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Author: John Hanno
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.
Arizona’s monsoon will end as one of the hottest and driest on record. What happened?
Hayleigh Evans, Arizona Republic – September 27, 2023
Summer 2023 ended as the hottest on record in Phoenix, and now the 2023 monsoon season will end as the driest.
During a summer of unprecedented and prolonged heat in metro Phoenix, many people had eagerly waited for the monsoon season to begin and fend off the scorching temperatures. But aside from a few storms that offered temporary reprieves, monsoon precipitation was weeks delayed and below average.
The monsoon season officially ends on Saturday having produced fewer storms overall than previous years, especially in central and southeastern Arizona.
Although parts of the state depend on the monsoon for much of their annual rainfall, lack of precipitation during this season will not endanger water supplies, especially following a wet winter and the strengthening of El Niño conditions.
Here’s some of what to know about the monsoon:
How much rainfall did Arizona get during the 2023 monsoon?
Phoenix posted its driest monsoon ever, with just 0.15 of an inch of rainfall at Sky Harbor International Airport, compared to a 2.28-inch average. While rain gauges in other parts of metro Phoenix recorded higher totals, the airport reports the official figure.
Statewide, the 2023 monsoon was hotter and drier than previous years. While season totals have not yet been released, based on figures from June, July and August, it was the 20th-warmest and 10th-driest season. (The monsoon season starts June 15 and ends Sept. 30, while meteorological summer covers June, July and August.)
Although residents of central and southeastern counties experienced an exceptionally arid monsoon, precipitation in the north and west offset the drier areas.
“Fortunately, this monsoon season was dry but not the driest. The 2020 ‘nonsoon’ season remains the precipitation loser,” said Erinanne Saffell, director of the Arizona State Climate Office and the state climatologist, regarding 2020’s status as the driest monsoon.
Tucson and Flagstaff also recorded below-average precipitation. As of Sept 26, Tucson fared the best with 4.73 inches of rain compared to a 5.39 average between 1991 and 2020. Flagstaff had 4.24 inches of precipitation compared to a 7.2-inch average.
The monsoon typically accounts for about half the yearly rainfall in the central and northern regions and roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of annual precipitation in southern Arizona.
Northern and western counties saw more rain than usual, particularly Yuma, Mohave and Coconino counties. Remnants of Tropical Storm Harold (which originated in the Atlantic Ocean) and Hurricane Hilary (which developed in the Pacific) played a role in bringing more precipitation to these areas.
Why was Arizona’s monsoon delayed?
It took weeks for monsoon thunderstorms to develop, which is a key reason why some areas saw less rain. The Arizona monsoon season begins on June 15, but storms did not arrive in central and southern counties until mid-to-late July.
Monsoon storms need two key elements to occur: a northward wind shift that brings in summertime moisture from the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, and high daytime temperatures. Together, intense surface heating and increased moisture produce monsoon thunderstorms during the summer.
The first storms generally require three consecutive days with a dew point higher than 55 degrees and temperatures between 100 and 108 degrees to develop. Typically, temperatures over 100 degrees in June help build a high pressure, subtropical ridge that summons moisture from the south. Arizona’s abnormally cool June delayed the onset of the monsoon by about six weeks.
This hot high-pressure ridge settled over central Arizona instead of the Four Corners, where it typically stays during the monsoon, bringing moisture through the state.
“When you’re underneath that bubble of heat, there’s really not much moisture, and the opportunity for thunderstorms is limited,” said Michael Crimmins, a climatologist from the University of Arizona. “When the monsoon doesn’t behave correctly, we can get into these really nasty heat spells.”
And yes, the lack of monsoon storms contributed to the 31-day streak of high temperatures at or over 110 degrees in Phoenix. Monsoon showers typically offset the heat in July, and the record-breaking heat wave finally came to an end on July 31 following storm activity.
Because the high-pressure system stalled over central Arizona, western and northern areas around the edges of the system saw some precipitation. Along with tropical storm activity, this subtropical system spurred more rainfall in the north and west.
Despite a lackluster monsoon, the state overall is on track for an average water year. The water year spans from October 1 to September 30, coinciding with the end of the monsoon, and tracks statewide precipitation during that time.
Based on data collected from 1896 to 2022, the average annual precipitation in Arizona is 12.26 inches. Between October 2022 and August 2023, the state had 11.43 inches of rainfall, and experts hope September’s precipitation will bring numbers even closer to the annual average.
Does below-average monsoon rainfall affect water levels?
While every drop counts during Arizona’s ongoing 23-year drought, the state does not rely on the monsoon to replenish its rivers and reservoirs. Watershed from snowmelt is the backbone of the Colorado, Salt and Verde river systems.
During the 2023 monsoon, Salt River Project’s watershed had its second-driest season. As of Sept. 17, SRP reported a combined watershed rainfall of 3.45 inches, 61% of the average precipitation.
SRP’s reserves are still high following winter storms that brought above-average snowmelt to Arizona. The SRP system is at 86% of capacity, compared to 65% during the same time last year.
“It’s not operationally something that we are concerned about, especially given that it was on the heels of an incredibly productive and wet winter, which completely filled our reservoir system,” SRP meteorologist Jesus Haro said.
Precipitation from the monsoon helps alleviate downstream demand from water sources and can affect releases from lakes and reservoirs. For example, the Bureau of Reclamation temporarily increased the minimum amount of water released hourly from Glen Canyon Dam on Sept. 14 to improve boater safety in the absence of monsoon showers.
In June, scientists from the National Weather Service declared an El Niño Advisory, saying they observed El Niño weather conditions and expected them to strengthen through 2023 and into 2024.
El Niño is a climate phenomenon that creates above-average sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. It usually occurs every three to five years and lasts for nine to 12 months. While it is difficult to predict the exact weather implications, El Niño events can impact weather patterns that trigger heavy rainfall and droughts around the world.
Experts say it is hard to determine El Niño’s impact on summer weather, but it may contribute to higher summer temperatures and delay the monsoon because it can weaken and reposition the subtropical ridge that summons moisture from the south.
While this summer was drier than normal, climatologists are hopeful for another wet winter. Out of the nine El Niño events since 1994, seven brought above-average precipitation in Arizona during the winter.
“Statistically, we tend to get more precipitation in the winter when we have an El Niño event,” Saffell said. “How much? We don’t know how much is going to come out of the sky, but we’re all crossing our fingers.”
Hayleigh Evans covers environmental issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.
Vanity Fair hits the Kennedy family’s Cape Cod compound for a peek into the controversial 2024 candidate’s wet hot American summer.
By Joe Hagan – September 27, 2023
On an overcast afternoon in mid-August, I find myself on a ferry to Nantucket with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—son of Bobby, nephew of John, Democratic candidate for president of the United States. Trapped between Kennedy on my left and a window facing the Atlantic Ocean to my right, it is no exaggeration to say this is the low point of my summer—a supposedly fun thing I wish I’d never done.
A couple weeks before, Kennedy had responded to an interview request by calling and expressing exasperation at various hatchet jobs in mainstream media and skepticism that a correspondent for Vanity Fair, a card-carrying member of the legacy media, might be fair to him. “Your editor won’t let you write anything positive,” he promised.
Kennedy had had a rough ride since the summer started (he was virtually set ablaze by New York magazine) and so I proposed that instead of raking over his many controversial ideas—like his belief that the media has been infiltrated by the CIA, as he told the right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe in an interview this year; or his claim that pesticides in drinking water are causing “sexual dysphoria” in boys, as evidenced by a frog study—we meet up at the Kennedy compound and talk about his family history. Lean into his Kennedyness, have a little fun. I was scheduled to be on Cape Cod for vacation anyway and figured I’d go take the cut of his jib.
“So you’re saying this won’t be a hit piece?” he wrote back.
And so Kennedy agreed, reasoning that since we had a mutual friend in the late Peter Kaplan, his college roommate from Harvard and a mentor of mine in the journalism business, I would treat him fairly. The onetime editor of the weekly New YorkObserver taught me to give subjects a fair shake, though not to be afraid to have a point of view either. The first thing Peter used to ask when I returned from an interview was, “Did you like him/her?”
“What do you think is a greater threat to the republic, censorship or January 6?” Kennedy asked, then clarified that the answer is censorship. “You could blow up the Capitol and we’d be okay if we have a First Amendment.”
When I arrive at the Hyannis Port compound, I’m told Kennedy is on a boat somewhere and running late. And so I idle in the dining room of his house, a white colonial with soccer balls on the lawn and bicycles piled against the siding. I peruse books on his shelf: Best American Crime Writing 2004;How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics;Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns. There’s a photograph of Kennedy with a falcon on his arm and a picture of him and his brothers as young men, posing shirtless in an outdoor bathtub together. Near the front door are two iconic photos, one of the late Bobby Sr., holding his son; the other of John and Jackie Kennedy on a boat, Jackie’s scarf blowing in the wind.
A woman strolls in, barefoot and wearing hot pink sweatpants and a sleeveless T-shirt. It’s Kick Kennedy, RFK Jr.’s 35-year-old daughter. I tell her I’m waiting for her father, who by now is 45 minutes late. “Welcome to my life,” she says. She lives in Los Angeles and had planned to come out to the compound for a week but then one week became two which became three and, well, you know how summer on the Cape is.
Word comes down that I’m to meet Kennedy at the boat dock and go directly to the ferry terminal—he has to catch the 4:15 to Nantucket for a fundraiser and our time at the compound is scotched. When I express disappointment, Kick offers to take me to the crow’s nest upstairs for a quick view of the compound. It’s the same view Kennedy Jr. used as a backdrop in a social media post this summer, meant to underscore his family legacy. We climb a nautically themed stairwell and pass by a room with a man face down on a bed (Kick asks me to whisper lest we wake her friend) and emerge on the roof to a sweeping view of the houses that make up the compound, each one tidy and separated by fences. Boats dot the harbor beyond.
She points to a grand mansion festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. “That’s the house that everyone thinks is ours and it’s actually John Wilson’s from the college-admissions scandals,” she says casually, referring to the chief executive of Hyannis Port Capital accused of bribing college administrators to help his kid get into the Ivy League.
That house is a false flag, I joke.
That’s funny, she laughs, because she works at an art gallery called False Flag.
Kick surveys the surrounding property. “Grandma’s over there, and this was Jackie’s house, and now it’s Teddy Jr.’s house, and our house is new, meaning we’ve had it for 20 years,” she says. “Then over there, if you walk straight down, you’ll see the famous field where the touch football games happened.”
“I give famously good tours,” she adds. If I wasn’t presently scheduled to meet her father, she says, “I would have grabbed a golf cart and taken you to Squaw Island,” a scenic marshland nearby.
“Have fun with whatever they’re going to force you to do,” she says and wanders back to the living room.
Iwalk down the street toward the boat landing and soon see the unmistakable figure of Robert Francis Kennedy Jr., 69, barefoot in a T-shirt and faded neon-print swim trunks. I greet him and his entourage, which includes Maria Shriver and her brothers, Timothy and Mark. Everybody is jovial and relaxed, just back from a trip to Baxter’s, the famous fried-seafood shack near the Hyannis ferry terminal. “He’s going to do the first nice article about me,” Kennedy says by way of introduction. “The first one.”
“Oh, thank God!” says Maria, laughing.
Then Kennedy is informed he has to leave in 10 minutes to catch the 4:15 ferry.
He still has to tie up his sister Kerry’s motorboat after their pleasure cruise and I join him as he jogs to the dock and motors back into the harbor. His piercing blue eyes stare straight ahead, jaw firm, face stony, the classical profile of a Kennedy. I’d recently read his memoir American Values: Lessons I Learned From My Family, and I ask where his maternal great-grandfather, John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, used to sunbathe nude. He gestures faintly to a beach along the southern shore but is distracted because he can’t find the mooring.
I spy one with “Kennedy” printed on it and motion him toward it. There’s a pink buoy with a long stick for hauling the line up. “Grab the whip!” he yells hoarsely over the motor. “Haul it aboard super fast, get the whole rope on board.”
I yank the wet rope on board and Kennedy ties up the boat. The motor is still running but Kennedy can’t figure out how to turn it off. A dock worker who comes to fetch us says he’ll do it for him and we race back to the house and jump into a black SUV with Kennedy’s hired security guards. “If we go fast,” says Kennedy, “we can make it in like seven minutes.”
We gun it to the terminal and are fast-walking to the gangway, the last to board the ferry, when we’re stopped by a guard in mirrored glasses. “Sir, you gotta put shoes on, please,” he says, motioning to Kennedy’s bare feet.
An aide quickly digs his formal dress shoes out of a suitcase and Kennedy yanks them on, looking faintly ridiculous as he strides onto the ferry in neon trunks and black dress shoes. He heads to the upper deck, known as the Captain’s View, and we sit side by side in bucket seats.
