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Aggregating and archiving news from both sides of the aisle.

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Explaining the volatile stock and bond market moves this week following the Fed's update

Preview: The Fed unleashed a huge repositioning in markets, as investor reacted to a world where the central bank no longer guarantees its policies will remain easy.

How Roku used the Netflix playbook to beat bigger players and rule streaming video

Preview: Roku's rise in the streaming video world has mirrored Netflix -- and its strategy, focus and culture resemble Reed Hastings' company, too.

Americans are heading back to gyms as interest in at-home workouts wanes, Jefferies says

Preview: As Covid restrictions ease across the country, more people are heading back to the gym, new research shows.

Cramer's week ahead: 'The sell-off probably isn't done'

Preview: The "Mad Money" host said investors should pay close attention to Fed Chair Jerome Powell's upcoming public remarks, as well as earnings from Nike and FedEx.

Amazon Prime Day starts soon. These are the top deals so far

Preview: Amazon's two-day shopping event is set to start on June 21. Here are some of the best deals so far, and they're not all from the retail giant.

Invitation Homes CEO says he’s not worried about a housing bubble despite price spikes. Here’s why

Preview: "I would expect that home prices stay relatively stable, if not continue to grow in value," Invitation Homes CEO Dallas Tanner told CNBC.

Shell company hijack: Men used SEC filings, fake press releases for stock pump-and-dump scam, feds say

Preview: Three men have been indicted in a pump-and-dump stock scam targeting four dormant shell companies that trade on the over-the-counter market.

Fed's Jim Bullard sees first interest rate hike coming as soon as 2022

Preview: St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told CNBC that he sees an initial interest rate increase happening in 2022 as inflation picks up.

Inflation breakout will drive 10-year Treasury yields above 2% in coming months, Wells Fargo predicts

Preview: "The 10-year yield is going up a fair bit through the remainder of the year," Wells Fargo Securities' Michael Schumacher says.

Jim Cramer says the 'Ark Invest phenomenon' appears to be over for now

Preview: "The era of Cathie Wood propping these stocks up with her own buying bazooka, I think, it appears to be over," the "Mad Money" host said.

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The Federal Reserve's strategy is artificially lowering the cost of mortgages and further boosting prices

Preview: Bidding wars. All-cash offers. Homes selling for $1 million over asking. The housing boom has officially reached the ridiculous stage.

There are more Realtors than homes for sale. Follow one trying to close his first deal

Preview: More than 130,000 people have become Realtors since the beginning of the pandemic. Follow one new agent as he tries to make his first sale in one of the most competitive housing markets in the country.

This disgusting 'house from hell' is listed for $600,000 ... and getting multiple all-cash offers

Preview: If there were ever a time to sell a house of horrors, the time is now.

What it's like to house hunt in one of the craziest markets

Preview: Austin, Texas, is arguably the hottest real estate market in the country, with home prices up more than 40 percent since last April. Follow one local family as they struggle to find a place in their price range.

People are snatching up vacation homes and paying with cash

Preview: It's not just puppies and sourdough starter. Another thing that spiked during the pandemic: the purchase of vacation homes.

Opinion: How to propel 2 million Black Americans to the middle class

Preview: If Juneteenth doesn't make you think about the economy, maybe it should. Racial discrimination has an obvious human cost, but there's an economic cost, too.

Georgia removes 100,000 from voter registration rolls

Preview: • Analysis: Lisa Murkowski is now Enemy No. 1 for Trump • Opinion: The right is panicking over critical race theory • CNN INVESTIGATES: How an Air Force vet became a Capitol rioter

These visuals show just how bad the US drought really is

Preview: • Analysis: The West is drying out. Things will get ugly

College baseball pitcher dies after complications from Tommy John surgery

Preview: College baseball pitcher Sang Ho Baek died following complications from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, according to a verified GoFundMe page organized by one of his teammates.

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Education Insanity: Top 10 Stories Of The Week (Vol. 20)

Preview: Welcome back to Education Insanity, a weekly column updating you on the most insane events taking place in our nation’s schools. Here, we’ll delve into the growing presence of critical race theory, the ideology that claims that America is irredeemably rooted in racism, and “woke” culture. Let’s get started. 10. NYC Law School Makes ‘Systemic […]

Twitter Restores Dave Portnoy’s Account Following Massive Backlash, Portnoy Responds

Preview: Twitter restored the account of Barstool Sports founder David Portnoy on Friday evening after the far-left social media platform faced instant widespread backlash for banning him. “Portnoy’s handle @stoolpresidente, which had 2.5 million Twitter followers, was shut down with an ‘Account suspended’ message,” Fox News reported. “#FreeDavePortnoy began dominating social media as it was unclear […]

Sen. Ted Cruz Says Critical Race Theory ‘Every Bit As Racist As The Klansmen In White Sheets’

Preview: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) excoriated Critical Race Theory (CRT) on Friday, explaining how it is a “racist” worldview that applies Marxism’s theory of economic class conflict to race. Speaking at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference in Orlando, Cruz first recounted how a reporter scurried up to him on Capitol Hill this […]

Decade Old Tweet Has Megan Rapinoe Under Fire

Preview: Cancel culture is a fascinating phenomenon. It never discriminates, and eventually, it will come for each and every one of us. The new face of Victoria’s Secret and star of the U.S. women’s national soccer team — Megan Rapinoe — came under fire Thursday night as a decade old tweet resurfaced. “U look asian with […]

Biden Admin Freezes Sending Military Aid Package To Ukraine, Included Lethal Weapons: Report

Preview: Democrat President Joe Biden’s administration has reportedly frozen the sending of a $100 million military aid package to Ukraine that included lethal weapons. “The National Security Council directed officials to put the package together, as Washington grew increasingly concerned over a massive Russian military buildup near the border with Ukraine and in the Crimean Peninsula,” […]

Dave Portnoy SUSPENDED On Twitter, Barstool Sports Founder Posts #FreePortnoy To Instagram Story

Preview: [UPDATE]: Twitter has restored Portnoy’s account. The Daily Wire reported on Twitter’s restoration of Portnoy’s account here. Original Story Below: The founder of Barstool Sports, Dave Portnoy, started trending on Twitter on Friday evening after it appeared that Portnoy’s account was suspended by the Big Tech giant. Users who tried to access Portnoy’s Twitter profile, which […]

Singer Macy Gray Says American Flag Should Be Abolished

Preview: R&B singer Macy Gray argues in a new op-ed for MarketWatch that the American Flag has replaced the Confederate Flag as a symbol for “opposition to the abolishment of slavery” and should be replaced. Addressing her letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Gray, best known for her multi-platinum 1999 album, “On […]

Michael Avenatti Deserves ‘Very Substantial’ Prison Sentence: Prosecutors

Preview: Federal prosecutors want a “very substantial” prison sentence for disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti after he allegedly tried to extort Nike for millions of dollars. Prosecutors asked a Manhattan federal court judge on Wednesday to impose an eight-year prison term on Avenatti, citing his high-profile and how he attempted to use his public image to bully […]

Hong Kong Newspaper Prints 5x Daily Copies After Police Raid

Preview: After Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily was raided by Hong Kong police on Thursday, the publication has increased its production and printed 500,000 copies of its newspaper in an act of defiance against the government crackdown. Earlier this week, five newspaper executives and editors at Apple Daily newspaper were taken into custody under Hong Kong’s […]

Don Lemon Demeans CRT Opponents: ‘Stop Making It About You’

Preview: CNN host Don Lemon spoke out against people who are uneasy about Critical Race Theory being taught to children during an episode of his show “Don Lemon Tonight” on Thursday evening, wildly missing the point as to why so many parents are pushing back against the racial doctrine. Speaking with fellow CNN anchor Chris Cuomo […]

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BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS...

Preview: BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS... (Top headline, 1st story, link) Related stories: SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET... POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE... HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress... Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people... California unveils digital 'vaccine records'... Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border...

SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET...

Preview: SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET... (Top headline, 2nd story, link) Related stories: BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS... POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE... HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress... Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people... California unveils digital 'vaccine records'... Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border...

POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE...

Preview: POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE... (Top headline, 3rd story, link) Related stories: BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS... SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET... HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress... Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people... California unveils digital 'vaccine records'... Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border...

HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress...

Preview: HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress... (Top headline, 4th story, link) Related stories: BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS... SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET... POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE... Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people... California unveils digital 'vaccine records'... Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border...

Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people...

Preview: Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people... (Top headline, 5th story, link) Related stories: BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS... SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET... POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE... HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress... California unveils digital 'vaccine records'... Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border...

California unveils digital 'vaccine records'...

Preview: California unveils digital 'vaccine records'... (Top headline, 6th story, link) Related stories: BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS... SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET... POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE... HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress... Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people... Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border...

Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border...

Preview: Trudeau Refusing to Open U.S. Border... (Top headline, 7th story, link) Related stories: BIDEN VOWS NO NEW LOCKDOWNS... SET TO MISS JULY 4 VAX TARGET... POLL: AMERICANS SHARPLY DIVIDED ON POST-PANDEMIC LIFE... HALF Fear They'll Never Fully Recover From Stress... Medicaid enrollment swells to record 80 million people... California unveils digital 'vaccine records'...

WEST BAKED

Preview: WEST BAKED (Main headline, 1st story, link) Related stories: GRID HOLDS SMART THERMOSTATS 'MANIPULATED' IN TEX

GRID HOLDS

Preview: GRID HOLDS (Main headline, 2nd story, link) Related stories: WEST BAKED SMART THERMOSTATS 'MANIPULATED' IN TEX

SMART THERMOSTATS 'MANIPULATED' IN TEX

Preview: SMART THERMOSTATS 'MANIPULATED' IN TEX (Main headline, 3rd story, link) Related stories: WEST BAKED GRID HOLDS Drudge Report Feed needs your support!   Become a Patron

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Sept. 11: Tunnel to Towers CEO to walk 500 miles to honor the fallen on 20th anniversary

Preview: The CEO of Tunnel to Towers will observe the 20th anniversary of the attack on Sept. 11 by making a pilgrimage to each site impacted on that day – a trek of nearly 500 miles.

Shoplifters ruling the roost at big city stores, pharmacy chains

Preview: A recent viral shoplifting incident has highlighted trends in parts of the country where offenders at local drugstores rule the roost – in one case, even able to ride through the store on a bike and take a garbage bag full of stolen good as shoppers, and security watched on.

Push to honor Otto Warmbier by renaming street outside North Korean UN mission gets bipartisan support

Preview: The North Korean mission to the United Nations is located in a Manhattan office building at 820 Second Avenue, just one block from the U.N. Now, there are growing calls to change the building's address to: 820 "Otto Warmbier Way."

Ohio shooting victim dies after he's run over by cops called to help

Preview: An Ohio police car ran over a man who’d been shot and called 911 for help — and he died shortly afterward, police and reports said.

Wife hiking with husband falls 200 feet to her death off Wyoming cliff

Preview: A Wyoming woman on a sunrise hike with her husband plummeted more than 200 feet to her death Tuesday morning, authorities said.

Arizona man takes plea deal in Thanksgiving 2018 killings of Texas father, son; avoids death penalty

Preview: An Arizona defendant pleaded guilty in Texas on Thursday to two counts of capital murder in connection with a Thanksgiving Day 2018 home invasion in El Paso, allowing him to avoid the death penalty.

Missing North Carolina tubers ID’d as woman, 30, and boy, 7; search to resume Saturday

Preview: Two members of a group of nine tube riders involved in a deadly Dan River dam mishap in North Carolina this week remained missing Friday after a search, authorities said, according to reports.

Tennessee family blames TikTok strangling challenge for 9-year-old's death: report

Preview: The "devastated" family of a 9-year-old Tennessee boy who was found unresponsive in his room last week is blaming his death on a reported TikTok challenge that dares people to strangle themselves and escape.

Fort Bliss soldier found guilty of 2 sexual assaults, sentenced to 18 years

Preview: A Fort Bliss, Texas, soldier was convicted at an Army court-martial hearing on Friday of sexually assaulting a fellow soldier and another unnamed woman, according to reports.

Deaths of Connecticut mom, young daughter declared murder-suicide: reports

Preview: Following an investigation, the deaths of a Connecticut mother and her 7-year-old daughter inside their $1.4 million Westport mansion have been confirmed as a murder-suicide, according to reports.

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Ebrahim Raisi, ultra-conservative judiciary chief, wins Iran's presidential election - CNN

Preview: Ebrahim Raisi, ultra-conservative judiciary chief, wins Iran's presidential election  CNN Iran Election: Ebrahim Raisi Is Headed to Presidency as Rivals Concede  The New York Times Iran set to elect hardliner facing U.S. sanctions as president  CBS Evening News Iran election results set to make Elbrahim Raisi president. The U.S. can't forgive his crimes.  NBC News Opinion | Iran Activists Urge Election Boycott. Raisi Likely Winner.  The New York Times View Full Coverage on Google News

Trump's influence on Republicans faces key test in Michigan - NBC News

Preview: Trump's influence on Republicans faces key test in Michigan  NBC News She Was a Black Election Official in Georgia. Then Came New G.O.P. Rules.  The New York Times Trump's hold over Republicans faces key test in Michigan governor's race  Yahoo News How principled conservatives can crush Trump's GOP  Los Angeles Times Paul Fanlund: Until democracy is safe, politics as usual must be secondary  Madison.com View Full Coverage on Google News

Ted Lieu: Catholic bishops are 'hypocrites' for Biden Communion issue - Business Insider

Preview: Ted Lieu: Catholic bishops are 'hypocrites' for Biden Communion issue  Business Insider Targeting Biden, Catholic Bishops Advance Controversial Communion Plan  The New York Times 'That's a private matter': Biden on rebuke from Catholic bishops – video  The Guardian Top Stories this PM: Catholic bishops vs. Biden; Taylor Swift's latest rerelease; HBO blames the intern  Business Insider US Catholic bishops advance communion document, setting up potential rebuke of Biden  CNN View Full Coverage on Google News

Tropical Storm Claudette drenches Gulf Coast - CNN

Preview: Tropical Storm Claudette drenches Gulf Coast  CNN Tropical Storm Claudette forms, drenching northern Gulf coast  KHOU 11 Gulf Coast braces for tropical storm, record heat in West  CNBC Television PTC#3 Running out of Time and Water  alabamawx.com 10 AM Tropical Update  WWLTV View Full Coverage on Google News

With Vaccination Goal in Doubt, Biden Warns of Variant’s Threat - The New York Times

Preview: With Vaccination Goal in Doubt, Biden Warns of Variant’s Threat  The New York Times U.S. likely won't see new lockdowns, Biden says  Yahoo News Biden unlikely to achieve July COVID vaccination goal  CBS Evening News Biden's tough new line against Beijing is a tribute to Donald Trump  New York Post Full List of Republicans Demanding Joe Biden Takes a Cognitive Test  Newsweek View Full Coverage on Google News

