Aggregating and archiving news from both sides of the aisle.
Preview: Russia's "partial mobilization" for its war in Ukraine is off to a chaotic start amid protests, drafting mistakes and an exodus of citizens fleeing Russia, as the Kremlin tightens rules around evading military orders.
Preview: • 'I don't want to die for someone else's ambitions': Men across Russia face mobilization • Opinion: Putin's biggest weakness • Putin 'made a strategic mistake, invading Ukraine,' Britain's new leader tells CNN
Preview: Vladimir Putin's announcement of increased military conscription to bolster Moscow's invasion of Ukraine shows that the Russian President "has been outsmarted" by Kyiv, UK Prime Minister Liz Truss told CNN in an exclusive interview, as she set out her stall on foreign policy.
Preview: The reports out of Russia suggest a military and a leader in desperate need:
Preview: Finland's President Sauli Niinistö, who has a longstanding relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, joins CNN's Fareed Zakaria to discuss what he has learned about Putin over the years, and what is next for his war in Ukraine.
Preview: • Protests, drafting mistakes and an exodus: Putin's mobilization off to chaotic start • LIVE UPDATES: Putin signs amendments cracking down on dissent during mobilization • Opinion: Putin's biggest weakness
Preview: When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February, many questioned the commitment of his troops to the cause. How strongly would they fight a neighboring nation with longstanding ties and a shared history?
Preview: • Hundreds of thousands without power in Atlantic Canada after Fiona rumbles north • 'Puerto Rico is stuck in the past': Island tries to recover from yet another hurricane
Preview: • Activists are living in trees in attempt to stop construction of 'Cop City,' an 85-acre police and fire training facility
Preview: GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina said Sunday she believes there is "pressure" for House Republicans to move to impeach President Joe Biden if they gain control of the chamber after the midterm elections.
Preview: Ian could become 'catastrophic' Category 4 hurricane; university in Florida evacuated. What we know USA TODAY Mostly dry Sunday before Ian moves in WKMG News 6 ClickOrlando Florida officials urge residents to prepare for Tropical Storm Ian, forecast to be a major hurricane before it reaches Cuba CNN FOX 4 TRACKING IAN FOX 4 Now Even as storm Ian approaches, Cuba focuses on controversial referendum on gay marriage Miami Herald
Preview: Italy Live Updates: Vote Coming to a Close in Pivotal Election The New York Times Italy votes as far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni looks for victory – BBC News BBC News Italy on track to elect first right-wing prime minister since World War II, first female to hold the office Fox News Elections: Why fascism still has a hold on Italy Al Jazeera English Giorgia Meloni is a danger to Italy and the rest of Europe The Guardian
Preview: Hundreds of thousands without power in Atlantic Canada after Fiona rumbles north CNN Canada sends troops to help clear Fiona's devastation; Ian may become major hurricane WTVR CBS 6 Stock Market Selloff, Fiona Hits Canada, Russians Flee to Turkey : Up First NPR Homes washed out to sea as Fiona slams Canada KENS 5: Your San Antonio News Source Photos: Fiona slams Canada's Atlantic coast CNN
Preview: September 25, 2022 Russia-Ukraine News CNN Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 214 Al Jazeera English Russia holds votes in occupied parts of Ukraine Reuters Russia-Ukraine Latest News: September 25, 2022 Bloomberg Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 213 Al Jazeera English
Preview: A week without power after Fiona, Puerto Ricans experience echoes of Hurricane Maria NBC News Hurricane Fiona: drone video of destruction in Puerto Rico 9NEWS Hurricane Fiona devastated Puerto Rico's plantain crops NPR Hurricane Fiona: NYC Mayor Eric Adams mayor heads to Puerto Rico as NJ, NY state police deploy there WABC-TV Puerto Ricans Fear Extended Blackout After Hurricane Fiona The New York Times
Preview: Iran protests Western stance on mass protests over woman's death Reuters Iran summons ambassadors of UK, Norway amid protests The Hill Iran summons UK envoy amid anti-government protests The Associated Press Iran summons UK and Norwegian envoys as unrest persists Yahoo News Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando
Preview: DeSantis is not stopping his migrant charters. And Biden world can't do a thing about it. POLITICO CloseUp: Sununu endorses DeSantis’ migrant flights WMUR Manchester This Week in South Florida: Oren Sellstorm WPLG Local 10 Ted Cruz says Texas’ migrant busing exposes hypocrisy of Democrats and media KSAT San Antonio Playing games with human lives Star Tribune
Preview: Cheney will do "whatever it takes" to prevent a Trump 2024 nomination Axios Liz Cheney on if she prefers Democrats hold House majority: 'It's a tough question' Fox News Liz Cheney says if Trump is GOP presidential candidate she 'won't be a Republican' Business Insider Liz Cheney says she will not remain a Republican if Donald Trump is GOP nominee in 2024 CNN Kari Lake: Cheney comments may be ‘best gift I have ever received’ The Hill
Preview: 12-year-old Texas girl allegedly shoots self, father in alleged murder pact NBC News Texas girl, 12, shoots father, self after plotting with friend to murder families: sheriff Fox News 12-year-old Texas girl shoots dad in alleged plot with friend to kill their families New York Post Texas girl, 12, shoots father, 38, in abdomen then herself in the head in 'murder pact with friend' Daily Mail Top stories: Texas girl shoots father in alleged murder plot, police say mySA
Preview: Biden stuns Elton John with National Humanities Medal NPR Biden's surprise brings Elton John to tears at White House CNN ‘Let’s have some music’: Elton John plays White House AMNY Elton John 'flabbergasted' and teary after Biden surprises him with medal The Washington Post Biden awards Elton John with National Humanities Medal WOODTV.com
Preview: A classified satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office has launched into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket.
Preview: The 23-year-old was put in a neck hold and injected with ketamine after being stopped by police in 2019 for “being suspicious." The dosage was higher than recommended.
Preview: Three Fairfield County Sheriff's Office employees “staged matches" with county jail inmates in June, the sheriff said.
Preview: Cheney also weighed in on the possibilities of her own presidential run in 2024.
Preview: Texas police officers are under an internal investigation after pushing and slamming students in a high school on Wednesday.
Preview: The National Hurricane Center said Floridians should have hurricane plans in place and advised residents to monitor updates of the storm’s evolving path.
Preview: Stewart Rhodes and four Oath Keeper associates are the first to stand trial on the rare and difficult-to-prove charge of seditious conspiracy.
Preview: A breach of sensitive voting equipment data from a rural county in Georgia spilled into the public light last month when documents and emails produced in response to subpoenas revealed the involvement of high-profile supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Preview: A jury ruled against the far-right activist group, siding with a Democratic consulting firm that said it was secretly recorded by an undercover operative.
Preview: The train crashed into a Colorado police vehicle that was parked on the tracks after dark.
Preview: It sure seems like Trump can’t continue on like this. But then I’ve thought that before.
Preview: How the far right’s soft-on-the-facts-strong-on-the-emotional-overlay milieu nurtures policies that are both dangerous and ludicrous.
Preview: A different set of rules for non-Puerto Ricans on the island have helped widen the inequality gap and weaken public infrastructure.
Preview: While denouncing The New York Times' "1619 Project," Florida's right-wing governor claimed no one questioned slavery before the American Revolution.
Preview: Chris Hayes: "Republicans unveiled their agenda if they retake the House this November. But the most revealing preview into what that's going to look like actually came earlier this week."
Preview: In a recent NBC News poll, Americans were asked, ‘what’s the most important issue facing this country?’ 29% of Democrats answered, ‘threats to democracy.’ Only 12% of Republicans felt the same. The threat against the basic dynamics of American democracy is the single most important issue of the time. It’s exhausting to hear about it everyday, but it cannot be ignored. It’s better to know the truth, and feel uncomfortable and motivated, than to hear a narrative that suits your prefe
Preview: Florida has declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Ian continues to make its way through the Caribbean Sea and develop into a major hurricane. NBC News' Stephanie Stanton reports from on the ground in Florida where residents are taking the warnings seriously and preparing for the potential of a Category 3 hurricane.
Preview: The Justice Department can't read documents that might be declassified — but the Justice Department hasn't proved they're classified? Make it make sense.
Preview: After my book on Republicans becoming a post-policy party came out, there was one core question I heard quite a bit: Why, exactly, did the GOP abandon its role
Preview: Ted Cruz was delighted to brag about delivering a "great victory" for his constituents. He neglected to say that he voted against the Ports-to-Plains highway.
Preview: The economics of the housing market, and the local rules that shape it, have squeezed out entry-level homes.
Preview: The film festival gave Meg Smaker’s “Jihad Rehab” a coveted spot in its 2022 lineup, but apologized after an outcry over her race and her approach.
Preview: Military assistance to Kyiv has become something of a litmus test of Olaf Scholz’s ability to lead Europe through its most significant security crisis since World War II.
Preview: Bon Secours Mercy Health, a major nonprofit health system, used the poverty of Richmond Community Hospital’s patients to tap into a lucrative federal drug program.
Preview: With the help of a consulting firm, the Providence hospital system trained staff to wring money out of patients, even those eligible for free care.
Preview: Amid growing repression, a sickly economy and bleak prospects, the death of one young woman was all it took.
Preview: With the hard-right candidate Giorgia Meloni ahead before Sunday’s election, Italy could get its first leader whose party traces its roots to the wreckage of Fascism.
Preview: Beneath an ancient tower, contemporary galleries, studios, bars and clubs are popping up in three neighborhoods, drawing art lovers, fashionistas and nightlife seekers.
Preview: A tech-savvy artist unearthed video footage of people working hard to capture the perfect shot for Instagram. It is a lesson in the artifice of social media and the ubiquity of surveillance.
Preview: Despite the loss of the show’s longtime host, viewership has held mostly steady, emboldening a move to spinoffs and tournaments, including a revival of “Celebrity Jeopardy!”
Preview: He is balking at my reasonable plan.
Preview: Obviously, this is not good behavior.
Preview: “Institutional structures around live performance have done a lot of harm in keeping people out.”
Preview: Parenting advice on weddings, names, and kids with ADHD.
Preview: The war in Ukraine and climate change are forcing countries to embrace nuclear power, even if they don't want to.
Preview: You’ll reach a fever pitch over this week’s quiz.
Preview: Another look at a more complicated history.
Preview: Alex Ross’ Full Circle pays homage to Marvel’s past while making it his own.
Preview: PE’s traumatic. Youth sports are intense. What if you just want to move?
Preview: An expert on health economics and predictive analytics responds to B. Pladek’s “Yellow.”
Preview: Christina Animashaun/Vox; Getty Images Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin are some of the closest contests in the country. The fight for control of the Senate is still extremely close. Currently, projections favor Democrats keeping the Senate, but Republicans still have a viable path. FiveThirtyEight’s model gives Democrats a roughly seven in 10 chance to hold on to the upper chamber. To expand their current 50-50 majority, Democrats would need to keep all of their existing seats and pick up at least one more, a challenge Republicans face if they want to retake the upper chamber as well. As of August, Democrats have just slightly surpassed Republicans in generic ballot polling. According to the Cook Political Report, there are 10 Senate seats likely to be in play, including four that favor Democrats, three that favor Republicans, and three that are true toss-ups. Democrats have a slight advantage based on the map: Republicans are defending two GOP seats where President Joe Biden previously won, while Democrats aren’t defending any states won by former President Donald Trump. All told, there are 21 Republican-held seats that are up this fall, and 14 Democrat-held ones. Here’s a look at the Senate races that could well decide congressional control in November. Democrats have an edge in four states Pennsylvania The Democrat: John Fetterman Pennsylvania Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman is seen as one of the strongest Democratic candidates this cycle, though he’s had to fend off Republican critiques about his fitness following a stroke earlier this year. This past May, Fetterman easily won his Democratic primary against a crowded field of candidates. He’s also sought to strike an interesting balance: While he backs progressive policies like Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, he’s distanced himself from the progressive label. Fetterman’s campaign has responded to questions about his health by releasing cognitive tests that show his brain function is comparable to other individuals his age. The Republican: Mehmet Oz Reality show doctor and Trump pick Mehmet Oz just barely eked out a victory in the Republican primary. Oz has adopted conservative policy positions including support for abortion restrictions and expansive gun rights, though past statements on issues like fracking have made members of the Republican base question his bona fides. He’s also gotten flack from Fetterman’s campaign for living in New Jersey for years and for seemingly moving to Pennsylvania just ahead of his Senate run. Why this race is interesting: This seat is a critical one for Democrats to pick up as they try to keep control of the Senate and grow their majority. It’s also one that tests whether Fetterman’s economic populist message will resonate with Trump voters. Democrats are hoping to flip this seat given Fetterman’s momentum in the state and Biden’s success there in 2020. Oz has focused on attacking Fetterman’s health in recent weeks in an attempt to suggest he may not be up for the job. Fetterman’s campaign has countered that he has had a strong recovery, and recently accepted Oz’s request to debate in October. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as leaning Democrat; FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator has Fetterman up by 8.9 percentage points. Colorado The Democrat: Sen. Michael Bennet Two-term Sen. Michael Bennet is defending his seat. Bennet has focused heavily on expanding the child tax credit during his time in the Senate, and touted the funding he’s brought back to the state for infrastructure improvements. The Republican: Joe O’Dea Joe O’Dea, a more moderate Republican who is the CEO of a construction company, is attempting to appeal to voters in the center by taking more measured positions like opposing the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade. Why this race is interesting: O’Dea is more moderate compared to several other Republican Senate candidates — and his success in casting himself as someone who’d be a middle-of-the-road senator could make this race more competitive. As Vox’s Nicole Narea explained, however, O’Dea still holds many typical Republican stances. He’s said he would have voted to confirm the conservative Supreme Court justices who’ve played a central role in restricting abortion access, previously voted for Trump, and supports the construction of a border wall. The state has historically leaned Democratic. In 2016, Bennet won with 50 percent of the vote to the 44 percent that Republican Darryl Glenn received. It’s worth noting, however, that Bennet did not secure a majority of the vote in either of his Senate elections — an indication that those victories were less decisive, and that even a slight change in the dynamics of the race could boost O’Dea, whose candidacy could give Republicans a roadmap for winning back bluer states. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as leaning Democrat, while the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Bennet up by 9.1 percentage points. New Hampshire The Democrat: Sen. Maggie Hassan Incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan has made the defense of abortion rights a centerpiece of her campaign, while her opponent has praised the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe. Hassan is vying for her second term in the upper chamber after previously serving as New Hampshire governor. The Republican: Don Bolduc Retired Brigadier General Don Bolduc, a far-right candidate, previously leaned into claims that Trump won the 2020 election and told Hassan to “get over it” regarding the rollback of Roe. He has tried to backtrack on his election denialism, more recently noting that Biden’s win was “legitimate.” He’s also said that he wouldn’t support a bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that bans abortion after 15 weeks, noting that the decision should be left up to the states. Why this race is interesting: The race will be an indicator of to what degree far-right candidates are able to gain traction in a general election in a swing state. Because Bolduc is more extreme than other possible options, Democrats view him as an easier opponent to beat in a state that’s gone blue in recent presidential elections. New Hampshire remains a battleground, however, given the tight margins that Hassan won by in 2016 and the national trends that could favor Republicans this year. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as leaning Democrat. The FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Hassan up by 7.3 percentage points. Arizona The Democrat: Sen. Mark Kelly Sen. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, is vying for a full term after winning a special election for his seat in 2020. Kelly has emphasized his independence on issues like immigration and leaned into his willingness to buck his own party when necessary. He’s also known for being a gun control advocate alongside his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was previously shot in the head during a constituent event. The Republican: Blake Masters Venture capitalist Blake Masters, who has the backing of tech billionaire Peter Thiel, is among the election deniers running this year. Masters has also supported the 15 week abortion ban that Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced, but attempted to soften his hardline stance on the issue as it’s become clear the politics have been less favorable to Republicans. He’s been criticized for making controversial statements in the past including blaming Black people for gun violence as well. Why this race is interesting: This race is another that could reveal if a far-right GOP candidate can succeed in a battleground state. Kelly has been able to establish a strong base of support by reaching independents and moderate Republicans. Masters is still trying to recapture the seat by tying Kelly to the president and his low approval ratings, however; it’s a strategy Republicans are trying elsewhere, but that may have more salience in a state Biden won by roughly 0.3 percentage points. