by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:57:25 PDT 2017
This is a story about how the airport became the setting for the Great American Freakout. Once an icon of progress, then another stale waiting room of modern life, the airport has now entered a third phase.
This summer, Ann Coulter threw a three-day tantrum over a Delta seat assignment, comparing the airline gate attendants to Nurse Ratched, the sadistic warden who rules over the lunatics in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There was some truth to the observation. It was the latest incident in a year of airport fracases—including a brawl at the Spirit Airlines counter in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (May), the concussion of the 69-year-old David Dao who wouldn’t relinquish his seat (April), widespread pro-immigrant protests (January), two full-on panic stampedes one year ago, and a steady drumbeat of racial and religious profiling at security and immigration—that have confirmed the airport’s new role in American life as the marble-floored home of our national, fear-fueled psychosis.
The airport is, on the one hand, as representative a civic space as America has. Nearly half of American adults fly commercial each year, making the airport nearly as common a shared experience as the voting booth. It is also roiled by the ceaseless friction of its many internal borders, real and felt, that separate safety from danger, admittance from expulsion, brown from white, the rich from the rest. Real anxiety has swelled in this liminal space for decades, as airlines grew stingier, the security state grew stricter, and the borders in airport basements grew busier. But as with many conflicts in American life, the rise of Donald Trump has both clarified and exacerbated the fault lines.
This was evident in January, when the Trump administration unveiled its travel ban and thousands of protesters assembled at terminals across the country. But that was only a reminder of all the ways in which the airport has become a symbol and a stage: for the related and unrelated detentions of visitors, immigrants, and American citizens; for flare-ups over dress, language, and skin color; for increasing stratification by class; for massive delays borne of computer failures; for that dangerous hunch that America ain’t what it used to be; and for the aggrieved knowledge that it isn’t all it could be. It is a temple for a political era built on paranoia, as good a symbol for our age as the corporate skyscraper was for the postwar era and the suburban megamall was for the end of the century. The airport is the place to understand America today.
People who run airports know this. You can see it in their attempts to soothe. We now have art designed to keep us calm in the terminal. Ponies. Herds of kindly dogs. A therapy pig, in San Francisco. Chairs that rock and chairs that massage. Jazz music and country music. Mostly, we keep our aviation-related anxieties at bay with chemistry. The airport bars open early and endow patrons with both fortitude and an aura of righteous intoxication rarely found in morning drinking. Savvy travelers not among the nearly 1 in 10 Americans who have prescriptions for Xanax and its ilk nevertheless procure their favored pills for air travel. Take one just after passing through security to sink into an Eames tandem sling, that familiar, inclined bank of chairs.
Whatever we do, it’s not working.
* * *
In 1962, New York’s Idlewild Airport inaugurated Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center, a swooping concrete-and-glass icon of jet-age glamor. The building incarnated an idea of air travel’s allure that lingered like a contrail in the national imagination. In his 2015 book The End of Airports, Christopher Schaberg diagnosed the end of an idea: “The end of airports as romantic places; the end of airports as sites of excitement; the end of airports as apexes of travel culture. The end of airports means the end of our ability to appreciate airports, to inhabit them as dynamic, fascinating, forward-looking spaces.” In his latest book, Airportness, he has turned darker still: “It is a miserable place—you can see it on everybody’s face.”
But the romantic idea of the airport has been dying at least since the hijacking crisis of the 1970s, when American airports began to install metal detectors. Gradually, all aspects of the flying experience would be securitized. Metal detectors first sliced the grand TWA atrium in two decades ago, dispensing the sense of the airport as a genuine public place, where lovers parted at the jetway and the homeless could nap undisturbed, and marking the rise of the age of terror and security. As late as 1997, J.G. Ballard, writing of the world’s international terminals as a “discontinuous city” of global travelers, could claim that “above all, airports are places of good news.” But the raft of changes implemented since 9/11 have amplified security’s psychic cost.
It’s not clear how much the Transportation Security Administration’s methods are protecting us: In a 2015 investigation, undercover agents succeeded in smuggling weapons past screeners in 67 out of 70 attempts, and the agency’s acting head was reassigned. The drawbacks are easier to perceive. The screening requires you to expose yourself, both to the eyes of agents (see the ex-screener Jason Edward Harrington’s confessional “Dear America, I Saw You Naked”) and to fellow passengers, who watch you disrobe. Bags are unzipped to put underwear on display like on a backyard laundry line.
“Taking off shoes,” Harvey Molotch writes of one of America’s more frustrating air travel requirements in Against Security, “makes bodies touch foreign surfaces in unaccustomed ways, bringing to mind the ass on the restroom toilet seat.” Molotch argues that the prison-visit style of airport security is a perpetual worry machine, stoking the concern that justifies its escalating rigors. A design firm hired by the TSA argued that the unpleasant nature of checkpoints was hurting security procedures by giving all travelers the sweaty, nerve-wracked mien of terrorists and drug smugglers, and illustrated the point with photographs of a shark in calm waters (easy to see) and rough waters (invisible).
As with mass incarceration, efforts to reform airport security are hamstrung by politicians and administrators who would prefer to inflict hassle on millions than be caught making one mistake. Normalcy won a rare victory over the security state in 2005, when small scissors, screwdrivers, and pliers were again allowed in carry-on bags over the objections of Congress. (“This is the equivalent of handing back the box cutters to the 9/11 hijackers,” Rep. Ed Markey wrote. Hillary Clinton introduced a special bill to stop the policy.) The exception proves the rule: In 2013, the TSA was set to allow pocket knives and golf clubs on planes before the policy was overruled by lawmakers.
These protocols, like other airport routines, extend a burden beyond the terminal. No traveler can set his or her alarm or pack a tube of toothpaste without thinking about the TSA. The years since Sept. 11, 2001, can be measured out in 3-ounce bottles and other security restrictions. Shortly after 9/11, my sister got carsick on the way to the airport. At the time, there were no trash cans in the check-in area, and so my mother passed the plastic bag of vomit through the metal detector. This story is dated, but only because you can no longer get a bag of vomit through a metal detector.
It’s the conditioning effect of these rituals, as much as terrorism itself, that makes even false alarms so harrowing. Last August, a mass panic enveloped New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, sending thousands of travelers fleeing from a phantom terror attack. The false alarm spread between terminals, and flights were delayed nationwide as terrified travelers stormed the tarmac, hiding behind jet wheels and luggage carts or running for the safety of the Atlantic Ocean. What set them off, apparently, was the collapse of a line of bollards whose clack-clack-clack against the floor sounded like gunshots. Two weeks later, police evacuated four terminals of LAX after a phantom shooting, while in Terminal 4, panicked passengers ran willy-nilly. Outside Terminal 6, they scurried down the sidewalk with their rolling luggage, heading nowhere at all.
* * *
As this everyday security check unfolds upstairs, a more substantive vetting process is underway below. For decades, America’s international airports have been an increasingly important port of entry for visitors and immigrants. In 2005, 81 million people—19 percent of international travelers—entered the U.S. by air. By 2015, that number had risen to 112 million, and 29 percent of international arrivals. (Those numbers underestimate the central role of airports, since hundreds of thousands of commuters cross the U.S.–Mexico border every day and are counted multiple times.) Just as airports are places where America must be defended from terrorism, they are frontiers through which immigrants, foreigners, and American expatriates pass onto U.S. soil. They are borders, with their attendant violence, nestled at the heart of domestic life.
This has occurred despite laborious efforts in Washington to push border functions out of our airports, through a series of international data-sharing negotiations, the export of biometric sensors to visa application sites abroad, and supplementary security requirements for U.S.-bound flights. “With a virtual border in place,” the security theorist Gallya Lahav writes, “the actual border guard is meant to become the last point of defense rather than the first.”
At least, that is the idea. The 2014 Ebola crisis demonstrated it hadn’t quite worked out that way. That summer at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie detained Kaci Hickox, an American nurse who had treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, placing her in a mandatory quarantine at a Newark hospital. Trump tweeted about the Ebola outbreak more than 50 times, calling for a travel ban and opposing the return of two infected U.S. aid workers. “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” our future president wrote. “People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences.”
It was a stance that, in its callousness and shallow thinking, anticipated Trump’s ham-handed attempt at a Muslim ban. On Jan. 26 of this year, the country’s international airports once again reprised their role as a conflict zone. Holders of visas and green cards arriving from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, some of them refugees, found that their legal status had changed overnight. After months of planning, they were imprisoned in the airport.
So it was the international airport, not the Mexican border or an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, that became the first testing ground for the Trump administration’s strident xenophobia. And concurrently, the site of the first, substantive protests against it.
On the Saturday after the ban was enacted, thousands of protesters convened in the parking lot outside JFK Terminal 4. Inside, U.S. representatives, lawyers, and the families of the detained arrivals struggled to determine where authority in the airport lay, which parts of the terminal belonged to whom, and who was responsible for directing the agents of Customs and Border Protection. “Call the president” was the response. We now know that CBP was deploying some kind of centralized strategy to flummox lawyers and members of Congress . But navigating the administration’s reversals often fell to the rank and file.
The vision of the airport as an austere, Taylorized space, where even the architecture is mathematically deduced (150 square feet per design-hour passenger is a common metric), has fallen away to reveal a deeply human frontier, in all the worst ways. A 2005 report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom determined that there was “extreme” variation in the way that asylum cases were handled at different airports. In the past five months, we have seen the agency’s worst actors deploy their cynicism at the airport border. A French Holocaust historian was detained for 10 hours in Houston. A 70-year-old Australian children’s book author was detained and questioned in Los Angeles. Customs agents checked IDs on the jetway of an arriving, domestic flight. Muhammad Ali Jr., the son of the heavyweight champion, was detained in a Florida airport and asked about his Muslim faith. And those were just the names we knew.
* * *
Whether security and customs inspire reassurance, anguish, or outrage, there is a third and overarching gantlet at work in the form of economic stratification. The airport is to America’s petite bourgeoisie—the small-time capitalists and traveling salesmen who delivered us to Trump—what the factory is to the white working class: a symbol of how much better things used to be. (And the president agrees.) But there is a more widely shared feeling that the airport experience is a reminder of one’s paltry but declining status.
The oldest, basic sorting mechanism of ticket sales has been supplemented by a variety of market incentives, with the path to the plane (and back from the plane) lit by buy-ins and buy-outs: baggage fees, seat fees, concession fees, TSA Precheck and Global Entry, travelers’ clubs, and finally the unseemly bidding process to remove the most cash-poor, time-rich SOB from the plane. Airlines earn lower marks on customer satisfaction surveys than loathed institutions like the U.S. Postal Service and social media. When things go awry, the airport experience encapsulates that peculiar, desperate feeling of the modern American economy. Not the balm of total helplessness, but the regretful hunch that if you had just done one thing differently—routed yourself through Houston instead of Denver, gotten in line earlier, not gotten disconnected with the help line—you might be on your way to where you want to be.
Most gripes about the airport stem from the same No Exit complaint that motivates so much worry in America today: There are simply more people there than there used to be. More kids in your school district, more buildings in your neighborhood, more cars on your road, more people who don’t look like you or talk like you at the mall. Or at the airport. Tickets are cheaper, and the airport experience feels cheaper too. Democratization is stressful; tight quarters serve as the kindling for fires of racist fury (and all kinds of other bad manners).
Private jets and lounges have siphoned off onetime airport luxuries. Thanks to higher baggage fees, Americans increasingly lug their possessions through airports themselves. Not only is an airport delay an extended confrontation with your peers in a seating area, but with all the things they carry: blankets, neck pillows, hair brushes, 30 generations of digital devices—a state of disarray bordering on the domestic. To be in the airport is to inhabit Zeno’s static moment that movement requires. “It is dead time,” Don DeLillo wrote. “It never happened until it happens again. Then it never happened.”
A structural shift in the industry’s economics, spurred by a string of corporate mergers, has added a spark. Small- and medium-size airports have declined as more and more flights are routed through megahubs. Domestic boardings rose 7.7 percent between 2005 and 2015, but more than two-thirds of that gain occurred at the nation’s 10 busiest airports.
It can be difficult to untangle the lived airport from the airport of the mind, but it is easier with airports than with other buildings. Because each one is a glassy, highly regulated remix of its peers, with the same marked-up Dasani and magazines for sale, one airport can easily stand in for many. The airline whose hold music plays softly as you sink into a worn-leather every chair and watch a day and a vacation slip away could be any airline. The tarmac looks the same. The whole system, from the entry through security to the exit past the border agents, is a reminder of how little control you have—not just economic power, but even, for the moment, power over your own movement. From David Dao to the LAX stampede to delay-induced tantrums, these viral acts of airport chaos draw power from this sense of widespread agitation, like storms from a heated sea.
* * *
More from this series:
To understand why air travel has gotten so dreadful, just look at its labor force.
The factors that make travelers cranky are tightly intertwined with the reasons why pilots, flight attendants, and other aviation workers are learning less and less. And it’s partially our fault.
By Jeff Friedrich
But if the experience for everyone is so bad, why is airport retail booming?
That’s exactly why. The factors that immiserate travelers benefit retail sectors that would otherwise struggle in airports the way they do in the real world. Airport retail has guaranteed foot traffic and no competition from e-commerce (when you need new earbuds right before a flight, you’re not hitting up Amazon). They also benefit from delays and the fact that airlines are less likely to give you free food or drink.
By Daniel Gross
There is still one way to dodge the hellscape: small airports.
Just look at the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York. It turns out that airport function is not helped by scale—the bigger the building, the more prone to morasses it is. Smaller, it turns out, is better.
By Daniel Gross
If you must navigate an airport, at least make the best of it.
A pilot’s tips for appreciating what there is to appreciate about air travel. Airports are destinations of accidental wonder, places an extra 10 minutes can reveal the marvel of travel still beneath the unpleasant surface. Take in the departures board, admire the small variations in culture between places that are all quite similar, people-watch, gaze at the architecture, and savor the exit.
By Mark Vanhoenacker
But not everyone can, of course. Being hypersurveilled in airports is now a part of being brown in America.
A reflection by an expert on surveilled communities on how his own experience is deepened by his day job and the fact that he is Indian. Like a lot of people, he opts out of the scanning machines, meaning instead he gets a physical patdown—a process that has become uncomfortably more invasive in 2017.
By Prashant Sinha
And the net of scrutiny catches even those people who need accommodation.
The devices that make life easier for people with medical conditions—like enhancements for diabetics—make life a much bigger hassle in the airport, and the subject of almost-performative scrutiny from the TSA, despite the agency’s attempt to improve its treatment of such passengers.
By Jacob Brogan
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 14 14:09:08 PDT 2017
When James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly revved his Dodge Challenger toward the downtown mall in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday afternoon, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen others, he was taking a page from the ISIS playbook: Use a car as a weapon.
“Though being an essential part of modern life,” the ISIS magazine Rumiyah wrote in November 2016, “very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner.”
That endorsement was the latest in a string of attempts by jihadis to promote car attacks, including a 2010 article published in the al-Qaida magazine Inspire that endorsed exactly the approach Fields is accused of having carried out. “If you can get through to ‘pedestrian only’ locations that exist in some downtown (city center) areas, that would be fabulous,” the magazine’s editor wrote. The ISIS call-to-arms came a few months after a terrorist driving a truck killed 84 people during a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France, and was followed by deadly ISIS-inspired car attacks in Berlin, Stockholm, and twice in London. The frequency of vehicular terror attacks has spiked over the past four years.
But Saturday’s attack also has a lineage closer to home: a long-running right-wing fantasy of running over protesters, especially members of Black Lives Matter who have blocked intersections and highways during rallies. It’s an idea, as the artist Gary Kavanagh observes, that has far broader currency than the white nationalism on display at the “Unite the Right” rally that brought Fields to Charlottesville. “Run them over” is a popular anti-BLM catchphrase, as this Tumblr by historian Liam Hogan demonstrates.
Even police officers have felt comfortable expressing the sentiment in public. In July 2016—after a week during which Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot and killed by police, and Micah Xavier Johnson killed five Dallas police officers in an apparent act of revenge—an Oregon police officer was fired after he posted a photo of a Black Lives Matter protest and wrote, “When encountering such mobs remember, there are 3 pedals on your floor. Push the right one all the way down.”
In January 2016, a police sergeant in St. Paul, Minnesota, was suspended after allegedly posting a comment on an article about a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, instructing drivers: “Run them over. Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street.”
This February, Troy Baker, president of the police union in Santa Fe, New Mexico, shared an image from the “Prepare to Take America Back” Facebook page, a right-wing meme factory with links to conspiracy theories. “All lives splatter: Nobody cares about your protest,” it reads over an image of a jeep plowing through a crowd.
The Santa Fe Police Department opened an investigation into that and other memes Baker had shared disparaging blacks and Muslims. “That is a joke and taken as such,” Baker told the Santa Fe Reporter, which uncovered the posts, about the protester meme. “We don’t need to be running over people intentionally, but people shouldn’t be blocking roadways either.”
But “jokes” like those have been accompanied by a string of drivers doing exactly that. On July 10, 2016—the same day a South Carolina fire captain threatened to run over BLM protesters who had shut down Interstate 126—an SUV driver in southern Illinois plowed through a group of BLM protesters after yelling “All lives matter, not blacks, all lives.” Two days earlier, a driver had accelerated into a crowd of protesters outside the police department in Ferguson, Missouri. In January 2015, a Minneapolis driver lurched into a Ferguson solidarity rally and ran over a 16-year-old girl.
This is not just a handful of sociopaths living out a 4chan meme. Across the country, Republicans legislators have attempted to codify the idea that protesters surrender their rights when they stand in the road. The philosophy behind these bills was elucidated by Keith Kempenich, a trucking company CEO and North Dakota state legislator whose mother-in-law was stopped by a Dakota Access Pipeline protest. “There’s a line between protesting and terrorism, and what we’re dealing with was terrorism out there,” he told the Washington Post. “[Drivers] who were legally doing their business or just going home and all of a sudden they’re in a situation they don’t want to be in.” Prominent right-wing figures like Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke have also referred to BLM as a “terror” organization.
Kempenich’s state House bill to give immunity to drivers who unintentionally hit pedestrians in the road failed, 41–50. The North Carolina House approved a similar bill in April, after protesters blocked streets in Charlotte after Keith Lamont Scott was killed by a Charlotte police officer, that would give even more leeway to drivers. Lawmakers in Texas and Florida have proposed the same. Tennessee state Sen. Bill Ketron, who sponsored a similar measure in his state after a man drove through a group of anti-Trump protesters, said “[p]rotesters have no right to be in the middle of the road or our highways for their own safety and the safety of the traveling public.”
The Tennessee bill, like the rest of them, has failed. But it’s a reminder that in standoffs between protesters and drivers, many, many Americans want to shore up the rights of drivers, even if that means absolving them for whatever carnage they cause with their cars. In American cities, where drivers are almost never prosecuted for hitting pedestrians or cyclists, there’s a saying: If you want to kill someone and not get punished, use a car.
The Fields attack, then, may borrow its tactics from ISIS attacks in European cities. But as an idea, it is also indebted to all the drivers who have plowed through BLM protesters in the past three years, to the jokes and memes that legitimized that response (especially from police officers), and to the legislators who attempted to make anything but a dead stop look like a defensible course of conduct. What makes this time different? Only that somebody died.
And maybe not even that. After news broke that a woman had been killed at the counterprotest, a Massachusetts patrolman commented on Facebook: “Hahahaha love this, maybe people shouldn’t block road ways.”
by Crunchy Betty @ Crunchy Betty
Wed Apr 19 07:03:20 PDT 2017
There's this magical box that lives in my "crunchy corner." In it are wonders ne'er before seen, like unicorns and fairies and men who ask for directions.
Just kidding, men. (You'd never fit in this box.)
Actually, what's in this box are small baggies full of herbs and roots and flowers and resins. Every so often, when I go to our local natural food store, I'll pick up an herb that I've recently learned about, but never worked with. I bring it home, smell it, touch it, and occasionally just toss it in the box and forget about it. Not for lack of interest, but more for an abundance of distractions.
You know how it goes. There's always bread to be made, dishes to be washed, friends to be served tea, or cats to be dressed up like German barmaids. Priorities.
About a month ago, as I was planning a few of the plants I'm going to grow in my new rooftop garden, I ran into hyssop seeds. (Isn't that just about the prettiest word you've ever seen? Hyssop. Hyssop. Hyssop.) And while I was familiar with it, I remembered that it was an herb I'd tossed into the box a few months before.
Continue Reading...DIY Hyssop Face Mask Recipe for (Naturally) Gorgeous Skin
by Jeff Friedrich @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:56:39 PDT 2017
Nobody wants to be a pilot anymore. As the airlines tell it, a so-called pilot shortage has made it impossible to staff their fleets, forcing them to cancel flights and park hundreds of airworthy planes in the desert. One airline ventured to blame its 2016 bankruptcy on its inability to hire enough pilots, and even at always-profitable and carefree Southwest Airlines, the challenge of recruiting millennial aviators keeps middle management awake at night. “The biggest problem,” a Southwest executive told Bloomberg, “is a general lack of interest in folks pursuing this as a career anymore.”
Airline execs tend to make the shortage seem more mysterious than it is, as if something in the contrails is fueling this “general lack of interest” in the profession. That’s evasive. Rather, the shortage is best understood as an obvious manifestation—and perhaps the nadir—of a long-term deprofessionalization of what was once a solidly middle-class career: We made the pilot occupation so unattractive, so tenuous and poorly paid, that people stopped wanting to do it.
Flying, meanwhile, has also become unbearable for passengers. The airlines that survived the volatile decade following 9/11 have since consolidated themselves into a lucrative oligopoly, prompting questions about why smaller cities continue to lose service, why seats keep getting smaller, why fares have remained stubbornly high even as fuel prices dropped and profits soared, and why paying passengers are being quasi-defenestrated from overbooked flights.
The degenerating passenger and pilot experiences aren’t separate phenomena but in fact are intimately related, both resulting from policy choices that have propelled a decadeslong, ongoing makeover of the national air-transit system. The difference, perhaps, is that we are more conscious that we, the passengers, are getting a raw deal.
So are aviation workers, but there is more to the pilot shortage than just pay. Industry representatives are pushing Congress to address the rising cost of pilot training, which can exceed $100,000 after requirements became more stringent in response to a 2009 crash. Competition for pilots has also gone global, causing many young pilots to leave the U.S. to chase more exotic opportunities with Emirates and other Middle Eastern carriers. And there are class-conscious obstacles to recruitment—flying has become less glamorous.
But at the regional airlines where the effects of the pilot shortage are most acute, even management seems to have finally acknowledged that pay matters, as evidenced by their recent efforts to raise starting salaries that paid first-year pilots as little as $15,000 to $20,000. And although many jobs have gotten worse in the past few decades, pilot wage stagnation distinguishes itself in several respects.
First, airline jobs appear to be caught in a steeper free fall. Before President Carter and a Democratic Congress deregulated the airlines in 1978, few industries paid higher wages. In the 1990s, a number of studies reviewed deregulation’s impact on airline wages, attributing decreases in the range of 10 to 20 percent for pilots, and more for flight attendants. While many observers hypothesized that wages would stabilize as the shakeout from deregulation attenuated, wages never managed to find a floor in the decade after 9/11. According to a Government Accountability Office analysis, pilots’ median weekly earnings fell another 9.5 percent from 2000 through 2012—lower wage growth than 74 percent of the other professions included in the GAO’s review.
Nor has this wage erosion been limited to pilots. Today, many flight attendants begin their careers making less than minimum wage—as I did as a flight attendant for Pinnacle Airlines, where I was employed from 2011 to 2013. It’s even worse for those who work outside the aircraft. Average weekly wages for airport operations workers, a category that includes baggage handlers and other support staff, fell by 14 percent from 1991 to 2011—a growth rate that was lower even than the low-wage retail and food service industries, according to a 2013 study. Airline workers also work much harder than they did in the past; the industry had the second highest multifactor productivity growth from 1997 through 2014, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Declining wages and inequality are sometimes described as an inevitable, deterministic outcome of abstract economic forces, but none of the usual suspects seem to adequately explain what’s happening to airline jobs in the U.S.—not immigration (pilots and flight attendants must speak English), globalization (so-called cabotage laws have limited the scope of international outsourcing), automation (robots haven’t yet displaced pilots), or the decline of unions (union density remains high). How, then, could the airline industry have fared worse than most other industries?
* * *
In the recent history of pilot wages, two related trends have tipped the balance of power between the airlines and their labor force: the proliferation of outsourcing strategies after 9/11 and the consolidation of the country’s major air carriers.
Regional airlines are having the hardest time hiring pilots. These companies, where most pilots now begin their careers, operate almost half of all domestic flights on behalf of major carriers like Delta, United, and American. David Dao was actually kicked off a United flight that was operated by Republic Airways. Though the employees on the plane wore United uniforms, their paycheck came from Republic.
The regional industry grew as a strategic response to the downturn after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks. The airlines’ losses were unprecedented. Through 2005, the airlines lost more than $50 billion and received more than $5 billion in direct government aid. Four major carriers went bankrupt, and the industry shed more than 100,000 jobs, around 15 percent of its entire workforce.
The 50-seat regional jet played a key role in the industry’s recovery. Until about 1998, smaller airports were served either by larger jets, which were oversized for these markets, or turboprops, which flew slow and not as far. As the airlines attempted to stave off bankruptcy, they began buying a repurposed corporate jet manufactured by Bombardier, the CRJ200. The plane allowed the airlines to better match their smaller markets with demand, which in turn allowed them to redeploy larger planes to more lucrative international routes. The jets could also reach markets that were beyond the reach of the turboprops, allowing airport hubs to expand their customer base.
At first these planes were operated in house or through wholly owned subsidiaries, but after a time the flying was outsourced to independent companies. That strategy was initially constrained by the pilot unions, because collective-bargaining agreements typically limited how much flying could be outsourced.
A standard response emerged: If the unions refused to renegotiate their contracts, the airlines threatened to declare bankruptcy, where they might be judicially absolved from the commitments they had promised to workers. Forced to make concessions, the unions allowed more outsourcing to avoid options that would hurt their current members more, like additional layoffs or pay cuts. Because of these dynamics, every major airline had secured permission to fly more regional jets by the mid-2000s. As a result, regional jet capacity grew by 97 percent between 2000 and 2003, suddenly making these planes an integral part of the system.
Regional airline pilots and flight attendants have always made less than their mainline counterparts, but before 2000, the regional airline workforce was much smaller. In 1978, regional aircraft flew approximately 5 percent of all domestic departures; in 2000, 16 percent; in 2015, 45 percent.
Through outsourcing, the major carriers effectively introduced a permanent secondary scale. The result is that today’s young pilots are embarking on careers that look markedly different from the ones their senior colleagues began a generation ago. Though it’s still possible to make $200,000 flying international routes at a top airline, new pilots must now progress through a regional pay scale before they begin their ascent of a major’s scale, meaning it will take them longer to get to top pay, and their lifetime earnings will ultimately be lower. This helps explain why more than $100,000 in income now separates the top-earning 10 percent of pilots from the lowest-earning decile, a wage differential matched by few occupations.
* * *
Toward the latter half of the 2000s, consolidation played an equally important role in forcing down the pay of entry-level pilots. Though Congress intended for the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 to promote competition, the four largest airlines now find themselves in control of 80 percent of the market. When the reform passed, five airlines controlled 70 percent of the market. This has helped awaken political interest in consumer rights, but less attention has been paid to how airlines could wield market power to depress wages.
In the midaughts, regionals often earned substantial profits, but as the majors struggled through bankruptcies and the 2008 recession, they sought to renegotiate the amount they were paying to the regional carriers, ultimately securing new agreements on much less generous terms. Several concurrent trends also caused the airlines to re-evaluate their reliance on 50-seat regional jets. Most significantly, jet fuel prices rose almost 500 percent between 2002 and 2008. When Bombardier released a larger, 76-seat version of the CRJ200 that had far superior fuel economy, there were suddenly powerful incentives for the airlines to find ways to get rid of their 50-seaters.
Market power made it easier for the airlines to achieve this goal. After the mergers between Delta and Northwest in 2008, United and Continental in 2010, and American and US Airways in 2013, each combined carrier found itself in control of a large fleet of undesirable 50-seat jets. The regionals, on the other hand, had fewer customers to whom they could sell their flying. The majors used their leverage, which resembles what economists call “monopsony power,” to continually bid down the price they paid to regionals.
Delta took an especially aggressive tack, suing three of its regional partners for what it alleged were performance issues, in each case withholding millions of dollars in payments it would have ordinarily owed. This helped force Mesa Airlines into bankruptcy, and all three carriers eventually consented to reworking their agreements with Delta. In the new agreements, Delta sought to pay less for its flying and to retire 50-seat aircraft.
Even as they continued to put downward pressure on regional airline wages, Delta and the other majors began to earn record profits. Under such conditions in an ordinary market, economists would have expected the majors to face pressure to raise wages (the majors have raised the pay of direct employees, to Wall Street’s occasional chagrin), but outsourcing and market power have positioned the companies to exclude certain workers from their gains.
Certainly, a case can be made that the government should have more closely scrutinized some of the mergers of the past decade. But current antitrust law prioritizes a consumer focus. Prior to deregulation, merger review would have concerned itself with employee welfare, but as currently practiced, questions about monopsony—when there is only one buyer, in this case of labor—still might have escaped the attention of a more vigilant merger review.
In the “hipster antitrust” corner of Twitter, some are arguing for a more expansive form of trustbusting, one that could mitigate the effects corporate concentration appears to be having on wages in certain parts of the economy, and as appears to be happening in the airline industry. It’s a policy solution that deserves more consideration, but for reasons made clear to me by my own experience as a flight attendant, one that might not be enough to arrest the fall of airline wages.
* * *
The airline industry has no formal minimum wage because the Fair Labor Standards Act exempts transportation workers. Because of that, unions are it—the de facto wage floor. The problem is that America’s uniquely permissive bankruptcy laws have undermined the strength of unions.
When I interviewed for my flight attendant position at Pinnacle Airlines in 2010, the hiring manager slid a piece of paper across the table and told me, as if issuing challenge, “That’s how much you’ll make in your first year”—a fairly cinematic way of telling someone their salary is $15,500, though at least she was candid. It compelled me to justify myself, to explain to my interrogators how I planned to live in New York City on so little—less than minimum wage after accounting for the cost of my uniform and unpaid training time.
After I convinced them, I was soon working with pilots who were making about $20,000. Some of them had worked for one or even two failed regional airlines before landing at Pinnacle, where they’d once again found themselves at the bottom of the pay scale.
Nonetheless, when Pinnacle went bankrupt in 2012, a victim of what my CEO termed “a race to the bottom” among the regional carriers, labor became the focus of attention, just as it does in all airline bankruptcies. A judge agreed that the company’s pilots were paid “substantially over market,” granting approval of a reorganization plan that included a 9 percent reduction in pilot pay, plus smaller cuts to flight attendant pay and employee benefits.
As an academic matter, bankruptcy law strives to treat all creditors as equals. But in its actual practice, the law has evolved to allow certain creditors to skip to the front of the line. When that allows one party to successfully evade its fair share of the losses, other parties, including labor, stand to lose more.
Plane financiers, in particular, enjoy special treatment through Section 1110 of the bankruptcy law, a provision that essentially bankruptcy-proofs an airplane, allowing lenders to reclaim an asset that might otherwise be sold in order to pay off other creditors. This protection is unique to the perennially insolvent airline industry and helps explain why the financial industry remains willing to lend it money.
This is a notable intervention into a supposedly “deregulated” industry, and without it the airline industry might require more direct forms of public subsidy. In the case of the regional airline industry, 1110 made it much easier for airlines to make consequence-free escapes from their leases after rising fuel costs made their 50-seat jets less economical.
Labor, conversely, cannot cut the creditor line, and the courts can discharge collective bargaining contracts and employee pensions just like any contractual obligation that isn’t an aircraft. The Supreme Court’s Bildisco decision required the airlines jump through some additional hoops before a judge can allow them to rip up a union contract, but the mere fact of its possibility weakens the bargaining power of unions by making companies less accountable to what they’ve promised workers. Accordingly, the rejection of labor contracts “has not been the mechanism of last resort to save a failing business,” the Air Line Pilots Association told Congress in 2010, “but instead has often been used by employers as a business model to gain long-term economic advantage by unfairly gutting the wages and working conditions of airline and other employees.”
Most other countries’ bankruptcy courts do not work this way. Canada does not let bankrupt companies tear up labor contracts. Some countries jail the executives of bankrupt companies while the boards of insolvent American operators often award “retention bonuses” to their executives. U.S. laws don’t even require bankrupt companies to prove they’re bankrupt, allowing a number of U.S. airlines to enter the process with healthy stores of cash. Of late, as the U.S. airlines have sought to prevent Middle Eastern carriers from securing permissions to serve more U.S. airports, they have pointed out various subsidies these airlines receive from their governments. In response, the Middle Eastern carriers have inventoried the ways in which Chapter 11 shelters U.S. airlines from the free market.
* * *
Even as the airlines have earned record profits in recent years, they’ve canceled or reduced service to cities across the country, quietly rendering a dramatic remapping of the national air transit system. Twenty-three percent of U.S. airports lost more than 20 percent of their flights between 2013 and 2016, and at least 18 airports lost service altogether, according to numbers provided by the Regional Airline Association. The airlines say this is simply the pilot shortage in action, but it’s more accurately understood as the ongoing legacy of the decision to deregulate the industry.
It’s always been tough to make a buck running an airline. In general, the fixed costs of operating any airplane are high, but bigger planes tend to have lower costs per passenger. We have airline hubs because very few pairs of cities are large enough to sustain a high frequency of service using large airplanes. The hubs allow airlines to assemble enough passengers to fill a larger plane, allowing them to profitably increase service between two cities. The academic and former airline executive Michael Levine, one of intellectual forefathers of deregulation, has described hubs as “factories [that] manufacture route density.”
Southwest and other low-cost airlines have famously scorned hubs. They operate as point-to-point operations, mostly flying lucrative routes between major cities, and only as often as they can fill an airplane. By comparison, operating hubs is considerably more expensive and complex. Hub operators—these days Delta, United, and American—have historically recouped these costs by operating as “everywhere to anywhere” airlines. Through the cross-subsidization of routes, consumers paid a premium to access a comprehensive network that could get them from Bemidji to Bamako.
In the first two decades after deregulation, there was enough competition and industry turmoil to inhibit the expansion of low-cost airlines like Southwest. But in the mid-’90s government regulators began to regard Southwest as a positive competitive influence on the hubbed airlines—whenever Southwest managed to enter a new market, fares fell. To promote the expansion of what became known as the “Southwest effect,” the government helped ensure that low-cost airlines were getting opportunities to service major airports.
As more low-cost airlines began competing on the lucrative routes between major cities, it was harder for the hubbed operators to charge the premium they required to recoup their higher operating costs. In short, the point-to-point business model was compromising the sustainability of the network model. That competitive pressure motivated the hubbed carriers to use outsourcing and the market power they acquired from consolidation to continue pushing regional wages down, even while they earned huge profits.
The pilot shortage is the limit of that strategy—pay got too low, so people stopped wanting to do the job. The airlines could try to charge more money to the passengers flying from smaller airports, but that has its own drawback—at some point those passengers will opt to begin their trip by driving to a larger city. Consolidation has also made it less essential for the hubbed airlines to worry about smaller markets. As the airlines consolidated, more traffic is being handled by the largest hubs. This means airlines don’t need to reach as deep into the country to fill a large plane that’s bound for Paris or New York. In some ways the hubbed airlines have become more like Southwest.
Essentially, we have made a consumer-welfare trade-off, swapping a more comprehensive system with somewhat higher fares for a more limited one that can deliver the best value on the country’s most popular flights. The winners of the trade-off are people who make frequent trips between New York and L.A. The losers live two hours outside of Memphis, or work entry-level jobs on the flights that would serve those communities.
This is a defensible policy trade-off. But as has often been the case in the years since deregulation, the changes we made to the air transit system didn’t happen after a vigorous public debate. We have continued to allow the market to sort it out, even as it becomes clearer that the market’s imperfections might prevent it from delivering a system that can satisfy all parts of the country. It’s also an approach that has continued to pass the expense of policy transformation on to employees. We should bear such costs in mind as we continue to demand lower and lower fares.
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Sat Jul 15 19:03:49 PDT 2017
Squarespace commercial “Calling John Malkovich” is one of the nominations for Most Outstanding Commercial at this year’s Emmy Awards. The Super Bowl commercial is a continuation of the Squarespace campaign in which John Malkovich sets out to establish an online fashion design business. Things get tricky when he discovers that a namesake has already got […]
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:55:30 PDT 2017
Like so many Americans, particularly ones who experience both the U.S. air system and transit in the New York City area, I have come to dread out-of-town travel.
Just to get home, tri-staters must endure a series of Herculean labors. Whether you’re taking the train, stomaching an expensive car service, or self-parking in a garage that’s practically in another time zone, getting to and from LaGuardia, JFK, or Newark can take an hour or three hours, depending on traffic, construction, or weather. And even once you arrive, there are mob scenes, long and hostile TSA lines, half-mile walks through the terminals, chaotic boarding procedures, and the dreaded 45-minute taxi, which inevitably ends with “We’re No. 16 for takeoff.” When my ticket reads JFK, LGA, or EWR, I now resort to mindfulness exercises.
But there is one airport code that inspires calm when I travel: HPN. That’s the identifier for the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York. Sitting on 700 acres 30 miles north of New York City, it’s not exactly hidden or undiscovered. The 99th busiest airport in America, it manages a few dozen flights daily and handled 755,000 departing passengers in April (which is about what JFK does in two days). For those fortunate enough to use it, HPN—like so many small, charming airports—offers the illusion that the American air transit system is tidier and chiller than it actually is.
In business and transport, scale is generally an advantage, leading to lower costs, more economic efficiency, and a better user experience. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that smaller airports—like the ones I’ve come to love in Lansing, Michigan; Ithaca, New York; Portland, Maine; Charleston, South Carolina; and Bismarck, North Dakota—offer a much higher level of functionality. And Westchester, while sharing all the advantages of other small airports, has a huge factor working in its favor: It’s close to where lots of people live and runs direct flights to many huge population centers.
The experience of flying out of Westchester is the polar opposite of using one of the region’s big three. The drive there from my home in Connecticut is short and peaceful. Once off the Merritt Parkway, you head up King Street, which is one of the few streets in the country in which the houses on the eastern side have an address in one state while the houses on the western side have an address in another. Cruise past the ultra-posh Brunswick School, take a hard left, carve 270 degrees of a roundabout, and you’re there. And driving is a cinch, since the parking garage is about 50 feet from the terminal.
The terminal itself is a throwback. Though the area is wealthy, the airport has no luxury retailers, no outposts of celebrity chefs, no airline lounges. It basically has the mien of a bus stop. HPN has two TSA lines and only six gates, but things move very quickly. Before security there’s an ATM and a Dunkin’ Donuts. Tucked away on the second floor is the Purchase Country Diner, whose ambitions eclipse at pancakes, BLTs, and club sandwiches. This airport may lack many of the amenities that the big airports have developed to reduce the misery of flying—fancy stores, a spa, gourmet food. But those can only take the edge off a miserable experience. What a lot of travelers really crave is less wasted time and more dignity.
The reason HPN works is precisely because it doesn’t scale—or, more accurately, can’t scale. Since the airport is located in an area where property values are high and the residents have political clout, there are sharp limits on the level of activity at the airport: Just 240 passengers may move through the terminal each hour, both arriving and departing. According to the Westchester Journal News, HPN allows just four departures or landings every 30 minutes.
Think about that. At any given time, only two flights are being prepared for boarding and takeoff. But don’t mistake the low volume for irrelevance. Four of the nation’s big airlines service the airport. American ferries passengers to Charlotte, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, and Miami. Delta takes customers to Atlanta and Detroit. United connects to its major hub at Chicago’s O’Hare. And JetBlue offers service to five airports in Florida. There are also two smaller regional operations that service Boston, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard.
There may not be much competition among airlines at Westchester. But the reality is that the airlines operating here are competing against the operations of all the airlines at the other three large airports in the region. (Somehow, the cost of flying to on short notice from Westchester to Washington on American is pretty much the same as the Delta shuttle from LaGuardia.)
So you can get from Westchester to a lot of the places you can get to from JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark and at roughly the same price. But the hassle is much lower. You don’t have to arrive 90 minutes early; it usually it takes just 10 minutes from the time you park your car to the time you’re through security. The staff and crews are much less stressed, precisely because they’re handling a maximum of two departures and two arrivals per hour. When a plane arrives at Westchester, you never sit on the runway until some other plane leaves the gate. You breeze right through the terminal and are on your way to you next destination in five minutes.
Sure, things do go wrong. In fiscal year 2016, 1.7 percent of the flights from Westchester were canceled, while 76 percent left on time, and 73 percent arrived on time. The level and frequency of delays is roughly the same at Westchester as it is at the region’s bigger airports. (At LaGuardia, 2.9 percent of flights were canceled.) But it doesn’t feel that way. That’s partly because at the big airports, airlines often build in 30 minutes for taxiing and sitting on the runway. Which means that at LaGuardia and JFK, even a normal flight can seem like it is delayed.
Of course, in an era when businesses and people are flocking to the largest cities, small, provincial airports are finding it difficult to compete. But smaller airports that are in relatively close proximity to large metroplexes are finding more fans among passengers and airlines that appreciate the smaller degree of hassle. Many frequent travelers who live near big cities have their go-to small places. T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island, which is emerging as an alternative to Boston’s Logan, has added several flights from Norwegian Air and Frontier. Many Angelenos traumatized by the scrum at LAX flock to the low-key Long Beach Airport, which has added JetBlue and Southwest flights. At the Colorado Springs airport, which connects Denver-area residents to a growing number of markets, passenger traffic in June was up 22 percent from last year.
The appeal of these places is obvious: The entire experience—the parking, the security lines, the boarding lines—is much less dehumanizing. The best thing an airport can do for you is move you into and out of it as quickly as possible. It helps when there’s less airport in the first place.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 11:36:00 PDT 2017
The disaster that is Tropical Storm Harvey is still ongoing. It will be some time before the waters recede and the effect on Houston can be fully assessed. But it is already clear the damage to property will be immense. Tens of thousands of structures were impacted by floodwaters. Eventually, Houston will require massive cleanup, demolition, and reconstruction of individual homes, large buildings, and infrastructure.
The first concern will be the financial resources necessary: Will insurance companies cover all the losses, and how much of them? How will the federal government’s heavily indebted flood insurance program come up with the cash to pay claims? And how much additional assistance will the federal government provide?
There’s another problem: a lack of human resources. It takes a lot of labor to remove debris after a storm and then reinstall Sheetrock and drywall, rebuild floors, and fix electrical and plumbing systems. The work is resistant to automation. And it is but one way in which Houston, which was poorly situated to deal with a hurricane, may also be poorly situated to recover from it.
The issue is that the United States is suffering from a shortage of workers generally, and specifically from a shortage of workers with some of the necessary skills to assist in disaster recovery.
