Museum of Banned Objects imagines a dystopian future without contraception

A new exhibition in New York collaborated with Planned Parenthood to display contraceptives as artifacts, creating a reality to avoid another possible reality

In the Gallery at the Ace Hotel in New York sits eight items, ranging from Plan B to a contraceptive sponge, in glass vitrines. Beside them are placards referring to these items in the past tense, as though they are artifacts from a bygone era. Levonorgestrel was a hormonal medication used to prevent pregnancy, reads the placard next to a box of Plan B, referred to by its medical name. A few years prior to its ban, landmark legislation had passed to allow people of any age to buy Levonorgestrel without a prescription.

As part of a month-long exhibition called the Museum of Banned Objects, these items are meant to suggest a dystopian future in which contraceptive and reproductive health products are prohibited, forcing viewers to reckon with the possibility of an expansive rollback of reproductive rights.

Conceived of by Ellie Sachs and Matt Starr, a pair of New York-based artists, in tandem with Planned Parenthood, the exhibition takes objects like Truvada and oral contraceptives and presents them in isolation, amplifying a sense of stigma and scarcity. A box of spermicide, for instance, the vaginal contraceptive film first used in ancient Egypt, appears worn and tattered, the words on the label slightly obscured by rust. Next to a latex condom, the description reads: Right before their ban, about four to six million condoms a years were sold in the United States.

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A latex condom on display at the Museum of Banned Objects. Photograph: Zack Roif

The two were inspired by the ways dystopian worlds as presented in television and film, like those of The Handmaids Tale, were beginning to resemble reality, as well as initiatives that encourage abstinence training rather than safe-sex education and cuts to government programs like Medicaid.

News items played a part in motivating the exhibition, too, like a Washington Post report from late 2017 detailing a list of words including vulnerable, diversity, transgender and science-based supposedly banned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it was later clarified that career CDC officials discouraged employees from using those words in budget requests to stave off cuts to funding by a Trump administration averse to Obama-era programs and public health initiatives, Sachs and Starr nevertheless found the story pretty telling.

We wanted to create a reality to avoid another possible reality, Starr explains. Art helps us take abstract ideas that were constantly reading and talking about and visualize them into something that can help us understand the real severity of things now.

Sachs adds: Were interested in providing a glimpse into a dystopian reality as a forewarning. Sometimes you have to completely reframe an idea for it to stick or take hold.

When the artists conceived of the idea for the exhibition, they contacted Caren Spruch, director of arts and entertainment engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. By collaborating with a nonprofit that provides reproductive healthcare to over 2.5 million patients per year, and whose federal funding has been under threat as recently as last years Obamacare repeal bill, the project conveys a greater sense of urgency. Instead of it just being an imagined future, Sachs explains, it reminds the viewer that this is actually already happening in some capacity, albeit on a smaller scale.

Boxes
Boxes of Plan B, an oral contraceptive and Truvada on display at the Museum of Banned Objects. Photograph: Zack Roif

Art can drive social change and help shape a world that is fairer and more just by powering awareness, defiance, resistance and change, says Spruch. We appreciate Sachs and Starrs work to use their passion and creativity to resist and bring attention to protecting access to birth control for everyone.

The exhibition is of a piece with the themes present in Starr and Sachs work: the two host a monthly curated dinner series at Whole Foods, where guests discuss contemporary politics. At one dinner in late 2017, the topic du jourwas nuclear tensions between the US and North Korea. Last year the pair also remade the classic film Annie Hall, this time entirely with a cast of senior citizens. Sachs, who directs and acts in theatre productions at maximum-security prisons, recently spearheaded a production of On the Waterfront at the Sing Sing correctional facility in Ossining, New York.

When asked about the power of social justice art and the choice to look at reproductive rights through the lens of a dystopian future, Sachs invokes the famous Gore Vidal quote: We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing.

America has a strange relationship with past, present and future, she adds. Things repeat themselves but manifest with slightly different calibrations. By placing these objects in cases they suddenly become more precious and important.

  • The Museum of Banned Objects will be on exhibition at the Gallery at Ace Hotel New York through the month of April.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/03/museum-of-banned-objects-imagining-future-without-contraception-planned-parenthood

I made Steve Bannons psychological warfare tool: meet the data war whistleblower

Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate

The first time I met Christopher Wylie, he didnt yet have pink hair. That comes later. As does his mission to rewind time. To put the genie back in the bottle.

By the time I met him in person, Id already been talking to him on a daily basis for hours at a time. On the phone, he was clever, funny, bitchy, profound, intellectually ravenous, compelling. A master storyteller. A politicker. A data science nerd.

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Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’ video

Two months later, when he arrived in London from Canada, he was all those things in the flesh. And yet the flesh was impossibly young. He was 27 then (hes 28 now), a fact that has always seemed glaringly at odds with what he has done. He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britains EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trumps election campaign.

Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating Steve Bannons psychological warfare mindfuck tool.

In 2014, Steve Bannon then executive chairman of the alt-right news network Breitbart was Wylies boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analyticas investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology information operations then turn it on the US electorate.

It was Wylie who came up with that idea and oversaw its realisation. And it was Wylie who, last spring, became my source. In May 2017, I wrote an article headlined The great British Brexit robbery, which set out a skein of threads that linked Brexit to Trump to Russia. Wylie was one of a handful of individuals who provided the evidence behind it. I found him, via another Cambridge Analytica ex-employee, lying low in Canada: guilty, brooding, indignant, confused. I havent talked about this to anyone, he said at the time. And then he couldnt stop talking.

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By that time, Steve Bannon had become Trumps chief strategist. Cambridge Analyticas parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. Its insane, he told me one night. The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? Its like Nixon on steroids.

