S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. The following podcast contains explicit language.

S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for November 22nd 2018.

S3: The sealed indictment edition I just realized today is the fifty fifth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination or the day that the show comes out of the fifty fifth anniversary.

S4: So I am David Plotz That was Obscura. I’m in Washington D.C. My co-host Emily Bazelon of the New York Times and John Dickerson of CBS This Morning are both in New York. Hello guys. Happy Thanksgiving.

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S5: Okay. Happy Thanksgiving.

S6: We’re taping on Tuesday so who knows what could possibly happen between now and when you hear this which I hope is not during Thanksgiving but maybe a little bit before or a little bit after Thanksgiving or heck maybe some families have podcast listening over Thanksgiving maybe it could save you you know having a podcast to tune out to that is a good point. That’s

S7: right. We could be an island of tranquility or like a bouncy castle of fun.

S8: I always think of us as if that is possible. That’s really what our dog guides as far as t shirt should say.

S6: As you can see we’ve got a little pre holiday joy and boisterous ness. We’ve all been sitting here chit chatting but they’re serious business to attend to so we’re gonna talk about what is going on with the Mueller investigation. Then we’re going to talk about the California wildfires what they portend about life in the next century and what they pretend about life under drastically changed climate. Then is Facebook evil or just self delusional or are they near any. Are there any other choices. We will discuss. Plus we’ll have cocktail chatter of course. And a reminder that coming up soon soon after Thanksgiving we have our conundrum live show at the scribble Center at NYU in Manhattan on December 12th the Wednesday some tickets still left it’s like dot com slash live. Simon Doonan the delightful Simon Doonan will be our guest for some of that show. And the conundrum show of course is a chance to discuss the really tough issues they’re really complicated moral questions and and life questions that you’ve been grappling with so you should send us your conundrums first of all by tweeting them to us at Slate gabfest or emailing them to us and get a festive Slate column if you want some privacy on them. And we notice someone some great listener sent around a John Adams conundrum.

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S8: Did you guys see that I love that one. I love Fallon. Yeah so many different reasons. But yeah so let’s save that one.

S9: No but let’s show a preview we won’t. Okay.

S10: But it was John Adams writing a letter to Thomas Jefferson asking the question which is what you were taught by.

S11: Yeah. Would you rather be attacked by a duck. Sighs George the Third or a thousand ducks called George. This

S12: hurt. Sorry go ahead.

S10: Yeah I think. Yeah it probably would have been. It would be a hundred Hustle has these five Hessian sized ducks or one duck sized Hessian. No it was a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson and it was asking sort of would you want to live a life where every bit of pleasure is offset by a an equal bit of pain. Is that big fair like you get a million a million bits of great pleasure.

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S6: But in return you must suffer a million doses of pain of agony that is just as painful as the pleasure is pleasurable. Interesting question. But I love the idea that the conundrum conundrum is a form that predates even us even our ancient show. There are conundrums long before us so we will grapple with John Adams conundrum but please come play dot com slash line to get tickets December 12th in New York.

S10: The Mueller investigation fell quiet for some weeks in the run up to the election still quiet. But wiser heads than I say there are signs there omens are portents. There are tea leaves their entrails to be read.

S6: That special prosecutor Robert Mueller is preparing to unveil a series of indictments in the Russia investigation. EMILY What. What is the what is the evidence. Why is this more than just like you know reading a feather that fell from the wing of a golf flying over the temple of Athena.

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S13: I think it’s just wishful thinking on the part of many people who are more than ready for Mueller to make his move. Whatever it may be. So some of the tea leaves being read were just like Donald Trump’s apparent foul mood last week which doesn’t seem to me like enormously differentiated piece of evidence. But it was out there and he started tweeting in criticism of Mueller and denying that his choice for acting attorney general Matt Whitaker that he’d had known anything about Whitaker’s views of the Mueller investigation which seems odd since Whitaker had given interviews and written and talked about his use. So that was a little strange. And what else. Then there are all these like secret court filings going on in the courts in the District of Columbia that have been of course people are speculating they’re tied to Mueller. They’re not as some of them are from the Mueller team. But we don’t know who they relate to.

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S6: We know that some of them are from the Miller team.

S14: Yeah I think we do know that part. We just don’t know who they’re about. So there was a lot of speculation that some of it might be subpoenaing Trump trying to get Trump to testify. But then other prosecutors I was talking to said no I don’t think that said it could be something else. So I think there’s just a lot of desire for action. And then I guess I left out an important thing which is that a few people. ROGER STONE Although he said he was expected to be indicted a while ago. Then there’s that friend of his Jerome Corsi. Jerome Corsi guy and then the most I would say salacious details that Don Junior has been telling his friends that he might get indicted. Now I have no idea if that’s true or not but I mean of course that is something that the media would gobble up and a wait for with bated breath because it would be a very big deal obviously.

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S15: The one thing I have just a couple of things I would add is the foul mood was that yeah he was specifically targeting Muller mile high heat so the president is tweeted 50 times about Mueller and the Russia investigation. Does that seem like a lot or a little do you think a lot. Yeah well I mean it’s a lot. Not zero.

S14: Every time he potentially gets himself in trouble also he hadn’t done it for a couple months. Right. So it was like a return to form.

S11: Right. So that’s just what I. Exactly. That’s because that question seems to be touches on the larger Norm shifting question of the presidency which is he the the number should be zero and yet 50 I thought Oh well that’s not as much as I thought because you think that he is constantly agitating about how this is a witch hunt. But another feeling sorry John and you know the other.

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S16: The other thing is that the in the Rick Gates the campaign deputy manager and then Manafort there were court filings in which the special counsel said don’t sentence them yet because they’re still providing as active information it will delay.

S14: Right. Suggestive delay is like oh maybe they don’t want to. The government doesn’t want to show its hand yet. And then the other report is that Trump’s lawyers are almost finishing and almost finished answering the written questions. And so that suggests that’s been a long outstanding item on Mueller’s checklist.

S7: So explain. Explain the don’t show the hands part because what I thought was that they were delaying the sentencing of Manafort and gage because they were still actively engaged did they claim that they were still actively helping with the investigation which made me think they’re like two clocks here. There’s the indictments that have already been sealed and I want you to explain that do you do that to seal indictments so that let’s say Whittaker comes in and fires Mueller the indictments are sealed loaded and ready to go. So even if the fires and they still go off.

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S14: Right. And it means that. Exactly. There could. What it means is that there could be indictments that have already had they’re already in the hands of a judge that we don’t know about.

S10: But that’s not the only reason why you feel an indictment.

S5: A lot of other things might be relevant to it. Yes. No presumably that’s not the actual not the proffered. But what are the real reason.

S16: Yeah. What

S14: what are the other reasons you would do rather than having Mueller having the fear that you might get with Julian Assange who is not being pursued by the Mueller team I should make clear that’s a separate indictment from the Eastern District of New York. Presumably it was because they were trying to get him extradited or trying to go get him in some way and they didn’t want him to know that they were trying to go get him. That’s another reason to seal an indictment. It’s someone you don’t have your hands on you don’t want them to flee although I don’t. Assange is where he is and that Ecuadorian Ministry and another thing related to this that I was thinking about is that so we’re in this moment right now where Whitaker is the acting attorney general he does not have confirmation from the Senate and he hasn’t been nominated. But Trump is still dangling out there that possibility. And I wonder if that makes this kind of relatively safe moment or extends the period of safety for the MA investigation in the sensitive. Whitaker has any prayer of being confirmed by the Senate. He can not interfere with that investigation. And so if he thinks that that’s any kind of possibility has an incentive to let Mueller be for now and he there was a report that he told Lindsey Graham that he wasn’t going to mess with Mueller.

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S17: But that’s very gutsy.

S14: I mean what does that could be true or not true. But even if it’s not true it’s interesting that someone wanted that idea out there whether it was Graham or Whitaker.

S7: Right. Right exactly. One other thing we should mention is Michael Cohen was in town on Veterans Day I spotted at the court at the courthouse or something which suggests he’s continuing to participate.

