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Blaming BLM for Homicide Rise—and Excusing Massive Spike in Gun Sales

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

Washington Post (6/27/21): “One centrist…said fellow Democrats must not shy away from talking about rising crime and the challenges facing police.”

Media musings on a spike in homicides and shootings over the past year focus on how “defund the police” and other civil rights movement calls to action are affecting public safety—while largely ignoring any policy proposals that could keep guns off the street.

The headlines blare from every corner of the news media: “Defund the Police Encounters Resistance as Violent Crime Spikes” (CNN, 5/25/21). “Cities Reverse Defunding the Police Amid Rising Crime” (Wall Street Journal, 5/26/21).”Democrats Pushed Hard Last Year to Rein in Police. A Rise in Homicides Is Prompting a Shift” (Washington Post, 6/27/21).

Crime is up, especially homicides and shootings, and the most-cited culprits are civil rights demonstrators calling for defunding the police. Far less often mentioned in these articles and reports is the role of the massive increase in gun sales in 2020–21.

Gun sales exploded

Reasons for the increase in gun sales are manifold: political instability during a close and contested election, fears of societal collapse during a global pandemic, and the rise of political extremism, to name just a few.

CNN (3/14/21): “In January, as rioters stormed the US Capitol and a new administration took office, the FBI was swamped with 4.3 million requests for background checks.”

As CNN (3/14/21) reported, citing an arms industry consulting firm, gun sales in 2020 exploded: 23 million weapons were sold, outpacing 2019’s nearly 14 million by around 65%. USA Today (2/10/21), using records of FBI background checks, had a different, higher number: “Gun sales in the United States rose 40% last year to 39,695,315.”

2021 is poised to smash these records. As MSN (7/5/21) reported this month, gun sales for the first half of this year totaled more than 22 million, an increase of 15% from last year’s already unprecedented total. As the New York Times (5/29/21) reported in May:

“There was a surge in purchasing unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, a gun researcher at the University of California, Davis. “Usually it slows down. But this just kept going.”

In this context, the relentless, narrow focus on “defund the police” and the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020 is misplaced. There are, of course, any number of reasons that may lead to increased crime, and it’s impossible to identify precisely what is driving the rise in violent crime. But a relative lack of interest in guns as a driver of shootings and homicides in the reports is noticeable.

The flow of guns used in crime across state borders (Vox, 10/26/16) makes state-level gun sales an unhelpful predictor of state gun violence.

Axios (7/12/21) and the Guardian (7/9/21) have touted results from a new study (Injury Epidemiology, 7/5/21) by researchers at the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis that purports to show the rise in gun sales did not have a major effect on gun violence in 2020. The researchers lined up gun sales and gun violence on a state by state basis, and found “no relationship between state-level excess purchasing and non-domestic firearm violence.”

But the state-level approach taken by the study elides a rather important point: Many guns used in violent crimes cross state lines—60% in Illinois, 74% in New York, 83% in New Jersey—rendering the expectation that there should be a 1:1 relationship between state-level gun sales and state gun violence rather fanciful. And the data itself may be incomplete, as Axios noted:

National data on homicides is spotty and laggy—authorities won’t know the full number of murders last year for months—and there is no conclusive database on gun purchases or who owns firearms in the US, all of which complicates connecting the dots.

Murders and shootings up

According to FBI crime data, murders rose by 25% around the country in 2020. Of that 4,100 increase in murders, 75% are likely to be gun murders, as crime data analyst Jeff Asher told the Guardian (3/24/21) in March.

And the numbers this year might even be higher:

The FBI’s preliminary 2020 data does not yet include some of the cities that saw the worst increases in murder last year, including Chicago, New Orleans and New York, Asher said, which might mean that total murders could rise more than 25%.

“If there’s a 30% increase, which I think is very plausible, that would be 5,000 additional people murdered,” he said.

That’s not the whole story—the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report system shows that while violent crime has spiked slightly, the general shift is downward. And property crime has continued to go down every year over the past decade.

“2020 marked the best year for gun sales—ever,” NPR (3/3/21) reported, and “there’s an increase in the ratio of violent crimes that involved guns to those that didn’t”—but it’s “a leap” to see a connection between the two phenomena.

