feibisi / 2019年1月6日

Elizabeth Warren’s first question at an Iowa event: Why release your DNA results?

”My decision was to put it all out there.”

In her first official campaign swing through Iowa, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is already heading off questions about her claims of Native American ancestry.

At an event in Sioux City on Saturday morning, an audience member confronted the Massachusetts Democrat, asking why she decided to release the results of her DNA test proving her Native American heritage, even as it gave President Donald Trump “more fodder to be a bully?”

”My decision was to put it all out there,” Warren said.

“I am not a person of color,” she added. “I am not a citizen of a tribe. Tribal citizenship is very different from ancestry. Tribes — and only tribes — determine tribal citizenship, and I respect that difference.”

The question of her ancestry will almost certainly surface again now that the progressive senator officially declared her 2020 presidential bid this week by forming an exploratory committee. Now, Warren’s in the middle of a three-day tour through Iowa, where she’s scheduled to meet with local women leaders and host community roundtables across the state.

It’s Warren’s first trip to Iowa since 2014, where she’s continued to drill down on a message of economic populism. Still, the question of her ancestry was the very first issue raised at the Sioux City event on Saturday. Warren lamented how Republicans “honed in on this part of my history” since she first ran for public office and made a lot of “racial slurs. Trump may be at the top of that list, but Warren says there’s little she can do about it.

“I can’t stop Donald Trump from what he’s going to do,” Warren said. “I can’t stop him from hurling racial insults. I don’t have any power to do that.”

But Warren did previously choose to engage with the president’s repeated criticisms of her ancestry in October by releasing the DNA analysis of her genes. The results “strongly suggest” Warren has Native American ancestry that dates back some six to 10 generations ago, and revealed she was anywhere between 1/1024th and 1/32nd Native American.

A tailwind to the controversy over Warren releasing her DNA results

By releasing her DNA results, Warren inevitably fanned the flames for Trump, who for years has mocked her Native heritage by calling her “Pocahontas” and in July dared her to take the genetic test. He made a show of offering to donate $1 million to charity if she did (he later denied ever promising to pony up the money, saying, “Who cares?”).

Months later, she relented by releasing the DNA analysis in full.

That hasn’t forestalled the criticism, however. Either from the right Trump took a swipe at her again this week by tweeting a (factually inaccurate) meme manufactured by the Daily Wire that looked like a campaign seal with the tagline “Warren: 1/2020th” — or, as the Iowa campaign stop shows, from her own supporters. The DNA test-reveal also reportedly rankled tribal leaders.

But there’s reason to believe some reports of the backlash may be overstated. Whether her DNA reveal was politically savvy or not, the controversy has fed into the image that she’s a lightning-rod political figure whose approval ratings are consistently low — when maybe the common denominator is the negative reactions that female candidates and any woman with ambition provokes among Americans.

feibisi / 2019年1月5日

Vox Sentences: A ton of German politicians just got hacked

Another week ends with no shutdown resolution; Germany’s politicians get hacked.

Another week ends with no shutdown resolution; Germany’s politicians get hacked.

Tonight’s Sentences was written by German Lopez and Dara Lind.

Sorry, still closed

 Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
  • In the first week of the new year, the federal government has remained partially shut down as President Donald Trump refuses to sign a spending deal that doesn’t include $5 billion for a wall at the US-Mexico border. [Vox / Li Zhou]
  • Trump reportedly told Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that he’s ready to keep the government shut down for months or even years if necessary. [USA Today / David Jackson and Michael Collins]
  • Trump also said that, if he doesn’t get his way, he may try to declare a national emergency to build the wall. It’s not clear if and how Trump could do that. [Washington Post / Seung Min Kim, Erica Werner, and Josh Dawsey]
  • People are already feeling the effects of the shutdown. Not only are tens of thousands of federal workers going without pay (even as some of them are expected to work), but there’s other problems with government services too — like the Washington, DC, Marriage Bureau closing down. [Washington Post / Fenit Nirappil]
  • National parks, meanwhile, are getting trashed. [Visalia Times-Delta / Calley Cederlof]
  • The longer the shutdown goes on for, the worse it will get. For example, 2018 tax refunds could be delayed if the shutdown lasts past mid-January. [Vox / German Lopez]

Germany, hacked

  • Someone on Twitter hacked and leaked the personal information of hundreds of German lawmakers, from letters to contact details. The breach apparently affected politicians from all parties except the far-right Alternative for Germany, a.k.a. AfD. [New York Times / Melissa Eddy]
  • Twitter shut down the account leaking the private information on Friday. The account had apparently been publishing the information going back to December, but it wasn’t really noticed until Thursday. [The Guardian / Josie Le Blond]
  • It remains unclear if all of the leaked data is authentic, but at least some of it seems to be. [Associated Press / Geir Moulson]
  • The data breach is just the latest to hit a major government, with France experiencing a similar hack during its 2017 election. Similar to the hack in Germany, the French incident seemed to benefit the far right. [BuzzFeed / Zeynep Tufekci]
  • And, of course, Democrats got hacked during the 2016 election — to the benefit of Donald Trump. [Vox / Alvin Chang]

Miscellaneous

  • Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson isn’t a household name, but she should be. Hopefully this profile will fix that. [New Yorker / Nathan Heller]
  • Beauty work is work; reading this lovely illustrated personal essay from cartoonist/writer (and former model) Carolita Johnson about beauty work is not. [Longreads / Carolita Johnson]
  • The only PowerPoint tutorial on how to take pictures of food you will ever need. [Helen Rosner]
  • An encounter with a member of China’s “Fifty-Cent Army” — so called because they’re rumored to get paid fifty cents for every time they troll a critic of the Chinese government on social media. [Popula / Brian Hioe]

Verbatim

“El Chapo Got Wiretapped Because The Cartel’s IT Guy Screwed Up.” [Vice / Keegan Hamilton]

Watch this: Why monks had that haircut

There was a lot of thought behind the style — and controversy. [YouTube / Phil Edwards and Gina Barton]

We want to bring you more videos and ambitious series with the hosts you love. Join the Vox Video Lab today to support our work on YouTube: vox.com/join

feibisi / 2019年1月4日

The new Democratic House just approved two bills to reopen the government

The Republican Senate has said it isn’t planning to consider them.

