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The unsexy truth about why the Arab Spring failed


Protesters gather in Tahrir Square on February 1, 2011.Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Image

By the time it became clear to the world that Egypt’s Arab Spring had gone terribly wrong, that the seemingly Hollywood-like drama of good-guy protesters triumphing over bad-guy dictator had turned out to be something much more disappointing, the other revolutions across the Middle East had soured as well.

Today, Egypt is under a new military dictatorship; Libya, Yemen, and Syria have all collapsed into civil wars.

In the years since everything went so wrong, it has become fashionable to blame the naiveté of the revolutionaries or the petty incompetence of transitional leaders. We are still trying to make this a story about the personal accomplishments or failures of individual heroes or villains, but that narrative is just as silly as it was when we first tried to apply in 2011.

The truth is that this was never a story primarily about individual heroes or villains. Rather, it was about something much bigger and more abstract: the catastrophic failure of institutions. It’s not a story that is particularly dramatic, and it’s not easy to profile for a magazine cover. But when you look at what has happened from the Arab Spring, from its 2011 beginning through today, you see institutional failure everywhere.

That story isn’t as emotionally compelling as the one we told ourselves in 2011. But it’s a crucially important one, if we want to understand how this went so wrong and the lessons for the world.

The story we tell ourselves about the Arab Spring

Freedom Graffiti Tunisia

Graffiti on a building in Tunis, Tunisia, during the revolution. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In the five years since the Arab Spring disappointed the world’s hopes, a story has developed for the revolutions and their failures.

On Egypt, for example, the story usually goes something like this: First, the brave and idealistic but tragically naive revolutionaries focused only on bringing down the evil dictator Hosni Mubarak, but not on governing when he was gone. They failed to plan or to politically organize, foolishly placing their faith in hope, change, and Facebook instead of doing the difficult work of real politics.

In that story, the liberals’ supposed failures left an opening for the Muslim Brotherhood to sweep in and establish a hard-line Islamist government. The Brotherhood failed as well, pursing shortsighted, petty agendas that alienated the public and elites alike. The military was able to exploit the liberals’ naiveté and the Muslim Brotherhood’s incompetence, taking power for itself and placing Egypt under a military dictatorship.

This narrative looks very different from the story we first told ourselves in 2011 about the Arab Spring, in which brave, enlightened protesters were said to be standing up to the evil dictators. But what these two narratives share is that they ascribe everything to the personal failings or strengths of certain individual people: a wicked dictator in the original 2011 story; naive protesters, shortsighted and oppressive Islamists, and an evil general in the 2016 version.

But both versions of the story are incomplete. Individual failures alone didn’t cause the disastrous consequences of the Arab Spring revolutions, just as the individual heroism of Arab Spring protesters wasn’t enough to ensure their success.

The truth is that while the revolutionaries were in fact very brave and the dictators were in fact very bad, the real story of the Arab Spring wasn’t one about individual people being heroic or wicked. Rather, it was a less cinematic — but far more important — story about the dangers of brittle dictatorships and weak state institutions.

Democratic transition, it turns out, isn’t about whom you can overthrow or whom you replace them with. It’s about whether or how you can change the vast network of institutions underneath that person.

If you don’t make those institutions work — and often, by the dictator’s deliberate design, you simply can’t — then your revolution is doomed. No matter how many times you topple the dictator, no matter how pure and good your protesters are, it won’t be enough. That’s the real lesson of the Arab Spring — and it’s important precisely because it’s not as exciting or emotionally satisfying as the good-versus-evil story we prefer to tell.

The story of Egypt’s Arab Spring we don’t see: institutional collapse

Tahrir protest teargas

A November 2011 protest in Tahrir Square, seen through a haze of police tear gas. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak began preparing for revolution long before it came. In the three decades of his rule, he systematically ensured that no opposition party or civil society institution grew strong enough to challenge him. But in ensuring that no institutions were powerful or independent enough to threaten his rule, Mubarak also ensured that they were too weak to support a transition to democracy after he fell.

Mubarak stuffed the interior ministry with political loyalists rather than effective public servants, which allowed corruption and brutality to corrode public security. He turned the judiciary into a pro-regime puppet, which gave him a tool to persecute political opponents but left judges dependent and the rule of law weak. He undermined liberal opposition parties and tolerated the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood only enough to let him credibly claim to the world, “It’s me or the Islamists,” using frequent crackdowns and careful electoral rules to ensure that they never got real governing experience.

The one institution that gathered strength was the military. Its role in politics expanded under Mubarak far beyond what his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, had permitted, with Mubarak using patronage to buy the military’s loyalty as it grew more powerful.

But those measures couldn’t protect Mubarak forever. Even before the revolution, there were signs his regime was in trouble. His apparent plans to pass power to his son Gamal provoked popular outrage, including a 2010 protest at which demonstrators burned photographs of Gamal. Popular tolerance for the regime eroded further as inflation raised the cost of food, especially bread, placing real strain on poor Egyptians. Unemployment grew so catastrophically high that the International Monetary Fund warned it was a “ticking time bomb.” Popular anger against police brutality grew.

When the protest movement finally exploded in January 2011, Mubarak’s regime proved brittle. The revolution quickly gathered public support. The Interior Ministry failed to restore order.

And then, perhaps most crucially, Mubarak lost the loyalty of Egypt’s powerful army. Instead of crushing the protests, the army withdrew its support from his regime and installed itself in his place, ostensibly temporarily.