94-year-old Opal Lee is 'grandmother of movement' to make Juneteenth federal holiday - ABC News

Preview: 94-year-old Opal Lee is 'grandmother of movement' to make Juneteenth federal holiday  ABC News Memories of marking Juneteenth: ‘It was a big event all over town. It was our holiday’  The Guardian Here’s how big tech companies are celebrating Juneteenth, the new national holiday  CNBC Opinion: Juneteenth As A National Holiday Is Symbolism Without Progress  NPR Opinion | Juneteenth Is a Federal Holiday Now. Can It Still Be Black?  The New York Times View Full Coverage on Google News

Gunman shoots man next to 2 children in broad daylight in the Bronx - CNN

Preview: Gunman shoots man next to 2 children in broad daylight in the Bronx  CNN NYPD releases shocking footage of children nearly caught in crossfire  Yahoo News 2 children escape Bronx shooting  ABC News 2 Children Out Walking Get Caught Between a Gunman and His Target  The New York Times Kids dive for cover as gunman opens fire on Bronx sidewalk  Eyewitness News ABC7NY View Full Coverage on Google News

Pence heckled at conservative conference in Florida - CBS News

Preview: Pence heckled at conservative conference in Florida  CBS News Mike Pence called 'traitor' by hecklers in Florida  Yahoo News Mike Pence heckled at conservative conference  CNN Conservative activists heckle Pence at conference in Florida  Associated Press Pence met with jeers and called a "traitor" at Florida conservative conference  CBS News View Full Coverage on Google News

Missing North Carolina tubers ID’d as woman, 30, and boy, 7; search to resume Saturday - Fox News

Preview: Missing North Carolina tubers ID’d as woman, 30, and boy, 7; search to resume Saturday  Fox News Three dead, two missing after group of tubers plunge off 8-foot dam along N.C. river  The Washington Post 3 people are dead and 2 remain missing after river tubers floated over a dam in North Carolina  Yahoo News Teen among 3 NC tubers dead after going over dam; girl and woman still missing  CBS17.com 3 dead, 2 missing after tubers go over 8-foot dam on North Carolina river  KTLA View Full Coverage on Google News

Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | TheHill - The Hill

Preview: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | TheHill  The Hill Satellite images show extreme drought drying up California reservoirs  CNN West Risks Blackouts as Drought Reduces Hydroelectric Power  The Wall Street Journal Grass bans, 'water police,' prayers for rain: Drought in the West threatens ‘our way of life’  USA TODAY California hydroelectric plant expected to shut down for the first time in 50 years | TheHill  The Hill View Full Coverage on Google News

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Court sets Smartmatic dismissal date on Giuliani, Bartiromo, others

Preview: A date has been set for oral arguments over the dismissal motions of Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, Maria Bartiromo, Sidney Powell, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro ...

Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West

Preview: The Hoover Dam is seeing record-low water levels, a significant and scary development with major implications for water and climate in the entire American Southwest.Amid drought conditions, Lake Mead's level last w...

GOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection

Preview: A growing number of Republican lawmakers are refusing to say that the Jan. 6 insurrection was actually an insurrection.Nearly two dozen GOP House members voted against legislation this week that...

Sidney Powell summoned to Detroit for sanctions hearing

Preview: Sidney Powell and other attorneys who defended former President Trump's false claims about the 2020 presidential election have been summoned for a sanctions hearing in a Michigan federal court....

Unvaccinated NFL player rips league's COVID-19 rules: 'I'd rather die living'

Preview: NFL player Cole Beasley said that he does not plan to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and threatened to defy league protocol for players amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report

Preview: A Black secret service agent whom former President Trump said informed him of the meaning of Juneteenth last year also reportedly told the commander in chief that he found it "offensive" that he had a political rall...

New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records

Preview: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Friday signed into law legislation that prevents landlords from requesting a person's criminal history on housing applications.

Abbott vetoes funding for Texas legislature over Democrats' walkout

Preview: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Friday vetoed a portion of the state budget bill funding the state legislature, fulfilling a promise made last month in response to state Democratic lawmakers' walkout to prevent the pa...

Monica Lewinsky responds to viral HBO intern's mistake: 'It gets better'

Preview: Monica Lewinsky on Friday joined other social media users in tweeting messages of support for an unnamed HBO intern who accidentally sent out a test email to HBO Max subscribers, writing, "It gets better." ...

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John Paragon, Star Of 'Pee-wee’s Playhouse,' Dead At 66

Preview: Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, paid tribute to his "sly and wickedly funny" close friend.

Buffalo Bills' Cole Beasley Says He Won't Follow NFL COVID-19 Rules

Preview: "If I’m forced into retirement, so be it," ranted the Bills' receiver, who said he won't get vaccinated.

Britney Spears Admits She Has 'No Idea' If She'll Ever Perform Live Again

Preview: The pop star said she's currently "in transition in my life".

What To Know About Ranked-Choice Voting

Preview: New York Democrats are putting ranked-choice in the spotlight, using what proponents say is a fairer system of voting to select a mayoral candidate.

Rachel Maddow Spots The Mitch McConnell Move Democrats Should Copy

Preview: “Why don’t Democrats do that this year?" asked the MSNBC anchor.

Infectious Disease Expert Warns 'We’re Not Done With This Virus At All'

Preview: Michael Osterholm doubted future national surges in COVID-19 but said "substantial" local and regional ones were a possibility.

Mike Pence's 'Cancel Culture' Rallying Cry Is Too Much For Folks On Twitter

Preview: The former vice president vowed not to be “silent in the face of Cancel Culture” and you know what happened next.

Sean Hannity's Rage-Tweets At Seth Meyers Get Award-Worthy Zinger In Response

Preview: "Late Night" comedian Meyers joked about making a "BIG MISTAKE" after the Fox News personality said he wasn't funny.

GOP’s 'Offensively Absurd' Spin On Capitol Riot Gets A Firm Debunking

Preview: Seven Republican claims about the Jan. 6 insurrection were dismantled by CNN’s Brianna Keilar and John Berman.

Connecticut Becomes 1st State To Make All Prison Phone Calls Free

Preview: Previously, the state had some of the highest prison phone rates in the country, charging up to $5 for a 15-minute call.

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Top Ten: Weekend reads: How to retire and ‘go fishing’ for the next 25 years

Preview: Also, short squeezes, the new child tax credit and what investors should do before the Fed raises interest rates.

NewsWatch: Markets are sending ‘peculiar’ signals as Fed changes tune — here’s what they mean

Preview: The dollar jumps as long-term bond yields fall and growth stocks outperform --- here's one way to tie it all together.

Deep Dive: 16 short-squeeze targets in the stock market, including Canoo, Tootsie Roll and a prison operator

Preview: Other stocks with high short interest and days-to-cover include Inovio Pharmaceuticals and B&G Foods.

Outside the Box: For Juneteenth, America needs a new flag that all of us can honor

Preview: Singer Macy Gray says the flag should be redesigned to represent all Americans

Market Snapshot: Dow books worst week since October on ‘quad witching’ Friday, as investors pivot with more hawkish Fed

Preview: U.S. stocks end sharply lower Friday, with the Dow booking its worst week since last October, after comments from a Fed official exacerbated the market volatility that followed the central bank's updated outlook this week for inflation and the economic recovery from COVID.

: 5 smart ways to shift your investments as the Fed gets ready for a big move

Preview: Favor quality in the stock market, and be careful with meme stocks and bitcoin.

The Tell: Markets are sending ‘peculiar’ signals as Fed changes tune — here’s what they mean

Preview: The dollar jumps as long-term bond yields fall and growth stocks outperform --- here's one way to tie it all together.

Mark Hulbert: The real culprit for the selloff in the stock market? Hint: It wasn’t the Fed

Preview: The Federal Reserve was just the spark; the tinder was the excessive bullishness of market-timing traders

The Margin: The housing market is so crazy, this $600,000 ‘horror’ is drawing multiple cash offers

Preview: Available homes are so scarce that this ‘nightmare’ listing seems like a steal --- even though it’s covered in graffiti and smells awful

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Why it matters that the GOP rejected Manchin's voting rights offer

Preview: I'm reminded of a cliche: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

The right rediscovers its admiration for Vladimir Putin

Preview: Under Obama, much of the right expressed its admiration for the Russian president. Under Biden, it appears to be happening again.

As Dems run short on time, why not scrap the August break?

Preview: Democratic leaders are concerned about an unforgiving calendar. Those same Democratic leaders have the option of scrapping their August break.

Conservatives boo Pence and cheer Trump at religious conference

Preview: Showing just how much the GOP remains the party of Trump, Mike Pence was booed and called a traitor while speaking at a religious forum where other GOP lawmakers cheered Trump over and over. Bill Kristol and Al Franken discuss.

Trump tried to fire her for telling the truth; Biden wants to give her a promotion

Preview: Rachel Maddow looks back at how Christi Grimm incurred Donald Trump's wrath when she spoke up about critical shortages in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, casting a shadow over Trump's lying about his administration's handling of the crisis. Grimm has now been nominated by President Joe Biden to be inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Former Obama labor chief economist explains what's going on with the U.S. economic recovery

Preview: Economist Betsey Stevenson tells Ali Velshi that the U.S. economy is experiencing a collective psychological transformation in which more people are changing occupations because they are asking themselves: "Do I need to be doing something different to get the most out of my career and get the most out of my personal life?"

Sex crime probe bombshell: Gaetz could be charged in July as witnesses speak

Preview: In a major escalation in the federal sex crimes investigation into Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, prosecutors may charge Gaetz as soon as July, according to ABC News. NBC News has not independently verified ABC's reporting. A Gaetz spokesperson says this is all part of a "partisan smear job." Gaetz has not been charged with a crime. MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber is joined by attorney Dave Aronberg and columnist Laura Bassett to discuss the latest in the case.

A 'profound' mistake: Prosecutor fights to free wrongfully convicted man still in prison

Preview: Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County, Missouri prosecutor, talks with Rachel Maddow about the effort to free Kevin Strickland, who has been in prison for over 40 years as a result of a wrongful conviction, and who remains in jail weeks after his innocence was declared publicly by prosecutors.

FBI interview with Jan. 6 insurrection defendant includes questions about Member of Congress connections

Preview: NBC has obtained a transcript of an FBI interview with a Jan. 6 insurrection defendant, which includes questions about his possible connections with Members of Congress, and congressional staffers. NBC4 Washington Investigative Reporter Scott MacFarlane joins The ReidOut with his report.

‘It scares my daughter and it scares me’: Rep. Newman reacts to anti-trans laws

Preview: Rep. Greene hung an anti-trans sign across the hall from Rep. Marie Newman, mother of a trans daughter. “Marjorie Taylor Greene told the world who she was with that hateful sign and her hateful behavior,” says Rep. Newman.

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Mets vs. Nationals prediction: Joe Ross will fuel Washington

Preview: Joe Ross will lead the Nationals past the Mets on Saturday.

This exfoliating facial brush is on sale for just $56

Preview: Amazon isn't the only one having major discounts in the next 7 days! This exfoliating facial brush is currently on sale for just $56 and will rejuvenate your skin.

How 10 countries began under bizarre circumstances, then disappeared

Preview: Here are 10 upstart countries that were unable to persevere, and the reasons for their untimely demise.

After de Blasio, NYC must elect a crime-fighting mayor to avoid disaster

Preview: Mayor Bill de Blasio inherited a prosperous, safe city and, along with his progressive colleagues, ruined it.

Challenger crew likely survived explosion before tragic plunge to earth

Preview: A new book reveals how Christa McAuliffe was chosen as the first civilian in space, and why the Challenger crew likely survived the explosion before their fateful plunge to earth.

James Kaprielian shows Yankees what they’re missing

Preview: Yeah, Friday night in The Bronx was a big one for James Kaprielian and a painful one for the Yankees.

Mets will decide Jacob deGrom’s status on Monday

Preview: Manager Luis Rojas said the Mets are continuing to take a day-to-day approach with Jacob deGrom.

Phil Mickelson believes he still can ‘make a run’ at US Open title

Preview: Phil Mickelson, who shot a second-round 69 and stands at 2-over, said he believes he still can "make a run" at the U.S. Open.

Most Dem voters disapprove DOE cutting academic screening for middle schools: Post poll

Preview: NYC's Department of Education recently rid the system of academic screening for entry to middle schools. Almost half of those polled disapproved of the change.

De Blasio’s remote learning plan had ‘virtually’ no support, NY Post poll shows

Preview: Chances of finding someone who likes virtual learning in NYC? Remote. A recent poll found that 44.8 percent of Democratic responders were not satisfied with the virtual school setup this past year.

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She Was a Black Election Official in Georgia. Then Came New G.O.P. Rules.

Preview: In Georgia, Republicans are removing Democrats of color from local boards. In Arkansas, they have stripped election control from county authorities. And they are expanding their election power in many other states.

Targeting Biden, Catholic Bishops Advance Controversial Communion Plan

Preview: The decision was aimed at the nation’s second Catholic president and exposed bitter divisions in American Catholicism.

Eyeing One Big Economic Bill, Democrats Face Myriad Challenges

Preview: With bipartisan infrastructure talks coalescing around a plan that omits many of their top priorities, Democrats are vowing to push through their own package. It won’t be easy.

With Vaccination Goal in Doubt, Biden Warns of Variant’s Threat

Preview: Speaking at the White House, the president did not mention his goal of getting 70 percent of adults partly vaccinated by July 4 but trumpeted a different milestone: 300 million shots in his first 150 days in office.

Covid Cases Surge Again in Russia, Many From Delta Variant

Preview: An outbreak centered in Moscow led to some vaccine mandates and the closing of some public spaces.

Judge Blocks C.D.C. From Enforcing Virus Rules for Cruise Ships in Florida

Preview: The ruling was a victory for Florida, which had argued that the rules were crippling the cruise industry and causing the state to lose hundreds of million of dollars.

