Opinion: No one needed another Napoleon movie, but this one has something unexpected to say

Joaquin Phoenix appears as Napoleon.

Joaquin Phoenix appears as Napoleon.Apple TV+

Editor’s Note: Noah Berlatsky (@nberlat) is a freelance writer in Chicago. The views expressed here are his own. View more opinion on CNN.CNN — 

This is not the best historical moment for a hagiography of an overweening authoritarian populist. To his credit, director Ridley Scott appears to recognize the dangers. His new 158-minute epic “Napoleon” is about how the French leader’s vast and relentless ambition poisons his life, his country and ultimately all of Europe.

Noah Berlatsky

Noah BerlatskyNoah Berlatsky

And yet, even as Scott deplores Napoleon’s grotesque hubris, he’s also clearly fascinated by it, and enjoys the opportunity it gives him for sweeping spectacle and Hollywood mythmaking. The movie is both a warning about our own populist gasbags and an object lesson in our media culture’s feckless enthusiasm for “big characters.”

Scott begins his story with the French Revolution in the late 18th century and the terror. Napoleon, played by Academy Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, is a talented young officer whose military victories quickly vault him into influence and power. Early in the film, his stoic mien, boundless self-confidence and sweeping success, not to mention his personal bravery in battle, give him the glamour of a standard Hollywood action hero. You could be watching “Top Gun” or “Die Hard” with their dashing, mavericky, righteous protagonists fighting onward toward the inevitable raffish grin of victory.

Those early scenes glamorize Napoleon and are meant to show you the populist appeal that vaulted him to the leadership of the French. But Scott slowly reveals another, less attractive Napoleon, as Phoenix’s flinty features start to shift and pull and reveal themselves as the mask of a stuck-up man who likes to think of himself as having flinty features.

Raphael Pitchal, left, and Jean Christophe Chataignier of Osenat's auction house remove the protection of one of the signature broad, black hats that Napoléon wore when he ruled 19th century France and waged war in Europe at Osenat's auction house in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. The hat is tipped to fetch more than half a million euros (dollars) at the auction Sunday of Napoleonic memorabilia patiently collected by a French industrialist. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

One of Napoleon’s trademark hats sells for record $2.1 million

Napoleon sententiously insists he’s above “petty insecurities,” but his actions belie him. His relationship with his first wife Josephine, played by Vanessa Kirby, is shot through with jealousy and farce. He’s too self-absorbed to be a sensitive lover; their bedroom scenes, with him grunting away while she looks indulgent but bored, are some of the movie’s funniest and most uncomfortable. Eventually, Napoleon casts his beloved Josephine aside because she can’t get pregnant. As self-crowned emperor, his vaunting sense of his own destiny demands an heir, even if that decision makes both him and Josephine miserable, without, ultimately, ensuring his dynasty.

The private Napoleon is ridiculous; the public one, it’s eventually clear, is a monster. His genius as a general is real — or at least it is until he starts to believe in it a little too fervently. In the latter half of his career, he consistently underestimates his opponents and leads his men to disaster because he won’t acknowledge setbacks or call for strategic retreats. Hundreds of thousands of his soldiers froze to death in the terrible Russian winter campaign of 1812. Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, and made one more grasp at power before being defeated once and for all by the British at the Battle of Waterloo. The film concludes with a final text screen that says that 3 million people died in Napoleon’s wars.

That’s a lot of death and misery to satisfy the ego of one silly man. Again, Scott knows as much, which is why he provides the audience with the death toll. But, at the same time, the movie wouldn’t exist if Scott weren’t fascinated with the silly man, and not least with the ego and the death.

Joaquin Phoenix appears as Napoleon.

‘Napoleon’ saddles up Joaquin Phoenix to lead the charge in Ridley Scott’s chilly epic

Scott’s a filmmaker who loves dramatic visuals, and the scenes of battle are lush, gothic set pieces. The images of the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz are particularly vivid; Napoleon lures the rival armies onto a frozen lake, which he then bombards, allowing Scott to show men and horses and blood sinking in slow motion beneath the frigid waters. Other sequences in the film show Napoleon simply nodding his head slightly to unleash a cavalry charge or a volley of cannon shot; the movie invites you to contemplate his power not as a cautionary tale, but as a nifty movie spectacle.

Even when Scott presents Napoleon as a dope, he’s a film-worthy dope. The coup against the Second Directory in 1799, which ended the last remnant of the Republic and elevated Napoleon to control of France, is portrayed as a barely competent exercise in slapstick. Napoleon ends up rolling around on the floor as he is attacked by middle-aged politicians, all the while bellowing with boisterous cowardice that they are trying to kill him. It’s not a portrait of a great leader. But it is entertaining and even charming.

A great man isn’t less great if he has feet of clay; the laughable moments and the failures are in many ways what make Napoleon in the film likable and watchable. A stoic, perfect Napoleon would be hard to take for two-and-a-half hours. Bumbling Napoleon who is bad at sex is a lot more fun.

The fact that Napoleon can’t live up to his own larger-than-life image is part of what makes Napoleon larger than life. That’s a dynamic that also benefits former President Donald Trump, our own would-be Napoleon.

US Rep. George Santos leaves a candidate forum with House Republicans on October 10 in Washington, DC.

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There are obvious differences between Trump and Napoleon — Trump avoided the draft and was not a successful general; Napoleon was never elected and conquered large parts of Europe; Trump’s coup attempt was unsuccessful. Still, there are some recognizable similarities in populist leaders across the ages. Like Scott’s Napoleon, Trump’s endless self-puffery and self-regard make him a caricature of himself. But that doesn’t undercut his appeal. It magnifies it.

Trump has a weirdly orange complexion, https://bagaimanacaraya.com writes social media posts in all caps and says ludicrous, outrageous things all the time in a way that’s so hyperbolic the media wants to turn it into a joke or a bit. On Veteran’s Day, for example, Trump echoed Nazi rhetoric in a ranting speech where he called his enemies “vermin.” The New York Times headline portrayed the incident as if it were a cute, funny blooper: “Trump Takes Veterans Day Speech in a Very Different Direction.” (The headline was quietly changed after criticism.)

Trump has benefited throughout his political career from the media’s fascination. In 2016, in his first campaign for president, according to data collected by mediaQuant, he received some $5.6 billion in earned media, as news channels covered his every speech and inane utterance, giving him a huge advantage in the Republican primary. Earlier this year, CNN hosted a town hall with the former president in which he lied constantly and slandered a woman that a jury found in a civil verdict that he had sexually abused (which Trump denies). The debacle drew the network’s largest primetime audience in almost a year.

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Trump is currently the leading Republican presidential contender, so he’s of course going to be in the news. The voyeuristic, edge-of-the-seat, horserace tenor of much of the coverage, though, is a choice. “Napoleon” suggests that our fascination with grotesque populist windbags is itself a source of their power. We love stories of flawed giants whose fascinating flaw is that they think they’re bigger than they are.

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If you wanted to really show Napoleon’s evil, you’d need to tell the story from the perspective of one of those poor soldiers he dragged across Europe to a shallow grave. If you wanted to show Napoleon’s emptiness and selfishness, you’d have to make a film called “Josephine.” But as long as you’re looking at the emperor — even if you’re ambivalently mocking the emperor — you’re honoring the emperor. Napoleon might not love this movie, but he’d surely enjoy seeing his face blown up there on the big screen.

Australians vote No in referendum that promised change for First Nations people but couldn’t deliver

Residents cast their votes in the Voice referendum at a polling center in West End, Brisbane, Australia, October 14, 2023.

Residents cast their votes in the Voice referendum at a polling center in West End, Brisbane, Australia, October 14, 2023.Jono Searle/AAP Image/ReutersBrisbane, AustraliaCNN — 

With a two-letter word, Australians struck down the first attempt at constitutional change in 24 years, a move experts say will inflict lasting damage on First Nations people and suspend any hopes of modernizing the nation’s founding document.

Preliminary results from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) suggested that most of the country’s 17.6 million registered voters wrote No on their ballots, and CNN affiliates 9 News, Sky News and SBS all projected no path forward for the Yes campaign.

The proposal, to recognize Indigenous people in the constitution and create an Indigenous body to advise government on policies that affect them, needed a majority nationally and in four of six states to pass.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had championed the referendum and in a national address on Saturday night said his government remained committed to improving the lives of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

“This moment of disagreement does not define us. And it will not divide us. We are not yes voters or no voters. We are all Australians,” he said.