House Democrats just approved two bills to reopen the government — putting more pressure on Republicans and President Donald Trump to provide some kind of counteroffer.

These bills aren’t expected to go anywhere since the Republican-controlled Senate has already indicated it is not interested in taking them up without the president’s support, but they do call on the GOP to outline its own response.

Democrats — who have just officially retaken control of the House — passed the two measures in order to fund 25 percent of the government that is currently shut down after lawmakers failed to a pass a set of seven appropriations bills in late December.

The first of these measures is a package of six bills that funds parts of the government that are not particularly controversial, including the departments of Treasury, State, and Justice. This measure would keep these agencies funded through the 2019 fiscal year, which ends in September.

The second bill would provide short-term funding for the more contentious Department of Homeland Security through February 8, separating the conflict over the border wall from the other outstanding government funding bills and kicking this fight a bit further down the road. This stopgap bill would maintain funding for DHS at current levels, which includes $1.3 billion for border security — though not, notably, a wall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that the upper chamber would not be considering either of these bills, since the President has signaled that he wouldn’t sign them.

While this means that the legislation is effectively dead in the water, these bills also dial up the pressure on Republicans as the partial government shutdown nears the two-week mark.

By passing this set of funding bills, Democrats have laid out their solution for the shutdown. As newly minted Speaker Nancy Pelosi has emphasized, there are no plans to give Trump any more money for his wall.

This move puts the onus on Republicans to come back with an offer of their own that Trump would be willing to sign. Up till now, $5 billion for border wall funding has been Trump’s position, though Vice President Mike Pence has previously proposed $2.5 billion — something the Democrats rejected.

Trump is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders about the shutdown yet again on Friday. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to arrive at any deal to reopen the government.

feibisi / 2019年1月3日

Russia detained an American for espionage. Here’s what we know.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 27, 2018.

Paul Whelan, a former Marine and businessman, was arrested over the weekend while attending a wedding in Moscow.

Russian authorities detained an American citizen in Moscow last week on allegations of espionage, a curious move that could worsen already tense relations between the US and Russia.

Paul Whelan, a 48-year-old former Marine, was reportedly in Moscow to attend a wedding when he was arrested on December 28. Russia’s domestic security services (FSB) said Whelan was apprehended while on a “spy mission,” but did not elaborate on the charges against him.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to Vox Wednesday that US Ambassador Jon Huntsman visited Whelan at a Russian detention facility, but didn’t offer any other details due to privacy concerns. The spokesperson added that Huntsman had been in touch with Whelan’s family.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefly addressed Whelan’s detention during a trip to Brazil. “We’ve made clear to the Russians our expectation that we will learn more about the charges, come to understand what it is he’s been accused of, and if the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday.

Whelan’s family members, for their part, have dismissed allegations of espionage. In a statement, they said Whelan’s “innocence is undoubted.”

Whelan’s detainment comes about two weeks after 30-year-old Russian national Maria Butina, who was arrested on charges of conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government in July 2018, admitted to participating in a campaign backed by Russian officials to secretly influence US politics, including trying to sway the Republican Party to be more receptive to Russia. Some experts have speculated that Whelan’s arrest may be an attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to retaliate.

Whelan could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted for spying. But the details of his arrest, and Russia’s motivations or justification for detaining him, are still unclear. Here’s what we know so far.

Who is Paul Whelan?

Paul Whelan’s family describes him as a former Marine and former law enforcement officer from Michigan, and a kind and loyal person who had an interest in Russia and Russian culture. The Kremlin claims the American was a spy — but so far has offered no real evidence to back up its explosive allegations.

Whelan served in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1994 to 2008 and, according to the Wall Street Journal, was deployed twice to Iraq, though he didn’t see combat. Whelan was discharged in 2008 for bad conduct, after being court-martialed on charges of larceny. The details of the case are not clear.

Whelan currently works as the director of global security for BorgWarner Inc., a Detroit-based auto parts supplier, according to his family and the company. “He was not on company business, it is our understanding he was on a personal trip,” Kathy Graham, a spokesperson for BorgWarner, told the New York Times. “We do not have any facilities in Russia.”

Whelan’s family said he flew to Moscow on December 22 with plans to attend the wedding of a fellow former Marine. David Whelan, Paul’s twin brother, told CNN that when his brother didn’t show up for the Saturday wedding, the couple filed a missing persons report. It wasn’t until Monday that Whelan’s family confirmed he had been detained by Russian authorities.

But this wasn’t Whelan’s first trip to Russia. A Marine Corps publication dated November 2006 (h/t Quartz) printed a photo of Whelan in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square, with a caption that said he was spending “two weeks of rest and recuperation leave in Moscow.”

On his personal website, Whelan wrote after that trip that it had been a “dream” to visit Russia. “I was fortunate enough to meet nice people and had several pleasant excursions throughout the country,” he wrote, according to the Daily Beast.