The Supreme Court’s Newest Justices Produce Some Unexpected Results

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Lockdown was not a sabbatical

Preview: It’s okay if you didn’t learn to make bread. | Getty Images Don’t worry if you haven’t grown as a person during the pandemic. Did you become a better person during the pandemic? It’s a question many of us are being asked, in ways large and small, as more people get vaccinated, restrictions lift, and public life starts to return to some semblance of normal. Sometimes the question is explicit, like when a job interviewer asks if you used lockdown to pursue “passion projects.” More often it’s implicit, present in stories about how to rearrange your “friendscape” after the pandemic or personal finance lessons to learn from the last year. But overall, as our second pandemic spring turns into our second pandemic summer, there’s a certain pressure to have learned or grown as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, even if it’s still going on. The pressure is part of a larger tendency in American culture, some say. “When we’ve been through a traumatic experience, a lot of people try to rush to make meaning of that,” Joy Harden Bradford, a psychologist and host of the podcast Therapy for Black Girls, told Vox. It’s also just the latest iteration of a narrative that’s been around since the beginning of the pandemic: that people should be using their quarantine time productively, whether that meant learning a new language, writing a play, or even starting a business. That narrative has always ignored the reality of pandemic life, during which many people did not have the luxury of staying home, and even those who did were often too anxious to pursue personal growth. “The pandemic has been hard for people,” David Blustein, a professor of counseling psychology at Boston College and the author of the book The Importance of Work in an Age of Uncertainty, told Vox. “It hasn’t been like a staycation.” But the narrative that we should have learned and grown over the past year — potentially transforming ourselves into better workers for our employers — persists, and with it damaging expectations for how people process pain and trauma. If anything, some say, what we should learn from this year is to give ourselves and others space to heal in our own ways. Sometimes, “the lesson is that I survived,” Bradford said. “If that is all you took out of this, then really, that should be enough.” The pandemic gave rise to new, weird kinds of productivity discourse The pressure to be productive started almost as soon as the pandemic did. Time-consuming hobbies like baking sourdough bread became popular. Viral tweets told us that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined during a plague epidemic. Someone came up with the word “coronapreneur.” The idea was that people — especially those lucky enough to be able to shelter in place during the pandemic — were supposed to be using this so-called free time to better themselves. The implication, as Vox’s Constance Grady wrote in April 2020, was: “Shouldn’t you be using this time to become more productive? Shouldn’t you be buckling down and writing a masterpiece or inventing a genre or discovering fundamental laws of the universe?” Inevitably, there was backlash, with many people questioning whether an unprecedented public health emergency was, in fact, an ideal opportunity for self-improvement. “For many, this is neither a hygge snow day nor an extended vacation,” Michelle Ruiz wrote at Vogue last spring. “It’s a crisis.” But the attitude persisted, with one hobby trend giving way to another (tie-dye!) and seemingly everyone offering pandemic productivity tips. And now it’s summer 2021, and at least in the US and Europe, vaccinations are up and cases are down. People are starting to use the phrase “post-pandemic” — even though the pandemic continues to rage around the world and unvaccinated people remain at risk. And the productivity discourse might be starting to shift slightly, toward the idea that the pandemic should have been a learning experience, helping us optimize our skills, our lives, and ourselves for post-pandemic living. Take a recent New York Times story on how to manage friendships in a post-pandemic world. “The pandemic shook us out of our social ruts, and now we have an opportunity to choose which relationships we wish to resurrect and which are better left dormant,” Kate Murphy wrote. “Ask yourself: ‘Who did I miss?’ and ‘Who missed me?’” The story was widely criticized, with many taking it to imply that perhaps overweight or depressed friends shouldn’t make the cut: “depressed friends make it more likely you’ll be depressed, obese friends make it more likely you’ll become obese, and friends who smoke or drink a lot make it more likely you’ll do the same,” Murphy wrote in an original version. (The Times later edited the story and issued a note saying that references to studies of obesity and depression “lacked sufficient context and attribution and did not adequately convey their relevance to the issues discussed in the article”). But the attitude that the pandemic should propel us toward better, smarter living isn’t confined to one how-to piece. With a quick search, you can find lessons from the last 15 months to help you with personal finance, investing, leadership, and more. And at least in some cases, employers seem to be embracing the idea of quarantine self-improvement plans. “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I’ve just been asked in a job interview if I used lockdown ‘to pursue any passion projects or personal development,’” Niall Anderson, who works at a university in Dublin, tweeted earlier this month. “The market really does want us all to think we’ve just had a generous sabbatical.” His tweet quickly went viral, generating thousands of replies. Most, he told Vox in an email, expressed “comic incredulity,” while “a few Rise & Grind types showed up to say the question was entirely fair, as did — more worryingly — a few HR types.” The responses that struck Anderson the most, however, were the hundreds who said they’d been asked the same question. “One of the reasons I tweeted about it in the first place was that it felt like such a grim novelty,” Anderson said: “I hadn’t seriously considered that it could be widespread.” Workers are supposed to think of the pandemic as a growth experience — even though it isn’t over It’s not clear how much the question Anderson encountered represents employer expectations more broadly. “There are always outlier employers who will ask all sorts of weird or inappropriate stuff — and those, of course, are the ones you’re most likely to hear about,” Alison Green, author of the work advice column Ask a Manager, told Vox in an email. But there’s a larger norm at work behind questions like this, and behind the greater expectation that people could use lockdown to boost their coronapreneurial profiles. An obsessive focus on productivity is “part of late-stage American capitalism,” Blustein said. “This productivity ethos has gotten transported into our hobbies, it’s gotten transported into our relationships, into our physical and mental health.” And it’s not just about productivity. The pandemic has intensified a pressure to internalize the demand for constant work, with people striving to use their time in marketable ways, even if no boss is telling them to do so. Anderson sees the question about quarantine “passion projects” as a symptom of “the universalization of the concept of management altogether, whereby everyone is encouraged to think of themselves as ‘CEO of Myself.’” Indeed, much pandemic productivity discourse has centered not on getting things done because your employer makes you, but on getting things done because you make you. In a viral tweet last April, for example, marketing CEO Jeremy Haynes argued that if you didn’t use lockdown to learn new skills or start a business, “you didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline.” If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either: 1.) a new skill 2.) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business 3.) more knowledge You didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline — Jeremy Haynes (@TheJeremyHaynes) April 2, 2020 The implication was that people should use the supposed extra time provided by quarantine to squeeze additional labor out of themselves, doing the work of capitalism without even being asked to do so. We’re so used to treating our time — our very selves — as a resource for the market that we do so even during a global crisis. And when a boss isn’t buying our time — when it’s allegedly “free” — we’re supposed to figure out a way to sell it on our own. “I’ve been working with young people on the cusp of adulthood for the past two years, and the problems they’ve brought my way have all tended to revolve around perceived failures to be their own CEO,” Anderson said. And now, on top of those pressures, we’re supposed to be our own CEOs during a pandemic, when more than 600,000 people have died in the US alone, and many more have been sickened, bereaved, or had their lives disrupted by the virus. For people who lost a loved one, and for health care workers and other essential workers who have been working under dangerous conditions, the pandemic has been a source of very real trauma. That’s especially true for Black, Latinx, and other people of color whose communities have seen the biggest impact from the pandemic and from the economic crisis, and who have been overrepresented among essential workers. “A lot of the lives that were lost were Black and brown people,” Bradford said. “Our communities have really been hit hardest.” Meanwhile, even for those who’ve been able to work from home, the pandemic has not necessarily been a source of endless free time to pursue personal projects. For starters, there are the many parents who picked up additional child care responsibilities when schools and day cares closed their doors — often on top of working or looking for work (as of last fall, 65 percent of remote-working parents said they also had child care responsibilities while they were working, with a majority of moms saying those responsibilities were difficult to handle). Then there were the changes in daily life, from the closure of offices to the isolation of social distancing to the fear injected into once-ordinary tasks like grocery shopping. “A transition is a source of anxiety for everyone,” Jessi Gold, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Vox. And “we’ve just had a year of transition upon transition.” You don’t have to look hard to find tips on how to turn even your anxiety into productivity. But for most people, stress just makes it that much harder — and slower — to get things done. As Blustein put it, “managing anxiety is time-consuming.” “There’s nothing you’re supposed to get out of this” Even though more than half of Americans have now received at least their first vaccination and some states have fully reopened — New York celebrated with surprise fireworks — that doesn’t mean the stress and worry are gone. Patients are still coming in with high levels of anxiety, as well as difficulty concentrating, Gold said. Throughout the pandemic, she added, “I’ve never had so many people who used to be on meds come back and ask for meds.” Meanwhile, more than a third of eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, and racial disparities persist, with Black and Latinx Americans less likely to be vaccinated than white people. And billions of people around the world remain at risk — in many low-income countries, fewer than 1 percent of people have been vaccinated. The pandemic isn’t over, its psychological effects certainly aren’t over, and it’s too soon, many say, to expect us to translate the pain of the last year into tidy lessons for the future. “There really hasn’t been enough distance,” Bradford said. “Sometimes when you rush to make meaning too quickly, you haven’t given yourself time to really sit with the feelings.” “As a society, we don’t do well with grief, and processing what it means to have lost so many people,” Bradford added. Moreover, “we live in a culture where, for some reason, the goal is happiness” rather than sometimes being okay with just existing, Gold said. “We always need to be striving for the silver lining of everything.” For people who want to, there’s nothing wrong with trying to reframe their experience of the pandemic in a positive light. That can be a coping mechanism for some people, Gold said. So can things like baking bread or taking up a new hobby. “Some of that has been people’s attempts to manage their own anxiety,” Bradford said. “It feels like, ‘oh, my gosh, the world is falling apart, I’m not in control of anything. Let me control the things I have control over.’” The problem comes when we face pressure — from friends, from prospective employers, or even just from a culture that expects every experience to be somehow productive — to swiftly transform the pandemic into an opportunity for learning or growth. “There’s nothing you’re supposed to get out of this,” Gold said. “If what you get out of this is, like, you’re breathing, congratulations.” For those who don’t yet feel ready to find silver linings in the pandemic, the good news is that the last year has also intensified the backlash against productivity pressure and the drive to self-improvement. Throughout the pandemic, young people, especially, “have resisted this kind of push to work and be productive,” Blustein said, instead trying to “enjoy the moment and find things that are meaningful in their lives.” Whether it’s people quitting their jobs rather than going back to the office or shifting their priorities away from career advancement, there’s evidence that the pandemic is causing some people to rethink their relationship to capitalism and American work culture. Now the question is whether this shift will be enduring and broad-based, supported by policies to create protections for workers and a true social safety net, rather than something confined to those privileged enough to have choices. That, perhaps, would be a real silver lining — though one it never should have taken a pandemic to achieve.

The biggest problem with eating insects isn’t the “ew” factor

Preview: A diner eats a scorpion at a market in Mexico City. | Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images Can insects become a big part of humanity’s diet? Should it? When I was in college, a girl who lived in my dorm was an evangelist for an unlikely cause: the potential of insects as food. She was really, really passionate about bugs as an ethical, environmentally friendly source of protein, in the way that driven undergrads can be really, really passionate about quixotic causes. At the time I laughed it off. They’re bugs! No one will want to eat bugs, right? The joke was on me: A few years later, she and her business partner went on Shark Tank and received a $100,000 investment from Mark Cuban, and now her company, Chirps Chips, sells cricket-based chips around the world. My classmate was ahead of the curve. As humans gradually realize we need to cut back on traditional meat consumption for the sake of the planet, eating bugs — primarily crickets and mealworms — has become a buzzy, green alternative. Some cultures, encompassing some 2 billion people around the world, already eat bugs. Mopane worms and shea caterpillars are routinely farmed and eaten (the former in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the latter in Burkina Faso and Mali), as is the African edible bush-cricket, which is commonly consumed in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Madagascar. Wild insect gathering for food for either subsistence or sale is common throughout East Asia and the Pacific, from India to Indonesia to Japan to Australia. In the northwest Amazon region of South America, somewhere between 5 and 7 percent of total protein comes from insects. But proponents of insect farming are looking to further industrialize the practice to raise more insects as feed for farmed animals as well as for human consumption — mostly in Europe and the US, where the practice is less common. In May, a European Union panel voted to approve the sale of an insect-based food for humans for the first time in the union’s history. The French company Agronutris had put in the application to sell dried yellow mealworm, a maggot-like organism “said to taste a lot like peanuts” when dried; with EU regulatory approval, the company hopes to sell the mealworm as a flour-like powder. Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images An employee loads mealworm larvae into a sorting oven inside the Ynsect insect farm in Dole, France. Insect farming may still be a niche industry, but dozens of startups have come on the scene over the last few years. (And two French startups received a combined $537 million in funding in just the last year.) Meanwhile, chefs in the US are embracing cicadas, trillions of which have emerged on the East Coast, as a potential ingredient. Dogs are already enjoying the bounty of Brood X, the current crop of cicadas, but there’s no health or safety reason for why humans couldn’t join in. This excitement is eminently understandable: Insects are nutritious and environmentally sound to produce, which makes them a compelling alternative to traditional factory-farmed meats. But setting aside people’s personal tastes, I’m still wary of the push to eat bugs, largely because of one unanswered question: Do we really know all we need to know about the lives of insects — and whether they’re worthy of moral consideration? Why insects could be a good alternative to traditional meat … The case for eating bugs is straightforward: They’re healthy, and doing so is good for the environment. A study published in May from researchers at Harvard and the University of Wisconsin-Madison summarizes both arguments well. The authors found that if consumers in Africa and Asia added 5 grams of insect food to their daily diets, 67 million fewer people would be at risk of protein deficiency, with 166 million fewer people at risk of zinc deficiency and 251 million fewer people at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Anemia would also fall considerably. The study notes that 5 grams is not that much in the grand scheme of things. Cricket protein companies often cite a serving size of 10 to 20 grams of cricket protein powder for use in smoothies or porridge and the like. A 5-gram requirement could be met by one of those meals every two to four days. Particularly in areas of the world where nutritional shortfalls are common, insects could fill a useful role. Then there’s the environmental side. Factory farms are an environmental disaster. Beef farming specifically produces a huge share of the world’s methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than ordinary carbon dioxide, and drives deforestation in the Amazon as beef companies seek more open land for grazing. But factory farms of all kinds have environmental costs, not least from manure runoff that can poison streams, hurt local ecosystems, and endanger the health of local residents. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has promoted insect-based food in part because insects, which are cold-blooded, are more efficient than other animals at converting their food into meat. “On average, insects can convert 2 kg of feed into 1 kg of insect mass, whereas cattle require 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of body weight gain,” the FAO has noted. Insects also require less water and land than traditional livestock, and produce 10 to 100 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food than pigs, per the FAO. Their climate impact looks even better next to cows, which emit more than pigs. … And why we should be wary about it anyway The anti-entomophagy case is subtler but (I think) still compelling. We have to ask what farmed insects will be used for — and more importantly, what farming insects means for the insects themselves. Let’s take cricket farms as an example. At a cricket farm, the animals are typically laid out in plastic bins with cardboard walls they can climb and lay eggs on, according to a report from the research group Rethink Priorities. Because crickets need humid temperatures and can easily drown in a pool of water, damp sponges are often included in the bins to both regulate humidity and provide a drinking source. This video tour of a cricket farm in Finland gives a good sense of the situation, as does this photo of a Canadian farm: James MacDonald/Bloomberg via Getty Images Crickets cover cardboard lattice and feeder trays in the final grow room at Entomo Farms in Norwood, Ontario. Entomo is North America’s largest farmer of insects for human consumption. Lewis Bollard, who runs the farm animal welfare program at Open Philanthropy — the effective, altruist-inspired grantmaking group funded by billionaires Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz — recently published an excellent rundown of the perils of insect meat, specifically when it comes to industrializing insect meat production. First and foremost for animal welfare supporters, the market for human-edible insects is completely overshadowed by the market for insects as feed for farm animals. Most insects are raised to be fed to farmed fish and chickens (or ground up into pet food). “Insect farming isn’t an alternative to factory farming — it’s a supplier,” Bollard writes. This usage further indicts the environmental case for insect farming, he argues: “Feeding corn to insects, then feeding them to chickens, is inherently less efficient than just feeding the corn to chickens.” (To be fair, this is more an argument against the current insect-farming industry, as opposed to what some proponents want it to become: a system to feed humans more efficiently.) Then there are the insects themselves. As Bollard notes, we really have no idea if insects are “sentient” in the way that, say, a pig or cow appears to be (or if they’re sentient at all). Pigs are really smart; they can play video games. Flies, by contrast, aren’t going to trounce you at Skyrim. Some smart people are trying to think through what we do know about insect sentience, but we still don’t know a lot. Rethink Priorities has tried to pull together what we know about the welfare experience of insects on farms, but similarly, it’s not a lot. Insect farms mostly freeze and/or shred their animals, but we don’t know much about whether those methods cause the insects significant pain. If you’ve read this far and aren’t a vegan or vegetarian, or even someone who thinks about animal welfare much at all, all of this may seem absurd. Insects are not creatures whose welfare we’re used to considering, an indifference that even makes its way into our vernacular. “She wouldn’t hurt a fly” doesn’t mean “she’s not a sociopath” in the same way that “she wouldn’t kick a dog” does — it means “she wouldn’t do a mean thing so trivial no one should care about it.” But humans are constantly expanding our circle of moral concern. And though most humans have yet to expand their moral circle to fully include farm animals, attitudes on animal welfare have certainly evolved. The number of pets in the US has more than doubled since the 1970s, while the number euthanized every year has fallen dramatically, from 20 million to 3 million. Humans have become less comfortable killing animals just for being a nuisance: A half-century ago, it wasn’t so uncommon for dog owners to euthanize their pet because it was cheaper than putting them in a kennel during their vacation. That’s unimaginable today. It’s not a far step from “cats and dogs deserve to be treated well” to “pigs and cows deserve to be treated well.” And while “caterpillars and crickets” is a leap further from there, it’s hardly an unthinkable one. They’re animals too. Bees understand the number zero, a concept that human children often cannot grasp. Fruit flies sometimes act in ways that suggest they experience a form of chronic pain. Is it so inconceivable that the insect world might deserve humane treatment? For me, the most sobering finding of Rethink Priorities’s research is that around 1 trillion insects are already raised and killed on farms every year — a staggering number, since we’re still at the start of the insect-food boom. Because insects live very short lives, that annual total encompasses many generations; only between 79 billion and 94 billion farmed insects are alive at any given time. I don’t know for sure whether those insects feel pain — but if there’s even a small chance they do, the scale of the suffering that would imply is massive. I’m not categorically against insect farming, but I do hope we can learn more about what insects’ lives are like before we start farming them at an even greater scale.

