticket, museum visitors can walk through psychedelic art installations, study a cannabis grow operation, dive into a pool of giant cannabis buds, and admire the “world’s largest bong” — all of it tailored for Instagram, of course.
I chatted with Walker a few weeks ago by phone about why he thinks cannabis is primed for a social media-friendly museum experience, why Vegas is the best destination for such an attraction, and how he deals with the constant evolution in marijuana regulations. This interview has been edited and condensed.
What is your background in the cannabis space?
I grew up in Colorado [which started selling cannabis recreationally in 2014]. I worked as a nightclub promoter for many years, but once Obama came into office, there was a lot of talk about the legalization of cannabis.
My close friend Matt Brown, who is a well-known cannabis lobbyist, recommended I get in early. In 2008, a buddy and I started our dispensary [for medical marijuana], the Health Center, with about $10,000 in Denver. We were, like, the seventh dispensary to open the state, and when we opened, there weren’t any licenses or regulations yet, so we got a horticultural license. We operated throughout the entire regulatory process, which was a wild and crazy ride.
We sold our business in 2011 and then explored other cannabis experiences. I’m a marketing type of guy, and thought a lot about cannabis destination events. For a while, I had a cannabis tour company called My 420 tours, which sold packages to events like High Times Cannabis Cup or the Red Rocks 420 Eve on the Rocks concerts, and would take people around on a bus and set them up in hotels where you can smoke on the balconies. We’d had the tour company for four years when we thought about expanding it to Vegas, and I decided on this exhibit.
What gave you the idea for this type of museum?
I read a lot about cool, immersive attractions like the Museum of Ice Cream, the Color Factory, 29 Rooms, and thought that it could work really well with cannabis. A lot of entrepreneurs in cannabis now are focusing dispensaries or grow houses, but I believe the future is the social experience of cannabis. Right now, there’s no experience in it.
Imagine if there were just liquor stores but no place to drink it! I think cannabis needs these type of fun, hip, immersive, Instagrammable attractions that give consumers an engaging experience and also help normalize it.
How is the museum “interactive”?
It’s a 40-minute experience and there are 12 different exhibits. We call it “a journey from seed to celebration.” There’s a room with a giant bed of seeds, where visitors can lie on and look up at cool lights. There’s a grow room, which shows the cannabis grow process. There’s also a harvest room, with huge, 7 buds we’re calling Hug-a-Bud.
There’s a part of the exhibit where you get “smoked,” so you go up a staircase through giant red lips, and then down a slide. The exhibit hits all senses, so there’s also a terpene smell station, where visitors can smell the different types of terpenes [which are the fragrant oils of cannabis].
There’s also a lot of big art installations, like a giant stoner caterpillar, and we also have the world’s largest bong, which is a 24-foot Jerome Baker bong. We encourage visitors to touch and feel everything. Every room is Instagrammable and has both “discovery” moments and an educational side.
What sort of educational elements? Like, teaching people how to roll joints?
There’s going to be the history about the fight for legalization, the difference between sativa and indica and all the different types of strains. The exhibit teaches about the methods of extraction, the medical aspect of the cannabinoids, and how CBDs impact people’s lives. As you go through the exhibits, there’s a message behind each of them that relates that to why cannabis is legal — and why it should’ve been the entire time.
Why open a museum instead of a private cannabis lounge?
Vegas has a ton of regulatory issues. There might be 43 million tourists who can buy cannabis there, but there’s nowhere to smoke it. It’s going to take a while to get those rules passed, but in the meantime, I figured there’s a better way to set up a cannabis space in Vegas that’s similar to all these new attractions. Plus, I wanted a fun experience that suits being stoned, not a boring lounge like San Francisco has where people sit around and smoke and then have to leave after 30 minutes.
Why open it in Vegas, as opposed to legal states like Colorado or Washington?
Vegas legalized recreational marijuana officially in 2017, and I believe it’s going to be an exciting place for the legal marijuana industry. There are 43 million people that come [to Vegas] every year, and that’s a lot of potential to be exposing people to cannabis. I know some people might thinking of Vegas as just gambling and drinking, but downtown is changing a lot. There’s a lot to do that’s interesting and alternative, and there are tons of fun and cool experiences.
Do people have to come to the museum stoned?
No! Being stoned definitely will enhance your experience, and the exhibit will be more fun, but you don’t have to. It’s a really immersive art exhibit, and so even if you’re a non-smoker, it’s a fun way to get a taste of cannabis without having to actually consume any of it. The narrative of the museum, with the lights, the colors, and the journey, is to make you already feel like you are on cannabis.
Are you selling any pot for visitors at the exhibit? Does that come with a ticket?
No, right now Vegas regulations don’t allow us to. We’ve got a partnership with some nearby dispensaries and Lyft, so we’ll be taking visitors on a free ride to go directly from the museum [to the dispensaries]. But right now, Cannabition is set up as an interactive museum, not as a place that sells cannabis [or has visitors smoking inside].
But we’ve built the space so that it’s designed to grow and develop as the laws change. If Vegas does pass a social consumption ordinance, then the museum is going to get elevated. The goal is to turn the museum into a space where you come in, buy cannabis, consume it, and then have the experience. But that crossover hasn’t happened yet.
Who are the type of people you think are coming to this museum?
It’s 21 and up. We’re expecting a lot of millennials, but also a ton of baby boomers. The thing I’ve learned about being in this business is that marijuana brings everyone together. People who smoke pot are interested in learning about the industry, but there are also people who just want to know about it and will want to see something cool and unique.