The Washington Post interviewed several of Whelan’s acquaintances in Russia, who described him as “a friendly man who greatly appreciated Russia,” with a basic command of the language.

Whelan’s brother David also told the Wall Street Journal that Whelan, having traveled to Russia before, was aware of the risks. Whelan, he said, “would not have knowingly broken any law, let alone one involving espionage.”

Was Whelan’s detainment revenge for Maria Butina?

US Ambassador Huntsman met with Whelan on Wednesday, five days after his arrest. But the details of why Russia thinks Whelan is a spy are still frustratingly unclear.

The timing of Whelan’s detention is certainly notable. A little more than two weeks ago, Russian citizen Maria Butina admitted that she tried to influence US politics by infiltrating Republican political circles and conservative-leaning interest groups — most notably the National Rifle Association. Butina was arrested in July but reached a deal with federal prosecutors in December and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent.

After Butina’s arrest in July, the Russian foreign ministry started a campaign in support of the Russian citizen — complete with the hashtag #FreeMariaButina. Putin previously claimed that he hadn’t heard of Butina until her arrest in the US and denied she had any ties to Russian spies.

At a speech and press conference on December 20, though, the Russian president went further, claiming that the charges against Butina were concocted and that she pleaded guilty only under threat of a lengthy prison sentence. “I don’t understand what she could have pleaded guilty to because she was not there to fulfill any government tasks,” Putin said.

“We will see how it plays out,” he added. “We do care, and we will keep an eye on this case and provide our support accordingly.”

Putin’s apparent ire over Butina’s arrest has led some to speculate that Whelan’s detention is a form of retaliation — not an unusual move for the Kremlin. “Russia has a history of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, and so forth, when there’s any kind of a spy case,” Kimberly Marten, a Russia expert and political science professor at Barnard College, Columbia University told me.

Marten added that Putin’s remarks about Butina in his December address also indicate that Whelan’s arrest could be a form of payback. But, she cautioned, “we don’t really know enough yet to say for sure.”

But other Russia watchers have expressed similar concerns. Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul called the situation strange on Tuesday and demanded Russia provide an explanation. Bill Browder, a longtime critic of Putin whose lobbying of Congress led to the passage of the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act in 2012, called Whelan’s detention “a hostage situation.”

Experts have also noted that it’s pretty rare for Russia to detain a private US citizen, and that Whelan’s background doesn’t exactly scream spy.

“The one thing I can say for certain,” John Sipher, a former member of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, told NPR, “is this is not how the US commits espionage overseas. We would never put a US citizen, without diplomatic immunity, in harm’s way this way, especially looking after low-level things like this.”

At a press conference in Brazil on Wednesday, Secretary of State Pompeo said the US would demand Whelan’s release if his detention was inappropriate, but the Trump administration has otherwise been pretty quiet about the arrest.

That’s a bit surprising since President Donald Trump has personally taken up the causes of Americans who were being held abroad in the past. He had success in returning American hostages where other presidents have failed, including Pastor Andrew Brunson, who’d been imprisoned in Turkey since 2016, and multiple Americans detained in North Korea. (As of publication time, the White House had not responded to Vox’s request for comment.)

Whelan’s arrest also comes as relations between Russia and the US are under strain. There’s continuing Russian aggression in Ukraine. The US is still grappling with Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, and there’s evidence the Kremlin continued to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.

In his December 20 speech, Putin warned of the risk of nuclear war because of the US’s decision to abandon Cold War-era weapons treaties. The US has given Moscow until February to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and some experts think a breach could potentially jump-start an arms race.

Whelan’s arrest and status remain mostly a mystery, for now. Plenty of questions remain about Putin’s endgame, and whether this will exacerbate tensions between the US and Russia.

feibisi / 2019年1月1日

Climate and energy news in 2018 actually wasn’t all bad

Growing support for a Green New Deal was a major development in climate change and energy policy in 2018.

Three big trends are helping us address the climate crisis: better technology, cheaper technology, and more ambitious policies.

You might have thought the news about climate change in 2018 was all bad. And indeed, global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high this year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius said we may have only until 2030 to avert catastrophic climate change.

There was also the Trump administration’s aggressive rollback of climate policies, including its efforts to replace Obama’s Clean Power Plan with a much weaker rule, freeze fuel economy rules for cars and light trucks, and lift greenhouse gas limits for coal plants. And let’s not forget all the signs of how dangerous climate change is for humans (think wildfires) and biodiversity (think the insect apocalypse).

Yet that’s not the whole story. In 2018, clean energy technologies also got bigger, better, and cheaper. The political will to fight climate change gained considerable momentum. And the business case for cutting greenhouse gases got stronger.

Voters are increasingly concerned about climate change. Public opinion shifted in 2018 in favor of regulating greenhouse gases, and 100 percent renewable energy goals became wildly popular. In the November midterm elections, several candidates for governor and congressional offices campaigned — and won — on their climate change bona fides. And activists began pushing representatives even further, demanding a comprehensive strategy — a Green New Deal — for decarbonizing the economy and making it fairer and more just.

NET Power’s 50 MW Demonstration Plant in La Porte, Texas burns natural gas without emitting carbon dioxide. PRNewsfoto/NET Power, LLC
Net Power started up a 50 MW-thermal demonstration power plant in La Porte, Texas, that burns natural gas without emitting carbon dioxide.

Climate change is unquestionably a sprawling, incredibly urgent global problem, and the transition away from fossil fuels is the biggest challenge humanity has ever taken on. But our policies and our technological tools continue to improve. Here are some of the most encouraging trends of the year.

