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What Lessons Can We Draw From the Time the Wealthy Fled New York?

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We all remember the beginning of COVID lockdown in the spring of 2020, and the resulting feelings of isolation, panic, grief and loneliness when faced with a new viral pandemic claiming the lives of so many. But, in Feral City, Jeremiah Moss documents something else. In New York City, during the lockdown, he noticed a rewilding of the city as people reengaged with public space. And this fostered the kinds of cross-pollination squashed by decades of gentrification, surveillance, hyper-policing and homogenization.

With “no stores, no shoppers, no restaurant reviews or fashion trends to incite consumption and competition, no office workers rushing around, no eyes staring at iPhones, no outward signs of bourgeois acquisition and productivity,” there was more freedom to roam, Moss writes, and the city pulsated with a kind of street life that Moss, who has lived in New York for almost 30 years, hadn’t experienced at this scale in decades.

Once mass protests erupted after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and cities across the country ignited in public outcry and autonomous action, the streets of New York became politicized. “Pandemic time bends and lags, expanding as it falls back on itself in a churn that coughs up debris from the past and casts it forth into the present,” Moss writes. And it’s in this time of trauma and restlessness that public space in New York once again became populated by poor people and protesters, people of color and queers, outcasts and artists and dreamers. It was “a return of the lost that was not lost,” Moss writes, as people pushed to the margins reemerged in a raucous spectacle of resistance.

In this interview, Moss discusses “what can happen when capitalism is put on just the slightest hold” — the possibilities for intimacy, transgression, collaboration and transformation that emerge — and the policing of public space and public behavior that diminishes the options for self-determination.

Mattilda B. Sycamore: One of the things that makes Feral City so immediate is its focus on embodiment. Reading the book felt like an adrenaline rush, like I was going through everything with you. How did it feel to write?

Jeremiah Moss: I was writing everything down right after it happened. So I’d come home from a bike ride or an action, after being in the intensity of it all, and I’d stay up late to get it down in raw form, when it was still fresh in memory. That writing came out fast, like the adrenaline rush you describe, and then I did all the reworking, which is slow writing, reflecting on experiences with some distance, puzzling out how I felt and what I thought about it all. I wrote Feral City with a good deal of anxiety about getting it “right,” because I was writing about this massive shared experience, that was yet not shared equally, and also writing about other people, so I wanted to be careful, full of care. I do a lot of battling with inner critics when I write, so the process is not smooth. Except in moments of poetry where everything’s flying. But those moments are few and far between.

In writing about activism, I think there’s a tendency to talk about the politics and the protests, the strategies and struggles, the enemies and heroes, but not so much the day-to-day experience of living, of feeling everything. All the possibilities and contradictions. And you do such a great job of this, throughout the book. How did you keep this focus?

I kept coming back to memoir, reminding myself that I was writing my own personal story. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of trying to represent “the movement” or “the pandemic,” because I can’t do that. No one can. It would be hubris to try. As long as I kept it small, I could make it big. As a writer, I started out as a poet and always believed in what William Carlos Williams said about reaching the universal through the particular. I love everyday specificity. And affect. I come to know things through feeling.

In talking about gentrification in New York City, you write about the “New People” who flocked to New York when it became a whitewashed symbol of post-9/11 patriotism. You say, “Their newness is not the problem,” since new people have always flocked to New York. What is the difference now?

It has long been a struggle to come up with a name for these people. When I started my blog, Vanishing New York, in 2007, I called them “yunnies,” a riff on yuppies that stood for Young Urban Narcissists. But that was too limiting, and too cutesy, so I dropped that. For the book, I wanted to coin some great term, but ended up with New People, which I’m not satisfied with either. What I mean is that these people are a new kind of personality type in the city. They’re not New because they’re newcomers; they’re New because they’re not like the sort of people who’ve historically flocked to the city and, specifically, to countercultural neighborhoods like the East Village. They often don’t feel quite human. They feel android-like, manufactured, and this is because — I believe — their personalities have been engineered by the culture of neoliberal capitalism, especially in the 2000s when social media spreads neoliberalism like a virus. In The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino just published an essay about “Instagram face,” what she calls a “single, cyborgian” look, and this is part of what I’m talking about. The New People are perfect neoliberal subjects, engineered to conform, perform and succeed, and this makes them quite violent in the way they enter and commandeer urban space — and in the way they approach people who are unlike them, who they see as beneath them. They are also violent toward themselves through de-subjectification, the process of hollowing themselves out. I find it difficult to empathize with them, though. I keep trying, but I feel so assaulted by them, I just can’t.

