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Negotiators Announce Tentative Deal on Government-Wide Spending Bill to Avoid Federal Shutdown

12 December, by Andrew Taylor / AP[ —]

(WASHINGTON) — Senior lawmakers announced a tentative agreement Thursday on an almost $1.4 trillion government-wide spending bill that would stave off a federal shutdown next weekend and split the differences on a number of contentious issues.

The handshake agreement was announced by the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and other top members of Congress.

“There’s a meeting of the minds,” Lowey said.

Details of the agreement were not announced and processing the sweeping measure is sure to take a few days. But it would award President Donald Trump with about $1.4 billion in additional money for the U.S.-Mexico border wall while giving the Democrats who control the House a number of their priorities such as expanded Head Start and early childhood education.

The measure is likely to pass the House next week just before the House votes on impeaching Trump. A Senate vote is expected before a temporary spending bill expires next Friday at midnight.

“We decided that the decisions would be made today,” said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas. “We said, ‘It’s time to get this thing done.'”

At issue are 12 annual spending bill that fund the day-to-day operations of federal agencies. The appropriations package fills in the long-overdue details of this summer’s budget and debt pact, which offered boosts to both the Pentagon and domestic agencies instead of the sharp across-the-board spending cuts required under a now-defunct 2011 budget agreement.

Trump’s top priority is to guarantee additional dollars for border fencing and other barriers. The White House has insisted that Trump retain authority so he can transfer money from Department of Homeland Security and Pentagon accounts to border barrier construction. That promises to ease the sting of seeing his $8 billion-plus border request cut way back.

Liberal Democrats and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus probably will be disappointed in the split-the-differences outcome. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met with the Hispanic lawmakers on Wednesday.

“Our top concern is that the president doesn’t misappropriate funds to fund a wall and continue to fund ICE and CBP,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

It was obvious to negotiators, however, that essentially maintaining the status quo on border issues was the common denominator option, given the current balance of power in Washington. The same held for several Democratic-drafted provisions related to abortion that were also dropped.


Trump Signs Off on Trade Deal With China to Avert December Tariffs

12 December, by Jenny Leonard, Shawn Donnan, Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs / Bloomberg[ —]

President Donald Trump signed off on a so-called phase-one trade deal with China, averting the Dec. 15 introduction of a new wave of U.S. tariffs on about $160 billion of consumer goods from the Asian nation, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal presented to Trump by trade advisers Thursday included a promise by the Chinese to buy more U.S. agricultural goods, according to the people. Officials also discussed possible reductions of existing duties on Chinese products, they said. The terms have been agreed but the legal text has not yet been finalized, the people said. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

The administration has reached out to allies on Capitol Hill and in the business community to issue statements of support once the announcement is made, they said.

U.S. stocks rose to records earlier Thursday as optimism grew that there would be a deal. Trump tweeted that the U.S. and China are “VERY close” to signing a “BIG” trade deal, also sending equities higher.

“They want it, and so do we!” he tweeted five minutes after equity markets opened in New York, sending stocks to new records.

Trump has rejected deals with China before. Negotiators have been working on the terms of the phase-one deal for months after the president announced in October that the two nations had reached an agreement that could be put on paper within weeks.

The U.S. has added a 25% duty on about $250 billion of Chinese products and a 15% levy on another $110 billion of its imports over the course of a roughly 20-month trade war. Discussions now are focused on reducing those rates by as much as half, as part of the interim agreement Trump announced almost nine weeks ago.

In addition to a significant increase in Chinese agricultural purchases in exchange for tariff relief, officials have also said a phase-one pact would include Chinese commitments to do more to stop intellectual-property theft and an agreement by both sides not to manipulate their currencies.

Put off for later discussions are knotty issues such as longstanding U.S. complaints over the vast web of subsidies ranging from cheap electricity to low-cost loans that China has used to build its industrial might.

Officials from the world’s two biggest economies have been locked in negotiations on the phase-one deal since Trump announced it.

The new duties, which were scheduled to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Washington time on Sunday unless the administration says otherwise, would hit consumer goods from China including smartphones and toys.

Before today, Trump’s advisers have sent conflicting signals and stressed that he hadn’t made up his mind on the next steps. Advocates of delaying the tariff increase have argued that continued negotiations with Beijing will enable him to maintain a tough line with China without inflicting the economic damage that more import taxes might bring.

