As Russia Votes, Its Youth Are Open and Curious but Not Yet Insurrectionary
Vladimir Putin’s annual call-in show is a highly choreographed affair.
For hours on end, Putin fields questions from a cross-section of
Russians on wages, agricultural production, and foreign policy, with an
outlandish diversion or two, like whether he has plans to annex Alaska.
A resident of the Far East complains about the lack of a playground in
her town; by the end of the show, the local governor has announced one
will be built in their yard. The point is to portray Putin as a
benevolent and omniscient national leader, a figure above the messiness
of governance, not so much a President as a tsar, who, when the
sovereign so wishes, grants the people an audience to air their
quotidian problems and concerns.
It is exactly this aura—of a man in a technically political post who
exists outside of politics—that Putin carries into Sunday’s Presidential
elections, when he will most certainly gain another six-year term in the
Kremlin. For Putin, already eighteen years in power, elections are a
technical task, a periodic necessity, and a kind of referendum for his
rule. The choice as presented isn’t really between Putin and others but
between Putin and the void, the nonexistent, and the unimaginable. As
such, Putin doesn’t deign to carry himself like a candidate: this
electoral cycle, as always, he did not participate in televised debates,
and, this time around, he even declined to be filmed or lend his voice
to his campaign’s official advertisements.
Instead, Putin relies on the episodic theatre of events like his call-in
show on state-run television, a safe environment where there are no
challengers, and no hint that anyone else could ever manage to rule such
a large, difficult, madcap country. The most recent call-in show, known
as the “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin,” was held in June. Toward the
end of the four-hour session, the hosts handed the microphone to a
high-school student named Danila Prilepa, from Nefteyugansk, a midsize
city some seventeen hundred miles east of Moscow.
“Hello, Mister President,” Danila began. “The fact that corrupt
officials and ministers are in the government is not news, and has not
been for a long time; putting them under house arrest for show does not
produce results, and you undermine people’s trust by doing so.” Danila,
who was sixteen years old at the time, went on to say that such
“negligence” affects the majority of the population, including his
father, who had served for many years in the Interior Ministry, Russia’s
national police force. Danila said that his family—because of his
father’s job— should be entitled to a subsidy for the purchase of an
apartment. But, in Danila’s region, from a waiting list of thousands,
only ninety families have received the requisite funds over the last
Putin saw that Danila had read his question from a piece of paper. He
asked if he had thought it up himself, or “Did someone prepare it for
you?” Danila was quick in his reply: “Life has prepared me for this
question.” Putin went on to give an answer that was meant to sound
convincing, but was lacking in specifics; he vaguely promised to
increase housing funds in Danila’s region, and claimed that the
country‘s judges, not its President, control the sentencing of corrupt
It was a rare moment of unscripted—uncomfortable, even—humanity in an
otherwise listless ritual. The dialogue also captured a sense of the
bubbling discontent among Russia’s young people, a generational shift
that is one of the few dynamic stories in a preëlection season that is
otherwise denuded and predictable. (The Kremlin’s main worry for
Sunday’s vote is not whether Putin will win but whether enough people
will bother to vote at all, making the real battle over insuring a
Much has been written, including by me, of the support among Russian
young people for Alexey Navalny, an opposition politician who drew
thousands to rallies across the country last year, and is Putin’s most
acute challenger. He was kept off the Presidential ballot. Danila’s
confident and unblinking demeanor in the face of the very quintessence
of authority seemed to crystallize deeper social changes among those who
are known as the Putin generation: the millions of Russians now coming
of age who have known no other leader of their country. (The
Economist, in a revealing series of oral histories and photographic
portraits, dubbed them the “Puteens.”)
Earlier this week, I travelled to Nefteyugansk, a compact and prim city
of a hundred and twenty thousand people, carved out of the snow-covered
oil fields of western Siberia. It was founded in the nineteen-sixties,
when Soviet geologists discovered vast oil deposits nearby. These days,
Nefteyugansk retains something of the feeling of a Soviet planned town,
but of the more charming variety: a wide thoroughfare or two that
intersect the city center, a number of public squares, low-slung
apartment buildings arranged around open courtyards. Newly built
residential high-rises dot the town’s otherwise unbroken horizon, fading
off into the distance to an icy white haze.
I met Danila in a café in a single-story shopping center not far from
his family’s new apartment—they never did get their promised
state-subsidized housing, and, not long ago, bought a new place by
taking out a mortgage. Danila, now sixteen years old, has a curled wave
of brown hair, and a smile that is both earnest and polite.
For several years, after school, he studied aeronautics and worked on
designing drones at a nearby “technopark”—it was a congress of similar
youth-engineering centers from around the country that brought him to
Moscow last summer. On their second night in the capital, after a tour
of the skyscrapers at the Moscow City complex, and a visit to the graves
of famous historical figures at Novodevichy Convent, organizers told
them that they would be in the audience of Putin’s direct line the next
day. They asked if anyone had a question to ask the President. Danila
said yes, in fact he did, and explained the general contours of what he
wanted to say.
On the morning of the show, busses brought Danila and the other students
to the studio. “We were thrilled that we would get to see the
President,” he remembers. Ten minutes before the program’s start, Danila
was told he would be asking his question. He took out a notepad and
started to draft a text of what he wanted to say; he had just finished
writing when the show’s hosts told him that it was his turn.
His retort to Putin was simply an “impulse of the soul,” he told me. “I
didn’t think for a second, I didn’t expect this from myself—but later, I
realized it was the most correct thing I could have said.”
The exchange left him feeling dissatisfied, though. He had asked the
President a serious question, and even though Danila might be a kid, he
wanted a forthright answer. Instead, Danila thought, Putin “took it as a
joke, he jumped off in a different direction—I expected more.” As Danila
put it to me, “I may be young, but I have eyes, and ears, and can make
some conclusions; not just out of nowhere, either, but based on a real
situation my family is facing.”
