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What Happens When People Live to 100?

What Happens When People Live to 100?

If life-expectancy trends continue, that future may be near—with surprising consequences.

By Gregg Easterbrook

Beginning in the 19th century, that slowly changed. Since 1840, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months with each passing year. In 1840, life expectancy at birth in Sweden, a much-studied nation owing to its record-keeping, was 45 years for women; today it’s 83 years. The United States displays roughly the same trend. When the 20th century began, life expectancy at birth in America was 47 years; now newborns are expected to live 79 years. If about three months continue to be added with each passing year, by the middle of this century, American life expectancy at birth will be 88 years. By the end of the century, it will be 100 years.

Viewed globally, the lengthening of life spans seems independent of any single, specific event. It didn’t accelerate much as antibiotics and vaccines became common. Nor did it retreat much during wars or disease outbreaks. A graph of global life expectancy over time looks like an escalator rising smoothly. The trend holds, in most years, in individual nations rich and poor; the whole world is riding the escalator.

Projections of ever-longer life spans assume no incredible medical discoveries—rather, that the escalator ride simply continues. If anti-aging drugs or genetic therapies are found, the climb could accelerate. Centenarians may become the norm, rather than rarities who generate a headline in the local newspaper.

Iran Warns Obama to Stay Out of Iraq

So much for an alliance of convenience. This week some of the Iraqi militias fighting ISIS issued a warning to President Obama not to send in ground forces.

Three top Iraq Shiite militias warned the United States this week not to reoccupy the country—and leading the charge was Muqtada al-Sadr. The firebrand cleric, who was the face of the anti-American Shiite insurgency of the last decade, said in a statement Monday: “As we made you taste the heat of our fire and [power] in the past, we will make you taste the scourge of your decision," according to a translation from the Institute for the Study of War. Two other Shiite militias, Asai’b Ahl al-Haq and Katai’b Hizballah, followed Sadr’s Mahdi Army and issued a statement Monday telling the United States to stay out of Iraq.

The groups, which receive considerable backing from Iran, fought bitterly with U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in the last decade, when U.S. forces were battling to build up an Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Still, these same militias also have fought on the ground against ISIS positions, in some cases retaking ISIS-controlled territory with the indirect help of American airpower. That was the case earlier this month, when Asai’b al-Haq took back Amerli following a U.S. air campaign.

But this week Iran’s supreme leader publicly rejected the Obama administration’s entreaties to cooperate in the fight against ISIS, though Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would still be interested in discussing possible cooperation against ISIS in the future.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday evening that Iran provides the militias with help organizing, some weapons, and military advisers. He also stressed they were disorganized.

Nonetheless, Zarif said that any U.S. ground presence in Iraq would likely spur opposition. “The problem also when it comes to the United States is that the presence of foreign forces in any setting creates domestic opposition and domestic resentment,” he said. “And it is best, whether we support this or not—and we certainly do not support anybody engaging in anything that would complicate the situation—is to allow the Iraqis to fight this.”

Scottish Vote Weighs Pride Against Risk

Scottish Vote Weighs Pride Against Risk

The people of Scotland decide Thursday whether national pride outweighs economic risk.

The vote on independence is taking place without any of the usual factors that drive the dissolution of great nations: no war, no acute economic crisis, no raging territorial dispute. In fact, the situation is quite the opposite: peace, a slowly recovering economy and a central government in London that promises to grant more powers over taxing and spending to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scots cannot claim they have not been warned about the uncertain and even dire economic consequences of splitting from the United Kingdom, on issues like the currency, investment, pensions and declining energy revenues from the North Sea.

Economists normally as ideologically disparate and disputatious as Alan Greenspan, Paul Krugman, Adam S. Posen and Niall Ferguson all have predicted a negative economic outlook for an independent Scotland, while expressing anxiety, too, about the impact of such uncertainty on the larger European and global economies.

But half of Scots, give or take a few percentage points, are expected to vote for independence anyway. Some do not believe the negative forecasts, calling them “fear-mongering.” Some say they resent the sense that an outside elite is patronizing them or doubting their capacity. And many will vote yes for other reasons — to feel responsible for their own fate and to build, or rebuild, what they hope will be a fairer, less unequal country of their own, for better or worse.

Are Conservative Cities Better?

Are Conservative Cities Better?

Welcome to Mesa, Arizona—the land of Goldwater, Arpaio and a new kind of urbanism.


In the year 2014, can a major American city be—gasp—conservative? If you believe the results of a recent study from a couple of academic researchers at MIT and UCLA, you’d do well to look to the Southwest to find out. Mesa, Arizona, the researchers found, after analyzing more than a decade’s worth of public opinion surveys, is the most conservative American city of more than 250,000 residents, more conservative than such famously right-wing bastions as Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs. “On an overall basis,” says the boisterous Scott Smith, who was mayor of Mesa from 2008 until early this year, “there’s no doubt it’s extremely conservative.”

