It’s so exciting to be back at Fieldays this year, showing how we can help empower small businesses in the agri sector to run their business smarter. As the largest agricultural event in the southern hemisphere, Fieldays is the perfect opportunity for farming teams to stop, take a breath and evaluate their farm processes and management – and we love being right at the heart of all of it.
Small businesses have the power to kickstart huge change. And with the fashion industry recently declared one of the world’s largest polluters; now is the time for a fresh new perspective.
The post Made by hand with heart: A sustainable debut at the Finders Keepers Market appeared first on Xero Blog.
As humans, we tend to have a funny relationship with change. Objectively, we understand that it can add infinite value to our careers and personal lives. But, let’s face it, the unknown can also prove a little daunting.
The post ‘What’s STPing You?’: Small business owners on adopting new technology and barriers to change appeared first on Xero Blog.
Written for EO by Jessica Thiefels, social media coach and organic marketing consultant. A brand refresh is critical for all companies, from worldwide organizations to small local businesses. “As businesses grow and change, it’s important for their brands to reflect the current marketplace. Simply put, if you stayed the same while all the companies in your industry… Read more »
The post Simple Ways to Refresh Your Brand appeared first on Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
Written for EO by Joshua Carlsen, who heads business-to-consumer lead generation and client retention at Propelo Media, an EO company owned by San Francisco member Andre Chandra. On a recent vacation in Italy, I enjoyed amazing sights and experiences, ranging from Michelangelo’s The David and the once-buried-now-excavated city of Pompeii to The Pantheon. I also indulged in culinary delights,… Read more »
Carlo G. Santoro attended the 2019 Startup Grind Global as an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) ambassador and mentor. He has been an EO Melbourne member for almost 25 years and is currently the managing director of RetailCare. After the Startup Grind Global conference, he took time to reflect on the lessons he learned from the many early-stage entrepreneurs he spoke… Read more »
The post Key Takeaways From Startup Grind Global appeared first on Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
Written for EO by Adam Dailey (pictured above, right), an EO San Diego member and CEO of Funly Events. On the morning of Monday, 4 March 2019, I was easing myself into the week. I practiced my morning routine with intention. I waited to turn on my phone, holding off the inevitable flow of business-related… Read more »
The post From Heartbreak Comes Purpose appeared first on Octane Blog – The official blog of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
Written for EO by Terry Lammers, certified valuation analyst and managing member of Innovative Business Advisors. After 24 years of raising children, my wife and I will become empty nesters soon. When I see a young couple with children, I think, “How the heck did we raise three kids into responsible adults?” That feeling reminds me of what… Read more »
This week is National Small Business Week! And of course, that means we’re celebrating you — our awesome community of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Regardless of where you are in your business journey, remember to take some time and celebrate yourself.
Show your business some love by throwing a party, catering lunch, or celebrating in some unconventional ways that give back to the business you’ve worked so hard to build:
1. Join a BNI, Chamber of Commerce, or Other Business Club
Growing a business is all about who you know. You want to become the go-to accountant or architect that everyone recommends. To do it, you have to get involved. Joining a BNI, Chamber of Commerce, or other business club is a great way to get involved in your community. Membership will help you become a go-to connection.
Why do it:
People trust people they know more than people they don’t. Get to know more people and they will help spread word organically (and help you build reviews).
- Is a BNI Membership Worth it?
- Is a Local Chamber of Commerce Membership Worth it?
- Growing a Local Business: Who You Know Matters
2. Partner With Another Business
Get in front of a new audience by leveraging partnerships. Find another business who caters to the same people as you do, and dream up a way to collaborate. You might co-host an event, co-write an eBook, or help sponsor a contest where you give away their products.
Why do it:
Other businesses have huge audiences, many of whom may be looking for the very solution you offer but have no idea who you are. Dipping into those audiences is a huge opportunity and could result in some new loyal followers.
3. Do Some Social Promotions
Your customers are hanging out on social media, so meet them where they are! Put some money behind carefully constructed ads. Test out a few different ads against each other, and see how the channels work for you.
Networks like Facebook also have some great tools you should take advantage of. For example, adding Facebook Pixel to your website can allow you to target website visitors with ads automatically. And using Facebook’s audience data, you can even target shoppers who have recently looked for similar products and services as your business.
Why do it:
- Get Social with Mary (Part II): Paid Social Advertising
- 12 Clever Social Media Promotion Ideas You’re Not Using
4. Support Other Small Businesses
Small businesses give back to their local communities through taxes and job creation, and have a huge impact on our world at large. They also share similar struggles, lacking the resources of big brands. They work tirelessly to keep their customers happy, and their employees are often involved in many aspects of the business, rather than very specific, niche tasks. Celebrate and support the other small businesses in your neighborhood this week.
Why do it:
5. Try a New Small Business Tool
When it comes to running a small business, time and effort are precious resources, and the last thing you want to do is waste them. Thankfully, there are tools available to make your life much easier. From marketing to accounting, communicating, and more – there’s a tool for that!
In fact, you can try Grasshopper’s virtual business phone system for free today! There’s no commitment and no credit card needed.
Why do it:
6. Brush up on SEO
Getting Google to recognize you may seem harder than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, but being a top search result can position your brand above the rest (literally). Plus, traffic that comes in (and buys!) via organic search is free. Instead of paying for each click, you simply reap the benefit of appearing when someone is looking for your products or services.
Why do it:
- 15 Most Effective SEO Techniques for 2019
- Next Generation Digital Marketing to Overhaul and Transform Your Small Business
7. Host a Contest
Contests are a great way to engage your audience. These contests don’t have to be fancy sweepstakes. Instead, you can give away a product or an Amazon gift card in exchange for participation. Contests are a fun opportunity to get customers and clients to share their stories, and they can result in a lot of traffic to your site.
Why do it:
8. Find a Mentor
If you don’t already have one, make it a priority to add a mentor to your arsenal of friends, partners and advisers. A mentor is someone who can help you navigate the challenges of running a business, make connections, and help guide you through the complex maze of starting and growing a successful business.
Why do it:
- Finding the Perfect Mentor: Stories from 4 Successful Entrepreneurs
- Inspiring Stories of Mentors Who made a Difference for Small Business Owners
9. Throw a Customer Event
A little customer appreciation can go a long way and have a huge impact! It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort either. It could be something as simple as inviting them to the office for a small event, or hosting a happy hour.
Why do it:
10. Update the Office to Enhance Productivity
Your office should be a stimulating and inspiring space. From the lighting to the décor, or lack thereof, it all plays a role in your mood and productivity at the office.
Why do it:
Happy National Small Business Week!
Investing time, energy and money in your business is never a bad idea when it’s done thoughtfully and intentionally. Consider celebrating your business, your customers, and your team members this week (or any week) through any of the ideas listed here, or something entirely unique to your company’s needs. And don’t forget to support others in your region and industry by shopping small!
What will you do to celebrate National Small Business Week?
The small business sector across the United States account for 58.9 million employees, 8 million minority-owned businesses, and 99.7% of all businesses in total. And while we are at the end of Small Business Week, there’s still plenty to appreciate them for next week, the week after and beyond.
The potential to capitalize on all the momentum you’ve enjoyed during Small Business Week is here, which means there are few opportunities like the present to make the most of your small business plans. Whether that means starting up a small business of your own, showing your enterprising colleagues your appreciation, or even launching a new marketing initiative, here are a few ways you can strike while the iron’s hot:
Read the Trends and Position Yourself Accordingly
Use Google Trends, you’ll find that there’s no better time to have yourself positioned for a few select small business searches:
Is it too late to capture that renewed interest? Not necessarily; trends tend to spike in interest without falling back to earth overnight. But even if that’s the case here, you can use next week as a reminder that there will always be cyclical trends from which you can build a more effective content calendar.
Using Small Business Week as a Wake-up Call
If you’ve ever sat in a cubicle, looking out the window, dreaming of a day in which you controlled your own financial destiny, you’re far from alone.
Small Business Week is more than just a way to appreciate small businesses or celebrate your success. For those who’ve considered starting a small business but have yet to take the leap, it can serve as a wake-up call. Why? Consider the following:
- Delaying your business means you aren’t learning entrepreneurship. According to one survey, 51% of people thought starting a company was the single best way to learn about entrepreneurship.
- Failure isn’t final. Even if your first business fails, you’ll learn a lot. There’s some data that suggests a slightly better chance at succeeding on your next go around.
Small Business Week is also a great time to remind yourself that you don’t have to go into a new business venture blind. There have never been more resources designed for aspiring small business owners like yourself, including the Entrepreneur Store and Udemy’s Small Business and Marketing Essentials.
Treating Small Business Week as Your Spring Cleaning Week
Even if you don’t make a yearly tradition out of actual spring cleaning, there’s no better time to trim the budget, simplify your life, and cut a few recurring items from your calendar. Think of it as your entrepreneurial spring cleaning time.
A great first step: evaluating the way you currently spend your time. Use a service like RescueTime to observe where you’re spending most of your time online. That’s when it comes time to use the KonMari method on your schedule. What activities do you need more of in your life? What sites do you need to restrict? What word habits do you maintain that seem to generate most of your results?
There are many different forms of clutter in our professional lives. From reducing the amount of clutter in our inboxes to eliminating the mental clutter that comes from managing too many projects, spring cleaning should go above and beyond “sweeping out the garage.” Sustaining the momentum from small business week should affect everything else you do at your business—and de-cluttering is a great way to ensure that happens.
Capturing More Business as a Result of Small Business Week
When you do manage to garner more attention, it’s important to make full use of it:
- Include a lead capture form on your site. If your small business is receiving more traffic this week, you don’t have much time to add a lead capture form that will ensure that you make full use of the boost. Software like Growlabs makes this easy to integrate with your web presence.
- Connect your web presence as much as possible. It’s difficult to drive a lot of conversions when a customer has trouble identifying your website from your social media presence. Give them the proper links and point them to the right landing pages every time you reach out. Now’s the time to make sure that your calls to action are above the fold, as welEngage Your Audience on
There’s no time like the present to rethink the way you approach your social media. If your social media presence has been lagging behind as you concentrate on other areas of the business, you might want to consider the following:
- Engage new influencers. Some 49% of influencers now use influencers to make purchase decisions, and don’t be surprised to see that number grow to a majority in a hurry.
- Research new content. If you don’t have a content calendar, Small Business Week is a great time to look around and see what other small businesses are doing to promote themselves. Try following a few small businesses that strike you as particularly engaging. What content do they create, and what do you notice is garnering the most interest from your shared audience?
Try a New Avenue for Advertising
If you find your marketing has grown stale over the past year, branching out can be a great way to mix things up.
In some cases, it may feel like you’re only spinning your wheels here. Why bother with mobile marketing, for example, if you’re just a local business? Keep in mind that statistics suggest that 78% of local mobile searches result in offline purchases. By combining your traditional advertising with something you haven’t tried before, you might stumble on a similar connection for your customers that you haven’t previously imagined.
Maximize Your Momentum
Small Business Week comes and goes rather quickly. The true question is what you did with your time and the subsequent boost that lingers for a few days. Have you committed yourself to another year of successful growth, or are you simply spinning the proverbial wheels until the next important calendar milestone? Take the steps you read here to ensure that you maximize your momentum after Small Business Week is in the rearview mirror.
If you are not running one-on-ones with your team members, you are missing out on a fantastic opportunity to build rapport and create a culture of transparency.
Because no matter how well-oiled your team is, one-on-ones go beyond getting a status update on daily projects.
They are about greater matters: an employee’s personal and professional development within the organization, soliciting feedback and creating an environment in which your employees are willing to be transparent.
Ultimately, your people will be more likely to stick around for the long haul.
Need proof? According to a Harvard Business Review study, the TOP 3 drivers of employee dissatisfaction are (1) the lack of recognition of employee achievements, (2) the absence of clear guidance and (3) not having the time to give meaningful commentary to the employee.
So if you’re looking into introducing one-on-ones, which will give you that warm, bubbly feeling, here’s a guide for you.
Use it to run silky smooth one-on-ones and foster a culture of transparency in your organization that will attract 90% of job seekers.
Put Your Team in the Know
First things first.
If you have never held one-on-ones with your team before, you may want to let your team know what these sessions are all about. This way your people will know what to expect from the get-go.
Set your team members’ expectations from the start by informing them that the purpose of these meetings is to help them feel included, informed, and supported in their day-to-day work. Then send a recurring calendar invite their way.
Build Cadence Through Consistency
After all, the key to running successful one-on-one sessions with your employees is to make them recurring rather than ad-hoc.
And there are several reasons for it:
- It will help you send a clear message to the employee that they are valued in the workplace.
- It allows for clear, consistent, and transparent communication between you and your direct and prevents them from interrupting you during the week with small questions. Instead, they will wait for your next scheduled meeting.
- Constant one-on-one sessions encourage a culture of continuous feedback, which adds to integrity within your organization.
Here is an important thing to keep in mind, though. Make sure you schedule one-on-ones with each and every team member — not only top performers.
Why? Because otherwise, you’ll be implying: there’s only a handful of people that are worth my time. The others aren’t as important and can wait.
The result of that?
The workplace engagement will increase with the employees you have met whereas the morale of those who you did not meet will be completely demolished.
Now, sometimes things come up, and you will have to do something about your one-on-ones. In which, you want to reschedule the meeting but never cancel it altogether.
On board? Great.
As for timing, try to schedule these meetings weekly, dedicating enough time to address all needs — at least one hour.
You can always end earlier if needed, but rushing through a 30-minute meeting will not provide the opportunity to explore ideas and provide coaching to your employees on their day-to-day responsibilities.
Let Them Run the Show
There’s a time and place when you should dish out your feedback. And that’s during the performance review meetings. One-on-ones should be all about the employee — unless, of course, something major comes up.
So put your employees in the driver’s seat and eagerly solicit feedback.
How? Start your meeting by asking the employee: So, how’s everything going? Any problems/issues?
This is a simple attempt at getting an initial data point that you can use to dig deeper into how they are progressing in their current projects, how they feel about their work, and whatever else that they want to bring up.
It should help you gauge their emotional, mental, and professional state of stability in their role and largely within your organization.
Stay on Top of What You Discuss
Next up, you want to fire up your shared Google Docs file, start documenting your one-on-ones and drive action.
A simple way to do this is to use the same document week in and week out, so employees can easily reference past projects they were working on, and keep an updated account of current tasks and projects (both short- and long-term).
It can look something like this:
- List here, including a general timeline
- List here, including all relevant details
The idea behind using Google Docs or another document sharing tool is great because it enables you to stay on top of things and have an archived history of things done or planned to be done.
Here is how you can use these shared documents to max out your one-on-one sessions.
Review the Action Items Prior to Each One-On-One
At the beginning of each one-on-one session, make sure you do the legwork before the next meeting to review what needed to be done. This will help you pinpoint potential roadblocks, which you can discuss in the next meeting.
Decide on Takeaways and Deliverables
Throughout the meeting, write up action items and make sure you are on the same page with your direct in terms of what needs to be done before the next meeting arrives.
The greatest thing about one-on-ones is that when employees come to you with a problem, you will not only listen to the problem you will actually take steps to solve it.
And that paves the way for trust and integrity.
At the end of the day, on-one-ones can supercharge your company culture allowing for transparency and higher job satisfaction.
But if you fail to treat each and every employee like they are worth every minute of your time, you will have disengaged employees who are unwilling to be integral and ready to jump ship.
Holding effective meetings can be something of a challenge under the best of circumstances, but it can be particularly difficult with remote teams. Here are four keys to holding productive meetings with remote workers.
1. Use the right technology.
Chat and instant messaging apps have become just as popular for business as for personal use and can facilitate a great deal of communication. That being said, there is eventually going to come a time when you need to actually hold a meeting for your entire team. Under the best of conditions, it is difficult to keep meetings from being enormous time wasters, so the last thing you want is to spend time struggling with technical issues. Whether your meeting only involves one or two other people, or hosts a larger group, you might consider using a video conferencing service like GoToMeeting. Using a video conferencing service doesn’t just guarantee you a smoother connection, but it also allows you to easily share information right within the service.
2. Plan and communicate ahead of time.
Just remember that while meetings are important to help get and keep everyone on the same page, every minute that people spend in meetings is a minute they are not moving your business forward.
If you need to have a meeting that involves 10 people for 30 minutes and it ends up running an hour because of technical issues or a lack of planning, that equates to 300 wasted minutes or nearly five man hours of wasted time. Here are some tips to help you avoid such situations:
- Choose your time carefully: This is particularly important if you are working with a team located in different time zones. You want to do your best to try and ensure that no one is required to attend a meeting in the middle of the night or even during an important event. Also keep in mind that just before lunch, people are hungry and just after lunch they might be ready for a nap. Ultimately, there is just no perfect time for a meeting, but you want to do your best to arrange a time that will gain you the most participation.