After the whole mad scramble, we now have an hour to talk. My original plan scuttled, I turn to my notebook, which is full of questions.
Three days before my arrival, Peter Baker of The New York Times had published a story on the Kennedy family’s unhappy feelings about Robert’s campaign; his taking on their friend and ally Joe Biden; his claim that John, and possibly Bobby Kennedy, were assassinated by the CIA. “That’s the third story the Times has done,” Kennedy says grimly. “The same story, three times.”
“Well, I have a big family,” he says. “Some of them agree with me, some of them don’t agree with me. I think it’s like everybody’s family. People are entitled to their opinions. I can love people who disagree with me about the Ukraine war or about censorship, whatever.”
He notes that sister Kerry, a critic of his campaign, loaned him her boat for the afternoon. No hard feelings. “She saw my boat didn’t have a key so she said, why don’t you take my boat?”
He crunches some numbers. “I think there’s 105 cousins now,” he explains. “So I think four or five of them made statements against me. And then a lot of other ones showed up for my announcement.”
Does it hurt his feelings?
“No,” he says. “We grew up in a milieu where we were taught to argue with each other passionately every night at the dinner table. There’s five or six members of my family who work with the Biden administration. And there’s a lot of other ones who have 501c3s that are doing business with the Biden administration.”
Kennedy finds President Biden “congenial” but disagrees vehemently with the war in Ukraine (he believes the US is partly responsible for starting it) and accuses the administration of censoring his views on COVID vaccines and lockdowns (in short, the former are dangerous, the latter unnecessary and dangerous). Indeed, he joined a lawsuit against a consortium of media and tech companies, including the BBC, The Washington Post, and Google, over alleged violations of his First Amendment rights. Among other things, it accuses the White House of leaning on Twitter to take down his posts or labeling them misinformation. (A week after I see Kennedy, a federal judge will deny Kennedy’s request for a temporary restraining order against Google and YouTube, citing “the public interest of preventing the spread of illness and medical misinformation”; later still, an appeals court will rule against the White House, saying it “coerced the [tech] platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences.”)
For Kennedy, the “legacy media” is corrupted by pharmaceutical companies and an implicit allegiance to the Democratic Party. The federal judge who ruled against him is an appointee of President Joe Biden and is therefore in bed with the whole gang too—as am I. I assure Kennedy I wasn’t given any marching orders from the DNC or Big Pharma, nor was I on the CIA payroll. “You wouldn’t be sitting there if you were willing to depart from official orthodoxy,” he tells me, “so there’s a self-censorship that goes on.”
To be honest, it isn’t a great way to start off an interview. But for Kennedy, this is clearly personal. “I was the first person censored by the White House,” he says. “Thirty-seven hours after he took the oath of office, White House officials contacted Twitter and told them to take down my post.”
The post suggested baseball legend Hank Aaron’s death was related to his COVID vaccine. None other than Ohio Republican Jim Jordan would later defend Kennedy, saying “there was nothing there that was factually inaccurate. Hank Aaron, real person, great American, passed away after he got the vaccine. Pointing out, just pointing out facts.”
“Nobody has ever pointed to a single post that I made, ever, that was factually inaccurate,” Kennedy continues. “We have probably the most robust fact-checking operation of any news organization in the country.”
He’s referring to his nonprofit, the Children’s Health Defense, which he says has 350 PhD scientists and medical doctors who make sure all his public statements are “vetted and super vetted.”
Kennedy says he lost a lot of followers after Twitter took down his anti-vax posts. “They lost me 800,000 followers,” he says. “They removed 268,000 people. People still, in this country, don’t know that the vaccine is killing kids. There’s what, 1,500 student athletes that have dropped dead on the field for myocarditis? Americans don’t know that…and none of it’s recorded. It’s all censored.”From the Archive: Far From the Tree
I’d actually read that claim before—Ron DeSantis’s controversial surgeon general in Florida, Joseph Ladapo, hyped the theory from a study that admitted in the fine print that it could not “provide a definitive functional proof or a direct causal link between vaccination and myocarditis”—so it couldn’t have been very successfully censored, no?
“Well, you read little tiny bits, but you’re not reading about the kids that I read about every day,” he says. “New children dying. If an individual died of COVID, it’s front-page. If a guy dies of the COVID vaccine, you will not find it in a paper. That’s not right.”
Tonally, Kennedy’s raspy voice can make it hard to tell whether he’s pissed off or just struggling to make himself understood, but it’s ambiguous enough that I ask him if he’s pissed off.
“Do I go around angry?” he says. “No.”
But as I question him, he gets increasingly tense. His arms are crossed tightly across his chest. He hasn’t laughed or smiled once since we started talking. Given all that he’s saying about Biden, plus his wholesale embrace of, and by, the conservative media, plus his appearance before the Republican-led, anti-Democrat Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, not to mention unlikely fans like Donald Trump, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and Ron DeSantis (who said he would consider making Kennedy the head of the FDA in his administration), I can’t help but wonder who Kennedy would vote for in a general election matchup between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2024.
“I wouldn’t answer that question,” he replies. “I think the Ukraine war is an existential war for us. I think we are walking along the edge in a completely unnecessary war.”
But as a Democrat, I press, wouldn’t Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the vaunted Democratic Kennedy family, vote for the Democratic nominee? “You’re giving me a hypothetical situation,” he says. “It depends what their positions are on issues.”
The first issue he mentions, Ukraine, is one that aligns him with Trump’s pro-Putin position. “Well, maybe,” he says, pointing out that he’s also critical of Trump’s COVID policies from 2020. “Trump engineered a $16 trillion useless expenditure with the COVID lockdowns,” he says.
Of DeSantis’s idea, Kennedy says, “It’s nice for him to express confidence in me. I’m not going to express umbrage at that.”
In liberal circles, these kinds of answers feed the suspicion that Kennedy, whose super PAC is largely financed by a Trump donor named Timothy Mellon, is a kind of Manchurian candidate set on spoiling Biden’s chances against Trump. Kennedy insists he won’t run as an independent (“Even if I was going to run as a third-party candidate, which I’m not, I would probably take more votes from Trump than I would from Democrats”), but feeling unloved by the press, he has embraced people like Joe Rogan, to whom he can fire off his theories without being fact-checked in real time, and Fox News, where Sean Hannity has given him free rein to espouse what Kennedy calls his “mal-information” (supposedly factually accurate information that Democrats don’t want you to hear).
Then there’s former Fox host Tucker Carlson, with whom Kennedy seems to have a burgeoning bromance. “For years, I was trying to get Fox News to take endocrine disruptors seriously. It’s a toxin that affects sexuality in children. I’ve been fighting them for 40 years. So about a year ago, Tucker Carlson did a show, finally. He did a really detailed show on endocrine disruptors and the whole Democratic left came down against him. What is that about?”
As it happens, Kennedy had taped an interview with Carlson only the night before we meet and came away with fresh questions about the January 6 insurrection, which right-wing media theorizes was sparked by a Capitol rioter named Ray Epps, who they surmise was an FBI agent running a false flag operation to implicate Trump fans (Epps has since sued Fox News for spreading the lie and has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the January 6 attack).
Given how aggrieved Kennedy seems, I ask whether some of this treatment in the press might not be his communication style—the hyperbolic language, a certain undisciplined (and paranoid) style.
“Like what?” he asks.
Like his claim that the media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have been “compromised” by the CIA in a new version of the old 1960s CIA program, Operation Mockingbird.
Nope, he actually believes that.
“I had dinner about three weeks ago with Mike Pompeo,” Kennedy recounts, “and he said to me, ‘When I was at the CIA, I did not do a good job at reforming that agency.’ And he said, ‘I should have and I didn’t.’ And he said, ‘I failed.’ And he said to me, ‘The top echelon of that agency, all of the people who are in the top tier of that agency, are people who do not believe in the Democratic institutions of the United States of America.’”
The strongest proof of corruption at the top levels of the government and media is how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is being treated by the press. “Even Trump was not treated like this,” he says. “Tucker said it’s the worst treatment that he’s ever seen in his life, of any public figure.”
“And that’s why I initially said I wasn’t interested in talking to you,” he explains, “because I know that it would be very unusual for me to get fair treatment from a mainstream journal.”
He gives me an extended lecture about “what reporters are supposed to do” and how the media “did the opposite. They became propaganda vessels for a certain point of view. And they became manipulators of the public. And that is why you’re seeing the division in this country, because people know when they’re being lied to and when they’re being manipulated.”
For example, he says, the media keeps “censoring” Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
“It’s that the media will not report what I say,” he says. “They call me an anti-vaxxer. I’ve never been an anti-vaxxer on any vaccine. I was trying to get mercury out of fish for 40 years and nobody called me anti-fish. I want safe vaccines. I want good science. I want to have vaccines that are tested against placebos like every other medicine, prior [to] licensure. I think most people would agree with that. I tell it to every reporter like you and you won’t report it.”
For what it’s worth, Kennedy has said as recently as July that “there’s no vaccine that is safe and effective” and called the COVID vaccine “the deadliest vaccine ever made.” His presidential campaign is aligned with his nonprofit, which consistently espouses anti-vaccine opinion. One might argue that Kennedy is not so much censored as simply disbelieved, but censorship also happens to be the genesis and thrust of his campaign for president. “I thought if I ran for president, I’d actually get to talk to Americans instead of having the press be the dishonest intermediary.”
At this, Kennedy turns toward me with his whole body, muscles flexing, and grips the tray table between us. “You’re lying to me,” he says, furious.
In other words, people like me are actually the reason he’s running—so he can get around me, even though he’s right in front of me.
And this is where the interview takes a sour turn.
The day before, I had listened to the sample chapter of his 2021 book, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health, published by Skyhorse Publishing and his anti-vaccine nonprofit, and read the synopsis on Amazon, and a few reviews, the gist of which is this: Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and various “heads of state and leading media and social media institutions,” allegedly formed a “Pharma-Fauci-Gates alliance” that “exercises dominion over global health policy” with the intent of controlling the general populace. The process, Kennedy claims, began in early 2000 when “Fauci shook hands with Bill Gates in the library of Gates’ $147 million Seattle mansion, cementing a partnership that would aim to control an increasingly profitable $60 billion global vaccine enterprise with unlimited growth potential.”
Skeptical, I ask Kennedy about his claim that Fauci was somehow “corrupt” or “nefarious”—my words—and wonder if perhaps he wasn’t overstating Fauci’s motives given that we were, after all, in an unpredictable global pandemic in 2020 that was killing hundreds of thousands of people.
At this, Kennedy turns toward me with his whole body, muscles flexing, and grips the tray table between us.
“You’re lying to me,” he says, furious.
Shocked, I ask what he means. People in nearby seats glance over nervously.
“Because you didn’t read the book,” he says. “Because I don’t do that. I don’t look into [Fauci’s] head the whole book. What I do in that book, I document what happened. Not a single factual error has been found in that book. It’s 2,200 footnotes. Show me something I got wrong.”
He accuses me of not doing my “homework” and expresses regret at doing the interview.
“I thought this was going to be something different,” he says. “You said it was going to be lighthearted.”
It’s worth pausing for a moment to describe what happened in the days following this interview.
Later that night, and over the next three days, Kennedy texts me links to articles about alleged vaccine-related deaths among people 18 to 34 as well as a report, from a site called Slay News, that 92% of COVID deaths in England in 2022 were people who were vaccinated. He also mails me his 2022 book, A Letter to Liberals, also published by Skyhorse Publishing and his anti-vaccine nonprofit, wherein he rails against the modern Democratic Party and the media “cabal” supposedly collaborating in a cover-up of inconvenient truths about the COVID vaccine.
I read the book. In Chapter 1, Kennedy publishes 12 pages of charts that allegedly illustrate how weekly COVID deaths around the world spiked in 2021 after the introduction of “mass vaccination.” Paraguay, Vietnam, Nepal, Ireland—in country after country, COVID deaths appear to go up after vaccinations are introduced, which is supposed to demonstrate that the vaccine had “negative efficacy”—indeed, that vaccinations tended to worsen illness and death. He goes on to claim the US death rate is “consistent” with “global patterns” and that more Americans died of COVID in 2022 than in 2020. “Because this truth has not been reported by corporate media,” he writes, “it’s understandable that you might find it surprising or unbelievable. And, nonetheless, it’s true.”
Kennedy’s analysis is wildly misleading and false. The first of his charts, for Ireland, depicts vaccinations starting in December 2020 and a spike in weekly deaths from COVID in February. According to Ireland’s own public health care data, less than 1% of the Irish population had been vaccinated in February. One might presume, from Kennedy’s supposition, that the rate of weekly COVID deaths would escalate as more people became vaccinated. It’s the opposite: Weekly COVID deaths declined as the percentage of the vaccinated population went up. By August of 2021, the Irish government reported that it had fully vaccinated 80% of the adult population. Weekly COVID death rates never returned anywhere near the February 2021 peak again.