Without Rose Byrne, the ’80s aerobics drama Physical would be unwatchable

Preview: Rose Byrne in Physical. | Apple TV+ Acidic and otherwise sloppy, Physical’s star is its saving grace. In the seminal film Legally Blonde, first-year law prodigy Elle Woods presents an iconic defense of her exercise guru client: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” I’ve found Elle Woods’s theorem to be generally true, that people who exercise are happy. I’ve also yet to meet a murderer at fitness class. But in the new AppleTV+ aerobics period piece Physical, starring Rose Byrne, exercise is less about creating happiness than it is about making the life you live a little less painful. The most surprising thing about the 10-episode series, created and written by Annie Weisman, is just how unpleasant it’s willing to get to make that point. An example: Physical often smashes emotional distress and queasiness into brutal sequences where Sheila (Byrne) binges and purges hamburger combo meals to enact vengeance upon her own unhappiness. It’s a dramatic turn from how the show has been marketed as a campy ’80s paean to aerobics starring the mean woman from Bridesmaids. Physical is not for everyone, and it’s very close to being not for anyone at all. The series finds its protagonist Sheila in a desperate situation. She’s married to a flop who doesn’t appreciate her, taking care of their child with no help, and she has given up any sense of a career to live this unsatisfying life. Sheila’s only tether to sanity is being able to get away from her life via exercise. For an hour of her day, it gives her everything she’s lacking in her real life and everything she needs to survive it. Physical would be unwatchable misery if it wasn’t for Byrne’s performance. Her Sheila is a mess that’s fraying at her edges. In Byrne’s hands, that jittery exterior gives way to a bellowing sadness and frustration not just at her life gone wrong, but also the state of the world around her — as she dwells on everything from ocean pollution to Reaganomics to, it seems, the end of disco. Somehow, in her sweat and metallic lycra, Byrne allows you to see the spark of hope that Sheila might just turn everything around. The series ultimately becomes a portrait of a woman learning to live with her own demons by manifesting her own success, even if that success clashes against everything she believes in. In doing so, it shifts and challenges our own ideas about what it is — capitalism, self-obliteration, divorce — we’re rooting for. You may have to steel yourself, though, to stick with Physical until the second half of Sheila’s caustic journey. Wow, I do not want Sheila’s life Apple TV+ Rose Byrne in Physical. The most devastatingly effective takeaway from Physical is that it will never make you want to live in 1980s San Diego. Beneath the perpetual golden hour, Sheila Rubin is stuck in a desperate hell. Her husband, Danny (Rory Scovel), is a mediocre professor who has decided to pivot and make a bid for state assembly as a leftist upstart. That goes about as well as his (failed) tenure attempt. In her head, Sheila curses his mediocrity. But soon, she comes to realize that the only person sadder than the unexceptional professor turned unexceptional politician is the woman cooking his eggs, putting the kid to sleep, dealing with his deadbeat friends, and tending to his every beck and call. The series heavily features Byrne in voiceover, cruelly mocking the deficiencies — fatness, stupidity, weakness — of the humans around her, including Greta (Dierdre Friel), her earnest and only ally, before turning the acidic insults onto herself. The punishment Sheila inflicts upon herself eventually becomes, yes, physical. Sheila’s dark secret is that she’s been using her and Danny’s joint savings, buying hamburger meals and then bingeing and purging the pain away one calorie at a time. Her knuckles have callused from how often she’s made herself throw up. From the very first episode, we learn that Sheila is incredibly and shockingly adept at hurting herself. If you want to tap out, that’s understandable — especially if you’re sensitive to the heightened sound effects of a toilet flushing and a woman retching. Though Sheila’s disordered eating isn’t glamorized or depicted in a visually graphic way, it is a cornerstone to Physical, and viewers should be aware of this when deciding to watch the show. To some extent, Physical’s corrosiveness can be explained by the show presenting itself as a taunt and a dare. Here’s a desperate, terrible woman, and boy is she unfathomably destructive. But its overall unpleasantness is unintentional because it comes in large part from a lack of imagination. Making fun of someone doesn’t always need to be funny or inventive, but having Sheila repeatedly lurch back to the lowest common denominator by simply calling people fat or stupid derails Physical’s momentum. I get that the point is that this woman’s miserable life is entrenched in monotony and that she herself is trapped in a soul-numbing redundancy — but there are ways to get that point across without turning the show itself into something redundant. Viewers who stick it out a little further will be rewarded with Sheila finding salvation in an aerobics class called “Body by Bunny.” At “Body by Bunny,” which is located in a mall that will induce nostalgia in viewers of a certain age, Sheila’s life melts away and synth music drowns out her inner voice. She feels strong. Her face softens into a smile. Each kick and thrust brings crystal clarity into her consciousness, showing her that this is the way life should feel and the way it should be. Sheila’s smitten with this feeling. The show itself twists away from its finicky energy in its aerobics sequences to slow-motion fantasy shots and languid dreaminess. It’s in these moments, where Byrne is looking at her aerobics instructor like someone witnessing a holy miracle, that Byrne unlocks her character’s full potential. What’s frustrating is that there should be more than just moments for Byrne. On paper, Sheila feels like a character tailor-made for Byrne. The actress has shown she’s equally adept at playing hilariously mean villains in Spy and Bridesmaids, winsome momtagonists in Neighbors and Instant Family, and a calibrated cool Gloria Steinem in Mrs. America. Sheila’s in Byrne’s ballpark. But the writing on Physical doesn’t often match Byrne’s heroic performance, and the best parts of the show are wordless ones with Byrne digging into physical, aerobic comedy to carry it someplace better. Physical plays aerobics straight In hammering home Sheila’s unhappy existence, Weisman seems to want to answer why people like Sheila threw themselves at something ridiculous like aerobics and perhaps why people, specifically women, today throw themselves into fad exercise trends like SoulCycle, Peloton, and “The Class.” Weisman provides a lot of answers, to a fault. For Sheila, aerobics becomes not only her hour-long respite from her life but also a possible meal ticket. If she can figure out a way to teach and record her workouts on tape, she could amass a home workout video fortune not unlike Jane Fonda. Physical spends a lot of time pinning aerobics to capitalism and how it would violate the leftist politics Sheila thinks she stands for. If capitalism vis-à-vis aerobics is the only thing that can make Sheila feel alive, can it really be so bad? Looping in Sheila’s mediocre husband and all the deadening he represents, it becomes obvious to Sheila that capitalism and aerobics is the way to go. And so large parts of Physical become Sheila allegorically being seduced by — and then chasing — that forbidden fruit, which also involves a bizarre sexually tinged relationship with the conservative mall owner John Breem (Paul Sparks). But I found the most riveting argument of Physical in the less splashy, less biblical, more effortless moment. Sheila’s entire existence is built on a premise that her desires, small or large, shouldn’t even be considered. Her husband scoffs at the idea of making an effort, just one time, to comfort his own child back to sleep instead of leaving that responsibility to Sheila. He can’t imagine Sheila wanting to do something other than make him breakfast. He is so oblivious to her own existence, and so preoccupied with his own, that he can’t see her wasting away. Bunny’s aerobics class is the antithesis of that, a place where desire isn’t shamed and Sheila’s existence is acknowledged, even encouraged. It’s the one place where Sheila feels like she comes first. It’s not surprising that dismissing her devotion to the spectacle of exercise as ridiculous fails to convince Sheila it isn’t a worthwhile pursuit; from Sheila’s perspective, all of her desires have already been dismissed as ridiculous. And to Sheila’s credit, aerobics is a lot less harmful and exponentially more legal than any urge she might have to shoot her husband. What Physical whiffs on is building this idea in a bigger way. We understand why Sheila needs aerobics but not exactly why women are drawn to Sheila or what makes Sheila, out of presumably a world filled with Sheilas, the woman (and aerobics instructor) they need. It might be because they too lead lives of caged dread, keep self-destructive secrets, or harbor frustrations with their husbands. The audience is asked to connect the dots in a way that Physical takes for granted, and a lot like Sheila herself, it’s not hard to feel neglected at the end of it. The first three episodes of Physical debut Friday, June 18, on AppleTV+. After that, one new episode will be released on the streaming service each week.

In the Heights exemplified the ugly colorism I’ve experienced in Latinx communities

Preview: A scene in a beauty salon from the 2021 film adaptation of In the Heights; the movie has come under criticism for colorism. | Macall Polay/Warner Bros. The film adaptation of the musical revealed the pain of experiencing racism within one’s own ethnic communities. The film adaptation of In the Heights, based on the popular stage musical by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, was billed as a much-needed celebration of the diverse Latinx neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. Yet when the movie opened, criticism immediately ensued on social media. For a film set in a heavily Afro-Latinx neighborhood, darker-skinned people were relegated to dancers, hair salon workers, and other background roles. And among the leading roles, there was a glaring lack of Afro-Latinx representation. In an interview for the Root with some cast members and the director, Jon Chu, journalist Felice León asked about the absence of dark-skinned Afro-Latinx representation in the film. Chu responded, “In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people who were best for those roles.” A few days later, Miranda shared an apology via Twitter, saying, “I’m truly sorry. I’m learning from the feedback. I thank you for raising it and I’m listening.” The following night, the legendary Puerto Rican musical actress Rita Moreno appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert defending Miranda, saying, “Can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone?” which also drew backlash, for which she eventually apologized. This controversy, and the reaction to it among these Hollywood creators, exposes ugly realities lurking within the Latinx community. I was only about 10 minutes into watching the film when I, an Afro-Puerto Rican from New York state who has spent time in Washington Heights, immediately realized the racial composition of the light-skinned and white-passing Latinx cast was not reflective of what you see walking through that neighborhood. Washington Heights is historically a Dominican neighborhood and arguably the most prominent Dominican community in the US; nearly half of the residents in Washington Heights identify as Dominican. That coupled with the fact that Black Latinx identification is most prevalent among Dominicans in comparison to other Latinx subgroups makes this fallacy of Latinx representation even more baffling. Afro-Latinos are central to all that is vibrant in Washington Heights; the most cherished aspects of Dominican food and music are a product of the African diaspora. The erasure of Afro-Latinx people, and especially of those who are darker-skinned, has long been an issue within the Latinx community. I know this, not only because I’ve lived it, but because it’s something I’ve researched and studied as a doctoral student and former faculty member in higher education. It’s not uncommon for Latinos who are quick to tout their pride in merengue, bachata, mangú, and mofongo to ignore the very people — those of the African diaspora — whose ancestors introduced these into the culture. It goes to show how ingrained the devaluation of Black aesthetics in the Latinx community really is, and how colorism, or the practices of discrimination that privilege people of color with lighter skin over those with darker skin, pervades communities of color. As I watched the movie over the weekend with my two Afro-Latinx children, I had a deep yearning to be able to point to one of the lead characters and say, “Look, they look like we do!” Unfortunately, that moment never came. Instead, I had an out-of-body experience in which I was witnessing my own triple consciousness, a phrase that explains Afro-Latinx realities in which “one ever feels his three-ness — a Latino, a Negro, an American.” This pain stems from receiving messages of inferiority not only from white people but also from the Latinx community to which we purportedly belong. From research I have conducted, I know all too well how frequently experiences with colorism occur within the Latinx community. Modern-day colorism can be traced back to European colonization and slavery; it is rooted in white supremacist standards of beauty and works in tandem with racism. It manifests as the privileging of white phenotypic features — light skin, straight hair, a narrow nose, or light eyes — over Afro-centric features within the same racial or ethnic group. This hierarchy is a phenomenon that shows up not only in Latinx communities but in Black and Asian communities as well, both in America and globally. These racialized standards of beauty encourage darker-skinned people of color to alter their bodies in an attempt to be considered more attractive. For example, skin lightening creams are a lucrative industry in Afro-Caribbean and African countries as well as across the Asian continent. Another important consequence of these dominant Eurocentric beauty ideals is an entertainment industry that still rewards a proximity to whiteness. Both Black and Latina actresses like Viola Davis and Gina Torres have shared experiences of being passed over for their whiter-looking counterparts. But the movie’s issues were not limited to its lack of representation. It omitted an important scene in the original stage play in which one of the lead characters, Nina’s father, expresses anti-Black sentiments toward a Black character Nina is dating named Benny. This moment would have been an opportunity to shine a light on familiar yet uncomfortable anti-Black sentiment within many Latino families. This has complicated origins rooted in the history of many Latinx countries, where centuries of colonialism have led to a preference for whiteness, such as the 1930s Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, who carried out an intricate plan to lighten Dominicans as a group. Unfortunately, colorism is a global issue that transcends the shortsighted casting choices of In the Heights producers. In fact, this is not even the first time that director Jon Chu has been called out for upholding colorism. When asked about the lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, Chu said, “that was something we talked about and I needed to be educated about.” Yet he faced similar criticism after his 2018 movie Crazy Rich Asians, which featured a cast of lighter-skinned East Asians despite the movie taking place in Singapore, which has a diverse population that includes those of Malay and Indian descent. This goes to show that even movies written and directed exclusively by people of color fail to escape the grasp of white supremacy when systems like colorism rear their ugly head. While I was heartened to see In the Heights depict the music, food, and language that is near and dear to my heart, I was ultimately left unfulfilled. The creators of this film did not take full advantage of this rare opportunity to forefront the racial diversity of the Latinx community, instead falling into the traps of colorism and anti-Black Latinx racism that have long been a thread throughout our history. In the wake of more recent awareness of anti-Blackness, lighter-skinned and white Latinos must do their part in addressing these issues within our own community. Our children deserve better. My children deserve better. Jasmine Haywood is a strategy director for student success at Lumina Foundation. Her expertise is in the areas of Afro-Latinidad, colorism, and anti-Black racism. She has a master’s degree and a PhD from Indiana University.