Let’s review. With the U.S. economy having created jobs for a record 82 months, there are 146.6 million people with payroll jobs. The unemployment rate is 4.3 percent. At the end of June, the Labor Department reports, there were a record 6.16 million jobs open in the U.S. (That compares with about 4 million in August 2005, when Katrina hit.) Put another way, it’s harder to find labor in the U.S. right now than at any point in recent history.
But that’s not the whole story. There are particular shortages in the types of trades that get called into action after a disaster. America’s construction labor force has undergone a sea change in the past decade. When the housing bust came, hundreds of thousands of roofers and other skilled and unskilled tradespeople were laid off. Because the recovery was remarkably slow, many went on to find work in different industries. Many construction workers had come to the United States (legally and illegally) from Mexico and Central America to work in the boom years, and in the bust years some of them went home. Others were deported. And in recent years, the flow of new potential workers has slowed down significantly. The result: As the U.S. housing and construction recovery has chugged on, it has become more difficult to hire construction workers. In June, there were some 225,000 open construction jobs in the U.S., up 31 percent from June 2016.
All over the United States, in Colorado, in Nebraska, and elsewhere, construction companies have been complaining that they can’t find enough labor to do their job. The National Association of Home Builders reports that 77 percent of builders are facing a shortage of framing crews while 61 percent are grappling with a shortage of drywall installation workers and 45 percent report a shortage of weatherization workers. The problem is particularly acute in Texas, where the housing industry has been powered by consistent population and job growth and whose service industries are disproportionately reliant on immigrant labor. Last fall, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “In Dallas, the King of Texas Roofing Co. says it has turned down $20 million worth of projects in the past two years because it doesn’t have enough workers.”
In the aftermath of natural disasters, first responders and recovery crews flood the zone on a temporary basis. But reconstruction, cleanup, and recovery requires many thousands of workers who can stay for many months or more. FEMA Administrator Brock Long told CNN that “FEMA is going to be there for years.” Houston will require a surge of employment—tens of thousands of people. It will have to find places for them to live, since so much of the housing stock is damaged. And it will likely have to pay them above-market wages, because it will need to lure them away from existing jobs.
And given the Trump administration’s hostility to Latinos and desire to ramp up deportations, it’s unlikely that what worked in previous disasters will work again. Back in 2007, the Washington Post reported on a Tulane and University of California, Berkeley, study that found some 100,000 Hispanic workers thronged into the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Katrina, many of them undocumented.
Houston will need a similar migration for it to recover. In 2017, from where will those workers come?
by Jake Blumgart @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 14 14:56:44 PDT 2017
The long, heated summers of the 1960s are seared into the American imagination: commercial corridors in central cities reduced to ruin, tanks in the streets, and the angry release of pent-up disaffection as the long-suffering black populations of numerous cities rose up.
All of this is captured in Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie, Detroit, which dramatizes one of the bloodiest instances of civil violence in the 1960s. The film centers around what is known as the Algiers Motel incident, a horrific instance of police brutality and murder in the midst of wider chaos.
Bigelow’s Detroit has been criticized for focusing on an extended scene of torture at the expense of that summer’s larger story about activism, unrest, and frustrated dreams. The film opens with an animated depiction of the Great Migration—based on Jacob Lawrence’s famous artwork—and then jumps to the police raid on an after-hours bar that sparked the five days of riots. Then it settles into the sickening scene at the Algiers Motel and Manor House, where police brutally interrogated a group of people who’d been taking shelter in the building about the possible presence of a sniper in their midst. After hours of torture, three young black men were killed.
New York University’s Tom Sugrue, a native of Detroit, attended the film’s premiere at the city’s legendary Fox Theater. He is the author of an essential work about the city’s history, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, which charts Detroit race relations from the end of World War II through the unrest of 1967, the year of the city’s riots. The book definitively shows that many of the forces that would eventually gut Detroit, reducing its population by more than half (and still falling), had been set in motion decades before the unrest—which conveyers of conventional wisdom have often blamed for the city’s decline.
Sugrue and I recently discussed the larger context of the Detroit riots, the history of racial violence in the Motor City, and the factors he wishes Bigelow’s film had depicted. Our interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
Jake Blumgart: What did you think of Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie?
Tom Sugrue: I say this with all humility because I’m not a film critic and I don’t produce for a mass audience. But it’s a Hollywood production, and I think Bigelow left out some really important dimensions.
I found the focus on what happens in the Algiers Motel to be important, but the aftermath of what happened is also important. The trials were ruthlessly compressed to the single trial up in Mason [a suburb where an all-white jury was allowed to decide the case against the offending officers]. The role of the motel incident and the events of 1967 in mobilizing a black politics of resistance in Detroit, especially around questions of policing, was underdeveloped.
One of the most interesting post-1967 events was the people’s tribunal, an alternative trial of the police in the motel put on by black power, anti-police brutality, and civil rights activists in Detroit. It was really dramatic, and one of the regular attendees included Rosa Parks, who was living in Detroit at the time and closely affiliated with the black power movement in the late 1960s. That story of a challenge to police brutality and power was absent.
That would have made a richer film, but based on Bigelow’s earlier movies, she isn’t big on legal drama and is much more interested in torture and terror.
Even beyond the central horror of the set piece at the Algiers Motel, the film repeatedly emphasizes just how trigger happy the forces of law and order were. The vast majority of the riot’s 43 deaths were at the hands of government agents of various kinds.
Thirty-four of the 43 deaths were at the hands of law enforcement officials or the National Guard. Only one person was killed by the paratroopers [whom President Lyndon Johnson sent in].
Was this kind of death toll, mostly black people being killed by the police, normal for the urban unrest of the 1960s?
Yes. But understand that most of the deaths in the long, hot summers of the 1960s happened in a relatively small number of cities. Newark, Watts, and Detroit counted for the lion’s share of deaths, while in the summer of 1967 alone there were 163 incidents of rebellions, uprising, civil disorder, whatever you want to call it. Most of those didn’t involve any deaths.
I thought it particularly notable that the opening of the movie, using the famous artwork of Jacob Lawrence, made sure to make note of pervasive job and housing discrimination that had been occurring since the Great Migration—and that white flight had already begun in earnest well before the riots. That narrative, that you put forward in your book, runs counter to the conventional wisdom that it was the riots themselves that spurred white flight and divestment.
In Detroit in particular, today there is a lot more recognition of the fact that the city’s troubles date to well before 1967. That said, lots of journalists and popular commenters still truck in the stale conventional wisdom that 1967 was the beginning of the end. I think that animated introduction of the movie did a good job of capturing, in a compelling shorthand way, a lot of the major themes of urban history scholarship from the last 20 years.
I would have liked to see more recognition in that section of the importance of Detroit as a center for African American activism. 1967 didn’t emerge out of a vacuum but in some ways grew out of a 20-year movement of racial equality and justice in Detroit that focused among other things on policing and exploitative neighborhood businesses in African American communities. And those were the major targets of the folks who took to the streets in Detroit in 1967.
There’s an important backstory that’s more than segregation and discrimination; it’s exploitation and systemic violence and predation that was afflicting those communities before 1967. Bigelow captured some of that by showing the common policing practice in Detroit leading up to 1967, particularly in the late 1950s when the city instituted really aggressive policing tactics, like stopping and frisking African American men.
What were the other circumstances that laid the groundwork for the unrest of 1967? It’s easy to see why Bigelow would focus on societal trends that are easier to dramatize, like police brutality, but how did forces like capital flight and residential segregation contribute?
Detroit’s long-established residential segregation played a critical role. The neighborhoods at the epicenter of the uprising of 1967 were places where African American residents had little contact with whites outside of shopkeepers and law enforcement officials. Detroit’s police department in 1967 was 95 percent white. Most officers didn’t have any substantive experience living with African Americans because of the intense patterns of racial segregation. They weren’t socializing with African Americans, playing baseball with them, going to church with them; they weren’t drinking at the same bars or having block parties with them.
There was a nearly complete separation and as a consequence a really deep ignorance of African American life in Detroit on the part of the overwhelmingly white police force. That separation provided really fertile ground for stereotypes to flourish and for prejudice to intensify.
Can you provide more context about those who participated in the civil violence of 1967? As I understand it, most of the rioters were young black men. What were the specific challenges they faced that didn’t affect young white men or young black men a generation before?
One thing to remember that pretty much all the studies of the uprisings of 1967 showed was that the folks who took to the streets weren’t at the very bottom of the economic ladder. It wasn’t the poorest or the most marginal. It was folks who were slightly better off and slightly better educated and more tied into the city’s labor market than the poorest residents.
Part of the conventional wisdom of 1967 is that this was a revolt of the very bottom, the folks who were the most left out. That wasn’t the case. That said, African American men in Detroit experienced a great deal of economic precarity, even those who had a decent education and connection to the city’s labor market. African Americans were still confined to the city’s most insecure jobs and often the least pleasant jobs. But unemployment rates in Detroit were relatively low in 1967, certainly in comparison to today. I think part of it was expectations. In a city that had long been at the epicenter of one of the most powerful industries in the world and had a large and vibrant economy, the fact that African Americans had jobs was part of the story—but the fact they had the worst jobs is a critical factor to keep in mind.
Discrimination in the workplace was still rife in Detroit in the 1960s, despite the opening of opportunities to African American workers and despite civil rights legislation. And there was a great deal of resentment that the benefits of the city’s industrial economy weren’t being distributed equally across racial lines.
In your introduction to John Hersey’s book The Algiers Motel Incident, you write that between 1948 and 1967 Detroit lost nearly 130,000 manufacturing jobs. That’s another historical event people often think occurred later, but deindustrialization wasn’t just a product of the 1970s and 1980s. As you show, it really started happening almost immediately after World War II.
Exactly. The disappearance of jobs from Detroit fell particularly hard among younger African American men. The jobs that were disappearing were the first rung on the manufacturing ladder, which required few skills and had few barriers to entry. These provided significant opportunity for their parents’ generation, for African Americans migrating from the South in the World War II era and immediately afterward. Everyone in Detroit regardless of race is being affected by this restructuring, but its effects are particularly hard on unskilled African American workers.
To put it differently, the significant reality of the auto industry is that it’s leaving Detroit when there isn’t any significant international competition, well before the oil shocks of the 1970s caused real trouble for the auto industry. Manufacturing is already picking up and decamping for other parts of the United States and the world during that period of the unchallenged supremacy of the American auto industry.
Another thing I wanted to touch on from your book, that provides the context to the 1967 civil unrest, is the persistent violence that met black families trying to move into white neighborhoods in the postwar years. Why is that violent white resistance still unrecognized?
Recognizing that narrative really demands coming to terms with white culpability for the intense residential segregation and racial polarization in metropolitan Detroit. That’s a story many folks would prefer to sweep under the rug. Detroit had two genuine race riots during World War II. Both were pitched attacks on African Americans by whites.
After the war, white Detroiters organized into one of the most powerful grassroots urban movements of the period, the so-called homeowners’ rights movement to protect the racial homogeneity of their neighborhoods by any means necessary. That included putting pressure on elected officials to keep affordable housing out of predominantly white neighborhoods. It also meant organizing vigilante activities to resist African Americans who were the first to move in, signaling the high price they would pay if they moved onto white turf.
Combing through the records of civil rights organizations, government agencies, and the African American press, I found more than 200 violent incidents that accompanied the first movements of African Americans into formerly white neighborhoods. White Detroiters sent a very strong signal to black Detroiters to not cross these invisible racial lines.
Another dimension of that is the city’s police turned a blind eye toward vandalism and attacks on black property by whites. Often police would be dispatched to the sites of the protests, and then mysteriously late at night with cop cars stationed outside, windows would still be broken. Many of Detroit’s white police officers were sympathetic with white homeowners who wanted to protect their neighborhood from racial encroachment.
If you think of the totality of African American resentment toward the city’s white police force, the role of the police in turning a blind eye toward racial violence is a really important dimension of the story.
Any final thoughts on Bigelow’s movie and the uprising of 1967?
One other part of the uprising, which would be hard for the film to convey as well, is the toll that urban renewal, highway construction, and looting in the summer of 1967 had on a couple generations of black business people. It’s devastating to African American capital.
Most shopkeepers in cities like Detroit rented the buildings they had businesses in. A lot of the buildings were still owned by whites who fled the neighborhood but kept their investments in real estate. Renters didn’t get reimbursement when their businesses were displaced by urban renewal. So, when properties were condemned then demolished, the property owners got reimbursed for the loss of their property. But if you run a neighborhood bar or barbershop, you can’t just pick up and move four miles away and expect you can just get all your clients back.
To start a whole business over from scratch when you aren’t being compensated for the loss because you don’t own the building? So when the Paradise Valley neighborhood in Detroit is blasted away for the construction of a major arterial freeways and then when looting and burning guts a lot of the thriving black businesses, including on 12th Street where the rebellion began.
That’s the story of Melvin Dismukes [played by John Boyega], a security guard standing inside a building during the riots, or of folks writing “Soul Brother” on their shop windows hoping that would turn away looters and arsonists. These are folks desperately trying to hold on to their fragile investments in these neighborhoods. And the long-term effects were devastating to black shopkeepers and business owners.
The Inspiration Room
Dove launched its new Cream Oil Body Washes TV ad at the 2007 Academy Awards, featuring the work created by production assistant Lindsay Miller of Sherman Oaks, CA. The brand known for embracing real women strengthened that commitment when it gave women creative control for the launch of its new product collection and its first …
The Gateway Pundit
Dove rolled out a new advertisement for their baby skincare line 'Baby Dove' featuring moms from all walks of life caring for their babies--and of course included a man who identifies as a 'mom'. The advertisement starts out with a woman saying, 'Everybody has ideas about what it means to be a good mom and most people feel they have a license to tell you what they think it means to be a good mom.' Then the screen flashes to a cute little saying, preparing the audience for the 'new mom' -- 'Moms are redefining what it means to be
by Joseph Coughlin @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 22 07:42:00 PDT 2017
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Earlier this summer, Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican congressman from Arizona, delivered some hard truths to a session of the House of Representatives. “We have a math problem, and it is based on demographics,” Schweikert said on June 28. “I am a baby boomer. There are 76 million of us who are baby boomers, who are heading towards retirement. That demographic curve is changing the cost structure of government.”
This was back during that precarious period when Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts had succeeded in the House but hadn’t yet floundered in the Senate, and Schweikert was lending voice to an aspect of the legislative push that had gone more or less unsaid, at least in public. To austerity-minded policymakers, the Better Care Reconciliation Act represented an exceedingly rare opportunity—“once in a lifetime,” wrote Grover Norquist—to rein in Medicaid spending before the U.S. population grew significantly older and more reliant on public funds. “It is time for almost revolutionary thoughts,” Schweikert said. “We need to look at the budget holistically.”
Between Schweikert’s take on the future solvency of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security and the ongoing efforts of President Trump and congressional Republicans to push the BCRA into law, Republican policymakers have demonstrated real concern about the economic dependency of the old and sick on the young and gainfully employed. Which is, from a certain point of view, fair enough: The Republican Party, at least in its platonic form, exists to limit government’s reach, and our aging population, it could be argued, may force that reach to extend. It would be strange if no Republicans pushed back.
And perhaps that was why it was so peculiar when, a little more than a month after Schweikert’s demographics lesson, President Trump announced he would embrace the RAISE Act, a legislative one-two punch co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, also staunch supporters of the Republican health care effort. RAISE, if signed into law, would change the admissions criteria for legal immigrants and, more concerning from a demographics perspective, reduce their numbers by half within a decade. To the limited extent that the American working-age population continues to grow, immigrants are responsible. And so, for leaders of a party with clear apprehensions regarding the ongoing ability of the country’s workers to support its older adults, slashing legal immigration would seem, to put it gently, inconsistent.
President Trump has weathered charges of inconsistency before, but this time may be different. His campaign promise to make America great is in a category of its own—the ur-promise from which all his other promises descend. And the passage of RAISE will likely violate it in a very tangible way.
It’s not just that the legislation’s legal-immigration cuts would damage the economy, a fact most economists affirm. It’s that RAISE would hurt the American economy relative to the economies of other countries. And for those who want America to be first in all things, that outcome may prove difficult to stomach.
The cuts entailed by RAISE aren’t extreme—at least, not by international standards. They would not put us in the hermetic company of Japan, which admits very few new permanent residents, or lump us in with Switzerland and Denmark, where new immigrants must pay a high ticket price for admission, sometimes out of future wages. Even under this new proposed policy, the U.S. would still accept more newcomers, in raw terms, than any other country except perhaps Germany. (On a per-capita basis, however, the U.S. is nowhere near the top of the list of immigration-friendly countries.)
But even if such a policy wouldn’t make the U.S. an immigration outlier, it would still be a spectacularly regrettable unforced error. In fact, it’s such a bad move precisely because it would put the U.S. on a level footing with more restrictive countries. As it stands, immigration is granting America an underappreciated edge that it would be a mistake to blunt.
Populations around the world are aging—in some cases, with alarming speed—for three reasons. Birthrates in the vast majority of the world’s nations have fallen since the middle of the 20th century. (In some countries, such as India, Mexico, and Brazil, birthrates have outright plummeted.) That means fewer younger people. At the same time, life expectancy has risen, and despite recent, well-publicized downticks in the U.S., the overall trend continues to point north. Finally, in some of the countries that were heavily involved in World War II, an enormous cohort of baby boomers is just now crossing into retirement age.
As a result, by 2030, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older, a demographic breakdown slightly older than that of today’s Florida. Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, and many other wealthy countries have already achieved Floridian status, and Japan is ranging far ahead with a quarter of its population aged 65-plus. On the balance, societywide aging is a good thing—in our opinion, every extra year of life is a gift—but it still poses serious challenges beyond even the monumental-yet-crucial task of maintaining a safety net for older adults. One inevitable consequence of global aging is the shrinking of labor pools and even, in select countries, the waning of entire populations. China, Japan, Russia, much of Eastern Europe, and many other countries are now either experiencing population decline or will begin it soon.
The very real possibility of such trends manifesting in either the raw or working-age populations of the U.S. should alarm anyone who claims an interest in American greatness. Consider, for instance, yet another stated priority of President Trump: infrastructure construction. Baby boomer retirement is hitting the construction industry hard, and taking with it able bodies and institutional knowledge. Positions in the skilled trades, such as machinists, welders, electricians, and HVAC technicians, were ranked the hardest for employers to fill in 2016 according to a survey conducted by staffing company Manpower. Such shortages will only worsen in the coming years as retirements accrue. Adecco, another staffing company, estimates that retirements in the aforementioned fields as well as general construction; mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineering; plumbers and pipefitters; and others will mean that 31 million skilled-trade positions will be left unfilled by 2020, almost a tenth of the population of the United States. As a result, contractors will have to either turn down jobs, slowing growth, or else raise their wages and therefore their rates, an expense that would likely be passed along to taxpayers in the event of a major infrastructure push.
And that’s just the construction-related industries. Others facing mass retirement include the petrochemical, defense, transit, agriculture, financial advisory, and railroad industries. Air-traffic controllers, hired en masse after Ronald Reagan fired their predecessors in 1981, are now retiring en masse. The ranks of doctors and nurses—especially internists and, in an unfortunate twist, geriatricians—are also thinning. Even the Hoover Dam, perhaps the country’s most quintessentially American piece of infrastructure, is now running short of workers qualified to operate its machinery.
Despite ongoing, frenzied discussions of the potential for advanced automation to take American jobs, these crucial shortfalls continue to go overlooked. U.S. companies are already finding it difficult to entice the staff they need, as Slate’s Daniel Gross has written. Who, in the next two decades, will run our economy and grow our food? It’s not just a matter of retraining those currently unable to find work. The economy is already at or near full employment, and at a certain point, the U.S., like other aging nations, will simply need more warm bodies.
Japan is quietly addressing its labor shortage by admitting foreign workers as temporary “trainees.” Germany is attempting to stall an incipient population decline by increasing its acceptance of immigrants and refugees. (Both countries are also finding ways of keeping older workers happy in their longtime jobs, from adopting exotic exoskeletons to making workplace ergonomic adjustments—a strategy that would also benefit the U.S.) Meanwhile, China, poised to experience the largest demographic swing of any nation, is losing millions of people from its workforce every year. The resulting spike in wages is one possible explanation for why President Xi Jinping recently laid off 300,000 troops from the country’s armed forces.
In the United States, the birthrate is 1.9 children per woman, slightly below the replacement rate of roughly 2.1. Thanks only to the twin inputs of immigration and the relatively large size of new immigrant families, the U.S. population is still growing slowly and stably. Without immigration, however, the population would begin to fall as soon as 2040, according to unpublished data supplied to us by Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center. (The projection, originally made in 2015, assumes that immigration would have been cut off starting that year.)
Thanks to its current inflow of immigrants, the U.S. has, and will continue to have, one of the youngest populations among wealthy nations. That relative youth equates to a better-than-average (though still troubling) ratio of workers to nonworkers and, at least in theory, a good crop of workforce replacements for baby boomer retirees. Without immigrants, however, we would be staring cross-eyed down the barrel of a far more threatening demographic future, filled with economic malaise, higher taxes, and even disastrous cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
Legal immigration has become a partisan issue, but it shouldn’t be. Economists might disagree about whether to adopt a system that prioritizes highly skilled immigrants, as the RAISE Act proposes. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that the RAISE Act’s salary rules would keep out home-health aides, which the aging United States will soon need in droves, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff recently pointed out.) But there is broad agreement that slashing the raw number of immigrants to the U.S. would be an economic mistake. Immigration has been shown to have little to no effect on wages for native-born workers, and has even been called an “economic boost” by the George W. Bush Foundation.
Congress understands the stakes involved in cutting off America’s youth supply. Schweikert even mentioned it in his June 28 speech: “You do understand, as a nation, we functionally have zero population growth without immigration?” Though population aging may not be news to our political leaders, the question of whether they will prioritize the economic competitiveness of the nation over nativism remains open. We get it: There are people in this country who just don’t like immigration. But presumably a lot of those same people would feel more comfortable living in a world where America, bolstered by a healthy economy and a workforce strengthened by legal immigration, retains its geopolitical clout. As it stands, the world at large is sending the United States a precious resource—young people—free of charge. You can want an America with far fewer of these immigrants, or you can want America to be great. In this era of population aging, however, you can’t have both.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 21 15:24:00 PDT 2017
Republicans have spent the better part of a year claiming that Obamacare was finally unraveling just the way they always predicted it would. For proof, they often pointed to parts of the country where carriers had decided to pull out of the local market, and it looked as if there might not be any insurers offering coverage through the law's exchanges in 2018. As counties in states such as Tennessee, Nevada, and Missouri faced the possibility of becoming insurance deserts, conservatives claimed vindication, and cited the problems as evidence that the Affordable Care Act needed to be replaced immediately. Donald Trump, for his part, proclaimed Obamacare “essentially dead” and ready to “explode.”
Unfortunately for the GOP, reality has refused to cooperate with their talking points. With just about a month to go before insurers have to make the final decisions on whether to participate in next year's market, Politico notes that there is just one market left in the country without an insurer lined up. The last bare patch left is Ohio's Paulding County, where only 334 residents were enrolled through the exchange next year.
While Paulding's plight is no doubt a sign of Obamacare's flaws—the system lacks an insurer of last resort to deal with market failures—the fact remains that almost every single American will have at least one insurer to choose from next year. The law has not collapsed.
Relatively few individuals were ever in real danger of going without insurance options next year. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, just 82 counties with about 92,000 Obamacare enrollees faced a serious risk of being left without a carrier (that list did not include Iowa, where, despite a great deal of anxiety and speculation that it might, the state's last major insurer never pulled out of the exchanges). We're talking about less than 1 percent of a 10.3 million-person nationwide pool of customers.
The insurers that swooped in to the handful of markets that were at risk of being abandoned generally fell into two categories. In one bucket, there were nonprofit carriers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and CareSource in Ohio, which tend to view covering the individual market as part of their organizational mission and are willing to take a risk on sparsely populated rural counties that may turn out to be unprofitable. In the other, you largely had Centene, a for-profit insurer that picked up the slack in Missouri and Nevada while also expanding in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and Washington, even as major carriers like Aetna and Anthem chose to bail on the exchanges.
Thanks to its background as a Medicaid coverage provider, Centene has generally been confident in its ability to make a profit while serving Obamacare's lower-income, cost-conscious consumer base. Between it, other lower-cost insurance providers, and the nonprofit carriers, it seems that the exchanges may have a stable base of insurers at this point who can guarantee coverage availability for the vast majority of the country.
The obvious downside here is that many counties are now stuck being served by an insurance monopoly. And some of the carriers that decided to stick around in markets that otherwise would have been left empty are requesting major price hikes in return. Iowa's last insurer, Medica, has asked state regulators for a 57 percent premium increase, for instance. Just because the exchanges will be functioning next year does not mean they are necessarily working as intended everywhere, or that prices are staying in check.
There is also plenty the Trump administration can still do to undermine the exchanges, either over the next month or further down the line. If the president wanted to rattle the insurance markets before insurers ink their final contracts in September, Trump could cut off the cost-sharing payments that compensate carriers for offering low-income customers discount coverage. While the Congressional Budget Office thinks the markets would likely absorb the blow and continue to function, such a move could certainly convince some insurers to step away from the exchanges for at least the short term. Meanwhile, the administration already seems to be undertaking a more subtle campaign of sabotage by dialing back Obamacare outreach efforts, which could lower enrollment—particularly if it also chooses to relax enforcement of the the individual mandate.
Still, even with a hostile White House throwing an enormous amount of uncertainty into the mix, Obamacare is managing to function in all but one small corner of the country. The law is a lot more resilient than Republicans claimed, or hoped.
by TINA @ Truth In Advertising
Wed Sep 20 13:23:34 PDT 2017
A false advertising class-action lawsuit was filed against O’Reilly Automotive Stores for allegedly misrepresenting that its windshield wiper fluid protects and functions in temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit when, according to the complaint, the fluid freezes in such temperatures and, as a result, cannot be pumped through the windshield wiper system to clean
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 09 15:45:00 PDT 2017
Overmatched in Congress by gerrymandering, rural bias, and clustering, blue cities and states have little power in Washington to stop President Trump’s border wall.
Back at home, however, they issue billions of dollars in procurement contracts to some of the same construction companies that are bidding to build the wall along the U.S-Mexico border. Maybe it’s there, politicians reason, that they could make their voice heard.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to draw up a law to require firms bidding for city contracts to disclose their role in the border wall. Oakland and Berkeley have already said they will not do business with companies involved in design and construction of the wall. Similar efforts have been proposed in San Francisco and New York, and California state legislators have taken aim both at contracting with companies who work on the wall and using state pension funds to invest in them.
The first question that has to be asked about these efforts is: What wall? Trump’s signature promise hasn’t exactly been coming along as planned. In May, after a rushed bidding process characterized by being open-ended in some ways (the wall should perhaps have solar panels, the president said) and extremely specific in others (the wall must be transparent so Americans can’t be hit by 60-pound packages of drugs, the president said), DHS announced a group of finalists had been selected.
But in July, the Trump administration said that a planned showcase of prototypes from those finalists had been postponed, after a complaint about the bidding process from the Penna Group, a Fort Worth, Texas-based contractor. Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, Penna’s chief executive officer, told me that his company’s bid had been rejected because the government misunderstood the terms of the paperwork. “Any time there’s a rush, mistakes are made,” Evangelista-Ysasaga says.
The wall model display in San Diego that was supposed to be under construction by June has now been delayed twice, first to the end of the summer, and now until November.
Meanwhile, a leaked transcript of Trump’s January phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto revealed that the commander in chief was not nearly as determined to have Mexico pay for the wall as he had been on the campaign trail.*
With all that in mind, threats from local jurisdictions may not be the preeminent hold-up for the wall. If the project goes forward according to Trump’s promises (which it won’t), it would constitute one of the largest nonmilitary contracts in the United States. Senate Democrats say the wall would cost $70 billion to build. Probably worth the cost of being shut out of California procurement, in other words.
Still, the outrage around the wall has been successful so far in dissuading several high-profile companies from participating in the bid process. When the bids are finally revealed, the opprobrium could stick to some of those companies in ways that extend beyond what’s prescribed by local or state law. When it comes time for blue states to award corporate subsidies, for example, firms might find their enthusiasm for the wall becomes a political liability.
The gestures are reminiscent of the movement to divest from private prison companies. New York City’s pension funds decided in May to sell stock and bonds in a trio of prison companies. Architects have also moved to stop their peers from designing prison projects.
Unfortunately for municipal legislators, the problem with the wall (which, again, won’t happen) is that the profit motive is so large, it’s probably worth forfeiting your company’s right to supply steel to California public works projects. Another reason why this border-spanning, solar panel-encrusted nightmare won’t quite die yet.
*Correction, Aug. 10, 2017: This post originally misspelled Enrique Peña-Nieto’s last name.
Have they taken things too literally?
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 15 14:55:00 PDT 2017
If Donald Trump tries to go nuclear on Obamacare, the effort might just fizzle.
For what feels like eons now, the president has been publicly hinting that he might cut off important subsidies to insurers that keep the Affordable Care Act's exchanges up and running as intended. These funds, known as cost-sharing reduction payments, are worth billions to carriers, and it's been widely assumed that halting them would have a disastrous impact on the market, forcing insurers to either bail or drastically hike premiums (which is why health wonks dubbed it the “nuclear option”). Trump has tended to lash out and threaten the subsidies whenever he's felt frustrated with his inability to repeal Obamacare. Last month, after the Republican health push sputtered to an inglorious late-night end in the Senate, he tweeted that “BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies” would “end very soon” if Congress couldn't pass a bill.
After today, however, it might be time to stop worrying and learn to love Trump's bomb threats. According to the new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, ending the cost-sharing subsidies would likely backfire badly for the administration, costing the federal government $194 billion over a decade without fatally undermining Obamacare's exchanges. In fact, the move could even allow some Americans to obtain insurance coverage for free while modestly reducing the number of uninsured by 1 million.
Let me repeat that. Trump's plot to critically sabotage the Affordable Care Act could actually lower the uninsured rate while blowing nearly $200 billion.
Now, before we get into the findings, here's a brief refresher on how the cost-sharing subsidies work, and why they're vulnerable. Under Obamacare, insurance companies are required to reduce out-of-pocket costs like co-pays and deductibles for low-income customers who buy silver plans through the law's online exchanges. (ACA plans come in three color tiers: gold, silver, and bronze.) In return, the government pays carriers money directly to cover the expense. However, last year a federal judge ruled that the payments were illegal, because Congress had never properly appropriated funding for them. The Trump administration is now debating whether to appeal that ruling.
Insurance companies are required to offer the reduced-cost silver plans whether or not the government compensates them, so if the subsidy money suddenly vanishes, they'll be on the hook for the difference. Of course, carriers could and would raise their premiums to make up the losses. But many analysts fear health plans would simply choose to exit the market, rather than deal with the additional chaos brought on by Trump's move.
The CBO thinks that, indeed, some insurers would decide to flee in that scenario. But it believes the damage to the market would be limited and temporary. In 2018, about 5 percent of Americans wouldn't have any insurers to buy individual coverage from. But within a couple years, carriers would figure out how to operate in the strange, new, subsidy-free landscape, and “people in almost all areas would be able to buy nongroup insurance.”
Killing the subsidies would also cause insurance premiums to rise. According to the CBO, the cost of a silver plan purchased through the exchange would likely jump 20 percent in 2018 compared with current law (the Kaiser Family Foundation came to the same conclusion back in April). The happy catch is that almost nobody, except for the government, would actualy have to pay much of the extra cost. Americans who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty line would still receive tax credits that cap their premium payments as a percentage of their income. So, a single person making $18,900 a year would end up paying $500 total for a silver plan, up from $450.
Meanwhile, the federal deficit would swell by $194 billion over a decade, since the government would be stuck subsidizing more expensive insurance.
What about the people who don't get subsidies? Many analysts and health care writers, myself included, have assumed that those upper-middle-class families would be the real victims in Trump's plot. However, the CBO thinks they might come out financially unscathed as well, because insurers are unlikely to raise prices on the health plans they sell to consumers outside of Obamacare's online marketplaces, which aren't affected by the cost sharing subsidies. Millions of Americans already buy their coverage either directly from an insurer or through a broker. If the prices on the exchanges shoot up as predicted, more of the unsubsidized population will likely foresake healthcare.gov and just call their carrier instead.
Now, here's where things get extra weird. If Trump kills the subsidies, it's possible that same insurance shoppers could actually end up with cheaper, or even free, coverage. The theory goes like this: With the subsidy payments gone, insurers won't hike premiums on all of their insurance offerings. Instead, they'll pile the cost onto the silver plans, in order to cover the cost of offering discounts on them to their low-income customers. Because Obamacare's tax credits are all pegged to the cost of silver coverage, their value will shoot up. In some cases, subsidies will more than cover the cost of a bronze plan. (The CBO isn't alone on this prediction, by the way; the consultants at Oliver Wyman made the same prediction in May.) And even people who aren't lucky enough to get insurance for nothing may be able to buy a gold plan for less than before. With subsidies shooting up, the CBO finally concludes that about a million more Americans will end up insured than if Trump hadn't tried to bring the market crashing down.
If the CBO is right, what it means is that Trump really does not have a nuclear option on Obamacare. He can try to gradually undermine it by choosing not to enforce the individual mandate, or scaling back the government's efforts to sign people up during open enrollment. But there isn't a button he can simply press to send the whole law into oblivion. This should come as a relief to Republicans and Democrats alike who feared Trump might attempt to sabotage the American health care system for political gain. Instead, they just have to worry he'll light $200 billion on fire out of spite.
by April Glaser @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 14 09:48:06 PDT 2017
Always Right is Slate’s pop-up blog exploring customer service across industries, technologies, and human relationships.
The customer service industry is teeming with robots. From automated phone trees to touchscreens, software and machines answer customer questions, complete orders, send friendly reminders, and even handle money. For an industry that is, at its core, about human interaction, it’s increasingly being driven to a large extent by nonhuman automation.
But despite the dreams of science-fiction writers, few people enter a customer-service encounter hoping to talk to a robot. And when the robot malfunctions, as they so often do, it’s a human who is left to calm angry customers. It’s understandable that after navigating a string of automated phone menus and being put on hold for 20 minutes, a customer might take her frustration out on a customer service representative. Even if you know it’s not the customer service agent’s fault, there’s really no one else to get mad at. It’s not like a robot cares if you’re angry.
When human beings need help with something, says Madeleine Elish, an anthropologist and researcher at the Data and Society Institute who studies how humans interact with machines, they’re not only looking for the most efficient solution to a problem. They’re often looking for a kind of validation that a robot can’t give. “Usually you don’t just want the answer,” Elish explained. “You want sympathy, understanding, and to be heard”—none of which are things robots are particularly good at delivering. In a 2015 survey of over 1,300 people conducted by researchers at Boston University, over 90 percent of respondents said they start their customer service interaction hoping to speak to a real person, and 83 percent admitted that in their last customer service call they trotted through phone menus only to make their way to a human on the line at the end.
“People can get so angry that they have to go through all those automated messages,” said Brian Gnerer, a call center representative with AT&T in Bloomington, Minnesota. “They’ve been misrouted or been on hold forever or they pressed one, then two, then zero to speak to somebody, and they are not getting where they want.” And when people do finally get a human on the phone, “they just sigh and are like, ‘Thank God, finally there’s somebody I can speak to.’ ”
Even if robots don’t always make customers happy, more and more companies are making the leap to bring in machines to take over jobs that used to specifically necessitate human interaction. McDonald’s and Wendy’s both reportedly plan to add touchscreen self-ordering machines to restaurants this year. Facebook is saturated with thousands of customer service chatbots that can do anything from hail an Uber, retrieve movie times, to order flowers for loved ones. And of course, corporations prefer automated labor. As Andy Puzder, CEO of the fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s and former Trump pick for labor secretary, bluntly put it in an interview with Business Insider last year, robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”
But those robots are backstopped by human beings. How does interacting with more automated technology affect the way we treat each other? When machines fail, it’s usually the most immediate human operator who has to take responsibility for the malfunction, whether or not that person had any say in building the failing system. A customer service agent who finally answers your call had zero to do with the poorly designed phone menu you just wasted 15 minutes navigating. A cashier who previously only had to deal with one impatient shopper at a time might now be in charge of overseeing 10 self-checkout kiosks at once. When the kiosks inevitably malfunction, not only does that cashier have to puzzle through how to get them working again: She now has to deal with 10 frustrated customers at once, too.
It’s not only interacting with machines that don’t work that can make us unfriendly toward other humans. Machines that work perfectly fine can inspire people to act less humane toward each other. Take Amazon’s Alexa, which is basically a customer service robot designed to live in your kitchen. Last year, a parent wrote about how his child’s behavior changed after they brought an Alexa home. Amazon’s tabletop smart speaker doesn’t require “please” or “thank you” to process commands, which he said was making his kid rude and demanding to other people as well.
“We know that people treat artificial entities like they’re alive, even when they’re aware of their inanimacy,” writes Kate Darling, a researcher at MIT who studies ethical relationships between humans and robots, in a recent paper on anthropomorphism in human-robot interaction. Sure, robots don’t have feelings and don’t feel pain (not yet, anyway). But as more robots rely on interaction that resembles human interaction, like voice assistants, the way we treat those machines will increasingly bleed into the way we treat each other.
This matters now because in the future there are going to be even more robots than there are today. They’ll be in our homes, at work, school, in stores, in the sky, and on our sidewalks. And robots are becoming more human-like every day: Google’s voice recognition software can now understand English with 95 percent accuracy, and researchers recently developed robotic skin that’s more sensitive than a human hand.
And it matters because many of the machines being built for human interaction are designed not only to help us, but to need humans to help them, too. The industrial robotics market is expected to nearly triple in less than 10 years, and collaborative robots made to work alongside people, or co-bots as they’re often called, are expected to make up one-third of that growth, according to data from Loup Ventures. Workers in Amazon’s robotized warehouses don’t need to walk as far or carry as many heavy boxes—robotic shelves that rove the warehouse floor do that. But humans are still needed to do things that the robots can’t do well, like pick odd-shaped objects off shelves or improvise when necessary.
That’s not that different from the changes happening in customer service, except that in customer service you, the customer with the weird question only a human can answer, are the odd-shaped box. As more of these machines are brought on to help humans, whether on the factory floor or at a customer service counter, Elish warns that companies that use and design them need to take the roles of the humans who work with them seriously from the start. That means rigorous user testing and field work; asking people who will be tasked to collaborate with the machines, including customers, about their experience; and programing robots to be as easy to work with as possible. Physically, robots might be designed to move more slowly or be constructed from softer materials; on the software side, they could be programed to deliver more information without requiring customers to ask for it, or to provide an easy route to connect with a person. (Or another option is just to hire more humans, since even a nicer robot isn’t a person with empathy, patience, and understanding who can interpret problems in a way only a person can.)
The great promise (and the great fear) of robots has always been that they’ll replace human labor. But if companies don’t carefully consider how humans interact with the robots that work for and alongside them, we may find we’re becoming a little less human, too.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 22 07:45:45 PDT 2017
Starting in October, Londoners may have one fewer way to get around town.
It will be the first month since 2012 that Europe’s largest city goes without Uber, whose license to operate will expire on Sept. 30. Transport for London, the city’s transportation department, will not renew it, the agency announced on Friday.
It’s a massive blow to Uber, which has 40,000 drivers in the British capital. The company has three weeks to appeal and may continue operating while the appeal is considered.
The ride-hailing company has already done significant damage to London’s black cabs, a guildlike profession whose drivers must memorize 25,000 streets in a test that has been shown to expand the size of their hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for spatial thinking. There are twice as many Ubers as black cabs in London; the cabbies have nicknamed Transport for London, known by its acronym TfL, “Totally Failing London.” As in many cities, cabbies are upwardly mobile, small-time entrepreneurs who say Uber has precipitated a race to the bottom. Adding to the tension is the fact that many Uber drivers are immigrants; cabbies tend to be native and white.
But TfL’s opposition to Uber is not with its business model, but with its corporate governance. In a press release, the body cited Uber’s fast-and-loose approach to crime reporting, medical certificates, and background checks, in addition to its use of Grayball, a software that helped the company evade police scrutiny.
So while London’s approach to Uber may wind up as one anecdote in a series of stories of European regulators willing to take on U.S. tech companies, it’s much more an Uber-specific problem. The company’s aggressive disregard for local laws was instrumental in its expansion and operation, but that was during the Travis Kalanick era. New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who was appointed last month, has signaled the arrival of a more mature company.
This is his biggest test yet. In the past, Uber has responded to legal setbacks with scorching PR campaigns that have largely succeeded in getting the company what it wants. When New York City challenged the company several years ago, for example, it enlisted local celebrities in its defense. A year of terrible press may have strained that model. Still, tens of thousands of Londoners have grown to depend on the company, whose fares can be 30 percent lower than typical black cabs. (Lyft, Uber’s main U.S. rival, does not have international service—though the company has said it plans to expand.) If those inconvenienced riders are outraged enough, they may be able to pressure TfL to accommodate Uber, leading other municipal regulators to go easier on the company, too.
An Uber exit from London would hurt the company’s image and its bottom line. But the real victims will be its tens of thousands of drivers, many of whom will have taken on auto debt to buy new cars to drive for Uber.
Uber’s in a good position, with its recent leadership shuffle, to politely make the case its governance ain’t what it used to be. The last time it left a major city was in 2016, when Austin, Texas, instituted a strict new background check rule. In the absence of Uber and Lyft, a homegrown ride-hail scene bloomed. But after the Texas Legislature pre-empted the city this summer, Uber and Lyft returned—and quickly recaptured their market share.
Dove has released limited-edition “Real Beauty Bottles” in the United Kingdom for its body wash that are shaped like different body shapes - some slender, some round, some curvy, some straight up-and-down.
by Heather Schwedel @ Slate Articles
Sun Aug 13 16:04:00 PDT 2017
This has been the summer of Wonder Woman, of “Despacito,” of rosé and brosé and frosé, of Game of Thrones spoilers, and of near-weekly red weddings at the White House. But more than all of those things, it’s been the summer of Halo Top. The low-calorie ice cream–maker, which didn’t exist before 2012, has given the ice-cream industry a brain freeze, forcing its competitors to remake their strategies in the mold of its success.
Between 2015 and 2016, Halo Top’s sales soared by 2,500 percent, and in 2017 the brand gained a foothold in major chains like Walmart and launched its first national advertising campaign. Taste reported last month that after Walmart started carrying seven flavors of Halo Top in April, it quickly started outselling every other ice cream the megastore carried. Just within the past few weeks, Halo Top passed legacy brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs to take the title of America’s best-selling pint. And now Reuters reports that Halo Top is exploring a sale and that it’s already been valued at as much as $2 billion. On top of all that, more flavors are on the way.