Yet when corporate news media address the connection in the rise in violent crime and gun sales, it’s often with a hesitant, careful approach. NPR (3/3/21) in March devoted an entire report to downplaying any such connection—”Experts Who Study This Say Not So Fast”—and then in June (6/19/21) turned to Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo for a segment headlined “Understanding 2021’s Rise in Gun Violence.” Acevedo used the opportunity as a platform to use the rise in crime in his city as a reason to continue to invest resources in policing, egged on by host Scott Simon.

“Doesn’t sound like you think this is a good time to reduce police resources,” Simon said. “I won’t use that red flag of a word, ‘defund.'”

CBS News (5/24/21) framed the parallel rise in gun sales and crime as a problem of insufficient infrastructure for background checks—”Some of those sales are stretching our background check system thin,” its source says—a law enforcement–friendly view of the problem. Last year, the network (7/8/20) implied a correlation between a $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s budget—dropping it from $89.1 billion to $88 billion—and the 130% increase in shootings in New York City through the first six months of 2020:

The increase in violence comes amid widespread calls to defund and reform police departments across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. New York’s decision to defund a small percentage of the NYPD was the first budget cut the department has been given since de Blasio took office.

“People will die if you defund police,” Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 4/1/21) claimed—though as AP (6/10/21) pointed out, “the same big increases in homicides are being seen nationwide—even in cities that increased police spending.”

NBC News (3/14/21) covered the rise in violent crime as evidence that cutting police department budgets was a mistake. Guns were mentioned, but only in the context of police enforcement:

[Lansing, Michigan Police Chief Daryl] Green vowed to lean on the violent crime task force, formed a decade ago in response to an uptick in fatal shootings—including that of Edmond’s daughter—to take illegal guns off the streets and interrupt retaliatory gun attacks.

Fox News (4/1/21), unsurprisingly, took aim at defund measures as the primary driver of a rise in violent crime, arguing that

as police departments were left to make do with shrunken budgets and less support, some big cities have seen sometimes drastic upticks in murders and other violent crimes.

It’s enough to make you wonder if the US media have any interest in uncovering the root causes for societal ills like violent crime—or if pushing civil rights movement demands as divisive culture war issues is the point.

The post Blaming BLM for Homicide Rise—and Excusing Massive Spike in Gun Sales appeared first on FAIR.

Top Trump Adviser Arrested and Charged With Secretly Lobbying for the UAE

Mother Jones Magazine -

Tom Barrack, a friend and longtime adviser to former President Donald Trump, was arrested Tuesday and charged with violating foreign lobbying laws by using his access to Trump to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates.

The Justice Department also alleges that Barrack, a billionaire who heads a real estate investment firm called Colony Capital and who chaired Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, obstructed justice and made false statements during a June 20, 2019, interview with federal agents. Two other men—a Barrack employee named Matthew Grimes and an alleged agent for the UAE, Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi—also face charges related to violations of foreign lobbying laws.

“The defendants, using their positions of power and influence in a presidential election year, engaged in a conspiracy to illegally advance and promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates in this country, in flagrant violation of their obligation to notify the Attorney General of their activities and in derogation of the American people’s right to know when a foreign government seeks to influence the policies of our government and our public opinion,” said Jacquelin Kasulis, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where the charges were filed. 

“Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” a Barrack spokesperson said. “He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”

In a press release, prosecutors said that while Barrack advised the Trump campaign in 2016 and then the Trump White House, he maintained backchannel communications with UAE leaders and worked to promote their agenda in Washington. Some of the conduct occurred while Barrack unsuccessfully sought appointment to a top job in the Trump administration, including a post as special envoy to the Middle East. In an April 12, 2017, text message to Alshahhi, Barrack, appearing to seek UAE support, said his appointment would “give Abu Dhabi,” the Emirati capital, “more power.” “Great for u!” Barrack added.

The Justice Department did not explain why Barrack worked for the UAE, but he has longstanding business ties in the Middle East. The New York Times, which reported the foreign lobbying investigation into Barrack in 2019, noted that between Trump’s nomination and the end of June 2019, Colony Capital received about $1.5 billion in investments and other transactions from the UAE and its close ally, Saudi Arabia. This included $474 million in investments from the sovereign wealth funds run by the Saudi and Emirati governments. At the start of the Trump administration, Barrack also pushed to strike a nuclear power deal with Saudi Arabia that would likely have to skirt US laws restricting the transfer of nuclear technology—and that project could well have benefitted Barrack’s business. 

