Dove has moved their marketing strategy away from merely using "Real Women" as models and towards manipulating "Real Women" as part of totally unscientific experiments that prove nothing. The latest iteration of this project is Dove Patches, a patch for your arm full of a magic substance that makes you feel more beautiful.
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...
DOVE’S latest ad campaign involved placing Britain’s “perfect mum” across a massive billboard in London. It’s got mums across the nation fuming thanks to its “en…
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 Sarah Carr @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 22 02:50:00 PDT 2017
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
Leigh epitomizes the underemployed. The 39-year-old has a master’s degree in library science from a top-ranked school, years of experience working the circulation desk in a Boston library, and an IQ of 145. He is reliable and considerate, and he works hard.
Yet for the past eight years, since he lost his salaried Boston library job due to austerity measures, the only permanent job Leigh has landed is at the T.J. Maxx near his mother’s home on Cape Cod. He works part time dusting, vacuuming, and washing the mirrors, and he is paid the minimum wage, $11 an hour. Over the past few years, Leigh has applied for dozens of library positions. Every one has turned him down, most without an interview.
What’s held him back? The library business is contracting, not expanding, and full-time employment is hard to come by, of course. But Leigh, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his family’s privacy, faces an additional hurdle: He has a mild form of autism, a condition that used to be labeled “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” and is distinct from both autism and Asperger’s.
Autistic adults may very well be the most disadvantaged disability group in the American workplace. Only 14 percent of adults with autism held paid jobs in their communities, according to one May report from Drexel University’s Autism Institute (the report looked just at those who had received state developmental disabilities services). Yet a pathetic 2 percent of all autism research funding goes to understanding adulthood and aging, according to a 2017 report from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, based on 2015 numbers. While most research is focused on figuring out how to prevent or treat autism disorders when they are first diagnosed at young ages, we also have to remember that this work has not yet materialized as a solution for the more than 3.5 million Americans living with autism. “It’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that there’s been growing recognition of the fact that children grow up to be adults,” says Susan Daniels, executive secretary of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. As Leigh’s story demonstrates, autistic adults have their own needs—needs that we as a society are just figuring out how to fill.
* * *
For Leigh, autism has complicated the job search on a number of fronts: He takes most everything literally, so when a job listing requires only a bachelor’s degree, he neglects to mention his master’s degree on his résumé. He lacks the networking skills and friend base that could provide personal connections and social introductions to potential employers. And in interviews, he invariably presents as quirky, which can be off-putting for those less familiar with folks “on the spectrum.” When asked last year during one library interview how well he would do managing a small team of volunteers, Leigh replied, “Not very well. I can be tyrannical.” He did not get the job.
“I’m at a precipice,” Leigh says. “I’m so high-functioning that I don’t really register as disabled, but I’m not high-functioning enough that I can easily utilize anything social.”
When Leigh was 2 years old, his mother, Carole, noticed that her son behaved differently. He didn’t make eye contact or talk (a delay the family pediatrician implied was the mother’s fault, instructing her “to repeat until he gets it”).
Leigh clearly absorbed information and communicated in his own way, however. Carole recalls one day when Leigh, a toddler, climbed into the cabinet and started banging pots and pans. Over and over again, she cried at her son to quit the banging and put the pots down. “It was like I wasn’t there,” she says. Desperate, she finally wrote “stop” on a piece of paper and held it in front of Leigh’s face. He immediately paused. “It’s like the channels are different,” she said. “We weren’t always sure he heard or understood us.”
Leigh was teased sometimes during his years in the Nauset public schools on Cape Cod, where he took mostly honors classes and had a small group of friends—his “Faction,” he called them—who looked out for him. I was Leigh’s classmate during middle and high school and took many of those honors classes with him. I mostly remember his love for the Moody Blues’ music, as well as the rapport he developed with a few select teachers and classmates, and how grounded it was in a mutual respect for heart and mind (more grounded, I would argue, than the vast majority of teenage friendships). Leigh would regularly rise and salute our English teacher; he engaged in intellectual banter with our biology and chemistry teacher; he routinely addresses people using terms like “me lady,” “fare thee well,” or with a salute and bow. The Moody Blues (of course) quote he chose for his senior class yearbook: “Why do we never get an answer when we’re knocking at the door.”
“He had an utter respect for the people who were his friends or were kind to him, and it came out in his behaving like a knight,” recalls Amanda Sevak, one of his longtime friends and a member of his Faction.
Leigh still tries to come to the rescue: One day a few years ago, Sevak reached out to Leigh with an urgent question. She was chaperoning a field trip for her twin grade-school daughters’ class, and an autistic classmate was having a meltdown. He had cut himself but refused to wear a bandage.
Leigh calmly explained that they should tell the boy that the “strange sensation of the adhesive” would be preferable to the pain of getting an infection from air exposure. Sevak quickly relayed the message to the child. It connected with the child in a way that other pleas had not.
Although Leigh strikes most strangers as very serious, those who know him well often glimpse his humorous side. His mother recalls one time when he brought a video to his special education class featuring Victor Borge, a comedian and musician who pronounces different phonetic sounds when reading punctuation marks. It was one of his favorite clips, yet the screening still made Leigh laugh so uproariously he fell off his chair. And when the senior class decided to pelt water balloons at one another to celebrate graduation, everyone assumed Leigh would take a pass. Instead he showed up with a tin man–style container filled with water and gleefully sprayed his classmates.
When he graduated from high school, Leigh knew he wanted to pursue a career. And I don’t think anyone who knew him in high school would have questioned his capacity to succeed in a profession, at least one that didn’t require great social ease and self-possession: He had thrived in classes that were intellectually challenging and managed to find a kind of niche. He attended Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences for two years before questioning whether he could handle the patient counseling required of pharmacists. “Given my troubles with socialization, I was a bit leery,” he said.
So he switched to the library track, earning a master’s degree in library science from Simmons College. Over 12 years, he worked his way up from volunteer to full-time employee at a Boston public library branch, where he discovered that he was capable of interacting with patrons while manning the circulation desk. He lived by himself and enjoyed the independence and solitude. Unlike the more rural Cape Cod, Boston was a good city for him since he could easily navigate on foot and public transportation (he does not drive).
In 2010, Leigh’s quiet life was upended when he lost his job due to austerity measures across the city’s library system. Within a year, he moved back home to the Cape to live with his mother and look for work from there (his father died in late 2008).
The job search was unending. At first, Leigh sought out only library jobs. He estimates that he submitted resumes for 20 to 30 open positions scattered across New England—to no avail.
When he asked for advice, he sometimes ran up against job stereotyping, Leigh says. People suggest computer coding to him all the time, since many people with mild autism are detail-oriented and adept at solitary work (a new startup called Coding Autism aims to train people on the spectrum for technology jobs). “People look at my autism and assume I like coding,” Leigh says, adding an exuberant, “Not here!”
Instead, Leigh has two great passions: books and birds. He craves a job that is intellectually engaging and relates to at least one of those areas. Yet most of the jobs available for those with disabilities on the Cape are more menial in nature, like his T.J. Maxx position. “There are jobs for more severely disabled people” but not ones set aside for people with more modest challenges, Leigh says. “People with mild disabilities like my own don’t register on anyone’s radar.”
In addition to the T.J. Maxx job, Leigh eventually began volunteering at a Cape library and for an organization called Wild Care, where he feeds baby birds. He broadened his search from library work to any clerical position. He also met with a counselor through a state-sponsored vocational rehabilitation program, but for years his job search produced few interviews—and no jobs.
In early 2016, however, Leigh’s job search seemed to turn a corner when he connected with Cape Abilities, a local organization that provides a range of support and job placement services for people with disabilities. Leigh’s first counselor there, Peggy Boskey, was determined to find him a job that made better use of his mind. They began corresponding regularly and meeting every other week, working on résumés, interview strategies, and more. Given Leigh’s extensive education and experience, as well as his formidable intellect, Boskey assumed it would only take a few months to find him something more stimulating than janitorial work.
* * *
Employment rates for autistic adults are abysmal in both absolute and relative terms—they’re lower than those for just about any other disability type studied. Drexel’s Autism Institute found that 58 percent of young adults on the spectrum worked at some point in the years after high school, compared with 74 percent of those with an intellectual disability and 91 percent of those with an emotional disturbance. “People with autism tend to flounder more,” said Anne Roux, a research scientist at the Autism Institute who worked on the study.
Some employers and social service agencies have started trying to make inroads on the problem. A couple major businesses like Microsoft and PetSmart have prioritized hiring and supporting autistic employees. Microsoft, for instance, did away with its traditional interview process for applicants on the spectrum, instead inviting them to come and spend several days on site so they could be observed while working on projects.
And in many places, including Leigh’s home state of Massachusetts, adults with autism qualify for more state-sponsored job training and support than they did just a few years ago. A 2014 state law expanded the number of people on the spectrum who are eligible for help from the state’s Department of Developmental Services for services like job coaching (previously it was more difficult for those with IQs above 70 to qualify). More than 1,300 people have been newly deemed eligible for services as a result of this change.
Among the lessons learned: The autistic population is unfathomably diverse, in terms of skills, interests, and aptitudes. That means there is no easy, one-size-fits-all accommodation that employers can make and no single occupation that could be targeted as a solution for people on the spectrum. Some have severe cognitive or intellectual impairments; others, like Leigh, have sky-high IQs. Some possess little to no verbal skills; others can communicate with much greater fluency. Some are more socially aggressive than the average person; others are more withdrawn.
“The abilities of people with autism are just as diverse—maybe even more diverse than other people,” said Denise Resnik, a founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center who has a 26-year-old son with autism. That means the outreach to potential employers needs to be both broader (encompassing a larger range of job types) and more concrete (making clearer the potential needs and accommodations of autistic workers). It isn’t enough to create thousands of new positions for computer coders with autism spectrum disorders because thousands of others, including Leigh, won’t go that route. Technology jobs might be higher level and better paid, but Leigh says he can’t wrap his head around HTML and doesn’t enjoy coding-related work.
Resnik, as well as some employers, agree that once an autistic worker lands a suitable job, he or she usually excels. “I’ve heard over and over that they tend to be the first to arrive, the last to leave, the hardest workers, and people who bring out the best in their co-workers,” said Resnik. For people on the spectrum, work tends to be the main priority in their lives, rather than competing against social and other interests, Resnik added.
That said, part of the employer outreach component is educating potential bosses about unique needs of employees with autism. Phil Francis, the former CEO of PetSmart, said he’s found it more challenging, on average, for workers on the spectrum to follow multistep, complicated instructions; he tells their supervisors to break it down or assign more discrete tasks. “They are different in some respects, but many of the differences are highly positive,” he says.