For a while after his appearance, Danila enjoyed—or, rather, endured—a
sort of micro-celebrity. Journalists from just about every television
channel in Russia, including all the main state networks, wanted to
interview him, and he got non-stop messages on his social-media pages.
People around town came up and asked to take a photograph with him. “It
was awkward,” he said. At one point, Danila went to his family’s dacha
outside of town, and stopped checking his phone. One teacher at school
criticized his tone with Putin, suggesting that the President has more
important business than the minutiae of Danila’s concerns.
Still, Danila doesn’t consider himself particularly politically
engaged—curious, but not all that passionate. He rarely watches
television and gets most of his news, especially on political topics,
from various feeds on Telegram, a popular messaging app, and the
interview series of Yury Dud, a popular video blogger who puts frank and
probing questions to Russian entertainers and public figures. Danila is
sympathetic to Navalny and follows his initiatives. A local supporter,
whom Danila doesn’t know, had tried to organize a pro-Navalny rally in
town last spring, but withdrew his application once he said his
relatives had come under pressure. Danila said he would have gone, if
such a protest had taken place; and, if he was old enough to vote and
Navalny was on the ballot, would probably support him.
“I’m not saying that everything is so terrible in our country, but
still, somehow, you want more,” Danila told me. He started to talk about
how researchers at Harvard had recently tested a prototype of a cancer
vaccine on mice. “I want this in my country also. We have the resources
to allow for it, they just aren’t put in the right direction,” he said.
Sometimes, he told me, it can feel like Russia has become “stuck in
place.” He was frustrated and wanted better from his country, but in all
my conversations with Danila, he never sounded emotional or aggrieved,
and certainly not revolutionary. “As long as I can remember, I’ve
basically been happy.”
Perhaps, like Danila himself, his home town is a stand-in for the arc of
the post-Soviet era. In the nineties, after the Soviet collapse, the
main oil-production facility in town was acquired by Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, who took over Yukos, the formerly state-owned oil company,
when it was privatized. With time, Khodorkovsky would be known for his
clash with Putin, the ten years he served in a Russian prison, and his
political activism from his new home in London—but, back in the mid- and
late nineties, he was a calculating and not particularly munificent
member of the post-Soviet oligarchy.
In 1998, protests erupted in Nefteyugansk over unpaid taxes, with locals
upset at Yukos for withholding funds from the city budget. The
demonstrations, which drew tens of thousands of people, were led by the
city’s first democratically elected mayor, Vladimir Petukhov. At the
height of the anti-Yukos protests, in June, 1998, Petukhov was shot dead
in a hail of submachine-gun fire. Later, after Putin’s rise and
Khodorkovsky’s fall from influence, the case was revived in an attempt
to pin the murder on Khodorkovsky’s associates—like so much from the
nineties, the actual truth is unlikely ever to surface.
After Khodorkovsky was sent to prison on politically motivated tax
charges, and Yukos was dismantled, its assets in Nefteyugansk were taken
over by Rosneft, a state oil giant now run by a close ally of Putin’s.
The company has an outsized footprint in the city, at once the largest
single employer and benefactor. It gave funds for the construction of a
new kindergarten, an ice rink, and a giant indoor swimming pool and
water park. Each year, the company contributes an additional five
million dollars to the city’s budget for social programs. It is a
tempting allegory for the Putin era in microcosm: predatory, wildcat
capitalism was replaced by the soothing paternalism of state corporatism
That is the world that Danila and his generation have inhabited since
birth, in which the state is both omnipresent and immutable, as endemic
as oxygen in the atmosphere. In a recent report on Russia’s post-2018
politics, the political scientists Ivan Krastev and Gleb Pavlovsky wrote
that, “contrary to Western fantasies, Russians under the age of 25 are
among the most conservative and pro-Putin groups in society.” A survey last December, by the Levada Center, an independent polling
agency, showed that Putin enjoyed eighty-six-per-cent approval among
those surveyed between eighteen and twenty-four years old, compared to
eighty-one per cent for the sample group as a whole. Of those young
people surveyed, sixty-seven per cent said they thought Russia was going
in the right direction, compared to fifty-six per cent among the wider
During my conversation with Danila, I asked him about his relationship
with his parents and the differences between how their generation views
Russia and his own. He mentioned how he had read Ivan Turgenev’s
“Fathers and Sons”—about the intergenerational understanding gap in the
eighteen-sixties—in school, several years ago, and it echoed his
conversations at home. Danila never saw or lived through the age that
proved most formative for his parents, the collapse of the Soviet Union;
and the things that are most relevant for him, his parents don’t
understand, and therefore often fear. He told me what he had heard about
his father’s childhood, in a farming village in the Caucasus. By the
time the Soviet Union disintegrated, so had the local economy, and
people were reduced to bartering fresh milk for eggs. As a boy, his
father couldn’t keep up in school because he was too busy tending to his
family’s small plot of land.
“They had their own worries,” Danila said. “At this moment, we, the new
generation—if I may say so—have new needs.” But it has proved hard for
Danila and his peers to concretize them, to turn that sentiment and
energy into something tangible. Danila brought up his own experience on
Putin’s call-in show: “I tried, but it did not bear fruit, you could
say, proving once again that a pug and an elephant are not equal.”
One afternoon, in Nefteyugansk, I stopped by something called the
“center for youth initiatives,” a space for various artistic and civic
projects led by the city’s young people. I talked with a high-school
senior named Evgenia Merkulenko, who had raised two million rubles,
around thirty-five thousand dollars, for the building of a new,
specially designed playground for disabled children, securing funds from
various government offices and local businesspeople. She was buoyant
about life in Nefteyugansk, and Russia in general, a place, she said,
with “lots of ideas—you just have to develop them, and for that there
are resources, there are opportunities.”