S10: I want to on your point Emily I think it’s a really good point and it does seem to me that Whitaker is going out of his way to at least signal publicly Oh I’m not going to defang an investigation I’m not going after it maybe because he wants the big job or maybe for some other reason. It also I feel like and maybe I’m always wrong about this kind of stuff. So take it for what it’s worth that what that kind of priced into the Trump administration and priced into everything that’s been going on is basically that well Manafort and Gates are guilty.

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S6: You know we’ll go to prison but no one cares about them. But that stone and some other sort of stone figures around stone and Don Junior are all going to go down and that they’ve sort of accepted like that. I’m sure there’ll be a vigorous defense of Don Junior. But I think everyone thinks like that dudes that dude’s got trouble. And then as long as the investigation kind of doesn’t stretch much beyond that as long as there isn’t a huge amount of other material in either in time or in scope that it doesn’t stretch beyond that that that that’s something the Trump administration can more or less live with the way I might. This is just my gut feeling is they’re letting they’re letting it happen. They’re not interfering too much because they’re sort of expecting those things are expecting Don Junior and stone to get indicted and maybe you know other figures around around them and as long as that’s it they can you know let Mueller issues report and kind of be done with it and it won’t require some larger interference. And that’s why Whitaker isn’t threatening it. That’s why there’s not more noise about it.

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S16: It’s that it’s that they are they’ve sort of assumed that it’s not going to stretch much beyond that although do they have to that we would have to worry about now that they didn’t have to worry about before is that the people who determine what stretches are now in control of the House of Representatives which is that well not for the Mueller investigation. Well but the Mole investigation will present its report and then the House will be hit will respond. So if they indict Don Jr. Don junior presumably if there’s something to it. Well one of the things that he may be in trouble for is not telling the truth to investigators in the house so that that’s one thing that mushrooms into a bigger problem. But what. I mean the key thing about Don Junior is he’s at that June meeting with the Russians who were at the meeting supposedly coming from the Russian government with dirt on Hillary Clinton. So you know will there be proof that Donald Trump knew nothing about that meeting. That would be something you could imagine. House investigators looking into and it’s not crazy to ask that question. I guess the point is if Don Junior is involved it’s a short trip to the president and the. And the short trip in political distance is really what we need to think about there is could Democrats have an investigation that goes beyond Mueller and says look this isn’t crazy. It took to investigate these questions because Don Junior was so close to his father.

S14: Isn’t it also just a big deal that the son of the president who was heavily involved in his campaign is getting indicted. I just I don’t I’m like It’s like we’ve skipped over that. That does not seem to me something that the Trump administration can shrug off right.

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S7: And especially also one of the things is the president is John Junior’s response about what he was doing at that meeting which the president had a hand in in that in crafting that political statement which was which was at what we call not true or known in the in the business is a lie.

S10: Yeah. I don’t know it just feels like it if there’s not that much more than what we we the public already know. That’s fine.

S9: That’s a totally adequate rebuttal. It’s an outrage. It’s outrageous. It’s that rage.

S5: All right all about this I’m irritated by your. I’m haunted by all of it.

S13: The premise that you can be blasé and also that there’s any reason to think that we know everything when every time Mueller’s issued an indictment there have been new and juicy facts and he’s been professionally.

S18: Well no that bill that that’s a that’s a very fair point. Emily which is that the investigation has always been out of the reporting which is as it should be.

S13: And thank goodness for that and kind of a miracle also.

S10: But in all the leaking I just mean as a poll a matter of politics and a matter of like. Will this have consequence. Of course it’s consequential for Don Junior if he goes to prison. And of course it must be frustrating for the for the president that his son could be indicted and that his buddy Roger Stone could be indicted. But I just don’t know as a as a big political matter. It doesn’t feel to me that if that’s the if that is the nut of what the Mueller investigation comes to is what sort of more or less what we already know. I’m sure with with you know trailing strands and Phil degrees elsewhere it doesn’t seem to me that that what will fundamentally change how people Americans think about it how whether it doesn’t. It doesn’t change it doesn’t make it likely the president is impeached or removed from office for this.

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S9: So although they are credit although there are clearly crimes.

S13: Well so are you saying that unless Trump is indicted or all I mean unless. Yeah. Is your standard unless Trump is indicted and impeached that there are no political ramifications because that seems wrong to me right. Like first of all Miller could write a report in which he lays out all the evidence for obstruction of justice and asks puts it in Congress’s court. Right. Second of all the piling up of indictments including Don Junior would could matter a lot politically going into 2020 even if Trump remains in office which I still think he probably will. Right. You still have those political ramifications playing out and perhaps a distancing of other elected Republican officials from a president who would appear more and more battered and potentially toxic and 20 20 just picking up on that last point I wonder.

S16: So what you just described is the way things used to operate in the old world.

S5: No I ain’t no. No no it’s true no. And I and I don’t mean to suggest that I’m sorry back to those all right. Right right. No.

S11: So what you say makes perfect sense except I’m just have fresh in my memory something that happened this week and we talked about it last week the this is the sticking to the partisanship that allows a norm shifting president to then bring along huge other institutions whether it’s the Senate or the Republican Party in this week the president attacked Admiral McRaven who was the head of Special Operations a 37 year veteran of the services a Navy SEAL was highly respected led the operations that captured Saddam and killed bin Laden. And the president basically responded to McRaven his claim that the president’s attacks on the press were the greatest threat to democracy by saying well he’s a he’s a basically a political hack he’s a supporter of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton piece was not true. Yes he worked for Obama. But that’s different than the partisan support. Right. And so just the absolute partisan response from the president as opposed to say a previous president who would have mirrored and said Well I respect his service but I disagree with his opinion. So the Republican Party then starts tweeting out things about McRaven saying basically like he was on Hillary Clinton shortlist. So now you have the Republican Party a party that’s traditionally been associated with respecting the military and the people who serve and served with as much distinction as McRaven did basically taking the president’s line. So you have this shift so back to what you were saying Emily the distance is the distance doesn’t seem to be created by people. So you know Jeff Flake creates distance but he’s on his way out.

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S15: Yeah.

S14: Although this week he did say he would hold up judges waiting for the actual judge who doesn’t get confirmed because of Jeff Flake’s missing vote. And then I will give Jeff Flake some credit and tell that I don’t want to hear about.

S11: Let me let me add one other thing which is we’re highly into the realm of the speculative here because Don junior hasn’t even been indicted but it does seem David that one thing that when this all finally comes out I mean we must tally the the existing tally which is that you have the president’s former national security adviser his campaign chairman his campaign deputy that have all been charged. And so his lawyer is jar you know his most is fixer. So any new person especially if that person to engage in the speculation again if that person has the same name with just a little junior at the end is on top of a pretty big mountain already of people. And that will create responses from the president which will have political ramifications because this is obviously something that the president when he is attacked and in any movement against his son would be seen as that he responds double force. So I think the political ramifications would be the earthquake also created by the president’s in response.

S10: Last question on this Emily it now seems very clear the president will not sit at least will not voluntarily sit for an interview with the Mueller team. He told Chris Wallace an interview on Fox that he wouldn’t do it. He is going to answer some of the written questions that were posed to him. Well he’s not answered them as lawyers as lawyers continuum are going to answer some of the written questions that are posed to him. He had been saying essentially since the investigation started of course he would sit down for an interview. He wanted to do it. Do you think that there’s any possibility that that we get a subpoena and a kind of compel testimony here number one and number two. Was it oppose all the way along that he wanted to sit for an interview. Never. It always seemed to me insane to think that he could voluntarily sit for an interview. Given how mendacious he is.

