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October 15, 2019

  • How Watchmen’s giant squid attack changes everything
    by Alex Abad-Santos on November 18, 2019 at 3:15 am

    Looking Glass in Watchmen | HBO Watchmen’s fifth episode is about gods, monsters, and a psychic squid. The fifth episode of Watchmen takes us back to the ’80s — the age of hairspray, leather jackets, Howard Jones’s hit “Things Can Only Get Better,” the Cold War, and, in this universe, a psychic squid attack. The 1980s-era of the Watchmen world is seen through the eyes of Looking Glass, the stalwart police officer with a mirrorball face and the uncanny ability to tell when people are lying. We meet him as a teen trying to promote the good word of Doomsday, how the end is near, and how God has pandas in heaven. To Looking Glass’s chagrin, the apparent apocalypse comes sooner rather than later, and he plays witness to mass death, destruction, and disorder in the form of a genocidal squid storming his local fair. Though the squid attack is indeed bizarre (director Zack Snyder nixed the cephalopod assault from his 2009 cinematic adaptation, for example), it’s part of the most important question in writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel: Who holds accountable the most powerful people, and what decisions will they make when they’re left unchecked? Looking Glass finds out the answers to these questions first-hand. He watches a recording of the space-bound billionaire Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, a.k.a. the villain of the Watchmen graphic novel, who explains that the squid was a fake attack for the better of the nation. Veidt claims responsibility for the scarring event, and Looking Glass learns that Americans are just statistics and disposable figures to the very powerful, including Veidt and the government. And through his revelation, the viewer learns that the ultra-violent squid attack in Watchmen, like everything in Watchmen, means so much more than what it originally seems. The squid attack is about theology, morality, and choosing between one evil or another The Watchmen graphic novel encompasses a variety of strange elements, ranging from an omnipotent blue man who prefers to be naked all the time to the power politics at play in the United States and Great Britain in the 1980s (which we’ve come to associate with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher). But the most challenging bit comes at the end of the novel, forcing us to examine our own ideas about morality and humanity — and that would be the squid attack. Gibbons/DC Watchmen In the final chapter of the comic, Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, unleashes a colossal alien squid upon New York City. He sees it as the only way to keep the world’s superpowers from killing each other in a nuclear war. Ozymandias’s plan wasn’t without its supporters, either. Moore writes the story in a way that gives Ozymandias intellectual authority, and as such, other heroes (like Doctor Manhattan) go along with him. The squid, with a brain cloned from a human psychic, releases a shockwave that instantly kills millions. Those who survive the shockwave go mad and are driven to violence by the sensory overload. In the novel, World War III: Nuclear Party Time is inevitable, and Ozymandias’s plan works. Countries around the world, including Russia, see the terror in New York City and offer support to the United States, burying any simmering political hostilities until the horrors are stopped. Gibbons/DC Ozymandias celebrating his plan in Watchmen With the plan and the people executed — and the story’s heroes unable to undo what Ozymandias has wrought — everyone who had learned about the plan beforehand is faced with a moral dilemma: Tell people about the mass murder Ozymandias committed and inevitably trigger nuclear war, or remain quiet about the fact that the genocide was man-made. Only Rorschach, the most obstinate of the heroes, doesn’t go along with the cover-up. Though Rorschach sticking to his morals is noble — lying to people about millions of deaths is unconscionable — the situation is positioned in such a way that if he spills the truth, it will inevitably wreck the fragile peace Ozymandias achieved. In order to prevent that from happening, Doctor Manhattan obliterates Rorschach in the name of the greater good. The result is two unappealing choices for who is right: the unapologetic, objectivist moralist who risks armageddon based on what he believes to be “good,” or the clinical amorality of a genius utilitarian who kills millions of people to achieve harmony. There’s no simple nor tidy answer, especially with the stakes heightened to the point where Rorschach’s noble deed seems detrimental and Ozymandias’s “saving” the world seems moot. And perhaps the greatest lesson here is not that these are the only two choices, but rather that people should be wary of relinquishing personal responsibility to those in power. HBO’s Watchmen asks how the squid attack preserves the status quo of government power At the end of the comic, world peace has been restored. But The New Frontiersman newspaper (which has been referenced in the HBO adaptation) obtains Rorschach’s journal, and it’s implied it will publish Rorschach’s thoughts and observations of his investigation into Ozymandias’s scheme. What we don’t see fleshed out in the original graphic novel is the aftermath of how the attack changes the lives of everyday people, the ones who aren’t privy to the knowledge that the attack perpetrated on them was a hoax. HBO’s adaptation examines, through Looking Glass’s story, at least one perspective of that. Unlike the heroes in the graphic novel, Looking Glass witnesses the attack firsthand in Hoboken. It shakes him to his core, and today he lives with a type of PTSD and fears the potential for another attack, hence the emergency alarm system and drills in which he’s invested. For Looking Glass, each day is