S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Enjoy.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest from May 13th. Twenty twenty one. The million dollar job addition. I am David Plotz of City Cast. I’m in Washington, D.C. Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School is, as ever, from New Haven, Connecticut. Hello, Emily.
S1: Hello, David.
S2: And John Dickerson of CBS’s 60 Minutes and Face the Nation and probably lots of other things. Every CBS News enterprise you can think of joins from his home. Hello, John.
S3: Hello, David. Hello, Emily.
S2: Today on the Gabfest, we’re going to talk about whether unemployment benefits are discouraging Americans from looking for work and whether we should be worried about the latest jobless numbers. Then we will talk about vaccination, why vaccination rates slowing? Should we be giving vaccines to India? Should we be, in fact, vaccinating all the teenagers who are now eligible for vaccines? Should we be giving million dollar lottery prizes to people who get vaccines? Yes, we should. Then we will be joined by Internet security guru Alex Stamos to discuss the colonial pipeline hack and its implications. Plus, we will have cocktail chatter. And I know we don’t cover celebrity news much on the gabfest, but I want to just flag one story. I for one of these guys, maybe we’re not surprised that the mediator in the Kardashian West divorce is going to be none other than former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Breyer worked in family law early in his career and apparently he spent some of 2020 when he was still on the Supreme Court secretly training as a mediator. So that’s pretty cool, West and Kardashian, according to reports I read in People magazine, wanted a mediator who knew nothing about either of them, which made Brayer an ideal candidate.
S1: That’s probably true, that part that last part,
S2: because none of the rest is true, because Brayer still is a Supreme Court justice, unaccountably so. One of the many American women who have withdrawn from the workforce recently is Liz Cheney, who was bounced yesterday as House conference chair. She is one of just hundreds of thousands of millions of women who have left the workforce and the departure
S1: still in
S2: Congress. I know it was like a line.
S3: It was like,
S1: I’m sorry
S2: she lost one of her jobs.
S1: Emily, OK, feel like the fantasy part of the gabfests was continuing to lag from my extremely literal brain. I couldn’t handle it. Go up.
S3: Fair enough. But I did appreciate his effort to try to get that piece of news in the conversation because it is striking that it happened and we’re not really going to talk about it. But it’s exactly it’s amazing.
S2: Thank you. Thank you, John. In any case, April job numbers showed much lower employment growth than expected. The economy added a seasonally adjusted two hundred sixty six thousand jobs, which is much less than the million expected. It’s actually not true that we added two hundred sixty six thousand jobs, that we added two hundred sixty six thousand jobs, plus the million or so that we are already always add more in the spring. And so we would have we would have added even more had we hit the numbers that a lot of economists expected. One of the things that was striking, of course, was that there was also a huge exodus of women from the workforce. So men, men in general did pretty well in the job market and the job market expanded significantly. But a lot of women left. So it looks like there are a wide variety of factors at play in what’s going on. Women are opting or compelled into family care because a variety of reasons, but in part because a lot of schools still are not fully open. Also, it appears that there are jobs that were appealing to people pre pandemic that are no longer appealing because working conditions may be a lot worse or more more onerous than they were. But Republicans are fixated on one reason, John, and that is unemployment insurance, that the extra unemployment insurance is just incentivizing people from being in the job market. And that’s what the problem is. And that’s why the economy or the jobs didn’t grow as much as people expected. Should should we take that seriously there?
S3: You know, I talked to on Face the Nation the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Neel Kashkari. And he said there is some evidence of
S2: this, but some evidence of what?
S3: There’s some evidence that people are not looking for work as robustly as they would if they weren’t getting unemployment benefits. But that that is just a part of the picture that the other bigger parts of the picture are two things. One, what you were talking about, which is that women on his shoulders, a disproportionate amount of the covid related care falls are still stuck with that, everything from taking care of older parents, taking care of kids. Second, there’s a lot of hesitancy and fear out there. The difference between the amount of money people have in their wallets and the amount of money they’re willing to spend. There’s a gap. They have a lot more in their savings accounts and wallets than they are spending. And that suggests some continued fear about going out into the world. We also saw that the last quarter was one of the highest, I think, on record for paying down credit card debt, more proof that people are saving instead of going out there and spending. And that has to do with fear of covid not this question about unemployment. So it’s a much more complex picture than people are making it seem. But as you suggest, the reason it has political power is that it allows Republicans to basically say this stuff that you’ve been pushing you Democrats and that further stuff you’re pushing as a remedy to go of it is all misapply.
S1: Right. And there are a few Republican governors who are saying they’re going to discontinue the higher levels of federal unemployment insurance earlier than the legislation calls for, because they say, you know, we need all these people back at work to have our economy at full speed again without any acknowledgment of the pressures you were just talking about. And also the fact that when I was reading about this, I was struck that the the employers who seem to be having trouble attracting people back are in hospitality and leisure. And these are really low paying jobs. Like people are not willing to do jobs that they don’t think they’re getting paid enough money for. And the unemployment insurance benefit may be part of that calculation, especially for a family. Right. If you your kids aren’t fully back in school, you’re still coping with various things. You’re not going to go and take that poorly paying job. Well, maybe employers should be paying workers better to get them back like that. Seems to me like a. Quickly acceptable, even good bargain, a way of getting low wage workers, more money in the equation, and these Republican governors who are taking away the unemployment insurance early seemed completely disinterested in that.
S2: Well, so just to get in the specifics, there’s a three hundred dollars a week extra federal unemployment benefit that comes out of the American AAFP, the American recovery plan. Right. And that goes until, I think September. That’s right. Yes. And so various Republican governors, the governor of Arkansas, for example, are proposing to end that early. But it doesn’t seem to have changed any the minds of any Republican governors about raising the minimum wage in their states. That it doesn’t doesn’t seem to be a groundswell of that happening because it’s
S1: the or even just to allow the labor shortage to play, if it’s even that in these particular sectors, to play out a little longer so that wages rise naturally because employers are trying to attract back employees. Right. Like you don’t even have to raise the minimum wage. You just let the market with these extra factors operate.
S3: The labor supply expanded in April, so it increased by four hundred and thirty thousand jobs. So if you believed that it was these lazy, you know, unemployment people not looking for a job, you would get jobs, you would expect labor force participation to to fall or stay flat. Now, you could argue that four hundred thirty thousand in in the expansion of the labor supply should have been larger because people were talking about a million jobs. So you can maybe make that case. But the labor supply did grow, which is to say that there were people out there looking for four jobs, which, again, you wouldn’t expect if this narrative were as virulent as it’s being talked about.
S2: The and a lot of the jobs that people are having a hard time filling are jobs that are less attractive than they were a year ago or pre pandemic in the sense that they come with, you know, the way you have to work is perhaps masked in a kind of. Place that is that you may not feel is fully safe, that
S1: you are just uncomfortable, uncomfortable wearing a mask on clothes congested.
S2: Yeah, yeah. And that in particularly in food service, it’s not clear that, for example, the tip income is going to come back and be as high as it was because the customers aren’t necessarily back yet. And so there are all sorts of reasons why someone might not take a job at this moment when they might take it three months from now when the working conditions were better, when it was clear that the customer base was there to sustain it. Emily, I want to talk about this question of women leaving, because it is it’s just dire, right?
S1: Yeah. I mean, if you think that it’s really important to have women in the workforce, to have women have choices to work that are real choices supported by good wages and good options. This looks like real backsliding by the United States and it’s completely tied to the way we’ve handled school closures and care that families have needed during this period. And the women, like you said in the beginning, are the one part of the population where their job starts have just not recovered. And that just seems
S2: totally the one part. They are the majority.