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S13: But maybe I’m wrong so you know a braggadocio. What’s the word braggart. He’s also a braggart and practices braggadocio. Yeah. His ragged Toshio precisely. And I have no idea whether he really believed he would sit for the interview or was just bluffing. I agree with you that his lawyers would you know have laid their bodies down to make sure that he did not do so. I sort of think that subpoenaing the president to sit for an interview is not the Hill that Mueller is going to die on because I’m not sure how important it is. I mean obviously if you’re a prosecutor you want to ask these questions. You’re you are trying to figure out a charge of obstruction of justice in particular which depends on mindset. And so when you have all these facts you can line up to try to catch someone you want to ask those questions directly. I also think that if Trump’s lawyers don’t answer some written questions Mueller can infer from that that you know they don’t want to answer them. And unless Trump pleads the Fifth those inferences could be part of an indictment. You could imagine that. I think though as I said that look I mean we already there are already lots of reasons to think that Mueller won’t actually indict Trump because of the Justice Department memos that suggest he doesn’t have that authority when he’s writing this report presumably for Congress to consider impeachment. He can explain the answers that Trump did and didn’t give and Congress can make a decision either way. And then I guess there’s also this sort of question down the road after Trump is out of office what kind of legal exposure he would have.

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S10: I just don’t I just I know Emily that you’re right. Like it’s it’s an outrage it’s a terrible the whole but you’re over it. No it’s not that I’m over it. I just don’t I don’t know that. No I’m not.

S9: But yes I’m over to the trap of like it’s just that I is meaningless like I know what it feels that way but we don’t have to like. No we don’t. All right.

S10: It’s an outrage there’s so many outrages that just this outrage that this outrage has taken a disproportionate amount of people’s mental energy and time compared to what it can actually accomplish whereas I think the policy stuff is much more important. I think the actual I’ve come around. I think his personal corruption the part the corruption within the administration is more was more important in a way than the story by corruption really speaks to people gets people really irritated when you learn that somebody is wasting money on some bullshit.

S13: Yeah I totally agree with that. I mean I think if you are a liberal who wants the Mueller investigation to be the magic bullet that is going to slay Donald Trump in one second and make him go poof then you’re probably going to be disappointed. It’s the heat that Trump has done a masterful job at making it seem partisan and complicated and like a witch hunt does he keep saying even though Mueller is like the least partisan person walking around in the country. So you know that all of those things are true it has also been true that every time Mueller has actually acted it’s been highly professional and reassuring and it’s professionalism.

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S10: So it will be you know the best that a highly trained and skillful American prosecutor has to offer so Slate Plus members you get bonus segments on got fest and other slate podcast today’s bonus segment we can talk about whether Thanksgiving is a liberal or a conservative holiday or neither. Perhaps go to Slate accomplished gabfest plus to become a member. Today the camp fire continues to burn in Northern California while the Woolsey fire is more contained in Southern California. Together the two fires have burned more than 250000 acres. That’s I think about six entire Washington D.C. as if my math is right. The town of Paradise really the small city of Paradise has been destroyed more than 70 people are dead about a 1000 people are on a missing persons list just for the campfire. The damage is going to be in the tens of billions of dollars and it’s going to continue to cause people to suffer the smoke for example dangerous smoke has been choking lots of California including the Bay Area. There will be more fires. The hot and dry conditions will continue. It is a terrible dangerous awful situation and it has a kind of relentlessness. An earthquake is a single episode a single incident which causes tremendous damage. The thing about these fires as they come. They come again and they take them a long time to get controlled and they are controlled. Then they reappear it’s there they’re relentless in this way that’s quite awful. So Emily start with you.

S19: Why is it that there is so much more fire now than there was is there so much more fire in California in particular and there was there is more fire or at least the biggest fires that are doing the most damage are recent fires almost entirely.

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S13: There are a few factors there is climate change which is raising the temperature just enough to make all this flammable material more burnable combustible. There are old standing fire suppression tactics where all of this material has not been allowed to burn in the past and so there is more of it. And then there’s people and where they live and the fact that there were twenty seven thousand people in Paradise which Paradise California that is and they were there you know kind of heartbreakingly because housing is so expensive in California that this was like a haven for them. But the price they were paying was to be in the path of this fire. And so you know the one thing that strikes me about these fires which is also true of hurricanes and other extreme weather events is the stories are like Armageddon right. I mean we see these cars we see these people we hear these like terrifying audios of people who literally are in fear that they will be burned to a crisp. And it’s like we’re returning to some past in which we couldn’t count on safety and security and the predictability of American at least middle class life could no longer be taken for granted. And there’s just something so I don’t know what the word is like willfully crazy about not addressing particularly climate change and thus putting some members of our society at risk of these terrifying events that in most of the rest of everything we do we try so hard to prevent. I mean it reminds me also of gun violence in its way we’re like the most important thing is keeping children safe except like oh no we have all these firearms that hurt people and that’s like this exposure that this risk this vulnerability that we’re willing to countenance and the way we make our peace with it is we just assume that will never be us like driving our car with our kids while these like telephone wires and logs are burning and crashing down around us. But when you have to really think about it it’s totally bizarre and terrifying.

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S10: But just one point there Emily which is of course I mean I agree with you 98 percent with what you said and I you know I certainly that the feelings that you expressed there are ones that I share but I would say that the this period where life as a citizen life as a human being was pretty safe and secure and you didn’t have to worry about natural disaster or disease or whatever it’s been a pretty brief period. Well yeah that’s the secure middle class the backstopped by society period and even in a rich country like America it’s been it’s been sort of 50 years and it’s never applied to everyone to your right.

S14: But I don’t think that we expected it to end. I mean no our lifetime. Exactly. Well I take it for granted.

S7: Also the speeding up of history. So let’s say it’s been 50 years the speeding up of history makes it feel it feels to me makes you feel like it was longer in the past. So you know all of the devices when I was talking to the director of the CDC said you know if there’s another pandemic it will strip us down to primitive life because all of the comforts and devices and things we have that are the structure of modernity all go away and they’re all useless against this thing. And so you’re back to the age where you’re knocking rocks against each other to make and which many of us are not going to farewell right.

S14: Not going to farewell me or knocking rocks against each other. Exactly I don’t know where anything well but this is what’s this.

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S18: I mean I wish we were talking about the Michael Lewis book The Fifth the risk. We could talk about the rest.

S10: Well we haven’t but we all. I wish we were doing it systematically. We’ll do it systematically one day. But one of the points he makes is that is that sort of the the great value of government is not necessarily visible every day it sort of risks avoided it’s things to put off because you you maintain the highways you because you invest in education so your population is smarter you have you maintain adequate supplies of that vaccine.

S20: Right. And that is what is that’s what’s alarming.

S13: And not these career professionals whose whole job is to protect you and stave off those dangers and they are being properly husband did as a resource. Right by the federal government and taking them for granted and that that whole apparatus and mission for granted is such an enormous mistake.

S16: One thing I would add to the list that Emily gave us the Santa Ana winds which are part of what create the devastation here at one point the winds were blowing so hard that the fire was not actually burning the trees it was burning it was blowing sideways. And so the fire was burning the cars and the homes and the trees around were were surviving just to the point about severity since records were kept in 1932. The 10 largest fires have been since 2000 five since 2010. And two of the largest fires in California history happened this year alone. All right. So that just get that the to the climate point I think we’re up two or three degrees in in California.

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S21: Then then I don’t know what the baseline for that is but it’s two to three degrees more in temperature.

S14: Can we talk about affordable housing in California. Because you know there was and could still be a proposal to relax zoning rules so that more affordable housing can be built along transportation networks like in San Francisco region BART which is you know the Metro effectively and you could imagine a couple of parts of California where you you know build up you build more densely you allow people to move into the cities by taking advantage of these transportation hubs and the people who can only afford to live like up on a hill or it’s dangerous get to come down from the hill and down from the fire danger if Gavin Newsom the new governor of California is really serious about helping California and making it a better place to live. This would be a huge thing that he could do to address inequality which is an enormous problem.

