Theresa May’s Impossible Choice | The New Yorker

The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, often strikes people as cautious, but her political career has been defined by acts of boldness, often on behalf of unfashionable causes, or in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. The misconception arises in part because she is an awkward person. May, who is sixty-one, is tall and stooped, serious and shy. Since she was elected to Parliament, in the late nineteen-nineties, she has dressed in sharp, eye-catching clothes, as if to offset the fact that she is not personally vivacious, but the effect is often to accentuate what is not there. May doesn’t say much, by anyone’s standard, let alone that of a politician. On a recent sunny afternoon, in the garden of the Prime Minister’s residence, at 10 Downing Street, I watched her being guided by an aide through the beginning of a party to mark London’s Pride celebrations. As May was introduced to a line of leaders from Britain’s gay and transgender communities, she smiled each time and then started to nod. She nodded faster, dozens of times, to encourage them to say more. She extended her neck, like a bird leaning over a pond, nodded a final time, and moved on. She scarcely said a word.

May is quiet in government meetings, too. “She sits, you talk. She sits. She looks at you, and then you leave,” a former Cabinet colleague told me recently. May’s preferred method of communicating with the public is in the form of long speeches, which she delivers with a certain steel. She can land a joke, if she has time to prepare. But when she is forced to speak off the cuff, in Parliament or to the press, her body stiffens and she takes deep breaths. She has a wide, expressive mouth that cracks into grimaces and betrays an inner tumult, while the sentences that emerge are frequently circular and devoid of clear meaning.

As a result, it is hard to sense what May is thinking or to predict what she will do next. “No one knows where they are at any point in time when they are working for Theresa May,” one of her former staffers said. May rejects the inevitable comparisons to Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, because Thatcher had an agenda that was overtly ideological. May, unlike Thatcher, would not enjoy being photographed driving a tank. Her definition of politics is “doing something, not being someone.” People say that she would have made a fine lawyer or judge. But she happens to be the leader of the United Kingdom—a divided nation of sixty-five million people, Europe’s second-largest economy, and America’s closest ally—as it chooses how it wants to proceed in the world. This summer, that choice, which is frankly overwhelming, came to rest with May. Britain waited and watched. May made her call, and then her government more or less exploded. And that was before Donald Trump showed up.

May, who is a member of the Conservative Party, became Prime Minister two years ago, on July 13, 2016, twenty days after the British people voted to leave the European Union. Her predecessor, David Cameron, who had called the referendum, resigned immediately, bequeathing the crisis to May, who had served in his Cabinet. Brexit is not the most riveting, or easily graspable, recent meltdown in a Western democracy. In other countries, majorities have elected leftists, like Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in Mexico; or dynamic centrists, like Emmanuel Macron, in France; or strongmen, like Trump, to address their fears about economic and cultural change. In Britain, voters put their faith not in a previously unthinkable person but in a previously unthinkable policy.

In the Brexit referendum, 17.4 million people, or fifty-two per cent of voters, chose to take the country out of the E.U., a vast supranational project that had become a metaphor for a remote and unfair system for organizing people’s lives. But the decision presented a great democratic problem. Staying in the E.U. could mean only one thing, but there were any number of ways to leave. No country has ever left the E.U., and the states on its borders have a spectrum of relationships with the bloc. They range from near-members, such as Norway and Switzerland, which between them pay the E.U. hundreds of millions of euros every year and accept many of its rules and migration policies, in order to take part in its single market; to Turkey, which is part of the E.U.’s customs union and therefore coördinates many of its international trading arrangements; to Russia, which is a quasi enemy.

Britain is a leading military power and Europe’s financial center. It joined the European Economic Community, as it was then known, in 1973, and spent the following four decades as an influential, if sometimes ornery, player in the development of the bloc. The country’s history, international profile, and economy suggest that it should seek to stay as close as possible to the E.U. after its departure. On the other hand, its people have asked to be free. The siren call of the Brexit campaign, which was led by anti-E.U. populists, such as Nigel Farage, and by a rump of charismatic Labour and Tory M.P.s, like Boris Johnson, was for the U.K. to “take back control,” and to regain its distinctive identity in the world.

Since the referendum, the central task in British politics has been to try to square two conflicting demands: to respect the democratic impulse of Brexit while limiting the economic consequences. It is a version of the challenge posed by populist anger everywhere. How far should governments go in tearing up systems that people say they dislike—the alienating structures of global capitalism and multilateral government—when the alternatives risk making populations poorer, and therefore presumably more furious than before?

May’s best hope has been to contain the damage on all sides. Between 2016 and 2018, the U.K. went from being the fastest-growing major economy in the world to the slowest, as businesses halted investment plans, migration dwindled, and foreboding filled the air. The government’s own estimates show that every form of Brexit will make people worse off, ranging from a relatively modest impact, if the country ends up somehow entwined in the E.U.—and thereby less free—to a cost of around eight per cent of G.D.P., if it leaves with no formal deal at all.

May opposed Brexit. Unlike many Conservatives, she never developed a theological conviction, either way, about the European Union. It was ungainly, but it was there. “She thinks it is a bit of a ridiculous debate,” a former aide said. It is easy to sympathize with her, because of the extreme views of some of her colleagues and the formidable nature of the task that she faces. “There is a question about whether anyone can do this,” the former Cabinet colleague said. But May’s reluctance to share what she is thinking has made her an erratic leader. In her first year in office, with little consultation, May adopted a hard-line approach to Brexit, which appeased the anti-E.U. wing of her party but startled governments across the Continent. In the spring of 2017, May called and ran a disastrous general election, in which she sought to reorient the Conservative Party toward struggling, middle-class voters, many of whom had voted for Brexit, and to strengthen her mandate in Parliament. But, instead of adding to the Conservatives’ slender majority in the House of Commons, which Cameron had won two years earlier, she lost it. May barely survived; for the past year, she has been forced to rely on the votes of the small, far-right Democratic Unionist Party, from Northern Ireland, in order to pass key legislation in Westminster.

After the election, May’s premiership became even more strained and subdued. Several of her closest advisers resigned, leaving her further isolated. Once the formal Brexit negotiations with the E.U. began, last June, ministers and officials bemoaned the absence of a leader’s voice. “There is no vision. There are no objectives,” a senior official told me. “There is ‘How do we muddle through this?’ Sometimes from hour to hour.”

Given the complexity of Brexit and the sullen, split views of the population, it would have been easy for Britain to spend years in a kind of post-referendum purgatory. But one of the banal cruelties of the E.U. is that it has a rule for everything. Under the legal process of leaving the bloc, known as Article 50, which May triggered on March 29, 2017, Britain will leave the E.U. on March 29th of next year. Any agreement on the U.K.’s future status must be ratified by the British Parliament, the E.U.’s institutions, and governments across Europe, so the sides have been working toward a deal by the end of October.

This summer, the pressure on May to define Brexit became immense. For several weeks, I watched her move among a rancorous House of Commons, a divided Cabinet, and a recalcitrant E.U. (She declined to speak to me.) At the same time, Trump marauded, destabilizing the international order into which Britain is about to reëmerge, alone. No one I interviewed envied May, or wished to take her place. A former minister compared her position to being inside Little Ease, a windowless torture chamber in the Tower of London, where it was impossible for prisoners to stand, sit, or lie down. “It is getting tighter and tighter,” the former minister said. “Something has got to give.” In the course of ten days in July, it did.

Three weeks earlier, on a hot June morning, I took a train from London to Dover. The town lies seventy-five miles to the southeast and is unlovely, cramped between the cliffs and the sea. Half a million years ago, you could have walked to France along a twenty-mile chalk ridge, and, for all of Britain’s recorded history, Dover has functioned as the country’s principal meeting point with the rest of Europe. Work on the town’s defenses began after the Norman invasion of 1066. Waterloo Crescent, a little street near the shore, is named for Napoleon’s final defeat. A plaque in the docks commemorates the more than two hundred thousand Allied soldiers who were evacuated from Dunkirk to Dover.

For the past quarter of a century, however, the town’s niche has been seamless trade with the European Union. In 1993, under the rules of the customs union and the single market, virtually all checks on trade between Britain and the rest of the Continent were eliminated. The French coast is ninety minutes away by ferry, and trucks carrying flowers, lemons, clothes, wine, aluminum, and automotive parts trundle in and out of the port at all hours. Dover is a small place; its population could fit into Staten Island twelve times over. In 2017, seventeen per cent of the U.K.’s trade in goods passed through the town.

The trucks leave the docks on the A20, a busy road that cuts off the waterfront from the rest of Dover. I walked along the sidewalk as the bright liveries of European shipping companies—Waberer’s, of Hungary; Amenda, of Germany; Finejas, of Lithuania; Discordia, of Bulgaria—buffeted past. A hitchhiker held out his thumb; he was trying to get to Glasgow. On a good day, ten thousand trucks pass through Dover. Around five hundred of them, carrying goods to and from non-E.U. countries, turn off the main road and cross a viaduct back toward the water, to the port’s last remaining customs clearance. Since 2012, all freight inspections in Dover have been handled by a company called Motis. The Motis facility is a windswept parking lot with a cafeteria, a laundromat, and showers for drivers. It stands on the old Dover Marine railway yards, where more than a million wounded soldiers were brought home from the First World War. At the gate, where heavy trucks make a tight turn to enter, cracks in the asphalt reveal nineteenth-century cobblestones below.

In the office, a few drivers lined up with their paperwork. A radio played. Tim Dixon, a Dovorian in his early fifties, was in charge. Dixon wore a suit under his high-visibility jacket; his office shoes were speckled with dust. Since he started working in customs, thirty years ago, Dixon has watched Dover’s port, piers, and road system evolve to serve the “just in time” supply chains that send semiconductors, half-built car engines, and freshly caught squid back and forth across Europe mere hours before they are needed. Honda’s main U.K. plant, in Swindon, keeps only a day’s worth of E.U.-imported parts on hand.

In January, 2017, May announced that Britain would withdraw from the rules and systems on which those supply chains have been built; namely, the E.U.’s single market, which harmonizes product standards across the Continent, and its customs union, which allows goods to move freely inside the bloc. “I have an open mind on how we do it,” May said. “It is not the means that matter, but the ends.”

Dixon has been in meetings preparing for Brexit ever since. “It was Hellfire Corner in the war,” he said. “It feels like that again now.” He rattled off the various delegations that have come and fretted in his office: the Border Planning Group, the Southern Corridor Working Group, Fujitsu, the Kent Strategic Freight Group, the Home Office, the Department for Exiting the European Union, known as Dexeu. “They are all separate departments, all saying slightly different things,” Dixon said. “My concern is that not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.” All manner of ideas—in the form of license-plate recognition, digital registration, and inland barriers—have been proposed for Britain’s theoretical new borders with the E.U. But any checks are going to be worse than no checks. According to the Port of Dover, adding two minutes to the journey of every truck coming through the town will lead to a seventeen-mile traffic jam.

The Motis site has three inspection bays. On the morning I visited, a Slovak truck was parked with its tarpaulin sides open, carrying diesel generators bound for Iraq. It was almost two years to the day since the Brexit vote, and May’s government had still not settled on a plan for its new customs relationship with the E.U. The likeliest option, it is estimated, will cost businesses twenty billion pounds a year and take five years to develop. (After Britain leaves the E.U., it is expected to enter a twenty-one-month transition period before any deal takes effect.) I asked Dixon, who has a team of five, whether he was planning to hire more staff to prepare for the exit, an event known in customs circles as Day One. Dixon shook his head. “We haven’t got a contingency plan, because we don’t know how things are going to operate,” he said. Dixon didn’t sound panicked; he sounded as though he might quit. A friend of his, another freight agent, had suffered a heart attack the other day. “There’s no way I would go back into customs clearance,” he said. “No way. Not if someone offered me a villa in Marbella.”

Dixon voted for Brexit. When he was growing up, in the seventies, Dover had a local coal mine, a paper mill, and a metalworks, though the harbor, then as now, was the main source of work. “When I left school, it was, ‘Get a job in the port. You are made for life,’ ” Dixon said. At the time, the bureaucracy of international trade was almost as labor intensive as the physical handling of the goods. Freight agents were crammed into attics and basements all over town. The port’s customs and immigration depots were large enough to field their own soccer teams, which played on Wednesday afternoons.

In the eighties, Dover declined, like other industrial towns across the U.K., but the coming of the single market, on January 1, 1993—and the efficiencies that it wrought—was a particular blow. A thousand jobs disappeared overnight. Then the Channel Tunnel rail link opened, just down the coast. Ferry services were reduced, and unemployment in Dover hit twenty-five per cent. The new proximity of Europe also brought increased migration. In 1997, a wave of Roma asylum seekers arrived in Dover and took over Folkestone Road, a street of old Victorian guesthouses, which became known as Asylum Avenue. The Roma left, but the event is still talked about in the town, whose population is overwhelmingly white and British-born.

“Even the kids today are, ‘Ah, the immigrants,’ ” Dixon said. “Rightly or wrongly, it’s in their heads.” In recent years, many of Britain’s coastal communities have slipped behind the rest of the country in measures of income, education, and health, giving rise to an over-all feeling of depression and ill health which is recognized informally by doctors as S.L.S., or Shit Life Syndrome. A regeneration plan for Dover, published by the town’s businesses and politicians in January, 2016, noted “a high degree of cynicism in the local community and a feeling that the town’s problems are ignored.” Five months later, when the Brexit campaign offered Dovorians a chance to take back control of their lives, sixty-two per cent took it.

Two years later, people have their own explanations for why the shape of Brexit has been slow to materialize. At the town’s waterfront hotel, I met Charlie Elphicke, Dover’s Conservative M.P. Elphicke voted Remain, but he has since emerged as a vocal Brexiteer. Last July, he published his own infrastructure plan for Dover, “Ready on Day One,” whose recommendations included building a new crossing over the River Thames. Nothing followed. “This is the biggest national project since the Second World War,” Elphicke told me. “And yet parts of government are treating it like it is some kind of Thursday-afternoon reorganization.” Like many Tory Brexiteers, he complained about May’s failure to engender a feeling of “national mission.” When I asked Elphicke if he thought the Prime Minister believed that Brexit was a good thing for the country, he replied, “Every time she is asked this question, she doesn’t answer it.”