The biggest hurdle in many instances seems to be helping them get to the point of being employees. That might require changing interview processes, where autistic individuals typically flounder—perhaps by allowing a counselor to sit in, ensuring that someone familiar with autism conducts the interview, or adopting Microsoft’s “interview-less” approach. Julie Urda, another of Leigh’s counselors at Cape Abilities, says people on the spectrum typically “don’t get nuance or body language or social convention,” yet interviewers often rigidly assess them on those traits.
Workers who are autistic often require at least some minimal level of ongoing job support, a person who can serve as intermediary if conflicts or confusion arise over their role or conduct. Leigh’s mother, Carole, says she feels like people with autism would benefit tremendously from job coaches who they can check in with, even if only for five minutes on the phone each week. “Someone who is readily available and can step in before misunderstandings get too big,” she says, noting that people with the disorder often struggle to “read” other people, as much as they may want to.
Leigh had volunteered as a docent at one wildlife organization but stopped because he struggled to know when to approach people and when to hang back. Yet he possesses his own form of empathy, and genuinely wants other people to feel at ease around him. Said his mother: “He’s very uncomfortable about making other people uncomfortable.”
* * *
Despite the increased awareness, the problem, as always, is how to scale up solutions in a country where the national conversation surrounding autism is so focused on young children and where we know so little about what drives macrolevel trends and outcomes for autistic adults. Our knowledge is patchy and anecdotal rather than systemic and informed by data. That’s partly because it’s “less sexy and more difficult” to study adulthood than to do research on “brains and genes”—the two topics that receive the lion’s share of the funding, said Roux. There’s a lot hype around prevention and finding a “cure” and very little around helping adults thrive.
“The consequence is a stagnation to the quality of life of people who are already with us … it’s hard to improve outcomes because we don’t know enough,” said Roux. Daniels from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee says she envisions this changing in the coming years, as the National Institutes of Health and other groups have started new programs that fund projects aimed at helping adolescents transition to adulthood or support adults on the spectrum with independent living.
Better and more widespread research could help us pinpoint the unique needs of autistic adults; the most effective ways of supporting them in finding, and keeping, jobs; and the states that are doing the best at providing services. We don’t even know exactly how many adults on the spectrum live in the United States, said Roux.
We also don’t know how severity of the disorder impacts employment prospects. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the highest-functioning people on the spectrum can be particularly hard to place in jobs since they can, and want to, do more ambitious work than the menial roles so often assigned disabled workers in the American economy. Yet routine interactions rarely come easily, even for the most verbal of them.
It didn’t turn out to be as easy as Peggy Boskey had hoped last year to find Leigh a better job. On the tourism-dominated Cape, service industry jobs abound, but entry-level office positions are more elusive. And those that exist often have dozens of qualified applicants. Leigh came close to close to landing one library job but struggled with the interview. “If they have three people who are qualified, they are going to go with the one they feel most comfortable with,” Boskey said. Leigh wants more engaging work but also needs it. He is trying to complete the paperwork to qualify for disability payments, which he currently does not receive. His mother would like him to be as financially secure as possible, particularly when she dies. Leigh has no siblings or other close relatives to fill the void that she will someday leave. “I’m trying to set things up as best I can for him,” she says.
She says she finds it encouraging how many more life and career options people with disabilities have than they did a generation or two ago. “We’ve greatly expanded our definition of who can take part in humanity,” she says. But there’s still a huge distance to go.
In January, Leigh finally got a break when the Barnstable Housing Authority hired him for a temporary, part-time position doing general office work, including preparing spreadsheets and retrieving mailings. He dropped some of his hours at T.J. Maxx but continued the two volunteer positions in an effort to keep his options open. It wasn’t clear whether the housing authority job would continue past the summer.
His counselor Urda noted that the housing authority representative who interviewed and hired Leigh has autistic relatives, which made her more aware and accommodating throughout the process. That personal connection is not something people with autism—and in need of jobs—can usually count on.
Last month, Leigh learned that his job at the housing authority would conclude at the end of August, putting him back at square one.
Leigh’s mother says that in spite of the long search, and its many disappointments, her son has never complained about his limited professional options.
As a society, though, we should be concerned. Leigh’s story has many lessons. But, for me, two stand out: First, too little attention has been paid to the employment needs of those with mild disabilities, as a disproportionate share of the assistance, support, and set-asides (understandably) target those with the most severe needs. We shouldn’t stop supporting employees with the most intense challenges, but we need to be much more willing to make accommodations and develop new programs for less disabled workers like Leigh, rather than expecting them to seamlessly “blend in” or relegating them to narrow career tracks.
Beyond that, change requires not only greater awareness but concrete alterations to the hiring and employee-support processes. More employers need to figure out a way to understand the skills of people with autism. Microsoft’s model, developing a distinct interview process for applicants on the spectrum, is a good start. As the numbers of Americans with autism spectrum disorders continues to rise, it’s not just a matter of social justice but of national economic health. And, in Leigh’s case, we’re failing to make use of a unique and elegant mind that continues, more than 20 years later, to enrich the few people who have gotten to know him well, a mind that has much to offer the lives—and, hopefully, workplaces—of most anyone who gives him a chance.
The Massachusetts Daily Collegian
Dove's newest campaign sparks controversy
by erica @ Auditions Free
Fri Sep 22 18:58:33 PDT 2017
Male Model for Country Music Video Location: Nashville, TN Type: Music Video We are casting a male model for a country music video, to play opposite a female recording artist. Here is the breakdown: Height: 6’1 and over ONLY. Age: 18 – 22 years old Race: Caucasian Type: Fits in with a country music theme, […]
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...
Read on to discover Molly’s story, how she overcame her depression from losing her sight at 14 and why we asked her for her thoughts on Dove Shower Foam
by Heather Schwedel @ Slate Articles
Sun Aug 13 16:04:00 PDT 2017
This has been the summer of Wonder Woman, of “Despacito,” of rosé and brosé and frosé, of Game of Thrones spoilers, and of near-weekly red weddings at the White House. But more than all of those things, it’s been the summer of Halo Top. The low-calorie ice cream–maker, which didn’t exist before 2012, has given the ice-cream industry a brain freeze, forcing its competitors to remake their strategies in the mold of its success.
Between 2015 and 2016, Halo Top’s sales soared by 2,500 percent, and in 2017 the brand gained a foothold in major chains like Walmart and launched its first national advertising campaign. Taste reported last month that after Walmart started carrying seven flavors of Halo Top in April, it quickly started outselling every other ice cream the megastore carried. Just within the past few weeks, Halo Top passed legacy brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs to take the title of America’s best-selling pint. And now Reuters reports that Halo Top is exploring a sale and that it’s already been valued at as much as $2 billion. On top of all that, more flavors are on the way.
That we are all now living in Halo Top’s world is reason to celebrate if you, like me, have picked up on the brand’s particular compulsion-scratching attraction and decided you love the stuff anyway. But Halo Top’s ascent also reflects some of the more fraught trends in diet-adjacent dining these days: It speaks the language of “healthy” food—but draws its power from the unhealthiest of eating habits.
Halo Top’s main selling point is that an entire pint of the stuff contains about as many calories (240 to 350) as other ice creams might contain in a single serving or serving and a half. But unlike other “healthy” ice creams that came before it, Halo Top doesn’t taste like expired yogurt. It tastes pretty good, in fact, at least once you get used to its mousselike texture, a constant reminder that what you’re eating isn’t exactly regular ice cream. It varies from flavor to flavor, sure, and not everyone likes it, but still: A whole pint of ice cream that’s only 240 calories—that’s living the dream.
How does Halo Top do it? The ice cream’s secret weapons are stevia and prebiotic fiber (which replace the sugar and fat of typical ice cream) and … air. Yup, air. Halo Top has more air whipped into it than other ice creams, meaning it weighs just 256 grams to the 428 grams of a Ben & Jerry’s pint, as Time has pointed out. Much of the brand’s success can be attributed to good timing: When founder and CEO Justin Woolverton began messing around with his personal ice-cream maker circa 2010–11, he told Taste, so-called natural sweeteners like stevia were relatively new, so there weren’t many manufacturers experimenting with them on a large scale. He got in early.
If you look at the nutrition label on each pint of Halo Top, the serving size is still the typical half-cup, but the brand plays up the “go ahead and eat a whole pint” idea. Each pint’s label lists its total calorie count in big, central type—bigger type than even is used for the flavor’s name or the Halo Top logo. Marketing and packaging materials encourage customers to eat the whole thing. Seals say things like, “Stop when you hit the bottom” and “No bowl, no regrets.”
The more times a person decides to eat a whole pint instead of stretching one out into several servings, the more pints Halo Top sells. The brand is well aware of this phenomenon: Early wholesale customers had trouble keeping the stuff in stock because “it became very apparent on our end that people were eating Halo Top five times a week, or 10 times a week, which is far more than any supermarket expects customers to eat ice cream,” the company’s president told Taste.
If you’re a calorie counter, you get this. If not, well, it’s hard to explain what a life-changer this product feels like for people who routinely log their meals in MyFitnessPal. It’s magic, a hall pass, a get-out-of-jail-free card. All any dieting person really wants—and I am extrapolating from personal experience here—is to eat a whole container of something. Preferably that thing will taste good or at least not bad, but what’s crucial, in the end, is getting to eat all of it. What Halo Top does so brilliantly is tap into Americans’ love of bingeing. And if the thinking behind Halo Top seems like the thinking of disordered eating, I don’t blame the company for that: The warped mindset of disordered eating seems to underlie pretty much all conversations about food and weight and dieting these days.
Halo Top would never use the word fat in its branding, but that’s what you see when you imagine someone eating a whole pint of ice cream, right? Fat, sad, alone, female. In addition to the stevia, the prebiotic fiber, and the air, a great deal of Halo Top’s success surely comes from the company’s branding, which decouples an ugly, unfair association from a self-indulgent habit. With its poppy, millennial-targeting packaging, Halo Top just doesn’t look like a diet ice cream. It’s managed to brand itself the “healthy” ice cream and recontextualize the pathetic act of eating a pint of ice cream in one go. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner argued recently in the New York Times Magazine, “dieting” has become tacky in the popular culture, so the makers of “diet” products have had to find a new script. Halo Top’s Instagram-friendly aesthetic announces it as something cool, not a diet-diet product and certainly not for fat people. (Though the word fat itself is also fraught, and whether it’s OK to say it or not is constantly in flux.) Because “losing weight” is now tacky, too, Halo Top’s promise of extra protein is perfect for getting “strong.” If you squint, its “natural” ingredients aren’t so far from “eating clean,” another favorite code phrase of modern health foods. When you dig into a Halo Top pint, you imagine you’re part of a legion of fitness models indulging in a guilty pleasure, not one of countless Americans who struggle with weight.