spent revisiting the attack and dreading that it may happen again — a stark allegory for Americans who still remember 9/11 and its immediate aftershocks. But episode five is not the first to reveal the lingering effects of the giant squid attack. In the first episode of the series, Angela’s son Topher’s classroom displays a poster touting squid anatomy alongside one depicting America’s presidents, indicating that squids are still very important in this world, and all across the country at that. In the same episode, Angela and Topher drive home from school and pull over when they hear an alarm. Out of nowhere, several dead squid suddenly fall from the sky — or possibly from another dimension. This appears to be another connection to the squid attack of 1985, perhaps a direct result of it. Topher sees the “squid falls” as little more than a gross nuisance. We haven’t yet seen Looking Glass’s reaction to the event, but judging from how serious he is about the alarms and how worried he is about another attack, I doubt that he’s able to just brush those squids off. Knowing the backstory of the fake squid attack changes the complexion of the squid falls. We know the squid assault was fake, so presumably the squid falls are fake, too. So what’s their purpose? Who’s orchestrating the squid falls? And what benefit is there to arranging said squid falls? I’m guessing the squid falls are a government act, as it’s difficult to imagine someone being able to pull off that kind of scheme. I could also see it being Lady Trieu, since she has the resources and money to accomplish such a grand feat. Regardless of who is orchestrating the squid falls, they manage to keep the ’80s squid attack on people’s minds. The squid falls send the message that there’s danger looming, that the government and military could be the only things standing between you and another attack — which is, essentially, Ozymandias’s end goal in the graphic novel. And if the squid attacks are used to get people to trust authority figures in this world, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to believe that the people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, should be wary of any authority figure’s power. What’s a little less clear is how Sen. Joe Keene factors into the big reveal, when Looking Glass learns the attack was a hoax courtesy of Ozymandias. Keene’s planning something, but at this point, his endgame is still a bunch of moving pieces — a teleportation device, Ozymandias’s recording, framing Angela. What we do know is that this revelation destroys everything Looking Glass thought he knew about the attack that changed his entire life. Finding out it was a hoax, that his whole life has revolved around this fake attack, is shattering. Just like the end of the graphic novel, Looking Glass is now in Rorschach’s position of keeping a secret that could change the world for the worse. The question becomes what he will — or won’t — do with this knowledge.

  • Watchmen wants us to know one thing: We’re all being used by those with power
    by Emily Todd VanDerWerff on November 18, 2019 at 3:00 am

    Looking Glass seems to have a very full life. | HBO The show delves into Looking Glass’s past — and revisits one of the most memorable moments from the comic. After playing footsie with the original Watchmen comic for four weeks, the new TV show’s fifth episode — “Little Fear of Lightning” — dumps us straight into one of the comic’s most famous moments: the “interdimensional” squid attack on New York that kills 3 million people and does grave psychic damage to even more. The event, as those who’ve read the comic know, is a plot cooked up by Ozymandias to avoid nuclear war and maybe bring about world peace. Known to the public as an “attack” by beings from another dimension, it manages to bring the US and USSR closer together, leading to the version of America we see in the series, where the Robert Redford administration is nearing its 30-year anniversary but where the tensions of the Cold War no longer seem relevant to the world at large. As we learn in “Little Fear of Lightning,” it’s a deep, dark secret, held closely by a very small few, that the squid didn’t come from another dimension but was instead manifested right here on Earth. And among the people who were affected by its arrival are Steven Spielberg (who made a very Schindler’s List-esque movie about the squid) and our own Looking Glass, who narrowly escaped death at the squid’s nasty tentacles as a teen, then saw his life scarred by having been so close to such a devastating occurrence. Just like Watchmen’s third episode, “Little Fear of Lightning” is a character showcase, following Looking Glass for nearly its entire running time. (We check in on Adrian Veidt briefly, and he does seem to be in space, spelling out a message using all of the corpses he’s been generating. This show!) But “Lightning” tells a darker and sadder story about what it means to live in a world where you survived an experience that’s roughly as rare — and even more likely to kill you — as being struck by lightning. It’s about survivor’s guilt. But it’s also about realizing that the world is built atop a lie. To dig further into that theme, I (Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff) am joined by Vox associate culture editor Allegra Frank and culture writer Constance Grady to break down “Little Fear of Lightning,” from the Seventh Kavalry to James Wolk’s inherent shiftiness to squids galore. Times Square: Now with 100 percent more squid HBO Looking Glass takes off his mask for a bit. Emily: In the build-up to director Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation of Watchmen for the big screen, all involved agreed to change the ending of the original comic. Despite a slavish faithfulness to the comic’s images (if not exactly its themes) in the rest of the film, it was thought that a giant squid landing in Times Square would be too much for people to process. Instead, the