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as leaning Democrat, while the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Kelly up by 7.5 percentage points. Three states are true toss-ups Georgia The Democrat: Sen. Raphael Warnock Sen. Raphael Warnock won a closely contested runoff in January 2021 and is now running for a full term. Warnock, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was once a pastor, has emphasized his work on reducing insulin costs and support for Medicaid expansion. The Republican: Herschel Walker Herschel Walker, a former football star, has become known for a number of gaffes, allegations of domestic violence, and a hardline position on abortion. Walker’s celebrity status and support from Trump have given him a boost among some voters, however. Why this race is interesting: Georgia is one of the tightest races this cycle, and could well go to another runoff if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote this fall. It’s also among the states where Republican candidate quality could play a major role. The state’s GOP governor is trending up in his reelection battle, and Republicans are thought to have a slight advantage in the state overall, but Walker could be weighed down by the controversial statements he has made. Warnock is considered the stronger candidate of the two due to his incumbency and favorability, though other headwinds that Democrats are facing, including inflation, could still help Republicans. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up, and FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator has Warnock up by 2 percentage points. Nevada The Democrat: Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is running for reelection and making her support for abortion access a key focal point. Prior to winning a Senate seat in 2016, Cortez Masto served as the state’s attorney general. The Republican: Adam Laxalt Adam Laxalt, also a former Nevada attorney general, has centered the economy and law-and-order rhetoric as he tries to flip the state. He’s also an election denialist and has tried to curb abortion rights in the past as AG. Laxalt is the grandson of Paul Laxalt, a former governor and senator in the state. Why this race is interesting: Republicans are eyeing Nevada as a potential pick-up because of how competitive the polls have been up to this point. The race is a face-off between the first Latina senator ever elected who’s emphasized her defense of abortion rights, and a hardline election denier and law-and-order candidate. Republicans hope to continue building on gains with Latino voters in the state by highlighting changes they’d make to economic policy. Specifically, Laxalt’s emphasis on inflation is aimed at winning over working-class voters in the state, where the tourism industry was decimated by the pandemic. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up; FiveThirtyEight’s polling aggregator has Cortez Masto up by 0.7 percentage points. Wisconsin The Democrat: Lieutenant Gov. Mandela Barnes Wisconsin Lieutenant Gov. Mandela Barnes is a former community organizer who has stressed his support for investments in the region’s manufacturing industry. He previously served in the Wisconsin state assembly and backed progressive ideas like Medicare-for-all, though he’s since moderated his messaging for the general election. The Republican: Sen. Ron Johnson Incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson is defending his seat in a state that Biden won in 2020 by less than 1 percentage point. Johnson is a longtime fiscal conservative and Trump ally who recently faced scrutiny for his unwillingness to express support for a same-sex marriage protections bill. (He has said he won’t oppose the bill, but declined to say he’ll back it.) Why this race is interesting: Given Biden’s success in the state, Johnson is viewed among the most endangered Republicans this cycle. The contest gives voters a stark choice between a young, progressive Democrat, and a prominent conservative Republican incumbent. As part of his campaign, Johnson has sought to cast Barnes as extreme, though Johnson’s previous support for Trump’s attempt to overturn the election and opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine are positions that could hurt him with swing voters. Barnes has seen strong momentum in polls, but Johnson has also managed to pull out a win in the purple state twice before. Were Barnes to win, he’d likely bolster Democratic support for changing filibuster rules and would take out a Republican who’s frequently blocked spending on social programs. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as a toss-up. The FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Johnson up by 0.1 percentage points. Republicans have the advantage in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio Florida The Democrat: Rep. Val Demings Congresswoman and former Orlando police chief Val Demings is attempting to retake this Senate seat in a state that’s grown increasingly red in recent years. She drew national attention as a manager in Trump’s first impeachment trial and was among the candidates Biden reportedly considered for the vice presidency. The Republican: Sen. Marco Rubio Sen. Marco Rubio is vying for a third term in the Senate and emphasizing his efficacy on issues including health care for veterans and aid to small businesses. Rubio is also a top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, and is known for his run for the presidency in 2016. Why this race is interesting: As a moderate with a longtime background in law enforcement, Demings is viewed as a strong Democratic candidate who’s been able to rebuff some of the Republican attacks on crime. If successful, she could offer Democrats a model for winning in redder battlegrounds. Still, the state skews more Republican and Rubio has had solid support in the past, including from many of Florida’s Latino and Hispanic voters. The contest remains an uphill battle for Demings, but strong fundraising numbers and voter energy on abortion could help her close the gap. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as lean Republican, and the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Rubio up by 3.8 percentage points. North Carolina The Democrat: Cheri Beasley Former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Cheri Beasley is a moderate who has focused on reaching swing voters. She’s spoken in defense of abortion rights, while emphasizing her independence from her party. The Republican: Rep. Ted Budd Rep. Ted Budd, a self-described “conservative warrior,” has run a more under-the-radar campaign and put the emphasis on issues like inflation. A gun store owner, Budd was among the Republicans who challenged the certification of 2020 election results. Why this race is interesting: This seat has been vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Burr, meaning there is no incumbency advantage for Republicans. It’s a race that will depend heavily on whether a middle-of-the-road Democrat is able to reach independents in a state that’s skewed toward the GOP. North Carolina has also grown more diverse in the last two decades, a trend that Democrats could capitalize on if they engage in effective voter outreach. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as lean Republican. The FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Budd up by 0.3 percentage points. Ohio The Democrat: Rep. Tim Ryan Congressman and former presidential candidate Tim Ryan is a moderate who has made his campaign about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the state. He’s stressed that he’ll work across the aisle and advance tax cuts for the middle class. The Republican: J.D. Vance J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy, tacked hard to the right in order to win the Republican nomination. He’s also made controversial statements about abortion and whether parents should stay in violent marriages for the sake of their children, comments he later said were misconstrued. Why this race is interesting: The race is a microcosm of Democratic efforts to win back white working-class voters they lost to Trump — and a test of how valuable close alignment with the former president can continue to be for GOP candidates. Vance’s controversial statements and policy positions have potentially made this race more competitive than it otherwise would be in this Republican-leaning state. Ryan has also carved out a fundraising advantage, and the race remains extremely tight. The state of the race: Cook rates the race as lean Republican, while the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator has Ryan up by 0.2 percentage points.
Preview: Denis Novikov/Getty Images Sleep better without sacrificing your tech. If you’ve ever had a terrible, or even middling, night’s slumber — which studies and surveys suggest is a fair number of people — you’re well aware of the effects of poor sleep. Aside from the sluggishness and lethargy, lack of sufficient shut-eye can blunt thinking and reaction time and negatively impacts judgment. Long-term sleep deprivation has been linked with higher likelihoods of depressive moods, anxiety, diabetes, and obesity. Difficulty sleeping can be attributed to a variety of factors and isn’t a reflection on how optimized or streamlined your life is. Shift work, children’s inconsistent sleep schedules, stress, bright light in the evening (from both home lighting fixtures and tech), the pandemic, and sleep conditions like insomnia and sleep apnea can all plague a person’s ability to get adequate rest. Sleep deprivation is, ultimately, a systemic issue, and people shouldn’t feel broken for the societal issues impacting sleep. Despite all of the modern obstacles to sleep, improvement in your quality and quantity of sleep is possible — and you don’t have to lock your phone in another room to achieve it. Listen to your body When it comes to sleep, most quantifiers are highly subjective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, “but the magic number is really dependent on the person,” says sleep psychologist Jade Wu, author of the forthcoming book Hello Sleep: The Science and Art of Overcoming Insomnia Without Medications. Instead, people should pay attention to how they feel when they wake up and throughout the day, says Vanessa Hill, behavioral scientist, creator of the YouTube series BrainCraft, and researcher at Central Queensland University. Fatigue during the day is a sign your body isn’t getting enough sleep. Survey yourself as to why: Going to bed too late? Trouble falling asleep? Difficulty staying asleep? To help evaluate how rested you feel during the day, Wu stresses the importance of knowing the difference between “sleepy” and “tired.” Sleepiness manifests in the body: droopy eyelids, an overall heaviness, the entire machine wants to shut down. Tiredness can also present physically, but it often stems from a lack of mental energy, a dip in motivation or inspiration. “If you’re sleepy during the day, that means you did not sleep last night or didn’t get good quality sleep,” Wu says. “If you’re tired during the day, that may not be because of poor sleep. It may be because you’re depressed or bored or dehydrated.” The cure for sleepiness, Wu says, is, simply but perhaps not obviously, to sleep. Tiredness can be overcome by taking a break during the work day, drinking some water, spending time with friends, or going dancing — not sleeping. “Going to bed might not be the answer and in fact, that might backfire,” Wu says, “because if you’re tired but not sleepy yet and you go to bed, you’re going to have insomnia.” Rather than forcing yourself into bed at a set time every night and struggling to slip into slumber, take a cue from your body and hit the sheets only when you’re sleepy, Wu says. “Then, we give our bodies a chance to tell us, ‘Here’s what I need,’” she says, “instead of us imposing our idea of how much sleep we need.” When it comes to the ideal conditions for sleep, try to keep your room as dark, cool, and quiet as possible, Hill says. Again, let your body dictate the most comfortable temperature, which can be different for everyone depending on the weight of their sheets and blankets, what they wear to bed, if they sleep alone or with a partner and pets, and if they run hot or cold. Hill is a proponent of blackout curtains and a white noise machine or smart speaker for keeping light and extraneous sound out of your sleep sanctuary. If you aren’t up for purchasing a new device, iPhones also have a white noise function, and lots of white noise apps are available to download. However, don’t feel pressured to download sleep tracking apps to measure and analyze your sleep data as it can feed into an unhelpful fixation. “It’s not useful to try to optimize your sleep just for the sake of it,” Hill says. Fix one thing at a time Once you’ve figured out the nature of your sleep issues, you’ve got to determine what’s causing them in the first place. This can be difficult, Hill says, because so many factors influence your ability to get shut-eye: screen habits, exposure to light, diet, stress, anxiety, inconsistent work hours. “People need to remember, you can’t change everything,” Hill says. Out of all the potential deterrents to sleep, figure out which is having the greatest impact. Does work stress keep you up at night? Do you get caught in a TikTok wormhole until the wee hours of the morning? Do your neighbor’s bright backyard lights shine into your window? Does your partner snore? Focus on changing one thing at a time and you’ll be much more likely to maintain that change, Hill says. Potential fixes include listening to a guided meditation before bed to relieve stress, swapping out TikTok for a book, or helping your partner treat their snoring (which may involve a doctor’s visit). Wu also says not to discount sleeping separately from your partner should you have the space if your sleep is affected by sharing a bed. Again, if these solutions are not feasible for you because of space, finances, or work, it is not your fault. Our built environment’s negative impact on sleep is not on you to fix. It’s also not on you to spend a lot of money, especially at first. Tons of products, devices, and apps are marketed as must-haves for improving sleep, but Hill says to simply do less: cut back on screen time, caffeine (particularly in the afternoon and evening), and alcohol before bed. Set yourself up for success during the day A good night’s sleep starts when you’re awake. Sunlight, especially in the morning, helps regulate the circadian rhythm and allows people to fall asleep more quickly and experience less disturbed sleep. Wu suggests getting anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight a day to counteract the effects of looking at screens during the evening. “If you go outside during the day and get sunlight, then your screen in the evening will not impact your sleep,” she says, “because the point is that you need to have a big contrast between day versus night in terms of how much sun exposure or how much light exposure you get.” According to Hill’s research, people often delay their bedtime because they don’t have enough “me time” or time spent socializing during the day, and, as a result, they stay up late catching up on news, scrolling social media, or texting friends. To combat this, Hill suggests interspersing a few short moments of solitude or social interactions during the day — think five minutes of meditation or social media here, a quick 30-minute phone call with a friend there — so you don’t feel the need to binge at night. In an effort to help combat perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of sleep — waking up in the middle of the night unable to fall asleep again — Sara E. Benjamin, an instructor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, says to have a plan for what you’ll do in such situations. You might want to be prepared to put on headphones and listen to a podcast, watch some TV, or have a routine of breathing exercises you turn to in times of stress. Using your phone is fine, but be intentional with its use in your plan and set a time limit for how long you’ll use it. The danger, Benjamin explains, is when people don’t have a plan, reach for their phone, and end up scrolling for hours. Have a routine More important than maintaining a consistent bedtime is waking at the same time every day, Wu says, even on the weekends. With an alarm, you have more control over when you rise; at night, you can’t control the hour at which you get sleepy. Waking happens more suddenly than falling asleep and is an effective start to the 24-hour circadian cycle. “When we wake up,” Wu says, “we get up, we become vertical, we open up the blinds, and we get sunlight in our eyes, we start moving, we have breakfast. All of these things tell our metabolism, tell the light-sensing parts of the brain, tell our blood pressure, everything in our bodies that this is the morning.” Your morning routine should include plenty of bright light, Benjamin says, either from natural light or sunrise lamps or SAD lights. While bedtime should be dictated by when your body naturally gets sleepy, there are things you can do to encourage this process. Successful nighttime routines should help you relax and be easy enough to maintain every day, Hill says, which can include dimming your lights two hours before bedtime, listening to music, meditating, doing light stretches, breath work, having a hot cup of tea, or taking a shower. Just don’t make your nighttime routine another to-do list item. “I don’t think it’s fun to be ‘that girl,’ the internet trend where people have their lives broken up into a spreadsheet, every 15 minutes is accounted for,” Hill says. “I don’t think that’s realistic for everybody to actually maintain.” It’s important to give your brain time to power down, so don’t try to squeeze in last-minute work or consume stressful or action-packed media. Those things will just wake you up. Even your naps should have some routine. Crucial for new parents or shift workers, siestas can help improve memory and workplace and physical performance. But too long of a nap too close to when you typically get sleepy can delay your bedtime. Hill says a 30-minute snooze around lunch is beneficial. Fight through the urge to collapse on the couch after work since napping in the early evening would bring you too close to bedtime. If you’re going to become a napper, make sure your rest periods occur around the same time every time you nap so it becomes a part of your schedule. Be smart about tech In today’s always-connected world, sleep advice banishing all devices and smartphones to another room is unrealistic. “I need to have my phone next to me because I’m on call for the sleep lab,” Benjamin says. “I can’t leave my phone in another room.” This isn’t permission to doomscroll through the night. Think about the type of media you’re consuming and what device you’re using. TikTok and other forms of social media, bright lights, and anxiety-inducing shows, movies, or video games are going to arouse your brain and keep you awake. On the contrary, passive media, like podcasts, music, a slow-paced TV show, and books will help you wind down, Hill says. Make sure any screens have the brightness turned down or are in night mode. “Personally, I keep an iPad that is not connected to the internet next to my bed,” Hill says. “It has meditations on there, it has some podcasts on it, and I have a Kindle as well. So as a sleep scientist, I’m breaking all the traditional rules because I have two devices next to my bed, but things that have a heavy night shift on the screen, a very, very dim light.” Even if you use your phone for white noise, an alarm, or a sleep app, turn on Do Not Disturb once you get into bed so you’re not distracted by texts or push notifications as you’re falling asleep and throughout the night. Devices are often painted as the villains of sleep hygiene, but it’s possible to make them work for you rather than against you. “Sometimes we think we need to be a monk in the hour before bedtime,” Wu says, “but it doesn’t have to be like that.” Even Better is here to offer deeply sourced, actionable advice for helping you live a better life. Do you have a question on money and work; friends, family, and community; or personal growth and health? Send us your question by filling out this form. We might turn it into a story.
