Mother Jones Magazine

Rep. Grijalva Just Tested Positive for COVID-19. He Has Some Words for Mask-Refusing GOP Colleagues.

Following the announcement this week that Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)—who proudly refused to wear a mask in the halls of Congress—tested positive for COVID-19, other members of Congress acknowledged their concerns about possible infection. 

Louie Gohmert lives and sleeps in his Capitol Hill office.

Now that he’s tested positive, he cannot be allowed to quarantine there. He’s put Members and staff at enough risk already.

I wish you well, @replouiegohmert. But you need to figure out a better option.

— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) July 29, 2020

Today, 72-year-old Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who has represented Arizona since 2003 announced that he has tested positive for the virus. The Democratic congressman didn’t name names, but his statement was pointed in its criticism of his Republican colleagues who “routinely strut around the Capitol without a mask to selfishly make a political statement at the expense of their colleagues, staff and their families.” 

Grijalva added: “Numerous Republican members routinely strut around the Capitol without a mask to selfishly make a political statement at the expense of their colleagues, staff, and their families.” pic.twitter.com/BJM72gRYbj

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) August 1, 2020

Read his full statement here. This far he is symptom free.

Only yesterday, Grijalva said this about paying attention to science when addressing the pandemic.

Join @COVIDOversight now to hear from Dr. Fauci: https://t.co/jQVlBTQ4EU

— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) July 31, 2020

 

An Unfortunate New Data Point in the Debate Over Opening Schools

Schools across the country are set to open in mere weeks—some have announced exclusive virtual learning for the first months, others have promised to reopen with safety measures in place. But parents and staff continue to grapple with the confusion over what is safe and what isn’t while coronavirus cases skyrocket around the country. Are children of certain ages unlikely to catch the virus? Could they still be vectors? Are there ways for them to be together and still be safe? On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control published a case study with more bad news about kids and COVID-19, concluding that they “might play an important role in transmission.”

The study focused on an overnight camp in Georgia where, in June, 597 campers ranging in age from 6 to 19 and staff had gathered. The camp had some protocols such as requiring a test 12 days before arriving, having staff wear masks, and placing campers into smaller pods. But there were many ways the camp fell short of what public health officials have recommended: Campers were not required to wear masks, they shared cabins of up to 15 kids, and participated in a number of indoor gatherings. First, on June 23, a teenage staff member developed symptoms, and left. The next day, the camp began sending campers home and closed down on June 27. 

Researchers found that the camp became linked to at least 260 infections among campers and staff. Children of all ages were susceptible to infection: 51 percent of the positive tests were for children who were from 6 to 10 years old, and 44 percent were 11 to 17. Of 136 cases with information about symptoms, 26 percent reported they had none.

The authors write:

These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 spread efficiently in a youth-centric overnight setting, resulting in high attack rates among persons in all age groups, despite efforts by camp officials to implement most recommended strategies to prevent transmission. Asymptomatic infection was common and potentially contributed to undetected transmission, as has been previously reported. This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission.

There are plenty of limitations to a case study, including that it’s possible kids became infected outside of camp, and no one can know with any certainty whether kids actually physically distanced or not. But the “attack rate,” or the number of positives, are also very likely an underestimate because of missed cases outside of the 344 tested. The camp became one of the largest super-spreader events in Georgia, where there are now 182,000 confirmed cases, more than 3,670 deaths, and 4,000 new cases added in a single day this week.

There’s still much we don’t understand about the role kids play in transmission and just how big an impact opening schools this fall will have on the still growing number of cases around the country. The political response hasn’t helped either, with Republicans like Georgia Governor Republican Brian Kemp banning cities and counties from issuing mask mandates. Parents have been left to face an impossible decision over with whether they should send their kids back to schools while science-denying politicians have given up on their responsibility to contain the pandemic. This latest study suggests that the consequences of reopening schools without stricter measures this fall may seed even worse outbreaks. 

For a deeper dive into the confusing science over sending kids back to schools, read my colleague Jackie Flynn Mogensen.

Could Trump Have Another Reason for Banning TikTok?

The latest target in the Trump administration’s escalating tensions with China is TikTok, the wildly popular music-video app with 2 billion downloads worldwide and a 165 million in the United States.

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” President Donald Trump told reporters on Air Force One on his way back from Tampa on Friday. “Soon, immediately. I mean essentially immediately.” Trump said he would sign an order Saturday. He claimed, “I have that authority,” with the administration pointing to the president’s powers to ban foreign apps from American app stores granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The United States and China have engaged in ever-increasing diplomatic and economic clashes that’s only grown more tense over the course of the pandemic, as Trump has sought to blame China for the skyrocketing 156,000 American death toll from coronavirus, constantly calling it the “China virus” in his remarks. For months, the Trump administration has claimed that TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, is a threat to national security because it could be susceptible to censorship and breaches of data privacy by Chinese officials.

Congress in 2018 increased the powers of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, whose members include the secretaries of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, led by Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin. Since November, the committee has investigated the app’s parent company for its 2017 purchase of Musical.ly, which later became TikTok. With Microsoft now reportedly in talks to buy TikTok’s US operations, Trump suggested Friday that a Microsoft stake wouldn’t change his decision to block the social media platform.

A TikTok spokesperson responded to Trump’s remarks on Friday: “TikTok US user data is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access. TikTok’s biggest investors come from the US. We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and safety.” India has already blocked TikTok after a border dispute with China, and Australia is considering its own ban.

The president has another reason to dislike TikTok. In June, Trump held a rally in Tulsa, in spite of public health experts’ warnings. (There was a subsequent spike in coronavirus cases there.) Before the rally, hundreds of K-pop fans and TikTok teens pranked the campaign by registering for the free tickets, with no intention of showing up. When the campaign could only fill a fraction of the 19,000-seat stadium in a Republican stronghold, the TikTok teens claimed victory: “best senior prank ever.”

Trump was furious that there were so many empty seats, and, quite possibly, resentful that TikTok teens had outsmarted his campaign.

tiktok’s us general manager vanessa pappas posted a tiktok this morning thanking everyone for their support, discussing the company’s future plans, and saying “we’re not planning on going anywhere” pic.twitter.com/L4KIpp8avN

— alyssa bereznak (@alyssabereznak) August 1, 2020

Impeachment Witness Alexander Vindman Just Wrote a Scathing Indictment of Trump

Former Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was fired by President Donald Trump in February from his position in the National Security Council in apparent retaliation for Vindman’s crucial testimony in the House impeachment trial, has written a searing op-ed for the Washington Post. Vindman’s promotion to full colonel was sabotaged by the White House, so he retired from the military. On Saturday, Vindman marked his first day as a civilian by publishing an extraordinary editorial.

After 21 years, six months and 10 days of active military service, I am now a civilian. I made the difficult decision to retire because a campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation by President Trump and his allies forever limited the progression of my military career.

He goes on to describe his decision a year ago to raise concerns about the president’s fateful July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump warned of withholding military aid unless Ukrainian officials investigated Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, for corruption. Vindman was three-years-old when his family escaped from Ukraine. 

At no point in my career or life have I felt our nation’s values under greater threat and in more peril than at this moment. Our national government during the past few years has been more reminiscent of the authoritarian regime my family fled more than 40 years ago than the country I have devoted my life to serving.

Our citizens are being subjected to the same kinds of attacks tyrants launch against their critics and political opponents. Those who choose loyalty to American values and allegiance to the Constitution over devotion to a mendacious president and his enablers are punished. The president recklessly downplayed the threat of the pandemic even as it swept through our country. The economic collapse that followed highlighted the growing income disparities in our society. Millions are grieving the loss of loved ones and many more have lost their livelihoods while the president publicly bemoans his approval ratings.

As my colleague Edwin Rios reported when Vindman was relieved of his duties at the National Security Council: 

[D]uring a rambling, venting speech, Trump brought up Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny, who works as a lawyer for the National Security Council. And then earlier during the day Friday before Vindman had been dismissed, Trump told reporters he was “not happy” with Vindman, adding: “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him? I’m not.” The New York Times reported that Yevgeny was also fired. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested that the ousting of “patriots & whistleblowers like LTC Vindman” was an “extension of President Trump’s cover-up” in the Ukraine scandal. 

Vindman recalls reassuring his father after the impeachment hearings that despite concerns about Trump, he remained optimistic about the United States: 

The 23-year-old me who was commissioned in December 1998 could never have imagined the opportunities and experiences I have had. I joined the military to serve the country that sheltered my family’s escape from authoritarianism, and yet the privilege has been all mine.

When I was asked why I had the confidence to tell my father not to worry about my testimony, my response was, “Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all my brothers have served, and here, right matters.”

To this day, despite everything that has happened, I continue to believe in the American Dream. I believe that in America, right matters. I want to help ensure that right matters for all Americans.

Read his entire op ed here

Kiano Moju’s Mouthwatering Berbere-Braised Short Rib Recipe

Ever since she was a young girl feeding her mother her Easy-Bake Oven creations, Kiano Moju has loved to experiment with food and create her own recipes. She’s since acquired a much bigger platform for her work, first as a producer for BuzzFeed’s viral cooking vertical Tasty, and now with her own venture, Jikoni. The brand, which means “kitchen” in Swahili, is a manifestation of all of Moju’s passions: It’s a physical studio decked out to produce professional food videos, a website where users can submit their own recipes, and above all a gathering space to share and celebrate the food of the African diaspora. 

jQuery(document).ready(function(){prx("https:\/\/play.prx.org\/e?uf=http:%2F%2Ffeeds.feedburner.com%2Fbite-podcast&ge=prx_319_9d022225-6711-43ae-a3bc-feb67717dc0f", "prx-0", "shortcode")});Listen to the latest episode of Bite: Subscribe using Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.

When she first started producing recipe videos, Moju was dismayed to learn that the same pernicious forces of racism and white supremacy that exist elsewhere in food media were just as strong in the arena of viral videos. “It happened the day my first video was published,” Moju told me. “I’m looking through the comments for feedback, and I was absolutely gutted at the stuff I was reading. People were pissed off, angry, not wanting to see brown hands, Black hands, in a video.”

With the founding of her own production studio, Moju is no longer asking for a seat at the table, but instead building her own—and filling it with delicious recipes like the one below. Moju’s cooking is informed by her “Afri-Cali” upbringing. She’s the American child of immigrants from Kenya and Nigeria, and spent summers learning from her grandparents on their traditional Maasai ranch in Sultan Hamud, Kenya. With Jikoni, she wanted to create space to document and share recipes that reflect the diversity of food from the African continent—a sorely missing perspective from the overwhelmingly white food media industry.

