Vladimir Putin, Russia’s longest-serving ruler since Joseph Stalin, surprised no one with his landslide re-election on Sunday. While his victory, in which he claimed 73.9 percent of the vote according to state-run exit polls, was a foregone conclusion, the Kremlin was reportedly anxious about turnout, and conducted an elaborate, well-financed get-out-the-vote campaign. For an authoritarian regime in which election results and turnout are pre-ordained, such concerns may seem odd. But even in Russia’s “managed democracy,” appearances still matter, and the Kremlin needed to present believably high levels of support to ensure Putin’s mandate. Shortly after polling centers closed on Sunday night, Putin appeared to be on target to achieve the desired 65 percent turnout.
But even more important for Putin is that this election marked the culmination of his nearly two-decades-long project to control information in Russia and manipulate Russian society. Now, Putin has proven beyond any doubt that the Russia he has built is his and his alone.
Putin began his long-running disinformation campaign when he came to power in 2000, taking over Russia’s independent television channels and bringing the oligarchs who owned them to heel or ousting them from the country. Since then, he has chipped away at free expression, political dissent, and independent voices one newspaper, one website, and one blogger at a time. Each new amendment to the law declaring NGOs as foreign agents and undesirables, each assassination of a journalist or political leader who went too far, and each expansion of what constitutes “extremist” content...
On Friday night, Facebook suspended the account of Cambridge Analytica, the political-data company backed by billionaire Robert Mercer that consulted on both the Brexit and Trump campaigns.
The action came just before The Guardian and The New York Times dropped major reports in which the whistleblower Christopher Wylie alleged that Cambridge Analytica had used data that an academic had allegedly improperly exfiltrated from the social network. These new stories, backed by Wylie’s account and internal documents, followed years of reporting by The Guardian and The Intercept about the possible problem.
The details could seem byzantine. Aleksandr Kogan, then a Cambridge academic, founded a company, Global Science Research, and immediately took on a major client, Strategic Communications Laboratories, which eventually gave birth to Cambridge Analytica. (Steve Bannon, an advisor to the company and a former senior advisor to Trump, reportedly picked the name.)
The promise of Kogan’s company was that they could build psychological profiles of vast numbers of people by using Facebook data. Those profiles, in turn, might be useful to tune the political messages that Cambridge Analytica sent to potential voters. Perhaps a certain kind of message might appeal more to extroverts, or narcissists, or agreeable people.
To gather that data, the Times reports, Kogan hired workers through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to install a Facebook app in their accounts. The app, built by Global Science Research, requested an unusual (but not unheard of) amount of data about users themselves and their friends. That’s how 270,000 Turkers ended...
People now know the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as the ultimate Cinderella, an overnight social media sensation, the team that magically emerged as the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. But our story is far less fairy tale than it is classic American dream. Our magic comes from questioning expectations, putting in the hard work, and staying focused.
The nation saw the results on the court Friday night. My colleagues, students, alumni, and their families came to the game knowing the team would give the game their all. Our men’s basketball team embodies our definition of grit. We knew the players were bringing both passion and preparation to the game. We knew that they would listen to the guidance of head coach Ryan Odom, support one another, give their individual best, and get tougher and tougher as the game went on.
Nevertheless, like the rest of the world, we were stunned—not only by the outcome but by their execution to the end. Everybody thought it couldn’t be done because it hadn’t been done. And then we did it.
I’m not embarrassed to say that I know much more about mathematics than basketball, and I continue to learn about the game from coach Odom, my mentee Jairus Lyles, and others. What impresses me about this team is its can-do attitude—one that said that even though they had lost 23 games in a row to Vermont,...
President Trump raged at his TV on Sunday morning. And yet on balance, he had a pretty good weekend. He got a measure of revenge upon the hated FBI, firing former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe two days before his pension vested. He successfully coerced his balky attorney general, Jeff Sessions, into speeding up the FBI’s processes to enable the firing before McCabe’s retirement date.
Beyond this vindictive fun for the president, he achieved something politically important. The Trump administration is offering a not very convincing story about the McCabe firing. It is insisting that the decision was taken internally by the Department of Justice, and that president’s repeated and emphatic demands—public and private—had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Pay no attention to this, from July 26, 2017:
Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
December 23, 2017.
FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2017
Or this, from December 24.
.@FoxNews-FBI’s Andrew McCabe, “in addition to his wife getting all of this money from M (Clinton Puppet), he was using, allegedly, his FBI Official Email Account to promote her campaign. You obviously cannot do this. These were the people who were investigating Hillary Clinton.”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24,...