movie suggested that Doctor Manhattan had created some sort of energy pulse that leveled much of Manhattan, thus necessitating his move to Mars. It honestly wasn’t a bad story shift — it gave Doctor Manhattan a more easily understandable motivation to bail on Earth, at least (if you, for some reason, believe a godlike blue man would have understandable motivations, which I might quibble with). But I’m so, so happy the squid (Squidley? Squidward? Squidbert?) exists in the world of HBO’s Watchmen to destroy this fictional version of New York. True to the spirit of this project, “Little Fear of Lightning” writers Damon Lindelof and Carly Wray (another The Leftovers alum) and director Steph Green pull out resonances with the 9/11 attacks but also the ways we use pop culture to process these sorts of horrors. What’s most notable, however, is how the opening flashback makes viewers feel the sheer gutting horror of that moment and how it would have reverberated in the decades to come. Allegra: I don’t know how spoiled you are on the comic, but how did you feel about the squid? Was it a bridge too far for you, as the movie’s creative team feared it would be for their 2009 audience? Or are you going to share a recipe for delicious calamari with me, so excited are you by the prospects of a giant cephalopod? Allegra: I’ve become increasingly “spoiled” on the original Watchmen comic in my weeks-long quest to grasp what’s happening on the TV show. So I was aware of the squid attack — but only in the abstract. This week’s episode visualized what I interpreted as a very bizarre method of mass destruction and proved how terrifying that kind of experience could be. The cold open rendered a young Looking Glass the equivalent of that classic horror movie trope, the Final Girl: He’s a teenage boy thrust into a situation where he could possibly lose his virginity, but the moment never comes to bear. His sexual anxiety, and the virginal purity that, in horror movies at least, establishes him as a rare moralist, ends up saving his life in the end. Looking Glass finds himself alone after a devastating, sudden, inexplicable mass casualty. This scene helped to ease me, the sensitive viewer, into the idea of the squid attack because we saw only the aftermath and not the act of the killing itself. It’s still a shocking moment and a horrifying image to see hundreds of dead bodies lying on the ground, but I don’t think the scene veered too far into the ostentatious, as HBO has made no effort to hide how disturbed the show’s version of 2019 Tulsa is. And on a plausibility level, that all those deaths were the effect of a squid that apparently came from another dimension doesn’t quite phase me — five episodes in, a squid attack feels normal enough for Watchmen, despite its inherent absurdity. It’s the impact of the attack that is meaningful, sculpting Looking Glass into the lonely, sexually repressed man we’ve come to know in the episode’s contemporary storyline. On the inherent shiftiness of James Wolk HBO Yes, we’re aware this is technically Jeremy Irons right beneath a subhead about James Wolk. Constance: I’m coming into this show pretty unspoiled. All of my knowledge of the comic comes from the time a friend who read it 10 years ago summarized it for me, and I came away with a vague understanding of something something giant squid, something something blue penis. But even with minimal knowledge of the comic, the squid attack still lands; it’s a moment of pure Lovecraftian horror, and I absolutely buy that it would traumatize Looking Glass forever. Which only makes it all the more heartbreaking when he realizes that this horrific event that has shaped his life forever was a lie. The other big reveal this episode comes when we find out that James Wolk’s affable gentleman senator Joe Keane is the leader of the Seventh Kavalry, and that he apparently saw his leadership as half of a partnership with the now-dead Judd as the chief of the police. For me, that twist wasn’t exactly surprising, but it was immensely satisfying, because it’s such a good use of Wolk’s inherent shiftiness. Maybe it’s because I’m most familiar with Wolk from his role as Mad Men’s Bob “NOT GREAT” Benson, but anytime I see him onscreen, I feel incapable of trusting him. (Well, I trust him to inspire some truly iconic gifs, but that’s it.) Or maybe it’s because he’s so handsome: it only stands to reason that anyone with a face that symmetrical has to be hiding something. (Incidentally, this is why I think Armie Hammer is going to be great as Maxim De Winter in the forthcoming Rebecca. Obviously he has something to hide, because why else would he be so tall?) Regardless, I’ve been slowly going insane watching him slither around the sidelines of every Watchmen scene with his good ol’ boy accent and his Kennedy-lite posture, so the reveal that he is the man behind the curtains of the Seventh Kavalry is fantastically gratifying. But the reveal is also thematically compelling, because it gets at an idea that seems fundamental to the Watchmen universe: The state and the terrorists are in on everything together. They are run by the same self-interested billionaires who think of the rest of us as their pawns and turn us against each other for their own purposes. All of the systems are corrupt, and escaping them is nearly impossible. All we’re left with is individuals trying to do their best to survive in a broken world. Allegra, how did the Seventh Kavalry reveal work for you? Do you think there’s any possibility for hope left in the Watchmen world? Allegra: Before I answer your question, I have to say your read on James Wolk (and Armie Hammer!) has deeply wounded me. But maybe that’s because you’re right about him — I can’t help but trust a beautiful man like Wolk’s Senator Keene when he wants me to believe he’s on the side of justice. That smile! That perfectly combed hair! Those bright, twinkling eyes! I’m a superficial goon, is what I’m saying, easily