That we are all now living in Halo Top’s world is reason to celebrate if you, like me, have picked up on the brand’s particular compulsion-scratching attraction and decided you love the stuff anyway. But Halo Top’s ascent also reflects some of the more fraught trends in diet-adjacent dining these days: It speaks the language of “healthy” food—but draws its power from the unhealthiest of eating habits.
Halo Top’s main selling point is that an entire pint of the stuff contains about as many calories (240 to 350) as other ice creams might contain in a single serving or serving and a half. But unlike other “healthy” ice creams that came before it, Halo Top doesn’t taste like expired yogurt. It tastes pretty good, in fact, at least once you get used to its mousselike texture, a constant reminder that what you’re eating isn’t exactly regular ice cream. It varies from flavor to flavor, sure, and not everyone likes it, but still: A whole pint of ice cream that’s only 240 calories—that’s living the dream.
How does Halo Top do it? The ice cream’s secret weapons are stevia and prebiotic fiber (which replace the sugar and fat of typical ice cream) and … air. Yup, air. Halo Top has more air whipped into it than other ice creams, meaning it weighs just 256 grams to the 428 grams of a Ben & Jerry’s pint, as Time has pointed out. Much of the brand’s success can be attributed to good timing: When founder and CEO Justin Woolverton began messing around with his personal ice-cream maker circa 2010–11, he told Taste, so-called natural sweeteners like stevia were relatively new, so there weren’t many manufacturers experimenting with them on a large scale. He got in early.
If you look at the nutrition label on each pint of Halo Top, the serving size is still the typical half-cup, but the brand plays up the “go ahead and eat a whole pint” idea. Each pint’s label lists its total calorie count in big, central type—bigger type than even is used for the flavor’s name or the Halo Top logo. Marketing and packaging materials encourage customers to eat the whole thing. Seals say things like, “Stop when you hit the bottom” and “No bowl, no regrets.”
The more times a person decides to eat a whole pint instead of stretching one out into several servings, the more pints Halo Top sells. The brand is well aware of this phenomenon: Early wholesale customers had trouble keeping the stuff in stock because “it became very apparent on our end that people were eating Halo Top five times a week, or 10 times a week, which is far more than any supermarket expects customers to eat ice cream,” the company’s president told Taste.
If you’re a calorie counter, you get this. If not, well, it’s hard to explain what a life-changer this product feels like for people who routinely log their meals in MyFitnessPal. It’s magic, a hall pass, a get-out-of-jail-free card. All any dieting person really wants—and I am extrapolating from personal experience here—is to eat a whole container of something. Preferably that thing will taste good or at least not bad, but what’s crucial, in the end, is getting to eat all of it. What Halo Top does so brilliantly is tap into Americans’ love of bingeing. And if the thinking behind Halo Top seems like the thinking of disordered eating, I don’t blame the company for that: The warped mindset of disordered eating seems to underlie pretty much all conversations about food and weight and dieting these days.
Halo Top would never use the word fat in its branding, but that’s what you see when you imagine someone eating a whole pint of ice cream, right? Fat, sad, alone, female. In addition to the stevia, the prebiotic fiber, and the air, a great deal of Halo Top’s success surely comes from the company’s branding, which decouples an ugly, unfair association from a self-indulgent habit. With its poppy, millennial-targeting packaging, Halo Top just doesn’t look like a diet ice cream. It’s managed to brand itself the “healthy” ice cream and recontextualize the pathetic act of eating a pint of ice cream in one go. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner argued recently in the New York Times Magazine, “dieting” has become tacky in the popular culture, so the makers of “diet” products have had to find a new script. Halo Top’s Instagram-friendly aesthetic announces it as something cool, not a diet-diet product and certainly not for fat people. (Though the word fat itself is also fraught, and whether it’s OK to say it or not is constantly in flux.) Because “losing weight” is now tacky, too, Halo Top’s promise of extra protein is perfect for getting “strong.” If you squint, its “natural” ingredients aren’t so far from “eating clean,” another favorite code phrase of modern health foods. When you dig into a Halo Top pint, you imagine you’re part of a legion of fitness models indulging in a guilty pleasure, not one of countless Americans who struggle with weight.
As Brodesser-Akner argued in her piece, our culture continues to talk around the reality that, wellness trend and body-acceptance movements be damned, actually losing weight and keeping it off can be nearly impossible. We receive the mixed messages that we shouldn’t want to lose weight and should accept our bodies as they are, but also that we would be healthier if we took up less space, which is why we should find a diet and stay on it forever. It all adds up to a lot of cross-talk, wasted energy, and precious little progress, in terms of both pounds lost and happiness gained.
In this light, eating “healthy” ice cream doesn’t make sense, but nothing about bingeing or America’s culture of dieting really does. Why don’t Halo Top’s fans just eat a little bit of real ice cream that tastes good and has a normal mouthfeel? Asking that is like asking why I don’t just start eating a plant-based diet or start exercising for 30 minutes a day, five times per week, like Michael Pollan and the American Heart Association have been telling me to do for years. If it were that easy, wouldn’t we be doing it already? Halo Top’s reputation as the “healthy” ice cream has inspired more than a few publications to ask questions like, “Is Halo Top Ice Cream Good for You?” or explain that, actually, “Low-Cal Ice Cream Like Halo Top Could Be Making You Fat.” Time went so far as to write, “Unlike fruits and vegetables that are naturally full of nutrients, Halo Top is a processed dairy product with sugar and sweeteners.” Shocker: This ice cream is not a thing that grows on organic farms. Of course Halo Top isn’t good for you. It may get called “healthy” ice cream, but at this point healthy has almost lost all meaning. Halo Top is healthier than traditional ice cream, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, that there’s anything healthy about eating an entire pint of ice cream, or that ice cream in general is getting healthier. But it’s how a lot of people eat, and Halo Top has realized that and capitalized on it.
Other brands are joining the fray. In recent weeks, Breyers rolled out its Halo Top competitor, Breyers Delights, pints of ice cream that give the most prime real estate on their labels over to advertising their sub-350 calorie counts. More are sure to follow.
That’s fine—I’m eager for more companies to embrace stevia. Maybe Häagen-Dazs will iterate and fix Halo Top’s texture problem. Maybe the food industry will figure out how to remove three-fourths of the calories from every type of food. No matter what, we can cheer America’s ice cream aisles becoming healthier, if not exactly healthy.
But when they do, it will also be a troubling outgrowth of our twisted relationship with dieting. And that’s a problem even stevia can’t solve.
by Benjamin Frisch @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 21 11:44:00 PDT 2017
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
I was scheduled that day to draw caricatures in the Italian-themed section of Busch Gardens, an amusement park in my hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia. The caricature stand was sandwiched between the giant spinning teacups and the train that runs the perimeter of the park. A few hours after opening, a middle-aged woman approached the stand pushing a heavy-duty wheelchair occupied by a disabled teenager. She asked that I draw a $10 sketch of the boy’s face, black and white, no body.
I asked the boy if he would look straight at me, and he didn’t respond. The seat of the wheelchair was tilted back, and his head was cocked slightly to the side, so I saw it from a ¾ view rather than the usual straight-ahead perspective. He didn’t smile when I asked, but he had an expression that I read as contented. The drawing took longer than usual, as I was being extra careful. I drew what I saw. It was a pretty good likeness and a friendly representation of this teenager, neither exaggerating his disability nor “correcting” for it.
As I tore the sheet from the easel, I showed it to the boy, who didn’t respond. Then I showed it to his caretaker. Her breathing quickened.
The caricature artist, like every employee at a theme park, is in the business of customer service. But our relationship with the customer is more charged than that of the ride operator or the cotton candy vendor. A caricature is a symbolic representation of a person’s face. Through cartooning, a caricaturist reduces the features of a person to simplified shapes and reorders them to create an image that represents the person. It’s not a portrait of the person; it’s a portrait of the idea of the person. When you ask for a caricature, you are asking to be confronted by your own appearance or the appearance of your loved one. Drawing caricatures that were both good and benign is a somewhat unnavigable problem.
Caricaturing takes place on a battlefield between our physical appearance as observed by others, our often dysmorphic view of our own appearance, how we wish we appeared, and societal standards of what is “beautiful.” Theme park caricatures tend to smooth over the rough edges in the interest of pleasing the customer, but conflicts are unavoidable due to the nature of the form. Some people have big noses, long necks, and ears that stick out enough to threaten the likeness if removed. I also believe it’s condescending to assume people should automatically be ashamed of certain aspects of their face. Were a caricature artist to reduce the size of my strong nose, she wouldn’t be doing me any favors.
But not everyone feels the same way, and it’s the artist who must guess, based on the demeanor of the subject and his companions, how far to push. Pleasing children is easy; they aren’t very self-conscious, and kids look much more alike than people realize. But parents project their neuroses onto their children, so not only must you draw the child well, but you must also navigate the parent’s idealized idea of what that child looks like.
Adults are much more difficult. Adults have a lifetime of societal judgments drilled into their self-image, and their faces vary dramatically in proportion. Generally, more exaggerated caricatures are better caricatures, they look more like a person, but they are also dangerous. The more exaggerated, the more likely someone will find something to object to.
There is nothing inherently cruel about the process of caricaturing. There’s a misconception that caricaturists simply choose a feature to exaggerate arbitrarily (a big nose on this one!) and then draw around that exaggeration, but in reality it’s more complicated. Caricaturing is mostly a game of proportion, seeing what parts of a face exist in larger or smaller proportion to the rest of the face, and pushing those proportions via exaggeration. It’s not exactly objective, but the rules of resemblance are fairly reliable, and it’s very easy to ruin a likeness with a poorly placed hairline or set of cheekbones.
Sometimes clients would tell me outright, “Don’t draw me with freckles” or “Don’t exaggerate my chin.” Once the instructions I received were blessedly clear: As I sat down to draw a boy with Down syndrome, his mother leaned in and told me warmly, “It’s OK if you draw him like he has Down’s. We know what he looks like.” The implication was that they’d had a previous bad experience in which a caricaturist had changed his face to look more “typical.” The advice gave me confidence in my artistic choice; I breathed a little easier and drew the boy riding a choo-choo train.
That day by the spinning teacups was different. When I handed the boy’s caretaker his caricature, she refused to make eye contact, and yelled, “You’re a terrible artist and a horrible person!” She pulled the boy’s wheelchair from the stand and stormed away. I was still a junior artist, so getting rejected was a common occurrence, but this was especially bruising. I still don’t know what caused her to reject the sketch; I assume she believed I was belittling the boy somehow, but I’ll never know. Perhaps she thought the very act of exaggeration could be upsetting to a child whose differences might have been mocked by others.
I caricatured for four summers as a teenager. It was a good job and paid well (when people liked my work). I wonder, though, if the moral responsibility of managing people’s self-image issues was the healthiest activity for a teenage artist who was already deeply insecure in his artwork. I wasn’t stung by being called a horrible person; I felt confident enough in my ethical approach to caricaturing to feel that wasn’t the case. But being called a terrible artist, the only time in my life someone has said that to my face, felt far more cruel.
After she left the stand that day, I spent a lot of time looking at the sketch they left behind. I can picture it more easily than any other caricature I’ve ever drawn. In truth, I believe my failure was a customer-service failure, not an artistic one. I certainly should have asked more questions, or she could have been more specific in her requests. Such communication might have helped me better understand what she was hoping for or undercut any unconscious bias I might have brought to the task. But I don’t think either of us were prepared for the ethical quandary at the heart of it, which was particularly thorny this time but fundamentally the same as the one every caricaturist faces when she puts pen to paper: People put faces in your hands, and your job is to make them more themselves than they are in real life. Can you bridge the gulf between what they dream of and what you see?
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 19 16:13:48 PDT 2017
At this point, pretty much everybody in Washington has noticed that the new Obamacare repeal bill Senate Republicans have rallied behind, Graham-Cassidy, would transfer large amounts of cash from blue states to red states. Specifically, its funding formula would strip federal money from places that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, like California and New York, and reward those that did not, like Alabama and Texas. Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, who opposes the bill, has described it as a “game of Republicans sticking it to Democrats.” (Of course his state, which did expand Medicaid under a Democratic governor, also stands to lose out.)
In the past couple of days, the bill’s authors, Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, have tried to respond to this charge. Their legislation is not a partisan smash and grab, they insist. Nope. Not all. Rather, it merely fixes Obamacare’s own grossly unfair funding formula. How so? Per the New York Times:
“Right now, 37 percent of the revenue from the Affordable Care Act goes to Americans in four states”—California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, Mr. Cassidy said. “That is frankly not fair.”
As is his wont, Graham delivered a more elaborate version of this spiel during a floor speech Monday.
“I like Massachusetts, I like Maryland, I like New York, I like California, but I don’t like them that much to give them a bunch of money that the rest of us won’t get,” he said. “Now, if you live in Massachusetts, you don’t get twice the Social Security or 50 percent more than if you live in Pennsylvania. Now how can this happen? Obamacare, for whatever reason, favors four blue states against the rest of us.”
Graham treats this as if it’s some sort of impenetrable mystery, one accessible only to nearsighted budget wonks. But of course, there’s a very obvious, good reason why these four states receive a disproportionate share of Obamacare’s funding today: They expanded Medicaid. That’s pretty much the whole answer. Meanwhile most red-state governors decided to treat health care policy like an Appalachian blood feud and refused the money the Obama administration all but begged them to take. Thus, the high-population California and New York get a very big slice of the ACA’s pie. If Florida or Texas had decided to accept the big, gift-wrapped pile of dough Washington was offering, things wouldn’t look quite so imbalanced.
And this stat, insofar as it has any significance, really is just about California and New York. I don’t know precisely where Graham and Cassidy got their number, but according to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government is expected to spend about $117 billion on Obamacare’s marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion this year. As of 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation says California was receiving $19.6 billion worth of federal funding for its Medicaid expansion population while New York got $7.7 billion. Maryland and Massachusetts both got less than $2 billion—less than the amount Ohio received for its Medicaid expansion, or than Florida gained entirely for premium tax credits this year, for that matter.
Now, it pains me to have to spell this out, but it’s worth remembering that the federal government offered every single state the same match rate for Medicaid expansion enrollees. All they had to do was sign people up. There was no inequity baked into the formula. So when Cassidy and Graham grouse about how much money California and New York get, they are essentially whining over the fact that Medicaid-expansion states get more Medicaid funding. The only way that might seem unfair is if you happen to live in a state where your stubborn Republican governor turned that money down.
by Mark Vanhoenacker @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:54:54 PDT 2017
You might assume that pilots hate airports. That at best we’d view them as earthly pit stops, as the base—the adjective as much as the noun—precursors to a high dream.
Not me. I’m a 747 pilot, and I love airports. I love them even—perhaps especially—when I’m flying as a passenger. If you feel the same about airports, I’m delighted to hear it. But I’m really writing to those of you who don’t, because it’s part of my job to try to make your journey more pleasant.
Let’s concede, for the sake of argument, everything that anyone could possibly not like about airports. Done. Now if aviation remains a part of your life—if it’s only flying that allows you to visit your far-flung family, friends, colleagues, or customers, not to mention all the fascinating corners of the world you otherwise couldn’t—then let me try to nudge the needle on your airport-ometer just a little toward the wondrous side. After all, if you’re going to fly anyway, then why not make the terrestrial bookends to your next journey across the vault of the heavens a little more interesting?
One thing I have to ask you to pack, though, is time. Not much. In his forthcoming book Airportness, the literature (and airports) scholar Christopher Schaberg invites you to contemplate the “poetics” of the curbside and to dial up a William Blake poem as you observe a boarding gate. (I imagine a Max Richter or Ludovico Einaudi track would serve just as well.) As with Schaberg, the things I love best about airports are hard to appreciate when I’m in a rush. I know that passengers (and pilots) can’t always choose how much extra time we have in airports. But those of us who want to see airports in a new light might take Schaberg’s advice, near the start of Airportness, to “build in an extra ten minutes to spare.”
“Just ten minutes”—that’s all he asks. Here’s how I spend mine.
Marvel at What’s Taking Flight
It remains relatively expensive and complicated to move things across the planet. When it comes to exactly which objects we find it worthwhile to transport over significant distances, we might think of seaports, which handle an enormous physical volume of trade, and of airports, of course, which handle plenty of high-value and perishable cargo. But what strikes me most about airports is the critical role they retain in the transmission of information. I know, there’s this new thing called the internet. Exactly. So why does air travel continue to increase? Why travel to Kenya or Kathmandu or Kansas City these days, when you can learn so much about their wonders from afar? Why are conferences so crucial to science, medicine, and business? The next time you’re watching a fellow passenger unpack his or her world-shrinking, cloud-connecting electronic devices at a security checkpoint, step back and ponder what this scene really says to us: that a great deal of the world’s most valuable knowledge, ideas, and experiences still travels by airplane—by you.
Take in the Departures Board
When I was a kid, I loved to flip through atlases. I was mesmerized by the names of cities, whether near or far, familiar or strange—Samarkand, Phoenix, Albany, Athens. I could never quite get my head around the fact that all of these cities were existing at the same time: that in each there was at that moment a different light and a different smell in the air; that in each it was a certain temperature and a certain hour; and that the histories of each, whether short or long, were pressing their noses up against the same present moment—as if time were a sphere, a kind of round front that enveloped the planet much like the atmosphere itself.
Airport departure boards offer a supercharged version of the atlas experience. In fact, these signs make it even easier to imagine this planet of glowing conurbations you might someday visit, because the travelers on those planes will, later today or sometime tomorrow, be walking right down the far-off streets of those far-scattered cities. I recently asked my followers on Facebook and Twitter to describe some of their favorite things about airports. I was pleased, but not at all surprised, to see enthusiastic rhapsodizing about departure boards among the replies.
I’d happily spend all of my 10 minutes staring up at a departure board. I like how by the mere ordering of departure times a flight to Aberdeen can appear near one to Buenos Aires, or to Jeddah. I love to think of old metropolises such as Rome, of how it can be that the name of the Eternal City appears so matter-of-factly on screens in Seoul or Tehran or Los Angeles. Departure boards are especially pleasing at U.S. airports that have both regional and long-haul flights. Suddenly, staring upward as you sip your Starbucks in San Francisco International Airport, you have found at least one answer to the question of what Bakersfield and Osaka have in common.
People-Watch (and -Listen)
Whether you’re perched in a coffee bar or sailing along the moving walkway, airports are among the best places on earth to marvel at humanity. This is true not only at global hubs but also at the smaller, farther-flung airports that connect travelers to those hubs. When it comes to pretty much every visible aspect of culture, from dress through to manners and expressiveness (especially at the emotional extremes of bidding farewell to loved ones and greeting them after a long absence), airports offer some of the best people-watching on the planet. And if, like me, you find it pleasurable to hear conversations in the few languages you recognize and the many you can’t, you’re in luck. Airports are the perfect place to eavesdrop on the wonders of our spoken world.
Admire the Architecture
Airports are of architectural interest for a number of reasons. First of all, while it’s often claimed that museums are our modern cathedrals, I’d argue the same might be said of certain airports. As with museums, airports say a lot about what we value (or what their designers value, or think we should value). Second, airports present a number of unique design challenges, from signage to baggage handling to transport links. I’m no architect, but I find it interesting to think about these challenges and about whether there are different ways to meet them, or if in fact these constraints are the main reason so many airports look alike.
Third, many (though clearly not all) political authorities view airports as highly prestigious projects that represent a city—or indeed an entire country—to the wider world. Especially in countries that have just one main international airport, business travelers can’t help but reflect on the airport experiences that frame the bleary-eyed beginnings and ends of their visits. That’s one reason many authorities hire world-class architects, give them big budgets, and demand an inspiring structure with global stature but also (these days) a touch of local flair. As a result, and despite their functional similarities, the best airports offer experiences as transcendent as any that architecture can. A few are worth a visit even if you never intend to get on a plane.
Take the midcentury, Eero Saarinen–designed main building at Washington Dulles (not to mention the airport’s distinctive font, itself an icon of the jet age). I love the glowing lines of the now-classic terminal, especially as seen at night from an approaching car or bus. When I finally walk into the terminal I usually pause and look up—not for 10 minutes but maybe a minute—before walking on, almost always with a touch more spring in my step. And of course, many of the most beautiful airports are new. The first time I landed at Mumbai’s Terminal 2 I forgot all about my jet lag, pulled out my phone, and enthusiastically texted a bunch of photos to awestruck friends back in the States.
Gaze at the Planes
Newer airports tend to have more windows, and all that glass is an invitation to remember that planes themselves can be beautiful. And not just the jet-age icons such as the Boeing 747. In fact you are living in one of the best times in recent memory to look out for lovely new birds in the skies and to contemplate how pleasingly form can follow function—a principle, by the way, associated with the legendary architect Louis Sullivan, who, in the days before airplanes, found it helpful to refer to “the sweeping eagle in his flight.” It’s tempting to wonder what Sullivan would make of the wingtips of the shiny new Airbus A350. Are the engineers behind these bladelike appendages incredibly smart, or do they have a great sense of style? Or take a look at the distinctive saw-toothed engines on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Yes, they’re quieter. And yes, they look awesome.
Absorb the Culture (Really!)
Airports, it’s fair to say, are internationalized places that don’t always go far out of their way to cultivate difference. Maybe that’s what we secretly want? I’m certainly not unhappy when I find decent lattes, English signage, copies of the Economist, and a meticulously controlled climate no matter where on the globe I am. And I’m thrilled when offbeat ideas like rocking chairs (which I first sat on in Boston) and little smiley-face buttons to rate immigration officers (which I first pressed in Beijing) spread rapidly to other airports.
But the relative homogeneity of airports also highlights the differences that do confront the traveler. As you walk through a terminal, what can you see, hear, or smell that helps you identify where you are? At Singapore’s beloved Changi Airport, for example, of course there’s an observation deck, a rooftop swimming pool, an indoor slide, and a Hello Kitty–themed café. But it’s the gardens—the separate orchid, sunflower, cactus, and butterfly gardens—that really strike you and that it seems only this ultra-green garden city would go to so much trouble to construct for you. Singapore is one of the world’s most globalized hubs and yet, as you walk through a place built solely to move you to and from the farthest reaches of the world, there’s really nowhere else you could be.
I have a similarly local, well-grounded feeling in Vancouver’s airport. The airport is quiet. It’s full of beautiful wood and calming water features. The people are friendly. In other words, Vancouver’s airport is perfect in all the ways that Vancouver itself is. In a surprise to no one who’s ever flown here, Vancouver’s airport was recently named the best airport in North America for the eighth year in a row.
And back in the U.S. of A? The “peaks” of Denver’s airport always make me smile, as do the foodie options popping up at SFO. And I’ll never forget the warm breezes that I once felt in the open-air walkways of Honolulu’s airport.
Savor the Exit
I recently landed in Accra, Ghana, one of my favorite African cities, just after sunset. When the terminal doors at last opened, the heat and humidity rushed over me. I could smell the air, I could see the crowds of waiting families and porters, and I could hear laughter and the local television from the little bar and restaurant just outside. By then, I marveled, I’d been on Ghanaian ground for almost an hour.
The scene reminded me to think about what happens when the terminal doors open and we step across the line that airports draw so neatly for us. If flying, compared to older forms of travel, is essentially a kind of teleportation, then the airport is a big part of the machine. Indeed travel couldn’t be so fast and accessible without such a sharp border somewhere along the way. That is, the line between the internationalized realm inside airports and the world outside isn’t a flaw—it’s an inevitable consequence of the way that we’ve chosen to move.
It’s also one of the interesting aspects of airports. The poet Kirun Kapur (a college friend of mine) describes the invigoration of the airport exit’s assault on the senses in “Arriving, New Delhi,” a poem from her book Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist.
...Doors open and the blood pounds out
its local language along every limb.
Smell ashes. Men. Jasmine
climbing on a fence. A taxi driver
turbaned in a tongue of flame
says, Sister, I can take you into the city.
Sister, shall I take you home?
If you didn’t find 10 extra minutes at the start of your journey, perhaps you have half a minute to spare here at its end. Airports—as Christopher Schaberg, Kirun Kapur, Alain de Botton, and so many others who’ve stopped to think about them have written—are liminal places. So take note of their doors, which perhaps more simply than anything else sum up how airplanes have changed our world. Pause as they open and the bewildered airs meet. Welcome.
Rich San Franciscans Find Out What Poor People Already Know: Investors Can Buy Their Land for Almost Nothing
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 08 11:09:00 PDT 2017
In April 2015, a couple from San Jose, California, quietly bought one of America’s most exclusive and expensive streets for a song.
For a measly $90,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Tina Lam and Michael Cheng purchased San Francisco’s tony, private Presidio Terrace. Flanked by mansions that sell in the eight figures, the street has been managed by nearby homeowners—which have included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein—since 1905. The purchase, the Chronicle writes, "includes a string of well-coiffed garden islands, palm trees and other greenery,” in addition to the real jackpot: 120 free parking spaces. At a monthly parking rate of $200, the couple could make their money back in a couple years.
What happened here? According to its lawyer, the Presidio Homeowners Association forgot to pay a $14-a-year tax bill because it was being mailed to the wrong address. So the city put the property up for auction. The PHA, in other words, lost a private street in the most expensive city in the country over a paltry $994 in unpaid back taxes, penalties, and interest.
As if the story couldn’t get any richer, Presidio Terrace was whites-only until the 1948 Supreme Court decision Shelley v. Kraemer, which stopped courts from enforcing racial covenants—deeds that stipulated that a property couldn’t be sold to a minority. Now the street itself is owned by a couple of Asian American immigrants.
It’s a hilarious, headline-grabbing example of a much more pernicious practice, in which governments auction tiny tax liens to private investors, who impose onerous interest charges and legal fees in order to foreclose on homes. It’s a tragedy of the financial crisis repeating as farce.
In D.C., an 81-year-old veteran lost his home over a $134 bill. The Washington Post revealed that 500 properties were lost in the city since 2005—"most in the city’s poorest neighborhoods and about one-third from owners who owed less than $1,000,” the Post found. In January, in response to a class-action lawsuit, the District agreed to pay $1 million to those affected.
At the height of the housing crisis, annual property tax delinquencies amounted to more than $15 billion. Desperate to fill municipal coffers, cities and counties sold those debts to investors who did everything they could to seize and flip the properties, taking tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity for tiny unpaid debts and leaving homeowners homeless. The victims are often poor or elderly. A 2012 report by the National Consumer Law Center documented some of these cases: “An 81-year-old Rhode Island homeowner was evicted two weeks before Christmas from the home she had lived in for more than 40 years because she had fallen behind on a $474 sewer bill. A corporation bought her house at a tax sale for $836.39 and then resold it for $85,000.”
Years later, however, the practice persists. In Flint, Michigan, thousands of residents are at risk of foreclosure for hundreds of dollars in unpaid bills for the city’s undrinkable water. The city has tried to freeze those bills, creating a standoff between Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and the state, which wants its money.
The wealthy homeowners of Presidio Terrace won’t get their street back. But they’re surely awakened, now, to the practice of letting people’s property go quietly to auction for a paycheck’s worth of debt.
Imagine if it was your house instead of your parking spot.
It looks as though at least one of the 'real women' meant to be in Dove's latest 'Campaign for Real Beauty' ad was an actress
The actress tweeted that she was "feeling blessed en route to 'Doors/Choose Beautiful' documentary set."
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 01 14:27:43 PDT 2017
This week, the Trump administration inched ever-so deeper into the realm of pitch-black comedy, when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos selected a former for-profit college dean to head a squad that investigates fraud in higher education.
Julian Schmoke Jr., who worked as a dean at DeVry University from late 2008 to 2012, will head the Education Department’s Student Aid Enforcement Unit, which President Obama created in 2016 to both crack down on bad behavior by colleges and analyze fraud claims by former students seeking to have their loans forgiven. While the task force wasn’t exclusively designed to deal with for-profit institutions, those schools have of course been a hotbed of fraudulent activity within the world of higher ed. Under Obama, regulators led an aggressive and often successful campaign to rein in the worst practices by some of the country’s education chains.
Including, as it just so happens, DeVry. In December 2016, the company agreed to a $100 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that for years it had misled students into enrolling using bogus employment stats. Dating back to at least 2008, the school had run TV ads claiming that 90 percent of its graduates found work within their field. But according to the FTC’s complaint, the school blatantly fudged that figure by including in it students who had actually taken menial service industry jobs. Grads who were employed selling clothes at Macy’s and serving food at the Cheesecake Factory were counted as having work “in their field,” for instance.
Ironically, the Department of Education actually bragged about the DeVry settlement in the press release announcing Student Aid Enforcement Unit, which will now be headed by one of the school’s ex-employees.
I haven’t seen anybody suggest that the Schmoke was personally involved in any of his former employers’ chicanery. There may be reason to question what he knew, since his LinkedIn page notes that, among other responsibilities, his job included “coaching and identifying students for placement into jobs and internships in collaboration with Career Services.” But ultimately, he worked for at a school that, according to the goverment, was actively scamming students at the time. Now he is in charge of policing the scammers. The administration’s bland reassurance that, “Dr. Schmoke neither had any knowledge of or involvement in the settlement agreement between the university and the U.S. Department of Education” is pretty cold comfort. The fox-guarding-the-hen-house tweets have of course written themselves.
It has been obvious from the get-go that Donald Trump and DeVos would let for-profit colleges run wild over the next few years. Our president, after all, marketed a scam series of get-rich-quick real estate seminars as ”Trump University.” Our education secretary is basically a walking cautionary tale about the power of wealth in politics who evinced zero interest in consumer protections for students. Since taking over her Department, she’s already begun the process of rewriting and watering down the gainful employment regulations that were designed to punish schools that saddled students with too much debt and worthless degrees. Compared to that move, this appointment is relatively small potatoes. But as an act of trolling? Even by the Trump administration’s standards, it’s pretty stupendous.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Sep 13 15:11:45 PDT 2017
After weeks of buildup, Sen. Bernie Sanders has finally released his latest plan to create a single-payer health care system in the United States, tugging along 16 Democrats as co-sponsors of the Medicare-for-all legislation, many of whom appeared with him at a buoyant press conference Wednesday afternoon. On its face, the rollout was an impressive show of political support for an idea that, not so many years ago, was widely considered a patchouli-scented left-wing fantasy, on par with dragging George W. Bush before a war-crimes tribunal and cutting the defense budget in half.
But in some subtle ways, Wednesday’s health care pep rally also showed what an uphill climb Medicare for all still faces, even among Democrats.
The fact that one-third of Senate Democrats have now endorsed Sanders’ version of Medicare for all mostly affirms something that’s been obvious for a while: Thanks to America’s favorite irascible socialist, single-payer health care is now a mainstream liberal policy idea. Even more telling is the number of potential 2020 contenders who have decided to get on board with the plan. Sens. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren each took turns at the podium Wednesday extolling the virtues of socialized health insurance. Such a scene that would have been utterly unimaginable eight years ago. Their support may or may not be 100 percent heartfelt, but it’s pretty clear where they think Democratic primary voters will be standing on this issue in four years.
It’s also important that these senators have planted a flag on what they mean by “Medicare for all.” For months now, Democrats have been murmuring the phrase without fully defining it. Now, they’re getting specific. The new bill would not only extend Medicare to the entire population, but—much like the plan Sanders campaigned on—make it dramatically more generous by eliminating co-pays and deductibles while adding benefits for dental and eye care. It’s a truly all-encompassing vision of publicly financed government health care. And it will be extremely hard for other Democrats to brand less ambitious ideas—even interesting, Medicare-related ones, like blowing out Medicare Advantage—as “Medicare for all.”
But the reality is that 16 Democrats did not back a fully workable single-payer plan Wednesday. At best, they backed half of one. While the Sanders bill details how a “Medicare for All” system would work, it tap dances around the all-important question of how to pay for it.
The legislation itself does not include any taxes. Instead, its authors have written up a complementary white paper titled “Options to Fund Medicare for All” with a menu of tax hikes that add up to about $16.9 trillion over a decade (which, for what it’s worth, might not actually be enough to cover the cost of a single-payer system). That might give wonks a sense of what the bill’s backers are thinking. But it definitely gives the co-sponsors a convenient out from endorsing any specific tax increase that could be used against them in a campaign ad. More importantly, at least if you’re a single-payer fan, it means they haven’t committed themselves to some of the more controversial trade-offs that would be necessary to make single-payer a reality. If four years from now Democrats win control of Washington, it’s entirely possible some of the politicians jumping on the Medicare for all bandwagon now will jump off once Congressional Budget Office scores start rolling in and they have to reckon with the actual cost, just as some Republicans have suddenly had second thoughts about repealing Obamacare now that they’ve had to write a bill.
It’s not especially surprising that Sanders & co. would choose to leave the sticky question of taxes for a later date. As the senator himself said, this legislation is just an appetizer designed to “begin the debate” about the future of health care and single-payer. The unveiling functioned as an early head count of Democrats who are at least enthusiastic about the idea in theory. At such an early stage, it would be political malpractice to alienate potential allies by forcing them to sign on to $17 trillion of carefully spelled out tax hikes when Democrats barely have enough power in Washington to rename a post office.
And, to be sure, the senators who endorsed Sanders’ bill Wednesday did take some risks. The polling on single-payer is mixed—the Kaiser Family Foundation describes support as “malleable”—and some voters are still going to hate the idea of giving up their current coverage for whatever plan Washington cooks up. Moreover, Wednesday’s bill would reimburse doctors at current Medicare rates, which would save the government money but would surely arouse opposition from hospitals and some physician groups. The fact that Medicare for all is still controversial was probably best illustrated by the fact that one of the Senate’s most reliably progressive members, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, declined to co-sponsor it. It’s not much of a mystery why: He’s running for re-election next year in a state Donald Trump won by eight points and that has largely elected Republicans to statewide office in recent years.
But Brown’s hesitation is a sign of the challenge single-payer supporters face. If the left wants to remake the entire U.S. health insurance system from the ground up, it will need the support of purple- and red-state Democrats. And as of now, it can’t even get a died-in-the-wool, labor-loving progressive to support a fantasy bill that shunts inevitable tax hikes into a companion document. Medicare for all might be mainstream. But it’s got a long, long way to go before it becomes consensus.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 16 13:08:00 PDT 2017
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
Slowly, and then all at once. That’s how President Trump’s CEO councils—the Strategic and Policy Forum and the American Manufacturing Council—came apart on Wednesday in the wake of Trump’s disastrous press conference.
It wasn’t because the nation’s executive class collectively woke up at exactly the same time. Rather, it was because Trump’s behavior and the very nature of the role of a modern American CEO made their positions on any body connected to Trump untenable.
I’m generalizing here, but bear with me. Typically CEOs of large organizations are actually quite constrained considering the power they have and the very high compensation they earn. They spend a lot of time doing things they’re supposed to do, behaving the way they’re supposed to behave, and saying things they’re supposed to say. At shareholder meetings or on earnings calls, they talk about how they’re really working hard for shareholders and thinking about the long term. In China, they marvel at the remarkable progress and bright future they see. At employee all-hands meetings, they talk up diversity and inclusion. At the World Economic Forum, they nod earnestly and pledge to reduce emissions. After elections, they express their willingness to work with the new president, no matter how bitter the campaign was. And when they’re called to the White House and Washington, they discuss the need for common-sense solutions to the big issues that plague America.
Of course, many (though by no means all) of them don’t actually care much about diversity or shareholders or Washington. You get to be a CEO because you have the ability to focus like a laser on running your division or your unit or your company to make a profit. You’re passionate about winning sales, gaining market share, doing deals, competing, and getting paid. But part of the deal is that in order to do all of those things these days, you have to adhere closely to the script.
And that’s why when a CEO goes off script—like, say, when the CEO of a big private equity firm compares mild increases in marginal tax rates to Hitler invading Poland, or when the CEO
of a giant software firm rampages on stage like a pro wrestler—it’s so noteworthy.
Typically CEOs can carry off their roles with fairly little cognitive dissonance. Having a more diverse and inclusive workforce generally leads to better results, and helps you market to an America that is increasingly diverse. To a large degree, measures that reduce emissions and promote sustainability actually save money and improve profits. When Washington does policy right and puts resources behind it, it can have huge benefits for companies and entire industries. So mouthing expected bromides about these issues is no big deal—and maybe even helps the bottom line.
But President Trump is a person who almost never says what he’s supposed to say. During the campaign, he flagrantly violated norms regarding the way you talk about women, minorities, and foreigners; he scoffed at the concepts of diversity, inclusion, and climate change; he let China have it constantly. His refusal to adhere to the script was, in fact, one of the reasons that so few CEOs of big companies publicly supported him.
Once Trump was elected, the convention called for CEOs to show up when invited. But that mismatch between Trump’s behavior and the norms and behaviors that CEOs have internalized made the meetings incredibly awkward. Look at that iconic photo of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sitting in Trump Tower with the president-elect and other tech CEOs—you can see the cognitive dissonance on their faces. They knew they were supposed to show up. But they recognized that the professed values and beliefs of the person they were sitting with differed from the values they publicly espoused (and, in many instances, privately held).
In the intervening months, Trump has done little to ease that tension. All the while, CEOs continued to defend their engagement and association with Trump with the bromides typical of their position. “We have a responsibility to engage our elected officials,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said, explaining why he would remain on Trump’s business advisory council even though Trump had just announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. On Tuesday, Newell CEO Michael Polk said he would stay on Trump’s manufacturing council because he wanted to retain a “voice in the conversation.” A spokesman for Michael Dell this week said he would continue to “engage with the Trump administration and governments around the world to share our perspective on policy issues that affect our company, customers and employees.”
But the highly public actions by some CEOs to quit the councils earlier this week—and to call out Trump’s coddling of racists as they did so—and Trump’s bizarre statements on Tuesday defending white nationalists made these protestations laughable and untenable. What’s the point of engaging with someone who expresses views that would likely be cause for the dismissal of any middle manager? What sort of bipartisan policy is possible in an administration run by this president? What’s the point of serving as a prop in somebody else’s show? And how do you justify it to your shareholders, colleagues, employees, and family?
Simple: You don’t.
by fashionista 04 @ Media and Cultural Analysis, Spring 2014
Tue May 13 20:18:21 PDT 2014
The silhouette of the namesake bird. People all around the world recognize this logo without batting an eyelid: but in case you are not familiar with it, it’s Dove. Fifty years ago it was just a beauty bar that offered a new formula for cleansing creams, but today it is a “global masterbrand” […]
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 23 12:17:00 PDT 2017
With Obamacare repeal defeated for the time being, Democrats have begun looking ahead and crafting plans to expand health coverage to the millions of Americans who still remain uninsured. On Tuesday, Vox previewed one such proposal from Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, which would let middle- and upper-income Americans buy into Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. “Exclusive: Sen. Schatz’s New Health Care Idea Could Be the Democratic Party’s Future,” declared the somewhat breathless, if technically accurate, headline. (I mean, Dwayne Johnson could be the Democratic Party's future, too.)
When I asked Schatz's office for more details, I was told the bill is still a work in progress with some pieces subject to change. But after reading a draft summary of the plan that's been making the rounds in health-policy circles, it strikes me more like an old idea with some important new twists: Schatz wants to bring back the concept of a strong public option on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. Medicaid just happens to be the vehicle to do it.
As you no doubt recall, Democrats spent much of the 2009 Obamacare wars arguing over whether to create a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers. But even among public-option advocates, there were two camps. On one side, you had progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, advocating a “strong” public option that would save costs by using the same doctor payment rates as Medicare. Moderate and conservative Dems saw this as a step too close to socialized medicine and preferred a weaker public option that would have to negotiate rates with providers just like Aetna or Humana.
In the end, both ideas proved objectionable to industry-friendly centrists like Connecticut's Joe Lieberman. The public option died.
Eight years later, liberals are now seriously debating the merits of full-on Medicare-for-all. In this new, lefty0friendly milieu, Schatz is more or less resuscitating the strong public option and serving it up as a political half-measure, just in case Congress can't muster the votes for single payer whenever Democrats next regain power.
As I said, though, it's not quite the same idea as before.
Instead of creating a federally run insurance plan, Schatz would give states the option to offer Medicaid coverage for purchase through their Obamacare exchanges. The plans would be open to all residents who were not otherwise insured and, according to the outline, would be modeled on the sort of insurance offered through Obamacare's Medicaid expansion—which, among other things, means it would cover the ACA's 10 essential health benefits. Crucially, premiums would be capped at no more than 9.5 percent of a family's income. Customers could also use their Obamacare tax credits toward the cost.
Letting middle-class families buy into Medicaid this way would fix two of the Affordable Care Act's fundamental flaws. First, it would create a health plan of last resort in places where private carriers decided not to do business. That seems more necessary than ever now that dozens of rural counties have just narrowly avoided being left without insurance options for next year. Second, it would create a new guarantee of affordable coverage for upper-middle-class families. Today, households that make more than 400 percent of the poverty line aren't eligible for Obamacare's tax credits. That's created millions of disgruntled Americans, who've been left exposed to rising premiums on the individual market. Opening up Medicaid to everyone, and putting a ceiling on its cost, would give that group some protection.1
It's not clear that either of these moves would vastly expand the number of Americans with health coverage. But they would sure up Obamacare's promises. Every family would have access to coverage on the individual market, and it would cost less than a tenth of their income, no exceptions.
Schatz's plan has one other important plank. It would increase Medicaid's payment rates to doctors and hospitals so that they matched Medicare's, with Washington picking up the full cost of the change. This move would be expensive—Medicaid pinches its pennies today, paying providers 72 percent of what Medicare offers, on average. But it would likely go a long way toward fixing what many people consider Medicaid's biggest flaw: the fact that many doctors simply won't accept the program's patients because it pays too little. Hiking the pay rates would give Medicaid enrollees access to wider networks of care and make the program more appealing to middle-class customers.
One quirk of using Medicaid to create a public option is that it might not really be public, strictly speaking. While Medicaid is funded by states and the feds, most of its enrollees today actually receive their insurance through private managed-care organizations that contract with the government. Judging from Schatz's outline, a state could lean on the same companies to offer buy-in plans. Some of these carriers, like Centene and Molina, already sell coverage on Obamacare's insurance exchanges; in places where they do, Schatz's plan might simply serve as a way to extend ACA-like subsidies to more upper-middle-class families.
That might make the Medicaid buy-in a bit more palatable to the insurance industry, which came out hard against the public option in 2009. Instead of putting them out of business, it could pad their profits. Of course, that might also be a turn-off to the left-wing activists who've been driving the Democrats' health-care debate, many of whom want to drive the private sector out of the health insurance business entirely.
There's at least one other obvious downside to using Medicaid as a public insurance backstop: States might simply choose not to expand it, just like many chose not to expand the program under the ACA. For that reason, some Democrats might still prefer to let Americans buy in to Medicare, since it's available everywhere.2 The upside of using Medicaid, so far as the left might be concerned, is that it would give states flexibility to make their buy-in's more generous. A state like California might even use it as a vehicle to pursue single payer, with federal funding.
Potential qualms aside, Schatz's plan says something interesting about the changing politics of health care. Once maligned as a poor program for poor people, Democrats are now treating Medicaid as a viable option for ensuring the middle class. For that, we can thank its successful expansion under Obamacare, as well as the Republican Party's failed attempts to slash its budget, which helped rally liberals in support of Medicaid.