Preview: Parents check on their kids after dropping them off at Kimberly Pearson’s class on the first day of school at Sunkist Elementary School in Anaheim, California, on August 11, 2022. | Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images An expert argues that we make parenting so much harder than it needs to be by failing at policy. Are we setting parents up to fail? Setting children up for success in today’s world is incredibly hard. In our culture, it’s especially difficult because the job of giving kids everything they need largely falls to parents. And even if you’re the most attentive and loving parent in the world, it’s not enough. If they’re going to succeed in this society, they need to learn certain kinds of skills. And they need certain kinds of people to teach them those skills. Schools are supposed to do this, but kids spend the vast majority of their time outside school — and the most crucial period of development for kids occurs before they even get to public school. The gaps that emerge during this time are one of the great drivers of inequality in our country. Economist Nate Hilger thinks of children as the largest disenfranchised group in America, and that parents are being failed along with their children. His new book, called The Parent Trap, argues that it doesn’t have to be this way — and that we can change it. I invited Hilger to join me for an episode of Vox Conversations. Below is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity. As always, there’s much more in the full podcast, so listen and follow Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Sean Illing What exactly is the parent trap? Nate Hilger The parent trap is, at its most basic level, the egregiously unrealistic expectation that we place on parents to build a huge range of important skills in children, early in their life. The consequences of that unrealistic expectation are a lot of social problems that cost us both emotionally and economically. The other aspect of the parent trap beyond these unrealistic expectations is the difficulty we have talking about that basic trap, because once we start saying that some parents are struggling in certain ways, and it’s correlated with race and class, it sounds so threatening and it just shuts down the conversation. And that is also, I think, an important part of what keeps the status quo in place. Sean Illing What are those unrealistic expectations? Nate Hilger Well, to begin life, children have to pick up not just academic skills like literacy and numeracy, but they have to get this wide range of other skills — social, emotional, behavioral skills, things like self-discipline, tenacity, financial skills, how to take care of yourself mentally and physically. There is a wide range of these skills that really are the foundation of children’s independence and success in adulthood. And building those skills turns out to be a lot more complicated and difficult than we have assumed for hundreds of years. And that makes it really hard for individual parents to do it successfully on a level playing field in their spare time. Sean Illing You identify two different kinds of parental responsibilities in the book. One of them is caring, and the other one is skill building. These are different things, but we’ve combined them under this common umbrella of parenting. Pull these things apart for me. What is the difference between the two? Nate Hilger The main difference between these two jobs that all parents have, caring and skill building, is that most of us can do a pretty good job at caring. Caring has this egalitarian feature. Caring I think about as loving kids and feeling personally invested in their success, and being there for them when they’re sick or when they’re unhappy. Helping them laugh and grow and navigate life as best you can. There’s this other job of parents: skill development. Skill development I think of as the set of things that is quite hard for a large share of parents to do successfully on their own. This involves reading and math. But it also involves a lot of these other skills, the emotional, social, and behavioral skills that will set kids up to thrive independently in adulthood. This stuff is complicated and we only get a small part of this from our existing K-12 school system. Sean Illing What kinds of parents are more equipped to build these sorts of skills in their kids? I mean, is it about money? Is it about knowledge or education? Is it about having more time? Is it all of the above? Nate Hilger The first thing I would say is that it’s pretty idiosyncratic, meaning that it’s not like monolithically, this group can do it, and this group can’t do it. In every group, there are some parents who are gonna excel at this, and some parents who are gonna struggle with it. That said, there are a number of things that correlate with capacity for this kind of skill development. Income is one. If you have income, you’re more likely to be able to take care of this on your own. And your own skills, your own professional skills as a parent, often are correlated with educational attainment and professional experience. So if you’re a high-income manager, you’re more likely to have the tools involved that help you do a more successful job at child skill development. If we think of child skill development like a complicated professional activity, something like being a lawyer or practicing medicine, or managing a team at a company, some of those general skills will carry over into the other complicated professional domain of child skill development. Sean Illing You talk in the book about how the trap you’re talking about really does reinforce a lot of the inequalities in our society. And you also point out that a child raised by the top 25 percent richest parents will end up earning about $50,000 more per year than a child raised by the bottom 25 percent poorest parents. That’s pretty startling. Is the idea that we live in anything like a meritocracy bullshit? Nate Hilger Yeah, I do think it’s bullshit. It’s not that there’s no return to effort and self initiative and risk in our society. I really do think there is, so it’s not total bullshit. I think sometimes progressives go way too far out on that ledge. People look around them and they know people who work hard and people who don’t work hard and often the people who work hard get better lives for themselves. And it just falsifies that idea that the structural obstacles to making your life better are so overwhelmingly suffocating that there’s no such thing as effort or initiative. I don’t think that’s bullshit. But when we talk about the average differences by class and race, then I think we do get into this idea that our meritocratic ideals are not really where we would hope they would be. This gap you mentioned is due to the different opportunities that these kids get in childhood. And so that is just directly in contradiction with our American ideals of meritocracy. Sean Illing Yeah, I really do agree with you there, right? There’s an overly deterministic way of talking about it that strips people of their agency, when in reality you actually can do quite a bit to overcome that through hard work and effort and all that — these things do matter. But where you start goes a long way in determining where you end up. And that matters too. These things are both true at the same time, and they interact in very complicated ways. And they have to be addressed in a way that doesn’t blot out these distinctions or minimize any of them. Nate Hilger Yeah, one way I try to talk about this is in terms of the class difference. I talk about the skills that you wind up with through the opportunities that your parents largely make available to you in childhood. I talk about that skill portfolio as a trust fund. Sean Illing I like that. Nate Hilger I think we all recognize that when a really high income kid reaches adulthood with a bank account with $5 million in it that their parents gave them, that’s a really unfair advantage. We don’t necessarily resent it. We think parents might have a right to do that. We have ongoing debates about the fairness of that. But most of us don’t have a $5 million bank account trust fund to help us take risks. The same thing is happening [with skills]. It’s just invisible for regular upper middle class kids. It’s just that bank account is in the form of our skill portfolio, which comes from the same kinds of parental advantages that drive the trust fund. Sean Illing Okay. So if parents can’t reliably handle teaching the necessary skills to their children, who should do that and who’s gonna pay for it? And I ask because when you describe skill building, most people immediately think of school. Schools have teachers and coaches and counselors. School seems like precisely the kind of skill building institution you’re advocating. So what’s wrong about this assumption that this is what schools are for? Nate Hilger That’s a great instinct and you’re right. School does have a lot of the elements that are necessary to help building skills. The problem is that our K-12 education system is kind of a fig leaf on the real scope of the problem here. We talked earlier about how the way kids build skills is, they spend time, they learn, they practice, they imitate. They don’t just buy them. So if skills happen in the medium of time, it really matters who is controlling children’s time. Our K-12 education system only controls about 10 percent of children’s time. Sean Illing Is it really that low? That seems really low. Nate Hilger Let’s go through where that comes from. The K-12 school system only starts at age five. So the first five years of childhood, [there’s] no public support, except in some limited ways. Once school starts, it’s only operating about half of all days each year. There are weekends, spring break, winter break, summer break, all those professional training days. When you’re a parent, you’re often thinking like, geez, another day off. And yeah, it adds up — only 50 percent of calendar days are in school, typically. And then even on those days, when school is operating, it’s only covering about a third of the day. If you’re a parent, you feel this very viscerally when you learn you have to pick up your kid at 2:30 and you’re like, wait, what? I have to figure out the rest of this afternoon myself while I have a full-time job? So when you add up all those numbers, our K-12 education system is providing the right kinds of services, but only for a small fraction of childhood. Sean Illing That is an important point, right? I mean, kids do spend the majority of their time outside school. And that time is structured and governed by parents. And if parents don’t have the time to maximize those windows, or if they don’t have the skills, that’s a problem. Nate Hilger That is a big part of the unrealistic expectation that we place on parents. And that leads to these huge gaps between rich kids and poor kids, when they transition to adulthood. Sean Illing Something you wrote in the book that surprised me and maybe it shouldn’t have: You write that the skill gaps, children’s skill gaps by class and race, don’t really grow that much during the time they spend in K through 12 schools. That the large skill gap really emerges almost entirely before they enter the K through 12 system. Nate Hilger That’s right. I think we’ve had this assumption for a long time, that early childhood doesn’t have a lot going on, and parents can kind of figure it out and the stakes are low. And for decades now, we’ve known that’s just not the case. And the fact that our public education system starts at kindergarten when these massive gaps by class and race have already emerged in both academic and non-academic skills, as far as we can measure them, that just seems like we’re sabotaging ourselves as a country. It seems like we’re wasting a lot of talent by delaying that level of public support for so long. Sean Illing What you’re saying is no matter how you look at it, the real divide, the divides that really matter long-term, happen outside of school within families. And it remains untouched by all this funding and all these efforts to bolster public schools. And that’s something we haven’t reckoned with. Nate Hilger That’s right. Why would we let kids show up to kindergarten with huge gaps and deficits and disadvantages, and then start trying to address that? Why wouldn’t we level the playing field from age zero to five by providing universal access to high quality learning environments, so that these gaps aren’t something that we have to address and remediate with progressive funding formulas, after that age, much less successfully? Why would we focus entirely on within-school problems when kids have long summer breaks, where radical inequality reemerges, where kids have afternoons where radical inequality reemerges? We really need to be filling in those gaps where inequality is enormous rather than fixating on what is currently our quite narrow tool of the K-12 system. Sean Illing Well, one thing you do say is that schools, K through 12 schools, could be much more effective in building skills. You know, teachers and coaches and counselors could do a whole lot more. But they need more access to children’s time. What would that look like, longer school days? Fewer breaks? Smaller class sizes? Nate Hilger There is a long tradition in America of calling for schools to manage a larger share of children’s time. It’s called the community school movement. And it’s arguing that kids should go to school and have a happy, enriching place to be for basically the full work day, nine to five. This doesn’t mean that kids will just be doing extra homework or cramming more, or getting exhausted when they’re at school all day. We have to really take that concern into account. That is a real problem. It might be that kids need to be able to rest quietly and do their own thing in a safe environment for a period of time, and then recharge and do something more structured. It might be that some kids get tutoring in that extra time. It might be that some kids do something that they love, like they learn how to do audio engineering, or they do band, or they practice design or something that just interests them and doesn’t tire them out. The key thing is that parents shouldn’t have to do a lot of research and show a lot of proactive initiative and weed out the bad providers from the good providers with a lot of insight. It should just be, parents kind of automatically sign their kids up for educational institutions, and schools can manage a much larger share of children’s time in productive, healthy, happy ways.
