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Charli XCX’s Newest Single Will Take You Back to the Bliss of 1999

It’s Friday, and the perfect time to take a little weekend trip. But our getaway isn’t a physical destination—Paris, LA, the beach—but rather we are going back in time. On this week’s installment of “Friday Find,” our weekly music pick featuring a track, record, or artist we’re jamming to, we’re escaping into nostalgia.

Our choice this week: “1999” by Charli XCX & Troye Sivan ( Single, “1999,” Charli XCX & Troye Sivan, Asylum Records, 2018)

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We’re escaping this weekend with our Friday’s music pick, but not to a place, rather a time, 1999, to be specific. @charli_xcx and @troyesivan’s newest bop takes us back to when CD’s were a thing, Titanic just hit theaters, and Britney was dominating the charts. Check out @sam.vp’s newest pick at #newmusicfriday #pop #bop #music

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Why we’re into it: Enough with 2018. Let’s be transported to a happier time by some banging beats.

Just take inventory of what’s most important to understand why we love this. Nostalgic pop references? Check. Bouncing beats? Check. A certified bop? Check. Charli XCX does what she does best with  “1999″: she crafts a track that is accessible pop of the best kind, yet with an unexpected edge. The last release of her summer single series—which included the other certified bops “No Angel,” “Focus”, “5 in the Morning,” and “Girls Night Out”—came out last week and has already become one of XCX’s more popular tunes.

I could go on and on about Charli XCX and her unique place in pop music, but we’re here to talk about “1999.” The cover of the single—a Matrix inspired piece of work—makes it clear this song has noble roots. References to Britney’s early hits, Justin Timberlake on MTV, The Matrix, and Michael Jackson are only some 1999 nostalgia the two singers touch on. Written by XCX and Sivan, the track creates a delicate balance between the yearning to return to childhood, and the adult ache of wanting a space when things were just simpler. 

“No cares/ I was dumb and so young,” they sing together, “I just wanna go back/sing ‘Hit me baby, one more time.’” Who doesn’t resonate with that pure young-adult bliss of being dumb and young, blasting music in your room, screaming the words to your favorite pop hits? The video only makes the song better as it leans right into the nostalgia of the last year of the 20th century. Spice girls, Backstreet Boys, and the movies The Matrix and Titanic, all incorporated by Sivan and XCX in front of the familiar green screen of the 90’s.

But nostalgia is more than just wallowing in memories of “back then,” it’s the almost tangible feeling of actually inhabiting the past moments when our worries were so different from what they are today. The sheer purity of happier times, that’s what “1999″ embodies. But this track is more than just a longing for the past. Its beats, production, and tone are purely from right now. 

This juxtaposition of both nostalgia and up-to-the-minute revelry of the present make this the find for our October Friday. It’s not just a song but a necessary state of mind. We need to rejoice in the past that made us while being very present, even when that present can be so painful and malicious.

So enjoy your weekend, take a little journey without leaving home, and full experience your present moments. Happy Friday.

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There’s One Big Thing Missing From This Campaign Ad About Colin Kaepernick

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Friday pushed out a new ad targeting Democrat Dan Feehan, who is seeking the open seat in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District. The ad, like a number of other spots we’ve seen this cycle, takes aim at Feehan for defending former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest police brutality and structural racism in American society by kneeling during the national anthem before the start of games. Kaepernick has been punished for his dissent by NFL owners, who under pressure from the president of the United States, Donald Trump, have deprived the one-time rising star of employment opportunities in the league. Because Feehan defended Kaepernick’s right to political speech on Twitter, the NRCC argues that he is disgracing the memory of members of the armed services who have died in uniform.

Okay, here’s something else you should know about Feehan: He’s an Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq. (His Republican opponent, Jim Hagedorn, did not.) And when Feehan defended Kaepernick on Twitter, he was doing so explicitly as a veteran—he used the hashtag #veteransforKaepernick—because he believed the quarterback’s stance was consistent with the ideals he was fighting for. (If you search the hashtag, you’ll find plenty of other people who agree with him.) Being a veteran doesn’t give Feehan any more of a right than Hagedorn to an opinion on the matter, but it does mean that the NRCC’s attack in this case makes literally no sense.

