“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
The member of the president’s defense team maintains a narrow view on impeachment regardless of evidence and arguments.
Attorney Alan Dershowitz. | Frank Franklin II, File/AP Photo
Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile attorney and law professor who just joined President Donald Trump’s defense team, made the case against impeachment on Sunday by focusing only on constitutional criteria.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Dershowitz said the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from the pressure campaign on Ukraine to investigate a Trump political rival — were “noncriminal actions.”
“When you read the text of the Constitution, treason, bribery, other high crimes and misdemeanors — ‘other’ really means that crimes and misdemeanors must be … akin to treason and bribery,” he said.
The program’s host, George Stephanopoulos, pressed him on the point: “Is it your position that President Trump should not be impeached even if all the evidence and arguments laid out by the House are accepted as fact?”
“That’s right,” Dershowitz replied. Invoking the founders Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, he maintained that impeaching based on the current articles could result in “nightmare” scenarios, giving Congress too much power over the president or turning impeachment into a question of “who has the most votes in the House.”
In an earlier interview with ABC, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), dismissed that argument as “absurdist.”
“You had to go so far out of the mainstream to find someone to make that argument,” Schiff said Sunday. “You had to leave the realm of constitutional law scholars and go to criminal defense lawyers.”
Dershowitz said he was comfortable with his position, saying: “The argument is a strong one, the Senate should hear it. I am privileged to be able to make it.” Besides, he said, it’s an argument that was successful in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.
Dershowitz calls himself a “liberal Democrat,” and says he voted for the 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, over Trump. He has also tried to downplay his role on Trump’s defense team,insisting he isn’t a “full-fledged” member.
“I’m not here for a political discussion,” he said on Sunday.
On Saturday night, House managers outlined their formal case against the president, writing that “the facts are indisputable, and the evidence is overwhelming.” The president’s lawyers responded in a brief maintaining that Trump did nothing wrong with Ukraine.
In his recent book on impeachment, Dershowitz wrote that “an American should not collude with a foreign power in an effort to enhance his candidacy.” But on Sunday, Dershowitz would not comment on whether he agreed with the Trump legal team’s brief.
“I didn’t sign that brief. I didn’t even see the brief until after it was filed,” he said. “That’s not part of my mandate. My mandate is to determine what is a constitutionally authorized criteria for impeachment.”
“If the allegations are not impeachable, then this trial should result in an acquittal,” Dershowitz said, “regardless of whether the conduct is regarded as OK by you or by me or by voters.”
Visiting one of country’s 62 official national parks is one of the most quintessentially American travel experiences one can have. Most of the year, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee to visit them, but on a few special dates, those same natural splendors are open to the public free of charge. It’s not just parks that fall under the entrance fee-free days; the National Park Service system covers 85 million acres across America, including 419 points of interest, such as monuments, historical sites, seashores and trails.
“The purpose of the fee-free day is to help promote awareness of national parks, encourage visitors and remove any economic barrier that might be preventing anyone visiting national parks,” says Stephanie Loeb Roulett, a public-affairs specialist for the NPS.
Although that perk will get you into NPS-designated sites, it doesn’t cover charges for additional activities like camping, special tours or boat launches, so don’t leave your wallet in the car. (On second thought, don’t leave your wallet in the car no matter what you’re doing.)
How should you plan a visit to a national park site on one of 2020′s fee-free days? Figure out the goal of your trip first.
“Take a look on our ‘Find a Park’ page on our site, and then try to determine what you want to do,” Roulett says. “Do you want to volunteer? Go hiking? Visit a historic home? Try to narrow it down.”
To avoid contributing to overtourism, steer clear of the most popular parks on the fee-free days, opting instead for the ones less likely to be swamped. Roulett has suggestions for the specific days of the promotion.
The first fee-free day of the year falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Roulett encourages park-seekers to explore sites connected with the life and legacy of King. Options include visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in his hometown of Atlanta or the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in White Hall, Ala., to retrace the steps of King’s 1965 voting rights march on a 54-mile trail.
For travelers interested in using the day to make a winter escape, Roulett recommends Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, or the Channel Islands National Park in Southern California for winter wildlife-watching.
“Then, of course, there’s the option to escape winter and cold places, like the Everglades National Park, Virgin Islands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park,” she says.