He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. And in the months following publication of my article in May,it was revealed that the company had reached out to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clintons stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Muellers investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.

The Observer also received the first of three letters from Cambridge Analytica threatening to sue Guardian News and Media for defamation. We are still only just starting to understand the maelstrom of forces that came together to create the conditions for what Mueller confirmed last month was information warfare. But Wylie offers a unique, worms-eye view of the events of 2016. Of how Facebook was hijacked, repurposed to become a theatre of war: how it became a launchpad for what seems to be an extraordinary attack on the USs democratic process.

Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

We broke Facebook, he says.

And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.

Is it fair to say you hacked Facebook? I ask him one night.

He hesitates. Ill point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.

Last month, Facebooks UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?

Simon Milner: No.

Matheson: But they do hold a large chunk of Facebooks user data, dont they?

Milner: No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.

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Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two weeks later, on 27 February, as part of the same parliamentary inquiry, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, asked Cambridge Analyticas CEO, Alexander Nix: Does any of the data come from Facebook? Nix replied: We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.

And through it all, Wylie and I, plus a handful of editors and a small, international group of academics and researchers, have known that at least in 2014 that certainly wasnt the case, because Wylie has the paper trail. In our first phone call, he told me he had the receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters records that showed how, between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he had a letter from Facebooks own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.

Going public involves an enormous amount of risk. Wylie is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.

Its taken a rollercoaster of a year to help get Wylie to a place where its possible for him to finally come forward. A year in which Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of investigations on both sides of the Atlantic Robert Muellers in the US, and separate inquiries by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioners Office in the UK, both triggered in February 2017, after the Observers first article in this investigation.

It has been a year, too, in which Wylie has been trying his best to rewind to undo events that he set in motion. Earlier this month, he submitted a dossier of evidence to the Information Commissioners Office and the National Crime Agencys cybercrime unit. He is now in a position to go on the record: the data nerd who came in from the cold.

There are many points where this story could begin. One is in 2012, when Wylie was 21 and working for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, then in government as junior coalition partners. His career trajectory has been, like most aspects of his life so far, extraordinary, preposterous, implausible.

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Cambridge Analytica: the key players

Alexander Nix, CEO

An Old Etonian with a degree from Manchester University, Nix, 42, worked as a financial analyst in Mexico and the UK before joining SCL, a strategic communications firm, in 2003. From 2007 he took over the companys elections division, and claims to have worked on 260 campaigns globally. He set up Cambridge Analytica to work in America, with investment from RobertMercer.

Aleksandr Kogan, data miner

Aleksandr Kogan was born in Moldova and lived in Moscow until the age of seven, then moved with his family to the US, where he became a naturalised citizen. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and got his PhD at the University of Hong Kong before joining Cambridge as a lecturer in psychology and expert in social media psychometrics. He set up Global Science Research (GSR) to carry out CAs data research. While at Cambridge he accepted a position at St Petersburg State University, and also took Russian government grants for research. He changed his name to Spectre when he married, but later reverted to Kogan.

Steve Bannon, former board member

A former investment banker turned alt-right media svengali, Steve Bannon was boss at website Breitbart when he met Christopher Wylie and Nix and advised Robert Mercer to invest in political data research by setting up CA. In August 2016 he became Donald Trumps campaign CEO. Bannon encouraged the reality TV star to embrace the populist, economic nationalist agenda that would carry him into the White House. That earned Bannon the post of chief strategist to the president and for a while he was arguably the second most powerful man in America. By August 2017 his relationship with Trump had soured and he was out.

Robert Mercer, investor

Robert Mercer, 71, is a computer scientist and hedge fund billionaire, who used his fortune to become one of the most influential men in US politics as a top Republican donor. An AI expert, he made a fortune with quantitative trading pioneers Renaissance Technologies, then built a $60m war chest to back conservative causes by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.

Rebekah Mercer, investor

Rebekah Mercer has a maths degree from Stanford, and worked as a trader, but her influence comes primarily from her fathers billions. The fortysomething, the second of Mercers three daughters, heads up the family foundation which channels money to rightwing groups. The conservative megadonors backed Breitbart, Bannon and, most influentially, poured millions into Trumps presidential campaign.

Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obamas national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

Politics is like the mob, though, he says. You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.

Politics is also where he feels most comfortable. He hated school, but as an intern in the Canadian parliament he discovered a world where he could talk to adults and they would listen. He was the kid who did the internet stuff and within a year he was working for the leader of the opposition.

Hes one of the brightest people you will ever meet, a senior politician whos known Wylie since he was 20 told me. Sometimes thats a blessing and sometimes a curse.

Meanwhile, at Cambridge Universitys Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007,Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on big five personality traits Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook likes across millions of people.

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Examples, above and below, of the visual messages trialled by GSRs online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. They had a lot of approaches from the security services, a member of the centre told me. There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked I hate Israel on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinskis PhD and Darpa, the US governments secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinskis work.

But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his PhD in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didnt have a clue what he was walking into.

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I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century, Wylie explains. And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands its weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems theyre absent-minded professors and hippies. Theyre the early adopters theyre highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems werent interested.

I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: Why are you so pessimistic? They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.

Another Lib Dem connection introduced Wylie to a company called SCL Group, one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldnt resist. He said: Well give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.

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Another example of the visual messages trialled by GSRs online profiling test.

In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UKs Ministry of Defence and the USs Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in psychological operations or psyops changing peoples minds not through persuasion but through informational dominance, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCLs offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.

The thing I think about all the time is, what if Id taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if Id taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldnt exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

Smart, says Wylie. Interesting. Really interested in ideas. Hes the only straight man Ive ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking Ugh. Totally ugly to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.