The second chart is for Portugal. Kennedy’s chart shows vaccinations beginning in late December and a spike in weekly COVID deaths in late January 2021. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 0.67% of the population had received full vaccination at the time. And again, if the vaccine had “negative efficacy,” as Kennedy claims, then the rate of weekly deaths should have gone up as the percent of the vaccinated population increased. It didn’t.
Again and again, Kennedy pulls this sleight of hand: A chart shows a spike in weekly COVID deaths as COVID-19 deaths were peaking globally but when only a fraction of the world’s population had been fully vaccinated. Kennedy also lumps Cambodia into this argument, showing a spike in weekly COVID deaths four months into the vaccination process. Cambodia had one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world (higher than the US) and by November of 2021 the government reopened the country after a period of lockdowns. As of 2023, the country has limited the number of COVID deaths to 3,056 in a population of 16.8 million, according to the World Health Organization.
Kennedy conspicuously does not show a US chart. But as with other countries, the first major spike in weekly COVID deaths in 2021 was in late January, about a month after vaccinations began, and weekly COVID death rates never returned to that peak again. And contrary to Kennedy’s claim, the number of COVID deaths in the US was less in 2022 (244,986) than in 2020 (350,831), according to Centers for Disease Control statistics. Those numbers might have been much better had states like Mississippi and Wyoming, hot beds of anti-vaccine sentiment, managed to get more than 55% of the population fully vaccinated. Instead, those states have had some of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 mortality in the country. Indeed, data from the CDC shows that unvaccinated people between ages 65 and 79, among the most vulnerable populations, were nine times likelier to die from COVID as vaccinated people.
Kick Kennedy surveys the surrounding property. “Grandma’s over there, and this was Jackie’s house, and now it’s Teddy Jr.’s house, and our house is new, meaning we’ve had it for 20 years.”
I later wonder whether Kennedy had left out the context to hype his claim or whether he himself had been duped by his 350 scientists and medical physicians. Neither seemed particularly promising for a candidate for president of the United States—though, in these Trumpian times, neither did it seem particularly surprising. As his pal Tucker Carlson has illustrated, paranoia and innuendo sell. But if Kennedy can’t get his biggest claim correct in Chapter 1 of the “revised” edition of his book, why should we believe anything he says?
We still have 20 minutes to Nantucket and Kennedy won’t even look at me.
I try to smooth things over by promising to give the Fauci book a closer read. (When I do, later on, I’m convinced of one thing for sure: Kennedy would be terrific at writing thrillers.) I feel bullied by Kennedy, harangued and insulted into becoming a fact-checker for his many speculative and debunked theories. But my job is to keep asking him questions and so I do.
Does he think this focus on censorship is helping his campaign?
“I don’t think it’s hurting me,” he says. “It’s hurting me among the people that I need to become nominated—so that 28%. And they’re the people that watch MSNBC, CNN.”
He means Democrats, who one presumes he’ll need to get to the White House as a Democrat. How does he propose to get through to them? “When polling starts to indicate that I can win and that President Biden can’t,” he ventures, “we’ll see. And then there’s also the possibility”—he stops short of saying what I think he’s about to say—“there’s all kinds of possibilities that could happen.”
He’s waiting for Biden to drop out—or, you know, off. He points to Cory Booker and Gavin Newsom, who he says are running shadow campaigns in case of the same eventuality.
I gently suggest to Kennedy that Donald Trump is the existential threat that animates Democratic voters, not vaccines. When I ask for his view on the Trump indictments, he declines to talk about it but asks rhetorically, “What do you think is a greater threat to the republic, censorship or January 6?”
“I don’t have a way of measuring that,” I reply.
“To me, it’s obvious,” he says. “If the press is condoning censorship by the government or the media, that’s the end of democracy.”
He continues: “You could blow up the Capitol and we’d be okay if we have a First Amendment. Why are we hearing about the Capitol day after day after day after day and nobody’s talking about the First Amendment?”
The conversation once again morphs into a lecture on the failures of the press, about which he is an expert and I, a reporter for Vanity Fair, am implicated.
By now it’s clear that Kennedy sees himself as the lone truth teller in a world of lies and deceit, crusading against a vast conspiracy of interlocking powers involving the Biden and Trump administrations, the tech companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the CIA, the FDA, and the mainstream media, who have coordinated to stifle the truth of a “three-year experiment performed on the American people.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., like his father and uncle before him, was born to slay dragons. “From my youngest days I always had the feeling that we were all involved in some great crusade,” he writes in his memoir, “that the world was a battleground for good and evil…It would be my good fortune if I could play an important or heroic role.”
In a time when both the far left and far right find common ground in a paranoid distrust of power, when faith in institutions is at an all-time low, here stands Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to unite the people in their mutual distrust of everything—if only the damned reporters will report what he’s saying, or report what he means to say, or report what he’s decided to say on any particular day. I think of our mutual friend Peter Kaplan, onetime editor of the New York Observer. Kennedy says Peter would have been “depressed” by the state of the media if he were alive today. Sure—aren’t we all? But he, like many of Kennedy’s oldest and dearest friends, would have been downright heartbroken by the state of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
I see Nantucket on the horizon and breathe a sigh of relief.
And I think of Peter Kaplan’s old query: Did I like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.? No, I did not. He is a humorless bully living in a paranoid fantasy in which reporters like me are cast as corrupt dupes whose only redemption is to follow Robert F. Kennedy Jr. into this miasma of overheated conspiracies. It’s a script that’s beneath Netflix, let alone the Kennedy legacy.
At a loss for words, I note that Kennedy seems very passionate.
“I wouldn’t describe myself that way,” he says.
How would he describe himself?
“Well, I don’t think I’m governed by passion,” he says. “I think I’m governed by evidence.”
A passion for the evidence perhaps?
“Okay,” he says. “I’ll settle for that.”
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to accurately reflect Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s middle name. It is Francis.
Joe Hagan is a special correspondent at Vanity Fair and a cohost of the podcast Inside the Hive. He’s the author of the critically acclaimed Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine (Knopf) and has profiled everybody from Beto O’Rourke and Stephen Colbert to Liz Cheney and Henry Kissinger.
“How you lose your democracy”: Shocking new research shows Americans lack basic civic knowledge
Chauncey DeVega – September 26, 2023
Republicans are systematically eroding the basic civil rights of the American people. As we are seeing in other countries that are experiencing what experts describe as “democratic backsliding,” Republicans are doing this by undermining and corrupting America’s democratic institutions from within. If Republicans get their way, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, equal protection under the law, the right to privacy, the right to vote, and other basic freedoms and rights will be severely restricted.
In an example of Orwellian Newspeak, Republicans present themselves as defenders of freedom, when they actually oppose it. More specifically, Republicans believe that freedom is the ability and power of a select group of White Americans (rich, white, “Christian” men) to take away and otherwise deny the rights and liberties of other Americans and people in this country they deem to be less than, second-class, not “real Americans” and the Other, such as Black and brown people, the LGBTQI community, women, non-Christians, and other targeted groups.
Unfortunately, many Americans are unaware of their basic constitutional and other guaranteed rights and liberties – and how the country’s democratic institutions are ideally supposed to function. How can the American people defend and protect their democracy and rights, if they lack such basic knowledge?
Such an outcome is not a coincidence: it is the intentional outcome of how the American right-wing and conservative movements have undermined high-quality public education for decades with the goal of creating a compliant public that lacks the critical thinking skills and knowledge to be engaged citizens. Now new research by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center provides insight into the extent of this crisis. Some of the Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey’s findings include:
[W]hen U.S. adults are asked to name the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, only one right is recalled by most of the respondents: Freedom of speech, which 77% named.
Although two-thirds of Americans (66%) can name all three branches of government, 10% can name two, 7% can name only one, and 17% cannot name any.
In this conversation, he explains how America’s democracy crisis is connected to a lack of basic political knowledge and civic literacy, the role that education can play in equipping Americans to defend their democracy, and why contrary to what many “conservatives” like to believe, America is not a “republic”.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
How you are feeling about the country’s democracy crisis, given your new research that shows a lack of basic civics knowledge among a large portion of the American public?
I am worried, with occasional glimmers of hope. But mostly I worry. Why? Our data show that people lack key civics knowledge, continuing a trend from recent years. A new report from Pew confirms what many suspected: Most Americans are fed up with government and don’t think it’s working. Those two things are deeply related.
To understand why, it’s helpful to take a step back and think about why civics matters, broadly speaking. The main reason is that we want people to understand how they can make their voices heard in our democracy. But you can’t make your voice heard if you don’t understand our system of government. For example, if you don’t know the three branches of government and their roles, then you won’t know why President Biden and Congress are sparring about spending, immigration, green energy, etc. If you don’t know what rights are protected by the First Amendment or what they mean, then you won’t understand why the government can’t censor the New York Times, but Facebook can make you take down a post that violates its community standards policy. If you don’t know which branch has the responsibility of determining whether a law is constitutional, you won’t understand why the Supreme Court and its rulings are so important and influential. In short, without some basic civic knowledge, you can’t even follow the news of the day to be an informed citizen. If you can’t do that, then you cannot know what to expect out of your government. That is not—at all—to say that a lack of knowledge is the root of dysfunction (it is not). But it is to say that they are related.
The concepts of civic literacy and engaged citizenship are not commonly discussed among the news media and general public. Can you explain those two concepts in more detail and why they matter?
What we can measure in a survey is civic literacy, which is your comprehension of basic facts about our system of government. So, for example, we ask if people know the three branches of government, what rights are protected by the 1st Amendment, who is responsible for determining the constitutionality of a law, and so forth. This gets at the pre-requisite knowledge you need to understand government and to participate in our system. But engaged citizenship—having people really how know to function in our governmental system, and make their voices heard—is the deeper goal.
This matters because we do not just want people to vote, we want them to cast an informed vote. This means, at a minimum, that they know where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to them, and they understand the office’s role in our democracy. For example, if you don’t know that the president is responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices who are then confirmed by the Senate, you won’t know to investigate the types of justices that a candidate might nominate. Likewise, if you don’t know the candidate’s positions (or have been misled about them), then you cannot effectively cast your vote on the issues that matters to you.
But even more importantly, we want people to participate in government more broadly. This can be many things: going to a community meeting (such as a school board meeting), volunteering for an election or civic activity (shout out to poll workers, the unsung heroes of democracy!), or working to solve problems in your community. For most of us, local participation is more important than national participation. Few people can meaningfully participate in national politics beyond voting (this is just as true of political scientists as it is of regular folks). But we can all participate locally, and for most of us, that is where we interface with government the most: local governments help pave our roads, police our streets, teach our children in schools, and so forth. What would this knowledge look like?
Take the case of Philadelphia. Here, the information needed to participate could be identifying your councilperson, knowing what they can resolve, and how to contact them. It could be knowing who controls the schools, and what are the roles of the mayor vs. the school board. You could also investigate what should be reported to 311 to get a response from a city agency, and what a registered community organization can help to address. These would differ from place to place, but the core idea is that it would help citizens see how they could uncover how the government can help them solve problems in their lives.
I went to a very good public school system. I remember taking social studies and civics courses. Obviously, given my career path, those courses and teachers had a great influence on me. Are such courses still taught today? What is their content?
Many states—including Pennsylvania—have civics requirements, and that’s helpful for teaching this sort of civic literacy. But it is on all of us, as citizens, to help the next generation learn how to participate more meaningfully in our democracy. Happily, there are so many great resources for those who need to do this. For example, the Civics Renewal Network provides thousands of free, non-partisan, high-quality learning materials about civics that anyone can use. For example, Annenberg Classroom provides 65 high-quality videos about various key Supreme Court decisions, as well as extensive materials about our system of government. While much of this is aimed at teachers, who can use it directly in their classrooms, parents and others could also make use of this material. [In full disclosure, both CRN and AC are part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, but I would endorse their content even if I did not work there.]
If I could add something to civics education in our current moment, it would be teaching people skills on how to have conversations across lines of difference. This is something that I discuss in my new book, and I show can reduce animosity and improve understanding between the two sides.
What does this look like? There are many ways of doing this, but they tend to share a few things in common. These are conversations centered on genuinely listening to the other person and their point of view, what some scholars call “perspective getting” so you can understand why they believe what they believe. The goal is to understand those with whom you disagree, not to persuade them. This means asking probing questions and keeping an open mind. These are also conversations grounded in what Keith and Danisch call “strong civility,” basically the idea that we treat each other as political equals and respect the other person’s right to take part in the political process.
But this takes practice, and can be intimidating, so it’s something we all need help to do well. Happily, there are a number of groups working to do this, but it is a vital civic skill as well that we all should try to master.