But it turned out that the military, an institution itself, had become focused on preserving its own interests over those of the state, and, a mere year after the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi became president, executed a military coup that deposed him and installed Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president.

The Morsi government, in its year of rule between military regimes, did some things right and a great many things wrong. But at all times, regardless of its performance, it was beset and undermined by the weakness or total incapacity of institutions and civil society. The judiciary turned openly against the Morsi government, security services withdrew from the streets, and even the state institutions that provided gas and electricity failed, according to the New York Times, “so fundamentally that gas lines and rolling blackouts fed widespread anger and frustration.”

Many of Morsi’s failures were self-inflicted, but even if he had been better at governing, the hollowness of Egypt’s state would still have at least severely weakened and possibly doomed him. And so when Morsi faltered, the country’s democratic transition collapsed. The military filled the void left by the rest of the state’s failures.

The problems that brought down Mubarak have never been fixed

December 2011 Tahrir protest

A December 2011 protest in Tahrir Square. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/GettyImages)

The conditions that Mubarak deliberately engineered to elongate his rule — an excessively powerful military, a weak opposition without governing experience, corrupt security services, hollowed-out civil society, and no effective democratic institutions — have all remained after his fall, and have undermined successive governments as much as they eventually undermined his own.

When you see that, it becomes clear that the real problem was never the degree to which individual protesters did or did not understand grassroots political organizing. That democratic transition isn’t merely the absence of a dictator. Rather, it is the presence of democratic rule.

And democratic rule requires something a lot more important, if less obviously visible, than having a good-guy democrat at the top of the government. It requires the institutions of democracy: political parties capable of winning elections, politicians capable of governing, a bureaucracy capable of implementing that governance, and civil society groups able to provide support and stability to those institutions.

Many of the liberal protesters had years of organizing experience, yet they couldn’t seem to develop a political party to carry their ideals beyond Tahrir Square into actual governance. Maybe this was due in part to infighting, an inability to reach the working classes, or other failures. But it is also the case, perhaps most important of all, that Mubarak had systematically ensured, over the decades of his rule, that the conditions for developing a successful liberal political party simply did not exist.

The Muslim Brotherhood had fared a bit better — it had a genuine party machine, political candidates, and a base of public support — but as Morsi’s disastrous administration showed, those are only necessary conditions for forming a viable party, not sufficient ones for governing.

Mubarak had ensured, over the decades of his autocratic rule, that basic institutions were weak or missing in Egypt. Yet when his regime fell, we were all shocked — shocked! — to discover that Morsi couldn’t, in his 12 months in power, muster those institutions either.

The story of the Arab Spring is one of weak states imploding

Assad protest 2012

Protesters burn images of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at an April 9, 2012, protest. (John Cantlie/Getty Images)

A similar dynamic played out in most of the other Arab Spring countries — with even worse results.

In Libya, for instance, Muammar Qaddafi had gone to even greater lengths to weaken institutions such that none was strong enough to challenge him. It was, according to theInternational Crisis Group, “a regime centred on himself and his family; that played neighbourhoods and groups against one another; failed to develop genuine national institutions; and deliberately kept the national army weak to prevent the emergence of would-be challengers.”

So when Qaddafi’s regime fell, there was little left of the Libyan state. The country collapsed into conflict and today is mired in a civil war involving two rival governments and countless militant organizations, including ISIS.

In Syria, the military is strong and has largely remained loyal to Bashar al-Assad. But Assad had engineered the military not primarily as an external security force to guard the borders, but rather as an instrument of sectarian rule, staffing it with Alawites who would remain loyal to the regime. The result is that when Assad ordered the military to fire on unarmed protesters — orders that many militaries might have refused — some of the troops complied, while others defected to help begin an armed rebellion.

And so the Arab Spring protests in Syria have led to the worst of both worlds: the preservation of a brutal dictatorship that still holds substantial territory and attacks civilians, but also a power vacuum in territory that Assad lost, which has proved to be fertile ground for ISIS and other extremists. It has, of course, been a disaster for Syrian civilians.

Is Tunisia the exception that proves the rule?

Tunisia protest 2011

A January 2011 protest in Tunis. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

There was one Arab Spring country whose institutions weren’t hollowed out prior to its revolution: Tunisia. It turns out that it was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with anything approaching a real democracy.

Although there have been moments of serious crisis, including the murder of two liberal politicians in 2013, Tunisia has thus far stayed the course of its political transition. Its first post-revolutionary government remained quite stable throughout its term, and although it eventually lost public support, that resulted in a defeat at the ballot box in 2014’s free and fair elections, rather than another revolution or coup.

Explaining the success of Tunisia’s revolution necessarily involves some unseemly Monday morning quarterbacking. But Tunisia did have one advantage over its neighbors that seem to have made a crucial difference: Its civil society institutions were far, far stronger.

That meant that when the country faced a political crisis following the 2013 assassinations, and when initial attempts to draft a new constitution broke down, there were other institutions within the country that were strong enough to prevent a descent into violence or state collapse.

Tunisia’s largest trade union, its business organization, its lawyers association, and a leading human rights organization formed, in 2013, a “national dialogue quartet” that successfully brokered talks between rival political factions. Their ability to steer the political system toward consensus defused political tensions, supported the successful drafting of a new constitution, and paved the way for 2014’s historic elections. In 2015, the quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its work.

Tunisia’s story is, yes, one of brave protesters and noble-minded individual Tunisian leaders, but it’s also one of strong institutions and civil society that allowed those individuals to succeed.