Rex Tillerson is hardly the first person to be targeted in a tweet from Donald Trump, but on Tuesday morning, he became the first Cabinet official to be fired by one. It was an ignominious end to Tillerson’s 13-month stint as secretary of state, a tenure that would have been undistinguished if it weren’t so entirely destructive.
Compared with expectations for other members of Trump’s Cabinet, the disastrous results of Tillerson’s time in office are somewhat surprising. Unlike the EPA’s Scott Pruitt, Tillerson did not have obvious antipathy for the department he headed; unlike HUD’s Ben Carson, he had professional experience that was relevant to the job; and unlike Education’s Betsy DeVos, his confirmation hearing wasn't a disaster.
The fact that Tillerson publicly clashed with Trump over everything from North Korea policy to relative IQ did nothing to make his job any easier, but his sorry legacy as secretary of state was sealed by a complete misunderstanding of the job before him. Rather than the nation’s top diplomat and an embodiment abroad of American values, Tillerson appeared to regard his mandate as little more than an exercise in cost-cutting and corporate reorganization. His time at the State Department seemed to test beliefs that are popular among many private sector professionals: skills that business executives bring to Washington can outweigh government experience, and almost every problem can be reduced to a matter of efficiency. That Tillerson should succumb to these beliefs is not altogether surprising given the benefits and blind...
“It’s been completely Americanized!” my host declares proudly. “The bidet is gone!” In my time as a travel editor, this scenario has become common when touring improvements to hotels and resorts around the world. My heart sinks when I hear it. To me, this doesn’t feel like progress, but prejudice.
Americans seem especially baffled by these basins. Even seasoned American travelers are unsure of their purpose: One globe-trotter asked me, “Why do the bathrooms in this hotel have both toilets and urinals?” And even if they understand the bidet’s function, Americans often fail to see its appeal. Attempts to popularize the bidet in the United States have failed before, but recent efforts continue—and perhaps they might even succeed in bringing this Old World device to new backsides.
The classic bidet is a miniature, bathtub-like fixture situated next to the toilet, with taps on one end. Its tub is filled with water, and the user straddles themselves over it to wash below the belt. But it took centuries before arriving at this version.
The bidet was born in France in the 1600s as a washing basin for your private parts. It was considered a second step to the chamber pot, and both items were kept in the bedroom or dressing chamber. Some of the early versions of the bidet look like ornamental ottomans; the basins were inset in wooden furniture with short legs. Often lids made of wood, wicker, or leather topped the seated portion, disguising its function to...
Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners—part of the president’s “Toilet Revolution,” which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: “Please try again later.”
China is rife with face-scanning technology worthy of Black Mirror. Don’t even think about jaywalking in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province. Last year, traffic-management authorities there started using facial recognition to crack down. When a camera mounted above one of 50 of the city’s busiest intersections detects a jaywalker, it snaps several photos and records a video of the violation. The photos appear on an overhead screen so the offender can see that he or she has been busted, then are cross-checked with the images in a regional police database. Within 20 minutes, snippets of the perp’s ID number and home address are displayed on the crosswalk screen. The offender can choose among three options: a 20-yuan fine (about $3), a half-hour course in traffic rules, or 20 minutes spent assisting police in controlling traffic. Police have also been known to post names and photos of jaywalkers on social media.
The system seems to be working: Since last May, the number of jaywalking violations at one of Jinan’s major intersections has plummeted...
Last year, the critical and financial calamity of Justice League served as a bit of a wake-up call to Hollywood’s embrace of the “cinematic universe.” Just because the Marvel Comics brand had served as a box-office rubber stamp for nearly 10 years didn’t mean the formula could be easily replicated elsewhere. Warner Bros.’ attempts to copy it (with a sped-up timeframe) through its DC Comics property went a lot less smoothly. The studio’s goal from the beginning was to quickly pave the way for a team-up movie starring the main heroes Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—but Warner Bros. didn’t prioritize the kind of methodical, artist-led storytelling needed to pull off such a feat.
Increasingly, it seems that 2017 was a crucial teachable moment for the studio and the industry at large. Of Warner Bros.’ two comic-book offerings, Wonder Woman turned out to be a huge success, getting rave reviews and grossing more than any other DC Extended Universe movie. Justice League was a comparative flop. The former was barely connected to the wider series of films and was built from the ground up by the director Patty Jenkins; the latter was subject to extensive reshoots and essentially created by committee. That contrast between the two works is why the studio’s latest move, hiring Ava DuVernay to direct an adaptation of Jack Kirby’s New Gods comic, made so much sense.