Clean technology keeps getting bigger and better

In 2018, we saw a wide range of new and established clean technologies being deployed. These tools — which are critical to reducing emissions from transportation, the power sector, and industry, as well as removing carbon from the atmosphere — keep getting better. And the tool chest itself is getting larger.

For instance:

  • Electric scooter rentals arrived in cities across America. They’re helping urban commuters avoid driving, get to metro stations, and glide swiftly between neighborhoods, filling in a crucial transit niche.
  • As part of its restructuring, General Motors said it wants to devote more attention to Bolt, its all-electric car, and developing other EVs.
  • Companies are investing in gigantic wind turbines that can harvest air more efficiently and cheaply.
  • A vast suite of new solar energy technologies, from floating solar farms to self-cleaning photovoltaics to double-sided panels, is helping good old PV panels go further.
  • Net Power started up a new natural gas plant with carbon capture and storage this year. In 2018, there were 43 CCS facilities in operation, under construction, or in development.
  • New plants that suck carbon dioxide directly out of the air to recycle it or remove it from the atmosphere entirely came online this year. Direct air capture is still in its infancy, though, and needs lots more R&D.
  • Carbon dioxide–spewing coal plants are closing down despite the Trump administration’s desperate attempts to prop up the ailing industry. The US is on track to retire a record 15.4 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity in 2018.
Renewable energy consumption is growing dramatically in the United States. Energy Information Administration
Renewable energy consumption is growing dramatically in the United States.

Clean tech is also getting cheaper

The big reasons these technologies are taking off are their declines in price. A major driver of price declines is economies of scale. And the reason there’s such large-scale demand is the price. See how that works? It’s a virtuous cycle.

Take a look at how solar power has taken off in the United States as prices have fallen:

As prices come down, solar installations go up. Economics. Energy Innovation
As prices come down, solar installations go up. Economics!

In 2011, the US Department of Energy launched the SunShot Initiative. The goal was to lower the price of installing solar energy such that it can compete with conventional energy sources without subsidies. The program hit its target for utility-scale solar, 6 cents per kilowatt hour, three years ahead of schedule. The agency has now set an even more ambitious price target of 3 cents per kilowatt hour by 2030.

It’s a similar story with offshore wind, electric vehicle batteries, carbon capture, and so on as costs continue to fall faster than expected. And there’s no sign of these plummeting prices slowing down anytime soon. That means clean energy is increasingly competitive on its economic merits.

In Europe, major renewable energy projects are already starting to take root without direct subsidies. In the US, renewables are rapidly closing the gap with natural gas power plants despite low natural gas prices.

This year, several huge corporations signed record-breaking purchasing agreements for renewables. There are at least 158 private companies like Ikea, Allianz, and Apple aiming to power their operations with just renewable energy. Google now buys enough renewable energy to match its annual energy demand.

This demand for clean energy is now forcing utilities to respond. Some are trying to slow down the stampede. But Xcel Energy announced that it’s committed to going completely carbon-free by 2050 (and 80 percent carbon-free by 2030).

Climate change is now a serious political issue

Polls show that while climate change isn’t usually a top-tier issue in the US, the policies for addressing it have broad support. Just check out the results from this August survey of 22,000 Americans by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Americans generally want policies that advance clean energy and reduce fossil fuels. Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
Americans generally want policies that advance clean energy and reduce fossil fuels.

That support is now increasingly being reflected in policies at the local and state level. In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order committing the state to the most ambitious climate target in history: total, economy-wide carbon neutrality and 100 percent use of zero-carbon electricity by 2045.

Protestors rally outside NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office on August 16, 2018, calling on him to stop fossil fuel infrastructure and shift New York to 100 percent renewable energy. Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images
Protestors rally outside New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office on August 16, 2018, calling on him to stop fossil fuel infrastructure and shift New York to 100 percent renewable energy.

According to the Sierra Club, more than 90 cities, 10 counties, and two states have set targets for 100 percent renewable energy. That includes cities ranging from Berkeley, California, to Boulder, Colorado, to Cincinnati, Ohio, to Concord, New Hampshire.

Several candidates in the 2018 midterm elections ran on clean energy ambitions. Democrat Steve Sisolak won the governorship of Nevada after announcing his support of a ballot initiative that would mandate Nevada use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. “In fact, as governor, I would like to get us on the road to 100 percent,” Sisolak said in a campaign video.

Some of the Republicans that did support policies to address climate change, like a carbon tax, lost their seats in the election. But the more recalcitrant members of Congress that held their seats are finding it harder to wave away climate change.

Oil giant Exxon Mobil also launched a lobbying initiative this year to advance the case for a carbon tax. Behind the scenes, Shell lent its weight to a carbon tax proposal too.

Environmental activists also began mobilizing this year around a Green New Deal. (You can read the full explainer here.) The contours of the proposal will be under discussion for some time, but in essence, it demands a major government-led investment program in clean energy to cut greenhouse gas emissions while creating a vastly larger energy employment sector. It’s become a new progressive shibboleth, alongside Medicare-for-all.

While federal action on climate change is unlikely anytime soon, even the president of the United States can’t dodge the question.

Make no mistake: We do still need much more federal, state, local, and private action on climate change, and on a vastly larger scale than anything we’ve seen to date. Policy is essential to the development and deployment of clean energy, and we need stiffer mandates for emissions reductions and the clean energy transition from every level of government. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there’s “no documented historic precedent” for the global economic and social changes required to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.

What we accomplished in 2018 is nowhere near enough, but it’s not nothing. We have a better sense of our climate goals, we have a pretty good idea of what it would take to meet them, and we have some momentum. The challenge now is building the global will to launch ourselves further and faster than ever toward a future without carbon emissions.

feibisi / 2019年1月1日

Stranger Things 3 premieres July 4, 2019. Watch the latest teaser now.