The decision facing Trump highlights one dilemma he confronts going into the 2020 election: Whether to bet on an escalation of hostilities with China and the tariffs he is so fond of or to follow the advice of more market-oriented advisers and business leaders who argue a pause in the escalation would help a slowing U.S. economy bounce back in an election year.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say…

“The outcome of U.S.-China trade talks will be a key determinant of the trajectory for 2020 growth. At one extreme, a deal that takes tariffs back to May 2019 levels, and provides certainty that the truce will hold, could deliver a 0.6% boost to global GDP. At the other, a breakdown in talks would mean the trade drag extends into the year ahead.”
–Tom Orlik, chief economist
For the full report, click here

Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative leading the negotiations with China, is in a camp that sees progress in talks and wants them to continue without further escalation, according to people familiar with the discussions. That would set up a push to conclude the talks in January, possibly before a State of the Union address to Congress by Trump.

–– With assistance from Justin Sink, Vince Golle and Jennifer Jacobs.


MLB to Start Testing for Opioids and Cocaine, Removes Marijuana From Drug Abuse List

12 December, by Ronald Blum / AP[ —]

(SAN DIEGO) — Major League Baseball will start testing for opioids and cocaine, but only players who do not cooperate with their treatment plans will be subject to discipline.

Marijuana will be removed from the list of drugs of abuse and will be treated the same as alcohol as part of changes announced Thursday to the joint drug agreement between MLB and the players’ association. In addition, suspensions for marijuana use will be dropped from the minor league drug program.

Opioids are classified as a drug of abuse under the joint big league program, which began in late 2002 and until now has limited testing to performance-enhancing substances and banned stimulants.

Talks to add testing for opioids began following the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who was found dead in his hotel room in the Dallas area July 1 before the start of a series against the Texas. A medical examiner’s office said the 27-year-old died after choking on his vomit with a toxic mix of alcohol and the painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his body.

“Players from our side of the equation recognize that there was an opportunity to take a leadership role here in this discussion,” union head Tony Clark said. “Players aren’t immune to issues that affect all of us, and so the situation this year only heightened that, brought it even closer to home.”

Clark said the extent of opioids use among players is “difficult to gauge” and the union concluded there “wasn’t necessarily a need to take a census as much as there was taking a leadership role in the conversation.”

“I’m just thankful that the players union and MLB were able to address a serious issue in our nation that doesn’t have any boundaries and crosses lines into sport and work together for the betterment of our players,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “It shows a lot of human touch on the powers that be and I’m thankful for it.”

Under the changes, MLB will test for opioids, Fentanyl, cocaine, and synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Players who test positive will be referred to the treatment board established under the agreement.

“It is our collective hope that this agreement will help raise public awareness on the risks and dangers of opioid medications,” deputy baseball commissioner Dan Halem said.

Until now, big league players referred to the treatment board who failed to comply with their treatment plan for use or possession of marijuana, hashish or synthetic THC had been subject to fines of up to $35,000 per violation. Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related issues, and players generally referred to mandatory evaluation and voluntary treatment.

Players and team staff will have to attend mandatory educational programs in 2020 and 2021 on the dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana.

Moves by some states to legalize marijuana use factored into the change.

“It was a part of a larger conversation that was reflective of the attitudes changing in many parts of the country,” Clark said.

Players subject to the minor league testing program, who are not on 40-man rosters and not covered by the union, were suspended until now for a second or subsequent positive marijuana test. Halem said the big league and minor league programs will treat marijuana use the same way going forward.

“The minor league program obviously affects a number of our PA members every year because we have a number of guys who sign major league contracts, then wind up finding themselves removed from the 40-man roster during the course of the year,” Clark said. “So this was something that, again, as part of the discussion for the overarching baseball player community, was important.”


Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party Is on Course For Landmark Victory In U.K. Election, Exit Poll Says

12 December, by Billy Perrigo[ —]

Boris Johnson is on course for an emphatic victory in the U.K. election held Thursday, after the BBC’s exit poll showed the Prime Minister’s Conservative Party would win 368 seats in Parliament, with a large majority of approximately 86, and a mandate to fulfil its campaign pledge of “Getting Brexit Done.”