I love how you eavesdrop on your influencer neighbors to give us the flattened details of their lives. Surveillance has stifled so many of the possibilities of urban life, and yet here you’re flipping the gaze to examine the gawkers and their “contemptuous disregard.” What do you find?

“Flattened” is a good word and it describes well what happens when someone de-subjectifies themself; they smooth out all the bumps that make them human and particular. They are the cyborgian Instagram face, the flat sameness of the glossy catalog image, drained of all personality. And — here’s their violence — they aim to de-subjectify everything and everyone around them. This goes way beyond gentrification. This is about turning the entire urban landscape into a slick, frictionless, endlessly repeating Instagrammable scene, devoid of affect, risk and surprise. To create this nightmarish hollow city, many of us will have to be removed, and if we refuse to go, we will be controlled — by the police, by systems of surveillance, and by the contemptuous disregard that the New People throw like poison darts from their eyes. They are trying to annihilate us. To make us not exist.

At the beginning of COVID lockdown in New York, so many of these “New People” left the city.

The day lockdown began, in March 2020, they fled in droves. The people who stayed behind and roamed the streets were the sort of New Yorkers I used to know. I’m talking about the ordinary people who aren’t cyborgian, along with the poor and working class, the nonwhite, the queer, the weird, the unhoused, the old, the artists, basically everyone who’s not a New Person. So the city refilled with all this gorgeous subjectivity! It was like a cloud lifted and we could see each other again. We could feel each other and look at each other. We became un-alienated.

So, you are struck by the “poetry of the streets” at the same time as the pandemic is claiming so many lives in New York. You ask, “How is it that tragedy would make me fall in love with the city again?”

It was the most joyful time of my life — and I know how that sounds. People were dying, suffering, and I had the privilege to continue working from home, making a living, being relatively safe. I could afford to feel joy, which is not a common affect for me. But I also spoke to many people without my privilege and they, too, expressed feelings of joy and release in lockdown. The pandemic came with a tremendous freedom, especially for those of us who’ve been constrained. We connected with each other. I fell in love with the city again because the city felt like a very loving place in 2020.

You describe the scene in Times Square right after George Floyd was murdered by the cops in Minneapolis. This is before the mass protests, and there’s just one Black man engaged in a theatrical protest of his own. Your description feels so intimate that it’s almost shocking. And you do this throughout the book — painting pictures of activists and wanderers as individual weirdos engaged in daily struggles of survival and resistance. I wonder if you could talk more about this method — it feels journalistic in approach, but without the unnecessary distance.

Is that what I do? You’re telling me something I didn’t know I did, so I don’t know how to answer this question. It’s not something I try to do. Like I don’t sit down and say, “I want this to feel intimate.” I wonder if what’s coming across is the intimacy I feel when I encounter certain people in the city, the weirdos who are strangers to me and yet I feel this connection with them. I think I’ve always felt this — and it’s an urban feeling for me — the way New York gives you this shocking intimacy at a distance.

It brings to mind the phenomenon that happens when you’re sitting on the subway, on a local train going through the tunnel, when the Express passes by and you look into the windows of that other train and you feel deeply connected to the humanity of the strangers over there, so much that it can make you cry. I think it’s the distance between the two trains that allows this to happen. I don’t feel it for the people sharing my train car. They’re too close. So there is distance, but it’s the kind of distance that permits an exquisite closeness with others.