The trailer seems to introduce at least a few new clues as to what season three will entail.

Netflix rang in the new year with a special announcement: Stranger Things season three finally has a premiere date. In a new teaser trailer released at 12:01 am Eastern on New Year’s Day, the streaming network revealed that the 1980s-set series will officially return on July 4, 2019.

The teaser is appropriately New Year’s-themed, featuring archival footage of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve from 1984: As the ball drops in Times Square and 1985 dawns, things take a turn toward the Upside-Down just as the clock is about to strike midnight. While the clip doesn’t seem to contain any new footage from season three, it does build on a previously released teaser, with Hawkins, Indiana’s Channel 5 news station noting that the Times Square broadcast is “Brought to you by: Starcourt Mall.”

Stranger Things fans who’ve been eagerly tracking any and all details about season three will surely remember that Starcourt Mall was the subject of the season’s first teaser, released in July 2018:

But in addition to that callback, the New Year’s-themed teaser also introduces at least a few new clues regarding what season three might entail. The footage of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve is intercut with shots of an old-school green-on-black computer screen, which at one point displays the phrase, “WHEN BLUE AND YELLOW MEET IN THE WEST.” The screen also serves up the following “scene,” which appears to show someone accessing an entity called “Lynx Corp.” and running the program “SilverCatFeeds.exe”:

So if you’d like to spend your New Year’s Day speculating as to what any of this means, consider this teaser a special gift from Netflix to you.

feibisi / 2018年12月31日

Saudi Arabia is reportedly outsourcing its war in Yemen to child soldiers

Yemeni militiamen and soldiers allied to the country’s internationally recognized government climb a mountain in the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen on February 2, 2018.

Some Sudanese families are reportedly so desperate for money, they bribe militia officers to take their children to warzones.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly outsourcing its war in Yemen to be fought by child soldiers from Sudan.

According to a bombshell investigation from the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick, the Saudis are dipping into their deep pockets to bankroll a militia of Sudanese fighters — many of them children — to fight on the frontlines against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, insulating the Kingdom from casualties and the political blowback they could cause. Many of the Sudanese fighters come from the region of Darfur, where violent conflict consumed the countryside for more than a decade. Across the Red Sea in Yemen, they face a steep risk of death again:

At any time for nearly four years as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen have been fighting in Yemen in tandem with the local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to several Sudanese fighters who have returned and Sudanese lawmakers who are attempting to track it. Hundreds, at least, have died there.

The conditions inside Yemen were already bleak. The war there, led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has by some estimates claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 people. The conflict has spurred a massive humanitarian crisis, leaving more than 12 million people on the brink of starvation and in desperate need of assistance.

Kirkpatrick reports that some families in Sudan are so desperate for money from Riyadh, they bribe militia officers to allow their children to fight, some as young as 14 years old. While estimates vary and Saudi Arabia denied employing child soldiers, the Times reports that minors make up anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the Sudanese fighters in a unit:

“People are desperate. They are fighting in Yemen because they know that in Sudan they don’t have a future,” said Hafiz Ismail Mohamed, a former banker, economic consultant and critic of the government. “We are exporting soldiers to fight like they are a commodity we are exchanging for foreign currency.”

Congress has made a half-hearted attempt to curtail the violence in Yemen

The US government as a whole — from Congress to President Donald Trump — so far has done little to meaningfully put an end to hostilities in Yemen. The US currently sells weapons to the Saudi-backed coalition in Yemen, and provides them with some intelligence support. And while the US indicated in November it will stop refueling the coalition’s aircraft used in the conflict, which potentially limits the Saudi’s ability to carry out bombing campaigns, calls are growing for Congress to do more.

When Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in October, momentum built — briefly. Lawmakers made preliminary moves to cut America’s ties to the three-year conflict, with the Senate passing a historic resolution to cut military aid to Saudi Arabia related to the war in Yemen.

But as Vox’s Tara Golshan explains, the resolution was thrown back to square one after House Democrats helped Republicans stall any action on Yemen until at least the new Congress comes into session.

Meanwhile, the White House has pushed back against efforts to end aid, and done little more than turn a blind eye to Riyadh’s range of troubling actions — including the crown prince’s likely involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.

But as new harrowing stories come to light detailing the atrocities being carried out in Yemen, the conflict — and the US’s complicity in the violence — may become harder to ignore.

feibisi / 2018年12月30日

Trump is using the deaths of two migrant children to push for his border wall

Trump tweeted Saturday that Democrats are at fault for the deaths of two migrant children.

The president says Democrats are to blame for the eight-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in Border Patrol custody on Christmas Eve.

President Donald Trump is now blaming Democrats for the deaths of two migrant children who died in federal custody earlier this month.

In his first public comment on the two tragedies Saturday, Trump tied the deaths to the political impasse over funding for the federal government, saying in a series of tweets that Democrats are to blame for refusing his $5-billion pet project to build new walls along the southern border.

The two young children died in Border Patrol custody over the span of just a few weeks. The latest was an eight-year-old from Guatemala who died on Christmas Eve. Medical examiners say the boy, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, tested positive for influenza. Weeks earlier, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, died of dehydration after being detained in New Mexico with her father.

Trump’s comments come as Department of Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen finishes up a two-day tour of the border to inspect the conditions at processing and detention facilities for migrants in both El Paso, Texas and Yuma, Arizona.

Already Border Patrol has moved to step up medical screenings for children since the two deaths.