The language the NRCC uses here is worth unpacking a little bit more. “They never took a knee,” the narrator says, as images of military gravestones, flag-draped caskets, and Ground Zero flash across the screen. But who is “they,” and how do we know? The gravestones may be blurred out, but there are real people buried in there, just as there was a real person in that casket, and thousands of real people who died on 9/11, beneath the rubble of the ad. It’s one thing to personally disagree with Feehan’s defense of Kaepernick’s right to protest; it’s another thing entirely to imply that all those individuals would too.

Update: Feehan’s campaign responds:

“During two tours in Iraq, Dan put his life on the line to defend the freedoms of this country. That includes the freedom of nonviolent protest, the freedom to disagree with that protest, and yes, even the freedom for people like Jim Hagedorn and his dark-money friends in Washington DC to run political ads that question the patriotism of military veterans.

The swift boat attempts to undermine Dan’s professional and lived experience in military readiness, stating Dan is not a patriot is frankly disgusting and a part of a coordinated smear campaign that has beenthoroughly discredited by independent fact-checkers. And while Dan Feehan disarmed roadside bombs and captured dangerous insurgents in Iraq, Jim Hagedorn worked in D.C., writing a blog where he belittled veterans, calling a decorated triple-amputee Vietnam War veteran a “half-soldier”.

It warrants saying that this type of misleading attack does a disservice to the people of the first district and quite frankly, is an affront to the service of veterans everywhere. Their use of Arlington National Cemetery as a political prop is particularly disgusting as it is meant to be an apolitical and unifying memorial honoring the bravery and courage of the over 400,000 fallen soldiers buried there, including several friends Dan served alongside in Iraq. These fallen heroes fought for our freedoms while Jim Hagedorn wrote offensive blog posts attacking these very same veterans from behind a cushy Washington DC desk.”

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Is LaCroix Safe? Yes. Natural? That’s Complicated.

LaCroix, the zero-calorie bubbly water adored by millennials, has enjoyed incredible success in recent years. Its parent company, National Beverage Corp., remains tight-lipped about the recipes for this ever-so-lightly flavored sparkling water.

A new lawsuit has thrown its formula into question. A proposed class-action suit, filed in Illinois at the beginning of October, alleges that National Beverage Corp. mislabels LaCroix as “all-natural” when the drink supposedly contains several chemicals that the Food and Drug Administration defines as synthetic—including one used in cockroach insecticide. “There are thousands…who would not have purchased LaCroix water had they known,” the complaint argues.

But before you set down that pamplemousse, please read on.

National Beverage Corp. stated in a press release that it “categorically denies all allegations” in the lawsuit. “Natural flavors in LaCroix are derived from the natural essence oils from the named fruit used in each of the flavors,” the statement continued. “There are no sugars or artificial ingredients contained in, nor added to, those extracted flavors.” In another press release several days later, the manufacturer emphasized that “there are no synthetic ingredients in LaCroix” and “all essences contained in LaCroix are certified by our suppliers to be 100 percent natural.” The company also points out that the lawsuit does not provide any evidence to support its claims. 

Roger Clemens, a University of Southern California food safety expert, is not especially worried. “There’s no evidence at this time that any consumer should be concerned about the safety of the product,” he says. First of all, the synthetic chemicals the suit cites—ethyl butanoate, limonene, linalool, and linalool propionate—”are naturally occurring,” Clemens says. “They’re in strawberries, pineapples, bananas, oranges, apples, obviously oranges and limes, and probably a lot of other foods, too.” These chemicals are also created artificially and used to add flavors or scents to food, which is why the FDA designates them as synthetic.