I wouldn’t say that everyone in the space is white. There are a lot of very powerful groups that are full of diverse business owners. We have not gotten into that, but I love the thought of teaching visitors that portion of history.
Are you a pot smoker?
No, not really.
Really? That’s interesting, seeing as you’re in this business.
Yeah. I’m not a nonsmoker, but it’s not something I do often. I am just more passionate about advocating for its legalization. I was on the medical side of it for several years, and the benefits of it are incredible. On the recreational side of it, as someone who worked in the nightclub entertainment industry, I see huge opportunities to create new types of experiences. A “night out” has [traditionally] been around alcohol, but now people can be uplifted by something other than alcohol.
The voting system works perfectly well in other parts of the world.
The drama over America’s first ever ranked-choice federal election — Maine’s Second Congressional District — continues, with a hand recount beginning on Thursday at the request oflosing Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin.
It’s just the latest challenge to a new voting system that has withstood challenge after challenge, but this one could take as long as four weeks to resolve — possibly leaving the seat empty when the new Congress is sworn in January 3.
The election was the first time Maine has used ranked-choice voting for a federal election, following a ballot box law passed by Maine voters in 2016 (the system cannot be used for gubernatorial or state races until after Maine changes its constitution, something Governor-elect Janet Mills has vowed to do).
The new system allows voters to number the candidates on their ballot; their alternate choices come into play if no candidate receives the majority (50 percent plus 1) of first preferences. If that happens, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and their votes redistributed to whomever those voters ranked second. This is repeated in rounds until one candidate reaches a majority. It resembles the run-off style elections held in states like Mississippi, but without needing to hold a whole new election — in a sense, simulating a series of runoff elections.
Depending on whom you ask, the new method of voting is either a push toward a more democratic system or a logistical hellscape. Despite the fact that it’s used in multiple countries around the world with little fuss, in Maine, it’s proven more the latter, thanks inpart to political resistance and legal challenges from the state’s Republicans.
Where the race for Maine’s heavily contested House seat stands
In its first federal election debut in the US, ranked-choice voting made a splash: Republican Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden each received around 46 percent of the first-preference vote, with Poliquin around 2,000 votes ahead. But after the lower vote-getters were eliminated and their votes redistributed, Golden came out 3,500 votes ahead.
Since his defeat, Poliquin has been looking for ways to contest the results, from challenging the newsystem’s constitutionality in federal court to demanding a recount. US District Judge Lance Walker has yet to rule on Poliquin’s lawsuit against the state, but is expected to issue a decision this week.
In response to the lawsuit, Golden’s campaign manager Jon Breed said that Poliquin should have sued before the election, not after the votes were cast, if he felt the system was unconstitutional.
But Maine Republicans were opposed beforehand. Gov. Paul LePage — whom the system was, in part, introduced in reaction against (he was elected twice without winning the majority of the vote) — called the new voting system “the most horrific thing in the world” in June, and threatened not to certify the results of the primaries. And it’s taken multiple successful state referendums to get to this point. As Vox’s Ella Nilsen reported in June:
Maine Republicans are very mad about instant-runoff voting, saying it’s unconstitutional for the government to set up an entirely new system of voting. To underscore that point, Republicans in the state Senate tried to sue Secretary of State [Matt] Dunlap to stop the process from going forward. But their proposal to halt it died on a tie vote in the Senate and was also thrown out by Kennebec Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy in an April ruling.
Workers from Maine’s Secretary of State Office have now begun the arduous task of recounting of the 300,000 ballots, the full cost of which will be covered by Poliquin if the result does not change. Ben Grant, a Golden attorney working on the recount, said the recount should help establish confidence in the system, confident himself that the result would not change. “It’s an unfortunate delay, but it does help with the public trust in the process,” he told the Portland Press Herald.
Ranked voting is controversy-free in other parts of the world
Ranked-choice voting has been used in very few places in the US — mostly just in a handful of cities for their municipal elections — but the system is surprisingly common and drama-free in other parts of the world.
It’s been used in Australia for federal lower house seats since 1918 and in Ireland for presidential elections since 1937. A number of countries began adopting ranked-choice or “alternative”voting in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and parts of Hong Kong. British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and all Australian states use ranked choice for state or provincial elections.
As explained by Fair Vote, the system is intended to help “elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters.” Ranked-choice advocates say it allows voters to genuinely express their preferences, without having to vote strategically for candidates they think have a better chance of winning in order to make their vote “count.”
A large part of Poliquin’s issue with the outcome seems to be that he came first on first-preferences and then didn’t win the election, telling media outlets “I won the election fair and square.”
But that’s not how ranked-choice voting works. It’s about electing the candidate that better reflects the support of a majorityof voters, not just a plurality.
In fact, in an election in the Australian state of Victoria in November, a Greens party candidate who came third on first preferences ultimately ended up winning the seat on distributed preferences. That’s not seen as unfair or un-square — it’s seen as democratic.
America’s (very) slow turn to ranked-choice
Though its well-established in other parts of the world, ranked-choice is viewed with suspicion in the US, as any new voting system is wont to be by those elected under the status quo.
But for some Americans — like voters in Fargo who recently introduced a new “approval voting” system —a new method seems increasingly necessary.
First-past-the-post favors two-party systems. It makes it unnecessary to appeal to a broad share of the electorate in multi-candidate races. Voters often have to vote strategically — for the major party candidate they dislike least — rather than honestly — for the candidate they actually want.
But while Maine Republicans have been stubborn about accepting ranked-choice, perceived by some as resistance to something that might disadvantage them politically, it’s also seen by many as too complex for the United States to switch to.
