Meghan Markle’s private letter to her dad — and Mail lawsuit — highlight a cruel tabloid critique

When Prince Harry released a statement Tuesday announcing that he and his wife, Meghan, were suing the Mail on Sunday over the publication of a private letter the Duchess of Sussex had sent to her estranged father, the British press was divided. While some journalistic quarters have accused the prince of being “sanctimonious” and “playing the victim card,” others have defended the right of the Sussexes to protect their privacy.

But whatever you think of the lawsuit, it’s clear that public opinion has never really been on Meghan’s side. Indeed, ever since Harry and Meghan announced their engagement in November 2017, the American actress-turned-duchess has faced a constant barrage of criticism in the British press and from much of the British public. There have been stories about feuds with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, reports of diva-like behavior in the run-up to her wedding, accusations of hypocrisy and profligacy. But it is the estrangement from her father, Thomas Markle, which has attracted much press attention, and which has been the cause of substantial criticism toward her.

Culturally in the United Kingdom, the “family is family” refrain still has incredible potency. No matter how toxic the relationship, or how damaged the parent, plenty of people still believe that you should stick by your relatives whatever the cost to your personal well-being. In a 2015 survey out of the University of Cambridge, 68 percent of U.K. respondents said there was social stigma around family estrangement, and that they had felt judged for contradicting societal expectations after cutting off contact with a family member.

Meghan’s acrimonious relationship with her dad — as well as with other members of her wider family — is a public rift many British people find distasteful, as the commentary in many newspaper articles attests, not to mention social media. It is an affront to so-called traditional family values, and neglects the Biblical commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother;” indeed, in today’s Daily Mail, Piers Morgan accuses Meghan and Harry of being “heartless” in the way they’ve “banished” Thomas Markle from their lives. Whatever the private context for the rift between Meghan and her father — and none of us know what that context is — it is invariably Meghan who bears the brunt of the blame.

This specific criticism hits a very personal nerve with me. When I became estranged from my father 25 years ago, I was the recipient of similar judgmental attitudes. You only have one father, people used to tell me, as though perhaps I might have forgotten. It was, in fact, a truth of which I was painfully aware: I only had one father, and mine — an aggressive alcoholic — hadn’t lived up to the task.

As anyone who has ever become estranged from a family member knows — and there are, statistically, plenty of us out there — the decision is never taken lightly. To become estranged from a family member is like a slow, gradual death. It rarely happens overnight. It’s very rarely the result of a single incident. More often, it’s a buildup over time — often years — of toxic behavior, until self-preservation demands you distance yourself from it.

For years, I thought I was unusual in having such a significant estrangement in my life. But when I started writing and researching a novel about family estrangement — in which a mother is desperate to reunite her two adult daughters after three decades of a seemingly inexplicable rift — I learned I wasn’t alone. Research from a U.K. charity suggested that 19 percent of British adults are in families containing one or more estrangements. Across the pond, one U.S. study found that 40 percent of participants had experienced family estrangement, while another discovered that 10 percent of American mothers are currently estranged from at least one adult child. And when my novel, “If Only I Could Tell You,” published in the U.K. earlier this year, I received hundreds of messages from readers telling me they’d always felt ashamed and isolated by their own broken families.

For most of us, these painful estrangements at least have the benefit of taking place in private. Not so for Meghan. For the past two years, she’s had her family conflicts displayed across the front pages of newspapers, discussed on TV shows and debated in magazines, all by people who don’t actually know anything about her situation. For anyone who’s encountered dysfunctional family dynamics, to have remained silent as Meghan has — to have resisted the temptation to tell her side of the story while others are selling theirs — displays incredible self-restraint and remarkable dignity.

There are, of course, other insidious forces at play regarding the criticism Meghan has faced. There’s an undertone of racism to some of the reporting, fueled by right-wing pockets of U.K. society that resent a mixed-raced woman marrying into the royal family. Xenophobia has played a part too: the British do not, after all, have a great track record when it comes to welcoming Americans into our royalty.

And there’s undoubtedly a strong element of misogyny as well: The fact that Meghan has strong opinions — and is not afraid to express them — is unpalatable for some sections of the British establishment. You only have to look at the treatment of many female members of Parliament — ranging from gross condescension to threats of violence — to know that in some areas of British life, strong, opinionated women are still deemed unacceptable. But it is her ongoing familial struggles which have proved click-bait for so many readers, and which of course is now the subject of such a high-profile legal battle.

