Sihana was in a house full of children and women when she was raped by a member of the Serbian paramilitary. The men took five of the younger women into separate rooms; one of them had given birth just four days before.
“They raped us until they’d had enough. The children were screaming, the old women were screaming, we were screaming,” Sihana says.
The Kosovo war ended 20 years ago, but its effects are all too present for this young nation.Approximately 20,000 women and girls were raped during the 14-month conflict; thousands of people remain missing – both Albanian and Serbian – with multiple mass graves uncovered over the last two decades.
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Sihana – whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity – is sharing her story publicly for the first time to show her experience, and that of thousands of other women, must not be relegated to the past.
A Kosovo Albanian Muslim, Sihana enjoyed a happy – albeit financially difficult – upbringing. She was 28 when war broke out. Married with three children, her life soon spiralled out of control. Despite her husband being an educated man, he struggled to get work as institutions began to close. Money dwindled, so they sold wood to survive. “The liberty was getting smaller and smaller, there was no normal life leading up to the war,” Sihana says.
Throughout the Eighties and Nineties, there was a gendered and sexually overtoned propaganda campaign against Kosovo Albanians, according to Dr Anna Di Lellio, a research and policy analyst specialising in the Balkans.
“Albanian women were called washing machines for being ‘oversexed’ and having too many children,” Dr Di Lellio says. “There was huge fear of Albanian men raping Serbian women in the propaganda, although there’s never been any evidence of intra-ethnic rape in this way.” With years of such rhetoric, “it really makes a lot of sense what happened there”, she says.
On 15 January 1999 – after years of heightened tension and conflict in the region – Serbian forces attacked the village of Racak in Kosovo, killing 45 Albanian citizens. The following month war officially began.
“When the war broke it was a catastrophe,” Sihana says. Thousands of people were killed – Serbians and Albanians alike – and properties were burnt to the ground. Similar to Bosnia and Rwanda, a strategy of ethnic cleansing began, with rape used as a tool of war.
Dr Di Lellio says: “These were army-organised groups, state armies, that had permission to clear the territory from a particular group and to do that violently, and by terrorising them.”
Sihana’s village avoided direct attack for more than a year. Refugees from areas not so fortunate would flee to her village, arriving with no food and nothing to wear. Sihana and her family would share what little they had, living in constant fear that they would be next.
“The attacks were random, nobody knew why one village would be attacked,” Sihana says.
Nato intervention came in March 1999; the beginning of a three-month bombing campaign against Serbia. “When the bombing started at first we felt safe – liberty was starting to arrive,” she says. But within weeks the Serbian soldiers came to Sihana’s village and moved everyone out. They were forced out of their houses; there were beatings, possessions were destroyed, people were shot.
They were taken to the woods and ordered to stay in a makeshift tent. More than 100 people were forced to stand and wait under the plastic sheet, Sihana says. “In that tent, there were wounded people, traumatised people who had seen all that violence. During the night we tried to feed children with what we had in our hands, but the whole night there was shooting, shouting.” In the morning, with no explanation, the group was moved back into the village. On the way they collected the dead and buried them. “That night was silent.”
The soldiers kept returning, asking for gold and supplies. Eventually Sihana ran out of things to give, so her husband and the other men were rounded up and beaten while the women looked on. “My baby was in the cradle, and the military kicked it and he cried for two hours. They wouldn’t let me pick him up.”
It wasn’t until night fell that they were certain the military had left, so the men fled to the woods.
“There were four married women and one unmarried sister, and two elderly women, and eight children,” Sihana says, speaking fast and loud. “The old lady tried to protect her daughter-in-law but they beat her with a gun barrel. They kicked the old lady, and they took each of us younger women into different rooms, and raped us, until they’d had enough.”
The men returned the next day and decided they must all leave to prevent the women from being raped again. “They said it would be better if they’d killed us than what had happened the day before. We’d lost all our dignity.”
The journey was extremely difficult for the group. One of the women had given birth just days before – “the women were bleeding, they were in a lot of pain, there was no food to feed the children. I wished I was dead.”
They were eventually allowed into a nearby city, and were there for two months while the Nato troops came in. During this time they found out one of the women was pregnant from the rape.
“It was a big happiness when the Nato troops flew in, because it was chaos before that. You never knew if the same is going to happen again, or if they are going to come and stab you, use their knives on you.”
The woman translating Sihana’s story, Iliriana Jaka Gashi, the director of Women For Women International in Kosovo, interjects with her own experience of war: “I can add to this because I was a refugee. We had started to say, a bullet is a clean thing. If you can get a bullet, you would die happy. It was difficult because they’d come to your family members in front of you, cut their eyes out, cut fingers, cut arms.”
Sihana and her family eventually returned home, although most of the buildings had been destroyed.
“Still every time I saw Nato soldiers, the uniform, I was shaking. They came and asked my husband, ‘What happened to your wife, why is she so afraid?’ He would reply: ‘She has seen many terrible things.’”
The Kosovo war ended in June 1999 but, as with every conflict, war does not necessarily end when the fighting stops.
“It’s been 20 years, but it is a wound that never heals,” Sihana says. Now 49 years old, Sihana lives with her husband and five children, but stresses her life will never return to how it once was, particularly her marriage.
“It’s a feeling on both sides – by husbands and by us – it’s never, ever the same feeling. Sometimes, when you are in the best moments, when you feel a lot of love for your husband, the memory comes back, and it’s never anymore the same … it’s not like living.