manipulated by pretty boys. As such, Keene’s connection to the Seventh Kavalry gutted me. I yelled at my screen as he and other men and women we’d thought were good guys pulled off their Rorschach masks. How is it that so many of the people we’ve gotten to know in Tulsa deceived Angela, Laurie, and Looking Glass so easily and so totally? Their involvement is evidence that Adrian Veidt’s giant squid attack was not an end-all, be-all, but instead the impetus for decades of selfish behavior on the part of uncaring rich men looking to gain control over an unsuspecting public with dwindling resources. But I don’t think that necessarily dictates a hopeless situation going forward. For starters, tying the Seventh Kavalry reveal to Looking Glass’s storyline — he being a survivor of this sort of selfish behavior in the truest sense — offers the kind of motivation that should undoubtedly empower those who do remain on the side of good. This mass destruction via cephalopod, whether or not it was justified in the service of preventing a nuclear war, has all kinds of ramifications — from Looking Glass walking out of that carnival hall of mirrors to find hundreds of dead bodies, to Angela learning that her closest friend and mentor was never supporting her cause in the first place. These are devastating truths, but they’re also ones that I very much expect to embolden our heroes in this otherwise nihilistic world. What about you, Emily? Do you think Looking Glass will find he power within him to share Veidt’s secret about the squid attack with Angela and company? Will Looking Glass even survive, tho? HBO Laurie and Looking Glass have a chat. Emily: Before this episode, I wasn’t sure if Looking Glass was one of my favorite characters because he was so inherently compelling, or because Tim Blake Nelson is such a terrific actor. After this episode, I feel comfortable saying: It’s both. The shattered quality that young Looking Glass carries out of that hall of mirrors moves forward with him into the current Tulsa timeline, and it’s the same shattered quality that is a major part of why he betrays Angela at episode’s end. To be sure, the Seventh Kavalry has revealed to him that much of his life has been based on a lie. But instead of telling his friend about this lie, he betrays her. Before this episode aired, one of our colleagues was talking about how they didn’t want to see Looking Glass revealed as a secret racist. But what “Little Fear of Lightning” does with the character is almost sadder. Looking Glass isn’t an overt racist. He knows enough to say “woke” things like “He was a white man in Oklahoma” when Angela finds that KKK hood in Judd’s closet. But he’s also bound to something terrible by dint of who he is. In the complicated logistics of Watchmen’s plot, that terrible something is a conspiracy to keep the wool pulled over the world’s eyes. But on a metaphorical level, the story plays as a muted horror movie about trying to do the right thing and still being roped in with the worst kinds of people because of how structural power works. Which is to say: Watchmen remains a show about whiteness, and Looking Glass is perhaps the most potent example of how you can be a truly kind and compassionate human being and still have a lot to answer for, including stuff that you maybe weren’t even aware of. That’s what’s so provocative about the Seventh Kavalry being rooted in a truth. One of the details of the original Watchmen that makes me so uncomfortable is that Rorschach — the violent sadist and borderline fascist — is ultimately right about a lot of what he’s saying. It’s just that his methods (secrecy and paranoia) distort the narrative so much that he ceases to be someone worth emulating. He even ceases to be a reliable narrator, despite the fact that he’s often telling the truth. But this season has revolved around twin secrets buried and kept away from those who most need to know them. The Seventh Kavalry revelation has the most immediate bearing on the plot — in that yes, other characters should probably know who was responsible for that squid attack — but the Tulsa massacre has the most immediate bearing on us in the audience, where words like “massacre” have only recently been applied to what history has often dubbed as a “race riot.” Buried secrets fester and become infected. But we can’t help but bury secrets. At any rate, maybe Looking Glass won’t have to worry about any of the above much longer. As “Little Fear of Lightning” ends, a whole host of Seventh Kavalry gunmen are entering his house, seemingly to kill him. I hope he makes it through. After all: He’s played by Tim Blake Nelson, and it’s a delight to see him on our screens every week. Constance: Looking Glass really is a fantastic character because he’s such a good example of how you can be both complicit in oppressive systems, and also the pawn of people with a lot more power than you have. Looking Glass is obviously being used, and he knows it. He’s been used his whole life, arguably first by the church that sent him out into the world as a teen missionary, then by Adrian Veidt and his squid, then by Judd and the Tulsa police force, and now by Keane and the Seventh Kavalry. He’s a man whose superpower is being able to tell when someone is lying to him, but he has still spent his life being lied to and manipulated by all the people and all the systems that he trusted in. And by extension, so have most of the other people in the Watchmen universe, including Angela and Laurie. And by further extension, so have we. So the question then becomes: What do we do when we learn that we are being used? Looking Glass responds by deciding to let Keane and the Seventh Kavalry use him. He doubles down on his complicity. What we have yet to see is how the rest of the characters in this world will react to the idea that the people they trust are using them as pawns — and whether this world allows for the possibility of breaking free of your complicity all together.