There’s a lot of vulnerability in this book, and part of this is in revealing your own limitations. You write that as a white person you were aware of white supremacy and racist police tyranny for years, but that 2020 was the first time that you joined a Black Lives Matter protest, “Because it’s the end of the world and I’m tired of feeling powerless.” How does this moment change you, and what does it make possible collectively?

That line came about because my editor asked me why I joined the protests at that moment and I had to think about it. I’m not sure my answer is quite right, but it’s the best I could come up with. I wonder now, as you’re asking me essentially the same question my editor did, if the experience of being in a re-New Yorked city, a de-alienated city, allowed me to plug into the intersectionality of that moment. Most people fight for the stuff that matters to them personally, so queer and trans fights are my fights, and having lived as female, women’s fights are my fights. Those are easy for me to jump into. As a white person in the U.S., I’ve been trained by white supremacy and capitalism to disidentify with Black people. Maybe when we were all left alone in the city together, when capitalism receded a bit, that made room to feel more connected across race. I’m not sure. This is something I want to keep thinking about.

“We’re all outside because of the virus,” someone says to you. “Everyone together. It hasn’t been like this in 25 years.” There’s a danger of nostalgia here, but at the same time your book feels phenomenally in the present. You write about how, during the pandemic, the “master-planned phantom zone” of Times Square and the corporate NYU-colonized Washington Square Park reemerge as wild spaces for autonomous cross-pollination centering around people of color, queers, social misfits, party people and dreamers. You ask, “Why is there so much 1970s feeling in the air?” And I wonder if part of this is because the 1970s were the last time we had a more viable welfare state in the United States, and in 2020 some of these policies briefly reemerged.

Exactly. I write in the book about hauntology, the way Mark Fisher used it when he wrote, “What is being longed for in hauntology is not a particular period, but the resumption of the processes of democratization and pluralism,” the processes cut short in the 1970s when neoliberalism took the wheel. So it’s not nostalgia — although, as a proud nostalgist, I take issue with the demonization of nostalgia and the way the right has co-opted it for their “Make America Great Again” Archie Bunkerist “those were the days” rallying cry. I do think, though, that what many people, across the political spectrum, are feeling when they feel “those were the days” is the loss of human connection that comes with accelerated, unfettered capitalism, which feeds on and reproduces alienation. As a culture, are we more alienated than we used to be? Most definitely.

That quote — “We’re all outside because of the virus. Everyone together. It hasn’t been like this in 25 years” — was said by a middle-aged Black man in Washington Square Park during one of our weekly pandemic dance parties. I think he was expressing nostalgia, a word that literally means “homesickness,” and what is home? Ideally, it’s a place where we don’t feel alien, where we feel part of a family, whether that is by birth or choice. We feel belonging. This is what many of us felt during lockdown. Capitalism just sort of seized up, like an engine with no gas, and this opened a magnificent gap into which many of us could feel free and connected. That also freed us to feel love for one another. Because when you’re not swept up in the scarcity mindset of competition and production, you have much more capacity to give and receive love.

There’s so much camaraderie in the collective impulses toward pageantry and protest in this book, and yet you also know that “All the beautiful parts of this time will be taken away from us.” Tell us about this loss.

I’m still reeling from that loss as it continues at this very moment. The engine of capitalism started turning again when the city “reopened” in the spring of 2021 and it’s only gotten worse. I watched people change all around me — quite simply, they closed up, turning away from collective life on the streets. I felt it in myself, too, as much as I fight it. It’s contagious. We became re-alienated.

As the New People, and others, started returning to the city, the police became a more aggressive presence, locking the city back into constriction. They’ve been harassing Black and Brown people, queer and trans people, unhoused people and artists, pushing them out of the public spaces they had migrated into during lockdown. They do this to make the city feel comfortable and safe for tourists, the wealthy, and those New People who seek a risk-free, frictionless, Instagrammable experience of urban life. Such a city must be as supremely normative as possible: white, straight, cisgender, bourgeois, on and on, with no surprise, no crumminess, nothing out of order. It’s an emotionally dead space.