Her positivity struck me as genuine, an optimism forged through what is
known in Russian as “social lift,” Putin-style—the benefits and
resources the state can bestow on those with talent and ambition, and
whose goals fit with those of the system. “I know there was a time when
not everything worked so smoothly,” she told me. But now, “I’m confident
in my country, we live calmly, and peacefully, life has a certain
Merkulenko turned eighteen last month, and thus is eligible to vote in
Sunday’s election, her first. She was excited for the opportunity, and
while she demurred when I asked whom she would vote for, it was clear
that she carried a great deal of esteem, even affection, for Putin. “I
have read a lot about him, he has advanced things a great deal,” she
said. She admitted that, having been born in the first year of Putin,
she could not compare with other leaders, “but I’m fully satisfied,” she
As we sat and talked, it was clear that, although her values were
generally liberal—she spoke of the need for tolerance and the
protections of the law—her immediate political outlook was, by
definition, conservative: the Putin system suited her just fine, and she
was loath to do anything to rock it. “I can’t see anything that is
necessary to change,” she said, “because right now, as I can see, there
already is everything.”
Later, I made my way to a garage for a youth motocross club, where a
letter posted on the door, signed by a local official in town, intrigued
me. “Colleagues! Friends!” it began. Upcoming elections are taking place
under “strong external pressure,” it warned, and to demonstrate
“patriotism and rallying together,” each and every person must vote on
Sunday. “Only in this way will we prove that we cannot be broken with
sanctions and threats.”
I ended up talking with a number of young men who were members of the
motocross club. They said that they were planning to vote, not because
Russia is threatened by would-be enemies—they thought that idea strange
and unconvincing, and hadn’t really paid the letter much attention until
I brought it up.
Maxim, who is nineteen, said that he would have voted for Navalny were
he on the ballot, but seeing as he had been barred, he was thinking of
supporting Putin. I was confused, and asked how he could so easily shift
his support from the figure who took on the system, to the one who
personified it. He tried to explain the paradox, which actually made
perfect sense to him. “It’s like this,” he said. His first choice would
be to see political change, but, he said, “those who have prospects are
taken out because they represent competition. The ones those are left
are accustomed to it, they’ve settled in—and they create stability.”
And, as he put it, “actually, I am not against this stability. At least
for things not to get worse.”
It struck me as a telling bit of political wiliness, and as good a
description of the Putin generation as any: they are open, curious, and
ambitious, but not—at least not yet—desperate and insurrectionary. On my
last morning in Nefteyugansk, I took a stroll around town with Danila,
passing his school, and a row of wooden apartment blocs built for the
city’s first residents, fifty years ago. The sun was out, ricocheting
brightly off the snow, and the temperature had climbed to five
degrees—delightful spring weather, Danila declared. We stopped to warm
up with some tea.
Danila told me that, as he understood from his father, in the Soviet
Union young people had a mania for everything foreign. Today, what’s
fashionable is “success, having a better life.” Achievement is, in a
word, cool—which perhaps explains the duality of being drawn to
Navalny’s call for change and Putin’s promise of stability. We talked
about plans for the future. Danila has another couple of years left in
school, and then wants to enroll in a military aviation institute in
southern Russia. He’d like to train as a pilot. I asked if he saw a
difficulty in serving a state he had begun to sour on. No, he said. “I’m
planning to serve my homeland, not a certain circle of people.” For as
long as Danila has been alive, those two things have fused together,
seemingly inexorably. But there is one last, inarguable fact of the
Putin generation: whatever Russia’s post-Putin future holds, they will
be the ones to inherit it.
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March 17, 2018 at 07:22PM
Pot Tourism to Expand Into San Francisco Lounges
The smoke was thick and business brisk at the Barbary Coast Dispensary’s marijuana smoking lounge, a darkened room that resembles a steakhouse or upscale sports tavern with its red leather seats, deep booths with high dividers, and hardwood floors.
“There’s nothing like this in Jersey,” said grinning Atlantic City resident Rick Thompson, getting high with his cousins in San Francisco.
In fact, there’s nothing like the Barbary Coast lounge almost anywhere in the United States, a conundrum confronting many marijuana enthusiasts who find it increasingly easy to buy pot but harder to find legal places to smoke it.
Only California permits marijuana smoking at marijuana retailers with specially designed lounges. But it also allows cities to ban those kinds of shops.
Unsurprisingly, San Francisco is the trailblazer. It’s the only city in the state to fully embrace Amsterdam-like coffee shops, the iconic tourist stops in the Netherlands where people can buy and smoke marijuana in the same shop.
San Francisco’s marijuana “czar” Nicole Elliot said new permits will be issued once city health officials finalize regulations designed to protect workers from secondhand smoke and the neighborhood from unwelcomed odors. The lounges are required to install expensive heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to prevent the distinct marijuana odor from leaking outside.
Other California cities are warming to the idea.
The city of West Hollywood has approved plans to issue up to eight licenses; the tiny San Francisco Bay Area town of Alameda said it will allow two; and Oakland and South Lake Tahoe each have one lounge. Sacramento, Los Angeles and other cities are discussing the issue but have not authorized any lounges.
Jackie Rocco, the city of West Hollywood’s business development manager, said residents and cannabis businesses complain there is “no safe place, no legal place, to use it.”
Rocco said city officials envision smoking lounges set up like traditional bars, but for now the idea is more concept than plan.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and officials in other states are dithering over the issue.
Massachusetts marijuana regulators considered approval of “cannabis cafes.” But the proposal came under withering criticism from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration and law enforcement officials, who claimed among other things that opening such businesses would lead to more dangerously stoned drivers.
The five-member Cannabis Control Commission ultimately yielded to pressure by agreeing to put off a decision on licensing any cafes until after the initial rollout of retail marijuana operations, expected this summer. Members of the panel, however, continue to support the idea.
“Those who wish to consume cannabis are going to do so whether social sites exist or not, and are going to make driving decisions regardless of where they consume,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Massachusetts chapter of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “Social sites will simply give cannabis users the same options available to alcohol users.”