Check out Moju’s recipe for Berbere Short Ribs below. A standout meat dish, she says, is the centerpiece of any family meal in a Maasai household. She loves to prepare beef using berbere, a spice blend from Kenya’s neighbor country, Ethiopia. Berbere appears in many of Ethiopia’s dishes, including Doro Wot, the country’s national dish. Beef short ribs are braised in a berbere spice-laced sauce, cooked until tender, but still hold some structure (“mush-meat,” Moju says, is a big no-no in her family). 

While you’re cooking, listen to the latest episode of Bite, where I talk to Kiano about her experience as a pioneering Black woman in new food media, and get her take on the viral cake meme.

Berbere Braised Short Ribs

Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 2hr 30 min
Total Time: 3hrs
Serves 4–6 

Ingredients

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless short rib or chuck, cut into 2″ chunks
2 medium red onions, small dice
3 tablespoons ghee or butter
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1″ piece ginger, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon berbere spice (available at most grocery and specialty spice shops)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Garnish
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
a handful of cilantro leaves
1/4 of a red onion, sliced

Instructions

1. Season beef generously with salt and pepper on all sides.

2. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear the beef on all sides. Set browned beef on a plate to rest.

3. Lower the heat to medium. To the same pan add the red onions, cooking until soft and a dark brown. This will take 15-20 minutes, be sure to stir occasionally to prevent onions from burning.

4. Add in the ghee, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, and berbere spice. Cook for 2 minutes until garlic is fragrant

5. Stir in the beef stock. Bring the sauce to a simmer and return the beef to the pan. Reduce the heat to a medium-low and partially cover with a lid. Cook for 2-3 hours stirring occasionally to keep sauce from burning and beef easily breaks apart with two forks. Serve with the pomegranate seeds, cilantro leaves and red onion slices to garnish.

This Carbon Emissions Law Actually Has Helped Kids Breathe

This piece was originally published in Grist and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

With Virginia and Pennsylvania clamoring to join, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, affectionately known as RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”), is becoming the coolest climate club on the East Coast. The program, which went into effect in 2009, places a cap on emissions from power plants across its 10 (soon to be 12) member states that tightens over time.

Carbon-wise, it’s proven to be a big success: By 2017, RGGI had already surpassed its 2020 goal of reducing emissions 45 percent below 2005 levels. A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives on Wednesday shows the program has been a boon to public health, too.

While RGGI is designed to reduce CO2 emissions, it inevitably leads to reductions in other pollutants from power plants, like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. These gases react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form tiny, inhalable particles that are dangerous to human health.

For the new study, the researchers looked specifically at the health benefits for children and babies of reducing this “fine particulate matter,” as it’s called. They estimated that from 2009 to 2014, RGGI prevented more than 500 cases of childhood asthma, 112 preterm births, 98 cases of autism spectrum disorder, and 56 incidences of low birthweight. They also found that the amount of money saved by avoiding these and other childhood health impacts amounts to between $191 and $350 million. Even better, these benefits were not limited to participating states but were spread across neighboring states as well.

They estimated that from 2009 to 2014, RGGI prevented more than 500 cases of childhood asthma, 112 preterm births, 98 cases of autism spectrum disorder, and 56 incidences of low birthweight.

The new study builds on past research looking at the impact of RGGI primarily on adult health. A 2017 analysis by Abt Associates, a research firm, found that the reduction in particulate matter over the first five years RGGI was in effect prevented 300 to 830 premature deaths and saved between $3 and $8 billion in healthcare costs related to those deaths and a range of illnesses, including heart attacks, bronchitis, asthma, and drops in productivity such as lost work days due to poor air quality. But since 2017, new research on fine particulate matter has linked it to health burdens that were not investigated in the 2017 RGGI study. The new study aims to paint a more comprehensive picture of how RGGI has boosted public health, especially for children.

“As impressive as they are, these estimated benefits for children do not take into account their potential life-long consequences, so they are likely underestimates of the true benefits of this policy,” lead author Frederica Perera, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in a statement. On top of that, the study does not take into account the health benefits of mitigating climate change, such as fewer heat-related illnesses. One area the authors identify for further research would be to see how these benefits are distributed across socioeconomic or racial groups, to evaluate whether RGGI is an effective policy response to environmental justice issues.

These benefits could easily be spread across the whole country if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tightened its standards on particulate matter pollution under the Clean Air Act. But right now, the Trump administration is in the process of finalizing new standards that are … exactly the same as the old standards. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is supposed to review the science to make sure the standards protect public health, but the scientific advisory council tasked with doing this was fired by EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler. The council decided to meet and review the standards anyway, which were last updated in 2012. The council ultimately issued a letter last fall urging the EPA to enact stricter standards, which the agency ignored. The agency is currently going through 66,000 public comments submitted on the “new” rule, but it’s clearly on the list of items the Trump administration intends to push through by the end of the year.

A Privately Funded Border Wall Was Already at Risk of Collapsing. Hurricane Hanna Made it Worse.

This story was published originally by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

Intense rain over the weekend from Hurricane Hanna left gaping holes and waist-deep cracks on the banks of the Rio Grande that threaten the long-term stability of a privately funded border fence that is already the focus of lawsuits over its proximity to the river in South Texas.

The damage comes at the start of what is projected to be an active hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30.

Engineering experts who reviewed photos of the jagged cracks caused by the weekend’s storms said the damage reinforces what many have long said: Building and maintaining a border fence so close to the river poses serious challenges.

“It’s going to be a never-ending battle. You are always going to be fighting erosion when you are that close to the river.”

ProPublica and The Texas Tribune previously reported that just months after completion, the private fence built by Fisher Industries, a North Dakota-based company, was showing signs of erosion that threatened its stability and could cause it to topple into the river if not fixed.

“It’s going to be a never-ending battle. You are always going to be fighting erosion when you are that close to the river,” said Adriana E. Martinez, a professor and geomorphologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who has studied the impact of the border barriers in South Texas.

The 3-mile stretch of bollards along the river south of Mission, Texas, was a showcase project by Fisher Industries’ CEO Tommy Fisher, who put up more than $40 million of his own money to prove to the Trump administration that the private industry could do what the government hadn’t been able to: build the border wall right along the river.

Fisher, who subsequently secured $1.7 billion in federal contracts to build segments of the border fence, says that kind of erosion is to be expected given the amount of rainfall and the fact that the grass it added has not grown in that area by the fence.

“You can see plain as day the footing is not injured one bit, the road is in perfect shape, the fence is in perfect shape,” he said Tuesday.

But even before Hanna, photos revealed large gashes at various points along the structure where rainwater runoff had scoured the sandy loam beneath the foundation, which experts told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune shouldn’t be happening.

Those spots only worsened after Hanna pounded Mission with about 15 inches of rain. Photos taken after the hurricane show a series of gullies and rills along a section of the fence that extend like deep veins toward the river. In some areas, there are holes more than 10 feet wide that expose the footing.

“The damage to the soil underneath the fence after Hanna is far worse than what we saw from the photos from the big rain events from a month or so ago,” said Alex Mayer, a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has done research in the Rio Grande basin.

With two or three more storms like Hanna, he added, the holes could expand to the point where the soil underneath, without support, would collapse.

Flooding and erosion concerns are some of the main reasons why the government has not built a border fence directly on the banks of the river.

With two or three more storms like Hanna, he added, the holes could expand to the point where the soil underneath, without support, would collapse.

The Rio Grande, which here serves as the boundary line between the U.S. and Mexico, floods periodically. In 2010, Hurricane Alex caused widespread damage along the banks of the river, including at the National Butterfly Center, just upriver from Fisher’s fence.

Fisher, who has claimed he was building the “Lamborghini” of walls, said his fence was designed specifically for the water to hit the paved road, go through the spaces between the bollards, irrigate the grass below and trickle into the river.

He points to another segment of the fence where there’s more grass, and, he says, less erosion, as proof that his design works. “Once the grass is established, bring all the rain you want, bring on 50 inches,” he said.

But the road behind the fence is part of the problem, Martinez said. It acts like a parking lot, where the pavement accelerates the flow of the water downward, in this case, toward the river, eroding the sand and silt banks over time.

Fisher said he plans to do quarterly inspections, as well as extra checkups after large storms. His crew will also refill the areas that have eroded with more soil and reseed the bald spots. If that is not enough, it will add a fabric that binds the soil or rocks.

This month, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane instructed attorneys to work out details of an inspection of Fisher’s fence and to come to an agreement about fixes for a section that violates a treaty with Mexico by deflecting too much water during floods. The inspection is set to take place Monday.

Crane is overseeing a lawsuit brought by the federal government and the neighboring National Butterfly Center over construction of the fence and its potential threat to the Rio Grande.

The ProPublica/Texas Tribune story prompted President Donald Trump to claim the project had been done to make him look bad. “I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads,” Trump tweeted on July 12.

That same day following Trump’s comments, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas called the private wall a “vanity project” and a “scam.” His office sued Fisher Sand and Gravel and its subsidiaries on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational body that regulates development in the floodplain between both countries to ensure boundary treaties aren’t violated.

“We said it was too close to the water, erosion would be an issue, the location made no sense,” Patrick said. “Now we risk the thing falling down in a big storm/flood.”

We Build the Wall founder Brian Kolfage took to Twitter on Sunday to defend the project after Hanna struck, claiming there had been no additional erosion, saying it was all fake news and that the wall “is going nowhere suckers.” A since-debunked viral video claimed to show a part of the border wall falling over during the storm, but it was actually from a construction site near Deming, New Mexico.

Fisher has claimed he was building the “Lamborghini” of walls.

The conservative nonprofit, which counts former Trump political strategist Steve Bannon as a board member, has raised more than $25 million to help Trump build his wall along the southern border and contributed $1.5 million toward Fisher’s South Texas project.

For Javier Peña, an attorney representing the National Butterfly Center, the amount of sediment that washed away over the weekend is “mind-boggling.”

“These banks that have taken hundreds if not thousands of years to form, and Fisher goes in there with his magic seeds and shaves away most of the bank claiming it will stop erosion and lo and behold the erosion is just exacerbated dramatically,” he said.

Lexi Churchill contributed reporting.

Friday Cat Blogging – 31 July 2020

I’ve been spending more time at my mother’s house than at my own, which means I’m mostly taking pictures of her cats these days. This one is a picture of Stripey, who was rolling around on the driveway until she caught a glimpse of my camera and immediately became a cat of considerable purpose. And what is that purpose? To stick her nose into the lens and then take a few swats at it. She seems to think of the camera as a new playmate.