Preview: Giorgia Meloni, leader of Italian far-right party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), gestures during a campaign rally in Turin, Italy, on September 13, 2022. | Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images Italy’s potential far-right turn is years in the making. Giorgia Meloni, the founder of the hard-right party Brothers of Italy, could soon become Italy’s first woman leader and the first far-right leader in decades, since the fall of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini during World War II. Italy will hold snap general elections on Sunday to elect a new parliament, and Meloni’s party is widely considered the favorite to come out on top as the leading partner in a new conservative coalition, with Meloni as prime minister. Meloni’s rise to power and the retrenchment of hard-right populism within her coalition is in some ways a resurgence and galvanization of far-right sentiment that Italian politics and political parties have never truly reckoned with. Despite Meloni’s and other right-wing figures’ insistence to the contrary — and despite the brutality of Mussolini’s fascist movement in Italy and across Europe — his influence never completely receded from Italian politics. Meloni, 45, honed her reactionary views as a teenage political activist in her native Rome; at 15, she registered with the youth front of the Italian Social Movement, a group established by a former minister in Mussolini’s government. On the campaign trail, she has emphasized her womanhood and motherhood, though she is not a feminist. She has also taken a hard line against immigration — suggesting that the Italian Navy patrol the Mediterranean to keep migrants from arriving by sea — and a Meloni victory could portend rollbacks to minority rights, including the rights of women, LGBTQ people, and migrants. Her Brothers of Italy party, uses an insignia and slogan — “Dio, patria, familia,” or “God, country, family” — which echo its fascist predecessors. Meloni’s star has risen considerably since Italy’s 2018 elections, when her party received only 4 percent of the vote. Now, Brothers of Italy is projected to take 25 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, which would be enough to give her and her coalition — with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s League party — a ruling majority in a new, smaller parliament. Meloni’s refusal this summer to support outgoing caretaker Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s unity government and her forceful opposition to his Covid-19 policies pushed her into the spotlight; her presentation as “strongly against the establishment, anti-elite and very, very conservative,” as Carlo Bastasin, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Foreign Policy, has galvanized her supporters. However, Meloni still faces opposition, and pollster Lorenzo Pregliasco of YouTrend told the Associated Press that voter turnout could be as low as 66 percent this time around, below 2018’s record-low turnout of 73 percent. That’s partly because the state of Italian politics has left many voters “disaffected, disappointed,” he said. “They don’t see their vote as something that matters.” While there’s no guarantee Meloni’s coalition will succeed in capturing enough votes for a majority, whoever next leads Italy will have to contend with a series of major issues — some of which, like immigration, a tax system overhaul, and judicial reform, have plagued Italy for years, across many governments, seemingly without a tenable solution. Italy’s right wing has been building up to this for years Italian politics have a reputation for being messy, bureaucratic, and ineffectual; over the past four years, Italy has had three different governing coalitions — two under Giuseppe Conte, leader of the Five Star Movement, and one under former European Central Bank head Draghi. The Conte governments, “characterized by an unusual level of incompetence,” as Bastasin wrote in July, crumbled due to inefficiency in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as political maneuvering and power plays on the part of Conte’s colleagues in the Italian parliament. In contrast, Draghi’s government enjoyed high public support and reassured European Union partners and other international actors that Italy was on track to manage the pandemic and responsibly spend recovery funds. Draghi prioritized critical economic goals and gender equity, as well as investments in clean energy and green jobs in his first speech as prime minister. He also stood firmly in support of the European Union and Italy’s place in it, notably in terms of supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and in imposing sanctions on Russia, despite the domestic challenges of doing so. However, Draghi’s tenure as an unelected technocrat depended on a unity government; Meloni’s party was the only opposition until Conte broke the coalition in July in response to Italy’s cost of living crisis, prompting the spectacular dissolution of Draghi’s unity government, his resignation, and finally, the right-wing bloc of Meloni, Salvini, and Berlusconi calling for snap elections. According to Andrea Pirro, a professor of political and social sciences at the Florence university Scuola Normale Superiore who spoke to Vox over email, Meloni has benefited from her constant role in the opposition. Other experts agree: “She’s the only leader the Italian electorate does not perceive to have already tested,” Pietro Castelli Gattinara, an associate professor of political communication at Université Libre de Bruxelles, told Vox’s Jen Kirby. “She is the only one that has not yet deceived the Italian electorate. That’s her biggest ace to play at the next election.” Meloni’s party is also benefiting from “the 5 Star Movement’s entry to parliament in 2013,” which “shook Italian politics to the core,” Pirro said, “de facto questioning the traditional bipolar competition between a moderate-left and a right-wing bloc.” That power shift, in turn, positioned Salvini’s the League as the ”new gravitational center of the right-wing bloc (at the expense of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia), steering the right-wing coalition towards far-right territories.” The mainstreaming of Salvini’s worldview, which has historically included support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and aggressive anti-immigration measures “was, in a way, much more important in paving the way for Meloni’s rise,” Pirro said. “When the League started losing support, many voters simply opted for the untried far-right alternative, Brothers of Italy.” Meloni has gained support, as populists do, with an underdog appeal; many of her supporters, including Meloni herself, identify with hobbits, a diminutive people from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, as the New York Times’ Jason Horowitz explained this week. “The feature that characterizes her, and the feature that is mirroring the sentiment of the Italian public opinion, is her insistence on victimhood,” Bastasin told Foreign Policy. “This is a very powerful emotional argument which goes down well for many populist politicians.” The Italian populist, post-fascism lineage, of which Meloni is a part, has venerated the text as a “vision of spirituality against materialism, a metaphysical vision of life against the forms of the modern world,” former MSI member Umberto Croppi told the Times. The nostalgia for a simpler time, in fact, defines and drives Brothers of Italy’s appeal, as well as the party itself. “While Brothers of Italy cannot be meaningfully labelled as ‘neofascist’, there is clearly a share of nostalgics among party ranks,” Pirro told Vox, tracing the party’s roots back to the Italian Social Movement. “Meloni has done generally little to distance herself and her organization from these elements — or openly condemn fascism, for that matter.” Italy’s left wing has also ceded ground to conservative parties, and even mimicked some of their policies and talking points. Although Italy did have a visible leftist movement in the post-war era, political aims were overshadowed by polarization and terror from the late 1960s through the ’80s — what Italians call the anni di piombo, Years of Lead. Now, “the main reformist party, the Democratic Party, has long lost its social-democratic credentials by parroting the far right on security and immigration issues and embracing a neoliberal market agenda at the expenses of its traditional working class voter base,” Pirra told Vox. Conte’s Five Star Movement “is currently presenting itself as a progressive force, but this is coming after years of ideological ambiguity and flirtation with far-right issues,” and anything resembling a truly left-wing party “has failed to capture sizable support in recent years.” That’s because of a series of disappointments on the part of left-wing politicians, one Italian voter told Vox. “Politically, I’m a left-wing person, I identify with the left wing,” Gaia Celeste, a Roman left-wing constituent and community manager for a tech startup told Vox. “We have a big center-left-wing party which is the Partito Democratico — the Democratic Party — which has not fulfilled many of the desires and the needs of the left-wing electorate.” In fact, she said, over the past decade those parties had responded much more to the “sirens” of right-wing rhetoric than to the needs of the people. Meloni’s coalition could win as much as 60 percent of the seats in Parliament, although a polling blackout since September 9 means those numbers could have changed considerably by the time people go to the polls on Sunday. And even if they do win a majority, it might not be significant enough to catapult Meloni into power, Celeste explained. “One of the rosier pictures is that the right wing does not take too much of the majority, so that [Sergio] Mattarella, the president of the republic, can decide to nominate someone else from the government,” Celeste said. “So if Meloni’s majority is not too strong, not too big, we may have a scenario where he nominates someone else and that might still be Mario Draghi. And that might be the best scenario.” How would the Meloni coalition govern? If Meloni does take power, as Pirro believes she and her coalition will, her party may have a great deal of freedom to implement its agenda with backing from Italy’s other right-wing parties. “The far-right Brothers of Italy and the League are the two main ideological drivers of the right-wing coalition, so we should expect an additional crackdown on migration policies and the rights of minorities (especially LGBTQI+ people), and in all likelihood further barriers to accessing abortion, when Meloni comes to power,” Pirro told Vox. Abortion, which became legal in Italy in 1978, is still quite difficult to access for many Italian women; the procedure is legal only up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in most cases, and the law governing it allows for doctors to opt out of performing abortions as “conscientious objectors.” As many as 71 percent of Italian gynecological health care providers identify as conscientious objectors, according to one study published in the journal Social Science Research in 2020. While Meloni has said she would respect Italy’s abortion law as it stands, she has also made clear that she wants to emphasize a part of the law which is “about prevention,” although what that means in practice is unclear. Overall, Meloni positions herself as “pro-family” — meaning pro-traditional, nuclear family. Fellow coalition leader Salvini has praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for his family policies, including incentives for Hungarian women to have four or more children. Meloni also opposes what she calls “pink quotas,” or quotas for women’s participation in government and on private-sector positions of power. Many Italian women support such quotas, the New York Times reports, particularly in a highly patriarchal society where “boys’ clubs” have dominated the halls of power. Viviana Costagliola, an art historian originally from Naples, told Vox that via WhatsApp that she’s concerned about the erosion of minority rights and abortion access under a potential Meloni government. She’s also “preoccupied with our position with the European community’s dialogue,” noting Meloni’s “proximity to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s thoughts and the Spanish extremist right parties.” Though Meloni has recently voiced her support for the European project — especially critical so as not to threaten access to 191.5 billion euro in Covid-19 recovery funds — she’s previously expressed some euroskeptic viewpoints and openly admires Orbán, one of the biggest thorns in the side of the EU. Meloni’s most salient political characteristic is her nationalism, highlighted with a nostalgic “traditionalism” that ties in her anti-migration, anti-equality, and debatably euroskeptic ideologies. As Castelli Gattinara put it: What is really the core ideological tenet of [far-right] actors is nativism; is the idea that country states should be inhabited exclusively by so-called native people; is the idea that there are homogeneous communities and that any type of contamination from abroad would impoverish the sort of natural purity of the nation-state. And importantly, this applies to race or ethnic diversity. It equally applies to religion. It also applies to ideas. In a certain sense, new ideas coming from abroad are considered a danger to the nation-state. We see that quite strongly when it comes to civil rights and, in particular, gender equality. It’s less clear, however, how much of Brothers of Italy’s agenda Meloni will succeed in translating into policy, even if her coalition wins a strong majority. In particular, given Italy’s challenging political system, and Meloni’s relative inexperience, opinions are mixed as to how much she’d be able to actually do as Italy’s leader, particularly if her coalition doesn’t receive a resounding majority. “I am afraid of incompetence, not the fascist threat,″ Roberto D’Alimonte, a political science professor at LUISS university in Rome, told the AP. “She has not governed anything.”
Preview: A picture obtained by AFP shows a demonstrator raising their arms and making the victory sign during a protest in Tehran for Mahsa Amini, on September 19, 2022. | AFP via Getty Images Iran is in revolt. It was not an isolated incident of police violence in Iran. But the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody last week has captured the country’s attention. Amini was visiting the capital of Tehran, coming from the Kurdish province in the country’s northwest, and Iran’s so-called morality police detained her, allegedly for wearing the mandatory headscarf improperly. Several hours after entering police custody, she was in a coma. She died two days later. Iranian police claimed she died after a stroke and suffering cardiac arrest, but witnesses say she died after sustaining blows to the head, and shocking photos that spread online of Amini intubated in a hospital have galvanized the nation. Protesters have since taken to the streets in more than 50 cities across Iran. Authorities reportedly have killed as many as 36 people during demonstrations. The government has also restricted the internet, so the complete picture may not be available. But the growing arrests of human rights defenders, activists, and journalists are particularly troubling. Demonstrators have defied the repressive government regularly in the past several years, often expressing economic grievances. Women have been central to Iranian politics of resistance since the 1979 revolution, and before. What’s different about these protests is the diversity of people out on the streets and the widespread nature of Iranian resistance, in cities big and small. The government may weather the emerging movement. Or Amini’s tragedy could prove to be Iran’s Mohamed Bouazizi — the Tunisian street-seller who self-immolated in December 2010 and helped catalyze the mass protests across the Middle East and North Africa that came to be the Arab Spring. The protests have also provoked an outpouring of anger and sympathy from artists inside and outside of Iran. These images commemorating Mahsa Amini are by artist Sahar Ghorishihttps://t.co/XDh0Dt2Xt5 pic.twitter.com/Mcw7I3yXCF — Alex Shams (@alexshams_) September 19, 2022 Across the country, protesters are chanting, “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Those words have resonated deeply because they’re affirmative and unifying, says University of Sussex professor Kamran Matin. “This triangular slogan is uniting different strands of discontent in Iran,” he told me. “This slogan has united every section of Iranian society which has some sort of grievance against the government.” Why Iranian women are burning headscarves In response to Amini’s death, Iranians are demanding an end to mandatory hijab laws and burning the scarves in powerful displays of refusal. In Tehran, they have been chanting, “We don’t want forced hijab.” That’s connected to the police’s purported reason for detaining Amini, but the act of protest carries multiple meanings. Negar Mottahedeh, a professor of gender and feminist studies at Duke University, likened the images of Iranian women burning their headscarves to the bra-burning of the 1960s. Bra-burning meant many things at once: an expression of feminism and liberation, but also a broader rejection of the Vietnam War and of capitalism. Similarly, the images from demonstrations across Iran over the last week object to compulsory veiling and the morality police, but also against a paranoid, controlling state that has sought to police women’s bodies. Getty Images People gather in protest against the death of Mahsa Amini along the streets on September 19, 2022, in Tehran, Iran. The so-called morality police, an independent unit that has been around since 1979, don’t only enforce headscarves but a variety of regulations, including mixed-gender gatherings and prohibitions against drinking alcohol. During the late 1990s when Mohammad Khatami was president, Iran instituted a number of reforms, but his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reversed these. The current president, Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative, has maintained such restrictions and emboldened officials to clamp down. Authorities in Iran take it upon themselves to interpret the codes, and enforcement can be arbitrary and violent. Human rights researchers note that the morality police in the past few months have resorted to violence more frequently. Even if the protests don’t immediately result in transformative change, they’ve forever changed the debate on compulsory hijab in Iran, says Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There’s no going back,” she told me. “Yes, police can pretend this never happened. But it did happen. Women took off their headscarves, walked down the street, and the debate has moved forward.” The boldness of Iranian women in the face of a police state has been one of the enduring dynamics of the country’s street politics. “From the very beginning of the revolution in 1979, women were at the forefront. They were walking shoulder to shoulder with men in front of tanks and guns, and they were seeking a different kind of government, an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist government,” Mottahedeh told me. The 1979 revolution overthrew a corrupt, US-backed dictator and brought together a disparate opposition, including leftist and Islamic groups. But the political faction that took power after the revolution succeeded, which still rules today, began to implement religious-based laws that discriminated against women. Christine Spengler/Sygma via Getty Images Women in the streets of Iran during the May 1, 1979, demonstration. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images People hold up a photo of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini as they participate in a protest against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi outside of the United Nations on September 21, 2022, in New York City. Mottahedeh emphasizes that many of the initiatives of the country’s first supreme leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the immediate post-1979 moment were about controlling women’s bodies, their careers (excluding them from being judges, for example), and their appearance. Back then, some of the first revolts against the revolutionary government were about the right to abortion, the right to divorce, and the right for a wife to have a say about who her husband’s second wife was going to be. Despite severe restrictions, women have continued to push back. “It’s really important to focus on women’s resistance and resilience inside of Iran, and not see them as victims,” says Sussan Tahmasebi, executive director of the human rights organization Femena. “Iranian women — even though they deal with a lot of discriminatory laws, structural and legal discrimination — they have always taken every opportunity to advance their lives.” A map showing the extent of the protests in Iran. Importantly, the 2017 and 2019 protests also took place in cities across the country. What's new about these protests is that they appear to have drawn individuals from across various classes and social groups. #MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/NxGY6YdHOR — Esfandyar Batmanghelidj (@yarbatman) September 21, 2022 Another important element of the ongoing mobilization relates to Amini’s Kurdish identity. The Iranian government has, over the years, painted Kurdish activists as separatists seeking to delegitimize the Iranian state. But now with demonstrations so dispersed across the country, the Kurdish minority’s prominence in the protests may reflect the fact that Iranians are becoming more sensitive toward the injustices inflicted upon the ethnic and sectarian minorities in the country. The national character of the protests that elevate the life of a young Kurdish woman provides crucial recognition of their plight. Matin, who studies Iranian and Kurdish politics, noted that the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” originates from Syrian Kurdistan. “The Kurds have always led the way in resistance against what I would describe, even in kind of scientific terms, as a semi-fascist state,” he said. What’s next for an Iran in revolt The demonstrations come at a time when the socioeconomic conditions in Iran are extremely tenuous, with a large portion of Iranian society impoverished. This is partly because of the impact of US sanctions over the Iran nuclear program, as well as the broader global economic conditions and the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. The country’s economic troubles are likely to persist without a return to the Iran nuclear deal. Then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal in 2018, and obstacles to its revival remain frozen despite diplomacy between the Biden administration, Iran, and world powers, leaving intact intensive economic sanctions on Iran. And without the money to address Iranians’ underlying grievances, the state is likely to flex its strength to deter social unrest. Ali Vaez, an analyst with International Crisis Group, grew up in Iran and has been taken with the images of boys and girls fighting back against government forces. “These are scenes that were unimaginable 10 years ago, 20 years ago,” he told me. “This is a society that the Islamic Republic clearly is no longer able to control. With repression, they might be able to buy time, but they are not going to be able to address the underlying drivers of these protests.” It’s impossible to know whether the protests will carry on and grow, as they have in the 2017-18 economic protests or the massive 2009 Green Movement protests, led by a presidential candidate at the time. One thing that’s certain is that protests in Iran are becoming more frequent, says Vaez, which shows the degree of discontent. “We used to see this kind of outburst of public ire once a decade in Iran,” he told me. “Now it’s becoming every other year, basically, and it’s becoming more ferocious, more violent.” The demonstrations appear to be a spontaneous movement. But a leaderless revolt is also by extension disorganized. That may make it less likely for the movement to grow beyond a street movement into something that can transform Iranian policy and governance. Two enduring forces also stand in the way of political change: a geriatric supreme leader who is completely averse to change, heading a regime that is willing to deploy brute force against its people. (By coincidence, the protests began the same day as news broke about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s ill health and as the conservative President Ebrahim Raisi has left the country for the United Nations General Assembly in New York.) The discontent in the state and its crisis of legitimacy has been on display since the low voter turnout in the presidential election won by Raisi last year. Now, the Iranian authorities are arresting activists, organizers, and students. “What concerns me is the escalation of the crackdown — they’re going to try to really force the protests to die down,” said Sepehri Far. Such a brutal response to the mass protests will further expose the brittleness of the Iranian government. “It reflects the total incapacity of a political system to listen to its own population,” Vaez told me. “So there is a clear divide between state and society in the country — there is no doubt about it. But this is a system that still has the will and a fearsome capacity to repress.”