  • A Prince Andrew interview has renewed questions about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein
    by Scott Nover on November 17, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    Prince Andrew in Thailand in November 2019 for an ASEAN summit. | Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images Andrew rejected allegations of sexual misconduct in Epstein’s company by arguing a pizza party and an inability to sweat prove his innocence. The United Kingdom’s Prince Andrew sat for an interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis that aired Saturday, and attempted to explain his relationship with financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — but offered little in the way of clarity. Rather, Prince Andrew, the third child of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, was rambling and inconsistent in the face of pointed questions about his actions and affiliations. Andrew has faced renewed questions about his relationship with Epstein following the financier’s death in August. At the time, Epstein was in jail, facing sex trafficking charges. Andrew, a longtime friend of Epstein’s, has himself been accused of being involved with girls trafficked by Epstein; it remains unclear, however, how much the prince knew about Epstein’s illicit activities. One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has said the prince had sex with her a number of times when she was 17-years-old. Andrew has directly denied this, and during the interview, made a series of odd statements in his attempt to poke holes in Giuffre’s narrative, including claiming he’d lost the ability to sweat (Giuffre claimed he was “profusely sweating” while dancing with her in 2001 before a sexual encounter) and that he could not have had sex with Giuffre on one of the dates she claimed because he’d taken his daughter for pizza (and he remembers this because “going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do”). Andrew added that he has “no recollection” of meeting Giuffre, but refused to commit to testifying under oath about the matter, saying he would do so only “if push came to shove and the legal advice was to do so.” Given the FBI is currently investigating Epstein and his associates, the prince may find himself asked to offer testimony; Epstein’s former legal counsel Alan Dershowitz (who has also been accused of sexual misconduct) has said Andrew would be forced to speak with the investigators should they call him in. Prince Andrew struggled to defend his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein Before discussing the Giuffre allegations, the BBC interview centered on Andrew’s relationship with Epstein. While Epstein was awaiting trial when he died, he had been incarcerated before, after facing accusations of abusing dozens of underage girls. In 2007, he was required to register as a sex offender, and Maitlis asked Andrew why he contiuned to visit Epstein and stay at his home knowing this. Andrew said he visited — and stayed at Epstein’s home — in 2010 in order to, as he put it, “break up the friendship.” However, he could not explain why he stayed with Epstein in New York after the break-up conversation — a conversation during which they were notoriously photographed together. He said Epstein’s home was a “convenient place to stay” and chalked up his staying there to his “tendency to be too honorable.” He also blamed his framing of Epstein’s sex crimes during the interview on this same tendency. “Do I regret the fact that [Epstein] has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes,” Andrew said. “Unbecoming?” Maitlis asked. “He was a sex offender.” “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite,” Andrew said. “I mean in the sense that he was a sex offender. But no, was I right in having him as a friend? At the time, bearing in mind this was some years before he was accused of being a sex offender.” The prince went on to say he regrets not having avoided Epstein following his entrance to the sex offender registry, saying, “I kick myself for on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the Royal Family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.” In-depth interviews are uncommon for the UK’s royal family, especially when its members are on the defensive. And many in the media and the public argued Andrew’s choice to sit for the interview was deeply unwise — in fact, the reception to the interview has been overwhelmingly negative. Many have scoffed at his Pizza Express alibi; the Guardian’s Catherine Bennett argued it eclipsed Princess Diana’s oft-criticized 1995 Panorama interview as the “most catastrophic, ill-advised royal broadcast ever made;” and Charlie Proctor, the editor of a news site about the royal family, called it, “a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.” After Epstein’s arrest and death, questions still linger about Andrew’s involvement Jeffrey Epstein died of suicide in August awaiting trial for sex trafficking, but his death has not ended questions about his known and alleged crimes or the network of people around him. In fact, at the state, federal, and international levels, investigations into the allegations he faced at the time of his death continue. It is not yet clear what role, if any, Prince Andrew will play in those investigations or in court cases surrounding them. However, two other high profile Epstein associates: his legal adviser Alan Dershowitz and his long-time girlfriend and alleged “fixer” Ghislaine Maxwell face legal action. It was through Maxwell that Andrew says he was connected to Epstein; he told the BBC because he was friends with Maxwell, it was “inevitable that [Epstein and I] would have come across each other.” Come across each other they did, and as Vox’s Jane Coaston has explained, Epstein