And amid the growing scrutiny, CBP has also shifted its policy of holding families until Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes over custody, as Vox’s Dara Lind reports. The new plan allows agents at the border to release families directly if they’ve been held for more than a few days, which could leave hundreds of families dropped around El Paso and around the Rio Grande Valley.

Deaths along the border have been a problem for a long time

The tragedy of the two children’s deaths only amplifies what has been true along the border for a long time: The journeys that families take are often extremely dangerous, and deaths along the border are not at all uncommon.

By official counts, more than 7,000 migrants have died trying to cross the southwest border since 1998, but it’s likely those statistics are dramatically lower than the reality.

And for years, advocates have complained of the conditions at Border Patrol facilities, where they say migrants are forced into excessively cold holding cells. In the last year alone, six adults have died in Border Patrol custody, the Washington Post report.

But as Lind notes, the two children’s deaths are the latest signal that the immigration system isn’t designed to deal with families crossing into the US:

That goes double for Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol as well as ports of entry. CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that “the infrastructure is not compatible with the reality” of who is getting apprehended — essentially admitting that his agency was ill-equipped to take care of the people currently entering the US.

Administration officials, as well as the president’s allies, have meanwhile tried to spin the sting of deaths as fairly a rare occurrence. DHS counters that before the two migrant deaths this month, no child has died in Border Patrol custody in nearly a decade. On Fox News Friday, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) went as far as praising ICE for its treatment of immigrants.

”These are the only two children that have died, certainly in recent memory,” he said. “Considering what does happen in housing projects … I think ICE has an excellent record.”

feibisi / 2018年12月27日

Sandra Bullock is the best part of Bird Box, Netflix’s new post-apocalyptic thriller

Sandra Bullock stars in <em>Bird Box</em>, out on Netflix December 21.

Bullock leads an all-star cast in a meandering movie with an intriguing premise.

Every week, new original films debut on Netflix and other streaming services, often to much less fanfare than their big-screen counterparts. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.

Bird Box

The premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, haunted by beings that cause psychotic behavior in nearly anyone who looks at them, Mallory (Sandra Bullock) tries to protect two small children while traveling to what she hopes is a safe colony.

What it’s about: Directed by Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, In a Better World), Bird Box takes its name from a box of birds that Mallory carries with her on her journey, which she and the children — who are named Boy and Girl, for reasons that become clear later on — must undertake blindfolded to save their very lives.

The movie cuts back and forth between that journey and the period five years prior, when bizarre apocalyptic horror was unleashed across the globe with the arrival of the beings. Who they are and what they want is never fully explained; Bird Box is more interested in its characters’ reactions to the horrors of their world than it is in explaining exactly what brought them about.

The film boasts a star-studded cast, including Bullock, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hollander, and more. Most of them play characters who become trapped in a house together while trying to outrun the carnage taking place outside.

Bird Box is post-apocalyptic horror, with moments of intense violence and elements reminiscent of movies like Night of the Living Dead, A Quiet Place, and Children of Men. Unfortunately, the cross-cutting narrative device doesn’t add much to the movie, and as it wears on, it starts to feel like it isn’t totally sure what it’s trying to do. Still, it’s entertaining enough to be worth watching for fans of the genre or of Bullock, who turns in a strong performance as a woman who has motherhood thrust onto her in a world loaded with peril.

Critical consensus: Bird Box currently has a score of 51 on Metacritic. At Indiewire, Michael Nordine writes that “Bier’s direction is coolly efficient, which fits the material to a t — anything more ostentatious would just feel wasteful.”

Where to watch: Bird Box is streaming on Netflix.

feibisi / 2018年12月26日

What the holidays are like for a recovering alcoholic like me

’Twas the night before Christmas, and I really, really wanted a freakin’ drink.

During Christmas dinners past, between courses, you could always find me ducking into my room to hide. I felt incredibly uncomfortable at the table, but I never drank in front of my family — my parents knew I had a problem. I usually held tight and counted the minutes before I could escape and meet up with my friends for a drink (or four). As loving as my family is, they have their moments — and the holidays seem to bring a lot more of them. Admittedly, most families are like this, which is why none of my friends punch the air and grin as they declare, “Yeah, I’m going home for Thanksgiving!” It’s usually more of a dejected sigh of resignation. Understandably, many of us either drink to get through it or get through it to drink.

This story is republished from Narrative.ly

A few years ago, though, the holidays became different for me. At 22 years old, in November 2011, I decided to get sober for good. The timing wasn’t necessarily intentional. In fact, the timing was horrible; a more-than-challenging feat during that matrix of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and everyone’s favorite amateur hour — New Year’s Eve. The holidays are the time of year when the child in all of us feels the most temptation to overindulge in, well, just about everything.

Throughout college, I was a social drinker who couldn’t stop once I started. I held down an internship and a part-time job as a reporter while maintaining a 3.8 GPA throughout all four years of school. High-functioning, smart, and responsible, I loved that drinking let me throw caution to the wind — it was like a reward. It allowed me to go against my better judgment and act “wild and young,” to be really spontaneous. However, if I tried to stop after one or two drinks, I was either a) unsuccessful or b) left with that empty disappointment that lingers when all of the presents have been opened on Christmas morning and it’s only 10 am. Now what?

The sickening realization that I didn’t drink like “normal” people dawned on me slowly, but I didn’t know how to stop without destroying my social life. As a city girl raised on fabulous, bubbly Sunday brunches and packed, Patron-fueled parties, making the decision to stop for good was terrifying.

So I didn’t make the decision. Instead, I did all sorts of things to try to control my drinking. I’ll stop for a month. I’ll just have one. I’ll just have two. Well, I’ll eat a lot, so maybe I can have three. I’ll switch from hard liquor to wine. I’ll only drink at dinner. These worked temporarily, but I always fell right back off the wagon.