S1: They are the majority of them have to
S2: put it that way. It’d be like it’s like they know like, you know, you know, people with, you know, people who drive Corvettes or the one part that haven’t recovered. It’s like this is half the population.
S1: Women with children are the population and the employment sector who haven’t come back. Right. So it’s like it is rather particular. Also true that I met women as opposed to men or as opposed to women who don’t have kids or who are, you know, either younger or older. And those pressures just I talk to people about them. I feel like every day practically, I hear a story that helps explain in some different part of the economy why women continue to make this choice. And it’s going to depend on how we come back. And the rate of vaccination is part of that, but so are just the the plans for school in the fall. And, you know, Randi Weingarten, who’s the head of one of the key teachers’ unions in the country, came out in favor of a five day a week reopening in the fall, which I think is important. But she also talked about social distancing and trying to use outdoor classrooms and something very complicated, not just like regular school in the fall, even though something like 90 percent of teachers have been vaccinated or have had the chance. And we now have 12 to 15 year olds eligible for the vaccine. And reading about all these hoops that she was asking schools to jump through in the fall, I just thought, oh, my God, like, how is this really going to work?
S3: I think actually in April, I believe that the labor force participation rate fell for women, which is to say that not only have they borne the brunt of the pandemic in a way that’s different than men, but I think this number in April showed that there was actually even that that it was it was not just that they didn’t grow as much as as people had hoped. It’s actually the participation rate fell. And we should also one little caveat is that April might be an aberration. We’ve certainly seen that before where you’ve had single month hiccups, but then, you know, the boom continued on. But the larger fear, of course, is that it was a slow 10 year recovery from the the Great Recession. And nobody wants that again. You know, the hope is that this recovery is much, much faster because it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual underlying issues in the economy. But what we’re talking about with women is actual underlying issues in the economy, child care, elder care, the kinds of jobs that are available and the kind of industries that have been particularly hard hit by covid are all things that disproportionately affect women.
S2: Yeah, and there was also this very alarming to certain inflation hawks number around inflation that inflation grew four point two percent in the 12 months preceding April or 12 months through April, which was a very high number relative to to recent history. But it’s so this has been such an anomalous year that you have to you have to sort of say it’s totally concerning that the labor force numbers were much weaker than people expected. It’s totally concerning if you’re an inflation hawk, that inflation was higher than people thought it was going to be, but. It doesn’t seem to warrant just yet a form of panic and complete redo of economic policy, like let’s wait a little bit. A lot of the numbers over the last 12 months are really looking. You know, you had this period from last March, April through, you know, through the middle of the summer, which was just crazy. And so it’s going to distort the the 12 month numbers until the end of this summer. So so making vast sweeping judgments about things based on that seems overstated and overheated.
S3: Yeah. And particularly on home prices, because the prices are in some sectors were depressed during the covid period. And so you would expect a spike. Now, the argument is, well, the spike has been higher than people thought. But but but I what you said, David, is really interesting because, of course, all of the projections for the reason that the administration is pushing various policies on jobs and families is based on an analysis and assessment of the economy. And so if we agree that everything is up for grabs and the measurement even of of our current situation is thrown off by the weirdness of it and the singularity of it, then it makes it hard for the administration to make claims because they’re operating with the same in the same uncertainty as we all are. One thing I would say that is that contradicts something I said earlier about the nature of what we’re in this issue of the supply chain, the idea that manufacturers dipped in employment in the last month and have been seeing issues because they can’t basically get the materials to make the stuff that they want to make. And this has been particularly written about a lot with respect to semiconductors affecting everything from cars to washing machines, those supply chain issues. The CEO of Intel said they’re not going to be straightened out for a couple of years. Apple is saying they’re going to be a three or four billion dollars off in the next quarter because of basically not being able to get the materials that they need. And that will take some time to kind of work its way through. That is something that’s a kind of long term economic result of the pandemic, which is harder to fix than, say, getting everybody out of their houses and spending again.
S1: Yeah, that’s a good point. I just want to say one last thing about child care, which is that I think the pandemic has actually been very useful for making the case that child care is part of infrastructure and that it’s crucial to getting women in particular, given their disproportionate share of this work back to into the labor force. So that particular point has been made loudly and clearly by the pandemic in a way that I think is useful to the plans of the Biden administration.
S2: Yeah, I keep going back to Juliette Kayyem when she guested on the gabfest way back early in pandemic, and she said, you know, at Homeland Security, they had made plans for all these pieces of critical infrastructure, 18 different kinds of critical infrastructure, if I remember the numbers correctly. But you know what? They left out schools like they left out schools and kids like nobody thought. Oh, yeah, that’s critical infrastructure, because if people cannot rely on their children being somewhere safely, then they cannot do all the other things they need to do. Yep. Slate plus members. We love doing our business segments on the gabfest and we’re excited about the one we have today, which is a Dickason special, although not John’s idea, but he saw it out in the world and decided it belonged to us, which is what’s the event that most changed our path in life. That was not that was not marriage effectively. So we will talk about that if you want to hear that segment, go to sleep, Dotcom Agfest plus, I am really happy the 12 to 15 year olds can now get the Pfizer vaccine. I have a I have a 12 to 15 year old who I am looking forward to getting vaccinated shortly. The other pandemic vaccine news of the week is mixed. We have pandemic raging in India. Vaccine rates are pretty low there. We have vaccine uptake in the US slowing dramatically, even though fewer than half of Americans have received a first dose. And then we have what I my favorite bit of news of the week, which is Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio announcing they’re going to give away five one million dollar prizes every week to people who get vaccinated. And I love this idea. I absolutely love this. I hope we talk about this the whole time, but we probably won’t. Emily, why are vaccination rates going down so quickly and and can anything be done about this besides giving one million dollar prizes to people who get vaccinated?
S1: Yeah, I also liked that. So I think I feel like there are two stories about the vaccine right now. One is the story in the United States. And if you at least if you’re me and you live in the United States, you are rooting really hard for people to get vaccinated faster. And the news about the 12 to 15 year olds is entirely welcome. And I think the answer to why rates are slowing is that the low hanging fruit, the people who are willing to drive to spend a lot of time online to inconvenience themselves fairly significantly, those people have gotten their shots and now were to some segment of the population that is resistant to getting vaccinated and then another, like, hefty share of people like maybe 30 million people who just kind of haven’t gotten around to it yet because it’s kind of a pain. And they’ve heard that they might get sick for a day or two and that even though it’s a small side effect, it seems to them more likely than getting covid. And I’ve talked to a number of those people and I think they’re totally gettable. And that’s why I like Mike DeWine lottery. I like the free beer giveaways I read about in New Hampshire. I felt like someone was giving away burgers, I think like making this a part of the summer and making it super accessible to people, especially the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, where you can just get one dose and you’re done. I think that’s all great in the United States. And I actually feel optimistic that we’re going to get a lot of those people over the summer. Then there is the story about the world and the way in which rich countries, very much including the United States, are essentially hoarding the vaccine. And when I go back to the segment we did months ago with Ezekiel Emanuel, my memory was that like we were not supposed to be vaccinating American teenagers before we vaccinated older people in countries, poor countries, developing countries, especially when there’s a terrible outbreak in India. And so I
S2: thought, Emily, we weren’t supposed to be vaccinating us. Yes, Emanuel was making was that even people like us, even healthy adults, shouldn’t get vaccinated that early.