“There were so many people that were killed and massacred, but still I wish I was dead. I wouldn’t live with this burden.”
Some women who experienced sexual violence during the war were not able to stay with their families. American-Albanian lawyer Elizabeth Vulaj says: “Many women who were survivors of rape during the Kosovo conflict were left by their husbands, a lot of young teenage survivors were ostracised by their parents because of the stigma and shame brought upon them.”
It is thought 20,000 women and girls were raped in the war; a rough estimate based on interviews with refugees in camps by the Centre for Disease Control of Atlanta in the summer of 1999.
It has taken a long time for rape to be seen as a tool of war rather than a byproduct of it, Elizabeth Vulaj says. However, steps have been taken in recent years, such as pensions for survivors of sexual violence as civilian victims of the war. The initiative was raised in 2014, but only came into effect towards the end of 2018, with those registered receiving a monthly payment of €230.
Dr Di Lellio says: “Rape in Kosovo has been internationally silent … with this new law that provides pensions, there are now about 600 women who have registered … it’s a tiny number because a lot of people are still even afraid of putting their name on a private list.”
Sihana has been getting the payments for several months now. “It’s been easier since I get the pension, because I can pay for medication … Sometimes when I need to go out – when I feel truly broken – I have enough money to get a coffee with someone, just enough money to get out of this world.”
As with the other former Yugoslav territories, achieving justice for victims of war is incredibly complex. Research done by Dr Anna Di Lellio highlights the disappointment of women in achieving accountability and justice, particularly in relation to trials. “A few women went to testify at the Hague … and their identity was revealed to the press – and that was the end of it, nobody else wanted to testify.” She also claims there are numerous instances of women going through trials to speak out about alleged rapes, but convictions not made due to lack of evidence or witnesses.
She adds: “Kosovo Albanian women don’t want to meet Serbian victims of rape either … they don’t think about the fact that they might have had the same experience as them, and so you have two categories of people in Kosovo who never ever share their experiences.”
Sihana is angry that “no one has been punished” for what happened to her, but has been taking steps to move on with her life.
The Women For Women International programme has been running in Kosovo for 18 years, with Iliriana Jaka Gashi at the helm for the last six of them, and has worked closely with Sihana and the other women raped on that day in 1999.
“When they came to us, it was a story they had never shared. In fact, her parents’ side still don’t know what happened. We go to the village whenever they need us and help them apply for things. We cannot take away their pain – but we try to help where we can.”
Sihana used the programme sponsorship money to build a greenhouse. By selling the produce, she expanded, bought a cow, and sold milk locally. But in 2014 she fell ill and is still unable to work. “My husband is a hardworking man, but he had a heart attack three years ago. He continues to work, but he struggles.”
Sihana makes it clear she is not alone in still reeling from the war. “I think I have a very similar life to 20,000 women that were raped. I know there is no more pleasure in life for those women.
“I just hope that my broken heart will be healed. I just hope that I never hear that a woman has been raped again. It’s not an argument that one can have – it’s a fact. Women are not protected. It happened because we were not protected.”
Khartoum, Sudan – Sudanese protesters have called on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to “keep their money” a day after Riyadh and Abu Dhabi offered to send Khartoum $3bn aid.
Hours after the oil-rich Gulf states made the announcement on Sunday, demonstrators at the sit-in outside Sudan‘s military headquarters in the capital started chanting: “We don’t want Saudi support.”
“They are lobbying and using money to try and control Sudan. We have enough resources to look after ourselves and our interests,” Adil Gasem Alseed, a trader, told Al Jazeera on Monday.
“We can rebuild our country without their help. We say thank you, please keep your money,” the 52-year-old said.
Other protesters said Sudan needed good leadership and not foreign aid.
“We have the resources. With good leadership, we can look after our country,” Hanan Alsadiq, a university student, told Al Jazeera.
“The timing of their aid says a lot about their intentions. Why did they wait until now? Why did they not call on Omar al-Bashir to stop when he was killing our people. Their money will only create problems for us,” said Alsadiq, who was born in Saudi Arabia.
The military removed al-Bashir earlier this month after months of anti-government protests during which dozens of people were killed.
The two Gulf countries, in a joint statement, said $500m would be deposited in Sudan’s central bank to “ease the pressure on the Sudanese pound and achieve more stability in the exchange rate”.
The rest of the aid money will be sent in the form of food, medicines and fuel derivatives, the statement added.
Many demonstrators at the sit-in said they suspected the two countries of trying to influence the ruling military transitional council with the aid.
Sudan’s head of the transitional military council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was the head of the country’s ground troops when Khartoum sent its soldiers to Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels.
Deepening economic crisis
Economists say Sudan needs all the financial aid it can get to improve its economic situation.
“Sudan is in need of such assistance and loans to fill the gap in trade imbalance. It needs financial support to fill the areas of insufficiency in its annual budget,” Muhammad Aljak, an economics professor at Khartoum University, told Al Jazeera.
“It is too early to judge whether this assistance is being given with some political conditions or big concessions from the military council. Sudan needs this money and it needs to use it properly,” Aljak added.
A country of more than 40 million people, Sudan has been suffering from a deepening economic crisis that has caused cash shortages and long queues at bakeries and petrol stations.