Schatz's plan has also shown how far the Overton window has shifted on health care. Less than a decade ago, the public option was a bridge too far Democrats. Now, it's being treated as a modest step toward something bigger. “If there’s ever a vote for single-payer, I’m a ‘yes,’ ” Schatz told Vox. “But there are lots of things we can do in the meantime.”
1For families that earn 300 to 400 percent of the poverty line, Obamacare's subsidies cap premiums at about 9.6 percent of income. So you could argue that Schatz's plan is effectively expanding Obamacare-like subsidies to everyone.
2 I suppose Congress could also let people buy into both, and see which gets more traction.
by Nex @ Media and Cultural Analysis, Spring 2014
Mon May 12 14:12:18 PDT 2014
In 2013, PepsiCo released a commercial for Mountain Dew as part of a series developed by African American rapper Tyler, the Creator. The ad immediately felt backfire as it was criticized for portraying racial stereotypes and making light of violence toward women. Using critical race analysis, I argue that the Mountain Dew commercial perpetuates african-american […]
100 years ago, "body wash" would have consisted of sitting in a big metal tub and having someone scrub you down while they pour boiling water over you.Look how far we've come. Look how good we smell. Look how dry our skin is.I set out to make body wash at home mainly so I could add things in it that I knew would be good for my skin. Even those body washes that boast "shea butter" or "extra moisturizing" or "soothing," well, we have no idea how much "soothing" ingredients they actually consist of. Plus, they've got tons o' yucky preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients, too.Let me take a quick moment, before we get to making this, to rant. Because the other day, while I was watching All My Children on Hulu and eating bon-bons steamed spinach popcorn, I saw an ad for some new Dove bodywash. And it was shameful.I apologize for lack of real details on it, but I've searched and searched the web and can't find the commercial to show you guys.But it went something like this: New natural Dove body wash, with the fresh scent of cucumber or pomegranate. The only natural body wash that freshens you naturally. Natural. Good for your skin. Natural fresh and moisturizing. Natural. NATURAL FRESH! WE MEAN THAT! NATURAL!Would you like to know what's in the new "goFresh body wash" by Dove that's so natural? Sodium laureth sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine (synthetic surfactant), DMDM hydantoin (formaldehyde-releaser), methylisothiazolinone (synthetic preservative), iodopropynyl butylcarbamate (another preservative, toxic if inhaled), BHT (another controversial preservative), and synthetic fragrance (hormone-disrupting).
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Mon Jul 17 15:57:31 PDT 2017
The Ad Council’s “We Are America” commercial, part of the Love has no labels campaign, is one of the nominations for Most Outstanding Commercial at this year’s Emmy Awards. Launched for Independence Day 2016, the We Are America ad featured American professional wrestler, rapper, actor and reality television show host John Cena reflecting on patriotism […]
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 15:38:00 PDT 2017
Ten days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to speed up the pipeline for federal infrastructure projects.
One component of that Aug. 15 order? Eliminating an Obama-era rule called the federal flood risk management standard that asked agencies to account for climate change projections when they approved projects.
That drew condemnation from an odd coalition of scientists, civil engineers, and fiscal conservatives concerned about reversion to the old ways: pouring money into projects that would soon be washed away. “This Executive Order is not fiscally conservative,” said Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in a press release. “It’s irresponsible, and it will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing and know is only going to get worse.” FEMA floodplain managers were “aghast,” E&E News reported.
On the other side was the National Association of Home Builders. The NAHB argued the law’s requirement for raising homes after disasters “could make many projects infeasible, due to increased construction costs and the inability to offset these costs through higher rents.” Developers do tend to like unfettered waterfront construction.
The rule, borne out of the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort, gave agencies three options to address flood risk in construction, Kriston Capps explains at City Lab: “using methods informed by climate science, building two feet above the 100-year flood elevation, or building to the 500-year flood elevation.”
“If we make a modest investment in building higher in advance of floods, we can reduce the amount of future federal disaster bailouts,” Alice Hill, a former special assistant to Obama who helped draft it, wrote last week. “The Standard not only saves money, it saves lives. Elevated structures provide more protection to the people inside them as floodwaters rise.”
Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Louisiana Republican who tried to undo Obama’s regulation in Congress, was thrilled with the president’s order. He told the New York Times that the state’s 2016 catastrophic flooding was an isolated event—and that regulations were the greater risk to the state’s well-being. Meanwhile, on Monday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked residents to shelter in place on Tuesday as the remnants of Harvey bear down on the city.
But Abraham did have a point when he observed that the rule would make construction in his state more expensive. “We had more than our share of tragedy down here with the water, but we already have problems meeting requirements,” he told the paper. “The new plan would make it so costly for my Louisiana residents.”
The truth is that lawmakers from Brownsville to Boston represent constituents whose homes can only be insured thanks to federal flood insurance policies that no private company will provide. If rebuilding infrastructure with proper flood-ready design is more expensive, that’s because it accurately accounts for the uncomfortable level of risk in many low-lying coastal towns.
Including many of the places that Hurricane Harvey blew through this weekend—and will continue to devastate in the coming days.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Sat Sep 09 10:55:22 PDT 2017
On Monday, two plucky Senate Republicans are set to embark on one final madcap effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have promised to introduce a piece of practical, compromise legislation that will simply let states decide whether to keep the Affordable Care Act or ditch it for something they prefer.
“It would leave in place taxes on the wealthy, taking that money and giving it back to governors to come up with better health care,” Graham has told CNN. “If you like Obamacare, you can keep it. If you want to replace it, you can.”
This modest pitch is wildly misleading. Graham and Cassidy have been shopping versions of their bill for months now, and submitted a detailed version as an amendment in July. As it stands, the legislation would make it virtually impossible for dozens of states to continue operating Obamacare as we know it without kicking in unrealistic amounts of their own money. That’s because, in the short term, the law is designed to penalize states that embraced the ACA while rewarding those that resisted it. Further down the line, the legislation simply zeroes out all of Obamacare’s spending, a de facto repeal of the entire program that doesn’t include a replacement. As policy, it’s a bit like walking into somebody’s house, lighting the whole ground floor on fire, then telling them, “Hey, you can keep living here—if you like it.”
In its early years, Graham-Cassidy is about robbing Peter to pay Paul—or, to be more precise, raiding California’s health-care budget in order to temporarily lavish some extra dough on North Dakota. The bill would take all of the money Washington currently spends on Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and premium subsidies, then distribute it to states in the form of block grants that, in theory, lawmakers in Albany or Topeka could use to fund whatever health care system they desired. Meanwhile, it leaves in place some of Obamacare’s consumer protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
Sounds reasonable? There’s a catch. Instead of determining each state’s block grant based on how much money it receives under Obamacare today, the bill would doll out funding based on a baroque formula that favors poorer, older, sparsely populated parts of the country. As a result, it shifts spending from large states that expanded Medicaid, like California and New York, to small states that did not, like Mississippi and Alabama. There are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, nonexpansion states like North Carolina and Florida could see their health-care funding slashed, since lots of their residents get premium subsidies through the ACA’s exchanges today. Nevada, which did take up the expansion, could see a slight funding bump. But, as a whole, the bill starts off as a giant slap at states that committed the sin of trying to get more of their residents insured through Obamacare.
It gets worse. Graham-Cassidy schedules its block grants to grow slower than the cost of health care or insurance, thus eroding their value over time. According to the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the system would would lead to a 34 percent spending cut by 2026. Nine states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia—would see their federal health-care funding cut in half under the block grant system, compared to what they would have received from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and subsidy spending. Keeping the ACA in place would require spending vastly more of their own state revenue, which would be prohibitively expensive.
And what about the winners under the block grant setup? Many of them turn out to be losers, too. That’s because, like previous Republican House and Senate health-care bills, Graham-Cassidy would impose a per-capita cap on traditional Medicaid, designed to throttle its spending over time. By 2026, just eight states would end up with more overall health care funding than under current law—and many of them would probably be better off if lawmakers just swallowed their irrational animosity toward the ACA and expanded Medicaid.
But the real kicker comes after 2026. At that point, the block grant simply disappears, leaving states to fund whatever insurance scheme they’ve set up without federal assistance. As CBPP’s Edwin Park noted to me, this is even more draconian than what Republicans dreamed up in the previous House and Senate bills, both of which would have left in place subsidies that Americans could use to buy insurance. “Looking past 2026, both the House and Senate had their grossly inadequate tax credits, but they were permanent. Here, all funding for expanded coverage, the marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion, disappears,” Park said.
So far, nobody seems to be taking Graham and Cassidy too seriously, mostly because time is working against them. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dangled the possibility of a vote, few seem to think the pair can move their bill before the end of the month, when the legislative vehicle Republicans are counting on to pass repeal with a bare majority expires.”I don’t think there’s much of a chance,” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, told Politco. Plenty of other Republicans apparently agree. President Trump, meanwhile, has not-so-subtly nudged everybody to move on.
Even so, this bill should make Obamacare’s supporters nervous, at the very least. It doesn’t merely shuffle Obamacare’s funding around, but rather chokes it off entirely over the course of a decade. Graham and Cassidy may be attempting the legislative equivalent of a half-court buzzer beater. But we’re in big trouble if they just happen to sink it.
A new ad from Dove soap is creating quite a stir on social media - and some confusion.As part of its real beauty campaign, Dove has unveiled six differently-shaped bottles of body wash. The company says the bottles evoke all the various shapes and sizes th
Because Molly lost her sight when she was a teenager, she is very in tune to her sense of touch. Dove asked her to test the new Shower Foam, which surprised her with a light, fluffy feel.
Dove had positioned itself as being morally superior to other health and beauty brands after launching its legendary Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004 and its non-profit efforts to promote self-esteem in young girls. As far as corporations go, Dove seemed like a good one—or at least better than others—with a positive message that stood out from the other body image bullshit and bad feelings typically marketed to women to convince them to buy stuff that will supposedly make them feel a little less horrible about the way they look. But the warm fuzzies that we associate with Dove are simply the result of a successful corporate image makeover that was advertised to us. And we bought it. The company's latest stunt marketing—in which a blind woman describes how she dyes her hair because of how it makes her feel—is demonstrative of how they've taken this whole "beauty is on the inside" thing to Mr. Show sketch-level proportions.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 12 14:17:46 PDT 2017
At Tuesday’s Apple event in Cupertino, California, Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts revealed that the Apple Store has gone the way of the headphone jack.
“We actually don’t call them stores anymore,” she said. “We call them town squares, because they’re gathering places for the 500 million people who visit us every year. Places where everyone’s welcome, and where all of Apple comes together.” Apple’s other language strives toward the claim, with “plazas” and “forums” to complement the sale of the new, $1,000 iPhone X. “We’re going to open Apple town squares in cities around the world.”
A store is not a town square. A store belongs to a company that wants your money, a town square to a government that serves you. But the idea is of a piece with retail trends, and has long been evident in Apple’s preference for doing business in grand, pseudo-public spaces: an old post office, a train station.
In May, as the company honed its plans to restore Washington’s Carnegie Library, the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell described some of the proposed changes:
Where the Carnegie Library once housed the city’s book collection, Apple plans a “Genius Grove,” a tree-lined sales floor where company reps will demonstrate how to maximize Apple products for music, photography or other passions. What long ago were reading rooms would become places to browse and sample Apple products.
It is in some ways a fitting succession: The tycoons of America’s second gilded age inherit the intellectual and civic spaces of its first. When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013, the Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote: “let us hope that this is what the sale signifies: the beginning of a phase in which this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence.”
But there is a difference between undertaking that role with corporate profit and doing so for corporate profit. Apple’s “town squares” and Google’s citywide internet should not be mistaken for philanthropic ventures. That Apple is repurposing the District’s old Carnegie Library does not make the comparison more flattering for the company. CityLab’s Kriston Capps has forcefully argued that one of the city’s “most important cultural assets” deserves a more genuine public role. And, he adds, Apple’s aspiration towards public-interest placemaking—like Amazon’s—also make it a better candidate for tax breaks.
At the same time, it is true that companies increasingly provide the functions abandoned by the retreating public sphere. Long before Apple, malls claimed to be the new town squares, and have tried to develop cultural functions to differentiate themselves in a declining retail landscape. As public libraries cut hours or closed entirely, McDonald’s provided a clean, safe space for kids to do their homework. As understaffed public bathrooms deteriorated and closed, Starbucks became the de facto place to go in many cities. As the dream of a free public education recedes, Apple teaches people how to do stuff for free.
It’s easy to be grateful. If we didn’t have a Starbucks bathroom, where would we pee? If we didn’t have an Apple plaza, where would we sit? On the other hand, if we had not designed a society so friendly to the interests of corporations and their executives, we might still be able to provide those things ourselves.
A new advert forces women to confront the negative thoughts they have about their own bodies
"Dove I have arms please advise."
THE ILLUSIONISTS - a documentary about body image and globalization
The dark side of Dove's Real Beauty Campaign: from its controversial parent company, to the marketing of Dove skin whitening deodorants in India...
by TINA @ Truth In Advertising
Wed Sep 20 13:04:27 PDT 2017
August 2017: A federal judge granted preliminary approval of the settlement agreement. A final fairness hearing is scheduled for December 15, 2017. For more information, go to https://www.slssettlement.com/. June 2017: Plaintiffs moved for preliminary approval of a settlement of this consolidated action. According to the proposed settlement terms, class members may receive a refund or
We didn't know bottle positivity was a thing.
Truth In Advertising
Dove advertises its Deep Moisture Body Wash as being gentler on skin than competitors' body washes. But Dial challenged many of Dove's claims with NAD, whi
Read on to discover Molly’s story, how she overcame her depression from losing her sight at 14 and why we asked her for her thoughts on Dove Shower Foam
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Wed Jul 26 15:46:52 PDT 2017
Volkswagen France is running “Humains”, a commercial promoting the brand’s environmental credentials. Earlier in the month the French government announced plans to phase out petrol and diesel powered vehicles by 2040. The Volkswagen Humans campaign responds with the promise of adaptation. People have always adapted to their environment, often without realising, whether it be eating […]
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 01 17:19:21 PDT 2017
The competition for the 2024 Summer Olympics came to a very un-Olympian finish this week: Gold medals for everyone! One went to Paris, the last city standing in the hunt for the 2024 Games. Los Angeles, too, has been draped in gold after agreeing to host the 2028 Games instead. And let’s go ahead and give a gold medal to the International Olympic Committee, for obtaining not one but two commitments to host its quadrennial spectacle of debt. (And from democracies, no less!)
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The IOC still needs to formalize these agreements at its summit in Lima, Peru, in September, but for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and his Parisian counterpart Anne Hidalgo, confidence runs high:
The settlement turns a coin toss between Paris and L.A. into a “win-win-win,” IOC President Thomas Bach said on Monday. The decision to award two Olympiads at once was framed as a reflection of “the exceptional circumstances and unique opportunities” presented by the two cities. But if you think the IOC decided to forgo its usual bribe-fueled dog-and-pony show because Paris and L.A. were both so grand, I’ve got a billion-dollar aquatics center to sell you.
In reality, the IOC is making the most of a bad hand. In the wake of the scandal that was Sochi and the ongoing debacle in Rio de Janeiro, the committee has been buffeted by a near-total lack of interest in the 2022 Games, which were awarded to Beijing, and a string of stinging repudiations from voters in Oslo, Vienna, and Hamburg. Boston, Rome, and Budapest all dropped out of the 2024 sweepstakes due to a lack of popular enthusiasm. In 2014, the IOC approved a 40-point plan of repentance, but the details of its arrangements with host cities are yet to be hammered out. Well, now’s the chance.
Paris is determined to showcase a once-in-a-generation infrastructure project to unite Paris with its suburbs via the construction of 68 new metro stations. Like Los Angeles, it has a history hosting mega-events—the Olympics twice, the World Cup in 1998, and the European Cup last summer—and will rely largely on temporary and repurposed venues to cut the cost. The city will also outsource elements of the competition to other French cities, making the soccer competition national and holding sailing races in Marseille. Back in 2005, Paris put in for the 2012 Games with a modest, low-cost bid that lost out to London’s gargantuan investment. Now that Olympic fashions have caught up, it will have its turn.
But it’s Los Angeles, deferring its bid to 2028, that has the more radical Olympic idea: Build almost nothing. The organizers propose a handful of temporary venues and four new permanent venues, some of which will be privately funded and each of which has a documented future use. The city has also dropped plans for a brand-new Olympic Village, instead proposing to house athletes in existing and already-planned dormitories at the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles. All in all, the city projects the games will cost $5.3 billion—not even half the cost of Rio, and in a much more expensive place to build. Not quite an “austerity Olympics,” as the 1948 London Games were known, but a welcome rebuke to the bloated spectacles of the past. Only $1.2 billion is budgeted for infrastructure upgrades. That wouldn’t even cover one NFL stadium. And while every megaproject always features cost overruns, there’s not much “project” in the L.A. Olympic budget. Most of the money goes toward operations, technology, and workforce, with another $177 million for the opening and closing ceremonies.
The recent bad run for Olympic hosts began with Athens, in 2004, where the games wound up costing 10 times the initial $1.6 billion bid and double the project’s final budget. Most facilities were left abandoned and unused. That investment wasn’t the cause of the country’s subsequent debt-fueled debacle, but for Greeks upset with a vengeful international order, it did become a symbol. Sensitive to that association, then–IOC President Jacques Rogge went so far as to suggest the games had actually helped abate the nation’s economic crisis. “Had Athens still been outmoded, the economy would have been much worse probably than it is today,” he said in 2010.
This week’s IOC decision comes as Rio undergoes the traditional year-after Olympic check-in, with the usual results: The city and state are broke, the venues have been abandoned and the apartments remain unsold, and it’s hard to see any long-term benefits from the $13.1 billion investment. The Associated Press reports that the IOC has refused to help Rio pay off its creditors, after the Rio 2016 organizing committee attempted to do so with used air conditioning units, electrical cables, and other leftover games hardware. On Monday, the Rio de Janeiro State University announced it would suspend the start of the semester indefinitely because the state—which backed the organizing committee’s credit and is, along with the city, inheriting its debts—has no money to pay teachers and other employees.
It’s not that there’s no money to be made in sports. Sponsorships and television deals continue to bring in billions and account for more than 90 percent of the IOC’s direct revenue. Between 2009 and 2012, the IOC took in nearly $4 billion from broadcast rights and nearly another billion from sponsors. In the following four years, that revenue was up to $5.6 billion. The IOC says it redistributes 90 percent of revenue to promote and operate the games and keeps 10 percent. Even if that’s true—and the IOC is a notoriously corrupt organization—the IOC is taking home hundreds of millions on each games and sticking host cities with all the risk.
In some ways, the current state of play recalls the run-up to the 1984 Olympics. Then too, Los Angeles was the only bidder. And then too, it used that position as leverage in negotiations with the IOC, ensuring a lucrative television deal and a profit-sharing arrangement that wound up funding youth sports programs for years to come. As I wrote in 2015, nifty adjustments in urban management showed the kind of city Los Angeles could be and, to some extent, the city it has become:
Congestion fell by 60 percent as commercial deliveries were made at night, employers let employees work from home, and streets reversed their flows to smooth traffic. But most of all, what made the 1984 Games go was a specially devised Olympic bus network, which, when it was rolled out, became (on its own) the fourth-largest transit system in the state of California.
How much of that is possible now, working with an IOC that has tightly guarded its Olympic moneymaking capacity? The answer ought to be: a lot.
We know Los Angeles has already negotiated some concessions with the IOC, including an $180 million advance to cover committee costs and fund youth sports in the city. The bid includes a contingency budget of nearly $500 million, which, if unspent, will revert entirely to the city rather than partly to the IOC as has been customary. The IOC will contribute at least $1.8 billion, and possibly more than $2 billion, thanks to a new arrangement that allows the city to sell domestic sponsorships that IOC corporate partners don’t want. (The initial arrangement called for the IOC to share $1.3 billion with the city.) That suggests Garcetti and the bid committee have pushed hard, and the city council—which will have to review and approve public expenditures—should add its own demands.
One mark Los Angeles can make on the games: shredding the red carpet that host cities typically roll out for the IOC. Part of the pitch for L.A. is that the city, ever a disappointment to tourists, has the opportunity to introduce the world to its new self-image as the polyglot American metropolis—with a newly built subway network! That means it’s time to stop pampering a group that my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley once described as “a notoriously ridiculous organization run by grifters and hereditary aristocrats.”
When Oslo rejected the Winter Games, it was in part after a list of demands from IOC members leaked to the press. That list specified:
- The IOC members should have separate entrances and exits to and from the airport.
- IOC members get to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony.
- IOC members shall be greeted with a smile when arriving at their hotel.
- Seasonal fruit (in Norway, in February)
Seasonal fruit might be easier in Los Angeles; finding a king will be a challenge.
No public works endeavor in the United States should have room for those kind of riders, nor for another gift that’s currently included in the L.A. plan: “a robust and free-flowing Olympic Route Network [on which] ... drive-times to and from almost all competition and non-competition venues will be less than 30 minutes.”
UCLA to the Coliseum in 23 minutes? If the city can’t make that possible for everyday commuters, it shouldn’t shut down highway lanes to grant those perks to the stewards of the Olympic movement. This will have to be a people’s Olympics if it’s going to be any success at all.
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Sat Aug 19 20:00:19 PDT 2017
HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), along with the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, has launched a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) recognizing the critical role fathers play in the lives of their children. The public service campaign created by the non-profit Ad Council coincides with Tell a Joke Day and centers on […]
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 23 07:18:00 PDT 2017
It has been nearly five months since Donald Trump formed the Office of American Innovation, an initiative led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to make the federal government run more like a business.
Aside from the presence of Kushner, the New Jersey housing heir who married the president’s daughter and who once demonstrated his business acumen by spectacularly overpaying for a Manhattan skyscraper, this was a classic presidential gambit. Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama all tried their hand at making the federal government more efficient, always with the rhetoric of the private sector close at hand.
The initiative was also of a piece with Trump’s strategy of nominating business leaders (or simply rich people) to Cabinet positions, several of whom signaled a break with the executive branch’s long-standing preference for expertise and government experience: Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson at the State Department, neurosurgeon Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, billionaire conservative activist Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education.
You had to wonder: Would these private-sector success stories reboot their respective bureaucracies as corporate-style dynamos? Would career staff push back to maintain the status quo or resign en masse? Would politically inexperienced Trump appointees be able to implement the president’s agenda?
Four new, in-depth magazine articles have offered some insight into those questions, portraying an executive branch that does look like a business—just not a very successful one. Instead, the departments in question resemble takeover targets being sold for parts, where the talented are leaving, the opportunistic are plotting their next steps, and nobody else knows what to do. More like Yahoo, less like Amazon.
In the September issue of Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis profiles the Department of Energy—the one being run by a man who once believed it should be eliminated, and then forgot its name. In Monday’s issue of New York, Alec MacGillis looks at HUD under Carson, the neurosurgeon with no prior experience in housing or government. In Foreign Policy, Robbie Gramer, Dan De Luce, and Colum Lynch write about the State Department under Tillerson, the Texan who spent his career hunting the world for oil. In GQ, Elaina Plott goes horseback riding on the National Mall with Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior who served a two-year term in Congress before being offered the job in January, after a 100-second conversation with the president-elect, during which he was also offered a different Cabinet post, as the head of Veterans Affairs.
Some departments, of course, have been effective in implementing right-wing policy—the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has been transformed by industry priorities, and the Department of Homeland Security's immigration police force has struck fear in immigrant families across the country.
But the impression left from reading these four accounts in succession is that Trump may well be fulfilling erstwhile aide Steve Bannon’s goal, the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Only by accident, though. What follows are some common threads from those pieces, each of which is worth reading in full.
We see, for example, how slow the Trump transition was compared with those of his predecessors. It’s said that between the election and the inauguration, Lewis reports, no one from the Trump team set foot inside the Department of Agriculture, which employs more than 100,000 people. Meanwhile at DOE, where Obama had sent several dozen representatives the day after the election, it took a month for the leader of the Trump “landing team” to arrive—an oil and gas lobbyist named Thomas Pyle. His time inside the department barely added up to half a day. The invaluable opportunity to mine the knowledge of predecessors went unused.
Pyle was typical of the bunglers and bundlers Trump sent in. At HUD, MacGillis reports, the January “beachhead" team included a Manhattan real-estate broker, the campaign’s “student and millennial outreach coordinator,” and the degree-exaggerating party planner-turned–housing administrator Lynne Patton. The leader of the group wound up being a startup employee with a Trump connection who, prior to landing at HUD, helped investors find rental properties to buy. At Interior, the recently confirmed deputy interior secretary—a former water bottle lobbyist—just reversed an Obama-era rule to reduce water bottle sales in National Parks.
Across the executive branch, the first moves included purging Obama appointees and digging for dirt. At DOE, Pyle initiated a small, early scandal by requesting a list of employees and contractors who had been involved in climate change research. “It reminded me of McCarthyism,” Obama-era Deputy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall told Lewis. This happened at the State Department, too. In a speech to former colleagues in May, a onetime U.S. ambassador to Russia "warned against ‘pernicious' attempts to question the loyalty of career diplomats 'because they worked in the previous administration,’” Gramer, De Luce, and Lynch write. The emphasis on loyalty continued: In February, one of Carson’s top aides at HUD was fired after Trump’s people learned he had been critical of the president during the campaign.
Once they were installed, Trump’s team blended general disinterest with stifling micromanagement. At HUD, for example, all requests had to be rooted through the top brass, which rejected routine requests. At State, Tillerson hired a management consulting firm to administer a survey, asking how staffers might eliminate aspects of their job. Half the 75,000-person staff did not fill it out, Foreign Policy reports. A further layer of administration consisted of the “shadow Cabinet” that allowed the White House to supervise and clash with its appointees, which a Republican operative described to Plott as “zombies loyal to Jared.”
For the most part, though, top-level positions went vacant. At State, that meant regional assistant secretaries for conflict zones and important ambassadorships. Memos that once took hours to sign languished for weeks. Across the Cabinet departments, outsiders didn’t know whom to call. Canada, for example, is now discussing climate change and trade policy with states, rather than State.
Part of the problem begins with Trump: According to the Partnership for Public Service, out of 591 agency positions that require Senate confirmation, only 117 have been confirmed. There are 368 open positions with no nominees. But the department heads are having trouble, too. Zinke was two for 15 at the end of July, and the Senate committee delayed the hearings for Zinke’s other nominees for his department the day after he threatened its chairwoman, the GOP Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, for her lack of support for the president’s health care bill.
Of the four secretaries, Zinke seems the most interested. At Energy, Perry “has no personal interest in understanding what we do and effecting change,” a staffer told Lewis. “He’s never been briefed on a program—not a single one, which to me is shocking.” “Secretary Perry is a wonderful guy," Zinke told Plott. "I think he thought his department was more about energy than … science. Mostly, it's science.” At a HUD MacGillis portrays as slipping into disfunction, an oblivious Carson can only tell him, in response to a query at a press conference, “it’s coming along quite nicely.”
Across the executive branch, the career staff—granted anonymity to express themselves—give strikingly similar descriptions of the atmosphere. These are less offices run by hardcore ideologues than offices not run at all.
- At HUD: “It was just nothing,” said one career employee. “I’ve never been so bored in my life. No agenda, nothing to move forward or push back against. Just nothing.”
- At Energy: “The biggest change is the grinding to a halt of any proactive work. There’s very little work happening. There’s a lot of confusion about what our mission was going to be. For a majority of the workforce it’s been demoralizing.”
- At State: “I used to wake up every morning with a vision about how to do the work to make the world a better place. It’s pretty demoralizing if you are committed to making progress. I now spend most of my days thinking about the morass. There is no vision.”
Tom Countryman, a longtime State employee who retired in January, told FP that morale was at an all-time low. That means, he says, that people are seeking opportunities to exit. He has tried to dissuade them. “My advice was to do your best to stay and serve the American people until it becomes truly unbearable for you in a moral sense. … I sought to encourage them by reminding them that no administration lasts forever.”
The same is true at Energy, especially among the cadre of supersmart scientists who can easily find more lucrative work than monitoring the nation’s nuclear waste. “People are heading for the doors,” Tarak Shah, a former chief of staff to the undersecretary for science and energy, told Lewis. “And that’s really sad and destructive. The best and the brightest are the ones being targeted. They will leave fastest. Because they will get the best job offers.”
The result of all this is a talent whirlpool, as thousands of years of institutional knowledge drains from Washington all at once. At HUD, MacGillis writes, the Bush appointee and homelessness official Ann Marie Oliva "was barred from attending a big annual conference on housing and homelessness in Ohio because, she inferred, some of the other speakers there leaned left.” At State, Tillerson has substituted an expanded front office of political hires with little diplomatic experience for the vast collected knowledge of Foggy Bottom, and is increasingly turning only to them.
At Energy, Lewis writes, the CFO simply departed, not having been told what else to do. The head of the nuclear weapons program—a three-star Air Force general—was asked to resign, before the Obama Energy chief, nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, called senators to warn them of the danger, and he was called back. He was the exception that proved the rule: Many people like him left.
To say nothing of all those who never arrived.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 16 16:09:00 PDT 2017
Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, Americans have gotten used to thinking about home entertainment as a $10-per-month, all-you-can-binge buffet. Now, a company run by one of Netflix's co-founders wants to bring a similar model to movie theaters—which are decidedly unhappy about it.
This week, the 6-year-old startup MoviePass announced that it was dropping the cost of its ticket subscription service to $9.95 a month. For a little more than the price of a large popcorn, users will (theoretically) be allowed to catch one flick every day at any theater in the country that accepts Mastercard. (According to the company's website, that covers 91 percent of theaters nationwide). However, the announcement drew a quick rebuke from AMC, the country's biggest cinema chain, which said in a statement that it was conferring with lawyers about whether it could block customers from using MoviePass at its theaters.
It's unclear whether AMC can do such a thing. Then again, it might not need to, since MoviePass seems to be counting on AMC's long-term cooperation to survive.
At the moment, MoviePass is poised to burn a prodigious pile of cash subsidizing the cost of its subscriptions. That's because every time a customer buys their movie ticket using one of the company's debit cards, it pays the theater for the full cost of admission. Given that the average film ticket cost $8.65 last year, MoviePass will end up losing money on every user who sees two or more showings a month. In big markets like New York, where catching the latest Avengers installment can easily cost $15, they'll come out behind on users who see just one movie a month.
This is not promising arithmetic. But CEO Mitch Lowe, the Netflix co-founder and Redbox executive who took the reins at MoviePass last year, thinks he has a vision to make his low, low price point work. He argues that his company's service gives theaters a big boost to ticket and concession sales, and eventually, theaters will feel compelled to hand MoviePass a slice of the extra profits, or maybe pay them back via advertising.
“There must be some way to make us whole,” Lowe told Variety. “We know we have to prove the value we deliver and, at that point in time, where we’re delivering value to studios and theaters, we can work together with them in a constructive manner so that everybody makes more money.”
That might not be quite as crazy as it sounds. U.S. movie ticket sales have been stagnant for about a decade now, as Americans have come to prefer Netflixing and chilling to sipping $6 Sierra Mists in an air-conditioned cavern full of strangers. At the same time, ticket prices have continually hit record highs, thus chagrining regular filmgoers, along with anybody who has ever suffered the indignity of paying out the nose to see a mediocre summer blockbuster. And while box office totals have edged up slightly over that time, they've failed to keep pace with inflation since 2009. In the era of unlimited TV and tunes, trying to lure Americans to go back to the cinema by cutting prices conceivably seems worth a try.
But it's also easy to guess why a company like AMC would recoil at Lowe's plan. In its statement, the chain argued that MoviePass' pricing was economically unsustainable, and “only sets up consumers for ultimate disappointment down the road if or when the product can no longer be fulfilled.” That's probably a valid concern. But more broadly, AMC can't be happy about the idea of a digital middle-man inserting itself into its industry, ultimately angling for a cut of the profits from each moviegoer even as it puts downward pressure on the price of an individual ticket. (AMC and MoviePass actually launched a pilot program together a few years ago when the startup's subscription prices were much higher, but the relationship has clearly soured.)
The sort of odd thing about MoviePass is that it's trying to become a middle man without asking permission first—or securing any payment for its services. Online ticketers like Fandango strike deals with theaters for the right to sell their seats, then market their service to the public. MoviePass is going to the public first, and hoping to gin up so much business that theaters will eventually strike a deal. The reason it can go that route is that its product is essentially just an app with movie times and a subscription debit card that customers can use to charge tickets to the company's account. Lowe argued to Bloomberg that for AMC to block his service from their theaters, they'd have to start declining Mastercard. Still, he's not going to make any money until he wins them over.
And if he can't? It's possible MoviePass could find other paths to profit. Eventually, it wants to use data on its users' moviegoing habits to sell targeted advertising. (How lucrative that could really be seems like an open question.) Or, it's possible that at $9.95, hordes of would-be film buffs will sign up for the service, then fail to see a movie each month. Milking money from subscribers who don't actually use the service was the company's original plan back when it was founded in 2011 and charged $30 a month, Bloomberg notes. But becoming the AOL of movie tickets doesn't seem like a recipe for long-term success.
It's a rather daring plan, all in all, made slightly less daring by the fact that MoviePass has already offloaded some of the risk: It sold a majority stake to a data-analytics firm on Tuesday to finance the scheme. If it succeeds, Lowe will have pulled off the impressive feat of fixing theaters' business model against their will. If it crashes and burns, at least savvy moviegoers will get a few cheap flicks out of the deal.
by TINA @ Truth In Advertising
Fri Sep 22 11:00:53 PDT 2017
Users will finally get their promised cash rewards under FTC settlement.
The post App to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Breaking ‘Pact’ with Consumers appeared first on Truth In Advertising.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Sep 06 16:28:55 PDT 2017
With Hurricane Irma swirling its way toward Florida, the internet has been filling up with angry accounts of airline price gouging, complete with pictures of thousand-dollar-plus fares that (of all people) Perez Hilton has been collecting. An Arizona PR exec racked up more than 30,000 retweets when she posted a screengrab showing a Delta ticket that had supposedly shot up from $547.50 to $3,258.50. The Miami Herald tracked down an absurdly sympathetic woman who wanted to fly “her mother, adult cousin, 71-year-old grandmother, [and] 11-year-old sister to New York” but could only find a flight that cost $1,318.80 per person. The issue is even getting some attention from the Sunshine State’s politicos: Florida’s attorney general says her office’s newly opened price-gouging hotline has been getting a stream of complaints about airlines, and her staff has been calling carriers about the issue.
Many of these horror stories are obviously real—I’ve found a few $1,000-plus tickets myself. But overall, the rage seems maybe a little excessive. Airfares do appear to be rising in advance of Irma, but generally not by absurd amounts. Meanwhile, some airlines have even responded to the storm by increasing flights and capping fares in order to make sure people can get to safety.
According to an analysis by the travel-booking website Kayak, people looking to fly out of South Florida within a day last week could expect to pay somewhere in the “mid-$300s.” As of yesterday, those prices were up by more than 25 percent. This is not surprising. Airlines set their prices automatically via algorithms that account for the number of seats available, demand, timing, and a whole host of other factors. Last-minute tickets can be especially expensive. When half a metro area suddenly decides to evacuate because a deadly hurricane is bearing down on it, you can expect prices to rise. “Situations such as these drive pricing anomalies due to an instantaneous imbalance between demand and supply,” airline industry consultant Bob Mann of R.W. Mann & Company told me in an email. “Same occurred to United returns to Houston, post-Harvey, and to NY-DC fares after the Amtrak crash eliminated thousands of seats daily.”
Of course, this is not necessarily a good thing. It’s the flying equivalent of Uber failing to turn off surge pricing during Hurricane Sandy, which plenty of people found ethically grotesque.
But a 25 percent bump in last-minute fares is not exactly the equivalent of a $99 case of bottled water, nor are those surges the rule. JetBlue will only charge up to $99 for flights out of Florida to help more families get out of the storm’s path. Delta is capping fares at $399 out of South Florida while adding flights on larger planes in order to provide more seats leaving the area. For what it’s worth, I’ve been able to find sub-$300 tickets along with some obvious rip-offs while searching travel sites. If anything, it seems fair to criticize airlines for being slow-footed and failing to pre-empt their normal pricing strategies before the pre-storm panic set in. But this doesn’t strike me as an example of capitalism at its most rapacious either. As far as fixes go, Mann told me one option would be for airlines to automatically flag rapid fare jumps “for a prompt manual review” by an employee.
Meanwhile, some of the gouging stories may not be what they seem. When I asked Delta spokesman Anthony Black about the $3,258 ticket that caught Twitter’s attention on Tuesday, he pointed out that the screengrab was actually from Expedia. “It wasn’t posted on our site,” he told me. And once Dow checked with Delta, it apparently addressed her issue.
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by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 22 15:05:22 PDT 2017
In the 19th century, nullification was the idea that states could void the actions of the federal government if they deemed them unconstitutional. Its proponents, chief among them John C. Calhoun, argued that if something the feds were doing—i.e. tariffs—was contrary to the economic interests of the entity he cared most about—South Carolina—then the state could simply do its own thing. Nullification, like Calhoun’s ideas about slavery, was a profoundly bad one, and it led to a constitutional crisis.
Today, I’d propose a different meaning for nullification—and it is a reason for both hope and concern for anyone dismayed by the presidency of Donald Trump. There is always a tendency for powerful actors—in state and local government, yes, but also in the private sector generally—to decide not to do business with the president, and to act as if the executive branch’s policies don’t exist. In the Trump era that tendency has already become notably pronounced, and it comes in three principal forms.
One form of nullification is denial of patronage: refusing to do business with the entities the president or his family owns. One theory has suggested that the presidency would be a boon to Trump’s businesses, including his golf courses, his private club Mar-a-Lago, and the hotels that carry his name. But with each month, Trump’s conduct in office has pushed people and groups concerned with their brands to cease working with Trump properties. The Trump-branded public golf course in the Bronx, New York, saw its business decline in 2016. While Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel attracts lobbyists and corporate events, most of the rooms are empty. (Its occupancy rate is a measly 42 percent.) Mar-a-Lago, a stalwart of the social and charity scene in Palm Beach, Florida, has been hit by a wave of event nullification. Since Trump’s disastrous series of comments about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, one by one charities and nonprofits have canceled their plans to host luncheons, dinners, galas, and dances at the facility. The club, write Drew Harwell and David Farenthold in the Washington Post, has “lost nine of the 16 galas or dinner events that it had been scheduled to host during next winter’s social ‘season’ in Palm Beach. At least three other groups have also canceled charity luncheons there this week.”
A second form of nullification is denial of association: refusing to provide counsel or show up to photo opportunities, or to be in the same room as the president. In the early days of the Trump administration and during the transition, CEOs, athletes, and other boldface names dutifully showed up—some with glee, some with pained expressions on their faces—to be part of the photo ops and volunteer to serve on various councils.
But the norm is no longer the norm. CEOs, athletes, and celebrities are denying Trump the privilege of their association. After Ken Frazier of Merck and Co. quit the Trump’s council on manufacturing, an exodus of CEOs commenced. Several of the advisory firms set up to grant corporate legitimacy and support for the Trump presidency quickly disbanded: the Manufacturing Council, the Strategic and Policy Forum, the Infrastructure Council.
The people on these committees had significant business with the government, and hence much to gain and lose from changes in government policy. But they decided that having their personal or corporate brands associated with Trump would be damaging, cause an intolerable level of cognitive dissonance at a personal level, or both. As Merck lead director Leslie Brun told the Wall Street Journal about boardroom discussion surrounding Trump: “Informal conversations among board members often revolved around ‘what do you tell your kids?’ ”
The Kennedy Center, about to toast six artists, breathed a sigh of relief when Trump said he wouldn’t show up to its annual Honors and canceled the White House reception associated with the event—this as some of the recipients, including actress and dancer Carmen de Lavallade, said they would not show up at the White House reception. Basketball star Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors said he would not go to the White House to celebrate his team’s victory in the NBA Finals, citing a lack of respect for its occupant. “I don’t agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that,” Durant said.
A third form of nullification is to act as if the proclamations, executive orders, and policy pronouncements are irrelevant to you, don’t exist, or are to be ignored—and to create alternate markets and realities. This dynamic can be seen most vividly in the energy and environmental arenas. Trump has promised to revive the coal industry, pulled out of the Paris climate accord, and installed a bunch of climate-change denialists and skeptics in relevant government agencies.
But states, cities, and companies make their own climate-change policy through laws, policies, standards, or procurement decisions. And many of them are actively nullifying Trump’s statements and actions.
Here are a few things that have happened so far this year:
California extended its cap-and-trade program through 2030. Hawaii became the first state to commit to having 100 percent renewable energy on its electricity supply grid. Orlando, Florida, adopted a target of getting all its electricity from renewable sources by 2050, joining the growing roster of more than three dozen cities that have done so. JPMorgan Chase said that by 2020, it would power all its operations through emissions-free energy. The bank has joined more than 100 large multinational corporations that have made the same commitment. Through May, utilities announced the closure of eight coal-burning plants as the industry continues its transition to a lower-carbon future.
This is not to say Trump doesn’t have real power or that his administration isn’t affecting change or delivering results to favored constituencies. Whether it is the Environmental Protection Agency rolling back water regulations, general nonfeasance at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Justice Department’s enforcement of immigration policies, the Trump administration is changing realities on the ground. The rise of nullification does not decrease the danger of an unfettered Trump administration.
What’s more, nullification isn’t a particularly good precedent. I would argue that it is much better for the country and our economy when all sorts of people feel comfortable visiting the White House and making common cause with the White House—and when states, cities, the federal government, and companies are on the same page in the pursuit of goals. There are good historical, constitutional, and practical reasons for the federal government to have primacy over states in many areas. And while it’s nice that some companies are relatively progressive on some issues, and that some CEOs can muster the moral courage to take stands, we shouldn’t be relying on them excessively. CEOs of defense contractors have a much harder time acting as if Trump doesn’t exist than, say, CEOs of consumer products or technology companies. Bench players and role players have far less leeway than all-stars to express their political views.
Still, nullification offers something more satisfying than catharsis or schadenfreude. The fact that people, institutions, and organizations are willing and able to deny their dollars and association with Trump and be celebrated for it is a sign that America’s democratic and market system, which has been under attack, is holding up strong.
One of the features about authoritarian regimes is that there is a price to be paid for defying the expressed wishes and whims of the government and its leader: You can lose your business, or get jailed, or get frozen out from contracts, or lose your license. That’s not happening here.
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Thu Jul 27 15:58:14 PDT 2017
Apple is promoting the latest Siri features with a commercial featuring The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. The commercial, “The Rock x Siri Dominate the Day”, has the actor, producer and professional wrestler using Siri to tick off items on his life long bucket list. In a whirlwind of activity he uses Siri’s connection with FaceTime, email, […]
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Wed Sep 06 12:37:18 PDT 2017
The vast Greater Houston area continues to dig out, dry off, and otherwise recover from the epic floods of Harvey. Even before the total damage estimates have rolled in, it’s clear that the impact is going to be significant and far-reaching. This is true not just because a lot of the property damaged was uninsured, and not just because Houston is an important node in the global networked economy, or because it may not have enough construction workers.