Preview: Former NFL player Brett Favre at University Ridge Golf Club on June 11, 2022, in Madison, Wisconsin. | Patrick McDermott/Getty Images How a WWE wrestler, corrupt Mississippi officials, and Brett Favre allegedly siphoned money away from poor people. We live in an age of brazen, ham-handed grift. Have you heard the one involving the retired NFL star, a WWE wrestler, corrupt Southern officials, and the millions in welfare money that they benefited from? If you’ve heard about this scandal, it’s likely because of the involvement of former Green Bay Packer Brett Favre, specifically the $1 million in federal welfare money he received for talks he apparently did not give and the $5 million he was involved in directing toward construction of a volleyball stadium at the college his daughter attended. Favre’s name is what pushed this from dry newspaper stories in 2020 announcing arrests of local bureaucrats to Stephen A. Smith yelling on ESPN about poverty in Mississippi. But while Favre’s involvement has brought more attention to the story, it’s unfortunately narrowed the focus to a single ex-athlete, instead of taking in the extraordinarily sprawling web of corruption enveloping the state. This scandal takes different shapes depending on the vantage from which one looks at it. Close up, it’s a sleazy, almost comically corrupt scheme by a few bureaucrats and nonprofit officials; zoom out and it looks more like an entire state government has become something closer to organized crime; pull back even further and the whole country’s welfare system is implicated, its very structure encouraging heinous misuse and waste even as poor people receive a fraction of what they need. To understand how the fraud was perpetrated, it’s helpful to have some basic knowledge of how the United States’ alphabet soup of welfare programs works. TANF — or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families — is the program that replaced AFDC — Aid to Families with Dependent Children — in the welfare reform of 1996. With the aim of “ending welfare as we know it,” TANF ended direct entitlement cash payments to poor families with children and created a block grant to states that they could use toward four statutorily dictated goals: (1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. In 2022, it’s easy to see the assumptions embedded in the law about poor people, especially poor Black women. The combined effect of relaxing rules on where money went, adding work requirements, and allowing states to define who qualified as “needy” had an effect that has only accelerated since 1996: fewer poor families receiving benefits. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities releases a “TANF-to-poverty ratio,” which tells you how many families are receiving TANF benefits for every 100 in poverty. The national number in 1996 was 68; it’s currently 21, the lowest ever. This average masks enormous interstate differences: In Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas, just four out of 100 families in poverty receive TANF cash assistance. As the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service notes, this has not been because of an overall reduction in poverty: “Most of the post-1994 decline in the cash assistance caseload resulted from a reduction in the share of eligible families receiving benefits, rather than a reduction in the number of families meeting states’ definitions of being a needy family.” The Mississippi welfare scandal has been burbling in the news for a while now, but its true import has never really sunk in beyond policy wonk circles. It’s a vivid illustration of how the welfare reform of 1996 has played out. What happened in Mississippi is less a case of criminal masterminds perpetrating a heist, and closer to walking into a vault that welfare reform left open and unguarded, all while purporting to protect the government from mooching citizens. The Mississippi welfare fraud up close At its core, the fraud for which six people so far have faced criminal charges was fairly simple. John Davis, the director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), funneled tens of millions of dollars in block-granted TANF money to a nonprofit, Mississippi Community Education Center, under the guise that the nonprofit was performing and subcontracting TANF-allowable activities. To be clear, the act of directing TANF funds to a nonprofit is legal so long as the nonprofit is actually performing tasks that go toward the goals outlined above. That is not what was happening in Mississippi. Nancy New, head of the Mississippi Community Education Center, was instead kicking back money to Davis, his friends, and his family while enriching herself and her family as well. (A second nonprofit, the Family Resource Center, was also involved, but none of its personnel have been criminally charged.) On Thursday, Davis pleaded guilty to federal and local charges; New herself pleaded guilty in April. The civil lawsuit the state filed to try to claw back some of the funds has 38 defendants, each its own lurid mess. It’s impossible to cover even a fraction of the cases here, but a few details alleged in the suit give a good sense of what was going on: John Davis’s nephew was paid $400,000 to create “coding academies” for the two nonprofits. He had no experience as a computer programmer and produced nothing. Davis’s brother-in-law was paid over $600,000 for a nonexistent job and a lease on a nonexistent building. Marcus Dupree, a former college football phenom, was paid $371,000 to buy a 4,000-square-foot house, with a swimming pool, pavilion, and “adjoining acreage on which Mr. Dupree was to maintain horses.” Dupree claimed in charity filings it would be for “equestrian activities for underprivileged children.” To capture the full range here: “Illegal Diversions of TANF Funds To Enrich Sports Celebrities” needed its own subheading in the suit. Many instances of misuse didn’t even end up in the suit. For instance, the Clarion Ledger found $43,000 spent on Bible-inspired children’s books by a Christian singer named Jason Crabb. Auditors later determined this was “indicative of abuse and waste.” Apart from these cases, Davis, the MDHS director, became very close acquaintances with the DiBiases; sons Ted Jr. and Brett, and father Ted Sr. All are wrestlers, and Ted Sr. in particular was a prominent WWE wrestler. According to the suit, starting in 2017, huge sums of TANF money began flowing from the two nonprofits. Ted Jr. set up dummy companies “Priceless Ventures” and “Familiae Orientem,” which were paid around $3 million. These payments were marked as “leadership training” and supporting inner city youth for purposes of TANF eligibility. Brett DiBiase’s $160,000 tab for a four-month stay at a luxury drug rehab in California called Rise in Malibu was covered, and TANF money paid for Davis’s first-class flights and accommodations to visit him — all for the ostensible purpose of examining top-notch models in drug treatment to mimic in their own state. Brett also accepted contracts and money for work he was supposedly performing during his rehab stay. Ted Sr., whose nickname as a performer was “The Million Dollar Man,” received $1.7 million in support of his wrestling ministry. These individual cases, as ridiculous as they sound, add up to staggering sums. In all, the state auditor found at least $77 million misused from 2017 to 2020. Mississippi’s yearly TANF spending has ranged anywhere from $55 million to $104 million in federal TANF funds in recent years. Zooming out: The Mississippi government’s role Reporting from Anna Wolfe — the Mississippi Today reporter whose years-long investigation has formed the backbone of the entire story — and others has continued finding strands leading well past Davis. Then-Gov. Phil Bryant (R) personally texting Brett Favre reassurances is one. Another was the fact that one of those defendants under the “Sports Celebrities” subheading was a college linebacker who is current Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’s “longtime personal trainer and buddy.” He received more than $1 million in TANF money to host three fitness boot camps. Bryant personally intervened to have MDHS help his great-nephew, who allegedly ended up receiving state-funded drug rehabilitation. Nancy New, the nonprofit head, is friends with Bryant’s wife. And the investigation itself has been less vigorous than the criminal arrests might suggest. The state auditor, Shad White, who had ties to Bryant, had in the view of close observers waited a strangely long time to report findings to the federal government, which would have an obvious interest in federal money being stolen. An original forensic audit by MDHS in 2021 was clearly hamstrung by someone, with the accounting firm denied access to documents and limited in scope, according to reporting by Mississippi Today. The original lawyer leading the civil suit was fired by the state earlier this year. The depositions of the defendants in that case have been postponed. Wolfe says there was “a concerted effort by people in charge of this investigation at the beginning to steer the direction away from the governor, to take it as high up as John Davis and Nancy New and stop there.” She goes on to say that “the way that state government is run in Mississippi, people are totally afraid to say anything at any time for fear of losing their jobs.” But if low-level employees were in a state of fear, elites in the state were not. Text and email communications between these governors, professional athletes, and businessmen show virtually no concern that they could be documenting ongoing crimes. In addition to the volleyball and speaking money, Brett Favre had around $2 million of TANF dollars routed to Prevacus, a pharmaceutical company he invested in, according to Wolfe’s reporting. Prevacus’s founder and president, Jake VanLandingham, texted Bryant just days after he left office to say, “I’d like to give you a company package for all your help. ... We want and need you on our team!!!” to which Bryant responded, “Sounds good. Where would be the best place to meet.” Favre texted VanLandingham at one point: “This all works out we need to buy her and John Davis surprise him with a vehicle I thought maybe John Davis we could get him a raptor.” [sic] Ted DiBiase Sr., on receiving a particular TANF payment for $250,000 for motivational speaking, forwarded it to his sons saying, “Look what I got today!” This feeling of impunity may be understandable: neither Favre, VanLandingham, Bryant, nor DiBiase Sr. has yet been charged with a crime. All of this taking of funds comes alongside a deterioration in services; Mississippi saw its predominantly Black capital of Jackson lose usable water for a month and a half. Reeves, the current governor, joked one day after a boil-water advisory was lifted that it was “as always, a great day to not be in Jackson.” The real welfare fraudsters Finally, there’s the bleak reality that while Mississippi’s TANF spending is notable for its shamelessness, it’s less of an outlier than you might think. While Mississippi had a slush fund for personal gain and favors, TANF acts as a slush fund for state governments everywhere. Its structure as a block grant, its lack of oversight, and the paternalistic structures of its 1990s policy goals have allowed states to use the money on almost anything they want, whether filling budget holes or funding lawmakers’ pet projects. Some of that spending has been in theory defensible, such as money going toward college scholarships or foster care. But many states have used money that could’ve helped poor people on programs that don’t look much different from Mississippi’s. A single company in Oklahoma used more than $70 million in TANF money to run adult relationship classes and make pro-marriage ads. Many states divert welfare money to fund “crisis pregnancy centers,” or thinly veiled anti-abortion clinics. Utah cut back cash aid only to have state caseworkers repeatedly tell applicants to seek help from the LDS Church, including non-Mormons who would need to be baptized to receive aid. Many states just don’t spend the money at all, amassing tens of billions of unspent dollars, even during the pandemic. Experts I talked to were blunt about the program’s failings. Aditi Shrivastava, a senior policy analyst at CBPP, told me simply, “TANF’s focus should be cash assistance.” Heather Hahn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, pointed out that of “the four purposes of TANF, none of them is to reduce poverty. ... The ideology of the program is not about reducing poverty.” The obvious irony is that decades of welfare debates, and TANF’s structure itself, were driven by the often racist and sexist fear that mothers, especially Black mothers, were getting money they didn’t deserve and wasting it. But the kind of staggering organized theft that took place in Mississippi was only possible because of TANF’s giant-pool-of-money design. Shrivastava and Hahn both told me that such fraud would have been nigh-impossible under AFDC’s cash payment system. One remaining question is why the program hasn’t been reformed or fixed. The answer may be found in these numbers: According to Wolfe, in 1996, 33,000 adults were receiving assistance in Mississippi. Last year, and with at least $77 million gone elsewhere, that number was 208 adults. In other words, it hasn’t been fixed because it’s performing the way it was designed to. Jack Meserve is the managing editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.
Preview: Former President Donald Trump spoke at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, Ohio on September 17, 2022. | Andrew Spear for The Washington Post via Getty His legal problems are worsening. But they might not take him down. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: New developments have put Donald Trump in even more serious legal jeopardy. A new civil fraud lawsuit from the New York attorney general’s office is threatening his business, while his efforts to stall the criminal investigation into whether he mishandled classified information seem to have failed. And a separate investigation into the January 6 attack scrutinizes his associates. It all looks quite bad for him. Then again, for at least five years, much of the media has touted the seriousness of Trump’s legal peril, portraying him as on the verge of a humiliating downfall — only to see him go, in his own words, “Scott Free,” again and again. The Mueller investigation, the Michael Cohen investigation, the first impeachment, the second impeachment, and the Manhattan district attorney’s probe were each hyped as the thing that could bring Trump down. Yet they all either fizzled out or went quiet, with Trump remaining conspicuously, well, un-brought-down. So will this time be different? Are the walls really closing in? It certainly seems like Trump’s threat of facing criminal charges is currently higher than it’s been since he entered politics, due to the classified documents probe, and the fact that he’s no longer an incumbent president with immunity against indictment. The New York civil lawsuit — at least on its face — appears to present a serious threat to his business as well. The suit claims Trump and his employees “violated a host of state criminal laws” and their conduct “plausibly violates federal criminal law,” and New York Attorney General Letitia James said she’d refer her findings to federal prosecutors. But it’s worth remembering Trump hasn’t been criminally charged with anything yet, and that prosecutorial caution could still prevail. Even if Trump is charged, a potential trial would present further challenges, and if he is convicted, an eventual sentence might not be so harsh. And though he is facing that New York civil suit, a trial there is no sure thing either. Trump critics hoping he will be removed from politics via indictment or prison may be hoping in vain. If he chooses to run again, it’s likely to be voters who will decide his fate. What prosecutors will consider before pursuing a Trump indictment or trial Whatever you believe about the strength of the evidence against Trump in these various investigations, his status as incumbent president meant he couldn’t be indicted during his term, according to long-standing Justice Department policy. And his continued popularity among Republican voters meant that impeachment would end in acquittal (because many Senate Republicans would have been required to convict him). So, from January 2017 to January 2021, the power of his office and the power of his political base protected him. Since Trump left office, his shield against indictment is gone. And while his political base on the right remains strong, the arena has changed — Republican politicians are no longer the key decision-makers. Instead, prosecutors have the reins. Various prosecutors — in New York, in Washington, DC, and in Georgia — have scrutinized Trump’s conduct for potential crimes in recent years, looking into his company’s business practices, his attempt to overturn the 2020 election result, and whether he improperly brought classified documents to Mar-a-Lago. These prosecutors will have to evaluate the strength of the evidence against Trump, assessing whether he indeed did commit crimes and whether they’d likely convince a jury of that at trial. Federal prosecutors will also have to persuade higher-ups like Attorney General Merrick Garland. Gaming out these prosecutors’ thinking is difficult because we don’t have access to the evidence they’re looking at, or their legal reasoning. For each of the Trump investigations, we don’t know whether they think they’re looking at a clear open-and-shut case of criminality, whether their legal theory is backed by ample precedent or is a bit novel, or whether similar cases tend to be brought in similar situations. (Trump’s attempt to overturn the election has little if any modern precedent in the US, so it’s difficult to even know what to compare it to.) But for many prosecutors, particularly in the US Justice Department, caution reigns supreme. Pursuing an indictment and trial in a high-profile matter takes a great deal of resources, and presents the risk of embarrassment should the trial end in acquittal. DOJ’s prosecution manual says that government attorneys should not only consider whether they believe the person committed a crime, but also whether “the admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction.” So prosecutors typically look for a clear-cut, open-and-shut crime. The classified documents matter might seem like one such crime: Trump had the documents, he should not have taken them, so they might reason he arguably should be charged. Still, there are many complications that could make the government wary of a potential trial. For one, they want to keep the documents secret. Depending on whether the venue is in Florida (it’s currently unclear where they’d charge it), a jury conviction could be difficult. And while Trump’s arguments about executive privilege might seem like a stretch, this Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in on them just yet. Note that when former CIA director David Petraeus was investigated for leaking classified material to his biographer, he eventually struck a plea deal for two years of probation and a $100,000 fine. Trump’s conduct is still murky so perhaps it was worse, and he’s unlikely to strike a plea deal like Petraeus did, but Petraeus actually did leak the information and Trump is not known to have done so. If a case were to be brought, and Trump was to be found guilty, he could face similar consequences — or even a less severe punishment. Now, prosecutors in Georgia and New York are elected Democrats and might be more willing to take risks to go after Trump. But even they might have reasons for caution. A Trump indictment and trial would swallow up everything else their office might do for years to come and become a grueling effort, while they’d personally become a top target of Fox News and the right. Even if that doesn’t give them pause, they could simply decide they don’t have a strong enough case. Earlier this year, Alvin Bragg, a criminal justice reformer elected as Manhattan’s District Attorney, reportedly expressed doubts about the ongoing investigation into Trump’s business practices he had just taken over, and two prosecutors leading it soon resigned. (Bragg insisted in a statement this week that his office’s Trump investigation was “active and ongoing.”) On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil suit in that same investigation, setting up a civil trial with potentially major consequences for the Trump organization. Even there, though, Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney argue that a settlement remains a real possibility, writing, “Pursuing the case through to completion could take years and there’s no guarantee that a judge will agree to grant all the relief the AG asked for.” Only voters can truly take Trump down If Trump is eventually criminally charged, it would take some time before a trial. And even if he’s eventually convicted, depending on what the charges actually are, it’s not clear he’d get a particularly harsh sentence. All of that is to say that, if Trump wants to run for president again in 2024, it seems unlikely that the cases against him could remove him from the political scene entirely. (Some liberals are excited that one penalty for mishandling government documents is disqualification from “from holding any office under the United States,” but many experts believe that is unconstitutional as applied to the presidency, since qualifications for that office are set out in the Constitution.) Instead, Trump’s political future will likely be determined at the ballot box, if he runs again — in the primary, and the general election. There is a hope among some Trump skeptics, including in the GOP, that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will run and prove a potent challenger. Perhaps that could happen, and perhaps Trump’s legal issues will help weaken his standing if GOP voters fear he’ll be an electoral loser. Still, it’s far from clear how things will play out. As my colleague Zack Beauchamp recently wrote, Trump-esque candidates have done quite well in Republican primaries this year, and Trump continues to lead all national GOP primary polls, usually by large margins. As for the general election, should Trump make it there, that’s murky too. President Biden recently said his “intention” is to run again but whether that’s a “firm decision” still “remains to be seen.” He’d be 81 years old by election day, is not popular despite some recent improvement, and if he doesn’t run, it’s unclear which Democrat would succeed him. One might think that surely after January 6, Dobbs, and with criminal investigations hanging over his head, Trump is too damaged to win a general election. But as was demonstrated in 2016, the identity and political strength of the Democratic nominee will matter too. Investigations and charges could well hurt Trump politically, though his die-hard loyalists will likely stick by him no matter what. But in either the primary and the general election, what would really be needed to beat him is a compelling alternative for voters to flock to instead. That’s the only way the Trump era in politics could really end.