Demonstrators first took to the streets in December last year following a hike in the price of bread, a staple food in the northeast African country.
The unpopular economic move caused widespread anger.
The country was until recently under crippling US sanctions which lasted two decades and were lifted in October 2017.
‘This organization looks like it’s in free fall,’ one former senior federal official says.
The White House team that ensures federal agencies build better technology and defend networks from hackers is plagued by cratering morale — jeopardizing efforts to modernize the government and protect sensitive data from spies and cybercriminals.
Few Americans may have heard of the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer, but the unit inside the Office of Management and Budget coordinates tech improvements across the government, helping agencies boost cybersecurity and manage technology and cybersecurity budgets thattotaled $105 billion in the past fiscal year.
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But many OFCIO employees are overwhelmed by unclear and changing priorities, while others are simply checked out or feeling increasingly marginalized, according to an internal February staff survey that POLITICO obtained, along with data from an annual governmentwide report and interviews with a current OMB employee, five former OFCIO employees and three former senior federal officials familiar with the office.
The unit is grappling with “high turnover,” “a lot of infighting,” a “crushing workload” and “inaction from leadership,” said the current employee, who — like others interviewed for this story — requested anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.
“Things do slip through the cracks,” the OMB employee said. OFCIO’s guidance “impacts the long-term implementation strategy out in the agencies,” and if that’s lacking, there will be “a debilitating effect on overall cybersecurity in the long run,” the person said, adding that there was “real concern at the staff level that if this continues, something bad will happen and we won’t be ready for it.”
This employee is hardly a lone voice of discontent. Only 19 percent of OFCIO’s 30 employees expressed satisfaction with their workplace in February, down from 50 percent in October, one month before a reorganization that staff said “failed to address underlying problems,” according to the survey summary obtained by POLITICO.
By comparison, in a governmentwide 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, no agency received a combined “satisfied” and “very satisfied” rating below 57.7 percent. The average for all agencies was 68.3 percent.
While the nature of the job — protecting federal computer networks from hackers — means that OFCIO can be a high-stress environment, people familiar with the office say the situation has become untenable.
“This organization looks like it’s in free fall,” said a former senior federal IT official who worked closely with the office.
OMB declined to make Federal CIO Suzette Kent available for an interview.
In a statement, OMB deputy director of communications Jacob Wood said recent changes at OFCIO “have not affected the team’s ability to produce results” and that the office has been “transparent and accessible with federal agencies, industry leaders, as wells as stakeholders.” He declined to respond to nearly a dozen specific concerns about the current situation.
Federal Chief Information Security Officer Grant Schneider, who reports to Kent, dismissed the reports of debilitating morale issues. “I don’t necessarily agree with it,” he said after a national security conference this week.
“There has been some confusion” in the office, he said, but the way to fix it is to get the “relatively small team” together and “focus on the important work and the opportunities that we have in front of us.”
“I think we’ve got an exciting mission,” Schneider added. “I think it’s a great place to work.”
But POLITICO’s reporting revealed just the opposite consensus, based on interviews and the survey.
In particular, a November reorganization appeared to cause significant confusion and discontent among employees. It replaced a structure built around three core units — agency oversight, cybersecurity and policy development — with one centered on “workstreams” for activities such as cybersecurity risk and data strategy.
But the reorganization was “built on the fly” and poorly explained, said a former staffer. More than 80 percent of survey respondents said it was unclear how the reorganization improved office communication.
Adding to these woes is significant frustration with OFCIO’s senior leaders, especially Kent, a former Ernst & Young consultant who took over the office in March 2018 after the team went more than a year without a leader.
Kent, who lacks a cybersecurity or IT background, has fostered “a closed-door culture,” the current OMB employee said.
“You are not allowed to email Suzette directly. You are not allowed to engage senior leadership directly. So, it’s very hard to move things up,” this person said. Employees are told not even to walk by Kent’s office and knock on her door to talk. “You can say hi to her, but that’s the extent of it.”
More than 80 percent of survey respondents said senior leaders didn’t regularly share information about their mission and failed to establish a clear direction for the office. Employees overwhelmingly said senior leaders didn’t effectively communicate priorities or inspire “confidence and enthusiasm.”
The staffer contrasted the current situation to the environment under Tony Scott, the Obama administration’s final federal CIO. “You could stop by, you could interact with him,” said the staffer. “He would, on a weekly basis, take people to get froyo in the Navy Mess Hall. That’s night [and day] compared to what Suzette does.”
Distance between OMB senior executives and career employees has always existed, said a former senior federal cyber official, but “the more successful officials” were able to “bridge that divide.”
With a staff of only 30 people, OFCIO cannot formulate every policy, complete every project, oversee every agency IT program and help fix every security issue in the federal government. Certain tasks must be put on the back burner; other tasks need more or fewer resources. But Kent hasn’t made these priorities clear, according to the people interviewed by POLITICO, who added that because so few employees can talk to her, the rest are left wondering how to triage their work.
One former senior OMB IT official, who speaks regularly with current OFCIO employees, reported “a sense in the staff that today one thing’s a priority and then the wind blows a different way and the next day something else is a priority.”
The uncertainty is having real consequences, said the former senior federal IT official. “When folks keep on hearing that everything’s the No. 1 priority, nothing gets done.”
The poor communication inside OFCIO has led to some surprising indignities.