As Brodesser-Akner argued in her piece, our culture continues to talk around the reality that, wellness trend and body-acceptance movements be damned, actually losing weight and keeping it off can be nearly impossible. We receive the mixed messages that we shouldn’t want to lose weight and should accept our bodies as they are, but also that we would be healthier if we took up less space, which is why we should find a diet and stay on it forever. It all adds up to a lot of cross-talk, wasted energy, and precious little progress, in terms of both pounds lost and happiness gained.
In this light, eating “healthy” ice cream doesn’t make sense, but nothing about bingeing or America’s culture of dieting really does. Why don’t Halo Top’s fans just eat a little bit of real ice cream that tastes good and has a normal mouthfeel? Asking that is like asking why I don’t just start eating a plant-based diet or start exercising for 30 minutes a day, five times per week, like Michael Pollan and the American Heart Association have been telling me to do for years. If it were that easy, wouldn’t we be doing it already? Halo Top’s reputation as the “healthy” ice cream has inspired more than a few publications to ask questions like, “Is Halo Top Ice Cream Good for You?” or explain that, actually, “Low-Cal Ice Cream Like Halo Top Could Be Making You Fat.” Time went so far as to write, “Unlike fruits and vegetables that are naturally full of nutrients, Halo Top is a processed dairy product with sugar and sweeteners.” Shocker: This ice cream is not a thing that grows on organic farms. Of course Halo Top isn’t good for you. It may get called “healthy” ice cream, but at this point healthy has almost lost all meaning. Halo Top is healthier than traditional ice cream, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, that there’s anything healthy about eating an entire pint of ice cream, or that ice cream in general is getting healthier. But it’s how a lot of people eat, and Halo Top has realized that and capitalized on it.
Other brands are joining the fray. In recent weeks, Breyers rolled out its Halo Top competitor, Breyers Delights, pints of ice cream that give the most prime real estate on their labels over to advertising their sub-350 calorie counts. More are sure to follow.
That’s fine—I’m eager for more companies to embrace stevia. Maybe Häagen-Dazs will iterate and fix Halo Top’s texture problem. Maybe the food industry will figure out how to remove three-fourths of the calories from every type of food. No matter what, we can cheer America’s ice cream aisles becoming healthier, if not exactly healthy.
But when they do, it will also be a troubling outgrowth of our twisted relationship with dieting. And that’s a problem even stevia can’t solve.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 23 12:17:00 PDT 2017
With Obamacare repeal defeated for the time being, Democrats have begun looking ahead and crafting plans to expand health coverage to the millions of Americans who still remain uninsured. On Tuesday, Vox previewed one such proposal from Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, which would let middle- and upper-income Americans buy into Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. “Exclusive: Sen. Schatz’s New Health Care Idea Could Be the Democratic Party’s Future,” declared the somewhat breathless, if technically accurate, headline. (I mean, Dwayne Johnson could be the Democratic Party's future, too.)
When I asked Schatz's office for more details, I was told the bill is still a work in progress with some pieces subject to change. But after reading a draft summary of the plan that's been making the rounds in health-policy circles, it strikes me more like an old idea with some important new twists: Schatz wants to bring back the concept of a strong public option on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. Medicaid just happens to be the vehicle to do it.
As you no doubt recall, Democrats spent much of the 2009 Obamacare wars arguing over whether to create a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers. But even among public-option advocates, there were two camps. On one side, you had progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, advocating a “strong” public option that would save costs by using the same doctor payment rates as Medicare. Moderate and conservative Dems saw this as a step too close to socialized medicine and preferred a weaker public option that would have to negotiate rates with providers just like Aetna or Humana.
In the end, both ideas proved objectionable to industry-friendly centrists like Connecticut's Joe Lieberman. The public option died.
Eight years later, liberals are now seriously debating the merits of full-on Medicare-for-all. In this new, lefty0friendly milieu, Schatz is more or less resuscitating the strong public option and serving it up as a political half-measure, just in case Congress can't muster the votes for single payer whenever Democrats next regain power.
As I said, though, it's not quite the same idea as before.
Instead of creating a federally run insurance plan, Schatz would give states the option to offer Medicaid coverage for purchase through their Obamacare exchanges. The plans would be open to all residents who were not otherwise insured and, according to the outline, would be modeled on the sort of insurance offered through Obamacare's Medicaid expansion—which, among other things, means it would cover the ACA's 10 essential health benefits. Crucially, premiums would be capped at no more than 9.5 percent of a family's income. Customers could also use their Obamacare tax credits toward the cost.
Letting middle-class families buy into Medicaid this way would fix two of the Affordable Care Act's fundamental flaws. First, it would create a health plan of last resort in places where private carriers decided not to do business. That seems more necessary than ever now that dozens of rural counties have just narrowly avoided being left without insurance options for next year. Second, it would create a new guarantee of affordable coverage for upper-middle-class families. Today, households that make more than 400 percent of the poverty line aren't eligible for Obamacare's tax credits. That's created millions of disgruntled Americans, who've been left exposed to rising premiums on the individual market. Opening up Medicaid to everyone, and putting a ceiling on its cost, would give that group some protection.1
It's not clear that either of these moves would vastly expand the number of Americans with health coverage. But they would sure up Obamacare's promises. Every family would have access to coverage on the individual market, and it would cost less than a tenth of their income, no exceptions.
Schatz's plan has one other important plank. It would increase Medicaid's payment rates to doctors and hospitals so that they matched Medicare's, with Washington picking up the full cost of the change. This move would be expensive—Medicaid pinches its pennies today, paying providers 72 percent of what Medicare offers, on average. But it would likely go a long way toward fixing what many people consider Medicaid's biggest flaw: the fact that many doctors simply won't accept the program's patients because it pays too little. Hiking the pay rates would give Medicaid enrollees access to wider networks of care and make the program more appealing to middle-class customers.
One quirk of using Medicaid to create a public option is that it might not really be public, strictly speaking. While Medicaid is funded by states and the feds, most of its enrollees today actually receive their insurance through private managed-care organizations that contract with the government. Judging from Schatz's outline, a state could lean on the same companies to offer buy-in plans. Some of these carriers, like Centene and Molina, already sell coverage on Obamacare's insurance exchanges; in places where they do, Schatz's plan might simply serve as a way to extend ACA-like subsidies to more upper-middle-class families.
That might make the Medicaid buy-in a bit more palatable to the insurance industry, which came out hard against the public option in 2009. Instead of putting them out of business, it could pad their profits. Of course, that might also be a turn-off to the left-wing activists who've been driving the Democrats' health-care debate, many of whom want to drive the private sector out of the health insurance business entirely.
There's at least one other obvious downside to using Medicaid as a public insurance backstop: States might simply choose not to expand it, just like many chose not to expand the program under the ACA. For that reason, some Democrats might still prefer to let Americans buy in to Medicare, since it's available everywhere.2 The upside of using Medicaid, so far as the left might be concerned, is that it would give states flexibility to make their buy-in's more generous. A state like California might even use it as a vehicle to pursue single payer, with federal funding.
Potential qualms aside, Schatz's plan says something interesting about the changing politics of health care. Once maligned as a poor program for poor people, Democrats are now treating Medicaid as a viable option for ensuring the middle class. For that, we can thank its successful expansion under Obamacare, as well as the Republican Party's failed attempts to slash its budget, which helped rally liberals in support of Medicaid.
Schatz's plan has also shown how far the Overton window has shifted on health care. Less than a decade ago, the public option was a bridge too far Democrats. Now, it's being treated as a modest step toward something bigger. “If there’s ever a vote for single-payer, I’m a ‘yes,’ ” Schatz told Vox. “But there are lots of things we can do in the meantime.”
1For families that earn 300 to 400 percent of the poverty line, Obamacare's subsidies cap premiums at about 9.6 percent of income. So you could argue that Schatz's plan is effectively expanding Obamacare-like subsidies to everyone.
2 I suppose Congress could also let people buy into both, and see which gets more traction.
by 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.”
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by Libby Lewis @ Slate Articles
Fri Aug 11 09:18:00 PDT 2017
So far, exploding air bags made by the Japanese auto supplier Takata have been linked to 18 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide. For its failures, the company has been besieged by lawsuits, a global recall, and finally bankruptcy. But odds are there will be more harm. A lot more.
For now, those future victims are potentiality burrowed away in one figure: 69 million. That’s Takata’s own estimate of how many flawed or questionable air bags are still in cars on the road, or on the market, as of July. Somewhere within that best guess are the lives that will be changed, or ended, because of malfunctioning air bags that use the same chemical compound the Taliban uses to make some of its roadside bombs.
But Takata and the carmakers that used the bags have structured the company’s bankruptcy to fend off liability for their actions—arguing that it’s necessary to salvage the disaster. In the end, it may leave future victims with no one to hold liable.
For years, Takata used ammonium nitrate to deploy its air bags because it was cheaper than what its rivals used, despite evidence it was volatile and could sometimes turn an air bag’s metal inflater into a mass of flying shrapnel. (Takata still uses an altered version of the compound in some of its replacement bags, with the approval of U.S. regulators.) As injuries mounted, Takata covered up the problem, and U.S. regulators lurched into overseeing a confusing, chaotic recall—the largest in U.S. auto history. When Takata filed for bankruptcy to deal with its vast liabilities in June, more than half of the recalled air bags had not yet been replaced.
Several states and dozens of families have sued Takata and some carmakers over deaths or injuries caused by metal shrapnel from their cars’ air bag inflaters exploding, either in collisions or by deploying on their own. Those families are represented in Takata’s bankruptcy—in a formal committee of creditors who are injury victims.
So what happens to those faceless victims-to-be?
As part of its criminal settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Takata has agreed to pay $125 million to injury victims, both current and future. That won’t be enough for the losses to come. The injuries people have sustained in these cases so far range from quadriplegia to loss of sight, hearing, and speech. And insiders are expecting many, many more. “It seems to be generally accepted there will be billions of dollars in claims,” the U.S. trustee in the case wrote in a recent court filing.
A Chinese competitor, Key Safety Systems, says it plans to pay $1.6 billion for the healthy parts of Takata’s business, which make seat belts and child seats. It is leaving behind the air bag inflater business that caused all the wreckage. That sounds like a lot of money. But if the sale goes through, most of that will likely go to the carmakers that have paid for much of the recalls and to the lawyers and advisers to the bankruptcy. It won’t leave much for victims.
The Chinese buyers won’t be responsible; why would they buy unless they were free and clear of those liabilities? And after the bankruptcy, there won’t be any Takata left for victims to appeal to.