Rather, it’s because Houston is in Texas.
Which, of course, is obvious. What is less obvious is that when a region or state is hit by a devastating effect, it’s easier to have an effective and equitable recovery when the impacted area is relatively small, densely populated, and in jurisdictions that are capable of some degree of central planning and mobilizing significant resources to build public goods for all residents.
Texas needs money, and lots of it—damages are estimated at well over $100 billion. But it also needs to be make some serious decisions: what neighborhoods should be rebuilt (and which ones should not be rebuilt); how to invest in reservoirs, dams, and other infrastructure; how to ensure that all schoolchildren have a classroom to attend; how to ensure that everybody has safe drinking water. This is a time when collective action is both necessary and sufficient. Houston doesn’t just need to rebuild houses, replace cars, and fix schools; it needs to re-engineer its housing, transportation, and educational systems.
Does Texas possess the capability to take collective action quickly and effectively? I’m not so sure.
Yes, it’s a very rich state in which people have made vast fortunes and in which huge companies (from ExxonMobil to Dell) have grown up.
And we have seen some of that exuberant, can-do Texas spirit in the Hurricane Harvey response: Mattress Mack taking people in, Michael Dell kicking in $36 million for relief, and so on. The federal government has pledged an early $8.7 billion, with more to come should Congress get its act together. Given the scope of the damage and the scale of Texas, these are drops in the bucket.
On the other hand, Texas has a long history as a quasi-libertarian paradise. This is also a state that didn’t bother to bring electricity—a basic amenity of human life and a prerequisite for a modern economy—to huge chunks of its territory until Franklin Roosevelt set up the Rural Electrification Administration in the 1930s. (Some of the most affecting passages in Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson cover the way in which power finally arrived to the state’s farms and ranches.)
Even as it has grown wealthy, Texas has not taken adequate steps to hook up its residents to 20th century living. And it’s all been a matter of choice. Texas does not have a state income tax (aside from Florida, it’s the only truly large state not to have one). Which means it doesn’t have a mechanism to mobilize statewide revenues for big efforts. In the state, some 500,000 people live in colonias—informal settlements that aren’t connected to infrastructure like sewers and lack other basic government services.
Because it refused the Medicaid expansion and hasn’t worked to make Obamacare work, Texas has a rate of uninsurance—about 16 percent—that is nearly twice the national average. In fiscal year 2014, only seven states spent less per capita on education than Texas did.
The costs of recovery and reconstruction are unknown. But it is likely that the combination of federal and insurance payments won’t cover the entire cost. Five years after Sandy, New York state, New Jersey, and New York City are still spending significant funds to repair the damage from that storm.
Texas and Houston have chosen and built up their organizational designs over the last several decades. And when commodity prices are high and collective challenges are low, it works quite well. Being a libertarian paradise suspicious of central planning, overlaid on top of a systematic lack of interest in the plight of the poor, may be a recipe for having low housing costs, high employment, and lots of rich people. But it’s not a recipe for bouncing back strongly from a once-in-500-years weather event that affects large swaths of territory and a big section of your population.
by Allard Dembe @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 01 12:10:28 PDT 2017
Many employers and employees love the thought of a four-day workweek. Supposedly, a four-day work schedule allows workers extra time to pursue leisure activities and family togetherness. Spurred on by visions of spending more time at the beach, many people are now encouraging businesses to adopt this kind of work plan.
Proponents of such “compressed” work schedules—those in which employees work longer hours for fewer days of the week—point to gains in productivity that result from decreased overhead costs, such as not having to keep the lights on when nobody is working. Additional cost savings can be obtained from reducing total weekly commuting time.
A variety of businesses has tested the four-day concept, including Amazon, Google, Deloitte, and a host of smaller firms. Amazon announced in 2016 that it was experimenting with an even shorter workweek of 30 hours for select employees, who would earn 75 percent of their full-time salary, should they choose to opt in.
Many of the pilot programs have shown promising results. Statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management indicate that 31 percent of employees were in a compressed workweek schedule as of 2015. That’s the case, however, for only 5 percent of large companies.
This is an issue in which I have considerable experience. I have been studying the health effects of long working hours for nearly 30 years. All the studies point to the potential dangers that can occur as the result of the additional risks created when work demands exceed a particular threshold. Most of the studies I have performed suggest that the dangers are most pronounced when people regularly work more than 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week.
The idea of a four-day workweek is not new. Labor experts have been studying and advocating these approaches since the 1970s. For example, in 2008, researchers from Brigham Young University conducted a series of surveys among employees and community members to assess their perspectives about a four-day workweek. The researchers found that about four-fifths of the employees reported a positive experience working that type of schedule.
Based on these positive results, Utah’s governor enacted a mandatory four-day workweek for all state employees. The state’s goals were to curb energy costs, improve air quality, ensure that needed services would still be available (for instance, garbage collection), and help to recruit and retain state employees. In 2011, however, Utah reversed course, saying that savings never materialized.
Other research has also supported the development and adoption of compressed work schedules. A 1998 study found that compressed schedules were related to high levels of job satisfaction and employees’ satisfaction with their work schedules; supervisors also reported they were pleased with the four-day workweek schedules.
Despite the widespread enthusiasm for a four-day week, I am not convinced that kind of schedule is beneficial for employees or for businesses. The primary problem with the idea is that whatever work needs to be done needs to get done in the same amount of total time. Despite wishes to the contrary, there are still only 24 hours in a day.
The math is simple: Working five eight-hour shifts is equivalent to working four 10-hour shifts. That’s true. But the implications of these schedules are different. The danger is in disregarding the health effects that can occur as a result of fatigue and stress that accumulate over a longer-than-normal working day.
I performed a study showing that the risk of suffering an industrial accident is raised by 37 percent for employees working more than 12 hours in a day. The risk is 61 percent higher for people in “overtime” shifts. Working more than 60 hours in a week is related to an additional injury risk of 23 percent. As the hours worked in those schedules increase, the risks grow accordingly.
More recently, Dr. Xiaoxi Yao, a colleague of mine who is now at the Mayo Clinic, and I recently performed another study using 32 years of work-hour information to analyze the relationship between long working hours over many years and the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic disease later in life. We found that the dangers were quite substantial, especially for women.
Women working more than 60 hours per week, equivalent to 12 hours per day, were more than three times as likely to eventually suffer heart disease, cancer, arthritis, or diabetes, and more than twice as likely to have chronic lung disease or asthma, as women working a conventional 40-hour workweek. Working just a bit more, an average of 41 to 50 hours per week, over many years appeared to substantially increase the long-term risk of disease.
These studies show that not all hours are created equal. The research suggests that harm may occur past a certain point. A four-day week causes workers to squeeze more hours than usual into a day. For workers who are already prone to overwork, the additional burden of compressing five days into four could break the camel’s—or worker’s—back.
Besides the health issues, employers and workers also need to consider the effect that compressing hours into a four-day period has on workers’ mental health, stress levels, and fatigue.
Occupational psychologists realize that people do not function as effectively when tired or stressed. This may be even more of a concern for older workers.
Moreover, just squeezing five days of 10-hour-a-day work into a compressed 40-hour schedule can create more rigidity and reduced flexibility for families and children. For example, if the two additional work hours per day are added onto a conventional day schedule that begins in the morning at approximately 8 or 9 a.m. and extends into the late afternoon hours at about 4 to 5 p.m., then many working parents will lose the ability to interact with their children just at the “prime time” of about 5 to 7 p.m. when kids otherwise would be most likely to be in the house and potentially available to socialize with their siblings and parents—before their bedtime arrives.
There are many obvious ways to address these concerns and make life easier for workers and their families. Don’t overwork. Don’t stay too long at work. Find a job with an employer that has flexible working hours.
I don’t know about you, but the prospect of a four-day week scares me. I already have a hard enough time getting my regular weekly work done over five days. And it’s always so tempting to glance at my work email—just a couple more notes to jot down.
Instead, why not just pull back at a certain point? Maybe it’s time to take Friday off every so often. How about ending work at noon on Fridays, as is the practice of many Jews, to bring in the weekend in a gradual way? The trade-off, if necessary, would involve adding a small increase of one hour per day to the normal Monday through Friday schedule. That approach is actually my personal favorite.
My friend Lonnie Golden, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, Abington, advocates adopting a “Goldilocks” workweek: one that is not too long, not too short and that satisfies the employer’s interest in productivity and the employee’s interest in attaining good health and well-being.
Graham-Cassidy Was Supposed to Do One Nice Thing for Poor People. But Someone Took It Out of the Bill.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Sep 20 14:55:40 PDT 2017
When Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy revealed their Obamacare repeal bill last week, there appeared to be one (and pretty much only one) somewhat comforting thing about it. Their plan cut government health care spending drastically, yes. But its design seemingly encouraged states to spend what pittance they received from the feds on insurance for some of their lowest-income residents. The bill was bad for the poor, to be sure. But it didn’t ignore them entirely.
The issue has to do with Graham-Cassidy’s elaborate formula for awarding health care funding to states. The bill would take the pot of money Washington currently spends on Obamacare’s insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion, then redistribute it as block grants that states can use to set up their own insurance schemes. This is supposed to give Alabama and Texas the “freedom” and “flexibility” to come up with appealing, innovative health care solutions for their residents—something Republicans in Washington have themselves proven incapable of doing.
Eventually, each state’s block grant is supposed to be based on their share of America’s low-income population (which, according to Graham-Cassidy, means households that earn between 50 and 138 percent of the poverty line). Then in 2024, according to Graham and Cassidy’s summary, the government will start tilting its funding toward the states that do a better job enrolling those poor—and borderline-poor—families in coverage. Here’s how they described the plan, just so you know I’m not making anything up:
Starting in 2024, a state’s base amount changes from being based solely on percent of eligible individuals and becomes partially based on percent of eligible individuals enrolled in credible coverage in the previous year. This is defined as “State’s enrolled population” (SEP) and is compared to the total number of eligible individuals enrolled in credible coverage.
Rewarding states for making sure poor people have health insurance is a decent—though certainly not foolproof—way to make them do it. Health care analysts took note. In a report released on Wednesday, Chris Sloan, a senior manager at the health care consultancy Avalere, pointed out that the formula might even drive states to spend their money on poor residents rather than the working class insurance shoppers who typically buy coverage on Obamacare’s exchanges today.
“The bill creates a financial incentive for states to direct coverage to very low-income residents near or below the poverty line, potentially at the expense of lower-middle-income individuals who currently receive exchange subsidies,” Sloan noted. Such a feature could prove to be an important nudge for states with traditionally thin safety nets like Texas and Mississippi, encouraging them to cover a population they’ve typically ignored.
Again, this was by far the most generous gesture toward the poor in a proposal that, otherwise, amounts to a historic blow against the health safety net. There’s just one problem: The provision doesn’t actually seem to be in the bill. The legislative text, which is a bit convoluted, says it will dole out block grants to states based on their share of the country’s low-income population, but does not factor in coverage rates. States will be rewarded for having lots of poor people. They won’t be rewarded for getting them insured. That bit just isn’t there.
That was the conclusion I came to after talking to Matt Broaddus, a research analyst, at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Avalere’s Sloan, who generously spent a good chunk of time scouring the bill’s relevant text with me this afternoon. It’s not clear the bill Graham and Cassidy actually posted ever included bonuses for states that signed up more of their poor; according to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, that section of the text doesn’t seem to have changed since it was first published on Sept. 13. I’ve emailed Cassidy’s office requesting comment, but haven’t heard back.
Judging from the summary documents they put out, it appears that Graham and Cassidy at least briefly considered gearing their legislation toward helping the poor. Then, for whatever reason, they changed their minds.
by Cleo Levin @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 23 08:20:00 PDT 2017
In the past year, Amazon has quietly slipped into the apparel-manufacturing business, with goods ranging from lingerie to men’s dress shoes. These private-label brands have innocuous names like Paris Sunday and Goodthreads, and they haven’t made huge splashes in their respective markets—except for one. Scout + Ro, Amazon’s children’s brand, has exploded, according to a recent report from analytics firm 1010data. The brand has increased its offerings five times over and achieved a 542 percent increase in overall growth year over year. The kids are wearing Amazon.
As a faceless corporation begins to dress children, the truly scary prospect is not simply the threat that Scout + Ro poses to precious, local brick-and-mortars. It’s how mind-numbingly dull these Amazon clothes are.
If you search for Scout + Ro on Google, you’ll find no dedicated online store or URL, just an Amazon landing page that features a small logo and generic campaign image. The store, such as it is, borrows its palette of gray and tangerine straight from the Amazon mothership, and with a half-hearted nod toward whimsy, perches a bird atop the o in Scout.
The brand is generally designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, with just enough creativity to seem relevant. The name itself follows the well-worn millennial tradition of sticking an ampersand or plus sign between two cute, vaguely vintage-sounding words. Scout scores double points, as it’s also part of the somewhat inexplicable To Kill a Mockingbird–inspired baby names trend.
The brand’s message is based around the very simple principle that children’s clothing should be comfortable and designed for play. Beyond that, it’s really more about what the clothes are not than what they are. One of the brand messages is, “Never interrupt a playdate with itchy fabrics or fussy styles.”
The clothes are all remarkably similar with only slight variations from item to item. You can, for instance, buy almost the same short-sleeve dress in five different, equally safe patterns. This is not to say that children need to be dressed in shoulder pads or asymmetrical hems, just that Scout + Ro’s offerings appear to have been filched from the closet of an extremely unimaginative doll.
While the kids offerings at stores like Target and the Children’s Place try to cater to modern sensibilities with hashtagged catchphrases and destroyed denim, Scout + Ro clothing doesn’t even necessarily look contemporary. Instead, the pieces seem like something any child from a Disney sitcom in the past 30 years could have worn. There are no obnoxious slogans, no overly prissy ruffles or aggressive camouflage. While shirts that say “#1 Princess” or “Future Heartbreaker” won’t get points for panache or creativity, at least they show some character.
If clothes this dull were being sold somewhere other than Amazon, they would likely be left in the remainders basket, but Amazon already has a huge, captive audience and pool of Prime subscribers. A study from last year estimated that Amazon captures 43 cents of every dollar spent online. The site’s shoppers are happy to stock up on a whole variety of basic items with free, two-day shipping, which has led to success with other private label lines, showing that they can dominate categories like batteries and baby wipes. Scout + Ro clothes are simple enough that they can be thrown into the shopping cart with the rest of your Prime order—kids don’t really need to try on clothing in stretchy fabrics and unobjectionable colors.
Retail analysts also note that because Amazon aggregates data on the market, it can use that to inform its own designs and create logical price points. Quickly identifying and manufacturing trends is key to success in a fashion market moving ever more quickly. As Marc Bain at Quartz points out, the speed of production is what has allowed fast-fashion brands to overtake longtime favorites like Gap.
The clincher is that Amazon’s scale allows it to slightly underprice its competitors. The site encourages shoppers to comparison shop, placing equivalent brands in tabs next to the Scout + Ro items, which are priced just low enough that they seem of similar quality, but clearly the better deal, an average of about 35 percent cheaper.
Scout + Ro clearly has a winning business model, and parents will appreciate the ease of buying their kids’ wardrobe at the same time as their light bulbs and hedge trimmers. But dressing hideously as a child is a rite of passage, one that even the convenience of Amazon shouldn’t force us to ditch. Kids’ clothing should not be data-driven; kids should learn to root through messy piles of sale T-shirts to find one in a heinous shade of neon green printed with a giant cat head. They should have to occasionally wear a fussy velvet dress with an itchy collar or starchy pants. Cheesy, attention-grabbing, even ugly clothing is a key part of childhood. Let’s not one-click it into obsolescence.
by TINA @ Truth In Advertising
Wed Sep 20 13:39:47 PDT 2017
Lawsuit against Herbalife claims attending events is a losing strategy.
The post Herbalife And Its Distributors Face RICO Complaint appeared first on Truth In Advertising.
This commercial shows women talking about Dove nourishment. With Dove body wash, they obtain nutrium moisture that goes beyond the other washes to clean deep down.
Dove has enlisted visually impaired women to explain what beauty means to them for its latest ad campaign.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Fri Jul 28 13:42:00 PDT 2017
The tendency to lean on political beliefs is one of the most powerful forces in investing and financial media, and one of the most dangerous. There’s a general sense that Republicans are good for business (lower taxes, fewer regulations, an overall permisiveness) and therefore good for the stock market. And there’s a sense that Democrats are bad for business (higher taxes, more regs, a skepticism toward industry’s prerogatives) and therefore bad for the stock market. The lived experienced of the markets over the past 25 years—booming under Clinton and Obama, tanking under Bush—should give the lie to this feeling. But it endures. And it has become particularly powerful under Trump, who regards the stock market as a kind of real-time approval gauge.
But doing so is precarious. And it can be continually confounding at the macro level and at the level of sectors and individual companies. That’s a lesson that investors who held stocks in tobacco companies—in particular the biggest one, Altria (formerly Philip Morris)—learned Friday.
Tobacco companies are in a strange position right now. Smoking is on the decline in the U.S., in part because of government efforts to discourage it via higher taxation, regulation, outright bans, and President Obama’s use of the bully pulpit and the executive pen. Only about 15.1 percent of Americans smoked in 2016, down from about 21 percent in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet the profits of tobacco companies, paradoxically, are booming, in part because sales overseas are growing and in part because tobacco companies have the ability to raise prices. (That’s one of the advantages of making a product that is addictive.) Altria’s profit margins on tobacco products are remarkably high. Between 2001 and 2016, as the chart on Page 11 of Altria’s annual report shows, Altria’s stock nearly tripled, while the S&P 500 merely doubled.
Altria’s stock, like many others, continued to soar after Trump’s election—up about 10 percent in the first half of the year. It’s not hard to see why. Aside from benefiting from the general pro-business agenda of Trump—cutting corporate taxes, reducing the capital gains tax, and so on—Altria would seem to have far less to fear from a Trump administration than from an Obama or Clinton administration. While he doesn’t drink or smoke, Trump isn’t a particularly healthy person: He doesn’t work out or exercise or maintain a healthy diet. His administration has backed measures that would cut health care spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, some of which is now spent on smoking cessation. The Trump administration is full of lobbyists and corporate types eager to do the bidding of companies. The likelihood of the first family engaging in aggressive anti-smoking campaigns is laughable. Altria kicked in $500,000 to fund the Trump inauguration.
And the person Trump named to be the head of the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco, doesn’t have a history of anti-smoking activism. Scott Gottlieb is a physician, biotech investor, and former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who also served in the Bush administration. What’s more, Gottlieb has been strongly in favor of deregulating pharmaceuticals and medical devices, as part of an effort to bring innovations to market more quickly and reduce costs.
And yet Friday morning, with little apparent warning, Gottlieb announced a new comprehensive plan to regulate nicotine. In an aggressive speech that spoke about cigarettes and nicotine in harsh terms, Gottlieb said “we need to envision a world where cigarettes lose their addictive potential through reduced nicotine levels.” For this reason, Gottlieb said, “I’m directing our Center for Tobacco Products to develop a comprehensive nicotine regulatory plan premised on the need to confront and alter cigarette addiction.” With a “balanced regulatory approach,” he noted, “we may be able to reach a day when the most harmful products are no longer capable of addicting our kids.”
This clearly came as a surprise to the companies and to their investors. Stocks reacted violently. In about 30 minutes, Altria’s stock fell 15 percent, sawing nearly $21 billion in market capitalization off the company. By later in the afternoon, the stock had stabilized, though it was still off by about 10 percent, or about $14 billion.
Clearly, investors and the tobacco companies believed that the Trump FDA would take a more hands-off approach to regulating tobacco. After all, we’ve seen sharp pullbacks from regulation of toxic emissions and substances at the Environmental Protection Agency and a general desire to rip up consumer protections. But just because there’s a general air of deregulation, and just because people now in positions of responsibility are hostile to scientific consensus (hello, EPA and Interior), doesn’t mean that all important executive-branch appointees do so.
That’s the mistake tobacco investors made. Gottlieb, after all, is a physician, and a cancer survivor to boot. The science and medicine surrounding tobacco is long since settled, and the consensus is broad. The product has been regulated, without much controversy, for several decades. Everybody involved in health care really hates tobacco, an addictive product that has a host of really bad, expensive, and predictable effects on people’s health. “As a physician who cared for hospitalized cancer patients, and as a cancer survivor myself, I saw first-hand the impact of tobacco,” Gottlieb said in a speech Friday. “And I know all too well that it’s cigarettes that are the primary cause of tobacco-related disease and death. What’s now clear is that FDA is at a unique moment in history, with profound new tools to address this devastating impact.”
Not all of Trump’s appointees will be pro-corporate stooges at all times. And investing as if they are can be remarkably expensive.
Creative Advertising Analysis
The brand Dove’s main target audience is women. It’s stated in their brand overview and made obvious in their many advertisements and campaigns. Also, according to Simmons data (chart 1…
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 22 13:57:00 PDT 2017
When Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida on Sept. 10, about 4.5 million homes lost power in an extended blackout. In the days afterward, eight people died of heat-related causes at a nursing home without power in Hollywood, Florida. Floridians directed their outrage at Florida Power and Light, one of the state’s private regulated utilities, which was accused of shorting resilience spending as profits rose year after year.
Ten days later, the blow that Hurricane Maria has delivered to Puerto Rico made Irma’s impact on Florida look like a spring shower. Meanwhile, the service, management, and upkeep of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, makes Florida Power and Light look like Amazon.
A 2016 report on PREPA commissioned by the Puerto Rican government is scathing. In the latter months of that year, for example, Puerto Ricans experienced four to five times the number of service outages as U.S. customers on average, though they pay the second-highest rates in the U.S. after Hawaii. Instead of investing in preventive maintenance, PREPA operates in a permanent state of triage. Its budget is “opaque and discretionary.” Record keeping is “subpar.” A third of the capital budget is spend on discretionary administrative expenses, hinting at a slush fund. Thirty percent of PREPA’s employees have retired or migrated to the mainland since 2012, the Washington Post reports—especially its skilled workers. Money is short, the report concludes, but so is human and intellectual capital.
The agency has $9 billion in debt and said it needs $4 billion to upgrade its infrastructure, including plants whose reliance on oil is passed onto Puerto Ricans in the form of high rates and dirty air. It filed for bankruptcy in July.
And that was before a Category 5 hurricane pounded the island this week.
Maria has left apocalyptic scenes on Puerto Rico, where 150 mph winds stripped whole hillsides bare of leaves and toppled concrete power-line poles. Precipitation rivaled global records, and river flows obliterated previous highs. Parts of the island received the sum of Hurricane Harvey’s three-day Houston rainfall in less than 24 hours—a year’s worth of Seattle precipitation in just a day, as the meteorologist Eric Holthaus noted.
PREPA director Ricardo Ramos said the power grid has been “destroyed.” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told Anderson Cooper it would take months to restore electricity to the island’s 3.5 million residents. It’s a task made more complicated by the fact that PREPA has become a political football, a problem symptomatic both of Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and the controversial Washington-run political system in place to manage the island, including its maligned power corporation.
The island has spent more than a decade in recession. Unemployment is more than 10 percent, and the population declined by more than 10 percent between 2004 and 2016. In 2015 alone, the net outward migration was more than 64,000, according to Pew. Six in 10 children live in poverty.
In May, Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy under the provisions set forth in PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act), a law signed by President Obama in the summer of 2016. The act established a financial control board for the island, similar to the emergency managers that have governed Detroit and other American cities in the wake of bankruptcies.
So far, that board has made some unpopular decisions, cutting spending on public health by 30 percent, closing schools, and lowering the minimum wage for young people to a little over $4 an hour. In the near term, austerity will worsen conditions on the island, where analysts expect the recession to continue until 2020. Many Puerto Ricans see the board as a tool of colonial oversight; at the time PROMESA passed, Bernie Sanders said it was a “junta” that would rule the island like “a colonial master.”
But this summer, the financial control board did something surprisingly wise, much to the disappointment of the congressional Republicans who created it: It voted 4–3 to reject a restructuring agreement for the power authority’s $9 billion in debt, infuriating the hedge funds that had negotiated a repayment deal to recoup 85 percent of what they were owed.
Luis Santini Gaudier, a consumer representative on the PREPA board, had criticized the deal as “lucrative business” for creditors who had bought PREPA debt on the cheap. The deal was a rip-off, wrote Tom Sanzillo, the director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, in the Hill: “Puerto Rico’s economic growth for an entire generation will go largely to off-island financiers rather than into the Puerto Rican economy.” (And that was before accounting for the rest of Puerto Rico’s $60 billion in debt.)
The board’s idea is to privatize PREPA. “Lowering the price of electricity and spurring economic growth depended on reforming Prepa’s operations, not merely restructuring its credit,” the four members who had rejected the debt deal wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Privatization would allow PREPA to “modernize its power supply, depoliticize its management, reform pensions, and renegotiate labor and other contracts to operate more efficiently.” Most importantly, they wrote, no new investment will come into PREPA’s plants, transformers, and lines if Puerto Rico ratepayers are spending the next three decades paying off debt to vulture funds in New York.
This plan has made unlikely allies of New York bankers and Puerto Rican labor unions. Union officials are convinced PREPA chiefs are deliberately letting the system fall apart to strengthen the case for privatization, which the island’s governor declared was inevitable before the hurricanes hit. Unions believe their contracts and pensions are safer with elected politicians than with independent business leaders.
The banks, which sued the fiscal control board and lost, should be worried that PREPA’s assets could be sold off for a song in order to get a private operator invested in the island’s power system. They’ll wind up getting paid less, and later, than will newer investors eager to rebuild the island’s infrastructure. Their goal—getting paid for years to come by Puerto Ricans on their electricity bills—is at odds with the fiscal control board’s goal of making the island’s electricity cheaper.
PREPA has played up the extent to which recent funding shortfalls (during the control board era and before) have precipitated the crisis. Ramos, PREPA’s executive director, noted before Irma that the utility’s plants were vulnerable because no money had been spent on maintenance. Miguel A. Soto-Class, the president of the Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican research group, told the New York Times that a lack of tree pruning (again, to save money) had left the country’s 2,478 miles of transmission lines and 31,485 miles of distribution lines vulnerable to a storm. “PREPA’s current weak financial condition will affect the utility’s ability to quickly repair and restore service after this natural disaster,” Moody’s wrote in early September, before Irma.
Now a disaster has struck that is worse than what anyone had imagined; damage will likely cost hundreds of millions to repair, even as the future of PREPA—including such basic questions as its ownership—remains tangled up in politics. “This is a moment of crisis that we need to benefit from and transform into an opportunity of change, production and investment,” Jenniffer González, the island’s nonvoting representative in Congress, told the New York Times after Irma.
This wouldn’t be the first disaster to ease the way toward privatization. Selling off public assets has never been popular in Puerto Rico, but less popular still, in the wake of Hurricane Maria, will be a dysfunctional PREPA that can’t turn the lights on.
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Sun Aug 06 15:29:00 PDT 2017
Volkswagen is promoting the new Arteon 4-door fastback with an advertising campaign featuring blind photographer Pete Eckart. At the centre of the campaign is an inspiring mini documentary exploring Eckert’s unique creative vision. Pete Eckert trained in sculpture and industrial design before becoming blind through retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease in which the back wall […]
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Thu Jul 27 12:28:00 PDT 2017
At some point in the next day or so, Senate Republicans are expected to vote on their Plan C for killing Obamacare—“skinny repeal.” Nobody knows exactly what is in the bill yet, because it was still being written Thursday afternoon. But the rough idea is to wrap a handful of ideas the entire GOP can support into a piece of bare-bones legislation that avoids controversial issues like cuts to Medicaid that have split the party's moderates and conservatives. Above all, it would end the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all Americans buy insurance lest they pay a tax penalty—aka the individual mandate. It would also “partially” repeal the employer mandate requiring businesses to offer their workers coverage. Beyond that, it would make changes around the ACA’s edges.
In theory, this splinter of a bill is not supposed to reach Donald Trump's desk. Republicans are being asked to vote for it merely to keep the repeal process alive, allowing the House and Senate to meet in a conference committee to craft a final, more robust piece of legislation. But at this point, it's not clear that Republicans are actually capable of coming up with anything better. The Senate GOP has been unable to muster 50 votes for any kind of comprehensive plan to replace Obamacare. And even if those votes existed, it's becoming increasingly clear that procedural hurdles would get in the way. If Republicans are determined to notch a win—loosely defined—on health care, Congress may have to pass skinny repeal and call it a day.
What would that mean for health insurance in this country? Nothing good. The individual mandate, while politically loathed, is still the keystone that makes Obamcare's extremely popular consumer protections hold together. Republicans would remove it while leaving in place the regulations that bar insurers from rejecting or charging more to customers with pre-existing conditions. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that such a plan could cause insurance premiums to rise by an additional 20 percent within a year, as young and healthy Americans dropped their coverage, leaving behind a pool of sicker enrollees with higher medical costs. Eventually, the CBO believes 16 million more Americans would be left uninsured—some by choice, and others because they were priced out of the market.
To be clear, that 16 million figure shouldn't be taken as gospel. According to a chart the CBO provided congressional Democrats, the office thinks that by 2021, 5 million fewer Americans would have individual coverage, 4 million fewer would have insurance through their employer, and 6 million fewer would have it through Medicaid. (Presumably, there are unseen decimal points in there that round up the total to 16 million.) The Medicaid number is probably the most controversial part of that prediction, since it doesn't make a ton of intuitive sense that killing a mandate to buy insurance would drive people off a government safety net program. But Medicaid has a lot of turnover each year; people sign up for it and drop off when they find work or other insurance options. And it's entirely possible that without the mandate, some people would never discover they were eligible for Medicaid in the first place, because they would never go looking to find a health plan. Whether it would actually cause the program to shrink by 6 million heads is hard to say.
The bigger question is whether the insurance markets in some parts of the country would collapse entirely. We know that forcing insurers to cover the sick without making everybody buy coverage works poorly because several states tried it prior to Obamacare. Premiums skyrocketed as enrollment in the individual market shrank. But the difference today is that Obamacare provides insurance subsidies that cap premiums as a percentage of a household's income. As a result, there will almost always be some people ready to buy insurance no matter how high premiums shoot up, since the government will pay most of their tab. It seems very unlikely the insurance market would plunge into a full-fledged, nationwide death spiral, where rising premiums drive out the vast majority of healthy customers, and insurers are forced to abandon the market or charge unaffordable prices.
Even so, killing the individual mandate would be sure to rock the insurance market (which is why insurers are shouting apocalyptically about it). First, Obamacare's subsidies cut off for families that make more than 400 percent of the poverty line, or about $82,000 for a family of three; the millions of Americans currently paying full price for their insurance would get gouged. Second, even with subsidies around to act as a cushion, insurers might decide to abandon some parts of the country anyway. Remember, there are already some counties that could end up with zero carriers offering health plans on their exchanges next year. If skinny repeal passes, it wouldn't be surprising if that pain spreads further. We wouldn't see a coast-to-coast death spiral, but we might witness a few localized ones.
That sort of dysfunction might still be preferable to the House or Senate plans to replace Obamacare, which would have dealt a generational blow to the safety net by slashing hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid. But skinny repeal is still bad policy. It's a slight piece of legislation that could deal some heavy damage.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 08 13:54:02 PDT 2017
For decades, American cities and states have been competing to dismantle the high-tax postwar social model to win increasingly mobile jobs from their peers. This practice leaves the losers smarting from a diminished sense of self—hello, Hartford, Connecticut—while the winner loads the tax burden of its new prize pig onto existing citizens and businesses. It rewards corporations for being flighty, faithless partners to cities and punishes small and local businesses that cannot make credible threats to secure their own incentive packages.
The news that Amazon needs a second headquarters, announced on Thursday, will set off a competition like we have never seen for mayors and governors to pimp out their cities to the Seattle-based supercompany.
It is a one-of-a-kind, six-week sweepstakes, with a $5 billion HQ up for grabs. Nothing like this has ever happened before. At 8.1 million square feet, constituting nearly 20 percent of Seattle’s Class A office space, Amazon’s Seattle campus simply has no parallels in U.S. cities. The next biggest single urban corporate presence is Citi in New York, with 3.7 million square feet; the next biggest by percentage is Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio, which occupies 16 percent of the city’s office space.
In short, Amazon’s Seattle HQ is an outlier any way you slice it, and it’s about to build the same thing again. Corporate relocations tend to involve low-paying jobs moving south (back-office jobs or manufacturing work relocating to the Sun Belt); small numbers of white-collar jobs (General Electric’s 2015 move from Connecticut to Boston); or merger-driven relocation, which usually involves a slow exodus of executives from one city to another. Amazon’s proposal is numerically elite: 50,000 workers in a secondary headquarters is more than twice as many workers as Bank of America, the country’s second-largest bank, employs at its primary HQ in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The odds hinge in part on what Amazon is looking for. The notion of a company with two separate U.S. headquarters is basically unique; when Charlotte’s NationsBank merged with San Francisco’s BankAmerica (now Bank of America) in 1998, to take one example, the company quickly consolidated corporate control in Charlotte. But Amazon has indicated that this will not be a back office; with up to 50,000 employees and an average salary of more than $100,000, these people will not be handling your Squatty Potty return. (Disclosure: Slate is an Amazon affiliate; when you click on an Amazon link from Slate, the magazine gets a cut of the proceeds from whatever you buy.)
Let’s assume that virtually every city and state will roll out a carpet of tax breaks, plum real estate, and other local incentives. (All for a company dedicated to undermining the local businesses that will pay taxes to support the services Amazon uses.) Even if Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos already has a strong favorite in mind, a municipal race to the bottom will ensure he gets his company the best deal. And since the scale of the economic impact appears to surpass what is promised for the Summer Olympics, the packages may include anything up to and including expensive new transit infrastructure. (Mass transit, Amazon has said, is a requirement for its site.)
But how many cities really have a chance? Amazon may be powerful enough to command sumptuous bids from every mayor’s office in thrall to the growth machine, but cities’ limitations are as firm as the company’s needs. It’s time for some corporate-relocation theory.
Size and Talent
The first limiting factor is size: Amazon says it needs a metro area with more than 1 million people, but in reality, that is the bare minimum. In a city like Pittsburgh, as Bloomberg’s Conor Sen points out, Amazon would need to hire 1 in every 20 people in the labor force to reach full staffing. This is also a problem with Nashville, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas. If Amazon makes Seattle (regional population: 3.7 million) feel like a company town, you can only imagine the role it would play in a metro half the size.
Size, in this case, is largely a proxy for a talented labor pool—another Amazon requirement—but there’s still a large variance in educational attainment in big cities. Of the 25 metros larger than Pittsburgh, for example, several rank near the bottom in the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees—shorthand for a well-developed labor force. By this metric, Sun Belt cities like San Antonio, Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Phoenix, and Riverside, California, are near the bottom. If Amazon were transferring thousands of workers, they might have a chance. But hiring locally? They’re probably off the list.
The single biggest difference between the remaining cities is cost: We already know that New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington have excelled at attracting companies thanks to top-notch cultural amenities, high quality of life, solid transit systems, and excellent universities. But they’re also among the most expensive places to live in the United States, with jampacked central cities where the only thing harder to place than 100 acres of offices would be 50,000 new housing units. (This is also a problem for Toronto—sorry, John Tory.)
That doesn’t mean these cities wouldn’t go out of their way to clear out space and bid for Amazon’s HQ2—or that Bezos won’t consider them strong contenders. (San Jose, California, is in, baby!) As Richard Florida points out, the best guide of corporate relocation is CEO preferences—and Bezos already owns the biggest house and the biggest newspaper in Washington. Proximity to the federal government would be an advantage for a company with a stake in virtually every sector of the economy.
You can understand why a company like Apple would be reluctant to leave Silicon Valley (even if it meant building a white elephant headquarters with 11,000 parking spaces). But relocations to high-cost areas tend to be small (as in Aetna’s move to New York), because they’re expensive. The $75,800 annual mean wage in San Jose gets the average worker just $62,100 in purchasing power, which can be had for a $58,800 wage in Durham–Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A $17,000 per-worker premium is OK for a few hundred executives; it gets costly for 50,000 employees.
On the low-cost end, that leaves Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Houston has its own issues to deal with right now. Detroit has no mass transit system to speak of; Charlotte isn’t far ahead and, further, lacks a strong university system. There are political risks, too: Detroit gives Amazon the potential to play savior but comes with sky-high property taxes, abysmal public schools, and a dysfunctional regional government. Charlotte is at the mercy of the reactionary North Carolina Legislature.
Location, Location, Location
What’s left are some self-similar cities in three regions: Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver are among the faster-growing, more recently developed U.S. metropolises—low-cost, low-tax cities with weaker universities and more auto-dependent transportation patterns. Of the three, Denver stands out for its massive investment in regional rail, super-high education levels, and high quality of life. Still, a second HQ in Denver wouldn’t bring the company much closer to the Eastern Seaboard.
Of the older Midwestern cities, it’s hard to imagine Chicago does not have an edge on Minneapolis and St. Louis for its sheer size, excellent universities, massive international airport, and high-quality transit system. The city’s and state’s financial problems are serious, though, and could ward off a cautious search committee.
And then on the East Coast are a pair of dark-horse candidates: Baltimore and Philadelphia. Baltimore has stellar cultural institutions, proximity to Washington without the housing costs, acres of open land, and a city government ready to play ball with big developers. Philadelphia has the same assets with a better regional transit system and easy access to New York.
The problem for the shrinking cities—Philly, Chicago, and Baltimore—may be political. As I’ve written before, the problem for those cities is not that housing is too expensive but that people don’t make enough money. Those cities tried everything to get companies to stay in the ’50s and ‘60s. But that doesn't mean that low-income tenants today won’t see a corporate giveaway as an unethical use of resources. (Which, fundamentally, it is.)
In spite of it all, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, and Philly are probably the most compelling choices for Amazon. But that doesn’t mean the company might not blow off its interest in higher education or mass transit to procure a low-cost campus in the suburbs of Dallas or Atlanta.
Greenfield vs. Infill
The differences between those cities is fodder for endless debate. But what may ultimately be more consequential is where Amazon decides to locate its headquarters within those cities. For all the talk about millennials abandoning car ownership, the biggest determinant of transportation choice is job location. In Seattle, Amazon has established an urban corporate paradigm that serves as a desperately needed counterpoint to the suburban campuses of Apple, Facebook, and Google in Silicon Valley. Amazon reports that 55 percent of Seattle employees walk, bike or use mass transit to get to work.
With its new headquarters, the company has the opportunity to tip the balance of an entire region toward or away from mass transit. The deck is stacked against infill development. But with cities scrambling to put together the pieces for Amazon, expect at least some of the proposals to double as downtown revitalization efforts. Entire cities have been built on less.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Sun Sep 10 12:59:00 PDT 2017
Natural disasters present opportunities for companies to burnish their brands—or tarnish them. It’s relatively easy for a company to marshal resources after the disaster has happened by sending truckloads of supplies, distributing products, and stamping its name on relief efforts. It’s much harder to do the right thing as the disaster is approaching or actually happening—and that’s in part because so much of the human activity has been removed from business operations.
Operating at scale—managing millions of customers, running intricate and highly complex operations, keeping track of a huge amount of activity in real time—requires robust systems. The more computer algorithms can perform business activities and make decisions, the more efficient and profitable companies can be. Indeed, companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, which enjoy very high margins, rely to a large degree on algorithms to run their businesses.
Software can detect and follow supply and demand in real time and adjust prices accordingly. This is how companies that sell products with set expiration dates—like hotel rooms and airplane seats—manage to eke out profits in highly competitive environments. Retailers like gas stations also use software to scour the marketplace for price information and continually adjust prices.
But we’ve seen in the past how doing so can lead to problems when things go badly. Uber, the poster child for having too much artificial intelligence and too little emotional intelligence, was justly dinged for letting its system charge surge pricing during Hurricane Sandy.
Last week, several well-known, very large companies—not exactly paragons of customer service—intervened in their algorithms and altered policies to offer relief to stressed-out customers in ways that were counterintuitive to how the machines would act.
Ordinarily, when lots of people suddenly want to fly air routes at the same time, systems will adjust prices continually higher to capture the available dollars. Not this time. Several airlines last week, led by JetBlue, American, Delta, and United, capped fares for flights leaving Florida, waived some of the fees they charge for bringing baggage and pets along, and added flights and seats to the extent possible. All of which will have the effect of reducing revenues that the system could have captured.
Airbnb generates revenues partly as a percentage of how much guests pay to stay in the homes of hosts on its network. The prospects of millions of people fleeing Irma and seeking temporary shelter would therefore present an opportunity for Airbnb and its hosts to raise prices. But, in another counterintuitive move, Airbnb assembled a list of hosts willing to open their homes for free.
For wireless companies, which make money by charging users for data, a week in which people feel compelled to keep their phones on at all times and continually refresh weather maps or video coverage would be really good for business. The system, without any tweaking, would happily tally overages and charge accordingly. Ahead of Irma’s arrival, however, both AT&T Wireless and Verizon texted customers that they would either add more data to existing plans or simply not charge for text or data overuse for the next week.
Of course, these measures aren’t being done purely out of a sense of humanitarianism. Savvy companies have come to recognize that behaving like a jerk when customers are in extremis can add to your bottom line this quarter, but it invites investigations, and, in the age of social media, backlash. 7-Eleven swung into action quickly when it was reported that several store owners in Florida had jacked up prices of bottled water last week.
Now that so many operations are run by algorithms that have no appreciation for poor optics—or the morality of gouging consumers when they are desperate, or the damage that a greedy vision can do a company’s long-term viability—more and more executives are discovering they have to shut their systems off when the waters rise.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Fri Aug 18 13:25:00 PDT 2017
Steve Bannon was supposed to be the brains behind the Trump presidency—the “populist” ideologue who personified the the White House's xenophobic, race-baiting, protectionist tendencies. Saturday Night Live literally depicted him as the grim reaper whispering evil commands into our half-wit commander in chief's ear.
Now Bannon is out of a job, fired from the West Wing thanks to his penchant for intramural squabbling and gabbing to the press. But despite Bannon's symbolic stature as the alt-right's man in the West Wing, on a policy level it seems unlikely that much will change. There are two main reasons why. First, Bannon turned out to be a buffoonish operator whose biggest concrete policy contribution—a sloppily drafted and hastily sprung Muslim travel ban—galvanized the left and was held up in the courts. Second, there are plenty of people left in the administration who will carry the torch for most his principles (trade protectionism, hard-line immigration restrictions, Islamophobia-tinged stance on terrorism, and paranoia toward Iran), the most notable of whom is named Donald J. Trump.
