In the thick of Kansas' contentious debate over abortion rights, the anonymous text messages arriving on the eve of the big referendum this week seemed clear enough. “Voting YES on the Amendment will deliver women a choice.”
In the thick of Kansas' contentious debate over abortion rights, the anonymous text messages arriving on the eve of the big referendum this week seemed clear enough. “Voting YES on the Amendment will deliver women a choice.”
The only problem: It was a lie, transmitted by text message Monday, a day before voters were to decide a ballot amendment seen as the first test of voter sentiment after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Voters in the conservative state with deep ties to the anti-abortion movement ended up rejecting the measure.
“We’ve certainly seen dirty tricks, but never this level of deception aimed to make people vote the opposite way than they intend to,” said Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, a youth voter registration and engagement organization in Kansas.
The misleading texts sent to Kansas Democrats highlights the growing problem of political disinformation sent by automated text message, a ubiquitous communication system that presents new opportunities for those who would attempt to deceive voters.
To be sure, ballot initiatives are often confounding — sometimes by design, so voters will support a measure they actually oppose.
But text messages are emerging as an increasingly popular means of spreading disinformation about voting and elections. That reflects a broader embrace of texting by political campaigns and organizations, a trend that accelerated when the pandemic forced campaigns to find new ways to engage with voters.
People in the United States received nearly 6 billion political texts in 2021, according to an analysis by RoboKiller, a mobile phone app that lets users block text and voice spam. That's after a steady rise throughout the 2020 election that saw political spam texts increase by 20% a month.
“There's been an explosion of political text messages since 2020 and since then the political messages have stuck around," said RoboKiller's vice president, Giulia Porter.
Two days after the 2020 election, thousands of anonymous texts were sent to supporters of then-President Donald Trump, stating that election officials in Philadelphia were rigging the vote. The text urged the recipients to show up where ballots were being counted to “show their support” for Trump.
The same year, someone used text messages to spread false rumors of a national COVID-19 lockdown. Federal officials later blamed a foreign government for trying to stoke fear and division.
Text messages can offer specific advantages over social media when it comes to disseminating misinformation without leaving tracks, according to Darren Linvill, a Clemson University professor who researches disinformation techniques.
People also view text messages in a different way than social media, Linvill said. Social media is designed to reach the widest audience possible, but text messages are sent to particular phone numbers. That suggests the sender knows the recipient in some way and is specifically targeting that person.
“People aren’t as used to distrusting information on a text message,” Linvill said. “It’s more personal. Someone out there has your phone number and they’re reaching out to touch you with this information.”
While large social media companies have had varying success in curbing misinformation on their platforms, text messages are unmoderated. Because they aim for maximum exposure, disinformation campaigns using social media are easier to spot, study and expose, while text messages are private, one-to-one communications.
Software allowing groups to send hundreds or thousands of texts using fake numbers makes it even more difficult to find out the identity of the sender.
The texts sent in Kansas used a messaging platform made by Twilio, a San Francisco-based communications company. Twilio would not identify the customer who sent the texts, but a spokesman said the sender had been suspended from its service for violating its rules on disinformation.
The ballot amendment asked Kansans to decide on a proposed change to the state constitution that would clear the way for its Republican-controlled Legislature to more strictly regulate or ban abortion. A “yes” vote would have supported amending the constitution to remove the right to abortion. A “no” vote opposed amending the state constitution, maintaining a right to abortion.
Lindsay Ford, the associate director of a Kansas nonprofit voter engagement group called The Voter Network, noted that the texts came at a critical time, when someone looking to manipulate voters might have the best chance of succeeding.
“This is when voters who aren’t super engaged start to pay attention, in the last couple of days before the election," Ford said. “So if they’re looking for something and haven’t seen information anywhere else and that was the first or only text they received, I can see how that could lead people down the wrong path.”
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
By Our Political Editor
President Ranil Wickremesinghe is spending most of his time sitting against the backdrop of two national flags mounted on poles on either side of his shoulder, in a room in the Presidential Secretariat that has been the scene of many historic moments in latest months.
It is from here that his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, presided over the bankruptcy of Sri Lanka. That showered misery on the people and brought ignominy to the country. For three long months, protests kept him away from this office and forced him to work from a secluded room in the President’s House. That was until protestors stormed there and forced him to flee the country in fear.
He is now stuck in Singapore. No country is willing to grant him asylum, not even Saudi Arabia. He approached the oil-rich kingdom through a small country’s former president of who has won several favours, but the de facto ruler Mohamed bin Salman was not in favour. A family member said the former President had not altogether abandoned plans to return to Sri Lanka and live at his private residence in Mirihana with support from a close protection group. Though he is entitled to a house as a former President, he does not want to lay claim to it. He only wants to seek the help of a close protection group. However, President Wickremesinghe is not in favour of his early return. Personally, that would draw accusations against him that it was all part of a plan to save the Rajapaksas, something which is already being said over some measures he already adopted. In a broader sense, he fears that an early return would re-ignite protests since most Sri Lankans were still bitter about the travails Gotabaya Rajapaksa had subjected them to.
True, it was ex-President Rajapaksa who appointed him Prime Minister. That move paved the way for Wickremesinghe to eventually become President through a vote in Parliament in accordance with the constitution. Yet, he did direct some criticism against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s mismanagement and the economic calamity he brought about. That he is becoming increasingly critical about his predecessor, coupled with other steps he is taking, suggests that Wickremesinghe is trying to slowly veer away from the Rajapaksas. Naturally, with no parliamentarians from his United National Party (UNP) except one now, the moves are measured since he must depend on those from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) for his stability to govern. Even here, the choice of the posts of Prime Minister and other positions in Parliament not being from the SLPP are revealing. For these reasons ex-Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa continues to wield clout behind the scenes and has been cunningly manipulating events.
In last Wednesday’s policy statement, after the ceremonial opening of the eighth Parliament, there was finger pointing at ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa though he was not mentioned by name. President Wickremesinghe noted: “To strengthen our journey towards a developmental economy, we should examine the past. Why did our economy fall into such a low level? Why did we inherit negative results? Was it due to mistakes by individuals? Or due to policy deficiencies? How were individuals allowed to manipulate the economy as they wished? Can the economic policy of a country vary from person to person? Is it favourable for the country or else harmful to change policies from time to time?”
Some of the ground realities that he has raised in the form of questions do come as answers to the chaotic mess left behind by ex-President Rajapaksa. Should they not become the subject of a deeper probe, say through a Presidential Commission of Inquiry? It would help expose the deceitful conduct of a handful. More importantly, the detailed findings would come as a strong deterrent for the future and lay bare the avenues where new legislation is required to curb repetitions.
President Wickremesinghe also declared, “I would like to make special reference on the foreign policy of our country. Due to the instability of the foreign policy, we faced many disadvantages and setbacks in the international arena. I will change this situation. All countries of the world are our friends. We have no enemies. We do not belong to any group. I will ensure the adoption of a cordial and friendly foreign policy with all countries.”
It is no secret that ex-President Rajapaksa packed Sri Lanka’s diplomatic missions abroad with members of his Viyath Maga, a so-called professional group, children of local politicians and friends. Career diplomats were not given their due role. The appointment of a retired Navy officer as Foreign Secretary saw the advent of hostile relations with many countries and a marked deterioration in the conduct of foreign policy, if indeed there was one. In one European capital where consular offices were shut down, Sri Lankans had to travel over 600 kilometres to the Embassy. In the absence of the envoy whose term has ended, a Viyath Maga backer functioned literally as “the head of mission” and the complaints over his conduct are many. It will be no easy task for President Wickremesinghe to clean the rot in diplomatic missions overseas unless he makes drastic changes. This is an area where even the then Foreign Minister, G.L. Peiris, failed. He confined himself to issuing media statements where his own heroic role and not that of the country was projected.
President Wickremesinghe has also embarked on removing retired military officers from holding office in several civilian jobs. The Customs and the Consumer Affairs Authority are among them. The need for changes in the Police Department has now become imperative in the wake of rising number of killings. It has been further highlighted by the shooting incident at the Mount Lavinia Courts where a gun-wielding assailant made good his escape. Punishment so far has been meted out only to two constables. It must also be said in fairness to the Police Department that they have been overburdened with tasks other than maintaining law and order. A case in point is the fuel shortage and the long winding queues outside fuel stations. In almost every Police station, a substantial strength has been posted outside fuel stations. The rest have also been busy registering three-wheeler scooter taxis. Their tasks to maintain law and order have diminished.
For President Wickremesinghe, ensuring that the Police carry out their primary responsibility of maintaining law and order becomes imperative. In his policy statement, he noted that “the struggle that started all over Colombo expecting system change was later centralised in Galle Face. This was expanded to several other major cities in the island. This struggle was conducted on a non-violent basis and in a creative manner. These activists did not commit any acts of violence. Therefore, families joined the struggle to express their protests. Parents were not afraid to even bring children to the places of protest. Protestors once digitally illuminated the walls of the Presidential Secretariat, without causing any harm. Although later this non-violence was suppressed and violence emerged, with certain politicized groups becoming stakeholders. By indulging in violence, the protests turned towards terrorism.”
These remarks do raise a series of questions. It is true that politicized groups infiltrated the protestors. However, the protests had gone on peacefully until May 9 when goon squads of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) (the main governing party) went on a mad spree assaulting protestors both outside Temple Trees and at the Galle Face Green. The investigations into these incidents and the conduct of senior Police officials have turned out to be highly controversial. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID), once a coveted organization, came in for bitter criticism for the tardy way it handled the investigations. It seemed some were above the law. Some key aspects were also ignored. They caused international outrage. There is a critical question that has remained unanswered. Why was it not possible for the Ministry of Defence, the overall authority of the armed forces, to prevent the protests, which President Wickremesinghe claims turned towards “terrorism?” Similarly, irrespective of whoever occupied the President’s House on July 13, why was it not possible for the Ministry of Defence to ensure security measures to prevent the place from being overrun? Is it not the Ministry’s responsibility to ensure public property is protected?