If borne out when votes are counted, the result would be the Conservative Party’s biggest majority since the days of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

The exit poll predicts a dismal result for the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn, giving them just 191 seats compared to 262 in 2017, the opposition party’s worst result since 1935.

The result, however, could change as votes are counted in 650 seats around the country as the night goes on. Most seats are expected to be confirmed by around 6 a.m. local time, or 1 a.m. eastern.

The exit poll, commissioned this year by the BBC, ITV and Sky News, was released as the clock struck 10 p.m. local time, when polling stations close. It tends to give an accurate picture of the election result because it asks people how they actually voted after they have done so. The exit poll has predicted the correct result (though not always the correct exact seat count) in every U.K. election since 1992.

The result of Thursday’s exit poll suggests the paralysis in British politics over Brexit is set to come to an end.

It means Johnson is almost certainly going to be able to deliver on his pledge to take Britain out of the European Union by January 31 or sooner, and enter the next stage of Brexit negotiations, on trade, which would formalize the divorce.

What are the results of the exit poll?

The BBC exit poll shows:

The Conservatives winning 368 seats

The Labour Party winning 191 seats

The Scottish National Party winning 55 seats

The Liberal Democrats winning 13 seats

The Brexit Party winning zero seats

How many seats are needed for a majority?

The number of seats needed to form a majority government is 320, according to the Institute for Government. (This is slightly less than half of the seats in Parliament, because some lawmakers never vote.)

How are the results different from the last election?

At the last election, in 2017, the Conservatives lost their majority but remained the largest party, with 318 seats. Labour came second with 262, having increased their seats by 30.

If the 2019 exit poll is accurate, it would mean that the Conservatives have increased their seats by 50 to 368, winning them a long-coveted outright majority.

And it would mean that Labour has decreased their tally by 71 seats, to 191, a historic defeat, lower than even the “wilderness years” for the party in the early 1980s. The result, if borne out by the actual vote count, means Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will likely come under huge pressure to step down very shortly.

“If it is anywhere near this,” Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC after the exit poll was released, “this will be extremely disappointing for the party … I thought it would be closer.”

“I think Brexit has dominated,” he said. “We thought other issues would cut through. But the evidence is, it clearly hasn’t.”

The so-called “red wall,” a swath of ex-industrial, historically pro-Labour seats across the north of England and Wales that largely voted to leave the E.U. in 2016, appeared to have been punctured by the Conservatives, according to the exit poll.

What do the results mean for Brexit?

If the exit poll is correct and the Conservatives have a majority, it means that Johnson will find it much easier to get his Brexit deal ratified. (The deal was rejected four times by lawmakers in the 2017-2019 parliament, largely because the Conservatives lacked a majority.)

The ratification will likely happen in January, clearing the way for the U.K. to leave the E.U. before Jan. 31, as promised by Johnson on the campaign trail.

But Brexit won’t be over and done with. The U.K. and E.U. will then enter a “transition period” during which Britain will continue to abide by some E.U. rules until December 2020. In the meantime, representatives of each will enter another, more complex phase of negotiations over a future trade deal.


It Appears the Perfect Snowy Holiday Decoration Scene Has Been Compromised By Mischievous Cat

12 December, by Megan McCluskey[ —]

For many children, the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without a daily search for the new hiding spot of their Elf on the Shelf. But mischievous pets can sometimes get in the way of parents’ best-laid Elf on the Shelf plans.

In a post that has gone massively viral since it was shared on Twitter on Wednesday by user Siarra Swanson, a series of four photos shows how a curious cat transformed a snowy Elf on the Shelf scene into a floury disaster.

“My mom set up my brothers elf on the shelf like they were playing in snow and the last three pictures is what we woke up to instead…,” Swanson tweeted, referencing the quick work the cat made of sending both the elf figurines and flour snow substitute flying.

The tweet has been liked over 143,000 times and retweeted nearly 30,000 as of Thursday afternoon.


Senate Approves Resolution Affirming Turkey Is Responsible for Century-Old Armenian Genocide

12 December, by Matthew Daly / AP[ —]

(WASHINGTON) — On its fourth try, the Senate has approved a resolution that recognizes the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide.

The resolution had been blocked three times at the request of the White House, but won unanimous approval Thursday.

Co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the nonbinding resolution affirms that the genocide occurred and that Turkey is responsible.