Preview: Giorgia Meloni, leader of Italian far-right party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), delivers a speech on September 23, 2022 at the Arenile di Bagnoli beachfront location in Naples, southern Italy, during a rally closing her party’s campaign for the September 25 general election. | Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images An expert explains recent (and maybe soon-to-be) far-right victories in Europe. Giorgia Meloni and her far-right Fratelli d’Italia are expected to lead a far right victory in Italian elections this weekend. That win, if it happens, would come shortly after the far-right Sweden Democrats won the second-largest share of the vote, helping to oust the center-left from power and giving the far right a potential role in the next government. These shifts are happening as Europe enters another precarious moment: a war on the continent that is increasingly unpredictable, and an inflation and energy crisis that will deepen as winter approaches. The politics of Sweden, in northern Europe, and Italy, in the south, are very different, and the historical origins and reasons for the far right’s recent successes in each of those countries are unique. But, the far right shares certain trends across Europe — and, really, the globe. What is happening in Sweden, and Italy, is not all that different from what is happening in Brazil, or India, or the United States of America. Pietro Castelli Gattinara, associate professor of political communication at Université Libre de Bruxelles and Marie Curie Fellow at Sciences Po, said that the far right is a global movement and a global ideology, even though one of the core tenets of these parties is a kind of nativism. That translates into a rejection of migration, but also of the social and cultural changes taking place within societies. The “woke” culture wars may look different in the US or Italy, but they are a feature of the modern far-right. “New ideas coming from abroad are considered a danger to the nation-state,” Castelli Gattinara said. “We see that quite strongly when it comes to civil rights and, in particular, gender equality.” Vox spoke with Castelli Gattinara about this iteration of the far right, how it has gained legitimacy in Europe and elsewhere, and what the specific developments in Italy and Sweden might mean for those countries — along with Europe, and the world. The conversation, below, has been edited and condensed for clarity. Jen Kirby I want to start with a big question, which is: What is going on with the far right in Europe right now? Pietro Castelli Gattinara The main point about the far right at the European level is that it’s not the story of a resurgence. The story of the far right in Europe is very much a story of continuity. What we have seen and what we are seeing in different countries are new variants of an old story of something we have been seeing for quite a few decades. Political scientists tend to analyze the trajectory of the far right in waves. We are now in probably the fourth wave of far right politics in Europe, considering the first wave as the interwar period. The subsequent waves were periods in which a number of far right parties and movements were emerging both in the south and in the north of Europe, but they remained quite marginal. They were fringe parties with very clear ideas and very clear-cut ideologies, but they remained at the margin of their political systems. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, those parties have generally gained access to representative institutions. And in the fourth wave, which is what we are seeing today, they have actually become completely mainstream. The distinction between what is the mainstream right and what is the far right is less and less clear. In that respect, I believe it’s also more difficult to set apart the European model from what we’re seeing in the US and in other parts of the world, where similarly, the distinction is becoming less and less clear. Jen Kirby This is a global phenomenon within democracies, not exclusively in Europe. Pietro Castelli Gattinara Absolutely. There are certainly some specificities about Europe, but it is not that different from what we have been seeing in the US with the radicalization of the Republican Party, what we are seeing in India with President [Narendra] Modi, what we have seen with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, just to make some examples. It is a much broader phenomenon of radicalization of mainstream right ideas, and mainstreaming of far-right ideas, especially with respect to some topics such as ethnic diversity, immigration, and gender issues. The positions of the far right have now been actually endorsed by mainstream right parties. Jen Kirby How did that mainstreaming happen? Pietro Castelli Gattinara There’s no easy way to synthesize it. It’s a complex sociopolitical mechanism. But I would say, for the sake of simplicity, there are at least two main channels: one through the media and one through party and political competition. With respect to party and political competition, there are at least two variants. One is mainstream right parties simply taking up the issues and the narratives of the far right. The best example is migration. The narrative of the far right on migration has been taken up by centrist and mainstream parties — and important to note, not necessarily right-wing ones. A number of Social Democratic parties, for example, in Denmark, or centrist parties — that’s the example of Italy — has taken up far-right narratives on migration, or have implemented far-right policies when it comes to migration. That’s the example of what happened in most of the European countries throughout the migration crisis. Another party mechanism is coalition building or alliance building. That’s what we’re seeing in Sweden, where a moderate party that won the election will get the support of a radical right party to form of government. Or even more explicitly in the Italian case, whereby since at least 20 years, the mainstream right and the radical right, are in a coalition that is absolutely long-lasting and, up to today, quite solid. The second is the media mechanism where especially commercial media are surfing on the issues and on the anxieties that far-right parties have brought into the political agenda. There again, the example of the US is very indicative — the politics of Fox News, in the past decades. We’ve seen a very similar scenario to the UK with the tabloid media, the whole mounting of the campaign on Brexit, for instance, has been brought about by a mix of far-right political actors and commercial media. And there are these moral panics, if you like the term, around security, around migration, around political Islam — and the media often participate to construct those problems. Jen Kirby You mentioned migration, and the wave of refugees in Europe in 2015 that the far right tried to capitalize on. I am wondering if migration is still very much a motivating electoral factor for these parties — or if they have morphed to embrace something different? Pietro Castelli Gattinara I still think migration plays a crucial role. Perhaps migration is a bit limited as an issue. But what is really the core ideological tenet of those actors is nativism; is the idea that country states should be inhabited exclusively by so-called native people; is the idea that there are homogeneous communities and that any type of contamination from abroad would impoverish the sort of natural purity of the nation-state. And importantly, this applies to race or ethnic diversity. It equally applies to religion. It also applies to ideas. In a certain sense, new ideas coming from abroad are considered a danger to the nation-state. We see that quite strongly when it comes to civil rights and, in particular, gender equality. A number of far right parties in Europe today are focused on so-called “woke” culture, on combating new anti-colonial movements, and so on and so forth. For instance, in the case of Vox [the political party in Spain] — called the same way as your magazine, but I suppose, takes quite different political stances — and Fratelli d’Italia in Italy. If you could see the intervention by Giorgia Meloni at the national convention of Vox, she stressed the importance for her that she is Italian, she is Christian, she is a woman, but she stands in opposition to the idea of gender equality, of same-sex couples, and so on. Jen Kirby It sounds like the backlash to “woke” ideology is becoming a cross-border phenomenon then. Pietro Castelli Gattinara Absolutely. Again, the far right is a global movement and a global ideology. We have seen through the years a lot of interconnection and transnationalism in the way in which these ideas have diffused. If you look at India, some of the anti-Islamic narratives that have been developed by Modi built upon a long-lasting panic about Islam, that has been developed in the US and in Europe. The Italian far right has been inspired by Trump, and by the far right in other countries, and translated those narratives and those campaigns within the Italian system, which of course, has a very different colonial past and a very different history of race relations. There is quite a lot of diffusion. We can also see a process of mainstreaming. One of the main frames of the culture war is the idea that there would be a class of intellectuals, especially academic professors, that would have a progressive agenda, and that would indoctrinate new generations based on so-called gender theories or woke theories. That’s a narrative developed in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it arrived also in other European countries. But this has also been part of the agenda of the latest Macron government [in France] which cannot be considered as a far right government. It has spent quite a lot of its time and its agenda into combating so-called “Islamic leftism” that would be described as some sort of sociology that would be excessively sympathetic toward Islamic communities in France. So that is an adaptation of the same narrative by non-far right political parties. Jen Kirby Connected to some of the culture war stuff has been the rejection of the EU and the “bureaucrats in Brussels”-type thing. I’m wondering how far-right parties in Italy and within other European countries are approaching the EU right now? Pietro Castelli Gattinara There are a number of far right parties in Europe that have been and are openly Euro-skeptic, meaning they reject the EU as a political project while idealizing a not very well-specified Europe of the peoples or Europe of the nations. In the south of Europe, and particularly in Italy, the opposition to the EU has always been mainly a campaign issue and not a concrete policy. Today, there’s an acceleration of this process, because Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia, is quite confident that she will win the next elections, and therefore, she is mainly addressing international audiences to get legitimated among those arenas, including the European Commission. Her main goal is not to scare off the EU with excessively radical proposals and many things she has been saying against the EU — she was calling the EU an organization of bankers and a threat to the national sovereignty of Italy — we do not hear any of these [now]. Jen Kirby I want to talk about Italy for a second. The prediction right now is that the far right will take power. What’s going on there? Pietro Castelli Gattinara There’s certainly some aspects that are unique to the Italian context. The main aspect is that the alliance between the center right and the far right is a consolidated one, since 1994, when media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi emerged, he formed right-wing coalitions in which he accepted the participation of post-fascist parties, Alleanza Nazionale back then, Lega Nord, and so on. That alliance has been going for more than 20 years, so when I’m speaking about the blurring between the far right and the mainstream right that is perhaps the perfect example. That is unique about Italy. The reason why the far right party like Fratelli d’Italia can now take the lead of the coalition has two main explanations. One is that Berlusconi is now aged and his party has lost most of its support, but also that Giorgia Meloni, as leader of Fratelli d’Italia, she has correctly understood that electorally it would pay off to stay in the opposition throughout the past few years. She founded her party in 2012, as a spin-off or as a rebirth of the National Alliance Party [Alianza Nacional], but ever since she has consistently refused to be part of any coalition government, unlike all the other parties in the Italian political system. Since the 2018 elections, we have had very different coalition governments, sometimes with the populist Five Star Movement, with the Social Democratic Party, with Lega Nord, with Berlusconi’s party. The only party that never accepted any compromise is Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia. She’s the only leader the Italian electorate does not perceive to have already tested. She is the only one that has not yet deceived the Italian electorate. That’s her biggest ace to play at the next election. Jen Kirby She’s the change candidate, essentially. Pietro Castelli Gattinara She has correctly understood that what the Italians challenge now is the idea of the establishment. Meloni manages to present herself as opposed to the political establishment, but at the same time, as a credible politician because she has been in politics for a very long time. Jen Kirby What would it mean if she does become the leader of Italy — for Italy, and for Europe? Pietro Castelli Gattinara Symbolically, it would be a very serious change. [Meloni] will be the first female prime minister in the history [of Italy]. Secondly, it will be the first prime minister with a past in a post-fascist political party. The symbol of Fratelli d’Italia is the three-color flame, which used to be the symbol of the Italian Social Movement, the post-fascist party founded in the 1940s. The symbolic link with the fascist past is extremely strong and extremely important. At the same time, the likely government will be just a reconfiguration of the same coalition that we have been seeing for the past 20 years. Fratelli d’Italia has retrieved up a considerable amount of the old personnel of Berlusconi’s parties, of the old ministers of Berlusconi’s governments. I have the impression that, in the end, it will be a reboot of the Berlusconi years — which is not necessarily good news — but with a much stronger attention to some of the issues that are at the core of our far-right ideologies, I think, in particular, in terms of gender equality, in terms of civil rights, abortion rights, in terms of migration, in terms of religion. But then when it comes to our economic policy, for example, it will be basically the old wine that we have already seen for 20 years with the Berlusconi governments. Jen Kirby So it may not be as radical a change, even if the symbolism is jarring. And that makes me wonder a bit about Sweden. The moderate right is in power, but will need the far-right Sweden Democrats to govern. What does it mean for governance when we have these types of alliances? Pietro Castelli Gattinara The Scandinavian context is different from the south of Europe. But what we have seen is that, generally, this is a consequence of an ideological and discursive transition that has already taken place. My colleague, Anders Jupskås at the Center for Research on Extremism, has been pointing at how the moderate party in Sweden had already endorsed the issues and the narratives of the Sweden Democrats, when it came to political Islam, asylum, and migration. There has been, let’s say, a convergence on those issues prior to the elections. Now, as they come to perhaps share responsibilities within a government, then we can see some of those policies actually materialize. What we have seen in other counties is this will in no way contain the growth of the Sweden Democrats. It will actually hollow out the support for the moderates. Between the original and the copy, voters will always go for the original, and not for the copy. We don’t have a crystal ball, but if anything, one would expect that Sweden Democrats will confirm their electoral scores in the years to come by becoming even more legitimate and central to the Swedish political system. Jen Kirby These elections are happening as Europe is in the middle of crisis — the war in Ukraine, inflation, and the looming energy crisis. How do you think some of these electoral successes for the far-right might influence this moment? Pietro Castelli Gattinara The EU has been in a crisis since its very foundation. There’s always a new crisis affecting European Union politics. There’s a migration crisis, there is a terrorism crisis, there is war at its borders, there is Brexit. The politics of Europe are always a politics of crisis. Now, this time, we’re seeing something that may be partly different, on one hand, because of the energy crisis and inflation, which might trigger important transformations in public opinion. On the other hand, because of the war on Ukraine, it has become more difficult for foreign parties to take direct inspiration from the figure of Vladimir Putin. We’ve seen in Italy, Lega Nord, where Matteo Salvini has been a very outspoken admirer of Putin — he publicly said that, in his opinion, he’s the best politician currently alive a few years ago. He rapidly change this position as the war in Ukraine started. There was this very famous video of him at the border between Ukraine and Poland with a Polish mayor humiliating him by showing him the T-shirt with the face of bullying that Salvini had worn some years before, while [Salvini] went to Poland to express solidarity to Ukrainian refugees. So there has been switching of positions with respect to Russia, in particular. Fratelli d’Italia had more consistent US and pro-NATO positions, but there is an in-between that is the relationship with the countries on the eastern border of the EU, and not only Hungary and Poland. Fratelli d’Italia is a strong supporter of both governments in Poland and Hungary because Meloni admires the way those governments have dealt with issues concerning family and abortion and gender rights. But the executives in those countries have very different positions with respect to Russia. So this issue might create a differentiation within different far right parties across countries in Europe.