That’s not a particularly emotionally compelling story. As a former lawyer, I know all too well that no one has ever written a revolutionary ballad romanticizing the heroism of a lawyers association’s participation in a series of meetings, and I suspect no one ever will. But without lawyers and trade unions and NGOs willing to step in to do the dull work of civil society, it’s not clear that Tunisia would be the success story we consider it today.

Institutional weakness isn’t as exciting a topic as evil dictators or heroic protesters — but it’s far more important

Ben Ali protest photo

A protester waves a defaced photo of former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The lesson to draw from this is not that it would have been “better” for Egypt to keep Mubarak, Libya to keep Qaddafi, or Syria to keep Assad. Rather, it’s that by the time these countries got to the moment of choosing to keep or depose these leaders, the game was already lost. The governments were already so brittle and institutions so weakened that any outcome would be bad.

The lesson here is that although rigid autocracies often like to advertise themselves as a regrettable but necessary way to ensure stability, they’re actually drivers of instability. They are only ever buying their regimes temporary stability today by mortgaging their future security.

The primary question we should be asking after the failures of the Arab Spring is not whether more should have been done after 2011 to bolster transitional governments, or whether we should have chosen to simply preserve the dictatorships. The question we should be asking is why and how we allowed those dictatorships, over the decades before the 2011 revolutions came, to hollow out their states so completely that the Arab Spring was all but assured to bring chaos regardless of the world’s response.

It was Qaddafi’s brutal and ruthless regime that paved the way for Libya’s eventual collapse into civil war, and Mubarak’s shortcomings that left Egypt vulnerable to a coup by a mass-murdering general. And Bashar al-Assad is still proving every day that he was and remains the most terrible danger to the Syrian people, both in his own wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians and in his regime’s catastrophic failures that opened up space for ISIS’s own brutality and violence.

That’s not the exciting, emotionally compelling message that anyone craves. Brave young protesters aren’t going to take to the streets waving banners demanding judicial reform or civil society groups that can one day support a slow, incremental process of change. Hollywood isn’t going to make any summer blockbusters about political negotiations that succeed because respected pillars of the community convince stakeholders to adopt a consensus-based approach. And political candidates aren’t going to win applause with debate zingers about the importance of institutions to American foreign policy.

It’s far easier to call for a dictator’s downfall than to pressure for boring, unsexy policies that anticipate such a downfall years in the future and look for ways to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition.

But it’s a story worth paying attention to. The Arab Spring nations aren’t the only countries with brittle autocratic governments that could suddenly and catastrophically collapse. This is a problem we will face again.


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In Kazakhstan, an apartment complex with a skiable roof

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan.

Funny slope: Just be sure not to face-plant in front of your neighbors when attempting to leave the house. (Rendering: Union Architects of Kazakhstan)

As a blizzard-y beast named Snowzilla descended upon the East Coast last weekend, many a city-dweller immediately grabbed a sled, yoga mat, garbage can lid and/or Rubbermaid laundry basket and high-tailed it to the nearest park boasting anything resembling a hill. Great … but wouldn’t it be lovely if urbanites had the luxury of sledding — or even downhill skiing — from atop their own apartment building?

That’s the idea behind Slalom House, a mixed-use apartment block where a traditional roof is replaced with a 1,000-foot ski slope winding down the top of the 21-story structure.

This actually isn’t the first building with a roof-cum-ski run to pop up in recent years. In Copenhagen, work is underway on the Amager Bakke Waste-To-Energy Plant, a massive municipal incinerator that doubles as a regional ski resort. That project, boasting a 333,700-square-foot (!) artificial ski slope, is designed by none other than well-coiffed Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels.

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan. Curving along the the top of the U-shaped structure, Slalom House’s 89-foot-wide artificial ski run would be open year-round. (Rendering: Union of Architects of Kazakhstan)

Slalom House, if completed, would be the world’s first residential building with an exterior ski slope.

Shortlisted at the 2015 World Architecture Festival in the Residential: Future Projects category, Slalom House was conceived by a consortium of Kazakh architects headed by Shokhan Mataibekov of the Union of Architects of Kazakhstan.

And it’s in the Kazakh capital city of Astana that Slalom House would be located.

Astana (the city was previously known as Akmola, Tslelinograd and a handful of other names before being named capital, literally, in 1997) is a fitting location for a 400-plus-unit housing complex with a shopping mall on the ground floor and a slalom course on its roof. With an annual average temperature that hovers just barely above the freezing mark and winters where minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit temps are par for the course, Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world behind Ulan Bator, Mongolia. (Ottawa previously held that second chilliest spot.)

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan. Surrounded by a flat-as-a-pancake landscape, Slalom House would bring alpine skiing to the chilly, sports-obsessed Kazakh capital city. (Rendering: Union of Architects of Kazakhstan)

Located smack dab in the middle of Kazakhstan amidst the vast Central Steppe, Astana is also exceptionally flat. Basically, it’s a city — a sports-obsessed one at that, with multiple ice hockey and soccer teams — boasting a winter sports-friendly climate but a winter sports-unfriendly terrain. As Mataibekov explained to CNN, it takes about four hours by car from Astana to reach the nearest ski slopes.

Nestled in the foothills of the Trans-lli Alatau mountains in the far southeast section of the country, Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital, sees most of the snow-centric sports action and has produced numerous champion skiers and winter sports athletes. Almaty was even in the running to host the 2022 Winter Olympics but narrowly lost the bid to Beijing.