The greater obstacle is the granular difficulty of the task. Brexiteers yearn—and May has always promised—to take Britain out of the customs union, because that is the only way to strike independent free-trade deals with nations like the United States and China. By definition, exiting the customs union requires Britain to have a new set of border arrangements with the E.U. That is daunting enough in a place like Dover, but it’s another story entirely in Northern Ireland, where any plan for a physical frontier between it and the Republic of Ireland—after the bloody history of the Troubles—is regarded as politically infeasible. For the past year, the Irish-border question has proved one of the Gordian knots of the Brexit negotiations. The E.U. has proposed that Northern Ireland stay inside the customs union and the single market while the rest of the U.K. leaves. But this would create an internal British border in the Irish Sea, something that, earlier this year, May told the House of Commons, and her parliamentary allies, the strongly unionist D.U.P., “no U.K. Prime Minister could ever agree to.”

And that’s Brexit, in a way. “Every single element in this is connected,” the senior official told me. The mightiest riddles, such as the customs union, have dominated the political conversation, but the truth is that it’s nitty-gritty all the way down. During its forty-five years in the E.U., Britain has imported around nineteen thousand European laws and regulations. The fabric of the acquis, as the legal framework is known, is the fabric of political life. E.U. articles and directives govern everything from equal pay for men and women to the international trade of the hairy-vetch seed. Two days before I went to Dover, a fourteen-page update from the Brexit negotiations included progress on the status of staff employed on British military bases in Cyprus, the ownership of fissile nuclear materials, and the future administration of sales taxes. One of the reasons that people voted to leave the E.U. is its totalizing nature, and the sense that it had penetrated too far into British life. But the years of membership, the weaving of the acquis, have constructed a reality that is hard to change—and even harder to imagine a life outside.

Before I left Dover, Dixon drove me up to its western heights, for a view over the town. France was a hump across the sea. Midges buzzed around Dixon’s fluorescent vest. Cranes worked below. In January, 2017, after years of planning, construction began on a project, costing two hundred million pounds, to create a new cargo terminal and marina at Dover’s western docks. Before Brexit, the port’s trade was forecast to increase by forty per cent by 2030. Dixon looked down on the scene and observed that the project is partly funded by the E.U. “Which is a real kick in the bollocks, isn’t it?” he said. Confronted by the practical difficulties of Brexit, Dixon told me that he would probably choose to stay in the E.U. if he had his vote back. Unlike Elphicke, the M.P., he didn’t blame May for refusing to believe. We sat in his car. The Prime Minister may not communicate well, but many people see her as a reasonable person caught in a situation of great unreason. Her approval rating hovers at around forty per cent. “I’ve actually warmed to her,” Dixon told me. “I didn’t think I’d hear myself say that.”

Before May joined Cameron’s government, she was best known for wearing leopard-print shoes. She was first elected to the House of Commons on May 1, 1997, the date of Tony Blair’s landslide victory for New Labour, which removed the Conservatives from power after eighteen years. It was a desperate time for the Party, which was tired, male, and regressive. In May’s maiden speech to the House of Commons, she joked about being mistaken for an incoming Labour M.P. simply because she was a woman. (The Tories had thirteen female M.P.s at the time, the same number as in 1931.) May was forty, and represented the new parliamentary seat of Maidenhead, in the commuter belt west of London. With her husband, Philip, who now works for an investment fund, May had been active in student politics at Oxford (they were introduced by Benazir Bhutto, who later became the Prime Minister of Pakistan) before she took a job at the Bank of England.

During her party’s long years of opposition in Parliament, May took on progressive causes, such as instituting shared parental leave and encouraging more female candidates. “She was a modernizing female Tory,” a former Cabinet aide told me. But May was also connected to the Party’s traditional side. She grew up as the only daughter of an Anglican priest, Hubert Brasier, in Church Enstone, a small village in the Cotswolds, and in her teens started stuffing envelopes for local candidates. Last year, she told an interviewer that the naughtiest thing she did as a child was to “run through fields of wheat.”

When May was twenty-five, her father was killed in a car accident. Her mother, Zaidee, died a few months later, of multiple sclerosis. Unusually for a senior British politician, May regularly takes Communion. In 2014, appearing on the BBC radio show “Desert Island Discs,” she chose an Anglo-Catholic hymn, “Therefore We Before Him Bending This Great Sacrament Revere,” which she used to sing with her parents in an empty church. “I do think there is an inner life,” the former Cabinet colleague said. “But I think it is one that would have been more recognizable to people in a pre-liberal age.”

When the Conservatives returned to power in 2010, in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Cameron put May in charge of the Home Office. The department was traditionally responsible for prisons, border control, the police, and the security services. Under Labour, it had chewed through six Home Secretaries in thirteen years and had come to be seen as unmanageable. Although the department was slimmed down in 2010, May held the job longer than anyone had since the Second World War. “If she had to be at a meeting at half past seven in the morning, she was there,” the former staffer said. “Fully made-up. Ready to go.”

May confronted long-standing issues that were risky for her and for her party. In 1989, ninety-six fans of the Liverpool soccer team were crushed to death in the stands of Hillsborough stadium, in Sheffield. For years, the catastrophe—and the defensive response by the police and by Thatcher’s government—was a symbol of the Conservative Party’s disdain for working-class communities in the North. In 2012, May announced a criminal investigation into the causes and policing of the disaster.

May set up units in the Home Office dedicated to solving previously intractable problems. In 2013, the department succeeded in deporting Abu Qatada, a notorious Al Qaeda spokesman, to Jordan, after a ten-year court battle. “We went out to Jordan and we just fixed it,” another official said. “No one had come up with that approach before.” In 2014, May addressed the Police Federation, a union of England and Wales’s forty-three police forces, and accused officers of having contempt for ethnic minorities and victims of domestic violence. “I am here to tell you that it’s time to face up to reality,” May said. The speech was met with silence.

She was detached and impressive at the same time. “I think she sees herself as an outsider,” Nicky Morgan, who served as an Education Secretary in Cameron’s Cabinet, told me. “She sees and hears people’s frustrations with the system that says no, with the establishment which doesn’t shift.” Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat, was a minister in the Home Office under May, as part of the coalition with the Conservatives. The two women worked together to introduce Britain’s legislation enabling same-sex marriage, which passed in 2014. “She is never completely not awkward,” Featherstone said. But Featherstone was struck by May’s resolve, even on divisive questions—the marriage law was unpopular among many traditional Tory voters—once she had committed to something. “When she gets an idea, and is sure of it, she goes for it,” Featherstone told me. “Absolutely goes for it. And she doesn’t really care about anything else.”

Until the very moment of decision, though, May’s opinions have often been hard to fathom. She served for a year as the Conservative Party chairman during the Blair years, the depths of the wilderness. In October, 2002, in a blunt speech at the Tories’ annual conference, she urged the Party to reform, in order to broaden its appeal. “You know what some people call us—the nasty party,” May said. The “nasty party” speech is now credited with helping to bring about the rebranding of the Conservatives under Cameron, but May did not write it, or its telling phrase. “Most big speeches start with the politician, the leader, the speechmaker, giving a sense of what they think,” a former Party official, who worked for May at the time, told me. “We didn’t get any of that.” Much of the speech was written by a young adviser named Chris Wilkins. When the “nasty party” line was inserted in the text, Wilkins alerted May to the potential risks. “We went back and forth the whole week,” he told me. “Eventually, she just fixed me with that stare and said, ‘Chris, I am going to say it.’ ” Later, Wilkins worked for May as her speechwriter in Downing Street. He told me that someone in her presence casually referred to Cameron and George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, as modernizers of the Party. “I was the original modernizer,” May replied.

May’s simultaneous fixity and willingness to rely on her advisers has led people to wonder whether she is brittle, or wary of her own instincts. A former senior civil servant who worked for her told me that she has cut off officials when they start to argue in front of her. “Theresa very rarely has more than one opinion in the room,” the former Party official said. Throughout her career, May has allowed trusted deputies to filter information and options on her behalf. “If you are let into that, you are given a huge amount of power and agency,” one of them told me. “The downside of that is that she often accepts people’s judgment without necessary criticism.”

During her time at the Home Office, May stuck relentlessly to a target of reducing net migration to the U.K. to the “tens of thousands” per year—a Conservative Party promise from 2010. The issue was largely beyond her control—more than forty per cent of the U.K.’s immigration comes from E.U. citizens’ right to “freedom of movement.” In 2015, net migration to Britain reached three hundred and thirty-two thousand. Yet May never sought to modify the target. In 2012, she declared her intention to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, and began a crackdown that required employers, landlords, and National Health Service staff to start asking for evidence of people’s immigration status. The policy ensnared thousands of people who had come to Britain decades before—many from the so-called Windrush Generation, who migrated from the U.K.’s former colonies in the Caribbean—and had never been formally naturalized, along with their children. Reporting by the Guardian last year revealed that dozens of British citizens had been wrongfully deported.

At the Home Office, May came to depend on two advisers, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. “They went to every meeting,” the former Party official said. “They read every paper. They stopped it before it went to her, and they were the last people out of the office at night.” Timothy, a former deputy director of the Conservative Party’s research department, grew up in Tile Cross, a working-class neighborhood in Birmingham; Hill started out as a sports reporter in Glasgow. Like May, the two believed in a more interventionist and traditional conservatism than the privileged, socially liberal outlook of Cameron and Osborne. In Westminster, Timothy and Hill jealously protected May’s authority. Officials in other departments became accustomed to a certain style of Home Office decision-making, which was slow, competent, and abrasive. (In 2014, after a confidential memo was leaked to discredit Michael Gove, who was then the Education Secretary, Hill was forced to resign.) “A lot of senior politics is compromising, and they didn’t compromise,” a former Cabinet Office official told me. “Some of the best people I have ever seen just don’t give a shit.”

After three years in the Home Office, May gave a speech to Reform, a center-right think tank, in which she spoke about the country’s deficit and its health service, roaming far beyond her official brief. The speech was widely considered an attempt to position herself as a rival to Cameron. Late at night, May, Timothy, and Hill often talked about broader issues facing the nation. Politicians who admired May encouraged her to aim for Downing Street. “I have always thought she had the potential to be Prime Minister,” Featherstone told me. “I had that conversation with her.” But May didn’t work the House of Commons tearooms, or have an obvious base within the Party. “It didn’t look like a classic political bid,” the former Party official told me. “Everybody thought it was all Nick Timothy.”

Six months before the E.U. referendum, Cameron declared that Cabinet ministers could campaign for either side, freeing Gove and Johnson to make the case for Brexit. May did not join them. “She came to Remain political cabinets,” the former Party official said. “She contributed to discussions about the Remain campaign internally.” Publicly, however, May said little. During her time in the Home Office, E.U. rules frequently frustrated May and her team. She led a successful renegotiation of Britain’s commitments to the bloc’s crime and security regulations but did not identify with the Conservative Party’s vociferous Euroskeptic faction. “The chances that she would be a Brexiteer were zero, in my view,” the former Cabinet aide said.

As the referendum debate intensified, May stayed on the sidelines. “She only did two speeches during the whole campaign,” Will Straw, the executive director of the official Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, told me. “This was the Home Secretary, who could have been a really significant voice.” In a memoir published after the campaign, Craig Oliver, Cameron’s communications director, counted thirteen occasions when May was asked, and failed, to contribute. “Amid the murder and betrayal of the campaign, one figure stayed very still at the centre of it all—Theresa May,” Oliver wrote. “Now she is the last one standing.”

The morning after the referendum, when David Cameron resigned, he offered to stay in office until the Conservative Party had chosen a successor, a process that was expected to last until the fall. Within a week, however, Johnson, who had been the initial frontrunner, withdrew from the race, and Gove, who had been expected to back Johnson, sought to become Prime Minister himself. The bickering damaged the Brexiteers and enhanced May, who was left as the senior Party figure in the contest. Her main rival turned out to be Andrea Leadsom, an inexperienced, pro-Brexit energy minister, who told the Times of London that “being a mum” would make her the better leader. (May and her husband were unable to have children.) On July 11th, Leadsom dropped out, and May took office unopposed. “We got her eight weeks before anybody expected,” a former civil servant told me.

As Prime Minister, May immediately established two new government departments: Dexeu, to manage the Brexit process; and the Department of International Trade, to explore economic opportunities outside the E.U. Dexeu was given offices at 9 Downing Street, the former premises of the court of the Privy Council. In their first weeks, civil servants worked in the docks and on the benches of the old courtroom as they grappled with the scale of Brexit. “People were saying, ‘How does the U.K. fishing industry work? How does the U.K. automotive industry work?’ ” the senior official told me. “You were getting papers saying, ‘There are lots of fish in English waters.’ Literally, they were at the most basic level.”

From the top of government, however, there was silence. During her short campaign, May had coined the phrase “Brexit means Brexit,” to indicate that she would honor the result of the referendum. But she said little more. Soon after May appointed her first Cabinet, in which she named Johnson Foreign Secretary, M.P.s and senior officials began to leave for their summer vacations. “I thought, This is very odd,” the former minister told me. “Why are we all going away, when there is a sort of national crisis going on? You know, where are the meetings?” Aides in Downing Street noticed a similar absence of activity. “I expected to find the government completely obsessed with dealing with Brexit. Actually, that wasn’t what was happening at any level,” one of them said.

For the first months of May’s premiership, there was a Brexit meeting in her office on Wednesday afternoons, attended by around a dozen senior officials. Timothy and Hill had joined May as her chiefs of staff. Because of the fractious state of the Cabinet, which was split between Brexiteers and Remainers, and the feverish media attention, Timothy and Hill sought to keep access tightly controlled. Senior civil servants, who were used to boisterous meetings in Cameron’s Downing Street, were struck by the formality and quietness of working with May. “She just says, ‘Tell me more,’ ” the former civil servant told me. “So you spiel.” Ministers came to suspect that the true decision-making circle was even smaller, with Timothy—who was strongly pro-Brexit—shaping the policy. “The Brexit group never grew,” the former Cabinet colleague told me. “Because it was Nick and her.” (Timothy denies this.)

May presented her thinking in the form of speeches. In her first major address on Brexit, at the Conservative Party conference in early October, 2016, May made it clear that Britain would no longer accept unlimited immigration. Given that free movement is a condition of being part of the single market—and accepted by non-E.U. members such as Switzerland and Norway—the speech indicated that the U.K. would seek a decisive break.