“It is as Australians together that we must take our country beyond this debate without forgetting why we had it in the first place. Because too often in the life of our nation, and in the political conversation, the disadvantage confronting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been relegated to the margins.”

“This referendum and my government has put it right at the center.”

Supporters of the Yes vote had hailed it as an opportunity to work with First Nations people to solve problems in their most remote communities – higher rates of suicide, domestic violence, children in out-of-home care and incarceration.

However, resistance swelled as conservative political parties lined up to denounce the proposal as lacking detail and an unnecessary duplication of existing advisory bodies.

On Saturday, leading No campaigner Warren Mundine said the referendum should never have been called.

“This is a referendum we should never have had because it was built on a lie that Aboriginal people do not have a voice,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

During months of campaigning, the No vote gained momentum with slogans that appealed to voter apathy – “If you don’t know, vote No” – and a host of other statements designed to instil fear, according to experts, including that it would divide Australia by race and be legally risky, despite expert advice to the contrary.

 "Vote No" volunteers at a polling center in Canberra on October 13, 2023.

Vote No” volunteers at a polling center in Canberra on October 13, 2023.Martin Ollman/Getty Images

Rejection of high-profile campaign

No shortage of high-profile voices lent their support to the Yes campaign.

Constitutional expertsAustralians of the Year, eminent retired judges, companies large and small, universities, sporting legendsnetballersfootballers, reality stars and Hollywood actors flagged their endorsement. There was even an unlikely intervention by US rapper MC Hammer.

Aussie music legend John Farnham gifted a song considered to be the unofficial Australian anthem to a Yes advertisement with a stirring message of national unity. But opinion polls continued to slide to No.

Objections came thick and fast from the leaders of opposition political parties, who picked at loose threads of the proposal. “Where’s the detail?” they asked, knowing that would be decided and legislated by parliament.

Some members of the Indigenous community said they didn’t want to be part of a settler document, demanding more than a body that gives the government non-binding advice. Other Australians were completely disengaged.

Yes campaigner Marilyn Trad told CNN that volunteers making calls to prospective voters had to break the news to some – this week – that there was indeed a referendum.

Kevin Argus, a marketing expert from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), told CNN the Yes campaign was a “case study in how not to message change on matters of social importance.”

“From a public relations perspective, what is proposed is quite simple – an advisory group to government. Not unlike what the business council, mining groups, banking groups and others expect and gain when legislation is being drafted that affects the people they represent,” he said.

Argus said only the No campaign had used simple messaging, maximized the reach of personal profiles, and acted decisively to combat challenges to their arguments with clear and repeatable slogans.

Campaign signs are seen outside the voting centre at Old Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, October 14, 2023.

Campaign signs are seen outside the https://gimanalagiyakan.com voting centre at Old Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, October 14, 2023.Mick Tsikas/AAP Image/Reuters

What does the result mean?

The result means no constitutional change, but the referendum will have lasting consequences for the entire nation, according to experts.

For First Nations people, it will be seen as a rejection of reconciliation by Australia’s non-Indigenous majority and tacit approval of a status quo that is widely considered to have failed them for two centuries.

Before the vote, Senator Pat Dodson, the government’s special envoy for reconciliation, said win or lose, the country had a “huge healing process to go through.”

“We’ve got to contemplate the impact of a No vote on the future generations, the young people,” he told the National Press Club this week. “We already know that the Aboriginal youth of this country have high suicide rates. Why? They’re not bad people. They’re good people. Why don’t they see any future?”

Maree Teesson, director of the Matilda Center for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at the University of Sydney, told CNN the Voice to Parliament had offered self-determination to Indigenous communities, an ability to have a say over what happens in their lives.

“Self-determination is such a critical part of their social and emotional well-being,” she said.

Teesson said a No vote doesn’t just maintain the status quo, it “undermines the self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“I do hope that we don’t lose the possibility of the hope that this gave our nation and that we somehow work to find another way to achieve that,” she said.

Some experts say more broadly the No outcome could deter future leaders from holding referendums, as it could indicate that the bar for constitutional change – written into the document in 1901 – is too high.

The last time Australians voted down a referendum was in 1999 when they were asked to cut ties with the British monarchy and become a republic – and little has changed on that front since then.

“The drafters of the constitution said this is the rulebook and we’re only going to change it if the Australian people say they want to change it – we’re not going to leave it up to politicians,” said Paula Gerber, professor of Law at Monash University.

“So that power, to change, to modernize, to update the constitution has been put in the hands of the Australian people. And if they are going to say every time, “If you don’t know, vote No,” then what politician is going to spend the time and money on a referendum that can be so easily defeated?”

5 deaths in 10 days point to a problem Australia wants to solve

Students of St Andrew's Cathedral School lay flowers outside the school entrance on October 30, 2023.

Students of St Andrew’s Cathedral School lay flowers outside the school entrance on October 30, 2023.Dean Lewins/AAP ImageBrisbane, AustraliaCNN — 

The murder of five women within 10 days in Australia, allegedly by men they knew, has left Manuela Whitford feeling “numb.”

“We’ve become so conditioned … you hear it all the time, I’ve just become so numb,” she said. “But on the other scale, I go, ‘Oh, my God,’ I’m doing a good thing for the people that I can help.”

Whitford is the founder of Friends with Dignity, a Brisbane-based charity that gives families fleeing domestic violence everything they need to feel at home in emergency accommodation.

They’re mostly mothers with children, who leave with few possessions but carry the weight of fear and worry about where they’re going and how they’re going to cope.

“They are so isolated. This is years of conditioning people that you’re not good enough, you’re not worth it, you’ve got no value,” Whitford said from the charity’s warehouse south of Brisbane.

Tucked at the back of an industrial park, the warehouse shelves are piled high with household goods, boxes of toys, and mattresses washed, stacked and ready for delivery to apartments secured by welfare agencies.

It’s hoped the donations will help save lives, but it’s the women who were unable to escape allegedly violent men that made headlines in Australia in recent weeks.

The five women killed in 10 days include a 21-year-old water polo coach who had reportedly recently split up with her suspected killer, and a 65-year-old woman whose elderly husband has been accused of murder.

They’re now numbers on a national count that’s at 43 so far this year, according to Counting Dead Women, a research project started by feminist group Destroy the Joint, which takes its name from an insult hurled in 2012 by an Australian shock jock who accused women leaders of “destroying the joint.”

5 dead women

The most recent alleged murder was discovered on Monday, when security staff at the Crown Towers hotel in Perth, Western Australia, received a phone call from worried family members of Alice McShera, a 34-year-old lawyer.

Alice McShera poses for a picture.

Alice McShera was found dead in a hotel room in Perth.Alice McShera/Facebook

They checked a room and found McShera’s body, WA Police Inspector Geoff DeSanges told reporters on Tuesday. A 42-year-old man found in the same room with suspected self-inflicted injuries was later charged with murder.

Last Sunday, 46-year-old Analyn Osias, known as Logee, suffered fatal injuries in a house in Kangaroo Flats, according to Victoria Police. A 44-year-old man has been charged with murder.

Days earlier, Lilie James, a 21-year-old water polo coach, was found dead with head injuries in the gym toilet of a private school in Sydney, according to New South Wales Police. The body of her 24-year-old former partner was later discovered at the bottom of a cliff after his suspected suicide.

The same week, 65-year-old Thi Thuy Huong Nguyen was found with multiple stab wounds in her kitchen in Canberra, ACT Policing said. Police arrested her 70-year-old husband, who also had injuries. He fronted court from his hospital bed to face a murder charge.

Two days earlier, the body of 38-year-old Krystal Marshall was recovered from the charred remains of her home after a house fire in South Australia, according to SA Police. A 48-year-old man was later charged with murder.

Krystal Marshall, Analyn 'Logee' Osias and Lilie James.

Krystal Marshall, Analyn ‘Logee’ Osias and Lilie James.

The number of women killed by violence in Australia has ranged between 43 and 84 each years since Counting Dead Women began tallying deaths in 2012.

Whitford started Friends with Dignity in her garage in the same year.  Since then, she said she’s noticed a change in the way people, including the police, respond to domestic violence.

“It’s believing, it’s listening to the victim,” she said.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the proportion of Australian women reporting domestic violence by a partner in the previous 12 months fell between 2016 and 2021-22, from 1.7% to 0.9%.