The only realistic source of payment for those future victims, in financial terms, is the carmakers. They’re the ones that installed the bad airbags. And there’s significant evidence some of them knew about the flaws and ignored them, because Takata’s air bags were cheaper. But the carmakers have positioned themselves to control Takata’s bankruptcy by persuading the disgraced supplier to let them finance the process with money they already owe Takata for air bags Takata gave them on credit. If they pull it off, it’s a brilliant plan—for them, at least.
Robert Rasmussen, a professor of bankruptcy law at the University of Southern California, said it’s a novel approach to funding a recall that will last several years at the least. “It’s good if you believe what Takata says,” he said, “and I have no reason not to.” Takata says it would cost far more to borrow the money from banks. In theory, that savings would go to creditors.
But any savings would come at a huge price for everyone other than the carmakers.
In exchange for funding the bankruptcy, the carmakers want the bankruptcy version of superpowers. And they want to use them to fend off and limit their own liability for the Takata disaster. In other words, the carmakers want to use the powerful tools in bankruptcy law for themselves, even though they are not in bankruptcy.
Here’s some of what they’re pushing the judge to approve, according to court documents and interviews.
First, they want the bankruptcy equivalent of a force field to protect them from the consumer and personal injury lawsuits that have been filed against both Takata and them. That powerful bankruptcy protection is normally given only to debtors, like Takata.
But carmakers argued in court this week that they, as lenders, should get that protection as well—to make the bankruptcy work. Lawyers for the injury victims called that argument “the first salvo by (the carmakers) to coopt the bankruptcy of the supplier to their own advantage.”
Next, the carmakers want the legal protections that go to lenders that loan to bankrupt firms. That would mean securing, or guaranteeing, the money they give Takata with Takata’s remaining assets. And that would give them a lot of control over how Takata’s money can be spent.
Next, they want to use that control, in part, to harness their liability for Takata’s deadly air bags. According to lawyers in the case, the carmakers want to set up a trust for paying victims’ claims, funnel all the claims to that trust, and bar victims from suing them elsewhere.
It’s a model derived from the Johns Manville Corp. over asbestos—the first mass tort case to go into bankruptcy. But the purpose of the Manville trust was to keep a bankrupt business alive. Here, the carmakers that want the trust are not in bankruptcy.
Another condition carmakers want as lenders: to bar the injury victims from using any money from the bankruptcy to sue them, no matter how liable the carmakers turn out to be in Takata’s fraud. And they want a strict limit on how much money Takata’s victims can spend from their official bankruptcy funds to even investigate how much carmakers knew about Takata’s fraud and when they knew it. “It’s a fact of life in many cases —where the lender wants to make it difficult and risky for the creditors to sue or challenge the lender,” said William Weintraub, a partner at Goodwin Procter and a bankruptcy expert.
Here, the lender may be co-liable in wrongdoing that has led to an unknown amount of damage.
Lawyers for the dead and injured and for the states are fighting the carmakers’ push for power; it’s for the bankruptcy judge to decide the extent of their control over the case.
Where does this all leave those future victims? It’s certain the judge will name an advocate to speak on their behalf. There may even be a separate fund created for them. But for how much? For how many? History suggests that future victims never get compensated as well as known victims.
“The dynamics are: When you have actual breathing people with actual breathing claims, they tend to get compensated today,” Rasmussen said. The others get less, “because they’re not there.”
And now, those unknowns could also be bargaining against another living, breathing group—the carmakers, imbued with bankruptcy superpowers.
by @ PZ's Podcast
Sat Nov 13 10:20:59 PST 2010
Dan Curtis went straight from Gothic Horror soap operas to the greatest epic ever made for television. His heart was always in his work, from "Dark Shadows" to "The Night Stalker" to... "The Winds of War". When it comes to his 29-hour genius production "War and Remembrance, Can't Touch This! Here is the story of an undepressed man.
Skin care company Dove is speaking out on the issue of "fake beauty" being promoted in photographs through Photoshopping. Rather than address the issue dir
by Cleo Levin @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 23 08:20:00 PDT 2017
In the past year, Amazon has quietly slipped into the apparel-manufacturing business, with goods ranging from lingerie to men’s dress shoes. These private-label brands have innocuous names like Paris Sunday and Goodthreads, and they haven’t made huge splashes in their respective markets—except for one. Scout + Ro, Amazon’s children’s brand, has exploded, according to a recent report from analytics firm 1010data. The brand has increased its offerings five times over and achieved a 542 percent increase in overall growth year over year. The kids are wearing Amazon.
As a faceless corporation begins to dress children, the truly scary prospect is not simply the threat that Scout + Ro poses to precious, local brick-and-mortars. It’s how mind-numbingly dull these Amazon clothes are.
If you search for Scout + Ro on Google, you’ll find no dedicated online store or URL, just an Amazon landing page that features a small logo and generic campaign image. The store, such as it is, borrows its palette of gray and tangerine straight from the Amazon mothership, and with a half-hearted nod toward whimsy, perches a bird atop the o in Scout.
The brand is generally designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, with just enough creativity to seem relevant. The name itself follows the well-worn millennial tradition of sticking an ampersand or plus sign between two cute, vaguely vintage-sounding words. Scout scores double points, as it’s also part of the somewhat inexplicable To Kill a Mockingbird–inspired baby names trend.
The brand’s message is based around the very simple principle that children’s clothing should be comfortable and designed for play. Beyond that, it’s really more about what the clothes are not than what they are. One of the brand messages is, “Never interrupt a playdate with itchy fabrics or fussy styles.”
The clothes are all remarkably similar with only slight variations from item to item. You can, for instance, buy almost the same short-sleeve dress in five different, equally safe patterns. This is not to say that children need to be dressed in shoulder pads or asymmetrical hems, just that Scout + Ro’s offerings appear to have been filched from the closet of an extremely unimaginative doll.
While the kids offerings at stores like Target and the Children’s Place try to cater to modern sensibilities with hashtagged catchphrases and destroyed denim, Scout + Ro clothing doesn’t even necessarily look contemporary. Instead, the pieces seem like something any child from a Disney sitcom in the past 30 years could have worn. There are no obnoxious slogans, no overly prissy ruffles or aggressive camouflage. While shirts that say “#1 Princess” or “Future Heartbreaker” won’t get points for panache or creativity, at least they show some character.
If clothes this dull were being sold somewhere other than Amazon, they would likely be left in the remainders basket, but Amazon already has a huge, captive audience and pool of Prime subscribers. A study from last year estimated that Amazon captures 43 cents of every dollar spent online. The site’s shoppers are happy to stock up on a whole variety of basic items with free, two-day shipping, which has led to success with other private label lines, showing that they can dominate categories like batteries and baby wipes. Scout + Ro clothes are simple enough that they can be thrown into the shopping cart with the rest of your Prime order—kids don’t really need to try on clothing in stretchy fabrics and unobjectionable colors.
Retail analysts also note that because Amazon aggregates data on the market, it can use that to inform its own designs and create logical price points. Quickly identifying and manufacturing trends is key to success in a fashion market moving ever more quickly. As Marc Bain at Quartz points out, the speed of production is what has allowed fast-fashion brands to overtake longtime favorites like Gap.
The clincher is that Amazon’s scale allows it to slightly underprice its competitors. The site encourages shoppers to comparison shop, placing equivalent brands in tabs next to the Scout + Ro items, which are priced just low enough that they seem of similar quality, but clearly the better deal, an average of about 35 percent cheaper.
Scout + Ro clearly has a winning business model, and parents will appreciate the ease of buying their kids’ wardrobe at the same time as their light bulbs and hedge trimmers. But dressing hideously as a child is a rite of passage, one that even the convenience of Amazon shouldn’t force us to ditch. Kids’ clothing should not be data-driven; kids should learn to root through messy piles of sale T-shirts to find one in a heinous shade of neon green printed with a giant cat head. They should have to occasionally wear a fussy velvet dress with an itchy collar or starchy pants. Cheesy, attention-grabbing, even ugly clothing is a key part of childhood. Let’s not one-click it into obsolescence.
by Olivia Waring @ The Sun
Sun Sep 24 12:46:45 PDT 2017
BELLA Hadid gives snappers an eye-popping glimpse of underboob as she heads out in a very daring red crop top The braless socialite-turned-supermodel, 20, grinned as she strolled past the cameras happily showing off her taught stomach and section of boob after stepping off yet another catwalk in Milan. Whipping her brown hair back, the […]
Because Molly lost her sight when she was a teenager, she is very in tune to her sense of touch. Dove asked her to test the new Shower Foam, which surprised her with a light, fluffy feel.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 13:46:00 PDT 2017
Hurricane Harvey is on pace to produce the greatest single-storm rainfall in the United States in at least a century and may wind up being one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. To make matters worse, since much of the damage is occurring inland and outside of the 100-year floodplain, insurance coverage will be low.
Naturally, a congressional relief package will be forthcoming. Which means it's time to turn to another round of Southern Republicans Who Voted Against the Hurricane Sandy Relief Package but Will Soon Want Federal Disaster Money for Their Flooded Homes. (Previous contestants included the congressional delegations of Florida and Louisiana.)
This time the spotlight is on Texas, where 20 sitting Republican congressmen and both of the state’s senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted against the 2013 Sandy Relief Act. (Ironically, in the 2011–2012 fiscal year, Texas received more federal disaster relief money than any other state.)
Republicans hate the comparison, arguing that the Sandy relief package contained spending for unrelated items. (This is true of virtually every single-issue spending bill that passes Congress; even a vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense said the 2013 package was "better than business as usual.") Cornyn communications director Drew Brandewie essentially argued that Cornyn was for it before he was against it, voting for a pared-down version of the legislation.
At the time, conservatives also insisted on cuts to federal spending elsewhere to justify Sandy expenses, an unusual and onerous requirement for a disaster aid bill. (This was during the pre-"Mexico Will Pay for It" era, when the national debt was still a serious GOP conceit.) “Emergency bills like this should not come to the floor without offsets to pay for it or structural reforms,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas said.
Rep. Peter King from Long Island, one of the Republicans who voted for the final bill, doesn't buy the argument that his Southern colleagues were making a good-faith effort to help New York and New Jersey recover. But, he said, Texas has nothing to worry about. "I won't abandon Texas the way Ted Cruz did New York," he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
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The six limited-edition Dove soap bottles come in shapes meant to emulate the body types of women.
by Jeff Friedrich @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:56:39 PDT 2017
Nobody wants to be a pilot anymore. As the airlines tell it, a so-called pilot shortage has made it impossible to staff their fleets, forcing them to cancel flights and park hundreds of airworthy planes in the desert. One airline ventured to blame its 2016 bankruptcy on its inability to hire enough pilots, and even at always-profitable and carefree Southwest Airlines, the challenge of recruiting millennial aviators keeps middle management awake at night. “The biggest problem,” a Southwest executive told Bloomberg, “is a general lack of interest in folks pursuing this as a career anymore.”