With an estimated price tag of $70 million, Slalom House would bring year-round alpine skiing — snowboarding and likely sledding, too — to the heart of Astana while serving as a glistening new tourist attraction for a rapidly expanding economic hub located in the middle of nowhere.

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan. In addition to a snowboard-able roofline, Slalom House boasts over 400 residential units along with office and retail space. (Photo: Union of Architects of Kazakhstan)

And about that year-round part: While Astana’s long and brutal winters serve Slalom House well, the hill itself would be covered with Snowflex, “a synthetic material designed to simulate the slip and grip effects of real snow.” Thus, Slalom House’s slope would be skiable in the absence of precipitation and during the city’s fleeting balmy-ish months.

While Mataibekov hints to CNN that there’s been serious interest in actually building Slalom House, it’s true that an apartment complex with a ski run up top may seem a stretch, if not excessively starry-eyed. Bonkers. Bananas. Not going to happen.

But have you seen Astana?

If not, allow me to introduce you …

Astana, KazakhstanAk Orda Presidential Palace and the Golden Towers, Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: ninara/flickr)
Astana, KazakhstanFoster + Partners’ Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, Astana, Kazakhstan (Photo: ninara/flickr)
Astana, KazakhstanKazMunayGas headquarters Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: ninara/flickr)
Astana, KazakhstanApartment towers in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: ninara/flickr)

As you can see, Astana — a shiny post-Soviet Tomorrowland that resembles what would happen if one of the Teletubbies went to architecture school at Yale — is the best place to build an apartment complex with a ski run up top. Oil-rich, otherworldly and, most important, cold as hell, Astana couldn’t be more perfect if it tried.

Set to host the Expo 2017 with the theme of “Future Energy,” Astana is often regarded as the Dubai of Central Asia in that it’s insane-looking and dripping with cash. Like Dubai or even Las Vegas, the city’s aggressive, neo-futuristic skyline — a skyline dotted with sleek towers, glass pyramids, flying saucer-esque edifices and an observation tower that resembles an oversized lollipop — simply boggles the mind.

Writes the Guardian’s Giles Fraser of this “flashy toy-city” in Central Asia: “… out of nowhere, Astana comes glistening into view, all shiny metal and glass, implausibly rising up from the Kazakh steppe like some post-modern Lego set that has stumbled into the opening sequence of ‘Dallas.’”

Formerly a provincial Soviet mining outpost with a notorious gulag prison camp on its outskirts, Astana — much like Brasilia, Canberra and Washington, D.C. — is a planned capital city. And given its isolated locale, it’s a planned capital city with ample room to grow. Since 1997, Astana has positively blown up with the population more than doubling and lavish — and huge — building projects going up left, right and everywhere in between. The city’s population is expected to reach 1 million by 2030.

An aerial view of Astana, Kazakhstan Downtown Astana, Kazakhstan: A little big Vegas, a little bit Genghis Khan. (Photo: Stanislav Filippov /AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking to CNN, local architect Serik Rustambekov explains the grand — and at times, daunting — scale that’s come to define Astana’s architectural landscape:

You need to understand the Kazakh background to get a better picture of our world view. We’re a nomadic civilization that developed over thousands of years in the vast expanse of Eurasia. Free space is more impressive to the Kazakh mindset than the type of congestion found in many European centers.

Architecture always represents the development of the state, of technology and of culture. As Astana is positioning itself as the center of Eurasia, a place where East meets West, a mixture of styles is quite appropriate.

And with so much cash being funneled into the construction of gargantuan structures influenced by the East, West and outer space, the Kazakh government has enlisted a who’s who of international starchitects to conceive these projects.

Bayterek tower, Astana, Kazakhstan The golden egg atop Bayterek is open to the public as an observation platform. (Photo: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Most notable is Sir Norman Foster, whose titular London firm has overseen the design of some of Astana’s most rubberneck-inducing structures including the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a hulking glass pyramid complete with 1,500-seat opera house that serves as “a global centre for religious understanding, the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality.” And then there’s the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, a yurt-inspired shopping and leisure complex complete with an indoor tropical beach that stands as the world’s biggest tent with a floor area of over 1 million square feet.

In addition to Foster and other bold face names, Bjarke Ingels, certainly no stranger to audacious edifices that defy easy description, won an international design competition in 2009 for his vision of a new Astana National Library. Ingels’ swooping design, in which “the circle, the rotunda, the arch and the yurt are merged into the form of a Moebius strip,” has yet to be completed.

A view of Astana, capital city of Kazakhstan Much of Kazakhstan’s recent riches are dedicated to building projects in its capital. And it shows. (Photo: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

While an impressive roster of celebrity architects imported from abroad have made their mark on Astana, a majority of the city’s fanciful structures are, like Slalom House, indigenous designs. This includes the Stalinist-style Triumph of Astanaapartment complex and Bayterek, a national monument/observation tower symbolizing a Khazak folktale in which Samruk, the magical bird of happiness, lays a whopper of a golden egg atop a poplar tree. Soaring over 300 feet above the center of Asanta like the overgrown lovechild of a backyard gazing ball and the Seattle Space Needle, Bayterek (aka “the Chupa Chups”) was initially conceived by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who, according to legend, first sketched out the idea on a cocktail napkin.

All of this considered, a housing developing with a roof that you can hot-dog down from the 21st floor wouldn’t look at all out of place in the weird and wonderful Kazakh capital of Astana.