However, the most recent National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) in 2021 showed 23% believe domestic violence is a normal reaction to day-to-day stress.

And 91% believed violence against women was a problem in Australia.

A national plan

Repeated cries for help have been made to the government, which last year launched its National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032.

The First Action Plan 2023-2027 was released in August, and top of the 10-point list is advancing gender equality.

Australia may be a modern, wealthy nation, but sexist attitudes persist in a culture where women do more unpaid domestic work and earn less over their lifetime than men, according to the United Nations.

Boardrooms and many positions of power are still dominated by men, as is Parliament – the country has only ever had one female prime minister, Julia Gillard, who famously delivered a searing speech on misogyny that’s since racked up millions of views on social media.

A 2022 survey by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, which Gillard now chairs, found Australian men consider misogynistic comments more acceptable online than the global average.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ROBERT GHEMENT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (13920294c)
Former professional kickboxer and social media influencer Andrew Tate (C) and his brother Tristan (R) walk next to journalists after being presented to a judge for an extension of their house arrest, in Bucharest, Romania, 19 May 2023. Andrew and Tristan Tate were arrested on 29 December 2022 as a result of the DIICOT inquiry on charges of human trafficking and intention to form an organized crime group. Romanian police stated that the two brothers and their associates coerced victims for creating a paid pornography service for social media platforms. On 31 March 2023 the Tate brothers and their associates were moved from police custody to house arrest with immediate effect.
Tate brothers presentation to the court for an extension of their house arrest, Bucharest, Romania - 19 May 2023

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The First Action Plan includes 3.5 million Australian dollars in funding ($2.24 million) for a three-year trial of the healthy masculinities project to find what works to counter harmful messaging targeting men and boys on social media.

His name is not mentioned in the government press release, but experts cite the example of Andrew Tate, the self-described misogynistic internet influencer soon to face trial in Romania on charges of human trafficking and rape.

For more than 20 years, Andrew Lines has been working to counter Tate’s style of dangerous, misogynistic messaging through “The Rite Journey,” a program that works with schools in Australia, New Zealand and further afield to teach students how to find positive role models.

He says it’s getting tougher to cut through the negative messaging that children are seeing on their cellphones – from abusive, disrespectful comments to easily accessible hardcore porn.

“The hateful rhetoric that they are reading, I would have never been exposed to as a kid,” said Lines. “It doesn’t even have to be an inflammatory post. You can go and read comments in a whole lot of threads and there is hateful, judgmental stuff.”

Lines says many men are taking a more active role in fatherhood than previous generations, but family dynamics have also changed, meaning parents are spending less time with their children.

On the flipside, overparenting – taking too much of an active role – can create problems of its own, he said.

“If kids haven’t learned to deal with failure and rejection in the small stakes experiences through childhood, and it gets to the biggest stakes experiences, I think there’s an issue,” he said.

But until those lessons are learned, state authorities are strengthening their responses to domestic violence.

In July, NSW Police launched the country’s first Domestic and Family Violence Registry to record repeat offenders, and last week the WA government said it wanted more perpetrators to be fitted with electronic tags.

Manuela Whitford, founder and CEO of Friends with Dignity at the charity's warehouse in Brisbane, November 2, 2023.

Manuela Whitford, https://mauapalagi.com founder and CEO of Friends with Dignity at the charity’s warehouse in Brisbane, November 2, 2023.Hilary Whiteman/CNN

Until there’s significant change, people like Whitford from Friends with Dignity will be doing what they can to support those affected.

Every Tuesday, volunteers gather at the charity’s warehouse to assemble personal care kits and fill orders from agencies for people in need. Businesses are also getting involved by sending staff on away days as part of their social responsibility programs.

A housing shortage means fewer apartments are available for the charity to furnish, so they’re supplying more essential items to women who can’t leave abusive households.

Whitford says it takes the community to come together to prevent more women becoming victims of domestic violence.

“A lot of people don’t ask you if you’re okay, because they don’t know what to do with the answer,” she said. “So, get educated, find out what resources are in your area.”

Opinion: A comedian, a bestselling author and a reality show star are taking down this taboo

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Sara Stewart praises comedian Maria Bamford, author Stephanie Land and ‘Love is Blind” participant Stacy Snyder for advocating for radical transparency around money.Alena Mostovich/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Sara Stewart is a film and culture writer who lives in western Pennsylvania. The views expressed here are solely the author’s own. View more opinion articles on CNN.CNN — 

When comedian Maria Bamford was writing her memoir, she wanted to pack it with as many financial details about herself as possible. “As a Minnesotan, I am ashamed to admit that I love money. I love a fair exchange of goods and services, and I love full disclosure,” she said in a commencement speech quoted on NPR’s “Planet Money,” as part of an interview in which she delved into details about her philosophy that we should all get more comfortable talking about one of the most awkward subjects ever.

Sara Stewart

Sara StewartTodd Thompson

Sure enough, when I caught her comedy show in Pittsburgh recently, she was trying out new material that included asking audience members if anyone had had trouble getting paid recently. The folks in the front rows seemed reticent, to her visible disappointment — and mine.

Unfortunately, Bamford’s book, “Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult,” doesn’t contain as many numbers as she’d like. In that NPR discussion, the host disclosed that “Maria says her publisher would not let her put more finances in the book because they thought it was boring,” adding, “that’s just a wrong call, in my opinion.” It still contains roughly 100% more disclosure about earnings and personal wealth than any other memoir I’ve ever read. Bamford writes of her belief in the Debtors Anonymous principle of open-book accounting, the practice of sharing business information with any interested party. As she is her own business, at one point in the book, she breaks down a month’s worth of business earnings and expenditures.

Bamford is one of a growing number of people advocating for radical transparency around money. It’s heartening to see that talking about what we earn — and don’t — is perhaps on track to being normalized in a new way. The more we talk, the less shame, stigma and taboo can cling to issues around finances. I speak to you from the intersection of a couple of crucial areas that are in dire need of more financial transparency: As a female freelancer, I am still statistically paid less than my male counterparts (but how would I know? Very few outlets publish the rates they pay any of us). As a self-employed writer, I am often required to chase payments from outlets I write for, who treat my repeated follow-ups requesting payment as an annoyance — as if the published byline itself ought to be its own reward. (I’ve never attempted to buy groceries by showing a cashier my byline, but I’m pretty sure I know how that’ll go.)

I’ve found a kindred spirit in Bamford, and more recently, the author Stephanie Land, who has written and talked about money, albeit in a very different light than Bamford (who’s spoken about inheriting generational wealth, and estimates her net worth at $3.5 million). Land’s first book, “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive,” was a New York Times best seller that became an acclaimed Netflix series, leading many to assume she’d successfully written her way out of poverty. But as she explains in her new book, “Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education,” and in interviews, it’s not that simple.

Grocery shopping in Rosemead, California on April 21, 2022.

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As one profile of the author recounts, Land had nearly $50,000 in student loans and about $16,000 of credit card debt when she got the first payment for “Maid.” And earning the money from her book made her children ineligible for state subsidized health insurance, so she had to pay for it herself: “I had years of not being able to make ends meet to make up for,” she said.

She also speaks pointedly (and, to this writer, very refreshingly) in interviews about the classist trap of being a working writer: She found that many people seem to think creative people should somehow be above talking about money. “They really don’t teach the business of writing, period,” she said on The Maris Review podcast. “Money, I got the sense, cheapened the writing in some way. But I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t want to make money at writing. Like, isn’t that supposed to be the dream? You find a way to turn your hobby into a career?”

As Land said to the Montana Free Press: “College does not teach the business of writing. I had no idea. So much of being a writer is administrative work. You are your own business, you’re your own brand. You are your accountant and your tax person and your health insurance. Hounding people to pay you, it’s just maddening. Money is almost not even talked about, it’s like a dirty word.” Preach, sister.

Hailing from a very different sector of the entertainment world, Stacy Snyder from the fifth season of Netflix’s “Love is Blind” made headlines and stirred up a lot of feelings when she rejected her fiancé at the altar, partly over his lack of disclosure of his precarious finances. Izzy Zapata told Snyder only days before their reality-TV wedding that he had bad credit and was unable to get a credit card, and his description of his job made her unsure of how he actually earned money, she said in an interview. “I was like, ‘How much do you make a month if you’re 1099 and 100% commission?’ And he couldn’t answer the question. And he didn’t have benefits. It was like, ‘If you get hit by a bus tomorrow, I am responsible for all of that and your medical bills.’ I was completely freaked out, and I felt very blindsided. I felt like I was about to go into debt because he didn’t have stability in his career or his finances.”