The argument could be made that DuVernay and Warner Bros. both need each other. DuVernay, riding high...
MOSCOW—There are seven candidates challenging Vladimir Putin in Russia’s elections on Sunday, and yet the atmosphere here is something less than suspenseful. The incumbent president, at age 65, has been in power since 2000, and there’s no doubt that he will remain there for another term. The chief unknown concerns how many will vote.
The Kremlin is hoping for, at a minimum, a 70 percent turnout, with Putin winning 70 percent of the votes—a possibility that is hardly unreasonable, with Putin’s popularity, according to reliable polls, standing at more than 80 percent. (The Kremlin’s control of the airwaves helps account for this.) A high turnout with overwhelming support for Putin will serve to legitimize his victory among friends and foes alike, even though the electoral process looks to many to have been rigged to exclude Putin’s chief potential competitor, the anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. (Navalny was barred thanks to a conviction, and suspended prison sentence, for embezzlement on what appear to be trumped-up charges.) Navalny enjoys unquestionable, if still minority, backing, especially among the young, and has called for a boycott of the election.
Yet the show must go on. For the past few months, a series of debates, conducted on state television without Putin, the sole candidate who matters, has served to underscore little more than most of the contenders’ manifest unsuitability for the presidency—surely the intended result. (Putin has not taken part, adhering to Russian traditions by which the head of state remains aloof, tsarlike, above the...
Here is something that, even on its own, is astonishing: The president of the United States demanded the firing of the former FBI deputy director, a career civil servant, after tormenting him both publicly and privately—and it worked.
The American public still doesn’t know in any detail what Andrew McCabe, who was dismissed late Friday night, is supposed to have done. But citizens can see exactly what Donald Trump did to McCabe. And the president’s actions are corroding the independence that a healthy constitutional democracy needs in its law enforcement and intelligence apparatus.
McCabe’s firing is part of a pattern. It follows the summary removal of the previous FBI director and comes amid Trump’s repeated threats to fire the attorney general, the deputy attorney, and the special counsel who is investigating him and his associates. McCabe’s ouster unfolded against a chaotic political backdrop which includes Trump’s repeated calls for investigations of his political opponents, demands of loyalty from senior law enforcement officials, and declarations that the job of those officials is to protect him from investigation.
All of which has led many observers to wonder: Are we in the midst of a constitutional crisis? And if so, would we even know?
A quick search on Google Trends shows that public interest in constitutional crises has scaled up impressively in the time since Trump’s election, with spikes in interest appearing at particularly fraught moments: the first travel ban, James Comey’s firing, and several points...
I’m a scientist at UC Berkeley—a card-carrying true believer in liberal Enlightenment values. Imagine that I meet a bright young woman in a small town in Wisconsin or Alabama, and that I want to persuade her to become a scientist like me. “Listen, science is really great!,” I say. “We scientists care about truth and reason and human flourishing. We include people from every country and culture. And our values have transformed the world. For thousands of years before the Enlightenment, the speed limit was the pace of a fast horse, and children died all the time. Now ideas move at the speed of light, and a child’s death is an unthinkable tragedy. Democracy has eclipsed tyranny, prosperity has outpaced poverty, medicine has routed illness, individual liberation has uprooted social convention. Come join us!”
The young woman replies, “That sounds fantastic! But there’s just one thing. I love this town. I have a boyfriend who also wants to be a scientist, and I’d like to get married and have a bunch of kids here soon. My parents are looking forward so much to being grandparents, and my own grandparents need me to look after them. My family and friends are all nearby, and I’d like my kids to live in my community and take part in the same traditions I grew up with. Can I do that and be a scientist too?”
The honest answer? “If you join us, the chances are very slim that...
Midnight. As I was browsing the Internet, I saw, like shooting stars, emails suddenly appear and disappear from the right-hand corner of my computer screen. The first from CNN announcing the death of Stephen Hawking, the second from an editor at The Atlantic asking me to write about him.
I had written about the man for 10 years—as a biographer of some sort, or an anthropologist of science to be more precise, studying the traces of Hawking’s presence. But now I felt a powerless inertia, unable to write anything. I didn’t think I would be affected by his death, but it touched me deeply. I was overwhelmed by the numerous articles that started to appear all over the world doing precisely what I had studied for so long and so carefully: recycling over and over again the same stories about him. Born 300 years after the death of Galileo Galilei, holder of Cambridge’s Lucasian Chair of Mathematics (once held by Isaac Newton), and today… died on the same day Albert Einstein was born. The life paths of history’s most iconic scientists intersected in weird ways. The puzzle seemed now complete: Hawking had fully entered the pantheon of the great.
