Week Seventeen

How bankruptcy lets oil and gas companies evade cleanup rules

Bankruptcy code allows companies to abandon “burdensome” properties, a provision companies have tried to use to discard entire oil wells.

Link: https://grist.org/accountability/oil-gas-bankruptcy-fieldwood-energy-petroshare/
“The crucial feature of these fossil bankruptcies — where fossil companies are using bankruptcy to get out of environmental obligations — is that a company can’t pay all of its debts,” said Joshua Macey, a University of Chicago law professor specializing in environmental law and bankruptcy. “The only way to solve this is to insist that, before bankruptcy, the firm is either doing cleanup contemporaneously or has a guarantee that there will be sufficient assets to do cleanup.”

Can Biden Reverse Trump’s Damage to the State Department?

Reeling from the leadership of Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, career officials wonder whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken can revitalize American diplomacy.

Link: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/can-biden-reverse-trumps-damage-to-the-state-department
Aides who worked under Pompeo said the exchange regarding the raid typified a leadership style that included brusque treatment of personnel and an intense focus on partisan politics that sometimes hampered the day-to-day business of the State Department. In interviews, dozens of other department employees alleged that Pompeo’s chaotic tenure, and that of his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, left deep institutional and cultural scars that continue to impede American diplomatic efforts around the world.

Why Confederate Lies Live On

For some Americans, history isn’t the story of what actually happened; it’s the story they want to believe.

Link: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/06/confederate-lost-cause-myth/618711/
“I don’t mind that they come on Memorial Day and put Confederate flags on Confederate graves. That’s okay,” she said. “But as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need a Confederate flag on—” She stumbled over a series of sentences I couldn’t follow. Then she collected herself and took a deep breath. “If you’re just talking about history, it’s great, but these folks are like, ‘The South shall rise again.’ It’s very bothersome.”

Does Tech Need a New Narrative?

In Silicon Valley, “disruption” is giving way to “building.” What will be built?

Link: https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-silicon-valley/does-tech-need-a-new-narrative
Acquiescing to the terms set by the industry, Harnett argued—“disruption,” “sharing economy,” “platform,” “innovation,” even “startup”—also helped “pave the way for a handful of companies that represent a tiny fraction of the economy to have an outsized impact on law, mainstream corporate practices, and the way we think about work.” By aligning with consumers, rather than software engineers or gig workers, the coverage also elided the question of whether companies like TaskRabbit and Uber were ultimately in the business of technology as such.

The Fight for the Heart of the Southern Baptist Convention

How the Convention’s battle over race reveals an emerging evangelical schism.

Link: https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/the-fight-for-the-heart-of-the-southern-baptist-convention
“What’s happened is that people are now sorting themselves into churches that align more with their political ideology than their theology,” he said. “They want the sermons they hear on Sundays to align with what they hear on cable news all week.”

The Curious Rise of Twitter Power Broker Yashar Ali

In just a few years, he's become one of the most fearsome media figures in the country—mobilizing his vast Twitter following to promote his famous friends and punish foes. Can his own past survive similar scrutiny?

Link: https://www.lamag.com/mag-features/yashar-ali/
To his 800,000 Twitter followers, Ali’s aching sentimentality won’t come as a complete surprise. They know that this 41-year-old scourge of the internet—the political-operative-turned-social-media-muckraker who took down Sharon Osbourne, hobbled the cabinet chances of L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, canceled food writer Alison Roman, and helped crush Harvey Weinstein—is actually a big softy. At least when it comes to elephants. And orangutans. But when it comes to everybody else who ends up in his Twitter account’s sights—A-list celebrities, media bosses, and politicians (especially the ones he’s become intertwined with personally and financially)—he’s a force to be reckoned with, emerging over the last five years as one of the most feared and powerful voices on the web.

The Oracle’s Daughter

Sarah Green escaped her mother’s cult 22 years ago. She still thinks about those she left behind.

Link: https://www.thecut.com/2021/06/sarah-green-escaped-mother-cult.html
It was September 1999. At 26, Sarah had spent almost her entire life as a member of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps, a paramilitary religious cult headquartered in the New Mexico desert. Founded by Sarah’s parents in the early 1980s, the group operated under the leadership of Sarah’s mother, who believed herself to be God’s oracle. According to her prophetic vision, “true Spirit-led Christianity is war.” The group’s several dozen members wore fatigues. During worship meetings, they battled Satan by slashing the air with invisible, demon-slaying swords. Everyone had a military rank. Sarah’s mother was the General. The youngest children were privates.

The FBI's Anom Stunt Rattles the Encryption Debate

The agency spent years running a secure phone network for criminals. So much for “going dark.”

Link: https://www.wired.com/story/fbi-anom-phone-network-encryption-debate
Import requirements, shipping container logistics—the FBI had seen it all, hammered out over a series of texts dating back to October on the Anom encrypted phone network. Federal agents hadn't cracked Anom's cryptography, or paid off an informant directly involved in the canny deal. They had, along with the Australian police, spent the past three years running the whole system.

The Dark, Democratizing Power of the Social-Media Stock Market

BitClout collapses everything—art, humor, personhood—into money, laying bare just who, and what, we are willing to pay for.

Link: https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/the-dark-democratizing-power-of-the-social-media-stock-market
where would Twitter, Reddit, or TikTok be without the people who supply them with content? A site like BitClout is simultaneously empowering and dark. It collapses everything—art, humor, personhood—into money, laying bare just who, and what, we are willing to pay for.

Once a Bastion of Free Speech, the A.C.L.U. Faces an Identity Crisis

An organization that has defended the First Amendment rights of Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan is split by an internal debate over whether supporting progressive causes is more important.

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/06/us/aclu-free-speech.html
Since Mr. Trump’s election, the A.C.L.U. budget has nearly tripled to more than $300 million as its corps of lawyers doubled. The same number of lawyers — four — specialize in free speech as a decade ago.

The Republicans’ Wild Assault on Voting Rights in Texas and Arizona

What began as thinly veiled attempts to keep Democrats from the polls has become a movement to undermine confidence in our democracy itself.

Link: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/06/14/the-republicans-wild-assault-on-voting-rights-in-texas-and-arizona
Based on data collected by the conservative Heritage Foundation, the incidence of voter fraud in the two decades before last year’s election was about 0.00006 per cent of total ballots cast. It was negligible in 2020, too, as Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, acknowledged at the time.

The Pied Piper of SPACs

Chamath Palihapitiya says that the investment tool lets ordinary people get rich off startups. It may be hype—but hype can be its own economic engine.

Link: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/06/07/the-pied-piper-of-spacs
Palihapitiya’s friend asked me, “When someone tells a new story, and then they make it come true—they invent something, or they help some company get funded, or they make us change how we see things—aren’t we better off?” He added, “I think we’re lucky some storyteller was willing to do that work and take that risk.” ♦