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 08:  Clarissa Horsfall holds a sign reading, 'Equal Pay,' as she joins with others during 'A Day Without A Woman' demonstration on March 8, 2017 in Miami, United States. The demonstrators were calling for woman to have equity, justice and human rights for women and all gender-oppressed people.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This Equal Pay Day, let’s smash the maternal wall

Unsurprisingly, Snyder’s pragmatic reaction was dragged online for being unromantic, when in reality finances are one of the top reasons married couples fight or divorce. Is it awkward or potentially tense to insist on a candid financial discussion with a partner with whom you’re considering marriage, or even cohabitation? Yes, but it’s also essential, no matter how many movies and books and TV shows peddle the fantasy that love is all you need, and that bringing money talk into it cheapens the fantasy. For a lot of women, I’m betting, the real fantasy includes understanding your partner’s financial literacy before you say, “I do.”

I wasn’t a huge fan of Snyder on the show — she took a hypocritical stance, telling Izzy that while she wanted to split domestic spending 50/50, the man in a heterosexual relationship should always pay for dinner; she came off like a mean girl toward other women in the cast. But regardless, insisting on financial clarity before saying, “I do,” is a good-faith effort to ensure a romance works out in the long haul.

Taken together, these examples point toward a cultural move toward insisting on more transparency around money: How much we have, how much we make and how to manage our often-outsized feelings around it. As Bamford told Conan O’Brien, money “is such an emotional topic. I find people get so mad or so embarrassed or so ashamed … the emotions don’t match the numerics.”

Another emerging conversation around finances is the surge of interest in nepo babies. The most prominent examples may be children of celebrities or entertainment industry insiders who seem to magically end up with choice gigs (just today I learned two of the three “Please Don’t Destroy” guys on “SNL” are sons of “SNL” producers), but the nepo baby effect isn’t limited to the famous. “Nearly one in three Americans is hired by a parent’s employer in the earliest years of their careers. And the biggest benefits go to those raised by higher earners,” a Harvard study reported earlier this year. The more we get this stuff out in the open, the more we puncture the noxious but longstanding idea that everyone in the US is starting out on equal financial footing and that anyone can just make it if they try hard enough.

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There has also been a recent surge in high-profile union success stories, from the United Auto Workers deal to the resolution of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes. One recurrent topic was how many people in the entertainment industry are working paycheck-to-paycheck; even if someone is working as a writer on a successful show, it often doesn’t mean they’re making all that much money due to long lag times between work periods.

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But those wins aren’t https://caridimanaka.com necessarily an indicator that collective bargaining is really booming, The Guardian points out: “Labor in the US is still facing significant obstacles and challenges in transforming the popular culture shift into gains against a backdrop of decades of union decline, worsening wealth inequality, and broken labor laws.” The struggle to generate lasting collective bargaining is ongoing.

Meanwhile, some states are rolling out laws requiring salary transparency in job listings, which is one way to help women achieve pay equity. Unfortunately, it’s also leading some companies  that are unhappy about it to lower the amount they’re offering to prospective hires. And in a far more chilling development, the GOP has been fomenting a pushback against no-fault divorce, a thinly-veiled attempt to roll back women’s autonomy, particularly the financial kind.

These are some of the growing pains in a culture where money is one of the last taboos — but the conversation doesn’t seem likely to go back on mute. As a writer, I sure hope it doesn’t.

Opinion: Trump’s call to repeal Obamacare is a trap for GOP

CLAREMONT, NEW HAMPSHIRE - NOVEMBER 11:  Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign event on November 11, 2023 in Claremont, New Hampshire. The defense is scheduled to start presenting its case on Monday in Trump's fraud case. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a campaign event on November 11, 2023 in Claremont, New Hampshire.Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Patrick T. Brown is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank and advocacy group based in Washington, DC. He is also a former senior policy adviser to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee. Follow him on Twitter. The views expressed in this piece are his own. View more opinion on CNN.CNN — 

One of the biggest self-inflicted political wounds of former President Donald Trump’s first years in office was how the Republican Party handled health care. It would later be overshadowed by the Trump administration’s initial response to the pandemic, two impeachments and political violence on January 6, but it’s worth remembering as well.

After years of railing against the Affordable Care Act, and pledging to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” Trump endorsed a Republican effort to unwind the health care law in a rushed and haphazard process.

Patrick T. Brown

Patrick T. BrownCourtesy Patrick T. Brown

Trust in the GOP’s health care plan sank, the lack of preparation became clear, and after the late Sen. John McCain gave a final thumbs-down to the effort in the summer of 2017, the party largely slunk away from the topic.

This is a mistake. Health care spending makes up about 18% of our national GDP (by some estimates, twice as much per person as peer nations), and the complexity and expense of the US health care system weighs on families’ minds. Republicans who allow Democrats to be the one party associated with solutions on health care will find — as in the midterms of 2018 — that the lack of a proactive approach to health care will be punished by voters.

For his part, a recent post on TruthSocial suggests Trump is still interested in returning to the fight to repeal Obamacare. “The cost of Obamacare is out of control, plus, it’s not good Healthcare. I’m seriously looking at alternatives,” he wrote. The response from senators who represent different parts of the Republication coalition — from Maine’s Susan Collins and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy to Ohio’s J.D. Vance — demonstrate how little appetite there is among most elected Republicans for revisiting that fight.

Indeed, while the GOP is fragmented in all sorts of ways, proactive and positive conversations about how to make the US health care system better are quietly occurring away from cable news spotlights.

From scholars like Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity President Avik Roy to Ed Dolan of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian-rooted think tank in Washington, DC, the conversation has decidedly shifted from repealing Obamacare to figuring out what to do next. The GOP should welcome that pivot.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is pursued by reporters as he walks to his office at the U.S. Capitol Nov. 13, 2023. (Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images)

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There are two tracks along which a Republican approach to health care that goes beyond a content-free strategy of “repeal and replace” is developing. The one that has the best chance of appealing to the conservative coalition of today embraces a version of supply-side thinking for the 21st century. “Supply-side” thinking gets a bad rap, associated with tax cuts and theories of “trickle-down economics.”

But in an expensive sector of the economy, like health care, taking steps to increase the supply of options facing consumers can actually help the market function more smoothly. And this way of thinking can appeal to traditional Republicans and more populist types as well. Applying classic conservative principles of a limited government and appreciating the power of markets should mean repealing some of the policies that are in the way of a supply-side approach to health care.

Part of the reason prices for health care services are high is because of anti-competitive behavior by hospitalsdrug makersphysicians and health systems, who know that limiting supply and competition in the industry is a safe bet for increasing profits. As a business strategy, it’s logical, but it doesn’t mean policymakers should play along.

One of the most egregious examples of this thinking is “Certificate of Need” laws, a relic of the 1970s that require new health care facilities to obtain permission from state agencies, who are often influenced by incumbent stakeholders, to open. As Aubrey Wursten of the Independent Women’s Forum recently reported, only 15 states have fully repealed laws that restrict competition in health care in this way.

There are other examples of policy-created impingements on allowing the health care market to work better. As policy analyst Robert Orr wrote, fears of a “physician surplus” lead to an artificial cap on medical school enrollments.

A poster in support of nurses hangs at a nurses station on a Covid-19 patent care floor at Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Hospital on January 6, 2021 in the Willowbrook neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. - Deep within a South Los Angeles hospital, a row of elderly Hispanic men in induced comas lay hooked up to ventilators, while nurses clad in spacesuit-looking respirators checked their bleeping monitors in the eerie silence. The intensive care unit in one of the city's poorest districts is well accustomed to death, but with Los Angeles now at the heart of the United States' Covid pandemic, medics say they have never seen anything on this scale. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

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In 2020, he found that “the number of practicing physicians per person in the United States is lower than in just about any other developed country.” On top of that, physicians groups like the American Medical Association lobby against laws that would allow nurses and physician’s assistants to perform a wider array of routine tasks, ensuring less competition for these procedures.