There was prior information about the push and yet no preventive measures were in place. This is not to suggest by any means that they should have used firepower. Could they not have done it without that? The fact that they did not, showed that similar incidents in the future could also become security nightmares due to someone’s lapse somewhere. If the argument, that is highly unlikely, is that ex-President Rajapaksa did not want any action taken, did those responsible fail in their duty by heeding such a request? Answers to this will solve many issues that are now clouded in mystery.
Moves to form all-party Government
This week, from the Presidential Secretariat, President Wickremesinghe has been directing a major effort to form an All-Party Government (APG). One of his aides said that he wants to urge the parties to join in instead of “pinching MPs from different groups.” Last Wednesday afternoon, just as he had finished his policy statement, President Wickremesinghe met a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Their leader, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan was indisposed. It was led by spokesperson Abraham Sumanthiran and the meeting lasted over an hour.
The main Topic was for the President to convince the TNA that it should participate in the APG that he was putting together. Discussions on the current predicament of the people of north and the east and other related matters were progressing well until Sumanthiran declared that although his party did not vote for Wickremesinghe, the TNA was willing to work with the government from outside supporting progressive steps that may be taken.
This prompted a spontaneous response from the President, who politely said with a grin that it may be wrong to say that all members of the TNA voted for his opponent. He said he knew for a fact that a few of them voted for him. Sumanthiran contested the claim saying, “how can that be even possible, when as a party, we made a decision to support Dullas Alahapperuma?” While some of the TNA members sat uncomfortably, Dharmalingam Siddharthan, Leader of People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), asked the President how could he or anybody for that matter, know who voted for whom because it was a secret ballot? President Wickremesinghe laughed and remarked, “I even have the list of names of MPs who voted for me from the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).” Until then it had only been Minister Harin Fernando who claimed publicly that a few TNA and SJB MPs who voted in support of Wickremesighe. “What we have told him is that we will support the formation of an All-Party Government. Once it is done and depending on its formation, we will decide on further matters,” Sumanthrian told the Sunday Times.
On Thursday, it was the turn of 14 SLFP breakaway group parliamentarians to meet the President. It was Dullas Alahapperuma who led the group that included G.L. Peiris, Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Vasantha Yapa, Charitha Herath and Gunapala Ratnasekera. Besides President Wickremesinghe, also present was Prime Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena.
President Wickremesinghe is sounding out political parties represented in Parliament for an APG to obtain their viewpoints on two different aspects. One is an APG with a cabinet of ministers made up of those nominated by the partner parties. The other is to convert the entire Parliament into governing committees tasked with different responsibilities. The latter is to be granted authority to take decisions.
The Dullas group as it has now come to be known submitted their own standpoint. Firstly, they said that the entire country should be encompassed in a quick political and economic recovery programme. Secondly, the number of ministers in the Cabinet should be restricted to the existing figure of 18 and no increases should be made. There should be no State Ministers. Thirdly, the group will extend help within Parliament and will not involve itself in any matter relating to executive functions. Fourthly, the group is in favour of Parliamentary Oversight Committees. Fifthly, there should be a time frame during which the demands they were placing are fulfilled. A member of the Alahapperuma group said such a time frame was being sought to pave the way for early elections. President Wickremesinghe declared that there should be another meeting with the Dullas group. This was after he had met other political parties and sounded out their viewpoints.
Alahapperuma also raised issue over the crackdown on “innocent and peaceful” protestors. He complained that they were being arbitrarily arrested. President Wickremesinghe was to deny the accusation and assert that “we are not arresting innocent protestors.” He said the Municipal Councils of both Colombo and Kandy were setting apart separate areas for the public to carry out protests. In Colombo, he said, it would be the Vihara Maha Devi Park. Those wanting to stage protests should go there, he said.
Ahead of their meeting, the Dullas group held a meeting at the residence of their de facto leader, G. L. Peiris. The group is examining legal formalities for the formation of a new political party, the first indication that a formal split in the SLPP-led coalition would occur soon. Another group comprising eleven parties, also a constituent and now sitting in the opposition benches, is staunchly backing President Wickremesinghe. Their efforts are spearheaded by National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa who will become a cabinet minister. He has remained an active behind-the-scenes campaigner for the APG in a paradoxical blend with the machinations of his archenemy Basil Rajapaksa. Both are on the same page but for different reasons.
President Wickremesinghe wants a new cabinet of ministers in place as early as possible. That alone, however, is not going to ease off the issues the government is facing vis-a-vis the people. The main issue for them is the speedy restoration of fuel supplies. That again hinges on the availability of more foreign exchange.
SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, had to do an about turn when his party chose to engage President Wickremesinghe in a dialogue on Friday evening. He had refused earlier allowing opposition to build within SJB ranks. Led by Premadasa, a group went by bus to the Presidential Secretariat. They included Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Lakshman Kiriella, Kabir Hashim, Dr Harsha De Silva, Gayantha Karunathilake, Tissa Attanayake, Thalatha Athukorala, Rajitha Senaratne, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Nalin Bandara. Also in attendance were leaders of the SJB’s coalition partners including Mano Ganesan (Tamil Progressive Alliance), Rishad Bathiudeen (All Ceylon Makkal Congress) and Nizam Kariapper (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress). Premadasa was forced to change his mind after partner parties raised issue over the non-participation and threatened to go it alone.
A onetime minister and Galle District parliamentarian Gayantha Karunathilake summed up how the talks went. He told the Sunday Times, “Opposition Leader Premadasa told the President Wickremesinghe that the party had no issue working with him. They would look at the APG’s programme of work with a positive mindset. The President also said he will submit to us the proposals forwarded by other parties on an all-party programme by next Monday. We have no issue working on an all-party programme but the modalities of the arrangement will have to be discussed further in the coming days.” Karunathilake said that the delegation also discussed the declaration of a state of emergency and the arrest of protestors. “We told the President that we were in agreement that wrongdoers needed to be punished but stressed that it should not translate into a witch-hunt against activists involved in the struggle.” The SJB, he added, also called for the release of activists involved in the struggle and the lifting of the state of emergency.
The meeting notwithstanding, Premadasa remains firm that the SJB members should not hold portfolios in an APG. This position may see a split in the alliance with some top rungers backing President Wickremesinghe. In addition, some minority parties within the fold too are supportive of the APG.
The last to meet President Wickremesinghe on Friday at the Presidential Secretariat was a Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) delegation led by Patali Champika Ranawaka. He placed before the President a set of demands which the JHU had formulated. They appeared in these columns last week. Onetime minister Ranawaka also urged that heads to all vital state sector institutions should be picked on merit. Ranawaka told the Sunday Times, “We will watch how things are unfolding. We will also see how President Wickremesinghe is going to implement the pledges he made during his policy statement.” Ranawaka also raised issue over the visit to Hambantota of a Chinese vessel with capability to intercept communications in a wider area. He said that such visits should not affect Sri Lanka’s relations with other countries. The Foreign Ministry has asked the Chinese Embassy in Colombo in a Third Person Note on Friday that the arrival date of the vessel YUAN WANG 5 in Hambantota “be deferred until further consultations are made on the matter.” The move is known to be the result of strong displeasure expressed by India.
Ranawaka also raised issue with President Wickremesinghe over what he said were moves by the Japanese aid agency JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) to pull out of Sri Lanka. This is a Tokyo government body that delivers the bulk of official development assistance for the Government of Japan and is tasked with assisting economic, social growth in developing countries, and the promotion of international cooperation. He also alleged that for some projects, assistance was being halted. It is not immediately clear whether the move is linked to the re-induction of Nimal Siripala de Silva as the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation. It was Japan’s Ambassador Mizukoshi Hideaki, who alleged in a complaint to former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that minister de Silva sought a bribe from Taisei, a Japanese company engaged in development work at the Bandaranaike International Airport. Minister de Silva denies the accusations. A government appointed committee of inquiry declared he was not guilty of the accusations – a move which came as a bad reflection on the Japanese envoy’s complaint.
The only certainties for the APG at present are those from the SLPP, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), whose General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera, is strongly backing and the eleven-party group spearheaded by Wimal Weerawansa.
If forming an APG and thus delivering a message to the international community that there is stability is critically important, it is equally essential for the government to ensure that the staff level agreement is concluded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the earliest. Bridging finance from other countries hinges on this agreement. According to official sources, US$ 1.35 billion from India and a further US$ one billion from Japan are on the pipeline. There are also the prospects of other assistance being discussed when President Wickremesinghe visits Japan for the official funeral of former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. This is likely to be his first visit abroad later to be followed by a visit to China.
Early in the week, President Ranil Wickremesinghe in an interview to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said, “I think we’ve already hit the bottom. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s how fast we can get to it.” He further said that “it will be some months before most Sri Lankans begin to see their economic situation noticeably improve”. A local economist sarcastically remarked four years could be said as 48 months (some months).
President Wickremesinghe also told the WSJ that he expects an IMF staff-level agreement to be reached by the end of August. “We are down to the nitty-gritty,” he said. “We would have had it this month [July] if it were not for the unstable political condition.” Just three days later, in his policy statement in parliament the President was more measured in his expectations. He said, “As a preliminary step, we initiated negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a four-year programme. We would continue those discussions from this month. It is our expectation to conclude the staff level negotiations expeditiously and successfully.”