Squint, and you can see that Mesa is just one of several places where Republicans are creating a new model of conservatism for the post-Tea Party era, through an appealing blend of fiscal pragmatism and no-nonsense competence. Across the country, Republican cities are building new infrastructure and even embracing trendy liberal ideas like “new urbanism”—all while managing to keep costs in line and municipal workforces small and cost-effective. As the great, Democratic-run cities across the country—Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles—face fiscal calamity, America’s conservative cities are showing that there’s another way.

France arrests five in jihadi raids

France arrests five in jihadi raids

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister

Four men and a woman arrested on suspicion of playing active role in recent recruitment of young women to fight in Syria. 

French police have arrested six people – including two minors – suspected of recruiting female jihadis to fight in Syria.

The arrests were made on Tuesday and Wednesday in a suburb of Lyon. During searches at the addresses raided by police, officers reportedly found various weapons including Kalashnikovs, and other equipment said to be gas masks, flashlights and ammunition.

Police said among those arrested at Meyzieu and Vaulx-en-Velin, on the outskirts of the city, two were minors, including a 13-year-old girl. Two others were a brother and sister suspected of being what officers described as "sergeant recruiters". One of the arrested suspects is linked to the Islamist group Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, which has called for France to become an Islamic caliphate, which was banned in 2012.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, congratulated police on the operation and said the arrested suspects were believed to have "played a very active role in the recruitment and departure of several young women to Syria in recent months".

The French authorities are concerned about the growing number of French women and girls seeking to join Islamic State (Isis). Of the estimated 350 French nationals believed to be currently engaged with the Islamist group in Syria, at least 63 are believed to be female and six are minors.

Why Congress is punting on authorizing war against Islamic State


Why Congress is punting on authorizing war against Islamic State

By Francine Kiefer

Congress will vote Wednesday on whether to train anti-Islamic State in fighters in Syria and Iraq, but not on the bigger issue of whether to authorize US force. That comes after November's elections.

The US House is voting Wednesday on authorizing the Obama administration to train and arm Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State jihadis. But the big vote – whether to authorize American use of armed force in the fight – has been punted past the midterm elections.

It could come in the lame-duck session after the Nov. 4 vote or even early next year, when the new Congress meets.

The overwhelming reason for the delay – which angers lawmakers in both parties who believe it’s their constitutional duty and right to vote now on the use of force – is political expediency.

The Return of the 'Security Moms'

The Return of the 'Security Moms'

In a time of national anxiety, women voters trust Republicans more on issues like terrorism.

Peter Beinart

Suddenly, it feels like 2002. Democrats got creamed in midterm elections that year because the women voters they had relied on throughout the Clinton years deserted them. In 2000, women favored Democratic congressional candidates by nine points. In 2002, that advantage disappeared entirely. The biggest reason: 9/11. In polls that year, according to Gallup, women consistently expressed more fear of terrorism that men. And that fear pushed them toward the GOP, which they trusted far more to keep the nation safe. As then-Senator Joe Biden declared after his party’s midterm shellacking, “soccer moms are security moms now.”

Unfortunately for President Obama, the security moms are back. And as a result, the levee Democrats were counting on to protect against a GOP hurricane is starting to crumble.

How dirty is President Barack Obama prepared to get in the war to defeat ISIL?

Barack Obama is shown. | Getty

Obama's dirty war

How dirty is President Barack Obama prepared to get in the war to defeat ISIL?

Beating back the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant may require cozying up to unsavory groups in Syria — including some currently affiliated with the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front — and may collide with existing law if the groups the U.S. wants to train or co-opt have murky human rights records, former officials and analysts say.

Some lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of such alliances, though that doesn’t seem to be slowing down momentum on congressional approval of Obama’s plan to take on ISIL.

Obama administration officials said Tuesday that they would work closely with intelligence sources and regional partners to keep U.S. weapons out of the hands of jihadist groups, but they maintained that ISIL poses such a dire threat that it must be countered despite the dangers.

“We will monitor them closely to ensure that weapons do not fall into the hands of radical elements of the opposition, ISIL, the Syrian regime or other extremist groups,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. “There will always be a risk in a program like this. But we believe that risk is justified by the imperative of destroying ISIL and the necessity of having capable partners on the ground in Syria.”

Obama has spoken of the moderate opposition that the U.S. wants to aid in fighting ISIL as middle-class professionals who require significant training to become a viable fighting force. The administration wants to put some 5,000 of these Free Syrian Army personnel through a training program in Saudi Arabia at a cost of about $500 million.

Analysts say it’s not clear whether the administration can quickly find that many potential fighters who meet current vetting standards. In public statements, officials have been vague about what those standards are. The White House referred POLITICO’s questions about the vetting standards and any potential changes to the process to the Pentagon and State Department, neither of which responded to queries on the issue.

Jameis Winston benched by Florida State

Jameis Winston will be benched for the Seminoles’ game against Clemson.

Jameis Winston benched by Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher for ‘derogatory’ comments about women 


The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will sit out the first half of Saturday's game against Clemson. Winston shouted a lascivious comment that may have derived from an internet meme while on campus Tuesday.

Jameis Winston has made lewd comments about women and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says he has decided to bench the Seminoles’ quarterback for his “derogatory” remarks.