May declared, “The authority of E.U. law in Britain will end.” The line sounded technical, but it caused great shock outside the U.K. Withdrawing from the European Court of Justice meant that May intended to take Britain out of more or less every regulatory mechanism devised by the bloc, from drug safety to aviation rules. Senior officials working on Brexit were also astonished: there had not yet been a detailed discussion of the E.C.J. with May and her team. “They didn’t know what it meant,” the civil servant told me. The pound fell sharply, and European governments began calling, trying to decipher May’s intentions. “You think, Oh fuck. This is going to be fun in Brussels.”

That morning, May had also announced that she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March, 2017, which would put in place the two-year deadline for the country’s exit. The Prime Minister’s political staff were adamant that she activate the clause soon, to show the nation that Brexit was happening. But British officials familiar with the E.U.’s processes argued for delay. By starting the clock before the government had fully defined what it wanted Brexit to look like, May risked giving the E.U. an inherent advantage in the negotiations—time would always be against her. Diplomats insisted that some informal bargaining was possible before the technical talks began. “You need to go around Europe,” the senior official explained. “Sit down with Merkel and Macron and say, ‘This is our vision, O.K.? Do you guys buy it?’ You figure out where your landing area is. Then you trigger Article 50.” Sir Ivan Rogers, the U.K.’s permanent representative to the E.U., and Oliver Robbins, the civil servant in charge of Dexeu, were given twenty-four hours’ notice of May’s announcement. Both objected; both were overruled.

In May’s first six months in Downing Street, she intimated a form of Brexit that would give the U.K. looser bonds with the E.U. than Iceland and Turkey have. Her speeches carried enormous implications for the way that British life was organized. Ministers who had voted to keep the country in the E.U. were dismayed by their lack of access to the Prime Minister and feared that she was too dependent on Timothy, who was considered brilliant but inexperienced. The former Cabinet colleague told me that Timothy’s reading of Brexit “is accurate but unrealistic, and would crash the economy.” The civil servant told me of May, “You can do that in the Home Office and operate like that, with a small coterie of people around you. In No. 10, you can’t.”

By late 2016, May’s approach to Brexit was causing rifts at the top of government. Philip Hammond, who had succeeded George Osborne as Chancellor, was alarmed about the potential impact of May’s decisions on the economy. Timothy took a dislike to him, and Hammond was frozen out. “Nick decided that he is a cunt,” the former Cabinet colleague said. “And once he is a cunt you never come back.” Other Conservatives arguing for a milder Brexit were also punished. After Morgan, the former Education Secretary, questioned the wisdom of May’s wearing a pair of pants costing nearly a thousand pounds, in a photo shoot for the Sunday Times, Hill banned her from Downing Street. “Don’t bring that woman to No 10 again,” Hill texted a fellow-M.P. “The point was, you were either in the camp or you were out,” Morgan told me.

On January 3, 2017, Rogers, the U.K.’s senior diplomat at the E.U., resigned when his relationship with May and her team broke down. “No opposition was brooked at all,” a former Cabinet minister told me. “That was the way they worked.” Two weeks later, May gave her speech at Lancaster House, a splendid Foreign Office residence a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace, in which she confirmed that she would take Britain out of the bloc’s single market and its customs union. It was a bright winter day. May spoke in the Long Gallery, facing a portrait of Queen Victoria on horseback. She promised to walk away from the Brexit negotiations if they were not to her liking. “No deal for Britain,” she said, “would be better than a bad deal.”

Downing Street is a cul-de-sac, often in shadow, which is squeezed between large government buildings. When you approach the door of No. 10, which gleams like a polished shoe, it swings open at the instant that you are worried it will not. Corridors extend implausibly far for a town house, revealing the dimensions of the structure behind. Earlier this year, I was waiting on a sofa for a meeting when May came walking alone down the hall. She smiled, dipped her head, and hurried on. It was like encountering a bashful neighbor twice in the same afternoon. “She’s not somebody who enjoys the trappings of being Prime Minister,” a former aide said. “She hates it.”

May likes to pick up her own dry cleaning and to go to the supermarket on weekends. She has gone to the same hairdresser, near her house in Sonning, Berkshire, for twenty years. Her schedule makes no accommodation for the fact that she has diabetes, and must inject herself in the stomach with insulin before every meal.

May suppresses her reactions so completely that she can discourage them in other people, too. In early October, 2016, weeks before the U.S. Presidential election, she was briefed at her regular morning meeting about the “Access Hollywood” recording, in which Trump, in 2005, boasted about kissing and groping women. “Grab ’em by the pussy,” he said. “You can do anything.” May, who as Home Secretary introduced national domestic-violence legislation, and who for the past two decades has campaigned for greater female participation in politics, betrayed no response. No one else did, either. “Nothing was said,” an official who was present told me. “We moved on as quickly as possible.” After Trump was elected, he and May exchanged phone calls, which she found to be a struggle. The two could not be more different. “He doesn’t stick to any talking points, and to someone like Theresa May, who is formulaic, she can’t deal with it,” the former staffer told me. But on a visit to the White House, in January, 2017, May successfully challenged Trump—impromptu—to publicly state his support for NATO. “That was outstanding,” the staffer said. “And that just shows a glimpse of the politician: I can be political, I can nail you down.”

In the spring of 2017, May sensed another opportunity. Polls showed the Conservative Party with a twenty-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which was rudderless and conflicted over Brexit. May is sometimes compared to Tony Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, another austere, driven figure who entered Downing Street unopposed. In 2007, soon after taking office, Brown decided against holding an election to secure a popular mandate. It turned out to be the peak of his popularity, and his premiership never recovered. May’s team was determined not to repeat the mistake. On April 18th, May announced that she was calling a snap general election to unite the nation behind her plan for Brexit, which she claimed was being undermined by Labour and the other opposition parties. “The country is coming together,” May said. “But Westminster is not.”

Although May had called the election to settle Brexit, she launched her campaign, a month later, with an arcane reform of social care for the elderly. The rest of the manifesto, which had been written largely by Timothy, was similarly uninspiring. On camera, May was uneasy and dour; the press called her the Maybot. After the launch, officials at Party headquarters watched a ten-point lead in their internal polling disappear in four days. “I have never seen anything like it,” the former Party official said. While Corbyn enjoyed being on the road, and his policies—aimed at increased government spending—caught the mood of a nation fed up with seven years of austerity, May stuck rigidly to her script. On Election Night, the Conservatives lost thirteen M.P.s, Labour gained thirty, and May’s gamble produced a hung Parliament. She clung to office, but Timothy and Hill resigned.

The Brexit negotiations began eleven days later. Instead of travelling to Brussels buoyed by an election win, May’s government was weak and fragmented. In the aftermath of the election, Dexeu had lost two of its four ministers: one resigned, the other was fired. A photograph from the second day of the talks, at the European Commission’s headquarters, showed the E.U.’s negotiating team, led by Michel Barnier, a former French Foreign Affairs Minister, facing David Davis, May’s Brexit Secretary, and a pair of British officials across a pale-green glass table. The E.U.’s side was covered with papers; the Brits had a single, slender notebook among them.

The first subject of the talks was how the negotiations would be structured: the U.K. wanted to discuss the nation’s exit from the E.U. in parallel with its future relationship, to allow trade-offs between the two. The E.U. refused, insisting that Britain’s withdrawal must be finalized before it would consider anything else. The sequencing of the talks, alongside the ticking clock of Article 50, added to the E.U.’s leverage, which it has used to delay and extract concessions ever since. After a year of negotiations, Britain’s withdrawal has still not been formally agreed; it is stuck mainly on the question of the Irish border and customs arrangements. Discussions on the “future framework” for the two-hundred-and-ninety-billion-pound trading relationship between the two sides began only this May. “I have lots of friends on the other side of the table,” a former British official in Brussels told me. “But they are fairly ruthless negotiators, and they are fucking us over.”

May has meetings about Brexit almost every day. It is not how she would choose to spend her premiership. “There is a cruel irony in this, in that she does have stuff that she wants to do,” a former adviser said. “But she is probably not going to be able to do it.” When May seeks to address something else in British public life, Brexit is usually present anyway.

In June, at the Royal Free Hospital, in North London, I watched May speak to doctors, charity leaders, and politicians about the future of the National Health Service. The N.H.S. is celebrating its seventieth anniversary this summer, but the system is creaking under financial pressure and the needs of Britain’s aging population. Last winter, hospitals throughout the country were forced to turn away non-emergency patients and to cancel thousands of routine operations. During her speech, May promised an extra twenty billion pounds for the health service by 2023. It should have been a good news day. But the announcement was undermined by a disagreement about where the money would come from. Since the referendum, Brexiteers, led by Johnson, have argued that Britain will now be able to spend its annual E.U. budget contribution—last year, it was thirteen billion pounds—on the nation’s schools and hospitals. According to the U.K.’s Office for Budget Responsibility, however, the costs of Brexit to the nation’s finances will outweigh the gains.

At the end of May’s speech, a reporter from the BBC asked whether the so-called Brexit dividend was real. May’s voice quickened. Her hands pumped the air quickly, revealing a Frida Kahlo bracelet. “There will be money coming back from the E.U.,” she insisted. I was sitting a couple of seats away from Suzanne Tyler, a director of the Royal College of Midwives. Around fifteen hundred E.U.-trained midwives currently work in British hospitals, but since 2016 the number coming from Europe each year has fallen by eighty-eight per cent. There is no agreement on the terms under which E.U. midwives will be able to work after March; two hundred and thirty-four left the country last year. “People are uncertain about what will happen,” Tyler told me. “We could lose ten hospitals’ worth of midwives at a fell swoop.”

Seen from Brussels, Britain since the referendum has often resembled a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “Look through the papers. Look in the government and the politics, it is only about Brexit,” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coördinator and a former Prime Minister of Belgium, told me in his office last month. “Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Can you imagine a country that, for years, the clock stops?” Earlier in the week, Verhofstadt had been in London, pitching May and David Davis his own idea—an “association agreement” with the E.U., loosely modelled on its relationships with Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein, which are members of the European Economic Area, or E.E.A. But it hadn’t gone well. “They are still in the idea, I think, that ‘Let’s do a little bit of cherry-picking of the advantages of the union without having the duties,’ ” Verhofstadt said. He put the chances of the Brexit talks collapsing at one in three.

One of the central difficulties of coming to an agreement is the different way that the two sides imagine politics. The Lisbon Treaty, which serves as the E.U.’s constitution, is two hundred and seventy-one pages long; the U.K. has no such thing. In Westminster, no situation is completely unfixable; the rules can be made to bend. For this reason, Brexiteers have always believed that Britain’s economic and military importance to the E.U. would prompt it—or, rather, its German car manufacturers, or its Dutch oil refiners—to offer the nation a singularly advantageous deal. (May often talks about a “bespoke” Brexit.) But, since the vote in 2016, the E.U. has maintained that Britain can choose only from a menu of trading relationships that already exist. “I explained that to May,” Verhofstadt said. “I said, You have a problem, you try to solve it. We on the Continent are different. We need first a concept. If we have a concept, then we are going to try and put every problem that we have inside that concept.”

In the talks, the master of conceptual thinking has been Barnier, the E.U.’s chief negotiator. He is sixty-seven, tall and blue-eyed, and stands like a Doric column. He likes to carry a set of PowerPoint slides around, pulling them out of a brown folder to explain, say, the difference between how goods and services are treated under a free-trade deal, or the manner in which the E.U. screens okra and curry leaves at its borders. Barnier’s favorite slide is known as the “steps of doom.” It shows how each of the red lines that May laid out in her early months as Prime Minister is incompatible with the E.U.’s relationships with its nearest neighbors, whether they are the E.E.A. nations and Switzerland, which are in the single market; or Ukraine, which accepts the jurisdiction of the E.C.J. in certain sectors of its economy; or Turkey, which is part of the customs union. At the bottom of Barnier’s steps is a green tick, indicating Britain’s likely resting place, based on its current trajectory in the talks, alongside Canada and South Korea, which both have trade deals with the E.U. but are subject to none of its interlocking regulations.

I was in Brussels for a European Council, a meeting held four or five times a year and attended by the leaders of the twenty-eight member states. Despite the near-total grip of Brexit on British politics, it was barely on the agenda. The anxieties and anger that helped bring about Britain’s departure from the E.U. are common, in one form or another, to all its members, but the manner of their expression in the U.K. has been unique, making the country seem more of an outcast than it is. The meeting was dominated by the bloc’s ongoing migration crisis, which has brought about a strident, populist government in Italy and imperilled Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor and the E.U.’s central figure and protector for the past thirteen years. The unpredictability of voters and the instability of the world make many European politicians somewhat sympathetic toward the U.K.—“For the Brits, this is a terrifying moment,” a senior E.U. official told me—but they have also strengthened their determination to protect the bloc at all costs, and not to fall prey to the same delusions. “There are two kinds of European nations,” Kristian Jensen, the Danish Finance Minister, said last year, referring to Britain’s situation. “There are small nations and there are countries that have not yet realized they are small nations.”

May arrived for the council in the early afternoon. On her way into the meeting, reporters asked her if she was annoyed by the E.U.’s rigid approach to Brexit. May reached for one of her circular replies: “I will be setting out our position for the future. And what I want to be able to do—what I am sure leaders will want to be able to do—is insure that we can sit down together, that we can negotiate this for the future.”

Before the meeting began, Charles Michel, Belgium’s Prime Minister, surprised May with a gift of a Belgian national soccer shirt with the word “HAZARD” on the back. Belgium was playing England in the World Cup that night, and Eden Hazard is the team’s star, but people couldn’t be sure that May wasn’t being teased. Since the vote in 2016, the bloc frequently meets in “EU27 format”—without the U.K.—including in all Brexit-related discussions. That afternoon and night, May had to sit through almost fourteen hours of talks, as E.U. Presidents and Prime Ministers debated the bloc’s asylum rules and how to stop migrants arriving via the Mediterranean, in order to give a fifteen-minute update on Brexit, to which no one was officially allowed to reply. When the meeting broke up, just after 5 A.M., May emerged, gaunt in the camera lights, and urged the E.U. to accelerate the pace of the talks. The other leaders, led by Macron, celebrated another long night of European solidarity.