Stephen Lutz, an electoral analyst and director of Above Quota Elections, an independent company that administers elections for non-government organizations in Australia, was asked to testify before a Los Angeles council considering implementing ranked-choice in 2008. He told me he was met with complaints that the system was too confusing, and too hard for people to understand, especially for an area with manynon-English speakers.
Even mostDemocratic leaders feels no great desire for this switch, Lutz said, because it actually makes it easier for independents and minor parties to get a seat at the table (as it has in Australia and Ireland).
But Maine voters were interested, and the Second District’s result — whenever it’s settled — will be a step forward for both the state, and US voters who are intrigued by the idea of improving our political processes.
There may be more to the Mohammed bin Salman-Jared Kushner relationship than meets the eye, according to a New York Times report.
As further details emerge over how Russian officials attempted to form connections with those in Donald Trump’s orbit for political influence, a new report indicates that Saudi Arabian leaders were making concerted efforts of their own, cultivating valuable connections with a key figure in Trump world: Jared Kushner.
Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has formed a close bond with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman — one that “did not happen on [its] own,” according to a New York Times report published Saturday.
The detailed report, written by David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler, and Mark Mazzetti, tracks the story of how the two men in their thirties came to have such a close friendship that Kushner regularly chats privately on the phone with the crown prince, even calling him by his first name, much to the chagrin of senior American officials. The Times reports that Saudi Arabia saw Kushner as a viable, impressionable target, and beganwhat the reporters describe as “the courtship of Mr. Kushner”:
Prince Mohammed and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years, according to documents, emails and text messages reviewed by The New York Times.
A delegation of Saudis close to the prince visited the United States as early as the month Mr. Trump was elected, the documents show, and brought back a report identifying Mr. Kushner as a crucial focal point in the courtship of the new administration. He brought to the job scant knowledge about the region, a transactional mind-set and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel’s demands, the delegation noted.
This delegation was followed up by a series of meetings and personal recommendations that Kushner reach out, including from MBS ally Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi. Though initially suspicious of Saudi Arabia’s motivations, Kushner soon put his concerns aside, drawn in by proposals and initiatives that aligned with his Israel-Palestine priorities and the administration’s anti-violent extremism ones.
Senior government officials reportedly hold major concerns over the relationship, and if the report is accurate, they are probably right to. Three former officials told the Times that they felt Kushner was “susceptible to Saudi manipulation,” given his “political inexperience”:
Senior officials in the State Department and the Pentagon began to worry about the one-on-one communications between Prince Mohammed — who is known to favor the online messaging service WhatsApp — and Mr. Kushner. “There was a risk the Saudis were playing him,” one former White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Efforts to impose rules and procedures ensuring National Security Council staff members take part in all calls with foreign leaders supposedly failed to make a difference, with the two men still chatting informally over call and text.
Kushner’s close relationship with MBS has been helpful at times, but the connection is also believed to have fundamentally shaped US policy toward both Riyadh and the region. Council on Foreign Relations fellow and former Middle East envoy Martin Indyk told the Times that their “bromance” has shaped US policy toward the kingdom, including over its feud with Qatar and the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
Trump has refused to condemn the crown prince, while Kushner and the prince continue to chat informally, according to sources on both sides. According to the Saudi source, Kushner has even advised MBS on “how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.”
The special counsel sent a letter assessing Cohen’s cooperation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York each filed their sentencing memoranda for President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen Friday.
In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations in a case brought by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Those campaign finance charges were about hush money payments Cohen arranged in 2016 for women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump.
Then last week, Cohen pleaded guilty to an additional charge of lying to Congress, as part of a new plea deal with Mueller. Cohen admitted he’d lied about the timing and extent of talks about a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Mueller’s team wrote that Cohen had “taken significant steps to mitigate his criminal conduct,” and that “the information he has provided has been credible and consistent with other evidence.”
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York requested Cohen get “a substantial term of imprisonment,” with only a modest benefit for his cooperation with the Mueller probe.
Cohen will be sentenced by a New York judge this upcoming Wednesday. You can read the Mueller filing below, or at this link:
And you can read the New York federal prosecutors’ filing below, or at this link.
North Korea is still building missiles despite Trump’s optimism.
New evidence surfaced Wednesday showing that no matter what President Donald Trump says, talks with North Korea aren’t going well.
CNN reported that Pyongyang has expanded one of its long-range missile bases. That contradicts the Trump administration, which maintains that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to dismantle his nuclear program — not improve it — during his June meeting in Singapore with Trump.
But the new satellite imagery, added to images last month showing Pyongyang is continuing to develop its missile program, makes it clear that for now North Korea has no intention of granting Trump’s wishes.
“Despite US optimism, Kim is planning for a future in which he still holds onto his nuclear and missile programs,” Eric Brewer, who worked on North Korea in Trump’s National Security Council, told me.
That US optimism is misplaced.
Kim said he planned to make and deploy more missiles during his 2018 New Year’s Day speech and has continued to follow through on that plan. North Korea never said it would stop building weapons, including missiles that might carry nuclear weapons. So it’s not that North Korea is deceiving the United States, but that Washington is willfully ignoring Pyongyang’s own stated policy.
That’s already bad, but it could potentially get even worse. Trump and Kim badly want a summit with one another, making North Korea look good while likely producing no significant result.
North Korea really only wants to meet with Trump. That’s a problem.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named Stephen Biegun, a former Ford Motor Company executive, to be America’s special envoy for North Korea back in August. His main job is to lead the day-to-day, working-level negotiations with Kim’s regime.