In the indictment of Barrack and the others, the Justice Department lists several steps Barrack took that it claims violated the foreign lobbying law. These include:

  • In May 2016, Barrack inserted language praising the UAE into a campaign speech Trump was preparing to deliver on US energy policy and emailed an advance draft of the speech to Alshahhi for delivery to senior UAE officials.
  • In 2016 and 2017, Barrack and the other defendants “received direction and feedback, including talking points, from senior UAE officials in connection with national press appearances Barrack used to promote the interests of the UAE.” Following one appearance in which Barrack praised the UAE, Barrack emailed Alshahhi, “I nailed it…for the home team,” meaning the Emirates.
  • In December 2016, Barrack attended a meeting with Grimes, Alshahhi, and senior UAE government officials, during which he advised them to create a “wish list” of US foreign policy items that the UAE wanted accomplished early in the Trump administration. They later delivered such a list.
  • Barrack and Grimes “acquired a dedicated cellular telephone and installed a secure messaging application to facilitate Barrack’s communications with senior UAE officials.”

Barrack first met Trump in 1985 when Barrack sold Trump part of a chain of department stores. In 1987, when Barrack worked for the billionaire Robert Bass, who owned New York’s famed Plaza Hotel, he negotiated a deal to sell the property to Trump—whose office looked down on the hotel—for $407 million. It turned out to be a bad deal for Trump, who lost the property a few years later.

Barrack has been a key player in Trump’s world. He helped Trump land the government contract that would allow him to take over the historic Old Post Office building in downtown Washington, DC, and turn it into the high-end luxury hotel that would become a clubhouse for Republican politicos, lobbyists, and foreign dignitaries hoping to curry Trump’s favor during his presidency. Trump submitted a bid for the contract that competitors said was ludicrously high, but Trump had solid financial backing: Barrack’s Colony Capital had pledged to finance the project. Shortly after Trump was awarded the contract, Barrack backed out—leading some competitors to complain that Trump had pulled a bait-and-switch. Trump borrowed $160 million from Deutsche Bank for the project.

Barrack also helped finance the debt Jared Kushner owed on a skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York. As the New York Times reported, “Barrack was among a group of lenders who agreed to reduce Mr. Kushner’s obligations to keep him out of bankruptcy.” He recommended that Trump hire Paul Manafort to help run the 2016 campaign. During the campaign, Barrack attempted to arrange a secret meeting between Manafort and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. (A scheduling conflict prevented the get-together from happening.) 

It was already widely known that Barrack essentially served as Trump’s key contact to the Middle East. “Who Is Behind Trump’s Links to Arab Princes? A Billionaire Friend,” read a New York Times headline. In 2016, Barrack wrote to the UAE’s ambassador to Washington, “I would like to align in Donald’s mind the connection between the UAE and Saudi Arabia which we have already started with Jared.”

The Trump inauguration committee that Barrack chaired—which raised an unprecedented sum—is currently under investigation by the Washington, DC, attorney general for allegedly making about $1 million in allegedly improper payments to the Trump Hotel. During a deposition in that case, Barrack made statements about Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg’s involvement in reviewing the finances of the inauguration committee that were contradicted by evidence and other testimony. 

The indictment portrays Barrack as a wheeler-dealer who exploited behind-the-scenes diplomacy and his influence with Trump to serve the interests of the UAE  government and his own business endeavors. “Today’s indictment confirms the FBI’s unwavering commitment to rooting out those individuals who think they can manipulate the system to the detriment of the United States and the American people,” said Assistant Director Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

Jeff Bezos Thanks Amazon Workers and Customers for Making Him So Rich He Can Go to Space

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Tuesday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos became the second billionaire in as many weeks to sort-of go to space. The world’s richest man spent several minutes in zero gravity on Tuesday aboard a rocket developed by his company Blue Origin. Going to space, or almost-space, is not, in itself, anything new—Alan Shepard became the first American to leave the atmosphere 60 years ago; four different current or former United States senators have been up there since. Perhaps the most striking thing about Bezos’ efforts is how low the bar has been set that a joyride that lasted shorter than a bathroom break at Amazon can be seen as an international news event.

It’s easy to be cynical about all of this, but in fairness, no one could put it more cynically than Jeff Bezos.

After he landed safely, the newly minted spaceman sat for an interview, and sounding somewhat punch-drunk off the thrill of the experience, summed up the whole fair in a very concise way.

“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this,” he said.