The outstanding issues, has learned, include policy framework on restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), details on fiscal policies, public sector cost revision and a few other related matters. Their expectation is that a staff-level agreement could only be possible in September at the earliest, unless a few key decisions could be made bypassing the cabinet and, in some instances, the Central Bank. In that event, it may become possible to sign a deal by the end of this month. Effectively, will the President as Finance Minister make these decisions using executive powers? Or in the alternative, would there be further delays?
Once the staff-level agreement is reached Sri Lanka would be able to hold further talks with bilateral creditors and sovereign bondholders. The President also told WSJ, “It’s an issue between the different approaches to debt relief between India and Japan on one side, supported by the U.S., and China on the other side, It’s a question of getting them to agree on one plan. It’s a question of how do you deal with the haircut? How do you deal with having new money given to pay off the old loans?” He is also keeping an eye on the process that unfolded in Zambia, he added.
Only a day earlier on Saturday, July 30 it was reported that Zambia’s creditors pledged to negotiate a restructuring of the country’s debts. Zambia reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF on a $1.4 billion three-year extended credit facility in December, conditional upon its ability to reduce debt to levels the Fund deems sustainable. Zambia still will need the IMF Board approval before seeing this $1.4bn, which could take a few more weeks. Zambia’s external debt is reported as $17 bn compared to Sri Lanka’s external debt of $ 51 bn. It has taken a good 8 months plus for Zambia to reach this position post staff level agreement in December 2021.
So even if Sri Lanka achieves staff-level agreement by end of this month or early next month to achieve debt sustainability it could take a few months. That this could be achieved during the first quarter of 2023, looks more and more realistic, said a monetary expert familiar with Sri Lanka’s case. As Lazard Frères SAS–Paris has been advising the Zambian Government and are considered as the market leading Chinese debt specialists, it is likely that the tricks it has learnt from that experience will be deployed in favour of Sri Lanka. For example, unlike in the Zambian experience, Lazard has advised Sri Lanka to agree to debt restructure terms with China first before reaching out to other bilateral creditors. This could expedite the process as the Paris Club member states collectively will be less aggressive and be more willing to match the same terms as agreed with China.
On Friday, at the Advocata Institute organised Sri Lanka’s first ever reset economic conference prioritising economic recovery and growth, the President Wickremesinghe remarked that the financial advisors Lazard are not just looking at external debt restructure plans to achieve debt sustainability, but also reviewing the local debt as well. Latest estimates of local debt to be just over Rs 12 bn. Whether this review is requested by the government or is it an IMF condition is unclear. If the latter is true, then achieving a board-level agreement will certainly be challenging in the short to medium term.
There is also bad news amidst all this. A top-level team from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is due in Colombo in the first week of next month on a fact-finding mission. Leading the team will be Rory Mungoven, head of the Asia Pacific Section of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The team is due to meet President Wickremesinghe, relevant stakeholders including the Sri Lanka Human Rights Council and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry. They will also meet Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who has been actively encouraging a UNHRC team to visit Sri Lanka.
The report of this team will be presented on day one at the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) by the new High Commissioner or an Interim High Commissioner as the current High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, for personal reasons, has decided to end her term early by the end of this month.
Diplomatic sources in Geneva say that Rory Mungoven who will be the architect of the report on Sri Lanka and will discuss some of the details with President Wickremesinghe. The Core Group (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia) has already met several times in Geneva and in Colombo informally and via Zoom discussing the prospects of a new resolution on Sri Lanka in September during the 51st session of the Human Rights Council. The sessions begin on September 12 and runs till October 7, 2022. Until May, this year, the Core Group was planning for a roll-over of the resolution (46/1) with a time extension of two years from September 2022 to September 2024. However, latest developments including attacks on protestors at the Galle Face Green and outside Temple Trees and the “brutal suppression” of a by and large peaceful protest has changed their mind and made them prepare for a new tough resolution highlighting latest events of alleged human rights breaches and what they call a worrying trend. Bulk of the language from 46/1 will be included in the resolution, diplomatic sources said.
President Wickremesinghe is aware of the developments. He has asked the Foreign Ministry to organize a small group of experts to devise a counter but a more conciliatory plan which will enable Foreign Minister Sabry to travel to Geneva seeking for deferment on passing any resolutions or making any adverse recommendations by the High Commissioner. It will be seen as de ja vu when Late Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera spoke so eloquently in February 2015 and successfully gained deferment of release of the OISL (the OHCHR investigation) report.
President Wickremesinghe has been in office for the past 19 days. In his policy statement, he admits that the expectations of the people on the political system and politicians had broken. Hence, his statement, like his previous statements, both during his days of sway in the yahapalana government and his presidential rule now, cannot be mere rhetoric or only pledges. He must fulfil what he has assured. Even his fiercest critics are looking forward to that.
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Campaigners have blasted pictures of a convicted killer and his sister who made 'gun signs' while posing inside a prison.
Alex Henry, 30, and his sister Charlotte - a lawyer - made the poses inside HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire.
Miss Henry explained that she was short of pictures of herself with her brother before making the poses in the prison photobooth, The Sun reports.
She then posted the images on her Twitter account.
Alex Henry, 30, and his sister Charlotte - a lawyer - made the poses inside HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire
Alex Henry (right) was jailed for 19 years in 2013 for murder under the Joint Enterprise Law
She said: 'When Alex went to jail I had hardly any photos of us.
'To document our lives now is important to me.'
Alex Henry was just 21 when he was jailed for 19 years in 2013 for murder under the Joint Enterprise Law.
Henry had been present at the scene when his friend stabbed a man in a west London shopping centre.
The convicted killer poses with his sister in a series of images taken in prison
Under the Joint Enterprise Law, the jury decided Henry was aware his friend was in possession of the knife.
Campaigners were less than impressed with the siblings' picture stances.
Mothers Against Guns said: 'What is the jail doing? And his sister should know better.'
A Prison Service spokesperson said: 'Strong family ties are proven to reduce reoffending and protect the public but prisoners can be punished for breaking rules on sharing photos.'
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Imagine you are growing up in Moscow, part of a family of eight living in a small apartment. The Berlin Wall fell not too long ago. Four times a year, you join your siblings in unpacking large boxes of buckwheat that your mother has kept stacked against a wall. You spread the kernels, pluck out the weevils, bake it all at a sterilizing temperature, and pack it up again. You are preparing for the future.
Around you, there is piracy and chaos. But you’re enterprising, and keep to your path. At university, you hardly sleep, and you eat what you can afford. Why do you work yourself this way? It’s not as if you’re getting paid for it.
Another version of yourself, in another time, though, is. Now, living in the California sun with some success, you reflect on your poor, wan, sleepless younger self and feel a wave of gratitude, and then of prickly regret. The kid you were had different dreams; it strikes you as unfair that you sit pretty on the spoils of that person’s efforts. If you could take some of your wealth and send it backward in time, to your younger self, you would.
We usually think of inequalities as extending from bottom to top: I earn a little wealth over eight hours; Bill Gates earns much more. But there are also inequalities that extend longitudinally, from the past into the future. Your young self does labor for which your older self collects rewards. Such timing issues—how much money you receive or can spend now and later—have effects on your financial fate. In a more equal world, you cannot help but think, people would draw on their lifetime wealth throughout their lives, not merely at the pinnacle of their careers. You notice that older generations and big corporations rule the roost in the United States, but it’s not clear why this should be so.
At your day job, which deals in shareholder capital, you impress your graying superiors, while at night you talk with young friends who, beset by debt and meagre wages, feel they’re barely eking out a life. You dream of what would happen if the money from your day job could cross over to your friends at night. Imagine that this idea becomes a fixation, so much that you decide you’d risk a piece of your own future on a solution. And now imagine that, instead of being one person, you are two.
Daniil and David Liberman, two entrepreneur brothers who purport to share a single life, met me one chilly November afternoon in midtown, and we set off for a walk through Central Park. The brothers have a sandy shade of hair and a punctilious Eastern European way of furrowing their brows and making little tutting noises as they zero in on the mot juste. They were fresh from Playa Vista, California, a residential and office-space hamlet whose chief virtue is its proximity to LAX. Daniil, who is older, at thirty-nine, has a gaunt, freckled face, and when we met was wearing his hair in the long, curling style of George Frideric Handel. David, a year younger, resembles Stephen Hawking in his youth. For some days, they’d been courted by fancy investors, with a schedule that included a trip in a private helicopter, an experience they found fun but, like most things that aren’t part of what they call their “mission,” distracting. “We need to get back home so we can really work,” Daniil, who was wearing green trousers with Pokémon and flowers on the legs, told me. The brothers’ mission, they think, is chasing the future, so in one way or another they are usually playing catch-up.
Few members of the general public have heard of the Libermans or their work, which has a looping, manic trajectory, like an ant’s climb up a candy cane. Yet they belong to a rising techie class that quietly traffics novel-seeming ideas among powerful people, shaping the wider world we live in along the way. In the past decade, the brothers led the design of the 3-D-Bitmoji feature on Snapchat, helped put out a hit Russian political-satire show, and devised an approach to capping corporate returns for investors. They have a way of popping up, like a lanky, pale Bill and Ted, in the background of interesting moments, with improbable associates. One friend of theirs calls them “hilariously networked.” Another, Jerry Murdock, found them on his path toward spiritual relief.