- Set an agenda and distribute it in advance: Meeting will always run more smoothly when everyone knows exactly what topics will be covered and are prepared in advance to offer any input that might be expected of them. This is also a helpful time management tool because it helps everyone keep an eye on the clock. It if it is supposed to be a one-hour meeting covering 5 topics and you are only on the second topic 30 minutes in, then most people will generally start evaluating their own comments or contributions for importance before making them.
- Let people know in advance what will be expected of them: Video or online conferences and meetings generally have different protocols than physical or face-to-face meetings. Just like every company has a unique culture, so does every team. What might be acceptable or even encouraged on one team might not be on another. It is always helpful to have a standing SOP for how to handle comments, questions, suggestions or even what proper etiquette is, but it’s even more important if you have new members or regular turnover. Remote teams, in particular, tend to have higher turnover than many office teams, so the faster you can get newcomers up to speed, the better.
3. Only plan large meetings if you absolutely have to.
There is perhaps no place where it is more important to remember that time is money than when it comes to meetings. While it may be simpler to schedule one meeting with the entire team to cover a range of topics, it is always important to keep in mind that you are still paying each individual employee for every minute they spend in a meeting.
In simple terms, if you have 10 employees that make $30 an hour and schedule a one-hour meeting, that meeting is costing you $300, not to mention your own time. On the other hand, if you schedule three 20-minute meetings with 4 employees each, then you’re still only using one hour of your time, but you’re only paying $40 for each meeting or spending a total of $120 in man-hours.
The other 40 minutes of each employee’s hour can be spent actually working rather than sitting in a meeting they only participate in for a grand total of 10-15 minutes. Before you schedule your next meeting, use a cost calculator to determine not only the most efficient but the most cost-effective means of getting the results or information you need.
4. Keep the meeting moving, but also create engagement.
For remote teams, a meeting may be one of the rare times they have any type of opportunity to interact with one another.
As important as it may be to keep the meeting moving and get what you need to accomplished, this can also be an important time for remote teams, in particular, to get to know each other or to learn more about each other.
You want to use your time wisely and plan it well, but sometimes the best use of your time might be to facilitate some team interaction rather than keeping things all business. While team meetings may be best kept to being few and far between, when you do have them, you certainly want to make the most of them.
Running an efficient meeting with remote workers may be challenging, but it can be done.
Your meeting will be more successful when you manage to keep people on topic and on track while also encouraging participation from everyone. The term “herding cats” often gets thrown around a great deal when it comes to managing a team, and this term is probably particularly appropriate when it comes to leading meetings.
Keeping your team on track and your meeting running smoothly can be a challenge, but with a little planning, preparation, and attention to detail, it can be successfully accomplished.
Dollars are important. You work hard for them. When you have them, you can build a business, hire new people, and expand your offerings.
When you don’t, life is stressful.
It’s only natural that parting with the money you’ve worked so hard to earn gives you pause—even if the prospect of “reinvestment” sounds like the next logical step for your company.
But if you’re still skittish about sinking money back into your business, you have to remove the fear of wasting money.
Don’t let the risk of sunk costs steer your company off the path to growth. Instead, consider these strategies for reinvesting in your company without wasting money:
Tip #1: Reinvest in Areas You Know Need Improvement
One of the most powerful advocates of business reinvestment was the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie wasn’t a man who thought he should invest in a lot of side businesses—in fact, he once said that the key to succeeding in business was to put one’s eggs all in one basket—but he did believe in making his own businesses better. Carnegie would repeatedly sink surplus capital back into new technology in his steel mills to make them more efficient and better than the competition.
You don’t have to own your own steel mills to glean a lesson here: there are probably some areas in your own business where you know you can do better. Here are some focus areas to consider:
Customer service. According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, customers who had the best experiences with a company spent 140% compared to those with poor previous experiences. Customer service is a reinvestment that pays off in reputation and the perception of quality—which in turn helps fuel further growth.
Quality of your product or service. It’s not just about your reputation—it’s also about your quality. When a customer has your product in hand, what’s their experience? Will they feel more inclined to buy from you in the future?
Productivity. The basic balance sheet of a business says that you spend X and receive Y. Productivity helps you minimize X while maximizing Y. The more productive and happy your employees are, the better off your bottom line will be. Think about reinvesting in productivity boosters such as software suites and investing in automating those processes that can be automated.
Tip #2: Reinvest in Your People
A company is only as good as the people who run it. That doesn’t just mean you. It means everyone—from the founder/CEO to the most recent hire.
This reinvestment isn’t only about working with the right people. It’s also about building a culture that attracts the right people. A 2017 study found that over 90% of top-performing employees viewed employment training programs and development opportunities as an important priority in deciding where to work.
If you aren’t reinvesting in your people, you might not always attract the right ones.
Want additional tips for creating and investing in an employee development program? Check out the resources available at Business.org.
Tip #3: Reinvest with Marketing that Has Demonstrable ROI
Sometimes you’ve already got the infrastructure in place. You’ve got good service. You’re ready to scale. You’re ready for more customers.
You just don’t have the customers.
If that’s the case, then reinvesting in your business with an increased marketing budget may be the way to go. Here are some marketing statistics and trends that should offer you the return on investment (ROI) you’re looking for:
Email marketing. Statistics suggest that email marketing offers some of the best ROI, with three quarters of company agreeing that it offers “good” to “excellent” return on investment. If you knew in advance that most companies would agree that email marketing was a good way to spend your marketing money, would you do it? Well, now you know.
Analytics. It’s not always easy to slap a bottom-line statistic on the value of analytics, but consider this: without effective analytics, you can’t run the tests that help improve your efficiency. Think of analytics as the bedrock of the knowledge you hold: with it, you’re able to demonstrate where you’re going wrong and where you’re going right. When you consider that only 21% of companies report confidence in their analytics, you’ll recognize what an advantage this can be.
Video marketing. A 2013 survey showed that more than half of respondents believed video marketing to have the best ROI in all of marketing. Video has only grown in relevance since then.
Tip #4: Invest in Yourself
If you’re running the business, then your business will often grow at the rate you grow. That can be good news or it can be very bad news.
But there’s upside here: reinvesting in yourself will pay dividends in a wide variety of ways, from improving the way you run the business to the way you approach your personal life. It pays to invest in yourself—and oftentimes, it’s not nearly as costly as you might think.
- Take more time to read. Think of reading nonfiction as downloading new information like Neo in “The Matrix.” Reading gives you access to a wealth of experience and cuts down the learning curve in any area of life you can imagine.
- Take more time to manage your stress levels. You aren’t at your best when you’re stressed. Consider planned vacation days and de-stressing activities to be more than an investment in your business; they’re also an investment in your personal health. The better you function, the better you’ll interact with your company.
- Take more time to invest in your leadership skills. You might have had a great idea to build a company, but your entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t always translate to leadership skills. Consider an example from the NFL: in the off-season, quarterback Mitch Trubisky knew the Chicago Bears had invested a lot in of resources in the hope that he would lead their franchise to a winning tradition. Trubisky decided to read “The Captain’s Class” in the off-season to learn from the experience of historic sports dynasties throughout history; as it stands, the Bears (and Trubisky) are much improved on the year.
Spending money doesn’t always mean you’re wasting it. If you put it back into your business—and buy something other than more office supplies—there are plenty of ways you can maximize your productivity and build a stronger company.
Change is coming for Australia’s 730,000 small business owners with less than 19 employees. With the ATO legislation for Single Touch Payroll (STP) going into effect from 1 July, countless small businesses will be required to start using accounting software technology for payroll reporting.
The post A trusted advisor tells: The top 5 questions I’m being asked about STP appeared first on Xero Blog.
Xero’s app marketplace has over 700 apps which help small businesses and their advisors reach their goals. Each month we celebrate an app partner who stands out for helping small businesses thrive – find out more about Xero’s app partner program here.
The post How Google Sheets integrator G-Accon found customers fast through Xero appeared first on Xero Blog.
Fieldays 2019 will be my second time at the event as Xero’s New Zealand Head of Agribusiness and Practice Strategy, and I’m really excited to engage first hand with some of the thousands of small businesses in the agri sector.
The post Fieldays 2019: How financial sustainability can benefit your farming business appeared first on Xero Blog.
It’s almost the end of the financial year, can you believe it? Time sure does fly when you’ve got your head down working. It’s time to start wrapping things up, and no doubt you want to kick the new year off with a bang.
The post Xero’s top tips on getting your small business EOFY ready appeared first on Xero Blog.
Satellite data plus artificial intelligence equals no place to hide.
Earlier this month brought a mind-blowing announcement in the world of power plants and pollution.
In a nutshell: A nonprofit artificial intelligence firm called WattTime is going to use satellite imagery to precisely track the air pollution (including carbon emissions) coming out of every single power plant in the world, in real time. And it’s going to make the data public.
This is a very big deal. Poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data have made it difficult to enforce pollution restrictions on power plants. This system promises to effectively eliminate poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data.
And it won’t just be regulators and politicians who see this data; it will be the public too. When it comes to environmental enforcement, the public can be more terrifying and punitive than any regulator. If any citizen group in the world can go online and pull up a list of the dirtiest power plants in their area, it eliminates one of the great informational barriers to citizen action.
And citizens have reason to organize. According to the latest State of Global Air report, air pollution is the fifth greatest global mortality risk. It causes 5 million early deaths and 147 million years of healthy life lost, every year, and the countries building the most power plants are experiencing the most air pollution. Their citizens have the most on the line. And now they’ll be armed with information.
Things are about to get interesting. Let’s look at the details.
Eyes in the sky will track all power plant pollution
The plan is to use data from satellites that make theirs publicly available (like the European Union’s Copernicus network and the US Landsat network), as well as data from a few private companies that charge for their data (like Digital Globe). The data will come from a variety of sensors operating at different wavelengths, including thermal infrared that can detect heat.
The images will be processed by various algorithms to detect signs of emissions. It has already been demonstrated that a great deal of pollution can be tracked simply through identifying visible smoke. WattTime says it can also use infrared imaging to identify heat from smokestack plumes or cooling-water discharge. Sensors that can directly track NO2 emissions are in development, according to WattTime executive director Gavin McCormick.
Between visible smoke, heat, and NO2, WattTime will be able to derive exact, real-time emissions information, including information on carbon emissions, for every power plant in the world. (McCormick says the data may also be used to derive information about water pollutants like nitrates or mercury.)
Who’s behind it
WattTime, a nonprofit that is now a subsidiary of the Rocky Mountain Institute, made a splash earlier this year with Automated Emissions Reduction. AER is a program that uses real-time grid data and machine learning to determine exactly when the grid is producing the cleanest electricity. It can then automatically adjust power consumption to match up with those times, ensuring that users take advantage of the lowest-carbon power available. (Many kinds of power consumption can be safely shifted in time, like water heaters, battery charging, and some industrial processes; they are “dispatchable.”) AER is, as the name indicates, entirely automated; it works behind the scenes, without any user intervention.
“A second #renewableenergy revolution is on our doorstep. If the first revolution was about deployment of generation hardware, we’d argue the second revolution will be defined by the deployment of timing #software.” See what we mean in our latest blog: https://t.co/r3KPruT3KS pic.twitter.com/PtAOdoGLTW
— WattTime (@wattTime) May 6, 2019
WattTime is partnering with Carbon Tracker, a think tank that’s done previous work with satellite imagery, using it for financial analysis of power plants (including a pioneering study showing that 42 percent of global coal power plants are operating at a loss), and the World Resources Institute, which operates the world’s most comprehensive Global Database of Power Plants.
WattTime is a mission-based nonprofit with a track record, legitimate partners, and serious financial backing. Despite its diminutive size, it has a chance of becoming the global clearinghouse for transparent, reliable pollution data.
What it will immediately enable
This information is going to empower all kinds of tools and avenues for pollution reduction. Here are a few McCormick mentioned to me:
- Every pollution law or international agreement relies on monitoring and verification. Many countries, or areas within countries, are suspected of underreporting emissions. It creates a background level of mutual mistrust. Now there will be a trusted, third-party source of verified information on every power plant; no more gaming the system by fiddling with local monitoring equipment or misreporting emissions. Transparent third-party verification will raise everyone’s confidence in the ability of regulators and negotiators to produce results.
- Remember Automated Emission Reductions? Real-time pollution data will enable AER to work anywhere in the world, without undue reliance on state or industry sources of data. I’ve written before about how battery storage doesn’t always reduce carbon emissions on the grid, because it’s rarely timed to sync up with clean energy. California is trying to fix that problem. AER will make it easier, for California and everyone else, to match clean energy production and consumption.
- Real-time, public pollution data will help renewable energy developers site their projects in areas where they can maximize emission reductions.
- Carbon Tracker has already shown that satellite data can be used for more precise financial analysis of power plants (again: 42 percent of the coal plants in the world are operating at a loss). WattTime’s program will make that analysis more robust and help better identify those areas where renewable energy is already cheaper than fossil power.
- Finally, the data will help fill in the gaps even in US pollution monitoring, which are many.
All that stuff will crank up the minute the information becomes public. WattTime is currently gathering data and working with partners who will put the information to use.
But the really interesting stuff will happen after this data is unleashed on the world and becomes accessible everywhere.
What it could enable in the long term
To help illuminate the larger impact this information might have, indulge me in a brief anecdote.
In 1986, the US created the Toxic Release Inventory, a database tracking the toxic emissions of all US industrial facilities.
It was strengthened in 1990, as part of the Pollution Prevention Act. At the time, this outcome was seen as something of a failure — the originally proposed bill contained stiff penalties for toxic emissions, but they were stripped out in negotiations. In the end, all that was left was the information, the TRI itself.
But the TRI has gone on to prove one of the most effective environmental regulations in US history. Simply making the information available to the public empowered citizens, nonprofits, and state governments to organize pressure on the worst emitters. In the five years after it was implemented, toxic emissions fell by almost half.
The TRI enabled what scholars Archon Fung and Dara O’Rourke (of Harvard and MIT, respectively) have called ‘‘populist maximin regulation,” which differs from conventional command-and-control regulation in four ways. First, the role of government agencies “is not to set and enforce standards, but to establish an information-rich context for private citizens, interest groups, and firms to solve environmental problems.”
Second, standards are not set according to expert risk analysis, but according to what the public is willing to accept. Third, emitters “adopt pollution prevention and abatement measures in response to a dynamic range of public pressures rather than to formalized agency standards or governmental sanction.” Finally, the information allows public attention to focus on the worst emitters — maximum attention on minimum performers, thus “maximin.”
A shorter way of putting this: Once the public knows what polluters are up to, it stops letting them get away with it.
Just as the TRI enabled populist maximin regulation in the US — a wave of bottom-up activism that the authors of the TRI never anticipated — so could WattTime’s data be used to organize citizen pressure on the biggest carbon emitters, on a global scale.
If nothing else, the biggest polluters, and the biggest cheaters, will be exposed. No company, no country, will be able to hide or fudge its numbers. The public will know how to find them.
Bring your change with you!
Air travel can be stressful when passengers are rushing to get to their boarding gates on time, especially on busy days like Memorial Day. Maybe that’s why people keep leaving behind their change at security — almost $1 million a year, all of which goes to the Transportation Security Administration.
The existence of this loose change recently entered the limelight when an internal Department of Homeland Security proposal asked the TSA for $3 million worth of loose changed gathered at airports for border operations if Congress does not approve its $1.1 billion funding request, according to a report from NBC News. While that might not seem like a lot in comparison to the $232 million DHS wants TSA to hand over in total, $3 million is a lot to gather from leftover coins in plastic bins at airport checkpoints.
Where is all that money coming from? Loose change left in security bins has long been an unusual revenue source for the TSA, and the amount of money left behind continues to grow.
Every year, the agency has to release a report on all the unclaimed money it collects to Congress: In 2012, TSA collected $531,000 and in 2016 it jumped up to $867, 812, according to NBC News. By 2018, it reached $960,105.
It’s easy to leave possessions behind when people are asked to empty their pockets, said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. There are plenty of distractions at security checkpoints: Loose change can be missed because of advertisements at the bottom of bins or forgotten while passengers struggle to collect their items from three different trays, she said.
It’s not just quarters and dimes, either, Farbstein said: The money that the agency collects also includes large bills left behind in unclaimed wallets.
The most money, naturally enough, comes from busy airports in big cities: According to the agency’s report on the 2017 fiscal year, John F. Kennedy International Airport collected the most money at $72,392. Los Angeles International Airport was a close second at $71,748. Miami International Airport and O’Hare International trailed behind at $50,504 and $49,597.
Travelers in Reno, Nevada, meanwhile, left behind a mere $19.85.
Once the loose change is found, smaller airports send the money they collect to larger hub airports, which then rolls the change and deposits it to TSA, Farbstein said. The TSA keeps track of all the money that is being stored and transported, she said.
“If a TSA employee even takes a quarter or a dime, they would be fired,” she said. “There’s no excuse for that. It’s a matter of integrity.”
Since 2005, Congress has allowed the TSA to spend the money however it wants to improve security operations. In the past, some of it has been used to translate security signs into foreign languages and to expand the TSA Precheck system, which expedites security for prescreened passengers (although even those passengers have to empty change from their pockets).