.@JeffBezos speaking truth after successful #BlueOrigin flight:

“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.” https://t.co/hMS01eRzMs pic.twitter.com/3CueAOX9M8

— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) July 20, 2021

Yes, that’s…that’s just about it. Tuesday’s launch was depressing less because of the spectacle in West Texas than because it’s tough to find the error in Bezos’ statement. It was a tremendous collective effort principally for the benefit of one person—an “interestingly shaped” manifestation of the broken political economy that made Bezos possible. This is the end product of all that sweat and sacrifice—of delivery workers peeing in bottles, of warehouse workers staring at propaganda about their boss while they take a shit, of people doing manual labor for $15 an hour, of humans getting injured at his factories and then being forced into a Kafkaesque company healthcare system, of Amazon employees working to hide their co-workers’ injuries, of economic concentration and runaway inequality, of a tax system that is designed to allow someone to become the world’s richest person while sometimes paying no income tax at all.

“Awesome!” Bezos shouted, trying to catch a skittle in his mouth 52 miles above the ground. “It’s so good.”

“Awesome.”

-Jeff Bezos catching a skittle with his mouth in space pic.twitter.com/aLu9NEotfh

— Brennan Murphy (@brenonade) July 20, 2021

This is where all the money went.

New Poll: Arizona Democrats Love Biden and Kelly. Kyrsten Sinema? Not So Much.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s support for the Senate filibuster appears to be doing real damage to her political brand back home. The first-term Arizona Democrat has often defended the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority requirement as a necessary check on partisan whiplash, arguing that it forces the chamber to put together “durable” coalitions. But according to a new survey shared with Mother Jones from the progressive polling and policy firm Data for Progress, her stance has left her far less popular in Arizona than either President Joe Biden or her recently elected Senate colleague, Mark Kelly—and perhaps even vulnerable to a primary challenge. 

According to the survey, which was conducted from June 28 to July 6th, Sinema is viewed favorably by 38 percent of voters, compared to 47 percent for Kelly and 51 percent for Biden—all of whom were elected in recent years by similar margins to Sinema. (Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s favorability sits at 44 percent.) The numbers are more stark when you look at the partisan breakdown. Sinema is viewed favorably by just 42 percent of Democrats (with 39 percent viewing her unfavorably), while Kelly, who was elected narrowly last fall, is at 75 percent favorability with just 17 percent viewing him unfavorably. Biden? He’s doing just fine according to Arizona Democrats, with 95 percent viewing him positively.

Beyond the toplines, though, there are some ominous numbers for Sinema’s long-term standing back home. Democratic voters overwhelmingly support a $15 minimum wage according the survey; Sinema drew the ire of activists this spring for casting a largely symbolic vote against adding such a minimum-wage hike to the coronavirus stimulus package. They support getting rid of the legislative filibuster and overwhelmingly back the PRO Act, which would expand rights and protections for labor unions, but which Sinema has not signed onto. 

After voters were read a script linking the filibuster to Republican obstruction, 66 percent of Democrats said that if given the chance in a 2024 Senate primary, they would “vote for a different candidate who would get rid of the filibuster.”

There’s one silver lining in all these numbers for Sinema. The poll also indicates she’s far more popular among Republicans than either Kelly or Biden. More than twice as popular, in fact. And this isn’t the first recent poll to pick up on such a divide. Another Arizona survey last month—this time of registered voters—showed a similarly stark gap. That survey, from pollster Bendixen & Amandi, found that while Kelly, like Biden, was overwhelmingly popular among Democrats and overwhelmingly unpopular among Republicans, Sinema’s numbers among the two parties were almost identical: She was viewed favorably by 52 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans.

That’s not a total surprise, given both her current role in Washington as a check on the Democratic party and her longstanding political brand. Although she was once a progressive state legislator who condemned the “false pressure to get to 60” votes for major legislation in DC, Sinema has cultivated a reputation in the Capitol as Republicans’ best Democratic friend—someone who is averse to public expressions of partisanship, and who has called the late Republican Sen. John McCain a political idol. She started a bipartisan spin class while serving in the House, and her ability to win the votes of people who have voted Republican in the past is part of the reason she’s in office now. She has even drawn praise from none other than Jan Brewer, the arch-conservative former governor who was a frequent target of Sinema when the latter was a member of the state legislature.