A week later, on Friday, July 6th, May summoned her Cabinet to Chequers, the sixteenth-century manor that serves as the Prime Minister’s traditional country residence. For months, tensions had been deepening between May and staunch Brexiteers, who sensed that the Prime Minister was conceding more and more in the negotiations. On June 6th, Davis came close to resigning over the wording of a “backstop option” for Britain’s future relationship with the E.U., should the rest of the talks fail. The following evening, an audio recording of Johnson, speaking at a supposedly private dinner, was leaked to the press. On the tape, Johnson fantasized about what would happen if Trump were leading Brexit: “He’d go in bloody hard. . . . There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But, actually, you might get somewhere.” In Parliament, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the saturnine leader of the Party’s hardcore, Euroskeptic wing, warned that May’s strategy would leave Britain as “a semi-vassal state” of the E.U.

The Cabinet gathered in the great parlor at Chequers. Recently, the country has been enduring a heatwave. According to the Daily Mail, a thermometer on the wall read eighty-one degrees. May unveiled a plan that bowed to the weight of the country’s economic connections to its nearest and largest trading partner. Along with a “common rulebook for goods”—a euphemism for the regulations of the single market—there was to be “a combined customs territory,” which Brexiteers worry may yet turn out to be a euphemism for the customs union, although May insists that it is not. Those who campaigned for Britain to leave the E.U. fear that the country will end up following its rules but with no formal say in how they are devised. At Chequers, however, the Cabinet agreed to May’s plan. Johnson reportedly compared it to a turd. “Luckily,” he said, “we have some expert turd polishers.”

The truce barely lasted until everyone got home. Forty-eight hours after the Chequers summit, May’s government began to come apart. Davis and Johnson gave up their posts, borrowing in their resignation letters from the language of empire and war. That Monday, I spoke to the senior E.U. official. “It’s a moment that should have happened two years ago,” the official said, of May’s late attempt to soften Brexit. But the official stressed that the E.U. still would not accept her plan, which aims somewhere in between a free-trade deal and the more integrated ties of the E.E.A. nations. “The point of departure for the U.K. is ‘We are exceptional,’ ” the official said, sighing. “They don’t understand.”

In recent weeks, May has started to speak more, in order to sell her formulation of Brexit to the nation. After Chequers, she told the House of Commons, “I have listened to every possible idea and every possible version of Brexit. This is the right Brexit.” It is possible that May is finally stepping out with a plan that is sane and moderate but that she has done so too late. In the aftermath of her Cabinet summit, ten ministers and Tory officials have quit, and the Conservative Party’s internal skirmishing has intensified. In a series of parliamentary votes last week, Rees-Mogg’s faction forced May into concessions that will make any further compromises with the E.U. all but impossible. Her government had to rely on a handful of Labour M.P.s to get its votes through. Corbyn has never stood so close to power. I asked the senior official, who is working on Brexit, whether the current moment seemed more vertiginous than usual. “It just permanently feels like that,” he replied. “It just permanently feels like it is out of control.”

Trump arrived in the middle of it all, like a late-season hurricane. He landed at Stansted airport, in Essex; from there, Marine One, escorted by three Marine Corps Ospreys, battered its way thirty miles south, touching down at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, in Regent’s Park. May had invited Trump to Britain during her meeting with him at the White House, eighteen months ago. After almost two million people signed an online petition objecting to the honor, it was delayed twice and downgraded from a full state visit. The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, refused to allow Trump to address Parliament, citing the body’s “opposition to racism and sexism.”

The President’s schedule was designed to keep him out of the capital as much as possible. Trump had flown in from the NATO summit in Brussels, where he had aired his doubts about May’s new position on Brexit. “The people voted to break it up,” Trump said. “But maybe they’re taking a little bit of a different route. So, I don’t know if that is what they voted for.” That evening, as May took Trump’s hand on the steps of Blenheim Palace before a dinner with C.E.O.s and a trade delegation, an interview with the President appeared in the Sun, in which he questioned whether May’s approach would allow for an independent trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K., and praised Johnson. “I think he would be a great Prime Minister,” Trump said. “I think he’s got what it takes.”

Brexit and Trump are often compared. The disasters that have occurred in two of the world’s oldest democracies stem from similar causes, but they manifest as very different phenomena. The danger posed by Trump is theoretically unlimited, as borderless as his proclivities and the terrifying power of his office. The Brexit vote, by contrast, has traumatized British politics by narrowing it. There is only one concept, and we are putting every problem that we have inside that concept. May’s assignment has been to quell a populist wave, not ride it; to sublimate the contradictory forces within Brexit and to protect the country from itself. “In that sense she is the antithesis of Trump,” the former Cabinet colleague said. “In every single respect, she is the negative.”

May will probably be destroyed by the experience. No one expects her political career to extend past an eventual agreement with the European Union, if it gets that far. “The Conservative Party is a violent place,” one of her former advisers said.

The climax of the Trump visit was a fifty-minute press conference on the lawn at Chequers. The grass was dried out by the heat. The Ospreys were parked in the distance. May delivered some memorized sentences about how her plan would deliver the Brexit that people had voted for. Trump called the Sun interview, which could be streamed on the Internet, “fake news.” He described May as an incredible woman. “Yesterday, I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with her,” he said. “Then I said, ‘What are we doing tomorrow?’ Which is today. ‘Oh, you’re having breakfast and lunch with Theresa May.’ ” The Prime Minister smiled.

After that, the occasion became fully Trumpian, as the President recalled being in Scotland and predicting Brexit the day before it happened, when in fact he was there the day after. His anxieties about a future Atlantic trade deal—Britain and America are the largest investors in each other’s economies—had apparently dissipated during the morning. “Whatever you do is O.K. with me,” Trump said. “That’s your decision.” It was Brexit, after all, so it was complicated. May chimed in as best she could while the President inveighed against immigration in Europe, refused to take a question from CNN, and criticized Merkel for planning a natural-gas pipeline with Russia, calling it “a tragedy,” “a horrific thing.” Then it was over. Trump walked back to his helicopter to go pick up Melania, who had been lawn-bowling with May’s husband, Philip, in a garden in London; they would then fly to Windsor to have tea with the Queen. May went back to her study. ♦

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‘Treasure-laden’ Russian shipwreck sparks controversy

A recently discovered 113-year-old Russian shipwreck that may contain more than $130 billion in gold bars and coins is sparking controversy.

In a statement released Tuesday, salvage company Shinil Group confirmed that the stern of the vessel, the Dmitry Donskoi, once part of the Russian Imperial Navy, had been discovered off South Korea’s Ulleungdo Island. The 5,800-ton ironclad cruiser was badly damaged following an attack by Japanese warships during the Russo-Japanese War and was scuttled in the Sea of Japan on May 29, 1905.

The company speculated about 200 tons of gold bars and coins that are worth 150 trillion won ($132 billion) would still likely be aboard the ship.


The news sparked an investor frenzy in South Korea, prompting the country’s financial regulator to issue a warning against possible investment losses.

Shinil is unlisted but its president recently agreed to acquire shares in a local company, Jeil Steel.

Russian first-class armored cruiser Donskoii (PRNewsfoto/Shinil Group)

The stern of the Dmitry Donskoi. The ship has seen better days.

 (PRNewsfoto/Shinil Group)

After Shinil’s announcement on the Russian ship, Jeil’s stock price rose by 30 percent on South Korea’s KOSDAQ market on Tuesday. They continued their steep rise on Wednesday morning before Jeil in a regulatory filing clarified that Shinil’s president would be its second-largest shareholder, not the largest, if the deal goes through. Jeil also said it has “no relation to the treasure ship business.” Jeil’s stock prices dropped more than 20 percent after Thursday’s trading.

South Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service said Thursday that it’s closely monitoring trade activity involving the shares of Jeil Steel. An agency official said that the regulator was watching out for possible deceptive practices involving the trade of Jeil shares, including inducing investors through false information.

“Investors should beware because it’s uncertain whether the ship is salvageable and whether Shinil would be able to gain ownership of the assets even if it gets permission to raise it,” said the official, who didn’t want to be identified citing office rules. “Dong-Ah Construction made similar claims over the same ship but failed to deliver on its promises and went bankrupt, causing huge losses for investors.”


Shinil Group has also launched a cryptocurrency exchange linked to the ship’s discovery. “Shinil Group is turning the dream of salvaging the Donskoi ship into reality,” it explains, on its website, adding that it will “share its profits with the public.” People signing up for the exchange will receive virtual currency dubbed Shinil Gold Coins, with additional ‘Coins’ given to those who attract additional members.

The Dmitrii Donskoi Armoured Cruiser of the Imperial Russian Navy on 3 October 1891 at anchor off Brest, France.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

File photo of the Dmitry Donskoi. Are there riches to be found in its hulking wreckage?


Coins can be exchanged for “cultural vouchers” that can be exchanged at the likes of bookstores and other and other retail outlets, according to Shinil Group.

Fox News has reached out to Shinil Group with a request for comment on this story.

The Dmitry Donskoi was in a fleet of 38 Russian Imperial Navy ships deployed from the Baltic to the Pacific. Citing historical accounts, The Express reports that the Dmitry Donskoi may be treasure-laden. In addition to carrying port expenses and salaries for the fleet’s sailors and officers, she may have held gold reserves of other Russian ships damaged in the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905.


Rumors of a gold hoard on the ship have swirled for decades, although the possibility of a sunken treasure has also been viewed with skepticism. According to The New York Times, one historian told Bloomberg in 2000 that it would have been safer to send the gold to the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok by rail, as opposed to using a ship.


Subs were used to discover the wreck in the Sea of Japan

 (Shinil Group)

Some experts also said it’s unlikely that the Donskoi, a thickly armored warship with more than 12 artillery pieces, 500 sailors and presumably 1,600 tons of coal, would have had room for 200 tons of gold, which would be double the current gold reserves at South Korea’s central bank. Similar skepticism has been expressed on social media. And there’s questions about the gold’s worth being estimated at $132 billion — the Bank of Korea’s 104 tons of gold reserves are valued at around $4.8 billion.

It’s unclear whether Shinil would receive South Korean government approval of its salvage plans.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Are Things Getting Better or Worse?

Branko Milanović grew up in Yugoslavia, during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. He became an economist at the World Bank and then a professor at CUNY; on his blog, Globalinequality, he discusses economics and reminisces about the past. Recently, he published a post about his youth. He had been reading histories of the postwar decades, by Svetlana Alexievich, Tony Judt, and others. Faced with these grim accounts, Milanović felt protective of his past. “However hard I tried,” he wrote, “I just could not see anything in my memories that had to deal with collectivization, killings, political trials, endless bread lines, imprisoned free thinkers,” and so on. Instead, he had mainly good memories—of “long dinners discussing politics,” the “excitement of new books,” “languid sunsets, whole-night concerts, epic soccer games, girls in miniskirts.” He worried that, with the passage of time, it was becoming harder to imagine life under Communism as anything other than a desperate struggle with deprivation and repression. He titled his post “How I Lost My Past.”

Was the past good or bad? Are we on the right track or the wrong one? Is life getting better or worse? These questions are easy to ask—pollsters and politicians love asking them—but surprisingly hard to answer. Most historical and statistical evidence shows that life used to be shorter, sicker, poorer, more dangerous, and less free. Yet many people, like Milanović, have fond memories of bygone years, and wonder if reports of their awfulness have been exaggerated. Others concede that life used to be worse in some ways, but wonder if it wasn’t also better in others—simpler, more predictable, more spiritual. It’s common to appreciate modernity while fearing its destructive potential. (Life expectancy may be higher today, but it will be shorter after the nuclear-climate-bioterror apocalypse.) If being alive now doesn’t feel particularly great, perhaps living in the past might not have felt particularly bad. Maybe human existence in most times and places is a mixed bag.

Last year, the Pew Research Center asked people around the world whether life had been better or worse in their countries fifty years ago. A slim plurality of Americans said they thought life had been better. In 1967, the United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War. Protest marches were taking place around the country, crime was surging, and race riots were breaking out in Detroit, Newark, Milwaukee, and other cities. That spring, a wave of tornadoes injured thousands across the Midwest; members of the Black Panther Party, carrying shotguns and rifles, marched into the California statehouse to protest a racially motivated gun-control law. In June, the Six-Day War broke out. Americans lived in smaller houses, ate worse food, worked more hours, and died, on average, seven years earlier. On the other hand, NASA launched several moon probes and Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced” helped launch the Summer of Love. By an obscure retrospective calculus, the good appears to balance out the bad. Frightening events seem less so in retrospect. Memory is selective, history is partial, and youth is a golden age. For all these reasons, our intuitive comparisons between the past and the present are unreliable. Many Americans living in 1967 might well have thought that life had been better in 1917.

Nor is this just an American inclination. In “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker looks at recent studies and finds that majorities in fourteen countries—Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand, the U.A.E., and the United States—believe that the world is getting worse rather than better. (China is the only large country in which a majority expresses optimism.) “This bleak assessment of the state of the world is wrong,” Pinker writes—and not just a little wrong but “wrong wrong, flat-earth wrong.”

Because our ideas about human progress are so vague, it’s tempting to think they don’t matter. But “Is life getting better or worse?” may be a dorm-room debate with consequences. It has affected our politics, Pinker says, encouraging voters to elect unproved leaders “with a dark vision of the current moment.” He quotes from Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address, in which the President bemoaned “mothers and children trapped in poverty . . . an education system which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge . . . and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs.” In fact, poverty, crime, and drug abuse are declining in America, and our educational system, though flawed, is one of the best in the world. Pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By believing that the world is getting worse, Pinker argues, we can make it so.

It’s also possible to take this reasoning to an extreme—to become radically pessimistic about the consequences of pessimism. In “Suicide of the West,” the conservative intellectual Jonah Goldberg argues that progressive activists—deluded by wokeness into the false belief that Western civilization has made the world worse—are systematically dismantling the institutions fundamental to an enlightened society, such as individualism, capitalism, and free speech. (“Sometimes ingratitude is enough to destroy a civilization,” Goldberg writes.) On the left, a parallel attitude holds sway. Progressives fear the stereotypical paranoid conservative—a nativist, arsenal-assembling prepper whose world view has been formed by Fox News, the N.R.A., and “The Walking Dead.” Militant progressives and pre-apocalyptic conservatives have an outsized presence in our imaginations; they are the bogeymen in narratives about our mounting nihilism. We’ve come to fear each other’s fear.