But the money has piled up — leading to an attempt by Congress to control how the TSA spends it. The TSA Loose Change Act was introduced in 2013 to donate the money to nonprofit organization that would “provide places of rest and recuperation for Armed Forces members and their families” in airports. Though the bill received bipartisan support and passed in the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate. It was reintroduced in 2017, but no progress has been made.
It’s not yet clear if the money will end up being used for border security. But for travelers hoping to avoid contributing to the growing pile of loose change, Farbstein has some advice: When taking things out of your pocket, immediately drop them into your carry-on.
The series has known where it was heading for many seasons now. So why did it fall apart?
Game of Thrones’ series finale, “The Iron Throne,” is the show’s lowest-ranked episode ever on IMDB, with the site’s users grading it a 4.3 out of 10. And what’s the second lowest-ranked episode of the series on IMDB? That would be the final season’s fourth episode, “The Last of the Starks,” coming in at a 5.6.
And if you look a little further, you’ll realize that IMDB users’ lowest-ranked six episodes of the entire series are the six episodes of the final season. The second episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” ranks the highest of the six, with an 8.0, but it’s still behind season five’s “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” IMDB’s lowest-ranked episode of Game of Thrones that’s not in the final season, with a score of 8.1.
On one level, these rankings are a little nuts — I think all six episodes of Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season, whatever my issues with them, are better than “Unbowed,” which is a bad episode of television!
But on another level, they’re pretty well aligned with Rotten Tomatoes’ critical consensus on the final season, which sits at 58 percent, by far the worst ever. (Season one is in second place, with a 91 percent.)
The season certainly has its defenders, who feel the series wrapped up just about perfectly. And there are plenty of people like me, who feel the season was conceptually interesting, while whiffing several key moments of execution.
But I still think it’s fair to say that the general consensus on Game of Thrones’ final season could be described, charitably, as “disappointing.” And the further we get from the finale, the more I can feel myself detaching from the show in a way that suggests I might not think about it much in the years to come. For a show this big to mostly evaporate is somehow more disappointing than if it had ended in a way that actively infuriated me.
So what was it about Game of Thrones final season that left so many people disappointed? Sure, some of the disappointment was an inevitable function of hype. But I would argue it was just as much a function of the show having a planned finale.
TV is a medium where you have to plan everything and plan nothing simultaneously — no small feat
One of my favorite stories about the construction of a great TV series has always been about the five-season classic Breaking Bad. Throughout that show’s second season, creator Vince Gilligan and his writers seeded hints in several episodes about a catastrophe that would occur in the season finale. And Gilligan felt because these hints were being seeded, the writers needed to know what that catastrophe was.
It worked, more or less. I really do love Breaking Bad season two. But Gilligan found the whole process so arduous that, in the show’s following seasons, he mostly plotted things on the fly, even as several later episodes featured flash-forwards to some future timeline when Walter White’s crimes had been found out. Gilligan trusted both his writers’ room and his overall conceit for the show — a meek family man becomes a ruthless drug kingpin — to hold everything together while all involved worked toward finding the best story. (You can read a much fuller version of this basic tale in Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised.)
This is the paradox of TV. You’d think that having a satisfying ending would require having a rock solid plan to get to that ending. But the opposite is often true, because the more you know about how a story is going to play out in the macro, the more the micro just becomes a series of items checked off a list. The storytelling can start to drag, because you’re so focused on set, arbitrary signposts you’ve already set for yourself down the road. If you can’t get to that major revelation until the end of season two, well, season one might start to feel a little slow.
Yet you also have to plan some things, because audiences still want to feel like the destination they’ve reached is inevitable. Thus, the best endings are often ones where the writers have a very vague idea of what will probably happen and work toward that point, while also leaving themselves room to radically change everything until the last possible second.
One show that excelled at this approach was FX’s spy drama The Americans. I talked to the creative team behind The Americans several times during the construction of that show’s generally acclaimed final season, and even though they’d had an idea of the show’s finale in mind since season two, they still wanted to leave things open just in case a better idea came along that blew their original one out of the water. (What made it to screen mostly conformed to their original pitch, with a few minor tweaks here and there.)
And the more I’ve thought about why the planning that led to The Americans’ final season left me feeling so satisfied, where the planning that led to Game of Thrones’ final season left me feeling so dissatisfied, the more I’ve realized that planning plot points and character arcs is all well and good, but it falls apart if you adhere to them so rigidly that you can’t account for how the characters’ relationships might change.
Though The Americans’ writers had a very rough idea of where their show’s characters and plot might end up, they left themselves a good amount of leeway in terms of where their characters’ relationships might end up. This came in handy with the main characters’ kids in particular, because the writers were able to try out endless variations on which kid ended up where, in hopes of finding just the right version that would have the maximum impact for all of the show’s relationships.
And I think if I had to pinpoint why Game of Thrones’ final season so often felt slapdash, it’s probably because it didn’t pay enough attention to its characters’ relationships, as opposed to the fates of individual characters and plot points.
The big turn toward genocide that Daenerys takes in Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode isn’t entirely unmotivated, but it feels like it comes out of nowhere because her relationships with the other characters have barely been affected by her growing paranoia and desire for conquest. As such, it feels like she exists in a vacuum, where her actions are easier to read as simply an extension of the would-be queen she’s always been, rather than a ruler whose actions impact the people she rules, even those in her inner circle.
Game of Thrones as the reverse Lost
Ever since Lost ended in 2010, it’s been held up as an example of a show that had immense goodwill headed into its series finale, but nevertheless botched that goodwill with a bad final episode. (I love the Lost finale, but I’m well aware this is something of a niche opinion.) Nobody might claim it’s the worst finale of all time — Dexter is right there — but there’s definitely a sense that the final episode hurt the series’ reputation on some small level.
And on the night that Game of Thrones’ finale aired, I surmised that Game of Thrones might be the reverse Lost — a show where everything was so planned out (thanks to George R.R. Martin’s outline for the final books, which he revealed to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss shortly before season four) that it felt like an adaptation of bullet points more than something organic.
I don’t really think their lack of planning is to blame, because I tend to believe that planning too far ahead in TV results in bland, boring storytelling that feels deeply schematic. (See also: the How I Met Your Mother series finale, which was planned out in season two but failed to account for how much the characters would change between that season and season nine, when it finally ended.) But for quite a while there, Game of Thrones, with its carefully etched narratives, felt like it was proving me wrong.
Well, guess what? Game of Thrones pulled a reverse Lost! Everything was accounted for, and the writers certainly had a plan. But to put that plan in motion, they had to twist and contort the characters so heavily that the whole show became a warped, funhouse mirror version of itself.
Most of the time, that was fine. The spectacle was enough, and the actors were fun. But now it feels ever more like so much of what Game of Thrones made us care about for all of those years was worth very little.
I still think it’s true that much of what the show did amounted to very little, and that’s part of the problem. Viserion the dragon becoming an ice dragon existed solely as a schematic way for the Night King to bring down the Wall. The Night King existed mostly to unite the vast majority of the characters in a place where they could eventually squabble about letting Daenerys lead. And so on.
But the more I think about it, the more I think there’s an even more frustrating way in which Game of Thrones pulled a reverse Lost. Where Lost’s final few episodes made the mistake of being too much about the show’s character relationships — to the point that the biggest question the final season answers is “Will these people find each other in the afterlife?” — the final few episodes of Game of Thrones prioritized the exact opposite, rushing so quickly through plot points and character beats that viewers had no way to understand the ripple effect massive changes had throughout the cast. And that led to a gradual disconnection from the characters as anything other than symptoms of what the plot needed them to be.
The longer I write about TV, the more I think it’s a medium where relationships are more important than anything else. Great relationships between characters are what unites a show as traditional as The Big Bang Theory and a show as experimental as Twin Peaks (yes, even the 2017 revival season). TV is an exploration of change, and how change affects people, and how the ways those people are affected breed further change.
The best shows reflect this question right back at us. How do we feel about these characters now that they’ve changed? How do their shifting relationships include us in that equation? Do we still care? Do we want to see what else is on?
In its early going, Game of Thrones kept these questions in sight. It was really good at tracing the elaborate ways that change rippled throughout its massive cast. But in its final two seasons, the show mostly created a series of implications about what was happening and to whom.
Game of Thrones — which for so long was so good at tracing how small moments could create huge vibrations on entirely different continents — became a show that just kept asking you to take its word for things. Of course Dany would do this, and of course Tyrion would do that, right? If the writers say they did?
For some viewers, that worked well enough. But for a lot of us, it felt like what it was: a series of cut corners that damaged Game of Thrones’ most important relationship of all — the one it had with the audience.
A veteran philanthropy consultant defends the field.
American philanthropy has faced criticism basically since its inception.
The founding of the Rockefeller Foundation, the first institution of its kind in the US (and the benefactor of this section of Vox), was met with controversy and calls for Congress to disallow the group’s creation.
But the past couple years have featured the biggest backlash against elite philanthropy in decades. Three books — Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All, Rob Reich’s Just Giving, and Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Philanthropy — made the case that giving by wealthy elites can be undemocratic, a distraction from the unjust ways that wealth is created, and do more good for the givers than the receivers.
Phil Buchanan of the Center for Effective Philanthropy professionally advises large foundations and other philanthropic institutions, and he thinks this backlash has gone too far. In his new book Giving Done Right and in several accompanying op-eds, he’s argued that the critiques, particularly that of Giridharadas, paint with too broad a brush and risk discouraging valuable donations.
“Giving among the biggest donors worldwide may fall as their charitable efforts are increasingly caricatured as self-protective ruses,” Buchanan warned in the Financial Times.
Buchanan and I talked the week of his book’s release about the backlash against elite philanthropy, and whether mega-donors can be defended. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
You wrote that you think philanthropy’s getting a bad rap. Why?
Stepping way back, for the last 18 years in this job I’ve felt like philanthropy and the nonprofit sector it supports often get taken for granted. I think we undervalue the role of this sector, particularly in our country, and I think much of the narrative has been, “Philanthropy and nonprofits are broken and business thinking has the answer.”
And now we have a new critique, which is more from the left politically, from folks like Anand and others, which is, “No, actually, philanthropy is just an anti-democratic force or a ruse to distract from evil-doing. Actually, government has the answer.”
I actually think that nobody’s got all the answers. I think it’s particularly concerning right now because there’s some evidence that giving levels may be plateauing. It’s hard to tell for sure because we’re all waiting on the Giving USA data [the gold standard dataset on charitable giving]. And while I think we should be really critical of stupid or ineffective philanthropy, we should hold up giving as a value and recognize that when done well, it can have tremendous positive impact.
Do you really think that these critiques are deterring donations? That seems to imply that donors are more sensitive to public commentary than I would have expected.
I don’t know for certain. I want to be clear that by all means we should critique, you know, Mark Zuckerberg for getting it wrong in Newark or the Gates Foundation for getting it wrong in their early efforts — well, really, for most of their efforts — on public education. I’ve got a ton of critical things to say, but I do worry that if philanthropy is portrayed in a consistently negative light, then I believe that that could have a negative effect on giving.
And I think it could also affect the perspective of policymakers. Already we’ve seen policy changes that are not necessarily positive for philanthropy in terms of the tax code and the reduction in the number of itemizers.
To use one of your examples, one of the ideas that this wave of philanthropy skeptics has been raising is that the question to ask about what Zuckerberg did in Newark isn’t, “Did it work?” but “Why was an outside billionaire was able to funnel $100 million to a school district to affect its policies?”
You talk about policy change in your book, and the need to be careful in funding policy change, but I’m curious what you make of that argument, that the problem is the structure that allows this.
I hear that argument. Ultimately in Newark, there were elected public officials who were making decisions about whether and how to relate to philanthropists. I think that there are great examples of partnerships between elected officials and philanthropy that have contributed to really, really positive effects. Part of my challenge with the current critique is I think people are conflating their unhappiness with the decisions of folks who have been elected in our democratic system with critiques of philanthropy. It’s certainly fair to also critique Cory Booker and Chris Christie for their role [in Zuckerberg’s donation].
I think it’s easy to forget that [in] a strong, healthy civil society, institutions that are funded outside government are an important check and counter to the power of both government and business. We can look at other countries — China might be one example — where that doesn’t exist and I’m not sure that that’s what we want.
I want to push you on the idea that this is just pluralism. It’s not a participatory democratic system where everyone’s putting in their share and collectively we’re building the civil society that we all, together, want. It’s a select group of very high net worth individuals making those decisions.
And if you believe people like Benjamin Page, Jason Seawright, and Matthew Lacombe, who just wrote a whole book about this, these donors tend to have political beliefs that are not representative of the public at large. They tend to be more skeptical of taxes, tend to be more skeptical of economic regulation generally — which makes sense.
So I think this is an anti-oligarchy critique: by allowing these kinds of philanthropic donations, are we setting up an oligarchic structure that exists alongside our democratic structures?
I think we run the risk of exaggerating the degree to which philanthropy is focused on, or even big philanthropy is focused on, direct policy advocacy.
Much of what is done is actually through the support of grassroots organizations that are working on particular issues. So, for example, the Public Welfare Foundation has done a lot of work on criminal justice reform. They have supported organizations in many states across the country that have helped to influence policy to reduce by half the number of juveniles who are incarcerated in the past decade and a half or something.
I write in the book about the Wilburforce Foundation, which supports conservation efforts. Most of the folks whom they are supporting are quite small. These are organizations with budgets sometimes under $1 million who are in particular communities and organizing to try to protect habitats. That’s the way that change happens.
Is it perfect? No. Nothing’s perfect. Should taxes on wealthy people be higher? In my view, yes.
The structural critiques are important and they play out in our democratic politics. But in the meantime, here we are. We have significant wealth that’s been accumulated in this country. We have endowed private foundations that don’t even have a connection on the board to the original donor. These are institutions that are focused on a mission. They’re focused on the public good.
I like working in the day to day, in the practical reality, where there are people with decision-making power to allocate these resources. I want to help them to do it effectively. Do I hope that our systems change? Over time, do I hope that we elect different people with different priorities? Yes. And yet every day I go to work and try to help people who are in the here and now. And I think both parts of those conversations are obviously really important.
Your book is about doing philanthropy most effectively, and there’s one version of that idea that is exemplified by a place like GiveWell, that takes that very literally and applies it to cause selection, and tries to find causes that are best promoting living standards and health, as measured in an at least somewhat quantitative way.
The foundations you’re working on do that sort of work but also arts funding and cultural funding. How do you find a standard that can do all of that? How do you know that what you’re doing is effective and not just effective toward a goal that might not be desirable?
There are no easy answers to this. Ultimately, the choice of goals is subjective. Your positive goal could be my negative outcome, right? We could have goals that are in direct opposition if, for example, one of us is seeking greater accessibility to abortion and then the other one of us wants to limit access to abortion. I think this stuff is nuanced and contextual and there isn’t a single right answer.
I do think that the effective altruist types have a sort of relentless rationality — this argument that you should look for where you can have the maximum effect on human lives. I think that’s a helpful challenge. At the same time, I think it’s too absolute. There is a natural human desire to give locally, for example, and to be connected to a community. I don’t think we should necessarily tell all givers that they need to squelch that desire and give internationally because their dollars go further. And I also believe that there is a role for thriving arts and cultural organizations in our societies that it’s harder to make the case for using effective altruists’ methodology.
I think you just have to wrestle with all of these different choices. And in the book, I try to suggest some ways to think about it and some questions to ask yourself. But I am not an absolutist on this stuff. Ultimately it’s about head and heart, and it’s about the context that you’re in and the values that you have.
One big question that comes up a lot is, “Why should taxpayers be subsidizing this?”
In your book you talk about Tim Gill, who I agree is a really, really interesting case. He helped bankroll the gay rights movement, and in particular the marriage equality movement.
I’m all for marriage equality. I think Tim Gill had a net positive impact on the world. But I wonder, “Why is it that we have this subsidy for him and, say, a very wealthy Catholic donor who might’ve have opposed him, to go at each other? Why is that a proper thing for us to be subsidizing?”
That’s a good question. I think public policy encouraging giving makes sense. Our tax policy unfortunately encourages things like purchasing second homes. We tax capital gains at a lower rate than regular income. There are all kinds of issues with the way we tax people in this country. I’m a little puzzled sometimes by some of the folks — particularly some of the folks on the left politically — who I tend to agree with on a variety of things. But then it’s like, wait, why are we talking about charitable deduction, but not some of these other issues?
I’m sure it can be done better. I think one of the big problems right now is some people don’t get any tax benefit from contributing [if they take the standard deduction]. It’s hard to justify the deduction existing just for some.
Basically, my view is we want to create incentives for people to give — all people at every level. What is the right level of that incentive? How should it be provided? I think Rob Reich and his book have some interesting ideas. I’m certainly not a tax policy person and I don’t have the answers, but I do think that the nonprofit sector, with all its flaws and all its weaknesses, is one of the great strengths of the country. And I think we want our policies to be supportive of that sector.