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A short comic gives the simplest, most perfect explanation of privilege I’ve ever seen.

By Laura Willard
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Privilege can be a hard thing to talk about.
Oftentimes, when it’s implied or stated that someone is “privileged,” they can feel defensive or upset. They may have worked very hard for what they have accomplished and they may have overcome many obstacles to accomplish it. And the word “privilege” can make a person feel as though that work is being diminished.

The key point about privilege, though, is that it doesn’t mean that a person was raised by wealthy parents, had everything handed to them, and didn’t have to do much other than show up.

Privilege means that some of us have advantages over others for any number of reasons we don’t control — like who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin, or certain things that have happened in our lives.

Even when things haven’t come easy for some people, they can still have privileges that others don’t have.

Illustrator Toby Morris did some thinking about the concept of inequality and privilege, and he found one major problem.

He did a lot of research to learn about it, but as he started to really understand privilege, he found that a lot of the information about privilege felt very academic and technical. He felt it was important to “talk about this heavy stuff in a really simple and clear way,” Morris explained to me in an email interview.

That’s what led him to create and illustrate this incredible comic on privilege for the The Wireless.
He did an amazing job. Check it out:
















































































































This comic is property of The Wireless, where it originally appeared. It’s shared here with permission.

This is a great way to explain privilege to someone who’s having a hard time understanding — or someone who doesn’t want to recognize it.
“Comics are very human and accessible — they’re non-threatening and quite inviting to a reader,” Morris said. “It’s a lot less daunting than picking up a giant book or trying to decipher a really long or really dense article.”

True story.

Make no mistake: Morris isn’t taking away from hard work in his comic.
“I’m not trying to say I’m against that idea that if we work hard, we succeed,” he said. “I would like to think that is true, for the most part, but I just think people often forget or don’t realise that our starting points, or our paths to success, aren’t all even. Some people have to overcome more obstacles in the path to succeeding than others.”

He was also quick to point out that this isn’t about anyone needing to feel bad or guilty for the privileges that they have, but rather it’s about honesty and understanding — because maybe that’s what could lead us to a better place.

“Acknowledging the issue is one step towards addressing it hopefully,” he said.

Ultimately, success — or lack thereof — can be about hard work and other factors, some of which are beyond our control.
A lot of people have been able to relate to this comic — both sides of it — and have reached out to Morris to share.

This magical button delivers Upworthy stories to you on Facebook:

“Personally, I’ve grown up somewhere in the middle,” he said. Because his dad was in the army, Morris moved around a lot as a kid. “I experienced a lot of different neighbourhoods and schools and friendship groups — some well off, some not so much — and that experience lead me to this belief that ultimately people are all pretty similar wherever you go, we just don’t all have the same chances in life.”


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U.S. Stocks Sink With Markets Around the World

by Jeremy Herron Dani Burger


Global shares near bear market, S&P 500 falls to 21-month low
Yen reaches one-year high, Treasury yield drops below 2%

Turmoil returned to financial markets as oil plunged past $27 a barrel, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank as much as 565 points and global equities approached a bear market that is fueling a rush into haven assets.
The Dow and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slid to lows last seen in early 2014, though selling eased in afternoon trading as the 30-stock gauge cut its decline to under 400 points. MSCI Inc.’s gauge of global equities fell to 19.8 percent below its May record and emerging shares plunged 3.2 percent. Russia’s ruble and Mexico’s peso fell to records, while bets mounted on an end to Hong Kong’s dollar peg. A measure of default risk for junk-rated U.S. companies surged to the highest in three years. Yields on 10-year Treasuries dropped below 2 percent and the yen jumped to a one-year high.

“There don’t seem to be any signs of relief,” Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones in St. Louis, said by phone. “At times like this when the selloff is feeding on itself, it doesn’t give you an idea of when it will end because it’s mostly emotional. Fundamentals aren’t mattering much. Being busy is good, but it’s definitely not fun when it’s because you’re feeling a sharp selloff like today.”
Equities markets buffeted by everything from China to oil and rising interest rates are off to the worst start to a year on record at the same time the Federal Reserve and other central banks have signaled a higher threshold before they’ll provide relief. The rout in the oil patch is rippling through markets amid growing signs that credit quality is worsening. U.S. bonds now predict the slowest inflation since May 2009 as investors pile into haven assets.
“There are a lot of things behind” the selloff, said Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive officer of Blackstone Group LP, in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker from Davos, Switzerland. “You have economic things such as the slowing of the U.S. economy which has been pretty gradual. You’ve got energy going down so quickly that you can almost get windburn. You’ve got China as an issue which is is probably overdone. So when you put those factors together you have an unattractive brew along with the concern the Federal Reserve will raise rates and slow the economy further.”
Selloff Makes Asia Look Very Attractive: HSBC
The MSCI All-Country World Index fell 2.6 percent at 1:47 p.m. in New York, bringing its drop from a May record up to the 20 percent threshold for a bear market. More than $15 trillion has been erased from the value of global equities in the period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The S&P 500 slid 2.2 percent, poised for the lowest close since April 2014. The index pared a drop of more than 3 percent. All but one Dow stock retreated, and all 10 industries in the broader index fell. Energy shares plunged 4.3 percent to the lowest since July 2010.
Should the Dow close lower by 500 points, it would mark the third time since mid-August that the 30-stock gauge has tumbled that much. In the 15 years prior to that, when the index ranged from 6,500 to 18,000 points, the index had registered a rout of that point magnitude on only 12 occasions.
The equities selloff has lowered valuation metrics, leaving the S&P 500 trading at 14.9 times the forecast earnings of its members, in line with the index’s average of the past five years. It’s still more expensive than developed markets in Europe, where the Stoxx 600 Index trades for 13.8 times estimated earnings.