Chart of the Day: European GDP Plummets in Q2 Too

You think we have it bad? GDP plunged by 11.9 percent in Europe during the second quarter of the year. Here’s what that looks like:

There is, however, a bright side to this: Europe has mostly crushed COVID-19. They took their shutdown more seriously than we did, and they kept it in place for about a month longer. The result is an economic crash even worse than ours, but with prospects of a full recovery this year now that the virus is under control. By the end of the year we’ll know for sure whether the European or American strategy worked better in the long run.

Once Upon a Time, Presidents and Words Didn’t Fail

If the grammatically grotesque tweets, bizarrely unhinged speeches, and wrecking-ball words of a certain president wear you down day after day, week after week, you might want to search your memory, and the news archives, for a time when the presidency was synonymous not with a disorganized, myopic mind but with a historically informed one. Today is Friday. The week was not easy. The news was chilling, but the energizing eulogy by former President Barack Obama for John Lewis was a bright light. If you missed it, here you go. Have a healthy, safe weekend, and take your recharge where you can. Drop a line to recharge@motherjones.com to share weekend wisdom and stamina-building words of your own.

Consumer Spending Is Up, But Still $1 Trillion Below Normal

Consumer spending increased in June, but it’s still about $1 trillion below where it ought to be:

Even though national income increased thanks to stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits, people still aren’t willing to spend like they used to. Instead they’re saving more than normal, and who can blame them? If they had more confidence in both the federal response to COVID-19 and Republican willingness to continue benefits to the unemployed, spending might be closer to normal. But they don’t, so it’s not.

White House Throws McConnell Under the Bus

This is good news, I suppose:

The White House is willing to cut a deal with Democrats that leaves out Senate Republican legislation aimed at protecting employers, hospitals and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits, according to two people with knowledge of internal White House planning….One of the people familiar with the administration’s thinking said the measure was “considered important but not absolutely essential.”

Mitch McConnell probably could have gotten his liability shield if he had been more reasonable. There’s a case to be made for some kind of modest “safe harbor” legislation, after all. But McConnell wouldn’t go there. Instead he insisted on a shield so strong it would have protected businesses even from the most egregious negligence. Even the Trump White House was able to see what a political loser this was.

Now let’s get to work on extending unemployment benefits, shall we?

Jim Jordan Is Yelling Again

Jim Jordan is Jim Jordan-ing again.

The Ohio Republican, during his turn at Friday’s House subcommittee hearing into the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, shouted over Dr. Anthony Fauci, attempted to trap the country’s top expert on infectious diseases into bogusly attacking the ongoing protests against police brutality, and grandstanded to an audience of one, Donald Trump. It was a typical performance from Jordan, a yeller.

Fauci, demonstrating an impressive level of patience, refused to bite.

Mother Jones’ Resident Gen Z’ers Take on Taylor Swift’s New Folk Pop Album

Six years ago Mother Jones staffers Ben Dreyfuss and James West hung around the office after everyone else had left, sipped cognac, and listened to Taylor Swift’s latest album, 1989. They published their immediate reactions to each of the tracks here. Their environment fit the album’s party vibe.

We, unfortunately, could not keep up that tradition this year when Taylor released her surprise eighth studio album, folklore, last Friday. The indie-adjacent project was something new for Swift, who partnered with a member of The National, sang alongside Bon Iver, and invited Lana Del Rey’s mixers to master the album. Instant, cognac-infused reactions might be the way to chat about a pivot to pop. But to fit folklore‘s gestalt, a Slack chat after a few days of digestion was apt. Here is a (very lightly) edited transcript of our discussion below. 

Track 1: “the 1”

Abigail Weinberg: I like this song. It’s understated and poignant.

Sam Van Pykeren: I might even go as far as to say this might be my fave off the album. Which is wild, it’s the FIRST TRACK.

AW: The 1! And the line about thinking you recognize someone at the bus stop, but “I didn’t though.” Too good.

SVP: I think it really gets to the heart of Taylor’s mythology, this idea of true love, “the 1,” etc.

AW: Definitely. Remember when she used to not swear?

Track 2: “cardigan”

SVP: This song. I get chills every time. The melisma on “sensual.”

AW: OK, I’m fascinated by the evolution of Taylor’s mentions of clothing in her songs. Remember “she wears short skirts, I wear tee shirts, she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers”?

SVP: And then there’s “Dress.”

AW: And “Style.”

SVP:The through-line of clothing evolves as she does.

AW: “I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt.”

SVP: Each seems to be emblematic of her age at the time.

AW: Now it’s “vintage tee, brand new phone, high heels on cobblestones.”

SVP: Mature!

AW: Why do you think it’s a cardigan as opposed to, like, a sweater?

SVP: Hmmm good Q. Probably for the syllables lol.

Track 3: “the last great american dynasty”

SVP: The way Swift can tap into Americana is next level. And if Taylor Swift is anything, she is a storyteller.

AW: For sure.

SVP: This is just the sequel to “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” a fave off Lover for me.

AW: But a lot more understated and less poppy.

SVP: Totally. That was the high school story, now we’re getting this young adult who’s figuring out her world while she feels the pressure of the world glaring down on her. The way she can build an entire world in one verse is insane.

AW: This whole album reminds me of Betty Draper from Mad Men.

SVP: Why?

AW: I’m totally stealing that thought from someone on Twitter. But this song brings up the concept of a “mad woman,” which is fleshed out more later in the album on “Mad Woman.” Plus, there’s a song called “Betty”!

SVPThe way she slips from third to first person. So easy but so effective. I feel like that can be an easy cop out/reveal for songwriters to sort of fake a “switch,” but in this…it works. It supports the story rather than being a trick.

Track 4: “exile (feat. Bon Iver)”

AW: Honestly, I could take this or leave it. I’m not crazy about Bon Iver.

SVP: 100 percent.

AW: This track really just feels like filler to appeal to the indie crowd. And as a sucker for like “alternative rock,” I see right through it.

SVP: Trying to get all those midwest IPA drinkers to stream her album.

AW: YUP.

SVP: Which, respect. And it’s not a bad song, just a weak one.

Track 5: “my tears ricochet”

AW: I love the sort of muffled intro on this song. Reminds me of “Ribs.”

SVP: Oh shit. I didn’t even make that connection.

AW: He’s the reason the teardrops ricochet on my guitar.

SVP: Hahhahahah. One of the huge appeals to Taylor is that we’ve grown up with her, right?

AW: Oh, for sure.

SVP: And with most artists I feel like they try and reimagine themselves for each “era.” And while Taylor has done that with a couple of her albums, this feels like a break from that, bringing us full circle back to her early years of simple storytelling and specificity in her lyrics that could kill.

AW: Yeah. It’s definitely a new musical style, but she is her same old self. She never purports to be anything she’s not.

SVP: Right! Which is weird, because everyone thinks she’s so fake. But when, in reality, has she ever not been what she’s said she is?

AW: You have to take her at face value.

SVP: Totally! I enjoyed that track. Classic slowjam.

AW: Agreed.

Track 6: “mirrorball”

SVP: I LOVE “Mirrorball.” I love the Christmas vibes. I love the softness in her voice in this track, but the guitar strings, the way they build under her, make her voice feel so powerful.

AW: Yeah, I’m a sucker for layered vocals.

SVP: She does love a layered vocal.

AW: OK, but what the fuck is a mirrorball?

SVP: LOL.

AW: It’s like “Wonderwall.”

SVP: I’m assuming it’s like a disco ball? I don’t totally know.

Track 7: “seven”

SVP: When I first heard this song I thought it was a feature. Did not sound like her at first!

AW: So…what is this song about? She says, “I hit my peak at seven” and the rest of the song sounds like it’s addressing a child.

SVP: Feels like this is a love song to your youth?

AW: Oh, darling, don’t you ever grow up…

SVP: YEP.

AW: It’s a cute, sweet song. I like it.

Track 8: “august”

SVP: THIS SONG. I looooove it. I want Taylor to do a song for every month. The way she captures the sentiment of summer ending…it hits hard.

AW: Summer love. This bridge is so good.

SVP: Sooo good. It’s kinda fascinating how summer love has become a trope of sorts. Like why is summer so conducive to brief and passionate love affairs?

AW: School’s out!

SVP: But even for adults!

AW: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s like the opposite of cuffing season.

SVP: UGH TAYLOR. This song makes my heart hurt. In a good way, but that’s just like her. She makes your heart hurt.

AW: Great outro too, the next track is like the grown-up version.

SVP: I love a long fade. It’s the perfect ending to the song which is all about the drawn-out last days of summer.

Track 9: “this is me trying”

AW: And now it’s autumn, and the wheels are rusting.

SVP: This feels to me like her most self-aware song.

AW: There’s something irritating to me about Taylor Swift, one of the biggest superstars on Earth, singing, “So I got wasted like all my potential.” But then I remember that it’s just a song.

SVP: Totally. I was having this convo with my friend about the album, about how he doesn’t really like Taylor ’cause she has everything in the world, but has built an empire out of the one thing she “complains” about never having. But it hit even harder to me that, look, no matter how much you have you’ll always be searching for your space in the world and a relationship with others.

AW: That is certainly true. I don’t know why, but this song doesn’t really do it for me. It felt like the album had so much momentum and then sort of rolled to a halt.

SVP: I love this track. But I get what you’re saying about the pacing. It’s really hard because even the worst songs on this album I love.

Track 10: “illicit affairs”

SVP: Yes. This song. Yes.

AW: It’s great.

SVP: Classic Taylor guitar string song and lyrics.

Track 11: “invisible string”

AW: Fun fact: The universe is actually made up of tiny invisible strings.

SVP: One of her strongest on the album.

AW: I love the verse where she’s just referring to how famous she is. “Bad was the blood of the song in the cab.” The waitress saying she looks like an American singer.

Track 12: “mad woman”

SVPMOUTHFUCK. I can NOT believe she said “mouth fuck.”

AW: Omfg. What a double entendre. I didn’t even realize that.

SVP: This song is so great. Like this is what Reputation should’ve been. It’s not a Taylor album without some type of song taking on the patriarchy!

AW: Have you seen Mad Men?

SVP: First couple seasons.

AW: OK, so you know Betty.

SVP: Yes.

AW: I just can’t stop thinking about how, yeah, Betty can be disagreeable, but she’s driven to madness by Don cheating on her and constantly gaslighting her.

SVP: 100 percent.