S10: Well you know what is crazy about this is climate change is not a problem that the governor of California can fix on his own rising heat is not a problem that the governor of California can fix or the legislature of California can fix or the legislature the United States even can fix. But there are so this is a problem which policy can have such an impact on and there was a great article and I’m sorry I didn’t know who wrote it about comparing the fire response to what the Dutch have done around. Sea level rise and the Dutch have done around just the fact that it’s a low lying country in a time when the storms are worse and the sea is rising and the Dutch government I mean it’s a it’s a it’s an existential threat to the Netherlands and there has been this huge investment in amelioration in ways to just spend some money to make it safer you know that there is going to be damage. But let’s make it safer. Let’s you know avoid losing as much properties we can’t let’s avoid losing life and let’s make those upfront investments. And you have really smart people doing it. And in the case of fire in California there are so many policy measures that can be taken which aren’t even partisan that could be taken that would make a difference. I mean end housing is a great one. I mean that is that is a key one. It’s urban density isn’t one cure for this not because it wouldn’t it would cause not fires that happen I just mean that people weren’t being affected as badly by these fires. They weren’t losing property in a way they’re losing property but also the policies about removing flammable material from around homes like you requiring people to use less flammable materials in home construction removal brush and dead trees. There’s all sorts of things which are which are a matter of state local policy that can make a huge difference until people should frickin MIT do it. It’s just crazy not to. But there’s this this resistance to government action which has pervaded American life and to regulation and it’s just causing us to to do stupid things.

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S7: And it’s frustrating these moments of crisis where the whole nation turns its head to watch the horrible effects of they are a moment where a president who is the one to the extent we have a national voice can tee up what you’re talking about David which is the world has convened or at least the United States has convened in this moment. And so a policy response or at least convening people to come up with a policy response is one of the powers a president has. And that’s why you know the president talking about raking in Finland was was obviously off the mark by what he actually said. But also the response to it was kind of was not. I mean people just made fun of him and the press like fact checked whether these rakes in Finland and the moment wasn’t used to talk about what you’re talking about to talk about obviously with the big actual differences in Finland which is it’s a lot colder and wetter there than in California and that’s why it was an absurd analogy not whether they actually use rakes or not which was the subject of some of the fact checks whether they actually use rakes or not which which suggests to me that the fact checkers had totally missed the entire point. And you know they can make fun of the president but when the people doing the fact checking miss the point of the why the analogy break down breaks down and by missing the point miss an opportunity to to educate people about actually what happened then that’s failed.

S10: Also it’s also there’s in Finland there’s this tremendous private public partnership around this that pilots all the. Oh yes. Why. Like we are taught first spoke out. You have to look at the lookout for fires if they catch fires much earlier.

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S14: Yeah. You know I was thinking about this this morning. Part of me appreciates the moments of humor that come out of Trump’s more ridiculous statements like suddenly there’s a meme of a rake and a fire and everyone’s like taking a break. But there’s also something like definitely nihilistic about it. Right. It’s like you’re not thinking about all the actual policy matters or choices you were just talking about right. You’re not using it as an opportunity to educate. You’re just like mocking in this way that doesn’t really teach anyone anything. And it becomes this total as usual like long cul de sac of distraction rather like that’s why it gets attention because it’s really easy to glom onto. I don’t know what to do about that complaining about it makes me feel humourless and like miserly do you all think. I

S10: mean who the hell knows. But there there are a thousand people on this list and collect Clara Jeffrey our our colleague the editor of Mother Jones former colleague of mine beloved colleague of mine noted that if there were a thousand people missing in the East Coast every minute of the day would be focused on this issue the fact that it’s out in the West and that it’s more the kind of remote community has made people blasé about it. Do you think there’s anything to that and also do you think it’s also that people think Oh there aren’t really a thousand people who are going to die in this fire. That’s just somebody misinterpreted something.

S21: Well the coverage of it has been a little uneven. I mean I must say TV has we a lot of people out there so.

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S7: But I think there’s probably something to what she’s saying. I mean there’s undoubtedly something to what she’s saying the East Coast versus West Coast media focus issue is pretty well well established. But I think there based on what I’ve read there is a thousand people doesn’t mean a thousand. There are a lot of people based on the reporting I’ve read. Have haven’t done any actual reporting myself but that there are people who are on the list who don’t even know they’re on the list and that it’s according to one official I read who said basically they put anybody anybody who calls 9 1 1 and says I can’t find Joe or Uncle Sam Uncle Sam gets put on the list.

S8: This is down now speaking metaphorically. Uncle Sam gets put on the list. Weirdly Uncle Sam was on the list. Yes.

S7: Kind of my Uncle Sam gets put a foot on the list and then Uncle Sam doesn’t know he’s on the list and he doesn’t go check the list and so he remains on the list. And once I found Uncle Sam I don’t call back up and say Hey take him off the list.

S9: So the list is created to be over inclusive and I think that’s part of what’s going on. That’s a short believe. There are a thousand people who are. But what you will be sure there will be there are a lot tonight zero missing and dead.

S14: And that is horrible. I mean yeah I’m sure John and Claire are right about West versus East Coast. I think there’s also just this period of drip drip unknown information that confuses the media about how seriously to treat it.

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S10: Well just one small story which actually hasn’t really nothing to do with the fires themselves that I found so outrageous. There’s there’ve been stories which are which are supposed to be heartwarming about prison California prison inmates fighting these fire rate and being paid a dollar a day to do it and of course you know I we I thank them for their service and I’m sure they’re there. They’re doing great work. And it’s it’s it’s dangerous and risky and but there was this outrageous story about the if you are a California prisoner you come out of prison and you’ve had this experience fighting fires you can’t actually get a job as a firefighter because most firefighters in California have to be trained as EMT years and if you have a prison record it’s very hard to get. You’re basically barred from getting an EMT license as a as a former felon. And so then you can’t become a firefighter so even though you have this useful skill that you have learned serving the public you’re then barred. What a waste of human capacity. What a waste of goodwill. That’s really infuriating.

S13: There is a great magazine piece in my very own New York Times Magazine about exactly this issue by Jamie Lowe It’s called the incarcerated women who fight California’s wildfires and it’s about them as human beings and you know what it would take which is not very much to change his whole picture so that you know inmates are being trained for something women who are in prison are being trained for something that then they have as a marketable skill when they get out.

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S10: I did not read that story but as part of it the unseemly power of these public employee unions particularly firefighter and police unions which are just grotesquely powerful and even more so in California than in other places.

S13: I don’t remember which is a bar.

S10: I mean they serve as this bar. Is this a professional bar. I mean it’s it’s the whole way in which credentialing just prevents people from entering professions other really good reasons. Obviously there are you can imagine there kinds of people who who should not be allowed to get a firefighter license if you are an arsonist.

S18: You okay with that. That’s a very small number of people. Right. Clear right.

S21: Yeah. One other angle to this which is interesting to me just because I’m interested and only and not that knowledgeable about but the way in which private industry has to make decisions and claims based on climate change science in a way that if governments aren’t acting private industry has to sue PG&E is being sued by 400 or more people who say basically they should shut the power off when the conditions got to this tinderbox up level and they said Well they the conditions didn’t meet our normal standards. Well they are facing liability for this destruction. And I wonder how that will It’s hammered their stock which is down like almost half because they may not be able to cover the right insurance be able to cover the gap. So what good what in the future will any company that worries about liability in California for potentially starting or contributing to the start of a fire how they have to calculate that into their business model particularly PG&E.

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S10: Yeah I mean I don’t have any knowledge about PG&E and no doubt they’re voracious and rapacious and terrible and all kinds of ways. But it does seem pretty unfair. I mean these are these are conditions that are beyond the control of PG&E and PG&E law obligation as the public utility in that area is to provide people with power and to provide business power and it’s a kind of damned if you do damned if you don’t know. And this is one of these situations where from what I’ve seen is that PGD lines and is are causing fires at this that never happened a generation ago it’s not that they suddenly their equipment is shoddy it’s just that the conditions are terrible and you know they can’t on their own bury all the power lines in California it cost prohibitively huge amount of money. And so it does seem does seem unfair to make them the liable party here Facebook worse than even we ever thought possible. We’ve been Facebook skeptics here at Gap a central East Emily and I have been Facebook skeptics I don’t I’m not sure if Jon’s policy on Facebook for a while and last week the last few weeks have brought a series of stories that highlight just how vastly itself presentation differs from its actuality. There have been a number of bad stories in the past year obviously the evidence that Russian trolls pervaded Facebook throughout the 2016 campaign. The shame of Cambridge analytic and the way that Facebook allowed it to take all kinds of data that shouldn’t have been public and you shouldn’t have been shared with it and use that to possibly manipulate campaigns. Now comes a damning new York Times investigation by some of Emily’s colleagues that shows that the company upon learning about the Russian manipulation. I’m learning about the kind of ways in which Facebook was being put to use in the election campaign that the company behaved in really poor ways. What did what did your colleague for the time find Emily and why was it so depressing.