Investors are keeping close watch on progress in the economy as the markets tumble. Data today showed the cost of living in the U.S. dropped in December, led by a slump in commodities. A separate report showed new-home construction unexpectedly fell last month, indicating the industry lost some momentum entering 2016.
The cost of living in the U.S. dropped in December, led by a slump in commodities, and New-home construction in the U.S. unexpectedly fell, government reports showed to day.
Emerging Markets
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index dropped the most in two weeks, sinking 3.1 percent to the lowest since May 2009. The gauge is down 13 percent this year, the worst start since records began in 1988. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises Index tumbled 4.3 percent as oil producers plummeted and a drop in the city’s dollar spurred concern over capital outflows.
Russia’s Micex Index declined 1 percent and the Bloomberg GCC 200 Index of equities in Gulf markets lost 3.6 percent. The ruble weakened as much as 3.1 percent to a record 81.0490 against the dollar. The Mexican peso fell to a record 18.4775 per dollar and is down 6.4 percent this year, making it Latin America’s worst performing major currency.
Saudi Arabian banks are under orders to stop selling currency products that allow investors to make cheap bets on a devaluation of the riyal, according to five people with knowledge of the matter.
Hong Kong’s dollar traded near its weakest level since 2007 and forwards contracts sank as China’s market turmoil fueled speculation the city’s 32-year-old currency peg will end.
West Texas Intermediate crude tumbled more than 7 percent to $26.45 a barrel before. Inventories probably increased by 2.75 million barrels last week, according to a Bloomberg survey before a report from the Energy Information Administration Thursday.
Mining stocks plumbed a 12-year low and metals resumed their slump on prospects for slower economic growth in China and sustained low oil prices. Copper fell as much as 1.1 percent. The Bloomberg World Mining Index dropped as much as 2.4 percent to its lowest since September 2003, with the world’s biggest miner, BHP Billiton Ltd., losing 6.9 percent in London.
Gold rose as renewed losses in equities spurred demand for less risky assets, with Citigroup Inc. saying bullion’s rationale as a haven was now back in vogue and prices may be supported over the first quarter.
The yen strengthened 0.9 percent to 116.58 per dollar, and touched 115.98, the strongest level since Jan. 16, 2015. Japan’s currency appreciated 0.9 percent to 127.19 per euro. The euro was little changed at $1.0897.
The Australian dollar slid 0.5 percent to 68.78 U.S. cents, extending this year’s decline to 5.6 percent. The kiwi touched the weakest level since Sept. 30.
The Canadian dollar rose for the first time this year after the Bank of Canada kept their benchmark interest rate unchanged and said stronger U.S. demand, a weaker currency and last year’s rate cuts are leading the economy out of an oil slump.
Treasuries climbed, pushing 10-year yields to the lowest since October, as investors sought the safety of sovereign debt. The benchmark 10-year note yield fell nine basis points to 1.97 percent, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. That’s the biggest drop since Dec. 11.
The difference between yields on 10-year notes and similar-maturity Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, a gauge of expectations for consumer prices, shrank as much as three basis points to 1.37 percentage points, the narrowest since May 2009.
The yield on similar-maturity German bunds sank six basis points to 0.49 percent, while that on U.K. gilts fell seven basis points to 1.63 percent.
The risk premium on the Markit CDX North American Investment Grade Yield Index, a credit-default swaps benchmark tied to the debt of 100 of the safest companies, surged to 112.47 basis points, the most in more than three years. The premium on the Markit CDX North American High Yield Index, rose to 569 basis points, the highest mark since 2012.


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How to eat for better sleep

Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)

Better sleep

Public Domain Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam

A new study finds three food choices that can lead to improved slumber.

If you are one of the many millions of people who suffer from the crazy-making scourge that is insomnia, you have likely read plenty of tips on how to achieve that elusive state of bliss known as sleep. You know about the importance of regular sleep routines andturning off the electronics, about skipping the boozy nightcap and limiting caffeine. But now a new study has a few more pearls of wisdom to add to the bag – and all natural approaches to better sleep are a step up from using pharmaceutical sleep aids which come with their own set of risks.

Not surprisingly, since food is the driving force of our bodies, they found several areas in which sleep improved based on food choices. Their research shows that a greater fiber intake during the day resulted in more time spent in the stage of deep, slow wave sleep. Meanwhile, more saturated fat predicted less slow wave sleep, and higher consumption was associated with more arousals from sleep.

“Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” said principal investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, assistant professor in the department of medicine and Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, N.Y. “It was most surprising that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters.”

“The finding that diet can influence sleep has tremendous health implications, given the increasing recognition of the role of sleep in the development of chronic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said St-Onge.

So there you have it. More fiber, less fat and less sugar could be helpful for those seeking to improve sleep. Not really earth shattering, the treatment for so many ailments often boils down to eating better – but it’s a great reminder that our bodies are sensitive machines that run best when well-fueled … and possibly sleep better too.

Tags: Health | Natural Remedies | Sleep


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Just The Good Stuff From The Republican Debate


The sixth Republican Primary debate of the year was Thursday night. Whether you’re looking for the long Ben Carson ramble or a Trump-Cruz showdown, Digg has you covered with all the highlights. You can find the full transcripthere.