With “Enlightenment Now,” Pinker hopes to return us to reality. In the course of five hundred pages, he presents statistics and charts showing that, despite our dark imaginings, life has been getting better in pretty much every way. Around the globe, improved health care has dramatically reduced infant and maternal mortality, and children are now better fed, better educated, and less abused. Workers make more money, are injured less frequently, and retire earlier. In the United States, fewer people are poor, while elsewhere in the world, and especially in Asia, billions fewer live in extreme poverty, defined as an income of less than a dollar and ninety cents per day. Statistics show that the world is growing less polluted and has more parks and protected wilderness. “Carbon intensity”—the amount of carbon released per dollar of G.D.P.—has also been falling almost everywhere, a sign that we may be capable of addressing our two biggest challenges, poverty and climate change, simultaneously.

Pinker cites statistics showing that, globally, there are now fewer victims of murder, war, rape, and genocide. (In his previous book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” he attributed this development to a range of causes, such as democratization, pacifism, and better policing.) Life expectancy has been rising, and—thanks to regulations and design improvements—accidental deaths (car crashes, lightning strikes) are also in steep decline. Despite what we’re often told, students today report being less lonely than in the past, and, although Americans feel overscheduled, studies show that men and women alike have substantially more leisure time than their parents did (ten and six hours more per week, respectively).

“Enlightenment Now” seems designed to reassure both Republicans, who worry about increasing drug use and terrorism, and Democrats, who see racism and sexism as the crises of our time. Despite fears of resurgent racism, the number of hate crimes in America has been falling for decades, while analyses of Internet searches, which reveal searchers’ hidden interests, indicate that racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes are also in retreat. What Pinker calls “emancipative values”—tolerance, feminism, and so on—are becoming more common even in old-fashioned societies. (Young people in the Middle East now hold social views comparable to the ones held by young Western Europeans in the nineteen-sixties.) Although there’s been a recent surge in drug overdoses in the U.S., most of those who die belong to “the druggy Baby Boomer cohort . . . born between 1953 and 1963.” Drug and alcohol use among teen-agers—with the exception of cannabis and vaping—is at its lowest level since 1976.

Pinker’s message is simple: progress is real, meaningful, and widespread. The mystery is why we have so much trouble acknowledging it. Pinker mentions various sources of pessimism—the “progressophobia” of liberal-arts professors, for instance—but directs most of his opprobrium toward the news media, which focus almost entirely on of-the-moment crises and systematically underreport positive, long-term trends. (Citing the German economist Max Roser, Pinker argues that a truly evenhanded newspaper “could have run the headline NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN EXTREME POVERTY FELL BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY every day for the last twenty-five years.”) He consults the work of Kalev Leetaru, a data scientist who uses “sentiment mining,” a word-analysis technique, to track the mood of the news; Leetaru finds that, globally, journalism has grown substantially more negative.

The power of bad news is magnified, Pinker writes, by a mental habit that psychologists call the “availability heuristic”: because people tend to estimate the probability of an event by means of “the ease with which instances come to mind,” they get the impression that mass shootings are more common than medical breakthroughs. We’re also guilty of “the sin of ingratitude.” We like to complain, and we don’t know much about the heroic problem-solvers of the past. “How much thought have you given lately to Karl Landsteiner?” Pinker asks. “Karl who? He only saved a billion lives by his discovery of blood groups.”

Even as “Enlightenment Now” celebrates our ingenuity, it suggests that there’s something bratty about humankind: we just don’t want to admit how good we have it. In “It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear,” the journalist Gregg Easterbrook offers a wider-ranging account of our pessimism. In his view, it’s the result of various demographic, cultural, and political trends. The country is aging, and older people tend to be nostalgic and grumpy. Reaganism made “ritualized denunciation” of the government routine, encouraging cynicism among conservatives; among liberals, a focus on marginalized groups has led to the competitive articulation of suffering, creating a culture of “majority victimhood,” in which every group trumpets its grievances. “Claims for liability and compensation have increased,” Easterbrook notes, reflecting the rise of a punitive society obsessed with the assignment of blame; fewer people attend worship services, where they might hear messages of hope or have uplifting interactions with neighbors. Thanks to cable news, talk radio, and social media, “society has opinionized,” and it’s now “expected that all will possess strong views”; this has fed the rise of “catastrophism,” or the continual overstatement of what’s wrong. (“Everything is terrible” is a stronger view than “Things are pretty decent.”) Finally, technology has changed. Easterbrook cites psychological research suggesting that the physical proximity of our smartphones gives them uncanny power to influence our moods. It’s one thing to see an alarming headline on a TV across the room, and another to feel it vibrating in your pocket.

Perhaps we’ve come to see history itself as one bad news cycle after another. The word “history” used to evoke “traditions to be respected, legacies to be transmitted, knowledge to be elaborated, or deaths to be commemorated,” the French historiographer Henry Rousso points out, in “The Latest Catastrophe: History, the Present, the Contemporary.” After the traumas of the twentieth century, however, we began to define our historical era by “the most lethal moments of the near past”—the conflicts, wars, and atrocities that “have had the most difficulty ‘passing away.’ ” We “delimit the contemporary era” by referring to “the ends of wars or sometimes the beginnings of wars: the end of World War I, the end of World War II, the end of the Cold War.” (In America, we talk about the Vietnam era and the generation born after 9/11.) “Since 1945, all contemporary history begins with ‘the latest catastrophe,’ ” Rousso concludes. We see the past in terms of crises, and imagine the future that way, too.

Pessimism may even answer to our spiritual needs. The philosopher Charles Taylor, in his book “A Secular Age,” from 2007, argued that modern life is characterized by a sense of individual spiritual obligation. In pre-Reformation Europe, ordinary people were held to lower spiritual standards than monks, priests, and nuns, and a member of the laity might live an imperfect, worldly life and still be saved, as long as he supported, through prayer or alms, the work of the “virtuosi.” Such a system, Taylor writes, “involved accepting that masses of people were not going to live up to the demands of perfection.” Eventually, Protestantism intervened, making individuals responsible for their own salvation. In the new way of life that emerged, religion was democratized, and each person was charged with spiritual self-stewardship. Part of this shift involved a political credo. In Taylor’s précis: “We are all responsible for each other, and for society as a whole.”

Today, we tend to conceive the credo of social responsibility as an ethical idea, justifiable on secular grounds. Still, it remains tied to an inner, devotional imperative. We know that we accomplish little by reading the news, and sense that our infinite, tragic news feeds distort, rather than enhance, our picture of reality. Still, it feels wrong to outsource the work of salvation to Bill and Melinda Gates, and presumptuous to trust too much in the power of good works. Pessimism can be a form of penance, and of spiritual humility in a humanist age.

Pinker urges us to overcome these cultural, psychological, political, and spiritual biases, and to take a more objective view of the world. But human beings are not objective creatures. When social scientists write about life expectancy, educational attainment, nutrition, crime, and the other issues Pinker addresses, they often use the abbreviation Q.O.L., for “quality of life.” They use S.W.B. to refer to “subjective well-being”—the more elusive phenomenon of happiness, fulfillment, or life satisfaction. In “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles’s media tycoon enjoys high Q.O.L. and low S.W.B. He is healthy, wealthy, and unhappy. The question is whether what befalls individuals might also befall societies. If so, life could be getting much better objectively, on the social scale, without getting all that much better subjectively, on the individual scale.

The most obvious way to tackle this question is to survey people from different societies. The annual World Happiness Report combines data from Gallup opinion surveys with economic and sociological studies; it finds that, in general, citizens of high-Q.O.L. countries (Finland, Norway, Canada, Germany) report higher levels of S.W.B. than citizens of low-Q.O.L. countries (Venezuela, Chad, Laos, Iraq). Look closely, though, and the story is more nuanced. Although economics shapes S.W.B., so do social and political factors: despite immense economic growth, Chinese citizens are no happier today than they were in 1990 (fraying social ties, created by rural-to-urban migration, may be to blame), while in many Latin-American countries people report higher S.W.B. than their otherwise low Q.O.L. predicts. (Latin-American respondents often cite their strong family bonds as a special source of happiness.)

In the United States, the two measures have diverged. Although per-capita income has more than doubled since 1972, Americans’ S.W.B. has stagnated or even declined. In a contribution to the 2018 World Happiness Report, the economist Jeffrey Sachs attributes this divergence to a public-health crisis centered on obesity, drug abuse, and depression, and to a growing disillusionment with business and government. From all this data, the picture is one of large-scale predictability and small-scale volatility. Thanks to broad improvements in quality of life, today’s children are likelier to be happier than their grandparents were. But within any shorter span of time—a decade, a generation, an electoral cycle—there’s no guarantee that S.W.B. won’t decline even as Q.O.L. continues to rise.

These metrics may reflect something fundamental about how we experience life. Many psychologists now subscribe to the “set point” theory of happiness, according to which mood is, to some extent, homeostatic: at first, our new cars, houses, or jobs make us happy, but eventually we adapt to them, returning to our “set points” and ending up roughly as happy or unhappy as we were before. Researchers say that we run on “hedonic treadmills”—we chase new sources of happiness as the old ones expire—and that our set points are largely immovable and determined by disposition. Some fundamental changes can affect our happiness in a lasting way—getting married, immigrating to a wealthy country, developing a drug addiction—but many life improvements are impermanent in character. Although food quality may have been worse in 1967, the pleasure of today’s better meals is intrinsically fleeting. More people survive heart attacks than in the past, but the relief of surviving wears off as one returns to the daily grind.

The set-point theory is dispiriting, since it implies limits to how happy progress can make us, but it also suggests that progress is more widespread than we feel it to be. This last conclusion, though, makes sense only if we define “progress” in a certain way. “Imagine Seema, an illiterate woman in a poor country who is village-bound, has lost half her children to disease, and will die at fifty, as do most of the people she knows,” Pinker writes:

Now imagine Sally, an educated person in a rich country who has visited several cities and national parks, has seen her children grow up, and will live to eighty, but is stuck in the lower middle class. It’s conceivable that Sally, demoralized by the conspicuous wealth she will never attain, is not particularly happy, and she might even be unhappier than Seema, who is grateful for small mercies. Yet it would be mad to suppose that Sally is not better off.

Pinker is right: Sally is better off. To say so, however, is to acknowledge that we can be better off without feeling that way—working two jobs to pay tuition and save for retirement, Sally still suffers—or worse off without knowing it. Progress is objective and impersonal, at least in part, and can unfold without making us happier. “The goal of progress,” Pinker concludes, “cannot be to increase happiness indefinitely, in the hope that more and more people will become more and more euphoric.” Quality of life is higher today, no matter what you think, and it was lower under Communism, no matter how you feel about those whole-night concerts and epic soccer games. A blissful existence in the Matrix wouldn’t count as progress. There’s more to life than subjective well-being.

In a book titled “The Optimism Gap: The I’m OK–They’re Not Syndrome and the Myth of American Decline,” from 1998, the public-policy reporter David Whitman cited statistics showing that, in nearly every domain of life—crime, pollution, health, income, happiness—Americans were optimistic about themselves but pessimistic about society as a whole. While believing that crime was rising in general, they congratulated themselves for living in neighborhoods that were mostly crime-free; convinced that the economy was getting worse, they remained confident about their own earning potential. Pinker, too, finds that people are afraid for civilization but hopeful about themselves. Certain that those around them are living lives of quiet desperation, they continue to predict increases in their own life satisfaction. But it seems that this optimism gap isn’t just inaccurate; it’s pretty much backward. The world, as an objective whole, has been getting better. It’s our individual experiences of life that are unlikely to improve. We should be optimistic about civilization but neutral about our own future happiness.

A final reason for doubting progress is the future, in all its terrifying potentiality. One of Pinker’s most persistent critics is the statistician and risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of “The Black Swan,” “Fooled by Randomness,” and other explorations of uncertainty. For the past few years, in a relentless barrage of tweets and Facebook posts, Taleb has responded to Pinker’s optimism by distinguishing between “thin-tailed” historical trends—picture the trailing ends of a bell curve—which are likely to continue indefinitely, and “fat-tailed” ones, which retain their capacity to surprise. Pinker shows that, during the past century, per-capita deaths from fire have declined by ninety per cent in the United States. In Taleb’s view, this is a thin-tailed trend, since it’s the result of innovations, such as better materials and building codes, that are unlikely to reverse themselves. By contrast, the decline in deaths from terrorism—far more people were killed by terrorists in the nineteen-sixties and seventies—is a fat-tailed trend; as Taleb writes on Facebook, “one biological event can decimate the population.” Pessimists of the Taleb school argue that we underestimate the number of fat-tailed trends. In a review of “Enlightenment Now,” the theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson imagines a hypothetical book, published in 1923, about “the astonishing improvements in the condition of Europe’s Jews.” The authors of such a book, Aaronson writes, would have reassured themselves that “an insane number of things would need to go wrong simultaneously” for that progress to be reversed—which, needless to say, is what happened.

Maybe our views about progress depend on our time horizons. Charles C. Mann’s “The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World” tells the stories of two researchers, William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, who occupied opposing sides of the twentieth-century debate about the human population. In Mann’s terms, Vogt was a “prophet”: he predicted that, unless global population growth could be slowed, worldwide famine would result. Borlaug was a “wizard,” who argued that innovations in agriculture would make it possible for farmers to feed everyone. In the event, Borlaug was right: the “Green Revolution,” which he spearheaded, dramatically increased crop yields and saved billions of lives. But the deeper debate between the two sides—“Cut back or produce more?”—persists, this time around climate change. Today, pessimistic prophets argue that radical conservation is the only way to avoid a climatic apocalypse, while optimistic wizards propose innovating our way out of the crisis, perhaps through geoengineering or the creation of new energy sources. Our species seems to face a fork in the road: “If a government persuades its citizenry to spend huge sums revamping offices, stores, and homes with the high-tech insulation and low-water-use plumbing urged by Prophets,” Mann writes, “the same citizenry will resist ponying up for Wizards’ new-design nuclear plants and monster desalination facilities.”

