April 19, 2018

Time released its annual list of the 100 most influential people of the year Thursday, and to no surprise, the Parkland activists are featured under the subcategory "pioneers." What might be a bit more surprising is that the blurb praising the work of David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, and Alex Wind was written by the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.

"The Parkland, Florida, students don't have the kind of lobbyists or big budgets for attack ads that their opponents do," Obama writes. "Most of them can't even vote yet. But they have the power so often inherent in youth: to see the world anew; to reject the old constraints, outdated conventions, and cowardice too often dressed up as wisdom." Obama goes on:

[B]y bearing witness to carnage, by asking tough questions and demanding real answers, the Parkland students are shaking us out of our complacency. The NRA's favored candidates are starting to fear they might lose. Law-abiding gun owners are starting to speak out. As these young leaders make common cause with African-Americans and Latinos — the disproportionate victims of gun violence — and reach voting age, the possibilities of meaningful change will steadily grow. [Time]

Read the full blurb at the Time 100 list here. Jeva Lange

April 9, 2018

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz published a powerful New Yorker article Monday that grapples with the trauma of being raped as a child. "I never told anyone what happened, but today I'm telling you," Díaz writes.

The piece is addressed to an anonymous "X" who asked Díaz — the author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her — about the sexual abuse in his books, and if it had happened to him. Díaz writes that he was "too scared in those days to say anything" and that he "responded with some evasive bulls--t" to X's question. Years later, "I think about silence; I think about shame, I think about loneliness," Díaz reflects. "I think about the hurt I caused."

Díaz writes that there are "not enough pages in the world to describe what it did to me," adding that "more than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me." Despite putting on a mask, and despite his "silence," Díaz says:

The nightmares, the intrusions, the hiding, the doubts, the confusion, the self-blame, the suicidal ideation — they didn't go away just because I buried my neighborhood, my family, my face. The nightmares, the intrusions, the hiding, the doubts, the confusion, the self-blame, the suicidal ideation — they followed. All through college. All through graduate school. All through my professional life. All through my intimate life. (Leaked into my writing, too, but you'd be amazed how easy it is to rewrite the truth away.)

Didn't matter how far I ran or what I achieved or who I was with — they followed. [The New Yorker]

Read his entire piece at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange

April 2, 2018

A group of individuals linked to financier Dan K. Rapoport has apparently been operating under the persona of a character named "David Jewberg," an "American soldier, analyst, military history specialist, officer of the U.S. Army, political consultant of the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, and National Security analyst," citizen journalist investigative website Bellingcat has found.

Although "Jewberg" has often been quoted as being a Pentagon insider by Ukrainian and Russian media, he is evidently a fake composite character and "the U.S. Department of Defense and State Department have disavowed [his existence], stating that they have never employed a person by this name," Bellingcat writes. Nevertheless, painstaking efforts have been made to convince Ukrainian and Russian opposition figures of Jewberg's existence, including fake biographical details such as that he was born in Ohio to parents "Tammy" and "Joe."

"Jewberg" is best known for running a popular Facebook page used to post anti-Kremlin, anti-Trump sentiments in the Russian language. Jewberg also posted photos and identification cards in an attempt to attest that he was real, although all such evidence actually featured the photograph of a Texan man named Steve Farro — a college friend of Rapoport's.

Rapoport, who was born in the Soviet Union before moving with his parents to Texas in 1978, also apparently tried to verify Jewberg's existence, posting old photos of himself with Farro and claiming the man was actually Jewberg. Rapoport eventually moved to Kiev, Ukraine, from Washington, D.C., in late 2016, and now works abroad as the head of the venture capital firm Rapoport Capital LLC. His vacated D.C. mansion is now occupied by Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.

"What is not clear is why [Jewberg's] persona was invented with a ridiculous last name, using the face of a man in Texas," concludes Bellingcat. Read the full investigation here. Jeva Lange

March 27, 2018
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HLN host S.E. Cupp begged first lady Melania Trump to set an example for "a generation of young girls" and divorce her husband, President Trump, in an op-ed published Tuesday at the New York Daily News.

Cupp likens the current situation — in which Donald Trump stands accused of having an affair with an adult film star in 2006, while married to Melania — to reports of former President Bill Clinton's affairs in 1992. "Over those years, Hillary [Clinton] became for me what she became for many women — the literal definition of 'Stand by Your Man,'" Cupp argues. "While feminists trotted her out as a role model for strong women, all I saw was a woman who was humiliated time and again and, for reasons either personal or political, decided to take it."