What measures of political knowledge and civic literacy were used in the new research? What do those measures help to reveal (or not) about a person’s relationship to democratic citizenship and its demands and requirements?
Surveys like ours ask about the key ingredients of civic literacy. Do you know what the three branches of government are? Do you understand their roles? Do you know key rights guaranteed by the various key amendments? Do you know what a 5-4 Supreme Court decision means? And so forth. These are some of the benchmark pieces of information people need to know to be informed citizens.
And our survey—like many others—finds that many Americans do not. For example, one-third do not know the three branches of government. While most people know that the First Amendment to the Constitution protects freedom of speech, they don’t know the other rights protected by it (freedom of the press, freedom of religion, right to petition the government, and right to peaceably assembly). And even though most people know that free speech is protected by the First Amendment, they don’t understand what that means: roughly half think (incorrectly) that it requires Facebook to let you say whatever you’d like on its platform.
This sort of lack of basic information is quite troubling, as it highlights that citizens lack that core civic literacy.
Many Americans do not have a basic understanding of politics and government. Yet, we are also in an era of 24/7 news media and the Internet. The high levels of civic ignorance and lack of knowledge among the American people is an indictment of our country’s political culture, political elites and the news media, the educational system, and other key agents of political socialization.
This is why the well-documented decline of local media is so important. If you like politics, there’s never been a better time to be alive. You can read Politico, First Branch Forecast, subscribe to Ezra Klein’s podcast, etc. You can consume politics all day, every day. But if you don’t like politics (and most Americans do not!), it’s never been easier to avoid it, so scholars have found that civic knowledge similarly polarizes based on political interest.
In the days of a robust local media, that was less pronounced: if you subscribed to the local paper to get the sports scores, you also flipped past some national stories, and at least glanced at them. Now, you don’t even get this sort of by-product coverage. This is especially consequential for coverage of sub-national politics. All of the sources I discussed above focus on national politics, covering the minutiae of the debates between McConnell, Schumer, Biden, and so forth. But there is far less attention to state and local issues, and indeed, there are just far fewer reporters covering that today than a generation ago.
Given that the business model of local journalism has collapsed, I don’t have a great solution to this problem, but it is an important one that many scholars are working to solve.
As a function of a deep hostility to real multiracial pluralistic democracy, there is a right-wing talking point that America is actually a “republic” and not a “democracy”. Of course, this is not true. What intervention would you make against that disinformation and propaganda?
As someone who has taught core undergraduate American politics classes at Penn for many years, this is a perennial question that comes up every year. When people ask which is right—are we a republic or a democracy—the correct answer is that we’re both.
For the Founders, “democracy” meant some sort of direct democracy, where the people themselves rule. Functionally, that doesn’t exist anywhere in the modern world, at least not at scale (the closest we get are ballot initiatives and referenda in some states). But we have elements of that spirit animating our government today, most notably when we talk about the “will of the people” and public opinion, which is central to our modern understanding of how our government functions.
But we are also a republic, where it is not just what the people want directly that matters, but how that is filtered through our institutions that shapes outcomes (the Electoral College being perhaps the most striking element of that). I try to emphasize to students that our system has both elements, the key is to harness the best of both without succumbing too much to their weaknesses.
Imagine that you are a doctor of American democracy. What is your diagnosis and prognosis for the patient in this time of crisis? How does your new research (and related work of course) help to inform your conclusion(s)?
Like many others, I fear for our system, and there are real signs of trouble for American democracy. What, then, is to be done? The first, I think, is to put pressure on elites to a bulwark against backsliding. As many scholars—myself included—have shown, backsliding is more the fault of elites than voters (i.e., it is less about voters demanding elites break norms than it is elites breaking norms that voters then rationalize as unimportant). Our job as citizens is to demand better of them. In 2020, despite real threats—including January 6th—the guardrails of democracy held. They need to be strengthened and reinforced to ensure that they can continue to flourish.
At the outset, I said that I occasionally see glimmers of hope. Those glimmers are the people who are working to make our democracy better. They are working to help us better understand one another, build bridges, and make America live up to its founding promises to all Americans, not just some of them. That is hard, difficult work. But it is the work we need at this moment.
Trump’s threats to Milley fuel fears he’ll seek vengeance in second term
Brad Dress – September 27, 2023
Former President Trump’s violent rhetoric toward Gen. Mark Milley is raising fears he will use a second term in the Oval Office to seek retribution against his enemies.
Trump suggested Friday that Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is stepping down from his post at the end of the week, deserves the death penalty for allegedly betraying him and committing an act of treason.
The threat came just days after Milley warned that if Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he would enact vengeance against those he felt have done him wrong.
And Milley believes he is at the top of that revenge list.
“He’ll start throwing people in jail, and I’d be on the top of the list,” Milley told The Atlantic in a profile of the four-star general published last week.
Kristy Parker, a legal counsel at Protect Democracy who leads litigation on abuses of power and interference with government functions, said Trump’s comments about Milley are “deeply troubling” for American democracy.
“Even just the threats have an incredibly chilling effect on public actors’ ability to do the jobs we need them to do to have a functional democracy,” she said.
“Trump has shown and talked about weaponizing the Justice Department to retaliate against people who he perceives as his enemies and he did, in fact, do that to people when he was president the first time.”
The Trump-Milley feud has simmered for years, with the two clashing over the military’s role in the 2020 racial justice protests and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But long after the administration ended, Milley remains at the top of Trump’s mind as books and articles have documented steps the general says he took to protect against Trump’s erratic behavior.
Last week’s death threat stems from reports that at the end of his presidency, Milley reassured Chinese officials there would be no threat to Beijing in the final days of Trump’s administration, according to the 2021 book “Peril” by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
The communication has long infuriated Trump, who took to Truth Social last week to condemn Milley’s years of service as “treasonous” ahead of his retirement from the Joint Chiefs later this week.
“[Milley] was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States,” he posted. “This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”
Peter Feaver, a civil-military relations scholar who recently published a new book on public confidence in the military, said Trump is so enraged by Milley because of these public accounts portraying the general as a protector against his presidency.
Feaver said Trump’s quest to castigate Milley is also designed to warn other potential critics from speaking out. He said the strategy has damaged the civilian-military relationship and could backfire on Trump and his allies.
“Trump thinks he can just personalize this to Milley,” said Feaver. “But he’s failing to understand how this is going to be corrosive of civil-military relations more generally [because …] if they haven’t done something wrong and you’re punishing them, then you get a perverse civil-military relationship.”
The spat is the second time this year their feud has come into the spotlight. Trump has also lobbed accusations at Milley over Iran, disputing claims that the general moved to ensure he wouldn’t attack the country and arguing Milley was the one who recommended an attack.
But Milley is not the only one in Trump’s crosshairs: Former Attorney General Bill Barr and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper have also drawn his ire.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Esper, Barr and Milley were all once “praised by Trump” but are “now all regularly attacked by Trump because they had the nerve to put the country ahead of him.”
“What kind of person threatens execution on a third-tier social media site? A sad and disturbed person who has no place being near the White House, let alone living inside it,” said Christie, a Republican presidential candidate challenging Trump.
Esper told CNN that Milley “deserves praise and thanks” and “does not deserve what he is receiving from President Trump right now.”
Referring to the China conflict, Esper said after the 2020 election, he told Chinese officials the U.S. was steady and directed Milley to send a similar message to his Chinese counterpart.
Esper said the way Milley’s main offense was offering “candid, frank advice” did not comport with Trump’s expectations.
“He wants to find ‘yes’ men in his office,” Esper said.
“The president has also said that a second term would be about retribution, right? So, I think these are all legitimate concerns,” he later added.
While experts agree Trump would have no case to prosecute Milley for treason, the death threats alone are already alarming advocacy groups.
Abe Bonowtiz, the founder of Death Penalty Action, an organization working to abolish the death penalty, said, “Trump has an unhealthy addiction for the dictatorial power to execute political rivals.”
“The death penalty is a very serious matter,” he said in a statement, “and it’s being tossed around as a political tool by Republican presidential candidates, which should concern everyone.”
US surgeons are killing themselves at an alarming rate. One decided to speak out
Christina Frangou – September 27, 2023
Carrie Cunningham puffed out her cheeks and exhaled. She looked out at the audience filled with 2,000 of her peers, surgeons who were attending the annual meeting of the Association of Academic Surgery, a prestigious gathering of specialists from universities across the United States and Canada.
Cunningham, president of the organization, knew what she was about to reveal could cost her promotions, patients and professional standing. She took a deep breath.
“I was the top junior tennis player in the United States,” she began. “I am an associate professor of surgery at Harvard.
“But I am also human. I am a person with lifelong depression, anxiety, and now a substance use disorder.”
The room fell silent.
Cunningham knew others in the room were struggling, too. Doctors are dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. Somewhere between 300 to 400 physicians a year in the US take their own lives, the equivalent of one medical school graduating class annually.
Surgeons have some of the highest known rates of suicide among physicians. Of 697 physician suicides reported to the CDC’s national violent death reporting system between 2003 and 2017, 71 were surgeons. Many more go unreported.
For years, no one in surgery talked publicly about mental distress in the profession; surgeons have long experienced a culture of silence when it comes to their personal pain. They have a reputation as stoic, determined and driven. They are taught, throughout a decade of grueling training, to dissociate themselves from their body’s natural cues, telling them that it is time to rest, eat or urinate.
The patient’s needs always come first – that’s part of what makes a good surgeon. But this approach can have consequences for a surgeon’s own mental health.
Cunningham had already lost one friend to suicide. She decided that if her job was to save lives, she would begin with her own and those of her colleagues.
She started to tell her story.
When Cunningham was seven, her stepfather put a tennis racket in her hand and discovered a prodigy. She quickly became a star, competing in international tournaments barely three years after she’d first hit a ball.
By 12, she had her own psychologist and nutritionist. She was put on a 3,330-calorie-a-day diet, aiming to gain 3lbs each month on her 4ft 7in frame. She’d run so hard that she’d hyperventilate. Her legs bore constant bruises from banging her racket against them.
She was praised for being scrappy and mentally tough, for being a perfectionist.
In 1987, when she was 16, World Tennis Magazine named her the top junior female player of the year. The next year, she made her debut as a professional player. In one of her first major tournaments, the teenage Cunningham faced the top-ranked Steffi Graf in the Australian Open and lost, but barely.
A psychologist taught her to hide her feelings from her opponents. Never let them know you are struggling, went the mantra. SoCunningham mastered the art of disguising her emotions. An outside observer would see a determined athlete; inside, Cunningham felt riddled with anxiety.
When she was 18, she lost in the French Open. The defeat sent her into her first major depressive episode. She sat in a Paris hotel room, alone with shades drawn, and hardly ate for a week.
After graduating high school, she climbed to No 32 in the world. She appeared to be thriving, but she was racked with loneliness. She did not earn the kind of income that allowed her to travel with family or friends. In an era before cellphones and widespread email, she was on her own. Her closest friends were her fellow competitors – people who understood what her life was like, but not people she could talk to about her struggles or doubts.
Just after she turned 20, she injured her wrist and took six months off to rehabilitate and take university courses. By the time she was healthy enough to return to play, she did not want to go back on the road and decided to retire.
She spiraled into another bout of depression – again, undiagnosed. She’d lost her identity. Cunningham dealt with her feelings the only way she knew how: busying herself with everything but her distress.
She moved to Ann Arbor to study at the University of Michigan, loaded her schedule with extra classes and began training for a marathon.
“I was awake for weeks,” she says. “I don’t remember sleeping at all. But yet, I would still work out in the day.”
She does not believe her depression was perceptible to anyone else. She got high marks, dated and went to parties. But she often felt that she was separated from the rest of the world. “It’s like being alone in a room full of people.”
She was drawn to medicine, with its intellectual challenge and the satisfaction that came from making a difference. She graduated in 2001 and married one of her classmates. The same skills that made her a tennis phenom made her an excellent doctor. Together, she and her husband were accepted for residency training at one of the country’s most prestigious programs, at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. After that, they moved to Harvard Medical School in Boston to do fellowships.
Cunningham was on her way to becoming an endocrine surgeon who could care for patients with diseases affecting their thyroid, parathyroid or adrenal glands. She loved the action of the operating room and working with her hands; she thrived in the long hours and fraternity of people who were taking on the seemingly impossible.
On the outside, Cunningham was winning.
Inside was another story.
In medical school and residency, doctors in training work around the clock. They eat or sleep when they can. Often, they are pushed to their limits.
“They feel miserable,” says Jessica Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St Louis School of Medicine who specializes in physician wellness. “We basically think that feeling bad is part of medicine, and we can’t identify that we’re doing poorly, or that we should take time for ourselves and figure out that we actually might be depressed.”