“You have to look in the news to find out someone’s been appointed,” said the current OMB staffer. They and another source said OFCIO employees learned about Schneider’s appointment through a Nextgov article.
The same is true of policy changes, according to sources and survey data. Some policies have reached OFCIO through their OMB budget colleagues.
“I’ve heard from more than one person that they might get a call the night before or the morning of some major announcement and they’re asked to support it,” said the former senior OMB IT official, “and it comes as a total surprise to them.”
“It’s frustrating to be marginalized or to be surprised constantly by things that are going on around you,” this person said, “and in some cases things that you’re supposed to be directly responsible for.”
In the survey, 69 percent of employees said they lacked “the opportunity to be involved in decisions that affect my work.”
The turmoil follows more than a year of efforts to make improvements. OMB hired a consulting firm to study the office, according to two people. OFCIO also created a Staff Advisory Committee, which produced the February survey and plans to do others every few months.
“There’s been so much effort put into this,” said the current employee. “And this is the end result. It’s bewildering to say the least.”
The February survey, which includes data from 16 of OFCIO’s 30 employees, mirrors data gathered for the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, conducted by the Office of Personnel Management. OFCIO employees consistently reported the most negative answers of any OMB unit in response to statements such as “I know what is expected of me on the job” and “My agency is successful at accomplishing its mission.”
Beyond OMB, other agencies also reported significantly more positive answers.
A few former OFCIO employees downplayed complaints. “Some folks are going to be disgruntled no matter where they are,” said one. “It’s part of the bumps that come along with any transition to something else.”
But others said the latest problems are particularly acute. The 19-percent satisfaction level in the February survey “is extraordinarily low,” said one former staffer.
Given the current woes, it’s unclear whether OFCIO will be able to recruit the best IT and cyber experts, several people told POLITICO.
“Either you don’t fill [open spots] and the work just gets spread around to fewer people … or you end up recruiting people who don’t have the right skill sets for those positions,” said the former senior federal cyber official. “That harms the effort to modernize federal IT systems and to do it in an effective and a secure way.”
The survey summary said that “[w]ithout a substantial improvement in morale, these responses appear to predict significant challenges with retention of current staff and recruitment of new talent.”
OFCIO is “losing people every month,” the current OMB employee said. Kelly Morrison, who leads the “business management” workstream that oversees agencies’ IT capital planning and data reporting, is leaving at the end of April, according to the employee. (Morrison declined to comment.)
“People will always want to come and get the experience,” this person said. “But it will take [OFCIO] longer to recruit and hire folks.”
A former staffer predicted that Kent, a veteran of corporate transformations, would “address these issues head-on.”
Until that happens, the current employee said, “this is going to either get even worse or stay dysfunctional like it is right now.”
On a Tuesday evening earlier this month, several dozen Washingtonians gathered in a ballroom at the Trump International Hotel, ostensibly to enjoy an open bar and watch a new PBS documentary about money. In reality, the event also served as a rally for a small clique whose fierce devotion to supply-side economics made them influential figures in the 1980s, and has won them renewed clout and access under President Donald Trump.
Invitations listed the hosts as Stephen Moore, a habitué of conservative think tanks, and Art Laffer, the supply-side economist, who did not end up attending. Larry Kudlow, the director of Trump’s National Economic Council and one of the president’s closest advisers, showed up in a pinstriped suit. “Larry Kudlow is my best friend in the world,” gushed Moore in opening remarks, noting that Laffer and Kudlow served as co-best men at his wedding to his second wife, Anne, who sat in the front row. Taking the floor next, Kudlow gazed out at the room and offered a shoutout to Adele Malpass, a RealClearPolitics reporter and former chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party, whose husband, David, has just taken over as president of the World Bank on Trump’s say-so.
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Next up came publishing executive Steve Forbes, co-author of the book that inspired the evening’s documentary, “In Money We Trust,” which lays out a case for a hard money system, such as the gold standard, that its devotees believe is less susceptible to government manipulation. Forbes thanked Kudlow, adding, “We’ve been co-conspirators now for about 35 years.”
Those decades of free-market machinations are now paying off, as a quintet of Ronald Reagan administration alumni — Kudlow, Laffer, Forbes, Moore and David Malpass — united by undying affection for each other and for laissez-faire economics, have the run of Washington once more. Members of the tight-knit group have shaped Trump’s signature tax cut, helped install each other in posts with vast influence over the global economy, and are working to channel Trump’s mercantilist instincts into pro-trade policies. Blasted by their critics as charlatans and lauded by their acolytes as tireless champions of prosperity, there’s no denying that the quintet has had an enduring impact on decades of economic policy.
Most recently, in late March, and partly at Kudlow’s urging, Trump announced his intention to nominate Moore to one of two open seats on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the body that sets the tempo of the global financial system.
The announcement prompted protests from economists across the ideological spectrum — George W. Bush’s top economist, Harvard’s Gregory Mankiw, said Moore lacked the “intellectual gravitas” for the job — who warned that appointing Moore, a think-tanker with no Ph.D., would politicize the Fed. Soon, it emerged that Moore had made a mistake on a 2014 tax return that led the Internal Revenue Service to place a disputed $75,000 lien against him, and CNN dug up scathing comments Moore had made about Trump during the presidential primary.
Whether Moore can survive the scrutiny and pass muster with the Senate will be a test of the supply-siders’ renewed cachet. They believe they can pull it off.