LaCroix maintains that its flavors come from “natural essence oils.” As to whether the company is using synthetic versions of the naturally occurring compounds, Clemens says: “I have not seen any evidence that they’re not or that they are.” (National Beverage Corp. did not respond to my questions.)

And “whether they’re synthetic or not, clearly they’re safe,” Clemens says. “The fact that [LaCroix] has been on the market with no adverse events says that the product is perfectly safe.” 

As for the claim that LaCroix contains chemicals used in some insecticides, that could be true. Raid cockroach killer, for instance, contains linalool—for fragrance. (Linalool is also sometimes used in insecticides for other reasons).

But Clemens points out that the lawsuit highlights the ambiguity around the meaning of the word “natural.” The FDA does not have a formal definition of “natural,” although a longstanding policy says the term means “nothing artificial or synthetic” has been included or added to the food “that would not normally be expected to be in that food.” (Sidebar: What would “normally be expected” to occur in flavored sparkling water? Unless volcanic activity is involved, is sparkling water itself even natural?) 

Because of this lack of clarity, companies’ claims that their products are “natural” often appear in class-action lawsuits. Last year, for example, suits disputed the naturalness of Annie’s Natural salad dressings and Sargento Natural Blends cheeses, among other products.

Consumers may equate the word “natural” with “healthy,” Clemens says, but this can be misleading. Many substances found in nature, such as hemlock or fugu fish liver, are poisonous to humans. Some everyday foods contain “natural” chemicals—like the carototoxin in carrots and cyctotoxic compounds in radishes and kidney beans—that could harm a person, but not at the low levels present in those foods.

Another thing to keep in mind, Clemens says: “Under current regulations, synthetics undergo much more rigorous safety evaluations than natural compounds”—which may not be tested at all. 

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The Attorney Behind the New “Shitty Media Men” Lawsuit Is a Top Defender of Accused Campus Rapists

In the first days of the #MeToo movement in October 2017, journalist Moira Donegan opened a Google spreadsheet, titled it “Shitty Media Men,” and shared it with female friends and colleagues, asking them to add the names rumored or alleged sexual abusers or harassers—and to keep it secret from men. By the time Donegan took it down 12 hours after sharing it, more than 70 men had been named, and copies were preserved elsewhere on the internet.

The list started such a firestorm of discussion about misogyny and sexual misconduct in the publishing world that Donegan was eventually compelled to publicly identify herself as its creator. And now one of the men named on the list, author Stephen Elliott, is suing Donegan and the list’s anonymous contributors for defamation and infliction of emotional distress.

According to Elliott’s complaint, filed Wednesday in a New York federal court, his inclusion on the document next to allegations of rape, harassment, and coercion (which he denies) contributed to low book sales and fewer business opportunities, loss of friends and social-media followers, and psychological suffering. His lawsuit accuses Donegan of maliciously publishing uncorroborated allegations against him because she hates men, and it cites statements she’s allegedly made on social media, like “the problem is men” and “I hate all men,” as evidence of her bad intentions. (For her part, Donegan has long maintained that the spreadsheet was an attempt to help women warn each other and protect themselves; as she wrote in January, “I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged.”) 

Representing Elliott in his lawsuit is Andrew Miltenberg of Nesenoff & Miltenberg, a New York City lawyer who until several years ago had a modest reputation for business litigation, including defamation and First Amendment cases. But it’s Miltenberg’s more recent work that makes him a noteworthy choice: He’s spent the last five years making a name as one of the foremost defenders of male college students accused of sexual violence.

According to The Cut, in 2013, a former associate at Miltenberg’s firm brought him a new kind of client—a man who had been expelled from Vassar College for an alleged sexual assault—and an idea: Use Title IX, the federal law banning gender discrimination in education, to sue Vassar for discriminating against men accused of sexual violence. The Vassar case failed, but since then, Miltenberg has become the go-to lawyer for students facing allegations of sexual misconduct, representing them in code-of-conduct hearings that never make it to a real court, and filing lawsuits arguing that colleges are violating the due-process rights of the accused. As of late 2017, he’d been hired to represent about 150 students in college disciplinary hearings and lawsuits against nearly 50 schools, he told the New York Times. Business seems to be booming: Last year his firm opened an office in Boston dedicated to handling campus cases.