Surgery, especially, has always been cruel to its practitioners, who suffer high rates of burnout, ergonomic injuries, miscarriages and infertility. They are trained in an apprenticeship model that lasts a minimum of five years, but usually seven or eight. Residents begin as juniors and progress up the hierarchy, adopting the skills and behaviors of those who came before them.
See one, do one, teach one is shorthand for this system. It’s how surgeons develop their technical skillset, but also how they conform to the cultural norms of the profession.
The training system was developed by William Halsted, a pioneering surgeon who worked at Johns Hopkins hospital in the late 19th and early 20th century. Halsted battled addiction throughout his career, even as he revolutionized surgery by developing new surgical techniques, advancing anesthesia and promoting infection control. He became hooked on cocaine in 1884 while conducting experiments with the drug. Using morphine to help wean himself off cocaine, he developed a new addiction that plagued him until his death at 69. He became erratic and withdrawn, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time. His oddities, though, were tolerated because of the enormity of his achievements.
“This man created a culture where you lived in the hospital,” says Michael Maddaus, a retired surgeon who developed a narcotics addiction while working as a professor of surgery at the University of Minnesota. “Part of the ethos of that is you don’t complain … You just do your work and shut up and have discipline to be strong and pretend you’re OK when everything’s not.”
In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, which oversees medical training in the US, ruled that trainees could work a maximum of 80 hours a week in clinical care. The first time that any national limit had been set on trainee work hours, it cut into the 100-hour-plus weeks that were often the norm for surgical trainees. But many surgeons protested that the reduced schedule did not leave enough time to adequately train surgical residents. (When an 80-hour workweek for residents was first rolled out in New York state in 1989, surgical trainees were exempt.) In response, most surgical trainees now add one or two extra years of fellowship training after residency in order to get in more hours in the operating room before embarking on their own practice.
Surgery is a high-stakes endeavor; patients’ lives hang in the balance. Small mistakes have catastrophic outcomes. One of the first lessons of surgery is that surgeons are expected to take responsibility for what happens to their patients. The American College of Surgeons, in a document for medical students that outlines the skills needed to become a surgeon, says: “At the core, surgeons must be able to accept responsibility.”
The heightened sense of responsibility comes at a personal cost. Surgeons often fall into a trap of feeling like what they do “needs to be superhuman because they are the last line of defense, if you will, for a patient”, says Colin West, a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic who specializes in physician wellbeing. When a patient does poorly after an operation – especially when there has been a mistake in their care – surgeons suffer emotional turmoil, anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame. In a 2017 study, an anonymous surgeon described the aftermath of an error: “We all hide our grief, suffer in silence. The pain can be close to debilitating.”
On Cunningham’s first night as an intern, three of her patients died. Their deaths were expected, but the losses still hurt. “I didn’t know how to call out a death certificate or even pronounce someone dead,” she recalls. “And I was like, ‘I’ll guess I’ll get used to it.’”
Then, in 2012, death hit very close to home.
Cunningham first met Christina Barkley during medical school at the University of Michigan, where Barkley was a few years behind. They met up again at Harvard, when Barkley arrived to start a surgical residency. Their partners were good friends and they became friends.
In her last year of residency, Barkley had a mental health breakdown. She saw a psychiatrist at her hospital who started her on medication, and Barkley quickly returned to work. “She felt pressured by everyone around her to just finish her residency program,” says her sister Jill Barkley Roy. “That was the resounding message from everyone in her life – probably me included.”
Six months later, a neighbor found Barkley at home with a self-inflicted wound. Barkley’s colleagues believe she’d tried to take her life, but her sister is convinced that Barkley’s intention then was not to die. She says Christina told her that she’d just wanted to end her surgical career.
For the next two years, Barkley cycled in and out of hospitals, oscillating between depression and mania. In April 2012, three days after being discharged from hospital, she ended her life.
“I felt very angry for a very long time at the medical field,” says Barkley Roy. “My sister was so fearful about ramifications to her career and ramifications to her job and her reputation.”
Cunningham was shocked by Barkley’s death. “We imagined a lifetime of incredible things she’d continue to do not only as not only as a surgeon, but a wife, and a daughter, a sister and a friend,” she says.
Over the next decade, Cunningham’s career soared. She became an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate thyroid cancer. She was appointed to the executive council of national surgical organizations. She gave birth to two children and also had a terrible miscarriage, which led to thoughts of suicide. Depression came and went, repeatedly. She saw therapists off and on, but didn’t always have time.
When her mental health was bad, she buried herself a little more deeply in work.
“But the busier I was, the better,” she says. “Going on vacation was just torture for me … because when I sat still, all the internal stuff just percolated.”
Then the pandemic brought upheaval. After 25 years of marriage, Cunningham moved out of the family home. She and her ex-husband, also a surgeon, remain good friends. But the split was crushing. She felt like she was failing as a mom. She had frequent panic attacks, which she hid from her colleagues. A few friends questioned her about her mental health, but she pushed them off.
At night, she’d come home from work and open a bottle of wine. She looked forward to the way alcohol could prevent her from dwelling on the things that hurt. She drank to escape her anxiety and depression, but alcohol worsened both. So she drank more, and then more.
On a Friday night in spring 2022, Cunningham joined some colleagues at a local bar for a friend’s birthday. After a few drinks, Cunningham started openly talking about her depression. “I don’t even know exactly what I said, but I was talking about feeling suicidal,” she says.
The next day, a co-worker called Cunningham’s boss and told him that they were concerned. Her boss called her immediately and said he was coming to visit her at home. He told her that she needed help and she could take time out if she needed. The department would stand by her. She listened without protest. “It didn’t surprise me,” she says. “It was time.”
The following day, she flew to Orlando to take the helm as president of the Association of Academic Surgeons. That week, she white-knuckled her way through her talks, feeling awkward every time she saw one of her colleagues.
When she got home, she volunteered for a five-day professional evaluation from the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health services, which provides confidential assessments, referrals and monitoring of physicians. She expected to be connected with resources that would set her back on track. She was ready to throw all her willpower into recovery.
The results stunned her: Cunningham, who’d never had a DUI or any problems at work, was deemed unfit to practice medicine. She would have to participate in rehabilitation and then a monitoring program in order to return to work.
Fifty years ago, in a landmark report called The Sick Physician, the American Medical Association declared physician impairment by psychiatric disorders, alcoholism and drug use a widespread problem. Even then, physicians had rates of narcotic addiction 30 to 100 times higher than the general population, and about 100 doctors a year in the US died by suicide.
The report called for better support for physicians who were struggling with mental health or addictions. Too many doctors hid their ailments because they worried about losing their licenses or the respect of their communities, according to the medical association.
Following the publication, state medical societies in the US, the organizations that give physicians license to practice, created confidential programs to help sick and impaired doctors. Physician health programs have a dual purpose: they connect doctors to treatment, and they assess the physician to ensure that patients are safe in their care. If a doctor’s condition is considered a threat to patient safety, the program may recommend that a doctor immediately cease practice, or they may recommend that a physician undergo drug and alcohol monitoring for three to five years in order to maintain their license. The client must sign an agreement not to participate in patient care until their personal health is addressed.
In rare and extreme cases, the physician health program will report the doctor to the state medical board to revoke their license.
Physician health programs are designed to address the myth that illness automatically means impairment, says Chris Bundy, the executive medical director of the Washington Physicians Health Program and the immediate past president of the national federation that oversees the state programs. An addiction or mental illness may require a physician to take time off, but does not justify an automatic revoking of someone’s license.
“People can function at high levels within their profession very expertly with depression, with anxiety, with substance use issues,” he says. He says the key is to get a physician to treatment early before their condition becomes severe enough to affect patient care.
A psychiatrist, Bundy developed a severe alcohol use disorder and was in monitoring for five years, during which time he joined the VA system as chief of mental health. He approached his state physician health program for help. He likes to quip: “I’m not only the hair club president, I’m also a client.” He has now been sober for 15 years.
But these programs remain shrouded in stigma. Doctors worry that, if they seek help, they will lose their license or the trust of their communities – so much so that they often stay away from treatment.
Lorna Breen, an emergency room doctor in New York, died by suicide in April 2020, after telling her family that she worried she would lose her medical license, or be ostracized by her colleagues, because she was suffering anguish from her work on the front lines of the Covid-19 crisis. Her family and friends started the Lorna Breen Foundation, which wants to see changes to the medical licensure process. The foundation wants licensing bodies to limit their questions on physicians’ health to current issues and not previous mental health diagnoses.
So far, only 21 states meet this standard. Meanwhile, physicians continue to suffer. In Medscape’s Physician Suicide Report 2023, 9% of male physicians and 11% of female physicians said they had suicidal thoughts. The study authors noted that they felt that physicians were under-reporting their distress because of privacy concerns.
Cunningham was shocked and furious at the results of her evaluation.
“I wanted to throw up when I read that the first time,” she says. “I was angry because I hadn’t done anything that was illegal or harmed a patient or anything.” The one consolation was that her license was not revoked. The program recommended that she undergo rehab, and then return to work with routine monitoring including breathalyzer tests and random drug testing. She’d never even tried the drugs she was being tested for, she says.
Cunningham decided she was going to recover with the same drive she’d once poured into tennis and surgery. She’d check the recovery box and back to work. “I was still in that fierce mode of ‘I’m gonna prove everyone wrong. Screw you.’”
She spent four weeks in rehab, the first time in 20 years that she’d taken more than a week off. She thought about her to-do list: research projects waiting for her attention, and lectures that she was supposed to deliver at universities around the world. She finished the rehab program a day early to rush back to Harvard, where she interviewed candidates for fellowships in the coming year.
At the end of the day, she sat in her car in the parking lot and cried.
One week later, she relapsed. She called the physician health program and told them. Then, she left for a seven-week intense rehab program in Illinois designed for physicians and other professionals.
She calls recovery the hardest thing she has ever done. “It felt like being forced through a wall of fire, terrified of walking through it and having no idea what was on the other side,” she says.
She kept her illness and rehab secret to all but a few. When she returned to work, she did so slowly. In order to maintain her license, she needs to prove her sobriety three times a day with a breathalyzer test for three years. She participates in multiple recovery meetings and goes to therapy every week. It’s been excruciatingly hard, but worth it, she says.
“I’m a better doctor now. I’m more connected with my patients,” she explains. “And look, if you feel badly enough, if you’re not alive, you can’t be a surgeon anyway.”
As her year as president came to a close, Cunningham started to think about what she would say in her outgoing speech to her colleagues. She knew the potential consequences of revealing what she’d been through in her year as president. Patients might refuse to see her. Her colleagues might be afraid to refer patients to her. She was a strong contender to become a chair of surgery one day, and she’d be putting that at risk, too.
But she felt that she could make a difference. And she’d be honoring Barkley, whose name had disappeared from conversations after her death, like many who die by suicide.
“I could not stand up there and act like everything was fine,” she says. “If there was a reason I [am] on this planet, it is for me to give that speech.”
With Barkley’s sister in the front row, Cunningham told her story in full, describing her tennis career and depression, and showed an image of the online message saying she’d been found temporarily unfit for practice.
She urged the audience to put their health first. Surgeons should encourage colleagues to seek help before they become so sick that they are reported to a medical licensing board or they end up taking their lives, she said.
“I will never know what would have happened if those friends had not intervened. But I am sure I would have spiraled further with much worse consequences,” she said.
“I wish I could get those of you in this room that are struggling the courage it takes to seek help. But I can’t. I can promise you that people will show up for you as you would for anyone else who asked for help,” she said.
“I have to accept that I will always have tough days. I can expect recurrent bouts of depression throughout my life,” she said. “It is a disease, not a character flaw. It does not define me.”
Surgeons in the audience gave her a standing ovation, and her talk has been watched 29,000 times – nearly 30 times the figure for most lectures posted by the same organization.
“It’s a real watershed moment in that particular profession to be able to say it’s OK for us to talk about these things, and let’s change the subculture of surgery,” says Bundy, who was in the audience.
Since then, none of the terrible consequences Cunningham feared about going public have come to fruition. The only negative effect has been that she was turned down for life insurance.
Cunningham’s phone has been ringing off the hook since her talk. Surgeons from around the globe call her to share their stories and thank her for speaking out. She tells them what she told the audience: “I do not have all the answers. I do know that it won’t get better unless we talk about it openly and honestly.”
Explainer-What does New York fraud ruling mean for Donald Trump’s business empire?
Jack Queen – September 27, 2023
(Reuters) – The fate of Donald Trump’s business empire hangs in the balance after a New York judge stripped control of key properties from the former U.S. president as punishment for his “repeated and persistent fraud” over their valuations.
Here’s a look at the ruling and its implications for Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
WHAT DOES THE RULING SAY?
Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit against Trump, his adult sons and nearly a dozen business entities in September 2022, alleging they inflated the value of their assets by billions of dollars to secure more favorable loan and insurance terms.