S1: Totally. We were supposed to be vaccinating at risk populations in wealthy countries and then as fast as possible, sending vaccine to at risk people abroad. And we are not doing that at all. And I find that it makes me feel like hugely guilty and concerned.
S3: Although the funny thing is at that time India was doing so well. It’s I’m not certain that you’re doing so well in mitigating the spread of the virus that I’m not so certain that India would have been the first place we would have sent those vaccinations that we weren’t getting, which is not to not to undermine your point, but it’s just
S1: sure it should be dependent on where hotspots are. But now that we see this hotspot in India, we should be by any kind of global equity standards responding to it. And I mean, I think that the Biden administration’s support for waiving patent protections is like a perfectly good step. But it’s not a step that is getting millions and millions of doses to India right this minute. And nobody seems to feel like that is the thing they are responsible for doing.
S2: Right. I mean, I found the patent protection thing so disingenuous in the sense that making the stupid vaccines, making the magnificent vaccines I was using stupid just in a kind of rhetorical way there is unbelievably complicated and difficult. It can’t just be done. You can’t just be like, oh, I’ve got a I’ve got a lab. I can make the vaccines. It’s very complicated, especially
S1: since you need technology.
S2: Pfizer, Moderna ones. Yeah.
S3: Although the prime minister of India did call the president and ask him to do this. So, yeah, while everything you say is true in the face of carnage and what’s happening in India to deny a request, it just seems to me to be politically impossible. But also, one thing I would add is it’s not just from an equity standpoint, it’s from a virus can jump over boundaries really fast and come get you standpoint and.
S1: Variant, the whole idea that, you know, we could end up with a variant that breaks through the vaccine is much more likely if you have hundreds of thousands of cases mutating. And it like the notion that it matters more to prevent a smaller number of cases in the United States than all these hundreds of thousands abroad. That just doesn’t make any sense.
S2: Are you guys as frustrated as I am about this, the discussion around maskin outdoor maskin behavior outdoors?
S1: Yes, your colleagues are frustrated.
S2: Perhaps your colleague David Leonhardt wrote this really quite brilliant piece in The New York Times about how misleading the CDC guidance on on outdoor behavior was. Emily, maybe you want to talk about that?
S1: Sure. I mean, what David did was the CDC has issued this ultra cautious statement that fewer than 10 percent of cases of transmission were outdoors. In fact, it might be something more like 0.01 percent. And so David was taking apart how they reached that statistic and saying that it was misleading and then pointing out that we’re at this juncture. And I feel this like so strongly, just for whatever reason, that the CDC and the official guidance feels too cautious in a way that is not does not seem evidence based and is itself damaging in terms particularly of mental health. So for me, what was really very frustrating is the CDC’s recommendations for camp, the idea that kids are supposed to be wearing a mask all the time outside eating and swimming, it’s crazy. It’s crazy, and it’s going to ruin the summer for all these kids who like, well, we should be doing this summer is making camp available to everybody and trying to get kids outside and running around, even adults. Yes, seriously. But especially kids like there are social and emotional development. Their mental health seems more important to me than anything right now. And instead were, you know, encumbering camps and kids with these unnecessary restrictions that I mean, I assume the CDC is going to end up lifting them. But the CDC director was so defensive in the face of totally legit questions from Senator Susan Collins this week. And I you know, it’s people on liberals accuse conservatives of being antiscience in the covid debate. And and they have been and there are ways in which refusing to wear a mask is much more like obviously acutely dangerous than being overly cautious. But overcaution has its cost and we are starting to really cross a threshold. And so I was really happy to see David’s piece because I feel like there is starting to be more pushback now from the media about some of these onerous ideas. But it still is sort of, I think, really handicapping us
S3: since I am now in the business, fortunately, of interviewing former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb every week. I have lots of contact with somebody who has the most forward leaning feelings on this. I mean, his last week, he was saying basically they should lift the mandates for indoor masking for places like San Francisco, where you have 70 to 80 percent of the population has been vaccinated. And his point was, one we’ve talked a lot about on this show, is that there’s there’s a mix of what you know, by science and then there’s a mix of what you have to put out there for the purposes of public health. And public health has some fuzziness to it, which is you may not know to an absolute certainty that it’s OK to engage in certain kinds of behavior, but that if you are as if you are just your rules are so stringent, a people will stop listening to you and be in the winter when cases go back up again and states and the CDC and others might have to give out guidance to rein in our activities. Nobody’s going to listen if you’ve blown all your credibility. And the final thing I would say is on that going on when the numbers are rising, when you know the future numbers are going to be higher than what you see today, which was the case for so much of this pandemic, being extra cautious was wise because you knew the future was going to be worse than today. But now the opposite is the case. We know the numbers are going to be much lower in the future than they are now because of vaccinations. And so that’s his argument for leaning in, is that you should change your mindset instead of being hyper cautious. You should be hyper aggressive because you know the where the trends are going and that those trends have science behind them.
S2: That is very persuasive. And I am so perplexed and frustrated by this. I’m perplexed and frustrated, particularly by the people who say, oh, there’s no cost to having these mandates or to encouraging masking behavior outdoors, indoors, wherever, but particularly outdoors at this point. And I mean, there’s this sort of anti scientific element to it, which is the same people who are talking about the science are now saying, oh, no, you have to value people’s feelings over the. Science, but but it’s it’s this misperception that there’s not a cost to people having their faces covered and being physically quite distant from each other out in the world, we are social animals like our what we are designed for is to look at each other’s faces, make human connections, react to each other, talk to each other, interact with each other, touch each other. And we haven’t we’ve been deprived of it. Children have been deprived of the act of learning it. All of us have been deprived of it. It’s tragic. I mean, like this the thing that we do best as human beings is read each other’s faces and look at each other. That is literally what our brains are designed to do, the maths or the maths or do have a cost. And we should acknowledge it and and face it. And and the sooner we can be done with them in safe situations, we should be done with them.
S3: Can I add one quick thing? And the other thing that’s the danger of getting this wrong does is it muddies and screws up the original reason that masking was a smart idea. It allows people to say, you see, we’ve been saying this for months. But what you’re identifying, David, is that the costs of this have now out, out now outweigh the benefits. That’s always been the calculation. Masks were always what you describe, but it was just they were worth doing because of the benefits of wearing them. Those now have shrunk. And so you change your behaviour. I just don’t want anybody to think that, you know, masks. Well, I mean, masks were always right that course. But they were whether it was worth incurring those great.
S1: It’s just recognising that there’s a cost benefit analysis and it can change over time based on conditions. Right. I mean, the other thing that I worry about in this goes back to the point you are making, John, about, you know, it’s basically a Chicken Little problem, right? That if you tell people to do something they don’t want to do and they knuckle under for a time and then they start to feel like it’s totally unnecessary, they’re not going to listen to you. I mean, that is happening all over. I was in Atlanta.
S2: It’s Peter. I think it’s the boy who cried wolf. Chicken Little. The sky never falls.
S1: OK, just I just
S2: I, I’m just I’m just just just digging it.
S1: I feel like you could use both of them if you tried. But I think you’re right that the boy I think cried wolf is the better the more obvious. What is this. It’s not a metaphor. It’s like a half an allegory or fable. Allegory. Thank you. OK, parable. Thank you, Jocelyn. The better parable of the boy who cried wolf. I was in Atlanta this week. People are not wearing masks. I was on a flight home yesterday. People started off with their masks on because, you know, like the airline attendant came on the loudspeaker and told everyone that was federal law. And then as people got served drinks or like took out food, they took their masks down. And I looked around like halfway through the two and a half hour flight and like half of the people had not put their masks back over their nose and mouth. And I thought, like, oh, and then I thought, you know, a lot of them probably vaccinated. And people are just making these decisions. And because we’ve been given these overly restrictive rules and it just feels like this weird time in which there are some people are going to have very strong tendencies to shame other people into putting their masks back on. And personally, I do not think that a flight is the best place to, like, take it off your nose and mouth. But I feel like this overcaution is already getting ignored by large parts of the population and the amount of social division and like tension over this, it’s high.