“I say to my friends and colleagues that genocide is genocide,” Menendez said on the Senate floor. “Senators in this body should have the simple courage to say it plainly, say it clearly, and say it without reservation.”

Menendez and Cruz had tried three times to bring up the resolution using a procedural maneuver that would allow approval on a voice vote, a way to avoid lengthy floor debate. Each time, a Republican senator objected, citing White House disapproval.

North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer, who objected to the measure last week, said he agreed to do so at the White House request because the vote would have occurred around the time of a NATO summit where President Donald Trump and other leaders gathered in London. Turkey is a NATO member.

The House passed an identical resolution overwhelmingly in October in what was widely seen as a rebuke to Turkey in the wake of its invasion of northern Syria. Turkey has lobbied for years against U.S. recognition of the killings of Ottoman Armenians as genocide, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that the House vote had “hurt deeply the Turkish nation” and had “a potential of casting a deep shadow over our bilateral relations.”

Activist groups cheered the vote as long overdue. “The president ran out of people he could turn to to enforce Erdogan’s veto,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Turkey’s decades-long opposition to the resolution was “the longest-lasting veto over U.S. foreign policy” by a foreign power in American history, Hamparian said.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed around World War I, and many scholars see it as the 20th century’s first genocide. Turkey disputes the description, saying the toll has been inflated and those killed were victims of a civil war.

Instead of a resolution affirming the genocide, Turkey has called for a joint committee of historians to investigate the slayings. “The decision makers in an incident that took place about 104 years ago should not be politicians, but historians,” Erdogan said during a White House meeting with Trump on Nov. 13.

Senate supporters got a big boost Thursday when reality TV star Kim Kardashian West took to social media to urge approval. “Please call your Senators NOW and urge them to vote YES on the #ArmenianGenocide resolution,” she told her 153 million followers on Instagram. “Denial is the final stage of genocide,” she added.

Kardashian West, who is of Armenian descent, also tweeted in support of the resolution.

Cruz called the vote a “moral duty,” noting that a century ago, “the world remained silent”about the genocide, which even now is not widely known.

The United States has an obligation to acknowledge the murder of “1.5 million innocent souls,” Cruz said. “This is a moment of truth that was far too long coming.”


Protests in the Trump Era Have Been Mostly Peaceful. Here’s How the 2020 Election Could Change That

12 December, by Dana R. Fisher[ —]

Since Donald Trump took office, there has been sustained protest against his Administration and its policies. An estimated 4 million people turned out for the 2017 Women’s March (which was the largest protest in U.S. history), as many as 2 million people participated in the 2018 March for Our Lives against gun violence, and there have been countless other protests at airports, outside elected officials’ offices and even inside Congressional office buildings. With battle lines being drawn over impeachment, some journalists have wondered why there aren’t more people protesting. However, the more important question is: why have protests during this period been so peaceful?

The progression of protest has two primary paths: it can work to access positions of institutional power—such as electing like-minded candidates to office—or it can use more confrontational tactics to pressure those in power to respond to the demands of the protesters (like the civil unrest that has escalated in Hong Kong). The two are not mutually exclusive, but often groups lean more in one direction than the other, changing course if their goals are not accomplished. During the 1960s, for instance, we saw Civil Rights activists shift their strategy after realizing that they did not have the necessary access to power to make change through the legal and political systems. Instead, the activists employed more disruptive tactics, including staged sit-ins and non-permitted marches. Protesters in the anti-war movement began by focusing mostly on peaceful protests and teach-ins, but as the conflict in Vietnam dragged on, they too turned to civil disobedience and confrontation. Although most of the protesting we have seen since Trump’s inauguration has been clearly aimed toward mobilizing support for institutional political goals, the tide is starting to turn. And if the Republicans maintain political control in 2020, protest in the U.S. is likely to become a lot more disruptive.

Since the Women’s March in 2017, I’ve been studying the rise of the American Resistance, surveying protesters about their personal histories with protest and activism and their motivations for joining the movement, as well as interviewing Resistance groups to understand their plans. My research finds that the same people who marched in the streets at the seven biggest protests that have taken place since Trump’s inauguration went back to their communities and attended town hall meetings, lobbied elected officials, registered voters, wrote postcards and knocked on doors. In that sense, the anti-Trump resistance has followed in the footsteps of the Tea Party, and the 2018 Blue Wave was the product of those efforts. More women and people of color were elected to political office than ever before.