But it’s not just the police in blue uniforms who do the controlling, it’s also the hyper-normative people who radiate social control as they dictate norms. They came back to the city in a rage, so angry that those left behind had covered it in graffiti and trash, in queerness and Blackness, and liberation. The reopening of New York was a terribly depressing time for many of us. It’s been bewildering to go from so much freedom and connection, so much shared subjectivity, back to everyday violence and alienation. It is deeply painful.

I am, however, grateful to the experience, because it revealed what can happen when capitalism is put on just the slightest hold — and what happens when it comes roaring back. Lockdown was a profound accidental experiment. It showed us what can be.

You are a trauma therapist, and this undergirds many of your experiences in the book, but none more clearly than when you end up holding a woman while she’s having a panic attack at a protest because she’s remembering when she was recently assaulted by the cops at another protest. You think about the risks of COVID but you can’t let go. I was sobbing when I read this. Because it’s everything at once, right? Trauma, panic, risk, alienation, connection, intimacy, a rare sudden beauty. “Have I ever held a stranger like this?” you ask. And I wonder: How could we hold each other like this all the time?

That is the question, isn’t it? We are all susceptible to internalized capitalism, which travels like a virus from host to host, and carries a heavy payload of white supremacy with it. When the city reopened, I felt it take hold of me again, as much as I resisted it. This is powerful stuff. I felt myself turn away from people, become suspicious and fearful. I felt myself become busy, self-interested and envious. Holding each other — which means holding each other in mind, being mindful of one another — this is profoundly difficult to do in our current social system because that system is a massive machine hell-bent on breaking us apart from one another. I can only tell you how I do it, or try to do it.

I participate in a weekly mutual aid event and join protests when I can, when they happen, which is less and less often. I also believe in the power of individual, idiosyncratic protest. This means carrying one’s body as a place of resistance. I try to do a little deviant thing here and there — this can be as simple as talking out loud to yourself in public, or walking in an odd nonlinear way, or singing on the street. This is a kind of holding, too, holding open a little space for other deviants.

I slow down. This is essential. When I feel myself get swept up, on the sidewalk where people are radiating capitalism and control, I slow the fuck down. I dawdle and look at things closely. I also put on music, but not in headphones — I put my music on a speaker that I carry, boombox music, publicly shared, and this both repels some people and attracts others. It helps me to drop into what I call substream, the other city, where people are not alienated from each other. So when I’m walking with my music, some people will groove with me — these are usually people outside the supreme norm of white, straight, cis, bourgeois, etc. So, a Black man, or a trans woman, or an unhoused person will dance or give me a nod and a smile and this is like — bam! I’m being held again and I’m holding again, and we’re together.

Copyright, Truthout and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. May not be reprinted without permission.

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iridesce
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noneedtofearorhope: thenib:Melanie Gillman in our NATURE...

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noneedtofearorhope:

thenib:

Melanie Gillman in our NATURE issue.

once again gonna plug https://fallingfruit.org/

this is a map that shows where you can find pawpaws (as well as many other fruits). just use the filter at the top. rn there are 411 documented pawpaws around the world. some as far as austalia! and what’s great is that this map is community made, so if you know of other spots, you can help others and future foragers by adding it in. you can also leave reviews, so people can know what time a fruit is (or isn’t) ripe and ready for pickin.

Just learned about and foraged pawpaws this year! They’re so good. And such a shock to have a tropical fruit growing in your back yard. Found tons of them on the C&O canal trail.

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acdha
2 days ago
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I think they’re tasty but my wife doesn’t like the texture to the point that a tree is not in our future
Washington, DC
diannemharris
2 days ago
Maybe try baked goods or smoothies?
j8048188
2 days ago
I'm on the wrong side of the Mississippi :(
iridesce
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Nonprofit Workers Shouldn’t Be Turned Away Because Unions Are at “Capacity”

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It’s time for parent unions to think creatively about new organizing.
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iridesce
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"Putin Always Chooses Escalation"

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Эта статья на русском языке

The article was translated and edited with the help of the Moscow Times

After seven months of war with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared mobilization. The Kremlin is preparing to annex Ukrainian territories after the so-called "referendums". When it comes to the West, Putin threatened nuclear war and insisted he was not bluffing.