“This really can be looked at as it has nothing to do with men or women,” Miltenberg told Mother Jones in 2016. “The ramifications to an allegation of sexual assault or sexual misconduct are very severe…there have to be certain due processes in place in regard to why and how we hear these matters.”

Perhaps Miltenberg’s most famous client is Paul Nungesser, a former Columbia University student accused of sexual assault by Emma Sulkowicz, who became famous for protesting the school’s handling of her case by carrying around the mattress she claimed Nungesser assaulted her on. (Columbia’s investigation found Nungesser not responsible for sexual misconduct, and the university settled his lawsuit confidentially last year.) But the list of students Miltenberg has represented also includes a carefully selected plaintiff named Grant Neal, a former football player at Colorado State University-Pueblo, who was suspended for an encounter he claimed was consensual. (Neal and his university also settled last year, with neither admitting wrongdoing). 

Neal’s case was Miltenberg’s first bid to broaden his litigation strategy and go after what many saw as the source of the problems with campus sexual assault proceedings: the landmark 2011 guidance issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which laid out expectations for how federally funded schools should respond to reports of sexual violence. Campus sexual assault activists saw the guidance as the muscle survivors needed to get their schools to take their claims seriously and protect their right to an education without fear of violence. Yet in Neal’s case and in at least one other, Miltenberg asked federal judges to declare the Obama-era guidelines void, arguing that they were biased against men and had been improperly imposed on universities.

The lawsuits were part of a larger backlash—involving a loose coalition of law professors from schools like Harvard, organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and fringe groups including SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as promoting misogyny)against the increasing use of Title IX to protect student sexual assault victims. Last fall, these groups got their wish when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded the Obama administration’s Title IX guidance. (According to leaked draft regulations, DeVos is now planning to enact new rules that are much friendlier to accused students and put less pressure on universities to act when a student reports a sexual assault.) Federal courts have likewise handed several recent wins to accused students, including a September ruling in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that said universities must give accused perpetrators or their representatives a chance to directly cross-examine their alleged victims in campus hearings.

This successful effort to reverse the movement for campus survivors’ rights now seems like an omen for the broader #MeToo movement—especially after the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh despite multiple sexual assault allegations. (Kavanaugh’s supporters pleaded, Miltenberg-style, for “due process.”) But with his $1.5 million lawsuit, Elliott has gone a step further—claiming that allegations against him were not the fault of a survivor’s mixed-up memory, or of a misunderstanding, but of women like Donegan who, he claims, fabricate accusations out of hatred for men. The same idea animates the worst claims of the #HimToo backlash: that women, wanting to ruin men’s lives, will frequently lie about sexual assault, and that any man is vulnerable to a false allegation. 

In college cases, Miltenberg found ways to turn these concerns about anti-male bias into powerful legal strategies. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s now levying the same arguments beyond campus boundaries.

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Gun Control Groups Keep Endorsing Republicans. Some Activists Are Fed Up.

When Everytown for Gun Safety released a list of more than 70 political endorsements this week, most of the names were unsurprising. The influential gun control group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg threw its weight behind dozens of Democratic candidates for state and federal office. But one name stood out: Brian Fitzpatrick. The freshman Republican congressman is facing a fierce reelection fight in a suburban Pennsylvania district won by Hillary Clinton. And in a year when voters are paying closer attention than ever to guns, Everytown’s backing provided a welcome boost in a race that could help decide which party controls Congress next year.