Luca is a Pixar fable about sea monsters, friendship, and pasta

Preview: Luca, Pixar’s latest, dives into a magical world off the coast of Italy. | Disney/Pixar Now streaming on Disney+, it’s a tale about accepting others — and yourself. Luca is probably the most summery movie that Pixar’s ever made — a light, gentle, sweet tale of a young boy and his best friend who go on an adventure in a tiny Italian town. (They’re also both sea monsters, but more on that later.) There is pasta and gelato, fountains and cycling, a mustache-twirling villain and starry night skies. It’s a tiny vacation with a healthy serving of imagination. Director Enrico Casarosa says the look of his new film is inspired by everything from Renaissance maps — the kind haunted around the edges by scaly sea monsters — to Japanese woodcuts and his own childhood memories of summers in southern Italy. It has a softer, more hand-drawn feeling than some other Pixar offerings, almost as if it’s 2D in places, which gives the impression of timelessness. Luca could take place this summer or a century ago. It’s a folk tale, or perhaps a fable. And just like those kinds of stories, there’s a buried wisdom within Luca that shifts a little depending on who’s looking at it, like the color of light refracting off a wave. The story centers on Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), a shy young sea monster who herds fish by day in a cove off the coast of the Italian Riviera. He lives with his mother Daniela (Maya Rudolph), father Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan), and crotchety badass of a grandmother (Sandy Martin). Luca is a good kid. He watches over the fish, who are little bubbly airheads with the mannerisms of sheep, and stays away from the surface. According to his parents, it’s dangerous up there. Especially for sea monsters, who are not themselves dangerous to humans but are regarded as such and hunted with fearsome spears. Don’t go near the humans. Yet, like the Little Mermaid before him, Luca is curious about what’s going on up above. And when he finds some random detritus scattered in his fishes’ grazing region — an alarm clock, a little picture, a wrench — he starts to daydream. Disney/Pixar There’s gelato, too. One day, another young sea monster named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) appears to retrieve some of the artifacts. He coaxes Luca up to land. Luca reluctantly follows, and discovers to his amazement that he’s more well-equipped to survive above water than he’d expected. Alberto and Luca are fast friends, bound together by their mutual love of Vespas and, eventually, a grand adventure they embark upon to a nearby village called Portorosso. They meet a girl named Giulia (Emma Berman), who lives with her fisherman father (Marco Barricelli) and her marshmallow-shaped cat named Machiavelli. She enlists their help in winning Portorosso’s annual race. Luca and Alberto are constantly worried they’ll be found out as loathsome sea monsters, not “normal” boys. And so they’re always hiding their true identities. In some ways, it’s the oldest plot in the book: Someone who is an outsider — a beast, a poor stepsister, a mermaid, a princess with a hidden power — must conceal their identity in order to avoid detection among “normal” people. The message is familiar, too, the oldest in the Disney canon: Don’t be afraid to be yourself, because nobody else can be you, and those who love you are the only ones who matter. Luca’s sun-drenched spin on the story locates it in a coming-of-age tale that’s also about overprotective parents (reminiscent of Finding Nemo) and the importance of having a friend who can pull us out of our darkest moments. I thought a little of last year’s Wolfwalkers (a non-Disney film, and probably better for it), which resonates with some of the same themes. Despite its many plot threads, Luca is not the most complex film, philosophically, that Pixar has served up, or its most well-thought-out. Characters develop without warning or much explanation, which could be irritating if you’re entranced by Luca’s universe. Though it’s firmly rooted in an old-world Italian village, the evocation isn’t as luminous or all-encompassing as a film like Coco. Disney/Pixar You can almost feel the Riviera sun beating down on your shoulders. But Luca does make space for a prismatic variety of readings, a simple allegory with a few different applications. One it seems to allow, if not outright invite, is that it’s a little fable about quietly realizing a queer identity. Luca at first tells Alberto he’s a “good kid” and that “it’s bad up here.” A villain tells him that “everyone is afraid of you and disgusted by you.” Late in the film, we hear that he may never be accepted for who he is, but at least he’s learning to find people who will accept him anyway. (A quick reveal right at the end involving two elderly residents of Portorosso seems to underline the point.) That’s not the only reading, probably because no matter who you are, you’ve probably lived through a time of feeling like the one on the outside who has to learn to blend in, to go undetected in order to save yourself. Being awkward, or artsy, or neurodivergent, or less well-off than your friends, or just not into whatever the in-crowd likes — that can feel dangerous and hazardous, especially to a child whose parents have warned them away from some other world. (There’s a special thanks in Luca’s credits to the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, an organization that fights religious prejudice, which gave me a whole new window into what the movie could be about.) Does Luca follow those threads through to a meaningful ending? Not really. The film is more fairy tale than anything else; if a young viewer walks away with some affirmation of their feeling that they’re different, it won’t come with much guidance on how to cope with a society that still won’t accept them. Life rarely ties up so nicely. That’s always been a problem with Disney’s storytelling — easy answers and wishful thinking that could set up young audiences with expectations that the real world will never fulfill. Still, what a work of art means to the audience depends on who’s looking at it. Luca has left all kinds of room for us each to walk around in its story. No matter how you read it, the film is a sparklingly rendered, inventive little comedy with nods to Italian films and Japanese art and a world that seems like it wandered out of a storybook and onto a screen. It’s a little summertime gift, a treasure from under the sea. Luca premieres only on Disney+ on June 18.

UFOs are real. That’s the easy part. Now here’s the hard part.