AW: Somehow I’m reminded of the scene where Betty shoots at the neighbor’s doves.

SVP: That’s because as a patriarchal society we drive women to insanity. When they are themselves, or express discontent, they’re seen as “mad.”

AW: YUP.

SVP: Taylor’s always been one to talk about misogyny in her music (and life), but this is the first time I feel it’s been done effectively.

Track 13: “epiphany”

AW: “Something med school did not cover”…you mean COVID?

SVP: :-O

Track 14: “betty”

AW: HARMONICA. I love it.

SVP: The harmonica.

SVP: Who’s Inez? What rumors is she spreading?

AW: Quote from Taylor: “There’s a collection of three songs I refer to as The Teenage Love Triangle. These three songs explore a love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.”

SVP: Woah. I love this chorus, too. It’s full of anger ready to be yelled out.

AW: I love when women songwriters do songs from the perspectives of men.

SVP: It’s incredible how complex relationships are and that entire worlds are built around them, and fall around them.

Track 15: “peace”

AW: I don’t have a lot to say about this song lol. It’s fine. Maybe it will grow on me.

SVP: Yeah, “peace” was all right. As you can tell I didn’t have much to say about it also.

Track 15: “hoax”

SVP: This track is fine as well, but I felt like if she cut it at “betty” and ended with “epiphany,” we’d be fine.

AW: I agree. Why does every album have to be an hour long?

SVP: So, I have a theory about Taylor and her albums and how she’s evolved in relation to her fame and celebrity.

AW: Tell me more.

SVP: I broke this down in our Taylor Swift Slack chat. (Yes, dear reader, that exists.) I’m a full believer (and even mentioned this in my Lover piece) that Taylor’s maturity and relationship with her public persona can be grouped into her work. (Art reflects the artist??? What??) But like her pre-teen/teen psyche is so present in her first three albums, then you hit Red which is sort of this from-teenager-to-young-adult album, then 1989 is her early 20s, right? It’s both fun and mean. It’s so intensely about that type of young fleeting relationship you have in your early 20s. Then you hit Reputation. That’s her “I’m an adult” album, you know? That time when you start to figure out how you are in relation to other relationships and the world. Then you get to Lover, and it’s the perfect late-20s wrap-up, right? It’s both fun and mature. It is reflective and silly, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and looks forward, in a sense. Then you have this now! She turns 30 in a couple of months, and you get this next-level maturity in both the lyrics and the sounds.

AW: It’s funny how so much of this album is about teenage stuff. A lot of nostalgia.

SVP: But through the eyes of a grown woman! Well, where does this fall in your album ranking? This probably is my favorite Taylor album.

SVP: Respect.

The Trump Files: Donald Tried to Make His Ghostwriter Pay for His Book Party

This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on July 22, 2016.

Donald Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, helped secure his public image as a real estate genius and an ultimate symbol of the filthy rich. But that didn’t stop him from trying to charge the man who actually wrote the book for him, former magazine writer Tony Schwartz, hundreds of thousands of dollars after Trump threw a book party filled with “nine hundred second-rate celebrities” in December 1987.

Schwartz had just spent a year and a half shadowing Trump for the book, a process that, he told The New Yorker, was “draining” and “deadening.” But now his book was on the New York Times bestseller list, and Trump was throwing an over-the-top party to match. “Klieg lights lit a red carpet outside the building,” The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer writes. “Inside, nearly a thousand guests, in black tie, were served champagne and fed slices of a giant cake replica of Trump Tower, which was wheeled in by a parade of women waving red sparklers. The boxing promoter Don King greeted the crowd in a floor-length mink coat, and the comedian Jackie Mason introduced Donald and Ivana with the words ‘Here comes the king and queen!'”

But the next day, Trump called Schwartz and told him to pay up. “After chatting briefly about the party, Trump informed Schwartz that, as his ghostwriter, he owed him for half the event’s cost, which was in the six figures,” Mayer writes.

Instead, Schwartz used Trump’s own evasive tactics on the mogul. “He drastically negotiated down the amount that he agreed to pay, to a few thousand dollars, and then wrote Trump a letter promising to write a check not to Trump but to a charity of Schwartz’s choosing,” Mayer writes. “It was a page out of Trump’s playbook. In the past seven years, Trump has promised to give millions of dollars to charity, but reporters for the Washington Post found that they could document only ten thousand dollars in donations—and they uncovered no direct evidence that Trump made charitable contributions from money earned by ‘The Art of the Deal.'”

Schwartz may have escaped being nickel and dimed by the billionaire—and he earned half of the book’s substantial royalties—but he doesn’t look back fondly on The Art of the Deal. “I put lipstick on a pig,” he told Mayer. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”

 

I’m a New Dad Scared About Pandemic-Era Day Care Safety. There’s Only One Expert I Wanted to Call.

When my wife and I told our next-door neighbor last year that we were expecting a baby, she ran inside to lend us a copy of Emily Oster’s 2014 book Expecting Better. (Earlier this year, we deduced that she was pregnant with her second when she asked for the book back.) Oster, a Brown University economist, has become the pregnancy and early childhood guru for millennial parents. Expecting Better and her 2019 followup, Cribsheet, rethink the pregnancy-and-baby-literature genre by adding something that’s been lacking: empiricism. Oster separates the good studies from the bad and lays out the best evidence to answer such critical questions as whether it’s safe to eat sushi while pregnant. (Answer: probably!)

Recently, our family, not to mention the country and the world, have found ourselves in another confusing situation where objective information and guidance are in short supply. And so, in her newsletter and a website she co-authors with Harvard medicine professor Galit Alter and a team of researchers called COVID-Explained, Oster decided to apply the same type of analysis to COVID-19 research as she did to pregnancy and parenthood. 

With schools and parents around the country facing tough decisions about safety and education, school reopenings have become a higher-stakes question than sushi. So I spoke to Oster to see if she could bring together her research on young children and on COVID-19 to answer some key questions about returning to school. And more selfishly, I asked her for an economist’s guidance on what my wife and I—and all the other parents out there—should be considering as we decide whether it’s advisable to send our own son to day care. I caught up with her at her home in Providence, where she’s sheltered with her husband and two elementary school-age children. Here’s our conversation:

We’re talking in the middle of this nationwide spike in COVID cases. And there are school districts that are deciding now that it’s not safe to reopen schools in the fall. I’m curious, given what you’ve seen in the data around infections at schools, whether you think that’s the right response to the increase in cases.

In some places, yes, and in some places, no. There are spikes in cases in some parts of the country—in Florida, Texas, California—and for those places to respond by not opening schools seems sensible to me. We have not seen any examples of places [in the world] that have opened schools with those kinds of rising and large caseloads. I think there’s a lot of risk to doing that. 

But we’ve seen some increased hesitancy about school opening in places in the Northeast, where the virus is fairly under control. And I think it would be helpful for those conversations to be a bit more localized and to say, okay, maybe it makes sense to open schools in person in Massachusetts or New York, even though there are cases in Texas. And the fact that the cases are rising in Texas should not necessarily mean that we need to adjust what we’re doing in Massachusetts. 

I live in DC, and just yesterday, three counties in the DC area with pretty moderate caseloads announced that they’re changing their minds and not reopening schools this fall. From your reading of the data from around the world, what should US policymakers think about the risks of schools becoming hotspots?

Most of our data does not suggest that schools will become hotspots. I think that the European data is a good example of this. We saw some cases in schools, but this has not been something that looks like it’s really increased the spread of the spread of the virus. The data in Israel is more concerning. There was one very large outbreak in a high school. There are a lot of schools that have closed in Israel, though I think it’s worth remembering that basically Israel adopted a policy where if there were any cases in the school, they close the school. That is a very high bar. And so you got a lot of school closures even for a relatively small number of cases. 

So how should schools in the US be thinking about this evidence? Putting all of it together, it does look like younger kids are at the least amount of risk. And opening schools for younger kids seems to be the most safe thing you could do. 

Since you’re an economist by day, I’d like to ask you about the economics around this, too. We’re always hearing about how bad it is for local economies when bars and restaurants and shops are closed. But have there been any studies of the long-term economic impact of keeping kids home from school?

I think we can triangulate the possible long-term impacts of that. We can look at, for example, what happened to learning in the spring. And what happened was, kids did not learn as much as they were learning when they were in school, and that those learning losses are particularly large for low-income students, for students of color. So I think it’s pretty clear that as we go remote, at least for some kids, that will be quite bad for their learning. And then we know from other evidence that that loss may translate into being less likely to finish high school, less likely to go to college. That has long-term impacts on wages, on longevity, on all kinds of other stuff. There are potentially really, really large long-term impacts of these disruptions, which don’t get that much discussion but I think should be part of the conversation. 

There are potentially really, really large long-term impacts of these disruptions, which don’t get that much discussion but I think should be part of the conversation. 

I would also say there’s a very direct economic impact here, which is that if people are home with their kids and not at their jobs, that’s pretty bad for the economy as well. So there’s a more direct and immediate part of this, in addition to the long term.

I have a personal agenda here. I have a 9-month-old son, and I’m hoping you can help us answer a question that many thousands of parents around the country are facing: Should we be thinking about sending our son to day care in the coming months? I know you took a look at the public data that was available on COVID infections at day cares—since they didn’t really shut down the same way schools did—and found that basically, there wasn’t any.

Yeah. There is one study that’s supposed to come out of Yale, but it hasn’t come out yet. And so we collected some of our own [data] in what I would describe as a non-scientific, Google Form sourcing mechanism. But we have data now from almost 1,000 childcare settings which remained open and have some information on the number of COVID cases. 

What have you found?

The two topline things that I would highlight are, one, the rates in the centers were very low. It’s something like .15 percent of kids and about 1 percent of staff. It’s clear that the staff are more at risk. Now, that may well not reflect anything about infections in child care settings, just that in general, adults are at higher risk than kids. If you took a random sample of people and asked who had COVID, you would find it’s more adults than kids. But in general, the numbers are really quite low. 

The other thing I would highlight, that for me is more reassuring, is that there are a lot of isolated cases. One way you could get to two-tenths of a percent is with a few places where there were really large outbreaks. And that would suggest that there’s a lot of spread within the centers. That’s not really what we see. We see a lot of isolated cases, where there’s a center with one case or two cases, and that’s all they have. It’s not that there haven’t been some outbreaks; we’ve seen some, particularly in camps for slightly older kids. But it doesn’t seem like it’s happening in a lot of cases.

So if there’s a day care center with just one case, that implies that there’s a good chance that the kid got it somewhere else—maybe at home—and came in and didn’t spread it around the center?