S3: One little point I’d like to slide in here that I went on a bit of a rabbit hole journey on Thursday morning about the New York Yankees. There were seven cases of people who tested positive at the Yankees in the Yankees, even though they’d been vaccinated. They’re all
S2: vacc. Oh, I was wondering about yeah,
S3: so was I. And so, like a dumb ass, I asked on Twitter what people thought and if they’d seen any explanation for this. And the and the level of sanctimony was extremely high in terms of the way vaccines work and don’t work because you don’t
S1: understand the basics and you need it explained to you with as much anger as possible.
S3: Right, exactly. Which is a real shame, by the way, to what we were talking about on Slate plus like last week, which is that it has become the case in social media. It has always been the case in social media. You’re not allowed to ask a question, because if you ask a question, people just tell you what a dumb ass you ask the question. But what the question what struck me was interesting is seven people. And so we know that one of the things about the vaccinations, according to the CDC, is that they are both they prevent you from testing positive. And then if you do test positive, they prevent you from illness. It’s both. It’s not one of the it’s not just that you don’t get the illness. There is some shielding from even picking up and being positive at all. So then the question is and we also know from studies so far that it’s hard that that you can be asymptomatic and not shed. So we still don’t know what the answer is. It seems to be from people who seem to know what they’re talking about, that it was it’s a combination of. Two things, one, they got the Johnson Johnson vaccine, which is a little bit less powerful or provides a little bit less coverage than Moderna and Pfizer. Secondly, six of the seven are asymptomatic. When I still don’t know is if you are asymptomatic and vaccinated, are you not shedding at all? Or or are you like an asymptomatic person who’s not been vaccinated, which means you can shed. I didn’t quite get that answer by air time.
S1: I think that the and the reason is nobody quite knows. Probably it’s very unlikely that you would transmit, but I don’t think we know the answer definitively.
S3: Right. And then my very final point is the reason the Yankees are testing like mad. So if we tested every person in the world who’d been vaccinated in the United States, we might find a lot of cases like this where you’re asymptomatic and yet you have it would test positive, but it doesn’t really you know, you wouldn’t know it unless you were actually tested. So anyway, it’s still really an interesting story.
S2: Hackers have used a ransomware attack to shut colonial pipelines, five hundred mile pipeline that supplies much of the East with petroleum products. They used ransomware supplied by an organization called Dark Side. A lot of this is just gibberish to me, but fortunately, this gibberish is about to be explained to us by Alex Demos, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, the former chief security officer of Facebook, internationally recognized expert on cybersecurity gabfest guest in these dark times. So, Alex, welcome back to the Gabfest. Can you explain to us what dark side is and is this useful to think of this? What’s happened with the pipeline as an economic attack or an IT sort of an attack on the United States, or is it all conflated?
S4: Yes. First, thanks for having me back. I appreciate being on the gabfests when something horrible happens on the Internet. So Darkside is just the latest of a number of highly professional ransomware crews that are operating out of Russia and some other former Soviet republics that have been running rampant across the Internet and attacking companies big and small. So one of the less discussed but more impactful cybersecurity stories of the last five years has been the growth of ransomware. The idea of ransomware is a bad guy breaks into your network and they install software that one steals your data and brings it to them and then encrypts your data in place. And then they send you a message saying if you want your data back and if you don’t want us to dump it out on the Internet, then you need to pay us a ransom. And that ransom for small companies might be in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the big billion dollar companies. They will ask for 30, 40, 50 million dollar ransoms. This has been hitting people at all kinds of levels, most famously local governments, local hospitals. There are at least a couple of cases of deaths that are assumed to have been caused by hospital networks being shut down school districts. And it is a very, very profitable crime because once you’re in the situation that your entire network is locked up, paying five million dollars to get back in business, if you’re a billion dollar business is probably actually the rational choice. And that is what’s happened here is Darkside is one of these crews, a very, very skilled, highly organized, effectively businesses that are able to operate with impunity, with coverage from the Russian government for the most part. And Darkside is kind of famous for being a big game hunter. So instead of going after the local mom and pops and small retail and such, they go after big publicly traded companies and ask for huge ransoms.
S1: I thought it was interesting. The dark side seemed kind of sheepish that they had actually caused so much disruption, like they seemed to think like, oh, we didn’t quite we just wanted our money.
S4: I think there’s a dog that caught the car on this one.
S1: Yeah, I was going to ask you that. One thing that interests me is the fact that, as I understand it, there are federal regulations requiring better cybersecurity protections for electricity grids than there are for pipelines, even though pipelines seem like to me the same kind of infrastructure, the same kind of situation where you have a company that has that’s private but playing this vital role in the economy, do you think that this attack will change that and make pipelines hopefully subject to the same kind of safety provisions for cyber that we have for the electric grid? And then sorry to pile on a second question, but are those provisions themselves adequate?
S4: Great question. So we’ve already seen some changes. So you’re right. So Pipeline, as it turns out, the cyber security pipelines is actually regulated by the TSA. The same people that like to frisk my kids when they when we fly through airports through to some kind of like bizarre Department of Homeland Security decision that was made decades ago since your pipeline and other these other rules were created. We actually have a new agency called Cesa, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency. They’re the ones that regulate in a bunch of other situations. And so I do think what we’re going to see is we’re going to see consolidation of these regulations because it really doesn’t make sense for all of these different agencies in the federal government to be running all these different regulatory strategies for different parts of critical infrastructure. Actually, yesterday, as of this recording, Joe Biden actually signed an executive order that’s been in the works for months that does a bunch of empowering of Cesur. It does not specifically, you know, one of the reasons they had to get this executive order out is it keeps on getting bypassed by reality so that the executive order was started after the solar winds attack an attack against one hundred twenty other organizations that we talked about that started in December. And then there was this attack against Microsoft Exchange servers that affected eighty thousand companies and now the pipeline. So they finally had to get this thing out before history completely bypassed it. So it doesn’t mention pipelines. I expect it. We’ll have another EO that ends up consolidating pipeline security. As to the standards. That is one thing that this starts to do is it really aggressively pushes for stronger regulatory standards. In a collaboration between Cesa and Nyst National Institute of Standards Technology, who are the people who set a lot of technical standards? Now, the EO mostly affects federal contractors, but I expect that we’ll see more rules coming down the pipeline, so to speak, for it. Critical industry such as pipelines, power generation such
S3: as the procurement power, though, is is a good leverage because if I’m the Department of Defense and I’m buying Microsoft products, I have some leverage over them. So. So do you. Is that right? And then be my actual question is, if I’m a company and I don’t have stuff that I really mind being out in public, I mean, I guess this is. But like like a. Hospital, what gets dumped out in the public eye, could see how that would be. I mean, I guess it’s personal information, which is bad, but it’s not. I guess what I’m trying to ask is, are there certain kinds of companies that have data that that is not as valuable and therefore don’t have to worry about this or.