Sinema won’t be up for reelection for another three years, and there’s a lot that can change for her and her party between now and then. But numbers like these aren’t exactly the kind of thing that will scare any prospective primary challengers away. As Democratic critics in her home state ramp up their pressure campaign and mull whether to back a primary challenge if she doesn’t change her mind, it appears her reputation among her constituents—at least among members of her own party—is starting to take a real hit.

"Heartbreaking": Judge's Suspension of DACA Renews Push for Comprehensive Immigration Bill

Democracy Now! -

After a federal judge struck down DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, we look at what may come next with Cesar Espinosa, a DACA recipient and executive director of the Houston, Texas-based, immigrant-led civil rights organization FIEL. He says the latest ruling is “heartbreaking,” and urges lawmakers to create a legislative solution for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. “We want to see Congress and the president take action.”

"Gulag of Our Time": Amnesty International Calls on Biden Admin to Shut Down Guantánamo Bay Prison

Democracy Now! -

Fifty-six-year-old Abdul Latif Nasser is the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to be released under the Biden administration. He was imprisoned for nearly two decades without charge and had been cleared for release since 2016. Thirty-nine prisoners remain at Guantánamo. “Legally speaking, morally speaking, that space that has been created has no significance other than the harm it is placing on people,” says Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International.

Amnesty International: Julian Assange's "Arbitrary" Detention Must End. Release Him Now.

Democracy Now! -

As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if he is extradited to the U.S. under the Espionage Act for publishing classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard says his detention since 2010 “is arbitrary and that he should be released.” She adds that allegations made against him by the U.S. authorities “raise a large number of problems and red flags in relation to freedom of the press.”

Mexico Used Private Israeli Spyware Pegasus to Surveil President's Family & a Murdered Journalist

Democracy Now! -

Mexico appears to have submitted more phone numbers for potential surveillance to the Israeli cybersurveillance company NSO Group than any other client country, according to an investigation of the company by an international collaboration of media outlets called The Pegasus Project. The Guardian found the mobile phone number of Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto was selected as a possible target for surveillance by a Mexican NSO Group client just weeks before Pineda’s assassination in Guerrero in 2017. Nina Lakhani, senior reporter at The Guardian, says Mexico was NSO Group’s first client and authorities there have a long record of “dire human rights abuses.” She notes Mexico’s use of Pegasus proves the technology is not only used to go after criminality. “The line between good and bad in Mexico is blurred,” Lakhani says.

Amnesty Int'l Calls for Moratorium on Private Spyware After Israeli NSO Group Pegasus Revelations

Democracy Now! -

Calls are growing for stricter regulations on the use of surveillance technology after revelations that countries have used the powerful Pegasus spyware against politicians, journalists and activists around the world. The Pegasus software, sold by the Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group, can secretly infect a mobile phone and harvest its information. While the company touts Pegasus as intended for criminals and terrorists, leaked data suggests the tool is widely abused by governments to go after political opponents and dissidents, according to reporting from The Pegasus Project, an international consortium of 17 media organizations. We feature a PBS “Frontline” report on the shocking findings that the Israeli government allowed NSO to continue to do business with Saudi Arabia even after the Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in 2018 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and allegedly used Pegasus to surveil Khashoggi’s fiancée. “Contrary to what NSO is claiming, the spyware Pegasus is used to target people absolutely unrelated to criminal activities or terrorism,” says Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International. She adds that The Pegasus Project has exposed that abuse of powerful surveillance technology “is systematic, and it is global.”

Headlines for July 20, 2021

Democracy Now! -

The Female Founders’ Feminist Cool Club Turned Out to Be One Big Circle Jerk

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last month, an in-depth look into the meltdown at Great Jones, the direct-to-consumer cookware startup beloved by the Cooking for Instagram crowd, spilled onto the internet. Anna Silman’s excellent report into the turmoil, published by Business Insider, included all the right ingredients for a wild exposé into the latest set of millennials eager to perform boss: rich friends using even richer friends, stolen roast chicken recipes, shady HR tactics, and eventually, a move by staff members to quit en masse to protest shitty leadership.

Much of the tension centered on former Grubstreet editor Sierra Tishgart. The report chronicled how Tishgart had pushed out co-founder Maddy Moelis, a childhood best friend, for control of the company. That move appeared at least partly animated by an interest to parlay the business into something of a glossy personal brand for Tishgart, one that gelled somewhere between her Vogue wedding and her alleged ambitions to become the next Emily Weiss, the founder of the makeup and skincare brand Glossier. Suddenly, the PR talking point that Tishgart and Moelis had been buds for over 20 years seemed irrelevant.