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S14: Well confronted with information from Alex Stamos and his team Stamos was like the head of security of Facebook at the time and he had basically on his own taken a team to really investigate the Russian interference and postings because nobody else was doing it and seemed to want to know and also at Facebook after Mark Zuckerberg said following the election that he thought it was crazy to imagine that these political posts on on his own site could have affected the election. People at Facebook were like wait a second this was happening and so they set out to prove it. And at a moment when the Facebook board was being briefed and got upset and said wait a second why didn’t you tell us about this earlier. This is a huge deal we need to address it. It seems that Charles Samberg yelled at Alex Stamos and got angry about having been blindsided supposedly as opposed to hearing this information and taking in the substance of it and saying oh my god this company is a force for destruction in a way that Zuckerberg and I didn’t understand and now we’re going to go and deal with it. And the thing about this report is it’s both incredibly revealing and yet in its own way not surprising. Like if you are the people of the head of that company you have an enormous amount invested in seeing it as a force of good in the world. We’ve seen so many indications from Zuckerberg and Sandberg that they just have drunk that Kool-Aid and it’s larger Silicon Valley phenomenon right. They’re like particularly noticeable and important in their manifestation of it. But my experience of reporting in Silicon Valley is lots of people are drinking that Kool-Aid. So then when it turns out not to be true it’s like fundamentally undermining to one’s whole identity. To imagine that actually this this institution this company was doing bad things all along and you didn’t recognize it and you didn’t stop it and you kind of didn’t care about it or signal to anyone that was of importance. And so I think that this time story shows Samberg and Zuckerberg continuing in that line and doing some nefarious things I mean hiring this like you know kind of secretive political opposition ad firm or whatever public relations firm to start putting ceding fake posts and like blaming George Soros. I mean to have these two Jewish corporate leaders out there like adding to the anti-Semitic attacks that used George Soros as like its pinata. I just that really made me and I think a lot of other people kind of noxious and so we’re just seeing this internal picture of a corporation that is enormously powerful and is not responsible in its use of power.

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S17: One of the things that’s always been a disconnect is between the public outrage about Facebook and their responses which have always seemed to kind of miss the what people need. So you know in any of these instances where somebody is apology just doesn’t meet the moment there is have always felt just insufficient. And so when the Times piece came out the idea that they were behind the scenes going on the offense to try to create and the reason as I understand it these are the kind of connection to George Soros was a part of the strategy was to basically. And it’s not unlike what some politicians do which is to discredit the criticism as having been ginned up. So in other words this big thing everybody’s going to be concerned about it’s really ginned up and so don’t be so concerned about it which affirms the underlying skepticism people may have had that they didn’t take the criticism seriously in the first place.

S11: And so they’re now in the response to the New York Times story. Sheryl Sandberg and her in an interview she did with Norah O’Donnell was basically basically said I had ZERO to do with any of this which is so implausible and if it were true would be upsetting because that was her job right.

S7: There you go. That that you’ve just.

S20: The contrast between their self presentation and the hacker utopian self presentation and the dingy trite reality of how they behave is so extraordinary. You don’t expect you don’t expect you know Exxon Mobile to you know to to have utopian hoo ha coming out of there their pie hole they think they’ve you know they’re big gigantic company and they’re going to protect their interests. You’re not surprised if you learn that Exxon Mobile or company X is using crisis PR company to discredit its opponents. OK. That’s that’s a standard tactic. It is. It is that contrast. It’s so galling and and the the the hypocrisy of it is so and I mean they hired Schumer’s daughter. That’s another one that I love. They hired Chuck Schumer’s daughter to two to spin for them. Sandberg Sandberg personally worked over Amy Klobuchar using some of her Lean In credibility to go kind of quiet at least in her Facebook posts.

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S9: Right. Yeah.

S20: And John your point about their apologies is such a good one they’re always apologizing for stuff and it’s always a it’s just not it’s it’s words without meaning to their. And nothing seems to change afterwards they’re just an amazing little vice episode where Vice posed so they have a they’ve a functionality on Facebook where you can buy ads at brought you sponsored by or like intern remember that the term it’s basically to. You would identify the ad is coming from a legitimate source. And so Vice posed as every single senator. They just pretended to be all the senators and bought a bunch of ads pretending to be that Senator. Facebook didn’t check they didn’t see if that was actually a senator. They didn’t care.

S10: They just let you know so you could go and buy an ad pretending to be Lindsey Graham and you know make any wild accusation you want to make or make any claim you want to make and it would probably Facebook with it would let it through. No. Facebook said oh no they all you know they they said Oh this didn’t meet our standards.

S5: We made a mistake there I made a mistake 100. They’re always making mistakes they’re not doing anything not doing anything we know. Yes. Yeah sorry.

S10: One other one other point sorry well I just. Just to get this point out then I’ll shut up is Kevin Ruess the journalist is between the joint God’s work where he’s been tracking what are the most popular Facebook posts on particular subjects and what he has shown consistently is so Facebook has made such a big deal about how we’re gonna get you know more honorable sources more credible sources you know we’re going to we’re going to make sure that the fake news isn’t circulating and Bruce points out that on any given story if you look six eight nine of the top 10 stories are going to be extremely right wing often conspiratorial sometimes sometimes it’s just right wing media spin on something but it’s often conspiratorial spin on it. So for all they’ve talked about over work we’re cleaning up the platform actually the stuff that continues to be most popular that it continue to circulate most broadly is the crap and and and there’s a there’s a wonderful Washington Post story about Eli Saslow the brilliant reporter about a site called was it called a Facebook site called America’s last line of defense which is literally a liberal parody site set up by a guy just to troll right wingers and he’d make he would make up stories that would really be like Hillary Clinton dies in secret overseas mission to smuggle smuggle more refugees into America and you wouldn’t write these fake stories and they they’re hugely popular because conservative yeah didn’t paranoid parody yet don’t recognize parody and circulate it widely and it just just propagates these lies and has Facebook you know his Facebook crackdown on his creepy Facebook you know said oh you know this stuff is illegitimate or this is having a baleful effect. No no they don’t give a shit. They don’t care what they say.

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S17: Well I just wonder whether marketers at some point will start to say now we don’t wanna be associated with that world or whether they are just too gargantuan for marketers to leave and whether anybody could create a social platform social networking platform that that lacked some of the either public relations problems that Facebook has faced or the just in general solves for the vinegar arenas of social media. I don’t know if that’s even possible but it seems like that that opportunity is becoming more and more happening.

S18: One of the thing about Instagram I actually think has some of that role Instagram is a much sweeter platform. Yes Instagram lacks owned by Facebook. Oh and by Facebook and Facebook is done a great job of protecting it. And although there are I don’t know the founders of Instagram yet. All right. I’m sorry.

S7: Sorry that day laughter but one other thing about the apologies is felt is that often I felt like the responses that were couched as apologies were actually just marketing statements so they would say we’re really taking you know we’re really focusing on security and the focus on pace and growing our our user base. That maybe caused us to overlook some of these security problems before we’re not doing that. We’re focusing now on user engagement which felt like a marketing pitch like they have they have their moment that everybody’s focusing on them. They know they’re gonna to make an apology but then they like tack on like here’s the fun part of Facebook we’re focusing on now. So keep being involved in that. So that seemed to me to kind of undermine the authenticity of some of those apologies as well.