Winston will sit out the first half of Saturday’s game against Clemson.

Several students tweeted Winston stood on campus Tuesday and shouted a lascivious comment that may have derived from an internet meme.

“It’s not something we want or we’re indicative of and it’s not a good decision,” Fisher said. “It was something that has to be addressed.”

Winston’s latest questionable off-field decision-making lack comes when Florida State is under scrutiny.

Florida State is currently under investigation by the Department of Education for the way it handles reports of sexual assault, including a case involving Winston. The investigation was prompted by a complaint from a FSU student who says Winston assaulted her in 2012.

A Florida State Attorney declined to press charges against Winston last fall.

A lawyer for the woman says the university is currently conducting its own investigation of that incident.

“You can’t make certain statements that are derogatory or inflammatory in any way toward any person, race, gender,” said Fisher, whose top-ranked Seminoles host No. 22 Clemson on Saturday in an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.

“The statements in which you make are always going to be made more public than statements that other individuals make,” the coach said. “And that’s just the nature of the business of who you are and what you are. That’s the situation it is and you have to understand that.”

Winston is no stranger to unwanted attention.

While playing for Florida State baseball team, he was suspended for three games and completed 20 hours of community service after acknowledging he stole $32 worth of crab legs from a local grocery store in April. He faced criticism nationwide and was the subject of taunts and jokes in print, online and on social media.

Jerry Brown signs groundwater legislation


Jerry Brown signs groundwater legislation

By David Siders

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday enacting sweeping new regulations on groundwater pumping in California, making the state the last in the West to regulate the practice.

The groundwater package, which gained momentum at the Capitol amid the state’s ongoing drought, was negotiated by Brown and lawmakers in late August, and the governor’s signature was all but assured.

“This is a big deal,” Brown said at a signing ceremony at the Capitol. “It’s been known about for decades that underground water has to be managed and regulated in some way.”

The three-bill package signed by Brown will create local agencies to oversee groundwater extraction, a turn from the state’s historic practice of allowing landowners in most cases to extract any water that lies beneath their land.

Proponents cited concerns about increased well drilling during the drought, with declining water levels underground. The legislation will require local agencies to guard against overdrafts.

In Napa Valley, Cult Cabernet Pairs With Fitness

In Napa Valley, Cult Cabernet Pairs With Fitness

Fitness used to be the penance for a holiday in wine country. Now, it's a natural pairing with Napa Valley's cult Cabernet

  MOST PEOPLE EXPLORE California's Napa Valley from the seat of a tour bus or limo, bouncing from winery to winery, indulging in cult Cabernet and locally made cheeses. The first time I visited the area, I too came for the food and wine. But being what some may call an obsessively active person, I also noticed what an amazing spot it is for people who love to play in the great outdoors. The winemakers, sommeliers and chefs who live here have kept this secret to themselves for years.


Hannity, Gutierrez battle over ISIL

Hannity, Gutierrez battle over ISIL

Sean Hannity (left) and Luis Gutierrez are pictured in this composite image. | Getty

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Fox News host Sean Hannity got into a fierce exchange over the importance of securing the United States’ southern border.

Gutierrez appeared as a guest on “Hannity” on Tuesday night, and when asked by Hannity whether he would be willing to secure the border to stop illegal immigration before acting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Gutierrez responded, “No, because it would be folly and it would be derelict in my duty to protect America.”

Hannity’s questions suggested that the Fox News host fears ISIL will infiltrate the U.S. through its border with Mexico, an issue that has been raised by a handful of Fox News hosts and others over the past week.

Instead, Gutierrez said securing the border “sounds good, but it isn’t an effective measure.”

“ISIL gets millions of dollars a day, they’re putting them in first class and sending them to America,” Gutierrez said. “And they could be Americans just like yourself.”

Hannity fired back, yelling over Gutierrez and saying that if “something” happens, he will put the blame on Congress members “for not doing their job.”

“Because that helps your ratings every night, I get that part,” Gutierrez said. “I am here to protect America.”

U.S. Incomes End 6-Year Decline, Just Barely

U.S. Incomes End 6-Year Decline, Just Barely

Americans' incomes ticked up in 2013 for the first time since the recession, and the poverty rate fell for the first time since 2006.

By Nick Timiraos

The median annual household income—the level at which half are above and half below—rose 0.3% in 2013, or a total of $180, to an inflation-adjusted $51,939, the Census Bureau's latest snapshot of U.S. living standards showed Tuesday. The increase, which wasn't statistically significant, leaves incomes around 8% below their level of 2007, when the recession officially started.

"Economic recoveries are taking much longer than in the past to reach the poor and middle class," said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.

Other measures of well-being in the report showed modest improvement. The official poverty rate declined for the first time since 2006 to 14.5%, down from 15% in 2012, amid a large drop in child poverty.

Still, the poverty rate remains well above the 12.5% level of 2007, and at last year's pace, it would take another four years for the poverty rate to return to the pre-recession level. Nearly 45.3 million Americans were living in poverty last year. The poverty level was $23,624 for a family of four.