Airline execs tend to make the shortage seem more mysterious than it is, as if something in the contrails is fueling this “general lack of interest” in the profession. That’s evasive. Rather, the shortage is best understood as an obvious manifestation—and perhaps the nadir—of a long-term deprofessionalization of what was once a solidly middle-class career: We made the pilot occupation so unattractive, so tenuous and poorly paid, that people stopped wanting to do it.
Flying, meanwhile, has also become unbearable for passengers. The airlines that survived the volatile decade following 9/11 have since consolidated themselves into a lucrative oligopoly, prompting questions about why smaller cities continue to lose service, why seats keep getting smaller, why fares have remained stubbornly high even as fuel prices dropped and profits soared, and why paying passengers are being quasi-defenestrated from overbooked flights.
The degenerating passenger and pilot experiences aren’t separate phenomena but in fact are intimately related, both resulting from policy choices that have propelled a decadeslong, ongoing makeover of the national air-transit system. The difference, perhaps, is that we are more conscious that we, the passengers, are getting a raw deal.
So are aviation workers, but there is more to the pilot shortage than just pay. Industry representatives are pushing Congress to address the rising cost of pilot training, which can exceed $100,000 after requirements became more stringent in response to a 2009 crash. Competition for pilots has also gone global, causing many young pilots to leave the U.S. to chase more exotic opportunities with Emirates and other Middle Eastern carriers. And there are class-conscious obstacles to recruitment—flying has become less glamorous.
But at the regional airlines where the effects of the pilot shortage are most acute, even management seems to have finally acknowledged that pay matters, as evidenced by their recent efforts to raise starting salaries that paid first-year pilots as little as $15,000 to $20,000. And although many jobs have gotten worse in the past few decades, pilot wage stagnation distinguishes itself in several respects.
First, airline jobs appear to be caught in a steeper free fall. Before President Carter and a Democratic Congress deregulated the airlines in 1978, few industries paid higher wages. In the 1990s, a number of studies reviewed deregulation’s impact on airline wages, attributing decreases in the range of 10 to 20 percent for pilots, and more for flight attendants. While many observers hypothesized that wages would stabilize as the shakeout from deregulation attenuated, wages never managed to find a floor in the decade after 9/11. According to a Government Accountability Office analysis, pilots’ median weekly earnings fell another 9.5 percent from 2000 through 2012—lower wage growth than 74 percent of the other professions included in the GAO’s review.
Nor has this wage erosion been limited to pilots. Today, many flight attendants begin their careers making less than minimum wage—as I did as a flight attendant for Pinnacle Airlines, where I was employed from 2011 to 2013. It’s even worse for those who work outside the aircraft. Average weekly wages for airport operations workers, a category that includes baggage handlers and other support staff, fell by 14 percent from 1991 to 2011—a growth rate that was lower even than the low-wage retail and food service industries, according to a 2013 study. Airline workers also work much harder than they did in the past; the industry had the second highest multifactor productivity growth from 1997 through 2014, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Declining wages and inequality are sometimes described as an inevitable, deterministic outcome of abstract economic forces, but none of the usual suspects seem to adequately explain what’s happening to airline jobs in the U.S.—not immigration (pilots and flight attendants must speak English), globalization (so-called cabotage laws have limited the scope of international outsourcing), automation (robots haven’t yet displaced pilots), or the decline of unions (union density remains high). How, then, could the airline industry have fared worse than most other industries?
* * *
In the recent history of pilot wages, two related trends have tipped the balance of power between the airlines and their labor force: the proliferation of outsourcing strategies after 9/11 and the consolidation of the country’s major air carriers.
Regional airlines are having the hardest time hiring pilots. These companies, where most pilots now begin their careers, operate almost half of all domestic flights on behalf of major carriers like Delta, United, and American. David Dao was actually kicked off a United flight that was operated by Republic Airways. Though the employees on the plane wore United uniforms, their paycheck came from Republic.
The regional industry grew as a strategic response to the downturn after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks. The airlines’ losses were unprecedented. Through 2005, the airlines lost more than $50 billion and received more than $5 billion in direct government aid. Four major carriers went bankrupt, and the industry shed more than 100,000 jobs, around 15 percent of its entire workforce.
The 50-seat regional jet played a key role in the industry’s recovery. Until about 1998, smaller airports were served either by larger jets, which were oversized for these markets, or turboprops, which flew slow and not as far. As the airlines attempted to stave off bankruptcy, they began buying a repurposed corporate jet manufactured by Bombardier, the CRJ200. The plane allowed the airlines to better match their smaller markets with demand, which in turn allowed them to redeploy larger planes to more lucrative international routes. The jets could also reach markets that were beyond the reach of the turboprops, allowing airport hubs to expand their customer base.
At first these planes were operated in house or through wholly owned subsidiaries, but after a time the flying was outsourced to independent companies. That strategy was initially constrained by the pilot unions, because collective-bargaining agreements typically limited how much flying could be outsourced.
A standard response emerged: If the unions refused to renegotiate their contracts, the airlines threatened to declare bankruptcy, where they might be judicially absolved from the commitments they had promised to workers. Forced to make concessions, the unions allowed more outsourcing to avoid options that would hurt their current members more, like additional layoffs or pay cuts. Because of these dynamics, every major airline had secured permission to fly more regional jets by the mid-2000s. As a result, regional jet capacity grew by 97 percent between 2000 and 2003, suddenly making these planes an integral part of the system.
Regional airline pilots and flight attendants have always made less than their mainline counterparts, but before 2000, the regional airline workforce was much smaller. In 1978, regional aircraft flew approximately 5 percent of all domestic departures; in 2000, 16 percent; in 2015, 45 percent.
Through outsourcing, the major carriers effectively introduced a permanent secondary scale. The result is that today’s young pilots are embarking on careers that look markedly different from the ones their senior colleagues began a generation ago. Though it’s still possible to make $200,000 flying international routes at a top airline, new pilots must now progress through a regional pay scale before they begin their ascent of a major’s scale, meaning it will take them longer to get to top pay, and their lifetime earnings will ultimately be lower. This helps explain why more than $100,000 in income now separates the top-earning 10 percent of pilots from the lowest-earning decile, a wage differential matched by few occupations.
* * *
Toward the latter half of the 2000s, consolidation played an equally important role in forcing down the pay of entry-level pilots. Though Congress intended for the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 to promote competition, the four largest airlines now find themselves in control of 80 percent of the market. When the reform passed, five airlines controlled 70 percent of the market. This has helped awaken political interest in consumer rights, but less attention has been paid to how airlines could wield market power to depress wages.
In the midaughts, regionals often earned substantial profits, but as the majors struggled through bankruptcies and the 2008 recession, they sought to renegotiate the amount they were paying to the regional carriers, ultimately securing new agreements on much less generous terms. Several concurrent trends also caused the airlines to re-evaluate their reliance on 50-seat regional jets. Most significantly, jet fuel prices rose almost 500 percent between 2002 and 2008. When Bombardier released a larger, 76-seat version of the CRJ200 that had far superior fuel economy, there were suddenly powerful incentives for the airlines to find ways to get rid of their 50-seaters.
Market power made it easier for the airlines to achieve this goal. After the mergers between Delta and Northwest in 2008, United and Continental in 2010, and American and US Airways in 2013, each combined carrier found itself in control of a large fleet of undesirable 50-seat jets. The regionals, on the other hand, had fewer customers to whom they could sell their flying. The majors used their leverage, which resembles what economists call “monopsony power,” to continually bid down the price they paid to regionals.
Delta took an especially aggressive tack, suing three of its regional partners for what it alleged were performance issues, in each case withholding millions of dollars in payments it would have ordinarily owed. This helped force Mesa Airlines into bankruptcy, and all three carriers eventually consented to reworking their agreements with Delta. In the new agreements, Delta sought to pay less for its flying and to retire 50-seat aircraft.
Even as they continued to put downward pressure on regional airline wages, Delta and the other majors began to earn record profits. Under such conditions in an ordinary market, economists would have expected the majors to face pressure to raise wages (the majors have raised the pay of direct employees, to Wall Street’s occasional chagrin), but outsourcing and market power have positioned the companies to exclude certain workers from their gains.
Certainly, a case can be made that the government should have more closely scrutinized some of the mergers of the past decade. But current antitrust law prioritizes a consumer focus. Prior to deregulation, merger review would have concerned itself with employee welfare, but as currently practiced, questions about monopsony—when there is only one buyer, in this case of labor—still might have escaped the attention of a more vigilant merger review.
In the “hipster antitrust” corner of Twitter, some are arguing for a more expansive form of trustbusting, one that could mitigate the effects corporate concentration appears to be having on wages in certain parts of the economy, and as appears to be happening in the airline industry. It’s a policy solution that deserves more consideration, but for reasons made clear to me by my own experience as a flight attendant, one that might not be enough to arrest the fall of airline wages.
* * *
The airline industry has no formal minimum wage because the Fair Labor Standards Act exempts transportation workers. Because of that, unions are it—the de facto wage floor. The problem is that America’s uniquely permissive bankruptcy laws have undermined the strength of unions.
When I interviewed for my flight attendant position at Pinnacle Airlines in 2010, the hiring manager slid a piece of paper across the table and told me, as if issuing challenge, “That’s how much you’ll make in your first year”—a fairly cinematic way of telling someone their salary is $15,500, though at least she was candid. It compelled me to justify myself, to explain to my interrogators how I planned to live in New York City on so little—less than minimum wage after accounting for the cost of my uniform and unpaid training time.
After I convinced them, I was soon working with pilots who were making about $20,000. Some of them had worked for one or even two failed regional airlines before landing at Pinnacle, where they’d once again found themselves at the bottom of the pay scale.
Nonetheless, when Pinnacle went bankrupt in 2012, a victim of what my CEO termed “a race to the bottom” among the regional carriers, labor became the focus of attention, just as it does in all airline bankruptcies. A judge agreed that the company’s pilots were paid “substantially over market,” granting approval of a reorganization plan that included a 9 percent reduction in pilot pay, plus smaller cuts to flight attendant pay and employee benefits.
As an academic matter, bankruptcy law strives to treat all creditors as equals. But in its actual practice, the law has evolved to allow certain creditors to skip to the front of the line. When that allows one party to successfully evade its fair share of the losses, other parties, including labor, stand to lose more.
Plane financiers, in particular, enjoy special treatment through Section 1110 of the bankruptcy law, a provision that essentially bankruptcy-proofs an airplane, allowing lenders to reclaim an asset that might otherwise be sold in order to pay off other creditors. This protection is unique to the perennially insolvent airline industry and helps explain why the financial industry remains willing to lend it money.