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S14: I was really struck by something my colleague Nick Confessore is sad which is that you know a century ago Upton Sinclair exposed this like totally horrifying nature of you know meat marketing and it is a jungle and right in the jungle and his like famous muckraking book about American factories and food products Shen and before that we thought of these as I guess I wasn’t there but like these were assumed to be a kind of virtuous or at least neutral morally neutral companies. And Facebook is having that kind of moment and we’re all having a moment of realizing that social media which presented itself as this you know Silicon Valley like making the world better that that’s not true it’s not and it. And what happened after the jungle was that the food industry got regulated and that is what Facebook is desperate desperately trying to stave off. And what is enormously needed right now. So when I read the Facebook is talking about creating some independent quote you know cord that is going to be deciding what can be posted and not it does not reassure me it is time for the government to come in and set some limits and think about also whether this company needs to have some anti-trust changes made to it also. I mean maybe Facebook should not own Instagram and WhatsApp and Snapchat And yeah yuck.

S7: So I don’t know if this is where you were we were about say David about the jungle but my favorite line from that was I know you’re about like this. Yes I wrote a book to hit people in the heart and I hit him in the stomach because he was trying to raise awareness about your guess who works. I think that was his name who worked in you know these awful conditions and people didn’t care so much about him they cared about the food that was coming to them and whether it was healthy. But this leads to another question I have about Facebook from a business standpoint which is you know what kind of what do people want from social media. And has the underlying when this all first started happening I thought yeah people don’t like whatever bad things are happening Facebook but ultimately like they want to connect and they want to be. You know I want to check out what’s happening with my nephews and how they’re to post stuff and write their voices heard.

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S8: Right. And we should all sympathize. Yeah. Journalist right. Exactly.

S7: So I kind of thought that that poll would continue that people would would would say Yeah I don’t like this stuff over here but gosh I really enjoy being able to like see pictures of McClane Virginia in the 1970s when I grew up and there’s really no other place I can go to for that. So I wonder from a user standpoint I know a lot of people say like I’m never going on back on Facebook but I feel like my Facebook feed is still pretty well populated with all of that stuff and that people are still using it.

S10: You know what to me is weird though. JOHN Well yes I think a lot of people still do use it and especially people who are older remember yeah that’s why it’s important that they own these other services where they are yes to it. About 10 years ago or more when I was editor of Slate I signed Emily Yoffe to write a story which was called I think the headline was Facebook and 50 something where she was then 50 or 51 or something and went on Facebook and the idea was Oh my God it’s so funny how funny would it be to be an old person on Facebook. And now of course Facebook has become a platform for old people. But I do think that that it is really I mean people tend to lump all these services together they tend to say you know put put put them all Oh it’s the social media has this detrimental effect and oh Twitter or Google Facebook Instagram but it really is much worse. With Facebook I Twitter there’s lots of problems with Twitter and I can see absolutely why people wouldn’t want to be on it but sorry just banged I was so excited just banged the chair Forget that noise. But at the same time like Twitter is more or less does what you expected to it it is always. I’ve always understood it if it behaves in the way that Twitter is comfortable.

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S5: I don’t know what you’re talking about Twitter does your job of monitoring its content.

S13: It doesn’t have you know real name requirements which makes it like a total trash heap. It may behave as you expected to. You have a thick skin.

S9: But I don’t think that we can crack the Twitter is any better that it’s smaller. It has that maybe that maybe was a journalist for journalists it’s catnip because we’re on there like gossiping and watching each other.

S10: But I don’t think it’s like well I guess I just don’t for a lot of people I don’t think it does that kind of pervasive damage that Facebook does. I don’t think Google does. I don’t think Instagram does WhatsApp I don’t know enough about.

S9: I don’t think that is like Pinterest or Snapchat.

S14: Other countries like including in Brazil by having these like mass group chats that spread totally false and like inciting to violence information.

S10: So your view is that all social media are bad.

S14: No I don’t I feel some hope about Instagram. I think there’s something about the more visual nature of it that seems to make it like I don’t know. I like to be ruined so it does seem like there is a way in which these things go toward the lowest common denominator. I don’t know. I’d like to think otherwise. I’m all for connecting.

S17: I as an anti-social person I’m not all for connecting and basically could tell all of you that this was predictable years ago right.

S5: Well that’s interesting. So say more about that. You feel you don’t want to be bombarded by.

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S11: Well no it’s not true because I don’t know I that was a that was a stupid detour.

S17: I guess what I was wondering is whether this is a solvable problem for Facebook so they can apologize and apologize in the higher billions of people to monitor this and the other thing. But it seems to me that the only solution to to restoring what it once was is to find and I know they’re searching madly for this some new great reason for everybody to want to be on it and and generate a good feeling about being on it because are you really going to get credit if you stop all the bad stuff from happening people you know maybe there will be so many stories that you hear in the news and maybe 10 years down the road people would say oh they had that rough patch but now you know they’ve they’ve sort of survived but to regain its place that it once had. It seems to me it’s got to it’s got two problems. It’s got to kind of put out this problem solve this problem and then the other big problem is how do you create meaningful engagement. You know in a world of so many competitors with interesting and fascinating content that’s that’s a super hard thing to do.

S14: But the putting out the solving the problem is doable. I mean it would take money and it would take a willingness to censor and regulate speech. Absolutely. But those things are attainable. Like you don’t have to have the Kevin Ruth list of you know wildly circulating conspiracy theory posts every week. That is not a necessary Yeah.

S17: I guess what I feel like is this is like when we installed new windows in our house we spent all this money installing the new windows their house and you basically can’t. The house looks exactly the same right. I mean helps on the energy bills a little bit but it’s basically fixing these problems are just a massive massive sunk cost for which they will get some credit but which they will not overcome the deficit they’re in as a result of all these problems and the and the odor that is now attached to set to Facebook.

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S15: That’s not a disagreement that I just examined there they’re totally totally. No no I’m just saying like that.

S7: Yes I guess I’m just trying to to line up all the problems they face and see whether you know there was a situation there what their end and when they felt though and you were talking before about advertisers and you know whether people are going to start to walk away solving the problem.

S14: Yes do a lot to reassure advertisers that in terms of the tax compliance and it does matter right.

S22: That’s an excellent point.

S10: Let’s go to cocktail chatter when you’re preparing for Thanksgiving with a really really stiff mulled wine. There can be such a thing as a stiff mulled wine or in my house. It’s usually a sherry and you’re having a sherry. What will you be chattering about. Emily the bath.

S14: I am writing a piece right now about the census. And maybe we will actually make the census into a whole topic in the coming weeks and some. So I need to talk about this. Why. Count me in. Count John in. Thank you. But I just as a preliminary matter I went to the trial in Manhattan that was taking place last week about the census. And what I came away with. So this was mostly a super boring day that I spent because it was this very technical testimony about statistics and how the census is put together. And like the word coefficient and other terms that I like barely remember for math and probably never fully understood anyway. And yeah I came away David is pretending to go to sleep right now. I came away feeling so I was just stretching.

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S23: I was enjoying your read.

S14: I came away feeling so reassured and kind of perversely moved by the dedication of our federal bureaucracy. Like here are these teams of people doing these super important tasks that nobody appreciates like the census is one of those things that you know we take for granted. We think of it as just a film to fill form to fill out. Actually it’s a super important underpinning of our democracy which is under threat. And these folks who you know are have dedicated their careers to making this huge apparatus of federal government functional and explaining all the work they do. And there was just something about it that you know I came away thinking like wow this is an amazing feat. And I don’t know if I’m going to succeed in conveying that as a writer. But like I really need to try anyway. So let’s talk more about the census but in the meantime let’s give thanks for the thanks for the census on Thanksgiving.

S12: Yeah. That’s that’s very good. That’s very good.

S10: John I like that. What is your chatter.

S24: My chatter is totally frivolous.

S8: Snoop Dogg you may be familiar with his work. He is Alvin Brody.

S25: K he. Yeah we all think about him during the Thanksgiving season. But but more to the point recently he was. He got a Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame. And I’d just like to read you a passage from his from his remarks at the at the. Whatever what do you do with the leg of the star. The unveiling of the star. He said I want to thank me for believing in me. I want to thank me for doing all this hard work. I want to thank me for having no days off. I want to thank me for never quitting. I want to thank me for always being a giver and trying to give more than I receive. I want to thank me for trying to do more right than wrong.