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Policymakers should push for greater competition by allowing skilled nurses and physicians assistants to perform routine tasks, as well as exploring greater funding for seats in medical schools, revisiting the length and structure of medical schools or allowing more medical professionals from overseas to practice in the US.

More recently, the Affordable Care Act accelerated a growing wave of hospital consolidations and anti-competitive behavior from major health systems. Republicans, traditionally the party that tended to defer to big business, have increasingly signaled frustration at hospitals and doctors’ groups they see as on the wrong side of Covid-19 policies and the culture war.

Supporting efforts, like the bipartisan legislation from Republican Reps. Michael Burgess from Texas, Drew Ferguson from Georgia, and Democratic Rep Debbie Dingell from Michigan to investigate the effects of these mergers should be an easy lift for many Republicans, even the most politically risk-averse ones.

The second track where Republican health care policy thinking is developing is a long-term project. A recent report by the Washington-based consultancy Baron Public Affairs traces some of the health care ideas and principles percolating among the so-called “New Right.” As evidenced by Vance’s interest in making childbirth more affordable, younger and more ideologically flexible, Republicans are looking for ways to make health care more family-friendly.

Their assessment of trends among younger conservatives suggests a growing realization that even with insurance, health care costs and complexity causes too many headaches for too many Americans. As the report notes, “A straightforward step toward improving health care for workers and their families could be making the health care experience — especially billing and customer service — simpler and easier to understand.”

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This would require more aggressive https://sisipkan.com regulation and willingness to buck the interests of the health care industry than most elected Republicans have the stomach for now.

Even some of the more modest pro-competition moves face the headwinds of a status quo bias and the unavoidable reality that major industry groups for policies that push costs upward without making health care better — and those groups tend to be generous campaign donors.

America’s convoluted system of health insurance and health care could stand a ground-up reform, but as the political backlash to the — in all, fairly modest — reforms in the Affordable Care Act suggest, that day will be a very long time coming.

In the meantime, Republicans will suffer politically if they return to the messaging of repealing Obamacare. And more importantly, health care will continue to be an albatross around their neck if they aren’t able to offer some solutions that can make finding and paying for health care less of a pain in the neck for individuals and families.

Opinion: Elon Musk’s Israel tour was transparently transactional and insulting

Elon Musk’s Israel tour was transparently transactional and frankly insulting, argues Jill Filipovic.

Elon Musk’s Israel tour was transparently transactional and frankly insulting, argues Jill Filipovic.Kirsty Wigglesworth/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.CNN — 

Elon Musk is trying to make amends, or at least do damage control, after endorsing an antisemitic post on his platform X, formerly Twitter. Musk, however, isn’t actually adequately apologizing or doing much of anything to address his own repeated vile actions or the bigotry that has overtaken X since he took the helm.

Jill Filipovic

Jill FilipovicCourtesy of Jill Filipovic

This week, he paid a visit to Israel, a nation in the midst of a bloody war, to prove, as he put it, that “actions speak louder than words.”

Unfortunately for Musk, both his actions and his words are odious.

Musk’s latest problem started when an X user addressed antisemites on the platform, posting, “To the cowards hiding behind the anonymity of the internet and posting ‘Hitler was right’: You got something you want to say? Why dont (sic) you say it to our faces ….”

Another responded: “Okay. Jewish communties (sic) have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them. I’m deeply disinterested in giving the tiniest s*** now about western Jewish populations coming to the disturbing realization that those hordes of minorities that support flooding their country don’t exactly like them too much.”

In response, Musk replied, “You have said the actual truth.”

And then he went further, saying that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “unjustly attacks the majority of the West,“ by calling out antisemitism. Musk claimed: “This is because [the ADL] cannot, by their own tenets, criticize the minority groups who are their primary threat.”

A view of a lap top showing the Twitter signing in page displaying the new logo, in Belgrade, Serbia, on Monday, July 24, 2023.

Opinion: Musk could now be in charge of a complete brand blowout for Twitter

Jewish groups quickly pointed out that the statement Musk endorsed as “the actual truth” is actually a version of a racist conspiracy theory. The idea is that Jews are letting immigrant invaders into the country to strip Whites of their power and destroy White culture.

And it’s not just some bigots bantering on social media. This ugly “Great Replacement” theory has been behind mass shootings that have targeted specific racial or ethnic groups, including at a grocery store in Buffalo that killed 10 Black shoppers and employees.

The backlash to Musk’s comments on X was swift: Advertisers pulled their campaigns from X, and Musk came under international criticism.

And so, off to Israel he went, to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tour a kibbutz that was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7 and meet some of the family members of the hostages taken by Hamas that day. Musk and Netanyahu had a live conversation on X, during which Musk, referring to Hamas, said, “Those who are intent on murder must be neutralized. Then the propaganda must stop.”

He added that Gaza must be made “prosperous,” and “If (all) that happens, I think it will be a good future,” noting that he’d “love to help.”

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Musk’s Israel tour was transparently transactional and frankly insulting. The antisemitic sentiment Musk endorsed had nothing to do with Israel; “replacement theory” is generally an unsupported allegation that Jews and other immigrants in the US and Europe are destroying Western civilization.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters about avoiding a government shutdown and launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, following a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Meeting with a billionaire on a reputation-saving mission should certainly be pretty low on the list of priorities for Israeli leaders, who, at this particular moment, are still negotiating the return of dozens of Israelis are being held hostage by Hamas, and overseeing a devastating war in Gaza that has killed thousands of innocent civilians and displaced countless more. A chat with Musk and a personal tour of Hamas’ devastation seems like it could have waited.

A tour of Israel in the middle of a war doesn’t even come close to solving the root problem of antisemitism — and it shouldn’t absolve Musk of responsibility for his own words and actions.

Under Musk’s leadership, X has turned into a swamp of prejudice and bigotry. Known neo-Nazi and white supremacists have had their accounts reinstated. Members of the Islamic State returned to the platform and some QAnon conspiracy theorists have been allowed to pay for verification badges on the site.

In the months after Musk’s takeover, hate speech on the site surged: Anti-Black racial slurs tripled, and antisemitic posts increased by 61%, according to a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). Musk’s response? He sued the CCDH.

“X is a free public service funded largely by advertisers,” X said in a blog post about the lawsuit. “Through the CCDH’s scare campaign and its ongoing pressure on brands to prevent the public’s access to free expression, the CCDH is actively working to prevent public dialogue.”

Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of Twitter, gestures as he attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023.

Opinion: ‘Elon Musk’ perpetuates this toxic myth about genius

This month, the progressive watchdog group Media Matters published a report showing that a number of ads were displayed alongside antisemitic and pro-Nazi posts on X. Musk’s response to that report? He sued Media Matters.

Earlier this year, the ADL published a report documenting an increase in antisemitic content on X under Musk’s ownership. Musk threatened to sue them, too, blaming the organization for a huge drop in X’s ad sales.

Musk has compromised his “free speech absolutism,” not to make significant efforts to ban White supremacists and neo-Nazis, but to prevent terms widely adopted by the pro-Palestinian movement, including “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea,” from being used on X.

Many people find these terms deeply offensive when applied to Israel, as they suggest an end to the Jewish state and the likely expulsion of millions of Jews from the region. But it’s pretty rich to ban these words after endorsing antisemitism. And richer still to see a number of opportunists and enablers allow Musk to continue with this farce. Netanyahu is simply the most recent. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is another: Even though his own organization documented pervasive antisemitism on X and Musk threatened to sue them for exposing it, Greenblatt nevertheless responded to the “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea” ban by applauding Musk for his “leadership in fighting hate.”

Musk has not yet bothered to issue an apology,https://kasikan12.com or take any responsibility whatsoever for his statements or his company’s antisemitism problem. He has, however, found time to post more vile content on X.

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This is nothing new. Musk has a long history of making bigoted statements, or supporting the bigoted statements of others. He seems to hold a special ire for George Soros, the Hungarian financier and philanthropist who survived Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Soros has become the subject of a great many far-right and antisemitic conspiracy theories. Musk has compared Soros to a Jewish supervillain, and has said he hates humanity and “wants to erode the very fabric of civilization.”

After “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams went on a racist rant in which he said Black Americans were a “hate group” who people should “get the hell away” from, Musk defended him, tweeting that the “media is racist.” Later, he added that while Adams’s comments “weren’t good,” they did express an “element of truth.”

