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by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 01 10:50:00 PDT 2017
President Trump took to the Twitter-waves to broadcast some important economy news Tuesday morning.
Trump usually posts such tweets—another one Tuesday was on the media’s failure to report on the stock market’s gains this year—to take credit for the strength of the economy and reassure his audience (and himself) of his general awesomeness. Trump never tweets negative news, like, say, the crap sales this year from the auto industry, which is the largest manufacturing and retail sector of the economy.
Never mind the absurdity of Trump taking credit for positive economic news and ignoring the negative—Trump arrived in the White House after an eight-year boom in corporate profits and the stock market that can hardly be attributed to him. There’s something else that’s amiss. The fact that American companies are making more than ever is actually a big part of the problem in this country. And its arguably one of the reasons we ended up with Trump.
Of course, corporate profits are better than corporate losses. And more corporate profits are generally better than less corporate profits. But the signal fact of the past decade or so is that, while the fortunes of the corporate sector recovered rapidly after the financial crisis (thanks, Obama and Bernanke!), the fortunes of American workers never quite did.
For a variety of reasons, in fact, the relationship between pay and profits—which was already increasingly tenuous in the 1990s and the 2000s—broke down entirely during the Obama era. Companies, having survived the collective near-death experience of the 2008 financial crisis, were eager to keep costs down. With massive slack in the labor market—the unemployment rate was 10 percent in October 2009—and unions on their back, workers at all skill levels were not in much of a position to bargain for higher rates. If they did summon up the courage to ask for more, companies could wield the threat of automation, outsourcing, or offshoring. Oh, and thanks to Republican intransigence, the federal minimum wage has remained stuck at a measly $7.25 per hour for the past decade.
So even as median household income stagnated and wages grew a tiny bit, we saw a massive increase in pre-tax corporate profits, from $1.38 trillion in 2008 to $1.84 trillion in 2010, $2.13 trillion in 2012, and $2.16 trillion in 2016. That’s an increase of more than 56 percent in six years. More significantly, corporate profits as a percentage of GDP, which never topped 6.4 percent in the 1990s, rose from 7.3 percent in 2008 to 10.4 percent in 2014. Another way of looking at this, as Pedro da Costa points out in Business Insider, is that labor’s share of the overall economic pie has been plummeting during this expansion. America has been making a lot bigger pizzas in the past several years, but all the extra slices are being delivered to executives and shareholders.
The strange, unpredicted thing is that this trend continued even as the expansion continued to roll on and the labor market tightened. There have been more than 5 million jobs open in the U.S. since August 2014. The unemployment rate stands at 4.4 percent. In many states and cities, the minimum wage is rising. And yet overall pay isn’t really budging much. Median household income adjusted for inflation in 2015 was below its level in 2006.
This state of affairs is maddening. It’s true that inflation has generally been muted since the onset of the financial crisis. And many important things have become cheaper, like clothes and wireless service. But some goods and services that people really need—say, housing, education, and health care—have become significantly more expensive in the past decade. What’s more, there is something soul-sapping about showing up to work every day and either getting the same as you did last year, or getting paid less than you did last year, and never getting a raise or bonus—especially when you can see that your company’s profits are rising dramatically. It’s almost as if the system was, dare I say it, rigged against those who work and toward rewarding those who sit on their rears and collect dividends.
To aggravate matters, in the past few years, the financial press (me included), Wall Street, the Obama administration, and the Federal Reserve were trumpeting the economic gains apparent in this long-running expansion. That disconnect between corporate prosperity and the struggles of workers was one of the factors that helped ignite Trump’s campaign. While he’s gleefully taking credit for the corporate prosperity now, the previous political establishment’s identification with that disconnect was a theme that Trump played off of masterfully throughout the campaign and even in his closing argument campaign ad.