To kick off National Park Week (on National Junior Ranger Day, no less), the NPS will offer its only springtime fee-free day. Each day from April 18 to 26 will have a theme, including Military Monday, Earth Day and Bark Ranger Day, the latter paying homage to the dogs that work the parks. Ring in the occasion by bringing your dog to a park this day.
“Acadia National Park, in Maine, is one of the most pet-friendly sites, as long as you do your research in advance and see which trails your pet can go on,” Roulett says.
For the most up-to-date pet policies, visit the NPS website.
Aug. 25: National Park Service’s birthday
You can thank President Woodrow Wilson for America having the National Park Service in the first place: The country’s 28th president signed the service into existence on Aug. 25, 1916. Throughout the week, NPS will celebrate with programming that will vary by location.
Be mindful of what site you visit: August is peak tourist season for the parks.
There are a number of excellent alternatives to some of the super-popular parks, Roulett says. “Rather than visiting Yosemite, there’s Devils Postpile National Monument, also in California, about 90 miles from Yosemite, that also has some incredible waterfalls and mountain scenery.” It might be less crowded.
Roulett’s alternative for Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, is the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, in western Colorado. Instead of roasting in Death Valley National Park, try the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, also in Colorado.
“It’s spectacular with incredible geologic wonders,” she says. “It’s a nice alternative if you want to find something a little bit more off the beaten path.”
Sept. 26: National Public Lands Day
Every fourth Saturday in September, America’s largest single-day volunteer effort takes place at parks across the country for National Public Lands Day, a tradition that started in 1994.
“It is primarily a volunteer day, but we’ve been seeing an uptick in additional programming for outdoor recreation,” Roulett says. “If you want to get outdoors more but don’t really know how, there’s a lot of events around that day that focus on the outdoors for beginners.”
For the greatest chance of volunteering, try visiting urban parks in your area to support the grounds and green space that needs to be maintained.
The entrance-fee-free day in November falls on Veterans Day. Show America’s service members reverence by visiting an NPS site with military history.
“We have numerous battlefields, military parks and historic sites that commemorate and honor America’s veterans,” Roulett says.
Highlights include the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston National Historical Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania or Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama, where you can pay tribute to the first African Americans who overcame racial barriers to serve as pilots in World War II.
And if you do end up going to a park on a day that you have to pay to enter, know that your money will be put to work. The Park Service says at least 80 percent of fees stay at the park where they were collected and are used to repair, maintain or enhance the area (including habitat restoration, building accessible parking or restrooms, and making new park trails).
The impeachment trial probably won’t change any minds. Here’s why.
No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds.
Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely that a majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be accepted.
This is a serious problem for our democratic culture. No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.
But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion.
The core challenge we’re facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system. If you follow politics at all, you know how exhausting the environment is. The sheer volume of content, the dizzying number of narratives and counternarratives, and the pace of the news cycle are too much for anyone to process.
One response to this situation is to walk away and tune everything out. After all, it takes real effort to comb through the bullshit, and most people have busy lives and limited bandwidth. Another reaction is to retreat into tribal allegiances. There’s Team Liberal and Team Conservative, and pretty much everyone knows which side they’re on. So you stick to the places that feed you the information you most want to hear.
My Vox colleague Dave Roberts calls this an “epistemic crisis.” The foundation for shared truth, he argues, has collapsed. I don’t disagree with that, but I’d frame the problem a little differently.
We’re in an age of manufactured nihilism.
The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.
I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
This idea isn’t new, but Bannon articulated it about as well as anyone can. The press ideally should sift fact from fiction and give the public the information it needs to make enlightened political choices. If you short-circuit that process by saturating the ecosystem with misinformation and overwhelm the media’s ability to mediate, then you can disrupt the democratic process.
What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.
Bannon’s political objective is clear. As he explained in a 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference talk, he sees Trump as a stick of dynamite with which to blow up the status quo. So “flooding the zone” is a means to that end. But more generally, creating widespread cynicism about the truth and the institutions charged with unearthing it erodes the very foundation of liberal democracy. And the strategy is working.
What flooding the zone actually means
For most of recent history, the goal of propaganda was to reinforce a consistent narrative. But zone-flooding takes a different approach: It seeks to disorient audiences with an avalanche of competing stories.
And it produces a certain nihilism in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of finding the truth that they give up the search. The fact that 60 percent of Americans say they encounter conflicting reports about the same event is an example of what I mean. In the face of such confusion, it’s not surprising that less than half the country trusts what they read in the press.