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The biggest questions about the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, answered.
The 2020 presidential campaign is well underway.
Any Democrat with dreams of occupying the Oval Office can see Donald Trump is a vulnerable president who hasn’t broadened his appeal beyond his base. A lot of them are running for their party’s nomination next year.
Former Vice President Joe Biden finally jumped in, establishing himself as an early if unproven frontrunner. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders have been in the fray for months. Beto O’Rourke is also in. Pete Buttigieg picked up some steam. The Democratic field includes a record number of women and nonwhite candidates, a mix of high-wattage stars and lesser-known contenders who believe they can navigate a fractured field to victory.
Whoever emerges will face Trump, who has already raised more than $100 million for reelection to a second term. Recent history tells us Americans usually give their presidents another four years. That should lend Trump an advantage. But the president has been historically unpopular during his first term, and the US economy — typically at the top of voters’ minds — has stumbled lately.
Many Democratic voters don’t yet have fully formed opinions of the presumed candidates, even the “big” names: the Beto O’Rourkes, Kamala Harrises, Cory Bookers. The potential nominees with substantial name recognition are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, two older white men in a diversifying party.
We have a long way to go, in other words. It’s silly to pretend anybody knows how this campaign is going to end, and the 2016 election should have humbled all political prognosticators. Still, the 2020 campaign has already started. Here is what you need to know to get oriented.
Who is definitely running for president in 2020?
On the Republican side, there is of course President Donald Trump.
A few Republican officials — former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and popular Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — have hinted they might challenge the president in a primary. But any primary challenger would be a huge underdog against the sitting president. Republican leaders have said they want to protect Trump by potentially having state parties change the rules for their primaries to guard against an insurgency.
The only GOPer willing to make the leap so far is former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a libertarian-leaning Republican who has officially entered the race.
On the Democratic side, the field is almost set, barring some unexpected late entries. They are, in rough order of public profile:
Former Vice President Joe Biden: Biden thought hard about running in 2016, but he decided against it, being so soon after his son Beau’s death and with the party establishment uniformly behind Hillary Clinton. He’s still very popular with Democratic voters, and the former veep apparently wasn’t sure any of the other potential candidates would beat Trump. Though surely inflated by name recognition, Biden has a sizable lead in the early Democratic primary polls.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): The 2016 runner-up is running again. He has the biggest grassroots base of any potential candidate, and he has been the leader of the push to move the party leftward. Press reports of staff sexual misconduct within his 2016 campaign and a more competitive field will present Sanders with a very different race this time, however. Still, for many of the Democratic left, Sanders is the only candidate with the credibility to pursue their top-tier issues, like Medicare-for-all.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA): The former California attorney general started generating White House hype almost as soon as she got to the Senate in 2017. As a younger black woman, she personifies the Democratic Party’s changing nature. She’s endorsed Medicare-for-all and proposed a major middle-class tax credit, though her days as a prosecutor may present problems with the progressive grassroots. Based on the early polls and media hype, Harris has made the biggest splash of any Democrats not named Sanders.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): The Massachusetts senator is proudly progressive, though she tends to position herself as wanting to fix capitalism rather than replace it. She wants to outflank Trump on trade and give workers seats on corporate boards and tax extreme wealth. Warren got on the ground early in Iowa and other early states. (You might have also heard about her releasing a DNA test in an attempt to prove she had Native American roots — a poorly executed attempt to rebut Trump’s “Pocahontas” taunts.)
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): The former Newark mayor and part-time firefighter is another fresh face with big ideas like savings accounts for newborns, and he’s also running in a Democratic primary with a lot of black voters. He’ll have to contend, though, with his work promoting charter schools (not a favorite of the teachers unions) and the perception that he’s close with Wall Street.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): Gillibrand has evolved over the years from a centrist Democrat in the House to a progressive who endorses Medicare-for-all and universal paid family leave; a pillar of her Senate career has been cracking down on sexual assault in the military. Gillibrand is presenting herself as a young mom in tune with the #MeToo era and the Democratic women who powered the party to historic wins in the 2018 midterms.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): She will look to blend her folksy, Midwestern manner with some crossover appeal, given her history of working across the aisle with Republicans and winning elections handily in a purplish state. Klobuchar is also known for her willingness to crack down on big tech firms, focused on privacy and antitrust issues. She is struggling with a lack of name recognition, however, and she has been the subject of several recent reports about her alleged harsh treatment of staff.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO): Bennet is a well-regarded but nationally little-known senator. He tacks toward the center ideologically. The passion that fuels his candidacy is a fervent frustration with the way Washington works now. Bennet believes Americans are not nearly as divided as the parties in Washington and is positioning himself accordingly.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke: The former Texas Congress member is maybe 2020’s biggest wild card. O’Rourke built a historically successful fundraising apparatus during his losing 2018 Senate run against Ted Cruz. He’s young and he gives a good speech. Obama’s old hands seem to like him. The open question is whether his self-evidence political talents are matched by policy substance.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: De Blasio, mayor of America’s biggest city and already the unlikely victor of a contentious Democratic primary to get there, is touting his progressive achievements in the Big Apple as a model for the nation: enacting universal pre-K, ending stop-and-frisk, and an ambitious local health care program.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Something of a viral political star, though he leads a city of “just” 100,000 people, Buttigieg is a military veteran and a Rhodes scholar, and he would be the first openly LGBTQ president in American history. Redevelopment and infrastructure projects have been staples of his tenure as mayor.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee: Inslee is centering his work on environmental issues and the threat of climate change. He has pushed a bill to get his home state off coal energy and all other carbon-producing energy sources by 2045. It hasn’t always been smooth — voters in Washington rejected an Inslee-supported carbon fee in 2015 — but the governor hopes to quickly build a profile by focusing relentlessly on humanity’s direst existential threat.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock: Bullock, a two-term Democratic governor in a Trump-friendly state, is campaigning as a Washington outsider who will confront moneyed interests and reform campaign finance. He can also claim the successful expansion of Medicaid, with the buy-in of a Republican legislature, to showcase his bipartisan bona fides.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: Hickenlooper is a moderate ex-governor who is pitching his ability to work across the aisle. On the issues, he can tout his record on gun violence, environmental regulations, and expanding Medicaid. He conveys an everyman persona, having founded a Denver brewery before he ever ran for public office.
Former San Antonio mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro: Castro got VP buzz in prior elections; now he’s running in his own right after serving in Barack Obama’s Cabinet, on an aspirational message as the grandson of immigrants.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI): Gabbard fires up a certain strain of antiwar progressive. She’ll face tough questions, though, about her apparent friendliness with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and her past comments on LGBTQ rights.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA): The California Democrat has gained a bit of a profile from his role on the House Intelligence Committee, which has taken much of the responsibility for investigating the Trump administration over the last two years. He’s selling his candidacy as one focused on national security.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): The Ohio congressman is pitching himself as the Democratic answer for Trump Country, arguing he can connect with the blue-collar workers the party has lost in the Midwest. He cited the closure of the Lordstown GM plant in his home state as part of his motivation for running. Ryan has a history of long-shot bids: he challenged Nancy Pelosi for the House Democratic leader post in 2016.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA): Another Pelosi skeptic who helped lead the unsuccessful rebellion to stop her from becoming House Speaker again in 2016. Moulton, who represents a district in Massachusetts and is an Iraq War veteran, is positioning himself as a moderate in contrast to the socialist energy animating the left and seeking to take over his party.
Former Rep. John Delaney: The most notable thing about Delaney is he’s already been running for president for two years, more or less living in Iowa, the first state on the presidential calendar. But he was the first choice of just 1 percent of Iowa Democrats in a recent poll.
Former Sen. Mike Gravel: The 88-year-old former senator, famed for reading the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record, is running 2020’s oddest campaign. Two teenagers convinced Gravel to launch a protest candidacy targeting the center-left and the forever war of mainstream American foreign policy.
Andrew Yang: A humanitarian-mind entrepreneur who also served under the Obama administration. He’s running on a policy platform that includes, among other things, a universal basic income that would pay out $1,000 a month to every American over age 18.
Marianne Williamson: A self-proclaimed “bitch for God” who has been a spiritual adviser to Oprah. Her previous political experience is a failed run for Congress as an independent in 2014.
Miramar, FL, Mayor Wayne Messam: The mayor of a Miami suburb, it seems safe to assume Messam has the lowest name recognition of any Democrat in the race. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he’s raised wages for city workers as mayor and confronted the Republican-led state government over gun control.
Who else might run for president in 2020?
The field might finally be set. There are a handful of names we’re still watching — former senator, Secretary of State and presidential nominee John Kerry and Georgia state senator Stacey Abrams chief among them — but otherwise, we have all the candidates we’re going to get.
When are the 2020 Democratic primary debates?
The Democratic National Committee announced it will hold 12 debates, starting in June 2019 and extending into 2020.
Given the huge field, the debates will be split across two nights to start with. Here are the dates we know so far:
- June 26 and 27 in Miami, FL
- July 30 and 31 in Detroit, MI
The DNC has developed a multi-faceted rubric for deciding which candidates will participate in the debates. As Vox’s Ella Nilsen reported:
In order to qualify for debates, candidates will need:
– To register 1 percent or more support in three polls between January 1 and two weeks before the debate. These polls don’t necessarily have to be national polls; public polls in the first four primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and/or Nevada also qualify. But they have to be done by major news organizations or qualifying universities.
– The DNC is also trying to incentivize grassroots donations. Candidates can qualify for the debates if they show their campaign has received donations from at least 65,000 unique donors and a minimum of 200 unique donors per state in at least 20 US states.
The DNC is also preparing for a scenario in which there are more than 20 candidates that qualify for a single debate. If that happens, the top 20 candidates will be selected using a methodology that favors candidates that meet both the polling and grassroots donations thresholds. That will be followed by the highest polling average, which will followed by the most unique donors, according to the DNC.
When are the 2020 Democratic primary election and caucus nights?
The votes that matter won’t be cast for another year. We have 12 months of formal announcements, speeches, policy rollouts, campaign gossip, unpredictable polling, and some debates before any elections happen, when candidates start collecting the delegates they’ll need to claim the nomination.
Early momentum is always critical, especially in a big field with numerous candidates trying to prove they’re viable. With that in mind, the first two months of the primary schedule:
- February 3: Iowa caucuses
- February 11: New Hampshire primary
- February 22: Nevada caucuses
- February 29: South Carolina primary
- March 3 (“Super Tuesday”): Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont primaries
- March 7: Louisiana primary
- March 10: Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio primaries
- March 17: Arizona, Florida, Illinois primaries
There are at least three more months of primaries and caucuses after that. But the candidates will focus their attention and organizing on the earlier states, and we should know a lot more about the field and the strongest candidates once the first sprint is over.
How do you win the 2020 Democratic nomination?
The short version is you have to win a majority of the delegates.
Every state has different rules for its primary elections or caucuses in terms of allocating delegates. Candidates win delegates proportional to where they finish in the results.
In terms of numbers, there are 4,051 delegates for the 2020 Democratic National Convention (where the nominee will be formally selected) up for grabs during the primary elections. One candidate needs to win at least 2,026 delegates to be nominated.
You might hear talk of a “brokered” or “contested” convention if no candidate gets the necessary delegates to win on the first ballot. But that hasn’t happened for decades, and it’s way too early to think that will happen in 2020. That doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility, but let’s wait for some votes to come in before we start up that parlor game.
Democrats have made one major change from the 2016 primary on “superdelegates” — elected officials, party leaders, and other prominent Democrats who have votes in addition to the regular delegates awarded by state elections. In the past, superdelegates didn’t have to follow any rules and could back whichever candidate they desire and make up their minds at any point in the process. When most of them endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, it gave her a built-in delegate advantage over Bernie Sanders, though she still won enough votes independent of the superdelegates to secure the nomination.
In a series of reforms, the DNC has stripped superdelegates of a vote on the first ballot. So unless the convention has to move to second or third votes because no candidate has the sufficient number of delegates — something that hasn’t happened since the 1950s — superdelegates won’t matter in 2020. (Arguably, they never did. Many pointed out it was unlikely for superdelegates to use their power to overturn the outcome of the primary system, but it nevertheless created consternation within the party.)
Okay. So who will be the next president?
Ha! You almost got me.
Diet and exercise are especially challenging for disabled people.
I’m at the doctor’s office watching him study my chart when a frown crinkles his cheeks. He looks up, and I know what he’s about to say.
“According to the BMI, you’re obese.”
“Is that so?”
“You need to diet and exercise more,” the physician, who has a chiseled physique, scolds. “Given your condition, life will be much better if you trim down.” Before I have a chance to respond, he moves on.
What this doctor doesn’t know, and what I don’t have the heart to tell him, is that it’s nearly impossible to lose weight when your body won’t cooperate.
For the past six years, a brace has ensconced my left leg, forcing me to use a metal cane to get around. I’m disabled. This is my life. It’s a good one, and most of the time I don’t complain, even when I see the pity on people’s faces after they learn that a red pick-up truck careened into me. The spinal cord injury I suffered as a result will affect me for the rest of my life.
Before the accident, I was a varsity tennis player and member of my high school’s marching band. I bicycled regularly, ran with friends, worked out with my father, and was in the best shape of my life. Afterward, everything changed.
This is because staying fit is a rarely discussed challenge for many disabled people, even in conversations with supposed experts. According to the CDC, individuals “with mobility limitations and intellectual or learning disabilities” are far more likely to be overweight, with rates of obesity for disabled adults and children 58 percent and 38 percent higher than for their able-bodied counterparts, respectively.
For the sake of the ever-shifting disabled community then, we need to begin a conversation about this complicating reality and the social miasma it generates.
The difficulties of weight loss for the disabled
Higher obesity rates for disabled people shouldn’t surprise us. Certain medications keep weight on, pain often deters physical activity, and cooking when impaired can be a real struggle, making it harder to maintain a healthy diet.
With two titanium rods and eight screws in my back, even bending down fatigues me. Since my muscles aren’t innervated properly, balance is difficult, and the slightest of unanticipated weight shifts potentially dangerous. Plates, glasses, silverware rest in cupboards at different heights in different places around the kitchen. Just securing the groceries needed to cook in the first place usually means walking around a store with no place to sit down.
Often, take-out is the safest option.
Exercising itself is a struggle: Running or hiking — a favorite pastime for my peers — clearly isn’t possible, and sometimes when I try to go without the mobility scooter, a fall ensues. Parks and gyms also pose accessibility challenges. Many parks often have unpaved paths, inaccessible curbs or unnavigable topographical features such steep hills and unlevel woods. Gyms, meanwhile, typically provide safer environments due to requirements from the Americans with Disabilities Act, but many, including my own, remain inaccessible.
Shortly after my accident, I was gutted to find out that I couldn’t get to the work-out room of the local tennis club without taking stairs. Changing rooms can also be hard to manage, personal trainers rarely have much experience with disabled clients, and most gym staffers never consider how a disabled individual might need help to use their facilities.
Numerous friends have welcomed me to join them at more accessible venues. But then my personal pride gets in the way. I don’t want to be seen bumbling about on the treadmill, out of sync with everyone else around me. I’m afraid of becoming a spectacle — of showing them just how “abnormal” I actually am.
Getting in shape depletes my physical and emotional resources. Most of the time, I just can’t manage the loss.
Facile opinions on weight-loss have outsize impact on disabled people
In a world where ableism is a real threat, the last thing our community needs is to be judged for our weight.
Yet with each new article or report about obesity comes rejuvenated efforts to address the “epidemic” or “crisis” that larger people like me, disabled and able-bodied alike, perpetuate. Physicians with lackluster training in nutrition fat-shame patients who “delay or avoid seeking medical care” as a result, a problem that has been highlighted by body positivity activist Linda Bacon. Government officials also woefully misunderstand the situation, and countless studies have confirmed that most people believe those of us with bigger bodies should be able to summon the courage to lose weight on our own.
But while monomaniacal exercise and diet work for some people, they don’t for most: A staggering 95 percent to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight by the general public fail for reasons that “are biological and irreversible,” wrote Michael Hobbes in HuffPost last year. Relying on these two solutions as “the primary treatment for those in larger bodies, particularly those who also have disabilities, ignores the lived experience of the individual and is not evidence-based medicine,” said Louise D. Metz, a physician connected to the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
Bigger disabled individuals can fall prey especially easily to the personal failure model of obesity, and be recriminated appropriately, because we attract attention. Our bodies are doubly a spectacle, not only because of our size but because we move and function differently in the world, two realities that mutually inform and magnify one another.
A great many other do-gooders besides the doctor above, such as medical professionals, friends, relative strangers, are also quick to point out that my existence will be much improved, that my back will feel much better, or that my brace will last much longer if I watch my weight. But no one really explains how to do this, and I don’t ask, because I can’t kick the shame associated with being fat.
Where does that leave us?