Although mobilization has been on the cards since the start of the war, the Russian elite is now in a state reminiscent of that seen last on Feb. 24 when the invasion began. The war is no longer a thousand kilometers away from Moscow — relatives, friends, and colleagues are being called up and sent to the front. The Russian establishment is panicking and trying to save their loved ones from the draft. 

The Russian elite claims very few in their ranks support the war. Seven months on from the start of the fighting, however, there are no visible signs of dissent. On the contrary, those ideologically opposed to Putin’s actions in private are still helping him transform the economy into one capable of sustaining a protracted war. And they are minimizing the adverse effects of the war and Western sanctions on the Russian population — thereby bolstering support for the regime.

Over the last few weeks, we have spoken to 15 civil servants, parliamentary deputies, and executives at public and private companies. More than half were senior managers. All of our sources in the elite — who all spoke on the condition of anonymity — said the military conflict will only escalate in the coming months. Yet none can predict what will happen if Russia loses.

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At the start of this month, the situation at the front started changing dramatically. For the first time since the beginning of the war, the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched a massive counteroffensive, reclaiming major settlements in the Kharkiv region – Izium, Balakliya and Kupiansk. As a result, Kyiv regained control of almost the entire Kharkiv region, in many places advancing up to the Russian border.  

The Russian army’s most significant defeat since the start of the war dramatically changed the situation inside Russia. Our sources said the Ukrainian offensive compelled the Kremlin to announce mobilization and rush through referendums on the annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Putin cannot lose so he needs to urgently turn the situation around, explained one source close to the Kremlin. 

“Have some of that, you Nazis,” said the source, explaining Putin's logic with grim irony and highlighting that the referendums are an excuse to justify mobilization. The threat of nuclear war is a message to Western politicians, according to the source. “The message is: don’t forget, Ukraine does not have the right to defeat us. By supplying weapons, you are only delaying Ukraine’s demise.”

Almost all of our interviewees said they could see mobilization coming. “It was obvious the military needed more men. And it was clear the announcement would come after the [local] elections. And after the vote, it all happened,” recalled a high-ranking federal official.

One source who regularly attends meetings in the Kremlin described the events as follows: “The Ukrainian offensive finally gave the generals an excuse to push through the decision to mobilize. Everywhere the generals voiced the need for more resources. They called for a critical mass of boots on the ground. It's like when renovating a house. Initially, the workmen promise to do everything on time and with the available resources, and then something goes wrong, and they tell you: ‘Well, what did you expect? We don’t have this and that.’ The generals pulled the wool over our eyes.”

Although many of our sources foresaw mobilization, most complained of Putin’s rashness and reluctance to explain his plans. “No one explains anything to anyone,” said one disgruntled source close to the government. And the head of a state-owned bank said he was extremely concerned that Russia’s leader takes all decisions exclusively without consultation.

“There is a total lack of coordination; it’s a mess. Putin tells everyone different things,” said a source close to the government. He said this applies not only to the economy but also how the war is run. “What were we doing in Kharkiv? No one has a clue – neither politicians nor the military. It just happened!”

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At the same time, the authorities prepared for mobilization in advance: laws permitting the government to put the economy on a war footing were passed by the State Duma in the spring. And many warmongers have been calling on authorities to declare mobilization for weeks, if not months. On his talk show, propagandist Vladimir Solovyov has regularly made such appeals.

Putin himself likely expected his subordinates to be more prepared for the mobilization as shown by the fact he took a short period of leave after its announcement. The president managed to sneak away from public duty for a while (covering his absence — as usual — with pre-recording meetings with various officials and heads of state-owned firms). Our sources said that Putin planned to rest at his Valdai residence; yet, four days later, he met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at his Sochi residence (also a great place for a vacation).

But Putin is having a hard time relaxing. On the third day of his break, problems with mobilization meant he had to sack his deputy defense minister in charge of logistics and sign a decree excluding students from being called up.