As the groups that worked so hard for those midterm successes set their sights on the 2020 election, they continue to support peaceful demonstrations, cultivating the embers of outrage that fueled the Resistance from the outset. For now, these protest events amount to a controlled burn that is not likely to spill over into real disruption and potentially violent resistance. Organizers apply for permits and pay for legally required bathrooms while participants assemble with witty signs and follow approved routes. Still, we are starting to see cracks in protesters’ restraint.

A closer look at the youth climate movement shows us where we may be heading. The youth climate movement in the U.S. first attracted attention a few days after the 2018 midterm elections when, despite the electoral victories, a small group of activists occupied Nancy Pelosi’s office with newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who was elected as part of the Resistance’s efforts to access power in Washington). The activists were calling for more progressive climate policies and the implementation of a Green New Deal, but their confrontational approach was hardly the norm. Since then, with the introduction of only a resolution and no actual bill, the young people who participated in this action have joined forces with those who were motivated by Greta Thunberg and her tactic of skipping school and striking for climate. Consequently, the movement has grown substantially, organizing increasingly larger strikes and marches, and based on my research, these protesters are growing more willing to be disruptive. Sixty-one percent of the organizers of the September climate strikes told me they had experience with direct action (which includes civil disobedience of all sorts) in the past year; that number jumped to 76% when I surveyed organizers of the climate strikes in December. Not only are these young people are getting more confrontational, they’re joining forces with adults who have also called for activism that breaks the law.

Last week, climate activists participated in civil disobedience in a number of cities, including Washington, D.C., Boston and the Twin Cities. Buildings were occupied and streets were blocked as activists chained themselves to doors and refused to move. And these activists are not the only ones becoming more forceful in their tactics. While the #ClosetheCamps protests over the summer were coordinated by MoveOn, which focuses on nonviolent, peaceful action, this week activists involved in the Never Again Action–whose website advocates “relentless, bold direct action” and states “We Are Not F-cking Around”–targeted ICE by staging protests at detention centers in California, Missouri and Rhode Island.

Many groups continue to focus their efforts on institutional political targets with campaigns around the 2020 election as well. But if the election results in another four years of Republican leadership, protesters of all ages who have been restraining their activism and focusing on the electoral process are likely to take it to the streets en masse. (Think the crowds from the Women’s March 2017 but for far more than a single day.) And without a clear institutional political target to solve their grievances, groups may follow in the footsteps of the Civil Rights movement and turn toward more insurgent tactics involving occupying streets and buildings, blocking traffic and causing all sorts of disturbances. History shows us that when activism gets more disruptive and confrontational, institutional power responds. And that’s when the distance between peaceful protest and violent protest narrows.


Senate Approves Dr. Stephen Hahn as FDA Commissioner, Despite Unclear Vaping Agenda

12 December, by Matthew Perrone / AP[ —]

(WASHINGTON) — The Senate on Thursday confirmed Dr. Stephen Hahn to lead the Food and Drug Administration despite concerns about how he will confront the growing problem of underage vaping.

Hahn, a cancer specialist and hospital executive, won confirmation to the role of FDA commissioner with a vote of 72-18. The move comes as key decisions about regulating electronic cigarettes, including how to keep them away from teenagers, remain unresolved.

More than three months ago President Donald Trump and his top health officials said they would soon sweep virtually all flavored e-cigarettes from the market because of their appeal to children and teens. But that effort has stalled after vaping lobbyists pushed back and White House advisers told Trump the ban could cost him votes with adults who vape.

In his confirmation hearing last month, Hahn repeatedly sidestepped questions about the fate of the flavor ban. When lawmakers tried to pin down his preferred approach to regulating vaping, Hahn said only that he would follow the “science and evidence.”

Still, he won the backing of several key vaping critics in the Senate, including Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, who said he hoped Hahn would use his influence to push the Trump administration to crack down on the industry.

“Dr. Hahn said to me he doesn’t want to be known in history as the head of the FDA who saw this epidemic grow dramatically,” said Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, supports legislation that would place new taxes on e-cigarettes and restrict flavors with the aim of discouraging underage use.