In the end, two paths lie open to those who want to address the stigmatizing relationship between disability and obesity: the first recognizes that strategies for staying physically fit as a disabled individual, while not completely elusive, require far more time, money, and creativity. To start redressing this wrong, we must ameliorate obvious barriers: Make parks more accessible, gym environments more inclusive, assistance for cooking and ambulation more affordable, and wheelchair athletic leagues a normal presence in communities.
But at the same time, we need to educate health care professionals who should know better in the first place. “The research is damning,” Bacon points out. “If we really care about health, we should be fighting fat stigma—not fat.” This points me toward the other path, which sets fitness aside to reconfigure the dominant model of obesity as a badge of shame. I’m not the first to suggest this of course.
But until more people begin asking the question, “What unique perspective might the obese person have to offer?” no amount of fat activism will do a bit of good. Those with smaller body sizes, including doctors, need to engage with large individuals before casting judgment — or even worse, making themselves feel better with the vile phrase, “at least I don’t look like that.”
Life would be far better for people in my position if we manage as a society to walk, run, shuffle, limp, or wheel down both.
Pasquale Toscano currently lives in Oxford, England, but heads to London often for the theater scene. He will return to the US for a PhD program in early-modern English literature at Princeton University, focusing on representations of disability in drama and epic poetry.
Should Nancy Pelosi take Donald Trump to the Supreme Court?
A group of constitutional scholars and lawmakers want House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take President Donald to the Supreme Court — over the war in Yemen.
Their case is straightforward: Trump is unilaterally involving the United States in war, and that’s unconstitutional. For four years, the United States has participated in a war in Yemen that was never authorized by Congress, and that Congress expressly told Trump to withdraw from. Trump ignored the directive. Now, as the White House escalates tensions with Iran, there’s growing concern that unless legal action is taken, Congress will cede more war powers to Trump.
In April, Congress passed a historic War Powers Resolution, directing Trump to remove troops involved in “hostilities” in Yemen. Trump vetoed it, cementing American fingerprints on one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world: According to the most recent United Nations report, 80 percent of the Yemeni population — 24 million people — is in need of humanitarian assistance. The Senate failed to reach the 67-vote threshold needed to override the executive veto on the bill.
Trump said the War Powers Resolution was an attempt to “weaken [his] constitutional authorities.” But the power to authorize a declaration of war, of course, sits with Congress, not Trump.
Constitutional scholars are now arguing a War Powers Resolution isn’t a normal bill. They say it is a fundamental constitutional question about the power to authorize war. And the stakes are high.
“The president’s veto doesn’t end this conversation,” Bruce Ackerman, a constitutional law scholar with Yale University told Vox. He, along with a diverse group of legal experts have sent Pelosi a letter urging her to take legal action.
The United States got involved in Yemen four years ago when Saudi Arabia and its allies began a military campaign in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The US is providing Saudis with intelligence, arms and ammunition, and, until late last year, fuel for their warplanes. The warplanes that bombed a school bus, killing at least 40 children last August, did so with an American-made bomb.
The war that has killed more than 50,000 people, according to one independent estimate, and has left tens of millions more in need of assistance. Trump is determined to keep course, and has shown he is committed to his alliance to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even after it became clear the prince called for Saudi Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.
Since Trump’s veto, his administration has escalated tensions with Iran, spreading concern that Trump is itching to stoke another war. These concerns were exacerbated on Friday, when the administration sidestepped Congress again, unilaterally authorizing $8 billion in arms sales, including to Saudi Arabia and its allies, to counter Iran.
“This is a moment of truth, both for the congressional war power and for the Supreme Court of the United States,” Ackerman said. “Does the Supreme Court of the United States — and its claim of originalism — is that supposed to be taken seriously?”
The case for taking Trump to the Supreme Court, briefly explained
Constitutionally, Congress has the power to declare war, and the president, as the commander in chief, has the power to direct the military after Congress’s authorization. Historically, America’s war making has gone differently; presidents have consistently pushed the boundaries of their power.
For example, for the past 18 years, presidents of both parties have have used the same 2001 congressional war authorization — passed after 9/11 — as justification for going into war across the Middle East, including Yemen. The Obama administration did not ask Congress for specific authorization before involving itself in Yemen. The Trump administration hasn’t either, bypassing the legislative branch as it negotiated billions of dollars in arms deals, and as it conducted military operations.
Instead of seeking congressional approval for war, presidents have increasingly turned to their internal legal counsels to build a largely secret body of law to defend their war engagements, Mary Dudziak, a constitutional scholar with Emory University School of Law, said.
“Especially since 9/11, Congress has let power accumulate in the executive branch,” Dudziak said. “And Congress does that by sitting back and not objecting, which is why Pelosi’s role is really important right now.”
Now, Dudziak, and others, say Congress has an opportunity to fight back. Legal scholars are pointing to a 1950s Supreme Court case, the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, to make the case to Democratic leadership that Congress has the winning argument against Trump on war powers.
In 1952, during the Korean War, a labor strike stalled steel production, cutting the availability of war materials for American troops. So President Harry Truman invoked his emergency powers to seize private steel mills to force steelworkers back, blatantly defying specific provisions in the Taft-Hartley Act — a largely anti-union labor law from 1947. Truman’s justification was that he could not wage a successful war without the proper materials, and therefore was allowed to act outside the law.
The Supreme Court rejected Truman’s case, and importantly, Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion established a clear three-tier framework for presidential powers. He wrote a president’s powers are at maximum strength only with Congress’ authorization. When Congress shows indifference, presidential power is in a “twilight zone,” as both branches can claim authority over a given matter. Finally, a president’s power is “at its lowest ebb,” when Congress has specifically disapproved of an action.
US involvement in the war in Yemen firmly sits in this third category. Congress has passed a War Powers Resolution — a form of legislative action established in 1973 to prevent another Vietnam War — specifically directing Trump to withdraw from Yemen. In passing the resolution, Congress not only tried to claw back its constitutional powers from the president, but also asserted that the executive had overstepped his bounds as commander in chief, going to war without Congress’s approval.
“We have the leading fundamental precedent on this requiring the Supreme Court to scrutinize presidential war making,” Ackerman said. “If Nancy Pelosi doesn’t go to court and urge the Supreme Court to intervene when Congress has for the first time invoked this [War Power Resolution], in the case where neither President Obama nor President Trump has gained the approval, it establishes a precedent that this War Power shouldn’t be taken seriously.”
Do Democrats want to get into this fight?
Since Trump’s veto, lawmakers and activists have all been waiting for their next move on Yemen.
“We continue to consider all viable options to end this humanitarian crisis,” Pelosi’s spokesperson said.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who shuttled the War Power Resolution through the House, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) doing the same in the Senate, is hopeful: “It wasn’t a no,” he told Vox of leadership’s interest in taking Trump to court. That said, there still isn’t consensus that this is the best strategy going forward.
Sanders told Vox he would be supportive of Pelosi taking legal action, but said his primary focus is on building enough support that the Senate can overturn Trump’s veto. Sanders often talks about Yemen, and the importance of Congress’ war powers (especially with respect to Trump’s escalations with Iran), on the national stage as one of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
“I think essentially we have got to rally the American people to understand what a horrible humanitarian disaster this is, and we need the votes to override Trump’s veto — that is to me the major issue,” Sanders said. “The court case would go on and on. And we need immediate action.”
Dudziak acknowledged the need for both legal action, and a national campaign to gain Americans’ attention.
“The only way for Congress to have any role in restraining president’s war power is for Congress to act,” she said. “The hardest thing to [doing] anything is profound apathy about our conflict on the part of the American people.”
Mike Gravel, the anti-war zealot, is running for president on Twitter.
Former Alaska senator Mike Gravel is running for president. Seriously.
Gravel isn’t holding campaign events. He hasn’t stepped foot in Iowa or New Hampshire. In fact, until a couple teenagers called him in March and urged him to run for president again, he was just an 80-something former Democratic senator and 2008 presidential candidate quietly fading from the public’s memory. Now Gravel is the subject, if not exactly the author, of the 2020 presidential election’s oddest campaign.
The former senator is a legend of the anti-war movement, having fought to end the Vietnam War draft and taken the perilous step of entering the leaked Pentagon Papers into the official congressional record. He made a big splash in 2008, his last serious foray into politics, by hammering the other Democratic candidates for being too closely allied with the military industrial complex. This was and is a serious guy.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it was two teenagers who convinced Gravel to enter the 2020 race and that the same teens are effectively managing his campaign by running his Twitter account. The most bizarre part of all of this is that Gravel could actually secure enough donors to technically qualify for the Democratic Party’s primary debates that begin next month. For a campaign that sounds a little like performance art, that would be quite an accomplishment.
Gravel is a credible voice for the anti-war left and, during a primary largely defined by how little interest the competing candidates have shown in criticizing one another, his unusual campaign has been happy to take shots at other Democrats. It can only help to have online-savvy youngsters turning his anti-establishment message into Twitter-friendly Marie Kondo memes.
You would be forgiven for not knowing what to make of Gravel 2020. We’ve never seen a protest candidate quite like this. But his candidacy should be a reminder of two things: the energy on the anti-war left is real and the rules of presidential campaigning have been rewritten after Trump.
Mike Gravel and some teens are kind of running for president
It sounds like a tall tale — two random New York teenagers listen to the ribald socialist podcast Chapo Trap House, learn about Gravel, and then literally call him up and ask him to run for president — but that is more or less what happened.
Gravel’s 2020 campaign started seemingly at random in mid-March, as his Twitter account announced he would run for president “not … to win, but to bring a critique of American imperialism to the Democratic debate stage.” Splinter got the whole backstory from David Oks, the high school senior who thought up this unlikely endeavor:
Oks, a high school senior who has previously run for mayor of his small New York town, told Splinter that he and several friends are avid listeners of the Chapo Trap House podcast, which mentioned Gravel in a recent episode. About a week ago, he and a couple friends reached out to Gravel and asked if he would consider making another run for president. Their pitch was clear. “My friends and I were encouraging him to consider running for president with the idea being that he would not try to contest any primaries, he would just try to get into the Democratic debates,” he said.
Oks and his friends were clearly inspired by Gravel’s performance in the 2008 debates, where he delivered a searing indictment of the vast majority of his fellow candidates for their support of the Iraq war and their continued commitment to American interventionism in the Middle East.
Thus far, Gravel’s campaign has largely been limited to saucy tweets. Oks and his friends, who act as the senator’s voice on social media, have been aggressive about criticizing the center-left candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Frontrunner Joe Biden is the frequent target of the Gravel account’s vitriol.
Cory Booker, the candidate of the preening centrists who like David Brooks and worry about “a deficit of empathy,” has absolutely nothing to say to those who inhabit the vast desolate lands in America and live in real poverty. His whole candidacy is a pageant of virtue-signaling. https://t.co/8trYBBoiG1
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 21, 2019
if only there existed a part of Pete Buttigieg’s personality that wasn’t “my IQ is above the 95th percentile” https://t.co/9TJwyZWvf5
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 18, 2019
Joe Biden is the candidate for people who have such a low opinion of the American people that the only person they’d pick over an authoritarian moron is a slightly older, slightly nicer authoritarian moron
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 3, 2019
The senator himself has appeared on a popular podcast from the lefty Intercept news organization and espoused the same message in an interview with the Washington Post’s David Weigel. He is not here to make friends. Here is a sampling of what Gravel told Weigel about some of his 2020 competitors, starting with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio:
“I don’t think he’s a very good mayor,” said Gravel, a former senator from Alaska who, with much less fanfare, is running for president. He thought even less of other candidates. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was an “empty shirt.” Climate-focused Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was running on “the safest issue any Democrat can run on.” Beto O’Rourke “jumped on tables like he had Saint Vitus’ dance.” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who represented a district not far from Gravel’s adopted home, was a total mystery: “If he’d gotten anything done in Congress, wouldn’t I have heard about it?”
You could boil down the entire Gravel candidacy, especially given its extremely online nature, to one tweet:
Your average centrist politician is an amoral, soulless husk who wouldn’t be fit to babysit. Do people think Bill Clinton – who watched a mentally disabled man die so that he could get racists’ votes – could care less about them? Is Hillary any different? Booker? Harris? Biden?
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 4, 2019
Mike Gravel is still trying to be recognized as a legitimate 2020 campaign
Despite those pointed barbs and bemused media coverage of the unusual origins of his campaign, Gravel has struggled to gain mainstream acceptance that he is, in fact, a real candidate for president.
Prominent polling outfits often leave him out of their 2020 surveys — and considering those polls help candidates qualify for the primary debates under the rules set up by the Democratic National Committee, that’s a serious problem. Gravel’s campaign has been left to urge his fans to lobby polling firms to include him.
Mike is getting EXCLUDED from the Quinnipiac poll – want to help us mend that?
EMAIL: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 16, 2019
We’ve been trying to get on the @MorningConsult poll, but haven’t gotten a response, even though we’ve outpolled half the field – please help us get included!
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 21, 2019
Gravel’s campaign has all but accused the DNC of blacklisting the senator. In this Medium post, aide Kate Tyler said the campaign called Democratic headquarters more than 200 times to get information about the party’s debate qualifications:
In those 200 attempts, we spoke to a real person three times. The first person told us they’d call back, the second transferred us to a voicemail that was never returned, and the third tried to send us back to the front desk. We’ve left messages and sent e-mails and scoured our contact lists for someone who might give us the time of day. After hundreds of man-hours with no results, we’re left with only one conclusion: we’re being stonewalled.
To this day, we have yet to get in contact with someone with authority over debate qualifications. That means we have no more information than what is publicly available. That is completely unacceptable.
It should be noted that the DNC has indicated it will have some say over which candidates make it into the debates, with its rules allowing for further “winnowing” to keep the events manageable in a race with two dozen candidates. Gravel will clearly be on the bubble and this amusing little side story of a campaign might quickly draw to a close if he doesn’t get the imprimatur of an official debate invitation.
Still, Gravel had received money from 30,000 donors as of early May, about halfway to the 65,000 threshold to qualify for debates under the DNC’s rules. And if the senator somehow gets up on that stage, he will have a point to make.
Mike Gravel, the anti-imperialist leftist candidate
The Democratic presidential campaign so far has been preoccupied with the idea of electability. The whole premise of Joe Biden’s campaign is that he can beat Donald Trump. Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and other candidates have predicated their White House bids on a generational contrast with Trump. Elizabeth Warren is hoping that the candidate with a real plan for what they’d do as president can break through with the primary voters.
But Gravel is distinct. When he entered the race, winning wasn’t even on the agenda. He (and his industrious young assistants) wanted to leave a mark on the debate. And while the infrastructure of his campaign might sound like the set-up for a late-night monologue joke, the point Gravel wants to make is deathly serious.
Gravel is the anti-war, anti-“American foreign policy for the last 50 years” candidate. Some of his priorities are the same as every other Democrat: He wants to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. But he also wants to end unilateral sanctions against other sovereign nations. He wants to close every American base in a foreign territory and cut US military spending by 50 percent.
He wants to end American aid to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Mike Gravel, it is safe to say, says things you won’t see almost any other candidate say.
Long live Palestine!
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 5, 2019
It’s not as if Gravel is above making mistakes, but the man knows his message. After he made some ill-advised comments about Buttigieg’s sexual orientation, Gravel backtracked and then he turn it into a critique of American imperialism. You can decide for yourself how effective the pivot was — offensive comments about another candidate’s sex life are proof enough that being woke on war isn’t a cure against other blind spots — but it is illustrative of how singularly focused Gravel’s campaign is.
Sen. Gravel on Pete Buttigieg and LGBTQ+ rights pic.twitter.com/pOQz0uTkT1
— Sen. Mike Gravel (@MikeGravel) May 10, 2019
Gravel has the bona fides, dating back to his 12 years in the Senate from 1969 to 1981. He filibustered to try to end the draft during the Vietnam War. He read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record. He opposed nuclear testing. After leaving office, he was an opponent of the Iraq war and criticized Barack Obama for his drone strike campaign.
Look, he is a character. Gravel oddly campaigned for the vice presidential nomination in 1972. He ran for president in 2008 after nearly 30 years out of office, getting a viral moment for his troubles, and then he pursued the Libertarian Party’s nomination when he quickly fell out of the Democratic running. He has talked about putting every piece of legislation up for a nationwide ballot referendum. Then a couple teenagers convinced him to quote-unquote run for president again.
But, as an uncompromising anti-war candidate, he’s still an interesting voice in the debate. Bernie Sanders didn’t formulate much of a foreign policy message in 2016 and, while he has worked to flesh out his platform, the left still really hasn’t pulled together a cohesive foreign policy message, as Vox’s Alex Ward recently outlined:
The Democratic Party is a big tent, and the party’s left flank is increasingly out of step with more centrist Democrats who have espoused traditional US foreign policy positions for decades. And progressives have historically stumbled when trying to present a viable foreign policy alternative to the more military- and security-focused conservatives on the right.
Other lefty candidates, such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), have some problematic associations (she has been criticized for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad) that prevent them from being taken very seriously. Gravel has gravitas, if nothing else, on the issues he cares most about.