There’s that word from Musk again: “Truth.” He is proving to us, over and over again, that what he believes to be true is profoundly ugly, bigoted and false. We should listen, and understand that the world’s richest man is saying exactly what he means.

Opinion: Why crypto was the perfect tool for criminals and kleptocrats

FILE PHOTO: Representation of cryptocurrency Binance Coin, the native token of the cryptocurrency exchange, is seen in this illustration taken November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Representation of cryptocurrency Binance Coin, the native token of the cryptocurrency exchange.Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Editor’s Note: Casey Michel is the author of “American Kleptocracy: How the US Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History,” and is at work on a book investigating foreign lobbying in Washington. The views expressed in this piece are his own. View more opinion on CNN.CNN — 

The news last week of money laundering charges against crypto exchange Binance and its CEO, Changpeng Zhao, sent shockwaves through both financial markets and crypto consumers alike. And understandably so. Before Binance’s settlement with US authorities, the company represented 60% of the market for crypto spot trading. And Zhao himself, as the Wall Street Journal noted, was the so-called “king” of crypto.

Casey Michel

Casey Michelcourtesy Versha Sharma

No more. With US authorities slapping more than $4 billion in penalties against the company, Binance risks becoming a shell of its former self. And Zhao joins a roster of once-feted crypto chiefs who have since fallen from grace.

But while many pieces of analysis have focused on what this means for the future of the crypto industry itself — or whether the industry can even recover from such stupendous scandals — observers risk missing the forest for the trees about what good news this settlement is. American authorities’ moves against Binance and Zhao illustrate that Washington is finally taking the threat of trans-national money laundering in crypto seriously — and that the US is finally focused on tackling one of the favorite tools that kleptocrats, oligarchs and dictators around the world rely on to launder their wealthevade sanctions and bankroll everything from terrorism to anti-democratic crusades.

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Just look at what Binance and Zhao were accused of, and who they are accused of enabling.  American authorities alleged that the crypto giant allowed terrorist financing for Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, along with child sex abuse and narcotics transactions. American authorities uncovered networks connected to Russian illicit finance, as well as to sanctioned Iranian entities.

Taken in total, the details are shocking. But for those familiar with the history of modern money laundering, they’re hardly surprising. Binance may be the biggest crypto house exposed, but it is simply the latest in a long line of financial institutions whose lack of money laundering oversight — and willingness to look the other way — has drawn in staggering amounts of illicit wealth and attracted the world’s leading criminal rings and kleptocratic regimes.

Indicted FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves the United States Courthouse in New York City, U.S., July 26, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

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If anything, this is a pattern that we’ve seen time and again over the past few decades, and one that’s hardly unique to crypto. Whenever an industry emerges without sufficient money laundering controls, it begins sucking up illicit finance, laundering untold wealth in the process — and often leading to spectacular scandal as a result.

Take the American banking sector, for instance. In the late 20th century, US banks were an effective free-for-all, with no internal money laundering controls — giving everyone from dictators to terrorist organizations reason to turn to US banks to hide and launder their wealth. It was only after the September 11th attacks — and questions about how the hijackers used the American banking system to finance their attack — that legislators passed the Patriot Act, which effectively cleaned up US banks, forcing them to conduct basic due diligence on customers’ funds.

Or look at American real estate. Thanks to an exemption from money laundering checks — an exemption that was supposed to be “temporary,” but which has remained in place for more than two decades — US real estate has ballooned into a go-to vehicle for the world’s leading oligarchs and kleptocrats. Over and again, everything from Manhattan high-rises to Malibu beachfronts to Midwest manufacturing plants have allegedly housed illicit wealth, easily and anonymously. Only in recent years have US officials finally moved toward cleaning up the industry.

Other industries, from private equity and hedge funds to auction houses and the art market, have followed similar patterns. And now, thanks to US authorities’ actions, it appears to be crypto’s turn.

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In a certain sense, this was always inevitable. Crypto’s ethos, after all, wasn’t just to make transactions more secure, but also to offer anonymity to anyone who wanted it, all as a means of evading those trying to track funds. And to be sure, many populations targeted by repressive governments rely on crypto to bankroll their efforts and deal with crises.

But crypto was also, https://juswortele.com/ in many ways, the perfect tool for kleptocrats and criminals trying to dodge sanctions and duck investigators. (As one Binance staffer wrote, the company should have a banner that says, “is washing drug money too hard these days – come to binance we got cake for you.”) And since dirty money is always looking to be washed clean, it’s no surprise that the titan of the crypto world allegedly attracted the most nefarious groups and regimes around the world.

Now, though, those heady days appear to be coming to a close. Like banks, real estate and more before it, the best days of the crypto industry as a haven for money laundering may yet be behind it. All it took was for American authorities to finally recognize that the industry’s transformation into a sieve for illicit wealth made it the best friend for kleptocrats and terrorists around the world.

Meeting someone with radically different views from mine taught me this important lesson

A man puts his arm around a friend during a conversation.

The importance of engaging thoughtfully with those who hold a different opinion from us.fotostorm/E+/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Keith Magee is senior fellow and visiting professor in cultural justice at University College London Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. He is the author of “Prophetic Justice: Essays and Reflections on Race, Religion and Politics.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.CNN — 

It was a car ride that changed my life.

I took an Uber in Cleveland, Ohio, years ago focused only on getting to my destination, and found myself quite by chance being driven by a man whose politics were radically opposed to my own.

Keith Magee

Keith MageeArron Dunworth

I might have been tempted to sit in silence or to climb out of the car, but I did something else instead: I canceled my plans and paid him for an extra hour so he could park and explain to me why he was a fervent Donald Trump supporter.

I came away with a better understanding of the fears and hopes that motivated my driver, and a strong sense of human connection despite the gulf between us. For his part, he was moved that an “opponent” cared enough to listen to him. It was a moment that crystallized for me the profound power of empathy.

I think of that encounter from time to time as I ponder the unspeakable violence of the war raging in the Middle East. I’m neither Jewish nor Muslim but like many Americans, I’ve been aghast at the loss of life resulting from the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas terrorists and Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza. I’m also heartbroken to witness the profound pain of my Jewish and Muslim friends and their growing fears for their own safety.

In cities around the world, people, appalled by the deaths of so many innocent civilians on both sides, have taken part in protest marches, some of which have been overtly pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli — often accompanied by heated discourse and frequently met by equally heated counterprotests.

Jews and Arabs in many countries say they’re frightened of repercussions from the war, and many of us around the US are also increasingly alarmed as we witness the growing polarization within our own country. Intolerance was already on the rise but the events of the past two months have sent it into overdrive.

A Palestinian woman sits on debris in her damaged apartment in the Khezaa district on the outskirts of the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis, as a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas entered its second day on November 25. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

Opinion: A perfectly reasonable, highly unrealistic path to peace

Increasingly, we are living in a tinderbox: Widespread antisemitism and Islamophobia, specters of equal horror that we once believed — naively perhaps — that we might have conquered, are once again rearing their ugly heads. One of the most unnerving acts of violence occurred last week when three Palestinian college students were shot in Burlington, Vermont, in an assault the local police chief has called “a hateful act.”

It’s worth noting that in the US, protests take place against a unique backdrop. On one hand, our presidents and their administrations historically wield a great deal of influence in the Middle East. Indirectly, therefore, public opinion in the US seems likely to have some potential impact on the Israeli government’s actions. When you know that, joining a protest can feel like a moral imperative.

But taking to the streets to express your views is one thing; engaging thoughtfully with those who hold a different opinion is another thing altogether.

A recent Pew Research Center poll reported that a majority of Americans are finding it more and more “stressful and frustrating” to discuss politics with people with whom they don’t agree. Faced with divisive issues, we have become accustomed to rushing to declare our allegiance to one of two sides.

It was a moment that crystallized for me the profound power of empathy.”

Many of us are, inevitably, passionately for or against abortion rights, same-sex marriage, gun control or the teaching of Black history. And some of us are stridently pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel, as if it’s impossible to feel deep compassion and sorrow for the victims on both sides of that tragedy.

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Too often, those on one side or the other of a given divide seem to believe not just that they are right, but that those who hold opposing views are wrong. Worse than that, in their view, those who think differently from them are bad. And if they are deemed to be bad, some people are bound to think that they are somehow not fully human. But as the late Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.”