In theory, of course, profits and wages should be rising in closer harmony. The demand for labor relative to the supply is relatively high. But the structural forces that allowed companies to keep wages down as they recovered—the weakness of unions, the threat from offshoring and automation, the insecurity of millions of people traumatized by the financial crisis—are still with us, even as the economy enters its ninth year of expansion. I’d add another less appreciated factor. A kind of pathology has taken root among business owners. They’ve convinced themselves not only that they shouldn’t have to raise wages in order to attract, motivate, and reward workers, but that it would be detrimental to their business if they were to do so.
Given that the president views every relationship as a zero-sum game, it’s not likely companies will come under any short-term pressure to share a higher proportion of their profits with their employees. But that doesn’t mean executives should rest easy. If jobs stop roaring as profits continue to levitate, Trump may flip the script.
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.
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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.
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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 Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 16 13:08:00 PDT 2017
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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 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.
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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 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 Jon Tan @ Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog
Sat Aug 26 04:38:33 PDT 2017
Marketers have long embraced the adage “Sex Sells” but only very recently have they had to ponder what “Sells Sex”. The most difficult question here is… how do you get people talking about porn? Despite its gradual ascension from taboo into the mainstream, porn isn’t something most people talk about having lunch with the in-laws […]
The post 7 SFW Examples Of How Pornhub Generates Word-Of-Mouth appeared first on Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog.
In an extremely cluttered beauty category, Dove needed to make the brand more relevant. To differentiate Dove and build its beauty credentials in a cluttered category, we believed there was an opportunity to push beyond the tangible, and reach consumers through a purpose-driven campaign, that would resonate with consumers today and secure Dove’s consumers of tomorrow.
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.
Please use the information we have provided through our website to contact Dove (owned by Unilever) concerning the man impersonating a mom in their recent Baby Dove ad.
by Sarah Carr @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 22 02:50:00 PDT 2017
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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.
PRowl Public Relations
Nothing illustrates the power of the blogosphere more perfectly than a textbook PR dilemma. The Dove soap brand recently came under fire for a national ad that many claim to be racist. Before I del…
In recent years, Dove has posited itself as the progressive soap manufacturer of choice, marketing its products in campaigns couched in critiques of the shallow, unrealistic advertising often used to sell things to women. Using natural lighting, documentary-style filmmaking, and a lack of Photoshopped images, Dove ads have invited women to discuss beauty, engineered stunts that involve them suddenly realizing how beautiful they are, hacked stock images, and celebrated imperfect motherhood. Many catch a whiff of these and correctly determine it all to be the cynical maneuvering of a corporate behemoth to co-opt increasingly mainstream progressive attitudes in order to sell soap.
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.”
Social media users are hanging Dove out to dry over a new line of contoured bottles designed to look like different women's body shapes.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Mon Sep 11 02:51:00 PDT 2017
Always Right is Slate’s pop-up blog exploring customer service across industries, technologies, and human relationships.
In August, White House adviser Stephen Miller unveiled Donald Trump’s new immigration plan, a points-based proposal that would favor English-speaking immigrants. In an ensuing confrontation with Miller, CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta accused the administration of “bringing a ‘Press One for English’ philosophy to immigration.”
Acosta was alluding to a right-wing grievance that’s as common as it is curious: that when English-speaking Americans call an automated customer service hotline, they are forced to press a key just to be allowed to speak English. (Para Español, oprima el dos.)
If you’re an American who’s worried about immigration, customer service lines are a convenient transmitter of immigration anxiety you may not actively experience in your everyday life. “Does it bother anyone besides me to call a business with a question or for technical support and have to press one for English or press 2 for….?” Rick Robertson asked in July, in a letter to the Clarion-Ledger. “We shouldn’t have to press ‘one’ for English,” Orwell, New York resident Brenda LaRue told Syracuse.com in March. Neither lives in a county where more than 3 in 100 residents is Latino.
Conservative columnists have picked up the refrain. In a widely shared column that ran during the presidential campaign, talk radio host Howie Carr wrote, “You may be a deplorable if you don’t think you should have to press one for English.” The whole anecdote has become a sympathetic symbol of white resentment projected as a kind of staple experience of alienation in the new multicultural America. “Plenty of Americans do see the increasing prevalence of foreign cultures in the U.S., including Hispanic culture, as an unwelcome invasion,” wrote the Atlantic’s Molly Ball. “They resent having to press 1 for English when they call customer service.”