But Wylie wasnt just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: information operations, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US militarys doctrine of the five-dimensional battle space. His brief ranged across the SCL Group the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as MI6 for hire, and Id never quite understood it.

Its like dirty MI6 because youre not constrained. Theres no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. Its normal for a market research company to amass data on domestic populations. And if youre working in some country and theres an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well thats just a bonus.

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though its one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. And the cyberwarfare guy is like, Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.

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Steve Bannon: He loved the gays, says Wylie. He saw us as early adopters. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates and his daughter Rebekah.

Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekahs Manhattan apartment.

She loved me. She was like, Oh we need more of your type on our side!

Your type?

The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. Its why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.

Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading which replaced hedge fund managers with computer programs and he listened to Wylies pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paper researched at Cambridges Psychometrics Centre, called: Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans.

In politics, the money man is usually the dumbest person in the room. Whereas its the opposite way around with Mercer, says Wylie. He said very little, but he really listened. He wanted to understand the science. And he wanted proof that it worked.

And to do that, Wylie needed data.

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour.

When Nix was interviewed by MPs last month, Damian Collins asked him:

Does any of your data come from Global Science Research company?

Nix: GSR?

Collins: Yes.

Nix: We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.

Collins: They have not supplied you with data or information?

Nix: No.

Collins: Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?

Nix: No.

Collins: At all?

Nix: At all.

The problem with Nixs response to Collins is that Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwells research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data. (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Dr
An unethical solution? Dr Aleksandr Kogan Photograph: alex kogan

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. What happened to that idea, I ask Wylie. It never happened. I dont know why. Thats one of the things that upsets me the most.

It was Bannons interest in culture as war that ignited Wylies intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercers millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazons Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogans app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends too. On average, each seeder the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other peoples profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasnt authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. Whats more, under British data protection laws, its illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

Facebook could see it was happening, says Wylie. Their security protocols were triggered because Kogans apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, Fine.

Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a close working relationship with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

Cambridge Analytica had its data. This was the foundation of everything it did next how it extracted psychological insights from the seeders and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didnt do for Trump has revolved around the question of psychographics, but Wylie points out: Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldnt you use it in your biggest campaign ever?

In December 2015, the Guardians Harry Davies published the first report about Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data and using it to support Ted Cruz in his campaign to be the US Republican candidate. But it wasnt until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebooks lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that GSR was not authorised to share or sell it. They said it must be deleted immediately.

Christopher
Christopher Wylie: Its like Nixon on steroids

I already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it, says Wylie. Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.

There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.

Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.

Dr Kogan who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didnt know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that hes received grants from the Russian government to research Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

There are other dramatic documents in Wylies stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russias second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections but that they were failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers. The work, he said, would be shared with the CEO of the business, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.

It didnt make any sense to me, says Wylie. I didnt understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?

Muellers investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of Americas social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with consumers. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a rumour campaign spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election in which the company worked by spreading the idea that the election would be rigged. The final slide, branded with Lukoils logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its deliverables: psychographic messaging.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

Why does it cost $32,093 just to give birth in America?

The US is the most expensive nation in the world in which to have a baby and it may factor into thousands of bankruptcies each year

Why does it cost $32,093 just to give birth in America?

The US is the most expensive nation in the world in which to have a baby and it may factor into thousands of bankruptcies each year

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/16/why-does-it-cost-32093-just-to-give-birth-in-america

Oprah Winfrey: one of the world’s best neoliberal capitalist thinkers

Oprah is appealing because her stories hide the role of political, economic and social structures in our lives. They make the American dream seem attainable

In Oprah Winfrey lore, one particular story is repeated over and over. When Oprah was 17, she won the Miss Fire Prevention Contest in Nashville, Tennessee. Until that year every winner had had a mane of red hair, but Oprah would prove to be a game changer.

The contest was the first of many successes for Oprah. She has won numerous Emmys, has been nominated for an Oscar, and appears on lists like Times 100 Most Influential People. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She founded the Oprah Book Club, which is often credited with reviving Americans interest in reading. Her generosity and philanthropic spirit are legendary.

Oprah has legions of obsessive, devoted fans who write her letters and follow her into public restrooms. Oprah basks in their love: I know people really, really, really love me, love me. And she loves them right back. Its part of her higher calling. She believes that she was put on this earth to lift people up, to help them live their best life. She encourages people to love themselves, believe in themselves, and follow their dreams.

Oprah is one of a new group of elite storytellers who present practical solutions to societys problems that can be found within the logic of existing profit-driven structures of production and consumption. They promote market-based solutions to the problems of corporate power, technology, gender divides, environmental degradation, alienation and inequality.

Oprahs popularity stems in part from her message of empathy, support, and love in an increasingly stressful, alienating society. Three decades of companies restructuring their operations by eliminating jobs (through attrition, technology, and outsourcing) and dismantling both organized labor and the welfare state have left workers in an extremely precarious situation.

Oprah
Oprah in the early days of the show. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex

Today, new working-class jobs are primarily low-wage service jobs, and the perks that once went along with middle-of-the-road white-collar jobs have disappeared. Flexible, project-oriented, contingent work has become the norm, enabling companies to ratchet up their requirements for all workers except those at the very top. Meanwhile, the costs of education, housing, childcare, and health care have skyrocketed, making it yet more difficult for individuals and households to get by, never mind prosper.

In this climate of stress and uncertainty, Oprah tells us the stories of her life to help us understand our feelings, cope with difficulty and improve our lives. She presents her personal journey and metamorphosis from poor little girl in rural Mississippi to billionaire prophet as a model for overcoming adversity and finding a sweet life.