“I was on a honeymoon in 2010 in Dharamshala, spending part of it in the palace with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and on the way out of there we met Gyetrul Jigme Rinpoche, who’s the reincarnation of a saint named Pema Lingpa, and he said, ‘You’ve got to meet these two brothers I know!’ ” Murdock, a co-founder of Insight Partners, which holds one of the world’s largest venture-capital funds, told me. “So I would fly around to different cities of the world, and the Libermans would be there—London, New York, Geneva, Zermatt—and we would walk down the street and talk.” Small talk with the brothers veers toward big ideas; Murdock, having led an investment round in Twitter, asked them for their thoughts about the future of the platform. (The Libermans: Broaden it into a full-service mobile-messaging app—a role now filled by WhatsApp. Murdock: “It’s unfortunate that Twitter didn’t do that.”) Murdock boasted of a meeting between the brothers and the Dalai Lama. “The Dalai Lama seemed to like them a lot,” he said. “Then I introduced them to Richard Branson.”
The excitement that some people say they get from being with the Libermans can sound like other people’s episodes with psychedelic drugs. “There’s this blending of contrasting qualities—abstract global-transformation thinking combined with getting in there and debugging code,” Ken Caldeira, a leading climate scientist in whose guesthouse the Libermans once lived for several months, told me. The brothers’ specialty is reframing problems on a large scale by poring over minutiae, often with a turn of nerdy showmanship. (A characteristic post on their Instagram feed starts with a photograph of a shirtless Daniil and proceeds to ruminations on the second law of thermodynamics.) Born to two Soviet scientists, they wryly describe being “experimented on” during their youth, and at least one experiment—enrollment in the same grade, despite their age difference—had lasting effects. Today, the brothers answer messages, phone calls, and Zoom invites as a single entity, and haven’t been apart for more than some twenty days, then only because of a passport snafu. “We realized we are sort of a superhuman when we’re together,” Daniil said. At home, the brothers share a single king-size bed.
“In Russian, you can construct the phrase ‘thinking against’ someone else,” Daniil told me on the way to the Sheep Meadow, as I raced to keep up with them. “Or maybe it’s ‘by means of’?”
“That’s definitely been our personal life experience,” David said.
Like many people in technology, the Libermans also have personal life experience drawing financial success from a long series of failures. Their first major venture, in Moscow, was an online multiplayer video-game startup that crashed hard in the financial collapse of 2009. Chased by angry investors, they bid on a contract to animate an irreverent weekly sketch show called “Mult Lichnosti” (literally, “Cartoon Personalities”—in Russian, a pun on the phrase “personality cult”). The brothers, working with their two sisters, Anna and Maria, came up with a way of breaking down the animation workflow into tiny bits to animate half an hour of TV in just a few days. The show’s timely satire, often skewering the Kremlin, became an emblem of the loosening Medvedev years.
When it was cancelled, in 2012, at the outset of the second Putin Presidency, the brothers turned their sights to Hollywood, boarding a flight from Moscow to LAX every few weeks and scheduling back-to-back meetings. “We were meeting writers, meeting celebrities,” Daniil said. It didn’t last. “Nobody knew what to do with them,” said Josh Lieb, who, in an interlude between working as an executive producer on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and the showrunner of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” teamed up with the Liberman brothers to work on animated shorts, a couple of pilots, and sketches drawn from the comic “Achewood,” none of which went anywhere. (Lieb later got them a brief gig consulting on “Silicon Valley.”) In 2014, tired of dead ends, the brothers left L.A. for the techie Bay Area.
There the Libermans launched a platform to help nonprofits be more transparent in their financials. That product flopped. They tried again with an augmented-reality startup, Kernel AR, that superimposed animated images on real-time video, and this one hit. In October, 2016, Kernel AR was acquired by Snap, which runs Snapchat. The company brought on the four Liberman siblings as product developers and created comparable technology as the basis for Snapchat’s 3-D Bitmoji, which lets users move cartoon avatars through the camera world, like a real-time Roger Rabbit. By 2018, more than half of users in the thirteen-to-thirty-four-year-old demographic were engaging with augmented-reality lenses such as 3-D Bitmoji each week, and the Libermans led a team in the company’s L.A. headquarters, receiving compensation partly in Snap shares.
That year, Snapchat inexplicably began losing users. The price of Snap stock, which, in 2017, had gone public at twenty-four dollars a share, fell below six, and the Libermans watched their compensation shrivel. Inside the company, teams were dispatched to try to figure out what had gone wrong. The Liberman siblings had access to the same data as every other team, but they took an unusual tack, considering the timing of user loss and putting everything at the feet of a major rewrite of the Snapchat app for Android, which was running like molasses. The app was streamlined, Snapchat’s user base began to climb again, and by the time the Libermans had all left, in the spring of 2021, the company’s stock was trading at approximately sixty dollars. In the eyes of some people, their insight turned the company around. “That was the game changer for Snapchat, to reaccelerate growth and success,” Murdock, an investor, said. “And it came from the Libermans’ ideas.”
Now, after years of being ideas people to the world’s ideas people, the brothers had come to New York to fund-raise for a big and lucrative idea of their own. In Central Park, they told me that, with Maria and Anna, they’d created an entity called Libermans Co. It held all the income from their enterprises; any debts, assets, and profits they might gain; and any investments they might make or companies they might start for the next thirty years. They had gathered all these elements and sold shares in the whole, offering investors, effectively, a stake in their entire financial future—shares in their life. So far, the Libermans have traded around three per cent of their futures, which investors have valued at four hundred million dollars, or about a hundred million dollars per Liberman. They spent a few months in conversation with the Securities and Exchange Commission to list themselves on the stock market, which they hope to do by 2023.
“It’s a proof of concept in an extreme way,” David told me.
“It probably sounds stupid—‘rich guys from the tech world become even richer,’ ” Daniil said. (According to the personal tax returns they show to prospective investors—the brothers live two separate lives in the eyes of the I.R.S.—each has a yearly income in the seven figures.)
Improbably, though, the Libermans see this endeavor as part of an effort to stem twenty-first-century inequality. If they can sell life shares, they think, others can, too. “We’re between worlds, and it allows us to be in both skins,” Daniil said. “In the skin of people used to the way capital usually works, and in today’s world, which requires something new.”
America is now beset by twinned and yet somewhat opposing beliefs: that the country has not delivered on its promise of financial opportunity for all, and that the institutions empowered to deliver on that promise are untrustworthy and beside the point. Seniors as a group have grown wealthier for years, while people younger than thirty-five are poorer. Student debt has roughly doubled just in the past decade; Pew finds that trust in government is falling toward an all-time low. This mistrust seems to transcend ethnicity, age, and partisanship, and its sway on ideas in personal finance is plain. Young people now create personal brands online and trade cryptocurrencies, N.F.T.s, and other unregulated direct-market products to try to make a buck. The Libermans and their idea of helping others get ahead by selling futures on the market are the avatars of this era’s desperate reach.
In Playa Vista, the brothers live somewhere called the Villas: a vast housing development, lined with palm trees and banana plants, that looks not unlike a Soviet apartment block transplanted to paradise. It was warm when I arrived one afternoon, with breezes wafting in off the Pacific. Daniil was wrapped in a scarf and a thick winter coat. He hadn’t consumed anything but water for seven days, in an effort to treat a chronic sinus infection that he attributed to earlier, more stressful periods of his youth. He had been suffering in silence when a friend claimed that water fasting helped his acne. Daniil tried it. “My nostrils were opened for the first time in seven years!” he said. Now he did a weeklong fast once every three months. “The body definitely thinks you’re dying,” he said cheerily, wiping some drips from his nose. Then, as the home chef and epicurean of the pair, he yanked open the refrigerator to fix David lunch.
The brothers had invited me to set up shop in their spare bedroom, on the premise that almost all their important work was done around the house. The proposal was irregular, but so was everything about their situation, and after some chin-rubbing conversations at the magazine it was agreed I should accept. The room was outfitted with a low berth, a desk, a paperback book (“You Are the Music: How Music Reveals What It Means to Be Human”), and a hose-like apparatus for steam-pressing suits. I peered into the closet, which had sliding mirrored doors, and found it filled with wine bottles of carbonated tea: the brothers don’t drink alcohol, and bestow fizzy tea on everyone they know, for toasts.
I went back to the kitchen. Daniil was serving David soup and cold cuts the color of wet hay. (The brothers are vegetarians, mostly for climate-protection reasons.) Except for a kitchen table, a generic gray L-shaped couch, a massage chair, and a garish hot-pink rug, the space was basically empty. “We usually leave the apartment unlocked,” Daniil said. “There’s nothing to steal, and our friends in other apartments sometimes come to use our printer.”
I asked some questions while David talked over his cooling soup and Daniil, easing off his fast, sipped a steaming, murky green fluid from a mug that said “ADULT-ING IS HARD.” The heart of their thinking, they began to explain, was a belief that younger generations were disempowered.
“This is our major idea,” David said. “But then there are a lot of projects in, uh—”
“Branches,” Daniil said, reaching out to butter David’s toast.
“—a variety of branches of this idea, which we constantly are, uh, uh—”
“—testing or experimenting with,” David went on. “If you move here from outside, especially if you want to build projects, you quite immediately experience that—”
“The opportunities are enormous!” Daniil said.
“—the market is bigger,” David went on. “Also—”
“Go eat!” Daniil told him sternly, and David bowed his head and began slurping soup. Then he popped up again.
“All the conversation was about how in debt young people are!” David said.