In Colorado, one of the first states to broadly legalize, lawmakers failed in a close vote to make so-called “tasting rooms” legal. However, cities may do it, and Denver has authorized lounges where consumers bring their own marijuana, issuing a single permit so far.
Nevada has put off a vote on the issue until next year. Oregon has considered and rejected legislation. In Alaska, regulators rejected onsite use last year but are scheduled to revisit the issue next month.
San Francisco has allowed medical marijuana patients to smoke in dispensaries for years, though there was uncertainty over whether the practice was authorized when California voters in 1996 made the state the first in the nation to legalize cannabis use with a doctor’s recommendation.
The Barbary Coast, which received its state license in January, first opened as a small medical dispensary in 2013. It expanded and opened its smoking lounge to medical users last year. On Jan. 11, the shop opened to all adults when it received its California recreational use license. The state started issuing those on Jan. 1 and continues to approve dozens of applications a month since voters broadly legalized the use and sale of marijuana.
Thompson traveled from Atlantic City to celebrate his 27th birthday with his cousins, who live in Oakland. They decided to celebrate in style, getting as high as they could in San Francisco.
The three 20-somethings bought a variety of buds and the quick-acting “wax,” a potent pot concentrate, and settled into a booth with all the accoutrement they needed. After customers purchase at least $40 worth of product, the Barbary Coast will supply bongs, joint rollers, “rigs” for wax smoking and just about any smoking tool desired.
They smoked and debated the merits of smoking buds versus wax. The verdict: There’s something innately satisfying about smoking buds, but wax gives a quicker high even if it requires a hotter flame and more elaborate setup to smoke.
Barbary is in a once-rundown neighborhood that is gentrifying. Two other dispensaries with smoke lounges are three blocks away. Three flat-screen televisions tuned to sports hang on the lounge’s brick walls. Outside the enclosed room, customers line up at the dispensary’s glass counters to buy marijuana.
General manager Jesse Henry said Barbary’s owners plan to open a bigger store and smoking lounge about a mile away, across the street from a popular concert hall, after city health officials finalize regulations for on-site consumption.
“This city is built for tourists,” Henry said. “We put a lot of work into giving them a San Francisco experience.”
Associated Press writers Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.
Photo Credit: In this March 1, 2018 photo, Rick Thompson, clockwise from bottom left, Keith Baskerville and Xavier Baskerville smoke marijuana while sitting in a booth in the smoking lounge at Barbary Coast Dispensary in San Francisco. San Francisco plans to issue more permits for marijuana smoking lounges this year after health officials finalize updated regulations. Jeff Chiu / Associated Press
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March 17, 2018 at 07:03PM
Chic Hospitality: A Review of Dubai’s La Ville Hotel & Suites City Walk
During a recent round-the-world trip with my parents, I wanted to stay somewhere special in Dubai, a city known for opulence and extravagance. But after realizing that the famous Burj Khalifa in Dubai was home to over nine different hotels, many of which had prices in the thousands for just one night, I decided that perhaps I didn’t need to go crazy in the opulence department.
Instead, I chose to stay at the La Ville Hotel & Suites City Walk. This Autograph Collection Category 7 property was still elegant and comfortable but much more reasonably priced, especially when I compared it to an underwater room at the Atlantis, which cost almost $8,000!
I booked a premium guest room at the hotel via Marriott’s site, paying a rate of 1,078 AED (about $293) per night for two nights. If I’d used points, it would’ve cost me 35,000 Marriott points per night for a deluxe guest room (the most basic room, one level lower than the premium room, which you book via phone if you want to use points). I booked my parents a suite, which cost 1,911 AED (about $520).
Thanks to my Platinum Elite status, I was upgraded to a one-bedroom suite, the same one I’d paid to book for my parents. Other perks included free internet, bonus points as my amenity and a late checkout of 4:00pm. I booked two nights because I was arriving at 4:00am and didn’t want to have to wait until 2:00pm that day to check in. I used my SPG Amex to pay, which earns 2X Starpoints per dollar on Marriott purchases. Using this card is better than using the Marriott card, because even though the Marriott card gives 5X for Marriott purchases, I can covert Starpoints at a 1:3 ratio to Marriott Rewards, yielding me with 6 Starpoints per dollar spent at Marriott properties.
The City Walk mall was like a small city within the city of Dubai. The neighborhood had lots of shopping, restaurants and family attractions and many locals live there. In theory, it was close to the Burj Khalifa, but I would plan on taking an Uber instead of walking there — crossing the highways got complicated, and I ended up having to call an Uber half way anyways.
The staff immediately realized I was exhausted when I arrived. The agents processed my check-in very quickly, allowing me to head up to my room right away.
The suite was a corner room, and although it didn’t have amazing views, it was spacious and filled with light.
I had a king bed, a separate sofa area and living area, a small kitchen space with a table and chairs, and a workspace with a desk and chair.
The bathroom was enormous, with double sinks and a freestanding bathtub. There was a small separate toilet and shower area.
The suite won extra points for the rainfall shower, which passed the TPG shower test! (I’m 6 feet, 7 inches.) I also had another half bath, although I didn’t really use it.
The room also came with a robe, slippers, a coffeemaker and complimentary water bottles. The Wi-Fi was fast and reliable. I also enjoyed the Moooi shower amenities, which came in funky, circular packaging.
In general, the suite was incredibly modern. The sleek lines and updated furnishings really resonated with my style. I appreciated that it was well-lit, especially in the evenings, when the sun wasn’t streaming in.
Food and Beverage
I had the choice of a few different restaurants at the hotel, but ended up dining at the Graze Gastro Grill, where my family and I enjoyed a light seafood dinner.
My other main meal was spent having tea at the Burj Khalifa, which is a touristy but fantastic experience. I highly recommend staying at the La Ville instead of the Burj. You can use your substantial savings in lodging costs to splurge on a fancy tea experience instead.