As a nation, we have watched polarization poison our discourse and have failed to stop it. We could have boycotted shamelessly partisan news channels, shunned public debates that turned nasty and refused to participate in demonizing the other camp. We could have invested heavily in evidence-based national programs that help people find common ground, taking inspiration from the work of organizations that foster connection across partisan lines such as Braver Angels or multi-faith nonprofits like Interfaith America.

Instead of arguing about which books should be banned, we could have insisted that every school child be taught how to empathize with classmates. We could have made it compulsory for universities to provide brave spaces where students could practice listening to each other and learn how to disagree with others while still recognizing their interlocutors’ humanity.

But we have done none of those things on the scale that is needed. And then we find ourselves ill-equipped to respond to an emotionally-wrenching, highly polarizing conflict like the one roiling the Middle East.

Hani Almadhoun with his family in Gaza, during a visit over summer. His nephews Omar (next to Hani) and Ali (closest to camera) were among those who died during airstrikes last week.

Opinion: In Gaza, my 71-year-old mom watches over the rubble encasing her family

By mid-November, 82% of Americans were https://darsalas.com concerned that the Israel-Hamas war would lead to an increase in hate crimes here, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/ Marist poll. And it turns out that they were justified in their fears.

We are incredibly lucky to live in a democracy where we enjoy freedom of speech, have the right to peaceful protest and can hope to shift the dial of our country’s foreign policy. Posting online, debating and marching are key tenets of a free society. Hate speech of any kind, however, is not. Our only protection against bigotry is empathy.

The cries of a terrified Israeli child are indistinguishable from the cries of a terrified Palestinian child. The agony of a parent who loses a son or daughter is identical — anguish sounds like anguish. You don’t have to condone violence on either side to be able to imagine the pain of both Israelis and Palestinians.

If you feel compassion for the suffering of civilians in a distant land and are so moved by their plight that you paint a placard and join a protest march demanding peace, that is an act of remarkable empathy. You have that response in common with your fellow citizens who turn out for the counterprotest — it can even be a starting point from which to make the effort to listen to each other.

If solidarity with one minority group comes at the expense of another because of a failure of empathy, that would be a betrayal of our history. Here in America, the struggle for freedom and justice for marginalized groups has a long, proud history. Allyship has played a vital role in the fight for equality, with members of one minority often supporting those from another. By working closely and publicly with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stirred many members of the Jewish community to support the civil rights movement in which Black Muslims, including Malcolm X, also played a crucial role.

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In recent weeks, we have seen some inspirational examples of “opposing” factions coming together to lobby for peace. Despite backlash from other sections of their own community, some Jewish groups have marched alongside pro-Palestinian protesters to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. American Muslim and Jewish members of organizations that seek to build bridges between communities, such as the Interfaith Encounter Association, are finding comfort in sharing their common grief, an exchange that starts with their shared feelings of mutual humanity. It’s all been a powerful reminder, as I saw with that Uber driver years ago, that conversations can help lead divided parties, if not to change their minds, then at least to open their hearts.

While I pray for a lasting peace for the Israelis and Palestinians, I also hope that we Americans will refuse to accept further division at home and will instead instigate the empathy revolution we so badly need before it’s too late. Only by valuing all human life equally can we combat hate wherever we find it.

Ukraine’s US lifeline is hanging by a thinning thread

Biden and Putin

President Joe Biden, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.Getty Images/FILECNN — 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grim bet that America and the West will tire of his brutal war before he does is looking better by the day.

Nearly seven weeks after President Joe Biden asked Congress for $60 billion to top up Kyiv’s arms and ammunition lifeline — along with another $14 billion for Israel — nothing has happened. In a grave blow to its prospects, Ukraine aid has now been embroiled by Republicans in a separate imbroglio over immigration. The impasse, along with dwindling prospects that Congress will act before the holidays, sparked remarkable warnings by the White House on Monday that heralded a critical moment in the war.

“We’re running out of money, and we are nearly out of time,” Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. The toughening of administration rhetoric suggested that any lawmaker who opposed funding was on the Russian leader’s side. “A vote against supporting Ukraine is a vote to improve (Vladimir) Putin’s strategic position,” he said.

Sullivan’s comments came after Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned House Speaker Mike Johnson in a letter that “cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield, not only putting at risk the gains Ukraine has made, but increasing the likelihood of Russian military victories.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova also pleaded for lawmakers not to desert her country. “After we have won so much, we cannot lose it now,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We are all praying and hoping for additional support from the American people.”

Can the US really promise to be with Ukraine for as long as it takes?

The alarmist tone raised the question of whether the administration’s frustration was a political tactic designed to jolt Congress into action or reflects genuine concern that the US pipeline of military aid sustaining Ukraine’s resistance is really under threat. Given the failure of Congress and, especially the chaotic House GOP majority, of fulfilling even the most basic duties of government, anxiety verging on panic might be justified in the West Wing.

Rising doubts over the US commitment coincide with a bitter winter beckoning in which Russia is expected to again target Ukrainian civilians and the power plants that keep them warm. There are new signs that Moscow has been able to reconstitute a rebound in its depleted forces and armaments and is deploying new missiles and drones from allies like North Korea and Iran. Israel’s war on Hamas, meanwhile, has overshadowed Ukraine in recent weeks – a situation about which President Volodymyr Zelensky has fretted publicly in recent days.

While Ukraine’s survival is at stake, so is the reputation of the United States as a global leader. Only two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Kyiv and publicly told Zelensky, “We will remain with you for the long-haul.” But can the US really honor that vow, both in the short-term Ukraine funding fight and given the possibility that former President Donald Trump, who is hostile to Ukraine and always curries favor with Putin, has a good chance of returning to the White House if he wins the GOP nomination next year?

The idea that Washington would abandon a democratic, sovereign nation fighting off an invasion plotted by the Kremlin would once have been unthinkable. Such a move would not only shatter Western resolve in Ukraine; it could send a signal to adversaries like Russia and China that US security guarantees to allies mean nothing elsewhere in the world. But the shift in the GOP’s worldview – away from its internationalist roots and toward an isolationist “America First” stance favored by Trump – has changed assumptions about US power. The political forces that could reshape the world in a Trump second term are already at play in Washington, especially in the House, and are threatening to transform US foreign policy.

Supporters of continued aid to Ukraine warn that Putin is watching. Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, who serves on the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, said at the Halifax International Security Forum last month that “Vladimir Putin, I have reason to believe … believes he’s going to win this war by outlasting us.” Risch added: “They watch every word that is uttered in the United States, in Canada, and with our other allies, from the dissenters, not the vast majority of people who support this.”

Ret. US Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges echoed that sense that Moscow is following every move in the US Congress. “The big test of will is between the Kremlin and Western capitals — Washington, Berlin, Paris, London and others,” Hodges said on a briefing organized last week by Spirit of America, a non-profit group that works alongside troops and diplomats to promote US values.

America’s domestic turmoil threatens its global leadership

The same divisive political forces that have turned Congress into a dead end and are fostering the possibility of a second Trump term have combined to threaten the American bankrolling of Ukraine’s resistance.

Right-wing Republicans are demanding a package of hardline immigration policy changes at the southern border in exchange for funding Ukraine that are unacceptable to Senate Democrats. Johnson may struggle to retain his tenuous hold on his job if he uses Democratic votes to pass a Ukraine funding package. And there is little common ground or trust between the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate. Biden’s crumbling approval ratings are limiting his capacity to sell continued massive aid to Ukraine to a public that is becoming more skeptical amid daily struggles in the US, including over high food prices.

Ukraine’s failure to turn its long-promised counter-offensive into concrete gains has, meanwhile, led skeptics of more aid to ask whether it’s being used effectively and how long the war would last. Johnson has, for instance, complained that the administration has not offered a plan for victory in Ukraine or a path to resolving the conflict. These are reasonable concerns given that billions of dollars of taxpayer cash is being used in the aid effort. Yet the situation in Ukraine hardly lends itself to the answers that Johnson seeks. Putin, with his high tolerance for enormous Russian casualties, looks ready to fight a war of attrition to bleed his enemy dry and to await political change in the US and Europe that will slowly strangle Ukraine’s military. Russia and Ukraine have in reality been at war for more than a decade already – since Putin annexed Crimea, a Ukrainian territory, in 2014. As the war grinds into a stalemate, neither Russia nor Ukraine are anywhere near a negotiation on ending it, given that the stakes for both are so high in avoiding defeat.