Tuesday's report also showed the share of Americans without health insurance stood at 13.4% in 2013, the last year before key provisions of the Affordable Care Act aimed at extending coverage to more Americans took effect. A different Census survey showed that the share of uninsured Americans had fallen for the third straight year.

Isis video threatens White House and US troops

Isis video threatens White House and US troops

Matthew Weaver

Flames of War Isis video

Video purports to be trailer for film entitled Flames of War with strapline 'fighting has just begun'

Islamic State militants have threatened to target the White House and kill US troops in a new slickly made video response to Barack Obama's campaign to "degrade and destroy" the organisation.

The video, in the style of a blockbuster movie trailer for what is "coming soon", depicts a masked man apparently about to shoot kneeling prisoners in the head. Towards the end of the clip there is shaky footage of the White House filmed from a moving vehicle, suggesting the building is being scoped out for attack.

It was released on Tuesday after US defence chiefs suggested that American troops could join Iraqi forces fighting Isis, despite Obama's assurance that US soldiers would not be engaged in fighting on the ground.

 Screengrab showing militant apparently about to shoot kneeling prisoners in the head

The only words on the 52-second clip are those of Obama making that pledge. "American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq," it quotes him saying. This comes directly after footage of US troops being shot at, injured and taken away in an armoured vehicle, threatening what will happen if troops are redeployed to Iraq.

The video was released by the al-Hayat Media Centre, Isis's English-language propaganda arm. It includes the now-familiar high-production hallmarks of an Isis video, including super-slow motion footage of jihadis in combat, jump-cutting, and CGI explosions.

Obama and The 'Momentum' of War

The 'Momentum' of War

President Obama describes "a fever" rising in Washington, D.C.—which he has helped spread.

By Conor Friedersdorf

There are hawkish groups in Washington that exert pressure in favor of intervention regardless of the president. It is nevertheless frustrating to see Obama casting himself as a passive agent of external momentum, not only because he could be a decisive voice against intervention if that's what he wanted, but because his own actions contributed greatly to the interventionist atmosphere.

What else did Obama expect when he staffed his administration with hawkish Iraq War proponents? Any attempt to measure the momentum for war must include Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling ISIS "beyond anything we've ever seen," heated rhetoric from Secretary of State John Kerry, and Vice President Joe Biden vowing that the United States will follow ISIS "to the gates of hell." Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also been a prominent hawk.

Can Obama Keep His Generals in Check


Can Obama Keep His Generals in Check


The president promised no combat troops to fight ISIS, but his top general says he may recommend them. Why Obama and his commanders are not on the same page for the new war.

In his major address explaining America’s new war against ISIS, President Obama pledged that there would be no U.S. combat troops. On Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he may recommend ground forces in the future.

The White House is seeking to gloss over the rift between the president and his top general, but it is clear that just below the waterline Obama is not on the same page as the commanders who will be leading the new fight. U.S. military officials and members of Congress have complained privately for weeks that Obama appears unwilling to commit the resources necessary to achieve his aim of defeating ISIS.

The Washington Post reported this week that Gen. Lloyd Austin, the general in charge of the military command that includes Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, recommended a war strategy with a small contingent of special operations forces fighting alongside Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. But Obama rejected that advice. Obama travels to Tampa Wednesday to meet with Austin about the ISIS strategy on his own turf.

Then there was the Dempsey episode. After Dempsey acknowledged that he may recommend some ground forces in the future, the Pentagon issued a rare correction. In an email forwarded to reporters from the National Security Council as well as the Pentagon’s press office, a spokesman said Dempsey “believes the current strategy to counter ISIL is appropriate,” using the administration’s preferred acronym for ISIS. The statement added, “The context of this discussion was focused on how our forces best and most appropriately advise the Iraqis and was not a broader discussion of employing US ground combat units in Iraq.”

Ebola Is New Challenge for U.S. Military

Ebola Is New Challenge for U.S. Military

By Betsy McKay and Dion Nissenbaum

President Barack Obama's plan to contain the Ebola outbreak in Africa presents the U.S. military with a logistical challenge with few precedents, one that it will be under pressure to execute quickly.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday warned that the epidemic could not only infect "hundreds of thousands of people,'' but carry wide security implications, even though chances of an outbreak in the U.S. are "extremely low.''

"It's a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic," Mr. Obama said after a briefing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has deployed more than 100 staff to the affected countries, one of the largest deployments in its history.

Why Don't Women Leave Batterers?

Why Don't Women Leave Batterers?

By Rebecca Coffey

When Ray Rice’s wife Janay publicly stood by her man, web chatter proclaimed her not a victim but a gold digger. But blows to the head like the one she suffered are typical of the abuse battered women take. Do brain injuries leave women too neurologically fragile to take back their lives?

How Gangs Took Over Prisons

How Gangs Took Over Prisons

Originally for self-protection, these groups now keep order behind bars—and run crime on the streets.

By Graeme Wood

On a clear morning this past February, the inmates in the B Yard of Pelican Bay State Prison filed out of their cellblock a few at a time and let a cool, salty breeze blow across their bodies. Their home, the California prison system’s permanent address for its most hardened gangsters, is in Crescent City, on the edge of a redwood forest—about four miles from the Pacific Ocean in one direction and 20 miles from the Oregon border in the other. This is their yard time.