Over the years, I’ve learned to be robust in the face of others’ criticisms about my own estrangement, but I haven’t had to watch it dissected by the world’s media. Whether or not Meghan Markle wins her legal battle — and the right to protect her privacy around such difficult relationships — remains to be seen. But perhaps, in the meantime, the rest of us could offer a little less judgment and a lot more compassion.

Watch London climate change protest involving 1,800 liters of fake blood go horribly wrong

situated on a firetruck, briefly spray the British Treasury building in Westminster with red paint spewing from a fire hose. But the protestors quickly lost their grip on the hose, which landed on the street and began to flood it with the paint.

The activists who were on the truck chased the hose around and tried, to no avail, to regain control. One of the protesters managed to get a grasp, but the hose slipped away again and continued to dance wildly on the road.

The group was with Extinction Rebellion, who describe themselves as a “non-violent Rebellion against the governments of the world for climate and ecological justice,” and plans to organize marches in cities around the world on Monday.

Painful cuts coming for Alaska, American fliers

American Airlines frequent fliers will lose one of their biggest perks next year: the ability to earn and cash-in miles on each other’s flights.

The American-Alaska program partnership has become wobbly in recent years, but starting March 1, 2020 the two airlines will implement cuts that will gut their long-standing partnership even more.

Alaska Airlines is the second largest carrier at SFO; American Airlines is the third largest. (See the full list of ranked SFO airlines here.) Both have significant presence at Oakland and San Jose airports, too.

Alaska Airlines MileagePlan members will no longer be able to redeem their miles for flights on American Airlines international flights. This is in addition to similar restrictions on redemptions for domestic AA flights that went into effect in early 2018.

Alaska fliers will also not be able to earn miles when flying on American’s domestic and international flights come March 1. (See Alaska’s statement here.)

This cuts both ways: American Airlines says AAdvantage fliers will no longer earn miles when flying Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air domestic and international flights either.

There is an exception here, though. Miles can still be earned on codeshare flights, where both American and Alaska have placed their respective flight numbers on the flight. Those codeshare flights are few and far between and are mainly hops within the Midwest and East Coast.

Alaska Airlines is telling MileagePlan members that if they want to earn miles for flying on an American Airlines international flight, travel must be done by February 29, 2020. Flights booked before October 2 for travel after February 29, 2020 are still eligible for credit, but you’ll need to contact Alaska directly to get those miles. Alaska warns there cannot be any changes to American Airlines award travel after that date. So consider yourself warned, and get traveling!

Why the change?

American Airlines said the cuts were implemented after a “review of its airline partners and programs.”

Alaska Airlines and American Airlines loyalty partnership is taking a hit Photo: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

Photo: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

Alaska Airlines and American Airlines loyalty partnership is taking a hit

“Starting March 1, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members will no longer be able to redeem miles on American Airlines flights, which will enable more award seats for AAdvantage members, particularly in the premium cabin between our domestic hubs and Seattle and Portland in the Pacific Northwest,” a spokesperson said.

The airline said many of the mileage redemptions by Alaska fliers were for seats in American’s first and business class cabins. American also said many of its members were redeeming AAdvantage miles for Alaska flights in a market that American already served.

With the merger of Alaska and Virgin America completed, industry observers said the combined Alaska Airlines network competed rather than complimented American Airlines, resulting in this latest round of partnership cuts.

When the partnership was formed, American helped Alaska fill the gaps in the South and on the East Coast where it had holes in its network, and Alaska helped American fill gaps on the West Coast — where it wasn’t as dominant.

But, American is aiming to grow its West Coast presence by building up its only hub at Los Angeles International Airport, where Alaska Airlines also has a big presence.

Hong Kong’s government is expected to take the rare step of invoking emergency powers on Friday

Hong Kong’s government is expected to take the rare step of invoking emergency powers on Friday so that it can enact a ban on face masks like the ones pro-democracy protesters have worn during months of demonstrations.

Media reports of the possible action emerged days after police shot a pro-democracy protester in the chest during an altercation, signaling a new escalation by authorities and bringing protesters’ rage to new heights.

That demonstrator, identified as 18-year-old student Tsang Chi-kin, survived and was taken to the hospital. He now faces criminal charges of rioting and assaulting police officers. Video from the scene shows that he swung a metal rod at the officer just before being shot Tuesday.

The shooting and mass protests in Hong Kong stood in stark contrast to celebrations that day in Beijing, as flag-waving crowds turned out to mark 70 years of Communist Party authoritarian rule.

If Hong Kong’s leaders indeed use the emergency law to ban face masks, it would be the first time in half a century that a chief executive has used those powers, which date to 1922, when Hong Kong was under British rule.