The way that I think about it is, if you looked at something like norovirus, like stomach flu, when you send your kid to child care, if they come home at the end of the day and they say, “Tommy vomited on the rug,” you know that your kid is going to be vomiting on the rug pretty soon. And so are all the other kids, because norovirus is super contagious. If you looked at a data set, you would see, basically, there are a lot of child care centers with no stomach flu, but then the places that have it, like 60 percent of the kids get it because it’s just obviously spreading within the population. 

Emily Oster
Don Emmert/Getty

There’s a real benefit to sending kids to school, since it’s become clear that distance learning is a pretty crappy substitute for the real thing, and kids are falling behind. But what about for infants? Are you aware of evidence that keeping babies home, as opposed to sending them to day care, is hurting them in some way in the long run?

No. I talk a lot about this in Cribsheet, the question of day care versus nanny, and any differences that we can see across those kinds of groups seem to be very small, in inconsistent directions, and probably not super causal. If you are worried, like, “If I don’t send my kid to day care they’ll never learn to talk to other people,” that is not a concern. Plenty of people keep their 9-month-old home and it’s no problem. 

It’s funny, because the thing people were often worried about before was: If I send my kid to day care, they won’t love me anymore. Everyone now has the opposite question, which is, is it okay to keep my kid at home? So yes, both are fine.

But I feel like in Cribsheet, you’re comparing day care to nanny to stay-at-home mom or dad, and you weren’t necessarily comparing them to stay-at-home mom and dad who are also trying to work full-time.

Right. Yes. I was not aware that people were going to be facing that choice when I wrote that book.

Is there any way to assess whether that makes a difference?

There’s probably no way to assess whether that makes a difference other than to ask: How is it affecting you? Adults have had very different emotional reactions to this process of being at home. And adult mental health is actually a big piece of family happiness. If having your kid at home is making you really stressed out and is making it very hard for you to be the kind of parent that you want, or conversely, if sending your kid is making you so anxious that it’s impossible to function, that is an argument for doing one or the other. But we don’t have any evidence on highly stressed parents who are trying to work at the same time as taking care of their kid. That will come after the pandemic. Research ideas!

We don’t have any evidence on highly stressed parents who are trying to work at the same time as taking care of their kid.

One pre-pandemic study found that having inadequate access to child care was like getting a 5 percent pay cut, and that there was a disproportionate impact on moms. Is there a risk that women in particular may be potentially taking a long-term career hit by trying to balance full-time work and parenting?

I think it depends a little bit on what kind of job you’re in. A lot of people are worried that this is going to erode a lot of gains for women. Somebody used the word “shesession”—like recession but with “she” at the beginning—to highlight the fact that for a lot of women, there’s both increased job losses but also, people are going to step back from the workforce and realize, “My kid has to be in virtual school, and somebody’s got to be supervising them, and I guess it’s gonna be me.” It’s one thing to do that for a few months, but faced with an entire year of that, people may say, “I need to take time off my job.” We know that those kinds of breaks in work history are not good for long-term career prospects. 

What else should factor into our decision about day care? 

At the top of my list is just: What are the other circumstances of your family? There are people who live with an elderly relative, where you could say, yeah, the chance of the kid getting sick is small, but it’s possible, and your kid will be fine. I mean, the risks to kids are very small. The risks to healthy, non-immunocompromised young adults are fairly small. The risks to your parents would be much larger. 

Well that’s a real question for us. All four of our son’s grandparents are in the mix now. If we were to send him to day care, should we think about not seeing them anymore?

I think this is the hardest thing. I wish I could tell people an answer, because I wish I had an answer. And I feel like there’s just a tradeoff. There’s like a childcare/grandparent tradeoff. We’ve been thinking a lot about ways to make that safer. We’re going to try to see my parents at some point, and I think we’ll try to be tested first, in the hopes that that will reduce some of the risks. 

But unfortunately, there’s no good answer to this. It may be that for you, from your kid’s standpoint, there’s less value to day care than the grandparents. Maybe, or maybe not. I don’t know. My kids are older, and I think there’s a huge amount of value to them to being out with other kids. And so that’s kind of where we came down on that calculus. Sort of childcare over grandparents. But there’s no good answer to this.

If we were to decide to go with day care, and then the number of COVID cases keeps rising, is there a tipping point at which day care actually becomes unsafe and we should consider pulling our kid out?

What I would say is that probably day care is a pretty low-risk activity relative to other things. So if you’re still comfortable going to outdoor dining, you should probably be comfortable with day care. If your view is, basically, it’s not socially responsible to do anything except take a walk around the block near my house, which is kind of where we all were in April or March, at least where I live, then I think it’s also not really a good idea to have your kid at day care. 

Because it’s not reasonable to ask toddlers to wear masks and stay six feet apart, right?

You can’t. Kids are more adaptable with masks than I would have expected. My 5-year-old has no problem, for reasonable periods of time, wearing a mask. But if your view is the only way to safely open a day care is for 2-year-olds to wear a mask and to socially distance, I think you cannot open. 

When we look at the ways that these [day cares] have been open, like for essential workers, they do not require all the kids to wear masks. So that data is reflecting more of the reality, which is like, if you’re taking care of an infant, you can’t not touch them. Right? That’s just physically not possible.

Have you decided where your kids are going to be in the fall?

Well, if their school is open, they will be in their school. Currently, our kids’ school has suggested that they will open in person normally, roughly normally, and they will be there if it does.

My kids are already in camp, and it’s really great. To be fair, it’s like a three-hour outdoor camp where you play tennis. So it’s probably about as low-risk as you get. But it’s been really nice. 

For you or for them?

I think for both. Actually, I knew it’d be nice for me. I’ve been surprised at how much they seem to value not being in my household.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Whose Streets?

In August 2018, a few weeks after he was shot eight times at a party in Oakland, Andre Reed was recovering at his mom’s house, his wounds still open, when he got a message on Instagram. It was an old friend from his school days. She said some people were looking for him and wanted to talk.

Reed, then 35, had recently been released from federal prison, after years of bouncing in and out of the criminal justice system. “Is this the police?” he asked. She said she didn’t think so but would check. “They don’t got nothing to do with the police, nothing like that,” he recalls her saying when she messaged him back.

Reed was being sought by outreach workers who wondered if he’d like to meet with a life coach to help him get his feet back on the ground. It was the latest version of a strategy to drive down gun violence in a city with one of the country’s highest murder rates. The program, called Operation Ceasefire, draws on data to identify people who are at the highest risk of shooting someone or being shot themselves. At a meeting with police and community members, known as a call-in, the recruits are told they’ll be punished if they keep engaging in violence. But they’re also offered access to housing, jobs, medical care, and life coaches, plus a monthly stipend if they accomplish goals like signing up for health insurance, opening a savings account, and staying in touch with probation officers. The idea is to try to prevent shootings not by flooding the streets with armed police, but by connecting people with resources and helping them build relationships.

Reed seemed like a perfect candidate. For nearly his entire childhood, his dad had been in prison, and Reed himself had been in and out of juvenile detention since the seventh grade. And he’d already had run-ins with gun violence. That July, he’d gone to a barbecue outside an apartment building in West Oakland. As he polished off some Chinese food while catching up with friends, two men in black ski masks walked through the gate and opened fire, striking Reed’s legs. He collapsed beside a car, his thoughts on his 5-month-old daughter and 10-year-old son. The shooters fled and an ambulance arrived, rushing him to a nearby hospital, where he stayed for about a week. Now, back at his mom’s house in the suburbs, he struggled to move. He slept most of the day, groggy from painkillers, or watched movies. He worried he’d have no other option but to rejoin his crew on the streets once he healed.

The question of how to reach men like Reed, who are at high risk of committing or falling victim to violence, is pressing in cities like Oakland. Nationally, murder rates have fallen since their last peak in the 1990s and are now back to their 1965 levels. But the progress has been uneven. For Black men between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States, homicide, mostly by gunfire, is still the leading cause of death by far, killing more of them than the next nine top causes of death combined. During the first few months of the pandemic, shootings crept up again in some cities, including Oakland.

Many politicians have long believed that to reduce violence, cities have to put more officers on the streets and make more arrests. President Donald Trump announced in July that he plans to send hundreds of federal officers to cities around the country, with a goal of ramping up prosecutions. Ceasefire flips that script: It calls for fewer arrests for nonviolent acts, an end to the scorched-earth tactics that fueled the drug war, and an emphasis on reaching the relatively small number of people involved in most shootings. In 2015, half of all gun homicides in the United States took place in just 127 cities and towns; more than a quarter were in neighborhoods representing only 1.5 percent of the total population, according to a 2017 report by the Guardian. An analysis of shootings in Oakland revealed that just 0.1 percent of the city’s population was responsible for most of its homicides. But many men at the highest risk of this violence—often members of gangs, with a history of shooting or being shot—are also the most isolated from social services, or the most resistant to them.

Dozens of cities have experimented with programs like Ceasefire in recent decades, starting with Boston in 1996. Yet the approach, which goes by various names, has had mixed results, partly because cities have rolled it out in vastly different ways. Some city leaders promise social services but spend more money on the policing aspect of the program: They lean on cops to track down men at risk of violence, threaten them with punishment, and arrest them if they don’t get in line.

When outreach workers in Oakland first got in touch with Reed, he knew Ceasefire had a reputation in the neighborhood—guys who slipped up again could find themselves in handcuffs. And going back to prison was the last thing he wanted. Plus, he was tired of case managers. He still had flashbacks to parole programs from years earlier, where he mostly watched movies and wasted time. “I always wanted to change, but all the programs just, you know, blowin’ smoke,” says Reed, who has long braids and tattoos of skeletons and smoke winding up his arms.

Andre Reed, 37, and his life coach, Len Haywood, at breakfast.
Preston Gannaway

Oakland’s residents have other reasons to be skeptical of a reform effort involving the police. The city’s cops have been under federal oversight for brutality and civil rights abuses for 17 years. And Oakland tried and failed to implement Ceasefire twice before, in 2007 and 2011. In 2013, at the behest of pastors and other residents, the city rolled out Ceasefire for a third time, but with a twist: The program would scale back its emphasis on law enforcement and focus, through life coaching, on helping participants develop positive relationships with mentors who grew up in similar neighborhoods as they had.