Most of the inmates belong to one of California’s six main prison gangs: Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerrilla Family, the Northern Structure, or the Nazi Lowriders (the last two are offshoots of Nuestra Familia and the Aryan Brotherhood, respectively). The inmates interact like volatile chemicals: if you open their cells in such a way as to put, say, a lone member of Nuestra Familia in a crowd of Mexican Mafia, the mix can explode violently. So the guards release them in a careful order.

“Now watch what they do,” says Christopher Acosta, a corrections officer with a shaved head who worked for 15 years as a front-line prison guard and now runs public relations for Pelican Bay. We are standing with our backs to a fence and can see everything.

At first, we seem to be watching a sullen but semi-random parade of terrifying men—heavily tattooed murderers, thieves, and drug dealers walking past one of five casual but alert guards. Some inmates, chosen for a strip search, drop their prison blues into little piles and then spin around, bare-assed, to be scrutinized. Once inspected, they dress and walk out into the yard to fill their lungs with oxygen after a long night in the stagnant air of the cellblock. The first Hispanic inmate to put his clothes on walks about 50 yards to a concrete picnic table, sits down, and waits. The first black inmate goes to a small workout area and stares out at the yard intently. A white guy walks directly to a third spot, closer to the basketball court. Another Hispanic claims another picnic table. Slowly it becomes obvious that they have been moving tactically: each has staked out a rallying point for his group and its affiliates.

Once each gang has achieved a critical mass—about five men—it sends off a pair of scouts. Two of the Hispanics at the original concrete picnic table begin a long, winding stroll. “They’ll walk around, get within earshot of the other groups, and try to figure out what’s going down on the yard,” Acosta says. “Then they can come back to their base and say who’s going to attack who, who’s selling what.”

Eventually, about 50 inmates are in the yard, and the guards have stepped back and congregated at their own rallying point, backs to the fence, with Acosta. The men’s movements around the yard are so smooth and organized, they seem coordinated by invisible traffic lights. And that’s a good thing. “There’s like 30 knives out there right now,” Acosta says. “Hidden up their rectums.”

Understanding how prison gangs work is difficult: they conceal their activities and kill defectors who reveal their practices. This past summer, however, a 32-year-old academic named David Skarbek published The Social Order of the Underworld, his first book, which is the best attempt in a long while to explain the intricate organizational systems that make the gangs so formidable. His focus is the California prison system, which houses the second-largest inmate population in the country—about 135,600 people, slightly more than the population of Bellevue, Washington, split into facilities of a few thousand inmates apiece. With the possible exception of North Korea, the United States has a higher incarceration rate than any other nation, at one in 108 adults. (The national rate rose for 30 years before peaking, in 2008, at one in 99. Less crime and softer punishment for nonviolent crimes have caused the rate to decline since then.)

Skarbek’s primary claim is that the underlying order in California prisons comes from precisely what most of us would assume is the source of disorder: the major gangs, which are responsible for the vast majority of the trade in drugs and other contraband, including cellphones, behind bars. “Prison gangs end up providing governance in a brutal but effective way,” he says. “They impose responsibility on everyone, and in some ways the prisons run more smoothly because of them.” The gangs have business out on the streets, too, but their principal activity and authority resides in prisons, where other gangs are the main powers keeping them in check.

Skarbek is a native Californian and a lecturer in political economy at King’s College London. When I met him, on a sunny day on the Strand, in London, he was craving a taste of home. He suggested cheeseburgers and beer, which made our lunch American not only in topic of conversation but also in caloric consumption. Prison gangs do not exist in the United Kingdom, at least not with anything like the sophistication or reach of those in California or Texas, and in that respect Skarbek is like a botanist who studies desert wildflowers at a university in Norway.

Skarbek, whose most serious criminal offense to date is a moving violation, bases his conclusions on data crunches from prison systems (chiefly California’s, which has studied gangs in detail) and the accounts of inmates and corrections officers themselves. He is a treasury of horrifying anecdotes about human depravity—and ingenuity. There are few places other than a prison where men’s desires are more consistently thwarted, and where men whose desires are thwarted have so much time to think up creative ways to circumvent their obstacles.

Because he is a gentleman, Skarbek waited until we’d finished our burgers to illustrate some of that ingenuity.


The prevalence of cellphones in the California prison system reveals just how loose a grip the authorities have on their inmates. In 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confiscated 12,151 phones. A reasonable guess might be that this represented a tenth of all cellphones in the system, which means that almost every one of the state’s 135,600 inmates had a phone—all in violation of prison regulations. “Prison is set up so that most of the things a person wants to do are against the rules,” Skarbek says. “So to understand what’s really going on, you have to start by realizing that people are coming up with complicated ways to get around them.” Prison officials have long known that gangs are highly sophisticated organizations with carefully plotted strategies, business-development plans, bureaucracies, and even human-resources departments—all of which, Skarbek argues, lead not to chaos in the prison system but to order.