Preview: A Targaryen family feast on HBO’s House of the Dragon. | Ollie Upton/HBO HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel reveals a period of turbulence and upheaval for Daenerys’s formidable family. House of the Dragon, the long-awaited prequel to Game of Thrones, is finally here, and you know what that means: It’s time for a refresher course on the Targaryens — the family that ruled for three centuries over all of Westeros. Thanks to one talented fanartist, we have a gorgeous family tree to help you figure out what’s happening and who’s who. Note: This article contains extensive potential plot spoilers for House of the Dragon, The series adapts portions of George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, a collection of stories accompanying the Song of Ice and Fire series upon which the Game of Thrones universe is based. The book is a partial history of the Targaryens, with whom fans will be well-acquainted, since their reign stretches from Daenerys all the way back to the first king of Westeros. They’re famed for their ability to tame dragons; hence, “house of the dragon.” That rare talent helped the Targaryens establish an immense dynasty over the realm; but as always when we’re dealing with Game of Thrones, even empires can topple, and the iron throne is never a safe place to sit. Because we’re dealing with a prequel, we’re going to be dropping some major plot points for both the book series and the show, so be warned: from here on in, there be dragons and spoilers! If you’re expecting familiar faces, you’re in for a shock: House of the Dragon takes place 190 years or so before the storyline of Game of Thrones begins, and though many things have stayed the same through the centuries — King’s Landing is still the capital of Westeros, the Starks are still the lords of Winterfell — we have a whole cast of characters to familiarize ourselves with and complicated family dynamics to parse. We’re introduced to some of the key players in House of the Dragon’s first episode, but there’s a major learning curve thanks to the sheer size of the Targaryen family and their tendency to repeat names from generation to generation. Other family trees in this universe are often easier to follow because they’re, for example, all named after the Muppets; but with the Targaryens, you have something like a dozen Aegons, a half-dozen Aemons, a slew of Viseryses, and on and on. Oh, and let’s not forget their infamous tendency to marry each other — a fun Targaryen trait we’ll soon witness. We won’t know everything the TV series will retain from the books, of course, so a lot of what we’ll be discussing is speculation based on the main plot lines of Fire and Blood. The series has made some changes, but most of the major events in this tumultuous Targaryen era are so far the same. The series plops us in the middle of an ongoing simmering family conflict about — what else? — succession. If you’re confused about where exactly we are in the Targaryen family timeline, never fear: DeviantArt user Maryon B.’s Targaryen family tree is a gorgeous (and GRRM-approved!) road map through three centuries of huge Targaryen broods, internal squabbles, civil war, and, yes, inbreeding. We first introduced Vox readers to Maryon’s fanart all the way back in 2016, when she gave us her insights on the long process of creating the tree. (Note: Maryon is no longer active on DeviantArt, but you can follow her Instagram, where she’s begun sharing excerpts from the tree.) A year later, the tree came in handy to help explain one of the series’ biggest plot twists. Now, the “Targtree” can fulfill its ultimate purpose and help us all prep for the series! Click here for the full-size version. Poly-M/DeviantArt We stan a lovingly detailed infogram. House of the Dragon lands in the middle of the family tree, about halfway between the time the first Aegon Targaryen, known as Aegon the Conqueror, united all of Westeros, and the final fall of Daenerys Targaryen in the series finale of Game of Thrones. The events depicted in House of the Dragon’s first episode set us up to enter the period highlighted on the family tree as the Dance of Dragons — a time when the question of succession split the Targaryens apart and led to a brutal civil war. poly-hebdo/Tumblr The Dance of Dragons era of the Targ family tree. The years preceding the beginning of the show witnessed a long period of fighting known as the Faith Militant Uprising that ended only when the reigning king, the cruel Maegor I, died mysteriously. After his death, the only remaining son of the previous king, Jaehaerys I, succeeded to the throne. But because of the preceding generation of chaos, the line of succession isn’t clear. So, at the start of House of the Dragon, Jaehaerys summons a council to choose the next heir. The two Targaryens with the best claim to the throne are his grandson, Viserys, and his granddaughter-slash-grandniece, Rhaenys. They’re both his grandchildren, so both have an equal claim to the throne. But because Westeros has never had a queen as ruler before, the council chooses Viserys to be the next ruler; thus he becomes Viserys I. Still, Rhaenys, nicknamed “the Queen That Never Was,” is a popular member of the royal family, and many people still profess loyalty to her and her progeny. Meanwhile, until Viserys can produce a male heir — or until the court decides it’s fine for a woman to rule — his brother Daemon is next in line to succeed to the throne. But Daemon isn’t exactly a popular choice. Let’s take a closer look at our main players. If the books are any indication, their projected storylines won’t be all roses. The Older Generation Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) Ollie Upton/HBO A wise but foolish king. Viserys, played in the show by Paddy Considine, is a kind and generous king who brings stability to the realm. However, when it comes to the question of succession, he’s fanciful to a fault in his pursuit of a male heir. This leads to him making a horrible decision that results in the death of his first wife, Aemma, and their newborn son. It also leads to him hedging his bets about who his heir should be after he remarries and has more children. His indecision leads the heirs in question — his daughter Rhaenyra and his son Aegon — to battle for the crown. This conflict plays out while the king is still alive, leading him into frequent tussles with his own family members as he attempts to wrangle them all into submission and clear the way for his daughter, Rhaenyra, to inherit the throne. However, not infrequently, the one he winds up butting heads with is Rhaenyra herself. Rhaenys (Eve Best) and Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) Ollie Upton/HBO Viserys greeting the Velaryon OGs, Corlys aka “the Sea Snake” and his wife Rhaenys. Rhaenys, a.k.a. “the Queen That Never Was,” is the product of a marriage between Jaehaerys’s eldest son Aemon and Aemon’s own aunt, Jocelyn Baratheon. In her adolescence, she gained fame as one of the Targaryen dragonriders as well as for her beauty. At 16, Rhaenys married a man nearly 20 years her senior: the gallant Corlys Velaryon, known as the “Sea Snake” for his daring sea expeditions. (Their age difference seems to be reduced in the TV series.) Together, they make a power couple at court, and their children continue to have a claim to the throne. But because Rhaenys is a woman, and because her oldest heir, Laena, is also a woman, her family continues to be passed over for the line of succession — which frequently puts her and Corly at odds with King Viserys. The blacks: Rhaenyra, Daemon, and their children For more context on “the greens” and “the blacks”, check out our article on Alicent’s green dress. Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock / Emma D’Arcy) Ollie Upton/HBO Is she a hero or an antihero? Time will tell. Rhaenyra is Viserys’s firstborn child, the daughter of his first wife Aemma. Clever and athletic, Rhaenyra (played by Milly Alcock as a teen) is at first more interested in riding her dragon, Syrax, than in winning games of thrones. That changes when her father can’t make up his mind who to appoint as his heir, and she becomes first an unwitting pawn and then an active player in the battle for succession. Following Aemma’s death, Viserys marries Alicent Hightower (played by Emily Carey as a younger woman), a girl only a few years older than Rhaenyra herself. As she grows up, Rhaenyra finds herself at odds with her former friend Alicent, and soon they’re locked in a battle over whether Rhaenyra or Alicent’s son Aegon should take the throne after Viserys’s death. Their supporters become divided into “blacks” and “greens” after the two women make fashion statements at a tourney following the marriage; “blacks” are Rhaenyra’s supporters after she dons a gown in traditional Targaryen red and black. The greens and the blacks aren’t just about who’s more popular; the greens also represent the widespread belief that a woman shouldn’t be able to inherit the crown. Support for Rhaenyra, a.k.a. identifying as one of the blacks, is a sign of support for women’s equality. Rhaenyra’s love life is its own dramatic saga. She remains enamored all her life with her own uncle, Daemon, who’s 16 years older. She also has a thing for a dashing knight named Criston Cole (played by Fabien Frankel), who we see getting flirty with her in the first ep. Criston, however, ultimately becomes her enemy after he allies with Aegon and convinces him to go for the crown. Later, Viserys, trying to dodge his wife Alicent’s suggestion to marry Rhaenyra to their son Aegon, pressures her into marrying Rhaenys’s son Laenor Velaryon instead. Rhaenyra hates this idea — for one thing, Laenor is gay — but Viserys threatens to disinherit her unless she agrees. The two wind up having three strapping sons, but their real father is generally thought to be Rhaenyra’s lover, Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), who serves as Rhaenyra’s loyal servant and sworn shield. Or, as our artist Maryon said, “Don’t call them Strongs — even if they are in both ways.” poly-hebdo/Tumblr Rhaenyra’s real nuclear family? Things don’t end well for Rhaenyra and Harwin, unfortunately — the situation is just too unstable for Rhaenyra to keep a lover on the side while the line of succession is in dispute, and the king sends Harwin into exile. Rhaenyra responds by secretly marrying her uncle Daemon after Laenor Valeryon’s death — which infuriates her father. In the ensuing drama, and with conflict heating up between Rhaenyra and Alicent and Aegon, she relocates to the Targaryen keep of Dragonstone, which means she’s not around when King Viserys dies. Instead of telling Rhaenyra about her father’s death, Alicent and Aegon prepare to anoint Aegon as the new king. When Rhaenyra finds out, she enters into a rage from which she never fully recovers. In her quest to take the throne for herself, she winds up going to some very dark places. But the two sons she bears with Daemon, Viserys II and Aegon III, ultimately do both become rulers of Westeros, so perhaps in the end, she wins. Ollie Upton/HBO Luke (Harvey Sadler) and Jace (Leo Hart) as kids. Jacaerys Velaryon (Leo Hart / Harry Collett) As the eldest of Rhaenyra’s three sons, Jace bears an undue amount of pressure — and since everyone knows he and his fellow brown-haired brothers were born out of wedlock, fathered by Rhaenyra’s guard Harwin Strong, he also bears the sting of illegitimacy. Titled the Prince of Dragonstone, Jace rides the dragon Vermax and carries out his duties as Rhaenyra’s heir faithfully and loyally. Still, the growing rivalry between his family and Alicent’s ultimately consumes him, along with nearly everyone around him. Lucerys Velaryon (Harvey Sadler /Elliot Grihault) Middle child Luke makes up in ferocity and grit what he lacks in age. As the rider of Arrax, he originally promised his mom he’d abstain from fighting during the vicious civil war. Instead, as the inadvertent lifelong rival of Aegon II, he ultimately becomes the poster boy for the rivalry between Alicent’s clan and Rhaenyra’s clan. Joffrey Velaryon To give you an idea of how complicated the Velaryon family bonds are, Joffrey is actually named after Laenor’s first love, Joffrey Lonmouth — a man who appears briefly in HotD only to meet a terrible end at the hands of Ser Criston Cole. Joffrey’s complex family history, as well as his being at the very center of the nation’s civil war alongside his two older brothers, seems to have taken its toll. He grows up reckless and determined to prove himself worthy of their bravery and courage, despite being far too young for fighting. He rides the dragon Tyraxes. Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) Ollie Upton/HBO He’s hot, then he’s cold. Daemon Targaryen is popular with everyone except the people who can make him the next king. King Viserys’s right-hand man, Otto Hightower (played by Rhys Ifans), repeatedly blocks Daemon from becoming the next heir and then chooses Rhaenyra over him as successor — at least, he does until his own daughter Alicent marries the king. But for all his enemies suspect him of plotting to take over the throne, Daemon, a.k.a. the “rogue prince,” has better things to do, like seducing his brother’s daughter Rhaenyra and conquering his own kingdom. Daemon is congenial but aggressive, and he has a bad habit of killing all his potential love rivals. He falls for Rhaenys’s daughter Laena Velaryon — a convenient match in terms of maintaining his place at court — but Laena’s already engaged. No problem; he kills his rival in a duel. Later, rumor has it he murders his own brother-in-law, Laenor Velaryon, then married to Rhaenyra. Then he maybe seals the deal by murdering Rhaenyra’s lover Harwin, thereby successfully taking out both of his rivals for Rhaenyra’s hand, and marrying her. Ultimately, all of this may have just been Daemon’s way of getting as close to the throne as he could. In short, Daemon Targaryen is not a man you want to cross. poly-m/DeviantArt The Velaryon kids. Laenor Velaryon Laena and Laenor have limited choices in their roles as heirs to the mighty House Velaryon. They each wind up marrying into the Targaryen dynasty — Laenor forms a marriage of convenience with Rhaenyra that allows him to live freely as a gay man under her protection while she pursues her love affair with Harwin Strong. Though he didn’t marry for love, he makes the best of it, and nobly claims each of her three clearly illegitimate children as his own. Laena Velaryon We first meet Laena at age 12 as she’s being offered in marriage by her parents to a mortified King Viserys. She thankfully fares better after that and winds up distinguishing herself as a dragonrider and noblewoman. She marries Daemon and they live together happily while she raises her twin daughters, Rhaena and Baela. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the easiest fate when it comes to childbirth — but suffice it to say she doesn’t go down quietly. Baela Targaryen (Shani Smethurst / Bethany Antonia) Rhaena Targaryen (Phoebe Campbell / Eva Ossei-Gerning) Ollie Upton/HBO The twins. We barely get to know Laena Velaryon on HotD before she dies (how else) horrifically; but she clearly passes her spirit and nobility along to her two daughters with Daemon. Though the Targaryen sisters are twins, they’re opposites in most ways: Baela’s a tomboy who loves fighting and flying, Rhaena becomes the darling socialite of King’s Landing; Rhaena rides the dragon Morning, Baela rides the dragon Moondancer; Rhaena is a diplomat, Baela a warrior. At one point they’re both engaged to their cousins — Baela to Jace and Rhaena to Luke. But ultimately these marriages never happen; instead, both women are destined to play pivotal roles in knitting the kingdom together after the war. Through it all, their different personalities prove vital to this effort: As a natural-born rebel, Baela works her way, while the refined and political Rhaena works hers. But the important thing — a rarity among Westerosi — is that as sisters, they’re always working together. Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) Ollie Upton/HBO A dancer with eyes everywhere. Sometimes called “Misery,” Mysaria starts out as a sex worker in King’s Landing but quickly becomes indispensable to her patron and lover Daemon as a source of information. (At one point, he claims to be about to marry her, but she rejects him; we might call her the wife that wasn’t.) From there, she becomes the ranking spy first for Daemon and later for Rhaenyra, which makes her one of the most powerful people in Westeros. Not too shabby for a dancer from Essos. The greens: Alicent and her children poly-m/DeviantArt Alicent’s fierce and fiercely loyal brood. Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey / Olivia Cooke) On one level, the Dance of Dragons is really about the clash between two former friends, Alicent and Rhaenyra, who grew up in the king’s court together only to be pulled into opposite sides of the ongoing dispute over who will inherit the throne. The Hightowers were and are a small but powerful house; Alicent’s father, Otto Hightower, served as Hand of the King to Jaehaerys and then as Hand to Viserys. The Hightowers haven’t always had the most fruitful relationship with the crown; several generations prior, Maegor I’s unsuccessful marriage to a Hightower provoked dissension among her powerful family and kicked off the events leading to the Faith Militant Uprising. Now, Otto schemes successfully to present his daughter Alicent to Viserys as a suitable bride. They are married when she’s just 18. Ollie Upton/HBO Rhaenyra and Alicent are the best of friends, until they aren’t. A note on royal marriages here: In Martin’s history of the Targaryens, the timeline is often compressed, with many royals forming alliances and marrying at very young ages. In Fire and Blood, Viserys marries Aemma when he’s just 16 and she’s only 11. (She dies in childbirth at age 23.) He later marries Alicent at age 29, when she’s 18 and his own daughter Rhaenyra is just 9. In House of the Dragon, all of these characters have been aged up significantly except for Alicent, who is still 18-ish. This makes her much closer in age to Rhaenyra — much more of a peer than a stepmother twice her age. But that also means that instead of an 18-year-old being coerced into marrying a 29-year-old, she’s an 18-year-old being coerced into marrying a man of about 50. This makes the issues of consent, control, and power imbalance even starker, and arguably makes Alicent’s role in the story to come one that’s less about power-seeking and more about survival. Initially, Alicent wants her own son, Aegon, to marry Rhaenyra, even though there’s a considerable age difference between them. (That they’re also half-siblings is just fine, of course.) When that doesn’t fly with Viserys, she ends up promoting Aegon as heir above Rhaenyra. The women’s conflict deepens when Rhaenyra’s former crush, Criston Cole, becomes loyal to the Hightowers and ultimately becomes Alicent’s personal sworn shield. Alicent’s color is green, which makes her supporters “the greens” opposed to Rhaenyra’s “blacks.” Alicent is a tricky figure; she alternately tries to make peace with Rhaenyra and avoid conflict while strategizing ways to put Aegon on the throne. Rumors abound that she poisoned her own husband, the king, in order to hasten his demise and crown Aegon while Rhaenyra’s back was effectively turned. Like most of our other players, the pursuit of the throne doesn’t end well for her or many of her progeny. But she does pull off her original goal: She survives to see her son become ruler of Westeros. Through succeeding generations, the Hightowers remain wealthy and powerful; following the conquest of Dorne, they become loyal to House Tyrell. (If the name is familiar, Margaery Tyrell’s mother is a Hightower.) Aegon II Targaryen (Ty Tennant / Tom Glynn-Carney) Ollie Upton/HBO Ty Tennant as Aegon. It’s easy to see why there was so much resistance to Alicent’s son Aegon becoming king: He’s like a smarmier, hornier Prince Joffrey. In earlier show appearances, Aegon comes off like a typical whiny teen, entitled, oblivious to the political intrigues around him, masturbating out a window of the Red Keep. But we know from Fire and Blood that, like everyone else in Westeros, he eventually wises up and becomes brutal and vengeful in his quest for the throne. Helaena Targaryen (Evie Allen / Phia Saban) Ollie Upton / HBO Alicent (Olivia Cooke) talks to daughter Helaena (Evie Allen). We don’t know all that much about Helaena’s personality, but her role in the Dance of Dragons will be pivotal. She’s the second of Alicent’s four children, rides the silver dragon Dreamfyre, and, unfortunately, she is destined to marry her skeevy older brother Aegon. As the eventual queen, Helaena is popular in King’s Landing and beloved by the people of Westeros. She will become fiercely protective of her own three children, but the events that play out during the civil war will not bode well for either her or her progeny. Aemond Targaryen (Leo Ashton / Ewan Mitchell) Ollie Upton/HBO A young Aemond (Leo Ashton) tries to prove himself. When we first meet Aemond on HotD, he’s the weakling of the Targaryen clan, bullied especially by older brother Aegon, with Rhaenyra’s sons joining in. He’s the only one of the Targaryen kids who hasn’t managed to bond with a dragon, which makes him a source of ridicule among the others. But while he may be afraid, he’s not a coward, and a pivotal moment in his childhood forms the basis of an epic lifelong rivalry between Aemond and the three Velaryon brothers, especially the middle brother, Lucerys. Aemond eventually rides the biggest, most fearsome dragon of all, Vhagar — but this victory, like most in Westeros, has a price.
Preview: The Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on June 8, near Page, Arizona. | Brittany Peterson/AP An epic drought in the West is drying up the river. But that’s only part of the story. By now, you may have heard that the Colorado River is drying up. The river’s flow is down by about 20 percent, compared to the 1900s, and the two largest reservoirs it feeds are less than a third full. The water in Lake Mead, the nation’s biggest reservoir, has dropped more than 150 feet in the last two decades, leaving little water for the more than 40 million people who depend on the river. Part of the reason why the Colorado River is shrinking is the dwindling amount of snow and rain. The West is in its 23rd year of drought, which research suggests could be the driest period in the last 1,200 years, made worse by climate change. Then there is the sheer number of cities and farms that are sucking down water. About three-quarters of all water that humans consume from the Colorado River goes toward irrigating farms, which, among other things, supply nearly all of the nation’s winter veggies. But a key reason why the Colorado River is running out of water has more to do with math than anything — bad math. One hundred years ago, government officials divvied up water in the Colorado River among the seven states that rely on it including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The agreement, known as the Colorado River Compact, was based on one critically important number: the total amount of water that the Colorado River can supply yearly. John Locher/AP A boat revealed by falling water levels in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Ignoring the best science of the time, officials claimed the river could provide about 20 million acre-feet per year (an acre-foot is the amount of water needed to fill an acre with one foot of water), according to the 2021 book Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River. That number was way too high, the authors write, meaning that officials promised states water that simply didn’t exist. “They had conjured up a larger Colorado River than nature could actually provide,” wrote authors Eric Kuhn, a retired water official, and John Fleck, a writer and former director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program. “The twenty-first century’s problems on the river are the inevitable result of critical decisions made by water managers and politicians who ignored the science available at the time.” I spoke to co-author John Fleck about how officials in the past miscalculated so badly, and where we go now. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. How much water is left in the Colorado River? Benji Jones For anyone not following what’s happening with the Colorado River, catch us up: How much water has the river lost and how close is it to drying out? John Fleck Twenty years ago, the big reservoirs that hold most of the river’s water were close to full. But two decades of drought, amplified by climate change — combined with the fact that we’re continuing to use a whole lot of water — have largely emptied the reservoirs. We’ve reached the point where the reservoirs are no less than a third full in terms of the available water supply that we might use. We’re at the danger point. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images The shores of Lake Mead in Nevada on August 24. Benji Jones You’re talking about the reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead? John Fleck There’s also a cluster of other reservoirs that help support the operation. But yes, it’s mainly Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two biggest reservoirs in the nation. They have the ability to store five times the river’s annual flow, which we burned through in the last 20 years. Benji Jones Are there parts of the river that are totally dry, where you could see, say, cracked earth? John Fleck Yes, and this was a stunning revelation for me. The very bottom of the river, where it leaves the United States and enters Mexico, used to be this vast delta — wild and wet and full of beavers and marshes and estuaries. But the river now stops at a place called Morelos Dam, on the US-Mexico border. Karl Flessa John Fleck, writer-in-residence at the University of New Mexico’s Utton Center and co-author of the 2021 book Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River. Downstream from the dam there’s a little trickle of water that’s maybe 10 to 15 feet wide, and then it peters out into the sand. Then you just have dry riverbed. That’s because we’ve taken all the water out of the river upstream to use in our cities and farms. Benji Jones The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages water in the US, has announced cuts related to the level of water in the reservoirs, known as Tier 1 and 2 shortages. How does that work? John Fleck Over the last 15 years, river managers have faced a looming problem: We’ve been taking more water out of the river than it can provide. So they negotiated a series of agreements that say if, for example, Lake Mead drops to a certain level, there’ll be cutbacks. If it drops even more, the cutbacks will get bigger. Those cutbacks are now kicking in. But what we’ve since realized is that the cutbacks weren’t made soon enough and they weren’t deep enough, so the bottom is dropping out. Bad math and ignoring science helped dry the river out Benji Jones How did we get here? There’s climate change and drought. But you write about some historical oversights. What happened? John Fleck In the early 20th century, the US Geological Survey sent out this guy named Eugene Clyde LaRue to try and measure the Colorado River. LaRue started to see that, beyond the time horizon that we’d been measuring the river so far [a couple of recent decades], there were some really big droughts. He concluded in a 1916 report that the river is subject to big droughts on timescales of 10-to-20 to 50-to-100 years. It doesn’t just stay wet. The negotiators of the Colorado River Compact — the foundational document for figuring out how to divide up the river and decide who gets what — needed this information. They needed science. But they came together to figure this out without LaRue. They sidelined him. They ignored his science that said there’s been big droughts. Instead, the negotiators looked at a much more recent period [of time] that had been extraordinarily and unusually wet. They said the river’s got plenty of water to build all these farms and to build all these cities. They just ignored the science because it was inconvenient. Benji Jones Why was it so inconvenient to be realistic about the amount of water in the river? John Fleck The promise of a lot of water made the political deal-making easier. You could divide up the river and say to each of the seven states: “You want to irrigate a whole bunch of acres? Plenty for you. You want to pump a bunch of water across the desert of California? Plenty for you.” You didn’t have to have hard conversations about what life under limitation was going to be like. Benji Jones How big was the difference between what LaRue measured and what the negotiators ultimately used to divvy up the river’s water in the 1922 Colorado River Compact? John Fleck Negotiators believed — and negotiated a deal that said — there was as much as 20 million acre-feet flowing from the river each year. LaRue’s estimate was closer to 15 million. Today, we know it’s 12 million. But that’s the climate change world. It was a big gap. “They were told that there was enough water. That turns out to have been bogus.” Benji Jones Is that gap ultimately why we’re in this position today? Basically, 100 years ago, regulators over-allocated water of the Colorado River, based on faulty numbers? John Fleck Yes. You have communities across the West who made good-faith decisions to build cities, farms, canals, and dams based on what they thought was a promise of water. They were told that there was enough water. That turns out to have been bogus. Then, during the drought of the 1930s, and during the drought of the 1950s, it became clear that LaRue had been right [about how much less water there is]. People who are still trying to insist on their “paper” water allocations [based on the compact] are making the same mistake that the compact negotiators made 100 years ago. Cities have learned to use less water — but there’s still not enough Benji Jones Are regulators now taking into account what science says about the river? John Fleck I would like to just say yes. There’s a whole bunch of people in the system who understand the importance of using the best available science. My favorite example of this is Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which really has been taking climate change seriously. The difficulty is at the political interface. It is difficult for a hypothetical governor to go before their voters and provide them with bad news about water. What a governor really needs to say is: “We have a lot less water, we have to change.” [The 100-year-old Colorado River Compact, wrong numbers and all, is still the primary agreement upon which management of the Colorado River is based.] Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images A field of alfalfa in Calexico, California, which gets its water from the Colorado River, on January 27, 2022. Benji Jones How about communities and cities along the river? Are users getting realistic about how much water they can consume? John Fleck Different communities approach risk differently. Big cities tend to be the most realistic. It’s hard to find a major city in the West that has not gone to enormous lengths to invest in the necessary conservation programs. Almost every major metropolitan area that depends on the river’s water is seeing their total water use go down, even as their populations rise. Agricultural communities face a harder time because, really, the only thing you can do to use less water is to farm less. So you’re asking them to give up both a portion of their economic livelihood and also their cultural identity as farmers. Even though most communities can adapt to use less, they’re afraid they can’t. That fear leads to this winner-take-all, fight-over-water approach rather than collaboration. That’s why we have not been able to reduce our use fast enough to halt the decline of reservoirs. Benji Jones Is demand for water increasing? I’ve always thought that was a problem, too. John Fleck It’s actually not. Water use is going down. The upper part of the Colorado River Basin is, on paper, entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet a year. That was always an unrealistically large number. After building out all our projects by the late 1980s, the water use there has been relatively stable at around 4 million [acre-feet per year], though it fluctuates wildly year to year. If you look at the lower Colorado River Basin, water use peaked in 2002, and has been steadily declining. There’s been substantial reductions in a couple of the major agricultural areas. The Imperial Irrigation District of California is the largest farm district and their use has dropped dramatically. Urban use has also been going down. We’ve seen water use decoupled from population growth. Who loses when the water runs out Benji Jones Earlier this summer, the Bureau of Reclamation asked the seven states that depend on the river to cut an additional 2-4 million acre-feet per year. How much water is that and how disruptive will it be? John Fleck That’s between one-sixth and one-third of the average annual flow of the Colorado River right now. It’s a lot of water. What we mean when we say “the flow of the river” depends on which period of time you’re looking at, because it’s constantly varying. When I say, “one-sixth to one-third,” that’s of the river’s flow in the 21st century, when we’ve been experiencing drought and climate change. There’s going to be a really big disruption, and it’s going to happen one of two ways. Districts and states could figure out now how to come up with those 2-4 million acre-feet, voluntarily, working from the bottom up. Or the disruption is going to come within a year — or two or three — when the reservoirs are just freaking empty. Those are the two options. The lovely third option is we have a few years of monstrous snowpack [melting snow in the spring feeds the river]. I’m not beyond hoping for that third option. Benji Jones Who will suffer the most as cuts continue? John Fleck The most important set of users is tribal communities who were promised water by the nation when we were busy stealing their land. We haven’t given it to them yet. Even the language I use is problematic. It’s not about giving them water that’s ours but acknowledging that this water was theirs to begin with. There are tribes who don’t have their water allocations — or who have water allocations but not the federal largess to use it in the same way as all the Anglo communities, like my own. It’s a significant issue across large parts of the basin. Then there’s the environment. Long ago, we decided that we didn’t care about the environment, but now, as a society, our values are shifting. So figuring out how to claw back some of that water for the environment is one of the really big challenges. Benji Jones What is your most brilliant solution for solving this water shortage? John Fleck I always punt on this question. It doesn’t matter what I think and it doesn’t matter what I say. For a solution to be effective, it has to emerge from the people who are using water themselves. What I can do is make clear the scope and the scale of the problem. You can’t impose solutions on people. It just doesn’t work.
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