and Andrew became quite close, with the prince spending time on the financier’s private island and, of course, allegedly having sex with Giuffre: Epstein and Prince Andrew were so close that the Duke arranged for Epstein to help pay off $15,000 in debts owed to a former personal assistant of Prince Andrew’s former wife, Sarah Ferguson — an arrangement that took place several years after Epstein was already a convicted sex offender. In 2011, Ferguson admitted to the arrangement, telling the Daily Telegraph, “I am just so contrite I cannot say. Whenever I can I will repay the money and will have nothing ever to do with Jeffrey Epstein ever again.” According to claims made by Giuffre in court proceedings and elsewhere, Epstein forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew on multiple occasions in New York, London, and on Epstein’s private island, Little St James, while Giuffre was underage. And while Prince Andrew has denied the allegations, flight logs released in 2015 backed up Giuffre’s claims and the Duke and Giuffre were photographed together (though supporters of Prince Andrew say the photograph is fake.) That photograph was raised during the BBC interview, with Andrew saying, “Nobody can prove whether or not that photograph has been doctored but I don’t recollect that photograph ever being taken.” It was reportedly taken in Maxwell’s London home, and she can be seen in its background. Despite describing his friendship with Maxwell, Andrew worked to distance himself from her during the interview, saying, “If there are questions that Ghislaine has to answer, that’s her problem I’m afraid.” There, of course, remain many questions for Prince Andrew as well. The interview answered none of them, particularly those around his relationship with Giuffre. Whether they will be answered through legal means remains to be seen.

  • Poll: Pete Buttigieg becomes the presidential frontrunner in Iowa
    by Scott Nover on November 17, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    Mayor Peter Buttigieg gives a toddler a high five on the campaign trail. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images Pete Buttigieg’s having a big moment in Iowa. But with support fluid, it remains to be seen if he can remain at the top of the field during the caucuses. The latest poll in Iowa shows South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with a resounding lead in the Democratic presidential primary for the first time. A November telephone poll conducted by noted Iowa pollster J. Ann Selzer for CNN and the Des Moines Register saw Buttigieg soar to 25 percent support in the state, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a distant second place at 16 percent. Warren was found to be essentially neck-and-neck with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who each received 15 percent support. The gap between these three candidates fell within the 4.4 percentage point margin of error, one which Buttigieg easily cleared. For Buttigieg, the results build on the support he saw in an October Iowa poll from Suffolk University/USA Today, which showed the mayor in third place with 13 percent support, trailing behind Biden (18 percent), and Warren (17 percent) at the time of the poll, which was taken after the fourth Democratic presidential debate. Selzer noted that this is the first time voters have seen Buttigieg as the “stand-alone front-runner.” “There have been four candidates that have sort of jostled around in a pack together, but he has a sizable lead over the nearest contender — 9 points,” she told the Register. “So this is a new status for him.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar led the middle of the pack with 6 percent support, followed by Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang with 3 percent each. Billionaire newcomer Michael Bloomberg received 2 percent support and Sen. Michael Bennet received 1 percent of support. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. John Delaney, author Marianne Williamson, and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak all received 0 percent support. Buttigieg’s momentum comes as the 37-year-old mayor has invested heavily in a robust ground operation in the first-in-the-nation state. Buttigieg received roaring support during a November 1 speech at the annual Liberty and Justice gala, formerly known as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, but even before the big event, Buttigieg was rising in the polls. A New York Times/Siena College poll released the morning of the gala showed Buttigieg edging out Biden for third place, with 18 percent, ahead of Biden’s 17 percent (and both candidates behind Warren’s 22 percent and Sanders’s 19 percent). With many voters still weighing candidates, the race could change significantly before the caucuses “That’s extremely encouraging, obviously,” Buttigieg said of the results at the California Democratic Convention in Long Beach, California, Saturday night. “We have felt a lot of momentum on the ground … At the same time, there’s a long way to go, and there are a lot of states in this process.” Buttigieg is right that the race for Iowa — let alone the Democratic nomination — is far from over. The Iowa caucuses are still two-and-a-half months away, on February 3, and the top four spots have been in constant flux between Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, and Sanders. And the latest poll results suggest voters have not yet settled on their preferred candidates. Notably, 62 percent of respondents indicated that they could be persuaded to support another candidate as their first choice. That number is down only slightly from Selzer’s September Iowa poll, which found 63 percent of Iowa voters open to supporting a different candidate. Only 30 percent of voters