Mann thinks the wizard–prophet distinction reflects a fundamental biological reality. If bacteria are left to grow in a petri dish, they’ll multiply quickly, then consume all their resources and die. The same goes for all species adaptive enough to flourish unconstrained. At first, “the world is their petri dish,” Mann writes. “Their populations grow at a terrific rate; they take over large areas, engulfing their environment. . . . Then they hit a barrier. They drown in their own wastes. They starve from lack of food.” A biologist tells Mann that “it is the fate of every successful species to wipe itself out.”

Both wizards and prophets hope that we can break this pattern. Wizards exhort us to “soar beyond natural constraints” using technology. (Think of Elon Musk, with his solar roof tiles and spaceships.) Prophets implore us to reach, through conservation and political reform, a “steady-state accommodation” with nature. (“What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources,” the activist Naomi Klein writes.) Both sides agree that progress of a general sort isn’t enough: unless we adopt a decisive and coherent survival strategy, we’ll become victims of our own success. “The Wizard and the Prophet” provides an unsettling coda to “Enlightenment Now.” Pinker could be right in the short term but wrong in the long term. Maybe the world is getting better, but not better enough, or in the right ways.

In the Middle Ages, painters used triptychs to sum up the state of the world. On the left, one might see our origins, in the Garden of Eden; in the center, ordinary, terrestrial life; on the right, the torments of Hell. Above it all, Christ floats in Heaven, surrounded by angels: our redemptive future. One longs for a modern equivalent—a data-driven version of Fra Angelico’s “Last Judgment” or Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” equal to the contradictions of the human situation.

In “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think,” the Swedish global-health statistician Hans Rosling, who wrote the book with his son and daughter-in-law, tries to find such a picture. Most depictions of the world, Rosling thinks, are either too optimistic or too pessimistic; if they don’t succumb to despair, they seem to look too quickly away from suffering. Rosling adopts a mantra—“Bad and better”—to avoid these extremes. “Think of the world as a premature baby in an incubator,” he suggests:

The baby’s health status is extremely bad, and her breathing, heart rate, and other important signs are tracked constantly so that changes for better or worse can quickly be seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better. On all the main measures, she is improving, but she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes. Absolutely. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely. Does saying “things are improving” imply that everything is fine, and we should all relax and not worry? No, not at all. Is it helpful to have to choose between bad and improving? Definitely not. It’s both. It’s both bad and better. Better, and bad, at the same time. . . . That is how we must think about the current state of the world.

Rosling’s image captures many of the perplexities of our collective situation. We desperately want the baby to survive. We also know that survival doesn’t guarantee happiness. The baby is struggling, and suffering, and will continue to do so; as a result, we’re more likely to be happy for her than she is to be happy for herself. (Pinker, similarly, is happier for us than we are.) It’s possible, moreover, that she’ll be saved only temporarily. No one is ever truly out of the woods.

In the meantime, the baby’s survival depends on the act of diagnosis. Until her ailments are identified, they can’t be cured. Problems and progress are inextricable, and the history of improvement is also the history of problem-discovery. Diagnosis, of course, is an art in itself; it’s possible to misunderstand problems, or to overstate them, and, in doing so, to make them worse. But a world in which no one complained—in which we only celebrated how good we have it—would be a world that never improved. The spirit of progress is also the spirit of discontent. ♦

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Giant hogweed, wild parsnip and other dangerous plants to avoid

Whether you’re hiking, gardening or just enjoying the outdoors, dangerous plants — such as giant hogweed and wild parsnip, among others — can be found in many different parts of the U.S. 

Here’s what to know about different types of herbage that can produce serious burns or, in some cases, lead to blindness or death.

Giant hogweed

giant hogweed dangerous plant England summer

Giant hogweed can grow up to 14 feet tall and has green stems with purple splotches and white hairs.


Not to be confused with cow parsnip, a giant hogweed plant can be identified by its white flowers, which are clustered into an umbrella shape, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The plant, which can grow up to 14 feet tall, has green stems that have “extensive purple splotches and prominent coarse white hairs,” the conservation department says. Giant hogweed also has large, green leaves which are “deeply incised.” The leaves can reach lengths up to 5 feet wide. It is typically found across the U.S. in New England, in mid-Atlantic states and the Northwest.

Beware: Sap from giant hogweed can make skin more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can lead to sunburn.


Painful blisters often form if proper action is not taken after sap touches a person’s bare skin. Injuries from the sap can take weeks, if not longer, to heal — and often leave scarring. The sap can also cause blindness if it gets into the eyes, the New York DEC warns.

If you come into contact with the plant, wash the affected area with soap and cold water, the department suggests, as heat and moisture can make it worse. Stay out of the sunlight and see a doctor if symptoms don’t improve.

Cow parsnip

"Giant Hogweed against an out of focus green field.  No friend to gardeners and conservationists , it is much loved by beekeepers (some of whose flock can be seen hard at work on the flowers). This Canon EOS-1D Mk IV image offers a very generous XL size."

Cow parsnip can be identified by its “white flat-topped flower clusters” and 2.5-foot-wide leaves.


Though similar to giant hogweed, cow parsnip can be identified by the “white flat-topped flower clusters,” according to the New York Department of Conservation. Its leaves are less wide, typically only spanning to 2.5 feet.

Its stems also have white hairs, though they are more fine than those of the giant hogweed plant. Cow parsnip stems are green but do not have purple splotches.

Cow parsnip also has sap that can irritate the skin similar to giant hogweed, though it’s less toxic.

The plant is “very cold-hardy, and is most abundant in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, where it has a long history of use as a food and medicinal plant,” according to the New York DEC, which added that the plant is found mostly everywhere except for the south.

Wild parsnip

Group of wild parsnip plants

Wild parsnip plant can grow up to 5 feet tall and has a green-yellow stem.


Wild parsnip is an invasive species that can cause serious burns and blisters, just like the giant hogweed plant. Both plants contain photosensitizing furanocoumarins, which make the skin more sensitive to the sun.


The wild parsnip plant can grow up to 5 feet tall and has a green-yellow stem. The wild parsnip doesn’t have hair or bristles. Its leaves are “compound, pinnate, 5 to 15 toothed leaflets,” the New York DEC describes, adding the leaves are “variably lobed and yellowish-green.” It can be found throughout the U.S. 

Its flowers — which are flat-topped, umbrella-shaped — are yellow, not white.

Poison hemlock

poison hemlock

Poison hemlock can grow up to 12 feet tall and has small, white flowers in clusters.

 (Minnesota Department of Agriculture)

Found on roadsides, in pastures and ditches, poison hemlock is extremely toxic to both humans and animals, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

If ingested, poison hemlock can cause trembling, salivation, pupil dilation and a rapid, weak pulse before it “eventually leads to coma or death,” according to the MDA.

Poison hemlock can grow up to 12 feet tall and has small, white flowers which “occur in 4 to 8 inch umbrella shaped clusters,” according to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board (NWCB). Its stems are hollow and hairless. Similar to giant hogweed, poison hemlock stems also have purple blotches.

When handling this plant, the Washington State NWCB recommends wearing protective clothing and gloves. The plant is “naturalized in almost every state in the United States,” according to the National Park Service. 

Queen Anne’s lace is often confused for poison hemlock because both plants look similar. However, Queen Anne’s lace, is edible and is related to dill and cilantro, according to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The plant is also sometimes referred to as a wild carrot, and has been used as a contraceptive throughout history.

Queen Anne’s lace can be identified by its white flowers which often have a purple center. Its flower clusters are more spread apart, and the stems do not have any blotches.

Stinging nettle


Stinging nettle can grow up to 8 feet tall and has thin branches and dark green leaves.


Stinging nettle is named appropriately, as its hollow, “stinging hairs” can deliver a painful sensation, similar to that of a bee sting, according to the New York DEC.

The end result is typically a “burning, itching or tingling” feeling for a few hours after coming in contact with the plant. While uncomfortable, the department notes that the stings from this plant is “more of an irritant than an allergic reaction.”


Stinging nettle can grow up to 8 feet tall and has thin branches and dark green leaves. It is mostly found in the eastern part of the country, but has been spotted in Ohio as well, according to Ohio State University.

“The leaves are opposite along the stem. Long clusters of tiny male or female flowers are produced at the base of each pair of leaves. They are usually light green or tan, and are apt to look rather messy and tangled,” according to the New York DEC.

Stinging nettle root and other parts of the plant can be used as a medicine, treating a variety of different types of ailments such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, muscle aches, joint pain and more. It is edible if cooked.

Madeline Farber is a Reporter for Fox News. You can follow her on Twitter @MaddieFarberUDK.

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The Teen-Agers Fighting for Climate Justice

On Saturday, hundreds of teen-agers—loud, pensive, stubbornly determined—marched through Manhattan. They represented a movement that other teen-agers had started, last year, called Zero Hour. They were gravely concerned about politicians doing almost nothing for climate justice, and they had created a list of demands—including, most importantly, achieving negative carbon emissions by 2030. All across the country, other kids were marching, too, with the biggest group in a rainy Washington, D.C., where the movement’s founders led the way down the National Mall, around the Capitol, before ending with a rally in Lincoln Park. In New York, the route wound through midtown, from Columbus Circle to the United Nations headquarters, below some of the luxury skyscrapers that account for only two per cent of New York’s nearly one million buildings but a full half of the city’s emissions.

As the march passed a TGI Fridays, on Seventh Avenue, I talked to Puneet Johal, seventeen, who was at the back of the crowd. She had braces and wore checkered Vans. “I mean, this is our reality,” she said. “Our politicians? They should be embarrassed that they’re not doing anything.” Her friend Benjamin Hu was beside her, wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon kid popping out of a volcano. “People are scared of how difficult the change could be—the trade-off between renewables and non-renewables. Changing their mind-sets is hard. My parents are verbally supportive, but they don’t know what to do. They’re busy with their lives.”

Juhal and Hu are both rising seniors, at Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High School, respectively. Both want to study computer science after they graduate and remembered first learning about climate change in “Arthur” and “The Magic School Bus” cartoons. Their biggest concern is sea-level rise. “Especially because we’re both from Queens,” Johal said. “We live on an island. It’s really scary to think it won’t exist in the future.” (By the end of the next decade, sea-level rise around Queens could be greater than a foot.)

Emmanuel Mendez, a quiet fourteen-year-old with wire-framed glasses and a halo of black curly hair, had never participated in a political march before, and none of his friends had either, but he decided to join after hearing about Zero Hour’s cause. On Saturday, he took a bus to New York from Allentown, Pennsylvania, with a volunteer group that helps kids build bikes. “People keep believing climate change isn’t real,” he said. “It’s just their way of life.” One of his personal concerns is water pollution—he was disturbed by what happened in Flint, Michigan, he said. “Seeing images of coastlines littered with garbage makes me feel disgusting.”

On Forty-eighth Street, a football-field-sized empty lot, scattered with broken bricks, gave view to the steep oxidized spire of a cathedral a block south. A group holding signs (“Youth for the Sanity of Science,” “Stand up Now! Or Drown Later!”) chanted, “Divest! Defund! These fossil fuels have got to go!” A one-year-old named Asher Brody, seated on the shoulders of his father, Noah, stared resolutely forward. I told his mother, Jessie Austrian, that he appeared unusually calm, considering all the commotion. She smiled. “It’s not his first march.”

Nearby, Avery Tsai, an eight-year-old who attends P.S. 325, in Hamilton Heights, held a hand-made sign that read “Mother Nature is Crying.” Her portrait showed Earth in a shower of tears. I couldn’t quite see her T-shirt (it was behind the sign), so I asked her what it read. “I can change the world,” she said, in a tiny, electrifying whisper. (“That’s her activist T-shirt,” her mom, Elizabeth Payne, said, sotto voce.)

Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker
Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker

Around 1 P.M., the march arrived at the United Nations, where Kai Franks, sixteen, was working the megaphone. Their T-shirt read “The Supremes” and had drawings of the four women who have served as Supreme Court Justices. Franks got involved in the march thanks to their friend Sylvana Widman, who runs the Youth Progressive Policy Group, based in Park Slope. Widman, also sixteen, cited the high-school students from Parkland, Florida, as an inspiration. But, for her and her friends, the most motivating factor is, simply, “growing up in this time period.” Her group is lobbying the New York State Assembly to pass a bill (sponsored by the assemblyman Bobby Carroll) that would lower the statewide voting age to seventeen, mandate that every high school offer a civics course, and register students (who don’t opt out) to vote. Standing under a nearby birch tree were the lead authors of the bill, Eli Frankel, seventeen, and Chris Stauffer, eighteen. I asked how long it took them to write it. “One night,” Stauffer said. “Well, it was a two-week process,” Frankel said. “But then we wrote it in a night,” Stauffer repeated. They pointed out that other groups run by kids are lobbying for similar bills in San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington, D.C. And, they added, two other cities either have, or soon will have, a voting age of sixteen: Takoma Park, Maryland, was the first city in the United States to lower the age, in 2013, and Northampton, Massachusetts, just approved such a measure, although it hasn’t yet made it through the legislative process.

One of the speakers at the post-march rally was Leela Sotsky, who wore a bright-yellow-leather backpack and had long lavender nails. She called out one of her teachers at her high school in Fresh Meadows, Queens, where she will soon be a senior. “It was snowing in April, which is kind of odd,” she said. “He said it was evidence that global warming isn’t real. And I had to talk to him about it, explain that it was not evidence—that weather and climate are not the same.” Sotsky sits on the youth advisory council for the Climate Museum, which organized a large cohort for the march. (The museum runs climate-change programs and exhibits throughout the city, and is in the process of establishing a physical New York home.) She also works at the New York Hall of Science, doing demonstrations on air pressure and other atmospheric phenomenon. “Kids know so much,” she said. “But they don’t always know what to do, or think anyone cares what they say. It’s a little sad—they’re too quiet. So that’s what we’re trying to change, and why I’m here.”

Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker
Photograph by Levi Mandel for The New Yorker

Toward the end of the rally, I met Ilana Cohen, the New York march’s co-head organizer, who was wearing a ponytail and a black T-shirt. “Climate change is the greatest threat of the twenty-first century. Obviously,” she said. “We have the highest per-capita carbon emissions in the world. The way we live our lives is affecting people everywhere.” I asked what scared her the most about the future. “The climate refugee crisis,” she said, before listing an impressive number of statistics off the top of her head—like how there will be an estimated two hundred and fifty million climate-induced refugees by 2050. Cohen, who has been interested in politics since she entered Manhattan’s Beacon High School—(“participatory budgeting is my main issue,” she said, straight-faced)—started organizing in May, right before she graduated. She was inspired by an environmental-politics class, “taught by Bayard Faithfull, who’s right there,” she said, pointing at a grinning man nearby.

I walked over to Faithfull, who was wearing an orange “volunteer marshall” T-shirt. He told me that his class studied the history of environmental negotiations, nationally and internationally. The challenge, he said, was “not depressing kids with the facts, because they’re startling and scary.” But at least six of his students were at the march. For him, that showed a “real balance” between “a pessimism of the mind and an optimism of will.”

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Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII’s personal items up for auction

Personal items including a Cartier watch and an ornate gold pencil holder that once belonged to Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII are up for auction in the U.K. on Saturday.

The artifacts offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of the controversial couple. The king abdicated the British throne in 1936 in order to marry Simpson, an American divorcee. The couple subsequently became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The items were initially sold at a Sotheby’s auction titled “Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor” in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1987, the year after Simpson’s death.


An onyx Cartier pocket watch that was given to the king in Easter 1936 during his brief 236-day reign is part of Saturday’s auction by Henry Aldridge & Son. “It’s a tangible gift from the most controversial love story of the 20th century,” explained auctioneer Andrew Aldridge.


The gold hallmarked pencil holder that once belonged to Wallis Simpson (Henry Aldridge & Son)

The watch, which comes with a suede Cartier pouchette, has a pre-sale estimate of $32,826 to $39,391.

An 18 ct. gold hallmarked pencil holder and a gold pocket magnifying glass engraved with the letter “E” are also up for auction. The items each have a pre-sale estimate of $6,565 to $9,191.


Saturday’s auction at Devizes in Wiltshire also includes never-before-seen wartime pictures of Winston Churchill.


The onyx Cartier watch (Henry Aldridge & Son)

The two photos of Churchill are part of a fascinating album of photographs taken by George Lee, who was serving in the Royal Air Force. In the photos, the British Prime Minister can be seen with troops at Airfield B3, which was only about 3 miles from Gold Beach, one of the five D-Day landing sites.

The pictures were taken on July 23, 1944, just a few weeks after D-Day, which was on June 6, 1944.

The lot has a pre-sale estimate of $5,287 to $7,930.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Spiky Utah dinosaur had more than ‘a face only a mother could love’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With its head and snout covered in bony armor shaped like cones and pyramids, a spiky tank-like dinosaur unearthed in southern Utah was not just another pretty face.

A life reconstruction of the head of the new armored dinosaur Akainacephalus johnsoni, which lived 76 million years ago in Utah, U.S. is seen in this image provided July 19, 2018. Andrey Atuchin/Handout via REUTERS

Scientists on Thursday announced the discovery of fossils of a dinosaur named Akainacephalus johnsoni that lived 76 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. It was a four-legged, armor-studded plant-eater with a menacing club at the end of its tail.

It was a member of a dinosaur group called ankylosaurs, among the most heavily armored animals ever on Earth – and for good reason, considering the predators around at the time.

The unique shape and arrangement of its head and snout armor may be its most intriguing trait, the researchers said, giving clues about the Asian ancestry of some of the ankylosaurs that roamed western North America near the end of the dinosaur era.

“Someone once told me that Akainacephalus, and ankylosaurs in general, were quite ugly and had a face only a mother could love. I must say that I wholeheartedly disagree. These are quite extraordinary and beautiful animals,” said paleontologist Jelle Wiersma of James Cook University in Australia.

A life reconstruction of the newly discovered Cretaceous Period armored dinosaur Akainacephalus johnsoni, which lived 76 million years ago in Utah, surrounded by the crocodilian Denazinosuchus is seen in this image provided July 19, 2018. Andrey Atuchin/Denver Museum of Nature & Science/Handout via REUTERS

Akainacephalus was a medium-sized ankylosaur, about 16 feet (5 meters) long, with a short boxy head covered in bony armor and a beak and small teeth for cropping vegetation, said paleontologist Randall Irmis of the Natural History Museum of Utah and the University of Utah.

It had a short neck and wide torso, walked on four short stout legs, and may have whacked predators with its bony tail club. It inhabited a warm, humid environment similar to southern Louisiana’s bayous, with slow-moving streams and rivers and associated swamps. The largest predators were the 30-foot-long (9-meter-long) Tyrannosaurus rex cousin Teratophoneus and 42-foot-long (13-meter-long) crocodilian Deinosuchus.

The extensive skeletal remains, including a complete skull, were excavated in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Akainacephalus, as well as a cousin called Nodocephalosaurus that lived in New Mexico a couple million years later, possessed spiky head armor similar to Asian members of this dinosaur group. Other related North American dinosaurs such as Ankylosaurus had relatively flat armor covering the head.

This indicates Akainacephalus and Nodocephalosaurus wereclose kin to Asian ankylosaurs and that multiple emigrationevents involving this group occurred from Asia to North Americalate in the Cretaceous Period, the researchers said. This resulted in two distinct lineages in North America of club-tailed ankylosaurs.

The research was published in the scientific journal PeerJ.

Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler

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The G.O.P. Stands By as Trump Upends American Security

Fifty years ago, America was in agony. Its unity at home, and its standing abroad, were deteriorating. Today, the country again faces a profound political crisis, and the summer of 1968 is instructive. One party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress, as was the case then, when Lyndon Johnson was President. But this crisis differs in a fundamental way: fifty years ago, the President’s party had the will to respond. On April 4th, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot dead in Memphis, and riots erupted in a hundred cities. The next day, Johnson wrote to House Speaker John W. McCormack, a Massachusetts Democrat, imploring Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act, saying, “When the Nation so urgently needs the healing balm of unity, a brutal wound on our conscience forces upon us all this question: What more can I do to achieve brotherhood and equality among all Americans?” The act passed, over a Southern filibuster, on April 10th, the day after King’s funeral.

But Democrats did not shy from using their checks and balances against Johnson. The Tet Offensive, launched in January of that year, undermined the Administration’s claim that it was winning the war in Vietnam. Senator J. William Fulbright, of Arkansas, had previously concluded that escalation was folly, and had privately tried to change Johnson’s mind. When that failed, he invoked the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to advise and consent, and, in 1966, convened a series of unprecedented public hearings on the handling of the war. By the following year, most Americans disapproved of it, and Senator Eugene McCarthy, of Minnesota, entered the race against a sitting President of his own party, arguing that duty called on him to challenge policies of “questionable legality and questionable constitutionality.”

This summer, President Donald Trump has upended the basis of American security—opening a trade war with China, chastising U.S. allies in Europe, and, at a press conference in Helsinki, following a two-hour private meeting with President Vladimir Putin, accepting his claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election. The Times reported that U.S. intelligence officials had presented Trump with evidence that Putin himself had ordered cyberattacks in an attempt to affect the electoral outcome. Just days before the Helsinki meeting, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, indicted a dozen Russian intelligence officers on detailed charges of hacking Democratic e-mail accounts. In a separate case, prosecutors also accused a Russian woman in Washington, Mariia Butina, of advancing a plot to influence the National Rifle Association. (Her lawyer has denied the charges.) And still Trump praised the Russian leader.

The outcry, including from Republicans, was instant. Senator John McCain said, “No prior President has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.” McCain’s junior colleague from Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake, called Trump’s behavior “shameful.” For the rest of the week, the President’s allies tried to signal their independence. Asked if Trump had been wise to meet one on one with Putin, Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, said, “I would have suggested a different way.” The Senate, in a rare act of unity, passed a nonbinding resolution against Putin’s request to interrogate American officials, a proposition that Trump had entertained but finally rejected.

More remarkable, though, was what didn’t happen. No one resigned from the Cabinet. No Republican senators took concrete steps to restrain or contain or censure the President. Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton University, noted that, fifty years ago, “you had elected officials, including the President, who were fundamentally committed to governance. They weren’t dismissive of the operation. They were cautious in how they did things because they understood the stakes of what elected officials do. None of that is true right now.”

The pattern is already visible for the historians of tomorrow. When Trump hailed neo-Nazis in Charlottesville as “very fine people,” when he endorsed an accused child molester for the Senate, when he separated children from their parents at the Mexican border, the Republican Party, by and large, accepted it. And, when Coats said, of Russian cyberattacks, that “warning lights are blinking red again,” the Party did not pressure the President to mount a defense. Meanwhile, Trump returned from Helsinki and resumed berating fellow-Americans, especially the press (“the real enemy of the people”). On Thursday, it was announced that he had invited Putin to visit Washington in the fall—an invitation that Coats learned of from an interviewer.

If Republicans decide to truly put country ahead of party, as the Democrats did in 1968, they have several options. They could halt the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, until Trump strengthens safeguards against election hackers and embraces the investigation into Russian interference. (Bob Corker, of Tennessee, who is departing the Senate next year, called that idea a non-starter. “I like the Supreme Court nominee,” he told reporters. “So what the heck?”) They could vote down nominees to lower courts, or threaten to switch parties. At a minimum, they could hold public hearings, like Fulbright’s, to examine Trump’s actions on trade, or NATO, or Russia. Most immediately, they could pass a law to prevent the President from firing Robert Mueller; in April, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill with that intent, with four Republicans joining the Democratic members, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked it. The privilege of power carries the moral duty to use it.

In private, some Republican lawmakers offer a plainly expedient defense: they disdain the President, but, as long as he is popular with more than ninety per cent of the Party rank and file, confronting him would open the door to primary challenges from even more compliant successors. In truth, however, many Republicans are more comfortable with Trump than they care to admit. Although they recoiled from images of children in cages at the border, the G.O.P. leaders assented to Trump’s immigration crackdown, as they have to his tariffs and attacks on Canada, Mexico, and our European allies. Until that changes, this is the Republican Party of 2018.

In moments of American agony, we look for comfort in the legends of our resilience. In 1968, we found the will to govern, to unite, and to check a President who had lost his way. This is another moment for political courage. It lacks only someone to seize it. ♦

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Dozens of raccoons die from viral ‘zombie’ outbreak in New York’s Central Park

More than two dozen Central Park raccoons have died in an ongoing viral outbreak that causes “zombie” behavior in the critters, authorities determined.

Of 26 raccoons found dead inside the park since June 24, two tested positive for the canine distemper virus, which doesn’t affect humans but can spread to unvaccinated dogs, officials with the city Health and Parks departments revealed on Saturday. The other 24 are believed to be infected by distemper because their deaths were clustered in such a short time and area.

The latest raccoon corpse was found at East 106th Street and East Drive on Saturday morning.

Parks staff also have witnessed distemper symptoms in living raccoons. “They looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms,” said Dr. Sally Slavinski, an assistant director at the Health Department. “Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge.”

Raccoons with distemper act strange — appearing tame or confused before losing their coordination, becoming unconscious and sometimes dying. They can also get aggressive.


None of the raccoons have tested positive for rabies so far. Once authorities ruled out that deadly virus, they sent samples from two dead raccoons to a state lab. The city found out Friday that they were dealing with distemper.

Masha, a female raccoon, yawns in her wooden refuge inside an open-air cage where she hibernates at the Royev Ruchey zoo in Krasnoyarsk, November 20, 2013. Many animals in the zoo are having difficulties hibernating due to unusually warm temperatures, employees of the zoo said.  REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin (RUSSIA - Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY) - GM1E9BK1NQK01

Raccoons with distemper can also get aggressive, according to health officials.


While officials stressed humans can’t contract the disease, dog owners in Central Park were alarmed Saturday when told of the outbreak.

“Now I’m freaked out. Holy moly!” said Upper East Sider Bob Cucurullo, 40, with his beagle terrier Charlie. “He sees a raccoon once a week, and he goes nuts after it. Now I’ll have to be careful where I let him go.”

Read more from The New York Post.

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The Painstaking Hunt for War Criminals in the United States

A few years ago, Mike MacQueen, a historian working for the Department of Homeland Security, was at his desk combing through decades-old Bosnian military records, in search of war criminals who had eluded justice. The documents listed the names of top officer in a batallion implicated in the massacre of at least a thousand Muslim prisoners at a schoolhouse and dam in eastern Bosnia, in 1995. He noticed that the name of one Bosnian Serb officer kept showing up in the logs: Ilija Josipović.

MacQueen had turned himself into an unlikely expert on the bloodshed that unfolded in the Balkans two decades ago, mastering the Serbo-Croatian language, making two dozen trips to the region, and becoming so well schooled in the carnage that Bosnian prosecutors had flown him over repeatedly to testify at war-crimes trials. He had familiarized himself with the tough-to-pronounce names of many of the key figures involved in the atrocities, but he had never come across Josipović (pronounced yoh-SIP-oh-vitch). He made a note to himself to find out what happened to the Serb officer.

MacQueen, who is sixty-eight, has spent the last three decades tracking down war criminals—from Nazis to Bosnians—who have been hiding in the United States. His role, first with the Justice Department and then with Immigration and Customs Enforcement , has been to find offenders who made it into America disguised as refugees. His official title is senior historian, but MacQueen’s job description is more akin to that of a police detective.

His obsession with war crimes has taken him overseas to interview survivors or obtain documents from authorities in Bosnia, Croatia, and Lithuania. Sometimes, it has meant knocking on the doors of unwitting suspects in the United States. But on many days, it has meant simply sitting in his office, not far from the Capitol, and examining one document after another from some three hundred thousand pages of records about the conflict that he has gathered.

It can be tedious work, MacQueen told me. A tiny phonetic mistake in a foreign dialect can imperil a case. MacQueen’s other preoccupation is building race cars. He uses the same detached precision to describe how he pieces together war-crimes cases as he does when explaining how he rebuilt an engine that blew out on his MG Midget during a recent race in West Virginia. Acts of mass killing can sound almost mundane as he recounts zeroing in on a suspected war criminal. “I guess it’s the banality of investigating evil,” he told me, a variation of Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase.