It’s working. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of shootings in Oakland dropped by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, arrests have declined, and officers are solving more murders than they once did. Police departments in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC, have sent officials to observe the city’s alternative model. “What Oakland’s doing is certainly the Ceasefire strategy, but it’s a very evolved version,” says Mike McLively, an attorney at the San Francisco–based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Life coaches, clergy, and victims’ family members all play important roles in reaching out to at-risk men. Oakland “paid much more attention to a strong community voice and to providing a more robust set of social services,” says researcher Thomas Abt, a Justice Department official during the Obama administration and author of the 2019 book Bleeding Out.

And now, amid nationwide protests to defund law enforcement and rethink how cities handle public safety, curiosity about Oakland’s strategy is growing. In Minneapolis, after protests over the killing of George Floyd sparked a debate about dismantling the police, some City Council members proposed funneling more money into a program like Oakland’s.

Reed was still skeptical of Ceasefire on the warm day in September 2018 when he, his mom, and his son drove two and a half hours from her house in suburban Oroville to Oakland to get more information on the mentorship program. Leaning on a cane, Reed limped from the car into an office building and rode the elevator to the third floor. At a conference table surrounded by a handful of life coaches, he sat quietly across from Leonard Haywood, a polite man about a decade his senior. Haywood offered to work one-on-one with him as a coach. Reed recalls, “I thought he was probably full of shit.”

At the end of the meeting, Reed didn’t make any promises. But when he went home again, the texts started coming. “Hey Dre, how you doing?” Haywood wrote shortly afterward. “Just wanted to check in, see how everything is going. Let me know if you need anything, if there’s anything we can do.” Haywood kept in touch with Reed for about two months, asking how the recovery was going. “I was totally surprised,” Reed recalls. The texts and calls made him wonder if Haywood actually cared. Reed said he’d consider working with him if he moved back to Oakland.

Read these related stories from our archives:


Why is the “Boston Miracle” being dissed by the L.A.P.D., the FBI, and Congress?

Did this city bring down its murder rate by paying people not to kill?

From the beginning, the call for Oakland’s police to rethink their approach to gun violence came from community members—and the odds were very much stacked against them. In 2003, Oakland was reeling from a murder crisis. The city had seen an 81 percent surge in homicides over the previous four years, to 113 killings in 2002. But Mayor Jerry Brown scoffed at a City Council member’s suggestion that offering better job training for people with criminal records could help prevent shootings. “Do you think if we put the Godfather and his gang in a job program, they’d change their line of work?” Brown told a reporter in 2002. He instead pushed to hire 100 more police officers, who could flood high-crime areas of East and West Oakland in search of drugs and guns.

Then the killings came to Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole’s doorstep. Lafitte-­Oluwole, a community organizer originally from Louisiana, lived in a green and burgundy Victorian house in West Oakland. On June 14, 2003, her stepson, Tokumbo, was celebrating his 22nd birthday with friends outside a KFC when a man fired six bullets into him, killing him instantly. Detectives never caught the shooter. Lafitte-Oluwole believes her stepson was targeted because he was preparing to testify against men who allegedly killed his best friend months earlier after an argument about a missing Uzi.

Steeped in grief, Lafitte-Oluwole started learning about Boston’s Ceasefire program, which cut youth homicides in half before city officials lost momentum and abandoned the strategy in 2000. She began working with a group of activists who bombarded public safety meetings with demands that city officials try the strategy. Eventually, in 2007, Mayor Ron Dellums agreed. Under Ceasefire, police would summon men at risk of shootings to a call-in.

Or at least that was the theory. After police officers surrounded people’s houses with squad cars to drop off the “invitation” to the first call-in, only two men showed up. By the end of 2010, the first iteration of Ceasefire in Oakland was dead, having done little to quell the shootings. The next year, a 3-year-old was gunned down while walking with his family in East Oakland. Officials briefly relaunched Ceasefire, but it fizzled out. By then, Oakland had the third-highest murder rate of any midsize city in the country.

Other cities’ police have taken note of Oakland’s approach: “They determined you can’t arrest your way out of a problem.”

Not everyone was ready to give up. Ben McBride, a progressive pastor from San Francisco, had resigned from his church years earlier after watching his nondenominational congregation lose family members to gunfire. Hoping to better under­stand the violence, in 2008 he’d moved with his wife and three daughters to part of East Oakland known as “the kill zone.” His first night there, after tucking the girls in for bed, loud bangs erupted outside their home. He dropped to his knees and started to pray, terrified. It took minutes before he realized they were fireworks coming from a baseball stadium.

His older brother, Michael, also a pastor, met one of the architects of Boston’s Ceasefire program while studying divinity at Duke University, and became curious about the model. The McBrides had grown up with an acute awareness of the violence inflicted on Black people: Their great-uncle had been tied to a railroad track and killed by the Klan. Their dad, who met Martin Luther King Jr. as a boy, had been jailed for protesting during the civil rights movement. And in college, Michael says he was racially profiled by two white officers who pulled him over, groped him, and forced him to lie on the ground.

Despite their misgivings about the police, the McBrides knew Ceasefire had worked in Boston. So Michael encouraged other pastors to learn about the strategy, and invited clergy from Boston to come share lessons from their city’s success. In 2012, about 500 local religious leaders, activists, and residents piled into an Oakland church to show their support. “He was very prophetic,” Lafitte-Oluwole says of Michael, whom the Obama administration later tapped as an adviser for a council that made recommendations about how to deliver social services. The huge community turnout helped convince Mayor Jean Quan and the police chief to restart Ceasefire—this time with some bold new strategies.

Data would prove crucial. For years, the police, who helped identify the participants, believed that 10,000 people, disproportionately teens, drove homicides in Oakland, which is why previous violence-prevention programs funneled most social services to a large group of teens. During the earlier iterations of Ceasefire, officers targeted known group or gang members who were on probation or parole for weapon or violence-related offenses—a broad category. Now the city’s public safety director called in advisers from the California Partnership for Safe Communities, a newly formed nonprofit, to examine data gathered from a year and a half of shootings and figure out more specifically who was involved.

The results shook police and city leaders’ assumptions. Just 400 men were responsible for the majority of the city’s homicides, the researchers found, and their average age was 28 or 29. The discovery challenged a long-held belief that people age out of violence in their 20s. Most shooters were Black or Latino and members of a street group, a term used in Oakland instead of “gang,” and they had forged strong ties with friends in their crew. They were typically fighting not over drugs, as was commonly believed, but over personal beefs. Most had a history of prison or probation, and many had been involved in a previous shooting, as either a perpetrator or a target. Because the men were older, they’d had more time to rack up bad experiences with official agencies and the criminal justice system, whether through foster care or the courts.

With the new data, Ceasefire officials could target services to those people for whom intervention might stanch the most violence. Most cities don’t do this analysis, says David Muhammad, Oakland’s former chief probation officer and now an adviser for the California Partnership for Safe Communities. Every week, law enforcement and criminologists review each shooting that occurred over the past seven days, and refer the gunmen and victims to Ceasefire if they meet most of certain criteria: They’re between the ages of 18 and 35, have an extensive criminal justice history, are part of a street group, and have a family member or friend who has been shot recently. “Data changed the whole dynamic,” says Ben McBride, “because we knew we could reach around 250 individuals, versus this feeling that there’s 20,000 people running around terrorizing the city and being terrorized.”

After Ceasefire resumed in 2013, about 20 probationers and parolees went to the next call-in at a community center. The room was tense. Men from rival gangs eyed each other from their seats. Between them sat pastors, police, and mothers whose sons had been killed. Law enforcement officers hovered in the background. Muhammad, the technical adviser, watched skeptically as officers in tactical gear tried to convince the men that the city cared about them. He and others pushed the city to scale back the police presence at future call-ins.

Community members participate in a Night Walk in East Oakland on Friday, December 13, 2019.
Preston Gannaway

At a later meeting, one of the participants pointed out that the incentives to leave their groups still weren’t good enough: “When you all ask me to put that gun down, it’s not just the gun I’m putting down, but my ability to be safe, my ability to belong,” Ben McBride recalls a man in his late 20s saying. It got McBride thinking about how some men turned to guns because their schools, the police, or adults in their lives hadn’t protected them. The question city leaders needed to ask now wasn’t whether these men were ready to change. It was, McBride realized, “Were we ready to be in a deep relationship with them? Were we ready to commit resources to them? Were we ready to transform society in a way they could belong to it?”

“Were we ready to be in a deep relationship with them? Were we ready to transform society in a way they could belong to it?”

If the answer was “yes,” he knew it would take investment—voters would need to pass a ballot measure to fund Ceasefire and social services for its participants. It was a tough ask, because investing in Ceasefire also meant investing in the police. And ahead of the 2014 election, the country was grappling with the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. “There was not a lot of goodwill” between law enforcement and Black people in Oakland, says McBride, who went to Ferguson, Missouri, to protest Brown’s killing. He says police officers there called him and his brother the n-word and other slurs; both of them were arrested. Passing the ballot measure “was a heavy lift,” he says, because “we are working with a partner—the police department—that is very flawed.”

But the McBrides tried to remind people that investing in Ceasefire could have results—homicides had already fallen by nearly a third over the prior year. With Lafitte-Oluwole, pastors, and other community members, they spoke with congregants, who then spread the word to neighbors. That November, Oakland voters overwhelmingly passed Measure Z, which would raise $277 million over a decade—60 percent of it for the police, the rest for violence prevention programs, including Ceasefire.

The spending on additional services had the potential to save the city money in the long run. It would cost less than $10,000 to put someone through life coaching, according to Muhammad. By contrast, he says, a single shooting injury can cost the city more than $1 million including medical, police, court, and prison costs. Often it’s more: A 2015 analysis by Mother Jones and researcher Ted Miller revealed that nationally, each gun death averages about $6 million in total costs. Collectively, these killings cost the United States more than $229 billion each year—upward of $700 per person. And access to social services can help drive down shootings. In his book Uneasy Peace, sociologist Patrick Sharkey examined crime in 264 cities between 1990 and 2012, and found that each additional nonprofit focused on crime and social outreach was associated with a nearly 1 percent drop in murder rates.

But throwing money or programs at a problem can only get you so far. “Part of what’s been deeply disturbing about the way violence prevention has and hasn’t played out in cities is that for a long time it’s essentially been an inside game,” driven from the top down by mayors, police chiefs, and others who might not have been personally affected, says scholar David Kennedy, an architect of the Boston model. “Communities are no longer putting up with that. Because the most powerful influencer of behavior is not the cops—it’s what you and your community and your mom and your best friends and your girlfriend think about what you’re doing.” Since so many shootings are about interpersonal conflicts, breaking the chain of violence can be like breaking the chain of viral transmission in a public health epidemic.