Bannon articulated the zone-flooding philosophy well, but he did not invent it. In our time, it was pioneered by Vladimir Putin in post-Soviet Russia. Putin uses the media to engineer a fog of disinformation, producing just enough distrust to ensure that the public can never mobilize around a coherent narrative.
In October, I spoke to Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born reality TV producer turned academic who wrote a book about Putin’s propaganda strategy. The goal, he told me, wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that “the truth is unknowable” and that the only sensible choice is “to follow a strong leader.”
One major reason for the strategy’s success, both in the US and Russia, is that it coincided with a moment when the technological and political conditions were in place for it to thrive. Media fragmentation, the explosion of the internet, political polarization, curated timelines, and echo chambers — all of this allows a “flood the zone with shit” strategy to work.
The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.
Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment. The preference for objectivity in political coverage, in particular, is a problem.
As Joshua Green, who wrote a biography of Bannon, explained, Bannon’s lesson from the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s was that to shape the narrative, a story had to move beyond the right-wing echo chamber and into the mainstream media. That’s exactly what happened with the now-debunked Uranium One story that dogged Clinton from the beginning of her campaign — a story Bannon fed to the Times, knowing that the supposedly liberal paper would run with it because that’s what mainstream media news organizations do.
In this case, Bannon flooded the zone with a ridiculous story not necessarily to persuade the public that it was true (although surely plenty of people bought into it) but to create a cloud of corruption around Clinton. And the mainstream press, merely by reporting a story the way it always has, helped create that cloud.
You see this dynamic at work daily on cable news. Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway lies. She lies a lot. Yet CNN and MSNBC have shown zero hesitation in giving her a platform to lie because they see their job as giving government officials — even ones who lie — a platform.
Even if CNN or MSNBC debunk Conway’s lies, the damage will be done. Fox and right-wing media will amplify her and other falsehoods; armies on social media, bot and real, will, too (@realDonaldTrump will no doubt chime in). The mainstream press will be a step behind in debunking — and even the act of debunking will serve to amplify the lies.
UC Berkeley linguist George Lakoff calls this the “framing effect.” As Lakoff puts it, if you say “don’t think of an elephant,” you can’t help but think of an elephant. In other words, even if you reject an argument, merely repeating it cements the frame in people’s minds. Debunking it is still useful, of course, but there’s a cost to dignifying it in the first place.
There is some research that points to the utility of fact-checking. Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have shown that repeated exposure to fact-checking does tend to increase the accuracy of beliefs. But the issue with zone-flooding is an overabundance of news, which diminishes the importance of any individual story, no matter how big or damning.
In this environment, there are often too many things happening at once; it’s a constant game of whack-a-mole for journalists. And we know that false claims, if they’re repeated enough, become more plausible the more often they’re shared, something psychologists have called the “illusory truth” effect. Our brains, it turns out, tend to associate repetition with truthfulness. Some interesting new research, moreover, found that the more people encounter information the more likely they are to feel justified in spreading it, whether it’s true or not.
Flooding the zone, polarization, and why many people still don’t know what Trump did
This all intersects with political polarization in troubling ways. One consequence of pervasive confusion about what’s happening is that people feel more comfortable siding with their political tribe. If everything’s up for grabs, and it’s hard to sift through the competing narratives to find the truth, then there’s nothing left but culture war politics. There’s “us” and “them,” and the possibility of persuasion is off the table.
It’s worth noting that this polarization is asymmetric. The left overwhelminglyreceives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. Some of the reporting is surely biased, and probably biased in favor of liberals, but it’s still (mostly) anchored to basic journalistic ethics.
As a recent book by three Harvard researchers explains, this just isn’t true of the right. American conservative media functions like a closed system, with Fox News at the center. Right-wing outlets are less tethered to conventional journalistic ethics and exist mostly to propagate the bullshit they produce.
All this has created an atmosphere that has helped Trump. The Trump administration has been remarkably successful at muddying the waters on Ukraine and impeachment, and Republicans in Congress have helped by parroting the administration’s talking points.
The fact is, Trump did what Democrats have accused him of doing. We know, with absolute certainty, that the president tried to get a foreign government to investigate a family member of one of his political rivals. And we know this because of the witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence Committee and because Trump’s own White House released a record of the call proving it.