Mike Gravel almost certainly isn’t going to be the next president. But he could give a voice to the anti-war left in a primary hurting for bigger and bolder ideas about how to reorient American foreign policy. That is, if he can get anybody to take him and his motley crew of unlikely campaign staff seriously.
Correction: This post originally stated Tulsi Gabbard has spoken well of Syria’s Bashar al Assad. Rather, she has met with him and she has said he is not an enemy of the United States.
Graham believes the threat of an invasion could check what he says is Cuban influence in the country.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally of President Donald Trump, suggested the president take a tough stance in dealing with the ongoing Venezuelan crisis: A US invasion similar to the one executed by Ronald Reagan in Grenada back in 1983.
“Trump said rightly, Maduro’s not the legitimate leader of Venezuela. The entire region supports the Trump approach, that Guaidó is the legitimate leader,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday. “I would do exactly what Reagan did. I would give Cuba the ultimatum to get out of Venezuela. If they don’t, I would let the Venezuelan military know, you’ve got to choose between democracy and Maduro. And if you choose Maduro and Cuba, we’re coming after you. This is in our backyard.”
— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) May 26, 2019
Venezuela is currently in the midst of a presidential crisis following a massive economic collapse. The US has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, as the country’s rightful president.
Guaidó declared himself president this past January, arguing that the 2018 election that put President Nicolás Maduro in the executive’s chair was invalid, in part because members of the opposition were banned from running. As head of the National Assembly, Guaidó said he will serve as Venezuela’s president until new elections can be held. But Maduro refuses to step aside.
Graham called on the United States to be ready to intervene militarily in Venezuela last week in a piece in the Wall Street Journal. There, as in his Fox interview, the senator argued Cuba is helping to prop up Maduro, and that the US should use its military to counter what Graham called the “Western Hemisphere version of Iran.”
White House national security adviser John Bolton has said Cuba has at least 20,000 soldiers in Venezuela assisting Maduro; Cuban officials have called that figure outrageous, saying they have no troops in the country.
Graham is clearly disinclined to believe Cuba, and told McClatchy, “We’re not occupying Venezuela, but if Maduro refuses to go and the Cubans keep using their military apparatus to prop him up, it is in our national security interest to do in Venezuela what Reagan did in Grenada.”
The Grenada invasion occurred in 1983, following a violent power struggle within the small Caribbean country’s Marxist government. The Reagan administration said the invasion was necessary to protect American citizens on the island; it initially sent in 2,000 troops, with the number eventually swelling to 6,000. Around 20 American troops were killed — though the regime was in fact overthrown within a matter of days.
Reagan later called the invasion an important check on communist influence, telling the American people “when the thugs tried to wrest control of Grenada, there were 30 Soviet advisers and hundreds of Cuban military and paramilitary forces on the island.”
Graham has not outlined how an invasion of Venezuela using Grenada as a template would work. In 1983, Grenada had a population of less than 100,000, and as Reagan noted, the island is roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C. Venezuela, on the other hand, has a population of a little over 28 million people, is larger than Texas, and has roughly 160,000 troops in its military.
In speaking with Fox, the senator did advise caution in another area of foreign policy, voicing misgivings about the new round of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which the Trump administration might execute using a legal loophole to circumvent Congress.
“I’ve got a real problem with going back to do doing business as usual with Saudi Arabia. Jordan is a great ally; the UAE has been problematic in Yemen, but a good ally,” Graham said. “Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, but the Crown Prince was, in my opinion, involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. And he’s done a lot of other disruptive things.”
— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) May 26, 2019
At the same time, Graham also called for a greater presence of American troops in the Middle East, claiming increased troop presence would serve as a check on Iran while arguing against invading the country.
“I do support American troops going into the Mideast in larger numbers, to deter Iran,” Graham said. “President Trump is putting a lot of pressure on Iran. They’re trying to break our will, and this is an effort to deter Iranian aggression — not to invade Iran.”
To celebrate all the people who volunteer their time to help across the country, we spoke to some of the not-for-profit organisations around Australia who rely on volunteers to make a world of difference.
The post Celebrating National Volunteer Week: Little Dreamers appeared first on Xero Blog.
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Nevada pushes back against a national trend of restricting reproductive rights; polls predict strong results for nationalists in EU elections.
Nevada moves to relax abortion restrictions
- Nevada is pushing back against a national trend of restricting reproductive rights by passing a law that would relax abortion requirements. [Las Vegas Review-Journal / Colton Lochhead]
- The state Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday that removes a requirement for physicians to document the age and marital status of a patient seeking an abortion and tell them about the “physical and emotional implications” of the procedure. It would also decriminalize the act of giving a pregnant patient abortion-inducing medication without a physician’s advice. [Vox / Anna North]
- The bill, which passed on a mostly party-line vote 27-13, will go back to the Senate for a final vote. It will then go to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is a supporter of abortion rights. [NPR / Matthew S. Schwartz]
- The bill comes only a week after Alabama passed the nation’s strictest abortion ban, which did not even allow exceptions for rape and incest. Doctors who perform abortions could be punished with life in prison. [CNN / Caroline Kelly]
- Other states such as Mississippi, Georgia, and Ohio have approved abortion bans after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The goal: to provoke the Supreme Court to rule on reproduction rights and overturn Roe v. Wade. [Vox]
- Nevada made history when it became the first majority-women US legislature. This is a stark contrast from the makeup of Alabama’s legislature, which was strongly criticized after all the votes for the abortion ban were revealed to be made by men. [HuffPost / Sarah Ruiz-Grossman]
Will nationalism win in EU elections?
- Citizens of the European Union will head to the polls starting Thursday, and the threat of nationalism looms over the elections. [NYT / Megan Specia]
- The European Union is currently in a delicate political state: The once-centralized system is falling apart as pro-Europe parties are losing popularity to far-right leaders. The last election was held in 2014, before the migrant crisis, Brexit, or the rise of Donald Trump. [TRT World / Elis Gjevori]
- Nationalists are heading into the election with a united front led by politicians like Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Polls have predicted they will perform strongly. [AP / Raf Casert]
- Some voters took to the street in protest of this trend on Sunday. Tens of thousands of people gathered in cities across Germany to urge people to vote against nationalism. [Al Jazeera]
- Britain is also in the tricky position of having to vote for a government it plans to leave. Although the country had initially planned to leave the EU by March 29, it now has to elect 73 representatives for the European Parliament due to continued delays. [BBC]
- British voters are looking to express their anger during the elections, and polls predict that the new Brexit Party will win about 30 percent of the votes. [YouGov]
- Far-right leaders are unhappy with the current European Union: too powerful, too progressive, too multicultural. They’re hoping this election will put them in the position to change that. [Vox / Jen Kirby]
A US pastor gave 50,000 Ugandans a “miracle cure” for diseases like cancer, HIV, and malaria. Turns out he was giving them bleach. [Guardian / Ed Pilkington and Alon Mwesigwa]
- A summer camp for targeted at future YouTubers is swapping out campfires for classes on editing videos and building a personal brand. [WSJ / Julie Jargon]
- New research finds that ravens can show empathy. If their friend is bummed, so are they. [Vice / Becky Ferreira]
- In the past, bodies could only be buried or cremated. Washington is the first state to add a third option: composting. [CNN / Faith Karimi and Amir Vera]
- Thousands of Amazon employees asked for the company to take action against climate change and the sale of facial recognition technology. Shareholders voted no. [The Verge / Colin Lecher]
“This election is between the builders and the breakers. Will people come out to vote because they know what’s at stake?” [Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch legislator, on the upcoming EU elections]
Listen to this: “Gilded Rage”
In the Gilded Age, some of the mega-rich started giving away huge amounts of money. Now, philanthropists are spending millions — even billions — again. As Dylan Matthews explains on the Future Perfect podcast, that’s a big cause for concern. [Spotify | Apple Podcasts]
The American child care system is failing everyone. Now it’s finally becoming an election issue.
If you’re a working parent of an infant or toddler in America, it can sometimes seem like none of your options for child care are good ones.
You can send your child to day care, but that costs more than $900 a month in many states. In several states, care for an infant costs more than the average rent. And it costs more to send an infant to day care in Massachusetts for a year than it does to send a freshman to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as Bryce Covert reported at the New Republic last year.
Cost is only part of the problem. For a lot of parents, it’s hard to even find a day care center — some high-demand facilities have years-long waiting lists, and some rural areas have no providers at all. What’s more, not all providers are high-quality — as Jonathan Cohn reported at the New Republic in 2013, most day care centers have fewer caregivers per child than experts recommend, and some states have few or no training standards for workers.
Working parents who don’t use center-based day care can hire nannies, but that’s often even more expensive. Those who can’t afford either option often rely on a family member or neighbor for care, but such arrangements aren’t always reliable, said Kim Kruckel, executive director of the Child Care Law Center, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.
Some parents are actually paying so much for child care that “they’re becoming homeless,” Kruckel said. “They’re keeping their job, they’re paying for child care,” but “they’re living with their relatives, or they’re living in an RV, or they’re living at the park.”
Now, after years of being treated like a side issue, child care is finally moving toward the center of the national conversation. A lot of that is due to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has made child care a centerpiece of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. But other candidates are also unveiling their own proposals — on Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released a “Family Bill of Rights” that includes plans to make child care more affordable.
When she was a working mom of young children, Warren told Vox, “child care was the boulder that almost crushed me.” And things aren’t much better today: “How many mamas and daddies have been sidelined because they don’t have access to high-quality child care that they can afford?” she asks.
Democratic candidates have talked about child care in the past, but Warren’s plan, which would create a network of federally subsidized care providers, is more specific and more aggressive than what they’ve proposed, as Kara Voght reports at Mother Jones. And it comes at a time when other efforts to make child care more affordable are gaining steam in Congress and in cities around the country, and when state and local candidates raising young kids are making child care an issue on the campaign trail.
“We’re in a transformative moment in American politics,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a sponsor of a wide-ranging child care bill in Congress, told Vox in a statement. “Thanks to the record number of women who ran for office last year, including many young moms, the challenges of finding and affording child care are finally being given the attention they deserve.”
Child care is a huge issue for families, many of whom spend as much as a third of their income on the service; for workers, who are frequently underpaid; for women, whose careers are disproportionately affected by child care struggles; and, of course, for children, who can benefit enormously from high-quality care in their early years. Now that the issue is finally getting attention on a national scale, Vox is taking a look at where each of the 2020 Democratic candidates stands.
Of the 23 presidential contenders we surveyed, six support reforms aimed at ensuring universal or near-universal access to child care for American families. Several others have proposals that would alleviate some of the burden — for example, by providing universal preschool — but wouldn’t fully address all the problems with America’s child care system. Meanwhile, some candidates have yet to put forth any plan at all.
For the first time in many years, parents struggling with child care are seeing their concerns reflected in the national conversation. And when they cast their votes in the primaries next year, they’ll have the opportunity to choose between candidates who are actually addressing those concerns on the campaign trail and those who have yet to do so.
The child care system in the US today isn’t good for anyone
In America today, “getting decent child care is like winning the lottery,” Warren told Vox.
Difficulties finding child care fall especially hard on moms, who still shoulder the bulk of child care responsibilities in families. A 2018 study found that rising child care costs led to an estimated 13 percent decline in the employment of mothers of young kids, while a survey conducted the same year by the Center for American Progress found that moms were 40 percent more likely than dads to say child care problems had harmed their careers.
It’s not just about moms dropping out of the workforce to care for kids — in another Center for American Progress poll, 42 percent of mothers said they would look for a higher-paying job if they had better access to child care, and 31 percent said they would ask for more hours at work. The numbers are even higher for women of color, with more than half of black mothers and 48 percent of Latina mothers saying they’d look for a more lucrative job if child care weren’t an issue.
Meanwhile, the high costs of child care for families don’t translate to high wages for child care workers, most of whom are women and about 40 percent of whom are women of color. As Sarah Kliff noted for Vox, child care workers earn an average of $10.82 an hour, about a third of what elementary school teachers make.
And America’s child care system (or lack thereof) is also bad for kids. The first few years of a child’s life are crucial for brain development, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and high-quality care during that time can boost children’s social and cognitive skills. Poor-quality care, on the other hand, can leave kids less prepared for school.
“These early years matter most,” Kruckel said, “and this is when our society consistently insists on giving people the least help.”
In recent years, that’s been starting to shift. Cities like New York and Washington, DC, have started universal prekindergarten programs, offering free or subsidized preschool to 4-year-olds (and sometimes 3-year-olds as well). These programs have been successful — DC’s led to a 10 percent increase in labor force participation among moms of young kids after it went into effect in 2009, as Bryce Covert reported at Vox.
But there’s no equivalent on a nationwide scale. And parents are still largely on their own when it comes to the care of kids ages 0 to 3, which typically costs families even more than care for 3- and 4-year-olds. Federal and state governments offer child care subsidies to low-income parents through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, but the subsidies are often too low to make a difference, and not all day care centers accept them, said Taryn Morrissey, a professor of public administration and policy at American University and the co-author of Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality. The program is also underfunded, with current funding sufficient to serve only about 15 percent of families who are eligible based on their income, according to the Urban Institute.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed a $1 billion, one-time investment in child care infrastructure as part of its 2020 budget. States could apply for the funding and use it to support child care providers but would have to “establish targets for reducing unnecessary regulatory or other requirements that limit the supply or increase the cost of child care,” Ivanka Trump, who has made child care one of her signature issues, told NPR in March.
But critics say that regulatory rollbacks could put kids’ safety at risk, and that the Trump budget fails to address the current lack of federal funding for subsidies and provider pay. “This is not a true investment in child care,” Catherine White, the director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, wrote in March. “It’s a hoax.”
So Vox decided to survey the candidates who have officially entered the 2020 Democratic primary to find out where they stand on this issue — and analyze how their responses stack up against what experts say kids, parents, and child care workers actually need.
The results fell into a few categories. Six Democrats have said they support comprehensive child care plans that would address all the problems experts have identified: cost, availability, and provider pay. Some others support tax credits for child care, which experts say can help but don’t address the full scope of the problem. A few support universal pre-K but don’t have a plan for kids under 3. Finally, some support another plan, have no platform on the issue yet, or haven’t gotten back to us. We’ll discuss each group below.
These candidates support universal child care
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
“My universal child care plan would guarantee access to high-quality, affordable child care and early learning to every kid from 0 to 5 in America,” Warren told Vox.
The plan, announced in February, would create a network of locally run but federally subsidized child care options — a combination of center-based day cares, preschools, and in-home day care facilities. Workers at the facilities would be paid on a par with public school teachers.
When her children were young, Warren said, “I wanted child care where the child care workers were there from week to week and month to month, not leaving because they simply couldn’t afford to stay as child care workers.”
For all families making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, child care will be free. For everyone else, it will be capped at 7 percent of family income (according to Warren, families today typically spend between 9 and 36 percent of their income on child care).
Warren would pay for the plan with a tax on families with a net worth of more than $50 million.
“We are the wealthiest country on the planet,” she said. “High-quality care and early education shouldn’t be a privilege that’s reserved only for the rich; it should be a fundamental right.”
The senator’s plan addresses what experts say are the three biggest problems with child care in America: cost, quality, and worker pay. According to an analysis by the financial services company Moody’s, it would boost the number of kids in formal child care from 6.8 million to 12 million. Moody’s also says the plan would stimulate economic growth by freeing up disposable income among working- and middle-class families, and by creating jobs in child care centers. The company calls the plan a “fiscally responsible proposal that would scale up federal childcare programs that are already in place and shown to be effective in meeting the challenges of providing high-quality child care.”
The plan has received its share of criticism. Some argue that child care should be free to everyone, regardless of income. Meanwhile, some child care experts advocate for direct subsidies to families to allow them to pay for whatever kind of care best meets their family’s needs. “Everybody deserves to have what fits best for their family,” Kruckel said — “that might be your neighbor, that might be your grandmother, that might be the family daycare provider down the street.”
Or it might be a parent. As Kliff pointed out at Vox earlier this year, a child care proposal recently put forth by the left-wing People’s Policy Project also includes a subsidy to help stay-at-home parents meet child care needs. Warren’s plan in its current form doesn’t include such a subsidy, though her team told Kliff she hasn’t ruled it out for the future.
Criticism aside, by making child care an early and central part of her campaign, Warren has set herself up as the candidate to beat on the issue. A few others, however, have said they support reforms that are nearly as sweeping.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
A spokesperson for the Harris campaign told Vox that she supports the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill introduced this year by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), of which Harris is also a co-sponsor.
The bill is similar to Warren’s plan. It would provide increased federal funding for infant, toddler, and preschool programs, with the goal of access to child care for all kids under 13. It would also raise child care workers’ wages to the level of elementary school teachers with comparable experience. It would ensure that no family spends more than 7 percent of their income on child care, as long as they earn less than 150 percent of their state’s median income.
The biggest difference between the plans is that the Child Care for Working Families Act builds on the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant program, while Warren’s plan creates a new system. But both the Child Care for Working Families Act and Warren’s plan are essentially paths to universal child care, Morrissey, the Cradle to Kindergarten author, said: “Both of these plans would be huge improvements for everybody.”