The problem is that while Biegun has met with allies in Asia — including South Korea — he has yet to meet with his North Korean counterparts. Multiple sources have told me that Biegun has struggled to make any headway and is effectively powerless at this point.
That’s not entirely his fault. Trump promised Kim in Singapore that he would sign a peace declaration that would semi-officially end hostilities between the US and North Korea. That’s something Pyongyang has wanted for years, in part because it would give the regime political space to reduce its nuclear arsenal, but that only Trump has seemed willing to offer. Other administrations partly didn’t want to sign the declaration because it would reduce pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear program, and they didn’t want to scare South Korea — a staunch US ally.
So it makes sense that the North Koreans only want to deal with Trump and, when they absolutely have to, Pompeo. The secretary met with Kim in October and agreed Trump and Kim should meet for a second summit, which now seems likely in early 2019. Trump told reporters on December 1 that three unnamed sites are under consideration for a summit in January or February.
But experts say that’s a bad idea, and the Trump administration instead needs to push back on North Korea’s desire for big meetings.
“The US needs to disabuse Kim that he can hold out for the summit,” Brewer, who is now at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, told me. “The US should not hold a summit unless there is a working-level process in place and something for the two leaders to agree on. We need to be clear that there will be no pageantry without process.”
Without a process, Trump and Kim will meet with likely no progress on either a peace declaration or denuclearization having actually been made by the end of it. A summit would just allow Kim to take photos alongside the world’s most powerful person, further legitimizing him on the world stage and with his people back home, experts say.
Kim may actually meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul before the end of the year, but both Koreas are still working out the details, sources say.
So while it’s scary that North Korea still builds bases where it can shoot weapons, the current state of Washington-Pyongyang talks is somehow scarier. If neither side can figure out how to capitalize on peace, they may turn to more familiar territory: threatening war all over again.
The National Christmas Tree Association, which this year launched a million-dollar campaign to highlight the benefits of real Christmas trees, attributes a 17 percent rise in the price of real trees from 2015 to 2017 in part to eco-conscious young adults, who may appreciate the smaller environmental footprint and “buy local” ethos of live trees. Still, both real trees and their PVC rivals hold their own appeal for both economic and environmental concerns.
The kind of tree customers buy depends on everything from how much cash they’re willing to part with during the holidays to whether they have the time to care for living trees. And misconceptions have long played a role in Christmas tree consumption, particularly the false idea that plastic trees spare real trees from being chopped down. As consumers become more environmentally savvy and more educated about Christmas trees generally, their preference in trees may shift.
What millennials have to do with the rising cost of real Christmas trees
A generational divide may explain why artificial Christmas trees gradually became more popular in the 1990s and the aughts, and why real ones are slowly enjoying a revival. According to Square, Inc., the financial services company partnering with the NCTA on its “Keep it Real” campaign, baby boomers stopped buying holiday firs and pines once their millennial kids grew up. But now that millennials are adults and buying trees for themselves, they lean toward the real Christmas trees of their childhoods partly because of nostalgia and partly because they are concerned for the earth, the NCTA posits.
Many consumers believed for years that PVC trees were more environmentally friendly than genuine trees. Part of this misconception may stem from consumers assuming that living trees are chopped down from forests increasingly depleted of their natural resources. In reality, farmers grow Christmas trees with the intention of cutting them down and selling them. (Pop star Taylor Swift grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania.)
But artificial trees are composed of PVC plastic, steel, and aluminum, and require packaging and other materials to journey to the United States from Asia, where the bulk of the trees are manufactured. While artificial trees can be reused for long stretches — meaning after about six to nine years, their environmental impact may be smaller than buying a real tree annually, according to William Paddock, the managing director of WAP Sustainability Consulting — they are not recyclable or biodegradable. Instead, they will sit in a landfill for generations, contributing to plastic pollution.
“You’re not doing any harm by cutting down a Christmas tree,” botanist Clint Springer told the New York Times. “A lot of people think artificial is better because you’re preserving the life of a tree. But in this case, you’ve got a crop that’s being raised for that purpose.”
Sales of the real thing have become more expensive in recent years because it takes about seven to 10 years for farmers to grow Christmas trees, and they planted fewer a decade ago as the nation grappled with the economic recession. Now supply is down and demand is up — good news for Christmas tree farmers but hardly a definitive shift for their industry, given that the majority of Americans continue to buy artificial trees.
Why some people gravitate toward artificial Christmas trees
According to CBS News, 80 percent of Americans put up artificial trees. (This doesn’t mean 80 percent buy faux trees annually, since artificial ones last for several years.) And in many ways, it makes sense: Artificial trees, after all, don’t need water or shed needles that have to be swept up. Some even come with built-in lights. For the low-maintenance holiday observer, artificial may be the way to go.
Others may be drawn to savings. PVC trees well over 6 feet tall can be purchased for less than $100. Considering that the trees last for several years, that’s a lot cheaper than buying a natural Christmas tree each year, especially as prices for the real deal rise. In 2015, the average price for a living Christmas tree was $63.88; last year it rose to $73.24, a 17 percent increase from two years earlier, according to Square.
The price of real trees also depends on when consumers buy them during the holiday season. Christmas Eve is when tree purchases cost the least. According to Square, the average cost of a natural tree on that day is $47, but prices drop by 22 percent the entire week before Christmas. Costs are highest on Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving); last year, the average tree price was $81 on that shopping holiday.
If you’re cash-strapped, an artificial tree could save you more money than buying a real tree each year. But if you’re set on a live tree, buying one just before Christmas can help you cut costs.