On national security, Bannon was often described as an isolationist—but that's not quite right. He certainly wanted to keep Muslims out of the United States. But he also argued for killing the Iran deal, which could have easily led to new conflicts in the Middle East, and he wanted to let hired mercenaries take over operations in Afghanistan in lieu of U.S. troops. A privatized war is still war.
Hopefully, the idea of letting Academi—né Blackwater—and DynCorp go wild in Kabul is dead for good. But there are still powerful critics of the Iran deal within the administration, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and, of course, the president himself, who has said he would be “surprised” if Tehran were to be found compliant with the agreement the next time it needs to be recertified. Meanwhile, travel-ban co-conspirator Stephen Miller, who has successfully distanced himself somewhat from Bannon, is still very much ensconced in the White House. (Thankfully, Hungarian man of mystery Sebastian Gorka may well be on his way out as well.)
How about immigration? Well, Trump still wants to build his wall and has already backed a bill that would reduce the number of legal immigrants we let in each year. Stephen “Let Me Tell You About the Statue of Liberty” Miller is, as mentioned, still on the payroll. And chief of staff John Kelly oversaw the Department of Homeland Security during the early days of Trump's term, when Customs and Border Patrol was busy detaining NASA scientists and French historians. Bannon's exit isn't going to make this administration any softer on foreigners.
The administration is also well-stocked with trade protectionists not named Steve who have already started implementing their vision. Vehemently anti-China trade guru Peter Navarro is still in action, of course—as of July, Politico reported he was literally “stalking the halls of the West Wing at night and on the weekends” in order to get private time with the president. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer are both committed to cracking down on Chinese trade barriers, and Trump has already signed an executive order that will likely lead to rare Section 301 investigation of Beijing's alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property. Meanwhile, Lighthizer has already begun renegotiating NAFTA.
Aside from hard-line xenophobia, a clash of civilizations approach to the Muslim world, and a deep antipathy for trade deals, Bannon also occasionally spouted off about populist economic ideas like infrastructure spending (he wanted to get America's shipyards and iron works “all jacked up”). But the issue has always been at the bottom of the congressional GOP's to-do list, and the administration's much discussed but never-detailed “trillion-dollar infrastructure plan” would still be on pace to pass some time after the 12th of never with or without Bannon around. His 44 percent tax rate for multimillionaires was likewise received as a joke.
Finally, it seems unlikely that jettisoning Bannon is going to cure the administration's apparent soft spot for white supremacists, given the president's apparently heartfelt response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which he suggested there were some “very fine people” wielding Tiki torches that weekend. We also still have Jeff Sessions—who Bannon credited as the godfather of Trumpism—running the Department of Justice, easing up on racist police departments and siding with states that want to crack down on voting rights.
Steve Bannon came as close as anybody to articulating a coherent Trumpist philosophy, but he was never skilled enough to implement it. Other, savvier, less colorful players were always going to have to implement his ideas. Now he'll be loudly rooting for them from the sidelines.
by Jonathan M. Katz @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 14:56:20 PDT 2017
In 2004, I was just starting my first full-time job in a Washington newsroom when disaster struck. It was on the other side of the world: an extraordinarily powerful earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia, that triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean. But thanks to CNN it felt like the anguish and terror were happening in the next cubicle. I still remember the fear on the fishermen’s faces and watching mothers cry as they searched for their children in the waves. Powerless, eager to help, I did the only thing I could think of: I went online and sent $20 to the American Red Cross.
Thirteen years later, we’re watching another disaster, this time much closer to home. Tropical Storm Harvey, supercharged by a freakishly warm Gulf of Mexico, has slammed into the Texas coast and is now running a dayslong conveyor belt carrying trillions of gallons of water from the ocean to the sky to the bayous and streets of Houston. Highways have become rivers in America’s fourth-largest city. Apartment complexes are filling up like bathtubs. Dams are nearing failure. Thousands have had to be rescued from the still-rising floodwaters in the overbuilt, improperly drained city. The scariest part is that, with the water still rising, no one can really know how bad the damage has been so far or what is to come. Once again, most of us outside the zone feel powerless but want to help. Once again, leaders and noble souls are telling us the best way to do so is to turn to the best known, most bipartisanly loved brand in humanitarian relief.
But I won’t be donating to the Red Cross this time. And after years of reporting on and inside some of the biggest disasters of the decade and change, I know what a costly mistake the focus on donating anywhere can be.
Part of the problem is the American Red Cross’ track record when it comes to disasters. It isn’t great. I learned this best in Haiti, where I survived the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and ran the Associated Press bureau from 2007 until 2011. When the earthquake struck, killing an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern’s staff swung into action doing what it does best: raising money. Their appeal to “save lives,” aided by endorsements from President Obama and celebrities, and fueled by a pioneering text message campaign, raised a staggering $488 million.
It quickly became clear that the organization’s biggest problem would be figuring out what to do with all that cash. The U.S. chapter had just three full-time staff in Haiti at the time of the disaster. Though it soon sent more, and subcontracted staff from the local Haitian Red Cross, the truth was that there wasn’t all that much they could do: ARC isn’t a medical aid group à la Doctors Without Borders. It doesn’t do development work or specialize in rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods. What it does best is provide immediate assistance—often in the form of blankets, hygiene kits, or temporary shelter—and as incredibly destructive as the earthquake was, there wasn’t half a billion dollars of tarps and hygiene kits to hand out. Staffers came up with all kinds of creative ways to unload the money, including handing it off to other aid groups that could use it better (after ARC had taken its customary 9 percent administrative cut). As it became increasingly clear that the entire earthquake response, from the lowliest neighborhood to the top floor of the United Nations Secretariat—had been a failure, ARC found itself scrambling to explain why the half a billion dollars it took hadn’t made a substantive difference in survivors’ lives. “There’s only so much money that can be forced through the emergency phase,” an ARC spokeswoman told me when I asked how it was possible that just a third of the money it had raised had even been committed, much less spent, two years later.
What no one at the organization bothered to do was explain to the public—in Haiti or back in the States—that it had never needed anywhere near that much money in the first place. (In contrast, some NGOs state their fundraising goals in advance and cap or redirect donations once they have exceeded those amounts.)
ARC was roundly blasted in the U.S. for its shambolic response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, with international observers warning that elements were so bad that they verged on criminal wrongdoing. Seven years later, despite an internal retooling effort, it failed again in 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. (The response was “worse than the storm,” one Red Cross driver told ProPublica during its jaw-dropping investigation.) Typically, the organization has had more success responding to small-scale disasters; it’s common to hear stories people tell of the blankets and compassion they got from Red Cross volunteers after house fires. But even there, they’ve been getting into trouble: ARC’s 2015 response to a string of northern California wildfires was so bad—showing up unequipped and unprepared, shutting down other volunteer operations, and then failing to provide promised food or shelter on its own—that locals shunned the organization to focus on their own relief efforts.
Worse than what we know is what we don’t. The ARC, which boasts annual revenues of more than $2.6 billion, is notoriously opaque when it comes to what it does with the money it raises for disasters. It has never produced a meaningful breakdown of its spending after the Haiti earthquake. If you look at RedCross.org right now, you’ll see a prominent link inviting you to “make a difference” by donating to its Harvey effort. But nowhere does it say what it will do with the money. A tiny video shows empty cots in a shelter.
When I emailed and called the organization’s full-time media relations department Sunday and Monday asking how much it had raised so far, how much it thought the group might need, and what Red Cross volunteers and staff were doing in the response to Hurricane Harvey, I eventually got back this reply: “At this point in our active disaster response, we are unable to answer your questions by your deadline. Thank you for understanding.” I followed up again. A few hours later, the organization sent a second note saying it was providing food, cots, blankets, and other support to 6,000 people in various shelters across the region—again with no information about the cost or money raised so far.
It isn’t just journalists who get the shaft. ARC’s leaders have misled Congress. In a scathing 2015 report, the federal Government Accountability Office noted that “no regular, independent evaluations are conducted of the impact or effectiveness of the Red Cross’s disaster services.”
As ProPublica’s Justin Elliott has reported, many of these issues are the result of a team of former AT&T executives taking over a complex organization—one that manages tasks as critical and disparate as blood-banking and providing resources to military families, while operating in a blurred, neither-fish-nor-fowl zone with some of the privileges of a government agency (such as free rent for its D.C. headquarters) but the moneymaking latitude and lack of oversight of a private corporation.
ARC and its defenders sometimes protest that there’s too much focus on them; that scores of other actors have also failed in their responses to the same disasters. In part, that’s just the other side of the double-edged sword that comes with having a higher profile than others and raising far more money than anyone else—for being, as McGovern likes to say, “a brand to die for.”
But in another way, they are entirely right. There is too much focus on the ARC in disasters such as Harvey, in a way that goes beyond any one organization. The way our society handles disasters—first the calamity; then the outpouring of sympathy and donations; then the long, slow rebuild—is wrong. As humans have long known, it is easier, cheaper, and better to mitigate or prevent disasters from happening than to rescue victims and rebuild after them. We’ve known for centuries about the threat of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts have warned for years that the Texas coast needed to make serious investments to prepare for nigh-inevitable storms, including preparing mitigation specifically for intense, unprecedented floods worsened in part by climate change. It seems that some, including many of Houston’s hospitals, heeded those warnings and are benefiting from the preparation. Other sectors did not. At a systemic level, instead of taking those threats seriously, Texans elected a governor who distorts facts about climate change. Americans picked a president who—days before this disaster and moments before rushing to the defense of rampaging neo-Nazis—announced in front of his gilded elevator that he was scrapping federal construction standards that had required new projects to account for climate change’s effect on storms like Harvey.
Local news organizations in Texas are maintaining lists of organizations, both local and run by the Red Cross, where those affected by the storm can get help and those inclined can send donations. Experts and experience say that, if you are going to donate to anyone from outside the disaster zone, send cash, not stuff. Boxes full of food, clothes, or other stuff will clog up supply lines and as likely as not go unused.
Yet the hard reality is that we still don’t know what the needs in Houston and other parts of Texas or Louisiana are going to be or who will be best to respond to them. Millions of people are still in the middle of the storm, with the National Hurricane Center warning that some areas could get double the already awe-inducing amounts of rain they’ve already received. Survivors, in other words, haven’t even gotten past the emergency to take stock of the damage and really begin the difficult relief phase; if this was an earthquake, the ground would still be shaking.
It is difficult for rescuers to get in. There is nowhere for most people to go. While there are heroic efforts going on right now by locals and neighbors to save as many as they can from the floods—efforts that authorities should encourage and help coordinate—the hard, frustrating reality is that there is not very much an untrained outsider can do to help once a complex disaster has begun. And with, at a bare minimum, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage expected and future storms on the way, the costs in cleaning up this mess and getting people back into their old lives again are going to be astronomical, on the level that only wealthy and powerful governments, and the combined power of their citizenry, will be able to address.
Some people get personally offended by talk like this. They are seeing pain, they are being generous, and they hope it might help—just like I did watching the pictures from Indonesia from my cubicle years ago. The people suffering in this storm deserve all of that and more. But what you learn when you really dive into these situations is that momentary intentions, no matter how kind, are not enough—not on this scale. Those past, ineffective, and opaque disaster responses, from Haiti to New Jersey to the Gulf Coast, have created a legacy of mistrust, not only of the Red Cross but of the entire humanitarian aid apparatus its iconic brand represents. We can’t afford to do that again.
If we really care about the people of Houston and the rest of the Gulf Coast, we have to commit fully to a combined, sustained, serious response to recover and rebuild—meaning lots of money, lots of attention to helping those areas adapt for the future, and lots of concern for the people who we know are most vulnerable. We all need to come together to prevent future disasters, whether the growing risk of a major Oklahoma earthquake, a Caribbean tsunami, and especially the many threats we face from climate change. The sooner we acknowledge and act on that and stop debating the best place to send $20, the better off all of us will be.
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by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Thu Aug 31 11:39:00 PDT 2017
At the moment, Republicans still insist that they want to pass a tax reform bill by the end of the year. Not just a tax cut, mind you, but a full-fledged reform package that will clear out the countless deductions, loopholes, and special-interest carve-outs that have turned our corporate tax code into a sieve.
In theory, this is a completely unobjectionable goal. The United States could use a more rational tax system that leaves businesses on more even footing with one another, regardless of how many pricey lawyers and accountants they hire. Unfortunately, it's not clear the GOP's plans will move the country in that direction. In some respects, it could make the problems with our current tax code even worse.
Republicans often complain that the United States has the rich world's highest corporate tax rate, topping out at 35 percent, which they argue drives business investment and jobs overseas. But that figure is largely an illusion, thanks to the vast array of deductions that companies can claim and the ability of multinationals to shelter their profits offshore. Analysts typically find that, when all is said and done, U.S. corporations pay an average rate somewhere between 22 and 29 percent, which, depending on whose estimates you rely on, may or may not be in line with our peer nations.
The fact that few companies actually pay the top corporate rate isn't something to celebrate, however. It's a sign that our tax code is a bit of a farce. The joke gets worse once you look at how tax rates vary across businesses and industries.
Earlier this year, the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report in which it analyzed the tax rates paid by members of the Fortune 500 between 2008 and 2015. The authors selected the 258 corporations that were profitable in all eight years to avoid dragging down the average with companies that paid no taxes because they lost money. They found 100 different companies that, despite being consistently profitable, paid zero federal taxes in at least one year, and 18 that paid no taxes in any of the years surveyed. Meanwhile, there were vast differences in average rates between industry. Utility companies paid an average rate of just 3.1 percent; tech companies paid about 20 percent; retailers and wholesalers paid more than 30 percent, as did health care providers.
A good tax code doesn't have to treat every single industry identically. Nobody but a lobbyist, however, would purposely design one in which some kinds of businesses consistently hand over a third of their profits to the IRS while others pay next to nothing. And in case you're skeptical about the findings of a liberal think tank, the U.S. Treasury Department found similar, if slightly less pronounced, disparities when it ran its own analysis on the taxes paid by all profitable corporations with more than $10 million in assets.
It can be hard to pinpoint how specific companies minimize their tax bills, because corporations aren't required to disclose the nitty-gritty of their returns. But ITEP notes a few broad issues. Multinationals are able to park profits in offshore tax havens. This disproportionately benefits large tech firms that earn profits from their intellectual property, since it’s relatively easy for them to shift profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that regularly make large capital investments in machinery and other equipment benefit from rules that let them quickly write off the cost of those purchases. Its not a coincidence that most of the companies ITEP found that paid nothing in federal taxes over all eight years were utilities, which are typically required to make major upgrades each year.
Because Republicans don't have an official tax plan yet, it's impossible to say how many holes in the tax code they'll try to plug. But the indicators so far aren't promising. House Republicans have identified some deductions they want to repeal, which are worth about $171 billion over their first 10 years—not a great deal in the scheme of a corporate tax that's expected to bring in more than $400 billion this year alone. On the big-picture issues, they seem intent on wrenching even bigger gaps in the tax code. Take the issue of tax havens. Right now, the GOP seems intent on moving the U.S. to what's known as a territorial system, where the government wouldn't tax corporations at all on profits earned abroad. This will of course eliminate the need for companies to stash profits in Ireland and the Cayman Islands. But if anything, that will only encourage companies to make like Apple and use accounting gimmicks to shift their U.S. profits overseas. It's like trying to fight shoplifting by making it legal.
Or, consider the advantages those utilities seemingly enjoy. Right now, many Republicans want to make it possible for companies to write off major capital investments even faster by moving to a system of immediate expensing. There may be some economic reasons to favor that idea—it could possibly lead to a bump in corporate investment—but it essentially doubles down on the system that now lets some companies shield their profits from taxes entirely.
“I think it’s fair to say that the Trump plan as we understand it would actually increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” ITEP's Matthew Gardner told me. “It would accentuate the preferential treatment that certain sectors of the business world and certain high-income Americans get.”
There is at least one way Republicans are trying to even out the corporate tax code. As of now, they're talking about lowering the top rate by 10 or 15 percentage points. That will at least ensure that companies on the high end of the tax spectrum will pay a bit less. But that's not really a tax reform. It's a plain old cut.
by Bryce Covert @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 16:34:53 PDT 2017
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When Whole Foods shoppers walked into a store Monday, they were met with a likely welcome change: Prices on some of the most popular items have dropped dramatically. They’ll spend 38 percent less on bananas and 43 percent less on organic Fuji apples. Even avocados, that Whole Foodsiest of fruits, got a 20-cent price cut.
We have Amazon’s purchase of the grocery chain to thank. And for federal antitrust regulators, this would seem to be a vindication of their decision to quickly and painlessly green-light the deal last week. For decades, concerns about anti-democratic control and monopolistic power led to crackdowns on consolidation, among both direct competitors and different but complementary businesses. But the focus has narrowed considerably since the 1970s, and now typically the only metric for whether a marriage between corporate behemoths could be harmful is the impact on consumer prices.
Certainly industry consolidation can, and has, led to companies using their increased power to jack up prices, hurting consumers’ wallets. But even when prices go down, as we saw Monday while we browsed for grass-fed ground beef (also on sale!), other ill effects can still follow that hurt Americans and the economy.
The suddenly lower prices at Whole Foods, then, are the perfect example of how shortsighted antitrust regulation has become. That one small victory could very well be dwarfed by the pain felt by food producers, grocery store competitors and, ultimately, the American workforce.
The Trump administration was clearly unconcerned about any of these potential ill effects. While antitrust reviews can take years, the Federal Trade Commission decided in a little over a month, without any in-depth investigation, that the deal won’t hurt competition. The deal is, of course, not one in which two large competitors decide to declare a truce and join forces against the others in their space, but rather Amazon moving aggressively into the grocery space where it was previously just a bit player. (And even so, Whole Foods gives Amazon just 1.2 percent of the grocery market.)
But that doesn’t mean the deal won’t impact competition in the larger economy. We’ve already seen the monopoly power that can be exerted through vertical integration: Luxottica controls not just most of the companies that produce eyeglasses, for example, but also the ones that sell them to you, like LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut. That means it can set prices as high as it wants and that it’s pretty tough for anyone else to get in on the game.
It’s hard to deny that Amazon hasn’t already distorted markets with its growing power. In 2013, it sold more than the next 12 online retailers combined, and some estimates have it capturing nearly half of all online shopping. More than half of all online shoppers start perusing at Amazon.com. (Disclosure: Slate is an Amazon affiliate and may receive a commission from purchases you make through our links.) “In addition to being a retailer, it is a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading provider of cloud server space and computing power,” Yale Law School student Lina Khan wrote in an influential look at Amazon’s anti-competitive tendencies. It got there mainly through deals like the ones with Whole Foods: buying up other companies. Now it’s a grocer, too.
Its incredible ability to hoover up consumer loyalty and market share is why markets reacted the way they did to the news of its acquisition of Whole Foods. Stocks for other grocery stores and businesses that have moved into the space dropped dramatically on the expectation that they would soon face intense pressure to drop prices in order to lure customers. So did stocks for food suppliers themselves on the assumption that they, too, would have to cut prices to appease Amazon and get on Whole Foods’ shelves. Stocks fell again after news broke that Amazon would indeed slash food prices on Monday.
Yet Amazon has thus far mostly avoided antitrust scrutiny for one crucial reason: It undercuts prices. Rather than use its position of influence to drive up profit through higher consumer costs, its business model has emphasized scale and market share over larger returns, and part of how it got there was by forcing prices as low as it could.
It is this very feature of Amazon’s business model, however, that makes it such a predatory actor for everyone else around it. It uses its influence in online shopping to pressure suppliers to dramatically drop their prices, wringing as much discount from their margins as it can. It pushes for practices in supplier warehouses that have become notorious for the ill treatment of workers—but that model helps it deliver cheap goods incredibly quickly, and few suppliers can refuse to participate.
These practices could spell danger for a variety of American workers. Amazon’s ownership could pose a risk to the smaller local farms that have thus far supplied food to Whole Foods if they can’t deliver at cutthroat rates. One place they and other food producers may look to cut: wages for workers. As David Dayen has pointed out, thanks in large part to decent wages and benefits Whole Foods employees aren’t unionized in an industry where most are. That, too, is put at risk by an owner that’s focused exclusively on low prices and quick service, both within Whole Foods’ walls and at other grocery store workplaces that now have to compete with it.
Between the 1930s and 1960s, in the heyday of anti-monopoly fervor, these problems would have been cause for quite a lot of concern. Taking an economic structuralist view of concentration, regulators and courts assumed that concentrated markets would by necessity foster anti-competitive outcomes, such as price fixing, collusion, blocking new entrants, and using their outsize power to squeeze suppliers, consumers, and workers. Prices, market share, and size weren’t the only considerations: Things like conflict of interest and the ability to ward off competition also counted against deals. The Supreme Court held in 1963 that a merger that would result in control of more than 30 percent of any market was unlawful.
But then Robert Bork published The Antitrust Paradox, a book that changed an entire regulatory regime. He argued that the sole purpose of antitrust policing should be to maximize consumer welfare—mostly, to ensure that prices don’t increase too much. The assumptions shifted, with regulators and courts taking for granted that markets are efficient and companies will seek to maximize profits. The only check needed was to ensure prices didn’t rise above competitive levels.
We still haven’t moved very far away from this framework, even as antitrust enforcement has come back into political vogue. Hillary Clinton made beefed-up antitrust enforcement a main plank of her economic agenda during the presidential election. The Democratic Party has now taken up the torch, putting a spotlight on how the government has allowed business to “tilt … the economic playing field in favor of the wealthy and powerful,” in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Their “Better Deal” agenda promises to “crack down on monopolies and the concentration of economic power” by, in part, creating a new “Trust Buster” entity to more closely scrutinize proposed mergers.
Yet the Trust Buster would still be focused by and large on the impact on consumer prices. Democrats singled out the airline, beer, eyeglass, food, and telecom industries as particularly concentrated and worrisome, but mostly because costs have risen. This isn’t surprising: Voters are quick to feel outrage over prices that pinch their budgets.
The harm of increased concentration runs much deeper, however. When only a few large players exist in an industry, they have little reason to increase compensation—or even the number of jobs—given that workers in the space have few other places to go. If they don’t like the conditions, well then, too bad. Industries that have experienced the biggest increases in concentration, in fact, have also seen the largest declines in workers’ share of profits.
A rigid focus just on consumer prices misses this and all other negative outcomes of today’s increasing industry concentration, which also includes political dominance. Reverting back to a broader view of antitrust regulation and what counts as deal breakers for American consumers, workers, and voters might have, if not stopped the Amazon–Whole Foods deal, at least slowed it down and offered an opportunity for the government to demand concessions. Perhaps we don’t need to go back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting. But in an era of stagnant wages and rising income inequality, it’s worth asking what role monopolies play.
Consumers may rejoice that Whole Foods’ prices, like $6 for water with asparagus stalks in it, are coming down. It’s a happy side effect. But it can’t cover up the deeper disease of increasing monopoly power throughout the economy and the current antitrust regime’s utter inability to keep it in check.
by Felix Salmon @ Slate Articles
Fri Jul 28 12:06:00 PDT 2017
There are a lot of Mooches. There’s the funny Mooch, the self-effacing Mooch, the schmoozy Mooch, the boastful Mooch, the name-dropping Mooch, the suck-up Mooch, and, yes, the utterly unhinged Mooch. Most of them are visible in just about any TV interview he does, although the angry Mooch is normally off the record. Underneath it all is one man: the chameleon Mooch, the guy who will never think twice about changing his spots if doing so gives him any kind of tactical advantage.
Right now Anthony Scaramucci—failed investment banker, newly minted man of the people, indefatigable self-promoter—is trying to pull off the most high-risk trade of his career, and he’s doing it by channeling Donald J. Trump to the best of his abilities. He has already effectively dispatched Sean Spicer; next up, if all goes according to plan, will be Reince Priebus, followed sooner or later by Steve Bannon. He’ll need friends, though, most immediately at Treasury, because right now he isn’t actually the White House communications director. In order to officially get that job, he needs to disentangle himself from his former businesses in a manner acceptable to the Treasury Department.
Once Treasury approval comes through, the Mooch will finally get the fuck-you money he’s wanted all his life—and, what’s more, he can put it all into Treasury bills and won’t need to pay any taxes on it until it’s liquidated. (All of this thanks to rules benefitting executive-branch appointees who need to sell assets to clear ethics rules.) He will also be effectively the second most powerful man in America, gleefully tramping all over norms and institutions in a way that even Bannon has until now failed to achieve. That’s because Bannon has his own agenda. The Mooch, by contrast, is perfectly happy being a thug for hire, doing whatever bidding the president asks of him and doing it with maximum relish.
The Mooch, it’s important to understand, comes as close as humanly possible to being a man without a soul. His entire career has been based on finding people who are richer, more powerful, or otherwise more successful than himself and trying to be more like them.
In its early years, that strategy meant a pretty standard move from Harvard Law School to Goldman Sachs; later on, after he discovered a taste for the television lights, it meant playing a hedge-fund manager on TV. For a while, the Mooch decided that the pinnacle of capitalism was the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, where he would rent out the famous Piano Bar every year and pour the assembled plutocrats the most expensive wine he could find. That was the period when he would happily tweet out Davos orthodoxy in a vain attempt to get taken seriously as some kind of public intellectual. (Davos, almost uniquely, is the kind of place where drivel like “Walls don’t work. Never have never will” is considered profound.)
At some point, the Mooch discovered that the best way to curry favor with the rich and powerful was simply to throw a ludicrously expensive party in Las Vegas every year, which he called SALT (SkyBridge Alternatives). By giving Wall Street folks an excuse to drink too much and to do everything else that rich guys get up to in Las Vegas, the Mooch also put himself in a position to be able to pay enormous appearance fees to politicians including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair. Both at Davos and at SALT, he saw that it was the politicians, not the billionaires, who were the real center of attention. Thus did he enter presidential politics, first with Mitt Romney, then with Scott Walker, then with Jeb Bush, and finally with Donald Trump.
In each case, the Mooch took on the mien of his new patron—demonstrating, if nothing else, his remarkable shape-shifting skills. Around Trump, he became a no-bullshit bruiser, an aide with no agenda beyond loyalty and no ambition beyond maximizing his Oval Office face time. He also removed whatever trace of the shame gene he might have had remaining, proving himself willing time and again to proclaim anything that Trump wanted him to say, no matter how ludicrous or slanderous or self-incriminating it was. That has won him the all-important trust of the president, at least for the time being.
The problem is that for all his skills at managing up, the Mooch has very few skills as a politician or as a communications chief. For instance: He’s very good at phoning up journalists and shouting at them, as I (and many of my former bosses) can personally attest. (After I published this story, for instance, the Mooch screamed at just about everybody he knew at Thomson Reuters, up to and including the CEO, multiple times.) And tactical fits of sweariness have been a central part of Washington politics forever: Just ask Rahm Emanuel. But Rahm always had a purpose to his swearing, and he always made sure it was off the record. The Mooch, by contrast, does really stupid things, like trying to bully the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza into giving up his sources—a tactic that has never worked on any journalist ever. And then does even more stupid things like throwing Bannon under the bus, in extremely vivid Anglo-Saxon, without first going off the record.
Or, to put it another way, the Mooch has already proved himself to be significantly less competent than Selina Meyer, and he hasn’t even officially started his new job yet. If and when he does get that job, and/or the chief of staff job he clearly covets, we will find ourselves looking back on the days of Priebus and Spicer as the calm, orderly time before everything went really bad. Because if there’s one thing worse than Trump in the presidency, it’s the Mooch standing by his side, applauding all his worst instincts and wallowing in the inevitable chaos like some kind of idiotically sycophantic movie henchman. It has only taken a couple of days for America to learn what kind of person the Mooch really is. The really terrifying prospect is that we’ll be reminded of that fact, on a weekly basis, for months or even years to come.
As Usual, Republicans Won’t Have Any Clue What Their New Obamacare Repeal Bill Does Before They Vote on It
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Mon Sep 18 13:52:50 PDT 2017
Once again, it appears Republicans are about to vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare before anybody can figure out what the legislation actually does. On Monday afternoon, the Congressional Budget Office announced it would not able to complete a full score of the legislation submitted by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, to which the Senate GOP has now pinned its hopes. Instead, it will release a “preliminary” estimate more or less analyzing whether the plan meets the bare minimum requirements to pass through the budget reconciliation process. That forecast will not include specific numbers about the bill’s “effects on the deficit, health insurance coverage, or premiums.” Those won’t be available “for at least several weeks.”
Republicans need to vote on Graham-Cassidy before Sept. 30, when the reconciliation instructions they are relying on to pass repeal with just 50 Senate votes (plus Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaker) will expire. Thus, it looks like the GOP will attempt to pass a bill remaking much of the U.S. health care system without any even-handed, third-party analysis to rely upon. Cassidy’s office has reportedly been producing its own analyses of the bill’s impact; I’m sure they’re incredibly reliable.
Of course, this is not the first time the GOP will have voted on a repeal bill without the slightest clue of what it actually does. Back in May, the House also passed its own legislation before a CBO score was complete. Three weeks later, the office reported that the legislation would leave 23 million Americans uninsured in 10 years.
Voting blind on Graham-Cassidy would be a good order of magnitude more irresponsible than the House’s shenanigans, though. Many lower-chamber Republicans chose to support repeal on the assumption that the Senate would change, and maybe even improve, whatever bill they passed. If the Senate votes for Graham-Cassidy, on the other hand, the House won’t be able to change it once the end-of-the-month deadline passes. Lawmakers will either have to pass the thing wholesale or effectively shoot it down (technically they could send it back to the Senate with changes, but at that point the bill would require 60 votes to pass). Maybe they’ll wait to find out what the bill does first, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
by TINA @ Truth In Advertising
Wed Sep 20 12:57:13 PDT 2017
September 2017: After some of the claims were dismissed in August, plaintiffs filed an Amended Consolidated Class Action Complaint making similar allegations. October 2016: A Consolidated Class Action Complaint making the same allegations was filed. August 2016: This action was consolidated to be heard with three other similar lawsuits. For more information about the other
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Thu Aug 31 09:00:20 PDT 2017
For years, Houston has been the darling of certain urbanists and economists who have celebrated its robust growth, low housing prices, and multiculturalism. What makes Houston such an affordable place to live? In a word, deregulation: Houston is known, famously and misleadingly, as the only sizable city in the country with no single zoning code telling property owners what can be built where.
“Houston’s builders have managed—better than in any other American city—to make the case to the public that restrictions on development will make the city less affordable to the less successful,” Edward Glaeser wrote of the oil-and-gas boomtown in 2008. “Houston’s success shows that a relatively deregulated free-market city, with a powerful urban growth machine, can do a much better job of taking care of middle-income Americans than the more ‘progressive’ big governments of the Northeast and the West Coast.”
So, naturally, as Houston was subsumed by the largest rainstorm in American history, that exceptionalism became a focal point. Of course the jumbled, sprawling city where anyone could build anything anywhere turned out to be ill-suited for weathering a clash with Mother Nature.
This assumption has been baked into even well-sourced coverage of how Harvey has affected Houston: The Washington Post begins its story by describing Houston as “the largest U.S. city to have no zoning laws, part of a hands-off approach to urban planning that may have contributed to catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey and left thousands of residents in harm’s way.”
That idea has loomed large enough during the storm that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner felt compelled to respond. “Zoning wouldn’t have changed anything. We would have been a city with zoning that flooded,” he wrote on Wednesday. It’s an easy shorthand that conveys a sense of Houston as a free-for-all. As usual, the truth is more complicated.
The most important thing is this: No city is or should be designed to accommodate a one-in-a-million-year flood, which is what Harvey turned out to be. As Houston Chronicle writer Dylan Baddour put it last year, “Cars don’t have airbags to absorb a hit from a train.” If our probabilities about the likelihood of such storms are wrong because of climate change—and it sure seems they are—that’s a separate problem and one for which local planners shouldn’t be held accountable. After all, rural areas at the fringes of the Houston metro are also underwater.
That’s not to say flood-control planning in and around Houston has not been shortsighted. But zoning would not have saved Houston.
Houston is lightly regulated, and it’s true that it has no zoning code. But it has many laws that constitute zoning by another name: laws that say how much land is required to build a house; local covenants that determine building size and use; regulations that require new houses, offices, or restaurants to provide a certain amount of parking spaces; and rules that dictate how close new buildings may be to the street. A 21-story residential building in a central neighborhood was met with a seven-year legal battle that culminated in a judge awarding concerned neighbors $1.2 million from the developer.
Looks like zoning, smells like zoning. Houston very much resembles its Sun Belt peers. Its huge immigrant population and cultural offerings make it more fun than Dallas or Phoenix, but it doesn’t look all that different from above.
The land-use regulations that Houston does have actually encourage the greenfield-eating development that characterizes the city’s exurbs. That is what zoning looks like. The most anomalous land-use law in Houston might be the one enacted just before the millennium that shrank the minimum lot size to 1,400 square feet for areas inside the Interstate 610 loop. That change led to a spurt of townhouse development and urban density. Neighborhoods intent on combatting that densification have since enacted their own little requirements prohibiting subdivided lots. And so the city sprawls: The 100-square-mile area west of the Loop contains as many people as the Loop itself.
And by the way, there’s nothing about multifamily housing in dense neighborhoods that makes them particularly flood-proof. Row-house neighborhoods like the ones that fill Brooklyn or Philadelphia can be impossible to adapt to storm surges. Tall buildings where residents depend on elevators can become traps when the power fails.
But in the case of Houston, apartment living is the alternative to the sprawling subdivisions along the highways encircling the the city, homes whose front lawns were no substitute for the prairie they replaced. With exurban houses came huge roads, shopping centers, office parks, and parking lots. Legend has it there are 30 parking spaces per person in the Houston area. Harris County, which largely contains Houston, lost 15,855 acres of freshwater wetlands—30 percent of its total—between 1992 and 2010, according to a Texas A&M University analysis. That estimate is conservative; the real total could be as high as 45,000 acres, in just 18 years. By comparison, Central Park in Manhattan is 843 acres.
This sprawl has exacerbated the region’s flooding problems, as water that once puddled in the clay-heavy “black gumbo” soil now streams through pipes, gutters, and ditches of a region whose impervious surface increased by 25 percent in just 15 years. Of the 10 biggest pools that have risen in the Addicks and Barker reservoirs on the city’s western edge, nine have occurred since 1990 and six since 2000, according to ProPublica and the Texas Tribune. This is in part due to stronger storms and in part because the runoff from two acres of single-family homes could have been absorbed by one acre of prairie. Now that amount of runoff spills into the 2,500 miles of channels tasked with draining the region when it rains.
That’s not a zoning problem, and it’s not even a Houston problem. Most of the growth in the region has occurred outside the city limits, in places like Katy, Texas—which, by the way, is zoned, much of it for single-family homes. The properties that creep up on the backs of the reservoirs lie mostly in unincorporated Harris County. When people talk about the need for zoning in Harris County, what they really long for is an “urban growth boundary” of the type that walls in development in cities like London or Portland, Oregon.
The failures within this region have little to do with zoning. Developers are required to offset the wetlands they destroy with remedies like detention ponds to capture stormwater, but according to a Houston Chronicle investigation, a “sampling of permits issued to local developers by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found more than half were not in compliance.” Another failure happened in 2008, after the City of Houston had wisely banned new construction in floodways adjacent to bayous. The lawyers who challenged that rule argued it unfairly lowered property values, which it certainly did. The city reversed course. Since 2010, more than 7,000 Harris County homes have been built in the 100-year flood zone, where homeowners with Federal Housing Administration–backed mortgages must buy flood insurance. Meanwhile, flood insurance coverage is dropping while premiums rise to account for risk. In Harris County, the number of homes with flood insurance policies fell by 25,000 in the past five years, even as extreme flood events devastated the area.
Those problems reflect a lack of responsibility among county officials, but it’s nothing unique to Houston. Thanks to the federally subsidized flood insurance program, Americans continue to build their houses in flood zones without pricing out the consequences. Nationally, there are 9.6 million American households in the 100-year-flood plain, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. What makes Houston different is just that the 100-year floods are happening every year.
If lax planning exacerbated this crisis, proactive planning could calm it. A laser-measurement survey undertaken by the Harris County Flood Control District in the early aughts estimated that “county waterways provided greater than 50-year flood protection to about 41 percent of the county, and less than two-year protection to about 47 percent,” according to the Chronicle. As the city had grown and the load on the conduits increased, the land around them had also filled up with houses. Widening the bayous to 100-year-flood protection level would have required buying 30,000 acres of land, displacing countless homes, and digging up 8.7 billion cubic feet of earth. It would have cost $27 billion then, a third of the state’s annual budget. Surely it would cost more now.
That is obviously impractical. And Houston is not alone in facing that planning challenge, whatever its approach to growth. In Brooklyn, in Miami Beach, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, in New Orleans, coastal communities wait with the knowledge that the heat-oppressed atmosphere will produce another, bigger storm. Preparation is unfathomably expensive. Recovery more so.
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by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 01 16:01:00 PDT 2017
The full transcript of Donald Trump's Wall Street Journal interview, which leaked to Politico, is enough to make anyone spiral into despair—like most performances from our president, it's full of moments that illustrate his tenuous grasp of reality. As Slate's official economics correspondent, though, there was one section that left me especially crestfallen—in just one short paragraph of word salad, he delivers a subtle but telling demonstration of his total ignorance on how economies work.
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Here's the passage. Trump is trying to explain that he thinks the United States is growing too slowly compared with the rest of the world, and therefore we need to cut our corporate tax rate to 15 percent. I've bolded the key part.
So I’ll call, like, major—major countries, and I’ll be dealing with the prime minister or the president. And I’ll say, how are you doing? Oh, don’t know, don’t know, not well, Mr. President, not well. I said, well, what’s the problem? Oh, GDP 9 percent, not well. And I’m saying to myself, here we are at like 1 percent, dying, and they’re at 9 percent and they’re unhappy. So, you know, and these are like countries, you know, fairly large, like 300 million people. You know, a lot of people say—they say, well, but the United States is large. And then you call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have. So China’s going to be at 7 or 8 percent, and they have a billion-five, right? So we should do really well.
But in order to do that – you know, it’s tax reform, but it’s a big tax cut. But it’s simplification, it’s reform, and it’s a big tax cut, 15 –
At some point, it appears Donald Trump heard somebody say that the United States cannot grow as fast as China or Malaysia because we have a “large” economy. No doubt, what they meant is that the U.S. is a highly developed, rich nation and therefore can't expand as quickly as developing countries that can still reap large gains from taking basic steps to improve their living standards. But Trump did not understand it that way. He apparently thought that when whoever he was listening to said “large,” they were talking about population. Therefore, in his mind, if China grows at nearly 7 percent per year with its 1.4 billion people, the U.S. should be able to do it too.
This is the man who millions of voters are relying on to bring back jobs. Bottoms up.
The six limited-edition Dove soap bottles come in shapes meant to emulate the body types of women.
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Dove debuted six body wash bottles in different shapes and sizes as part of the company's latest campaign to celebrate women and their bodies.But rather than celebrate the campaign, social media handed Dove a...
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 12 09:48:03 PDT 2017
2016 was not a terrible year for American families. According to the Census Bureau’s annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance, released Tuesday, the median household income rose by a healthy 3.2 percent, building 2015’s record-setting gains. The poverty rate also dipped a bit—from 13.5 percent down to 12.7 percent—as did the fraction of Americans who lacked health insurance. The folks at the census summed things up with this upbeat graphic. It’s not inaccurate. Our economic well-being is gradually improving.
And yet, looking over the data, I couldn’t help but feel slightly morose. Whatever you think of President Obama and Congress’ attempts to revive the economy after 2008, you have to reckon with the fact that the recovery took years to meaningfully reach the middle class and poor. Yes, the unemployment rate ticked down slowly, month by month. But incomes were essentially stagnant for more than half a decade.
Even now, as economist Justin Wolfers points out, median incomes for most demographic groups are barely above their levels from 1999. Black households still have yet to recover fully. Americans have had to wade through a vast swamp of economic disappointment to reach even the moderately good news we’re seeing today.
It’s bitterly ironic that Donald Trump launched an entire presidential campaign about American decline at almost the precise moment that middle-class incomes and poverty began to heal from the recession. But he was able to do it in part because the economy took so many years to right itself. And while “economic anxiety” was obviously not the only thing (or even the main thing) fueling Trumps support, it’s hard not to wonder what we might have been spared politically had Washington managed to engineer a faster recovery. A bigger stimulus, more help for struggling homeowners—maybe these things would have only helped around the margins. But maybe they also would have prevented a bit of hopelessness from setting in, before it was too late.
by Jacob Brogan @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:53:47 PDT 2017
We’ve all lived through the necessary indignity of passing through airport security. Especially when the queue moves slowly, the process leaves you replaying familiar worries. Do I still have to take off my shoes? Should I pull out my laptop? Are my toiletries small enough to escape notice? When you pass through with a medical device, however, the list of questions is longer and the answers more frustratingly predictable. Yes, you’ll waste still more time as the agents scrutinize every aspect of your equipment. Yes, before the experience is done, one of them will touch your groin. Yes, you are being singled out for something that already makes you feel terrible—physically and emotionally—almost every day. If you’re lucky, you still make it to your gate in time.
In my case, the trouble starts with two medical devices that are always attached to my body to treat my diabetes: a wireless insulin pump, which I typically wear on my upper arm, and a constant glucose monitor that adheres to my stomach. Removing either would require me to apply a new module, which is both expensive and time-consuming. And though neither device is especially large, they announce themselves loudly on full-body scans: bright blots of light against the murky gray of my digitally rendered frame.
Each time they show up—and they always do—the next steps are the same. Officers pull me aside and pat me down. Somewhere along the way, they test my fingers for explosives. Inevitably, I’m all but compelled to explain my condition, telling the agents what I’m wearing and why, even as other travelers stream by.
Where devices like mine are designed to make my life easier, allowing me to live without fear of my disease, here they become objects of near-performative skepticism. For a few minutes, I become a sort of showpiece, a dramaturgical prop in the Transportation Security Administration’s ongoing work of security theater. In the moment, it’s hard not to feel that the TSA counts on such screening opportunities, if only because they allow the agents to show everyone else in line just how thorough they are.
Perhaps that’s unfair to officers who are, after all, simply doing an important job. While the agency does a great deal to accommodate those with medical conditions (individuals with disabilities don’t need to remove their shoes, for example), its information pages also clarify that any and all medical equipment may receive further screening. In other words, they’ll do their best to ensure you make it through safely, but they’re almost always going to look at you more closely than they would at another passenger.
This can be frustrating in the moment, but it’s not just those of us who repeatedly receive extra scrutiny who have concerns. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which researches civil liberties and privacy issues, has argued that that the full-body scanning technology currently in use across the United States is unnecessarily invasive in ways that go beyond the basic imaging process. As the organization put it in a recent petition to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, that’s partly because that system “heighten[s] the burden of disclosure for persons who rely on certain life-sustaining medical devices.”
In May, the court brushed off EPIC’s petition, writing that the issues “do not warrant a published opinion.” Jeramie Scott, director of EPIC’s Domestic Surveillance Project, told me that conclusion was frustrating. In particular, he told me, the court seems to have overlooked or otherwise discounted the pressures that the screening process can put on people with medical conditions to reveal information about their well-being.