 Among the fundamental questions about prison gangs—known in California-corrections argot as “Security Threat Groups”—is why they arise in the first place. After all, as Skarbek notes, California had prisons for nearly a century before the first documented gang appeared. Some states don’t have prison gangs at all. New York has had street gangs for well over a century, but its first major prison gang didn’t form until the mid-1980s.

The explanation, Skarbek says, can be found in demographics, and in inmate memoirs and interviews. “Before prison gangs showed up,” he says, “you survived in prison by following something called ‘the convict code.’ ” Various recensions of the code exist, but they all reduce to a few short maxims that old-timers would share with first offenders soon after they arrived. “It was pretty simple,” he explains. “You mind your own business, you don’t rat on anyone, and you pretty much just try to avoid bothering or cheating other inmates.”

But starting in the 1950s, things changed: The total inmate population rose steeply, and prisons grew bigger, more ethnically and racially mixed, and more unpredictable in their types of inmate. Prisons faced a flood of first offenders, who tended to be young and male—and therefore less receptive to the advice of grizzled jailbirds. The norms that made prison life tolerable disappeared, and the authorities lost control. Prisoners banded together for self-protection—and later, for profit. The result was the first California prison gang.

That moment of gang genesis, Skarbek says, forced an arms race, in which different groups took turns demonstrating a willingness to inflict pain on others. The arms race has barely stopped, although the gangs have waxed and waned in relative power. (The Black Guerrilla Family has been weakened, prison authorities told me, because of leadership squabbles.) The Mexican Mafia was the sole Hispanic gang until 1965, when a group of inmates from Northern California formed Nuestra Familia to counter the influence of Hispanics from the south. Gang elders—called maestros—instruct the youngsters in gang history and keep the enmity alive.

What’s astonishing to outsiders, Skarbek says, is that many aspects of gang politics that appear to be sources of unresolvable hatred immediately dissipate if they threaten the stability of prison society. For example, consider the Aryan Brotherhood—a notoriously brutal organization whose members are often kept alone in cells because they tend to murder their cell mates. You can take the Brotherhood at its word when it declares itself a racist organization, and you can do the same with the Black Guerrilla Family, which preaches race war and calls for the violent overthrow of the government. But Skarbek says that at lights-out in some prisons, the leader of each gang will call out good night to his entire cellblock. The sole purpose of this exercise is for each gang leader to guarantee that his men will respect the night’s silence. If a white guy starts yelling and keeps everyone awake, the Aryan Brothers will discipline him to avoid having blacks or Hispanics attack one of their members. White power is one thing, but the need to keep order and get shut-eye is paramount.

George Clooney To Make 'Downton Abbey' Appearance

George Clooney To Make 'Downton Abbey' Appearance

Clooney’s appearance comes after he became friends with Hugh Bonneville, who plays Lord Robert Grantham, during the filming of the movie ‘The Monuments Men.’

A source told The Sun newspaper: “This is the biggest moment in Downton history and shows it's now the biggest drama in the world. All the plans have been shrouded in secrecy because George was determined for his role not to leak out...George and Hugh became really close during filming and it became very clear that George loved Downton.

What’s Behind Germany’s New Anti-Semitism

What’s Behind Germany’s New Anti-Semitism

Europe is living through a new wave of anti-Semitism. The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews calls it the worst the Continent has seen since World War II. He may well be right. Attacks on synagogues are an almost weekly occurrence, and openly anti-Semitic chants are commonplace on well-attended marches from London to Rome. And yet it is here, in Germany, where the rise in anti-Semitism is most historically painful.

On Sunday, thousands of people marched through Berlin in response, and heard both Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck denounce the resurgence in anti-Jewish hatred.

We’ve seen this before, of course. But there’s an important difference this time. The new anti-Semitism does not originate solely with the typical white-supremacist neo-Nazi; instead, the ugly truth that many in Europe don’t want to confront is that much of the anti-Jewish animus originates with European people of Muslim background.

Until recently, Germany has been unwilling to discuss this trend. Germans have always seen Muslim anti-Semitism as a less problematic version of the “original” version, and therefore a distraction from the well-known problem of anti-Jewish sentiment within a majority of society.

And yet the German police have noted a disturbing rise in the number of people of Arabic and Turkish descent arrested on suspicion of anti-Semitic acts in recent years, especially over the last several months. After noticing an alarming uptick in anti-Semitic sentiment among immigrant students, the German government is considering a special fund for Holocaust education.

Of course, anti-Semitism didn’t originate with Europe’s Muslims, nor are they its only proponents today. The traditional anti-Semitism of Europe’s far right persists. So, too, does that of the far left, as a negative byproduct of sympathy for the Palestinian liberation struggle. There’s also an anti-Semitism of the center, a subcategory of the sort of casual anti-Americanism and anticapitalism that many otherwise moderate Europeans espouse.