Preview: A still from the GOFAST UFO video. | Official UAP Footage from the USG The epic tale of how Pentagon officials and Blink-182’s guitarist helped take UFO videos mainstream. All of a sudden, serious people are starting to take UFOs — unidentified flying objects — seriously. “There’s footage and records of objects in the skies that — we don’t know exactly what they are, we can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory,” former President Barack Obama told CBS’s James Corden. Many in Congress are curious, too, and this month the body is set to receive a report originating from a Pentagon task force detailing its investigations into unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), the preferred term for UFOs among specialists. The Pentagon Office of the Inspector General is also evaluating the government’s approach to UAPs with an eye to strengthening its monitoring and response. The highest levels of the American government are very, very interested in what’s up there in the sky. When I was growing up, UFOs were the province of late-night talk radio and The X-Files. They had a roughly similar level of respectability to theories that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, or that the CIA killed John F. Kennedy. That stigma appears to be fading somewhat. In 1996, Gallup found that only 47 percent of Americans thought people reporting UFO sightings were seeing something real, and not imagining it. In 2019, when Gallup polled again, a majority, 56 percent, thought UFO observers were seeing something real. IMDb The truth, and I cannot stress this enough, is out there. Interestingly, the share of Americans saying the government “knows more about UFOs than it’s telling us” fell very slightly from 1996 to 2019. That may reflect the fact that the government has confirmed the reality of some of the most prominent UFO videos. In a somewhat surprising development that helped kick-start the current round of UFO fascination, the government confirmed the authenticity of two videos featured in a 2017 New York Times story and a third one leaked a few months later, each of which depicts US Navy fighter pilots observing a strange object whose nature appears baffling to them. We still don’t fully know what these videos depict, and at the risk of disappointing some readers, there’s no evidence that they depict alien aircraft. But it’s hard to overstate just how much these videos have changed the way the public, the government, and the mainstream press (most notably the New York Times) think and talk about UFOs — to the point where people may have misconceptions about what exactly we know given the available evidence. Here’s a closer look at what these videos actually depict (and what they do not), how they came to light, and whether the resurgence of interest in UFOs should make us reassess what we think we know about UFOs and life beyond Earth. The three canonical UFO videos behind the current wave of interest The resurgence in interest in UFOs — or UAPs, the preferred term in the Defense Department — can generally be credited to three specific videos captured by the US Navy. The first two were leaked to the New York Times and written about on the front page in the December 17, 2017, print edition of the paper, while the third was leaked a few months later. The first of these incidents, and probably the most important, is what’s called the USS Nimitz encounter, named after the supercarrier from which the jet pilot who observed the UFO took off. In November 2004, about 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, Cmdr. David Fravor and the pilot on his wing, Lt. Cmdr. Amy Dietrich, reported seeing what Fravor called a “white tic-tac looking object” the size of an F/A-18 with no wings, markings, or exhaust plumes, that, when approached, “turns abruptly and starts mimicking me.” Eventually, Fravor told 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker, it simply “disappeared.” The USS Princeton, a cruiser in the area that had asked Fravor and Dietrich to investigate anomalous aerial phenomena, reacquired the target “seconds later,” Whitaker reports, “60 miles away.” Another flight crew took a video of the object using their forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR), leading the video to be dubbed the “FLIR1 video”: An important note here: While Fravor and Dietrich believe that the object they reported seeing and the one in the FLIR1 video are one and the same, it’s hard to be sure of that identification. And, lacking such certainty, we also cannot be sure the object flew some 60 miles in a matter of seconds, a feat that explains much of why the object seemed so strange and impressive. The second video, labeled “GIMBAL,” was taken by a fighter jet from the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, flying by the coast of Florida in 2015. “This is a fucking drone, bro,” one pilot is recorded saying. “There’s a whole fleet of them,” another adds. The third video, “GOFAST,” also recorded in 2015 and first publicly released a few months after the other videos, in March 2018, features audio of laughing, audibly excited pilots observing a small white object appearing to fly over water at an extremely rapid pace: These three videos set off the current wave of interest in UFOs/UAPs, but they’ve been followed by at least a couple more. This year, Pentagon spokesperson Susan Gough confirmed that two recently leaked videos were taken by Navy pilots. The first, taken above the USS Russell destroyer near San Diego in July 2019, depicts a “pyramid-like” object: The other, taken that same month and in that same geographic area by the USS Omaha combat ship, shows what appears in the infrared camera to be a spherical object. Both videos were brought to light by filmmaker and reporter Jeremy Corbell, an enthusiastic believer in the extraterrestrial hypothesis (the theory that UFO sightings reflect contact with alien civilizations) and an advocate for greater UFO disclosure: How a group of UFO enthusiasts helped mainstream UFOs The story of how Navy videos depicting UFOs landed on the Times’s front page is its own fascinating saga. The best single account I’ve seen is Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s in the New Yorker, but here’s a summary. The story begins in 2007, at the instigation of Robert Bigelow, a Nevada businessman with a fortune from extended-stay hotels, an aerospace firm, and a deep, abiding interest in UFOs. That year, Bigelow worked with Sen. Harry Reid — a campaign donation recipient — to secure $22 million in “black budget” money (that is, appropriated by Congress outside public committees) for the DOD to investigate UFO sightings. The Bigelow-centric phase of the investigation, by all accounts, was fairly conspiratorial, producing documents like a report with a “photo of a supposed tracking device that supposed aliens had supposedly implanted in a supposed abductee,” as Lewis-Kraus, who saw the document, describes it. Enter veteran DOD counterintelligence officer Luis Elizondo, who in 2010 took over the effort, rechristened as the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). AATIP studied videos and encounters like the Nimitz incident, the GIMBAL video, and the GOFAST video, and convinced Elizondo that something bizarre and worthy of exploration was taking place. But Elizondo found himself frustrated by the lack of departmental buy-in. This is where Blink-182 comes in. Tom DeLonge, the lead vocalist and guitarist behind such classics as “First Date,” “All the Small Things,” and, of course, “Aliens Exist,” has had a longstanding interest in the paranormal. According to an extensive 2018 profile in the Fader by Kelsey McKinney, DeLonge has “consistently claimed to believe” that “UFOs are real, aliens are real and they visit us episodically, the U.S. government has known about alien life for decades … and the U.S. government has a real live alien species locked up somewhere” — among other things. To that end, DeLonge began putting together To The Stars Academy, which in his vision would become a leading source of UFO-related expertise and of related media projects. In that role, he became an important convener of ex-government officials with an interest in UFOs — starting with Luis Elizondo, who left the DOD in 2017, and the man who would become his main partner in UFO evangelism, Christopher Mellon. Mellon, a member of the prominent Mellon family of Pittsburgh who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, had a longstanding interest in UFOs, and began giving interviews arguing for increased disclosure around 2016. “To approach UFOs rationally, we must maintain the agnostic position regarding their nature or origin, because we simply don’t know the answers yet” “Tom [DeLonge] called me out of the blue one day,” Mellon recalls. “He saw an article I’d written. … He was starting this organization and was wondering if I would want to get involved.” DeLonge connected him with Elizondo, and both joined To The Stars as advisers. Mellon had been outside of government for many years at this point, but still had sources in the Pentagon, which is how he and To The Stars got access to the three videos above. “Somebody met me in the parking lot and passed [the videos] off. It had documentation stating it was approved for public release. It was unclassified,” Mellon told Lewis-Kraus. To the best of my knowledge, the person inside the Pentagon who leaked to Mellon is still unknown. The To The Stars team then looped in a journalist with an interest in the subject, Leslie Kean. The New York Times and the mainstreaming of UFO speculation Kean, like Mellon a scion of a Northeast political dynasty (her uncle, Thomas Kean, served two terms as governor of New Jersey and chaired the 9/11 Commission), had been interested in aliens and UFOs for years. In 2010, she had published a book compiling firsthand UFO sightings from what she considered credible sources; John Podesta, the former White House chief of staff under Clinton and a huge UFO fan, wrote the foreword. “To approach UFOs rationally, we must maintain the agnostic position regarding their nature or origin, because we simply don’t know the answers yet,” Kean writes in the book’s introduction. This is indicative of Kean’s broader approach: She is clearly sympathetic to arguments for extraterrestrial or paranormal explanations of mysterious phenomena, but focuses on cases she views as credible and supportable with empirical evidence, which could be more persuasive to people on the fence. This is true not just about aliens. Kean’s follow-up to her UFO book was Surviving Death, a decidedly non-agnostic argument (later adapted into a Netflix miniseries) for the reality of an afterlife, reincarnation, and telepathy. “Human beings have extraordinary mental abilities that science cannot explain,” Kean writes in the book’s introduction, abilities that “may be controversial” but “have been documented by legitimate scientists for many years,” known as “psi” or extrasensory perception (ESP). Kean’s efforts to the contrary, parapsychological claims like this are not widely accepted in psychology. When a Cornell scientist purported to have conducted lab experiments showing psi is real, the main response in the field was that because psi is obviously fake, the finding meant that prevailing methods in psychology were totally broken. In any case, Kean continued to maintain a steady interest in UFOs, serving with Mellon on the board of the nonprofit UFODATA, which supports scientific, agnostic investigations in UFOs. Per Lewis-Kraus, Mellon and To The Stars offered her the UFO videos and supporting documentation on the condition that Kean place the story in the New York Times. Kean told me she wasn’t sure the offer was so explicitly conditional, but that the goal was always to place a story in the Times. Kean worked with Ralph Blumenthal, a 45-year veteran of the paper who had retired in 2009. Blumenthal was then working on a biography, now released, of John Mack, a Harvard Medical School professor who became convinced that the purported alien abductees he was interviewing were telling the truth, despite the lack of physical evidence for their claims and the possibility that the experiences they described were simply sleep paralysis. “I believe … that Mack was onto something,” Blumenthal told one interviewer. He added to me, “I went very carefully over [Mack’s] research, and I must say that the so-called skeptics, who are very quick to debunk a lot of this field from the simplest UFO sightings to alien encounters, have not done the research that people in the field have done.” Blumenthal was, naturally, intrigued by what Kean was offering, and they set off to pitch a science story to the editor of the New York Times. Blumenthal told me, and documented in a “Times Insider” column for the paper, that he took the story directly to Dean Baquet, the Times’s top editor. “I want to make a clear distinction between the material in my book, which is about alien encounters reported by people, and UFOs,” Blumenthal clarified to me. “It is much easier to interest people at the Times in a story about UFOs than about alien encounters.” On UFOs, he had Navy pilot testimony and videos to lend the story credibility. “Maybe [alien encounters] will become part of the dialogue at some point,” Kean told me, “but it’s not going to become part of the mainstream dialogue at this stage. We’re just not there yet.” Blumenthal and Kean’s effort culminated in two pieces posted online on December 16, 2017, for the next day’s print edition: the front-page, A1 story revealing the existence of AATIP and the contents of the FLIR1 and GIMBAL videos, and a story deeper in the paper interviewing Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight, also in an F/A-18 during the Nimitz encounter, about what they saw. The latter piece was preceded by the following disclaimer: The following recounts an incident in 2004 that advocates of research into U.F.O.s have said is the kind of event worthy of more investigation, and that was studied by a Pentagon program that investigated U.F.O.s. Experts caution that earthly explanations often exist for such incidents, and that not knowing the explanation does not mean that the event has interstellar origins. It took years, but eventually in September 2019 the Pentagon confirmed that the two videos in the Times, as well as GOFAST which was released a few months later by To The Stars, were authentic. On April 27, 2020, it formally released them itself. Beyond the initial disclosure of the Navy videos, the Times’s coverage has ventured into somewhat more speculative territory. In that December 2017 story, it repeated claims that a Bigelow facility was “modified” to house “metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena,” alloys that Blumenthal told MSNBC government researchers were struggling to identify. That claim earned immediate pushback from chemists who found the notion of the Pentagon recovering unclassifiable mystery alloys implausible. In a July 2020 story, Kean and Blumenthal passed along a claim from astrophysicist and contractor Eric W. Davis that “he gave a classified briefing to a Defense Department agency as recently as March about retrievals from ‘off-world vehicles not made on this earth.’” Davis is a bit of a perennial figure in stories about offbeat Pentagon investigations. In 2004, he received $7.5 million from the Air Force to study “psychic teleportation,” or the ability to transport yourself between locations with the power of your mind. The US military has long paid for long-shot investigations into alleged paranormal activity (see Jon Ronson’s book The Men Who Stare at Goats for a longer history). By passing along Davis’s claims without verifying them, the Times’s July 2020 story effectively suggested that alien civilizations have reached earth with “off-world vehicles” that the Pentagon has retrieved, a truly extraordinary claim in need of extraordinary evidence. The story did note, “No crash artifacts have been publicly produced for independent verification,” and acknowledged that astrophysicists contend that “Even lacking a plausible terrestrial explanation does not make an extraterrestrial one the most likely.” I asked Blumenthal about the choice to pass along the news of Davis’s briefings without further verification of his claims — after all, the Times spent years on a story looking into whether Donald Trump cheated on his taxes, so it seems reasonable that a claim suggesting alien materials here on Earth would receive similar vetting. Blumenthal defended the inclusion by noting the piece stopped “short of saying that we have verified information that material was recovered. We just said that congressional staff was shown a briefing slide that referenced these materials. It was very carefully worded, because we didn’t want to get ahead of the information we had. … But we thought it was quite an advance to get that into the paper.” Kean told me she confirmed with numerous sources that such vehicles have been discussed in high-level briefings by Davis. She also went a bit further in vouching for the substance of Davis’s claim. “I absolutely think Eric Davis is a respectable, credible person,” she told me, adding later, “The fact that a government agency has been briefing congressmen on that topic, and briefing many other people at high levels, for many years, is highly suggestive that there’s something to it.” The prevailing explanations of the videos No one knows with a high level of confidence what the Navy videos are depicting, or if they are even depicting the same thing. But explanations generally fall into one of four categories: Natural or non-military phenomena (like a pelican or civilian aircraft or camera error) Secret US government aviation technology Secret aviation technology from the military of another country, most likely Russia or China Aliens The main expositor of the first hypothesis is Mick West, a British video game programmer known for his work on the Tony Hawk skateboarding series, who now devotes his time to his website Metabunk and the broader project of debunking what he regards as conspiracy theories, including “chemtrails” and extraterrestrial explanations of UFOs. West had laid out his theory of the three videos in many places, but the below video is to my mind the most helpful summary: The FLIR1 video is “entirely consistent with being a plane that’s very far away,” West says. “Radar’s great if you know where to look, but if you’re looking in sector A and it’s in sector Q” you’re going to miss it — which is what he thinks happened in the Nimitz case. West believes the GIMBAL video is most likely the glare of a jet’s engine; he says he has replicated this kind of image using his own infrared cameras. Its apparent rotation, he says, is due to a limitation in the camera’s ability to move and track the object. GOFAST, he thinks, is a lost weather balloon (or perhaps a pelican), which — because it’s midway between the jet observing it and the water — appears (misleadingly) to be going as fast as the plane itself when it’s really staying still. So that’s number one, the naturalistic explanation. Elizondo, Mellon, Fravor, and other UFO disclosure advocates and ex-pilots do not just dispute this argument but are actively infuriated by it. “I don’t know why people even take [Mick West] seriously,” Mellon told me. “He knows nothing about these sensor systems, he deliberately excludes 90 percent of the pertinent information and in the process maligns our military personnel. ‘Oh, Dave Fravor doesn’t know what he’s looking at. Oh, those guys don’t know how to operate those infrared systems.’ Who the hell does he think he is? These guys are the real deal. He’s a desk jockey sitting in front of a monitor.” West, for his part, told me, “I don’t ignore the pilots. I try to engage with them to resolve issues like this. I respect their skills and experience but recognize (as they themselves have said) that they are human, not perfect.” Elizondo is sometimes more charitable to the skeptics, even giving an hour-long interview to West on his YouTube channel. In general, his response was to argue that West was looking just at videos and not at the totality of information that’s available to researchers in the Pentagon. On Nimitz/FLIR1, he told West, “Based on my experience in the AATIP program, there is certainly additional information that is very, very compelling. People are going to say, ‘Well, what is it, Lue, why don’t you tell us? We want to know.’ Well, I can’t” — it’s still classified. But, Elizondo advised, this corroborating information might start to trickle out soon. As a layperson, I’m sort of at a loss of what to make of these disputes. West’s explanations seem plausible, but I haven’t been in a physics class since 2007, I have never flown a fighter jet, and I have no expertise with infrared cameras. It also seems perfectly plausible that Elizondo and Mellon are right and there is private government data proving the skeptical explanations wrong — but it’s impossible to evaluate that without access to such data. In any case, “it’s a weather balloon” strikes me as more plausible than “it’s aliens,” at least until we see the disconfirming evidence to which Elizondo is alluding. The other two non-extraterrestrial explanations — that it’s secret US military aircraft, or secret foreign military aircraft — are even tougher to nail down. The DOD is not in the habit of blabbing about secretive air tests, especially ones that (in this scenario) it would be hiding from Navy fighter pilots operating in the same airspace. The Russian and Chinese militaries are really not in the habit of disclosing trade secrets. Mellon has said that he’s confident the vehicles aren’t ours, because he has a high enough security clearance that he would have heard about them in that case. Maybe! But I imagine there were many people with high security clearances who, say, did not know that in the 1950s and ’60s the CIA was secretly dosing people with LSD to see if it could be used to coerce confessions. The US government is a vast, sprawling behemoth that’s doing any number of strange things at any given time, so Mellon’s point — while plausible — doesn’t strike me as dispositive. That said, the Times’s Cooper and Julian Barnes have reported that the UAP Task Force report will conclude that the UAPs in the videos were not US military aircraft, which would back up Mellon’s claim considerably. What about the Russian and Chinese militaries? That’s a common theory among pilots. Pilot Lt. Ryan Graves told 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker, that “The highest probability is that it’s a threat observation program,” perhaps from Russia or China. The best argument for this possibility I’ve seen comes from Tyler Rogoway of the War Zone, a publication focused on defense issues. As Rogoway notes, there is a huge amount of precedent for this kind of aerial surveillance: The US engaged in this activity extensively vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, and tests of surveillance aircraft in locations like Roswell, New Mexico, and Area 51, Nevada, have generated many past UFO reports. Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images Area 51 is a highly classified United States Air Force facility located near Rachel, Nevada. The adversarial drone explanation would also help explain why pilots and ships, in particular, are seeing so many of these objects: Why wouldn’t the Russian or Chinese militaries want to learn more about the US military this way? At the same time, Rogoway concedes that there are some incidents that are difficult to explain in this framework. But a crucial point he makes is that there’s very little in the video evidence, including the three blockbuster UFO videos detailed above, that suggests vehicles with abilities unknown to humankind, writing, “Beyond the so-called ‘Tic-Tac’ video that just looked like a blurry little Tic Tac, I have seen nothing in any government ‘UAP’ videos that supposedly show unexplainable capabilities or craft that actually portray that. In fact, quite the opposite.” In other words, they’re probably not from an advanced alien civilization — which is probably the most common misconception I’ve found in talking to friends and families about the resurgence of UFO talk. Just so we’re clear: These videos do not amount to the Pentagon or the government admitting that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is true. Kean, for her part, while open to the extraterrestrial hypothesis, also expressed openness to the foreign military aircraft hypothesis, telling me, “I think Tyler Rogoway does great work … it’s an open question.” So what is true? I’m personally left agnostic by all the evidence. I’m certainly not persuaded these are alien aircraft, but the evidence for skeptical explanations like weather balloons or civilian airplanes or foreign drones is incomplete as well. The only sure thing is something odd is happening — and that we’ve just started trying to understand what it is. Clarification, 6 pm: This piece has been updated to clarify our summary of the reporting in a December 16, 2017, New York Times story. That story passed along claims from Luis Elizondo and others that materials from UAP had been recovered, and that a Bigelow facility was being modified to be able to store them, but the Times story did not claim that the Bigelow facility was actually storing these materials.