“Hong Kong outlets are reporting that the city’s Cabinet will invoke the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance,” NPR’s Emily Feng reports from Beijing. “The law gives embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam broad powers to head off protests by stifling communication networks or raiding homes without a warrant.”

“On any occasion which the Chief Executive in Council may consider to be an occasion of emergency or public danger he may make any regulations whatsoever which he may consider desirable in the public interest.”

The law gives Lam sweeping authority to enact orders and rules that might even go against existing rights and laws. The list of actions the executive can take ranges from “control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs” to “arrest, detention, exclusion and deportation” and the appropriation of property.

Lam would have sweeping authority to impose severe penalties on anyone who breaks the emergency regulations, ranging to up to life in prison — and excluding only the death penalty.

As news of the government’s possible move spread, Hong Kong Legislative Council member Dennis Kwok Wing-hang warned that using the emergency measure would undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong — and would not end the call for a stronger democracy.

“They [the government] can use it to enact an anti-mask law now, the next thing is they are going to extend the detention period, and the next is they are going to further curtail the Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms, including canceling District Council elections, all in the name of using the emergency regulation,” Kwok said, according to The Standard. “And that is our biggest fear.”

Protesters regularly wear a range of face masks in Hong Kong, from Guy Fawkes masks to thin surgical-style coverings and respirator-equipped face masks — which have the dual benefit of combating tear gas fired by police and obscuring the demonstrators’ identities.

During the months of demonstrations and physical clashes with police, protesters at the front lines have increasingly worn respirator masks with goggles, helmets and other tactical gear, along with the umbrellas that remain the hallmark of Hong Kongers’ push for local control and direct democracy.

As for how long a ban on face masks and other actions could be enforced, the law doesn’t put an expiration date on any emergency regulations, saying they should remain in effect until the chief executive repeals them.

The emergency law has been invoked only once in Hong Kong’s history, in response to rioting in 1967. But such authority was a point of concern for human rights advocates in the late 1990s, who urged substantial revisions because, they said, the ordinance could be open to abuse when Hong Kong was handed back to China.

The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor — a nongovernmental organization — said at the time that it was “very unsettling” that the measure lacks specific criteria for being invoked. The group added that attempts to amend the ordinance before the handover took place were only partially successful, as only the “draconian regulations made under it” were removed.

To make the case for banning face masks, a pro-Beijing group held a news briefing Thursday and declared that the ban is necessary because the protests have disrupted business and affected the livelihood of regular people.

The mass protests erupted in early June, when millions of people in Hong Kong took to the streets to demand that Lam withdraw a bill that would have allowed Hong Kongers accused of crimes to be extradited to mainland China to face trial.

Lam eventually agreed to that demand, but the pro-democracy movement says it still has five demands, including direct democratic elections to choose Hong Kong’s next leader, and an independent investigation into police use of force against protesters.


Iran raising the stakes

Imagine, now, a retaliation — perhaps for another attack that (even accidentally) causes casualties.
A coalition led by the US would want to calibrate its response. Retaliation would have to be painful for the Iranians. But suggest a taste of worse to come.
Obvious targets would include the command and control structures of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), air defenses around the country, weapons storage facilities and strategic communications hubs.
Elements of the nuclear program in Iran would be singled out, but they’re largely in a semi-mothballed state anyway.
The Iranians know this. Anyone planning to attack Iran knows that they know this, and so genuine targets would be hard to find.
Iran will have studied international air campaigns against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, as well as those against Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Libya. The IRGC and the al Quds Force, its elite overseas wing, will have buried what matters most in mountains and set up decoys.
Iran has been raising the stakes steadily this year as economic sanctions imposed by the US bite hard into its economy. It has been angered by the apparent failure of the European Union and others to circumvent the US sanctions.
The US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed with Iran in 2015, which limit its nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions last year.
Trump and other hawks, notably Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, argued that the deal was “terrible.” Additionally, they say Iran had dangerously squandered the economic benefits it enjoyed on destabilizing operations, often through proxies in Syria and Yemen.
They also say that Iran has continued to back Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, while developing missile technology that has now been used to spectacular effect.
The US, and privately a number of allies, now want the whole thing renegotiated to put an end to Iran’s missile program and its nuclear ambitions.
Iran says it is willing to resume talks but only if sanctions are lifted.
It is the danger of making war against Iran now that has so raised the specter of even greater horrors if a conflict is postponed.
But any attack on Iran could go from a show of force by the West, to all-out conflagration in moments.