The brothers understood the feeling of being pinioned. Their father, Efim Arsentievich Liberman, had been a prodigy who enrolled in university early, trained as a physicist, and became—to the extent that a Jew in Soviet Russia could be—a leading scientist of his day. During the Cold War, he played a key role in engineering the guidance system for the V-750VN surface-to-air missiles that shot down the U-2 spy plane flown by Francis Gary Powers. In middle age, Efim had turned to biophysics, focussing on neurotransmission, and had won the U.S.S.R. State Prize, the highest honor for a Soviet scientist. The brothers’ mother, Svetlana V. Minina, was Efim’s third wife—the Libermans have three older half brothers—and gave birth to six children in eight years while earning her Ph.D., in biophysics. (I asked the brothers how such a thing was done. “Grandparents,” they told me.)
In the nineteen-eighties, Efim’s relationship with the Soviet leadership soured; meanwhile, government funding for science dried up. The family income, never great, collapsed. The Liberman siblings began sleeping together in one room, occasionally sharing the space with habitats for snails and goldfish that their parents used for research. Around this time, the brothers said, they started feeling different from the other kids at school. They had a personal computer, a vestige of their father’s previous work, and they would stay up late playing games and trying to write code. “We broke the computer a lot, so we had to learn how to fix it,” Daniil recalled. It seemed their portal to a smarter, faster, more connected world.
For two years, during the worst of Russia’s early-nineties depression, the family relied on the food that their mother had stockpiled. In 1998, two weeks before the ruble plunged and the government defaulted on its domestic debts, she converted the family’s meagre savings to U.S. dollars. (Svetlana, who still lives in Moscow, declined to answer questions for this article.) Such desperate measures seemed to safeguard their survival. The brothers told me that their first big project, as teen-agers, was organizing their apartment block to run fibre-optic cable, and that effort grew into an Internet-service-provider company. After university, they became interested in data algorithms, including one that predicted the subterranean composition of land plots—in theory, a technology that could be useful in finding oil—and built another project around that. Russia’s Federal Security Service (F.S.B.) found the subterranean work strange, and looked into it. When the brothers protested that they were just computer geeks with a good algorithm, the F.S.B., they say, tried to enlist them for dark hacking.
The Libermans insist that they have only ever done white-hat hacking (that is, probing to find vulnerabilities that should be fixed), but they define that standard broadly. The supercomputing abilities that enabled them to run complex geological algorithms, they confessed to me, came from tapping into the processing power of idle computers on their network. The F.S.B.’s scrutiny spooked them, so they started a company around something that, in the early two-thousands, they were sure no serious people would scrutinize: video games.
The going was rough. “We’d never worked with a two-hundred-person team before,” Daniil said. “We raised more and more money without releasing the game—and then the financial crisis came.
“We kind of felt like idiots,” he went on. “How could we have missed the world financial crisis?”
Looking at the data, they landed on the same culprit as many people had: the deregulation, in the late nineties, of derivatives and related credit-default swaps. “But then we were, like, O.K., why were they deregulated?” Daniil said. “And who was the beneficiary?” The brothers coded algorithms to trawl data from the Federal Reserve. By far, it seemed to them, the biggest holders of wealth in the United States were pension funds, which collect, invest, and deliver money for people’s pensions. They concluded that the country’s pension funds together held roughly forty trillion dollars, or a sum twice the size of the entire U.S. economy.
That insight wasn’t new. In “The Unseen Revolution” (1976), the corporate theorist Peter Drucker had noted that pension funds control “practically every single one of the 1,000 largest industrial corporations in America” through their share ownership. The Libermans observed that the funds had continued to grow into the twenty-first century, which in their view explained a lot. The rising cost of education? One factor was that many educational institutions have fixed-return pension funds, so, whenever the markets underperform, the institutions go to their own pockets. The declining wealth of younger generations? Pension funds were good and necessary, the Libermans believed, but they had become ominously oversized, as had the corporations that they controlled. Wealth was draining toward major shareholders and the old.
To the brothers, this circumstance—what some people would call capitalist gerontocracy—was an example of the longitudinal-inequality problem writ large, and, as they bounced ideas back and forth, they shared an epiphany. The core of the imbalance, they thought, was an asymmetry in how we measure wealth.
When we measure the wealth of people, we tote up their cash, assets, and debts on a given day and take that as their worth—even if we know they’ll earn more going forward. When, on the other hand, investors value corporations, such as Costco, they take into account the company’s likely growth, and figure out a price for a share with that future in mind. (Costco is priced at forty times its current earnings.) Corporations are allowed to worm their wealth forward and backward in time by selling shares. In theory, people can do this through debt, but debt is psychologically onerous and rarely encourages personal risk-taking. The Libermans convinced themselves that, if you let people move their future wealth value around the way corporations do, people and businesses would be more evenly matched.
The brothers shopped the idea around for years, but it wasn’t until recently that reception to it warmed. Sam Lessin, a venture capitalist at Slow Ventures, was the first investor to buy shares of the Libermans’ future. He grew up in a prosperous family and, as a teen-ager, was struck by the fact that he could go to whatever college he wanted, while smart kids without the same financial security might be compelled to select schools on the basis of tuition and aid options. For years, he proposed to investors the idea of “venture capital for people,” to no avail. Then, as the debt crisis deepened, he noticed the wind beginning to turn. Lessin’s firm recently opened a whole department devoted to investing in human lives. To the extent that many investors remain skeptical, it is often for market reasons. “That idea might be ten years too early—or more,” Jerry Murdock told me. “We’re not in a deep enough crisis of talent.”
One Saturday morning, the brothers got in their white Tesla Model Y bearing the license plate “LIBERMN,” and drove to Westwood to meet their friend Oleg Itskhoki, another Muscovite, who is a professor of economics at U.C.L.A. On the way, they stopped to pick up Mehreen Malik, a partner in their project, whom I already knew. When the Libermans drive, Daniil is at the wheel, and David stares out the window. Later, they say, their experiences blend, as if in stereoscope, into one memory. (The brothers also read books two by two; they each carry a bank card from a joint account.) If they ever get in a serious quarrel, they observe a brief period of silence, bracket the dispute, and get on with their shared life. What else could they do? “We understand that what we get from each other is so much more than we could get alone,” Daniil said.
Malik clambered into the car at a crowded Beverly Hills corner. “You’ve both had a haircut! I think I preferred both of your hair longer,” she said. “You could either pass for mad scientists or go to a Beck concert.”
“This is a long process,” David said. “I cut the hairs now. Then I don’t cut them—”
“They won’t be cut for another year!” Daniil declared, with American brevity. Most of their social circle in town consists of other entrepreneurial Slavic expats. (The brothers spent much of the spring trying to evacuate friends from Russia and Ukraine.) Lilian Caldeira, Ken Caldeira’s wife, who knew the extended Liberman family, describes them as being in a swirl of intellectual life in Russia—Efim, their father, was an inspiration for a character in Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel of seventies Moscow, “Jacob’s Ladder”—but the brothers built their own swirl over a recurring match of Mafia, the millennial parlor game. Frequent players called themselves the Libermafia, and the term stuck to describe their ever-growing network. “You need to be three months ahead to make a reservation for their spare bedroom,” Lilian Caldeira told me.
Itskhoki, whom they met that day, recently won the Clark Medal, the nation’s top honor for young economists, for his work on exchange rates and the influence of globalization on income inequality. He was the youngest tenured economist at Princeton before moving with his wife to the West Coast when she got a job there. “I went surfing the other day. My transition to Californian is complete,” he announced as they stopped at a shaggy Westwood café. He wore a terry-cloth Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap that said “CAMP KNOW WHERE.” After a walking tour of the U.C.L.A. campus, Itskhoki led the group to a lush quadrangle near David Smith’s sculpture “Cubi XX,” where they sat in a big circle on the grass. David, warmed by the sun, gushed about Itskhoki’s research knowledge. “It’s always really interesting to, uh—”
“Find,” Daniil said, not looking up from a tiny fort he was building out of pine needles and eucalyptus buttons.
“—find what are the current ideas in academia about, for example, generational gaps in wealth and the role debt plays in this,” he said.
“There are surprisingly few,” Itskhoki said. “We think of ‘families’ and inequality between ‘households.’ We talk in terms of top ten, top one, top 0.1 per cent. We think a lot less of the unit being people older than fifty.” And yet age is crucial, he added. “Most wage growth happens in your twenties and thirties, so, if your twenties and thirties miss a time of high economic growth, you’re—statistically speaking—stuck with low wages for the rest of your life.”
That realization, he said, was part of the reason for economists’ latest academic interest in “a broad wealth tax,” to push wealth created in periods of high economic growth into the valleys.
The brothers were quiet for a long moment. A wealth tax, in fact, could disrupt their scheme: young people, valued by shares in their own futures, would be taxed as wealthy before they’d ever been rich. Finally, David said, “We’re on the side of, yes, maybe something will change in regulation and taxation, but how can you rebalance it from the market perspective? Adding a new type of security to help young people get wealth is another approach to the same problem.”
Redistribution—the idea that grossly imbalanced wealth should be spread to help the needy become less so—has traditionally been the province of the political center and the left, which believe in taxes and a safety net administered through the state. The Libermans say that their market-based approach can potentially move more wealth (the big money has been known to resist taxes, but is all in for investment) and weave its own networks of support. In one conceivable scenario, an aspiring folksinger of twenty-two decides, like the Libermans, to offer shares in her life. The shares are cheap—the monetary value of her future is uncertain—yet they attract some investors, because maybe she’s the next Taylor Swift: she’s high-risk, high-reward. Thanks to the investments, she can now afford a new head shot and the time of a well-connected producer. She has a bit of cash left over, so she buys a share (also cheap) in the future of her best folksinging friend. Ten years pass, and her work pays the rent. She sells a few more shares, at a higher valuation: her future value is now a vector based on measurable success.