Oprahs biographical tale has been managed, mulled over, and mauled in the public gaze for 30 years. She used her precocious intelligence and wit to channel the pain of abuse and poverty into building an empire. She was on television by the age of 19 and had her own show within a decade.

The 1970s feminist movement opened the door to the domestic, private sphere, and the show walked in a decade later, breaking new ground as a public space to discuss personal troubles affecting Americans, particularly women. Oprah broached topics (divorce, depression, alcoholism, child abuse, adultery, incest) that had never before been discussed with such candor and empathy on television.

The shows evolution over the decades mirrored the evolution of Oprahs own life. In its early years the show followed a recovery model in which guests and viewers were encouraged to overcome their problems through self-esteem building and learning to love themselves.

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US President Barack Obama presents broadcast journalist Oprah Winfrey with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

But as copycat shows and criticisms of trash talk increased in the early 1990s, Oprah changed the shows format. In 1994, Oprah declared that she was done with victimization and negativity: It s time to move on from We are dysfunctional to What are we going to do about it? Oprah credited her decision to her own personal evolution: People must grow and change or they will shrivel up and their souls will shrink.

In an appearance on Larry King Live, Oprah acknowledged that she had become concerned about the message of her show and so had decided to embark on a new mission to lift people up. Themes of spirituality and empowerment displaced themes of personal pathology. For Oprah, the transformation was total: Today I try to do well and be well with everyone I reach or encounter. I make sure to use my life for that which can be of goodwill. Yes, this has brought me great wealth. More important, it has fortified me spiritually and emotionally.

A stream of self-help gurus have spent time on Oprahs stage over the past decade and a half, all with the same message. You have choices in life. External conditions dont determine your life. You do. It s all inside you, in your head, in your wishes and desires. Thoughts are destiny, so thinking positive thoughts will enable positive things to happen.

When bad things happen to us, its because were drawing them toward us with unhealthy thinking and behaviors. Dont complain about what you dont have. Use what youve got. To do less than your best is a sin. Every single one of us has the power for greatness because greatness is determined by serviceto yourself and others. If we listen to that quiet whisper and fine-tune our internal, moral, emotional GPS, we too can learn the secret of success.

Janice Peck, in her work as professor of journalism and communication studies, has studied Oprah for years. She argues that to understand the Oprah phenomenon we must return to the ideas swirling around in the Gilded Age. Peck sees strong parallels in the mind-cure movement of the Gilded Age and Oprahs evolving enterprise in the New Gilded Age, the era of neoliberalism. She argues that Oprahs enterprise reinforces the neoliberal focus on the self: Oprahs enterprise [is] an ensemble of ideological practices that help legitimize a world of growing inequality and shrinking possibilities by promoting and embodying a configuration of self compatible with that world.

Nothing captures this ensemble of ideological practices better than O Magazine, whose aim is to help women see every experience and challenge as an opportunity to grow and discover their best self. To convince women that the real goal is becoming more of who they really are. To embrace their life. O Magazine implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, identifies a range of problems in neoliberal capitalism and suggests ways for readers to adapt themselves to mitigate or overcome these problems.

Does your 60 hour-a-week desk job make your back hurt and leave you emotionally exhausted and stressed? Of course it does. Studies show that death by office job is real: people who sit at a desk all day are more likely to be obese, depressed, or just dead for no discernible reason. But you can dull these effects and improve your wellness with these O-approved strategies: Become more of an out-of-the-box thinker because creative people are healthier. Bring photos, posters, and kitschy figurines to decorate your workspace: Youll feel less emotionally exhausted and reduce burnout. Write down three positive things that happened during your workday every night before leaving the office to reduce stress and physical pain from work.

In December 2013, O devoted a whole issue to anxiety and worry. The issue conquers a lifetime s worth of anxieties and apprehensions, an apt subject given rising levels of anxiety across the age spectrum.

In the issue, bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin present a list of books for the anxious, prescribing them instead of a trip to the pharmacy. Feeling claustrophobic because youre too poor to move out of your parents house? Read Little House on the Prairie. Feeling stressed because your current project at work is ending and you dont have another lined up? Read The Man Who Planted Trees. Worried that you wont be able to pay the rent because you just lost your job? Read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Instead of feeling depressed, follow the lead hero Toru Okada, who, while jobless, embarks on a fantastic liberating journey that changes the way he thinks.

Oprah recognizes the pervasiveness of anxiety and alienation in our society. But instead of examining the economic or political basis of these feelings, she advises us to turn our gaze inward and reconfigure ourselves to become more adaptable to the vagaries and stresses of the neoliberal moment.

Oprah is appealing precisely because her stories hide the role of political, economic, and social structures. In doing so, they make the American Dream seem attainable. If we just fix ourselves, we can achieve our goals. For some people, the American dream is attainable, but to understand the chances for everyone, we need to look dispassionately at the factors that shape success.

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Oprah Winfrey gestures during the taping of Oprahs Surprise Spectacular in Chicago May 17, 2011. Photograph: John Gress/Reuters

The current incarnation of the American Dream narrative holds that if you acquire enough cultural capital (skills and education) and social capital (connections, access to networks), you will be able to translate that capital into both economic capital (cash) and happiness. Cultural capital and social capital are seen as there for the taking (particularly with advances in internet technology), so the only additional necessary ingredients are pluck, passion, and persistence all attributes that allegedly come from inside us.

The American dream is premised on the assumption that if you work hard, economic opportunity will present itself, and financial stability will follow, but the role of cultural and social capital in paving the road to wealth and fulfilment, or blocking it, may be just as important as economic capital. Some people are able to translate their skills, knowledge, and connections into economic opportunity and financial stability, and some are noteither because their skills, knowledge, and connections dont seem to work as well, or they cant acquire them in the first place because theyre too poor.