In 2013, as Oakland began its third attempt with the Ceasefire program, community members pushed to be more involved. City officials decided to let volunteers help police reach out to potential participants individually rather than summoning them to group call-ins. One study by the city found that 65 percent of potential participants in Oakland accepted services when a community member was present at the ask, compared with just 25 percent who did when only police reached out. Lafitte-Oluwole, a decade after her stepson was killed, volunteered to do outreach. “A lot of people carry all these burdens,” she says, “not knowing they can seek help.”

City officials also started to think differently about how they offered services to the program’s participants. Giving someone a phone number to call for job training wouldn’t cut it. Now, life coaches, some of whom came up through street groups themselves, would build relationships with the participants, an addition to the program other cities hadn’t tried. They’d sit down with the guys and see if they wanted help with any immediate needs, like avoiding threats from a rival gang or finding housing. But the coaches’ main goal would be to spend time with the participants and build trust, even with men who were still involved with a street group or didn’t want a job. “Just because you aren’t motivated in the beginning, it doesn’t mean we give up on you,” says Haywood, who has been working as a life coach for eight years. “It’s not just a Monday-through-Friday, job-related thing. It’s deeper than that.” The life coaches work with people even if they’re still involved with crime, and they don’t share any information with police.

In 2018, only 10 percent of the men who went through the Community & Youth Outreach coaching program, where Haywood works, were rearrested after one year. In contrast, nearly three-quarters of men in their early 20s with juvenile records in California end up arrested again within a few years of their release from detention. Fewer than 1 percent of the Ceasefire participants who did the coaching program were rearrested for shootings in 2018.

In late 2018, Andre Reed moved into his girlfriend’s house in a city near Oakland and started meeting up with Leonard Haywood, or Len, his new life coach. Haywood, 47, also grew up in Oakland with a single mom. As a kid, he straddled two worlds, taking classes at a private school and then coming back to his East Oakland neighborhood, where he’d ride his blue BMX bike, rap Too $hort and Richie Rich songs, and shoot hoops. Some of his friends sold crack, but beyond the occasional fight, he mostly stayed out of trouble. His football, track, and basketball coaches encouraged him to stay in school. “Sometimes you can’t see certain things in yourself,” Haywood says now, reflecting on his mentors. “Thinking I can only go so far.”

By the time Reed limped back to Haywood’s office on the third floor of a Bank of America building in East Oakland in 2018, he’d discarded the cane and, thanks to the regular phone calls, his skepticism about Haywood. Reed appreciated that Haywood hadn’t rushed him to come before he was ready. “It’s all about meeting people where they are,” Haywood says of his approach.

At least three times a week, Reed and Haywood met at the office, Reed’s house, or out somewhere to eat burgers or burritos. Both are fathers, with boys about the same age, and they bonded over their Oakland childhoods and years playing football. Haywood told Reed about the night he spent in jail before dropping out of college. Everything about the experience—getting fingerprinted and thrown into a cell, being ordered to pull down his pants and bend and cough—felt like a violation. Reed found Haywood’s honesty refreshing. “Some people will talk to you but lie to you at the same time,” Reed says. “He told me the truth of everything, keeping it real with me.”

Andre Reed (right) and his life coach Len Haywood after breakfast in San Leandro.
Preston Gannaway

Haywood coaxed Reed into naming some of his goals. Safety was one. And he wanted a steady job to support his kids. Haywood referred him to SAS Automotive in nearby Newark, where he applied to build dashboards for Tesla cars. Along with his paycheck, he would receive about $200 from the city as a monthly stipend for staying employed and meeting with his parole officer. The job left less time to swing by the life-coaching office, so Haywood sometimes drove out to see him at the auto factory. Reed eventually moved to East Oakland, where he stayed in a duplex with his aunt just a few blocks from Haywood’s home.

“I think I text him ‘big bro’ first,” Reed says. “‘Big bro, do I need to come do something?’ That’s when he text back ‘little bro,’ and ever since then it’s just ‘big bro, little bro.’” If there was a shooting in Oakland, Haywood would reach out to make sure Reed was okay. He texted often: How was work, what you getting into today, you ate? Reed knew he could call his coach anytime. It was nice, he thought. The only other person who reached out regularly to hear how he was doing was his mom.

A few months after Reed started working at the auto factory, he invited Haywood into his living room, where he showed off the pile of gifts he’d stashed beneath a Christmas tree: PlayStation games for his son, and Barbies and cooking toys for his daughter, all purchased with his own paycheck.

On a Friday night last December around 7 p.m., Rev. Damita Davis-Howard spotted two figures heading down a street near her Baptist church in East Oakland. “Hey, young men. How you all doin’ tonight?” she called out to them as they passed a beat-up Chevy. “You be safe out here, okay?”

They both smiled. “You too,” one said, before turning to walk away.

Most Friday nights for seven years, Davis-­Howard, co-director of Ceasefire, and other activists have banded together for organized walks through areas of Oakland at high risk of gun violence. Her brother was shot and killed when she was in her late 20s. Two of her second cousins were shot too, and her niece was shot on her way to a party. In 2018, four bullets hit her son while he was at a store, though he survived. Joining the Night Walks, she told me, makes her feel like maybe she can change things.

About 20 people dressed in white coats carried signs that read “Love One Another” and “Honk for Peace” as they marched past houses decorated with holiday lights along 85th Avenue. Two men waved and filmed the walkers on their phones as drivers honked in support.

“It’s like counting the apples in a seed,” B.K. Woodson, a pastor, had told the marchers at a gathering at Davis-Howard’s church before the walk. “We don’t know the effect that walking tonight will have. What we do know is that people see us, and they know us.” The city’s police chief at the time, Anne Kirkpatrick, joined the group for a prayer and clasped hands with some of the marchers. “I ask for forgiveness for what we as police have done to cause harm,” she said.

The Night Walks are the public face of Ceasefire, a way for pastors and other organizers to shore up support for the program in neighborhoods where many people are reluctant to work with police. But building trust can’t just fall on community volunteers. Police have to clean up their act too.

After decades of widespread sweeps for drugs and guns in Black and Brown neighborhoods, the Oakland police department scaled back arrests by 55 percent between 2006 and 2015. Ceasefire officers now say their goal is not to dismantle gangs, but instead to stop gang violence, targeting behaviors as opposed to groups of people. They still arrest men who commit violence. But after they do, supervisors with the program are often required to debrief the neighbors and leave a phone number. Those debriefings are “a great idea,” says Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-­Terror Project, a local group that supports families affected by police violence. “Communities should know why there was a major action on their street, because that is just as triggering as intercommunal violence is for us.”

The relationship between the police and the community remains fraught. By 2016, Oakland was on track for a record-low number of homicides. The Obama administration commended its police department as an example for other cities to follow. Then, as the city was hoping to end federal oversight, at least 14 Oakland officers were found to have repeatedly had sex with a 17-year-old girl, trafficking her between them. The police chief resigned, and criminal charges were filed.

After the scandal, Ben McBride and other community members debated walking away from Ceasefire because they could no longer trust the police. The city suspended the strategy. “I can tell you that the individuals on our team were embarrassed by it, wanted to throw in the towel,” says Captain Ersie Joyner, who then led the police department’s Ceasefire unit, and who says he also felt disappointed by a lack of accountability in the department in the fallout from the revelations. In the end, most community partners stayed, and Ceasefire resumed a few months later. Oakland closed the year with an overall drop in homicides. Seventy-two people were killed in 2017, the fewest since 1999. “We were able to pull it together and save people’s lives,” Joyner says.

Ceasefire was found to be directly associated with a 32 percent reduction in gun homicides since 2011.

There was more evidence that Ceasefire was working. In 2018, criminologist Anthony Braga and other researchers released a study showing that shootings in Oakland had dropped in half since 2011. Ceasefire was found to be directly associated with a 32 percent reduction in gun homicides, even after controlling for other factors like gentrification and seasonal patterns. This huge reduction, the researchers found, was distinct from homicide trends in other California cities.

It was cause for celebration, for a while. Then the coronavirus struck, and protests against police violence. Both would cast uncertainty over the future of Ceasefire and policing in general.

In late May and early June, thousands of people, including the McBrides and Cat Brooks, flooded Oakland’s streets to protest police killings of Black men and women. Some protesters demanded that Oakland slash $150 million from its police department budget; some insisted on dismantling the department entirely. “Whose streets?” Brooks shouted into a microphone at a protest in Downtown Oakland that defied the city’s 8 p.m. curfew. “Our streets!” hundreds of people around her replied.

At first glance, demands to defund the police department seem to threaten Ceasefire’s existence, given that it operates as a partnership between the community and the police. But even if cities slash funds for cops and recruit social workers to respond to noncriminal 911 calls, communities will still need to deal with deadly crimes like shootings. It’s possible, even likely, that the movement to reimagine public safety in America will create more of an appetite for strategies like Oakland’s Ceasefire. The McBrides, who are now calling on police departments across the country to slash their budgets, see Ceasefire as an avenue to defund traditional law enforcement and invest in communities.

Police in other cities are taking note. “They determined you can’t arrest your way out of a problem. That’s something we really took away,” says Andrew Shearer, Portland’s assistant chief, who visited Oakland to learn about the strategy. Milwaukee’s police chief, who visited before assuming his new role, has instructed his department to copy Oakland’s weekly shooting reviews.

In June, after Minneapolis City Council members announced their intention to dismantle their police department, they suggested they might invest more money in a local program that resembles Oakland’s. “That’s the kind of work we have to get behind,” Council member Phillipe Cunningham said of his city’s Group Violence Intervention strategy. “Because the more we can do that’s community-based, the less law enforcement that we actually need.”

That’s not to say Oakland has everything figured out. In 2016, researchers found that its officers were four times likelier to search Black men than white men during traffic stops. Another study showed that its police made arrests in 80 percent of homicides with white victims, but only 40 percent with Black victims, a pattern that exists nationally. Ben McBride says the city hasn’t been transparent enough about which men are targeted by Ceasefire. And Brooks, of the Anti Police-Terror Project, worries the strategy still leans too heavily on law enforcement. Participants have told her they believe they’ll go to jail if they don’t accept the program’s services. “When you talk to some of the brothers,” she says, “their message has been pretty clear: that if they don’t play, the cops are going to make life so uncomfortable they have no choice but to play.” Technical advisers for the city say the police don’t arrest men for rejecting services—just for engaging in violence. “For the purpose of keeping people in our communities who we love alive, we’ll continue to work with the police, but we’re still a far stone’s throw away from trust,” says Ben McBride, who eventually wants to see the current system of policing abolished. “What we’ve told them is, how do we come back and sit at a table with you all when you all are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at us?”