I woke up shaking and throwing up more mornings than I can remember. After two, three, then four times in the emergency room for alcohol poisoning, it was clear that it had gone beyond the scope of a harmless social habit. I began to get violent with my boyfriend when I drank, wake up in places I didn’t recognize, and keep my mother up at night worrying where I was (my phone was usually dead or lost). Long story short, I spent Thanksgiving of 2010 hooked up to an IV, hospitalized for alcohol poisoning once again, and it still took me another year to reach out for help.

Why I finally got help

It’s no coincidence, of course, that sometime between November and early January, a new slew of 20-somethings always find their way into substance abuse recovery programs. Many of us were just social drinkers who knew when to say “when,” but couldn’t. The consequences gradually became greater, especially after the “we’re in college” excuse disappeared. In the midst of excuses to overdo it and shattered expectations of the perfect family Christmas, something happened to make us realize that our drinking wasn’t like other people’s, that we were powerless over the compulsion to drink to excess, and that it was starting to make our lives really unmanageable.

There wasn’t any one “moment” for me. It wasn’t the overwhelming number of days spent crying and throwing up, holding my head in the agony of a migraine, that forced me to say enough is enough. It wasn’t my then-boyfriend’s question, “How long are you going to keep doing this to yourself?” It wasn’t the panic attack I had when I realized that in a drunken stupor, I’d left my BlackBerry in a puddle overnight, or the ones I had when I woke up next to a complete stranger.

It was the gradual realization that I had a disease, one that made excessive drinking look like a choice. No sane person endures so much physical and emotional anguish and continues to drink — that’s why it’s called a disease. What caused me to throw in the towel was the week in late October 2011 when I managed to get drunk night after night, each one worse than the last, after promising myself — pleading with myself — that I wouldn’t.

On the mid-November day that I first walked into a 12-step recovery meeting, I was shocked to see that so many young girls were in the same boat as I was. I thought sobriety was for prudes who did nothing interesting with their lives and had no idea what real problems were, but these were stylish women pursuing amazing careers and attending prestigious universities. I was invited to a booze-free party after the meeting; I was just one day sober when I agreed.

The people at this party could have easily been gathered together inside the hottest club West Chelsea has to offer. Not only did they look cool as hell, but they were the happiest crowd of people I’d seen in a long, long time, and the most cheerful I’d ever seen sans alcohol. All of them were in the program — some had five years, some five months, others had decades.

I stood awkwardly in the doorway clutching a red plastic cup full of seltzer and watching dozens of people laughing, chatting, dancing, and singing, doing everything they normally would have if there had been vodka in the punch. They looked like they were comfortable with themselves. The laughter was real. The friendship was genuine — you could feel the warmth and the love radiating out of them — and they all had this ease about them that, even at my drunkest, I couldn’t quite cultivate. Best of all, none of them looked like they were dying to escape.

“I felt so awkward I wanted to die,” one attendee later told me, laughing. “I didn’t realize how socially anxious I was until I didn’t have a drink in my hand.” I could relate.

That’s how a lot of us feel, but didn’t realize it, because 20-something binge drinking is so normal in our culture.

How SantaCon made me glad to be sober

Case in point: SantaCon, a Christmas disaster that can only be described as a calamity on 34th Street — and every other street in New York City. (Sadly, it’s now also a nationwide epidemic.) College kids (and children of all ages) dress up as Santa or scantily clad Mrs. Claus and take to their city’s bars and restaurants, later spilling out onto the streets, where they continue drinking.

The original idea for SantaCon started off as a very merry concept: People would dress up and parade through the streets spreading goodwill and good cheer, singing Christmas carols, and giving out gifts to strangers. Unfortunately, it has been completely overhauled into an event in which adults act like out-of-control kids and hundreds of thousands of people confuse Christmas “spirit” with “spirits.”

I had about 30 days of sobriety under my belt when the SantaCon “parade” took to the streets in 2011. The “SantaConers” start as early as 10 am, and that year, by lunchtime, my Lower Manhattan neighborhood smelled like one big brewery. Last time I checked, walking down the street and drinking from clear plastic cups full of beer was illegal, but it seems to be tolerated on SantaCon day.

By 1 pm, people were urinating in public, passing out in the street, keeling over on the sidewalk, screaming profanities, and throwing up on subways and in parks. My elderly neighbors were pushed and knocked over, and children were shoved aside. Many SantaConers needed to be taken care of, pulled away from a fistfight or carried home, passed out from all the excitement like small children after a wedding.

As people dodged profanity-screaming elves and belligerent reindeer running amuck, I heard one little boy ask his father, “Daddy, why are Santa and the reindeer acting like that?” Another little girl hid underneath her mother’s coat, and others literally ran away crying, repeatedly looking back over their shoulders in terror as the crowds gained momentum.

As the Christmas-themed pub crawl of college-aged clowns clamored through my neighborhood, all I could think was, “Holy shit, I’m glad that’s not me.” Not that it would have been me — I was more the type to drink in lounges and wine bars than partake in out-on-the-street reveling. I wouldn’t have been caught dead at a pub crawl. Still, as someone who understands the need to take a mini Christmas vacation from reality, I saw something familiar as I looked into the glazed eyes of one slutty Mrs. Claus: the need to get obliterated, and what a mess it looks like when you do.