Some of the gun violence prevention movement’s most powerful players have identified Fitzpatrick as a rare Republican ally—one of the few members of his party willing to buck the National Rifle Association and voice support for modest firearms regulations. Gun control advocates have, for example, cheered his 2017 vote against a bill that would require states to recognize concealed-carry permits issued by other states, legislation that was a top priority for the NRA. Fitzpatrick has also cosponsored legislation that would ban bump stocks, expand background checks, and raise the minimum age required to purchase firearms to 21. Earlier this year, he sought out and received the “Gun Sense Candidate” distinction from Moms Demand Action, the volunteer grassroots network that has existed under Everytown’s umbrella since 2014.

But Everytown’s decision proved deeply controversial for other gun control activists, who point out that Fitzpatrick’s record hasn’t always reflected their priorities. As I reported this summer, after Fitzpatrick voted against the concealed carry reciprocity bill last year, he wrote a letter to constituents explaining that he’d opposed the legislation because it contained unspecified “extraneous provisions,” and he said that he still hoped to support a future reciprocity bill. “In an increasingly polarized environment where law-abiding gun owners unfairly find themselves demonized by partisan politicians and the media, advancing reciprocity is a critical step in protecting Second Amendment rights from the whims of partisan legislators and activist judges,” the letter said.

Members of the local Moms Demand Action group in Bucks County—the county that makes up most of Fitzpatrick’s district—told me that Fitzpatrick shared a somewhat different story when he met with the group after the Parkland massacre. According to these activists, Fitzpatrick at the time affirmed his support for concealed carry reciprocity but said he didn’t support the House measure because it didn’t include universal background checks. That position, in combination with Fitzpatrick’s past absence from the group’s events, motivated several of the local Moms Demand members to back Democrat Scott Wallace, who also received a “Gun Sense Candidate” distinction from the group and has put gun control front and center in his campaign.

Some members of the Bucks County group began worrying an Everytown endorsement of Fitzpatrick might be in the works when federal campaign reports showed he’d received $1,000 from the national group in June. They’d shared their concerns with an Everytown liaison, asking the national political arm—which, while housed under the same Everytown banner as Moms Demand Action, doesn’t coordinate with the grassroots group—to stay out of the race. But this week, Everytown announced its support for Fitzpatrick and other candidates in a press release that promised, “Moms Demand Action volunteers will be making calls, knocking on doors and turning out the vote for them in November.” The Bucks County group’s disappointed leaders then emailed their roughly 100 members to inform them that the local group, under their leadership, would cease to exist.

“I think Moms is an amazing organization,” says Jessica Getz, one of the leaders who left the Bucks County group. “But Everytown’s actions reflect who we are. We felt really strongly that we needed to send a message to Everytown that this is not OK.”

That view is by no means unanimous among the Bucks County activists. Everytown’s Taylor Maxwell noted that the local organization still has many volunteers in the area and that it would be inaccurate to say the local group no longer exists.

This isn’t the first time gun control-related endorsements have sparked controversy this cycle. Earlier this year, some voters called for Moms Demand Action to rescind the “Gun Sense Candidate” distinction it awarded Jeff Van Drew, a Democratic New Jersey state senator running to represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District. Van Drew had a top rating from the NRA and voted against two key state gun reform bills this year. Eyebrows were also raised when Giffords—the group founded by former Arizona congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords—endorsed Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), who voted early last year to repeal an Obama administration regulation that prevented severely mentally ill people from buying guns and who boasted three election cycles ago of his “100 percent NRA voting record in Congress.” Giffords also endorsed Fitzpatrick, specifically praising his vote against concealed carry reciprocity.

Gun reform, of course, belongs to no party. Polling conducted in the wake of the Parkland massacre found that 97 percent of Americans support expanded background checks. Some of the states that have been most successful in their quest for tougher gun legislation—such as Massachusetts, Vermont, and Florida—are led by Republican governors. Everytown and Giffords have tried to reinforce that message by endorsing candidates from both parties, a move that even some of their strongest Democratic allies have applauded.