said their minds are made up, though that’s a significant increase from the 20 percent who said the same in September. Simply put, the support the top four candidates currently enjoy isn’t rock solid — and the results found voters are still “actively considering” just about every candidate, from the 30 percent who said they are actively considering Booker, to the 36 percent actively considering Harris. While Iowa’s Democratic voters are not exactly sure who they want as their party’s nominee, they know one thing for sure: They want someone who can beat President Donald Trump. The poll found 63 percent of respondents thought it was more important to nominate someone who has a “strong chance” of beating Trump, as opposed to the 32 percent who said it’s more important to have someone who shares their “positions on major issues.” The practicality of candidates’ platforms and electability were surveyed too — 52 percent said they want a candidate with policy proposals that can actually become law, while 53 and 38 percent said Sanders and Warren were “too liberal,” respectively; 28 and 13 percent said Biden and Buttigieg were “too conservative,” respectively. When asked who they believed had the best chance of defeating Trump in the general election, Biden topped the field. He was the only candidate who more than 50 percent of respondents said they were “almost certain” or “fairly confident” would beat Trump — 52 percent of respondents felt he had a good chance of beating the president. Warren and Buttigieg were not far behind, with 46 percent saying they were fairly confident or almost certain either could unseat Trump; Sanders trailed in this question, with 40 percent believing in his chances. The latest poll indicates Buttigieg is a contender to be taken seriously. However, with more than two months to go before the caucuses, reversals of fortunes remain possible. Or as Selzer put it, Buttigieg “has more convincing to do or someone else will rise up.”

  • The world’s most profitable company is about to go public
    by Lauren Katz on November 17, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    President and CEO of Saudi Aramco Amin Nasser (left) and Aramco’s chair Yasir al-Rumayyan attend a press conference in the eastern Saudi Arabian region of Dhahran on November 3, 2019. | AFP via Getty Images The oil company that made Saudi Arabia rich is going public. Some say the timing couldn’t be worse. Pop quiz: What’s the most profitable company in the world? Apple? Google? Nope. Those two don’t even come close. The answer is Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, Aramco. In 2018, Saudi Aramco made $111 billion dollars in profit. The second-most profitable company, Apple, made $60 billion that year. On November 3, Aramco officially announced its plan to go public for the first time in the company’s 86-year history. And on November 17, the oil giant announced the company could be valued at $1.7 trillion. Energy historian Ellen R. Wald joined Today, Explained to explain why Aramco’s initial public offering (IPO) is such a big deal. As the most profitable company in the entire world, she says, the company’s IPO is going to set major records. And since it’s the largest oil company in the world, it’s likely that a lot of everyday things we use — from plastic to the energy fueling our cars — touches this company. “In the United States,” Wald says as an example, “Aramco owns the largest refinery in the entire country. And it also owns Shell Gasoline Stations in the southeastern United States. So many Americans may be buying oil — or gasoline — that is made by Aramco, and they don’t even know it.” But some say the timing for the Aramco IPO couldn’t be worse. One reason for that: Some people think that the world has or will soon reach peak oil demand. Another, Wald explains, is the “PR nightmare” that Saudi Arabia created with the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi: [The killing of Jamal Khashoggi] definitely soured investors and financiers on Saudi Arabia in general. The idea is that the money from this share sale would go to support the Saudi Arabian monarchy that has done and continues to do many horrible things, both in terms of human rights. … And so there are a lot of people out there who look at that and say, “No, I’m not touching this because I don’t want to help these people.” To understand the significance of Aramco’s upcoming IPO, you have to know the company’s history. If you want to learn all about it, here’s a lightly edited transcript of Wald’s conversation with Today, Explained host Sean Rameswaram. Subscribe to Today, Explained wherever you get your podcasts, including: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and ART19. Sean Rameswaram What exactly is it that takes Saudi Aramco from an extremely profitable oil company to the most profitable company in the world? Ellen Ward The really key year here is 1972. The United States could no longer pump more oil to meet rising demand. So instead of being able to accommodate America’s vast thirst for oil at the time, they had to import oil from elsewhere. And one of the big sources of that was Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia was pumping and pumping more to meet that demand. All of those gas-guzzling cars, they were meeting that demand. And the Saudis took note of this. The oil minister at the time, his name was Zaki Yamani, he and other oil-producing countries in the Middle East were already united in the cartel organization we know today as OPEC [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries]. And they got together and they said, essentially, “We know you’re in a difficult position, and we want to raise the price of oil because the price of oil is just too low.” And they negotiated with the representatives of big oil