But the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism is responsible for the recent change in the tone of hate in Germany. Until recently, the country’s anti-Semitism has been largely coded and anonymous. Messages might be spray-painted on walls at night; during the day, though, it would be rare to hear someone shout, as protesters did in Berlin in July, “Jews to the gas!” Another popular slogan at this and other rallies was “Jew, coward pig, come out and fight alone!” — shouted just yards from Berlin’s main Holocaust memorial. And this is the difference today: An anti-Semitism that is not only passionate, but also unaware of, or indifferent to, Germany’s special history.

Talking to Muslim friends, I can’t help but believe that the audacity of today’s anti-Semitism is in part a result of the exploitation of a “victim status,” an underdog sentiment that too many European Muslims have embraced enthusiastically. This is not just the sort of social-science explanation we often hear for hatred, as racism from people who are themselves the victims of racism and discrimination.

How Robert Caro Wrote a Masterpiece

Forty years ago today, Caro’s ‘The Power Broker’—a magisterial 1,296-page life of New York master builder Robert Moses—rewrote the rules of biography

How Robert Caro Wrote a Masterpiece

By Scott Porch

In the spring of 1974, after Robert A. Caro had finished writing The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York—a seven-year ordeal that took the book through three publishers and two editors and nearly bankrupted Caro—the first-time author got a surprise phone call from his agent, Lynn Nesbit.

“I submitted the book to The New Yorker,” she told him, “and Mr. Shawn [William Shawn, who was then the editor of The New Yorker] told me he's never read anything like it, and he's going to publish more of it than he's ever published of any book.”

Caro was stunned. A launch in The New Yorker guaranteed enormous national media attention for a biography concerned almost exclusively with the history of New York City. His publisher, Knopf, was equally excited and pushed back the publication of The Power Broker two months to give The New Yorker excerpts time to generate excitement around the book.

But the day he got Nesbit’s phone call—“That's the day my life changed”


When the check from The New Yorker—which paid Caro more than he had been paid on the actual book—arrived in Nesbit’s mail, she called Caro to let him know. “How long does it take a check like this to clear?” he asked her. “It should be OK tomorrow,” Nesbit said.

The next day, Caro and his wife, Ina, packed their bags, drove to the airport, and bought two tickets to Paris. When they boarded the plane, they didn’t even know where they were going to stay when they landed. “The stewardess conferred with the captain,” Caro said, “and they found us this little hotel in Paris.”


Moses left an unprecedented mark on New York’s architecture (Lincoln Center, United Nations), parks (Jones Beach, Central Park Zoo), and transportation (Triborough Bridge, Long Island Expressway). He also uprooted more than 500,000 people and destroyed entire neighborhoods to build them all. He gave New York its beaches on Long Island and its parkway system (a precursor of the nation’s interstate system), but he deliberately built the overpasses so low that buses—the main transportation for poor blacks—could not drive under them, and he failed to extend the subway lines so that only people with automobiles could enjoy the beaches, that is, when they endured the traffic snarls and finally got there.

Why Roger Goodell should worry.

Radisson drops Vikings over Adrian Peterson. Why Roger Goodell should worry.

By Schuyler Velasco

The Radisson hotel chain suspended its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings over the team's decision to let running back Adrian Peterson continue playing despite felony child abuse charges. Sponsors have largely stuck by the NFL in recent weeks, even as public outcry over Peterson, Ray Rice, and others have overtaken the league.

“Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children,” a statement released Monday by the Minnesota, Minn.-based hotel chain reads. “We are closely following the situation and effective immediately, Radisson is suspending its limited sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings while we evaluate the facts and circumstances.”

Could Bitcoin Become Scotland’s Official Currency?

A reliable medium of exchange is the biggest obstacle to Scottish independence. Enter the world's leading crypto-coinage.

By Josh Harkinson

With Thursday's Scottish independence referendum too close to call, opponents of an independent Scotland have been stressing the would-be country's lack of a reliable currency. An independent Scotland could either keep using the British pound and lose control of its monetary policy, join the eurozone's well-known squabbles, or create a new national currency that's almost certain to be weak. But there's an intriguing fourth option: adopting an online crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.

Rosie O’Donnell: 'Who is' Krauthammer?

O'Donnell: 'Who is' Krauthammer?


Rosie O'Donnell and Charles Krauthammer are pictured. | Getty, John Shinkle/POLITICO

Rosie O’Donnell had one question on ABC’s “The View” on Tuesday during a discussion on Washington Post columnist calling President Barack Obama a “narcissist” — Charles who?

After host Whoopi Goldberg introduced a the discussion on Charles Krauthammer’s comments that the president might suffer from the mental disorder, O’Donnell admitted she did not know of the conservative Washington Post columnist.

Who is that guy?” O’Donnell asked. “I’ve never heard of him.”

Nicolle Wallace, a new fixture and conservative voice on the ABC show, answered that he is “a god in our world.”

She continued, “Charles Krauthammer is a thoughtful guy, he’s not a bomb thrower, he’s one of the intellectual voices [among Republican commentators]” and mentioned his past experience as a psychiatrist.

How NOT to Motivate People

How NOT to Motivate People

By Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D.