“I understand there are imperfections,” Kudlow told POLITICO. “I think it can be worked out.”
While he undergoes vetting, Moore, over coffee at the Kimpton George Hotel on Capitol Hill, held forth with surprising candor about his pals and their relationship with Trump.
In the past, Moore has been openly critical of Trump’s trade and immigration stances, and as late as last fall wrote that Trump could be “sophomoric, impulsive and hurtful,” in a book, “Trumponomics,” that was co-authored by Laffer and featured a foreword by Kudlow.
Why could he get away with such criticism, when others in the president’s orbit often face reprisals?
“Because it’s true!” exclaimed Moore, who mostly lavished praise on Trump, and credited the president with bringing him around to a more confrontational approach to trade policies with China and Europe.
Moore described some of his recent conversations with Trump, which often turn to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
“I think his criticism of Powell is excessive and could be counter-productive,” Moore said, because it could actually provoke Powell to prove his independence by defying Trump’s wishes. Generally speaking, Trump wants Powell to keep interest rates low to decrease the chances of any economic slump before the president faces voters again next November.
Moore also recounted how he and Laffer, who began advising Trump in 2016, helped place Kudlow in his current posting.
Roughly a year into Trump’s term, as Trump’s first NEC director, Gary Cohn, prepared to depart the post, the duo sprang into action. Moore said that during this period, whenever he and Laffer engaged in their semi-regular consultations with Trump, they would have some version of the following exchange:
“You know, Mr. President, you’re missing one thing,” Laffer or Moore would say.
“What is that?” Trump would ask.
“Larry Kudlow,” Laffer or Moore would tell him.
“We just drilled the message over and over,” Moore recalled. “‘Larry, Larry, Larry, Larry.’”
Laffer declined to detail his discussions with Trump, other than to confirm the pro-Kudlow campaign. “I don’t think Steve should’ve told you that,” he said. “But that’s true, yes.”
At the same time, Moore said, the pair worked the press. “We made a concerted effort to make it seem like a fait accompli that Larry would get the job.”
That included knifing a few of Kudlow’s rivals. “We had a campaign to say ‘this person’s completely unqualified,’” he said, though he declined to name their targets. “I think we took them down,” he added.
“It proves that in Washington, appearance is reality, sometimes,” Moore continued. “So that was highly effective.”
In various combinations, the group has been pushing the same agenda for decades.
Laffer, 78, said he first befriended Forbes, 71, in the 1970s at a series of weekly discussion gatherings at restaurants in New York that featured then-Wall Street Journal associate editor Jude Wanniski, a late apostle of supply-side theory.
During that same period, following the 1974 midterms, Laffer first drew his famous Laffer Curve — a representation of the idea that at a certain level of taxation, lowering taxes would theoretically spur enough growth that government revenues would actually rise — at a meeting near the White House with Wanniski, Dick Cheney, then an aide to President Gerald Ford, and Grace-Marie Arnett, another free marketeer active in Republican politics.
Reagan would go on to fully embrace supply-side theory, a shift from the party’s traditional emphasis on fiscal discipline, appointing Laffer to his Economic Policy Advisory Board.
Then as now, supply-side economics was criticized for favoring the rich and derided by critics as unrealistic “Voodoo Economics.” The critics got an early boost from a 1981 Atlantic cover story in which Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, aired his doubts that this novel theory was working in practice.
The piece ruined Stockman’s standing with Reagan — Laffer calls him “the traitor of all traitors” — but Stockman’s young aide, Kudlow, now 71, remained a loyal supply-sider and struck up a relationship with Laffer.
Reagan would go on to appoint Forbes as the head of the Board of International Broadcasting, which oversaw Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, and Moore worked as the research director for Reagan’s privatization commission. Malpass, meanwhile, worked in Reagan’s Treasury department. Representatives for Forbes and Malpass said they were not available for interviews.
In the 1988 presidential primary, another supply-sider, the late New York congressman Jack Kemp, lost out to George H.W. Bush, curtailing the crew’s influence within the party.
But they stuck together. Moore, now 59, first became close with Laffer and Kudlow in 1991, after he recruited them to participate in an event celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Reagan’s first tax cuts for the libertarian Cato Institute.
In 1993, Kudlow and Forbes teamed up to craft a tax cut plan for New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman, who went on to unseat incumbent Democrat James Florio.
Meanwhile, Kudlow hired Malpass to work for him at Bear Stearns, where he had been flying high as the investment bank’s chief economist.
The next year, Kudlow crashed to earth—he left the bank and entered rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction. Laffer stuck by Kudlow, hiring the investment banker to work for his consulting firm in California when he emerged.
In 1996, Forbes, backed by Moore, entered the Republican primary and lost out to Bob Dole, but the group takes credit for getting Kemp picked for the bottom half of that year’s ticket, which lost to incumbent Bill Clinton.
At some point, Forbes, Kudlow, Moore and Laffer became inseparable in the eyes of their peers.
“You could call them the Four Musketeers of the supply side movement,” said Avik Roy, an editor at Forbes involved in some of the group’s advocacy. Or you could call them the “the supply-side Beatles,” as Moore does — or “the four amigos,” as anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist does. “There’s a fourness to them,” observed Jack Fowler, vice president of the conservative National Review.
Malpass, 63, who has maintained a lower public profile over the years, qualifies as something of a fifth musketeer.