Meanwhile, Great Jones employees say they suffered, both physically and mentally, as Tishgart and Moelis clashed over their enameled pots and pans business.

The cookware drama is the latest in a flood of similar uproars to dethrone women at the helm of trendy companies following accusations of leadership over a toxic work culture. Over the past year, many of these implosions were themselves a spin-off of an even larger cascade from corporations getting called out for pro forma accountability amid 2020’s demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism. They included names like Audrey Gelman of The Wing, the once sleek co-working space for women that reportedly treated staff like garbage, who as it happens, was an early investor at Great Jones, and Leandra Medine of the now-defunct fashion blog and media company, Man Repeller.

After spending the past decade celebrating and subsequently dismantling the myth of the #GirlBoss, the question now once again arises: How are female founders still fucking up this badly? The primary villains, invariably white and privileged, are always the same. Her slick businesses are often underpinned by young employees who say they’ve been subjected to various forms of abuse, including racism and wage theft. But the bosses don’t see any of it—and how could they? They’re preoccupied, staring at each other. 

That fixed gaze—and failure to learn from the various exposés uncovering exploitation and embarrassingly spoiled behavior—has become a propulsive distraction. That is until accountability, thanks to employees who say enough is enough, comes cracking at that very gaze. After all is said and done, it may turn out to be that the club of the Female Founder was actually just one big circle jerk.

That’s certainly what a recent episode of a podcast featuring Medine ended up exposing. In June 2020, Medine stepped down from Man Repeller, which launched in 2010 as a fashion blog that purported to reject the male gaze before expanding to a full-fledged, 15-person media company, amid accusations of performing solidarity with Black Lives Matter while failing to look at the company’s own shortcomings.

According to designer Recho Omondi, it was around this time that Medine reached out to appear on Omondi’s podcast, The Cutting Room Floor, following an initial 2019 interview in which Omondi says Medine had been “very rude.” But after the murder of George Floyd, Omondi says Medine was suddenly eager to talk again. “Like clockwork, she reaches out to me, randomly” Omondi explained in a podcast that aired last week, “And we record again.” (It’s worth noting that the podcast also included anti-semitic tropes thrown at Medine.)

In the nearly hour and a half conversation that followed, the two women discuss Medine’s decision to fire one of the highest-ranking Black women at the company at the start of the pandemic—a move she defended. Medine also admitted to barely registering the high-profile killings of Black people in the United States, including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Philando Castille, until Floyd’s murder in 2020.

“[They] honestly didn’t land the same way,” is how she put it.

Medine then claimed to have grown up under the belief that her family was always “on the brink of being homeless.” This despite growing up on the Upper East Side, attending a private prep school in Manhattan, and having the unique privilege of vomiting in grandma’s Hermès purse

“I’m not surprised that people have had bad experiences at Man Repeller,” Medine told Omondi in the episode titled, The Tanning of America. “But I don’t think this is because I’m a racist. I think it’s because I’m an immature asshole. Like I’m an equal opportunity asshole. Like, I sucked as a leader.”

“I never wanted to be a manager or a CEO, ” she later added, blaming “compare culture” for her mounting discontent as the leader of a popular media brand.

“After I started Man Repeller, I was like maybe this is going to help me with my on-camera career. Maybe I’ll get a TV show out of this. How fun would that be?” When asked who she would compare herself to, Medine answered, “My peers. The women around me.”

“The Sophia Amoruso’s,” she said, referring to one of the most notorious girl-bosses of the past decade. “The Emily Weiss’s.”

Yes, that Emily Weiss.

Here is where the true plot is given away. This is someone, finally, admitting to the circle jerk. Medine’s vision was never about a team or making something special. They didn’t have to treat people like shit for a vision of anything except themselves.

These women—white, moneyed, and unabashedly preoccupied with self-advancement—all appear to be watching one another. Scrolling and fawning over each others’ appearances of success, all under the spell of what Kyle Chayka aptly describes in the New Yorker as the “illusion of the millennial aesthetic.” 

It’s hardly a coincidence that the Leandra Medine’s of the world are eyeing the Emily Weiss’s (despite accounts of Weiss leading a company rife with allegations of bad management and racism). The Sierra Tishgart’s want to be Weiss, too. Nor is it a matter of convenient amnesia that Medine still cited Amoruso as a prototype for comparison, five years after the Nasty Gal CEO was revealed to be a pretty terrible boss.