Justice Arthur Engoron of New York state court in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that Trump and his co-defendants committed fraud and ordered the cancellation of certificates that some of his businesses need to operate in New York. He also said he would appoint independent receivers to manage the dissolution of the canceled certificates.
The order did not provide a timeline for the cancellations. Engoron asked the parties to recommend potential receivers within the next 30 days.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the case is part of a political witch hunt.
WHAT DOES THE RULING MEAN FOR TRUMP’S BUSINESS?
The immediate impact of the ruling is unclear as Trump’s holdings comprise a network of roughly 500 entities spanning real estate, licensing and other business ventures.
The ruling covers 10 Trump entities but includes pillars of Trump’s empire, including his commercial property at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, golf resort in Scotland and Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Independent receivers could continue to operate the properties as businesses or liquidate them, though Trump would likely be entitled the proceeds of any sale, legal experts say.
Engoron declined to answer whether the assets would be sold or simply managed by an independent receiver when asked by one of Trump’s lawyers during a hearing on Wednesday, saying he would rule on that question later.
WHAT COMES NEXT IN THE CASE?
Trump’s lawyers have said they will appeal the decision, which they described as an “outrageous” attempt to “nationalize one of the most successful corporate empires in the United States and seize control of private property.”
Trump could also seek a stay or pause of the court’s order pending appeal, which would likely be met by a request from James to block any asset transfers while the case plays out.
A trial is scheduled to begin on Monday. Because of Engoron’s fraud ruling, it would largely be limited to how much Trump and his co-defendants must pay in penalties.
James is seeking at least $250 million and has asked the court to permanently bar Trump from serving as an officer or director of any business in New York, and prohibit him from acquiring any real estate or applying for a loan in the state for five years.
James is seeking the same restrictions for Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric.
COULD TRUMP FACE CRIMINAL PENALTIES?
Not in this case, which is civil. But Trump is under indictment in four separate criminal cases.
He has been charged in Florida for his handling of classified documents upon leaving office; in Washington D.C. over his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 presidential election; in Georgia over his efforts to reverse the election results in that state; and in New York over hush money payments he made to a porn star.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases.
(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot)
“The end of Trump’s financial empire”: Legal experts say N.Y. fraud ruling could bring him down
Areeba Shah – September 27, 2023
Donald Trump committed massive fraud in New York for years by repeatedly misrepresenting his wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars while building his real estate empire, a state Supreme Court judge ruled on Tuesday afternoon.
This startling decision came in the civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has argued that Trump, along his sons Donald Jr. and Eric and the entire Trump Organization, had “grossly” inflated the value of more than a dozen assets by hundreds of millions in total, and then used those fake values to defraud banks and insurers in order to obtain more favorable deals and secure loans.
James argued that Trump routinely overstated his net worth to financial institutions by between $812 million to $2.2 billion, depending on the year and the specific applications he filed, and is seeking a penalty of about $250 million in a trial scheduled to begin Oct. 2.
New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron, who issued the summary judgment on Tuesday, ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment and ordered that an outside “receiver” must be appointed to supervise the management of those Trump properties. The ultimate outcome could well be the end of Trump’s ability to do business in the state.
Trump and his adult sons are now “barred from doing business in New York forever” under Engoron’s ruling, said Catherine Ross, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University. “And given that New York was the home base of their business, the base of their fortune, of Trump’s reputation, his credibility, his integrity — it’s all been found lacking.” The former president “is not a good businessman,” she added. “He’s a conman.”
Tuesday’s ruling came summary judgment, a decision indicating that there is no need for a jury trial because the evidence is “so strong” for one side, Ross explained, that no reasonable jury could reach a different decision.
Engoron’s ruling amounts to saying “that the New York attorney general presented an ironclad, well-documented case backed up with lots of evidence,” Ross said. In fact, she added, Engoron had already “lambasted Trump’s lawyers for trying to resuscitate defense arguments and positions that he had already expressly rejected and for essentially misleading the court in a number of instances.”
This decision was viewed as a surprise by legal observers and is clearly a major victory for James, who has been investigating claims since March 2019 that Trump and other executives at his companies had manipulated the values of various properties in order to get better deals from banks and insurers. She filed a lawsuit in September 2022.
Though the trial will determine the exact magnitude of the financial penalty inflicted on the Trumps and their business entity, Engoron has already granted one of the biggest punishments James pursued: the cancellation of business certificates that allow some of Trump’s New York properties, including the Trump Organization itself, to operate in the state. That could have major repercussions for the Trump family business.
This decision “signals the end of Trump’s financial empire,” Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and law professor at Pace University, told Salon.
“The judge declared that Trump and his family are guilty of a massive, staggering fraud in overvaluing his properties,” Gershman said. “The only issue left to be decided is the penalty to be imposed on him.”
The ruling, if it survives the appeals that are sure to follow, would deprive Trump of his ability to exercise control over critical properties in the state, particularly with regard to strategic and financial decisions. This would effectively dismantle a large portion of the former president’s business empire, and could destabilize his financial standing.
“This ruling cripples [Trump’s] ability to engage in business activities anywhere, and completely terminates his ability to do business in New York state,” Gershman said, adding that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg could now decide to reopen “his criminal investigation of Trump for falsely stating the value of his properties.” Bragg had earlier declined to prosecute Trump on those charges.
The former president has “boasted” that his personal net worth in the billions, Gershman added, although many observers have concluded that is unlikely. “The truth is that his net worth is far, far less than that,” Gershman said. “The consequences of this ruling and the upcoming trial, while not making him a pauper, will significantly reduce his net worth.”
According to Engoron’s ruling, Trump, along with his company and key executives, engaged in a pattern of false statements about their financial status in annual statements. This resulted in more favorable loan conditions and reduced insurance expenses, among other tangible benefits, the judge found.
Furthermore, these deceptive tactics violated legal boundaries, Engoron said, despite the arguments by Trump’s lawyers that a disclaimer attached to his financial statements absolved him of liability.
“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
The judge ordered that Trump and the other defendants provide the names of potential independent receivers “to manage the dissolution of the canceled LLCs,” meaning the various Trump business entities, within 10 days of the ruling.
No member of the Trump family will have control over the properties in question, and according to Ross it is “very likely” that many or most will be sold to compensate for the Trumps’ fraudulent gains, a process similar to the “liquidation” that occurs in bankruptcy proceedings.
One notable finding in Engoron’s decision was that Trump had continuously overvalued Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, inflating its value on one financial statement by as much as 2,300%, The Associated Press reported. Engoron also challenged Trump’s claim about the size of his apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, which the former president on at least one occasion had asserted was 30,000 square feet, nearly three times its actual size. Trump had estimated the apartment’s market value at $327 million, a patently implausible number even in the New York City real estate market.
“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” Engoron wrote.
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Salon that while the former president is a “fraudster,” his supporters will continue to claim that “he’s a good businessman,” adding that Trump has “proven time and again that he can survive these sorts of stains on him and his company.”
As far as Trump’s business ventures go, Rahmani said: “He’s done doing business in New York. He’s just done.”
In their own motion for summary judgment, Trump’s legal team had asked the judge to dismiss the case, contending that there was no evidence that the public had been harmed by Trump’s actions. They also argued that many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.
Engoron noted that he had rejected those arguments earlier in the case, and fined Trump’s five defense lawyers $7,500 each as punishment for “engaging in repetitive, frivolous” arguments.
James’ lawsuit is just one of many legal challenges confronting Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Over the past six months, the former president has faced four criminal indictments and is also facing a second defamation suit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll, who earlier won a civil verdict against Trump for sexually assaulting her in the 1990s.
“Maybe this will affect the public’s perception of him not only as an obstructer of justice, who undermined national security and sought to unlawfully undo a fair election, but also as a financial cheat,” Gershman said.
Ross added that Trump “seems to be leveraged up to his eyeballs,” facing “enormous debts” and rapidly mounting legal bills. And this decision creates further legal jeopardy for him, she added.
“If he were to consider taking the stand in one of the many pending cases against him, whether criminal or civil,” Ross said, “this finding of fraud could be used by the other side — by the prosecution, or the other party in a civil case — to impeach his testimony. Fraud goes to the essence of whether you tell the truth.”
The Biggest Bombshells in Trump Whistleblower Cassidy Hutchinson’s New White House Memoir
Kyler Alvord – September 26, 2023
In her newly published book, “Enough,” the former White House aide shares disturbing allegations involving several D.C. power players, including Rudy Giuliani, Matt Gaetz and President Trump himself
After laying low for more than a year, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson is returning to the public eye with the release of a new tell-all memoir, Enough, that’s already put some of Donald Trump‘s allies on the defensive.
Hutchinson, who served as a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, became an instant public figure last summer when she testified against Trump in a televised hearing before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Immediately after her explosive testimony, she had to go into hiding for safety reasons, holed up in a Washington, D.C. hotel for several days before temporarily relocating to Atlanta to wait out the backlash.
In her 356-page book, published Tuesday, Hutchinson puts forth several previously unheard claims, walking readers through the ups and downs of her life, including her once-skyrocketing career. Along the way, the 26-year-old shares countless stories about her time before, during and after working in Trump’s White House, offering a brief on all of the major players in the modern Republican Party and the inner-workings of the Trump administration.
Chock-full of details both consequential and just plain juicy, the book covers everything from Trump officials’ favorite candies (Jared Kushner gravitated to peach rings, she writes) to various lawmakers’ personalities (Sen. Ted Cruz lacked a sense of humor and once called her a “tattletale,” she alleges) to the president’s erratic leadership style (examples of which are too vast to summarize).
Hutchinson explains how various high-ranking Republicans reacted to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, and uses a wide range of anecdotes to exemplify her high-profile friendships in Washington, including with now-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Some of the more damning claims in Hutchinson’s book include an alleged incident of groping by disgraced ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani on the morning of the U.S. Capitol Riot, the “vain” reason Trump didn’t want to be seen wearing a N95 mask during the pandemic, Meadows’ apparent sense of guilt surrounding prominent Republican Herman Cain‘s premature COVID death, and a couple of uncomfortable encounters with firebrand House Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz.
Asked whether she fears the attacks that may come as people pore over the details in her memoir, Hutchinson tells PEOPLE that she doesn’t, and that she stands by all of her claims.
“If somebody wants to attack the way that they come off in the book, I’m not going to hold myself responsible for what they may say about the way that they’re framed,” she says. “I’m holding them accountable to their own actions.”
Here, five of Hutchinson’s most memorable allegations scattered throughout the pages of Enough.
Trump refused to wear masks during the pandemic because his bronzer turned the straps visibly orange
According to Hutchinson’s new book, the anti-mask movement that Trump supporters spearheaded during COVID-19 — leading to countless preventable deaths nationwide — stemmed from a makeup mishap involving the president early on in the pandemic.
“The president tried on several N95 masks at the Honeywell plant in Phoenix, Arizona, which manufactured all manner of personal protective equipment (PPE). He was not thrilled that staff urged him to wear a mask, believing it would make him look weak and afraid of the virus,” Hutchinson writes. “He decided on a white mask and strapped it to his face before asking each staffer whether or not he should wear it in front of the press pool.”
Hutchinson says that the president looked to her for input, making a “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” gesture. She shook her head, signaling that he shouldn’t wear it.
“I pointed at the straps of the N95 I was holding,” she recalls. “When he looked at the straps of his mask, he saw that they were covered in bronzer. ‘Why did no one else tell me that,’ he snapped. ‘I’m not wearing this thing.'”
“He wore safety goggles on the tour,” she continues in the book. “The press would criticize him for not wearing a mask, not knowing that the depth of his vanity had caused him to reject masks—and then millions of his fans followed suit.”
Cassidy says Rudy Giuliani groped her on the morning of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot
Buried in Hutchinson’s account of the chaos that ensued on Jan. 6, 2021, is a disturbing allegation that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani groped her — in the presence of a fellow Trump attorney, John Eastman.
In her memoir, Hutchinson recalls frantically looking for Giuliani as the morning’s rally was beginning — she says she was trying to get more information on what Trump and his confidants were planning that day, as well as convince the president’s closest advisers to keep Trump from meeting his supporters at the Capitol. She eventually tracked Giuliani down in a tent near the rally stage, and when Giuliani saw her, she says “the corners of his mouth split into a Cheshire cat smile.”
Waving a stack of documents — which he allegedly told her was evidence that Trump could still win the election — Giuliani approached Hutchinson “like a wolf closing in on its prey,” she writes.
“Rudy wraps one arm around my body, closing the space that was separating us. I feel his stack of documents press into the small of my back,” she writes. “I lower my eyes and watch his free hand reach for the hem of my blazer.”