The hotel had a spa, the La Ville Relaxation Suites. I had hoped to squeeze a massage in, but as I really only had one day in Dubai, there just wasn’t time. The property also had a fitness center and a rooftop pool, but I didn’t a get a chance to visit either for the same reason I mentioned above.
I was pleased that the staff was so friendly, especially to my parents. When my mom wanted to get a blowout, they called a nearby salon to make an appointment, and then actually walked her outside to help her with directions, which was really above and beyond.
If you’re looking for a place in Dubai that’s not ridiculously overpriced, the La Ville is a modern Marriott property close to all the attractions and shopping. The staff is efficient and friendly, and the rooms are large and updated. What more could I want for a quick stay in Dubai?
All photos are courtesy of author.
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March 17, 2018 at 07:01PM
Check Out American Airlines’ 2018 Cole Haan Amenity Kits
American Airlines is rolling out updated Cole Haan amenity kits on its flights this month, and we at TPG got a chance to check them out before they hit the skies. There are four kits that American Airlines provided us to test out, each with a red-and-black motif.
Transcontinental Business Class and Premium Economy
The simplest kit is for transcontinental business class and international premium economy passengers, and includes an eye mask, earplugs, socks, bag of Scope and a “refreshing” travel kit.
Routes: You’ll be able to find these kits in business class on American Airlines’ premium transcontinental flights between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Also, you’ll find the same kits on American Airlines’ international premium economy routes. Considering the airline now has at least 70 aircraft with premium economy, these routes have become too extensive to list.
Transcontinental First Class
A slightly nicer kit is being stocked for passengers in first class on some of AA’s transcontinental flights. The kit includes an eye mask, earplugs, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and an “uplifting” travel kit.
Routes: You’ll be able to find these kits in first class on American Airlines’ premium transcontinental flights between New York’s JFK and Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).
International Business Class
The next step up are the kits provided on international business class flights. These kits include an eye mask, earplugs, socks, a pen, tissues, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a larger “refreshing” travel kit.
Routes: The kits will be stocked in the front cabin on most American Airlines international flights. However, flights to Canada, most of Mexico and the Caribbean don’t qualify as “international flights” for most service elements.
International First Class
The top-of-the-line kit is provided to international first class passengers, and includes an eye mask, earplugs, socks, a pen, tissues, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a mini shoe shine kit, and a larger “deluxe” travel kit.
Routes: It’s going to be hard for you to find these in the skies considering that American Airlines only has a few international destinations with first class, and only operates 20 Boeing 777-300ERs with international first class service.
Featured image courtesy of American Airlines. All other photos taken by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy.
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March 17, 2018 at 06:48PM
Donald Trump and the Craven Firing of Andrew McCabe
If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a single
tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted after Attorney
General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of
the F.B.I., on Friday night.
Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by
Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and
the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.
The President has crusaded for months against McCabe, who is a crucial
corroborating witness to Trump’s attempts to stymie the F.B.I.’s
investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia. McCabe had first earned
Trump’s enmity for supervising, for a time, the F.B.I.’s probe of
Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, which ended without charges being
filed against her. In these roles, McCabe behaved with the dignity and
the ethics consistent with decades of distinguished service in law
enforcement. He played by the rules. He honored his badge as a special
agent. But his service threatened the President—both because of the past
exoneration of Clinton and the incrimination of Trump, and for that, in
our current environment, he had to be punished. Trump’s instrument in
stifling McCabe was the President’s hapless Attorney General, who has
been demeaning himself in various ways to try to save his own job.
Sessions’s crime, in the President’s eyes, was recusing himself in the
Russia investigation. (Doing the right thing, as Sessions did on that
matter, is often a route to trouble with Trump.)
Sessions’s apparent ground for firing McCabe, on the eve of his
retirement from the Bureau, thus perhaps depriving him of some or all of
his retirement benefits, involves improper contacts with the news media.
As an initial matter, this is rich, coming from an Administration that
has leaked to the media with abandon. Still, the charges seem unfair on
their face. After McCabe was dismissed, on Friday night, he said in a
statement that the “investigation has focused on information I chose to
share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal
counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had
the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over
several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the
interaction with the reporter. It was the type of exchange with the
media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week.” The
idea that this alleged misdeed justifies such vindictive action against
a distinguished public servant is laughable.
In his statement, McCabe spoke with bracing directness. “Here is the
reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role
I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the
aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” he said. In other words, McCabe
was fired because he is a crucial witness in the investigation led by
Robert Mueller, the special counsel. The firing of Comey is the central
pillar of a possible obstruction-of-justice case against the President,
either in a criminal prosecution or in an impeachment proceeding. By
firing McCabe, Trump (through Sessions) has attempted to neuter an
important witness; if and when McCabe testifies against Trump, he will
now be dismissed by the President’s supporters as an ex-employee embittered
by his firing. How this kind of attack on McCabe plays out in a
courtroom, or just in the court of public opinion, remains to be seen.
What’s clear, though, is the depth of the President’s determination to
prevent Mueller from taking his inquiries to their conclusion, as his
personal attorney, John Dowd, made clear. In an interview with the
Dowd said, “I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow
the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional
Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to
alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss
James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.” Of course,
notwithstanding Dowd’s caveat that he was speaking only for himself,
Rosenstein is on notice that his failure to fire Mueller might lead to
his own departure. And Sessions, too, must know that his craven act in
firing McCabe will guarantee him nothing. Trump believes that loyalty
goes only one way; the Attorney General may still be fired at any
To spin matters out further, Sessions could be replaced with someone
already confirmed by the Senate—perhaps Scott Pruitt, the administrator
of the E.P.A.—who could take office in an acting capacity. At the
moment, Mueller’s investigation is supervised by Rosenstein, the deputy
Attorney General, but presumably a new Attorney General, without
Sessions’s conflict of interest, would take over that role. And that new
Attorney General could fire Mueller. Such scenarios once seemed like the
stuff of conspiracy theories. Now they look like the stuff of tomorrow’s
Andrew McCabe, who turns fifty on Sunday, will be fine as he moves to
the next stop in his career. The demeaning and unfair act that ended his
law-enforcement career will be seen, properly, as a badge of honor.