America’s largest evangelical denomination is at war with itself

Preview: Outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President J. D. Greear speaks at the closing of the annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 16. | Mark Humphrey/AP Why the Southern Baptist Convention is in turmoil — and why you should care. The Southern Baptist Convention, an umbrella group for conservative evangelical churches across the country, is the largest Protestant denomination in the country. But for the past few years, it has been rocked by a series of internal controversies — most notably, fights over the cover-up of sexual abuse in SBC churches and in the organization’s approach to racism and critical race theory. These tensions culminated in a dramatic fight over the SBC’s presidential election, held on Tuesday during the organization’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. In the election, two prominent far-right candidates lost to a more mainstream conservative named Ed Litton, blunting the momentum of a Tea Party-style group aiming to lurch the SBC in an even more right-wing direction. What do these events say about the future of the SBC, one of the Republican Party’s most important civil society allies? And what have been the reverberations in broader American politics and culture? Mark Humphrey/AP Incoming Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton (left) and outgoing President J. D. Greear (right) talk with denomination members following the conclusion of the annual meeting. Mark Humphrey/AP People attend the morning session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting on June 16. To answer these questions, I reached out to Greg Thornbury, a prominent scholar of evangelical Christian philosophy and theology. While not an SBC member himself, Thornbury trained at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and taught at Union University, a Baptist school in Tennessee, and is personally familiar with leading figures in the SBC. According to Thornbury, seeing Litton’s victory as a sign of a “moderate” ascendance in the SBC is a mistake. The organization is thoroughly conservative, politically and theologically, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. “I know Ed, I’ve met Ed. Ed is a super conservative guy, but the New York Times called him a moderate. I mean, compared to what? Idi Amin?” he told me. However, that doesn’t mean the organization’s internal battles are meaningless. Thornbury believes the SBC is in a long-term numbers crisis: It has lost 2 million members since 2006, and 2020 saw the lowest number of baptisms since the Spanish influenza pandemic after World War I. This, he argues, is directly related to the organization’s political conservatism — including its struggles with race and sexual abuse. “[Youth] are going to go to church if their parents force them to, but the battle has been lost on the intellectual front, and on the emotional front,” Thornbury tells me. “I suspect that the decline will be precipitous.” What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity. Zack Beauchamp Aside from the obvious fact that the SBC is the largest evangelical denomination in the country, what makes it uniquely important for American evangelicalism, or even American Christianity more broadly? Greg Thornbury Southern Baptists are the Protestant version of the Roman Catholic Church, in the sense that they invested in institutions and commissions. What makes them unique is this thing called the Cooperative Program. Grannies put money into the plates at their local church, and a percentage of that money is sent off to Nashville to fund all kinds of things. Now, the people in the churches think it’s all done for evangelism — foreign missionaries and missionary church-planting. But it also goes to fund things like the seminaries and things like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission [SBC’s public policy arm]. That’s what makes the SBC unique: There’s that constant flow of cash, unlike most other evangelical institutions that have to scrap for themselves and raise their own money. Because of that, they have big seminaries that have impressive campuses. They can invest in things like radio programs; [SBC leaders] can get on CNN and talk to Anderson Cooper because they have this machine behind them. That’s different from most of the other Protestant denominations that don’t have that Cooperative Program funding mechanism. Zack Beauchamp So how does the church’s drift toward a kind of right-wing politics intersect with these institutions? Was there a groundswell in the Southern Baptist ranks toward becoming more and more Republican, and that pushed the institutions to the right? Or were there leaders in the institutions like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary leader Al Mohler, who worked to shift the church in a particular political direction? Greg Thornbury Zack, that’s a really, really good question. In 1976, when Newsweek released their issue called “The Year of the Evangelical,” the most prominent Southern Baptist in the country was Jimmy Carter. He was teaching Sunday school. That’s what Southern Baptists looked like in the ’70s. Earlier in the ’70s, what was called the Christian Life Commission — it eventually became the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the ERLC — was pro-abortion. The six seminaries of the SBC had moderate faculty. EBAY Newsweek’s October 1976 cover. What happened was [an SBC leader named] Paige Patterson and the cadre of megachurch pastors said, “This should not be.” They realized that the mechanism to change everything was to elect a president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which meets every two years. The president has the power to establish committees, or to appoint people to committees in the convention. And if you can appoint people to committees and trusteeships, then you can change all the institutions, and that’s what’s happened. It’s called the “conservative resurgence.” That’s one part of how it happened. But the other part is that Jerry Falwell, an independent fundamentalist Baptist who still had a lot of sway with the SBC megachurch pastors, let Southern Baptists in on the fact that they could have access to the White House if they voted in Ronald Reagan. The rise of [Falwell’s group] the Moral Majority, plus the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, fused the destinies of the SBC and GOP together. It was stock in trade for every SBC in recent memory to have some prominent member of the Republican Party speak at the Southern Baptist Convention, whether it was George W. Bush or Condoleezza Rice or, in 2018, Mike Pence. Zack Beauchamp That raises an interesting question. In the last two years, you’ve seen a lot of internal tensions in the SBC, some of which seem almost political, right? There’s one fight over the convention’s stance on critical race theory, another on its handling of sex abuse cases in churches. So in a denomination that’s overwhelmingly conservative, where do these fault lines emerge from? Greg Thornbury Back in the ’70s, the people who were the denominational or agency heads, like [former ERLC president] Russell Moore, thought that they were leaders of the convention. When Trump appeared like a nuclear toxic cloud, SBC agency heads like Moore realized that the constituency was way, way further to the right than they were. They weren’t really leaders of anything. Russell was very, very openly anti-Trump, to the point that Donald Trump himself referred to him as a nasty little guy on Twitter. And that got Russ into a lot of hot water with the people like the executive committee chairman, Ronnie Floyd, and other SBC megachurch pastors, who thought that if Trump gets elected, and when he did get elected, “because our top lobbyist in Washington is anti-Trump, we’re not going to have access to the White House anymore.” So Russ had to apologize. He had to make a very public apology to Trump and his supporters, and then he really kept a very low profile during the Trump administration. Trump awoke this white nationalist DNA that had always been there in the Southern Baptist Convention. That emboldened the most extreme right-wing elements within the SBC to really go on to the ideological purity testing path. Alex Wong/Getty Images President of North American Mission Board of Southern Baptist Convention Kevin Ezell (left) inside the Oval Office with then-President Trump on September 1, 2017. Zack Beauchamp Can you talk to me a little about the details of this sex abuse case? To what extent is it comparable to what’s happened in the Catholic Church? Greg Thornbury In the Catholic sex abuse scandal, bishops and cardinals turned a blind eye, or were themselves, like Theodore McCarrick, participating in the abuse. And people knew about it, but rather than go public with it and clean house, they reassigned them, swept it under the rug, kept it hush-hush. That’s the similarity. Robert Downen from the Houston Chronicle did that big exposé, and he noted how a pedophile could go be a youth minister in one church, and then there was no mechanism or alert or warning system to keep them from going to another Baptist church. The difference is that, at least in the Catholic Church, you have interlocking courts, and you have dioceses, and you’ve got communication between those things. The Southern Baptist Convention is like everybody sits on their own fence post and whistles their own tune, and the only time that they actually come together is in June [for the annual meeting]. That’s the only time the Southern Baptist Convention exists. The rest of the time it’s just these autonomous churches out there. The leaders of the SBC and the people in the Executive Committee were like, “What are we supposed to do? This isn’t a hierarchical organization, where we can tell the individual Baptist church who they can hire, and whatnot.” They could’ve developed a database. They could have identified where these abusers went. They could’ve provided resources for churches to make sure that the abuse didn’t continue. But it’s a good old boys’ network, just like the Catholic Church. So the two are very similar to each other, although one of them’s very decentralized and one of them’s more centralized. Zack Beauchamp So this week, the internal divides inside the SBC over issues like this really came to the fore at the June meeting in Nashville. There was a three-way race for the presidency between Al Mohler, another archconservative named Mike Stone, and a third candidate, Ed Litton, who’s a more mainstream conservative. Litton won. What does that tell us about the SBC’s internal divides? Greg Thornbury Ed Litton’s son went to Union University, I had him in my intro to philosophy class. So I know Ed, I’ve met Ed. Ed is a super-conservative guy, but the New York Times called him a moderate. I mean, compared to what? Idi Amin? The SBC is already so far to the right that anybody who says anything in general about unity or love or kindness is viewed as a compromiser. Because Russ had been anti-Trump, and because he had platformed these sex abuse victims and allowed them to say whatever they wanted to say about the Southern Baptist Convention, it was perceived by the ultra-right-wingers as, to use a wrestling analogy, it was not protecting the business. “You’re not protecting the business by doing that. You didn’t have to do it that way.” So there’s this super-fundamentalist wing of the convention that seized upon things like the sexual abuse crisis and the response to it as a lever to pivot to getting a super-ultra-conservative person back as the president of the SBC. Mark Humphrey/AP Votes are collected on the first ballot for president of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15. Zack Beauchamp So what do these results say, big picture, about the SBC’s future in American life? Greg Thornbury George Marsden, the Notre Dame historian, was once asked to define what an evangelical is, and he said, “An evangelical is anyone who likes Billy Graham. A fundamentalist is somebody that thinks that Billy Graham is a compromiser who’s gone soft.” The ultra-right-wing candidate, Mike Stone, was somebody that was backed by this group called the Conservative Baptist Network. And their goal was to try to repeat the same victory that Paige Patterson had staged back in the ’70s — wresting control of the Southern Baptist Convention away from moderate evangelicals. The most important thing to Southern Baptists is to be perceived as, “We just want to win people to Jesus. We just want to get people to believe the gospel.” When that gets threatened, when that image is being threatened by something else, then they’ll just tack back to the evangelist guy. So I think enough people came to Nashville to say, “Oh, we’re tired of all of this negative press attention and all this politics.” Back in 2019, they barely passed a resolution opposing racism. They had to go back and do it a couple of times, and Russ Moore was pleading with people. “Please vote for this anti-racist resolution.” And this year, the ultra-right-wing people are saying, “Oh, see, that anti-racist resolution was actually this subtle play to turn us all into Marxist commies.” I think enough people came out that were nervous that that super-right-wing group was going to take over all the committees and entities again and there was going to be a purge. Zack Beauchamp There’s an article in the New Yorker about the SBC’s internal fight over critical race theory that centers the experiences of Black preachers in SBC churches, who make up a very, very small percentage of SBC preachers. I was wondering to what extent nonwhite constituencies inside the SBC are influential in the way the organization makes determinations on things like whether to reject critical race theory? Obviously the SBC chose not to at the 2019 convention, in that anti-racism resolution you just referenced. But then in 2020 there was a contradictory statement from the six heads of the seminaries who rejected CRT. Greg Thornbury Well, I think that [Black preachers’] role is minimal. It was minimal to begin with, and it was only further marginalized in the last two years. Imagine, six white dudes pontificating about the origins of racism, the six seminary presidents. And releasing this statement saying, “This is not going to be taught in any of our Southern Baptist seminaries.” And the response to that from these beleaguered, still extant SBC pastors who are people of color was just, “We knew this all along, but now they’re really showing their hand. But this white nationalist project has really been operational here all along.” Zack Beauchamp It sounds like you don’t think that there are any real prospects for the SBC, or maybe even white American evangelicalism more broadly, to move away from its increasingly tight linkage with the Republican Party. Greg Thornbury I see no evidence of it. If anything, it only strengthened over the four years of Trump’s presidency. You still had 76 percent of white people who went to the polls and said “I’m an evangelical” [who] voted for Trump. You have the hand-wringing of certain elite institutions or outlets, like [the magazine] Christianity Today. The editor wrote this editorial saying that Trump should be impeached, okay? But he did so as his last act as the editor of CT, and CT doesn’t really represent a huge constituency anymore. I think the people who are the dyed-in-the-wool evangelicals are the people that showed up to the polls and voted for Trump in the face of four years of utter vulgarity. They did so anyway, because that’s where they are. When you looked at January 6, and you looked at the crowd that stormed the Capitol, look at how many prayer meetings there were before the storm happened? How many praise songs were being sung? That’s who white evangelicals are, but they don’t want to be perceived that way. That’s why there’s this growing legion of young people and millennials leaving the ranks of the evangelical church — because I think that they saw the proof with the pudding was in the eating thereof. Mark Humphrey/AP People take part in a worship service during the annual Southern Baptist Convention. Zack Beauchamp You’re right that the SBC is having serious retention problems. In recent years, you’ve seen a decline in the number of Americans identifying with the SBC in both absolute and percentage terms. Last year saw the fewest baptisms since 1919 — which may be purely Covid-related, but also may not be. So here’s my question: To what extent can these numbers be termed a “crisis” for the SBC? And is there any good evidence that the SBC’s connection to the GOP, its politicization of Christianity, is actually causing people to leave the convention? Greg Thornbury Well, they think it’s a crisis. [SBC Executive Committee member] Ronnie Floyd said at this convention that the baptism of teenagers is down 40 percent. He asked the gathered assembly: “Raise your hand if you were ‘saved’ when you were a teenager.” And most people’s hands went up. So they’re panicking, for sure. Generation Z, they have TikTok, they have Instagram, where they’re talking and they’re debunking the claims that people like Southern Baptists or other evangelicals make about gay people, about unwed mothers, about sexuality, about trans people, about liberals, about people who have abortions. They’re doing the fact-checking in real time, in a way that no other generation has done before, and they’re reinforced by their heroes. Whereas in the 1960s it was Bob Dylan talking about Medgar Evers, today it’s Taylor Swift talking to homophobic, right-wing evangelical people in “You Need to Calm Down.” So they’re going to go to church if their parents force them to, but the battle has been lost on the intellectual front, and on the emotional front. Those kids aren’t coming back.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s cancel culture screed is a dangerous distraction