A decade later, she releases her fifth album, full of candid songs about middle age. The album speaks to a generation and goes platinum. The price of a share in her future has now gone through the roof.
Or maybe it’s her friend who made it big. Our folksinger is envious all the way to the bank. She sells the share in her friend she bought long ago at a profit of a few hundred thousand dollars, and makes a down payment on her first home. Now it’s her friend’s success that’s keeping her creative life afloat.
Or—the likeliest of all—nothing happens, and so she finds a job in another line. Investors, as they would do with the stock of any pivoting company, might decide to hold or to sell at a loss; she owes them nothing, though she got some extra funding on the way.
The Libermans’ theory is that, in terms of stuff that America’s big wealth can invest in, people are more appealing than the current catalogue of middling venture-capital funds, shipping firms, and companies selling toothbrushes by mail. Instead of putting money into a fund for startups, investors would be free to find an ingenious entrepreneur and invest in her entire career. Rather than buying shares of Spotify, a fund could buy into a portfolio of the futures of emerging hip-hop artists, all of whom would get that cash. Most of us are more excited about our brilliant friends than about the companies they work for. And while the average age of an S. & P. 500 company is approximately twenty years—most die young—people do better. The stronger their boost off the blocks, the longer they can keep trying, increasing their odds of success.
Some new egalitarians speak of “basic capital” models (as opposed to basic income), the idea being that it’s more equalizing to grant people an early chunk of capital that they can grow than a steady drip. But the idea is old. In 1750, Dr. Johnson described a supposed tavern friend of his who observed that “it was not worse to have ten thousand pounds at the age of two and twenty years, than a much larger fortune at thirty; for many opportunities, says he, occur of improving money, which if a man misses, he may not afterwards recover.” People generally deliver up their dreams not because they’re sure they’ll never realize them but because money pressures close in. That those pressures are uneven—a scion with a trust fund gets more tries at making it in a risky but rewarding venture than an orphan with monthly rent to cover—is one way inequalities compound.
Juliana Uhuru Bidadanure, a professor of philosophy and political science at Stanford and the faculty director of the university’s Basic Income Lab, told me that she finds the Libermans’ model interesting in its premise, “especially if you live in a society that’s very unequal in terms of wealth, like the U.S., where a lot of life plans aren’t possible if you don’t actually have cash early on.” In her latest book, “Justice Across Ages: Treating Young and Old as Equals,” she assesses differences between the generations both in the long arc (between the lifetime experiences of young and old) and in the moment (how the young and the old relate). But although Bidadanure thinks the Libermans’ model is attentive to the first kind of age-based inequality, she told me, she doubts its effects on the second, especially when everyone is jockeying for an investment. “If the young have to present themselves in a particular way to the older generations so that they will find their life trajectory appealing, I could totally see how there could be a social hierarchy you typically just have between benefactors and those who receive those funds,” she said.
The Libermans’ idea echoes one examined by Milton Friedman, in 1962, and has many other siblings. In 1997, David Bowie famously issued so-called Bowie bonds, ten-year securities offering shares in his future royalties, and raised fifty-five million dollars that he used to buy back old songs, theoretically increasing his future value. Income-sharing agreements, in which organizations fund aspiring young people in exchange for a portion of their lifetime income, are gaining popularity, especially in professional sports. And, at the height of the crowdfunding craze, a scheme known as human-capital contracts let investors deliver money to promising youths—usually through middleman companies such as Upstart—in exchange for a percentage of their future incomes. The traditional knock against such schemes has been that they’re exploitative or worse, a form of indentured servitude; what the authors of all these contracts share is being powerful and rich. The emeritus Yale economics professor and Nobel laureate Robert Shiller, who has written such books as “Finance and the Good Society,” notes that other, related ideas, such as loans that don’t have to be repaid below certain income points, are designed to let risk be borne mostly by those who can afford it.
The Libermans’ own life-shares deal—a prototype for their model—does not involve income sharing. Direct liquidity happens when the Libermans cash out (say, to buy a house); at that point, there’s a proportional distribution, meaning that if I own two per cent of the Libermans I get two per cent of the cash. (This works a bit like a dividend and is a reason you might still want to hold stock when the Libermans are old and less productive.) When they die, everything is distributed, unless the shareholders vote to keep their life operation going. Otherwise, shareholders have no vote in anything the Libermans do.
“The only thing we say is ‘Please, be successful!’ ” Daniil said. When I asked him what would keep people from selling shares and going to drink Daiquiris on the beach, he told me that presumably a few will. But that’s unlikely to faze high-risk, high-reward investors, who expect some promising cards in their deck to end up duds. Nor is this the wisest move for the Daiquiri drinkers, because the initial money would run out, and the shares of an inveterate beach bum are hardly an appealing investment. In the short term, though, sometimes a beach sabbatical is a wonderful thing. When you’re investing in a whole career, insuring health, happiness, and stamina is good business.
Practice seldom matches theory. One economist told me he doubts that normal people, even with technical protections, could be free of shareholder influence. (“There is reason to expect that a system that starts out that way will evolve under pressure from investors,” he said. “We saw this with changes in bankruptcy law in 2005 that gave the holders of credit-card debt more power vis-à-vis credit-card debtors by making it harder to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7.”) As most C.E.O.s know, not even success brings freedom from shareholder pressure.
“When a founder takes V.C. money for their company, they suddenly have pressure to make the company, and the financial return for the investors, as big as possible,” Arielle Zuckerberg, a general partner at Long Journey Ventures (and a sister of the Facebook co-founder), told me. “Some individuals, I think, continue trying to make a company something that it shouldn’t be.” She committed to buying shares of the Libermans’ future at her previous firm, because she thought it would help them break from this pattern. Yet for Zuckerberg it is the brothers’ willingness to cast themselves endlessly back on the grindstone that makes them worth investing in. “The question is, does this individual have almost uncapped upside—because they’re addicted to building, have tons of ideas?” she said. Or are they merely aiming for comfort? “Some people have a number.”
I expected to find the Libermans living in either zany techie excess or monkish monomania, but their days in Playa Vista were predictable and quiet. The brothers like to get eight hours of sleep a night (“our sweet spot,” David told me). They generally rise sometime after eight, do calisthenics, breakfast on porridge or yogurt with berries, and start on the day’s work, which involves video meetings and hunkering down into the details of coding software. Lately, they have been drafting an introduction-to-coding book based on an online class that David teaches. (Coding, they think, is too often taught at an overly technical level, so instead they show people how to read the full code for familiar apps, edit it, and then write programs of their own.) Most days, at 4 p.m., they walk along the same route: through a fancy office park called the Campus; past a soccer field, a playground, and man-made ponds; and on to an overgrown creekside trail that leads them to the house where their sister Maria, known as Masha, lives with her husband and two children.
With long dark hair, big glasses, and a calm, wise-child manner, Masha struck me as resembling the heroine of a Roald Dahl book as drawn by Quentin Blake. For a long time, she told me, she wanted nothing to do with her weird brothers; as a young woman in Moscow, she had founded and run a respected N.G.O. for Russian-Jewish studies. Then, around 2007, she joined their businesses. At her table, she served us delicate fruity tea and a sharlotka, apple cake in the crisped, fluffy Russian style. David wolfed it down.
Within the family, Daniil and David are understood to be the public faces of the Liberman brand—jet-setting, social-media-influencing—while Masha and her sister, Anna, who is based in London, work from home at the Liberman companies, increasing value. (The sisters tried being limelight-dwellers for a while, but disliked the scrutiny and the travel.) When I asked the brothers whether they, too, aspired to marry and multiply, they told me yes, but there were obvious challenges. Most sane people didn’t enjoy being perpetual third wheels to the brothers’ all-consuming intellectual, professional, and domestic partnership. “There’s kind of a jealousy, usually—like, ‘You spend more time with your brother and your family than with me,’ ” Daniil reported. “Our answer is ‘Come join the family!’ ” Unsurprisingly, this never works.
The brothers call Masha the mastermind, and she’s the one working with lawyers to steer the life shares through the S.E.C., a process she describes as smooth so far. (The S.E.C. declined to comment.) Libermans Co. is a holding company incorporated in Delaware. All four participating Libermans assign the holding company their current rights, titles, interests, and major intellectual property. (Notably, they don’t turn over all their previous personal wealth.) They commit all their startups, private-market investments and sales, salaries, bonuses, commissions, and equity in the next thirty years, but there are exceptions: each Liberman is allowed to purchase his or her own real estate, to hold on to up to three hundred thousand dollars in income each year, and to put money in public stocks and mutual funds. (The sisters, who have children, worried about gambling everything on a thirty-year experiment.) For the moment, there is double taxation, but the hope is that, if the model catches on, it will get its own tax rules.
Masha poured more tea and checked in with her brothers about a meeting they’d had on behalf of their company Product Science. Within the big holding company, the Libermans run several smaller startups, all of which have comically bland names, like a Bond villain’s corporate front. They built Product Science after leaving Snap, and it centers on an algorithm that plants flags to help engineers accelerate app run times. One of the brothers’ parlor tricks for prospective clients is to show videos in which they cold-launch popular apps on an older phone with a stopwatch running. Snapchat and other Libermanized apps load in less than two seconds. Investors were told that if they wanted in on Product Science they really should buy shares in Libermans Co. By this spring, twenty-five investors had put a total of $17.5 million into Product Science, which has greatly boosted the return on the Libermans’ four lives.