Still, this is far from a great day for the men and women of the F.B.I.,
who now know that they serve at the sufferance of unethical men who
think that telling the truth amounts to “sanctimony.” The lies in this
story are about the F.B.I., not from the F.B.I. The firing of McCabe,
and Trump’s reaction to it, has moved even such ordinarily restrained
figures as John O. Brennan, the former director of Central Intelligence,
to remarkable heights of outrage. Brennan tweeted on Saturday:
The haunting question, still very much unresolved, is whether Brennan’s
confidence in America’s ultimate triumph is justified.
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March 17, 2018 at 06:39PM
Cuba Guidebooks Clash With Reality and 7 Other Tourism Trends This Week
Throughout the week we post dozens of original stories, connecting the dots across the travel industry, and every weekend we sum it all up. This weekend roundup examines tourism.
For all of our weekend roundups, go here.
>>Cuba guidebooks do a decent job at giving travelers a view of what visiting and living in the country is like and remain important information gatekeepers. But while many address the political climate and economic hardship, they haven’t been effective at telling tourists how to ensure their visits don’t make things worse: The Cuba You Read About in Guidebooks Often Clashes With Reality
>>Need some convincing to join us in Berlin this April? We’ve put together a list for you and your boss so you don’t miss out on the the hottest, most intentional conference in travel: Top 3 Reasons You Have to Join Us This Year at Skift Forum Europe
>>There are countless lessons to consider when examining how luxury fashion, auto, and hospitality are already perfectly integrated inside the world’s fashion capital: The Future of Luxury Sits at the Intersection of Travel and Fashion
>>Many U.S. destinations have blamed the president and strong U.S. dollar for the visitor slump during the past year. But might the impact have been softened if U.S. tourism had a cabinet slot to supplement the efforts of Brand USA? Many other countries have had such representation for decades: These Destinations Did Well Despite U.S. International Tourism Slump
>>Cruise industry players talk constantly about attracting first-timers. Royal Caribbean International is putting some serious cash behind that talk with its new investments into private destinations and ship upgrades: Royal Caribbean Is Making a Billion-Dollar Push for New Cruisers
>>Germany’s biggest exhibition will test the endurance of delegates as more than 200,000 visitors flock to Hanover. The event may be too big for the host city, and many delegates will have to commute for hours each day: What Happens When Events Grow Too Big?
>>We’ve been talking about overtourism for a while now and it’s good to see cities getting more creative when it comes to managing numbers. Visitors are going to keep coming to the likes of Barcelona, Dubrovnik, and Amsterdam, and therefore these places are going to have to get smarter about managing the flow of people, whether they already live there or not: Overtourism Countermeasures Include Limits on Cruise Ships and Short-Term Rentals
>>Technology can empower meeting planners, but it can also lead to daunting integration problems with other aspects of corporate travel. Riding the fine line between solving problems and creating new ones remains an issue that won’t be solved soon: Travel Managers and Meeting Planners Need to Work Closer Together
via Skift https://skift.com
March 17, 2018 at 05:38PM
Deal Alert: Nonstop Flights to Puerto Rico From $68 Round-Trip
Airfare deals are typically only available on limited dates. We recommend you use Google Flights to find dates to fly, then book through an online travel agency such as Expedia, which allows you to cancel flights without penalty by 11pm Eastern Time within one day of booking. However, if you’re using the American Express Platinum Card, you’ll need to book directly with the airline or through Amex Travel portal to get 5x MR points. Remember: Fares may disappear quickly, so book right away and take advantage of Expedia’s courtesy cancellation if you’re unable to get the time away from work or family.
As the TPG team experienced back in early January, Puerto Rico is open for tourism. When we went, it helped that we were leaving below freezing temperatures in New York and 40-degree weather in Florida for temperatures in the 80s in Puerto Rico. And, as the Northeast remains stubbornly cold, we are looking forward to returning again soon:
While recovery is ongoing on some parts of the island, other areas are open for business and need tourism to get back to normal. So, why not escape the cold for the warm beaches, lively culture and history of San Juan?
Airline: Frontier, JetBlue, American Airlines, United
Routes: ISP/MIA/MCO/FLL/TPA/EWR/JFK/DCA to SJU
Cost: $68+ round-trip in economy
Dates: mostly limited to April to May, although some routes have availability into the summer
Booking Link: Expedia, Priceline or with the airline directly
Pay With: The Platinum Card from American Express (5x on airfare), Chase Sapphire Reserve, Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, Citi Prestige (3x on airfare) or Chase Sapphire Preferred (2x on travel)
Here are a few examples of what you can book:
Islip (ISP) to San Juan (SJU) for $68 round-trip nonstop on Frontier:
Miami (MIA) to San Juan (SJU) for $68 round-trip nonstop on Frontier:
Orlando (MCO) to San Juan (SJU) for $78 round-trip nonstop on Frontier:
Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to San Juan (SJU) for $155 round-trip nonstop on JetBlue:
Miami (MIA) to San Juan (SJU) for $195 round-trip nonstop on American:
Tampa (TPA) to San Juan (SJU) for $197 round-trip nonstop on JetBlue:
Newark (EWR) to San Juan (SJU) for $227 round-trip nonstop on United:
New York’s JFK to San Juan (SJU) for $237 round-trip nonstop on JetBlue:
Washington National (DCA) to San Juan (SJU) for $257 round-trip nonstop on JetBlue:
Maximize Your Purchase
Don’t forget to use a credit card that earns additional points on airfare purchases, such as the American Express Platinum Card (5x on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel), Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Premier Rewards Gold or Citi Prestige (3x on airfare) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x on all travel purchases). Check out this post for more on maximizing airfare purchases.