“We’ll continue to work with the police, but we’re still a far stone’s throw away from trust,” says Ben McBride.

The McBrides are asking the city to shift much more money away from policing toward the social services that keep Ceasefire humming. For years, the two brothers have also pushed Oakland to pay the volunteers who work on the program. The city recently reached an agreement with a community-based organization to provide stipends. “If you can find the money to pay police officers up to $300,000 a year to patrol the streets with guns, why can’t we find the resources to stipend community members to take time away to also reduce violence?” Ben McBride says. “We want to continue to see the kind of partnership and respect for people of color that are doing the work.”

“The work of saving lives, particularly Black, Latino, and Brown lives in urban America, is largely seen as the responsibility of Black and Brown people to do by ourselves—that was a problem here in Oakland,” Michael McBride said in March at a community meeting at the Allen Temple Baptist Church, the same place where he had rallied support for Ceasefire eight years ago. Men and women in the pews murmured in agreement. But saving these lives, he said, would require the city to spend more money on members of the community it had long neglected, and would require activists to hold their noses and work with the police. “We may not like each other, including the police—we’ll be honest, we don’t like you,” McBride continued. “But we have to work together. It’s important to keep reminding ourselves that collaboration is the silver bullet.”

Reed graduated from the life-coaching program last November, after about a year of working at the auto factory. When I met him during his lunch break one day in December, he talked about training newer employees and working toward a promotion. He and his girlfriend had a baby boy on the way, due in January. “I look in the mirror every morning and be like, ‘I’m proud of you,’” he said.

But the pandemic threw a wrench in his career plans. Shelter-in-place orders closed the production line and left him without work. When I tried to check in with him in March, he didn’t answer the phone or return my calls. Haywood told me he couldn’t reach him either.

Shootings, meanwhile, were creeping up in Oakland and other cities like Chicago and Baltimore. Maybe it was because of the warmer weather, or the fact that people were unemployed and stuck at home. Oakland had entered March on track to hit a record-low number of annual homicides, but by summer that goal seemed unlikely, according to Muhammad, though homicides were still half their pre-Ceasefire levels. Haywood wondered if the pandemic was to blame for the rising violence. He kept in touch with his clients by Zoom and FaceTime, and sent them care packages with wipes, hand sanitizer, and masks. But it was harder to build a connection virtually. Community organizers paused their Night Walks to maintain social distancing.

Reed and I eventually reconnected after I tracked him down on Facebook. I wondered if he worried about finding a new job in the middle of a recession, with a criminal record. But he said he was motivated to look for something better. Though his life coaching was technically over, Haywood had called just a couple of hours earlier, with phone numbers of contacts who might be hiring. Reed got to work filling out applications. “It felt good” to talk again to Haywood, Reed told me, “because he’s there for me.”

For a while, Reed was trying to convince his younger brother, who got out of prison late last year, to seek out a life coach too. “He’s still thinking about it,” Reed says. Almost every day, Reed texts his brother to check in. How you doing, what are you up to? “He want to do the same, but he want to do it on his time,” Reed says. “So I just wait. I just tell him, ‘When you ready, you just let me know. We can go from there.’”

The print edition of this article misidentified Thomas Abt’s previous role at the Justice Department.

Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking” Tells Women to Compromise. I Refused to Do That.

I learned about Netflix’s new show, Indian Matchmaking, during a phone call with my dad. He said he’d read a Twitter thread from an Indian woman who talked about her traumatic experiences navigating arranged marriages. Reading it reminded him of a period in my life, my mid-twenties, when we were searching for a groom for me. 

I am a South Indian who grew up in Mumbai. For many Indian women, including me, mid-twenties is the time when parents have the “talk”—except this talk isn’t about sex or puberty (sexual education is glossed over in Indian schools and families). It’s about a plan to settle down with a “suitable” groom. It’s that time when a woman realizes that she’s a liability to her parents even if she is financially independent. A father can’t rest till he hands off his daughter to another family. 

My dad ended the call saying he wouldn’t share the Twitter thread with me lest it trigger painful memories. But of course, I had to track it down.

I’ve been seeing a lot of jokes about the show on matchmaking and arranged marriages on Netflix and as someone who’s lived through this hell for most of her twenties, I’m here to tell you; it’s no joking matter 1/n

— nikita doval (@nikitadoval) July 19, 2020

Since its release on July 16, Indian Matchmaking is all my Twitter stream can talk about. This binge-able show follows Sima Taparia, who calls herself Bombay’s top matchmaker, as she finds partners for her mostly elite Indian clients. In the first episode, Taparia lays out the sociological context of the show for a Western audience: Arranged marriages are the norm in Indian society. A marriage is a union between two families, not just the bride and groom. Families are heavily involved in the process.

What she doesn’t lay out to the audience directly, but casually references again and again, are the prejudices latticing Indian society that define the arranged-marriage process. As Taparia travels around India and the United States to meet her Indian clients, she carries with her a binder full of profiles of grooms and brides that she calls “biodatas.” The biodatas reveal information about a prospective match’s height (super important); photograph (the lighter the complexion, the better); caste (non-negotiable-stfu-it’s-really-important); horoscope (so the stars are aligned); and other details like interests (“travel”; “food trucks”; “music festivals” seem popular) and professional degrees (lawyers and doctors abound).

Did I mention that most of these really important details are variables that the prospective grooms and brides don’t have any control over? I quickly lost count of the number of times Taparia mentions the word “fair” or “slim” or “family background” (a euphemism for caste and class) while referring to a potential match. Heck, the first episode is even titled “Slim, Trim, and Educated.” The show fails to rise above any other reality dating show, because the participants aren’t given space to interrogate these prejudices, but rather they quietly accept them as prerequisite conditions for an arranged marriage.

Taparia is constantly advising women that they need to “compromise” in order to find a good match.

Even as matchmakers and families rarely bend on the caste, color, or status of prospective matches, they expect young women to let go of the few things that matter to them. I’ve heard this complaint time and time again from female friends who are educated and financially independent. Two ambitious women on the show—Aparna Shewakramani and Ankita Bansal—are told that they’re “rebellious,” “strong headed,” “stubborn” and even “greedy” for standing their ground on the qualities they were looking for in a partner. My heart broke as I watched a supposedly progressive matchmaker warn Bansal, an entrepreneur with her own clothing line, that she should be ready to give up her career and relocate if her husband demanded it. In the arranged marriage process, strong, independent women are expected to relinquish so much that their identities are reduced to nothing.

Taparia is constantly advising women that they need to “compromise” in order to find a good match. In the first five minutes of the show, a groom’s mother tells Taparia that she wants a daughter-in-law who is “flexible” because that would make her job easy. I cringed when I heard that. Flexibility. Compromise. Adjustment. These three words, the bedrocks of patriarchal society, were repeatedly peddled through the show. 

The words reminded me of arguments I had with my family as they sought a match for me. We didn’t hire a fancy matchmaker. My dad did the work of poring through profiles on the Internet. He was my matchmaker and a gatekeeper. My family wanted someone who belonged to my caste, subcaste, subclan, and region, whose horoscopes matched with mine. I’d joke that after matching for all these traits, there would only be a total of like four men out of a country of billion in the eligibility pool. The probability of me finding someone suitable seemed minuscule. 

I would routinely fail to hit it off with men my dad wanted me to marry, since most of them came from conservative families and expected me to conform to ironclad traditions that I found oppressive. One boy expected me to dress up in traditional nine-yard sarees and follow strict religious protocols, many of which were sexist, but he also consumed alcohol, which was a complete no-no in our culture. I don’t have a problem with my partner consuming alcohol, but the hypocrisy of expecting his future wife to adhere to strict norms while he was flouting the rules was jarring. Like Taparia frequently does on Indian Matchmaking, my family would complain that I had very high standards. I was too stubborn; I should be willing to compromise.

A relative couldn’t fathom why I’d say no to a boy who owned a car and a house.

Once, a relative couldn’t fathom why I’d say no to a boy who owned a car and a house. What more could you ask for in a partner? We were stuck in a deadlock with no end in sight. 

As someone who has sought approval and been non-confrontational most of my life, if I have learned anything about compromise, it is this: Compromise only begets more requests for compromise. Compromise on the partner. Compromise on the wedding customs. Compromise in the marriage.

Finally standing up for myself—though it led to some ugly fights—was worth it. My parents thought that a similar family background was a better marker of compatibility than bonding over personal values, worldviews, and experiences. I disagreed. Would they be happy if they got what they wanted, but I was unhappy because I wasn’t convinced that it was a good fit?

My dad was perplexed when he learned we weren’t on the same page. But after three years of unsatisfactory dates and a lot of uncomfortable conversations with my parents, I told my dad I was ready to make a deal with him. Not a compromise, but a deal, where we’d work together to find my partner.

I handed over a list to help him filter profiles using words such as “open-minded,” “feminist,” “curious,” and “liberal.” No matter how long it was going to take, I told him, I needed my partner to embody those qualities. From then on, while he didn’t budge on the caste requirements, my father seemed more mindful of what I wanted. Ultimately, he wanted me to be happy. And that’s the difference between a professional matchmaker and a parent. My parents couldn’t just dust their hands off and move on to their next matchmaking project. They were invested in my long-term happiness.

My dad’s matches started getting better. Eventually, I met someone I clicked with, and after dating for a year, we got married. In retrospect, I find it funny that I had to boil down an ocean of intuition into a box of keywords to get through to my dad. But it worked. For my family, matchmaking turned out to be an exercise in communication and collaboration, and ultimately it brought us closer. At some point between resolving conflicts, my parents confronted some assumptions they’d been harboring for a long time. My dad even calls himself a feminist now.

But Indian Matchmaking doesn’t spend much time exploring the negotiations families make while navigating age-old traditions. And it doesn’t question the power imbalance inherent in the matchmaking process, which favors parents’ wishes first and foremost. I was lucky to find someone I liked in my arranged marriage, and I know several friends and relatives who’ve had successful marriages after being matched. But I have also heard of horror stories: men or women who lied about their sexual orientation before entering a marriage, or people who were forced to give up on the people they loved for the sake of an arrangement.

During the phone call a few weeks ago, my dad brought up my three-year-old daughter. He said he hopes his granddaughter doesn’t have to endure what I did. My daughter may or may not end up having an arranged marriage, but whatever she chooses, my husband and I want her quest for finding love and partnership to be driven by her vision, and not ours. 

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