The former Texas Congress member was also a co-sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act. In addition, the candidate supports universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds and “would expand access to education and training programs, and demand that all workers, including child care workers, be guaranteed a living wage of at least $15 per hour,” campaign communications director Chris Evans told Vox.
“Beto is committed to ensuring that children have access to high-quality early childhood programs and that families do not have to make an impossible choice between going to work and providing care for their children.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
“Bernie has been a longtime supporter of universal child care and early education for all as the best way to address disparities in access to high-quality education,” a campaign spokesperson told Vox.
In 2011, Sanders sponsored the Foundations for Success Act, which would have established a grant program with the goal of providing “child care and early education to all children 6 weeks old through kindergarten.” The proposed program would have begun with 10 states, with more phasing in after three years.
The 2011 bill never came to a vote, but Sanders’s spokesperson says that as his presidential campaign moves forward, “Bernie will continue to show how our movement will tackle the major issues facing America, including the need for universal child care.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
Swalwell is a co-sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act in the House, and told Vox in a statement that as president, he would push for Congress to send him such legislation to sign.
“I’m the product of a working family — my dad was a cop, and my mother raised four of us while also helping make ends meet by selling wedding cakes and handmade dollhouses out of our garage as well as operating a day care in our living room,” he said. “I know quality, affordable child care is absolutely crucial to working families’ ability to dream bigger.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of the Child Care for Working Families Act, and a campaign spokesperson told Vox that she would support the legislation as president. Earlier this year, Klobuchar introduced the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act, which would provide grants to states to expand child care facilities or train child care workers.
These candidates support tax credits for child care
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Gillibrand is one of several candidates who support using the tax code to help families pay for child care.
As part of her Family Bill of Rights, a slate of proposals released on Wednesday, Gillibrand proposed a major expansion of the child and dependent care tax credit.
Under current tax law, many families can deduct child care expenses from their taxes, up to $3,000 per child. But many low-income families can’t take advantage of the credit because it only applies if you make enough money to owe income taxes. Gillibrand’s plan would double the maximum credit to $6,000 per child and make the credit fully refundable, so even families who don’t owe taxes would get the money.
Her plan also includes assistance to states to create universal preschool programs.
Gillibrand’s tax credit increase would be significant, but in many areas with a high cost of living, even $6,000 per child is still a drop in the bucket when it comes to the annual cost of child care. And a tax credit doesn’t necessarily do much to remedy the shortage of high-quality providers around the country.
In general, tax credits can’t address all the problems with child care in America, Kruckel said. “Those don’t really get at the problem, which is that the majority of families cannot find or afford child care,” she explained.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg has said at campaign events that he supports some form of child care assistance, possibly in the form of a tax credit, though he has not yet gone into specifics. “I do support the concept of a child care allowance, or a child allowance, be it in the form of a tax credit or however we want to set it up,” Buttigieg said at an April town hall.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
A key part of Bennet’s presidential campaign platform is the American Family Act, a bill he introduced that would expand the child tax credit (different from the child care tax credit; the tax code is confusing) to pay families $300 a month per child under 5, and $250 a month per child between 6 and 16. The credit would phase out for higher-earning families, beginning at $130,000 in annual income for single parents and $180,000 a year for couples. The American Family Act isn’t a child care plan, per se, but it would certainly help families afford child care.
Bennet also supports expanding the child care tax credit to help low- and middle-income families, as well as expanding early childhood education, according to a campaign spokesperson.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA)
Moulton told Vox in a statement that he supports a recent proposal by the advocacy group the Children’s Defense Fund, which would expand the child tax credit and the child care tax credit and make them fully refundable, as well as making child care subsidies available to families making up to 150 percent of the poverty line. “At a cost substantially less than other plans, Congress could pass these policies in today’s hyperpartisan environment and make a real, immediate difference for American families,” Moulton said.
Williamson said in a statement to Vox that she supports a new child care tax credit worth up to $14,000 per child, which would be paid directly to child care providers on a monthly basis. She also supports increased wages for child care workers, and universal preschool.
These candidates support universal preschool
As mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Castro in 2012 spearheaded Pre-K 4 SA, billed as a universal preschool program. The program served nearly 8,000 kids as of 2018 and is free for families making less than 185 percent of the poverty line, though for high-income families, it’s actually more expensive than private preschool, according to Politico.
When he announced his candidacy in January, Castro made “pre-K for the USA” part of his platform, promising “universal prekindergarten for all children whose parents want it.” That puts him on a par with Warren as a candidate making child care a major part of the 2020 agenda.
But prekindergarten starts at age 3 or 4, and Castro hasn’t yet introduced a formal proposal to improve access to care for kids under 3. A spokesperson for the campaign told Vox that Castro planned to release his own child care policy in future, and noted that the candidate had praised Warren’s universal child care plan.
On his campaign website, the business leader promises that if elected, he will “direct the Department of Education to work with states to create a plan for universal prekindergarten education.” He also proposes a variety of benefits for single parents, including tax breaks for child care and “the creation of responsibility-sharing networks, allowing single parents to work with each other for childcare and other responsibilities.”
A spokesperson for the campaign said the candidate was not yet ready to release further details on his child care proposals.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
A campaign spokesperson told Vox that Booker supports universal access to preschool.
These candidates support something else — or haven’t taken a stand yet
Biden has not released a child care plan yet. But as vice president, he supported President Obama’s proposal to triple the child care tax credit. “That alone will lead to a dramatic increase in the number of women able to be in the workforce and will raise our economic standards,” he said in a 2015 speech.
In 2016, he supported Hillary Clinton’s proposal to ensure that no family had to spend more than 10 percent of its income on child care. While less detailed and sweeping than Elizabeth Warren’s plan, the proposal did include universal preschool for 4-year-olds, as well as a provision to increase child care workers’ pay.
Mayor Bill de Blasio
One of de Blasio’s biggest moves as mayor of New York City was establishing the city’s universal pre-K program in 2014. The program is now the largest in the country, enrolling about 70,000 students, according to the New York Times (up from just 19,000 in 2013). In 2018, about 94 percent of pre-K programs in the city met a standard of quality associated with better school outcomes, the Times reported, up from 77 percent in 2015.
De Blasio mentioned the New York universal pre-K program in a video announcing his presidential candidacy, but has not yet released a formal child care plan for his presidential campaign or responded to Vox’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for the Hickenlooper campaign said that if elected, the former governor “would provide subsidies on a sliding scale” for child care. “He believes we have to make child care affordable for every family,” the spokesperson said.
Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA); Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI); former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD); Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT); Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam; and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) have not yet answered Vox’s questions about child care.
Update: This story has been updated to include comments from campaigns that were received after publication time.
The Brexit champion is a divisive candidate in the European parliamentary elections. Protesters are hoping dairy products can stop him.
“We will not be selling milkshakes or ice cream tonight,” the sign in the window of a McDonald’s near Edinburgh, Scotland, read. “This is due to police request given recent events.”
Those “recent events” are the scourge of milkshakes being flung at European parliamentary candidates across the United Kingdom, specifically those of a certain persuasion: right-wing, populist, and, somewhat ironically, skeptical of the European Union.
The police near Edinburgh were mainly concerned about protecting Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and a prominent champion of Brexit, from a potential milkshake attack. Farage, who now leads the new Brexit Party, was holding a campaign rally in the area last Friday ahead of the European parliamentary elections, which start May 23.
Like a number of other far-right, populist politicians across Europe, Farage is running for a seat in the European Parliament, one of the main legislative bodies of the European Union, and the only one whose members — known as MEPs — are directly elected by EU citizens. The elections are organized at the national level, which is why Farage is trying to win over voters in Edinburgh.
But while Farage managed to evade a dairy drenching last week, his luck ran out just a few days later: At an event in Newcastle, England, on Monday, a protester lobbed a milkshake at Farage, leaving the politician’s dark suit dripping with Five Guys’ banana and salted caramel.
“I was quite looking forward to it, but I think it went on a better purpose,” alleged milkshake assailant Paul Crowther, 32, told reporters. (Crowther was later charged with common assault and criminal damage.)
— ITV News (@itvnews) May 20, 2019
On Wednesday, in the final push before voters go to the polls, Farage was trapped on his turquoise Brexit Party bus after someone spotted three men near the back of a crowd of supporters wearing balaclavas and brandishing milkshakes (flavor unknown) at a campaign stop in Kent.
According to a reporter for Kent Live, Farage did eventually get off the bus, but he didn’t stray far and retreated “quickly” back to the bus after chatting with a few supporters.
“Milkshaking” has now become the demonstration du jour in Britain ahead of European elections. These elections are especially contentious in the UK, as it was supposed to be out of the EU by now and not participating in this process at all.
In a country torn and polarized over Brexit — one segment of the public furious it hasn’t happened, the other side angry that it’s still moving forward and searching for a way to stop it — an icy refreshment has become an expression of frustration against the people seen as most responsible for Britain’s political divisions.
Farage isn’t the only one who’s been targeted
Farage isn’t alone. Other controversial MEP candidates have been hit by milkshakes during the European election campaigns.
UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin, a YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad with a history of misogynistic comments, has gotten slimed with milkshakes at least four times this campaign season. And Tommy Robinson, an Islamophobic firebrand, got milkshaked twice in two days.
Tossing an ice-cream drink at a politician or public figure whose views you find abhorrent certainly makes a political point, and it is admittedly kind of funny. But some have condemned the incidents, saying they send the message that it’s acceptable to attack or silence people with force.
Brendan Cox — the spouse of UK Parliament member Jo Cox, who was murdered ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum by a white supremacist — spoke out on Twitter, saying that while he “profoundly” dislikes Farage’s politics and his “willingness to pander to hatred &division,” he doesn’t “think throwing stuff at politicians you disagree with is a good idea.”
“It normalises violence &intimidation and we should consistently stand again it,” Cox added.
As Cox seems to suggest, there’s the potential for escalation. And on Wednesday, violence broke out near a campaign rally in Salford, England. Protesters hurled eggs, but the Guardian reports that the situation turned tense after protesters said rocks were thrown at their group, injuring three.
Of course, the milkshakers were only throwing dairy products. As with the guy who threw the milkshake at Farage this week, they are still likely to face consequences for it. “It’s a right of protest against people like him,” Crowther, the man accused of throwing the milkshake, told reporters. “The bile and the racism he spouts out in this country is far more damaging than a bit of milkshake to his front.”
The draft memo, written last year, is awkward for the Trump administration.
The standoff over President Trump’s tax returns took another turn this week, as news broke that IRS staffers prepared an internal draft analysis that seems to argue the agency is obligated to hand over the president’s returns to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA).
The draft IRS memo, first reported by Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post, uses words such as “clear,” “mandatory,” “requiring,” and “obligation” to make the case that handing over the returns to the Ways and Means chair isn’t optional. It mentions one potential exception — executive privilege — though it’s not clear if it would apply to this situation, and in any case, the Trump administration hasn’t invoked that here.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has taken a different position. He has refused to give Trump’s tax returns to Neal (even after a subpoena), and claimed in congressional testimony Wednesday that he “was advised” that doing so would violate the law. He says the Justice Department has provided him advice, but DOJ has not yet explained its reasoning on the matter.
Vox inquired with the IRS why the draft memo was written, who wrote it, and why it wasn’t finalized, but a spokesperson sent only the following statement:
The memo in question is a draft background paper that was never finalized. It is not the official position of the IRS.
The document was prepared last fall. The IRS Commissioner and the Chief Counsel were unaware of the paper until this week’s media inquiry. The document was not sent to Treasury.
What the IRS memo says
The memo, titled “Congressional Access to Returns and Return Information,” analyzes the part of the US Code that the battle over Trump’s tax returns focuses on: Section 6103, which you can read here.
The key bit says that upon receiving a written request from the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, the secretary of the Treasury “shall furnish such committee with any [tax] return or return information specified in such request” — though there’s the caveat that if that information can identify the taxpayer, it will be furnished “only” when the committee is in “closed executive sessions.”
On April 3, the new Democratic chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal, officially made a written request for Trump’s tax returns — so that’s what this current dispute is all about. (Earlier this month, Neal subpoenaed the returns because Treasury Department wouldn’t comply.)
Now, the IRS says that this draft memo was written last year, before Neal made that request. But here’s what the memo (which you can read here) says about what should happen next:
- Giving Neal the returns is “mandatory” per the statute: “In general, the statutes provide that the Secretary shall furnish returns and return information upon a specific written request from the Chair of the respective committees. … Unlike some other provisions of section 6103, the language in subsections 6103(f)(1) and (2) is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns and return information requested by the tax writing Chairs.”
- Neal doesn’t need a reason to ask for the returns: “[S]ubsections (f)(1) and (2) do not require the Ways and Means and Finance Chair or JCT Chief of Staff to include a reason or purpose for the request. Therefore, the Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee or the JCT to state a reason for the request.”
- The “only” potential excuse is executive privilege: The memo does contain a brief discussion of “one potential basis for a refusal” of a congressional subpoena for the tax returns like the one Neal has filed — executive privilege. But, the memo says, executive privilege is usually invoked to shield information either about the policymaking process or about open investigations. It’s not clear either applies here, and in any case, that’s not the argument the Treasury Department is relying on in fighting Neal’s subpoena (it has not invoked privilege).
Mnuchin is making a different argument, which the memo doesn’t directly address
Now, the draft memo essentially takes Congress’s constitutional oversight powers for granted here. The Ways and Means Committee, it says, has “oversight authority regarding tax issues” that “is rooted in the constitutional oversight authority of the Legislative Branch over the Executive Branch.”
But Mnuchin has made a different argument. He has claimed that despite the statute’s seemingly unambiguous language, the Ways and Means chair cannot just request anyone’s returns — because there are constitutional restrictions on Congress’s investigative power.
In an April 23 letter to Neal, Mnuchin cited past Supreme Court cases to argue that congressional investigations are an “auxiliary to the legislative function” and must be related to “a legitimate task of the Congress.” Therefore, he says, his view is that Congress needs to have a “legislative purpose” to ask for someone’s tax returns.
Now, Neal actually anticipated this line of argument — so when he made his initial request for Trump’s returns, he said he in fact did have a legislative purpose in mind. He claimed he wanted to evaluate an IRS policy to audit all presidents’ tax returns. But Mnuchin’s response was that, in his opinion, this is a “pretextual” justification, and that Democrats’ obvious true motivation is to get the president’s tax returns rather than to review IRS audit policy.
The draft IRS memo, written before this year’s back-and-forth, does not discuss this constitutional line of argument about a “legislative purpose.” So Mnuchin argued in congressional testimony Wednesday that the memo is “addressing a different issue, and is not addressing the issue that we and the Department of Justice looked at.”
Yet the Justice Department still hasn’t released its reasoning for why Mnuchin should — and even must, he claims — deny Neal’s request.
“We have a conclusion and as soon as the Justice Department, which we’ve asked them to work on expeditiously, has the full memo, it will be released publicly,” Mnuchin said at the hearing.
But the IRS staff members who wrote their draft memo appear to believe the legal issues here are simpler than Mnuchin is letting on.
A new IRS appointee could add an additional wrinkle to this legal debate. Per a report from the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos, Trump particularly pushed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move quickly to confirm his nominee to fill the job of IRS chief counsel earlier this year. That new nominee, Michael Desmond, was confirmed in February — just in time to handle this battle for Trump. It is not known whether he has had an impact on this debate, but according to the IRS’s statement, he was unaware of the draft memo until this week. The matter may end up in court.
Child care is often framed as women’s responsibility. We asked men instead.
Beto O’Rourke came in for widespread criticism in March when he said that his wife Amy was raising their three children, “sometimes with my help,” while he ran for president.
He later apologized, but the comment exposed a deeper reality: While male candidates can often count on a partner to take the lead on child care while they campaign, women rarely can do the same.
That may be part of the reason why fewer women run for office than men, or why they may wait until their children are grown before running. Of the more than 20 Democratic candidates running for president in 2020, Vox counted nine men with children below high-school age, and just one woman, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
When mothers do seek high-profile jobs, whether in government or in the private sector, they’re often asked how they balance work and family. As NBC 10 reporter Alison King put it in an April interview with presidential candidate Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), “If you were a woman, the first question I would be asking you is, how are you going to juggle having an infant at home and a presidential campaign?”
But asking only women that question perpetuates the idea that child care is women’s responsibility, something for them to figure out without the men in their lives. So Vox decided, instead, to ask all the male 2020 Democratic candidates with young children at home to describe their child care arrangements — who was caring for their kids, we asked, when they were off campaigning?
Of the nine male candidates Vox surveyed, three — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) — have not yet answered Vox’s question about child care. The other six got back to us to describe their arrangements in some way. Their responses are below.