Yet all the polling data we have suggests that public opinion on Trump and Ukraine has basically held steady. Again, some of this is pure partisan recalcitrance. But there’s good reason to believe that the right’s muddying of the waters — making the story about Ukraine and Hunter Biden, pushing out conspiracy theories, repeatedly trumpeting Trump’s own version of events, etc. — has played a role.
The issue is that the coverage of the trials, in both the mainstream press and right-wing outlets, ensures that these counternarratives are part of the public conversation. It adds to the general atmosphere of doubt and confusion. And that’s why zone flooding presents a near-insoluble problem for the press.
The old model is broken
The way impeachment has played out underscores just how the new media ecosystem is a problem for our democracy.
It helps to think of zone-flooding less as a strategy deployed by a person or group and more as a natural consequence of the way media works.
We don’t need a master puppeteer pulling the media’s strings. The race for content, the need for clicks, is more than enough. Bannon or Conway can shake things up by feeding nonsense into the system.
Trump can dictate an entire news cycle with a few unhinged tweets or an absurd press conference. The media cycle is easily commandeered by misinformation, innuendo, and outrageous content. These are problems because of the norms that govern journalism and because the political economy of media makes it very hard to ignore or dispel bullshit stories. This is at the root of our nihilism problem, and a solution is nowhere in sight.
The instinct of the mainstream press has always been to conquer lies by exposing them. But it’s just not that simple anymore (if it ever was). There are too many claims to debunk and too many conflicting narratives. And the decision to cover something is a decision to amplify it and, in some cases, normalize it.
We probably need a paradigm shift in how the press covers politics. Nearly all of the incentives driving media militate against this kind of rethinking, however. And so we’re likely stuck with this problem for a very long time.
As is often the case, the diagnosis is much easier than the cure. But liberal democracy cannot function without a shared understanding of reality. As long as the zone is flooded with shit, that shared understanding is impossible.
Approximately half of the luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold.
In Manhattan, the homeless shelters are full, and the luxury skyscrapers are vacant.
Such is the tale of two cities within America’s largest metro. Even as 80,000 people sleep in New York City’s shelters or on its streets, Manhattan residents have watched skinny condominium skyscrapers rise across the island. These colossal stalagmites initially transformed not only the city’s skyline but also the real-estate market for new homes. From 2011 to 2019, the average price of a newly listed condo in New York soared from $1.15 million to $3.77 million.
But the bust is upon us. Today, nearly half of the Manhattan luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold, according to The New York Times.
What happened? While real estate might seem like the world’s most local industry, these luxury condos weren’t exclusively built for locals. They were also made for foreigners with tens of millions of dollars to spare. Developers bet huge on foreign plutocrats—Russian oligarchs, Chinese moguls, Saudi royalty—looking to buy second (or seventh) homes.
But the Chinese economy slowed, while declining oil prices dampened the demand for pieds-à-terre among Russian and Middle Eastern zillionaires. It didn’t help that the Treasury Department cracked down on attempts to launder money through fancy real estate. Despite pressure from nervous lenders, developers have been reluctant to slash prices too suddenly or dramatically, lest the market suddenly clear and they leave millions on the table.
The confluence of cosmopolitan capital and terrible timing has done the impossible: It’s created a vacancy problem in a city where thousands of people are desperate to find places to live.
From any rational perspective, what New York needs isn’t glistening three-bedroom units, but more simple one- and two-bedroom apartments for New York’s many singles, roommates, and small families. Mayor Bill De Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his administration. But progress here has been stalled by onerous zoning regulations, limited federal subsidies, construction delays, and blocked pro-tenant bills.
In the past decade, New York City real-estate prices have gone from merely obscene to downright macabre. From 2010 to 2019, the average sale price of homes doubled in many Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Prospect Heights and Williamsburg, according to the Times. Buyers there could consider themselves lucky: In Cobble Hill, the typical sales price tripled to $2.5 million in nine years.
This is not normal. And for middle-class families, particularly for the immigrants who give New York City so much of its dynamism, it has made living in Manhattan or gentrified Brooklyn practically impossible. No wonder, then, that the New York City area is losing about 300 residents every day. It adds up to what Michael Greenberg, writing for The New York Review of Books, called a new shameful form of housing discrimination—“bluelining.”