companies, including the American ones, and they could not reach an agreement. And they said, “You know what? We can’t reach an agreement. [So] we’re going to unilaterally raise the price of oil.” They do this in conjunction with the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, along with an oil embargo. And the effect was very immediate. The price of oil skyrocketed, and in fact caused a recession in the United States. But what it also did was help oil companies make a lot more money from this, including Aramco and including the Saudis. And what did the Saudis do with all this cash? Well, they put it into their own palaces and into their own country. But they also used it to buy the company from the Americans. And then in 1988, the Saudis eventually renamed it Saudi Aramco. Sean Rameswaram How has [the company] changed from what it was in the 1970s to now? Ellen Ward In the 1970s, Aramco was basically an oil-pumping machine. They pumped oil out of the ground, and most of that was sold as crude oil to the four American companies that owned it. Now, it’s much more like an international oil company like BP or Exxon or Royal Dutch Shell or Total in that they pump oil, they have crude oil assets, but they also have a range of what we call “downstream assets,” which are refineries, petrochemical companies. And they have these in Saudi Arabia, but also all over the world. Sean Rameswaram What’s the relationship between this company and the Saudi Arabian monarchy right now? Ellen Ward It’s much more difficult now than it was. Their first Saudi CEO at the time, a man named Ali al-Naimi, he negotiated with the king to keep Aramco separate from the Saudi government. Yes, they have a board of directors that is appointed by the government that kind of approves their plans. But, essentially, they get to decide how much money they want to spend on capital expenditures, what kind of projects they want to do, and what their strategy is. And that’s unique amongst national oil companies. So Aramco is not quite a national oil company, but it’s not a private oil company either. It’s somewhere in between, and it has a high degree of independence. That is changing, though. And we’ve seen that change come about since the ascension of King Salman [bin Abdulaziz Al Saud] to the throne and also of his son, the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and they are taking a much more active role in the larger strategy of the company. They’re not trying to run it day to day, but they are saying things like, “We want you to buy this petrochemical company” or “we want to go public and this is how it’s going to be.” And that’s been a very different thing for Aramco to have to deal with after so much independence. And it has created some tension. Sean Rameswaram It sounds like you’re saying it’s hard to separate the Saudi monarchy from Aramco. Ellen Ward It’s hard to separate them from Aramco in terms of the big decisions. Aramco isn’t nearly as intertwined with the government as any other national oil company. But this is the real issue with this IPO. Normally when a company does an IPO, the money is going to go to the company to expand, to do new things, but that’s not the case here. The monarchy wants to monetize Aramco shares and to take that money that they make from the share sale and put it into things that are not involving the company. So they want to put it into their sovereign wealth fund, which is designed to make investments both in companies in Saudi Arabia to help promote economic development and diversification, but also companies all over the world international companies. And use it to make investments in tech companies and in all sorts of crazy firms that they’ve been investing in, like Magic Leap virtual reality or a tech company or Uber or Tesla. Sean Rameswaram This is supposed to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, right? How do they need the cash for some “sovereign wealth fund” that will finance startups? Ellen Ward Saudi Arabia has essentially a one-trick economy, which is selling oil. And they’ve done pretty well with that. But that doesn’t always go very well for the general economy at large, doesn’t necessarily employ everyone. It doesn’t foster small-business development. It doesn’t foster a vibrant economy. What if oil prices tank and stay low for a long time? What if the oil runs out? At some point, the oil will run out. So the Saudi government has put together this plan that’s designed to diversify the economy so that they’re no longer wholly dependent on a single commodity. Sean Rameswaram Do we have any idea how this IPO will go in December? Ellen Ward One of the interesting things is that this company makes $111 billion dollars in profit. That’s what it made in profit in 2018. Apple I think is the next-most profitable company, [and] only made $60 billion in 2018. And people are not going to just toss that aside, especially in a market today when so many of the IPOs that come up are companies that don’t even make a profit and have never made a profit and may never make a profit. So when an IPO comes along for a company that is immensely profitable, it’s very hard to turn away. If the IPO doesn’t go very well — and there’s a distinct chance that it might not go very well — it could affect other oil companies’ earnings. Although I would say that if it doesn’t go well, that’s reflective more of the Saudi government than it is of Aramco itself. If the IPO doesn’t go very well and politically the Saudi monarchy looks bad, that could be very far-ranging, particularly for the United States, which maintains strong diplomatic ties to Saudi Arabia. So it’s something that people definitely need to be on the lookout for; this could in some ways potentially fundamentally alter the balance of power in the Middle East.