How did this trivial annoyance, which seems more suited to an Andy Rooney segment than serious political commentary, became a right-wing meme? Many accommodations for the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking population—the U.S. has more Spanish speakers than any country but Mexico—are largely hidden: Spanish-language baseball broadcasts, or Barack Obama doing a Spanish-language television ad. Online, UPS and Amazon both offer parallel Spanish-language interfaces that the average Anglo customer wouldn’t even know exist. But while Spanish-language functionality in customer service reflects corporate priorities for national companies like American Airlines and Verizon, it conveys national demographics to callers who may not have other interactions with immigrants to draw on. (Ironically, English-language callers to U.S. companies may find themselves speaking to deported Dreamers whose excellent English makes them stellar call-service employees in, say, El Salvador.)
And Americans are particularly sensitive about language. A Pew survey conducted in the spring of 2016 and released in January found that 7 in 10 Americans believe it’s important to speak English to be “truly American”—making English a more valued trait than religion, ethnicity, or cultural affinity. (Though several European countries consider language to be more important still.) “If you ask people to define American cultural identity, people will give you all kinds of fuzzy answers,” says Tomás Jiménez, a professor of sociology at Stanford. “But even the most strident multiculturalists will say that people should speak English.”
There’s also a trope that current immigrants don’t want to learn English as much as their predecessors did, says Deborah Schildkraut, whose 2007 book, Press “ONE” for English, explores the role of English in American identity. The perception is entirely inaccurate, Schildkraut says. In her research, she’s found that many immigrants have to sit on waitlists to enter English classes, sometimes for years. But for Anglophone Americans, language still strikes a chord. “Even people who are sympathetic to immigrants, this is the one issue that gets them,” she notes.
But while it may be annoying for native-born Americans to endure a momentary Spanish-language direction, it can be downright debilitating for immigrants who don’t speak English well to attempt to use customer service in a language they don’t understand. (Ask an American who has lived abroad.) Government forms and ISP helplines may make a convenient symbol, but no one ever learned English by talking to a representative from Delta Airlines—or decided they didn’t have to because that representative spoke Spanish.
For companies, the adoption of Spanish in customer service calls is an example of what Tod Famous, the director of product management at CISCO, called “market-driven multiculturalism.” As we’ve seen with corporate America’s blanket support of the gay rights movement, capitalism looks out for minorities because minorities are customers. “They’re just trying to make more money,” says Famous, whose company provides an automated call-response platform that companies can then customize individually. “The call center community is insular, and they’re all copying each other. Respect for language affinity improves customer loyalty. If you offer them options, they will be more likely to stay with you.” If there’s collateral damage in including Spanish-language prompts, the math doesn’t show it—no matter how many people complain about having to press one for English.
And that’s another thing about “Press One.” Do companies really make their Anglophone customers actively choose English? Turns out that hardly anyone does. In fact, if pressing one for English was ever a thing, it has ceased to exist at most of America’s largest companies. I called Albertsons, Apple, Amazon, American Airlines, Best Buy, Bank of America, Citibank, CVS, Dell, DHL, FedEx, Mars, Samsung, Spectrum-TWC, Target, T-Mobile, United Healthcare, UPS, Verizon, and Walmart. Blogs will tell you that some of these companies once forced customers to choose English. Today, none of them do. Most quickly tell you, in Spanish, how to proceed in that language. “Marque el nueve,” “Oprima el dos.” A handful—Albertsons, Amazon, Apple, Mars, Samsung, United Airlines, and Walmart—do not even offer Spanish. The only large company I found that asked callers to select English was Starbucks which also offers, inscrutably, French.
“Typically you’ll get a welcome message that says to speak in Spanish, say Spanish or press one, some combination,” says Judi Halperin, a principal consultant at Avaya. “I’ve never in 20-something years dealt with a system where you had to press one for English. I’m sure at some point it was there, but as time progressed and we started getting more and more experience, the last thing you want to do is get in the way of the caller.”