While the debate over artificial versus real trees isn’t likely to die out anytime soon, ultimately the tree most suitable for shoppers encompasses several factors, from their concerns about the environment to whether they have the time needed to pick out, haul in, and care for the genuine article. But natural tree enthusiasts insist this much is clear: Nothing can replace that real tree smell.
Cars on fire. Police fighting protesters. Tear gas everywhere. Welcome to France.
The images coming out of France right now show devastation, violence, and a nation in the throes of unrest.
The country is currently experiencing widespread protests and riots that have led to massive clashes with police. Over the past three weeks, four people have died, hundreds have been injured, and thousands of dollars’ worth of property has been damaged.
The protests started around November 17 when French drivers sporting yellow vests led a demonstration of 280,000 people across the country to push back against rising taxes on gas and diesel. French President Emmanuel Macron, as part of his many economic reforms, announced the gas taxes earlier this year to minimize France’s reliance on fossil fuels.
The tax will increase the price of fuel by about 30 cents per gallon and will continue to rise over the next few years, the French government says. Gas already costs about $7.06 per gallon in France.
The protest movement — now known as gilets jaunes, or “yellow vests” — has blockaded streets and highways, burned cars, and brawled with police in response to the price hike. The riots in Paris last weekend are the largest the city has seen in nearly five decades.
This public discontent and anger is the greatest threat to Macron’s young presidency yet — in part because demonstrators also target his leadership — and threatens to tear a divided country even further apart.
Hundreds of thousands of people are protesting Macron’s fuel tax and general leadership in Paris and across the country
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show sells a fantasy of empowerment. I sorta believed it.
Guests at the vibrant, sexy, and extremely pink Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show are asked to wear cocktail attire.
The irony of putting on a tuxedo — sans bowtie — to watch beautiful women stomp down a runway in underwear wasn’t lost on me. Not while I shivered as I waited in line around the perimeter of New York City’s Pier 94, a sliver of asphalt uptown and to the west of Manhattan civilization. The crisp weather clashed with the undergarment bonanza I was about to witness.
You can’t purchase a ticket to the show. I’m going as a guest. So are the hundreds people — dressed in gowns, tuxes, evening suits, and sparkly tops — who also obliged the dress code. It looked like we were headed to a night at the opera, at four in the afternoon on a Thursday, at Pier 94.
This will look a lot different on television, I think.
Inside the tent, the carpet is pink. Not ballet slipper pink but more like a pink that’s been soaked in pinot noir. I’m also sweating through my cocktail attire. Despite the chill outside, it’s very warm, a move I assume is for the models who will be wearing nearly nothing.
Ahead of the taping, Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer of L Brands (the American retailer formerly known as The Limited, which owns Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works), gave an interview to Vogue in which he diminished the idea of having transgender or plus-sized models in the show, as some observers have called for while encouraging Victoria’s Secret to make the annual fashion show more diverse and inclusive.
“So it’s like, why don’t you do 50 [referring to bra-sizing]? Why don’t you do 60? Why don’t you do 24? It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show?” Razek said. “No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and any other fashion brand in the world would take it in a minute, including the competitors that are carping at us.”
Vogue, a women’s fashion magazine that itself has faced criticism for its own record on diversity and gender inclusivity, and that regularly shoots with Victoria’s Secret models like Gigi and Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner,scolding Victoria’s Secret in an interview for having set an unreal standard of beauty is like watching a skinny Godzilla fight a skinny King Kong.
“Does the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show need an overhaul?” the article opens. “Victoria’s Secret gets credit for being a conversation starter, but the brand is not part of the evolving discussion around size diversity now.”
Razek isn’t wrong about the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show presenting a fantasy. Even the broadcast isn’t “real” — the fashion show is actually performed twice, once at four-thirty in the afternoon and the other at eight in the evening, for two different audiences. What you’ll see on television if you tune in to watch the 2018 show (which airs Sunday, December 2 on ABC) is a composite of the two taped shows, splicing together the best parts of both to create a single event that never actually happened.
In regard to his blunt comments about transgender and plus-size models, the company and Razek apologized two days later, after receiving heavy criticism.
“My remark regarding the inclusion of transgender models in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show came across as insensitive. I apologize,” he wrote in a statement. “To be clear, we absolutely would cast a transgender model for the show. We’ve had transgender models come to castings … And like many others, they didn’t make it … But it was never about gender. I admire and respect their journey to embrace who they really are.”
The apology didn’t impress many. Razek’s comments, in combination with the announcement, a few days after the fashion show was taped, that Victoria’s Secret CEO Jan Singer is leaving the company — a move that some have surmised is linked to a decline in sales caused by the brand’s reluctance to embrace a more inclusive image — put a spotlight on the divide between how Victoria’s Secret sees itself and how the public does.
It’s not as if anyone has ever believed that the taut abdomens of Victoria’s Secret Angels, whose bodies are comprised of roughly 73 percent legs, reflect most of America’s potato-eating citizens. But it’s widely seen as harmful when music videos, TV shows, movies, comic books, and other artforms don’t reflect the current American population. And today’s consumers are much more empowered to call out companies that flopped when it comes to diversity, inclusivity, and equality.
Reflexively, many companies and brands have heard this public call and responded. Chick-fil-A wants to shrug off its anti-gay label by changing its image despite previously donating money to anti-LGBTQ organizations. The Miss America pageant has eliminated its swimsuit competition in an effort to move away from judging contestants on their physical appearance.
Some brands have even gotten ahead of the curve, like Nike did earlier this year when it revealed that ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be the star of its Just Do It anniversary campaign. The company backed the star and his advocacy against racism and police brutality, making a political statement that resulted in both adulation and a boycott.