We speak nowadays with contrition of redlining, the mid-twentieth-century practice by banks of starving black neighborhoods of mortgages, home improvement loans, and investment of almost any sort. We may soon look with equal shame on what might come to be known as bluelining: the transfiguration of those same neighborhoods with a deluge of investment aimed at a wealthier class.
New York’s example is extreme—the squeezed middle class, shrink-wrapped into tiny bedrooms, beneath a canopy of empty sky palaces. But Manhattan reflects America’s national housing market, in at least three ways.
First, the typical new American single-family home has become surprisingly luxurious, if not quite so swank as Manhattan’s glassy spires. Newly built houses in the U.S. are among the largest in the world, and their size-per-resident has nearly doubled in the past 50 years. And the bathrooms have multiplied. In the early ’70s, 40 percent of new single-family houses had 1.5 bathrooms or fewer; today, just 4 percent do. The mansions of the ’70s would be the typical new homes of the 2020s.
Second, as the new houses have become more luxurious, homeownership itself has become a luxury. Young adults today are one-third less likely to own a home at this point in their lives than previous generations. Among young black Americans, homeownership has fallen to its lowest rate in more than 60 years.
Third, and most important, the most expensive housing markets, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, haven’t built nearly enough homes for the middle class. As urban living has become too expensive for workers, many of them have either stayed away from the richest, densest cities or moved to the south and west, where land is cheaper. This is a huge loss, not only for individual workers, but also for these metros, because denser cities offer better matches between companies and workers, and thus are richer and more productive overall. Instead of growing as they grow richer, New York City, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area are all shrinking.
In 2010, one might have thought that the defining housing story of the century would be the real-estate bubble that plunged the U.S. economy into a recession. But the past decade has been defined by the juxtaposition of rampant luxury-home building with the cratering of middle-class-home construction. The future might restore a measure of sanity, both to New York’s housing crisis and America’s. But for now, the nation is bluelining itself to death.
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Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, technology, and the media. He is the author of Hit Makersand the host of the podcast Crazy/Genius
J. Scott Applewhite/APThe White House’s legal team has called the House impeachment process “highly partisan and reckless,” in a forceful response to the summons issued last week by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, which begins Tuesday.
“The articles of impeachment submitted by House Democrats are a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their President,” the president’s legal team, private attorney Jay Sekulow and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, wrote in a response Saturday. “This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election.”
Sources close to the president’s legal team said the White House will also file a brief Monday.
The response is part of the exchange of legal briefs that was sparked when McConnell noticed Thursday the schedule for the legal paperwork that is required from the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team. The impeachment managers’ response was received Saturday.
The actions come a month after the House approved two articles of impeachment against the president, charging him with abusing the powers of his office by attempting to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate potential political opponent Joe Biden and his son’s activities there and with obstructing Congress by refusing to cooperate in its investigation.
Trump denies any wrongdoing and has excoriated the process.
The president’s legal team called the articles of impeachment “constitutionally invalid on their face.”
“They fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever, let alone ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ ” they said.
Last week, the House of Representatives delivered the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named seven Democratic members of Congress as the managers who will argue the case for impeachment. They are: Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Val Demings, Hakeem Jeffries, Sylvia Garcia and Jason Crow. Pelosi said Schiff will take the lead.
The rules that govern the Senate trial, how long it will last, how many hours a day it will go on for, and other details will be made public Tuesday when the Senate votes a rules resolution that will formally kick off the process.
Twenty Republican senators would need to break with the president and join with all Democrats to remove Trump from office. There is little to no indication at this point that is likely to happen — or come close.
The streaming regime is a terrible way for artists to make a living. A punk co-op just fixed that
Photo of punks in the UK (Virginia Turbett/Redferns/Getty Images)
With the rise of Napster and the decline of compact discs, music industry revenues were essentially in free fall from 2004 through 2015. The rise of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music are largely responsible for the industry’s sharp spike in revenue in the past few years. Yet while streaming has been a plum deal for music executives, it turns out that it’s hard for artists to make a living from streaming: the average artist makes around 1/10 of a cent per listen, according to some estimates. As a result, it’s possible to be both very popular and barely scraping by. Even after members of Grizzly Bear became indie favorites, with millions of streams on Spotify, sold-out concerts, and licensing deals with major brands, the band’s members still struggled to pay rent. And viral stars who gain notoriety from posting original music on Youtube and TikTok rarely see success after the hype has faded.