Recent days have seen managers from government agencies as well as public and private businesses scrambling to find ways to protect their employees from conscription.

When we interviewed our contacts last week, none expected the “partial” mobilization to have such an indiscriminate effect. At the same time, few believed things would end with “partial” mobilization. 

“The 300,000 [reservists that Defense Minister Shoigu said would be mobilized] are just a distraction. Now it’s partial, but then there will be mass mobilization, and after that tactical nuclear weapons," predicted one source close to the government.

The government has been actively trying to stem the flight of programmers and tech managers from Russia. But it’s not just IT companies that are compiling lists of people for exemptions. An executive at one major company described the process: “Companies send lists to the Defense Ministry via their industry-specific ministries who then pass them down to the conscription officers.”

Officials are getting exemptions using a similar scheme. One mid-level federal official described how managers send lists of employees for exemption to the Defense Ministry. He admits that the process is not yet properly established, and many who have been called up are trying to escape by showing their civil service ID.

Exemptions for officials, parliamentary deputies and employees of state-owned companies do not extend to their families. Those with male relatives of conscription age have no get-out-of-jail-free card. Our sources tell us that many public officials have already bought plane tickets for their brothers, sons and nephews and sent them abroad. Some have already seen their relatives called up.

However, not everyone can negotiate their relatives an exemption or ship them out of the country. “What if somebody finds out? I will be declared an enemy of the motherland and jailed. The fear is palpable, people are in shock and constant anxiety,” said one source close to the government.

There has been a hundredfold increase in demand for private jet seats since the mobilization announcement, The Guardian reported this week. A single ticket costs up to 1.5 million rubles ($25,851). The Guardian also reported that the son of a “prominent State Duma deputy,” who regularly spouts anti-Western rhetoric, flew to Istanbul on Sept. 24 because of mobilization. Apparently this deputy personally escorted his son to the airport to ensure he would be allowed out of the country.

At the same time, there are also those in Putin’s elite who are ready to fight. One of our sources assured us that he will go to the front if necessary. He explained the motives for his decision as a sense of duty (“What, run away like a coward?”) and the need to “rid Ukraine of Nazism.” Several deputies, senators and regional parliamentarians have publicly announced their intention to go to the front.

Russian society is polarized in its attitudes to the war, according to the head of one state-owned company: “We have people with polarized opinions even within the same organization. Some are totally against everything, whilst others want to set up their own private military groups.”

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Despite the war and mobilization, the daily grind at Russia’s ministries and departments continues. Officials write laws, legislation and attend meetings. They are also coming to terms with how to adapt the economy to wartime conditions.

A clear indication the Kremlin is preparing for a protracted war is the draft budget for 2023-2025. This shows that spending on the Russian army this year will amount to almost 5 trillion rubles ($86.2 billion), not the 3.5 trillion originally planned. In subsequent years spending will also exceed forecasts. At the same time, the Kremlin is increasing expenditures on the police, apparently fearing opposition protests. According to our calculations, Russia will spend at least 7.7 trillion rubles (about $110 billion) on the war in Ukraine and the reconstruction of the annexed territories in 2022-2025.

“We are transitioning into a wartime economy. Everything related to development — infrastructure, education, health — is taking a back seat,” explained a source in the Finance Ministry. He said there is no point in looking at budget figures for 2024-2025, because the situation is evolving so rapidly at the moment.

“By now, everyone is on edge, and it is clear the war will not end soon,” said the source, who regularly attends meetings in the Kremlin.

“Putin always chooses escalation. And he will continue to choose escalation at any unpleasant juncture, up to and including nuclear weapons,” predicted another source close to the Kremlin who has worked with Putin for many years.

Despite awareness of the impending catastrophe, nobody in Russia’s elite has tried to persuade Putin to stop the war for a long time. Whereas in the early months, figures like Alexei Kudrin, head of the Audit Chamber, tried to explain to Putin the consequences of his decisions, this is not happening today. According to our sources, Putin still repeats the mantra about Russia being surrounded by enemies and the machinations of NATO. Talking to him is pointless.