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S24: I want to thank me for just being me at all times. I don’t know why that tickled me but it did. And you should watch the video of it because it’s funny too.

S10: It is true that you don’t get a day off from yourself. That is definitely one of the problems with life. Yeah. It’d be nice to be nice to have a day off a weekend from yourself.

S5: Right. Don’t you know true. Don’t you want a weekend. I don’t like a lot of vacation for my.

S24: So don’t you think that’s why people engage in either go to Renaissance fairs and dress up like elves and wizards or engage in all kinds of other behaviors that literally allow them to try to escape from themselves by creating a difference.

S15: Yeah and why do people that’s why they use drugs. They’re reading books but I don’t know that drinking really is. I mean yes they’re just escaping into a book is great. I mean I find that I have a my escape velocity from a book is much easier than it used to be. You know I find that unless the book really grabs me I’m not the most pressing feature in the modern world yet it is so crucial 10 bodies.

S14: Some like shooting fictional Neri.

S11: Oh my God either yes or you become just a howling void. But so I guess my question is whether in our current moment whether people are it’s not just drinking. You’ve got to have a more immersive experience and whether people seek that out more because people want and it’s an escape from themselves.

S12: I don’t know. How would you quantify that. I don’t know.

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S7: I don’t know. The Atlantic writes that nobody’s having sex anymore so they’re not doing it.

S14: That was about kids. That was not about us. It’s about adults too. Oh yeah. I thought it was there was less sex for adults but it was more a kind of generational piece. Was about 20 something.

S10: Yeah but it’s wild. But that’s sort of weirdly about an epidemic of loneliness where in fact people are unable to escape themselves because they are alone right.

S14: I felt on the safe side of the generational dividing line as I do that peace without worried about my children.

S26: Was like OK well Emily I guess it’s also I think I would also say that this is something you know or you don’t like. And I think it’s like the other groovy solution at the moment of T am making sure we’re retreating I need a family admission you may or may not have wanted to make eggs.

S6: I don’t think it’s going to take us back to safety if my chatter which is about Michael Bloomberg.

S23: That for me it’s the least sexual. Actually it’s your male crush. Actually yeah. You can either think about baseball or Michael Bloomberg.

S27: Close your eyes and think of Michael Bloomberg. You’re the only one in America. It’s all personal write in candidate. We all have.

S6: We all have our own special turn ons Emily don’t get shit on mine.

S27: Okay. Go ahead tell us more. It began.

S26: Okay.

S10: As it all as it always ends as it always does with Michael Bloomberg in pajamas no Michael. Michael Bloomberg just donated one point eight billion dollars to Johns Hopkins to guarantee need blind admissions there. It’s the largest university donation ever made apparently which is great. That’s fine. You know I mean big Michael Bloomberg fan. No. No surprises there. But it did put into focus for me just how pointless and terrible everything is.

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S5: This is a classic example of something where there’s a billionaire who’s putting a Band-Aid on something for one college and he happens to love and want to pay one point a billion dollars in taxes and that money was distributed to low income people who want to go to lots of colleges and maybe can’t get what you like. I do my chatter wouldn’t you like my child I had the exact same thought about it last night.

S6: It’s outrageous that we were doing this counting on rich people to sort of decide oh well out of the goodness of my heart I’m going to help out a rich already rich college that I want to help out rather than that way too.

S24: Can I just said Can I ask then what. And maybe we should find some way to think about this more systematically but because you could imagine a situation which giving one point eight billion dollars to the federal government might not be the most efficient use of that money. So could you create a system whereby let’s say I have a billion dollars and you all visit me on my island and we want to do with that billion dollars the most efficient and useful thing let’s say just in the education area like early it would go to community colleges or to public universities right.

S14: Or that you would cost out how to have the most impact. That’s not a blind admission.

S5: Well private and could you convene people who could figure out what to do with the money that we’re seeing.

S10: Well but also nope you sure that’s interesting problem. I think that is basically what the Gates Foundation has done to their credit. I think they get foundation is doing that on a global scale. So they’ve looked at what are the what are the problems malaria being a great example which caused the most suffering and lost productivity and loss life and loss pleasure and malaria as one. And so let’s try to tackle that a hazard to them but that doesn’t go to Emily’s point. Of course the government can be less efficient. But but there’s something deeply wrong with a world in which all the wealth is accumulating to a few people who get to make that decision like it actually. And government is not that inefficient. Yes there are certain things the government does much better than anybody else because they are the only ones who can apply that much scale.

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S26: The only ones who can build those highways high island ones who can.

S7: I hijacked your point I was sorry I was trying to go off and make it and I ask a separate question which which I’m sorry because it kind of stuck out.

S14: I think those are both valid and interesting thoughts right. If you had a billion dollars and you had a priority which was not the military so you didn’t want half your tax dollars to go to the military or whatever the giant percentages and you had a problem you want to solve like access to college education for low income people which is a huge issue. What would you do. Yeah. How would you best distribute do. And I am all for that. I think it’s hugely important but I’m pretty sure that given all of it to Johns Hopkins you know you know.

S5: That’s right. No I’m not.

S24: Yeah. And I wouldn’t suggest that I guess I was just wondering is if you could imagine. I don’t know are there a lot of billionaires like Michael Bloomberg who would think giving it away. Oh by the way you also want to create a system where you get the credit for it. Right. You don’t get credit for paying your taxes so much so could you create a situation where for the billionaires out there who wanted to good that maybe the Gates Foundation is basically it would that that is the.

S14: How easy would it be to find a way to most effectively channel that money maybe you have Michael Bloomberg scholarships all over the country at different schools as opposed to like every building at Johns Hopkins is named after Michael Bloomberg. Yeah or they would why not just call it Johns Bloomberg or you know Johns Hopkins Bloomberg.

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S15: Bloomberg university it’ll be Bloomberg university by the time we’re done about maybe after his death can they finally put the apostrophe in the Johns Hopkins by the way just think John I’m kidding.

S14: I don’t think it’s one of those terms that you’re so proud of yourself when you say correctly like attorneys general. I wrote attorneys general wrong the other day and then I was slightly like mortified but then thought this is just ridiculous.

S7: Yeah. One point seven of the one point eight is going to teach people how to use data correctly in the plural.

S28: We also have a listener shot of this week because you guys continue to tweet great chatters to us at arts like Gaddafi’s emails at Cat fest. It’s like dot com with your excellent ideas for cocktail chatter and this week’s chatter comes from Jonathan booed at Jay Bode BSU the E.

S6: An article in three list by Kevin Alexander which is headlined I found the best burger place in America. And then I killed it and it’s a story about food critic who named a burger and a gritty joint in Portland the best burger in America. And this restaurant then was overwhelmed and just went downhill and became miserable to work there became miserable to go there the staff became unpleasant people. There’s actually some ambiguity about whether the Alexander article was in fact the responsible agent here that the restaurant may have actually had problems which were totally independent of being named the best burger in America. But it’s a really interesting piece about the quest for authenticity. Authentic experience and how much people in the Instagram age how much people want to make a checkbox make a bucket list of 0 I the best burger in America and the complexity of that. So check out the story and thrill us. I found the best burger in America.

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S4: That is our show for today the Gabfest is produced by Joslyn Frank who was busy in Washington D.C. today which is so exciting for me. Jocelyn has grown four inches taller since she’s moved to the Midwest. Our researcher is Bridget Dunlap.

S3: You should follow us on Twitter at Slate gab fest and you should tweet conundrums to us and also email conundrums to US deficits icon and come to our conundrum show on December 12th. New York gets its second flash live for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson. I’m David Plotz. I’m really happy Thanksgiving and we’ll talk to you next week.

S10: Hello. Slate Plus how are you. We are taping on Tuesday before Thanksgiving so you may be listen just after Thanksgiving. If you have Thanksgiving or you may not be listening to it at all although if you’re not listening to it then you’ll never know what we talked about. Riddle me that. The question on the table is is Thanksgiving a liberal or a conservative holiday.

S29: Discuss. Anyone want to take a guess at the right answer.

S5: I’m sorry. This can’t be one where we’re all right. No there’s a right answer. There’s a no it and you are right. I was you I’d just be.