S4: Right. So, I mean, so it’s interesting. So at first, ransomware crews would just lock up your data. They wouldn’t release it. And then a bunch of people started getting better at backups. Right. So effectively, if you back up your entire network and if you have a plan, you could survive one of those ransomware attacks. And so now groups like Dark Side are kind of double whammies in that not only have we put you out of business, but we will make your life hell by releasing all of this data. It is true that there are some industries where this is more sensitive. So a really famous ransomware incident that’s still ongoing is a different ransomware team broke into a Taiwanese company that actually makes all Foxconn a Chinese company. Chinese and Taiwanese are a company that makes all of Apple stuff and has started to release the blueprints of unreleased Apple products, which is the kind of thing that drives a company like Apple insane. So far, nobody, neither Apple nor Foxconn, has paid the ransom. But that’s the kind of thing that would. Yeah, those are the kinds of people who really care. Also, if you have private data and you’re dumping private data, then you can end up with a massive civil liability to all of the people whose data that is much larger than the ransom. And I think that’s one of the calculations here is like if you hit somebody who has state level KII requirements, one, they will have to do a massive disclosure if it gets dumped, but then also they will face lawsuits from everybody. And so, yes, that’s true. I think also for all companies, nobody wants their email dumped out. So like just like the Sony Pictures, it was very embarrassing for people to have their personal Amazon purchases and all of the crap they were talking about, both internally and externally in the industry, like nobody wants the entire world reading their email. And so I think for effectively any company, there are some level of embarrassment and risk from having your data dumped out.
S2: Was this an easy thing to do? Is this an easy thing that they’re doing? And is it just that sort of order and decency prevents this from happening to all companies all the time?
S4: Well, OK, so it’s it was too easy in this case, right. So there’s information coming out now that Colonial was deficient in a bunch of their security practices. A number of security folks have. There are services that effectively scan the entire Internet, and they’re very useful in these situations because you can go backwards and say what kind of vulnerabilities of this company have? And it looks like Colonial specifically had some very gaping vulnerabilities that would have been easily exploited. That makes it too easy. The other thing that was too easy here was the shut down of the pipeline. So like Emily and I were talking about, I think this is the dog that caught the car, you know, dark side kind of in a very interesting move. So they have a they have a whole website. That’s a dark website, right? It’s on it’s on a trading service. So you can get to it with specialized software, but it’s hard to find out where it physically is located. Everybody knows they’re in Russia, but at least, you know, they have a little bit of a plausible deniability with this dark website. And on it, they had this press release that said we are not political. We do not mean to cause any harm. And effectively, we’re going to have a better content moderation policy to decide who we’re going to hit in the future. Because Dark Side is a little bit of a weird situation that it’s not just one crew, but they are a service provider to multiple ransomware crews. It’s an incredibly complex ecosystem, effectively ransomware as a service. And people don’t believe that they want to shut down the actual pipeline, so to speak, a little bit. Companies actually make stuff and actually move stuff that have big complicated networks of systems that do things in the physical world. Those networks are called OTTI, operational technology, all of the other stuff that’s just like getting business done. The email, the billing systems, the you know, all the stuff that we use normally is I.T. information technology. The networks is often where people will focus on the security, and that’s totally important. But what this is demonstrated is that organizations that make stuff or move stuff or do very complicated logistics, if they’re I.T. systems, are down, they probably can’t operate that right. It’s like the IT systems that tell people what knobs are you turning, what work are we doing? And so if you can’t talk to each other, if you can’t communicate and in this case, it looks like if you can’t bill your customers and you can’t track what’s going through your pipeline, then it doesn’t matter if the network is secure because you have to end up turning that off. And I think the dark side, people didn’t understand that and they’re in big trouble. Like this is a big deal because it’s like they have now been more effective than any terrorist group has in disrupting, like, American gas supplies, for example. So they’re very possibly going to see that they are going to get added to the same kind of list to which we add, you know, they might end up with executions via the Treasury. You know, there is a non negligible chance that we start renditioning or even killing some of these guys. Right. Because it’s like there’s not a good history of messing with America’s oil supply for people. Like, it’s just it’s not a it’s not the kind of thing that we take. Well, as a society and considering the political implications here, you could see the entire weight of the federal government coming down on these people.
S1: Wow, that’s so interesting. I mean, I had been thinking of this is the kind of like. Medium level threat that in some ways is useful because it makes everybody wake up to this problem and hopefully tighten regulations, make sure that companies like Colonial don’t have these gaping holes that you’re talking about. And it seemed in a sense, you know, obviously shutting down supply for a week to the southeast of the United States is like something, but it seemed less dire than the solar winds breach. I wonder if that hierarchy makes sense to you or whether you think like, actually, that’s not a useful way to think about it.
S4: I mean, there are different things, right? Like the the Solomons issue seems to have had no physical impact, like it hasn’t had any real impact on people’s lives. But it’s hard to tell what the long term intelligence impact is of whatever the SVR was able to gather during that period of time. Right. And so it’s going to be hard to judge versus, you know, shutting down a pipeline. You have immediate it’s immediately obvious, like. But the truth is, is like the ransomware teams are causing more kind of human misery than most of the state actors. Right. Who are just stealing data. Again, it’s hard to tell because you’re talking about intelligence operations that we don’t really know about. We don’t know about if any spies have been captured in Russia and executed. And there’s some evidence of this kind of stuff of a number of these Chinese hacks where they stole huge amounts of data and it wasn’t clear what the outcome was. But things like American spy networks get wrapped up in such. And so it’s quite possible that it will take years for us to understand what the impact of the SVR operation was.
S3: Alex, you mentioned that Apple still has an ongoing ransomware. Issue, how many of these other kinds of ongoing low fever or maybe high fever, slow burning ransomware things are there out there.
S4: So, I mean, ransomware negotiations probably happened hundreds of times a week. And there are professional companies that you hire effectively, just like because of kidnappings. You ended up with the professionals that you call in that the insurance. And so the insurance companies often find to pay these people on behalf of the companies. And they will come in and they’ll look at the ransomware and they’re like, OK, how are your backups? What are your processes look like? Oh, crap. OK, you guys are in trouble. We got to pay and then they will go handle the negotiations and be like, Hey, it’s Bob from Ransom, our company. How are you doing right now? Because they have these relationships and so interesting enough. So Brian Krebs is a really good journalist in this area. And in his blog, they just talked about it, negotiation between Dark Side and the different company in which Dark Side ended up demanding 30 million dollars. And there’s his back and forth negotiation of like down to 12 million. Right. So this guy stuff happens all the time. And these guys are like effectively you bring in professional negotiators that kind of make the case to the ransom or people of this is the amount of money that is. It is worth it for my clients to spend. And therefore, that is the most you will get. And, you know, for 12 million bucks, most of them will say yes. Wow.
S2: Last quick thing on that. Is this all done in crypto? If there was no crypto, what would this be? Much harder.
S4: Yes, Bitcoin has completely revolutionized cybercrime. So like 15, 20 years ago, it was really hard to make a living as a professional bad guy. Right. Like to steal enough money to be a professional hacker was was quite difficult. And you’d have to hit lots and lots of smaller accounts. You’d have to do some business email compromise, get some wires in such it is very, very hard to get illegal money out of the financial system. So when I said Facebook, we actually had a scam. It was very low tech that stole a hundred and ten million dollars from Facebook. I can talk about this because there’s actually a Department of Justice indictment, which is the kicker here, which is the guys that did it. Again, I think there’s the dog that caught the car. They were doing the kind of scam that you see all five hundred thousand dollars, a million dollars in wire transfers when companies paid their suppliers and they didn’t realize the supplier they took over. The first payment Facebook made to was one hundred ten million dollars and four hundred to remember that the Southern District of New York will get on the phone to judges, will get on the phone, the FBI will get on the phone, Deutsche Bank will get on the phone. The Bank of Cyprus, who is the actual shout out to my people, was the actual recipient of the wire. They’ll get on the phone because they’re worried about their swift access. And these guys are in jail. Right, because it’s super hard to get a hundred, ten million dollars out of the banking system. Stealing one hundred million dollars a bitcoin is like a Thursday. Right. And that is the kind of the challenge here, is that cryptocurrency has made it very easy for these guys to take this money to launder it. And it would be very difficult for them to operate like this if it wasn’t for that.