That the Audrey Gelman’s invest in companies like Great Jones isn’t a fluke. And that one of Great Jones founders, according to Insider, spent meetings distracted on Instagram isn’t a minor detail.

The girlboss might be dead. But one big circle jerk crowding over a feed remains.

Images from left: Craig Barritt/Getty, David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty, Jamie McCarthy/Getty, Raymond Hall/GC Images/Getty

Think Twice Before You Build That Seawall

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by Wired and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Think back to being a kid at the beach, building walls around your sandcastles. If you engineered those fortifications properly, the tide would come in and flow around your kingdom, before the walls eventually eroded away. By redirecting the rising water, you would have saved your castle—at least for a little while. 

Now think bigger. Imagine you’re a city planner in an area threatened by rising seas and you’ve spent a fortune to build a proper seawall. The tide comes in and the wall holds, saving you billions of dollars in property damage. But: whomp whomp. Like the waves you once redirected around your sandcastle, the rising waters hit the wall and flow into the communities on either side of you. You’ve saved your residents, but imperiled others.

New modeling shows just how catastrophic this wayward-water phenomenon might be in the San Francisco Bay Area, where sea levels could rise 7 feet in the next 80 years. “Those rising waters put millions of people and billions of dollars in buildings at risk,” says Anne Guerry, chief strategy officer and lead scientist at Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project, who coauthored a paper describing the research. It was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “One of the things that’s new about this work is that people haven’t necessarily thought about how communities, like in the Bay Area, are connected to one another through these shared waters,” she continues.

Guerry and her colleagues did the modeling by breaking up the shoreline into sections, based on characteristics like geology. Then they used hydrological models to show where the rising water would go if a given section of coastline was fortified with a seawall. Basically, they imagined what would happen if the residents of one area decided to protect themselves without fully considering the resulting hydrology. “That water has to flow somewhere,” says Guerry. “And what we found is it ends up flowing into other communities, making their flooding much worse.” 

“That water has to flow somewhere, and what we found is it ends up flowing into other communities, making their flooding much worse.” 

They also incorporated economic modeling to calculate how much damage this would do. For example, they estimated that if the local government was to throw up a wall around San Jose, a city in the South Bay, it would inundate other communities with the equivalent of 14,400 Olympic-size pools’ worth of redirected waters. San Jose would be saved, but nearby Redwood City and other communities would be screwed. “That equates to $723 million of additional flood damage costs after just one high tide during spring, when the waters are naturally highest,” says Guerry. “And that’s just from building one large seawall in one small part of the bay.” And that $700 million-plus figure doesn’t account for potential damage to ecosystems and fisheries, so the tally is a conservative one.

The extra water pushed back by San Jose’s wall would even accumulate clear across the bay, in Napa and Sonoma, 50 miles north. The damage would go the other way too: If the Napa and Sonoma coasts were walled off, the South Bay would see tens of millions of dollars in damages.

That’s not great news, considering that humans have a habit of building big cities on coasts, which urban planners now have to fortify, and seawalls are often the best defense available. The authors of this paper note that by the year 2100, the US alone is predicted to spend $300 billion on buttressing shorelines to hold back both sea-level rise and the bigger surges that come with storms made more powerful by climate change. Lawmakers must soon consider whether to spend $26 billion to wall off the area around Houston. Jakarta, too, needs to build a giant seawall, only it can’t until the land underneath it stops sinking.

Up to this point, policymakers have assumed that seawalls might negatively affect nearby communities, but this new research puts numbers on the potential harm, says Laura Feinstein, sustainability and resilience policy director at SPUR, a nonprofit public policy group in the Bay Area. (She wasn’t involved in the research.) “It’s a really quantitative and rigorous demonstration of something that people have always said of sea-level rise, which is that regions either sink or swim together,” she says. “If one area pours resources into armoring its shoreline, that’s just going to exacerbate sea level rise for its neighbors.”

But getting local governments to act in concert may be a challenge, especially if they don’t all have the same financial resources or some are under particular pressure from lucrative local industries that would really rather not be underwater. The temptation for a county with a healthy tax base (read: one that’s full of rich people) will be to unilaterally build a seawall, low-income neighbors be damned. 