Everyone is adapting. The very same Kudrin is busy negotiating with the Kremlin over the partition of Russia’s biggest IT company, Yandex (its billionaire owner Arkady Volozh wants to spin off drone technology, cloud storage and education). If Kudrin gets the Kremlin to agree to the deal, he will get a stake in Yandex worth about $300 million — a very dubious arrangement in terms of corruption law.

All the government’s so-called “economic liberals” — Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, head of Sberbank German Gref and others — have done everything they can to prevent the collapse of the Russian economy. Conservatives in both the elite and the general population criticized these people for years for being too obsessed with Western market principles, but, since the start of the war, not one of them has shown sign of disagreement with Putin. At the same time, you have to remember, when passing judgement on them, that one of their members — top university head Vladimir Mau — was almost jailed this summer.

Our sources were confident that the mobilization announcement makes the prospect of any expression of discontent among the elite less likely. It seems that only one person in the higher echelons of power – Constitutional Court judge Konstantin Aranovsky – realized the disastrous consequences of the move to annex occupied Ukrainian land and decided to resign earlier this week.

There is little sincere support for the war in the Russian establishment, according to an executive at a major private company who knows Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. “All these officials making comparisons with World War II in public are only doing what is expected of them. It’s their defense mechanism. There used to be those officials that said they had a ‘boss’ [an informal term for Putin], and he would unify society. Now everyone understands that this is not the case. But people can't change their position fast enough,” he said. 

“Everyone’s mood is similar to that expressed by [Putin’s deputy chief of staff Dmitry] Kozak at the Security Council before the war,” the source added. He described how there was a lot of tension over the war among his employees. But, he said, they have stopped wondering “how could this have happened?” and are now trying “to somehow manage within the stated red lines.” 

“It’s a problem in Russian society that we're always trying to find a way around a bad situation rather than protesting against it,” he said.

Another manager at a major state-owned company characterized the mood as one of  “impending doom.” The source, who described his own return from summer vacation as “a return to prison,” said: “People are ready to lead their children, husbands and sons to the slaughter. It’s downright evil… People don’t need therapists anymore; they need psychiatrists.”  

There was one telling incident at the recent Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in early September that was attended by Putin. On the first day, “everyone got really drunk,” which, apparently, led to a lot of absent speakers at the morning sessions. “It was reflective of how everyone was feeling,” said one forum participant.

When you ask those within the elite who are opposed to the war why they don’t resign, many concede that it is technically possible. 

“You can buy a one-way ticket out of the country. But then what? Where do you go? What do you do? You can't take more than $10,000 with you,” said one high-ranking official close to the government.

Family, real estate and money hold many back. According to recent statistics, the average official’s monthly salary in 2020 was 147,000 rubles ($2,542) and salaries in the Kremlin and government were about 250,000-300,000 rubles (of course, there are lots of informal ways of topping up your salary). “There’s a lot of money in the public sector right now. State companies offer top executives from departed Western companies salaries 1.5 to 2 times higher than what they received previously. Plus a signing-on bonus,” said one former federal official.

Despite the evidence to the contrary, many people continue to believe the war will soon be over. “Even now, people try to think that this is all temporary. Things are escalating now, and that's good because it means it will all be over sooner,” said one source at a large private company who rubs shoulders with top officials.

Yet some people are leaving. They leave quietly when they have put all their affairs in order — withdrawn money and made arrangements for their property. Obtaining foreign residency permits takes time. “It’s fashionable now to get Israeli citizenship. People are also moving to Southeast Asia,” said one individual close to the government who knows many people who have gone abroad.

The government officials we interviewed — both supporters of the war in Ukraine and those internally opposed to it — found it difficult to state the ultimate goal of the war and its possible outcomes. “It’s clear we have to win. This is the only possible option. We need to do everything to make sure this happens, and we need to do it now. This train is already running and we are in it; there are only two ways of getting out,” said one top official.