S2: Alex Dmoz is the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory. Alex, that was so useful and interesting. Please come back anytime. Even when there’s good news. If you find some good news in your world, send us a note.
S4: Yeah, I’ll let you know the first time I hear some good news.
S2: Let’s go to cocktail chatter, John, when you’re sitting next to the pipeline that delivers you not petroleum products, but a direct line of whiskey straight from a distillery, what will you be chattering about?
S3: Well, my chatter is I like to think is an innovation in the form. I like to consider this certain.
S2: But what we’ve been doing the show for 15 plus years and you have a new form of chatter.
S3: I like to think of this as kind of a personal discovery. So I’m now going to play something and then that will be what my chatter is about. Head it, Josslyn. So what that was, it didn’t it was not the sound of a hammock twisting in the wind, which is what it sounds like to me, but then it was the sound of sperm whales talking to each other. My chatter is about this concerted effort to figure out what in the hell they’re saying. And it’s the first effort we’ve we’ve there have been instances that we’ve taught dogs to understand commands and there’s, you know, other animals that obviously chimpanzees can use sign language and things like that. But this is the first attempt to try to understand the language of a species as it has these conversations with each other. And what they’re basically doing is they’re having cocktail chatter is, is what these whales, these sperm whales are doing. So that’s why this is an innovation in the form. It’s not just using the audio of the sperm whales talking, but in fact, what they are doing is having chatter. So my chatter is about chatter. So it has that.
S2: How do you how do they know already that it’s them just chit chatting?
S3: Well, that’s what the scientists believe at the moment. I don’t I don’t I guess they could be they could be proved wrong. But that’s the way they’re
S1: clicking to each other. Yeah, I thought of Morse code.
S3: That’s well, right. I mean, that’s the way in which the the scientists talk about it is is they refer to it as chatter. So it’s this kind of these short back and forth of communication with each other. So I thought, you know, a chatter about chatter.
S2: I can’t wait to find out what they’re saying. I can’t wait. I’ve always thought that the that the that the thing that we would know in. In the century that we don’t know today is that we would actually have been able to somehow be an animal’s consciousness, that there’d be some way in which the kind of brain mapping would be sufficient, that we could experience or almost feel what it was like to be an animal. I can’t I’m so excited to know what they’re talking about.
S3: Well, and that’s why this captured my imagination as well, is that is that this is wholly different from there’s also, by the way, an elephant in soul that can speak a few words of Korean if you’re interested in that. But that this is exactly right, David, that this is and this is going into their world and and it’s all been made possible by basically machine learning, you know, the processing power of being able to sort languages. So in a few years, we may have an actual sperm whale contributing cocktail chatter to cocktail chatter.
S2: Wasn’t wasn’t it used, though, in a recent gaffes, citing some other animal scientists who said that if we understood what animals were saying, it would just be mate with me, mate with me, mate with me, mate with me?
S3: Well, frankly, if we understood humans and what they’re really thinking, that that would largely be a lot of what people are thinking.
S1: Who do I love that the things were in some ways the most captivated by? Are these incredibly ordinary and yet hidden phenomena of our own world? Right. Like, you don’t have to go to Mars or even like deep under the sea to be like, wait, what’s my dog really thinking? Is he sniffing with whales?
S2: You do need to go deep under the sea. I guess it’s
S1: true. Or at least into the sea in some capacity, presumably.
S2: Emily, what is your chatter?
S1: I am telling about two books. The first one is a high stakes legal thriller packed with intense courtroom drama. That is according to the blurb on the front. It is by my sister, Laura Bazelon. It is her first novel and legal thriller. It’s called A Good Mother. It’s on sale this week. It’s a page turner. Yeah. Congratulations to Laura. And people should pick it up, if you like, a good legal thriller and who doesn’t? And the second book I wanted to recommend is a nonfiction book called America on Fire. The subtitle is The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion since the 1960s. It’s by Elizabeth Hinton, who is a Yale professor and a friend of mine. Disclosure. And it’s this really interesting regional history of lots of different what Elizabeth calls rebellion’s the idea that, you know, black led protest in American cities, which may or may not have included both non-violent and sometimes, you know, property destruction kinds of acts, that those were a sort of concerted form of rebellion. There was political organizing going on. There were different tactics being used. And Elizabeth tells these stories. And I certainly was totally unaware of and kind of medium sized cities around the country about how this actually developed. And it’s just especially interesting to think about right now in light of our past year of protests and the different tactics that people use to consider how this all played out in the 60s in ways that were quite surprising to me. So that book is called America on Fire, and it’s also on sale.
S2: You know, it’s it’s a big week for this is not one of my chapter was going to be. But it is a big week for siblings who have books out, because my brother, John Plotts also has a book.
S1: No Way, that’s so great read.
S2: It’s called Besides, it’s a collection of I’ve got a bunch of really good writers to write about, sort of books that they love that but that nobody’s ever heard of or that that were something much less known they should be. So Ursula, look, when, for example, writing about it and it’s great. So check out besides so wait for my brother to be there
S1: to the book. It’s not a contributor, OK?
S2: It’s not Nurse Legman. Or so we’re talking about a book that she wrote this before she died, but about a book that she loved as a as a
S1: as a younger person. Oh, I love that idea. That’s great.
S2: By chatter actually was about an experience I had really goes back to our maskin conversation. I went to a soccer game of my son’s last weekend, the first game that he’d had since pandemic or the first game he’d had that I’ve been able to go to. And it was so fantastic to be able to hang out with the other parents.
S1: They you know, these are all that boring, especially cocktail chatter. So welcome. And you’re like, oh, my God, I love you so much. Yeah. Have you been like, yeah, exactly.
S2: And these are not close friends. These are people who are not close friends. I mean, some of them aren’t really friends at all.
S1: They’re all the better for it.
S2: Yeah. Like a friendly relationship with them. It’s wonderful to hear what they’re up to. It’s great to Nather to gossip, to chit chat and talk, to talk to people who are not the same people I have always been talking to over the last fifteen months. It was joyful. It was magnificent. It was like the most fun hour I spent in the week.
S1: Practically am so with you about all these like informal contacts that we’ve been missing. And it’s like the people who you might not have ever seen. But like there are lots of people like. That in your life, lots of those interactions and there are fulfilling in their own way and we have been deprived of them, can
S3: I suggest for a future topic of conversation that we figure out? I feel like there’s a window in these kinds of conversations. First of all, you need small talk. You need the kind of shallow and paddling around in basically the banalities of life to just give everybody a break and just have that kind of human connection that David’s talking about, whatever, without having to raise the damn stakes so high. Having said all of that, it does seem to me that we were in a position in a period where people have thought deeply about their lives over the last, however, 18 months or whatever it is. And they probably come to some really interesting conclusions. And I would it would be great if there could be a norm or a way to ask questions that might seem a little bit like too deep for the sideline.
S2: What is your what is your revelation?