After finding Josipović’s name in the logs that day, MacQueen set out to learn what Josipović did during the war. Records listed him as an officer in an important logistics role at a time when the Bosnian-Serb Army, or V.R.S., was murdering eight thousand Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, in what would become Europe’s worst genocide since the Second World War. He didn’t appear to be a low-level triggerman but, rather, an officer who rose in rank and gained responsibility as the violence grew. Where Josipović lived now was unclear. MacQueen knew that someone with his record should not have been able to get into the United States. But he also knew that the immigration system in the late nineties had allowed hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Bosnian wartime offenders to enter America amid a mass influx of about a hundred and twenty thousand Bosnian refugees. As a precaution, MacQueen searched for Josipović’s name in ICE’s databases. A hit soon came back—from Akron, Ohio. “Josipović had fallen through the cracks,” MacQueen told me. He realized that one of the highest-ranking Bosnian war-crimes suspects he had ever identified had been living quietly in the United States since 2003.

Federal agents with “ICE” emblazoned on their jackets, conducting workplace raids and taking undocumented immigrants into custody, have become a notorious sight under President Trump. But investigators at a separate ICE unit, where MacQueen works, who are largely removed from the raging immigration debate, have carried out a much less visible mission during the past nine years, targeting human-rights offenders who came to America from dozens of countries.

The immigration group, officially known as the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit, currently has more than a hundred and thirty-five active investigations of suspected foreign offenders now thought to be living in the United States, officials said. In April, the unit’s investigation into a Liberian warlord living outside of Philadelphia, who had been implicated in murders, rapes, and enslavement in his native country in the nineties, resulted in a thirty-year prison sentence for immigration fraud and perjury—the longest criminal sentence in the team’s history.

Most of MacQueen’s cases have involved Bosnian Serbs, the group blamed for the bulk of the ethnic violence during the war, but his unit has also moved to jail or deport a number of Bosnian Croats and Muslims who were also accused of brutal sectarian violence in what MacQueen described as “a war of all against all.” He says more than fifty of the Bosnian immigrants he investigated have been forced out of the country. (Many cases have not become public, because they came in sealed immigration proceedings.) In January, after thirty years in the federal government, MacQueen officially retired, but ICE asked him to stay on for another five years as a private contractor, because his work on the Balkan front was “invaluable,” Lisa Koven, the chief of ICE’s human-rights law section, said.

MacQueen is determined to continue working on the investigations of the suspects he has already identified, and help prosecutors prepare to take them to court. His aim is to finish what he began and get as many war criminals as he can forced out of the country. “I don’t really need the money,” he said.

A native New Yorker, MacQueen comes across as soft-spoken and stoic, with a wry sense of humor, but he admits to losing his temper with suspects whom he believes are lying to him. In an angry confrontation a few years ago with a Bosnian woman in Wisconsin who concealed her involvement with a Serbian military unit, he used a vulgar sexual expression in Serbo-Croatian to show what he thought of her claims of innocence. A judge “gave me a little talking to,” MacQueen said. “I have a stunning lack of sympathy for anyone with an unclean record. They can go fuck themselves.”

I first interviewed MacQueen five years ago, about his earlier work in hunting Nazis. I was writing a book about the thousands of Nazi war criminals who came to America after the Second World War, and a source mentioned MacQueen’s role in breaking a critical case, in 1994, when he was at the Justice Department. For years, prosecutors suspected that a Lithuanian immigrant and naturalized American citizen in Massachusetts named Aleksandras Lileikis, who had led a special police force in Vilnius during the war, was a top Nazi collaborator who ordered the roundup of Lithuanian Jews in the nineteen-forties and turned them over to the Nazis for execution. But the Justice Department couldn’t prove it, and Lileikis denied any role in the massacres. “Show me something that I signed,” Lileikis had dared a prosecutor who showed up at his door, in Boston, in 1983.

The case languished for a decade, until MacQueen went to Lithuania to examine dog-eared Nazi records that had become available to Americans after the fall of the Soviet Union.

MacQueen scoured the Lithuanian archives for days without success. Finally, he found a canvas-bound book with the names of nearly twenty-nine hundred wartime prisoners held in Vilnius typed in Russian. (MacQueen speaks six languages, including Russian, which he brushes up on by watching “The Americans,” on FX.) The logs listed hundreds of Jews, many of them children, who were jailed, turned over to the Nazis, marched to an excavation site six miles away, and methodically gunned down. In all, some sixty thousand Lithuanian Jews were massacred. In thick black ink at the bottom of an arrest order, MacQueen finally spotted the signature: Aleksandras Lileikis, chief of the special security police in Vilnius. Then he found twenty more signatures just like it.

Lileikis was ultimately stripped of his citizenship and returned to Lithuania, in 1996, where he died awaiting trial for war crimes. MacQueen considers this one of the most important achievements of his career. For years, he kept on his bulletin board in his office the Nazis’ neatly typed “execution cards” for two of the Lithuanian victims—a six-year-old Jewish girl named Fruma Kaplan and her mother. Lileikis’s men had jailed them after they were found hiding in a Catholic family’s home. Below Fruma’s name on the card was the local Nazi euphemism for what befell her and tens of thousands of others: Befehlsgemass behandelt—“treated according to orders.” MacQueen rarely displays much emotion over his investigations, but he had nightmares for years over victims like Fruma. “If you have any human sensibility, it sticks,” he told me.

MacQueen switched to Bosnian crimes in 2004. “The Nazis were all dying,” he said, and a generation of Balkan suspects was beginning to surface in the United States. In both eras, holes in America’s immigration system allowed offenders into the country based on little more than their word about what they did during the war. “We didn’t learn our lesson” after thousands of Nazis got into the United States after the war, MacQueen said. “That the whole situation was allowed to repeat itself in Bosnia was historical amnesia.”

On July 11, 1995, Srebrenica, a predominantly Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia that had been declared a United Nations protected safe area, fell to Bosnian Serb forces after U.N. and NATO forces did little to save it. Thousands of Bosnian Muslim men were bused to schools, warehouses, and other buildings that served as makeshift prisons. In the nearby village of Petkovci, soldiers from the 6th Infantry Battalion of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Zvornick Brigade herded more than a thousand Muslim men into hot, crowded classrooms. With no food or water, some prisoners “became so thirsty they resorted to drinking their own urine,” according to the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Shouting “Long live Serbia, Srebrenica is Serbian,” the soldiers shot some prisoners to death outside the school, the tribunal found, then took the rest to a nearby dam and executed them, burying them in mass graves.

All told, the U.N. tribunal has implicated the 6th Infantry Battalion in the murders of more than a thousand Muslims from Srebrenica, at the school and elsewhere. Using Bosnian documents and U.S. government records, MacQueen managed to identify a handful of Balkan immigrants in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and elsewhere who served in the notorious unit. In 2014, he began focussing on Josipović. “I just kept finding more and more stuff on this guy,” he told me. The other 6th Battalion members he had found living in the United States were lower-level soldiers, but the logs placed Josipović several rungs above them, with a rank of company commander and the role of the chief logistics officer for the battalion in mid-1995. Piecing together the Bosnian Serb personnel records from 1992 to 1995, he was able to track Josipović’s whereabouts in those years, his promotions in rank, and, most important, his senior role at the 6th Battalion headquarters in July, 1995, in Petkovci, at the time of the killings of the Muslims from Srebrenica. There were no eyewitness accounts of Josipović’s role, but MacQueen found documents that showed he had significant responsibility for a range of operations, including summoning the trucks needed to shuttle prisoners to the execution site and dispatching personnel to clean up the blood and waste from the school. Josipović “was at the hub of the machine,” MacQueen told me. “He was a key functionary without whom mass-murder operations could not be carried out.” A former prosecutor in Bosnia, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Josipović as a “medium to big fish” in the Petkovci operation.

In 2003, Josipović settled in the United States. On the surface, his life looked like that of many other Bosnian refugees. He was married, with three children. He spoke spotty English, but held a steady factory job. He had a house and a mortgage in a blue-collar area of Akron near a local diner. He’d received a few traffic tickets but had no major run-ins with the law.

In 2012, Bosnian officials asked the U.S. government to interview Josipović, because they thought he might have information that could help in their investigation into the 6th Battalion’s top commander, Ostoja Stanišić. F.B.I. agents questioned Josipović in Akron—not as a suspect but as a possible witness. He told them that he hadn’t served in the battalion and knew nothing about the commander. Two years later, MacQueen began his own investigation and learned about the F.B.I. interview. He was frustrated to read in the F.B.I.’s report just how easily Josipović had evaded scrutiny. Josipović “blew smoke” and “Bureau agents wrote it all down,” MacQueen said. The F.B.I. declined to comment on the case.

In September, 2014, MacQueen obtained a search warrant and, accompanied by four immigration agents, knocked on Josipović’s door. After the visitors showed Josipović their credentials, Josipović became agitated, but he agreed to answer some questions, MacQueen said. The conversation started civilly, in English, but he began cursing in Serbo-Bosnian as questions turned to the war.

Josipović again denied serving in the military. MacQueen brought out the records showing Josipović’s name, rank, and identification number. “How do you square what you’re telling me with this?” he recalled asking. Josipović got his eyeglasses and began reading. He declared the records a forgery. “I don’t know who made this document,” MacQueen recalled him saying. It had been authenticated, MacQueen told him. Josipović’s story shifted. He had served in the 6th Battalion, he admitted, but he wasn’t in Pekovci. He had “granted himself leave,” he said, and was visiting relatives across the river in Serbia. MacQueen didn’t believe him. The bloodletting at Petkovci involved the entire unit, and Josipović’s name was in the officer staffing logs. MacQueen finally left, convinced that Josipović had been lying to American officials for more than a decade.

For two years, Josipović’s case was stalled owing to a backlog of immigration cases. Photos that Josipović posted on Facebook during that time show him smiling, his graying hair cropped short, as he posed with his children at a family wedding and at a graduation ceremony for his daughter with balloons in hand. Early last year, things changed. Federal prosecutors in Ohio charged Josipović with immigration fraud, and, three weeks later, just days after his sixtieth birthday, he walked into the federal courthouse in Akron. He had decided to plead guilty, which meant near-certain deportation. His wife, who came from Bosnia with him, had died of cancer two months earlier, and he was eager to take a deal rather than face more serious war-crimes charges. “I figured it was the easiest route to go,” he told the judge through a translator, before admitting he had concealed his military service with the Bosnian Serbs.

Prosecutors wanted the sure thing, as well. “This was someone we wanted to get out of the United States as soon as possible,” Jason Katz, the federal prosecutor who brought the case with MacQueen’s help, told me.

A deportation order came three months later. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland put out a short press release, picked up by a few media outlets in Ohio, that said Josipović was being deported “for failing to disclose his involvement in a military unit engaged in war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.” The statement made no mention of his role as a ranking officer in the 6th Battalion or the unit’s involvement in the Srebrenica massacre.

ICE agents put Josipović on a plane back to Bosnia last summer. Boro Josipović, his thirty-one-year-old son, told me that it was “heartbreaking” for him and his two sisters, who all remained in Ohio, to see their father deported after fourteen years in America. His father had no real choice but to conceal his military service from U.S. immigration officials in his application papers, Boro maintained, or he and his wife and three children would never have been let into the country. “He just basically wanted to provide a better life for his family,” Boro said. “It was a civil war. From what I knew, he was just a regular officer.”

Josipović has been living with a cousin in Zvornik since his deportation, Boro said. I asked to speak to the elder Josipović, but Boro declined several requests to put me in touch with him directly and said his father was uninterested in being interviewed. His health has not been good, Boro told me, and “he doesn’t feel like talking about it.” Asked whether he thought his father was involved in war crimes, Boro Josipović said he did not really know. He has heard accounts of the Srebrenica killings, he said, ‘‘but there’s so many different stories. I really don’t know what happened. God only knows.’’Bosnian authorities had told MacQueen that they would consider prosecuting Josipović on war-crimes charges.

MacQueen was hopeful but not confident. Over the years, he had seen many suspects—both Nazis and Bosnians—escape the punishment he thought they deserved, and human-rights advocates have long complained of uneven justice for Balkan war criminals. The U.N. war-crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which closed last December, after twenty-four years, brought charges against a hundred and sixty-one high-level offenders, including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, who died while on trial; the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, the so-called Butcher of Bosnia, who oversaw the Srebrenica massacres; and the Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak, who killed himself in court last year by drinking a vial of poison seconds after his sentence was affirmed.

But justice has been more erratic in the cases that have been brought before the Bosnian state court. MacQueen testified as an expert in state court in the joint trial of Stanišić, the 6th Battalion commander, and his top deputy, Marko Milošević (no relation to Slobodan), for crimes of genocide in the killings of hundreds of Muslims at the dam in Petkovci. Stanišić was found guilty and imprisoned, but his deputy was acquitted because of what the court called a lack of evidence.

Trying accused war criminals remains politically contentious in Bosnia two decades after the conflict. The Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has called for a referendum to reject the authority of the court, saying it is biased against Serbs. The court has an enormous backlog and hopes to resolve five hundred and fifty war-crimes cases involving more than forty-five hundred perpetrators by 2023. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors war-crimes trials in Bosnia, has observed a dramatic decrease in conviction rates in the state court in the past few years. A 2016 report by the group found that “many potential witnesses have died or emigrated” and acknowledged that it would be impossible to try every perpetrator: “The conflict in BiH lasted for over three years. Innumerable crimes were committed by innumerable people. Available resources render it impossible to prosecute all those who committed crimes.”

MacQueen told me that an ongoing “culture of silence” in Bosnia discourages eyewitnesses and victims from testifying and made it difficult to get convictions. In the case of Josipović, a Bosnian prosecutor “reviewed the available evidence” and “issued an order not to initiate an investigation,” Boris Grubešić, a spokesman for the Bosnian state prosecutor’s office, told me. That will stand, he said, “unless we find some additional and sufficient evidence.”

Free for now from the threat of prosecution, Josipović has been trying to find work in Zvornik, without success, Boro said. Father and son talk on Skype when they can. MacQueen had heard nothing about Josipović for months after his deportation and didn’t know about Bosnia’s decision not to initiate an investigation. He expressed disappointment but was not altogether surprised. MacQueen’s main goal—getting Josipović deported—was accomplished. “We got done what we could do,” he said. “He’ll never be coming back.”

Valerie Hopkins contributed reporting to this article.

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