Cruz And Trump Talked The Most

Politico published the talking time that each candidate was able to take up. Cruz came out on top and Trump was a close second.


Along with the most talking time, Cruz also got the most direct mentions among the Republicans according to FiveThirtyEight — not necessarily a good thing.


Trump Explained What He Would Do With His Company If Elected

When asked if he would place his assets in a blind trust, Trump talked exclusively about the management of his company instead, not exactly grasping the concept: “If I become president I couldn’t care less about my company…I would have my children run it with my executives.


Rubio And Cruz Fought Over Taxes

Cruz claimed that his tax plan is not a Value-Added Tax (VAT) — a form of consumption tax — but Marco Rubio disputed this. IBTimes explains what a VAT Tax is and MarketWatch explains why Cruz’s plan counts as one and why it needs work.

When Christie got in the mix, Marco tried to budge his way back in, and Christie delivered one of the sassiest retorts of the night saying, “you already had your chance, Marco, you blew it!”


Trump And The Candidates Responded To The Idea Of A Ban On Muslim Immigration

Trump defended his previous statements calling for a ban on Muslim immigration, saying, “I want security for this country. We have a serious problem with, as you know, with radical Islam.”

The other candidates also had a chance to respond to Trump’s statements.

Christie: “You can’t just ban all Muslims. You have to ban radical Islamic jihadists.

Cruz: “We have a president who refuses to acknowledge the threats we face and worse who acts as an apologist for radical Islamic terrorism…I think what we need is a commander in chief who is focused like a laser on keeping this country safe and on defeating radical Islamic terrorism”

Rubio: “If we do not know who you are, and we do not know why you are coming, when I am president, you are not getting into the United States.”

Carson: “And clearly, what we need to do is get a group of experts together, including people from other countries, some of our friends from Israel, who have had experience screening these people and come up with new guidelines for immigration, and for visas, for people who are coming into this country.”

Cruz Criticized Trump And His New York Values

Cruz supported comments he had made about Trump’s New York values: “I think most people know exactly what New York values are…not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.”

Trump turned to 9/11 to illustrate why Cruz has it all wrong.

The Candidates Tried To Refocus When Asked About Gun Control

The candidates responded to a question crafted in response to recent shootings and Obama’s recent executive order that places more scrutiny on gun sellers: “What is the harm in tightening standards for not only who buys guns, but those who sell them?”

Bush: “We don’t need to add new rules, we need to make sure the FBI does its job.”

Trump moved the issue to mental health: “I’m a second-amendment person…We have a huge mental health problem in this country.”

Rubio said Obama’s measures won’t help: “The Second Amendment is not an option. It is not a suggestion…Criminals don’t buy their guns from a gun show…Here’s the fact, we’re in a war against ISIS.”

Christie attacked Obama’s methods: “The president wants to do things without working with his Congress … that’s not a democracy, that’s a dictatorship. This guy is a petulant child…Mr.President, we’re not against you, we’re against your policies…we are going to kick your rear-end out of the White House.”

Cruz And Trump Sparred Over Cruz’s Birth Status And His Eligibility To Run

Ted Cruz was born in Canada to American parents. Some, including Donald Trump, have questioned Cruz’s eligibility to run for president based on this fact. Cruz sarcastically responded a question on the topic before listing many candidates who have run with the same status:

Cruz: “I’m glad we’re focusing on the important topics of the evening.”

Ted Cruz Responded To A New York Times Report Claiming He Failed To Disclose A Significant Loan Used In His Last Campaign

On Wednesday, The Times published a report claiming that Cruz may have obscured a large loan he took from Goldman Sachs to use in his senate campaign. Cruz responded in the debate, calling it a “hit piece,” but admitting a mistake:

“I made a paperwork error disclosing it on one piece of paper instead of the other.”

Rubio And Bush Came Down Hard On Hillary

Speaking on Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush said she would be a “national security disaster…Her first 100 days instead of setting an agenda she might be going back and forth between the White House and the courthouse.”

Marco Rubio piggybacked on Bush saying, “Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being Commander in Chief of the United States.”

Cruz Got The Opening Question

When asked about the economy, Cruz took the opportunity to invoke therecent and day-long capture of US soldiers who crossed into Iranian seas, noting that a Republican leader would not have let that happen.

He then spoke on the economy:

“The Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men of this country.”

Chris Christie continued the critique, criticizing Obama’s State of the Union: “On Tuesday night, I watched storytime with Barack Obama.”

Who’s Leading In Endorsements?

FiveThirtyEight put together a nice chart illustrating who’s leading the pack in terms of endorsements. Interestingly, the two poll leaders (Trump and Cruz) fall very low on the list.


Highlights From The Undercard Debate

You can read the full transcript here.

Fiorina Called The Putin-Trump Relationship A Bromance

Fiorina said, “Despite Donald Trump’s bromance with Putin, Vladamir Putin is not our friend.”

CNN has more on their relationship.


The Candidates And The Audience Lashed Out At Obama Over Guns

The audience booed at the moderators’ invocation of poll numbers that indicate that the majority of people in the US support background checks for gun purchases.


Huckabee insisted that gun-control doesn’t make us safer: “The one common thing that has happened in most mass shootings is that they happened in gun-free zones.”

A report from Everytown Research puts the actual number at 13%.