This is because music superstars actually make most of their money from paid promotions, advertisements, and TV appearances, while less-famous artists fill the gaps in their finances with side gigs. In the music industry, then, artists have to commercialize quickly, or resign themselves to financial struggle. This severely narrows the range of musicians who can afford to make music, especially if they want to go against the grain. Is there an alternative? Interestingly, a small but determined group of artists, inspired by cooperative principles, started a site that avoids all the ills of corporate streaming giants’ platforms.
Dick Hebdige, writing about the British punk scene in the 1970s, referred to the punk genre as a “a temporary blockage” in the dominant system of representation. Groups like the Clash and the Sex Pistols caused an uproar during their rise to fame by breaking established rules around art and decency. In other words, they were truly subversive — until they made it big. Once they became popular, however, their anti-authoritarian style was co-opted, mass-produced, and corrupted by record labels and merchandisers.
Hebdige saw co-optation and commercialization as the unfortunate and inevitable fate of all counter-cultural movements in capitalist society. Drawing on the theories of Marx and Gramsci, he characterized punk and other fads as brief flames of resistance that were doomed to be ephemeral. In his 1979 book “Subculture: The Meaning of Style,” Hebdige laments that resistant subgroups can only exist in pure form for a brief period before being co-opted by the dominant capitalist system.This dynamic hasn’t disappeared with the rise of the internet.
This conundrum extends beyond music and the arts. It also affects independent and radical news media, who have long been faced with the impossibility of creating a truly independent “fourth estate” that is not financially wedded to the government (as with public media) or private interests (as with news corporations and non-profit media funded by large charitable donations).
Ampled, a small arts start-up founded by a group of musicians, designers, and software engineers, appears to be building an alternative way forward. Following in the footsteps of crowdsourcing platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter, Ampled uses the horizontality of the internet to bypass industry gatekeepers, allowing artists to gain direct financial support from fans who pay money to see exclusive content.
Ampled’s truly radical potential, however, comes from its co-op structure. The company incorporated in 2018 as a worker and artist-owned collective, which means that unlike Patreon, Ampled’s artists have financial and decision-making power within the company. This forestalls some of the issues that Patreon has encountered with their Creators, who argue that Patreon is more interested in supporting individuals with large existing followings than smaller-scale independent artists.
More importantly, however, Ampled’s co-op model allows for an escape from the resistance-to-appropriation cycle that Hebdige saw as unavoidable. As part of a co-op, artists and members become part of a community where democratic decision-making and radical transparency are standard operating procedure — everything from the organization’s financials to its website structure is online and open for members to debate. This focus on long-term sustainability and community represent a conscious turn away from the (capitalist) internet’s focus on immediacy and viral content, and start-up culture’s tendency towards quick exits.
This model also takes on the venture capital industry, which often forces early-stage companies to cede large stakes in their company in order to obtain the capital they need to survive. This allows financial investors to steer potentially sustainable companies towards less sustainable practices in order to guarantee that such firms receive the maximum ROI. Ampled instead partnered with CUNY Law School to draw up term sheets based for revenue-based financing, which returns a percentage of top-line revenue to investors in place of partial ownership over the company. Their terms also allow investors to recall their loans if Ampled does not deliver on its stated social mission. This means that investors are buying in to the community as well as the business, and that co-op members have an incentive to stay committed to Ampled’s collective ethos.
The movement not only makes space for truly independent expression in an attention economy, but also gives real power to users amongst mounting concerns over tech monopolies, unbridled datafication, and unsustainable business practices. Could platform cooperatives be the answer? I don’t know. As it stands, we are a long way from cooperativizing Twitter — and Ampled, still in beta mode, doesn’t yet provide its artists with a livable income. But given the alternatives, it seems like a pretty good place to start.
Liliana Harrington is a researcher interested in finding ways to build an open and collective internet. She studied media sociology at the University of Cambridge and received her undergraduate degree from Brown University.
A universal flu vaccine would eliminate the need for seasonal shots and defend against the next major outbreak
With the deadly 2017-2018 flu season still fresh in public health officials’ minds, this year’s outbreak is shaping up to be just as severe. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), says this flu season could be one of the worst in decades. “The initial indicators indicate this is not going to be a good season—this is going to be a bad season,” Fauci told CNN earlier this month.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that there have been at least 9.7 million cases of the flu since early October. The CDC has also been tracking flu mortality, reporting at least 4,800 flu-related deaths this season. The young, elderly and immuno-compromised are especially susceptible to the flu—this season, 33 children have died from the virus.