Anti-vaping groups and health experts argue that flavors like fruit, mint, menthol and others attract underage teens. But vaping proponents say flavors can help adult smokers switch to vaping from cigarettes, which cause cancer, lung disease, stroke and other deadly diseases.

Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month, despite federal law banning sales to those under 18. More than a third of U.S. states have already raised their sales age for e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21.

E-cigarettes typically heat a solution that contains nicotine, which makes cigarettes and e-cigarettes addictive. They are generally considered less harmful than paper-and-tobacco cigarettes, though there is little research on their long-term health effects.

Hahn, 59, will succeed Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who left the federal agency in April.

Gottlieb bucked expectations early in his tenure by announcing an unprecedented effort to curb smoking. Under the plan outlined in July 2017, the FDA would use its authority to cut nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, encouraging smokers to quit or switch to less harmful products, such as e-cigarettes.

The proposal for cutting nicotine was targeted for release in October this year, according to the agency’s regulatory agenda. But it didn’t appear and was dropped last month from the FDA’s updated list of regulatory priorities. An FDA spokeswoman said the agency is continuing to review the policy.

But anti-tobacco advocates worry the Trump administration is backing away from its earlier commitment to making cigarettes less addictive.

The FDA regulates a broad array of consumer goods and medicine — everything from new drugs and medical devices to packaged food, nutrition labeling, tobacco and cosmetics.

As FDA commissioner, Hahn will face a raft of other pressing health issues, including dealing with the prescription opioid epidemic, safety problems with imported drugs and the regulation of CBD, a marijuana derivative that has become a trendy food additive.

Hahn, who specializes in treating lung cancer, most recently worked as the top medical executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.


Viral Mashup Master DJ Earworm on the Past, Present and the Silly, Experimental Future of Pop

12 December, by Raisa Bruner[ —]

First there’s Pitbull. “I know you want,” he chants. And then: “Pop,” “dance,” “rock ‘n’ roll” — the genres burst out as the video cuts to Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, their faces and voices flashing over the driving beat of that year’s top song, “Boom Boom Pow.” It was the end of 2009, and Jordan “DJ Earworm” Roseman had just released onto YouTube a mashup of the 25 biggest songs of the year according to the Billboard charts, entitled “United State of Pop: Blame It on the Pop.” His version — which seamlessly switched between hits, turning them into a collective, euphoric smash — would soon go viral and find itself on the charts and on the radio.

A decade later, DJ Earworm is still at it. 2019’s “United State of Pop” follows the same fail-proof formula: the year’s most popular songs, all distilled into one supercut. This year, he also released a “Decade of Pop” compilation with a whopping 100 songs, sharing a look back at how the pop music landscape has evolved in the 2010s in an ambitious new challenge.

TIME spoke with Earworm just before he released his 2019 mix, reflecting on the way music and technology have changed over the past ten years — and how his career has grown with them. (He’s produced music for stars like Lady Gaga and Maroon 5 and worked on compilation projects for artists like Pink and Queen, turning his viral series into a full-fledged profession.) In our conversation, he predicted a turn towards “silliness” and positivity in the decade to come following this last era’s “darkness,” emphasized the boom in musical diversity and summed up the message of 2019’s pop in one theme: “leaving.” Given how closely he has tracked the mood of pop over the past years, his words have weight.

“I don’t think we’ll go back to the way it was ten years ago, but I see a new diversity, new experimentation, new light-heartedness,” he said. “This year was a lot more fun than it’s been in a while.” And he promised plenty of mashups to look forward to along the way.

TIME: You put out the first “United State of Pop” mix in 2007, after studying music theory and computer science at University of Illinois. How did you get started making these mashups?

DJ EARWORM: My intention early on was to do original songs and production. The technology was just developing to use music production software. It doesn’t seem novel now, but it was novel at the time: you could change the pitch and tempo really easily. I was making a mixtape for a road trip, and I started cutting it up more and more, and all of a sudden it became a mashup. My friend pointed out, “That’s really cool, you should make more of those.” So I did, and started putting them online; it took off on the blogs. YouTube came out in 2005. People started making their own videos for “United State of Pop” starting in 2007. I was like, “Oh, this vehicle is perfect for delivery of this music.” I started my own channel and did some video editing. It helps to convey the message of the music: if you have control of the video, you control the message. And then it really blew up. I had this pop phenomenon, and I went fully into it.