This is a notable intervention into a supposedly “deregulated” industry, and without it the airline industry might require more direct forms of public subsidy. In the case of the regional airline industry, 1110 made it much easier for airlines to make consequence-free escapes from their leases after rising fuel costs made their 50-seat jets less economical.
Labor, conversely, cannot cut the creditor line, and the courts can discharge collective bargaining contracts and employee pensions just like any contractual obligation that isn’t an aircraft. The Supreme Court’s Bildisco decision required the airlines jump through some additional hoops before a judge can allow them to rip up a union contract, but the mere fact of its possibility weakens the bargaining power of unions by making companies less accountable to what they’ve promised workers. Accordingly, the rejection of labor contracts “has not been the mechanism of last resort to save a failing business,” the Air Line Pilots Association told Congress in 2010, “but instead has often been used by employers as a business model to gain long-term economic advantage by unfairly gutting the wages and working conditions of airline and other employees.”
Most other countries’ bankruptcy courts do not work this way. Canada does not let bankrupt companies tear up labor contracts. Some countries jail the executives of bankrupt companies while the boards of insolvent American operators often award “retention bonuses” to their executives. U.S. laws don’t even require bankrupt companies to prove they’re bankrupt, allowing a number of U.S. airlines to enter the process with healthy stores of cash. Of late, as the U.S. airlines have sought to prevent Middle Eastern carriers from securing permissions to serve more U.S. airports, they have pointed out various subsidies these airlines receive from their governments. In response, the Middle Eastern carriers have inventoried the ways in which Chapter 11 shelters U.S. airlines from the free market.
* * *
Even as the airlines have earned record profits in recent years, they’ve canceled or reduced service to cities across the country, quietly rendering a dramatic remapping of the national air transit system. Twenty-three percent of U.S. airports lost more than 20 percent of their flights between 2013 and 2016, and at least 18 airports lost service altogether, according to numbers provided by the Regional Airline Association. The airlines say this is simply the pilot shortage in action, but it’s more accurately understood as the ongoing legacy of the decision to deregulate the industry.
It’s always been tough to make a buck running an airline. In general, the fixed costs of operating any airplane are high, but bigger planes tend to have lower costs per passenger. We have airline hubs because very few pairs of cities are large enough to sustain a high frequency of service using large airplanes. The hubs allow airlines to assemble enough passengers to fill a larger plane, allowing them to profitably increase service between two cities. The academic and former airline executive Michael Levine, one of intellectual forefathers of deregulation, has described hubs as “factories [that] manufacture route density.”
Southwest and other low-cost airlines have famously scorned hubs. They operate as point-to-point operations, mostly flying lucrative routes between major cities, and only as often as they can fill an airplane. By comparison, operating hubs is considerably more expensive and complex. Hub operators—these days Delta, United, and American—have historically recouped these costs by operating as “everywhere to anywhere” airlines. Through the cross-subsidization of routes, consumers paid a premium to access a comprehensive network that could get them from Bemidji to Bamako.
In the first two decades after deregulation, there was enough competition and industry turmoil to inhibit the expansion of low-cost airlines like Southwest. But in the mid-’90s government regulators began to regard Southwest as a positive competitive influence on the hubbed airlines—whenever Southwest managed to enter a new market, fares fell. To promote the expansion of what became known as the “Southwest effect,” the government helped ensure that low-cost airlines were getting opportunities to service major airports.
As more low-cost airlines began competing on the lucrative routes between major cities, it was harder for the hubbed operators to charge the premium they required to recoup their higher operating costs. In short, the point-to-point business model was compromising the sustainability of the network model. That competitive pressure motivated the hubbed carriers to use outsourcing and the market power they acquired from consolidation to continue pushing regional wages down, even while they earned huge profits.
The pilot shortage is the limit of that strategy—pay got too low, so people stopped wanting to do the job. The airlines could try to charge more money to the passengers flying from smaller airports, but that has its own drawback—at some point those passengers will opt to begin their trip by driving to a larger city. Consolidation has also made it less essential for the hubbed airlines to worry about smaller markets. As the airlines consolidated, more traffic is being handled by the largest hubs. This means airlines don’t need to reach as deep into the country to fill a large plane that’s bound for Paris or New York. In some ways the hubbed airlines have become more like Southwest.
Essentially, we have made a consumer-welfare trade-off, swapping a more comprehensive system with somewhat higher fares for a more limited one that can deliver the best value on the country’s most popular flights. The winners of the trade-off are people who make frequent trips between New York and L.A. The losers live two hours outside of Memphis, or work entry-level jobs on the flights that would serve those communities.
This is a defensible policy trade-off. But as has often been the case in the years since deregulation, the changes we made to the air transit system didn’t happen after a vigorous public debate. We have continued to allow the market to sort it out, even as it becomes clearer that the market’s imperfections might prevent it from delivering a system that can satisfy all parts of the country. It’s also an approach that has continued to pass the expense of policy transformation on to employees. We should bear such costs in mind as we continue to demand lower and lower fares.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 16 16:09:00 PDT 2017
Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, Americans have gotten used to thinking about home entertainment as a $10-per-month, all-you-can-binge buffet. Now, a company run by one of Netflix's co-founders wants to bring a similar model to movie theaters—which are decidedly unhappy about it.
This week, the 6-year-old startup MoviePass announced that it was dropping the cost of its ticket subscription service to $9.95 a month. For a little more than the price of a large popcorn, users will (theoretically) be allowed to catch one flick every day at any theater in the country that accepts Mastercard. (According to the company's website, that covers 91 percent of theaters nationwide). However, the announcement drew a quick rebuke from AMC, the country's biggest cinema chain, which said in a statement that it was conferring with lawyers about whether it could block customers from using MoviePass at its theaters.
It's unclear whether AMC can do such a thing. Then again, it might not need to, since MoviePass seems to be counting on AMC's long-term cooperation to survive.
At the moment, MoviePass is poised to burn a prodigious pile of cash subsidizing the cost of its subscriptions. That's because every time a customer buys their movie ticket using one of the company's debit cards, it pays the theater for the full cost of admission. Given that the average film ticket cost $8.65 last year, MoviePass will end up losing money on every user who sees two or more showings a month. In big markets like New York, where catching the latest Avengers installment can easily cost $15, they'll come out behind on users who see just one movie a month.
This is not promising arithmetic. But CEO Mitch Lowe, the Netflix co-founder and Redbox executive who took the reins at MoviePass last year, thinks he has a vision to make his low, low price point work. He argues that his company's service gives theaters a big boost to ticket and concession sales, and eventually, theaters will feel compelled to hand MoviePass a slice of the extra profits, or maybe pay them back via advertising.
“There must be some way to make us whole,” Lowe told Variety. “We know we have to prove the value we deliver and, at that point in time, where we’re delivering value to studios and theaters, we can work together with them in a constructive manner so that everybody makes more money.”
That might not be quite as crazy as it sounds. U.S. movie ticket sales have been stagnant for about a decade now, as Americans have come to prefer Netflixing and chilling to sipping $6 Sierra Mists in an air-conditioned cavern full of strangers. At the same time, ticket prices have continually hit record highs, thus chagrining regular filmgoers, along with anybody who has ever suffered the indignity of paying out the nose to see a mediocre summer blockbuster. And while box office totals have edged up slightly over that time, they've failed to keep pace with inflation since 2009. In the era of unlimited TV and tunes, trying to lure Americans to go back to the cinema by cutting prices conceivably seems worth a try.
But it's also easy to guess why a company like AMC would recoil at Lowe's plan. In its statement, the chain argued that MoviePass' pricing was economically unsustainable, and “only sets up consumers for ultimate disappointment down the road if or when the product can no longer be fulfilled.” That's probably a valid concern. But more broadly, AMC can't be happy about the idea of a digital middle-man inserting itself into its industry, ultimately angling for a cut of the profits from each moviegoer even as it puts downward pressure on the price of an individual ticket. (AMC and MoviePass actually launched a pilot program together a few years ago when the startup's subscription prices were much higher, but the relationship has clearly soured.)
The sort of odd thing about MoviePass is that it's trying to become a middle man without asking permission first—or securing any payment for its services. Online ticketers like Fandango strike deals with theaters for the right to sell their seats, then market their service to the public. MoviePass is going to the public first, and hoping to gin up so much business that theaters will eventually strike a deal. The reason it can go that route is that its product is essentially just an app with movie times and a subscription debit card that customers can use to charge tickets to the company's account. Lowe argued to Bloomberg that for AMC to block his service from their theaters, they'd have to start declining Mastercard. Still, he's not going to make any money until he wins them over.
And if he can't? It's possible MoviePass could find other paths to profit. Eventually, it wants to use data on its users' moviegoing habits to sell targeted advertising. (How lucrative that could really be seems like an open question.) Or, it's possible that at $9.95, hordes of would-be film buffs will sign up for the service, then fail to see a movie each month. Milking money from subscribers who don't actually use the service was the company's original plan back when it was founded in 2011 and charged $30 a month, Bloomberg notes. But becoming the AOL of movie tickets doesn't seem like a recipe for long-term success.
It's a rather daring plan, all in all, made slightly less daring by the fact that MoviePass has already offloaded some of the risk: It sold a majority stake to a data-analytics firm on Tuesday to finance the scheme. If it succeeds, Lowe will have pulled off the impressive feat of fixing theaters' business model against their will. If it crashes and burns, at least savvy moviegoers will get a few cheap flicks out of the deal.
by @ PZ's Podcast
Sat Nov 13 10:20:59 PST 2010
Dan Curtis went straight from Gothic Horror soap operas to the greatest epic ever made for television. His heart was always in his work, from "Dark Shadows" to "The Night Stalker" to... "The Winds of War". When it comes to his 29-hour genius production "War and Remembrance, Can't Touch This! Here is the story of an undepressed man.
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.”
by Bryce Covert @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 16:34:53 PDT 2017
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When Whole Foods shoppers walked into a store Monday, they were met with a likely welcome change: Prices on some of the most popular items have dropped dramatically. They’ll spend 38 percent less on bananas and 43 percent less on organic Fuji apples. Even avocados, that Whole Foodsiest of fruits, got a 20-cent price cut.
We have Amazon’s purchase of the grocery chain to thank. And for federal antitrust regulators, this would seem to be a vindication of their decision to quickly and painlessly green-light the deal last week. For decades, concerns about anti-democratic control and monopolistic power led to crackdowns on consolidation, among both direct competitors and different but complementary businesses. But the focus has narrowed considerably since the 1970s, and now typically the only metric for whether a marriage between corporate behemoths could be harmful is the impact on consumer prices.
Certainly industry consolidation can, and has, led to companies using their increased power to jack up prices, hurting consumers’ wallets. But even when prices go down, as we saw Monday while we browsed for grass-fed ground beef (also on sale!), other ill effects can still follow that hurt Americans and the economy.