For a long time, I was the one wearing a costume — and I wore it all the time. I liked my tiny, boozy escape from reality, a carefree feeling I’d chase and chase as it slipped right through my hands. I couldn’t get enough when I drank: more, more, more. I kept chasing that warm feeling I got when I hit that perfect level between tipsy and drunk — but I just couldn’t stop there. As a result, I ended up sick, ashamed, absent, or blacked out more times than I can recall.

Seeing how disgusting SantaCon was affirmed my commitment to never drink again. However, I had to admit that the tamer members of the bunch looked like they were having a great time, and that triggered something I had struggled with my whole life: fear of missing out.

Such a feeling was an evil Grinch that presented itself whenever something was going on without my involvement. The Grinch pointed a big hairy finger directly at my fear of what other people thought of me, whether I looked popular, cool, or pretty enough. I had so little confidence in myself that I put all of the value on the external. Watching them parade by, erupting in laughter, I heard my aunt’s enabling voice in the back of my head:

“You’re young; you’re supposed to go out and have fun,” she would say. “When I was your age, I had a thousand friends and we went out every weekend. This is your time.”

My aunt was a party girl at my age — think Studio 54 — who knew all of the right people and was out every night. She’s still a party girl now. She lives on the Upper East Side with my uncle, and I would see her and speak to her often. So I regularly found myself on the defensive, bracing for questions about what I’d been doing and whom I was dating. I was especially careful not to divulge compromising information that would welcome more unsolicited opinions.

But of course, then there was the big Kahuna. The most challenging night of the season for me was not SantaCon but Christmas dinner with my relatives — every single one of them.

My first sober Christmas was challenging — but my new friends helped me through it

Throughout the day, my mind replayed old tapes of Christmases past, churning up anxiety and forming negative expectations that created a nice big bubble of dread in the pit of my stomach. The criticism, the judgment, the well-intentioned yet unsolicited advice salted the wounds of my own insecurities, and last year was no different.

“Are you going to any parties?” my aunt asked as she spooned her baked ziti onto my plate. (She knows I don’t eat pasta.)

“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking with hesitation. “There’s a party at this girl’s house.”

“What kind of party? Is it on the Lower East Side? Where are the cool people going these days?”

In hindsight, I see that telling her it was a sober party was a mistake. I know that now.

“What are you going to do, have no life anymore?” she cried in response. “Those people are lame. Go do something fun. Live it up!”

Fortunately, I had been given one of my gifts early: nearly 20 new numbers in my phone, all belonging to friends and other women in my support network who would listen, laugh, and help me feel true relief. Calling in their support was more comforting than any amount of Baileys. After my aunt’s comment, I furiously texted Allie, who reassured me, “Soon, you and I are going to be able to go anywhere and do anything we want, living lives fuller than we ever could have imagined.”

“This is a very short period of time,” Allie said, “that we are using to get ready for the best years of our lives.”

Throughout the night, I surreptitiously and periodically backed away into my room, but this time not alone; I reached out to girls who knew how to turn off the valve that began steaming inside me when my uncle raised his voice. When that happened, my friend Claire and I ran through a list of what I was grateful for.

“It’s easy to see what’s wrong and get annoyed, but it takes practice to start learning how to see the good in people and in each situation,” she said.

Perhaps even more useful — for many of us — is the advice that Phoebe, another friend from my recovery group, gave me: “Hum a little tune and pretend that you’re watching and listening to someone else’s family.”

Learning to be patient and to accept my family as they are, instead of how I wish they would be, took time. They’re human, I realized eventually — fallible and flawed, just like me, just like all of us. When I stopped expecting them to be anything else, I started seeing the best in them, which wasn’t hard once I had the right lenses on.

Eventually, I was able to stay present, no longer jumping out of my skin or champing at the bit to escape their clutches and flee the situation. Despite temptation, I continued making my own transition to adulthood, gripping reality tightly even when I wanted to let go through hot toddies and spiked cider.

My first sober New Year’s Eve, my favorite midnight kiss didn’t take place on a vodka-soaked dance floor as champagne rained down from above. I was sprawled on my bed, sober, getting smooches from my then-boyfriend’s dog, Nayla. I was finally growing up, facing my choices, and moving through the stress of uncomfortable family dinners and social situations without picking up a drink.

I can’t say I miss the taste of alcohol, because I always shot it back like medicine, hating the flavor of booze but loving the effect. I’ll admit there are days I wish I could drink up a bit of that warm, fuzzy feeling of relaxation to take the edge off, but the trade-off is more than worth it.

I’ve found what Allie said to hold true: I can go anywhere and have a good time, and I never feel like I’m being shortchanged just because I’m not drinking. Now my nights are filled with authentic laughter and fun, sometimes at a “normal” party, sometimes at a sober one, sometimes at a dinner party full of drinkers. Regardless, I know for sure that I’m definitely not missing out on anything.

As for the holidays this year, I am incredibly grateful for a family that, despite their kinks, loves each other unconditionally.

For the record, I’m far from a prohibitionist. If you can hold your liquor, by all means, go ahead. I toast you with my rum-free eggnog! Peace of mind, I now know, is what I’d been looking for all along — I just never thought I could achieve it, ever, let alone without a bottle of wine to create the false, quickly fading feeling for me. The realization that I finally know what real peace and happiness feel like — well, that’s a very merry feeling.

Helaina Hovitz is a born and raised New Yorker who has written for the New York Times, Teen Vogue, and Salon.com, among other publications. She is currently writing her first book and has the unshakable notion that she can help save the world.

Melissa Mendes is the author of the Xeric Awardwinning graphic novel Freddy Stories. Her current comic series Lou is being published by Oily Comics. She lives and works in western Massachusetts.

This essay originally appeared on Narrative.ly in 2012.

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