Featured image from Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images.
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March 17, 2018 at 05:16PM
The Truth Is a Terrible Thing, But Not Compared to Falsehood
Reality isn’t just what someone tells you. They could be lying to you, or they just might be speaking from their own limited perspective. We know this, right? We can’t just accept at face value everything we hear.
But reality also isn’t just what you tell yourself, at least not if you’re trying to avoid something. You too have a limited perspective. You have weaknesses, insecurities, and fears that can be surprisingly resilient in their pursuit of a false narrative.
Reality is at least somewhat objective, at least when it comes to basic facts. Sure, you can interpret those facts as you’d like, but facts are facts.
When you choose to persistently believe something that you know, deep down, might not actually be true, you’re lying to the most important person in your life: yourself.
This story from Sheila does a great job of showing how our expectations can create an inner world that is too far removed from reality. Sheila, from Chicago, begins to dream of moving to another city. After some online research (but not, however, actually visiting), she convinces herself that she’s found the perfect place.
“All summer, I’ve felt my excitement growing about Raleigh-Durham… even though I didn’t even understand if they were one city or two.
As June, July, and August passed, the story I told myself about utopian Raleigh grew.
I noticed it happening. I cautioned myself from starting to feel certain about anything before visiting, but it’s a very human tendency. In the absence of real information, we tell ourselves stories.”
Do read the whole post, but the short version is that the story she told herself about the potential move wasn’t based on reality. When she actually goes to visit North Carolina, a place she’s set up in her mind to be a sort of paradise / source of renewal / big next step, she ends up disappointed. It’s a nice enough place, sure, but it wasn’t her utopia.
When you tell yourself a story that might not be true, in some ways you’re protecting yourself. In other ways, though, you’re denying yourself the possibility of something greater. If you discover that the thing you so very much wanted to believe wasn’t true, what does that realization produce? It brings disappointment and pain, most likely, but it can also introduce you to a strength you didn’t know you had.
It can help you see that you don’t need an imaginary security blanket. That blanket wasn’t ever real to begin with, and you’re still here. What can you do now that you’re free from believing in an illusion?
Also, maybe you’ll learn from acknowledging the pain of the truth. True strength isn’t necessarily forging ahead, come-what-may, but rather accepting where you need to pause and consider if there might be a better path forward.
A question that’s rarely asked in these situations: What if Sheila had never gone to visit her imaginary utopia? What if she’d simply chosen to live with the fantasy, imagining a better life in another state that may or may not actually exist?
Maybe that would be okay. We derive a lot of value from anticipating situations and experiences—so much so that I suppose you could argue that remaining in the dark is sometimes better, if it helps you get through other parts of life.
All things considered, however, maybe it’s better that we choose to illuminate ourselves. Even if it’s hard. Even if we don’t fully know what this acceptance will mean.
The truth is a terrible thing, but not compared to falsehood. Open the door and let the light in. You’ll be alright.
via The Art of Non-Conformity http://ift.tt/2kLimEB
March 17, 2018 at 04:22PM
Andrew McCabe, Stormy Daniels, and “Firing Friday”
At the end of yet another week of jaw-dropping developments in the
nation’s capital, the Justice Department announced on Friday night that
Attorney General Jeff Sessions had fired Andrew McCabe, the former
deputy director of the F.B.I., who has been a frequent target of
criticism from President Trump. The decision, which the Justice
Department announced in a press release, came just two days before
McCabe was scheduled to retire, and it means that, after serving the
agency for twenty-one years, he may not be eligible for some of his
pension benefits. According to the press release, the Justice
Department’s inspector general had concluded that McCabe was less than
candid with internal investigators looking into how the F.B.I.
investigated matters related to Hillary Clinton before the 2016
election, and the F.B.I.’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which
handles internal discipline, had then recommended his termination. “The
F.B.I. expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of
honesty, integrity and accountability,” Sessions
the statement. “I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe
The firing is already causing uproar. Trump has been publicly attacking
McCabe since the summer, claiming that the longtime F.B.I. man was
politically biased because his wife, when she ran for state Senate in
Virginia, had accepted donations from a political-action committee
controlled by Terry McAuliffe, the state’s former governor, who is an
ally of the Clintons. McCabe appeared prepared for the eventuality of
his firing—within hours of the announcement, several news outlets
published interviews with him, and he also separately issued a defiant
statement through his lawyers. McCabe claimed that his firing was an
effort to discredit him as a potential witness in any
obstruction-of-justice case that Robert Mueller, the special counsel,
might bring against Trump. Given his experience as a former deputy to
James Comey, the F.B.I. director who Trump fired last year, McCabe would
potentially be in a position to corroborate some of Comey’s claims about
his dealings with Trump before he was ousted, last May. “I am being
singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the
actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing
of James Comey,” McCabe said in his statement. McCabe also strongly
denied that he had misled internal investigators. “The idea that I was
dishonest is just wrong,” he
told the Times.
In a statement reported by the Washington
McCabe’s lawyer, Michael R. Bromwich, who is himself a former inspector
general for the Justice Department, said he had never seen “the type of
rush to judgment—and rush to summary punishment—that we have witnessed
in this case.” Referring to critical comments about McCabe that Trump
made on his Twitter account and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House
spokeswoman, made in her daily briefing on Thursday, Bromwich said they
were “quite clearly designed to put inappropriate pressure on the
Attorney General to act accordingly.”
Just after midnight on Saturday morning, Trump tweeted gleefully about McCabe’s firing, calling it a “great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI.” He also said McCabe “knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!” On Saturday morning, John Dowd, one of Trump’s attorneys, sent a reporter at the Daily Beast an e-mail message in which he said, “I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.” Dowd told the reporter he was speaking on behalf of his client. He later walked back this claim, but the statements from him and Trump inevitably raised the question of whether the President may be gearing up to fire Mueller, and, if necessary, Rosenstein.