S3: Yeah, exactly right. What is your revelation? Because everybody has them and we’re in this window where the the joy of rushing back into conversation should allow us the slightly odd question of, like, what’s been your deep personal revelation that you’ve had over the period of time? And if we don’t seize it now, we’ll just regular life will paper over, you know, these interesting moments. So anyway, we need to find a convention that allows this question to be asked without the person on the sideline moving away from you and going over by the orange slices, because that’s what always happens to me.
S2: Good idea,
S1: John. I love it. What is your revelation? Right after. Wow, it’s such a sunny day.
S2: Yes, exactly. Why did the principal quit? I don’t know. No one knows the listener chatter. You all continue to tweet great chatters to us at Athlete Gap. Please keep them coming. Also, please keep coming. If you have ideas for us to talk things to talk about on Slate plus, by the way, tweet those to us also.
S1: We like your suggestions.
S2: Yeah. So but please send chatters. So many good ones and also great letters this week from you. Dear listeners, there were a number of really wonderful, thoughtful, wise letters, some rebuking us, some elaborating on things that we said. And I appreciate that. So you can email those to us at Gabfests Dotcom. Our listener chatter comes from Adam, Schirò, Adam, take it away. Hi, gabfests. I’m Adam Schiff from Brooklyn.
S3: My listener chatter
S2: is about the uncensored library.
S3: It’s a library filled with books and articles that are censored in their country of origin.
S2: But the library is built entirely in the digital Lego video game, Minecraft.
S3: It uses
S2: the game to get around cyber censorship because
S3: even in countries where websites and blogs and the free press are strictly limited, Minecraft remains accessible to everyone. I love
S2: this for story that feels like it sits at the intersection of an easily dismissed format
S3: for many with real
S2: potential for positive change in
S3: the world.
S2: And that story Adam is talking about is by Walker Kaplan for Lette Hub. That is our show for today, The Gap, that’s produced by Jocelyn Frank. Our researcher is Bridget Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate Audio. June Thomas is managing producer of Slate Audio, and Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. You should follow us on Twitter at Gabfests. Please tweet Chatur to us and send us also ideas for Slate, plus topics for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson. I’m David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We will talk to you next week. Hello, Slate, plus, how are you, John spotted a tweet from Jennifer Johnson at CNN, right, that caught his fancy and we decided to talk about today. Tell me a decision, writes Jennifer Johnson. Tell me a decision that changed the trajectory of your life. But you can’t say choosing your faith, getting married or having a kid. So who wants to go first?
S3: John, you go first. OK, I’ll go first mine. Well, first of all, this isn’t the only one, but it seems like an enormous one not seems like it is an enormous one. When I first in my senior year in fourth year in college, I like everybody at the time, put my resume in the boxes of the investment banks that came to the schools. And they made it so easy. They you know, they had set up the little tables you put in your resume and then they got they called you back and they flew to New York. They interviewed you in New York. And then, you know, you maybe got a job or didn’t get a job. So I was only called to New York by one firm, Smith Barney. There were other ones I talked to, but they wouldn’t fly in New York, which was a which was a kind of, you know, getting past a certain hurdle. I interviewed with them and basically the guy the guy who interviewed me said, you don’t want this job and we don’t want to give you this job because you should be off doing something like working on Capitol Hill or working in the Senate or doing something that has to do with government, which is weird because I was an English major, I had dropped my government major midway through. But anyway, they were basically because we said we could give you a job in investment banking, because part of the thing about investment banking is they were hiring people who didn’t have any skills in math or money or any of that, which would include me. And they basically said you not this is not what you should be doing, but it was incredibly attractive. It was a huge paycheck by the standards of the time. I mean, obviously it still is. And it meant I could move to New York, which I really wanted to do, and it was a crushing blow. And I was also irritated them for, like, thinking they knew better what I needed than I did. I thought I was so furious and I was like, I’m graduating college. I don’t have a job and I don’t have a. So basically, I got the only job I could, which was as a secretary at Time Inc and at a significantly reduced or like barely a salary and never looked back, basically went into journalism so that that determine my career path.
S1: So is that a lesson in like those people actually knew better in some weird way or just that like serendipity plays a huge role in people’s lives?
S3: Or I think they they knew better. I mean, but the thing was, they knew better. It was like, what what do people used to say about Slate stories? You’re you’re right. But not for the reasons you think. And they were right. But but they were wrong in the sense that they were hiring lots of people who didn’t have specific job skills, which is how I first read it. But they had maybe a deeper insight, which was it wasn’t about the skills. It was about what I would find interesting and enjoyable. But on the other hand, like that should be decision should be made by me. But anyway, of course, they were right and thank God for it.
S2: You would have been you would have been a really unhappy banker. Really, really unhappy baker.
S3: Oh, my God.
S1: I mean, bullet dodged man.
S2: Yeah, it would have been you would have ended up you would have ended up you would have made a lot of money and you would have ended up writing like in your 60s, writing terrible, terrible books,
S1: poetry and novels.
S2: But yeah. Like, like you would you do like would have been my artistic side by and so terrible. They would have been terrible. They would
S3: have. I think you’re I think you’re right. They’re just barely getting over the bar these days. But I think you’re exactly right. And you know the person who beat me out for that job.
S2: Yes, I know, but we won’t say you can give it away.
S3: Oh, well. And Dickason.
S1: But she’s not a banker. You got the job?
S3: No, she bailed after she had actually a as those experiences go, she had a. This one great boss, she had one awful boss, but she had one great boss, did it for a couple of years, got out and never, never looked back.
S2: Should I go home? I mean, OK, I guess mine. Is is probably. In 1993, I had, as I’m talking about this, I have this memory of telling the story of the gabfests before, but maybe I’ve just told it in life before I was I was working the Department of Justice. I thought, I want to be a lawyer. I didn’t want to be a lawyer. And that that that’s not really a story. But I started applying for jobs in journalism, and it was one of these periodically bad times in newspapers. But I applied to 90 newspapers across the country, got interviews. That one, which was the Winston-Salem Journal, and the paper went to Winston-Salem, did an interview, went well. They were going to offer me a job covering sort of like a suburban county outside of Winston-Salem. And I came back to Washington where I was living. And my then roommate, Ben Hefner, pointed out to me there was an ad in the city paper, the alt weekly in Washington, that then they were seeking a new staff writer. Someone had just been fired and they needed a new staff writer stat. And so I applied for that job and. I got that job. But I didn’t get the job, I didn’t get the job of the Winston-Salem people offered me the job and I was I was about to take it. And but I like this city paper interview that I had. And I called the editor of City Paper and said, hey, they’ve offered me this job in Winston-Salem. And he basically said, well, you know, I’m not going to be pushed onto your timeline. You can make whatever decision you’re going to make. And I decided to take my chance that I was gonna get the city paper job. It must have had some signal that I was going to. But I was really close to taking the Winston-Salem job and I took the city paper job and that sort of set me on the track of my journalism career. If I’d gone to Winston-Salem, I’m sure it would’ve been fine, but I would have, you know, married somebody different. I would have been a very different kind of journalist. I certainly wouldn’t have been lucky enough to get into digital journalism when I did which which set me, you know, which was the key career choice that I ended up making. But that was all because I just had the luck to turn down this Winston-Salem job, which is the only job on offer at the time that I have. It was it was there.
S1: So maybe that’s about like holding out, especially when you’re coming along in your career, like holding out and letting yourself take a risk a little bit, which I think is really hard to do. If you have been someone who’s, like, jumped through all the hoops of school at the first moment that you don’t have school figuring, I don’t know, I found that period in my 20s to be kind of destabilizing for sure.
