Thursday, December 19th, 2019


Look What You Made Me Do

NextDraft is off through Hanukkah, Night 4 (also knows as Xmas) . Today's stories are framed with a look at the past decade.

I'm so worn out after a year of political news, that I'm leading with a story about Taylor Swift. Well, Taylor Swift specifically, but also the arc of pop culture over the past decade. "Time and again Swift strategically read and rode the decade's cultural waves, deciding not just which trends and genres to jump on but, perhaps more importantly, what to pass on. As pop music became feud-centric reality television, there was Taylor; as stan culture transformed the way listeners interacted with performers (and each other), there was Taylor; as artists' rights in the streaming era entered the conversation, there was Taylor; as politics infiltrated music, there was (sort of, eventually) Taylor." Pier Dominguez in Buzzfeed: Taylor Swift And The End Of An Era. "Even as reality TV stars like the Kardashians and Real Housewives were figuring out how to create multiplatform storytelling through social media, Swift was already pioneering the strategy in the big pop machine. Yes, she opportunistically used this to shame exes, create fodder for talk shows, and garner magazine covers; and even then, it raised some hackles about the way she was using her power. But it was undeniably compelling theater, and even nonfans were watching." (While Taylor Swift was arguably the artist of the decade, she definitely wrote some decade defining lyrics: "You are somebody that I don't know. But you're takin' shots at me like it's Patrón. And I'm just like, damn, it's 7 AM. Say it in the street, that's a knock-out. But you say it in a Tweet, that's a cop-out. And I'm just like, 'Hey, are you okay?' ... You need to calm down.")


Splitting Headache

Venessa Wong: The Great Recession Broke The American Economy. We Still Haven't Fixed It. "Only a very small number of potential items on the national agenda actually come to dominate our political life. And at the opening of the decade, it looked unclear that economic inequality would be one of them. In 2011, the Occupy movement came and went — an inchoate venting of collective anger that seemed to disappear without a trace. Yet it shaped the Dickensian lens through which we viewed the rest of the 2010s. Inequality has become the centerpiece of American national politics." (Not just American politics. Income inequality is the fuel that drove the world's top storylines over the past decade, and one assumes the next decade as well.)


White Knuckled Grip

"The barrage of daily headlines makes it easy to see this year's incidents as isolated, as white noise in the background of our relentless political moment. But as disturbing as they are, these images portray the American story. It is our inheritance, institutionalized since the Civil War by a government that only recently, and tentatively, began to address domestic terrorism for what it is. White nationalism, legitimized by our president's support of 'very fine people,' has flourished in part because of this refusal to look it squarely in its face and acknowledge it as homegrown. Without a full accounting of the reality, there can be no remedy. To look away is a form of collaboration." A photo essay from NY Mag: This Is America. (Make no mistake about it, this was an unthinkably powerful decade for white supremacists; even the most optimistic members of the group never could have imagined a president saying "very fine people on both sides" or a guy like Stephen Miller pulling the strings in the White House.)


Track My Package

"One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices' owners to the residences indefinitely. If you lived in one of the cities the dataset covers and use apps that share your location — anything from weather apps to local news apps to coupon savers — you could be in there, too. If you could see the full trove, you might never use your phone the same way again." At the end of a decade when we embraced the tools and tech that enable us to voluntarily share everything about ourselves with governments, corporations, and irritated friends, the NYT investigates the smartphone tracking industry. One Nation, Tracked.


Moscow on the Hudson

Speaking of people who had a decade better than anyone could have predicted, here are some very, very familiar impeachment talking points: "The Democratic party, which lost the elections, is now trying to revise this history through the means that they have at their disposal — first by accusing Trump of collusion with Russia. But then it turned out there was no collusion. It could not form the basis for impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine." Who said it? Fox and Friends? Nah. GOP house members? Nope. Vladamir Putin. (With enemies like these, who needs friends?)

+ ABC: White House defends Trump as 'counter-puncher' after he suggests late Michigan congressman in hell. (This is the guy they're defending; the corrupt monster for whom they sold their souls and threw America and its constitution under the bus.)

+ "Twenty-one years ago, during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, there were numerous Democratic lawmakers who lambasted him for his trespasses; five voted against him. Clinton, for his part, apologized to the American people before the House voted on his fate. "What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know, is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds," he said. "I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame ... And yet everyone knew that there was never the remotest chance of hearing a word of contrition from Trump—and that from the Republican Party there would be no self-questioning, no doubt. Tribalism—and the demands of Trumpism—would not permit it." David Remnick in The New Yorker: Trump's Impeachment and 'Impeachment Lite.'

+ Now the articles of impeachment go to the Senate. Maybe. Here's the latest from WaPo.


Same as the Old Boss

It was a decade when authoritarianism reared its ugly head, and protesters took to the streets to challenge their leaders. And the decade concludes with what could grow into the largest protest yet. "Rowdy protests against a contentious new citizenship law swept India on Thursday, and the authorities responded by shutting down the internet, barricading roads and arresting hundreds of protesters, revealing an Indian government increasingly on edge." NYT: Gandhi biographer (and other intellectuals) arrested as protests over citizenship law sweep India.


Grading on a Scale

From China's surveillance society to homegrown adversaries, this was the decade tech let us down (and continues to do so). One good example: Facebook Is Still Prioritizing Scale Over Safety. "'Working at Facebook made me aware of how you can reprogram humans,' one ex–product manager who recently left the company said. 'It's hard to believe that you could get humans to override all of their values that they came in with. But with a system like this, you can. I found that a bit terrifying.'" (Think that's terrifying? Read the next lede...)

+ WSJ: "Facebook Inc.'s senior leadership is increasingly divided over how to address criticism of the company's effect on U.S. politics, with board member and billionaire investor Peter Thiel serving as an influential voice advising CEO Mark Zuckerberg not to bow to public pressure."


Fire and Ice

It was the decade when climate change stopped being a forecast and started being an experience. The latest example from WaPo: "Australia is in the throes of one of its most extreme heat events, having broken a national record for the hottest nationally averaged high temperature on two straight days."

+ Don't want to believe the environmentalists? How about the capitalists? The Guardian: Snow machines and fleece blankets: inside the ski industry's battle with climate change. (The next decade will be a nonstop Black Diamond run.)


Pics or it Didn’t Happen

From antivaxxers to flat earthers to Obama birthers to climate change deniers to Ukraine blamers, the latter years of the decade have been boom times for conspiracy theorists. And through it all, there's only been one I've been tempted to believe. And it just got a little weirder. NY Daily News: Surveillance footage outside of Jeffrey Epstein's cell during suicide attempt is missing.


Bottom of the News

"The New York Times pored over 10 years of images, of moments both fresh and faded, to tell the story of the past decade. A lot has happened." One last (amazing) collection of news photos. The Decade in Pictures.

+ "Over the past few weeks, the Foreign Agricultural Service staff who maintain the Tariff Tracker have been using test files to ensure that the system is running properly. The Wakanda information should have been removed after testing and has now been taken down." USDA tariff tracker removes Wakanda, fictional home of Black Panther, as free trade partner. (Bummer. It was the one Trump policy I agreed with...)

+ Digg has been reviewing other lists to come up with a bunch of lists of the best of everything in 2019.

+ Mental Floss: 100 Interesting Facts We Learned in 2019.

+ Reminder: I'll be out and about for the holidays, so delivery will be sporadic, even sort of rare, over the next couple weeks. Have a great holiday season.