Because of him, I too had been in the eyes of the press. After I wrote an article in Wired magazine about his reliance on technology, I received an incendiary message on my answering machine accusing me of desacralizing his iconic status by transforming him into a robot. My picture circulated...
There’s a lot of losing in sports. Only one team can win at a time, and only one champion escapes the season without tears. But that doesn’t stop Americans from spending nearly $56 billion a year on sporting events, while dropping many billions more on jerseys, cable packages, buffalo wings—to say nothing of the substantial emotional costs incurred. (Having logged many fan-hours on behalf of the pre-success Cubs and post-success Arsenal FC, I’ve paid my fair share.) Is fandom worth it?
At first glance, the evidence isn’t encouraging. Following a loss, fans are more likely than usual to eat unhealthy food,  be unproductive at work,  and—in the case of the Super Bowl—die from heart disease.  What about fans of the winning team? Well, their testosterone levels tend to increase,  which may account for why triumphant fans are more likely than other fans to suffer a postgame traffic fatality if the score was close. 
Rival fans’ treatment of one another is hardly more reassuring. A recent neuroimaging study found that fans experienced greater pleasure when watching a rival team fail, as opposed to non-rivals. The same subjects were significantly more willing to heckle, threaten, or hit rival fans.  This ill will extends even to the health and welfare of opposing players. Fans in another study reported feeling schadenfreude when reading about the injury of...
To describe Wild Wild Country as jaw-dropping is to understate the number of times my mouth gaped while watching the series, a six-part Netflix documentary about a religious community in Oregon in the 1980s. It’s ostensibly the story of how a group led by the dynamic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased 64,000 acres of land in central Oregon in a bid to build its own utopian city. But, as the series immediately reveals, the narrative becomes darker and stranger than you might ever imagine. It’s a tale that mines the weirdness of the counterculture in the ’70s and ’80s, the age-old conflict between rural Americans and free love–preaching cityfolk, and the emotional vacuum that compels people to interpret a bearded mystic as something akin to a god.
What’s most remarkable is that the Rajneesh movement hasn’t been documented more thoroughly before, given the scale of the media attention it drew during its height and the range of crimes (from immigration fraud to the largest bioterrorism attack in U.S. history) attributed to it. Recent fictionalized series about cults and cultlike groups including Paramount’s Waco and American Horror Story: Cult have floundered somewhat, partly because it’s difficult to dramatize the hold leaders like David Koresh and Charles Manson had on their followers. But with Wild Wild Country, it’s all there on tape. The series’ directors, Chapman Way and Maclain Way, have access to a wealth of news broadcasts, archival footage, and videos recorded by the Rajneeshees themselves. The first few minutes alone offer...
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the latest torrent of “White House in chaos” headlines is the degree to which President Trump seems to be enjoying it all.
He isn’t lashing out in anger over the breathless Beltway speculation about which aide or cabinet secretary he will fire next. He isn’t acting swiftly to tamp down coverage of the ongoing shakeup, or to change the news cycle, or to return the administration to a state of relative calm and stability. Instead, it appears, he’s leaning into the maelstrom—relishing it, joking about it, maybe even courting it.
"So many people have been leaving the White House,” Trump said at the Gridiron Dinner earlier this month. “It's actually been really exciting and invigorating 'cause you want new thought. So, I like turnover. I like chaos. It really is good.” Then, he joked, “Now the question everyone keeps asking is, 'Who is going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?'
This week, as cable-news talking heads obsessed over the tumult in Trumpworld, the president took in the coverage “with amusement,” according to the Associated Press. Discussing the staff shakeup in the Oval Office with his vice president and chief of staff, Trump reportedly laughed and quipped, “Who’s next?”
And on Thursday, Trump did little to cool the fevered D.C. chatter about more impending departures, telling reporters, “There will always be change.”
Personnel drama has been a steady feature of the Trump White House throughout his presidency. But in the days since he announced...
Donald Trump says he and his pick to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, “have a very similar thought process,” but what they seem to have most in common is a code of conduct for dealing with adversaries. Trump, drawing on the lessons he learned from his former lawyer Roy Cohn, often describes himself as a “counterpuncher.” And the same could be said for Pompeo in his approach to international affairs.
“When someone punches you in the nose you can’t walk away. They may punch you in the nose again,” then-Congressman Pompeo noted in 2013, explaining why he wanted to maintain a modest U.S. military presence in the Middle East even though he saw wisdom in Barack Obama’s troop drawdown in Afghanistan. “If they bring the fight to you, you have to continue to do battle with” them. “And we still have radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill us here in America.”
Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas who rode the Tea Party wave to Congress in 2010, has been described as in sync with Trump’s view of the world. And to a considerable extent that’s true. As CIA director, he has loyally defended the president’s policies and cultivated a close personal relationship with Trump by taking part in his intelligence briefings at the White House. Before joining the administration, Pompeo shared Trump’s disdain for the Iran nuclear deal, determination to wage no-holds-barred war against jihadist terrorism, and disgust...
On December 13, 1937, my grandmother, a woman of barely 22 years named Wein-Shiu Liu Chou, heard the steady barrage of artillery from Imperial Japanese troops as they began their final assault on Nanjing, her hometown in China. The sound of shells exploding just outside the city walls must have made clear to those still in the city that the end was near. My grandmother would live a long life of 98 years, raise two daughters, see five grandchildren grow up, run small businesses in Taiwan and the United States, and sing in a choral group in Los Angeles, California, in her golden years. But on that cold December morning, such a future seemed impossible.
After the Imperial Japanese Army invaded what was then China’s capital, it began a campaign of terror against the populace known as the “Rape of Nanking,” in which an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 civilians were killed, with untold numbers of rapes, mass executions, and other atrocities taking place throughout the city. (The death toll is a point of controversy. Japanese accounts put the number of deaths somewhere between 20,000 and 200,000.) Iris Chang’s 1997 book The Rape of Nanking revived scholarly interest in what actually happened. Much of our understanding relies on the diaries of Westerners who stayed in the city. They include John Rabe, a Nazi doctor who helped establish a demilitarized “safety zone” inside the city, and Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary who turned her women’s college into a sanctuary for...
Andrew McCabe, a former acting and deputy FBI director who had drawn the ire of President Trump, was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday evening, a decision that raises important questions about the independence of both the Justice Department and the FBI.
Trump and his associates are a focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and McCabe’s firing could send the message to federal law-enforcement officials that they risk their jobs and reputations if they displease the president. McCabe was fired two days short of his planned retirement, which puts his benefits in danger.
Late Friday, Sessions released a statement saying that the department’s Office of the Inspector General, which has investigated the FBI’s handling of the probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, found “that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor—including under oath—on multiple occasions.” McCabe was one of the FBI officials overseeing the Clinton investigation, which ended without prosecution. He is also reportedly a witness in Mueller’s investigation, which is also examining whether the president sought to obstruct justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey last May.
McCabe, meanwhile, described his dismissal as retaliatory in a statement released to the press:
I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James...
Cabinet Watch: Less than a week after he fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, several reports indicate that President Trump is planning to replace his national-security adviser, H.R. McMaster, but the White House says no immediate changes are planned. Meanwhile, writes Peter Beinart, Trump’s choice of Mike Pompeo as the new secretary of state could mean moderate-Republican foreign policy is on its way out, and that a leader with a worrying history of statements about Muslims is on his way in.
Looking to Leaders: In the month since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed 17 people, The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott has talked to multiple Republican members of Congress who are dissatisfied with their leaders’ response to gun violence—and whose desire for action could cause new rifts in the party. For her part, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has an impressive record of mobilizing Democrats to unite behind (or against) legislation. Yet many of her colleagues hope to replace her. Here’s one possible reason why she’s so unpopular.
Corporations Are People Too: Though major corporations are often viewed as selfish, impersonal entities, Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind argue that the innovation and economic growth they drive can be good for everyone. And as Americans lose faith in institutions from the government to the media, some are turning to big business for moral leadership. Derek Thompson discusses the benefits and risks of growing corporate influence on the latest...
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Chief of Staff John Kelly has reassured West Wing staffers that there will be “no immediate personnel changes at this time,” despite media reports that National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, among others, will be replaced.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, said the adult film star was “physically threatened to stay silent” over her alleged affair with Trump, but did not provide further details.
Representative Louise Slaughter of New York, one of the longest-serving Democrats in Congress, died at the age of 88.
Florida officials said the death toll in the collapse of a pedestrian bridge has climbed to six. The National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the cause of the collapse.
Lacking Leadership: In the month since the Parkland, Florida, shooting, a growing number of Republican lawmakers have demonstrated a willingness to tackle gun violence. But some voices remain silent. (Elaina Plott)
What’s Next for Trump’s Border Wall?: The president pledged to mount a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But his administration still has many hurdles to clear before bringing the project to fruition. (Priscilla Alvarez)
Universal Lessons From Universal Health Care: Here’s how a new health-care...