That tiny, short-lived impediment was spun out into an enduring web of resentment. What some white Americans perceive as a roadblock, in reality, constitutes a crucial bridge for their neighbors—1 in 8 Americans—whose native language is Spanish.
Unilever South Africa
Dove provides a refreshingly real alternative for women who recognise that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
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.
Models vs. "Real Beauty." ;
The £3bn toiletries brand was one of the first brands to embrace ‘femvertising’, but its body-shaped bottles have been roundly ridiculed. Can it repair the damage?
Find out more about our vision to help make beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety, here.
It's been 10 years since Dove launched its “Campaign for Real Beauty”—a stark series of ads that were radical and simple in equal measure—featuring lovely, normal-sized women who didn’t need Photoshop to look radiant. The ads, which ran in 2004 and 2005, lacked any screed about the pressures that come with being a woman in a visual culture that’s awash in creatively lit, digitally manipulated images of dangerously thin models. The folks behind the campaign simply let us feel our own shock at seeing women with normal curves and natural faces being celebrated for their beauty in a national advertisement. Dove didn't stop there. The soap maker added rocket fuel to the conversation in 2006, when its time-lapse "Evolution" video went viral. The movement to expose marketers' use of trickery to convince us that we're failing if we don't have flawless skin and breathtaking bodies was here to stay. Significant progress has been made since Dove's campaign: The American public, the blogosphere, and the Twitterverse now routinely call out magazine publishers and marketers for digitally altering images of girls and women to shrink their bodies, smooth their faces, and otherwise morph them to fit an unrealistic, narrow ideal of beauty. The pace is quickening. In just the past few months, there's been even more progress and a few moments that drove the dialogue forward. 1. The more bare skin a campaign flaunts, the more Photoshop it typically gets. But American Eagle says its new campaign for the Aerie line of lingerie will not use any altered images of models. Instead, “real” girls and women can upload unretouched photos of themselves to a photo gallery. Sure, it’s pretty screwed up that selling underwear using real photos of gorgeous, skinny young girls (instead of digitally improved gorgeous, skinny young girls) is seen as groundbreaking. But moving away from the idealized versions of women who don't exist is a footstep Dove took, and the clothier is now following its lead. “It’s great that we’re beginning to break that down,” said Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women & Girls Foundation, of the fakeries that line the glossies. 2. Forever Yours Lingerie didn't stop working with model Elly Mayday when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year. It featured beautiful shots of her with surgical scars unhidden and no wig or digital fakery to hide the baldness that resulted from her cancer treatment. Rather than looking like something’s missing, Mayday’s baldness comes across as strong and sexy. It’s empowering for the rest of us to see a woman outside the beauty mold we’ve been sold for so long—and to find ourselves aspiring to emulate her sexy confidence and appeal. (Forever Yours also gets points for raising money toward Mayday’s medical expenses.) 3. A new time-lapse video released by Hungarian pop star Boggie shows her singing a pop song called “Nouveau Parfum” while being Photoshopped, a fresh take on Dove's "Evolution" that's amplified by the resigned expression on her face. As the song unfolds, pieces of her disappear and are overwritten: Boggie’s eyes, like everyone else’s, aren’t exactly symmetrical. So one is deleted, then replaced by an exact copy of the other. Not a single square inch of her face or hair is left untouched. 4. Earlier last month during the Golden Globes, actor Diane Keaton took the stage to honor Woody Allen, her tousled hair and menswear-chic outfit reminding us of the trend she set when Annie Hall hit theaters in 1977. It was also clear on high-definition screens across America that at 68, she's got (oh, the horror!) lots of lines on her gorgeous face. When her speech ended, the network cut to a commercial break featuring Keaton selling L'Oréal cosmetics without a line on her digitally enhanced face, seemingly sporting the skin of a 25-year-old. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook quickly lit up with scorn. That social media response is valuable, Arnet says, because younger women and girls are active on Instagram and Twitter and are participating in those conversations. 5. Former Cosmopolitan editor Leah Hardy drew attention for admitting that during her tenure the magazine routinely Photoshopped out the protruding bones of super skinny models to keep readers from seeing how emaciated the models really were. Since that admission surfaced, before-and-after comparisons of bone-thin models and their healthier-looking altered images have been popping up around the Web. Apparently the world’s top fashion magazines, despite the huge budgets at their disposal, cannot find a single woman on the planet who isn’t either too thin or too fat for their liking. It’s further reinforcement of the conclusion we’d love to share with every tween girl who’s just beginning to notice her appearance: The elusive “perfection” that every cosmetic company and clothing retailer is trying to sell you does not exist. 