Victoria’s Secret not budging in response to calls for a more inclusive fashion show feels more like the corporate exception than the rule. And it places the brand in a conundrum.
Victoria’s Secret’s critics say that the fantasy it presents around beautiful women, fashion, and what constitutes sexiness is outdated. They also say that Victoria’s Secret is no longer a tastemaker in the worlds of fashion and beauty.
But those same critics’ push for the company to include transgender and/or plus-sized models in its fashion show — as well as the firestorm the company has weathered after not doing so — seem to belie this assertion.
It raises the question of what Victoria’s Secret is really selling, who’s buying it, and what those customers believe they are buying. What does the fantasy Razek was talking about actually mean?
The 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a reminder that, according to Victoria’s Secret, being in the show is empowering
To make clear what the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is and what it isn’t, the 2018 show begins with a video interlude.
As I sit in the audience, several models talk about the history of the show and looking up to the “successful” and “powerful” women who walked in the show before them. They talk about how being selected for the show is a major accomplishment, and praise it as a celebration of strong women. Sexiness and power are not mutually exclusive, they say; sexiness is something they’re in control of.
The video is casual. It’s as if the models are out sipping iced coffee with their friends. But beneath the candid scrim, it also feels like a direct response to the criticism that Victoria’s Secret has faced for promoting a style and aesthetic of female sexuality, a style critics say turns women into objects.
After the video fades out, soul singer Leela James comes onto the stage and begins singing The Greatest Showman’striumphant empowerment anthem, “This Is Me.”
Some context: InThe Greatest Showman, “This Is Me”is the climax of the movie. P.T. Barnum has finally become successful by assembling a group of “freaks,” like The Three Legged Man and Dog Boy, to showcase at his circus. But Barnum has also started to dissociate himself from the people whose appearances he’s effectively selling, to hang out with upper crusters instead. So his circus cronies barge into a fancy party, with the Bearded Lady belting this song.
It’s a “we’re not going to take this” and “you’re going to accept us for who we are and stop oppressing us” moment in the movie. My brain is frying.
Victoria’s Secret’s interpretation of that moment has nothing to do with freaks of any kind. Instead, the 2018 Fashion Show opens with plainly gorgeous Kendall Jenner vamping down the runway to the song, in a plaid skirt and bra.
The cheering in the audience swells. The people sitting closest to the runway stand up first, and then everyone else follows suit, like a wave. The models’ names are shouted as if they were professional athletes. It turns into a four-minute standing ovation. I stand up and clap too. I can’t help it.
Everyone seems so happy.
The mishmash of Kendall Jenner, “This Is Me,” the empowerment sound bites, and the image of the bearded lady borders on ridiculous for anyone who’s seen The Greatest Showman. It’s difficult to imagine Jenner ever feeling like the oppressed Dog Boy in a circus. Add to that, the audience is dressed not unlike the aristocratic socialites who Barnum rubs elbows with in the movie. If this segment of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was intentionally satirical, it’d be scathing — but I’m not terribly convinced that was the intent.
What it clearly wants to convey is that becoming a Victoria’s Secret model is an accomplishment that models take very seriously.
But if you look at the show’s history, it’s easy to see why that would be the case.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has been an industry leader in racial diversity. That’s one reason why its critics are so vocal.
For many models, booking the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show is major boost for their careers. Unlike other fashion shows, Victoria’s Secret’s airs on network television and has the added allure of popular performers (crooner Shawn Mendes headlined this year). The show gives models a uniquely massive amount of visibility. Their social clout rises — primarily in the form of Instagram followers — and some become in-demand faces in the fashion industry.
Getting booked for the show can change a model’s life.
One example this year is Kelsey Merritt, the first Filipino model ever to walk in the show. Merritt being cast has become a point of national pride for Filipinos; being Filipino, my mother and her friends are giant fans and know where Merritt went to school, where she grew up, and general Kelsey Merritt trivia.
But putting my mother’s opinion aside, according to Social Blade, Merritt gained some 300,000 followers this month, pushing her over 1 million followers. In the days following the taping of the show, Vogue spotlighted her beauty regimen and secrets (hint: being 22 helps enormously) in a video that has over 1.7 million views:
Merritt’s inclusion in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, as a non-white model, is an example of the racial diversity that Victoria’s Secret has actually been a leader in, if not ahead of the curve in, within the fashion industry.
According to a source in Victoria’s Secret’s casting department who I talked to on background, the percentage of non-white models — of the 60 or so women who are chosen to wear the show’s 90 looks — has been at least 40 percent for the last two years.
In 2017, according to Paper Magazine, the percentage of non-white models in the show was close to 50 percent — up from 30 percent in 2016. And while official numbers for 2018 are not yet available, the source said the percentage of non-white models again topped 40. For comparison’s sake, The Fashion Spot — which tracks demographics like age, size, and race in model castings for the fashion industry’s major annual shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris — has determined that just 36.1 percent of the total castings went to models of color this year.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show also made news in 2016 when black models wore their natural hair, instead of extensions, on the runway. And as Razek pointed out to Vogue in the same interview where he made the comments about transgender and plus-size models, there was a period in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when many Victoria’s Secret models wouldn’t have been hired to work as high fashion models because of their size.
“They were too ‘fat’ was the prevailing wisdom of fashion at the time.” Razek said. “You probably remember that. At the time the conversation was ‘they’re too big for us, we can’t possibly put them in our show.’ Progress gets made, and part of what’s happened in our show is that the girls have just continued to get more physically fit.”