Walk through the process of putting together the year-end mashup. It’s 25 songs collected from the Billboard charts. How do you select the tracks? What qualities are you looking for in a song?

It’s strictly numeric. I’m not trying to impose my vision on this. I’m trying to mirror the popular taste of our culture. I highlight the parts I like and draw out the parts that strike me emotionally, but I do that within the constraint that you must use the music that everyone, everyone knows. The obvious: “Old Town Road,” “Bad Guy.” There are no surprises.

Over the last decade — and especially over the last five years — there have been significant shifts in what we define as pop music and what rises to the top of the charts. What have you seen? How has it changed your work?

It definitely has made my job harder. For one thing, [pop music has] exploded in diversity. For another thing, the tempos have just gotten much slower. The story of the decade is one from going from up tempo to down tempo. And also going from unity to diversity.

At the beginning of the era, it was all this in-the-club, medium-flavored, 120-130 BPM electro-pop, basically. And that dissolved. Although it’s all slower — it’s slow, mumbly hip-hop — there’s also this reggaeton influence, there’s slow EDM mixed with tropical house towards the end of the decade, and now we’re starting to see a new feeling of novelty. Because hip-hop is dominating that [idea] right now, it’s starting to get a lot sillier. People are ready for a turn toward the upbeat after a few dreary years.

In a 2015 interview, you described the pop of the time as not “too challenging” and “safe.” Has the second half of this decade been different?

There’s more subtlety. There’s rhythmic complexity — like Halsey’s “East Side,” for example, which has this real syncopated rhythm. But then you look at “Bad Guy” and it’s as simple as simple gets. There’s more of a diversity; it’s not just one thing. A lot of that comes from the ground up; it’s not just the filter of the record companies anymore. They don’t nearly have the control they had ten years ago. It’s not decision makers all getting on one style and running with it.

Did you see a turning point when things started to change?

Billboard changed their chart in 2013, and the week they changed their chart, Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” went right to the top. What a weird song. The song isn’t silly, but what it represents is silly, because what people did with it was silly. That was the year EDM stopped ruling the charts entirely; there might have been one last hurrah from Swedish House Mafia, but that was the dying embers of the EDM movement. That was a turning point: when streaming started ruling and the EDM era was over. It wasn’t really clear what direction we were going to go at that point; it still isn’t really clear.

Do you see political events reflected in the music of these years?

Yeah. Even though the streaming pivot came in 2013, there wasn’t a pivot towards darkness. The darkness came in 2015; think about The Weeknd. It increased as our collective anxiety increased and as our election season wore on. It became clear things were not well. I think that anxiety has been there very much through now.

The political climate and economic climate is reflected in the lyrics, but in really oblique ways. [The artists will] turn it into a love song, but the words they’re using reflect everyday life. Like this year, there’s a lot of leaving, there’s a lot of escaping, there’s a lot of sealing yourself off from others and forging your own path.

What stands out to you about 2019?

It’s all about romantic leaving. Lizzo’s songs are about leaving, Post Malone’s “Circles” is about leaving somebody. “East Side” is about you and me leaving somewhere together; “I Don’t Care” [by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber] is about us wanting to leave another collective, which is this party; “Old Town Road” is wanting to leave the whole town. There’s no destination. We just want to leave, to get out of here. That’s some kind of recurring theme. Even [the Jonas Brothers song] “Sucker,” says I’ll follow you anywhere blindly; I’ll stumble through the dark. He’s lovesick, but he’s following someone without any destination. Khalid, too; where are we going? We’re going together, but where are we going? There’s a lot of similarities.

That’s kind of depressing.

I’m trying to turn it into an uplifting tapestry so it’s not! There’s something uplifting about saying, “Screw it, forget all of you, I’m gonna do me. I’m going to create my own reality.” So I’m trying to look at the positivity of that. Like Rihanna, with “we found love in a hopeless place” — that kind of a thing.

In putting together the end-of-decade mashup — which is 100 songs — how did you select what to include?

I wanted to include songs that were both big in America and globally, because they had the biggest impact on the most audiences. I wanted to have a song that was about the passage of time, about growing up and growing older. It’s trying to narrate the viewer’s emotional journey.

Was it personally emotional for you to take that trip down memory lane?