Today, the centrality of social and cultural capital is obscured (sometimes deliberately), as demonstrated in the implicit and explicit message of Oprah and her ideological colleagues. In their stories, and many others like them, cultural and social capital are easy to acquire. They tell us to get an education. Too poor? Take an online course. Go to Khan Academy. They tell us to meet people, build up our network. Dont have any connected family members? Join LinkedIn.

Its simple. Anyone can become anything. Theres no distinction between the quality and productivity of different peoples social and cultural capital. Were all building our skills. Were all networking.

This is a fiction. If all or most forms of social and cultural capital were equally valuable and accessible, we should see the effects of this in increased upward mobility and wealth created anew by new people in each generation rather than passed down and expanded from one generation to the next. The data do not demonstrate this upward mobility.

The US, in a sample of 13 wealthy countries, ranks highest in inequality and lowest in intergenerational earnings mobility. Wealth isnt earned fresh in each new generation by plucky go-getters. It is passed down, preserved, and expanded through generous tax laws and the assiduous transmission of social and cultural capital.

The way Oprah tells us to get through it all and realize our dreams is always to adapt ourselves to the changing world, not to change the world we live in. We demand little or nothing from the system, from the collective apparatus of powerful people and institutions. We only make demands of ourselves.

We are the perfect, depoliticized, complacent neoliberal subjects.

And yet were not. The popularity of strategies for alleviating alienation rests on our deep, collective desire for meaning and creativity. Literary critic and political theorist Fredric Jameson would say that the Oprah stories, and others like them, are able to manage our desires only because they appeal to deep fantasies about how we want to live our lives. This, after all, is what the American dream narrative is about not necessarily a description of life lived, but a vision of how life should be lived.

When the stories that manage our desires break their promises over and over, the stories themselves become fuel for change and open a space for new, radical stories. These new stories must feature collective demands that provide a critical perspective on the real limits to success in our society and foster a vision of life that does fulfill the desire for self-actualization.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/may/09/oprah-winfrey-neoliberal-capitalist-thinkers

Dont listen to Gwyneth Paltrow: keep your coffee well away from your rectum | Jen Gunter

The colonic irrigation and coffee enemas promoted on Paltrows website Goop are not merely unnecessary, they are potentially dangerous, writes obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter

It seems January is Gwyneth Paltrows go-to month for promoting potentially dangerous things that should not go in or near an orifice. January 2015 brought us vagina steaming, January 2017 was jade eggs, and here we are in the early days of January 2018 and Goop.com is hawking coffee enemas and promoting colonic irrigation.

I suspect that GP and her pals at Goop.com believe people are especially vulnerable to buying quasi-medical items in the New Year as they have just released their latest detox and wellness guide complete with a multitude of products to help get you nowhere.

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Ha ha, go deep. Nice play on words for a dangerous yet ineffective therapy. An advertisement on Goop.com.

One offers to help if youre looking to go deep on many levels. Ha ha, go deep. Nice play on words for a dangerous yet ineffective therapy. Goop.com is not selling a coffee machine, it is selling a coffee enema-making machine. That, my friends, is a messed-up way to make money. I know the people at Goop will either ignore the inquiries from reporters or release a statement saying the article is a conversation not a promotion and that they included the advice of a board-certified doctor, Dr Alejandro Junger, but any time you lend someone else your platform their ideas are now your ideas. That is why I never let anyone write guest posts for my blog. And lets be real, if you are selling the hardware to shoot coffee up your ass then you are promoting it as a therapy especially as Goop actually called the $135 coffee enema-making machine Dr Jungers pick. I mean come on.

The interview with Junger is filled with information that is unsupported both by the medical literature and by human anatomy and physiology. There is no data to suggest that a colonic helps with the elimination of the waste that is transiting the colon on its way out. That is what bowel movements do. There are no toxins to be cleansed or irrigated. That is fake medicine. A 2011 review on colonics concluded that doctors should advise patients that colon cleansing has no proven benefits and many adverse effects.

The idea that colonics are used in conjunction with a cleanse is beyond ridiculous. Junger tells us via Goop that a cleanse creates some kind of extra sticky mucus that blocks elimination of what needs to be disposed of (I will admit that hurt my brain more than a little). Dr Junger says this cleanse residue is a mucoid plaque, basically some kind of adherent, cleanse-induced super-glue that needs a colonic for removal. He supports this assertion not with published research, but by telling Goops readers to Google mucoid plaque.

No really. That is what he said. Google it. So I did. This is what came up first:

Mucoid plaque (or mucoid cap or rope) is a pseudoscientific term used by some alternative medicine advocates to describe what is claimed to be a combination of allegedly harmful mucus-like material and food residue that they say coats the gastrointestinal tract of most people.

Apparently, the term mucoid plaque was coined by Richard Anderson, who is a naturopath, not a gastroenterologist, so not a doctor who actually looks inside the colon. I looked mucoid plaques up in PubMed. Guess what? Nothing colon-related. There is not one study or even case-report describing this phenomenon. Apparently only doctors who sell cleanses and colonics can see them. I am fairly confident that if some gastroenterologist (actual colon doctor) found some crazy mucus that looked like drool from the alien queen that she or he would have taken pictures and written about it or discussed it at a conference.

If we needed cleanses to live and thus colonics to manage this alien-like mucous residue created by cleanses, how did we ever evolve? Wouldnt we have died out from these mysterious toxins? Wouldnt our rectums be different? Wouldnt we have invented irrigation tubing before the wheel? So many questions.