Even in mild cases, the flu virus can cause unpleasant symptoms like high fevers, muscle aches and fatigue. To protect yourself against the annual flu outbreak, public health officials have a simple piece of advice: get your flu shot.
While the flu shot is the best defense currently available against seasonal influenza, it is not 100 percent effective. The CDC reports that the influenza vaccine typically reduces the risk of illness by between 40 and 60 percent, and that’s only if the viruses included in the vaccine match the subtypes of influenza circulating that season.
As an RNA virus, influenza has a high tendency to mutate, Fauci told Smithsonian. Even within subtypes of influenza, the virus’s genetic code is constantly mutating, causing season-to-season changes that scientists call antigenic drift.
“Most of the time, the virus changes just enough from one season to another so that last year’s flu isn’t exactly the same as what this year’s flu is,” Fauci says. “In order to get optimal protection, you recommend vaccinating people every year. That’s very unique. There really is no other vaccine that you recommend somebody getting vaccinated every single year.”
To keep up with antigenic drift, scientists are constantly tweaking the flu vaccine, which is designed to respond to a surface protein called hemagglutinin, targeting what Fauci calls the “head” of the protein. “When you make a good response, the good news is you get protected. The problem is, the head is that part of the protein that has a propensity to mutate a lot.”
The other end of the protein—the “stem”—is much more resistant to mutations. A vaccine that targets the hemagglutinin stem has the potential to provide protection against all subtypes of influenza and work regardless of antigenic drift, offering an essentially universal defense against the flu. NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is currently working to develop a candidate for a universal flu vaccine in a Phase 1 clinical trial, the first time the vaccine candidate has been given to people. Results on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine are due in early 2020.
Along with protecting against the seasonal influenza, a universal vaccine would also arm humanity with a weapon against the next pandemic strain of the flu. Flu pandemics come along occasionally and unpredictably, usually when a subtype of influenza jumps from animals to humans. This phenomenon, called antigenic shift, introduces a flu so novel to humans that our immune systems are caught entirely off guard.
The most severe flu pandemic in recorded history was the 1918 influenza, which infected one-third of the world’s population and claimed at least 50 million lives. The first outbreak of illness occurred at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas, in March 1918, according to the CDC. Genetic evidence suggests the particular virus came from a bird. The deployment of troops to fight in World War I contributed to the spread of disease, and at the conclusion of the war, the flu’s death toll surpassed the total number of civilian and military casualties due to the fighting. Unlike the seasonal flu, the 1918 pandemic was fatal for many otherwise healthy adults aged 15 to 34, lowering the life expectancy in the United States by more than 12 years.
Kanta Subbarao, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, says there are three criteria for a strain of influenza to be considered pandemic: novelty, infectiousness and ability to cause disease. “If a novel virus emerges, we need to know two things,” she says. “What is the likelihood that it would infect humans and spread? But also, if it were to do that, how much of an impact would it have on human health?”
The infectiousness and severity of impact can dictate whether a pandemic turns out to be relatively mild, like the 2009 swine flu, or as brutal as the 1918 epidemic.
Sabrina Sholts, curator of the exhibition “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, says the human activities that drive the emergence and spread of disease—like living in close quarters and traveling around the globe—have only intensified since 1918. But while globalization can escalate the transmission of disease, it can also facilitate the worldwide dissemination of knowledge.
“Now, we have a means to monitor and coordinate globally that didn’t exist at that time [in 1918],” Sholts says. “I think that that communication is a tremendous tool, and that’s an opportunity to respond rather quickly when something like this happens.”
Subbarao points to the WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) as one example of global cooperation on flu research. She estimates that there are about 145 national influenza centers in 115 countries monitoring seasonal influenza, as well as any flu viruses that manage to jump from animals to humans.
In a statement in March, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced a Global Influenza Strategy for the upcoming decade. The strategy has two overarching goals: to improve every country’s preparedness to monitor and respond to influenza and to develop better tools to prevent and treat influenza. Research on a universal vaccine could support the second objective of arming the global population with a stronger defense against the flu.
“The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present,” Ghebreyesus said in the statement. “We must be vigilant and prepared. The cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention.”