Cupp goes on to claim that Melania should not "repeat Hillary's mistake" by staying with her husband. "While it's hard to imagine she didn't know who she married, she's also just a woman, wife, and mother like the rest of us," Cupp writes. "There's a real person in there, and she must be reeling."

Melania Trump is reportedly "quite enjoying" her "spring break" at Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, while her husband returned to Washington, D.C., this weekend, a spokesperson said. Read Cupp's full argument for why Melania Trump should get a divorce at the New York Daily News here. Jeva Lange

March 27, 2018
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Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for the Second Amendment to be repealed in a condemnatory op-ed published in The New York Times on Tuesday. "Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment," writes Stevens, adding: "Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century."

Stevens, the third longest serving justice who was on the liberal side of the court at the time of his retirement in 2010, naturally built his argument off legal precedent. "In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a 'well regulated militia,'" he points out.

Stevens goes on to cite a 2008 Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, which redefined the Second Amendment's reach and which Stevens remains "convinced was wrong." He argues that "overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the NRA's ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option." Read Stevens' full argument at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

March 13, 2018
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Markus Zusak has finally finished his long-anticipated young adult novel Bridge of Clay. The book will be published by Random House in October, The New York Times reported.

Zusak has been working on this project since his best-seller, The Book Thief, hit bookshelves in 2005. "When I started writing [Bridge of Clay], and this was 12 or 13 years ago, I just couldn't quite feel that it was right, and so I just kept trying and trying and trying and then I'd get halfway through and I couldn't keep going because I thought: 'This isn't it,'” Zusak told the Times.

Bridge of Clay follows a boy named Clay who is the only one of his four brothers willing to help their estranged father build a bridge on his property. The story "includes many more characters" than The Book Thief did, the Times explained, and "uses a completely different sort of narrative voice," which made it trickier for Zusak to write.

Though it's taken over a decade to write the book, Zusak said he actually had the idea for it 23 years ago, when he was 19. He told the Times that an intervention from his wife in June 2016 got the writing process back on track after years of stalling. "I could write this book until I die and it still won't be the way I want it," he said. "But I think now it's got the right heart." Mary Catalfamo

February 26, 2018

Monica Lewinsky is re-evaluating her relationship with former President Bill Clinton in the wake of the #MeToo movement, acknowledging in a Vanity Fair essay that her new understanding of power dynamics is making her question what she once believed was consent. "Now, at 44, I'm beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern," she writes.

Lewinsky believed as recently as 2014: "Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: It was a consensual relationship. Any 'abuse' came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position." Lewinsky explains now that in the wake of stories about Harvey Weinstein and other men abusing their positions of power over women: "I'm beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot."

She goes on:

But it's also complicated. Very, very complicated. The dictionary definition of "consent"? "To give permission for something to happen." And yet what did the "something" mean in this instance, given the power dynamics, his position, and my age? Was the "something" just about crossing a line of sexual (and later emotional) intimacy? (An intimacy I wanted — with a 22-year-old's limited understanding of the consequences.) He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college. [Vanity Fair]

Lewinsky adds that her re-evaluation is ongoing, but "I know one thing for certain," she said: "Part of what has allowed me to shift is knowing I'm not alone anymore." Read her entire essay at Vanity Fair. Jeva Lange

February 16, 2018

The journalist who helped launch the #MeToo movement with his explosive exposé on the allegations against Harvey Weinstein has returned with a report about President Trump's alleged affairs. Writing for The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow claims that Trump began a sexual relationship with former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal in 2006, less than two years after he married Melania Trump and a few months after the birth of their son, Barron.

While McDougal was restricted from speaking to The New Yorker about her story, having signed away the rights to talk about it to The National Enquirer in exchange for $150,000, McDougal's friend John Crawford supplied Farrow with McDougal's handwritten notes from the time, which detail the affair.

One note, apparently recalling McDougal's first date with Trump (dinner at a private Beverly Hills bungalow), read:

I was so nervous! I was into his intelligence + charm. Such a polite man. We talked for a couple hours — then, it was "ON"! We got naked + had sex. After, we got dressed (to leave) + he offered me money. I looked at him (+ felt sad) + said, 'No thanks — I'm not 'that girl.' I slept w/you because I like you — NOT for money' — He told me 'you are special.' [via The New Yorker]

Despite owning the rights to McDougal's story, The National Enquirer never published it, apparently in an effort to suppress allegations against Trump, who it endorsed for president. Read more of McDougal's allegations, which representatives of Trump have called "totally untrue," at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange

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