S10: I’m just trying to. Again just to just to get you started.

S9: Well you know and I think maybe follow it accordingly.

S10: OK so the k. All right. I’ll make a case that it’s a very conservative holiday number one it is literally the same meal it is conservative in the sense that it is late.

S5: Number one we stole the country way people stole the country from the Native American Congress self-regulation continue. Wait why.

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S24: Appropriation. Why is that. Why is conquest a conservative ideal.

S14: Well it’s become associated with conservatives who seem to be very eager to extend the reign of white people in power in the United States of America. I don’t think originally it was a conservative.

S24: But that’s not a coup but extending the reign of I think. Well I don’t know that I would agree with that but anyway carry on.

S5: Oh yeah. What about Steven Miller and how the white nationalist. Well I don’t think conserve it.

S24: I don’t think conservatives would count him among their number.

S5: So what is this to call him instead. Well it is a kind of concern thinks intrinsically a holiday.

S10: Go ahead you finish.

S7: What. No no. Go ahead.

S10: It is Thanksgiving intrinsically a holiday about cultural appropriation and colonialism and conquest. Or is it about cultural sharing about.

S29: About comedy and alliance and and joining together.

S24: Well in its original conception or in what it has become.

S18: I don’t know how people can separate it.

S24: Well because Jefferson because George Washington and Lincoln I mean in the Proclamation in 1863 it’s basically about giving thanks to God. And that was true for Washington too. So it’s basically it’s a religious holiday.

S14: So which is a bummer for Jews at least for me because we appreciate that it’s like a secular holiday that we get to Sharon and we don’t have to feel left out from which is kind of the experience of Christmas which is OK. Well Christmas I just don’t get to participate in it.

S11: Well unless you think it’s the same God.

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S10: Well I’ll go. But if you don’t worship a god. Yeah. That’s that does it. That’s. But but but but actually. But I don’t think that Lincoln’s proclamation binds me. I don’t think that Lincoln’s proclamation determines how people celebrate. You know but I mean if Thanks but I think I don’t think we’re required to think of it as giving thanks to God today.

S7: Right. But you were. But I’m looking for the definition of what the giving of thanks is for. So we w if you take the super literal then that’s one thing but then when it’s become because there’s the super little then there’s the like textbook Elementary School in McLean Virginia where it’s like this Kumbayah with the Native Americans where we’re not taking anything from and Squanto helped the Pilgrims build that make their crops arrive Ren had dinner with them. Yeah it’s a huge bipartisan party where everybody’s giving and nobody’s stepping on anybody’s toes and it’s all great. And then there is the more general kind of I think two version of what Emily saying about which is this is the one holiday that kind of it’s a secular and religious can join in it or in a celebration of America because of the ridiculous both commercialization and politicization of Christmas but also.

S14: And I love Thanksgiving I’m not going to stop loving Thanksgiving like everything else in American history when you start digging into the foundation of it you find racism like you find really problematic relationships among native peoples and the white people who showed up from Europe like that’s just a fact of it and you know the Native Americans I don’t know maybe. Guess OK. They helped grow crops but they also like died of smallpox and got killed.

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S10: Right. But that right. Right of course. And it is it but what is the stance towards that. I think with Columbus Day everyone stances like well everyone the left stance is Oh man we got to ditch this holiday. It’s a dog of a holiday don’t think people feel that way about Thanksgiving. But why not.

S13: Well although although clearly I’m sure some people some people feel that so many different meanings and it’s so woven into the fabric of our calendar and our social policy right it’s like would be too threatening to try to dislodge Thanksgiving. And I’m not suggesting we do. I do think though that pretending it doesn’t have this complicated history is ever a mistake.

S29: I yeah I don’t know if that’s conservative or liberal. I don’t know. I guess I don’t feel like I have to spend all time I mean it seems to me that it’s a it’s a holiday about my eyes.

S26: You’re too busy.

S6: No it’s true it’s like you’re busy you’re too busy giving thanks for the chance to spend time with all these wonderful cousins and family and to be together with them and that. That to me. I don’t. I actually spent no time thinking about Thanksgiving as a historical holiday or that beet was born.

S13: You never read a single article about Native Americans feeling like distressed about Thanksgiving and had like find a find yourself moved in some way.

S10: But I have never read it. I think the Americans I’ll send them America’s history towards Native Americans is appalling. But that particular. No I do I read about Thanksgiving as the exemplar of it.

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S29: No because Thanksgiving seemed to me like a really really small minor piece of a act of you know conquest and and criminal you know criminal cruelty and genocide.

S9: Well sure. But it but Thanksgiving doesn’t seem like central to it.

S13: Yeah but it’s also a holiday that people experience differently based on their relationship to that history and I have definitely read and talked to Native Americans who feel like very ambivalent or upset about it. And so in that sense like it’s not truly inclusive like everything. And you know a little bit of grappling with that phrase do right.

S10: It’s not a universal holiday. It’s also I think that to me what’s conservative about it. And in both in good and bad ways as I was saying like it’s the same. You eat is literally conservative in the sense that it’s it is it’s repetitious. It is you do the same thing. Whereas most other holidays I think independence day there are many different ways to celebrate Independence Day. And many legit different ways to celebrate Independence Day or Labor Day and even Christmas. There are not that many ways to celebrate Thanksgiving that are authorized. Well they’re there. People have a kind of very narrow sense of how you do it. And that’s a conservative idea. It’s it’s not also you have to do it. Sorry John one at one point and it is very hard almost all Thanksgiving is oriented around the family. It’s harder. There are of course people millions of people who celebrate with families they’ve chosen rather than families. They were there their birth families and. And I think and I imagine they have wonderful happy Thanksgivings but it’s very central to the idea Thanksgiving is that you’re doing it with the family you. You come from. And for a lot of people that’s miserable.

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S24: Oh I wonder if that’s okay. I find it to be a much more broad definition of family. But maybe that’s my own maybe that’s my own view. You know what I wonder is is whether because you because we all have personal experiences with Thanksgiving each year it becomes whatever our personal feeling is about it. And that’s what allows a person to detach it from this notion of Thanksgiving and Native Americans. The thing about the Thanksgiving Native Americans is like that’s look like a marketing thing which is separate and apart from where it actually came from. I mean so Washington Lincoln I don’t think you mentioned the Native Americans at all like it was a. So so it has. There’s kind of a schoolhouse rock part of it that has morphed into this relationship with the Native Americans of course.

S10: And again I don’t know if this makes it liberal or conservative maybe doesn’t matter. I mean what is what is great about it. Maybe this is what makes it liberal is that it is not religious in a meaningful way. It’s not. It’s not sectarian religious and that is not materialistic.

S8: Yes. Well it’s hedonistic in the sense of I eat so much pie and I mean so but it’s not. You don’t have to come bearing gifts which is a relief for those of us who are bad at that job.

S7: To your conservative point David it it it highlights that that it must be the same every year like it’s obsessive about the traditions.

S14: I guess for people with their sources roast turkey on every Sunday I even do like but is not a lot of people’s favorite food and sure of a stultifying can’t.

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S9: David hates because he I hate ballet. I w..

S20: I’ve got to I’ve got to cook this stupid Turkey for the first time in years. Tomorrow or Thursday.

S13: So it’ll be great. Pour some cider on it. That’s my own little tip and it’s roasting.

S17: But that’s my point like everybody is forced to eat this thing that is not probably on their top five list or 10 list.

S12: Even during the rest of time well like turkey. Yeah.

S10: Yeah there’s definitely. Definitely not top down. Good point. OK. All right. Well may your May your Thanksgiving be the joyous Slate Plus hours. Talk to you next week. Bye bye.

S19: My God that reminded me that I need your mom’s milk up high last year and it was a big hit and I had forgotten that I did that and now I probably am going to be asked to do it again. And I did not buy any of the ingredients or think about it for one second.

S10: I made it because it is the greatest.

S14: Was really good and now I’m going to have to figure out world how to do about the fat. Let’s do both. I have no plans to make it again. Maybe I’ll go buy some ingredients.

S22: OK. All right.