“They’re a little rat pack. There’s no doubt about that,” said one New York financial world player who keeps in touch with the group. “They’re all pretty straight guys. They’re not criminals. They don’t do anything weird, outwardly. You know what I’m saying? They like talking about supply-side economics. They get hard talking about tax cuts.”
Whatever you call them, there’s no denying their impact on American society. The group has argued that the best way to manage the economy is to make life easier for the producers of goods and services — by limiting taxes and regulations — so that producers are incentivized to supply more of these goods and services to the market, and that taming deficits is less important than spurring growth.
Before Reagan took office and empowered the supply-siders, the top marginal federal income tax rate in the U.S. had remained somewhere north of 60 percent since the Great Depression. Under their influence, Reagan briefly pushed the top rate below 30 percent, and it has not returned to the anything near the pre-Reagan status quo since then.
Before Reagan, the national debt-to-GDP ratio had been declining since World War II, thanks in large part to the old Republican school of fiscal discipline. Since Reagan, the debt ratio has been climbing back towards its wartime peak. Trade and migration barriers have also come down. American society has become both wealthier in real GPD terms and more unequal. These trends have persisted thanks to a post-Cold War, bipartisan free market consensus, and to the bipartisan Keynesian response to the last financial crisis — but it was the supply-siders who really got the party started.
And they have not stopped partying since. Members of the group have continued to actively socialize with each other over the decades, with some spending New Year’s eves together. At one birthday party for Laffer in New York, they presented the aging economist with a signed poster of the Jedi master Yoda. “I’m short, a little bit fat. I’ve got big, green ears,” Laffer explained. “I look sort of like Yoda.”
In 2015, Forbes, Laffer, Kudlow and Moore created the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, a group intended in part to counter the emergence of the “Reformicons,” a rival gang of Republican eggheads who felt the party had gone too far in the direction of laissez-faire policies favoring the rich.
Among the other 29 committee members listed in a press release were both Malpasses, Kevin Hassett, now chairman of Trump’s council of economic advisers, and Andy Puzder, who was Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary until allegations of domestic abuse unearthed by POLITICO derailed his nomination.
The group sought, with considerable success, to vet Republican presidential candidates for their supply-side credentials and to influence their platforms, holding large private dinners at Manhattan venues such as the Four Seasons and the 21 Club, so that committee members and other notable invitees — like Rudy Giuliani and Roger Ailes — could feel out the candidates.
Before meeting with the larger group, candidates would huddle with the committee’s founders to receive economic tutorials. Or in the case of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to give one. “We were all sitting there, and he would talk for an hour,” Moore recalled. “We’re like, ‘No, we’re supposed to be talking to you,’ and he’s talking to us.” Moore called the episode “Classic John Kasich.”
Though the events were supposed to be off the record, journalists often attended, and an otherwise lackluster February 2015 dinner for Scott Walker made headlines when Giuliani barged in, proclaimed he did not believe that Barack Obama “loves America,” and insisted a POLITICO reporter could print the quote.
Almost every serious Republican candidate participated in the dinners — but when Trump’s campaign first came calling early in the mogul’s bid, Moore said the committee passed.
“It just seemed like a joke to me that he was even running. I was like, ‘No, we’re a serious organization,’” he recalled. In hindsight, Moore said, “That was stupid.”
Meanwhile, Trump defied the committee’s free market orthodoxy on issues like trade and immigration, drawing public criticism from both Moore and Kudlow, and feuded with the laissez-faire Club for Growth, which Moore had co-founded in the late ’90s.
At the same time, Kudlow — who spent two decades in media as a National Review editor and CNBC host —was also eyeing a 2016 Senate run in Connecticut, but he did not jump in.
As the voting started, it became clear that Trump was emerging as the likely nominee, but he continued to have trouble attracting experienced advisers. In March 2016, then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski invited Kudlow and Moore to meet with Trump at the candidate’s Midtown office. (Laffer — who moved from California to Tennessee in 2006 for tax reasons —had already met with Trump and begun advising the campaign on a tax plan.)
The duo hit it off with the apparent nominee, and Trump asked them to help refine his tax proposal, which he had first unveiled in September 2015. According to “Reagonomics,” Trump wanted the pair to make his plan “bigger and more beautiful” than Reagan’s tax cut, but he also needed to trim the projected cost of his original proposal, which was about $9 trillion. The populist Bannon, the book says, pushed Trump to trim the cost by jacking up his original plan’s top income tax rate. The supply-siders fought back, making charts for Trump that showed when Reagan slashed taxes on the wealthy, the share of tax revenue paid by the top 1 percent actually went up. Ultimately, Trump’s new proposal reflected a compromise position between the two camps, with a top tax rate that was higher than the original plan’s, but lower than the current effective rate.
At the March meeting, Trump also mentioned he was planning a trip to Capitol Hill to confer with congressional Republicans. Moore had heard a similar recent meeting with lawmakers had gone badly — they complained Trump was “arrogant” — and suggested that he and Kudlow, who personally knew much of the caucus, accompany the candidate to help “break the ice.”
Apart from a confrontation between Trump and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Moore said the approach “worked like a charm.”
After Trump won, the trio continued to advise on the tax plan. Kudlow and Moore pushed the plan on Capitol Hill, drawing on the same relationships with Senate Republicans that they hope will ensure a smooth nomination process for Moore. Malpass, who had begun advising Trump during the campaign and then went into the Treasury Department, also helped craft the plan.