Oh, yeah. I’ve been deeply involved in all of this music, and it represents my journey, too. I know it’s hitting teenagers the hardest because it’s the soundtrack of their lives, but the top of the charts is the soundtrack of my life as well.

You know chart hits on a pretty intimate song-structure level. What do you say to critiques about a lack of creativity in modern pop? Is that valid?

I would say that there are styles of music where being dynamic isn’t as important as in others. I can’t say that having a dramatic flow is inherently better than having dramatic sameness. There’s a function to that sameness. Does music suck nowadays? It’s just different. If you ask a young person who doesn’t listen to rock [about rock], they’ll say, “All these guitars, why do they need guitars? It seems really limiting.” At the same time, I do think there is a reduced level of production overall. You look at something like Lizzo’s “Good As Hell,” which is this great soulful vibe. The actual soul that it refers to, though: that stuff is much more complicated. There is some high-end pop production where they really go detail-oriented, like Panic! At the Disco’s “High Hopes;” you know they spent hundreds of hours working on it. Whereas “Old Town Road” is definitely cute, definitely hit the right notes — but there’s not the same level of intricacy in the production.

How do you isolate components? Have you struggled with fair use?

As long as everything is deconstructed enough, I don’t tend to trigger any filters on the platforms I’m using. I’ve experimented and figured out what the magic formula of audio and video is that can potentially get you de-platformed flagged; now, that’s generally not a problem for me. In terms of getting the audio, hopefully I get the raw stems, either from the studio or splitting it from the internet. There are cool new tools that have come out in the last few years with deep learning where you just press a button and can get the a cappella.

How has technology impacted what you do? There’s been a lot of conversation about AI-produced pop; does that concern you?

AI’s going to be huge. It’s already changing the way I produce. It’s making part extraction much more straightforward, which opens up the creative potential. I assume it will start making the music itself; whether it makes the mashup and I’ll be out of a job… [laughs]. AI will help generate and brainstorm for people who are already making music. But the better technology gets, the more possibilities there are, the harder it is to choose what to do. As the tech improves, there’s a certain paralysis. The sky is the limit, so what is the next move to make? When you only have a limited technology, your boundaries are more set; it’s almost easier to make the first move.

But I love the promise of AI, I love the idea that we could potentially get to hear new sounds. Since the sampler came out in the 80s — that was a pretty fundamental change — I don’t think we’ve had anything as revolutionary. But that could happen really soon. You could hear sounds you’ve never heard before.

Do you intend to continue with the United State of Pop?

I’m in it for the long haul! I’ve gone through some peaks and some valleys. But there’s something to be said for persistence, and for not quitting even though the pendulum swings. I know mashups were at a cultural peak right around the turn of last decade. I know they’re not as buzzworthy now. But I think they’re a form that’s here to stay and will be relevant.

What big predictions about pop over the next decade can you make?

It’s gonna be more fun, more silly, more diverse and experimental. More unexpected. And there will be more tracks coming out of nowhere using elements, styles, sounds, rhythms that have not been heard before and popularized by media that has not been popularizing music before.

Do you think that U.S. taste and international tastes will start blending more?

You know what, I think it’s the opposite! At the dawn of the decade, we had this really international vibe going on. The charts on both sides of the Atlantic were quite similar. I would be interested in a statistical analysis on this, but I feel like the charts are diverging. For one thing, hip-hop has become much more dominant, which is a U.S. phenomenon. Some hip-hop goes international, but most of those hits are U.S.-only. It’s getting more local everywhere, which means there’s more diversity. If you look at the charts from other countries, you’ll see all these songs that you’re like, “What is that?”

 


New Zealand Military Launches Risky Operation to Recover Bodies of 8 Victims From Volcanic Eruption

12 December, by Steve McMorran / AP[ —]

(WHAKATANE, New Zealand) — New Zealand police and military specialists have launched a risky operation to recover the bodies of eight victims of a volcanic eruption on an island that has left at least eight others dead.

Just after first light Friday, two helicopters from the New Zealand Defence Force lifted off from the township of Whakatane and began the 50-kilometer (30-mile) journey to White Island off New Zealand’s eastern coast.

Eight military specialists wearing protective clothing and using breathing apparatuses will land to try to recover the bodies. Scientists have warned that gases on the island after Monday’s eruption are so toxic and corrosive that a single inhalation could be fatal.











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