But the reason gun control has stagnated at the federal level since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre is that Republican leadership, helmed most recently by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has refused to take up the issue. Politicians and pundits generally agree that any meaningful progress on gun legislation would require Democratic control of Congress. Indeed, flipping the House is the stated priority of groups like Everytown, Giffords, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. These organizations have long awaited the moment when gun control might become a bipartisan issue, and the national outcry that followed Parkland initially seemed like it could be a tipping point. But the political reality—for this election cycle, anyways—is that GOP leaders simply aren’t going to buck the NRA.

Endorsing Republicans is a delicate dance. There’s no doubt that moderates like Fitzpatrick and Lance have records that are far more palatable to gun control advocates than those of most GOP lawmakers. But some of the Democrats who have been snubbed by these groups have actually staked out much stronger gun control positions. Long Island Republican Pete King, who received a nod from Everytown, has no stated position on gun safety on his campaign website, while his Democratic challenger, Liuba Grechen Shirley, lays out a three-point plan for banning assault weapons, establishing universal background checks, and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Lance, like every other House Republican, has failed to sign on to a proposed assault weapons ban, something his Democratic challenger, Tom Malinowski, supports. Wallace—who’s been on the airwaves since May with ads touting his support for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and “red-flag” laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who pose a risk to themselves or others—attended the March for Our Lives rally in Doylestown, Penn. Fitzpatrick was a no-show.

“I think, in an attempt to try to seem bipartisan, Everytown is grading Republicans on a curve, and I don’t believe that’s fair,” says Lauren Winward, another one of the Bucks County Moms Demand Action leaders who departed the group earlier this week. She notes that even Fitzpatrick has acknowledged the gun control measures he supports are unlikely to get a vote if Republicans continue to control Congress.

“Moms Demand Action is not a partisan group, but in the current political climate, things will not see the light of day if the Democrats don’t take over the House,” Winward say. She added that she’d support a “true vocal and visible” Republican ally, even in this partisan environment. But to her, Fitzpatrick isn’t that.

What adds pressure to these dynamics is the fact that most of the controversial endorsements have come in competitive races that Democrats think they can win. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—the national party arm charged with getting Democrats elected to the House—has identified three of the five Republicans backed by gun control groups as being among their highest-profile targets. Gun safety, a top voting issue this year, has had particular resonance in suburban districts, where control of the House could be determined. The DCCC has done its own competing work to criticize the gun records of the GOP incumbents. Last month, the organization released a TV ad drawing attention to Lance’s past opposition to an assault weapons ban.

In some ways, these endorsements may be mostly symbolic gestures. A nod from one of the groups may come with a campaign contribution, but federal election law caps such donations at $5,000. The real prize this cycle is the seven-figure independent expenditures groups like Everytown and Giffords have doled out—and in congressional races, those have so far been reserved for Democratic candidates aiming to unseat NRA-backed Republicans.

And an endorsement is a way of making friends and hedging bets. “If Republicans remain in control of Congress, having leaders like Brian Fitzpatrick is even more important,” Isabelle James, Giffords’ political director, told me earlier this summer when I asked her about the group’s Fitzpatrick endorsement. “He can work behind the scenes to help block the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda.”

Everytown’s Maxwell echoed that stance. “When Republicans do the right thing, we’re going to stand with them,” she said, recounting Fitzpatrick’s vote against concealed carry reciprocity and his co-sponsorship of a red-flag bill. “As an organization with more than 5 million supporters, it’s unlikely we’ll all always agree. But it’s essential to work across the aisle and prove that this issue is about safety—and owned by no political party.”

But what’s perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that voters are scrutinizing these groups’ endorsements at all. The money and influence that gun control advocates are wielding this cycle speaks to the rapid maturation of a movement that was rebuilt in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, just six years ago. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action and Kris Brown, a co-president of Brady—which has not yet endorsed any Republicans this cycle—both said their groups can barely keep pace with the requests for endorsements and support. “We are really at a watershed moment with the number of candidates we’ve endorsed who are truly running on this issue,” Brown said over the summer. “It’s almost evolutionary in my mind, like the next phase of an organism at its growth.”

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