The suddenly lower prices at Whole Foods, then, are the perfect example of how shortsighted antitrust regulation has become. That one small victory could very well be dwarfed by the pain felt by food producers, grocery store competitors and, ultimately, the American workforce.
The Trump administration was clearly unconcerned about any of these potential ill effects. While antitrust reviews can take years, the Federal Trade Commission decided in a little over a month, without any in-depth investigation, that the deal won’t hurt competition. The deal is, of course, not one in which two large competitors decide to declare a truce and join forces against the others in their space, but rather Amazon moving aggressively into the grocery space where it was previously just a bit player. (And even so, Whole Foods gives Amazon just 1.2 percent of the grocery market.)
But that doesn’t mean the deal won’t impact competition in the larger economy. We’ve already seen the monopoly power that can be exerted through vertical integration: Luxottica controls not just most of the companies that produce eyeglasses, for example, but also the ones that sell them to you, like LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut. That means it can set prices as high as it wants and that it’s pretty tough for anyone else to get in on the game.
It’s hard to deny that Amazon hasn’t already distorted markets with its growing power. In 2013, it sold more than the next 12 online retailers combined, and some estimates have it capturing nearly half of all online shopping. More than half of all online shoppers start perusing at Amazon.com. (Disclosure: Slate is an Amazon affiliate and may receive a commission from purchases you make through our links.) “In addition to being a retailer, it is a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading provider of cloud server space and computing power,” Yale Law School student Lina Khan wrote in an influential look at Amazon’s anti-competitive tendencies. It got there mainly through deals like the ones with Whole Foods: buying up other companies. Now it’s a grocer, too.
Its incredible ability to hoover up consumer loyalty and market share is why markets reacted the way they did to the news of its acquisition of Whole Foods. Stocks for other grocery stores and businesses that have moved into the space dropped dramatically on the expectation that they would soon face intense pressure to drop prices in order to lure customers. So did stocks for food suppliers themselves on the assumption that they, too, would have to cut prices to appease Amazon and get on Whole Foods’ shelves. Stocks fell again after news broke that Amazon would indeed slash food prices on Monday.
Yet Amazon has thus far mostly avoided antitrust scrutiny for one crucial reason: It undercuts prices. Rather than use its position of influence to drive up profit through higher consumer costs, its business model has emphasized scale and market share over larger returns, and part of how it got there was by forcing prices as low as it could.
It is this very feature of Amazon’s business model, however, that makes it such a predatory actor for everyone else around it. It uses its influence in online shopping to pressure suppliers to dramatically drop their prices, wringing as much discount from their margins as it can. It pushes for practices in supplier warehouses that have become notorious for the ill treatment of workers—but that model helps it deliver cheap goods incredibly quickly, and few suppliers can refuse to participate.
These practices could spell danger for a variety of American workers. Amazon’s ownership could pose a risk to the smaller local farms that have thus far supplied food to Whole Foods if they can’t deliver at cutthroat rates. One place they and other food producers may look to cut: wages for workers. As David Dayen has pointed out, thanks in large part to decent wages and benefits Whole Foods employees aren’t unionized in an industry where most are. That, too, is put at risk by an owner that’s focused exclusively on low prices and quick service, both within Whole Foods’ walls and at other grocery store workplaces that now have to compete with it.
Between the 1930s and 1960s, in the heyday of anti-monopoly fervor, these problems would have been cause for quite a lot of concern. Taking an economic structuralist view of concentration, regulators and courts assumed that concentrated markets would by necessity foster anti-competitive outcomes, such as price fixing, collusion, blocking new entrants, and using their outsize power to squeeze suppliers, consumers, and workers. Prices, market share, and size weren’t the only considerations: Things like conflict of interest and the ability to ward off competition also counted against deals. The Supreme Court held in 1963 that a merger that would result in control of more than 30 percent of any market was unlawful.
But then Robert Bork published The Antitrust Paradox, a book that changed an entire regulatory regime. He argued that the sole purpose of antitrust policing should be to maximize consumer welfare—mostly, to ensure that prices don’t increase too much. The assumptions shifted, with regulators and courts taking for granted that markets are efficient and companies will seek to maximize profits. The only check needed was to ensure prices didn’t rise above competitive levels.
We still haven’t moved very far away from this framework, even as antitrust enforcement has come back into political vogue. Hillary Clinton made beefed-up antitrust enforcement a main plank of her economic agenda during the presidential election. The Democratic Party has now taken up the torch, putting a spotlight on how the government has allowed business to “tilt … the economic playing field in favor of the wealthy and powerful,” in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Their “Better Deal” agenda promises to “crack down on monopolies and the concentration of economic power” by, in part, creating a new “Trust Buster” entity to more closely scrutinize proposed mergers.
Yet the Trust Buster would still be focused by and large on the impact on consumer prices. Democrats singled out the airline, beer, eyeglass, food, and telecom industries as particularly concentrated and worrisome, but mostly because costs have risen. This isn’t surprising: Voters are quick to feel outrage over prices that pinch their budgets.
The harm of increased concentration runs much deeper, however. When only a few large players exist in an industry, they have little reason to increase compensation—or even the number of jobs—given that workers in the space have few other places to go. If they don’t like the conditions, well then, too bad. Industries that have experienced the biggest increases in concentration, in fact, have also seen the largest declines in workers’ share of profits.
A rigid focus just on consumer prices misses this and all other negative outcomes of today’s increasing industry concentration, which also includes political dominance. Reverting back to a broader view of antitrust regulation and what counts as deal breakers for American consumers, workers, and voters might have, if not stopped the Amazon–Whole Foods deal, at least slowed it down and offered an opportunity for the government to demand concessions. Perhaps we don’t need to go back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting. But in an era of stagnant wages and rising income inequality, it’s worth asking what role monopolies play.
Consumers may rejoice that Whole Foods’ prices, like $6 for water with asparagus stalks in it, are coming down. It’s a happy side effect. But it can’t cover up the deeper disease of increasing monopoly power throughout the economy and the current antitrust regime’s utter inability to keep it in check.
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 19 16:13:48 PDT 2017
At this point, pretty much everybody in Washington has noticed that the new Obamacare repeal bill Senate Republicans have rallied behind, Graham-Cassidy, would transfer large amounts of cash from blue states to red states. Specifically, its funding formula would strip federal money from places that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, like California and New York, and reward those that did not, like Alabama and Texas. Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, who opposes the bill, has described it as a “game of Republicans sticking it to Democrats.” (Of course his state, which did expand Medicaid under a Democratic governor, also stands to lose out.)
In the past couple of days, the bill’s authors, Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, have tried to respond to this charge. Their legislation is not a partisan smash and grab, they insist. Nope. Not all. Rather, it merely fixes Obamacare’s own grossly unfair funding formula. How so? Per the New York Times:
“Right now, 37 percent of the revenue from the Affordable Care Act goes to Americans in four states”—California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland, Mr. Cassidy said. “That is frankly not fair.”
As is his wont, Graham delivered a more elaborate version of this spiel during a floor speech Monday.
“I like Massachusetts, I like Maryland, I like New York, I like California, but I don’t like them that much to give them a bunch of money that the rest of us won’t get,” he said. “Now, if you live in Massachusetts, you don’t get twice the Social Security or 50 percent more than if you live in Pennsylvania. Now how can this happen? Obamacare, for whatever reason, favors four blue states against the rest of us.”
Graham treats this as if it’s some sort of impenetrable mystery, one accessible only to nearsighted budget wonks. But of course, there’s a very obvious, good reason why these four states receive a disproportionate share of Obamacare’s funding today: They expanded Medicaid. That’s pretty much the whole answer. Meanwhile most red-state governors decided to treat health care policy like an Appalachian blood feud and refused the money the Obama administration all but begged them to take. Thus, the high-population California and New York get a very big slice of the ACA’s pie. If Florida or Texas had decided to accept the big, gift-wrapped pile of dough Washington was offering, things wouldn’t look quite so imbalanced.
And this stat, insofar as it has any significance, really is just about California and New York. I don’t know precisely where Graham and Cassidy got their number, but according to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government is expected to spend about $117 billion on Obamacare’s marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion this year. As of 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation says California was receiving $19.6 billion worth of federal funding for its Medicaid expansion population while New York got $7.7 billion. Maryland and Massachusetts both got less than $2 billion—less than the amount Ohio received for its Medicaid expansion, or than Florida gained entirely for premium tax credits this year, for that matter.
Now, it pains me to have to spell this out, but it’s worth remembering that the federal government offered every single state the same match rate for Medicaid expansion enrollees. All they had to do was sign people up. There was no inequity baked into the formula. So when Cassidy and Graham grouse about how much money California and New York get, they are essentially whining over the fact that Medicaid-expansion states get more Medicaid funding. The only way that might seem unfair is if you happen to live in a state where your stubborn Republican governor turned that money down.
Soul In Stereo
I seem to write about body image at least once a week on this blog, and those of you who are loyal readers know that I am quite excited about the fact that we’re beginning to see more curvy m…
The out model tells us about modeling menswear and feeling like an activist.
Models vs. "Real Beauty." ;
Dove has grown tremendously in an intensively competitive arena with established competitors largely through their brand building efforts. Learn more.
A new study from Arizona State University has found that advertisements featuring plus-size models actually decrease women’s self-esteem rather than increase it. Not quite sure what this mean…
Does your skin tell a story? Or have significance in your life? If that’s you – and you use Dove soap bars – there’s an opportunity waiting for you.
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.
A Change.org petition from Seth Matlins calls for Dove to start living up to the messaging in their Campaign for Real Beauty by labeling photoshopped ads.
LARA BRADLEY WHEN soap company Dove launched its new international ad campaign, critics hailed the choice of models, including elderly and plump women, as reflecting real life.
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.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 11:36:00 PDT 2017
The disaster that is Tropical Storm Harvey is still ongoing. It will be some time before the waters recede and the effect on Houston can be fully assessed. But it is already clear the damage to property will be immense. Tens of thousands of structures were impacted by floodwaters. Eventually, Houston will require massive cleanup, demolition, and reconstruction of individual homes, large buildings, and infrastructure.
The first concern will be the financial resources necessary: Will insurance companies cover all the losses, and how much of them? How will the federal government’s heavily indebted flood insurance program come up with the cash to pay claims? And how much additional assistance will the federal government provide?
There’s another problem: a lack of human resources. It takes a lot of labor to remove debris after a storm and then reinstall Sheetrock and drywall, rebuild floors, and fix electrical and plumbing systems. The work is resistant to automation. And it is but one way in which Houston, which was poorly situated to deal with a hurricane, may also be poorly situated to recover from it.