We often read about motivational strategies – how to get people motivated to work, to engage in self-improvement, or just to get off the couch and engage in life. Yet many people use completely ineffective strategies in an effort to motivate others. Which motivational strategies kill motivation, and which actually work?

Anti-Terror Measures in New York Under Review

Anti-Terror Measures in New York Under Review

New York is under increased threat from supporters of groups such as the self-professed Islamic State, prompting a review of how people and assets are protected. WSJ's Mark Kelly reports.

How ISIS Works

The jihadist group has oil revenues, arms and organization, controls vast stretches of Syria and Iraq and aspires to statehood.

The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has a detailed structure that encompasses many functions and jurisdictions, according to ISIS documents seized by Iraqi forces and seen by American officials and Hashim Alhashimi, an Iraqi researcher. Many of its leaders are former officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army who augmented their military training with terrorist techniques during years of fighting American troops. 

Why Peyton Manning Will Never Win Another Super Bowl.

 Why Peyton Manning Will Never Win Another Super Bowl.

Is he a player or a coach? Has he no idea of the effect this has on team chemistry? If he does "everything" what incentive do the other players have? What is the job of John Fox? Peyton doesn't know how to play with others. He is management, not a player.

There may not be an "i" in TEAM, but there is an M and an E.

Hillary Clinton: Her Rules Vs. "The Rules"

hillary clinton back

Hillary Clinton is not a 'coy' candidate in waiting. She plays by her own rules

Megan Carpentier

Megan Carpentier

If you're stumping in Iowa in 2014, you're running. But the horse-race watchers are busy calling her names – and you bet it's because she's a woman.

hillary clinton rand paul

Hillary played by her own rules in Iowa as Rand Paul secretly broke a promise. Guess which one got called 'coy'

If you’re stumping in Iowa in 2014, you’re running. But the horse-race watchers are busy calling her names – and you bet it’s because she’s a woman


Everyone plays at the I’m-just-thinking-about-running game: it’s a way to test the waters without earning the label of “failed presidential candidate” should your toe-dipping fail to enchant even a minnow. Running (or “not-running”) for president raises your profile in the national press, earns you talking-head-show invites, cements you as a Serious Thinker no matter how deeply unserious a person you are (see: Cain, Herman) and garners you name recognition and lists of people you can hit up for money whenever you do (or don’t) decide to run.

Take, for example, another 2016 wannabe, Rand Paul, who is currently making rather an art of wriggling out of the Tea Party positions that got him elected to office (but which won’t fly in a general, nationwide campaign) while not-officially-running for president. Paul has “not been coy about his intentions”, and instead has been called “intriguing” – and the words “political genius” have actually been used to describe the man by someone who doesn’t work for him.

If you’re stumping in Iowa in 2014, you’re not playing “coy”. You’re running for the nomination for president of the United States, and you probably having bumper-sticker ideas just about ready for a focus group.

The Trials of Stem Cell Therapy

The Trials of Stem Cell Therapy


Though enthusiasm for potential advances in disease and injury treatments often outstrips the science, thousands of clinical trials are now underway to figure out how to best use stem cells.

Edgar Irastorza was just 31 when his heart stopped beating in October 2008.

A Miami property manager, break-dancer and former high school wrestler, Mr. Irastorza had recently gained weight as his wife’s third pregnancy progressed. “I kind of got pregnant, too,” he said. During a workout one day, he felt short of breath and insisted that friends rush him to the hospital. Minutes later, his pulse flatlined.

He survived the heart attack, but the scar tissue that resulted cut his heart’s pumping ability by a third. He couldn’t pick up his children. He couldn’t dance. He fell asleep every night wondering if he would wake up in the morning.

Desperation motivated Mr. Irastorza to volunteer for a highly unusual medical research trial: getting stem cells injected directly into his heart.

“I just trusted my doctors and the science behind it, and said, ‘This is my only chance,’ ” he said recently.

Over the last five years, by studying stem cells in lab dishes, test animals and intrepid patients like Mr. Irastorza, researchers have brought the vague, grandiose promises of stem cell therapies closer to reality.

Stem cells broke into the public consciousness in the early 1990s, alluring for their potential to help the body beat back diseases of degeneration Alzheimer’s, and to grow new parts to treat conditions like spinal cord injuries.

Progress has been slow. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, an early supporter of stem cell research, pulled its financial backing two years ago, saying that it preferred to invest in research that was closer to providing immediate help for Parkinson’s disease patients.

But researchers have been slowly learning how to best use stem cells, what types to use and how to deliver them to the body — findings that are not singularly transformational, but progressive and pragmatic.

As many as 4,500 clinical trials involving stem cells are underway in the United States to treat patients with heart disease, blindness, Parkinson’s, H.I.V., diabetes, blood cancers and spinal cord injuries, among other conditions.

Initial studies suggest that stem cell therapy can be delivered safely, said Dr. Ellen Feigal, senior vice president of research and development at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the state stem cell agency, which has awarded more than $2 billion toward stem cell research since 2006 and is enrolling patients in 10 clinical trials this year.

In addition to continuing safety research, “now what we want to know is: Will it work, and will it be better than what’s already out there?”
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