When asked what would happen if Russia lost, our source replied that he could not imagine such a scenario. As with our other interviewees who support the war, he only reiterated the narrative spouted by propagandists: the West wants to destroy Russia, and defeat in a war with Ukraine would mean Russia’s demise.

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iridesce
5 days ago
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By MrVisible in "Biden says pandemic is over" on MeFi

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As an immunocompromised person... you know what? Fuck it. It's fine. Whatever.

You want to write off anyone with a weakened immune system, anyone vulnerable, the elderly, fine. You want us to die for the economy? Fucking fine. But let's be honest about it.

Bring on the suicide booths.

If the government can throw the weak to the wolves, at least let's do it with some compassion. We let people with terminal diseases suffer for weeks and months, begging for death, in enormous pain, because all life is sacred and we can't just kill people because they're sick. But that's a lie, and now it's a really, really obvious lie. All life isn't sacred, and we'll gladly sell out our most vulnerable citizens for pocket change.

As the long term effects of this pandemic keep spreading throughout our society, we're going to see more and more people incapacitated, unable to work, unable to think, unable to function. There are no safety nets in place for them; no health insurance, a ridiculously cruel disability system, no welfare. Imagine being homeless with long covid. I mean, seriously imagine it.

As a society, we've declared that our economy is more important than the lives of our weakest members. We have decided to sacrifice people like me to economic progress. If we're going to do that, let's at least be honest about it. Let's be humane. If you want us to die, give us the means to do so peacefully.

If you're going to kill us, at least do it nicely.
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iridesce
10 days ago
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Netflix Must Pay $42 Million to Writers in Unpaid Residuals After ‘Bird Box’ Arbitration Ruling

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The Writers Guild of America has secured $42 million in unpaid writer residuals from Netflix after an arbitration ruling was handed down in the guild’s favor regarding the Sandra Bullock horror film “Bird Box.” “Netflix argued the WGA should accept a substandard formula the company negotiated with DGA and SAG-AFTRA. After a hearing, however, an arbitrator determined differently: that the license fee should have been greater than the gross budget of the film,” read the WGA West memo from president Meredith Stiehm and other leaders.

As a result, the arbitrator ordered Netflix to pay “Bird Box” screenwriter Eric Heisserer $850,000 in residuals along with $350,000 in interest for a total of $1.2 million.

Because the arbitrator ruled that writers on original Netflix productions should be paid on the same level as the licensing fees the streamer pays for third-party titles, the decision is also being applied to 139 other original Netflix films, meaning that 216 writers for those films will receive $42 million in unpaid residuals, with Netflix still pursuing an additional $13.5 million in interest payments. In total, the affected writers will receive $64 million in residuals, which the Guild says is $20 million more than what they would have received had they agreed to be compensated under the pattern formula negotiated by SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild.

As an example, WGA West pointed to the Dwayne Johnson/Ryan Reynolds/Gal Gadot action film “Red Notice,” for which Netflix will now pay writer residuals of $2.78 million thanks to the arbitration victory instead of the $846,000 that would have been owed under the pattern formula.

‘In the ‘Bird Box’ arbitration, Netflix attempted to employ the decades-old strategy of reaching substandard agreements with other unions, then trying to force the “pattern” onto writers,” WGA West wrote. “In this case, Netflix failed because the WGA was willing to fight for what writers were owed under the MBA, instead of accepting the DGA/SAG-AFTRA pattern.”Residuals for streaming productions are expected to be the core sticking point between studios and all labor organizations during next year’s contract negotiations, but especially with the Writers Guild, which is demanding significant increases in streaming compensation after giving up much of its demands in that area to end the 2007 writers’ strike. The battle over residuals was expected to come to a head during the last contract talks in 2020, but was sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The upcoming 2023 MBA negotiation challenges us to address the industry’s rush to use the growth of the streaming model to depress pay and working conditions for Hollywood talent. It is our hope that writers and all Hollywood labor will receive their fair share of the value we together create,” the WGA said.

TheWrap has reached out to Netflix for comment.

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iridesce
21 days ago
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