There is only a side mention in the Goop post of two of the many complications seen with colonics: colon perforation and damage to gastrointestinal bacteria. And as for coffee enemas? While Dr Kelly Brogan, Paltrows Aids-denialist doctor gal pal who is speaking at In Goop Health later this month, is also a huge fan, there is no data to suggest that coffee offers any benefit via the rectal route but there are plenty of reports of coffee enema-induced rectal burns.

So here are the facts. No one needs a cleanse. Ever. There are no waste products left behind in the colon that need removing just because or after a cleanse. If a cleanse did leave gross, adherent hunks of weird mucus then that would be a sign that the cleanse was damaging the colon. You know what creates excess, weird mucous? Irritation and inflammation.

There are serious risks to colonics such as bowel perforation, damaging the intestinal bacteria, abdominal pain, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and renal failure. There are also reports of serious infections, air embolisms, colitis, and rectal perforation. If you go to a spa and the equipment is not sterilised, infections can be transmitted via the tubing.

Coffee enemas and colonics offer no health benefit. The biology used to support these therapies is unsound and there can be very real complications. Keep the coffee out of your rectum and in your cup. It is only meant to access your colon from the top.

Dr Jen Gunter is an obstetrician, gynaecologist and pain medicine physician. This piece originally ran on Jen Gunters blog

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/09/gwyneth-paltrow-goop-coffee-enema-colonic-irrigation

Health mutt: proposal to put shelter dogs on vegan diet divides Los Angeles

A possible plan to move the citys dogs onto a plant-based diet has the backing of prominent vegans such as Moby, but others warn it could get messy

Proponents say it will make Los Angeles the worlds progressive capital. Sceptics say it will mean diarrhea, lots of diarrhea.

The proposal, which has divided scientists and animal rights groups and inflamed social media, is to put dogs in the citys public shelters on a vegan diet.

The Los Angeles animal services commission is considering the idea after lobbying by prominent vegans, including Moby, the dance music pioneer.

The commission unanimously voted earlier this month for a feasability study and analysis of the benefits and risks. A report detailing pilot project options is expected in February.

Roger Wolfson, a commissioner and television screenwriter who is driving the initiative, cites ethical, environmental and health reasons to switch dogs to plant-based food.

Currently more than 20,000 chickens, 10,000 turkeys and 1,000 lambs die each year in order to be churned into food for the 33,000 dogs in LAs public shelters, he said.

We are the department of animal services, not the department of animal companion services, he told the Guardian this week. So we need to start from a place of avoiding unnecessary killing of animals. We already shelter pigs and chickens and turkeys and we wouldnt think about killing them unnecessarily. So if dogs can get their needs met without killing animals we owe it to the citizens of Los Angeles to try.

Wolfson, who was a political speechwriter in Washington DC before moving to LA and writing for shows such as Fairly Legal and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, also cited the impact of meat and dairy consumption on deforestation, greenhouse gases and ocean dead zones.

Several high-profile allies endorsed Wolfsons proposal at a public hearing in November, including the musician and DJ Moby, who owns a vegan restaurant in LA. If we adopt this, its just one more thing that proves to the world that Los Angeles really is the progressive capital of the world, he said, according to meeting minutes, which used his real name, Richard Hall.

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Musician and vegan restaurant owner Moby is a supporter of the plan. Photograph: Kris Connor/WireImage

However, the citys chief veterinarian, Jeremy Prupas, cited clinical nutritionists, a veterinary toxicologist and other experts who advised against a vegan diet. In addition to health questions, workers at the understaffed shelter would confront canine diarrhea, a big issue, Prupas said.

Armaiti May, an LA-based veterinarian who supports the proposal, told the Guardian that abrupt changes in diet can lead to looser stools but that a gradual transition would avoid major problems. Its a small issue in the grand scheme of things. May believes meat-based kibbles have fuelled a cancer and allergy epidemic in dogs.

Tracy Reiman, executive vice-president of the animal rights group Peta, said a vegan diet was healthier and more ethical than feeding dogs factory farmed animals who have endured miserable lives and gruesome deaths and whose dead, dying, diseased, or disabled carcasses are found in most commercial dog foods.

Other voices urge caution. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and Tufts university professor, told the New York Times earlier this year there were no long-term studies on the effects of veganism in dogs. We know a lot about dog nutrition, but there are unknowns as well it isnt easy to formulate a high-quality diet for dogs, and its particularly difficult with a vegan diet.

Social media has bristled with arguments for and against, the latter insisting dogs need meat.

Owners who have put their dogs on vegan diets say diarrhea fears are overblown and that health benefits are tangible. Winky had been plagued with recurring ear infections which disappeared permanently after I phased the meat-based food out of his diet, Karen Dawn, an author and activist, wrote in an LA Times op-ed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/29/los-angeles-vegan-dog-diet-animal-shelters-moby

Why the UN is investigating extreme poverty in America, the world’s richest nation

At the heart of Philip Alstons special mission will be one question: can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights if theyre unable to meet basic living standards?

The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the worlds richest nation and its president to account for the hardships endured by Americas most vulnerable citizens.

The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.

With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.

The US is no stranger to Alstons withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality.

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United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

Now Alston has set off on his sixth, and arguably most sensitive, visit as UN monitor on extreme poverty since he took up the position in June 2014. At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the worlds leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness?

Despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality, Alston said in remarks released before the start of the visit. The rapporteur said he intended to focus on the detrimental effects of poverty on the civil and political rights of Americans, given the United States consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Poverty experts are watching the UN tour closely in the hope that it might draw public attention to a largely neglected but critical aspect of US society.

David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, said the visit had the potential to hold a mirror up to the country at a moment when globalization combined with a host of domestic policies have generated a vast gulf between rich and poor.

The US has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth, he said.