After the tax bill’s passage in December 2017, Laffer and Moore turned their attention to their campaign to install Kudlow in the White House, which succeeded last March. (Two other members of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, the grocery and real estate billionaires John and Margo Catsimatidis, were dining with Kudlow and his wife at the Italian restaurant Cipriani when Trump called to formally offer Kudlow the job.)
Once inside, Kudlow returned the favor, ensuring that Moore’s and Laffer’s writings regularly made their way to Trump’s desk.
The supply-siders began pushing Trump on trade, advising him to encourage a lowering of trade barriers on all sides, rather than raising them. Last June, Kudlow convinced Trump to float the idea of the world governments eliminating all tariffs at a G-7 summit in Quebec.
Last month, Kudlow showed Trump an op-ed co-authored by Moore in the Wall Street Journal that criticized Powell. The op-ed reportedly pleased Trump so much that it prompted him to offer Moore the Fed job.
Kudlow also championed his former Bear Stearns protege’s World Bank ascension. “For Malpass, I worked very, very hard,” he said.
Moore has predicted that Malpass will gradually bring the supply-side gospel to the World Bank, which influences the economic policies of governments around the world.
To their friends, the prospect of the rat pack getting back at the economic levers is wonderful. “The economy is the best it’s been in a long time!” John Catsimatidis exclaimed.
But critics deride the group as intellectually inconsistent, water-carriers for the rich, and just plain wrong.
“At least Trump, [Senate Majority Leader] McConnell, and [House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy will have one less thing to have to worry about—whether their economists will be sufficiently supportive of what they decide the plan that holds their political coalition together will be,” wrote the U.C. Berkeley economist Brad DeLong, who served in Clinton’s Treasury Department, in an email.
DeLong described Moore as “execrable,” saying he has changed his tune on interest rates since the Obama administration to accommodate Trump’s agenda.
Critics also contend that supply-side is little more than a euphemism for “pro-rich” economics. “They all have the same line of thinking and they all support the same line of argument,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant in New York. “The end result has been the greatest level of toxic inequality since the Great Depression.”
And proof of the group’s core claim — that slashing taxes and regulations is the best path to growth — remains elusive.
The fund manager Doug Kass, president of Seabreeze Partners Management, has long been friends with Kudlow, who attended his son’s wedding. “I’m a great fan of Larry ‘Kuddles’ Kudlow,” said Kass, alluding to the former investment banker’s warm personality. But he is not impressed with the predictive power of the group’s ideas.
“The core foundation, the concept of supply-side economics, at least based upon the empirical evidence,” Kass said, “is something between no success and a disaster.”
Though the group has failed to win over most academics and practitioners, it has had far more luck with its constituency of one inside the Oval Office. Part of the group’s success stems from its tendency to play nice with all sides of the president’s fractious orbit.
Kudlow has butted heads with Peter Navarro, Trump’s director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, over Navarro’s anti-Wall Street rhetoric and hawkish approach to trade negotiations with China. But in general, the supply-siders get high marks for affability, even from those who believe their theories are baloney.
Laffer and Kudlow thank both Steve Bannon and Ivanka Trump in the acknowledgement of “Reagonomics.” And though Bannon’s populist impulses clash with the musketeers’ pro-market views, Bannon’s public relations manager, Republican operative Alexandra Preate, has simultaneously been instrumental in running the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.
“I don’t do factions, man,” Kudlow explained. “We’re the faction that’s in favor of Trump’s policies. That’s the faction Iidentify with.”
Game of Thrones is, without risking hyperbole, the watercooler show of a generation. For Americans, it’s Sunday evening fare, to be watched with friends, at bars or viewing parties, whilst for Brits it’s post-midnight fodder, to be ripped apart the next morning, bleary eyed, over strong coffee in workplace kitchenettes. But, for a show that relies so heavily upon its own cultural importance and the conversations that happen around it, the series’ final season is proving reluctant to serve up a real watercooler moment.
This second episode – “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” – is comprised of a set of classic eve-of-battle sequences. With the Night King’s army reportedly only a few hours away (“one sleep “till Winterfell,” the wights might be squealing excitedly) and battle plans laid down, Jon Snow tells his myriad foot soldiers (and the array of the show’s characters at Winterfell is, by now, truly dazzling, with Tormund, Edd and Beric being added, along with Jaime, whose arrival was teased as last week’s parting shot) to “get some rest”. None of them do, of course.
Tyrion – in trouble with his Queen for underestimating Cersei – sits down with Bran for an off-camera sequence in which the secrets of the universe are, perhaps, unfolded for the youngest Lannister sibling. But the real meat of the episode, and the source of its title, comes from the gathering of Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Pod, Davos and Tormund in Winterfell’s hall. They wax nihilist about the threat of the undead, get increasingly drunk (not something I’d personally choose to do on the eve of an existential battle, but each to their own), and in a moment of quasi-frat boy solidarity, Jaime knights Lady Brienne as “Ser Brienne of Tarth”. It’s a moving display, involving the sexiest use of the command “kneel!” since, well, Fleabag. The scene concludes with Pod singing “Jenny’s Song” (a George RR Martin original, covered by Florence and the Machine over the credits), a choice very reminiscent of Pippin in Lord of the Rings, warbling “The Way Home” as horses charge against Mordor. It is a melancholy moment that reminds us that, this time next week, it’s unlikely that all these beloved characters will be alive and kicking.