After complimenting her leather jacket, she alleges, “His hand slips under my blazer, then my skirt. I felt his frozen fingertips trail up my thigh. He tilts his chin up. The whites of his eyes look jaundiced. My eyes dart to John Eastman, who flashes a leering grin.”
Responding to the groping claim, Giuliani’s political adviser, Ted Goodman, told PEOPLE, “It’s fair to ask Cassidy Hutchinson why she is just now coming out with these allegations from two and a half years ago, as part of the marketing campaign for her upcoming book release.”
Eastman’s personal attorney, Charles Burnham, said his client “categorically denies” the allegation that he witnessed Hutchinson get groped, claiming that Eastman didn’t know who she was until her testimony before the Jan. 6 House committee in June 2022. “Dr. Eastman is considering defamation litigation against those responsible for making or publishing these libelous allegations,” he wrote in a statement shared with PEOPLE.
Cassidy says Matt Gaetz made a pass at her at Camp David, and raised red flags among top Republicans prior to his sexual abuse allegations
In Hutchinson’s Jan. 6 testimony, she alleged that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was among a handful of Republican lawmakers who sought a pardon from Trump before he left office. In her memoir, though, she shares multiple other stories centered around Gaetz — including a couple of uncomfortable moments she allegedly had with the controversial House Freedom Caucus member, resulting in a confrontation at Camp David at which Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy was present.
According to Hutchinson, she organized a May 2020 retreat at Camp David to which some of Trump’s closest friends in the House GOP were invited, including Gaetz and McCarthy. By the time the House members arrived in the evening, Trump and Meadows had already gone off to their cabins for the night. McCarthy “ordered a few bottles of bourbon and wine” from the bar and invited some of the members over to his cabin to drink, Hutchinson writes. Then around 1 a.m., she alleges, the few who were still hanging around heard a knock at McCarthy’s cabin door.
“I thought it was Camp David’s staff coming to quiet us down—Kevin’s cabin was across from the president’s. But when Kevin opened the door, we discovered Matt Gaetz leaning against the door frame,” she writes in the book. “Matt straightened his posture when Kevin asked him what he wanted, and he explained that he had seen my golf cart parked outside and thought that this was my cabin.”
She continues: “Embarrassed, I got up and asked Matt what he needed. He explained that he was lost and needed me to escort him back to his cabin. I told him to proceed around the circle drive—all the cabins were clearly marked and it was impossible to get lost. He asked me one more time to leave with him. ‘Get a life, Matt,’ Kevin said, then shut the door.”
At various points in the memoir, Hutchinson briefly mentions other strange interactions with Gaetz, like at a bar following Trump’s first impeachment vote, when she writes that Gaetz “chuckled and brushed his thumb across my chin” before allegedly asking her, “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a national treasure?”
In the later days of the administration, when Gaetz began dropping by on occasion to seek a pardon from Trump, Hutchinson writes, “I tried to dismiss Matt’s antics but began wondering why he was pushing so hard for a pardon. I raised the issue with Mark one day after Matt had left and asked if there was anything I should know about. ‘Between you and me,’ Mark said, ‘DOJ may be looking into something about Matt. Best to stay away from him. Can you do that for me?’ I nodded and promised I would.”
It was later reported that Gaetz was the subject of a sex trafficking probe for an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl, but he was ultimately not indicted by the Justice Department. The House Ethics Committee reportedly reopened its own probe into his conduct in June 2023, the status of which is unknown.
Asked for comment about the alleged encounters with Hutchinson, Gaetz told PEOPLE in a statement: “I don’t remember either of these events and based on Cassidy’s prior false statements, I doubt they occurred.”
The written statement continued: “I did date Cassidy for a few weeks when we were both single years ago. We parted amicably and remained friends thereafter, even during President Trump’s post presidency when she asked me to help her secure housing in South Florida because she was eager to continue working for President Trump. It is sad to see Cassidy dishonestly turn against so many people who cared about her for fame and book sales.”
Hutchinson denied ever dating Gaetz in a Monday night interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, saying that they were friends at times but that he “does not have the best track record for relationships” and that she has “much higher standards in men.”
Mark Meadows privately took some responsibility for former presidential candidate Herman Cain’s COVID-19 death
Hutchinson’s book details the moment she informed Mark Meadows that former presidential candidate Herman Cain died from COVID-19 complications after attending Trump’s first pandemic-era campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She alleges that Meadows felt at least some responsibility for Cain’s death.
“I had slipped into Mark’s office when I got the news, my middle finger and thumb tapping together as I gnawed the inside of my cheek, wrestling with my words. ‘Chief, have you heard about Herman Cain?'” Hutchinson writes, recalling the July 30, 2020, conversation.
By her account, Meadows responded asking if Cain was all right, to which she replied, “No, Mark, he’s dead.” Hutchinson says the blood drained from Meadows’ face, and he began asking her questions: “He was in Tulsa wasn’t he?” (Yes, sir.) “That’s where he caught COVID, right?” (Yes, sir.)
“Mark had briefly turned his attention to the TV. I had assumed that he was wondering if the news had been made public,” she continues in the memoir. “He looked back at me and said flatly, ‘We killed Herman Cain.’ I could hear him swallow. ‘Get me his wife’s number,’ he said sadly.”
Earlier in the book, Hutchinson writes that Trump was getting stir-crazy in the first months of the pandemic, leading to the early campaign rallies: “What little patience the president possessed had been exhausted. He wanted to be out on the campaign trail. ‘We have to start doing rallies again,’ he stressed to anyone within earshot.”
“The consensus among senior staff was that rallies were a bad idea both for reasons of public health and because it wasn’t the time to wade into politics. Clearly indoor rallies were off-limits, for the former reason,” she continues in the book. “‘Antifa is having rallies every day on the streets,’ countered Trump, referring to the Black Lives Matter protests. ‘We are going to plan a big rally, and it’s going to happen as soon as possible.'”
Hutchinson writes that Trump’s adamancy signaled the planning of the June 20, 2020, Tulsa rally that Cain would ultimately attend.
“I had seen [Cain] in the risers behind the stage in Tulsa,” Hutchinson recalls in the book. “He grabbed my wrists and pumped my arms above my head, flashing his enigmatic smile as he cried out, ‘We’re going to win! We’re going to win! Four more years! Four more years!'”
Cassidy says Liz Cheney secretly helped her break free from Trump’s legal team during the Jan. 6 investigation
Initially represented by a Trump-aligned lawyer after getting subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Hutchinson struggled with what she characterized as his alleged instruction to be unforthcoming with the committee’s search for answers — and, eventually, to refuse testifying in subsequent depositions, even if it ran the “small risk” of being held in contempt of Congress.
“I knew in my heart that was a luxury I could not afford,” she writes. “There was only one option — to fulfill my moral and civic obligations.”
Hutchinson says she had already tried finding independent legal representation, meeting numerous lawyers and brainstorming ways to scrape together money — even visiting her estranged father to ask for financial help — but was met with unreasonably high fees at every turn.
“To honor the oath I swore to defend, I had to free myself from Trump World,” she remembers thinking in the book. “All I had to do was figure out a way to free myself without doing anything that would draw their attention and arouse suspicion.”
In an earlier deposition, Hutchinson had tried to slyly feed committee members some helpful answers without appearing insubordinate to the Trump attorney accompanying her, and afterward, committee vice chair Liz Cheney had walked up to her, given her a hug, and whispered, “Thank you.” But she writes that she had more to say, and that she felt her attorney was trying to keep her from saying it.
In a bind, she quietly turned to one of the few people she felt she could trust — Cheney — arranging a phone call to discuss her situation and ask for help finding a new, affordable lawyer so she could come clean about what she saw in Trump’s White House.
The next day, Hutchinson says, Cheney provided her with a list of lawyers to reach out to that she believed would help. “I thanked her and promised that I would figure out a way to do the right thing, regardless of the outcome of the search for new counsel,” she writes. “I could not find the words to tell her that the committee was giving me one of the greatest gifts I could have received: hope.”
Soon, Hutchinson had signed an engagement letter with two lawyers who’d worked in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. They agreed to represent her pro bono.
Hutchinson writes that she formed a friendship with Cheney after breaking free from Trump’s orbit, saying that when she was exiled after testifying live, she knew that she could always look to the Wyoming congresswoman for support.
“Liz checks on me every day,” she writes of the time that she was in hiding after testifying. “She sends encouraging articles, shares stories about the public support we’ve received since the hearing, and relays messages from prominent figures in the Republican Party, our Republican Party. We talk and laugh, I cry, we laugh some more. Liz is becoming my rock.”
“Liz reminds us that true leadership is grounded in principle, and that change can be achieved through unyielding loyalty to our democratic ideals,” it reads. “May this book serve as a testament to the transformative power of leaders like Liz, who inspire us to be agents of the truth in our republic, and beyond. That we, as individuals, are enough.”
Judge rules Donald Trump defrauded banks, insurers while building real estate empire
By Michael R. Sisak – September 26, 2023
NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ruled Tuesday that Donald Trump committed fraud for years while building the real estate empire that catapulted him to fame and the White House.
Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York’s attorney general, found that the former president and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing financing.
Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment, making it difficult or impossible for them to do business in New York, and said he would continue to have an independent monitor oversee the Trump Organization’s operations.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Trump has long insisted he did nothing wrong.
The decision, days before the start of a non-jury trial in Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit, is the strongest repudiation yet of Trump’s carefully coiffed image as a wealthy and shrewd real estate mogul turned political powerhouse.
Beyond mere bragging about his riches, Trump, his company and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favorable loan terms and lower insurance premiums, Engoron found.
Those tactics crossed a line and violated the law, the judge said, rejecting Trump’s contention that a disclaimer on the financial statements absolved him of any wrongdoing.
“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
Manhattan prosecutors had looked into bringing a criminal case over the same conduct but declined to do so, leaving James to sue Trump and seek penalties that could disrupt his and his family’s ability to do business in the state.
Engoron’s ruling, in a phase of the case known as summary judgment, resolves the key claim in James’ lawsuit, but six others remain.
Engoron is slated to hold a non-jury trial starting Oct. 2 before deciding on those claims and any punishments he may impose. James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York, his home state. The trial could last into December, Engoron has said.
Trump’s lawyers had asked the judge to throw out the case, which he denied. They contend that James wasn’t legally allowed to file the lawsuit because there isn’t any evidence that the public was harmed by Trump’s actions. They also argued that many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.
Engoron, noting that he had “emphatically rejected” those arguments earlier in the case, equated them to the “time-loop in the film ‘Groundhog Day.’”
James, a Democrat, sued Trump and the Trump Organization a year ago, alleging a pattern of duplicity that she dubbed “the art of the steal,” a twist on the title of Trump’s 1987 business memoir “The Art of the Deal.”
The lawsuit accused Trump and his company of routinely inflating the value of assets like skyscrapers, golf courses and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, padding his bottom line by billions.
Among the allegations were that Trump claimed his Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan — a three-story penthouse replete with gold-plated fixtures — was nearly three times its actual size and valued the property at $327 million. No apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount, James said.
Trump valued Mar-a-Lago as high as $739 million — more than 10 times a more reasonable estimate of its worth. Trump’s figure for the private club and residence was based on the idea that the property could be developed for residential use, but deed terms prohibit that, James said.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, arguing in sworn testimony for the case that it didn’t matter what he put on his financial statements because they have a disclaimer that says they shouldn’t be trusted. He told James at the April deposition, “You don’t have a case and you should drop this case.”
“Do you know the banks were fully paid? Do you know the banks made a lot of money?” Trump testified. “Do you know I don’t believe I ever got even a default notice, and even during COVID, the banks were all paid? And yet you’re suing on behalf of banks, I guess. It’s crazy. The whole case is crazy.”
Engoron rejected that argument when the defense previously sought to have the case thrown out.
The judge said the disclaimer on the financial statements “makes abundantly clear that Mr. Trump was fully responsible for the information contained within” them and that “allowing blanket disclaimers to insulate liars from liability would completely undercut” the “important function” that such statements serve “in the real world.”
James’ lawsuit is one of several legal headaches for Trump as he campaigns for a return to the White House in 2024. He has been indicted four times in the last six months — accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C., of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss, in Florida of hoarding classified documents, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf.
The Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud last year in an unrelated criminal case for helping executives dodge taxes on extravagant perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars. The company was fined $1.6 million. One of the executives, Trump’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty and served five months in jail. He is a defendant in James’ lawsuit and gave sworn deposition testimony for the case in May.
James’ lawsuit does not carry the potential of prison time, but could complicate his ability to transact real estate deals. It could also stain his legacy as a developer.
James has asked Engoron to ban Trump and his three eldest children from ever again running a company based New York. She also wants Trump and the Trump Organization barred from entering into commercial real estate acquisitions for five years, among other sanctions. The $250 million in penalties she is seeking is the estimated worth of benefits derived from the alleged fraud, she said.