6. Mindy Kaling might not have minded, but many other people did: When Elle magazine published covers for its February 2014 issue featuring Kaling, readers and pundits immediately questioned why Kaling's cover was a black-and-white close-up rather than the full-color, full-body shots of the other (skinnier and more "conventionally" beautiful) actors. That's the key: We've begun to make a habit of questioning how women are depicted and what tools are being used to change or edit their appearance for public consumption. Yes, the visual landscape is still awash with altered images, surgically altered models, and the pressure to be thinner, younger, and closer to the narrow beauty ideal that so much marketing pushes on us. Marketers aren’t going to stop selling us
by Benjamin Frisch @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 21 11:44:00 PDT 2017
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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 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.
Dove by Unilever has evolved to be one of the most trusted beauty product makers in the industry, appealing to women across the world.
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.
PRINCETON, NJ -- If companies ever wonder whether their next big marketing campaign will be a hit or miss, they should just consult social media.Dove is no different. The brand has just launched their new 'Real Beauty Bottles,' where they've matched your body type with a kind of body wash.In social media fashion, people have come clean about it-- turning it into a hilarious soap opera!
Laredo Morning Times
The six limited-edition Dove soap bottles come in shapes meant to emulate the body types of women.
All soap bottles—I mean, women—are beautiful as they are.
Dove is making headlines again, for yet another misguided advertising campaign. Do we really need soap bottles to evoke body positivity?
How Dove Empowered Real Women And Achieved Success in 80+ Countries - Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog
Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog
Dove is a personal care brand owned by Unilever originating in the United Kingdom, whose products are sold in more than 80 countries and are offered for both women and men. The company was slow to take off with a lack of global identity and a decentralized product. There wasn’t much of a corporate strategy …
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.
“I love the idea that their mission is about showing women as they really are, so the idea of serving as creative director for a campaign such as this felt really natural,” the producer said.
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.
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
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 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 Annie Waldman @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 19 02:50:00 PDT 2017
This story was co-published with ProPublica.
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
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.”
Chances are by now you've seen "Real Beauty Sketches," a video released a few weeks ago by the Dove soap people. It documents a social experiment: Women describe themselves to a forensic sketch...
The six limited-edition Dove soap bottles come in shapes meant to emulate the body types of women.
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's newest body-positive video created by Shonda Rhimes stars Cathleen Meredith, founder of Fat Girls Dance.
Learn how Unilever creates unique digital campaigns that turn potential customers into loyal advocates.
"Dove I have arms please advise."
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 Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 29 16:07:33 PDT 2017
It’s too early to tally the economic losses from Hurricane Harvey. But with the waters yet to subside, analysts are already suggesting that the financial impact of Harvey may not be as bad as Katrina was—at least for insurers. As CNBC reported on Monday, “Damages from Harvey, the hurricane and tropical storm ravaging Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, are estimated to be well below those from major storms that have hit New Orleans and New York, according to [reinsurance company] Hannover Re.”
The analysis may be correct when it comes to the financial losses suffered by insurers. But the suffering is massive—in this natural disaster and in every natural disaster. And while it is understandable to look at Harvey through the lens of Katrina—they’re both hurricanes that swamped low-lying Gulf Coast areas with lots of energy infrastructure—doing so doesn’t provide the clearest possible picture of the economic damage. And it misconstrues the relative importance and economic power of New Orleans and Houston.