Not long afterward, the brothers rose early and drove the Libermobile to LAX, for a flight to visit friends and colleagues in San Francisco. “I’ve been having the strangest dreams,” Daniil said as he drove. “Last night, I dreamed that David and I were working in a factory, making some new, magical plastic. I woke up and started Googling ‘plastic’ and discovered in Nature magazine an article about a new kind of polymer.” They had changed their clothes for the first time since I’d arrived in town, and Daniil was now back in the green Pokémon florals, with golden high-tops.
The “magical plastic” dream was typical; by then, I’d come to recognize a quixotic strain in the brothers which was characteristic of Silicon Valley, but also of their family line. In the late fifties, Efim Liberman claimed to have figured out how the ocular nerve transmitted different colors to the brain with a pattern of impulses over time. This tiny fact, in his view, had big implications, because an interval signal, being a system of encoding, implies computation—something we’re taught happens across neural networks, not in single cells. Efim and Svetlana became convinced that computation did happen in one cell, and devoted their late careers to a theory, which they called chaimatics (as in “L’chaim! ”), based on the idea that the encoding of proteins is just one part of a larger DNA- and RNA-based information-processing system. In time, chaimatics grew into a sort of theory of everything, drawing in quantum mechanics, cognition, and ideas about consciousness. The theory lacked adherents when Efim died, in 2011; Rava Azeredo da Silveira, a physicist who works on cognitive science and theoretical neuroscience at the École Normale Supérieure and at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology, in Basel, told me that, while much of Efim’s early experiments and speculations were “well guided,” the later neuroscientific and cognitive ideas peeled away from engagement with scientific literature, drifting out toward notions “described in such vague, if not esoteric, terms that they border on the meaningless.”
On the plane, a flight attendant passed by with drinks, and Daniil ordered tea, black, with a water. He held up two fingers without looking: same again for his brother.
“And cookies,” David said.
On the curb at the San Francisco airport, they commandeered another white Tesla, this one rented through Turo. In their own car, the brothers liked to play Billie Eilish’s “My Future” (“I’m in love with my future, / can’t wait to meet her”) and bob their heads, but now they talked about being early advocates of the so-called sharing economy, and Airbnb in particular. They’d grown circumspect about the company when it did little to discourage landlords from buying up several apartments and running them as unofficial hotels. The brilliance of the Airbnb idea, in their view, had been its use of what was already available to meet other people’s needs, lowering the cost for everyone—
Suddenly, the rented Tesla was gaining speed in self-driving mode, doing eighty miles per hour in the left lane on the soft bends of 280, and the brothers were talking over each other, trying to explain what their foray into the sharing economy had taught them. Didn’t doubling, tripling, quadrupling of use—and therefore benefit—exist for many things? Consider software. It takes a lot of time and effort to write the program Microsoft Word, but, once it exists, millions of people can use it, at a cost of basically nothing to the company. Or consider the movies: a lot of work and money go into making one final cut that is then copied endlessly. It’s one big climb, followed by easy street, and it characterizes digital production. When you held that model against the current marketplace, you noticed misalignments. “For example, Netflix was growing its audience, but at the same time it was growing its subscription price,” David said excitedly. “It made no sense.” (Consumers have lately seemed to agree: the service has lost users.) “The only reason Netflix is able to do that is that it has a monopolistic position provided by a social agreement—the copyright!” Daniil exclaimed. The Libermans envisioned capping movie profits at a sum—say, a hundred million dollars—after which a film would enter the public domain. This would let copyright owners know what they were getting, and get it faster, because now everyone had a shared interest in pushing a movie toward public ownership.
The brothers first experimented with profit capping at one of their companies in 2015. But the soaring idea came down to earth for them in 2019, when OpenAI, an artificial-intelligence nonprofit co-founded by one of their friends, Greg Brockman, raised a billion dollars in funding, and capped its investors’ returns. (Everything beyond the cap goes to the nonprofit.) Investors liked the idea, because it let an enterprise like OpenAI compete with companies such as Google in research without selling out its nonprofit principles: a big boon for recruitment, among other things.
At a vegan-sushi restaurant in San Francisco, the brothers met with Marina Mogilko, an upbeat Russian-expat YouTuber in whose life they themselves have bought shares. At twenty-one, she had co-founded a kind of Expedia for language-immersion packages. Now, as a thirty-two-year-old influencer, she taught foreigners how to speak and act like Americans. (“You’re going to exaggerate your happiness a little, because that’s what America is about,” she instructs.) She has more than six million subscribers, and the Libermans bought part of her future at a total valuation of around thirty-four million dollars. At first, she didn’t know what she would do with the money, but in time she hired producers, a Parisian stylist, and a P.R. manager, and this staffing brought her success of a sort. Mogilko was about to fly to New York to be photographed in a yellow bodysuit for the cover of Bulgarian Glamour. “I feel as if I’m playing a game and keep rising to another level,” she told me.
A principle known as the Modigliani-Miller theorem says that, in a perfect market, a company’s value will be the same whether it finances its growth only by selling shares or by also taking on debt. By this logic, Mogilko would have got the same boost through a loan. (Practically, in fact, she might come out ahead: most debt financing costs less than venture capital.) The Libermans say that the difference is psychological, and in where the money is coming from. But their model isn’t so much digging young people out of their predicament as replacing one kind of weight with another. The vulnerable are still vulnerable, and it remains a long way from the bottom to the top.
The life-shares model supports people like the Libermans and Mogilko, who find a spark in dreaming and are able to climb career ladders. In their case, access and connections will pay off. For millions of Americans struggling to find a basic job, the prospect of locating willing investors and deal lawyers seems a moon shot, and the big money will stay out of reach. A top-level librarian earning a hundred thousand dollars a year will have an income value of three million dollars over thirty years. Given the growth of money over time, an investor would put that life’s current value at around four hundred thousand dollars, or, for a five-per-cent share, twenty thousand dollars—small recompense for a piece of one’s lifelong daily work.
“Yes, if you’re the kind of person who wants to work at a job you love and it’s predictable how much money you’re going to make, it’s a bad instrument,” Sam Lessin, the venture capitalist, told me. “It works only when someone can squint and say, O.K., you’ll probably fail, but if you work we’re going to make a ton of money.” The dream is big, in that sense, but the group of the lucky is small, and it is probably not a good thing that everybody else—librarians, teachers, nurses, civil servants—are the people who hold a society together. Those in desperation reach for desperate measures, sometimes with destabilizing results.
The period when the Libermans’ parents’ idea of chaimatics took its most audacious public turn, toward a theory of everything, was the period when the family’s finances began to approach collapse. Their children, half a world from that tiny Moscow apartment, still think that Efim and Svetlana are right about their science—they had never known their parents to be seriously wrong before. The implications of cellular computing, if true, could be enormous, they believe, but proving that could take decades: too long to woo investors seeking returns. The value of the idea was one that the market couldn’t hold.
The brothers told me that they planned to use the wealth they got from Libermans Co. to fund a lab for chaimatics—a continuation of the work their family had begun long ago. The idea was outlandish, but they were used to that. The work might seem too interdisciplinary, but so was everything their family did. It had occurred to the brothers that, after decades of research, their parents could be proved wrong. But that was O.K., they said; that was the thrill of science. All the money in the world could carry you only so far. ♦
THE next big GTA Online update is just a couple of hours away.
GTA Online’s ever-expanding sandbox is about to get a whole lot bigger with the Criminal Enterprises expansion.
This marks the first big expansion to GTA Online since the game launched on Xbox Series X/S and PS5 earlier this year.
These new versions of the game, dubbed Expanded and Enhanced, have become just as successful as their predecessors on older hardware.
This expansion is bringing a lot of new toys including two new rifles, 18 new cars, and a bunch of new activities in the world to help you live out your criminal fantasies.
You can run deliveries of Ammunation, or go and sort out some trouble at a nightclub. As well as the usual missions for big RP and cash.
There is even a Metal Detector collectable for those of you who like hunting for these kinds of things.
What fans are most excited about is the anti-griefing updates that have been promised.
Full details are yet to be released, but players are hoping this update will curb some of the rampant bad behaviour online sessions are seeing all the time.
One note that has been revealed says that cars deliberately driving the wrong way in a race will be ghosted, so they can’t collide with the rest of the racers.
The update has just launched on Xbox platforms now, and the obtain size is 12.05 GB.
One PlayStation, the update is just 5 GB, and only 2.83 GB on PC.
A handy graphic has been created by @videotech_ on Twitter that shows what time the update is likely to release in each region.
These times are not set in stone and could be delayed for any reason, but these times are a reasonable expectation.
This means that you should be able to get playing with GTA Online Criminal Enterprises around 11am BST.
Written by Ryan Woodrow on behalf of GLHF.
Looking for tips and tricks across your favourite consoles and games? We have you covered...
WEDNESDAY, July 6, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- You might think everyone knows by now to protect against the sun's rays, but many Gen Zers apparently haven't gotten the message.
In a latest survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by the American Academy of Dermatology, many of these 18- to 25-year-olds were unaware of the risks from tanning.
About 60% of Gen Z respondents said they got a tan in 2021. About 27% said they thought having a base tan decreased the risk of developing skin cancer (it doesn't). Another 38% said tanning was safe as long as they didn't burn -- another fallacy.
"It's frustrating that people still think a tan looks healthy and that a base tan is going to protect you," said Dr. Brittany Craiglow, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. "Just because you’re not burning doesn't mean your skin isn't getting damaged."
In fact, it only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person's odds of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, the academy said. Tanning of any kind, whether from the sun, tanning beds or sun lamps, increases your skin cancer risk.
"All that UV damage is cumulative so what you're doing now will affect you in your future," Craiglow said in an academy news release.