The Ukraine aid package is now caught in the most intractable US political issue — immigration.

Biden requested $13.6 billion for security at the US-Mexico border, alongside his Israel and Ukraine aid requests, in a bid to ease passage of the measure, which also includes $7.4 billion for Taiwan. But Republicans want policy changes, as well as new funding. In the House, they are pushing for new laws based on H.R. 2, a bill that would encode many of Trump’s hardline immigration policies as well as changes to asylum law. And a bipartisan group of senators has spent several weeks seeking a compromise, but there were conflicting reports Monday on whether their talks had broken down.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will amp up pressure on Senate Republicans who favor more aid to Ukraine but are hostage to the the pro-Trump base of their party. He plans to bring a Ukraine-Israel aid package to the floor this week for a vote without immigration measures included. And he announced that Zelensky will make a remote appearance on Tuesday at a Senate classified briefing.

“America’s national security is https://surinamecop.com on the line around the world, in Europe, in the Middle East, in the Indo-Pacific, autocrats, dictators are waging war against democracy, against our values, against our way of life,” the New York Democrat said. “We are at a moment in history.”

But a group of Republican senators who normally back Ukraine aid signaled Monday they couldn’t move forward without immigration changes attached to the measure. Texas Sen. John Cornyn warned, for instance, that “our security cannot come second to that of other countries around the world, our allies, even those like Ukraine and Israel.”

Given broad support for Ukraine in the Senate, it seems likely some messy compromise will emerge. But the unpredictability and instability of the GOP-controlled House means an aid package faces a deeply uncertain fate. The GOP majority still hasn’t passed normally routine bills — like one funding the US Defense Department, for instance. And while the chamber did back an Israel funding bill, it was weighed down with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, which Senate Democrats oppose – a sign of how House Republicans are geared more to partisan messaging than governing or preserving US power and influence abroad.

The coming danger for Ukraine is that it will get dragged even further into a government funding fight that is looming for January and February. And even before the result of the 2024 election is known, it’s clear that there are no longer any guarantees that US billions will be there for however long the war lasts.

And all the while in Moscow, Putin is watching and waiting.

In Southeast Asia, the horror of Kissinger’s explosive legacy goes on

A US B-52 bomber flies over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

An American B-52 bomber flies over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.Bettmann Archive/Getty ImagesHong KongCNN — 

Fifty years after Henry Kissinger drove American foreign policy in Southeast Asia, the region continues to live with the fallout from the bombing and military campaigns backed by the former secretary of state, who died last week.

In Cambodia, unexploded ordnance left over from Vietnam War-era carpet bombings, orchestrated by Kissinger and President Richard Nixon, are among the remnants of war that continue to kill and maim adults and children, year after year.

The country of roughly 17 million is also still recovering from the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, the brutal, ousted government that experts say gained recruits buoyed by desperation in the country after the relentless American assaults.

“(Before the Americans) the countryside of Cambodia had never been bombed out … but (then) something would drop from the sky without warning and suddenly … explode the entire village,” said Youk Chhang, executive director of the Phnom Penh-based Documentation Center of Cambodia.

“When your village is bombed and you were told that it’s some Americans that dropped the bomb and when you lost your sister, your brothers, your parents … what is your choice? Be a victim and die by the bomb or fight back,” said Chhang, himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge’s notorious “killing fields,” whose organization now documents the legacy of the genocidal regime.

Even today, the generation born after the Khmer Rouge may largely not be aware of the names or legacy or Kissinger and Nixon, Chhang added, “but (they know) the history of the B52 (bombers) and the American involvement in Cambodia.”

Kissinger’s death at the age of 100 last week has placed back into the spotlight the actions of the controversial titan of American diplomacy, with some of the starkest critiques coming from Southeast Asia, where the US was already at war when Nixon took office in 1969.

Kissinger, who served as his national security advisor and later secretary of state, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his role brokering a ceasefire that ended US involvement in the war in Vietnam – and came on the heels of heavy US bombing across northern Vietnam.

But documents declassified in recent decades have shown an unvarnished picture of the closed-door calculations that saw Kissinger and Nixon ramping up covert bombings across Cambodia and extending a secret war in Laos as they sought to choke off North Vietnamese supply lines and quash Communist movements in the countries.

It’s not known how many people died during this time in Cambodia and Laos, which were officially neutral in the war, but historians say the number could be well over 150,000 in Cambodia alone.

Documents have also revealed what analysts say was the role of Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford and Kissinger in signaling America’s approval of Indonesian President Suharto’s bloody 1975 invasion of East Timor, estimated to have left at least 100,000 dead.

“Kissinger and Nixon saw the world in terms of getting the kinds of outcomes that they wanted – people who were in weaker or marginalized positions, they didn’t really matter that much. So the fact that they were made unwilling pawns, the fact that they became literally cannon fodder, was of no consequence,” said political scientist Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

“This sort of action does have a cost on the US more broadly – a lot of the continuing skepticism and suspicion about the US and US intentions was born out of actions such as what Kissinger and Nixon had engaged in.”

Casualties continue

From October 1965 to August 1973, the United States dropped at least 2,756,941 tons of ordnance over Cambodia, a country roughly the size of the US state of Missouri. That’s more than the Allies dropped during World War II, according to an account by Yale University historian Ben Kiernan.

Such ordnance in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, as well as landmines and other explosives from the decades of conflict that followed in the destabilized region, continue to pose a grave risk to people living there.

20221216-Vietnam-War-US-B52-illo

‘Like walking on missiles’: US airman recalls the horror of the Vietnam ‘Christmas bombings’ 50 years on

Nearly 20,000 people have been killed by mines and unexploded ordnance between 1979 and this past August in Cambodia, with more than 65,000 injured or killed since 1979, according to government data. Most of those casualties are from landmines, but more than a fifth are victims of other kinds of leftover explosives, which include those from American campaigns, experts say.

During the first eight months of this year, four people were killed, 14 injured, and 8 needed amputations due to explosives, according to government data. Experts say the devastation – which is especially acute for people in rural areas – will go on for years to come.

“Twenty, thirty percent of everything shot fired and dropped from an airplane doesn’t work … we’re going to be dealing with that stuff over here for probably 100 years. That’s Kissinger’s legacy,” said Bill Morse, president of the nonprofit Landmine Relief Fund, which supports organizations including Cambodia Self-Help Demining.

That group works not just to diffuse explosives, but also train people to recognize them. Morse says children across the country are often familiar with how to identify landmines largely planted from years of regional fighting, but may be less aware of the range of unexploded ordnance, often from American operations, which continue to drive injuries and deaths.

“In the eastern part of the country, kids find cluster munitions that were dropped by (the US). They play catch with it and it blows up 10 year old children … (unexploded ordnance) are where the injuries are coming from now,” he said.

US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Vietnamese politician and diplomat Le Duc Tho at the signing the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, which ended US involvement in the war.

US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Vietnamese politician and diplomat Le Duc Tho at the signing the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, which ended US involvement in the war.MPI/Getty Images

Disputed legacy

Kissinger is widely seen as shrugging https://clasicccop.com off responsibility for wartime decisions and the toll of the campaign in Cambodia, which government documents indicate he helped devise. One journal entry from Nixon’s chief of staff describes Kissinger as “really excited” as the bombing campaign got underway in 1969.

In a 2014 interview with American radio broadcaster NPR, the diplomat deflected criticism when asked about the bombings in Cambodia and Laos, instead arguing that the B-52 campaigns were less deadly for civilians than the drone attacks in the Middle East ordered by US President Barack Obama.

“The decisions that were taken would almost certainly have been taken by those of you who are listening, faced with the same set of problems. And you would have done them with anguish, as we did them with anguish,” he said at the time.

Today, in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia government-run agencies and other groups continue to work to remove explosive remnants of war, with experts saying the US government has become the world’s biggest funder of unexploded ordinance and landmine clearance in the world.

But aid groups who are also working on the issue say that the US and other countries shouldn’t lose sight of the on-going consequences of conflict in the region.

“There is particular concern that funding for dealing with the aftermath of historic conflicts in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the world might be jeopardized if funds are diverted to address new conflict-related crises,” a spokesperson from the United Kingdom-based Mines Advisory Group, which clears explosives in countries including Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, told CNN.

“The global community has a moral responsibility to all those in the world whose lives continue to be blighted by the impact of wars that ended before many of them were even born.”