Grusky added that the US reaction to Alstons visit could go either way. It has the potential to open our eyes to what an outlier the US has become compared with the rest of the world, or it could precipitate an adverse reaction towards an outsider who has no legitimacy telling us what to do about internal US affairs.

Alstons findings will be announced in preliminary form in Washington on 15 December, and then presented as a full report to the UN human rights council in Geneva next June. An especially unpredictable element of the fallout will be how Trump himself receives the final report, given the presidents habit of lashing out at anyone perceived to criticize him or his administration.

Trump has also shown open disdain towards the world body. In the course of the 2016 presidential campaign he griped that we get nothing out of the United Nations other than good real-estate prices.

On the other hand, observers have been surprised that the White House has honored the invitation to host Alston after the initial offer was extended by Barack Obama. US diplomats on more than one occasion since Trumps inauguration have said they welcomed the UN party.

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Ruby Dee Rudolph in her home in Lowndes County. A recent study suggests that nearly one one in three people in Lowndes County have hookworm, a parasite normally found in poor, developing countries. Photograph: Bob Miller for The Guardian

Alston himself is reserving his comments until the end of the tour. But his published work suggests that he is likely to be a formidable critic of the new president. In a lecture he gave last year on the challenges posed by Trump and other modern populist leaders, he warned that their agenda was avowedly nationalistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and explicitly antagonistic to all or much of the human rights agenda.

Alston concluded the speech by saying: These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.

The UN poverty tour falls at a singularly tense moment for the US. In its 2016 state of the nation review, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed the US rank at the bottom of the league table of 10 well-off countries, in terms of the extent of its income and wealth inequality.

It also found that the US hit rock bottom in terms of the safety net it offers struggling families, and is one of the worst offenders in terms of the ability of low-income families to lift themselves out of poverty a stark contrast to the much-vaunted myth of the American dream.

To some extent, Trumps focus on making America great again a political jingo that in itself contains an element of criticism of the state of the nation chimes with the UNs concern about extreme poverty. His call for greater prosperity for white working Americans in declining manufacturing areas that proved so vital to his election victory will be echoed in Alstons visit to the depressed coal-producing state of West Virginia, which backed Trump in 2016 by a resounding 69%.

In many other ways, though, the Trump administration in its first year has taken a radically hostile approach towards communities in need. He has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to abolish Obamacare in a move that would deprive millions of low-income families of healthcare insurance, was widely criticized for his lackluster response to the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico that has left thousands homeless and without power, and is currently pushing a tax reform that would benefit one group above all others: the super rich.

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A man who lost his home during Hurricane Maria in September sits on a cot at a school turned shelter in Canovanas. Photograph: Alvin Baez/Reuters

The US poses an especially challenging subject for the UN special rapporteur because unlike all other industrialized nations, it fails to recognize fundamental social and economic rights such as the right to healthcare, a roof over your head or food to keep hunger at bay. The federal government has consistently refused to sign up to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights arguing that these matters are best left to individual states.

Such an emphasis on states rights has spawned a patchwork of provision for low-income families across the country. Republican-controlled states in the Deep South provide relatively little help to those struggling from unemployment and lack of ready cash, while more assistance is likely to be forthcoming in bigger coastal cities.

By contrast, raging house prices and gentrification is fueling a homelessness crisis in liberal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco the first stop next week of the UN tour.

Martha Davis, a law professor specializing in US human rights at Northeastern University, said that such vast regional variations present the UN monitor with a huge opportunity. Unlike other international officials, he has the ability to move freely at both federal and state levels and be equally critical of both.

Theres a lot that Philip Alston can say about basic inequality that goes to the heart of the rights that he is reviewing, Davis said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/01/un-extreme-poverty-america-special-rapporteur

Macron awards US scientists grants to move to France in defiance of Trump

Frances president awards millions of euros to 18 American scientists to relocate in effort to counter Donald Trump on the climate change front

Eighteen climate scientists from the US and elsewhere have hit the jackpot as Frances president, Emmanuel Macron, awarded them millions of euros in grants to relocate to France for the rest of Donald Trumps presidential term.

The Make Our Planet Great Again grants a nod to Trumps Make America Great Again campaign slogan are part of Macrons efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

More than 5,000 people from about 100 countries expressed interest in the grants. Most of the applicants and 13 of the 18 winners were US-based researchers.

Macrons appeal gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do, said winner Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin. She will be working at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees on how human-made climate change is affecting wildlife.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Parmesan described funding challenges for climate science in the US and a feeling that you are having to hide what you do.

Trump has expressed skepticism about global warming and said the Paris accord would hurt US business by requiring a reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

We will be there to replace US financing of climate research, Macron told the winners in Paris on Monday.

If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science, he said, promising to put in place a global climate change monitoring system among other climate innovations.

The research of the winning recipients focuses on pollution, hurricanes and clouds. A new round of the competition will be launched next year, alongside Germany. About 50 projects will be chosen overall, and funded with 60m ($70m) from the state and French research institutes.

Initially aimed at American researchers, the research grants were expanded to other non-French climate scientists, according to organizers. Candidates need to be known for working on climate issues, have completed a thesis and propose a project that would take between three to five years.

The time frame would cover Trumps current presidential term.

Some French researchers have complained that Macron is showering money on foreign scientists at a time when they have been pleading for more support for domestic higher education.

Macron unveiled the first winners at a startup incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies announced projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

Mondays event is a prelude to a bigger climate summit Tuesday aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

More than 50 world leaders are expected in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the UN and the World Bank. Trump was not invited.

Other attendees include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a spin on a Parisian electric bike Monday to call attention to health problems caused by pollution.