“If one area pours resources into armoring its shoreline, that’s just going to exacerbate sea level rise for its neighbors.”

In the Bay Area, where income inequality is profound (the gap between average high and low incomes is $263,000, compared to $178,000 nationwide), the scene is primed for disaster. “Communities of color and low-income communities have been pushed into low-lying areas in the Bay Area for decades,” says Feinstein, referring to shoreline neighborhoods in cities like Oakland and East Palo Alto. Many of these areas have also historically been home to manufacturing, warehousing, and the shipping and rail industries. “You have this colocation of old toxic waste sites, heavy industry, and transportation, and then low-income communities of color, all being most vulnerable to sea-level rise in the Bay Area,” she says. When waters rise, they could push up groundwater contaminated with these buried toxins; these areas will not only flood, but they may do so with polluted water.

The Bay Area has a few seawalls already in progress. The Port of San Francisco is upgrading its century-old Embarcadero Seawall, and the US Army Corps of Engineers is studying ways to bolster the San Francisco International Airport’s levees. Foster City, to the south, is building a new levee that will stretch more than 6 miles, and the wastewater district in North Richmond, on the other side of the bay, is considering its own levee project.

At the moment, local governments don’t have to work together to consider the unintended consequences of future seawalls. “That’s primarily because there’s no formal mechanism to require people to do that,” says Dana Brechwald, manager of the Adapting to Rising Tides program at the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, who wasn’t involved in this new research. (She’s also program manager of Bay Adapt, a regional collaboration that advocates for protecting people and ecosystems from rising seas.) “If someone were to do that at a local level, it would be completely voluntary.” 

But by putting numbers on how bad the flooding could get if seawalls are erected haphazardly or without cooperation, the new modeling may encourage more collaboration between neighbors. “We’re really hoping to set that sort of stuff up in the future,” Brechwald adds. “Those mechanisms are going to be really critical to make sure that we have equitable adaptation.”

And it might also make planners consider alternatives to walls. Nature actually has another solution ready to go: using the landscape to our advantage. (Climate scientists call this a nature-based solution because it leverages natural processes instead of trying to engineer our way out of a problem.)

Certain stretches of coastlines naturally take up seawater better than others—alluvial valleys, for example, the floodplains where rivers meet the sea. These have sandy, muddy bottoms, which soak up water like sponges, especially when compared to rocky shorelines. Guerry argues that instead of walling these off, we should route water toward them, so they can act as overflow areas. “Sometimes it’s more practical and more economical to strategically choose areas that can absorb the water,” she says. “These can be things like marshes and ponds, but they can also be parks and golf courses or other kinds of semi-natural areas, where intermittent flooding is going to cause less damage.” 

“Seawalls aren’t the only answer to combating sea-level rise,” Guerry adds, “even though that’s kind of the traditional go-to solution.”

If You Grew Up With the U.S. Blockade as a Cuban, You Might Understand the Recent Protests Differently

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During the early morning of July 17, Johana Tablada joined tens of thousands of Cubans as they gathered along the Malecón boulevard in Havana to stand with the Cuban Revolution. “We are human beings who live, work, suffer, and struggle for a better Cuba,” she told us. “We are not bots or troll farms or anything like that.” She referred to what has been called the Bay of Tweets, a social media campaign developed in Miami, Florida, that attempted to inflame Cuba’s social problems into a political crisis. More

The post If You Grew Up With the U.S. Blockade as a Cuban, You Might Understand the Recent Protests Differently appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Greatest Threat to Britain Isn’t China or Russia, It’s Boris Johnson

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The lifeblood of intelligence agencies is threat inflation: exaggerating the gravity of the dangers menacing the public, and calling for harsher laws to cope with them. MI5 director general Ken McCallum did his best to follow this tradition in his annual speech this week, in which he explained the security risks facing Britain. He spoke More

The post The Greatest Threat to Britain Isn’t China or Russia, It’s Boris Johnson appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Robotic Killing Machines and Our Future: Chris Pratt, Aliens and Drones

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Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation and Guardians of the Galaxy fame has a new film out. In The Tomorrow War, Pratt uses time travel to save Earth from hordes of ravenous aliens. The film ultimately is an allegory for climate change, so kudos to Pratt and all in Hollywood for a movie demonstrating that More

The post Robotic Killing Machines and Our Future: Chris Pratt, Aliens and Drones appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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