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Elsewhere in the castle, Dany and Sansa are continuing their flirtatious animosity, Theon returns to Winterfell (thus completing the show’s longest redemption arc), and precious final season runtime is dedicated to the reunion of The Hound and Beric Dondarrion, who have been apart for precisely two episodes. The most shocking moment comes courtesy of Arya, whose “rest” involves heading down to a candlelit dungeon with sexy blacksmith Gendry, in order to bang it out lest she risk dying a virgin. My breath was momentarily caught when the show teased the idea that we were going to see Arya, who we’ve witnessed grow from a very young looking child to a slightly older looking child, stark (no pun intended) naked. There’s something weirdly leering about the scene, reminiscent of late era Harry Potter coverage, when press and paparazzi obsessed about Emma Watson turning 18.
With one icky storyline introduced, another is rather snuffed out. In the show’s final dialogue exchange, Jon reveals his true lineage to Daenerys, who, honestly, seems more concerned about his bump up the Iron Throne claimant stakes than their incestual dalliance. The revelation has been a long time coming – the slow trickle of this information has crossed over two seasons – but doesn’t have much punch at this point. The show is pulling its viewers in opposing directions, asking us both to believe that the army of the dead are the final boss of the eponymous game, whilst also wanting us to retain a stake in the politicking of Westerosi lords and ladies. The final shot of the episode shows a pair of White Walkers staring down the battlements of Winterfell, setting the scene for next week’s climactic battle, and it’s hard to feel too bothered by who is the true Targaryen heir.
If some found this season’s opening episode a little light on action and rather heavy on character reunions, then “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms“ offers no respite. The emotional knighting sequence, a wee bit of suggested nudity, and Tormund’s fabulous story about being suckled by a giantess are the moments that people will take away from this week’s Game of Thrones. But whilst things will undoubtedly kick into gear next week, it’s hard to imagine that many of Britain’s through-the-night watchers will feel like it was worth it when they arrive at work without any good spoilers to whisper at the watercooler.
Kiev, Ukraine – Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has won both rounds of Ukraine‘s presidential election with a huge margin, erasing President Petro Poroshenko‘s chances of reelection five years after coming to power.
On Sunday, Zelensky secured more than 73 percent of ballots in the country’s runoff vote with under 25 percent of voters supporting the incumbent.
Just three weeks ago, on March 31, the political novice came on top among 39 presidential hopefuls in the first round of voting.
Here are some of the details on who he is and how he pulled it off:
Who is Zelensky?
The 41-year-old is a Russian-speaking comic, actor and owner of a production company, Kvartal 95.
While he has a law degree from the Kiev National Economic University, he has never practiced law. He also has no political experience.
His lucrative production company produces TV shows, feature films and comedy series.
Over the last three years, he has been starring in a hit political TV sitcom, the Servant of the People, where he fights corruption as a teacher-turned-president.
He gave his political party the same name as his show.
The millionaire of Jewish descent is married to a Christian and has two children. He refuses to discuss his religion.
Zelensky was born in the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial city of Krivy Rig in central Ukraine.
Zelensky secured more than 73 percent of ballots in the runoff vote [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]
How he reached the top job
Zelensky announced his candidacy during a televised New Year’s eve comedy performance.
After formally registering himself with Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, Zelensky ran an unorthodox election campaign based on comedy tours and social media, largely shunning journalists and avoiding debates.
Despite giving no details about how he intended to fix the corruption-riddled and war-torn Ukraine, Zelensky soon shot to the top in the country’s opinion polls, benefitting from the Ukrainian’s fatigue of mainstream politicians.
Oleksiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, told Al Jazeera that Ukrainians did not appear to distinguish between his TV character and Zelensky.
“People projected the image of the fictional president in his movie into the real candidate. This is a psychological phenomenon,” he said.
Many Ukrainians Al Jazeera spoke to in the election season feared that Ihor Kolomoisky, the self-exiled oligarch with a grudge against Poroshenko has been backing Zelensky.
Kolomoisky owns the television channel that airs Zelensky’s shows. According to a study by the Reuters news agency of vehicle registration databases, company ownership documents, and photographic records, Kolomoisky and Zelensky intersect in other ways as well.
According to the report, the two men have common business partners; Zelensky uses security staff who in the past were also seen accompanying Kolomoisky; a former Kolomoisky adviser is on Zelensky’s campaign team; and at least two vehicles used by Zelensky and his entourage are owned by people or entities linked to Kolomoisky.
Both Zelensky and Kolomoisky have said their relationship is strictly professional.
What’s next for him?
After the inauguration, expected in early June – Zelensky has to nominate the country’s prime minister and the cabinet. Within weeks, he will have to jump in the election mode again as Ukraine has the parliamentary vote scheduled for October 27.
Without securing the majority in the parliament, Zelensky will have no chance of making any changes in the country as his reforms have to be approved by the MPs.
“Zelensky has to hit the ground running, as Ukrainians are notoriously fickle in their enthusiasm for new leaders and grow disappointed quickly,” Peter Zalmayev, a Kiev-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.
“He will have to match his performance in this election at the October parliamentary elections, in order to form a large enough coalition to govern effectively.”
Follow Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter: @tamila87v