James, who campaigned for office as a Trump critic and watchdog, started scrutinizing his business practices in March 2019 after his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements provided to Deutsche Bank while trying to obtain financing to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
James’ office previously sued Trump for misusing his own charitable foundation to further his political and business interests. Trump was ordered to pay $2 million to an array of charities as a fine and the charity, the Trump Foundation, was shut down.
Mobility, a novel by Lydia Kiesling, looks at the way fossil fuels defines life in public and private, shaping the very way we tell stories.
Jess Bergman – September 26, 2023 (October 2nd-9th, 2023 issue)
Elizabeth “Bunny” Glenn, the protagonist of Lydia Kiesling’s new novel Mobility, may work for the Turnbridge Oil Company, but that doesn’t mean she’s in oil. As she’s quick to remind anyone who asks, “I work for the non-oil part of it, the part that is moving away from oil; we are targeting batteries and energy storage, not oil.” And as she rationalizes to herself, all she does in her capacity as a marketer and administrator is “relay information, tell stories, shape narratives, soft things, things that didn’t really matter.”
Despite these disavowals, the fact is that Bunny has spent years trying to better understand the oil industry. It turns out to be a Sisyphean task: The basic schema of the industry—where many companies are vertically and horizontally integrated, mergers are a constant, and financialization has spawned its own sprawling sub-industry—intentionally obscures the full picture. The oil landscape is a quicksand of “names and names and names.” Every time Bunny learned a new one, “the map she had constructed in her mind shifted.” Meanwhile, her brother John, a do-gooder Peace Corps veteran who teaches English in Ukraine, teases Bunny that she’ll wind up like their uncle Warren, a garden-variety reactionary with a desk job at Motiva that earns him “a seemingly huge amount of money.”
More than halfway through the novel, John’s partner, Sofie—a Swedish journalist who covers fossil fuels—provides Bunny with a term that describes the oil industry’s elusiveness: “hyperobject.” Coined by the philosopher Timothy Morton in 2010, a hyperobject is something so large and complex, so distributed across both space and time, that it evades our comprehensive understanding, even as we cannot escape its presence in our life. “The more data we have about hyperobjects, the less we know about them—the more we realize we can never truly know them,” Morton argues. Oil is a hyperobject par excellence: Not only is it the result of a geologic process that is millions of years old, but there are reserves of crude oil all over the world, and its byproducts are found in innumerable consumer items: artificial limbs and toilet seats, lipstick and trash bags, refrigerators and contact lenses. As Bunny herself puts it, “It does touch everything. Absolutely everything.”
Even before Bunny started working at Turnbridge, her life had been touched by oil more directly than others’. As a Foreign Service brat in Azerbaijan in the late 1990s, her adolescence unfolded alongside the development of a new international order, and commodities like oil played a starring role in this transition. Four years before her family’s arrival in Baku, and three years after the country restored its independence from the Soviet Union, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic and a consortium of 11 foreign oil companies signed what was called the “contract of the century”: an agreement to jointly develop—and share the profits from—oil fields in the Azeri sectors of the Caspian Sea. Several of those foreign companies, of course, were American. Bunny’s father is sent to Azerbaijan in part to protect his country’s investment.
In Baku, some of the consequences of the newly privatized oil economy are obvious even to a self-absorbed 15-year-old like Bunny: a sulfuric smell on the beach, or the “mansions with no context” piled up on cliffsides outside of the capital. But most of what she learns about the industry comes via a more sentimental education—namely, crushes on the young men who have flocked to Azerbaijan to witness the so-called end of history. There is Eddie, a mild-mannered Brit making a documentary about the Nagorno-Karabakh War, who rents a room in the apartment above the Glenns’; and then there is Charlie, a hedonistic, hirsute American who publishes a guerrilla newspaper called The Intercock (short for Inter-Caucasian Times) covering “foreign activity in the former Soviet Union.”
At one point, while attending a party at an oil prospector’s mansion in Baku’s ancient inner city, Bunny bumps into her crushes smoking cigars with a gray-haired Amoco bureaucrat. After frightening the oilman off with a veiled reference to his taste for sex workers, Charlie turns to Bunny. “Do you want to hear the story of oil in the former Soviet Union?” he asks. Following her noncommital “I guess,” Charlie proceeds to unspool a profane monologue about the scramble for the Caspian’s riches amid the breakup of the USSR, featuring cameos by Mikhail Gorbachev, Ilham Aliyev, “Condoleezza fucking Rice,” BP, Chevron, Exxon, and more.
This speech, which unfolds across four pages, is for Bunny’s benefit, but also our own. By embedding crucial context in naturalistic dialogue, Kiesling is able to establish the historical conjuncture in which her book is set without resorting to dull exposition. But this formal choice is more than just a canny bit of craft; it also hints at the novel’s true subject. Recognizing the epistemological impasse that Bunny runs up against in her quest to master the industry’s inner workings, Mobility is not really about oil qua oil, but the way it is narrativized—both for good and for ill.
Mobility teems with storytellers, from investigative reporters, podcasters, and filmmakers to spin doctors, government public information officers, and oil CEOs, dictating their memoirs to underpaid female assistants. When Bunny eventually joins their ranks, it’s due less to any conscious choice than to circumstance. Personally and professionally adrift after graduating from college in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, she moves in with her recently divorced mother in Texas and finds a job through a temp agency at Miles Engineering Consultants, a firm that provides “client satisfaction in the diverse fields of geophysics and seismology, hydrology, hydrogeology, and construction support.” Bunny is assigned to the admin pool, where she puts her English degree to work copy-editing inscrutable reports about prospective megaprojects, such as a nuclear power plant in the Persian Gulf. However tedious, it’s a task at which she excels.
Not long after Bunny is hired, she meets Frank Miles—son of the company’s founder, and son-in-law to oil magnate Frank Turnbridge—who recognizes in Bunny a potential asset to his own ambition. Before long, Frank convinces her to jump ship to Turnbridge, where he’ll be heading up a new arm of the business: one that “over time,” he promises, will begin investing in “renewables, batteries, clean energy.” As she’ll learn, it’s a future that’s always just on the verge of arriving.
Whatever “unease” Bunny feels as a reflexive liberal who believes in global warming but who is now working for an oil company is allayed in short order by the material comforts that the job enables her to obtain: a well-appointed apartment in Houston, Ted Baker dresses, Bare Minerals makeup, Jo Malone perfume (the novel is littered with brand names that increase in value in tandem with Bunny’s professional advancement). It’s a state of affairs that Sofie mocks during a visit to Texas: “I’m sorry, but this is such an American tragedy! You work for the oil complex so you can have health insurance and a place to live!” However much Bunny clings to these justifications, the truth is that she starts to find something magnetic about the industry after immersing herself in its literature.
While attempting to better understand her new workplace, Bunny spends many Saturdays at the Turnbridge Petroleum Library, donated by Frank to a local college, where she reads introductory textbooks (“useful but boring”) as well as “narrative histories, which she infinitely preferred.” The latter are seductive in both the cinematic quality of their imagery and in the sheer enormity of the feats of engineering and labor they describe—so monumental that they reduce the “dead people and filth strewn all over the pages of these books” to mere footnotes. “These tragedies were made small against the inexorability of a steel tube drilling down thousands of feet, drilling sideways a thousand feet more, seeming to subvert the laws of geology or physics,” Bunny thinks. “Literal pipelines laid under the ground and spanning two continents, traveling under the ocean itself, to bring them their standard of living.”
Her encounter with these texts is formative in more ways than one: Bunny will eventually stake her career on building a Lean In version of this emphatically masculine mythos. In 2016, she attends a women-in-energy luncheon in a frigid Texas conference room where the keynote speaker is “one of the first Black women special agents in the FBI.” Bunny, then unmarried and childless, is seated with a number of colleagues discussing the challenges of being a working mother in the oil industry. A geologist with twins who’s recently been let go from Exxon jokes—if you can call it that—that “they always lay the moms off first.” Then one of the only men present at the lunch drops by their table. “What are we talking about here?” he asks. “Shoes?” A less keen novel might leverage this interaction into an epiphany for Bunny, but Kiesling is working in an ultimately ironic register here. At the end of the scene, Bunny lifts a foot out of her “Tory Burch square-heeled croc pumps that didn’t have quite enough room in the toe box…before turning her attention back to the podium.” She, at least, had been thinking about shoes after all.
Over the course of Mobility, Kiesling develops a critique of the fossil fuel industry’s use of women as both a shield and a source of legitimacy. This applies to women on the outside: A recurring motif is the line, supplied by industry flacks like Bunny, that it’s thanks to oil and gas that mothers can give birth in brightly lit, temperature-regulated hospitals, full of high-tech devices made from petrochemical byproducts, rather than in unsanitary sheds, the United States’ high rate of maternal mortality be damned. But it’s women working on the inside who prove to be most useful to the industry. Of course, the benefits flow both ways: On the one hand, the industry’s embrace of corporate feminism allows individual women to recast their environmentally destructive and highly remunerative work as a radical riposte to the old boys’ club. More significantly, this PR strategy plays into the narrative that a lack of diversity, not a profit motive antithetical to life, is responsible for oil’s gravest ills. In this way, reforming the energy industry’s relationship to women and other minorities becomes a metonym for reforming the industry itself. At yet another conference, Bunny listens to a chipper blonde introduce a new professional network for women backed by companies like Shell and Halliburton. Her ambitions for the project are grand: It’s “something that will benefit not only us, but our entire oil and gas industry.” Notably, the woman is a special guest at an event titled “Storytelling Oil and Gas.”
By focusing primarily on the recent past and covering mostly real disasters, natural and otherwise—the Deepwater Horizon spill; Hurricane Harvey—Mobility sets itself apart from most so-called climate change novels, which tend to take place in an alternative present or near future menaced by mysterious adverse weather events. So when the book flashes forward to 2051 in a brief coda knowingly titled “Downstream”—referring to the refining of crude oil and all of its byproducts, as well as their marketing and sale—it comes as a somewhat deflating capitulation to the conventions of the genre. Kiesling depicts this future bluntly; its crises are represented in broad strokes, with minimal stylistic flourishes: “On the first 120-degree-Fahrenheit day [Bunny] ever felt, nearly everything shriveled and died and the crows fell out of the trees.”
Given the destructiveness of Mobility’s final act, it’s tempting to read it as an environmentalist parable, or even an intervention. But the novel is fundamentally ambivalent about the usefulness of stories in fighting climate change. Through Bunny’s occasional insecurities about the meaning of her work for Turnbridge, Kiesling breaks the fourth wall. “Sometimes Elizabeth marveled at how simultaneously irrelevant and critical the shaping of narrative was to reality,” she writes.
Decarbonization was more important than ever. The majors were pulling out of the Permian and Bakken right and left…. And yet Europe was preparing to freeze without Russian gas. The EU had signed a deal to double its supply of LNG from Azerbaijan, great news for Azerbaijan and BP.
In Mobility, the primary function of the stories told by fossil fuel companies is to approximate the feeling of change without actually changing anything—except, perhaps, their names.
For the industry, this proves to be a winning strategy: “Many of the people who got rich from oil put themselves directly atop the next generation of energy just in the nick of time.” For its opponents, the value of narrative is less clear. We learn little about the impact of Sofie’s journalism, other than that her career goes “gangbusters” after she becomes a household name during the Standing Rock protests. And when Bunny bumps into Charlie many years after their initial meeting in Baku, he’s traded in harassing fossil fuel executives for reporting on drone war, because, he explains, “There’s more people with a deep state paranoia who will subscribe to your podcast than there are people who want to hear about oil companies.” Stories, Kiesling suggests, can make us feel better about the path of least resistance, or they can prompt us to consider the cost of our familiar comforts. But given that they tend toward tidy resolution, stories are more likely to produce inertia than action on a mass scale. This makes them no match for the resources of an industry that scaffolds our geopolitical order and produces trillions of dollars in profits a year.
Rather than styling itself as a rallying cry, the closest thing that Mobility offers to a concrete solution is smuggled into a joke in a scene some years before the apocalyptic flash-forward. During a visit to the United States in 2014 from his posting in Tajikistan, Bunny’s diplomat father tells his grown children that the long-defunct oil field their grandparents owned a small interest in might soon become active again, thanks to a tertiary form of oil recovery in which pressurized carbon dioxide is blasted into old wells to loosen whatever remains. Any money it yields, he says, will be passed on to them. Bunny’s brother John is horrified by the prospect of profiting from oil. “Can you do something to shut down production?” he asks.
Bunny laughs. “He owns one-seventy-somethingth of it,” she tells her brother. “Is he supposed to throw a grenade down the well?
Jess Bergman is a senior editor at The Baffler and a contributing writer at Jewish Currents.