The issue is that the United States is suffering from a shortage of workers generally, and specifically from a shortage of workers with some of the necessary skills to assist in disaster recovery.
Let’s review. With the U.S. economy having created jobs for a record 82 months, there are 146.6 million people with payroll jobs. The unemployment rate is 4.3 percent. At the end of June, the Labor Department reports, there were a record 6.16 million jobs open in the U.S. (That compares with about 4 million in August 2005, when Katrina hit.) Put another way, it’s harder to find labor in the U.S. right now than at any point in recent history.
But that’s not the whole story. There are particular shortages in the types of trades that get called into action after a disaster. America’s construction labor force has undergone a sea change in the past decade. When the housing bust came, hundreds of thousands of roofers and other skilled and unskilled tradespeople were laid off. Because the recovery was remarkably slow, many went on to find work in different industries. Many construction workers had come to the United States (legally and illegally) from Mexico and Central America to work in the boom years, and in the bust years some of them went home. Others were deported. And in recent years, the flow of new potential workers has slowed down significantly. The result: As the U.S. housing and construction recovery has chugged on, it has become more difficult to hire construction workers. In June, there were some 225,000 open construction jobs in the U.S., up 31 percent from June 2016.
All over the United States, in Colorado, in Nebraska, and elsewhere, construction companies have been complaining that they can’t find enough labor to do their job. The National Association of Home Builders reports that 77 percent of builders are facing a shortage of framing crews while 61 percent are grappling with a shortage of drywall installation workers and 45 percent report a shortage of weatherization workers. The problem is particularly acute in Texas, where the housing industry has been powered by consistent population and job growth and whose service industries are disproportionately reliant on immigrant labor. Last fall, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “In Dallas, the King of Texas Roofing Co. says it has turned down $20 million worth of projects in the past two years because it doesn’t have enough workers.”
In the aftermath of natural disasters, first responders and recovery crews flood the zone on a temporary basis. But reconstruction, cleanup, and recovery requires many thousands of workers who can stay for many months or more. FEMA Administrator Brock Long told CNN that “FEMA is going to be there for years.” Houston will require a surge of employment—tens of thousands of people. It will have to find places for them to live, since so much of the housing stock is damaged. And it will likely have to pay them above-market wages, because it will need to lure them away from existing jobs.
And given the Trump administration’s hostility to Latinos and desire to ramp up deportations, it’s unlikely that what worked in previous disasters will work again. Back in 2007, the Washington Post reported on a Tulane and University of California, Berkeley, study that found some 100,000 Hispanic workers thronged into the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Katrina, many of them undocumented.
Houston will need a similar migration for it to recover. In 2017, from where will those workers come?
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 08 13:54:02 PDT 2017
For decades, American cities and states have been competing to dismantle the high-tax postwar social model to win increasingly mobile jobs from their peers. This practice leaves the losers smarting from a diminished sense of self—hello, Hartford, Connecticut—while the winner loads the tax burden of its new prize pig onto existing citizens and businesses. It rewards corporations for being flighty, faithless partners to cities and punishes small and local businesses that cannot make credible threats to secure their own incentive packages.
The news that Amazon needs a second headquarters, announced on Thursday, will set off a competition like we have never seen for mayors and governors to pimp out their cities to the Seattle-based supercompany.
It is a one-of-a-kind, six-week sweepstakes, with a $5 billion HQ up for grabs. Nothing like this has ever happened before. At 8.1 million square feet, constituting nearly 20 percent of Seattle’s Class A office space, Amazon’s Seattle campus simply has no parallels in U.S. cities. The next biggest single urban corporate presence is Citi in New York, with 3.7 million square feet; the next biggest by percentage is Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio, which occupies 16 percent of the city’s office space.
In short, Amazon’s Seattle HQ is an outlier any way you slice it, and it’s about to build the same thing again. Corporate relocations tend to involve low-paying jobs moving south (back-office jobs or manufacturing work relocating to the Sun Belt); small numbers of white-collar jobs (General Electric’s 2015 move from Connecticut to Boston); or merger-driven relocation, which usually involves a slow exodus of executives from one city to another. Amazon’s proposal is numerically elite: 50,000 workers in a secondary headquarters is more than twice as many workers as Bank of America, the country’s second-largest bank, employs at its primary HQ in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The odds hinge in part on what Amazon is looking for. The notion of a company with two separate U.S. headquarters is basically unique; when Charlotte’s NationsBank merged with San Francisco’s BankAmerica (now Bank of America) in 1998, to take one example, the company quickly consolidated corporate control in Charlotte. But Amazon has indicated that this will not be a back office; with up to 50,000 employees and an average salary of more than $100,000, these people will not be handling your Squatty Potty return. (Disclosure: Slate is an Amazon affiliate; when you click on an Amazon link from Slate, the magazine gets a cut of the proceeds from whatever you buy.)
Let’s assume that virtually every city and state will roll out a carpet of tax breaks, plum real estate, and other local incentives. (All for a company dedicated to undermining the local businesses that will pay taxes to support the services Amazon uses.) Even if Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos already has a strong favorite in mind, a municipal race to the bottom will ensure he gets his company the best deal. And since the scale of the economic impact appears to surpass what is promised for the Summer Olympics, the packages may include anything up to and including expensive new transit infrastructure. (Mass transit, Amazon has said, is a requirement for its site.)
But how many cities really have a chance? Amazon may be powerful enough to command sumptuous bids from every mayor’s office in thrall to the growth machine, but cities’ limitations are as firm as the company’s needs. It’s time for some corporate-relocation theory.
Size and Talent
The first limiting factor is size: Amazon says it needs a metro area with more than 1 million people, but in reality, that is the bare minimum. In a city like Pittsburgh, as Bloomberg’s Conor Sen points out, Amazon would need to hire 1 in every 20 people in the labor force to reach full staffing. This is also a problem with Nashville, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas. If Amazon makes Seattle (regional population: 3.7 million) feel like a company town, you can only imagine the role it would play in a metro half the size.
Size, in this case, is largely a proxy for a talented labor pool—another Amazon requirement—but there’s still a large variance in educational attainment in big cities. Of the 25 metros larger than Pittsburgh, for example, several rank near the bottom in the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees—shorthand for a well-developed labor force. By this metric, Sun Belt cities like San Antonio, Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Phoenix, and Riverside, California, are near the bottom. If Amazon were transferring thousands of workers, they might have a chance. But hiring locally? They’re probably off the list.
The single biggest difference between the remaining cities is cost: We already know that New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington have excelled at attracting companies thanks to top-notch cultural amenities, high quality of life, solid transit systems, and excellent universities. But they’re also among the most expensive places to live in the United States, with jampacked central cities where the only thing harder to place than 100 acres of offices would be 50,000 new housing units. (This is also a problem for Toronto—sorry, John Tory.)
That doesn’t mean these cities wouldn’t go out of their way to clear out space and bid for Amazon’s HQ2—or that Bezos won’t consider them strong contenders. (San Jose, California, is in, baby!) As Richard Florida points out, the best guide of corporate relocation is CEO preferences—and Bezos already owns the biggest house and the biggest newspaper in Washington. Proximity to the federal government would be an advantage for a company with a stake in virtually every sector of the economy.
You can understand why a company like Apple would be reluctant to leave Silicon Valley (even if it meant building a white elephant headquarters with 11,000 parking spaces). But relocations to high-cost areas tend to be small (as in Aetna’s move to New York), because they’re expensive. The $75,800 annual mean wage in San Jose gets the average worker just $62,100 in purchasing power, which can be had for a $58,800 wage in Durham–Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A $17,000 per-worker premium is OK for a few hundred executives; it gets costly for 50,000 employees.
On the low-cost end, that leaves Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Houston has its own issues to deal with right now. Detroit has no mass transit system to speak of; Charlotte isn’t far ahead and, further, lacks a strong university system. There are political risks, too: Detroit gives Amazon the potential to play savior but comes with sky-high property taxes, abysmal public schools, and a dysfunctional regional government. Charlotte is at the mercy of the reactionary North Carolina Legislature.
Location, Location, Location
What’s left are some self-similar cities in three regions: Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver are among the faster-growing, more recently developed U.S. metropolises—low-cost, low-tax cities with weaker universities and more auto-dependent transportation patterns. Of the three, Denver stands out for its massive investment in regional rail, super-high education levels, and high quality of life. Still, a second HQ in Denver wouldn’t bring the company much closer to the Eastern Seaboard.
Of the older Midwestern cities, it’s hard to imagine Chicago does not have an edge on Minneapolis and St. Louis for its sheer size, excellent universities, massive international airport, and high-quality transit system. The city’s and state’s financial problems are serious, though, and could ward off a cautious search committee.
And then on the East Coast are a pair of dark-horse candidates: Baltimore and Philadelphia. Baltimore has stellar cultural institutions, proximity to Washington without the housing costs, acres of open land, and a city government ready to play ball with big developers. Philadelphia has the same assets with a better regional transit system and easy access to New York.
The problem for the shrinking cities—Philly, Chicago, and Baltimore—may be political. As I’ve written before, the problem for those cities is not that housing is too expensive but that people don’t make enough money. Those cities tried everything to get companies to stay in the ’50s and ‘60s. But that doesn't mean that low-income tenants today won’t see a corporate giveaway as an unethical use of resources. (Which, fundamentally, it is.)
In spite of it all, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, and Philly are probably the most compelling choices for Amazon. But that doesn’t mean the company might not blow off its interest in higher education or mass transit to procure a low-cost campus in the suburbs of Dallas or Atlanta.
Greenfield vs. Infill
The differences between those cities is fodder for endless debate. But what may ultimately be more consequential is where Amazon decides to locate its headquarters within those cities. For all the talk about millennials abandoning car ownership, the biggest determinant of transportation choice is job location. In Seattle, Amazon has established an urban corporate paradigm that serves as a desperately needed counterpoint to the suburban campuses of Apple, Facebook, and Google in Silicon Valley. Amazon reports that 55 percent of Seattle employees walk, bike or use mass transit to get to work.
With its new headquarters, the company has the opportunity to tip the balance of an entire region toward or away from mass transit. The deck is stacked against infill development. But with cities scrambling to put together the pieces for Amazon, expect at least some of the proposals to double as downtown revitalization efforts. Entire cities have been built on less.
Gina Crisanti was taking out the trash at work one day when a stranger approached her with an odd request. It was a talent scout who wanted her to try out for an ad campaign to sell Dove beauty products _ wearing nothing but her underwear.
Dove's newest body-positive video created by Shonda Rhimes stars Cathleen Meredith, founder of Fat Girls Dance.
12pm: Soap brand Dove is dumping ultra-thin models with perfect features from its advertising in favour of real women, writes Patrick Barrett.
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Fri Sep 22 18:40:15 PDT 2017
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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 …