The survey showed some other key misconceptions about sun protection among Gen Zers: 54% thought an SPF 30 offers twice as much protection as SPF 15; 39% say high SPF can be applied less often, and 23% were unaware that sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours when outdoors.
In addition, almost half didn't know you can get sunburned on a cloudy day. About 37% were unaware that the sun’s UV rays can penetrate clothing, and almost 3 in 10 didn't know that shade protects against UV rays.
Craiglow offered her own cautionary tale. She said she didn't think much about the multiple sunburns she had as a child until she was diagnosed with skin cancer in her mid-20s.
"When I was in medical school, I went to a dermatologist for a non-healing spot on my back," she said. "My dermatologist performed a biopsy, and I was diagnosed with basal cell skin cancer. Since then, I have had regular skin exams."
Once she became a dermatologist, Craiglow knew the signs of skin cancer to look for. Over the years, she has had multiple basal cell skin cancers and then, a year ago, she was diagnosed with melanoma.
More than half of Gen Z survey respondents said they wished they had done more to protect themselves when they were younger. About 22% said they already see signs of sun damage. About 28% were unaware that sun exposure would age their skin.
"Not many people want wrinkles and age spots on their skin," Craiglow said. "But the 4-inch scar on my arm from my melanoma surgery is even scarier than these signs of premature aging."
If you notice a spot on your skin that is different from others or that changes, itches or bleeds, you should see a dermatologist, Craiglow said.
In the meantime, seek shade when you can, especially when the sun's rays are strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. Select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
Visit the academy's PracticeSafeSun.org to learn more about safe sun habits.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on skin cancer.
SOURCE: American Academy of Dermatology, news release, June 28, 2022
IN a world as big as GTA Online’s, new stuff to play with is always welcome.
The Criminal Enterprises update is finally here for GTA Online. This is the first major expansion since the game made its way to PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.
While much of the content from this expansion is being drip-fed over time, there is plenty available right now.
New weapons, vehicles, dealerships, missions and more are all on their way.
But they all fall short of the biggest addition, as your character can now wear Airpods.
We’ve gathered all the biggest features of this new update so you can get right into the fun stuff.
What would a shooter game be without things to shoot. Two new rifles can be bought in GTA Online.
The M16 rifle is going to be available very soon, although we don’t know how much it’ll cost yet.
However, you can buy the Precision Rifle right now for $391,500. As the name suggests, it has high accuracy, just keep control of the recoil.
One of the game’s most important status symbols are the cars, and you can buy six new ones in this update, with many more on their way.
The most expensive of these is the LM87 Hypercar, which costs a whopping $2,915,000.
If you’re looking for a ‘budget’ supercar, then try the Greenwood which is just $1,098,750.
If you’re going to buy all these new toys, you’ll need to earn some money, and now crime pays more than ever.
Races of all types, including player-created ones have seen a 50% increase in their payout, making being a great driver more profitable than ever.
That’s not all, as Adversary mode will be seeing the same 50% increase in payout.
Heists have become a lot more lucrative too. Heist Setups pay 50% more, and the minimum cut for Finales has been increased to 15%.
On top of this, many heist finales have had their payout increased. The following have seen a 75% increase:
The following heist finales have had a 50% payout increase:
Your cars can now be fine-tuned better than ever in this update.
Vehicles with LS Car Meet access can be equipped with Low Grip Tires, and vehicles will be delivered faster when you request them from the mechanic.
A great change is that you’ll no longer be charged for destroying another player’s weaponised vehicle.
This means you can properly defend yourself from attackers without fear of being charged for destroying a personal vehicle.
Plus, you can now own 10 properties, increasing your total potential garage space by 20 vehicles, assuming you own the biggest garages.
This is a small but appreciated change, as a few locations now allow players to jog while inside them, rather than slowly walk.
These locations include The Diamond Casino & Resort, The Music Locker, and Nightclubs.
You can read the full patch notes for this update on the official Rockstar blog.
Written by Ryan Woodrow on behalf of GLHF.
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While George Harrison had been contributing songs to Beatles albums since 1963, he had long been in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney. By 1969, however, his compositions had reached such a standard that his two songs on Abbey Road (“Something’” and “Here Comes The Sun”) were among the standout songs on that album. As George said in 1969, “I wasn’t Lennon, or I wasn’t McCartney. I was me. And the only reason I started to write songs was because I thought, 'Well, if they can write them, I can write them.'” But, given John and Paul’s prolific output, it wasn’t easy for George to find space for his songs on Beatles records.
As the finishing touches were being made to “The White Album” in October 1968, George was on his way to Los Angeles to continue work producing Jackie Lomax’s album Is This What You Want? These sessions would see George heading up a crew that featured the cream of America’s session musicians, and he appears to have relished the chance to take the lead in front of such a fine crop of talent. After the sessions were complete, George headed to Woodstock, in upstate New York, where he spent Thanksgiving with Bob Dylan and hung out with The Band, before returning to England in time to take up his duties as a Beatle once more.
By the time The Beatles regrouped at Twickenham film studios on January 2, 1969, George had a backlog of songs, including “All Things Must Pass” and “Isn’t It A Pity,” the latter dating back as far as the Revolver sessions in 1966. On that first morning at Twickenham, John and George played each other their latest songs. But while George enthusiastically pitched in to help on John’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” when George tried to engage John on his song “Let It Down,” John struggled with its chord structure, choosing instead to play some old Chuck Berry tunes. This was a theme that would recur throughout the “Get Back” sessions.
George’s inability to get the group engaged on his new compositions would prove a source of frustration for the youngest Beatle. At one stage, George told John that he was thinking of making a solo record, by way of using up the songs he had accumulated – a venture John actively encouraged.
By the following Friday, January 10, George had had enough and declared that he was leaving the band. After such a positive experience in the US, George found the Twickenham sessions a step too far. As he recalled in Anthology, “I had spent the last few months of 1968 producing an album by Jackie Lomax and hanging out with Bob Dylan and The Band in Woodstock, having a great time. For me, to come back into the winter of discontent with The Beatles in Twickenham was very unhealthy and unhappy. But I can remember feeling quite optimistic about it. I thought, OK, it’s the New Year and we have a new approach to recording. I think the first couple of days were OK, but it was soon quite apparent that it was just the same as it had been when we were last in the studio, and it was going to be painful again.”
Though George returned to the fold when sessions moved to Apple Studios on January 21, he no longer pushed for any of his songs to be included in the eventual live show the group would perform on the roof of their building (the legendary “rooftop concert”).
In April, George absented himself from an Apple meeting, choosing instead to head 20 miles south to his friend Eric Clapton’s house in Ewhurst, Surrey. And it was while relaxing with Eric in the garden that the seeds of “Here Comes The Sun” were planted. As George recalled in his autobiography, I Me Mine: “‘Here Comes The Sun’ was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: ‘sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars and wrote 'Here Comes The Sun.'” George completed the song while holidaying in Sardinia, returning just two weeks before work began on the song at EMI’s studios on Abbey Road on July 7 – Ringo’s 29th birthday.
“Here Comes The Sun” was the last song that George would present to the group, though John was absent for its recording, having been hospitalized by a car crash in Scotland. The song bore a number of influences. George explained: “It was a bit like ‘If I Needed Someone,’ you know, the basic riff going through it, you know all those ‘Bells Of Rhymney’ Byrds type things. So, that’s how I see it, anyway. It’s quite vintage.”
John saw a much older influence, commenting in 1969: “It reminds me of Buddy Holly, in a way. This song is just the way he’s progressing, you know. He’s writing all kinds of songs and once the door opens, the floodgates open.” George’s love of Indian music was another influence – particularly with the complex timing of the instrumental passage at the end of each chorus. “He said, ‘Oh, I’ve got this song. It’s like seven-and-a-half time.’” Ringo recalled in Martin Scorsese’s Living In The Material World. “‘Yeah, so?’ You know, he might as well have talked to me in Arabic, you know what I mean? I had to find some way that I could physically do it and do it every time so it came off on time. That’s one of those Indian tricks.”
With George on acoustic guitar – a capo on the seventh fret – Paul on bass, and Ringo on drums, the 13th take (or take 12 and a half, as it was superstitiously declared) on that July 7 session was the keeper, onto which a number of overdubs would be added over the next six weeks or so: extra drum fills from Ringo and more guitar parts from George, plus an intricate handclaps rhythm were added over the next few days, along with George’s lead vocal and backing vocals from George and Paul. A harmonium was added, before being recorded over by a nine-piece string section, while the work of eight woodwind players was largely erased by an unwieldy new instrument that George had brought into the studio.
Robert Moog’s synthesizer had been increasing in popularity among those in the know in the pop world since its demonstration at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, and George had ordered one after coming across the instrument while recording Jackie Lomax in LA back in late 1968. “I had to have mine made specially, because Mr. Moog had only just invented it. It was enormous, with hundreds of jack plugs and two keyboards,” he recalled. “But it was one thing having one, and another trying to make it work. There wasn’t an instruction manual, and even if there had been it would probably have been a couple of thousand pages long. I don’t think even Mr. Moog knew how to get music out of it; it was more of a technical thing. When you listen to the sounds on songs like ‘Here Comes The Sun,’ it does do some good things, but they’re all very kind of infant sounds.”
All that was left now was to mix the song, and the final touch was added at this stage, with the tape being played slightly fast to increase the pitch of the song by roughly a quarter of a tone – as anybody who has ever tried to play along with the record will have discovered.
The 50th-anniversary editions of Abbey Road can be bought here.
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For the latest music news and exclusive features, check out uDiscover Music. uDiscover Music is operated by Universal Music Group (UMG). Some recording artists included in uDiscover Music articles are affiliated with UMG.