For the U.S. economy to lose New Orleans for a couple of weeks was a human and cultural disaster and an economic challenge. For the U.S. economy to lose Houston for a couple of weeks is a human disaster—and an economic disaster, too.
The Houston metropolitan area, with a population of well over 6 million, has nearly five times the number of people as the New Orleans metropolitan area. More significantly, Houston has more than five time as many jobs as New Orleans, 3.06 million to 578,000. And they tend to be well-paying jobs. The Houston metropolitan area gross domestic product in 2015 was $503 billion, compared with $78 billion for New Orleans. For any retailer or large e-commerce company, the Houston region likely represents close to 3 percent of annual sales.
Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, has a massive, diversified economy. Sure, New Orleans sits near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River and is an important entrepôt and site for export of raw materials, agricultural commodities chemicals, and petroleum products. But Houston is a larger, busier, and far more important node in the networked economy. Economies derive their power and influence from their connections to other cities, countries, and markets. And Houston is one of the more connected. It is one of the global capitals of the energy and energy services industries. The Johnson Space Center has 10,000 employees. Houston is home to the headquarters of 20 Fortune 500 companies and the massive MD Anderson Cancer Center. The two airports, George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport, combined handle about 55 million passengers annually, about five times the number that Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport does.
Yes, there’s a degree to which consumption and other economic activity that is forestalled or foregone during a flood is consumption and economic activity deferred. And cleanup efforts tend to be additive to local economies. But in today’s economy, a lot of value can easily be destroyed very quickly. With only a small portion of the housing stock carrying flood insurance, billions of dollars in property will simply be destroyed and not immediately replaced. People who get paid by the hour, or who work for themselves, won’t be able to make up for the income they’re losing a few weeks from now. Hotel rooms and airplane seats are perishable goods—once canceled, they can’t simply be rescheduled. Refineries won’t be able to make up all the time offline—they can’t run more than 24 hours per day. And given that supply chains rely on a huge number of shipments making their connections with precision, the disruption to the region’s shipping, trucking, and rail infrastructure will have far-reaching effects. If you’re a business in Oklahoma or New Mexico, there’s a pretty good chance the goods you are importing or exporting pass through the Port of Houston.
There’s a conventional wisdom that holds that natural disasters aren’t always that bad for the economy. Reconstruction and relief efforts often function as miniature stimulus packages. And many sectors of our economy are indeed highly resilient and flexible—and hence able to weather the storm. Writing in the New York Times earlier this week, Neil Irwin was relatively sanguine about the economic impact of Harvey on the system at large. He noted that any disruption to supply chains was likely to be short-term and that insurers were well-situated to weather the storm. So, yes, it is tough to quibble with the notion that taking a long-term perspective, Harvey will be a blip. But we all know what John Maynard Keynes said about the long run. And in the meantime, there will be a lot of financial and human suffering.
by Gašper @ Marketing magazin
Sun Sep 10 21:15:54 PDT 2017
According to the agency, the main idea lies behind an insight that more than 80 percent of Serbians are frustrated with their current job. Job change presents the fourth biggest change in their life. How to encourage the individuals to get their life in order and change their job. The campaign features well known figures from […]
by Gašper @ Marketing magazin
Thu Sep 14 04:43:11 PDT 2017
This year’s BalCannes entries will be judged by separate panels of judges, consisting of marketers (clients), journalists and agency representatives. As every year, the best 25 campaigns will be chosen among submitted entries. Yet for the first time in BalCannes history, top 25 list will be presented by each of three juries on 22 September […]
The post 55 agencies with 120 projects enter BalCannes 2017 appeared first on Marketing magazin.
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.
The soap-maker gives an unintended lesson in how female 'empowerment' is exploited for profit and political currency
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Thu Jul 27 14:59:00 PDT 2017
Donald Trump won the presidency in part on the promise of reviving the Rust Belt, ending job loss and population stagnation, and bringing back the halcyon days of meaningful factory work.
But if that doesn’t work, the president conceded in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, you should probably just move:
I’m going to start explaining to people: When you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave.