Fiorina Asked For A Halt On The Acceptance Of Refugees

“We cannot allow refugees to enter this country unless we can adequately vet them, and we know we can’t.”

Rand Paul Released A Video During The Debate Addressing His Absence

“Don’t be led by the nose to the future that includes only the banal and soporific…”

Fiorina Took Jabs At Hillary

Fiorina took a nasty jab at Hillary during the beginning of the debate, saying, “Unlike some other women in this race, I actually like spending time with my husband.”


She went on to say, “Mrs. Clinton, actually you cannot wipe a server with a towel.”

How Popular The Candidates Were Heading Into The Debate

FiveThirtyEight published a nice graphic illustrating all the candidates’ average favorability ranking. Like last time, Rubio went in leading the pack.


Meet The Candidates

In an unsurprising turn of events, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul were booted from the primetime slot. Fiorina joined Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee for the undercard debate, while Rand Paul chose not to participate.

The participants of the primetime debate included Donald Trump, Ted Cruz,Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.

The podium order for Thursday evening’s debate                                     Screenshot via Fox Business News

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Sensors in your seats: Good management or Big Brother?

telegraph newsroom

There were sensors on the chairs in the Telegraph newsroom — for a day. (Photo: Lloyd Davis/flickr)

The tracking of employees is a touchy issue. We’ve wondered before if tracking employee fitness is healthy or creepy, or whether your boss should be able to track you 24 hours a day. Privacy is the issue that grabs the headlines, but sometimes the practice provides really useful information.

At the Daily Telegraph in London, sensors were recently installed on seats and desks of journalists. According to BuzzFeed:

Journalists were baffled by the unannounced appearance of the boxes. Staff resorted to googling the brand name and discovered they were wireless motion detectors produced by a company called OccupEye that monitor whether individuals are using their desks.

The employees were outraged, complaining that management could now tell when they went to the bathroom. (They used stronger words you’ll have to read on BuzzFeed.)

guardianNUJ: National Union of Journalists (Photo: The Guardian)

British newspapers being what they are, The Guardian jumped on the story, covering the objections from the National Union of Journalists, which complained that “Workers have very strong privacy rights and these must be protected. The right to be consulted on new procedures governing such data is enshrined in law. The NUJ will resist Big Brother-style surveillance in the newsroom.”
Within a day the Telegraph had pulled the units, which they claimed were installed to monitor energy-efficiency. Meanwhile the manufacturer of the units issued a long news release that included this statement:

OccupEye sensors monitor the presence of people within a space but they do not identify individuals… OccupEye is used successfully by blue-chip corporate users and small district local authorities alike and, notified beforehand of a deployment with its many benefits communicated (we always recommend that our clients advise their staff in advance), both users and space occupiers embrace the technology positively. Despite the impression that may have been formed as a result of the recent media coverage, there is nothing intrusive or sinister about OccupEye and no deployment has ever had anything other than a positive impact on both a user organization and its staff.

But maybe this really isn’t about productivity

Consider how office design is changing all the time, as the technology we use and the way we work changes. Few are changing as rapidly as newspapers. Many are downsizing offices and changing the type of space they occupy. Managers (and designers) would love to know how much time people actually spend at their desks to determine how many desks are needed.

This isn’t a new concept. In North America, Herman Miller has been doing it for years with its Space Utilization Services. It’s a lot more accurate:

Research shows that, across industries, workstations are not occupied 60 percent of the time; conference room seating is rarely used to full capacity; and private offices are unoccupied fully 77 percent of the time. Sometimes companies already have an idea of their space utilization because they’ve done bed checks. But bed checks aren’t always accurate — or even close. One company’s bed-check report showed a 67 percent dedicated space utilization, but the wireless sensors we installed as part of our space utilization service showed the actual utilization was just 38 percent.

Herman Miller did it with “unobtrusive sensors which … temporarily attach to the underside of chairs and detect when each is occupied. After analyzing the data, Herman Miller recommends space-allocation strategies that better support how a particular space is actually being used.

sensorsWhat’s that under my chair and my desk? (Photo: OccupEye)

When I saw this technology five years ago, I asked about the privacy issue, and the company claimed that it wasn’t an issue; they made it clear they were aggregating information on office use and not monitoring individual work habits.

Consultant Brett Belding was, I believe, the first to say “work is a thing you do, not a place you go.” No doubt management at the Telegraph is monitoring the thing that they do, with words published and deadlines met, just as my editors do. As can be seen in the photo at the top, they’re also all in view of their bosses sitting on the balcony overlooking them. But the Telegraph didn’t tell employees what was happening, and they got what they deserved.

Newsrooms are also changing rapidly. I was in the Guardian’s new one last year and was astonished at how crowded it was; I was also in the Globe and Mail’s and saw huge desks designed with those corners for big old monitors, half of them empty. Companies must deploy their resources better, and this kind of technology can help. I don’t think the Telegraph was wrong in installing these units and trying to figure out what’s being used and what isn’t. I suspect that in this Internet of Things era, it will be built into every chair as a matter of course in a very short time. But still, the company did a dreadful job of communication.

poll on privacyPoll on privacy: I am in the 2.11 percent crowd. (Photo: Snapshot from poll)

Of course when I said this last May, I added a poll in which readers could answer whether it was OK if a company was open and transparent about collecting data similar to this. As you can see above, a huge majority of readers disagreed with me and thought it was intrusive and that people were entitled to privacy, while only 2.11 percent agreed with me.

So maybe I’m not the best person to be writing about information versus privacy.


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