Do TSA agents know how to sensitively move travelers like me through security? According to Supriya Raman, a manager in the TSA’s disability office, security screening officers undergo training that addresses both disabilities and medical conditions and devices associated with them. Raman’s office also circulates updates when it learns about new medical technologies as they make their way to the market, attempting to help the agency’s officers recognize devices that might pass through their checkpoints. In my own experience, at least, that training doesn’t seem to have stuck: Though my pump and monitor are both relatively common, few security officers recognize them.
TSA representatives also stress that passengers have the right to request a private screening. The agency even makes cards that travelers can hand to an officer, an approach that can, at least in theory, spare them the uncomfortable experience of declaring a medical condition aloud. But even that process requires that the traveler be publicly taken aside, which may amplify shame or other unpleasant feelings associated with a medical condition. And merely making the request still entails conveying potentially sensitive information to strangers about the private particulars of one’s health, something I, for one, am often loathe to do, even when the circumstances are stress-free.
For all that, these protocols do evince a real desire to ease the burden on travelers. The agency even advertises a passenger support helpline through which concerned travelers can prearrange to have a specialist meet them at a checkpoint, leading them through the process in a way that better accommodates individual needs. While this service is likely critical for many—especially those with mobility impairments—it still requires substantial effort on the traveler’s own part, effort that can only distract from the constant work of medical self-care. And as with other forms of enhanced screening, this process also still leaves the TSA dedicating considerable time and energy to the investigation of innocuous conditions.
TSA spokesman Mike England proposes that the situation is largely unavoidable, at least for now. “The technology we have can tell that something is there, but it can’t tell the difference between, say, a hip replacement or something dangerous,” he says. “We have no choice but to conduct further screening.”
As England and Raman told me, the TSA is working with “industry partners” to allay that situation. To that end, Raman said, the agency hopes to develop a process that would allow “a broader range of individuals to be screened without having to go through secondary screening.” What such a process might entail, and how it might work, remains unclear. It also seems entirely possible that a system capable of clearly distinguishing between medical devices and more threatening objects would raise new privacy concerns.
EPIC suggests that such innovations might not even be warranted. In its brief to the appeals court, the organization writes that a combination of metal detectors and already-available explosive trace detection devices could effectively assess threats without singling out travelers with medical conditions or disabilities. “All things being equal, TSA should have chosen the less privacy-invasive route. The bomb trace equipment is designed to detect the threat for which we have screening in the first place,” Scott told me.
Ultimately, England may be right about the inevitability of additional screenings targeting individuals with medical devices—an inevitability that speaks to the paradox that devices like mine present. When I first received my diagnosis, I did what I could with the options that were available, carrying around fragile insulin vials and sheaths of needles with me everywhere I went. Later, I upgraded to self-contained pens and eventually to the cybernetic attachments I now wear.
While each of those upgrades has made it a little easier to manage my disease, they also bring complications of their own, forcing me to reshape my days around their particulars. New technologies—medical and otherwise—never enhance our lives without transforming them. On occasion, I’ve had to rush home from the office because my pump failed and I didn’t have a replacement in my bag—something that never happened with the old needle method. In other circumstances, I’ve been woken in the middle of the night because my phone was shrieking about a mis-calibrated blood sugar reading. These devices keep me healthy, but they also do as much to manage me as I do to manage them.
It’s hard to grasp the burden of such experiences until you’ve lived with them. And though I spend a great deal of my time trying to forget it, passing through the already liminal space of a security checkpoint only serves to drive the experience home. Much as I appreciate the TSA’s efforts, I worry that its attempt to develop new screening methodologies will bring new irritations, redirecting our time with the agency in as yet unthought ways. For now, at least, I will have to continue resigning myself to the frustrations of enhanced screening every time I fly, as will others who live with chronic conditions.
Yeah, that’s not how body positivity works.
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Tue Jul 18 15:43:16 PDT 2017
IKEA UK’s latest advertising campaign features Lion Man, a symbol of the importance of relaxing and recharging in one’s living room so we can go on to do great things. Based on the fact that lions spend up to 18 hours a day at rest, the campaign follows the story of a Lion Man as […]
by Annie Waldman @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 19 02:50:00 PDT 2017
This story was co-published with ProPublica.
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This past June, Florida’s top education agency delivered a failing grade to the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy in suburban Jacksonville for the second year in a row. It designated the charter school for kindergarten through fifth grade as the worst public school in Clay County and one of the lowest performing in the state.
Two-thirds of the academy’s students failed the state exams last year, and only one-third of them were making any academic progress at all. The school had four principals in three years, and teacher turnover was high, too.
“My fourth-grader was learning stuff that my second-grader was learning—it shouldn’t be that way,” said Tanya Bullard, who moved her three daughters from the arts academy this past summer to a traditional public school. “The school has completely failed me and my children.”
The district terminated the academy’s charter contract. Surprisingly, Orange Park didn’t shut down—and even found a way to stay on the public dime. It reopened last month as a private school charging $5,000 a year, below the $5,886 maximum that low-income students receive to attend the school of their choice under a state voucher program. Academy officials expect all of its students to pay tuition with the publicly backed coupons.
The Rev. Alesia Ford-Burse, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor who founded the academy, told ProPublica that the school deserves a second chance because families love its dance and art lessons, which they otherwise couldn’t afford. “Kids are saying, ‘F or not, we’re staying,’ ” she said.
* * *
While it’s widely known that private schools convert to charter status to take advantage of public dollars, more schools are now heading in the opposite direction. As voucher programs across the country proliferate, shuttered charter schools like the Orange Park Performance Arts Academy have begun to privatize in order to stay open with state assistance.
A ProPublica nationwide review found that at least 16 failing or struggling charter schools in five states—Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Georgia—have gone private with the help of publicly funded voucher programs, including 13 since 2010. Four of them specialize in the arts, including Orange Park, and five serve students with special needs.
“The voucher just is a pass through in order to provide additional funding for private schools to thrive and to continue to work,” said Addison Davis, superintendent of schools in Clay County. Changing a school’s status “isn’t going to stop the process where we continue to see kids who are declining academically and not being able to demonstrate mastery and proficiency.”
Two key factors underlie these conversions. The number of voucher and voucher-like programs across the country has more than tripled over the past decade from 16 to 53. And charter schools, which became popular as a way to spur educational innovation with reduced regulation, have increasingly faced more stringent oversight. Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform and a longtime supporter of charter schools, lamented in a recent op-ed that increased government regulation is turning them into “bureaucratic, risk-averse organizations fixated on process over experimentation.”
“Why not just be a private school if the kids qualify for the scholarships?” said Christopher Norwood, a consultant for the Orange Park school, in an interview. “With 90 percent fewer regulations, schools can be independent and free, and just deal with the students.”
As private schools, the ex-charters are less accountable both to the government and the public. It can be nearly impossible to find out how well some of them are performing. About half of the voucher and voucher-like programs in the country require academic assessments of their students, but few states publish the complete test results or use that data to hold schools accountable.
While most states have provisions for closing low-quality charter schools, few, if any, have the power to shut down low-performing voucher schools.
“Public money is being handed out without oversight,” said Diane Ravitch, a New York University education historian and public schools advocate who served as assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush. “The fundamental voucher idea is that parents are choosing the schools and they know better than the state. If they want to send their kids to a snake-charming school, then that’s their choice.”
* * *
The type of voucher program that rescues failed charter schools like Orange Park in Florida may soon be replicated nationwide. Visiting a religious school in Miami last April, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praised the state’s approach as a possible model for a federal initiative.
Typically, voucher programs are directly funded with taxpayer dollars. Florida’s largest program pursues a different strategy. Its “tax-credit scholarships” are backed by donations from corporations. They contribute to nonprofit organizations which, in turn, distribute the money to the private schools. In exchange, the donors receive generous dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state. This subsidy indirectly shifts hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the state’s coffers to private schools. More than 100,000 students whose families meet the income eligibility requirements have received the tax-credit coupons this year.
Of the nearly 2,900 private schools in Florida, over 1,730 participated in the tax-credit voucher program during 2016–2017, according to the most recent state Department of Education data. On average, each school received about $300,000 last year.
While more than two-thirds of these schools are religious, the roundabout funding approach protects the vouchers against legal challenges that they violate the separation of church and state. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association, a teachers union, challenging the constitutionality of the voucher program.
In an education budget proposal from May, DeVos detailed her voucher plans, pitching a $250 million plan to study and expand individual state initiatives. She has since suggested that the administration may also create a federal tax-credit voucher scheme through an impending tax overhaul.
School choice advocates like DeVos have long contended that vouchers improve educational opportunities for low-income families. They reason that competition raises school quality and that parents, given more options, will select the best school for their children.
A growing body of research, though, casts doubt on this argument. It shows voucher-backed students may not be performing better than their public school counterparts—and may do worse.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study compared students who attended private schools with vouchers in Washington, D.C., from 2012 through 2014 with those who qualified for the program but were turned down due to a lack of available slots. The private schoolers performed significantly worse than their public school peers in math and no better in reading.
According to a February 2017 analysis by Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University education professor, most studies of voucher programs over the past quarter-century found little evidence that students who receive the coupons perform better than their public school peers.
The lack of evidence on the benefits of vouchers, Carnoy wrote, “suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs.”
* * *
Across the Florida panhandle from Orange Park, another troubled charter school for the arts has reinvented itself as a voucher-funded private school.
“Every month they came before the board and there was a problem,” said Jeff Bergosh, a school board member at the time, adding that he supports school choice. “They tried to make it work, but they didn’t. There were serious issues that jeopardized student safety, like sanitation issues and not having supervision [for the students].”
After Dixon received two failing grades from the state—which triggers termination of a school’s charter under Florida rules—the Rev. Lutimothy May, a Baptist pastor who chaired its board, appealed to state education authorities. They allowed the school to operate for at least one more year, but he began to seek other options.
Around the same time, a local beverage distributor, David Bear of the Lewis Bear Company, told May that he was considering contributing to the state tax-credit program. If the Dixon school privatized, Bear told May, donations could help save it. In 2013, May turned the charter, which had recently been renamed the Dixon School of the Arts, into a private Christian arts academy located inside his church. Nearly all current students at Dixon receive the tax-credit vouchers, bringing the school more than $500,000 a year, according to the most recent data from the state’s department of education.
“Our goal is still the same,” but the conversion has “untied some of the strings on education,” May said.
* * *
Some of the untied “strings” to which May referred were state educational requirements. By converting from a charter to private status, Dixon and other schools largely shield themselves from accountability.
For instance, while Florida requires all private schools to test students who receive vouchers, the schools face no consequences for weak academic performance. The University of Florida publishes an annual report analyzing the test scores of students that receive vouchers, but data from only a small fraction of the schools is made public. The report excludes many schools that don’t have test results for enough students in consecutive years.
The latest report released the academic performance of only 198 schools in 2014–15, out of the more than 1,500 schools that that enrolled voucher-funded students that year. Most Florida families that receive vouchers do not have access to test data on their schools. The Dixon data was not published. Dixon’s principal, Donna Curry, maintained that the school has improved since its conversion from charter status but declined to provide exam results to ProPublica, saying they were “for internal use.”
Curry added that state test results are not necessarily reflective of student success. “I will not accept the fact that our children are not learning because they are not normalized on the state test,” she said. Her staff “knows more than what the test evaluates.”
The state also has little control over how private voucher-funded schools foster learning. There are no requirements on curriculum or teacher certification other than the criminal background checks that are required for personnel at all private schools.
Because Dixon receives more than $250,000 in voucher money, it does have to file a financial accountability report. Only about 40 percent of all voucher-funded schools met this threshold to undergo such an audit in 2016. The reports, including Dixon’s, aren’t publicly posted.
Even an official at Step Up For Students, the largest nonprofit distributor of voucher money to Florida’s private schools, acknowledges the need for closer supervision of educational quality. “As the program matures, and more students are enrolled, and as inevitably we see some schools continue to have what most people would consider to be poor performance year-in and year-out, we will be having more and more discussions about whether there should be some kind of regulatory accountability mechanisms to respond to that,” said Ron Matus, the organization’s director of policy and public affairs.
* * *
Indiana’s largest voucher program, unlike Florida’s, is directly backed by taxpayer dollars and has stricter accountability requirements. A private school that accepts vouchers can be sanctioned if its performance dips low enough. Last year, 10 schools lost their access to new vouchers, according to Adam Baker, the spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.
The tighter supervision, though, didn’t deter Padua Academy in Indianapolis. Originally a private Catholic school, Padua had become a “purely secular“ charter in 2010 under an unusual arrangement between the local archdiocese and the mayor’s office. The school initially performed well, but soon sank from a solid A-rating to two consecutive F-ratings.
“These performance issues sounded alarm bells at the mayor’s office,” said Brandon Brown, who led the mayor’s charter office at the time. Leadership issues with the school’s board and at the archdiocese, he added, caused the school to falter. After receiving $702,000 from a federal program that provided seed money for new charter schools, the school’s board relinquished its charter.
In the meantime, Indiana had established a voucher program. So, instead of shutting down, the school rebranded itself as St. Anthony Catholic School, nailing its crucifixes back onto the walls and bringing the Bible back into the curriculum. Last year, more than 80 percent of its students were on vouchers, from which the school garnered at least $1.2 million.
Its academic performance has improved but still lags behind the state average. Only 25 percent of St. Anthony students passed both math and reading assessments this year, versus about half of all publicly funded students on average at both private and public schools, according to the state’s education data from 2017. Last year, the state gave St. Anthony a “C” grade.
Gina Fleming, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said through a spokesman that “significant staff turnover” at St. Anthony’s “made for a difficult start these past two years.” As a result, the archdiocese “has been studying ways in which we can recruit, retain, and reward high-quality teachers and leaders.” It has also “made shifts in scheduling, resources, diagnostic analyses and personnel to better accommodate the learning needs of our students.”
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, two other charter schools went private. Both Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway were associated with a national for-profit charter chain, Imagine Schools, which has been under scrutiny elsewhere. In 2012, the Missouri Board of Education shut down all six Imagine charter schools in St. Louis for financial and academic woes. In response to such setbacks, Imagine Schools has moved toward “an even deeper commitment to increasing the consistency of our network-wide performance,” said Rhonda Cagle, a spokeswoman for the chain.
The two Fort Wayne schools performed well initially, but by the time their charters were up for renewal, they had some of the worst test results in the area, said Robert Marra, executive director of the charter office at Ball State University, which was responsible for the schools’ oversight. ImagineMASTer received a “D” grade, and Imagine Schools on Broadway an “F,” from the state in 2013.
The data for the two schools “showed clear room for improvement but indicated consistent growth,” Cagle told ProPublica.
In 2013, Imagine merged its two failing charters with a local parochial school, Horizon Christian Academy. Since then, the Christian academy’s enrollment has soared from 23 students to 492. About 430 students paid their tuition with the help of state vouchers last year, totaling about $2.4 million in public funds.
While some of Imagine’s students and staff have stayed on, Cagle said that Imagine has no involvement in the merged academy other than owning the building.
“We could have allowed the buildings to just be empty, but we felt like if there was an interest by another entity for the purposes of education, that would be doing the right thing,” she said. Imagine “does not utilize vouchers for any of our schools,” she added.
Academically, Horizon Christian is far below average. Only 7 percent of its students passed both state exams this year, according to state data. One of its campuses received a “D” grade last year, and its other two campuses failed. The academy did not respond to questions.
“Low-performing operators in Indiana and elsewhere have skirted accountability by converting their charter schools to private schools either right before or right after a charter revocation or nonrenewal,” said Brown, the former Indianapolis official. “I can say unequivocally that any attempt to keep a low-performing school open by evading rigorous accountability is not good for students, families, or the broader school choice movement.”
* * *
As it awaits its first infusion of voucher funds later this month, the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy is strapped. The district has repossessed most of the former charter school’s instructional supplies, including 200 Chromebooks, 34 laptops, 27 iPads, and hundreds of textbooks. The arts—the school’s core mission—have been cleaned out: 10 easels, nine digital pianos, eight heartwood djembes, and four conga drums, all gone. Once lined with silver bleachers, the walls of the cavernous gym are now bare.
Many children have left, too. While the school had about 170 students last year, only 94 enrolled this fall. At least one-quarter are kindergarteners who didn’t attend the charter school. Tanya Bullard, who pulled her three daughters out of Orange Park, predicted it would slide further as a private school because there will be “no one to keep an eye on it and issues will be swept under the rug.”
The school’s new principal, Kelly Kenney, isn’t deterred. She said that she has already made significant strides to separate the school from its failed days as a charter. Most of the teachers and administrators are new hires, although half of the teachers are uncertified. Kenney plans to get the school accredited and strengthen the board of directors. “It can’t be a board of friends,” she said. She has been working with each teacher individually to raise standards and improve curriculum.
“Most people would have been defeated,” Kenney said. “Sometimes when you’re knocked down the hardest, you come back the hardest. And so for parents that have been skeptical, I’m like ‘This will be the best year of education your child will ever have. We’re going to be looking at every detail of their progress, every detail of their learning gap to make sure that we’re closing it.’ ”
Even though it’s not required, Kenney intends to publish her students’ performance data on the school’s website. “It’s important for us to show how we did compared to last year,” she said.
To recruit students this past summer, Kenney went door-to-door in nearby apartment complexes, hosting information sessions in laundry rooms. Believing that they couldn’t afford a private school, many families were reluctant to send their children to Orange Park—until Kenney told them about vouchers. For weeks, she and her staff have worked around the clock to sign up all the students in the voucher program, even helping them organize, fill out, and fax in the necessary paperwork.
Bria Joyce is a loyalist. When her son started kindergarten at the local public school, she says he was “bumping heads” with classmates and she worried that he wasn’t receiving enough attention from teachers. She transferred him to the Orange Park charter school where he took piano lessons and played Grandpa Joe in a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
When Joyce heard that the school was converting to a private school, she was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to afford the tuition. But the school reached out to her immediately and walked Joyce through the voucher process. Now Joyce’s son is starting fourth grade there.
“They were prepared and made it as easy as they could, considering everything,” she said. “I believe in what they’re trying to get done.”
Jeff Sessions Says Dreamers Are Stealing American Jobs. The Government’s Own Numbers Show That’s Absurd.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Wed Sep 13 05:30:29 PDT 2017
On Tuesday, the labor department came out with its latest figures on job openings in the U.S. At the end of July, there were a record 6.17 million open positions, up from 5.97 million at the end of July 2016. It is ironic that this measure of employers’ inability to fill posts came out exactly a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the alleged scarcity of jobs to justify rescinding the protection afforded to the 800,000 Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who arrived here as small children, who the government has allowed to remain and work here. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was bad, he said, because “it also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
Sessions betrayed not only a cruel, zero-sum view of the economy but a shocking misunderstanding of the current job market. Today, in the 99th month of the current expansion, at a time when the unemployment rate is 4.4 percent and the economy has added payroll jobs for 83 straight months, there are a bunch of reasons why you might be unemployed. DACA is almost certainly not one of them.
It’s possible that a worker overseas took your job because your company decided your position could be done more cheaply somewhere else—say, in Mexico or China.
It’s possible that a robot or a string of code operating in the U.S. took your job, as is happening at some warehouses and fast-food restaurants.
It’s possible that norms, laws, and regulations stand in the way of you getting a job. For example, most companies ask prospective applicants whether they have been convicted of crimes—and many have formal or informal policies of not offering positions to ex-cons. In addition, per the Council of State Governments, “The American Bar Association has documented 27,254 state occupational licensing restrictions nationwide for people with a criminal record.” For a host of reasons, many companies ask prospective employees to take drug tests. Due to the continuing opioid crisis, a rising number of people are effectively excluded from the labor force. The CEO of a manufacturer in Ohio in July told Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times that a quarter of applicants fail drug tests—and hence are ineligible to be hired.
It’s possible that you are what might be called geographically unemployed—i.e., you live in a place where there aren’t many opportunities (like Rome, Georgia, where the unemployment rate is 6.3 percent) but don’t have the means, ability, or desire to move to a place where jobs are more plentiful (like Fort Collins, Colorado, where the unemployment rate is 2.1 percent).
It’s possible you might not have the skills or training to find a job. To hear industry tell it, America is suffering from shortages in a range of disciplines that require specialized training or education. There’s a shortage of nurses, qualified insurance inspectors, truck drivers, and teachers, for example.
It’s possible that you might be unemployed because employers lack the ability or desire to employ you—that is to say, they’re unwilling to offer wages, conditions, or working hours that make it sufficiently attractive or compelling enough for you to accept an offer.
Each of the phenomena I’ve described is real. Each contributes to the problem of unemployment and underemployment in the U.S. Do immigrants (documented and undocumented), new labor force entrants, college graduates, mothers returning to work, old people unretiring, people leaving the military and entering civilian life compete for you to get a specific job? For sure. Is it possible that you are not working at a particular position today because someone—possibly a Dreamer—was hired for a particular position instead of you? Yes.
But their presence alone isn’t denying you a job. The 800,000 Dreamers are a tiny drop in the overall labor bucket in the United States. Every large company that has hired Dreamers has dozens, if not hundreds, of openings it is trying to fill. It is mathematically and physically impossible for the 800,000 Dreamers to displace a large number of American workers at a time when unemployment is 4.3 percent and companies are seeking to fill 6.2 million jobs.
So if Dreamers aren’t stealing jobs, Sessions must have some other reason to want them gone from this country. What ever could it be?
by Michele Miller @ Business-Building Principles for Main Street Business Owners
Thu Jun 14 05:00:57 PDT 2012
Last time we took a look at how your Cost of Occupancy should be included as part of your marketing and advertising budget. Are you still wondering exactly how to figure out what your ad budget should be? Here’s an easy, three-step process for determining your ad budget: 1) Budget between 10 and 12 […]
by Sarah Carr @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 22 02:50:00 PDT 2017
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
Leigh epitomizes the underemployed. The 39-year-old has a master’s degree in library science from a top-ranked school, years of experience working the circulation desk in a Boston library, and an IQ of 145. He is reliable and considerate, and he works hard.
Yet for the past eight years, since he lost his salaried Boston library job due to austerity measures, the only permanent job Leigh has landed is at the T.J. Maxx near his mother’s home on Cape Cod. He works part time dusting, vacuuming, and washing the mirrors, and he is paid the minimum wage, $11 an hour. Over the past few years, Leigh has applied for dozens of library positions. Every one has turned him down, most without an interview.
What’s held him back? The library business is contracting, not expanding, and full-time employment is hard to come by, of course. But Leigh, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his family’s privacy, faces an additional hurdle: He has a mild form of autism, a condition that used to be labeled “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” and is distinct from both autism and Asperger’s.
Autistic adults may very well be the most disadvantaged disability group in the American workplace. Only 14 percent of adults with autism held paid jobs in their communities, according to one May report from Drexel University’s Autism Institute (the report looked just at those who had received state developmental disabilities services). Yet a pathetic 2 percent of all autism research funding goes to understanding adulthood and aging, according to a 2017 report from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, based on 2015 numbers. While most research is focused on figuring out how to prevent or treat autism disorders when they are first diagnosed at young ages, we also have to remember that this work has not yet materialized as a solution for the more than 3.5 million Americans living with autism. “It’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that there’s been growing recognition of the fact that children grow up to be adults,” says Susan Daniels, executive secretary of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. As Leigh’s story demonstrates, autistic adults have their own needs—needs that we as a society are just figuring out how to fill.
* * *
For Leigh, autism has complicated the job search on a number of fronts: He takes most everything literally, so when a job listing requires only a bachelor’s degree, he neglects to mention his master’s degree on his résumé. He lacks the networking skills and friend base that could provide personal connections and social introductions to potential employers. And in interviews, he invariably presents as quirky, which can be off-putting for those less familiar with folks “on the spectrum.” When asked last year during one library interview how well he would do managing a small team of volunteers, Leigh replied, “Not very well. I can be tyrannical.” He did not get the job.
“I’m at a precipice,” Leigh says. “I’m so high-functioning that I don’t really register as disabled, but I’m not high-functioning enough that I can easily utilize anything social.”
When Leigh was 2 years old, his mother, Carole, noticed that her son behaved differently. He didn’t make eye contact or talk (a delay the family pediatrician implied was the mother’s fault, instructing her “to repeat until he gets it”).
Leigh clearly absorbed information and communicated in his own way, however. Carole recalls one day when Leigh, a toddler, climbed into the cabinet and started banging pots and pans. Over and over again, she cried at her son to quit the banging and put the pots down. “It was like I wasn’t there,” she says. Desperate, she finally wrote “stop” on a piece of paper and held it in front of Leigh’s face. He immediately paused. “It’s like the channels are different,” she said. “We weren’t always sure he heard or understood us.”
Leigh was teased sometimes during his years in the Nauset public schools on Cape Cod, where he took mostly honors classes and had a small group of friends—his “Faction,” he called them—who looked out for him. I was Leigh’s classmate during middle and high school and took many of those honors classes with him. I mostly remember his love for the Moody Blues’ music, as well as the rapport he developed with a few select teachers and classmates, and how grounded it was in a mutual respect for heart and mind (more grounded, I would argue, than the vast majority of teenage friendships). Leigh would regularly rise and salute our English teacher; he engaged in intellectual banter with our biology and chemistry teacher; he routinely addresses people using terms like “me lady,” “fare thee well,” or with a salute and bow. The Moody Blues (of course) quote he chose for his senior class yearbook: “Why do we never get an answer when we’re knocking at the door.”
“He had an utter respect for the people who were his friends or were kind to him, and it came out in his behaving like a knight,” recalls Amanda Sevak, one of his longtime friends and a member of his Faction.
Leigh still tries to come to the rescue: One day a few years ago, Sevak reached out to Leigh with an urgent question. She was chaperoning a field trip for her twin grade-school daughters’ class, and an autistic classmate was having a meltdown. He had cut himself but refused to wear a bandage.
Leigh calmly explained that they should tell the boy that the “strange sensation of the adhesive” would be preferable to the pain of getting an infection from air exposure. Sevak quickly relayed the message to the child. It connected with the child in a way that other pleas had not.
Although Leigh strikes most strangers as very serious, those who know him well often glimpse his humorous side. His mother recalls one time when he brought a video to his special education class featuring Victor Borge, a comedian and musician who pronounces different phonetic sounds when reading punctuation marks. It was one of his favorite clips, yet the screening still made Leigh laugh so uproariously he fell off his chair. And when the senior class decided to pelt water balloons at one another to celebrate graduation, everyone assumed Leigh would take a pass. Instead he showed up with a tin man–style container filled with water and gleefully sprayed his classmates.
When he graduated from high school, Leigh knew he wanted to pursue a career. And I don’t think anyone who knew him in high school would have questioned his capacity to succeed in a profession, at least one that didn’t require great social ease and self-possession: He had thrived in classes that were intellectually challenging and managed to find a kind of niche. He attended Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences for two years before questioning whether he could handle the patient counseling required of pharmacists. “Given my troubles with socialization, I was a bit leery,” he said.
So he switched to the library track, earning a master’s degree in library science from Simmons College. Over 12 years, he worked his way up from volunteer to full-time employee at a Boston public library branch, where he discovered that he was capable of interacting with patrons while manning the circulation desk. He lived by himself and enjoyed the independence and solitude. Unlike the more rural Cape Cod, Boston was a good city for him since he could easily navigate on foot and public transportation (he does not drive).
In 2010, Leigh’s quiet life was upended when he lost his job due to austerity measures across the city’s library system. Within a year, he moved back home to the Cape to live with his mother and look for work from there (his father died in late 2008).
The job search was unending. At first, Leigh sought out only library jobs. He estimates that he submitted resumes for 20 to 30 open positions scattered across New England—to no avail.
When he asked for advice, he sometimes ran up against job stereotyping, Leigh says. People suggest computer coding to him all the time, since many people with mild autism are detail-oriented and adept at solitary work (a new startup called Coding Autism aims to train people on the spectrum for technology jobs). “People look at my autism and assume I like coding,” Leigh says, adding an exuberant, “Not here!”
Instead, Leigh has two great passions: books and birds. He craves a job that is intellectually engaging and relates to at least one of those areas. Yet most of the jobs available for those with disabilities on the Cape are more menial in nature, like his T.J. Maxx position. “There are jobs for more severely disabled people” but not ones set aside for people with more modest challenges, Leigh says. “People with mild disabilities like my own don’t register on anyone’s radar.”
In addition to the T.J. Maxx job, Leigh eventually began volunteering at a Cape library and for an organization called Wild Care, where he feeds baby birds. He broadened his search from library work to any clerical position. He also met with a counselor through a state-sponsored vocational rehabilitation program, but for years his job search produced few interviews—and no jobs.
In early 2016, however, Leigh’s job search seemed to turn a corner when he connected with Cape Abilities, a local organization that provides a range of support and job placement services for people with disabilities. Leigh’s first counselor there, Peggy Boskey, was determined to find him a job that made better use of his mind. They began corresponding regularly and meeting every other week, working on résumés, interview strategies, and more. Given Leigh’s extensive education and experience, as well as his formidable intellect, Boskey assumed it would only take a few months to find him something more stimulating than janitorial work.
* * *
Employment rates for autistic adults are abysmal in both absolute and relative terms—they’re lower than those for just about any other disability type studied. Drexel’s Autism Institute found that 58 percent of young adults on the spectrum worked at some point in the years after high school, compared with 74 percent of those with an intellectual disability and 91 percent of those with an emotional disturbance. “People with autism tend to flounder more,” said Anne Roux, a research scientist at the Autism Institute who worked on the study.
Some employers and social service agencies have started trying to make inroads on the problem. A couple major businesses like Microsoft and PetSmart have prioritized hiring and supporting autistic employees. Microsoft, for instance, did away with its traditional interview process for applicants on the spectrum, instead inviting them to come and spend several days on site so they could be observed while working on projects.
And in many places, including Leigh’s home state of Massachusetts, adults with autism qualify for more state-sponsored job training and support than they did just a few years ago. A 2014 state law expanded the number of people on the spectrum who are eligible for help from the state’s Department of Developmental Services for services like job coaching (previously it was more difficult for those with IQs above 70 to qualify). More than 1,300 people have been newly deemed eligible for services as a result of this change.
Among the lessons learned: The autistic population is unfathomably diverse, in terms of skills, interests, and aptitudes. That means there is no easy, one-size-fits-all accommodation that employers can make and no single occupation that could be targeted as a solution for people on the spectrum. Some have severe cognitive or intellectual impairments; others, like Leigh, have sky-high IQs. Some possess little to no verbal skills; others can communicate with much greater fluency. Some are more socially aggressive than the average person; others are more withdrawn.
“The abilities of people with autism are just as diverse—maybe even more diverse than other people,” said Denise Resnik, a founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center who has a 26-year-old son with autism. That means the outreach to potential employers needs to be both broader (encompassing a larger range of job types) and more concrete (making clearer the potential needs and accommodations of autistic workers). It isn’t enough to create thousands of new positions for computer coders with autism spectrum disorders because thousands of others, including Leigh, won’t go that route. Technology jobs might be higher level and better paid, but Leigh says he can’t wrap his head around HTML and doesn’t enjoy coding-related work.
Resnik, as well as some employers, agree that once an autistic worker lands a suitable job, he or she usually excels. “I’ve heard over and over that they tend to be the first to arrive, the last to leave, the hardest workers, and people who bring out the best in their co-workers,” said Resnik. For people on the spectrum, work tends to be the main priority in their lives, rather than competing against social and other interests, Resnik added.
That said, part of the employer outreach component is educating potential bosses about unique needs of employees with autism. Phil Francis, the former CEO of PetSmart, said he’s found it more challenging, on average, for workers on the spectrum to follow multistep, complicated instructions; he tells their supervisors to break it down or assign more discrete tasks. “They are different in some respects, but many of the differences are highly positive,” he says.
The biggest hurdle in many instances seems to be helping them get to the point of being employees. That might require changing interview processes, where autistic individuals typically flounder—perhaps by allowing a counselor to sit in, ensuring that someone familiar with autism conducts the interview, or adopting Microsoft’s “interview-less” approach. Julie Urda, another of Leigh’s counselors at Cape Abilities, says people on the spectrum typically “don’t get nuance or body language or social convention,” yet interviewers often rigidly assess them on those traits.
Workers who are autistic often require at least some minimal level of ongoing job support, a person who can serve as intermediary if conflicts or confusion arise over their role or conduct. Leigh’s mother, Carole, says she feels like people with autism would benefit tremendously from job coaches who they can check in with, even if only for five minutes on the phone each week. “Someone who is readily available and can step in before misunderstandings get too big,” she says, noting that people with the disorder often struggle to “read” other people, as much as they may want to.
Leigh had volunteered as a docent at one wildlife organization but stopped because he struggled to know when to approach people and when to hang back. Yet he possesses his own form of empathy, and genuinely wants other people to feel at ease around him. Said his mother: “He’s very uncomfortable about making other people uncomfortable.”
* * *
Despite the increased awareness, the problem, as always, is how to scale up solutions in a country where the national conversation surrounding autism is so focused on young children and where we know so little about what drives macrolevel trends and outcomes for autistic adults. Our knowledge is patchy and anecdotal rather than systemic and informed by data. That’s partly because it’s “less sexy and more difficult” to study adulthood than to do research on “brains and genes”—the two topics that receive the lion’s share of the funding, said Roux. There’s a lot hype around prevention and finding a “cure” and very little around helping adults thrive.
“The consequence is a stagnation to the quality of life of people who are already with us … it’s hard to improve outcomes because we don’t know enough,” said Roux. Daniels from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee says she envisions this changing in the coming years, as the National Institutes of Health and other groups have started new programs that fund projects aimed at helping adolescents transition to adulthood or support adults on the spectrum with independent living.
Better and more widespread research could help us pinpoint the unique needs of autistic adults; the most effective ways of supporting them in finding, and keeping, jobs; and the states that are doing the best at providing services. We don’t even know exactly how many adults on the spectrum live in the United States, said Roux.
We also don’t know how severity of the disorder impacts employment prospects. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the highest-functioning people on the spectrum can be particularly hard to place in jobs since they can, and want to, do more ambitious work than the menial roles so often assigned disabled workers in the American economy. Yet routine interactions rarely come easily, even for the most verbal of them.
It didn’t turn out to be as easy as Peggy Boskey had hoped last year to find Leigh a better job. On the tourism-dominated Cape, service industry jobs abound, but entry-level office positions are more elusive. And those that exist often have dozens of qualified applicants. Leigh came close to close to landing one library job but struggled with the interview. “If they have three people who are qualified, they are going to go with the one they feel most comfortable with,” Boskey said. Leigh wants more engaging work but also needs it. He is trying to complete the paperwork to qualify for disability payments, which he currently does not receive. His mother would like him to be as financially secure as possible, particularly when she dies. Leigh has no siblings or other close relatives to fill the void that she will someday leave. “I’m trying to set things up as best I can for him,” she says.
She says she finds it encouraging how many more life and career options people with disabilities have than they did a generation or two ago. “We’ve greatly expanded our definition of who can take part in humanity,” she says. But there’s still a huge distance to go.
In January, Leigh finally got a break when the Barnstable Housing Authority hired him for a temporary, part-time position doing general office work, including preparing spreadsheets and retrieving mailings. He dropped some of his hours at T.J. Maxx but continued the two volunteer positions in an effort to keep his options open. It wasn’t clear whether the housing authority job would continue past the summer.
His counselor Urda noted that the housing authority representative who interviewed and hired Leigh has autistic relatives, which made her more aware and accommodating throughout the process. That personal connection is not something people with autism—and in need of jobs—can usually count on.
Last month, Leigh learned that his job at the housing authority would conclude at the end of August, putting him back at square one.
Leigh’s mother says that in spite of the long search, and its many disappointments, her son has never complained about his limited professional options.
As a society, though, we should be concerned. Leigh’s story has many lessons. But, for me, two stand out: First, too little attention has been paid to the employment needs of those with mild disabilities, as a disproportionate share of the assistance, support, and set-asides (understandably) target those with the most severe needs. We shouldn’t stop supporting employees with the most intense challenges, but we need to be much more willing to make accommodations and develop new programs for less disabled workers like Leigh, rather than expecting them to seamlessly “blend in” or relegating them to narrow career tracks.
Beyond that, change requires not only greater awareness but concrete alterations to the hiring and employee-support processes. More employers need to figure out a way to understand the skills of people with autism. Microsoft’s model, developing a distinct interview process for applicants on the spectrum, is a good start. As the numbers of Americans with autism spectrum disorders continues to rise, it’s not just a matter of social justice but of national economic health. And, in Leigh’s case, we’re failing to make use of a unique and elegant mind that continues, more than 20 years later, to enrich the few people who have gotten to know him well, a mind that has much to offer the lives—and, hopefully, workplaces—of most anyone who gives him a chance.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 12 11:16:53 PDT 2017
Hurricane Irma arrived in Florida by tearing through the Keys, but it made its second landfall at Marco Island, a picture-perfect resort community with a five-mile white-sand beach just south of Naples. Each winter, Marco swells from about 17,000 people to more than 40,000 thanks to vacationers and southbound snowbirds. On Sunday morning, as the Gulf of Mexico rose around the island’s houses, Marco’s fate elicited far-flung cries of concern in the way that only a beloved beach town can.
Now, residents return to survey the damage. There is no power. No water. The Dolphin Tiki Bar & Grill is in ruins. Virtually all of Marco Island is in the FEMA flood zone; it is also threaded through with 91 miles of canals that abut nearly every house like the wires of a circuit board. It is a perfect symbol of how yesterday’s South Florida ambition is today’s vulnerability. And it is the kind of community where, once it has dried out, planners will have to ask: How should this place—always susceptible to hurricane damage, newly exposed to rising seas—be rebuilt?
Forty years ago, the consensus of the state and federal governments was that Marco Island should not have been built at all. The community was the setting for one of the biggest development controversies in the United States and nearly ruined one of Florida’s largest and most celebrated developers. In a region with a notorious building addiction, it became the site of the environmental movement’s greatest victory over the Florida growth machine. Ecological foresight halted millions of dollars in real estate development and all but ended an engineering technique that had turned the South Florida coast from swampland to resort.
“This may be the last major development to take place in Florida,” Florida Sierra Club lobbyist David Gluckman said in 1982, when Deltona, the developer of Marco, turned over its remaining holdings to the state of Florida as a nature preserve.
Of course, it wasn’t. Two thousand miles of levees and canals have transformed South Florida from a “barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula,” in the words of an American soldier who fought to conquer the place from the Seminole Indians in the 1830s, into a glittering mega-region of 8 million souls. It’s a real-life Joni Mitchell chorus where the joke, Dexter Filkins recalls, was that every new housing development was named for the ecosystem it vanquished. You better believe Marco Island has a Mangrove Court.
Still, Marco Island is a reminder that we’ve changed the way we build before, and could again.
When brothers Robert, Elliott, and Frank Mackle discovered Marco in the early 1960s, half of its 10 square miles consisted of mangrove swamps. Home to just a few hundred people and an abandoned clam factory, it was the single largest undeveloped barrier island property in South Florida.
“They had a vision,” says Mike Coleman, a resident and the author of a pair of books about Marco. “It was nothing but a mosquito-, alligator-infested swamp.”
The Mackles were among the most famous developers in South Florida, which is like saying someone is one of the best-known actors in Hollywood. Between General Development Corp. and Deltona, which they founded in 1962, the brothers were responsible for building 75,000 Floridians’ homes, including the communities of Port Charlotte, Port St. Lucie, Port Malabar, Deltona, Spring Hill, Citrus Springs, Marion Oaks, Sunny Hills, and Key Biscayne, where Richard Nixon later bought a home.
But Marco was bolder still. The plan called for 35,000 residential units, which would require displacing 18.2 million cubic yards of ground (more than 150,000 dump trucks’ worth), dredging the land into channels, and using the dredge to create development sites in the swamp. This method is common across South Florida; Cape Coral, a little to the north, is a good example. Still, at the time, Marco Island was the largest “finger-fill” waterfront housing project to ever come before the Army Corps of Engineers, Science reported in 1976.
Since each Army Corps permit lasted just three years, the brothers split the project into five phases. A sales campaign brought 25,000 people to Marco on “sponsored visits” for which Deltona footed the bill. By 1971, Deltona had sold 11,000 lots—most before they even existed. It was a literal version of the old Florida joke about land sold by the gallon. Marco’s appeal was sold on the back of the very land it would destroy. “Cast up close to the mangroves, grass beds, and oyster bars,” the brochures read. “That’s where the fish are.”
The environmental policy revolution of the late ’60s and early ’70s thwarted the Mackles’ plans. First, the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring biological impact studies for all dredge-and-fill projects. Second, the Army Corps agreed to consult with the secretary of the interior before approving permits for controversial projects. Third, the Army Corps denied a permit to fill in 11 acres of Boca Ciega Bay, near Tampa, to build a trailer park, in a closely watched case that was upheld in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And finally, in 1975, the Army Corps published a rule that wetlands should not be sacrificed for uses that were not either water-dependent (i.e., a dock) or required by the public interest.
The final phases of Marco Island—creating 4,000 lots on reclaimed land in Barfield Bay and Big Key—did not meet that standard, the corps ruled in 1975. Deltona sued, arguing the ruling constituted a taking of their property rights. After half a decade, its appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court, and the company ultimately agreed to a land trade with the state of Florida.
It took years for the Mackles to settle with the buyers of lots that were never built, costing the developers an inflation-adjusted quarter billion dollars. They had to sell their beloved beachfront hotel to Marriott and ultimately stopped building homes. The remaining Mackle family members sold the company to out-of-state investors in 1985 and left their roles there a few years later. East of developed Marco Island lie great swaths of mangroves, which in addition to their role in marine ecosystems are also excellent protectors from storm surges. If you can find one, a mangrove creek is still the best place to keep a small boat in a hurricane.
Florida, of course, did not stop building. Developers never lost control over state and local politics. “The problem is that the Florida economy is driven by real estate and tourism,” says Jeff Goodell, the author of The Water Will Come, a book about cities and rising sea levels. “There’s no sales tax, so these cities and counties are hugely dependent on property tax. The only way to raise money to pay for city services and defenses against flooding is by building more.”
Goodell pointed to Homestead, an Everglades boomtown south of Miami that was leveled by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Nearly 80 percent of its housing stock was damaged or destroyed. “The city was like a war zone. I served in the war in Korea so I know what one looks like,” the former City Councilman Nick Sincore told the Miami Herald recently. But the city bounced back:
Homestead leaders decided its future lay in encouraging a breakneck sprawl of residential, shopping-mall and commercial development on the potato fields and farms on the east side of U.S. 1 that had long supported the town’s economy. Before long, Homestead was one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
It remains one of the most vulnerable communities in the country to hurricane damage.