With that, Trump appeared to acknowledge—to the chagrin of whoever penned his inevitably ignored talking points—what most economists believe about migration and job growth, but that his campaign was premised on denying: It’s easier to move people to jobs than to move jobs to people. For politicians in Upstate New York, including some Republicans who have supported the president, it was a disheartening comment to read. Even the president who promised to resurrect American manufacturing had given up on them, not to mention his own quest to implement or advance any kind of national policy to back his “Made in America” campaign.
The occasion was an otherwise celebratory announcement that Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that builds iPhones and other electronics, would be (maybe) building a massive plant in Southeastern Wisconsin, between Milwaukee and Chicago. Wisconsin beat out New York with an offer of subsidies that ranks among the largest in U.S. history—$3 billion for 13,000 jobs on the high end ($231,000 per job) or something closer to $2 billion for 3,000 jobs on the low end ($666,000 per job).
Wisconsin claims it’s the largest “corporate attraction project” in U.S. history, measured by jobs. Gov. Scott Walker said the development would be called “Wisconn Valley”—the Silicon Valley of Wisconsin. (And an extra “n” for the “conn” in Foxconn.)
Trump may have felt free to lob an insult at the one depressed Rust Belt area that had responded enthusiastically to his campaign trail talk but doesn’t sit in a politically competitive state like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, or Wisconsin. In 2016, he visited Syracuse and other hard-hit upstate cities, promising the return of factory work. He called the area a “ghost town,” but claimed he could win the state on the backs of its voters, for whom, he told CNN, "I'm like the most popular person that has ever lived, virtually.”
Slightly less popular now. Anthony Picente, a Republican and Oneida County executive who had tried to lure Foxconn to an industrial park near Utica, said he was “disappointed in Trump.”
Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican congresswoman and early Trump supporter who stood by the president during his recent “Made in America” showcase at the White House, said she hoped the president’s comments had been taken out of context.
"It’s OK,” the president told Tenney’s constituents, in urging them to decamp for the Milwaukee suburbs. "Don’t worry about your house.”
It’s true that Upstate New York has been battered by deindustrialization, and has tried to swim against the tide. Since 2000, New York State leads the nation in the value of “megadeal” corporate subsidies, defined by Good Jobs First, a tax break watchdog, as projects involving more than $50 million in subsidies. New York made 24 such deals, worth $11.8 billion. Only a quarter of those were in the New York City area, which accounts for more than two thirds the state’s GDP and nearly two thirds of its population. The rest were upstate, including the six biggest deals.
It hasn’t been enough to spur a general recovery, as Jim Heaney and Charlotte Keith showed in an Investigative Post investigation in March. During Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tenure, upstate job growth is at 2.7 percent, compared to 16 percent in New York City, 7.4 percent in its suburbs, and 11 percent nationally, despite the governor’s efforts to redirect downstate productivity north.
So in a funny way, Wisconsin is actually taking a page from New York here in giving Foxconn a pass on future state income tax, capital investment tax, and sales tax exemptions on construction materials. The largest state subsidy ever awarded in Wisconsin had been about $65 million, to Mercury Marine in 2009, not all of which has been claimed.
At any rate, Trump is wrong that New Yorkers should move to Wisconsin to get a job, which isn’t exactly thriving either. (They’d be better off moving to New York City.) But the real lesson in the Foxconn deal is that Trump has conceded that his “Made in America” policy, such as it exists, consists of the usual political horse-trading and subsidies that prop up isolated, negotiated investments in American manufacturing.
If the president had made a concerted policy push to revive Rust Belt factories, or was planning on it, Upstate New York and Wisconsin might both stand to benefit. Instead, they’re where U.S. states have been for decades: In competition to dismantle tax and regulatory systems to appease flighty corporate bosses.
Acceptance is one thing. Asking women to visually categorize their bodies is quite another.
The iconic campaign was picked by every one of the Advertising Age judges as belonging on the list, and one that was described by the panel as “groundbreaking, brave, bold, insightful, transparent and authentic.” As Ad Age states, Dove began its campaign with a global survey in 2004 that found, among other things, that only 23 …
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.