The Hollywood star and former California governor argued that Trumps rejection of the Paris climate accord doesnt matter, because companies, scientists and other governments can pick up the slack to reduce global emissions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/macron-awards-grants-to-us-scientists-to-move-to-france-in-defiance-of-trump

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now | James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron

Film-maker James Cameron and environmentalist Suzy Amis Cameron writes that to preserve Americas majestic national parks, clean air and water for future generations leaders must be pressed to address foods environmental impact

Our collective minds are stuck on this idea that talking about foods environmental impact risks taking something very intimate away from us. In fact its just the opposite. Reconsidering how we eat offers us hope, and empowers us with choice over what our future planet will look like. And we can ask our local leaders from city mayors to school district boards to hospital management to help, by widening our food options.

On Monday and Tuesday, the city of Chicago is hosting a summit for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy to discuss climate solutions cities can undertake. Strategies to address and lower foods impact should be front and center.

Animal agriculture is choking the Earth, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the more we limit our ability to nourish ourselves, protect waterways and habitats, and pursue other uses of our precious natural resources. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of theleading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

On top of this, eating too much meat and dairy is making us sick, greatlyincreasing our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several major cancers (including breast, liver and prostate) and obesity. Diets optimal for human health vary, according to David Katz, of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, but all of them are made up mostly of whole, wholesome plant foods.

So what gives? Why cant we see the forest for the bacon? The truth can be hard to swallow: that we simply need less meat and dairy and more plant-based options in our food system if were to reach our climate goals.

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The Avatar movie set had plant-based menus. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Everett/Rex Features

This can start with individual action. Five years ago, our family felt hopeless about climate change, and helpless to make meaningful change. But when we connected the dots on animal agricultures impact on the environment, coupled with the truth about nutrition, we took heart because it gave us something we could actually do.

To create change at the scale needed, this will take more than individual choice we need to get climate leaders on board about the impact of food. Cities and counties have used their buying power to transition fleets from diesel to electric, and we need to do the same with how we purchase food. We have done this in our own community, moving the lunch program of Muse School, in Calabasas, California, and the Avatar movie set to plant-based menus. Scaling up initiatives like these can make a big difference: if the US reduced meat consumption by 50%, its the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road. We think thats damn hopeful.

Decision-makers on all levels can make it easier for us to eat better, by expanding access to food options that are good for our health, affordable, and climate-friendly. Nationwide, cities and school districts have adopted food purchasing policies that include environment, health and fair labor standards. The city of Chicago is a recent adopter of this Good Food Purchasing Program, and so the solutions-focus of the summit is the perfect place to discuss how food can move us toward climate goals. In the same breath that we discuss fossil fuels, we should be talking animal ag, or were missing a big part of the problem and a big part of the solution.

Yes, food is inherently personal. Its the cornerstone of holidays, it fuels high school athletes and long workdays, and it nourishes nursing mothers and growing children. And yes, Americans love meat and cheese. But more than that, we love our majestic national parks, family beach vacations and clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.

As individuals, we can make choices on how to better nourish our families, and as citizens, we can encourage local leaders to make choices that will allow us to enjoy our land and natural resources now and in the future.

James Cameron is a film-maker and deep-sea explorer. Suzy Amis Cameron is a founder of Muse School and Plant Power Task Force.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron

Introducing Halo Top: the ‘healthy’ ice-cream taking over America

Marketed as the low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar alternative to ice-cream it is now outselling tubs from Ben & Jerrys and Hagen-Dazs

Everyone you love is gone. There is only ice-cream is the darkly humorous sign off used in a recent ad for fast-growing American ice-cream brand Halo Top.

The Black Mirror-style commercial, which ran in US cinemas before films including the horror flick It, features an elderly woman being force-fed ice-cream by a robot in some dystopian future.

It was directed by Mike Diva, who has built a YouTube following with his advertising parodies, and who typifies the offbeat digital marketing aimed at millennials that has helped turn Halo Top into serious competition for bestselling brands such as Magnum, Ben & Jerrys and Hagen-Dazs.

The somewhat noir US TV ad for Halo Top ice-cream.

The Los Angeles-based company was founded at the start of the decade by Justin Woolverton, a former lawyer who suffered hypoglycemic episodes when he indulged his sweet tooth. So he bought a $20 ice-cream maker on Amazon and began trying to create healthier alternatives. It was just something that I was making in my kitchen because I didnt like sugar, he told one interviewer about his Eureka moment.

While most ice-creams are a sugar and fat-laden treat, Halo Top bills itself as a low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar alternative to mainstream brands, with flavours such as mochi green tea and rainbow swirls. Its recipe uses sugar substitute Stevia, which means a scoop of its Vanilla Ice contains 60 calories versus 250 in a similar sized dollop of Hagen-Dazs.

Reports in the US media have begun to question whether Halo Top is really as healthy as the marketing makes out, with some dieticians raising concerns about the use of artificial sweeteners.

Halo Top is now stocked in supermarkets across America, with the company shifting nearly $50m (38m) worth of ice-cream in the US last year. Its sales accelerated in 2016 after GQ writer Shane Snow lived on Halo Top ice-cream for 10 days and the resulting article went viral.

The brands rise has been propelled by social media: it has 590,000 followers on Instagram and more than 700,000 on Facebook.

The social media buzz helped Halo Top chalk up another milestone in the summer when industry data showed its pint pots were outselling Unilevers Ben & Jerrys and Nestls Hagen-Dazs in US grocery stores for the first time. Halo Tops parent company, LA-based Eden Creamery, is seizing the day with one recent report suggesting it is exploring a sale that could value the company at up to $2bn.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/oct/20/introducing-halo-top-the-healthy-ice-cream-taking-over-america