A number of conservative commentators reacted gleefully to McCabe’s
firing. In recent months, many of Trump’s supporters in the media and
Congress have sought to divert attention from the special counsel’s
probe by criticizing the F.B.I. for its handling of the investigation
into Clinton’s e-mails and her campaign’s dealings with Christopher
Steele, the former British spy who wrote the so-called Trump dossier. On
Thursday, a group of Republican senators called
on Rod Rosenstein, the deputy Attorney General, to appoint a second special
counsel to investigate the F.B.I. After McCabe’s firing—on top of this
week’s news that Mueller has subpoenaed documents from the Trump
Organization related to its dealings with Russia—these diversionary
chants are only likely to get louder.
The news from the Justice Department came at the end of a day in which
much attention had been focussed on the continuing soap opera at the
White House, where the rumors of more firings and hirings that had
followed the sudden departure of Rex Tillerson from the State Department
on Tuesday continued to circulate. While no sackings occurred in the
West Wing on Friday, the whole spectacle proved that, fourteen months
into his tenure, Trump has succeeded in turning the U.S. Presidency into
a reality-television show. Going into Friday, the White House press
corps had already administered the last rites to H. R. McMaster, the
national-security adviser, and there was also speculation about the fate
of John Kelly, the White House chief of staff; David Shulkin, the
Secretary of Veterans Affairs; and Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing
and Urban Development. Trump, who revels in setting his own media
narratives, appears to have reacted directly against all the reports of
more firings being imminent. On Friday morning, according to an
the Times, the President told McMaster during a national-security
briefing in the Oval Office, “You’re not going anywhere.”
Also on Friday, Kelly and Trump had “a productive meeting that left both
men reassured,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Earlier this week, Kelly returned to Washington from a Presidential trip
a day before the President, leading to more rumors that his days may be
numbered. But after meeting with Kelly on Friday, he “told advisers
afterward that Mr. Kelly was ‘100% safe,’ ” the Journal story said.
And, “Mr. Kelly told his associates that, at least for the moment, he
and the president had patched things up. ‘I’m in,’ Mr. Kelly told
Despite these reports, it was far from clear how long the stays of
execution will last. Numerous reports over the past twenty-four hours
have repeated earlier accounts that Trump has decided to get rid of
McMaster, whose formal manner and detailed briefings are said to have
turned him off. The Times story said that the lieutenant general “is
operating with the expectation that every day may be his last.” Kelly’s
status, too, is still the subject of conflicting reports. On Friday
evening, CBS News
without detailing its sources, that the chief of staff “could resign in
the coming days.”
While all this was going on, there were new developments in the Stormy
Daniels saga. On Friday, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, claimed
in court papers that he has the right to seek at least twenty million
dollars in damages from Daniels, a thirty-nine-year-old former porn
actress, for repeatedly violating a 2016 nondisclosure agreement in
which Cohen paid Daniels a hundred and thirty thousand dollars in return
for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump. Eleven days ago,
Daniels’s lawyer, Michael Avenati, filed suit in a Los Angeles court,
claiming the nondisclosure agreement was invalid because Trump never
signed it. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that this
lawsuit “carries financial risks for Daniels. If a judge determines that
the hush agreement is valid, she faces a penalty of $1 million for each
violation of the agreement’s terms.” Cohen is claiming Daniels has
already violated the agreement at least twenty times. Later on Friday, a
lawyer representing Trump himself filed paperwork in the dispute, in a
motion seeking to have the matter moved from state court to federal
claimed Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that his client has been
threatened with physical harm. Avenati, who may have just set a world
record for the number of guest appearances on cable news shows in a
single week, wouldn’t say who threatened Daniels, but he advised viewers
to watch an interview she gave to CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” which is
scheduled to air next Sunday.
Cohen’s threat of claiming huge damages appears to be an effort to
prevent that interview from going ahead, and to force Daniels to accept
binding arbitration in the dispute, which would be kept confidential.
But Avenati insisted that he and his client wouldn’t be intimidated.
Like the Trump Administration’s revolving-door story, this one, it
appears, still has a ways to run.
This roundup of the week’s news appeared in Rational
Irrationality, John Cassidy’s weekly newsletter. Sign up
here to receive it in your in-box every week.
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March 17, 2018 at 04:17PM
Drink and Jam at Ireland’s Oldest Pub, The Brazen Head
How would you like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (or any day, for that matter) by having a pint of beer at an 800-year-old pub? If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, head straight to Ireland’s oldest pub, the Brazen Head. Located in Dublin and established in 1198, and you can can drink the night away while you rock out to live bands seven nights a week, or even listen to some Irish storytelling.
The most popular music session by far is Sunday afternoon, which goes from 3:30pm to 6:30pm. Bands like Rafferty, Roots’N’Rye, Straight From The Crate and The Brazen Hussies play, and, if you dare, you can even grab a mic and sing along! The pub is known for its fun and happy atmosphere, where patrons are singing, smiling and drinking long into the night.
It’s not just about the Guinness at The Brazen Head, though. The food’s pretty great, too. You can sample popular specialties like hearty Irish stew, fish and chips and steamed mussels.
Getting to Dublin isn’t complicated at all, especially because it’s under a seven-hour flight from East Coast hubs. Ireland’s flag carrier, Aer Lingus, flies nonstop from cities like Boston (BOS), New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Chicago (ORD) and Miami (MIA), among others. The airline also flies between Shannon (SNN) to Boston and New York (JFK). Delta flies nonstop from New York (JFK) and Atlanta (ATL), and United will get you there nonstop from Newark (EWR). American goes from Philadelphia (PHL) and seasonally from Charlotte (CLT). Norwegian flies nonstop from Providence (PVD). Those on a budget can fly WOW Air from a number of different US hubs with a brief layover in Reykjavik (KEF).
Featured photo of The Brazen Head in Merchants Quay in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Sam Mellish / In Pictures via Getty Images)
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March 17, 2018 at 04:02PM