Razek isn’t wrong.
There was a time in fashion when Victoria’s Secret models were largely considered too commercial or too sexy (Victoria’s Secret superstar Heidi Klum has talked about this) to model for serious fashion houses. But that terrain has completely changed. These days, Victoria’s Secret regularly uses high fashion models to walk in its show. Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret has become a draw for models, thanks in large part to the brand’s popularity, visibility, and, of course, the annual fashion show.
Perhaps it’s because of how Victoria’s Secret has the ability to bend the industry, thanks to how inescapable it is as a brand, that its critics feel like it is flailing when it comes to size inclusivity and transgender representation. Victoria’s Secret has shown itself to have the power to change industry norms, and frustration often arises because its critics see the company not harnessing that power to effect change.
My casting source confirmed Razek’s comments about transgender models coming to castings this year, explaining that the company has had transgender models audition for at least three years now. Like many others who vie for the limited number of spots, those models simply did not make it through and it’s unclear why.
Victoria’s Secret’s fantasy and reality are at odds with one another
At one point in the 2018 Fashion Show, Victoria’s Secret as a company thanks Adriana Lima via video clip, whom they dub the “greatest Angel.” It’s a pretty surreal experience; being called the greatest Angel in the presence of so many beautiful women is something none of us will ever achieve. I feel like I’m watching someone get knighted as Lima walks the catwalk by herself, to Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You.”
She gets a standing ovation. She wipes away tears.
The show is punctuated by these interludes. Since live musical acts were only on stage for one song this year, there are video interludes give the crew time to help set and take down the stage.
It’s implied in the clips that being a Victoria’s Secret model is a dream job, and that it takes extremely hard work to achieve such a coveted status. Lima, I suppose, worked harder than everyone else.
Whether it’s pounding out hours at the gym or cultivating your online presence or knocking the executives dead at casting calls, being a Victoria’s Secret model is as a huge professional achievement that the models work toward, value and respect.
That’s hard to square with a show that sells what many believe is an outdated and dull version of sexuality and femininity. Which is to say: gorgeous, scantily clad, fembot-like women with long hair who were seemingly created in a lab and only exist for the arousal of men.
One segment in the 2018 show has the models walk the runway with big bows around their necks, presenting themselves in the same fashion as housewarming presents, perhaps a dutch oven, that you might procure at Williams Sonoma:
Critics frequently point to that outdated image as the reason for the company’s steadily declining sales. According to a recent New York Times report, Victoria’s Secret’s “sales are sagging and the company’s stock is down 41 percent this year,” and the majority of respondents to a Wells Fargo survey about the brand said it felt “forced” or “fake.”
It raises the question of what exactly Victoria’s Secret is selling.
If you ask the models, being part of the brand’s fantasy is a job — and a coveted one, at that. If you ask the company’s critics, the fantasy is harmful and exclusive in the way it objectifies women and presents an extremely narrow idea of what it means to be sexy.
But perhaps the most cogent grasp of Victoria’s Secret’s fantasy comes second to what the brand actually does: Sell women’s underwear that feels special but doesn’t break the bank.
“Victoria’s Secret does provide something quite practical — undergarments — at an affordable price in a relatively accessible manner to a vast consumer base,” writes Tyler McCall at Fashionista, theorizing that making small tweaks, like changing its store design or leveraging its established infrastructure to expand its size range, could help the brand turn itself around.
In its decision to present its models as less of a fantasy and more aspirational, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show might also be aiming to counter the idea that its models are somehow fake or lack agency.
If you look at Victoria’s Secret models’ Instagrams or their trainers’ Instagrams, it’s clear that they’re putting in a ton of work into landing the show. It’s something they want and are working very hard toward, and knowing that might make the show seem less artificial and more like discipline, and more like an athlete than someone who just exists — no matter how problematic or restrictive or unattainable their desired “look” might be in the eyes of the beholder.
To be clear, the idea of a Victoria’s Secret model as resembling any kind of regular person is a hilarious idea. (The 2018 show features models with more athletic body types, but none of them would be considered plus-sized.) Many Victoria’s Secret models represent an unrealistic body type that few of us would ever be able to achieve, and with that comes the unavoidable danger of suggesting that thinness is important, even if you have to harm yourself to attain it. I don’t condone that, but unless Victoria’s Secret and the entire fashion industry disintegrates overnight, the danger isn’t going away anytime soon.
Approaching the show more realistically, and revealing that becoming a Victoria’s Secret model requires hard work isn’t going to stop harmful messages about body image — but at least it’s more truthful.
No matter what, it’s important to remember, regarding calls for action or ideas about how to “fix” Victoria’s Secret, that Victoria’s Secret is and always will be a corporate entity. If somehow it does embrace transgender models and plus-sized models, it will do so because that’s in its best interest. Other brands have already figured that out.
More specifically, as Amanda Mull has written for Vox, corporations have figured out how to hack body-positivity for their own benefit without really changing anything for consumers. Instead of selling insecurity, like they did in the past, corporations now sell “surface-level wokeness”:
In this system, corporate interests have a clear opening to insert themselves into the fray and emerge as heroes simply by hiring an ad agency or casting director who can read the room, and without changing their business’s treatment of anyone. Body positivity in 2018 rushes right up to the line between aesthetics and politics but puts not one toe over it.