Preview: Other prominent writers have accused Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of transphobia. | Francois Durand/Getty Images for Dior We’re having the wrong conversation. One of the worst aspects of any cancel culture debate is the tendency to obscure, deny, and dismiss as invalid any actual harm caused by whatever sparked the debate. Frequently, this cycle is tied to transphobia: Prominent public figures who’ve been criticized for making transphobic statements have frequently mounted angry backlashes against “cancel culture” as a way of denigrating their critics. The latest person to fall into this pattern is the well-known feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Earlier this week, Adichie published a lengthy and eloquent takedown of cancel culture on her personal website. In the essay, which has an estimated reading time of 16 minutes, she personally discusses two former students of hers, people who she feels have personally attacked and maligned her as a transphobe. Though Adichie does not name either of the two former students, one of them appears to be Nigerian writer and queer activist OluTimehin Adegbeye. The other appears to be writer (and Vox Book Club selected author) Akwaeke Emezi, who is nonbinary. Both have spent the past several years criticizing a series of Adichie’s public statements that have seemed to increasingly embrace transphobic ideology and language — a framing Adichie claims is false. Since 2017, Adichie has drawn criticism from trans activists for seeming to embrace rhetoric championed by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), who argue that trans women are not women — and for dismissing her critics when called out. Adichie doesn’t really confront this history in her essay. Instead, she characterizes the two former students as manipulative, and accuses them of using progressive social justice rhetoric to mask motivations that are, respectively, “calculating and insincere,” and “seeking attention and publicity to benefit themselves.” It’s not precisely clear what prompted Adichie’s essay, though many observers have questioned her motives in choosing to publish it during Pride Month. That timing, along with the letter’s tone, has made Adichie’s post come off as a direct attack against the individual students the essay refers to, even if she does not name them. Notably, the essay glosses over and decontextualizes criticisms the two former students have made against her, in order to claim that their statements were both personal and “violent.” For example, without directly quoting anyone, Adichie writes that one of the students in question “asked followers to pick up machetes and attack me” — an apparent reference to a January Twitter thread in which Emezi wrote: “I trust that there are other people who will pick up machetes to protect us from the harm transphobes like Adichie & [J.K.] Rowling seek to perpetuate. I, however, will be in my garden with butterflies, trying to figure out how to befriend the neighborhood crows.” Adichie devotes the final third of her essay to condemning a polarized social media climate, essentially lashing out against cancel culture, which she describes as “obscene.” She writes: There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion. ... People who wield the words ‘violence’ and ‘weaponize’ like tarnished pitchforks. ... I have spoken to young people who tell me they are terrified to tweet anything, that they read and re-read their tweets because they fear they will be attacked by their own. The assumption of good faith is dead. What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another. God help us. Across social media, this finale to Adichie’s essay has been greeted by many with praise and glee. Though others have expressed reservations because of her attitude toward cancel culture and her minimization of her own words, much of the reception has indeed been positive. The public loves a good takedown, and hers is one of the most savage we’ve had in a while. It’s also the most pernicious. In a rush to praise the most quotable parts of Adichie’s cutting essay, many on the left have joined notorious transphobes, TERFs, and their allies, including signatories of the infamous 2020 Harper’s open letter against the concept of cancel culture. As with that letter, which was signed by several figures who had publicly expressed transphobic views, transphobia has inevitably attached to the conversation around Adichie’s essay. On Twitter, those who say they are boycotting Adichie in response to learning of her transphobia are being harassed. Adegbeye has locked her Twitter account; Emezi’s has been flooded with detractors. Worst of all, a conversation that should have been about transgender identity has been reframed. Now it’s about how “difference of opinion doesn’t mean hatred” and how social media “amplifies pathological and anti-social tendencies.” Adichie’s essay minimizes and obscures her original actions and speech, and fans of the essay have joined her in that effort. They’re helping to further discredit Adegbeye and Emezi and the message they’ve been trying to amplify. We’re having the wrong conversation — not the one about cancel culture, but the one about whether one of the most famous feminists in the world is actually transphobic, and what it means for trans women if she is. Looking at the history of Adichie’s run-ins with the trans community, it’s clear that Adichie, not her critics, placed herself in this position, and that like many people who’ve faced similar callouts by vulnerable communities, she’s now calling out “cancel culture” as a tool of misdirection. Adichie’s public clashes with trans women and their allies date back to 2017 Adichie shot onto the global stage in 2006 with the publication of her acclaimed novel Half a Yellow Sun. Since then, she’s been a prominent author and an even more prominent feminist. In 2014, her viral TED talk (which was later published as a book) We Should All Be Feminists drew raves and wound up sampled in Beyonce’s song “Flawless.” Suffice to say, she’s not just a feminist — she’s a prominent feminist voice and, for many people, a crucial entry point to the entire concept of feminism. In 2017, Adichie sat for an interview where she explained feminism for Britain’s Channel 4 News. In it, she responded to the question, “If you’re a trans woman who grew up as a man ... does that take away from becoming a woman — are you any less of a real woman?” (For the purposes of this argument, let’s set aside the issue with asking this question of a cisgender woman who has no idea what the experience of being a trans woman is like.) Adichie answered: When people talk about, “Are trans women women?” my feeling is trans women are trans women. But I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man, with the privileges the world accords a man, and then sort of change — switch gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are. I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one. I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women. What I’m saying is that gender is not biology. Gender is sociology. Adichie’s point that trans women have very different experiences than cisgender women is well-made and very important. Trans women experience higher rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, homelessness, suicide, and suicide attempts than cisgender women, and they’re more likely to be re-victimized when they seek support. Further, Adichie’s insistence that gender is tied to sociology, not biology, is a crucial distinction in the debate over trans rights — one backed by science. But Adichie’s response also felt alarmingly aligned with the rhetoric of TERFism. People who buy into TERFism explicitly paint trans women as manipulative straight cisgender men, sexual predators just using a fake identity as “trans women” to get close to cisgender women in order to assault them. Millions of people subscribe to strains of this dangerous belief, including prominent public figures like Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. Adichie’s statements shared a number of commonalities with TERFism, starting with the idea that trans women “change — switch gender,” inaccurate phrasing which seems to discount gender dysphoria and the feeling of gender-centered disconnect between one’s brain and one’s body that many trans people experience throughout their lives. Her depiction of trans women as being born with substantial amounts of male privilege also hewed uncomfortably close to the TERF argument that trans women don’t lose male privilege if they transition. As the transgender actress Laverne Cox has said, “the binary narrative, which suggests that all trans women transition from male privilege, erases a lot of experiences.” Most especially, Adichie’s refusal to say the oft-uttered words, “trans women are women,” and instead insist that “trans women are trans women” is a phrase that can easily stand in for a denial of trans identity. As Emily Crockett explained for Vox in 2017, “when trans advocates and allies say that ‘trans women are women, they’re not actually trying to say that transgender women are the same as cisgender women (women who aren’t transgender). They’re trying to say that these differences shouldn’t disqualify trans women from the broader category of ‘womanhood.’” Adichie’s original comments in the interview regarding her wariness about “conflating women’s issues” with “trans women’s issues” made it difficult to tell whether she believes trans women do belong to that broader category of womanhood. Consequently, when trans activists heard Adichie use phrases as loaded as these, they were immediately on alert. Adichie later responded in a Facebook post in which she apologized and called her critics “valid” but also doubled down on much of her rhetoric about male privilege and inherent differences between cisgender women and trans women. If Adichie had stopped speaking about this issue, the moment might have retained its ambiguity and lack of clarity — though it’s worth noting that, a year later, she seemed to dismiss the entire debate as “trans noise.” In 2020, Adichie spoke out again, this time in defense of a transphobic manifesto published by J.K. Rowling, and her new comments framed her earlier ones in a much different light. Rowling’s piece is rife with overt expressions of harmful TERF ideology, depicting trans teens as being merely influenced by Tumblr culture rather than experiencing actual dysphoria, and tying gender to biology despite clear scientific consensus to the contrary. Instead of acknowledging the 50 percent of trans people who experience sexual abuse or assault, Rowling uses her own status as a survivor of domestic violence to explain why she’s so afraid that trans women might be a threat to cisgender women, loudly expressing fear of what might happen “when you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman.” From start to finish, it is textbook transphobia, published by a woman with incredible cultural influence. In November 2020 — during Transgender Awareness Week — the Guardian published an interview with Adichie in which she articulated her dislike of cancel culture. Then, out of nowhere, she offered a defense of Rowling’s “perfectly reasonable” piece, calling her “a woman who is progressive, who clearly stands for and believes in diversity,” and decrying the social media outrage against her as “cruel and sad.” To date, the reaction to Rowling’s manifesto remains one of the clearest examples of a pattern that Adichie’s essay now upholds. From the moment Rowling published her manifesto, much of the conversation around it centered on how left-wing zealots wanted to “cancel” a beloved children’s author — with the result being that the cancel culture backlash frequently obscured the harm at the center of a transphobic argument. Condemning cancel culture has become a reliable way to obscure transphobia. That has real, harmful consequences for trans people. The public support of Rowling’s contemporaries — figures like Adichie and the 58 British public figures who defended Rowling in an open letter last fall — furthers the narrative that anyone who’s upset is just an angry social justice warrior. Meanwhile, trans and nonbinary people like me are left smarting from the damaging impact of her words, which empower other public figures to promote a toxic, deeply regressive argument that denies trans women their humanity. The idea that Adichie, with all her understanding of the struggles that trans people face, could read Rowling’s words and frame them as part of a “progressive worldview” is maybe the gaslight of all gaslights. I cannot see it as anything but a full embrace of TERFism. I also find it impossible to interpret her new essay as anything but another iteration of a pattern in which railing against cancel culture becomes a tool to dismiss legitimate arguments about the hateful thing you said and did. This conversation should be about trans identity. It should be about how awful it is for trans and nonbinary people to see beloved figures like Rowling and Adichie promoting an ideology that insists we’re not really the gender we say we are, that we’re liars and sexual predators, that we’re chasing a social media fad and performing wokeness for leftist clout, that we’re making it all up. It should be about figuring out why women with so much education and so much initial empathy wind up adopting a belief system so dedicated to othering people who are already vulnerable and at-risk. It should be about how political debates about trans identity negatively impact the mental health of 94 percent of trans teens. It should be about the damage that is done when respected public figures like Adichie and Rowling use their massive influence to air transphobic views under the guise of “perfectly reasonable” debate about whether trans women are women. It should not be about what a sick burn Adichie delivered. It is not difficult to write a takedown of cancel culture, or to explain why it’s so painful to be denied a good-faith conversation with people you have a personal relationship with. (Though according to the essay, Adichie apparently disliked and distrusted her two former students from the outset.) It takes much more courage to grapple with the reason they denied you that interaction. That’s what Adichie should be doing now, instead of extending the pain she caused others to many more of her trans readers. Adichie’s essay is a distraction. She should not, now, get to own the conversation about the harmful impact of her words and actions.

US investment alone won’t solve Central America’s migrant crisis

Preview: US Vice President Kamala Harris answers a question about her upcoming trip to Guatemala and Mexico in Washington, DC on June 2. | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images Kamala Harris wants big US companies to invest in Central America. A key prong of the Biden administration’s plan to address the root causes of migration from Central America is to bring more foreign investment to the region, to improve economic opportunities and give people a reason to stay. Vice President Kamala Harris recently announced a partnership with 12 private-sector companies and organizations to support “inclusive economic development” in the Northern Triangle of Central America, which includes Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. US government agencies, including the State Department, will also work with governments in the region to remove impediments to international investment and foster new private-sector partnerships. Among the commitments, Mastercard is supporting 1 million small businesses in the region; Chobani is creating a startup incubator for food entrepreneurs in Guatemala; Microsoft is expanding broadband access to up to 3 million people by next July; and Nespresso is starting to source coffee from El Salvador and Honduras and expanding its existing operations in Guatemala with a minimum $150 million investment by 2025. Though the lack of foreign investment is far from the only factor driving people to make the journey north, the idea is that improving economic conditions will contribute to overall stability in the region, which has long suffered from persistent corruption, weak government institutions, and high levels of violent crime. “The benefit of this effort will probably not evidence itself overnight, but will be well worth it,” Harris said of the initiative. “We do understand our work is in the context of long-standing and deep-rooted factors.” But experts say there’s a long way to go in persuading would-be migrants that the economic opportunities at home are better than what they might find in the US. “The amount of money that needs to be going into these countries to really begin to make a dent in matters of employment — in allowing people to make salaries to fulfill their basic needs — is far bigger than we have seen in any recent time,” said Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas, a network of Latin American and Caribbean immigrant organizations in the United States. Currently, an average of about 76 percent of workers among the three Northern Triangle countries have informal, often low-paying jobs — as street vendors, domestic workers, farm workers, and in service industries — without a fixed monthly salary or benefits. They typically do not pay taxes, meaning that they cannot access government pensions or credit from financial institutions, and are often working in poor conditions with little job security or assurance that they can meet their families’ basic needs. What’s more, direct foreign investment in the region has been minimal in recent decades. In 2019, the last year for which there is available data, foreign investment to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala was just under $2.2 billion combined, according to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. By comparison, migrants who left those countries sent a total of $22 billion in remittances back home that year. Nicole Narea/Vox That suggests that the levels of foreign investment required to change the calculus around people’s decisions to migrate is much larger than what the region has received in the past. Harris’s initiative, therefore, only represents a starting point. And experts say it should be coupled with other measures to improve the quality of life in the Northern Triangle and not come at the expense of partnerships with local organizations that might have a better sense of how to effectively put US dollars to use than large, multinational companies. The US needs to help Northern Triangle countries prepare their workforce for better opportunities Harris’s public-private partnership recognizes that immediately putting money in people’s pockets is the first step toward meaningfully improving quality of life in the Northern Triangle. For immigrant advocates and civil society groups working in the region, that understanding is a welcome shift from former President Donald Trump’s decision to slash US aid to the region by a third, as well as from the security-focused agenda of the Obama administration, which tied US aid to governments’ ability to crack down on crime and reduce homicide rates. But there’s a question of what happens if that money stops flowing in the long term — say, if the midterm elections in the US bring about changes in congressional leadership, or if there is a change in administration in 2024. A potentially more enduring solution is ensuring that the Northern Triangle’s workforce is prepared to attract more foreign investment and compete for higher-quality jobs in a global market. That can also help alleviate the structural inequality in these economies, which are dominated by elites, many of whom bribe politicians to enable their illicit and anticompetitive business practices. But such a transformation of the workforce might take well over a decade to achieve. “In order for Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to really compete for good jobs, there is a bit of a homework that needs to be done in terms of preparing the actual workforce in these countries to be in a position to assimilate the possibility of a Microsoft or Google or any other technology company that wants to do heavy investments in these countries,” Chacon said. That means improving education — and not just formal education, but also vocational training that can set up students to fill niches sought out by international investors. “We still don’t have a level of education such that we can manufacture or assemble cars or computers,” said Lester Ramirez, the director of governance and transparency at the Association for a More Just Society, a civil society group based in Honduras. “That is something that we should be working on, if we want to be part of the global market.“ It also involves more basic quality-of-life improvements, such as ensuring that workers are healthy and have access to medical care, and that there is rule of law. Costa Rica, which brought in $2.5 billion in direct foreign investment in 2019 — more than all of the Northern Triangle countries combined — can serve as a potential model in that respect. Unlike the Northern Triangle, it has invested in preparing a qualified workforce to be competitive, and not just for low-paying jobs, Chacon said. “Investors in Costa Rica are very confident that the rules are there solidly in place, that they have a very good system of checks and balances, and that there is hardly any corruption anybody can point to,” he said. “That is very different from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.” US companies can help curb corruption — so long as they don’t exploit workers There are pros and cons to bringing in big, multinational companies to invest in the Northern Triangle. They can help bring more people into the formal economy and will pay taxes, which can help support a social safety net that governments in the region have so far been unable to provide. That’s important because countries in the Northern Triangle have among the lowest effective tax rates in the world. Workers with informal jobs don’t typically pay taxes and local corporations often try to evade them, which has hampered governments’ ability to provide social services. Guatemala’s 2019 tax revenue, for instance, was just 13.1 percent of its GDP — the lowest among Latin America and Caribbean countries, which by comparison brought in nearly 23 percent of their GDP on average. “The private sector in Central America has demonstrated decade after decade that it really is unwilling to pay higher taxes to reinvest in the human capital of the people of Central America,” said Paul Angelo, a fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. While US companies might also try to get out of paying their fair share of taxes, they are still better than their Central American counterparts in that respect. What’s more, American companies can serve as a more reliable partner for the Biden administration than government actors in the region who have perpetuated the problems that are driving people to flee. Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Honduras, has been named as a co-conspirator in his brother’s drug crimes by US prosecutors and remains under investigation by the Department of Justice. Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador, has earned a reputation as a “millennial dictator” for strong-arm tactics such as sending troops to pressure lawmakers to approve anti-crime funding and ousting his critics in the country’s Supreme Court and attorney general’s office. “In the Northern Triangle countries, we don’t really have any democratically-minded or reform-minded [government] partners,” Angelo said. “And so I think it’s only natural that the US government would seek to partner with the private sector, and particularly with American companies that we know generally abide by the rule of law.” But the influence of US corporations in the region hasn’t been all positive in the past. They have engaged in their own kind of exploitative business practices: for example, preventing workplaces from unionizing by simply taking their business to another country in the region to assure themselves cheap labor, Chacon said. He added that the US government has historically ignored these practices and allowed American companies to perpetuate “voracious capitalism.” The Biden administration can’t allow international companies to repeat those mistakes. Just as the Biden administration is turning attention to worker rights in the US, it should do the same in Central America, Chacon said. And some say the administration should focus its efforts primarily on coordinating with local civil society groups, who better understand the challenges on the ground than any large multinational corporation or organization or even US government agency. Harris has prioritized meeting with such groups early on — particularly in Guatemala, which has the most developed civil society of the three countries — but advocates from the region want to see even more collaboration. Civil society groups in the Northern Triangle are “much more committed to see that the projects are successful,” Chacon said. “The US would do much better by not only investing more, but investing in a truly new set of partners, both in the rural areas as well as in the cities.”

What tennis pros look at when they choose a ball

Preview: It all comes down to fluff. Before each serve, most professional tennis players go through a ritual to get in the zone. Novak Djokovic will bounce the ball with his racket, then with his hand. Rafael Nadal will usually pull at his shorts and the sleeves around his shoulders, then touch his nose and tuck his hair behind his ears. Each has a very distinctive routine. But there’s one tennis ritual nearly every pro tennis player does: choosing a specific tennis ball. A common belief among players is that the ball they choose can help them win. But there’s real physics at play behind this ritual — and It all comes down to the fuzz. For a faster serve, players try to find a compact ball. For a slower serve, they feel for more fuzz. The idea is that a fluffier ball is more likely to be slowed by drag as it travels through the air — and that choosing the right level of fuzz can help the serving player defeat their opponent. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube.

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