Meanwhile, as Marco Island recovers from the eyewall, the town must confront its exposure to both storms and rising seas. “Climate change is not always a popular term down in the Marco area,” says Austin Bell, the curator of the Marco Island Historical Society. “But it’s definitely something that needs to be looked at when planning the future of the city.” Freeboard requirements in Marco—how high in relation to the base flood elevation a flood-zone home must be built—are comparatively relaxed. Multimillion-dollar homes, each with a screened-in swimming pool, are perched just above the high tide.
And so Marco, the symbol of one generation’s environmental recklessness, finds itself in that role once more.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 05 12:08:07 PDT 2017
Canadians are apparently sick of competing with nonunionized foreign workers South of the border. According to the Globe & Mail, the country’s negotiating team is asking the United States to scrap its anti-union right-to-work laws as part of an updated North American Free Trade Agreement, presumably in order to prevent poorly paid Americans from undercutting organized Canadian labor on wages. Obviously, this is not what the Trump administration had in mind when it demanded our neighbors return to NAFTA’s negotiating table.
Right-to-work statutes allow employees to opt out of paying fees to the unions that represent them in collective bargaining. These laws are frequently blamed for draining organized labor of financial resources and have likely contributed to the decline of union organizing over the past several decades. States are permitted to enact the laws under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, a landmark piece of union-busting legislation that congressional Republicans passed over President Harry Truman’s veto. Canada, which like the U.S. is seeking to strengthen NAFTA’s labor protections overall, would reportedly appreciate it if Washington would pass new federal legislation banning right-to-work provisions.
“I’m very pleased with the position the Canadian government is taking on labour standards,” Jerry Dias, president of Canada’s largest private-sector union, told reporters outside of this weekend’s NAFTA talks. “Canada’s got two problems: The low wage rates in Mexico and the right-to-work states in the United States.”
To be clear, there is zero chance that a Republican White House would agree to do away with right-to-work laws as part of a trade deal. Breaking the power of organized labor is a key piece of the party’s long-term agenda, and relinquishing that goal in order to appease our lefty neighbors would cause an uproar among the GOP donor class. Canada almost surely knows this, and is staking out an extreme negotiating position in order to signal that it’s treating these talks seriously and is prepared to ask for major concessions.
It’s also an ironic way to throw the Trump administration’s protectionist rhetoric back in its face, which seems like part of the point.
Our president of course loves to complain about cheap foreign labor undercutting American factory workers. And now and then, he has a point. Mexico, for instance, more or less lacks independent labor unions, and partly as a result, wages there have barely risen over the past 15 years, even as auto manufacturing has flourished within the country’s industrializing north. For this reason, the fact that the original NAFTA lacked basic, enforceable labor standards cutting across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico is widely looked at as a mistake, which both the Trump administration and Canada are looking to rectify in the current renegotiations. The Trump administration’s official NAFTA wish list includes enshrining the “Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” among all three countries.
But Canada’s right-to-work jab is a reminder that, for all our talk of raising the rest of the world to our own labor standards, America’s record on workers’ rights isn’t exactly pristine, and that much of the developed world may see a nonunion factory in Alabama much the way we see car plants in San Luis Potosi. In other words, we’re not always the ones being taken advantage of.
by Prashant Sinha @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:54:20 PDT 2017
If your skin is brown and you spend as much time going through security in American airports as I do, you’re likely to eventually lose your cool. For me, it happened in customs coming into one of New York’s airports, on the tail end of a work trip I took last year to India.
Exhausted, I was looking forward to clearing the line and catching the final leg of my trip back to the Bay Area, where I live. My colleague, also brown, cleared the line. As I thought I was about to follow her, a Customs and Border Protection agent looked at me and directed me to the “special screening” line. There, I knew, agents would open my bags one by one and give me a pat-down.
Without thinking, I snapped back at the officer: “This happens to me every single time I come back through customs, and no one else. Is this racially motivated?”
The officer was thrown. “Uh, no not that I know of,” he said. “We just picked you randomly.” But this wasn’t the first time I’ve been taken out of the line. It had already happened to me in customs that January, and I was singled out for an extra security screening entering the Seattle airport on another trip—meaning an extra pat-down, followed by agents rifling through and messing up my bags. I’ve been “randomly” pulled out of line returning to SFO, my own airport. On a trip in July 2015, I was coming back from a vacation in Amsterdam. As I walked up, a white CBP agent gave me a derisive look and said, “Yo dawg, you coming back from the Netherlands—you have any drugs on you?” I actually had eaten a pot cookie in Amsterdam to make the flight easier—he didn’t need to know that—which felt especially justified once I encountered the agent. These are just some of the humiliating experiences I’ve had traveling through U.S. airports. After I cleared that special screening in Philadelphia, my co-worker ruefully said to me, “It’s because you are brown and traveling with a beard.” When I shared my experience later with a good friend who is a white woman, she said, “Airports are just like a big mall to me. I don’t get hassled.”
Whether you’ve had these kinds experiences or simply heard of them, they are not new: Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu travelers with brown skin have known to expect extra scrutiny at the airport for a long time. And yet—perhaps because of my frequent travel, or perhaps because of my day job, which makes me hyperaware of broad-brush surveillance against communities of color—it is clear to me that this experience has become even worse during the presidency of Donald Trump.
I was born in New York City to parents who emigrated from India. I grew in New Mexico and made my adult home in California. I’m a brown kid, a little on the hippie side, sometimes with brown hair, and sometimes I grow a beard because I’m just that lazy about shaving. I work as a technologist—helping analyze how computing technologies such as encryption, machine learning, and networking impact surveillance and expression throughout the world. As such, I know that moving through the airport is just one of many places that makes us vulnerable to the modern panopticon.
That panopticon has had its eye trained intently on a lot of Americans for a long time. While some kind of screening is of course necessary for air travel, TSA and CBP’s methods are traumatic for many groups, as I hear often from my trans friends, my friends with disabilities, my immigrant friends. While we don’t have reliable statistics on discrimination against Muslims and other groups in airport screenings, many advocacy groups have sounded alarms about the issue for years, responding to countless shocking anecdotes. Earlier this year, the Muslim travel ban resulted in another round of arbitrary and near-malicious conditions of travel, dropping a dragnet not only on immigrants and refugees but even U.S. citizens, including small children detained away from their families and engineers who had their work devices confiscated. It felt like a sudden and violent expression of a more subtle message brown-skinned travelers have been hearing from airport officials for a long time: Leave this place.
But I also now hear that message in another way. Since the introduction of full-body scanners to the standard security procedure in the last decade, I have also been one of the small group of travelers that opts out of this process. Sometimes, one may choose a pat-down instead of the scanner because of a disability; sometimes you are randomly chosen, as I have been. I have many personal and political reasons for choosing to opt out, as do others: I have unresolved health concerns as well as a general desire to have my biometric data be kept to myself. I first came to that decision because of the scandal in which TSA agents traded nude images produced by the scanner. However, as machine-learning technology improves, I also want to protect the data of a 3-D profile of my body from future automated scanners. The manufacturers of such scanners can rely on data produced from the terrawave scanners as a training data set, much like current cameras with facial recognition technology can be trained on your social media. If this data is properly harvested, then it can provide the basis for new surveillance technology based on the contours of your body.
I noticed a change in Transportation Security Administration protocol not long after Trump’s inauguration. During the pat-downs I’ve experienced since this spring, agents performed a genital screening. In order to get to my flight, I first had to endure TSA agents rubbing their hands three times over my genitals. This screening method has left me feeling profoundly violated every time—so much so that I want to avoid flying itself. It says the same thing as the travel ban: Leave this place. And also: Submit.
The TSA rolled out this policy, which it calls more “comprehensive” and which one Pennsylvania traveler described as “groin security” to his hometown paper, in March. This more “intimate” approach (which varies slightly by airport) was already one of several options agents had to use when conducting pat-downs; now it’s the only one, according to Bloomberg. And it has caused some controversy already, including an incident in which a distraught mother posted a video of the TSA applying the more invasive pat-down to her disabled son. I thought of that family’s experience on a recent flight from the Southwest, before which a TSA agent seemed to take extra delight in the pat-down, tightening my clothes and rubbing my genitals in front of my father. When I have asked TSA management at an airport on how to give feedback on these policies or a particular agent, I have been told to “talk to my senator.”
I don’t think that agents should have such arbitrary powers, or that our screening process should be so invasive as a rule. (Nor do I think every TSA agent abuses those powers. I’ve experienced large and small kindnesses from many of them, and understand they have a difficult and important job.) Our needs of security need to be balanced with needs of basic human dignity. American travelers should have methods for redress and feedback while traveling domestically or internationally. And no groups should ever feel that airports are a place where they don’t belong.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 08 14:10:03 PDT 2017
Back in the financially tumultuous early years of the Obama administration, it was common to hear worthies of a certain ilk carp that “uncertainty” from Washington was harming economic growth. Here’s Steve Forbes complaining in early 2010—at the beginning of one of the longest expansions on record—that regulatory uncertainty was inhibiting a sustained recovery. Blackstone Group Chairman Steve Schwarzman, in the summer of 2010, compared the mild regulations the Obama administration had passed to Hitler invading Poland. Some of these gripes continued into the late Obama years: In April 2014, supply-sider Larry Kudlow moaned that the “incredible uncertainty about Obamacare and its taxes and regulations” was hampering the markets and the economy.
Of course, business and policy are always uncertain to a degree. And policy changes in 2009 and 2010 did create new mandates and requirements for businesses. But the stimulus, Dodd-Frank, and the Affordable Care Act were generally well–thought out, slow to materialize, and coolly implemented. And there’s simply no evidence that “uncertainty” about the path of policy in Washington, however you define it, hampered business investments, hiring, and especially market performance in the period between 2009 and 2016. Because “uncertainty” doesn’t really mean uncertainty—it’s just code used by supply-siders and right-wingers. What they really didn’t like was the fact that a guy named Obama was sitting in the White House, poised to raise their taxes. (Readers, he did. And the economy and S&P 500 survived.)
When President Trump was elected, the concerns of supply-siders and Wall Street titans over uncertainty seemed to dissipate. They were sure that the impending tax-reform package, regulatory reduction, and the repeal of Obamacare would cause the markets and economy to boom. An incoming administration hostile to facts, norms, and maybe even the sanctity of the republic? No concerns here! And, as Trump often reminds us, the markets have soared to new heights while volatility has decreased. But six months into his presidency, there is abundant evidence of actual uncertainty emanating from Washington—including but not limited to the policy chaos intentionally fomented by the Trump administration—that is beginning to harm business and investment.
Across the board, Trump has generally not bothered to staff up the government, thrown into question long-standing U.S. trade policy, and instigated and supported efforts to blow up the insurance industry. And it is starting to become clear just how these efforts are harming business.
“Trump’s Stalled Trade Agenda is Leaving Industries in the Lurch,” reads the lead story in the business section of Tuesday’s New York Times. Apparently, the uncertainty over whether Trump will impose tariffs on imported steel has been spurring foreign suppliers to ship more steel to the U.S.—which simply makes it more difficult for domestic producers to compete. Adam Behsudi of Politico has a fantastic, deeply reported article this week on how Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership—and the ensuing efforts by other countries to negotiate trade deals among themselves—is undermining the ability of U.S. agriculture producers to export. “I’m scared to death,” said Ron Prestage, a North Carolina businessman who had just made a big investment in a meat-processing plant in anticipation of more business after the passage of TPP. Behsudi also interviewed corn farmers in Iowa who have seen the price of their product gyrate in response to Trump’s hostile tweets toward Mexico. Trump promised to get Americans better deals on international trade. Instead he’s only delivered migraines.
Trump talked a big game about supporting pipeline construction during the campaign—especially the Keystone XL pipeline. But his slowness to staff up the federal bureaucracy has made it difficult for proposed pipeline projects to get off the ground. In May, Bloomberg reported that some $50 billion in work was either “slowed or stalled” because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wasn’t capable of approving them. “For the first time in FERC’s 40-year-history, the agency doesn’t have enough commissioners for a quorum to vote on project applications.” Last week, Politico put the amount of stalled shovel-ready projects somewhat lower: at $13 billion. “Trump’s slowness to fill vacancies at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is one reason for a growing backlog of natural gas pipelines and a gas export terminal awaiting approval from the agency, which has been unable to conduct major business since February.” Wasn’t this president supposed to be fossil fuels’ best friend?
Nowhere is Trump’s combination of chaotic management and policy ignorance more evident than in health care. With a substantial assist from Republicans in Congress, Trump has done an enormous amount to intentionally create uncertainty for health insurers and health providers. Over the past seven years, the massive health industry has rebuilt itself around the Affordable Care Act and anticipated levels of funding for entitlements such as Medicaid. But Trump has backed—and then not backed, and then backed again—legislation that would have slashed hundreds of billions from Medicaid and eliminated the individual mandate that keeps insurance markets stable. He has threatened on multiple occasions to withhold payments from insurers that offer plans on the exchange. And his Department of Health and Human Services is trying to undermine enrollment in insurance plans. The result, as Politico reported in an article headlined “GOP Uncertainty Over Obamacare Drives Out Insurers,” is that insurers are abandoning markets and lines of business.
President Trump has talked a great deal about a big infrastructure package, but nobody on his team has really bothered to flesh it out. Remember the clown show of infrastructure week in early June? The Trump administration says it wants to enlist the private sector to fund roads, bridges, and other vital projects, and its proposed budget zeroed out a bunch of grants and programs that support long-planned projects. All of which has had the effect of freezing progress and planning on dozens of ongoing projects. “The sudden uncertainty has left local officials who had long anticipated federal support for their projects worrying whether they will get it,” the Chicago Tribune reported in June.
And then there’s what happened on Tuesday when Trump, speaking from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, injected an entirely new source of uncertainty into the world by threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Markets immediately nosedived.
In the Obama years, there was uncertainty over whether the top marginal rate would be 35 percent or 39.6 percent. In the Trump years, there’s uncertainty over whether a country of 25 million people will be here tomorrow.
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Tue Sep 19 10:08:01 PDT 2017
Pepsi’s “Pepsi Light Iconic Moments” advertising campaign has won Gold at the Clio Awards for print, print technique (art direction and photography) and out of home (billboard). The three advertisements in the Pepsi Light Iconic Moments campaign, targeting young urban people, feature a skateboarder, parkour runner and a breakdancer wearing red, white and blue. Their […]
by TINA @ Truth In Advertising
Wed Sep 20 13:17:00 PDT 2017
In September2017, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Starkist Co. alleging that cans of Starkist tuna do not contain the amount of tuna represented on the label and contain less tuna than the minimum amount required by federal regulations. (Puckett et al v. Starkist Co., Case No. 17-cv-1416, D. OR.) For more information about other
by KPPS @ Media and Cultural Analysis, Spring 2014
Mon May 12 18:15:18 PDT 2014
Watch Mountain Dew Commercial Here On April 2013, PepsiCo has released an ad for their brand, Mountain Dew. After its release on the internet, an ad quickly grabbed people’s attention by being “arguably the most racist commercial in history” (Kim). By employing critical race analysis, I argue that this commercial reinforces racial stereotypes against black […]
by Duncan Macleod @ The Inspiration Room
Sun Sep 17 01:01:01 PDT 2017
GE has launched “Meet Molly, the Kid Who Never Stops Inventing”, a commercial celebrating the engineering solutions developed at GE. We’re introduced to Molly, a young girl who comes up with brilliant solutions to problems in the home, including taking out the trash, selling Girl Guide cookies, making her bed, sweeping the floor and mowing […]
A group of women are invited by Dove to a spa to test out a new body wash. When entering the shower, they discover a bottle of generic dish soap waiting for them. The women learn that some body washes share a few chemicals that dish soaps use.
by Adam Tanaka @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 08 06:00:00 PDT 2017
Once a year on Memorial Day weekend the Movement Electronic Music Festival transforms downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza into an eardrum-splitting playground for tens of thousands of techno fans from around the globe. A windswept concrete expanse for much of the year, the riverfront park is tailor-made for a music festival, with Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi’s Space Age sculptures providing a suitably cosmic backdrop to three days of booming electronica. This year, the festival was accompanied by more than 70 spinoff parties, bringing foot traffic and visitor spending to neighborhoods far beyond the downtown core.
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Detroit may seem an unlikely choice for a 72-hour dance-floor spectacular, but it’s far from random: Much as the gay clubs of 1970s Chicago gave birth to house music, so 1980s Detroit gave birth to techno—house’s sinister, synth-driven cousin—when artsy black teenagers began soldering the clinical electronica of Kraftwerk and other German experimentalists with the alien funk of Prince and Parliament. Meanwhile, aspiring DJs and wily party promoters capitalized on the city’s surfeit of industrial spaces, repurposing the relics of the auto age for the city’s first postindustrial generation. Motown became Techno City.
The genre never really hit the mainstream in the United States, and today Americans are more likely to cite Eminem as Detroit’s most substantial musical export since Motown. (See: Chrysler’s 2011 Super Bowl commercial.) But abroad, techno became a multibillion-dollar industry, providing the drug-fueled soundtrack to post–Cold War European integration. Berlin and Ibiza continue to draw cultural and economic vitality from club-driven tourism, sped along by cheap airfares and liberal after-hours regulations. Amsterdam, Paris, and London recently appointed nighttime mayors charged with keeping their clubs competitive and their dance floors open into the early hours (or, as in the case of Berlin, for all 24).
Today, some Detroiters are wondering whether they too might monetize this strain of the city’s cultural heritage. Music is already a big part of the city’s DNA: The Motown Museum, which draws about 70,000 visitors a year, is currently undergoing expansion, while the city’s jazz festival in August is marketed as the largest free jazz festival in the world. Both are small change compared to Movement, which is touted as the Motor City’s biggest tourist draw after the annual auto show. Although numbers are hazy in the absence of a formal economic impact study, city officials told me that “festival weekend” was Airbnb’s busiest of the year in the area. For a city still reeling from 2013 bankruptcy proceedings, techno tourism has brought a spillover economic boost. (The San Francisco–based short-term rental company also recently agreed to pay a use tax in Michigan.)
In the longer term, Movement’s effects are as much psychological as financial. “When people understand that this kind of creativity is homegrown in Detroit, it helps them reimagine Detroit in their mind,” said Mark Denson, chief business attraction officer at the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (and a college classmate of techno innovator Derrick May). “I’ve lived downtown for a very long time, and I’ve run into many people who will say that their first really great experience in Detroit was the techno festival.”
“For people who know their techno, they know that Detroit is the birthplace,” said Helen Stevens, a 44-year-old Australian who was visiting the United States for the first time. (At Movement this year, I also met Japanese tourists who chose Movement for their inaugural stateside visit). Sporting a “Detroit Techno City” badge on her head-to-toe black outfit—the standard for techno enthusiasts—Stevens said that the Motor City has long been on her “travel bucket list.”
Dance floor–driven urban policy may sound like a parody of economic development guru Richard Florida’s “creative class” mantra. But the city has not been blind to the potential of techno to draw young people back to town. In its early years, the electronic music festival was free, with the city largely footing the bill. By the time Movement shifted to a paid model in 2003, the event was hailed as one of the largest free music festivals in the world. That same year, the Detroit Historical Museum mounted “Techno: Detroit’s Gift to the World,” a large-scale retrospective that paired memorabilia with reminiscences from some of the genre’s founding fathers. More recently, Mayor Mike Duggan officially declared “Techno Week” to coincide with the Movement festival.
Still, many in the music business here feel that the city has not done enough to capitalize on its cultural assets. That includes small, symbolic changes, like officially recognizing “Techno Boulevard,” a block in the city’s Eastern Market neighborhood that housed many of the genre’s earliest record labels. And more substantial issues, like lobbying to change the state-regulated 2 a.m. closing time that bar-owners and city reps say stymies the growth of a full-fledged nighttime economy.
Part of the problem is that while techno has a large international following, it has a relatively limited audience here at home. “Detroit exported nightlife culture,” said Adriel Thornton, a veteran of the ’90s rave scene who was involved in organizing an early iteration of Movement and today leads techno-themed tours of the city through Airbnb. “You go to Europe and ‘Detroit Techno’ is a genre of music. But here at home, the idea that it is actually generating real dollars and creating reasons for people to move here hasn’t been sufficiently recognized.”
Instead the festival draws mostly suburbanites and out-of-towners, who depart loaded up with Detroit swag. International visitors make up 1 in 5 attendees, organizers estimate; indeed, one of the festival’s biggest scheduling concerns is not to clash with the opening weekend at Ibiza, the clubbing hotspot off the coast of Spain.
The place most often invoked in discussions of Detroit’s trans-Atlantic cachet is Berlin, another city noted for its techno culture and wealth of underutilized spaces. Crystallizing this dialogue is the Detroit-Berlin Connection, a nonprofit founded in 2013 by German club entrepreneur Dimitri Hegemann. The owner of Tresor, one of Berlin’s landmark techno venues, and a frequent visitor to the Motor City, Hegemann is convinced that Detroit’s comeback hinges on its countercultural appeal. “One of our jobs is to keep Detroit weird,” he told me.
Following the Berlin model, Hegemann’s dream is to renovate some of Detroit’s most iconic industrial ruins into “lighthouses” for art and culture, blurring the lines between historical monuments, youth hostels, nightclubs, art galleries, and incubators. But in the face of political inertia and financial skittishness, getting such fanciful schemes off the ground is easier said than done. Hegemann’s particular bête noire is the curfew. “If we had a 2 a.m. curfew, Berlin’s nightlife would collapse,” Hegemann said. “My advice for the city council is to cancel the curfew. Don’t build shopping malls and casinos. Just cancel the curfew, and discover the nighttime economy.” Critics contend that would require the city to expand strapped municipal services like police, and in a city with America’s worst transit network, lead to more drunk driving.
Closer to home, cities like Nashville and New Orleans have also succeeded in trading off their own musical legacies. As recently as the 1990s, Nashville was on the fence about making country music the centerpiece of its tourism strategy, but last year the “Music City” brought in a record-breaking 13.9 million tourists, with upward of 150,000 visitors coming for the city’s free, open-air New Year’s Eve concert alone. The numbers are almost as impressive in New Orleans, where culture industry jobs accounted for 15 percent of local employment in 2015, up from 9 percent in 2006. Those reputations become economic assets: Music is Nashville’s second-largest employment sector after health care. Half of all entertainment businesses in New Orleans are live music venues. Beyond the musicians, music tourism helps fill municipal coffers through tax receipts.
But even if there’s a model to be emulated somewhere between Berlin and the Big Easy, Detroit has another problem: There isn’t a huge homegrown techno scene waiting to be discovered. In a list of the country’s top clubbing destinations compiled by Thump, an online dance music publication, Detroit didn’t even make the top 10. Legendary venues like the Music Institute and Cheeks, which did much to set the template for nightclubs worldwide, are long gone.
Even Motor City boosters like Sam Fotias, the Detroit-born-and-bred director of operations at Movement, concedes that getting a year-round scene going in the city is easier said than done. “Detroit has drawn a lot of comparison to other cities like Berlin,” he told me. “I think that there are some similarities: post-wall Berlin, post-bankruptcy Detroit. But in Berlin you have huge population saturation, you have a regional thing, you have a city that is centrally located in Europe that has always been a very significant cultural hub. In Detroit, you have a burgeoning cultural scene, but as a whole the region is still very blue-collar.”
Fotias and others worry that as the scene grows, it may become increasingly associated with outsiders—both tourists and out-of-town promoters—and dovetail with growing anxieties about gentrification. The genre’s largely white audience doesn’t help the image problem. In an 83 percent black city, attendance at Movement is predominantly white. (Ticket prices may be a factor: Longtime attendees recall a more substantial black audience in the festival’s early years.) The question troubling the city’s techno boosters is how to attract the jet-setting crowd while staying true to the genre’s roots and ensuring that the city serves as more than just a gritty postindustrial backdrop.
A clue to this conundrum may lie at the northern Detroit headquarters of Submerge, a DJ collective and techno label with deep roots in the city’s underground scene. Lining the company’s foyer is “Exhibit 3000,” a modest but mesmerizing overview of Detroit’s dance music history that is billed as the world’s “first permanent techno museum.” With no formal opening hours and limited information online, Submerge is a destination for aficionados only. When I dropped by in the run-up to Movement, the place was buzzing with techno geeks from across the globe.
But when I met with Cornelius Harris, label manager for Submerge, he was ambivalent about the genre’s global appeal. “People come here and do all these documentaries that are being shown to big crowds in Europe, but no one here has seen them,” he told me. “All we’re doing is enriching what’s over there, and none of it comes back this way.”
Harris is eager to reach another audience: local schoolchildren. Although techno’s popularity with Detroit youth pales next to hip-hop, Harris hopes students will come away with a deeper appreciation for the homegrown history of a genre that upended the global music industry.
“What we’re hoping is that these kids can see how people just like them refused to fit stereotypes and made their own future,” Harris said. “That’s what we’ve used the museum for: to offer an alternative view of what you can do. If I want to innovate in medicine, maybe I can learn from techno. The music is a tool. It leads to other things.”
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Thu Jul 27 21:31:00 PDT 2017
Republicans have finally unveiled the “skinny” Obamacare repeal bill they plan to vote on this evening. Like everybody expected, it’s an atrocious bit of policy—a piece of legislation that, as many GOP senators have already admitted, would destabilize the insurance markets by killing off the individual mandate while leaving the Affordable Care Act’s other regulations in place.
Somewhat surprisingly, the bill also still aims to make it easier for states to dismantle Obamacare on their own—though just how much easier is a bit of an open question, which of course won’t be resolved because Senate procedure is now a farce and Republicans are voting on this thing tonight.
As you may recall, the original Better Care Reconciliation Act made it extremely easy for conservative states to opt out of Obamacare’s rules and regulations by expanding the so-called 1332 “state innovation waivers” contained in the law. This provision was designed to let states experiment with alternative health care systems—like, say, single-payer—so long as officials could show that whatever setup they came up with would cover as many people as comprehensively as Obamacare, and without raising the federal deficit. The Republican bill would have nixed most those conditions, save the deficit bit, forcing the secretary of health and human services to approve pretty much any waiver request that came his way. Worse yet, once waivers were in place, the federal government would not be allowed to revoke it, no matter how states mismanaged their funding.
As Michigan Law Professor Nicholas Bagley wrote back in June, “If state officials blow the Obamacare money on cocaine and hookers, there’s apparently nothing the federal government can do about it.”
Earlier on Thursday, however, it seemed like those waivers-on-steroids might have be removed from the GOP’s bill. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that they were not eligible for a vote under the reconciliation process GOP leaders are relying on to pass their bill, and so would need 60 votes to break a filibuster.
But it turns out a somewhat-less-expansive version of the waivers made it into the skinny bill after all. To get them, states will still have to show that their proposals will cover as many people as thoroughly as Obamacare—those guardrails have been left in place. But once a waiver is approved, they can’t be canceled for eight years, which may effectively give states room to do whatever the heck they want. Or so writes Bagley late Thursday at The Incidental Economist: “So while the ACA’s guardrails are still in place, states can ignore them once a waiver has been granted. And there’s not a thing the federal government can do about it.”
Personally, I’m not so sure these waivers are really a free hall pass for states to revoke insurance from their residents. Presumably, if a state doesn’t abide by the terms of its own waiver, individuals who lost their coverage or premium subsidies could bring a lawsuit. (Likewise, if the administration tried to approve a waiver that clearly doesn’t meet all of Obamacare’s standards, someone would almost surely drag it into court). Would that work? I can’t say. There was some debate about it tonight on Twitter.
And that’s the problem (or, one of the problems, anyway). There hasn’t been nearly enough time to judge how this bill could affect health care for millions. And no matter what Mitch McConnell says, there’s a strong chance it could become law.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Mon Jul 31 09:12:00 PDT 2017
With Obamacare repeal dead in Congress for the time being, the White House is signaling that it may step up efforts to sabotage the law this week—and possibly throw insurance markets into chaos in the process.
The rumblings began with a Saturday afternoon tweet from President Trump, in which he suggested that, after months of toying with the idea, he might finally follow through on a threat to end crucial subsidies to insurers, known as cost-sharing reduction payments. Of course, he didn't use that exact language.
While wildly misleading—the cost-sharing subsidies are in no way an insurer “bailout”—the tweet left little doubt about what Trump was thinking. Then on Sunday, adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that the president would make a final call on the issue this week. “That's a decision that only he can make,” she said, somewhat tautologically.
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The subsidies don't appear to be the only part of Obamacare in danger. Asked by ABC's Martha Raddatz on Sunday whether the administration might stop enforcing the law's individual mandate requiring Americans to buy insurance coverage, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price suggested it was an option.
“The individual mandate is one of those things that actually is driving up the cost for the American people in terms of coverage,” he said, inaccurately. “So what we’re trying to do is make sure that Obamacare is no longer harming the patients of this land. No longer driving up costs. No longer making it so that they’ve got coverage and no care. And the individual mandate is one of those things.
“All things are on the table to try and help patients,” Price added.
Neither of these announcements comes as much of a surprise—insurers across the country have requested large rate hikes for 2018 to protect themselves in case Trump cuts off the cost-sharing subsidies or relaxes enforcement of the mandate. But even if the president won't catch the industry off guard, he can still do immense damage to the insurance markets.
Turning off the cost-sharing subsidies has often been referred to as Trump's nuclear option on Obamacare. Under the law, insurers are required to reduce out-of-pocket expenses like co-pays and deductibles for poorer customers. In return, Washington is supposed to pay the carriers directly in order to cover the expense. But several years ago, the House of Representatives sued to halt the payments, arguing they'd never been appropriated correctly. A federal trial court agreed, and Trump needs to decide whether to keep appealing the case.
If Trump hits the kill button, insurers will lose billions. Seven million Americans, or 58 percent of all marketplace enrollees, qualified for the cost-sharing reductions in 2017, and carriers will legally have to continue offering the reduced-cost plans whether or not the subsidy money keeps flowing from Washington. To make up for it, health plans would have to raise their premiums by 19 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. If that's the extent of the damage, then the nuclear option will have turned out to be a bit less than atomic. However, there's also a worst-case scenario in which many insurers would simply choose to leave the exchanges rather than stick with a line of business the White House would clearly be trying to napalm.
Scaling back the individual mandate would also roil the market, though how much would depend on precisely what Secretary Price chose to do and how insurers coped. The Congressional Budget Office believes that killing off the tax penalty for those who don't buy insurance outright would drive premiums up 20 percent as younger, healthier individuals dropped their coverage, leaving behind a sicker customer base with higher medical expenses. But marginally widening the mandate's exemptions might not have the same dramatic impact on costs. The big question, again, is whether insurers would simply get sick of the campaign to undermine the exchanges and drop out.
It is unclear exactly what Trump and his team thinks they will achieve by waging an all-out war against Obamacare using executive authority. Trump has at times suggested that the best thing Republicans can do would be to let Obamacare “implode” on its own, then clean up the damage with an all-the-more-urgent repeal bill. Perhaps he still thinks the party would more readily pass a replacement if the market is in ruins. But that's a dicey political calculation. First, Obamacare is not collapsing due to its own structural flaws; Trump is trying to tip it over, and much of the media will cover that. Moreover, voters get angry when their insurance premiums rise. Even if they don't realize that the president has taken the unprecedented step of trying to undercut the country's health coverage system for political gain, there's a strong chance they'll blame the party in power, which they've just watched spend six months bumbling in its attempt to pass health care legislation. What seems less likely is that they’ll blame the Democrats who passed the law, as Trump has suggested voters would do.
It's also worth keeping in mind that, if Trump kills the cost-sharing subsidies and the insurance markets don't crumble outright, the Americans poised to experience the brunt of the pain are basically middle-class voters. Insurers will still be required to keep a lid on out-of-pocket costs for low-income customers, and Americans who make less than 400 percent of the poverty line would still get tax credits that cap their health premiums as a percentage of their income, meaning they won't feel any pinch from rising prices. It's households that earn too much to receive subsides that'd end up paying more for their coverage. That group is incredibly vocal, and—being higher income—they tend to vote.
One sign that the administration knows it’s on shaky political ground is its obviously misleading rhetoric on both the cost-sharing subsidies and mandate. Calling the former a bailout makes absolutely no sense—it's not as if insurers accidentally underpriced their health plans in this case and now need financial help. Rather, they were required to offer low-income Americans discounted coverage, which the government promised—by statute—to subsidize.
The idea that the individual mandate drives up costs is even more absurd. Yes, people who have to buy insurance who otherwise wouldn't end up spending money they'd prefer not to. But by drawing healthy people into the market, the rule brings down the average cost of coverage. Floating these ridiculous rhetorical trial balloons suggests the administration lacks a stronger argument and knows it.
Or maybe not. Maybe this whole thing is just irrational. Maybe like Samson chained to the pillars, Trump just wants to bring Obamacare's whole structure tumbling down, even if it might kill his presidency, too. With this White House, you never know.
by Nicole Cliffe @ Slate Articles
Mon Sep 18 02:45:00 PDT 2017
Always Right is Slate’s pop-up blog exploring customer service across industries, technologies, and human relationships.
Imagine yourself, amiable reader, in a coffee shop, ordering yourself a beverage, and paying the barista for the encupment of said beverage. At some point during the transaction, you will surely find yourself saying “thank you.” Imagine that the barista responds, “No problem.”
In that moment, you have multiple options: You can let that sentiment evaporate into the air, leaving you unaffected. Or you may fume.
Whither the lost and genteel days of you’re welcome? you might fume, in your head, or on the internet, or heaven forbid out loud. How dare these youngstren/baristas/waiterettes say “no problem” to me? That suggests that I might have created a problem in asking them to do their job at me. It is no problem at all! I know it is no problem! I wish you would go back to saying “you’re welcome” at me instead, posthaste!
Friends! This is a disingenuous and an unlovely response, and from making this complaint I fear you will find it a slippery slope to leaving a stack of bills on the corner of your table and removing one as punishment every time your waiter displeases you. Of course the service employee in question is not suggesting that you have created a problem by asking for more straws for your Diet Slice, or what have you. It is a filler phrase, a transaction smoother; barely a step up from the well, kindas that the Russians call “parasite words.”
As is, of course, “you’re welcome.” You are welcome to what? To thank me again? To rely upon my help again in future? Fine, sure. It is an arbitrary expression of politeness in exactly the same way “No problem” is an arbitrary expression of politeness. As is generally the case in most forced social interactions, both phrases are a variation on, “Here is my soft belly, fellow stranger; I am driven so often by fear but I wish you to know in this moment that I wish you no harm, and have no intention of attacking you. All is well.” There is already no there there, just a form of whimsical call-and-response that has lived a long life and is surely due to collect whatever pension is due for its years of service if people have organically moved on.
It is undoubtedly true that at some point over the last 10 or 15 years, there has been a general shift among young people and workers in the service industry from saying “you’re welcome” to “no problem” or “no worries” upon being thanked for services rendered. I suspect we have nationally snagged “no problem” from the Australians, who love to say “no worries” at one another almost as much as they love always showing up in hostels in countries where you don’t expect them, and teaching people how to surf and play guitar. This is a perfectly fine and neutral change, but with change always comes anxiety. What your server is saying in that moment—and what I suspect you know perfectly well, friendo—is “I will fulfill your request, I acknowledge your thanks, and will continue to serve you with friendliness and alacrity.” Between “no problem” and “happy to help” there is no separation, and it does not suit you to pretend to be confused by the two. This is a harmless phrase, not an attempt to call out you, specifically, for asking to have your croissants heated up for exactly eight seconds in the microwave. The tide of language sweeps ever along, and it carries you with it whether you like it or not. Do not struggle foolishly against it.
“Are you telling me that I, a human being with certain inalienable prerogatives, have no right to dislike this particular phrase? Must I remain silent forever? Have I no recourse to complain?” That is exactly what we are saying. You must allow this grievance to seize up, and shudder, and drift harmlessly out of your body. You will be nobler for it.
Now, of course, there are different ways to register one’s displeasure with hearing “no problem” from a member of the service industry. We are not here to police all of them. Perhaps upon being “no problem”–ed you find yourself quietly annoyed, forget your annoyance upon leaving the offending shop, and later mention it offhandedly in the comments section of an article about etiquette. If you must do this, you must. This is ranked with the venial permissible sins, like regularly tipping 15 percent out of a fear of being thought cheap but also reciting Mr. Pink’s speech about tipping from Reservoir Dogs whenever the topic arises, as though you think it novel or compelling. Perhaps you pull a face at the speaker; if ever I catch you doing that, we will have words outside on the king’s highway.
Those who return “no problem!” with a tart “you mean you’re welcome” are in grave danger. You must root out the tendencies in your own soul that lead to such conduct. This waiter is already fetching you seven extra straws for your Diet Slice. He is wearing a clean shirt, working with a sprained wrist because he doesn’t have health insurance, and faked his own lunch break because his manager asked if he would just clock out for 20 minutes since they’re already slammed today and nobody else can cover his tables. He’s doing everything he needs to be doing. Attend to your own spiritual condition.
It is, however, those who ask to speak to a manager or who write a letter of complaint whom we must condemn wholeheartedly and with extreme prejudice. You are as Henry VIII, consigning Thomas More to the block because he has failed to bend the knee and acknowledge you as the Supreme Head of the Church. Insisting on policing the manner in which someone responds to your ostensible wish to thank them, in order that it more clearly telegraph servility, is beyond the pale. Fix your wicked life. Otherwise we’ll have to come speak with your manager about your attitude.
The design of an advertisement (pictured) for Dove Visible Care body wash is under attack for what many are calling its racist imagery.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Sun Aug 27 19:05:00 PDT 2017
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
Houston is in the midst of what appears to be the worst flooding to strike a major U.S. city since the levees broke in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Hurricane Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it was never the water from the ocean that Houston had to fear but the water from the sky. And the rain just keeps on coming, even as flooding has rendered major freeways impassable. Buffalo Bayou, the meandering river that passes through the center of the city, is expected to crest 14 feet above its previous record. Overhead video shows vast areas of the city’s single-family home neighborhoods swamped by brown water. Downtown is an island. More rain is projected through Tuesday.
America’s fourth-largest city is still full of people: Citizen flotillas of kayaks and outboards are rescuing Houstonians from cars, trucks, rooftops, and second-floor windows, complementing a severely overwhelmed official relief effort. On Sunday afternoon, emergency service lines were so inundated that callers could only get busy signals, the Houston Chronicle’s Lydia DePillis reported. At one point the wait for 911 was two-and-a-half hours, a Houstonian told Laura Nelson of the Los Angeles Times. Texans are using Twitter to ask people to save their lives. And many of us are wondering who is to blame.
The immediate question is why local officials did not encourage people to evacuate. On Friday, as the Hurricane neared landfall, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a somewhat half-hearted warning to residents along the coast: “Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official, if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston, you need to strongly consider evacuating.”
But that suggestion was contradicted by local officials in Houston and its many suburban cities, who said, basically: This isn’t the Jersey Shore or the Outer Banks or even New Orleans. “You can’t put—in the city of Houston—2.4 million people on the road,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference on Sunday, defending the decision. Together with surrounding Harris County, 6.5 million people would have had to leave—including tens of thousands of people without transportation and more than 550,000 undocumented immigrants who fear the federal and state governments. Many Houstonians remember 2005, when an attempted evacuation for Hurricane Rita created the worst traffic jam in the city’s history and killed as many people as the hurricane itself—through heat stroke, and a bus that caught fire. The freeways where motorists sat stranded during Rita are underwater now. During last year’s floods, most deaths also occurred in cars.
One underlying cause of Houston’s suffering is that developers and town officials in Harris County, which contains Houston, have for years advocated the development of the wetlands and prairies around the city—land that had long served to absorb the rainwater that now overwhelms the region’s sewers and streams every year. The flood-absorbent grasslands of the Katy Prairie have been cut by three-quarters over the past few decades as Houston sprawled west. The state played along, funding expansion of I-10, “the Katy Freeway,” and another road, the Grand Parkway, which further opened that land up for development. To make matters worse, money-hungry officials also encouraged development in low-lying, flood-prone areas without regard to future risk. There have been more than 7,000 units built in the hundred-year floodplain since 2010, according to a ProPublica/Texas Tribune analysis. Efforts to reform the city's building codes have been met with strong resistance in an area where homebuilding has been a major economic engine.
Last year, the longtime head of the Harris County flood control district, Mike Talbott, told ProPublica that his agency had no plans to study the impact of climate change on the region’s flooding problems. Here’s a quote from that article, which is well worth reading in full:
Of the astonishing frequency of huge floods the city has been getting, he said, “I don't think it's the new normal.” He also criticized scientists and conservationists for being “anti-development.”
“They have an agenda ... their agenda to protect the environment overrides common sense,” he said.
Still, the debates over evacuation and development are spurious confronted with a storm this size, and the trend it represents: a strength and frequency of weather events that challenge all previous notions of risk assessment. This is the third straight year that Houston has endured a devastating, once-in-a-lifetime flood. There were the Memorial Day floods in 2015 and the Tax Day floods in 2016. Together the storms killed 16 people and caused more than $1 billion in damage. More than a third of the properties that flooded in Houston’s 2015 Memorial Day floods were located outside the “hundred-year floodplain,” the zone in which FEMA requires homeowners with government-backed mortgages to elevate homes or buy flood insurance. Now with Harvey, Houston has been hit with six “hundred-year storms” since 1989.
Early Sunday, the National Weather Service essentially threw up its hands:
Even the president seemed to have a sense that something extraordinary was afoot. “We have an all out effort going, and going well!” the president tweeted from Camp David on Sunday morning. “Even experts say they’ve never seen one like this,” he added later.
Here’s how the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang described it:
The total rainfall from the storm is likely to tally up to a widespread 15 to 30 inches, with a few localized spots picking up 50 inches or more. Many textbooks have the 60-inch mark as a once-in-a-million-year recurrence interval, meaning that if any spots had that amount of rainfall, they would essentially be dealing with a once-in-a-million-year event.
Cities are built around levels of expected risk, ascertained by residents and businesses and enforced by finance and insurance and government. Will a bank loan you the money to build that house, or to buy it? Will an insurer back those loans? Will a city official permit it? It now seems clear that in the case of Houston, those estimates—forged on years of historical data—have been decimated by the planet’s changing atmosphere.
It does not make sense to say climate change “caused” a hurricane. But, as the climate scientist Michael Mann wrote, "it exacerbates several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life.” And at the Atlantic, Rob Meyer has a thoughtful evaluation of the ways in which climate change has enabled larger, more dangerous, faster-growing storms. The oil capital of the world drowned by an atmosphere teeming with greenhouse gases.
The science isn’t certain, of course. But the extremity of the storm is. No land-use regime can proof a city for 50 inches of rain. Perhaps it is possible to move 6.5 million people out in 48 hours, but we have yet to accomplish it. The problem Houston has is more severe. Until the modern era, it was routine for disasters—mostly fire, flood, and pestilence—to serve as checks on the growth of urban centers. We have almost forgotten that used to happen, but it’s not unheard of: The population of New Orleans fell by half after Katrina, and remains about 15 percent smaller than it was in 2005. (About 100,000 of those people settled in Houston.) After three straight years of catastrophic floods, America’s fastest-growing city may be reaching a turning point.