S3: But I think that lesson that you don’t have to take everything, that it’s not that it’s not automatically. Yes, when you’re offered something. That there that you should. Have the wisdom that you did. I would have said yes and
S2: I don’t I don’t know I don’t know the barbecue now. I sure would be fine. I’m sure I would have had a very nice life had I. Been in Winston-Salem, wouldn’t be doing the gabfest, but probably would’ve been would have been fine.
S3: Well, there’s a howling socket in your life that. Yes. So, you know, let’s not let’s not you.
S2: I was I was I was responding to a sir. I was a biographical survey this week. Just this is not on topic really, but a by biographical survey. And they asked me what’s the work that I’m most proud of? And I said it was the best.
S1: That’s sweet.
S2: We’re honored because because we’ve done it for so fucking long, like anything you do
S1: that it’s just outlasted everything else. It’s not necessarily better.
S2: All right, Emily, what is the decision that changed the trajectory of your life? So I kind
S1: of have a story that’s like a similar early job decision, I mean, which I feel like it’s interesting that we all picked those and it obviously makes sense, but it’s like the reverse of yours. So I worked for the alt weekly in New Haven, which doesn’t exist anymore. The New Haven advocate, when I was at the end of college and then over the summer and I did some really immersive reporting with this particular family that’s like hugely important to me and involved a fair amount of sort of incremental risk taking because I spent a lot of time with them and then wrote about them. And that kind of reporting remained something that I really loved doing. But then I moved to California and I had no, like, normal reporting experience, no like news experience. But it was a terrible job market, as you’re saying, David, although I think this was a year or two later, it was probably like 1995 and I was applying for jobs in the Bay Area, which is an especially hard job market. And I got nothing for months, like no interviews. And then I finally went into interview with an editor at What was the time, the Alameda newspaper group, which was these five newspapers, four of them Suburban. One of them the flagship was the Oakland Tribune. But I was like nowhere near the Oakland Tribune. I was interviewing for a job at the tiniest one that was just covering Alameda, which is pretty small island. And the editor was full of scorn for me. I mean, he was someone who’d spent his whole career in journalism. And here comes this like it’s like the definition of wet behind the ears. He was so unimpressed. Like I had this undergraduate degree from Yale and he couldn’t have cared less. And he actually made me sing, try to sing the Yale cheer, which I didn’t know what I know. I mean, I think he would be in trouble for doing this now. Honestly, it was like so it was like really kind of bullying move to make. But it was it was humbling in a good way. It made me really appreciate how little fancy credentials mattered in journalism, at least in that moment. And I think it’s actually true. No, you don’t think that’s true. I think I
S2: wish that were more
S1: true. Well, it should be more true, but I actually think it is true in those kinds of job situations, like at smaller regional newspapers, people care about your clips and like my clips were irrelevant to what he was doing anyway. I didn’t get the job. But then later on, a different position opened at that for that newspaper group. And I did get it. It was really important that, like, I went and was, you know, covering city hall in San Ramon, California, and covering schools in Livermore, California, like that kind of daily experience of having to go out and cover stuff every day, pick up the phone. It got me over like any kind of phobia I had about reporting. And and it remained humbling and it wasn’t very good at it. And all of that, even though it it it then I had to, like, figure out my way back into the kind of magazine journalism I wanted to do. It never feels like a detour to me. It feels like it was really important experience. So it’s sort of the opposite. Like I, I was it was a much less prestigious paper, I think, than Winston-Salem had at the time, but I’m really glad I did it.
S2: Do we have any? John, do you want to wrap up with any broader lessons, you’re good with big, broad lessons.
S3: Well, I do think that it’s it’s it would be super useful to have heard this. At the time, but then I think about it what I have been in a position to hear this, because you’re I mean, you feel like if you can’t get started, your whole path is is just ruined. And it’s what the better way to think about it is. Like E.L. Doctorow said about writing, which is I think others have said this, too, but it’s like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. We think when we’re young, you have to be able to see the destination. And only problem about this analogy, I realize, as I’m saying, it is at least you know where you’re trying to go.
S1: That is a key difference. If you don’t, your destination is totally foggy to you. It’s it’s definitely a drag. Let me just say someone who still feels that way about many projects.
S3: Right. Although I guess if you just redefine what the destination is. So the destination isn’t your beach house on the, you know, rocky shores of some town in Rhode Island.
S1: That is next.
S3: Destination happiness, you know, but just contentment or happiness or fulfillment is the destination. And you will reach it if you if you follow the lights in the fog. That’s perhaps a better way to think of that analogy.
S1: I think that’s great. I mean, I guess another way to think about the light in front of you, like what that light is, is that it should be something you like, that if you’re doing something you like, it is more likely to lead you to something else you will like to do. Whereas if you start doing something that’s obligatory, like maybe your banking job would have been, John, it’s only going to take you to the next obligatory thing then, like you’re going to be miserable. So that’s always my advice to young people coming up is like just fine. The thing that makes you want to get up in the morning, does it matter what it is? Go do that and ignore all the people telling you to check the boxes if you can. If you can.
S3: The more capitulations you have to take for the big thing that you want. It turns out when you get the big thing that you’ve made all of those taken all those jobs that are no fun to get, when you get there, you’ll go, wait, this is it. This is what I spent all those years miserable for.
S1: But the other thing I’m always, like, unsure about is if you’re someone who’s very anxious about all of these moves and that anxiety fuels, you can see that it fueled your ability to, like, push ahead. Then is it possible to let go of the anxiety or is the like? I seem to I remain so anxious and I sort of and I would like to put some of it to rest, but I have this sneaking fear that that driver of anxiety is like necessary fuel in some way. I think about that a lot
S3: of grade point that this is my daughter points this out to me frequently and she’s exactly right, as are you, Emily, which is that basically, if you weren’t freaking out in the moment, you wouldn’t climb, you wouldn’t make the next achievement.
S2: Yeah, that is a really hard question, but I don’t feel myself to be. See, I feel I feel my my non anxiety generally is a strength. That it that it allows me to to kind of just it is a steady not get to not not get hit, and maybe that’s maybe that’s the difference between doing something as a manager. There’s a manager where your job is essentially helping other people do their work and not really do anything yourself. That anxiety is unhelpful because it’s just infectious for other people. But as a creative person, anxiety is very helpful because it just it just like goads you like that makes you do the work. It makes you get out and do it. I was a much more I was much more anxious when I was writing every day than when I stopped writing every day.
S1: I mean, it also has to do with power. When you’re a manager, you have power. When you’re not, you don’t. And so a lot of what continues to fuel my sense of anxiety is that continued sense of powerlessness, even though I mean, I realize like in some ways I have, but I never feel I rarely feel like I’m in control of my working life.
S3: Well, that’s the other thing that we all could have learned at the beginning, which is basically some amount of that feeling is a necessary precondition to the joy of discovery, both about life and about the journalism we do, which is you have to be in unchartered territory to get the thrill we get out of the things we do. And so instead of thinking I’m so anxious about this uncharted territory, if you recognize it as the environment you’ve chosen to be in and say, OK, well, you know, this is the way it is. Turns out this is the way it is. And all I’m doing is. You know, this isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually what I’ve chosen to be doing so that I could have the joy of fresh discovery and the enthusiasm of learning, then maybe that’s a way to reframe it so that it doesn’t itch at you so much.
S2: My God, we’ve gotten two weeks in a row, we’ve gotten kind of unexpectedly deep. It’s great. All right. Sleepless talk to you next week.