While I don’t condone Razek’s churlish, poorly spoken comments, there’s something blisteringly honest about his thinking. He said up front that Victoria’s Secret is selling a fantasy, and suggested that not everyone has to buy into it. Contrast that approach with brands like Dove and Everlane, which Mull argues have co-opted body positivity and diversity for exposure and opportunity, without really doing much to change Americans’ thinking. Their motivations, ultimately, are simply to sell more body wash and clothes.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is acknowledging the number of people who enjoy the surreal experience of watching supernaturally beautiful women trotting around in underwear, wings, and sometimes floral-printed parachutes. Not everyone gets to be a Victoria’s Secret model. Not everyone gets to be at the show. Its exclusivity is baked into its allure.
For that 42 minutes, everyone is having a fantastic time. The Chainsmokers can sing, and all the models are so beautiful that the audience is moved to cheer for them. The outside world and all the criticism do not exist for three quarters of an hour. I clap for these women in glamorous underwear because Bella Hadid is so gorgeous she leaves me speechless and, well, everyone else is. It’s absolutely silly, but that doesn’t matter for now.
Shortly after 5pm, the fantasy ends. Pier 94 clears out, and everyone — tuxes, sparkles, and all — is asked to leave. Follow the pink carpet. It’s dark out as the mass of shiny people begins exiting toward the West Side Highway, that dingy stem of Manhattan asphalt. It’s cold. And we have to get out of the way so the fantasy can start all over again.
Those we entrust with power need to stand up for all of us.
George H.W. Bush died at his home in Houston on Friday night, launching a blizzard of long-held obituaries praising his legacy and successful stewardship of the country as a one-term president. But it is not too soon to talk about the accusations by eight women that Bush Sr. touched them inappropriately.
Sexual harassment or assault can’t be bracketed off as part of a politician’s private life. It’s an important part of the story of their leadership, their use of power, and their policy. The same is true for Bush.
Relatively little has been made of the accusations against Bush since they emerged last year. A woman initially accused Bush of groping her and telling her a dirty joke as she stood beside Bush, seated in a wheelchair, in a photo opp. The family responded suggesting the aging former president might be slipping a bit. “President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures,” a spokesman, Jim McGrath, said on Bush’s behalf.
But then the story changed. More women came forward describing incidents that took place before Bush was in a wheelchair and even while he was in office. One woman described a credible story dating back to 1992, when she says that Bush, then the president, put his hand on her rear-end while taking a photograph at a re-election fundraiser. Another woman described an incident from 2003, when she was 16 years old — and Bush was still spry, zipping around Kennebunkport on a Segway.
“All the focus has been on ‘He’s old.’ OK, but he wasn’t old when it happened to me,” the woman, now 55 told CNN. “I’ve been debating what to do about it.”
The women who spoke out feel differently. In each case, the accuser was excited to meet a political figure, someone who’s supposed to represent them, then they said, he groped them. In that moment, they became second-class citizens. While their brothers or husbands or male friends might have gotten a handshake and a thumbs-up from this powerful man, and walked away feeling good about themselves and their relationship with their government, these women were put in their place.
Bush Sr.’s damage went beyond the individual interactions. One of his most consequential decisions as president was to nominate and then stand by Clarence Thomas in 1991, despite claims by several women of sexual harassment. Bush declared “I have total confidence” in Thomas as the saga unfolded.
The Thomas confirmation battle could have been a turning point in American history, one where women’s rights in the workplace and in the public square vaulted forward. Instead, Bush chose to side with a man who multiple women described harassing them. He sent a message to America that women should not be believed.
The legacy of the Thomas confirmation has persisted right up until this year when Brett Kavanaugh survived a hearing where a credible woman described how he attempted to rape her when they were high school friends. The current president, who has also been accused of abusing women, followed in his predecessor’s footsteps and stood right by Kavanaugh, too. He embraced the precedent.
Those we entrust with power need to stand up for all of us. Bush could have in 1991. He could have each time he met a woman who wanted to participate in public life.
Bush’s record on domestic and foreign policy is laudable in many ways and it deserves the praise it’s receiving now. Even on women’s rights, he can take credit for the nomination of David Souter to the Supreme Court and for singing the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to track and disclose sexual assaults on campus. But accusations about how he used or abused his power to allegedly diminish women should be as much a part of our assessment of his legacy.
It’s right to remember
There’s always a debate in moments like this about whether it is appropriate to “speak ill of the dead.” Discussing Bush’s alleged behavior is not speaking ill of him. It’s not a slight or a smear. It’s part of his legacy, whether or not we like it.
This is a moment to look at the legacy of a man who held the most powerful position in the world and assess how he used that power. The rights of women (and men) to participate in public life without fear of harassment or violence is fundamental. It’s how we make our country greater. The more contributions from the more people, the better we become.
Bush’s accusers describe a pattern of behavior that did the very opposite. They describe excitement to meet a public official, only to feel disgusted, embarrassed or angry.
“He knows the power he has, and the reverence he deserves, even while sitting perhaps somewhat senile in a wheelchair,” said Jordana Grolnick, who said that Bush told her a dirty joke (that several other women independently said he’d told them, too) and put his hand on her rear-end while taking a photo a few years ago.
Another woman, whose father was in the CIA, said she was 16 when her parents took her to an intelligence event in Texas and was looking forward to meeting the former president, until he groped her.
“My initial reaction was absolute horror. I was really, really confused,” Roslyn Corrigan told TIME, about an encounter she said happened when she was 16 and Bush was 79 . “The first thing I did was look at my mom and, while he was still standing there, I didn’t say anything. What does a teenager say to the ex-president of the United States? Like, ‘Hey dude, you shouldn’t have touched me like that?’”
Bush was entrusted with power. As we assess his contributions, it’s worth remembering he chose to use that power against half of us.