Four of the six said their wives are primarily responsible for their kids while they are campaigning, though several said other family members pitch in from time to time. One said he sometimes swaps babysitting duties with a fellow congressman. Overall, their comments help make the often-invisible visible: Whether they’re running for president or working a 9-to-5 job, parents of all genders need some form of child care in order to do their jobs.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
- Three daughters: one in college, one in high school, one in middle school
When Bennet is in Washington or on the campaign trail, his wife Susan “takes primary responsibility for the girls,” a campaign spokesperson told Vox in an email. “When he is home, they share duties. And the girls often join them on the trail. Just this past weekend, Susan and the two youngest girls joined Michael on his trip to Iowa. Past Bennet campaigns have always been family affairs, with Susan and the girls frequently joining Michael on the road.”
Former US housing secretary Julián Castro
- Two children, ages around 4 and 10
“While Secretary Castro is on the road traveling, his wife Erica, who is an elementary school educator, looks after their two kids, Carina and Cristián,” Sawyer Hackett, deputy national press secretary for the Castro campaign, told Vox in an email. “Erica and Julián also have the help of their two mothers, and are extremely grateful for their help in caring for their young children. Secretary Castro keeps up a vigorous travel schedule, but makes a concerted effort to be home with his family several days each week, and shares parenting responsibilities with Erica when he’s home.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
- Three children, ages around 8, 10, and 12
“Beto continues to speak openly about the reasons he and Amy decided to run this campaign in the first place, the sacrifices it entails for their family, and how being separated is the hardest part about doing this,” campaign communications director Chris Evans wrote in an email.
“At the same time, he has also acknowledged that when he’s on the road, Amy has the lion’s share of the child care responsibilities while also working in El Paso. Additionally, Beto and Amy are fortunate to have several family members in the community who are able to give support and help out.”
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA)
- One child, about seven months
“I got a text earlier today that said, if you were a woman, the first question I would be asking you is, how are you going to juggle having an infant at home and a presidential campaign?” said NBC 10 reporter Alison King in the interview.
“You should ask me that question, just as a man,” Moulton replied. “I miss my daughter every single day. It was a hard decision to get into this race. But I want my daughter to grow up in a better world.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
- Two children, ages about 2 years and six months
Swalwell told Vox in an email that his wife, Brittany, is “amazing.”
“She’s a national sales director for Ritz-Carlton, a career that allows her to work from home most of the time, but it’s still a herculean task to work with two young kids around. Her aunt lends us a hand at times as well, and sometimes we work out swaps with friends — my dear friend and campaign chairman, Rep. Ruben Gallego, have babysat each other’s kids from time to time.”
- Two young children
“While I am on the campaign trail, my wife Evelyn watches after our two young children, one of whom is autistic, at home full time,” Yang said in an email to Vox. “We have help from my mother and mother-in-law as well as various sitters and other family members.
“Occasionally, my family is able to join me on the campaign trail which is always welcome and makes campaigning more enjoyable, but Evelyn really is the rock of our family and without her, everything would fall apart. We must do more to support and recognize the work being done in our homes and communities each day. My wife inspires me to work harder both at home and on the trail.”
Update: This story has been updated with comments from the campaign of former US housing secretary Julián Castro, which were received after press time.
Earnin promotes itself as a way to “get paid the minute you leave work.”
Once every few weeks, Myra Haq withdraws $100 or so from Earnin, an app that lets people borrow small sums of money. “I started using Earnin when I was a minimum wage intern so I could pay for [things like] the bus to work and food,” Haq said. Now that she’s no longer an intern making minimum wage — she currently works as a nanny, handles a children’s clothing company’s social media accounts, and sells clothing online — she still occasionally finds herself needing extra cash for doctor appointments or other unplanned expenses, and that’s where Earnin comes in.
Earnin knows how much Haq makes and how often she works; it figures out the latter by tracking her location to see when she is or isn’t at work, though Earnin doesn’t share this location data with third parties. The app lets her withdraw up to $100 a day, and never more than what she actually makes in a pay period, and then withdraws the money from her checking account once her direct deposit hits. Instead of charging her a fee or an interest rate for the loan, Earnin simply asks her to leave a “tip,” which can be used to cover the cost of transferring the funds, as well as additional operational costs.
The app bills itself as a way for people to “get paid the minute you leave work with no loans, fees, or hidden costs.” Haq sees it as a payday loan, albeit a “more ethical one.”
Payday loans, sometimes called cash advances, are short-term loans marketed to people who need cash quickly. Unsurprisingly, payday lenders typically target low-income people — a 2013 Pew report found that 58 percent of people who use payday loans have trouble meeting monthly expenses at least half the time and usually borrow to deal with “persistent cash shortfalls rather than temporary emergencies.” The loans generally carry higher interest rates than long-term advances or credit cards, and are often criticized for being predatory.
Earnin positions itself differently. For starters, it doesn’t characterize its advances as a loan. “Earnin is facilitating an advance on your paycheck,” a spokesperson told me. The company was founded by Ram Palaniappan in 2013. Palaniappan, who has a background in fintech, told me he came up with the idea while working at a different company where he often fronted employees the money they needed to cover expenses before payday after hearing them complain about overdraft fees. “It didn’t make any sense, because I thought I was paying everybody well,” Palaniappan said, but then he realized the problem was that employees “needed money the next day and could not wait until the following Friday.”
“When I left the company, the people I was doing this for wanted to know if I would still do it for them,” Palaniappan said. “That’s when I realized that if I didn’t try to make it into a product, I would feel bad about myself.”
Today, Earnin has raised more than $190 million in venture funding from a number of investors, including Andreessen Horowitz and Spark Capital. It has more than 100 employees and, according to Palaniappan, is used by workers at more than 50,000 companies. Through a spokesperson, the company declined to share active user numbers but said it often ranks among the top 10 apps in the financial space of Apple’s App Store, where it has garnered more than 60,000 reviews.
Palaniappan describes Earnin as a way of creating a more equitable financial system for the millions of people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. “Four out of five people in the US live paycheck to paycheck,” he told me. “Half the country can’t [come up with] $400 in an emergency.” An easy way to solve this problem, Palaniappan says, is by giving people access to their money as soon as they’ve earned it. If someone makes $15 an hour and works an eight-hour day, he thinks that person should have access to the $120 they made, minus taxes, as soon as the workday is over. The issue doesn’t seem to be how much people make, but how soon they get that money.
When I asked Palaniappan if he thinks these problems could be solved by paying workers more, he agreed that it’s “always better for people to have larger paychecks,” but stressed that there’s a “timing issue” with when they get paid as well. “Bills don’t show up on payday,” he said; they’re often due before the direct deposit hits. Palaniappan said Earnin is addressing this problem with a financial calendar that helps people keep track of when their paychecks are coming in and when their bills are due, which he said can help users with budgeting. Another feature, Balance Shield, helps prevent overdraft fees by alerting users when their checking account balance falls below a certain threshold and, if they want, automatically transferring money to them via Earnin.
But is a lack of immediate access to their paychecks really the reason so many Americans are struggling to get by? If a minimum wage worker got their pay at the end of the day instead of two weeks later, would they still live paycheck to paycheck?
It’s no surprise that millennials, the demographic Earnin markets itself to, are in dire financial straits — but the reasons for the generation’s economic precarity are more complex than payday not always aligning with when the bills are due. In 2018, real average wages had about the same purchasing power as in 1978, according to Pew. And according to a 2018 report on how millennials compare to previous generations, the average millennial household had a net worth of $92,000 in 2016, which is nearly less than 40 percent of the average net worth Gen X households had in 2001. Put simply, wages have barely been able to keep up with inflation, especially for low-income people.
A growing number of millennials work on a freelance basis or in the gig economy, which means they’re on the hook for benefits that would otherwise be provided by their employers, like health insurance or retirement plans. Between 2003 and 2015, the proportion of income that millennials earned from contract work increased from 57 percent to 72 percent, according to data from Deloitte. Student loans are yet another monthly expense: The average American household with student debt owes almost $48,000, and experts believe that student loan debt has held millennials back from major life milestones like marriage, homeownership, and having children. Generally speaking, millennials are more educated, less wealthy, and more indebted than previous generations, and these inequities are compounded along racial and gender lines.
Giving people access to their money faster won’t help solve the root causes of economic insecurity, but, Palaniappan says, it’s a start. And it’s just one part of Earnin’s big-picture plan. On Wednesday, Earnin launched HealthAid, a service that will give users access to patient advocates who will help them negotiate down their medical bills, set up payment plans, or secure financial aid. Like Earnin, HealthAid will function on a tip system.
For Palaniappan, it’s another way to introduce a degree of parity to a vastly unequal economic system. “Health care is more expensive for our customers,” he said. “They don’t have the best insurance. Quite often, their medical bills are largely unexpected.” On top of that, he added, hourly workers lose even more money when they get sick since they have to take time off work.
HealthAid, he explained, is a way of helping people navigate complex health care billing systems. “The way it works is really simple: You upload your medical bills through the app; then we have a team of people who will try to negotiate the price down with the provider,” he said. “They will try to get you a payment plan and they will also try to match you up with financial aid.” According to Palaniappan, 90 percent of bills users submitted during HealthAid’s pilot phase were reduced or otherwise addressed in some way.
“If you’re in our customer demographic,” he said — i.e., people who live paycheck to paycheck and therefore can’t afford to set aside a few hundred dollars for an emergency, much less a few thousand for medical expenses — “you don’t get the best insurance plans and you probably have a high deductible, let’s say $10,000 or so. So even though you’re insured, the insurance isn’t affordable to you.”
HealthAid is primarily intended to help people who have health insurance but can’t afford to meet their deductibles, a sizable percentage of the US population. According to the LA Times, 39 percent of large employers offer only high-deductible plans, and half of all people who receive health insurance from their work have a deductible of at least $1,000. In other words, even people who have health insurance are struggling to afford their medical bills.
Earnin’s latest venture seems useful — noble, even. It’s hard to criticize a venture-backed company using its resources to lower people’s astronomical medical bills, even if it’s doing little to address the root causes of poverty or medical debt. And Earnin is by no means the only fintech startup that bills itself as a way to help put low-income people on a path towards financial stability. There’s Fresh EBT, which helps people manage their food stamps; Domuso and Till, two companies that front people money for big expenses like security deposits; and Even, a “financial wellness platform” that charges users a monthly fee to balance their budgets.
Like Earnin, Even has an advanced payment feature called Instapay, though it makes its money by charging users a monthly fee instead of through a voluntary tip system. In 2017, Even partnered with Walmart to offer its services to the company’s hourly and salaried employees. Earnin is similarly integrated with several companies’ payment systems, though Palaniappan stressed that it continues to be a direct-to-consumer product. “The problem with relying on integrations is that it lets you cover the larger companies and leaves out every small business,” he said. “If you have a coffee shop in rural America or with five people, you would never let them get the benefit if you try to rely on integrations.” That’s why the company relies on a tip system, he explained: so users can pay for the service when they can afford it and aren’t penalized when they can’t.
According to Palaniappan, users do tip when they have the means to do so, even though it’s not required. In some cases, they even tip extra to cover the cost of someone else’s transaction; Earnin claims this has happened more than 10 million times. It may seem counterintuitive to give a company money when they aren’t asking for it, but Haq, the semi-frequent Earnin user, said she feels it’s the right thing to do since Earnin is providing her with a service and she wants to keep them in business.
But Earnin has recently come under fire for its “tipping” policy. In March, the company was subpoenaed by the New York Department of Financial Services after the New York Post reported that the app’s tip amounts effectively translate to high APR rates. According to the Post, users who don’t leave a tip have their Earnin withdrawals capped at $100, while those who do leave tips are able to take out more money. (Earnin declined to comment on the subpoena on the record.)
Lauren Saunders, the associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, told me there are few distinctions between what Earnin is doing and a more traditional payday loan. “There is no single definition of a payday loan. People think of payday loans and short-term balloon payment loans as [having] high interest rates, and this is simply a short-term loan,” she said. “There is no set interest rate, but the purportedly voluntary tips that people want to leave don’t seem so voluntary if you want to borrow more than $100.”
Even though the tips are voluntary, Saunders said, there are a number of risks associated with Earnin and similar apps. “You turn over your bank account login and password, and that’s very risky. Even if they don’t do anything wrong with it, how secure is that data if there’s a breach?” she said. “You’re giving them the right to take money out of your account, supposedly on your payday, and sometimes they get it wrong.” (Palaniappan said Earnin refunds users’ bank fees if a mistake on its end results in an overdraft.)
And even though Earnin doesn’t consider itself a loan provider, the transactions the app enables are loans. Earnin isn’t exactly getting people their paychecks earlier than their employer would: Doing so would require Earnin to have access to companies’ payroll systems. Instead, it’s giving people money from its coffers and taking back that money on an agreed-upon date. In other words, it’s loaning it out.
For customers like Myra Haq, though, Earnin is a necessary service, even if she isn’t entirely comfortable with handing over her bank information and other sensitive data to a VC-backed startup. “I’m a little uncomfortable with it, but I’m not uncomfortable [enough] with it to not use it,” she said. “I think it takes a degree of privilege to be able to keep all your information private.”
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Warren is calling her supporters to say thanks. It’s a savvy political strategy.
Elizabeth Warren is giving people a new reason to pick up their phones when a call comes in from an unknown number: She might be on the line. It’s a way for the Massachusetts Democrat to thank her backers. It’s also a savvy political strategy to highlight and spread her grassroots support.
Warren ignited a viral moment over the weekend when she replied to a tweet from comedian Ashley Nicole Black asking whether the 2020 candidate, whose 2020 mantra is that she “has a plan for that,” has a plan for her love life. “DM me and let’s figure this out,” Warren, seemingly out of nowhere, replied.
— Ashley Nicole Black (@ashleyn1cole) May 19, 2019
Warren apparently followed up with a phone call, Black said Monday on Twitter. “Guess who’s crying and shaking and just talked to Elizabeth Warren on the phone?!?!?” she wrote.
Black isn’t the only one Warren is calling — she’s making a habit of dialing many of her supporters, and “Elizabeth Warren called me” is turning into a meme.
Do a quick scan of Twitter and for months, Warren supporters have been popping up expressing their joy and surprise that they’ve received a call from the senator herself.
AM I DEAD. DID I DIE.
— Jessica Ellis (@baddestmamajama) May 21, 2019
UPDATE: I JUST TALKED TO ELIZABETH WARREN ON THE PHONE https://t.co/nUqJ5rvVy5
— Sarah Lerner (@SarahLerner) May 7, 2019
ELIZABETH WARREN CALLED ME AND I MISSED THE CALL
SHE LEFT ME A VERY NICE VOICEMAIL, SHE IS THE REAL DEAL
— Meghan Florian (@MeghanFlorian) April 2, 2019
This strategy isn’t totally new. In February, Warren announced that she would swear off high-dollar fundraisers and phone calls with wealthy donors during the 2020 Democratic primary. In a Medium post announcing the decision, she said she wanted to make sure “everybody who supports my campaign is treated equally, regardless of how much they can afford to give.”
Some critics emerged, arguing that such a maneuver was a risky disarmament against a well-funded Republican machine. Some suggested it might be a way for her to explain lower-than-expected fundraising. The New York Times reported that the decision was controversial even within her campaign.
But Warren has stuck with it.
The “Elizabeth Warren called me” meme is a smart political strategy
What Warren is doing here is pretty straightforward: When a small-dollar donor gives money to her campaign through her website, they’re asked for some basic information, including their name, address, and phone number. That information comes in and her campaign picks out donors for her to call and thank.
Her campaign has put out videos of her making the calls, of which it says she has made hundreds. She generally calls in the evenings, though sometimes it’s at other times of the day, and speaks with people for a few minutes.
What makes this feel more organic and effective is the declarations of the people she’s calling announcing what’s happened and expressing their excitement. A lot of them are doing it on social media, and chances are those people are also telling their family and friends about getting a call from Liz.
“It’s guerrilla marketing in a way — the humblebragging from supporters about getting a call feels organic and lends credibility to her claim that she’s prioritizing grassroots supporters. It emphasizes her relatability and down-to-earth nature, and generates viral moments,” Amanda Litman, the co-founder of Run for Something, an organization that supports young candidates running for office, told me.
One person wrote a diary post for Daily Kos talking about the Warren call experience.
Litman added that beyond the candidate, and sometimes even more so, the best messengers to most voters are their friends and family. “[Warren] is arming folks with personal anecdotes to convince friends and family, and social media lets those moments spread far and wide,” she said.
A Democratic strategist working for a rival 2020 Democratic campaign concurred. “It’s super savvy and a clever way of turning the fundraising process, which justifiably seems cold and cynical to most voters, into a way to showcase her authenticity and the grassroots energy behind her campaign,” the strategist said in an email.
— Jocelyn Roof (@jocelyn_roof) March 26, 2019
Oh my god. Elizabeth Warren called me to thank me for donating to her campaign a whole month ago and I just found out I missed her call. I just listened to her voicemail right now. WHYYYY. Please call me back @ewarren! I’m gonna donate again tomorrow
— Cathy Messier (@cathytown) May 3, 2019
OMG. I was in meeting this morning when @ewarren called & left this message to thank me for contributing to her campaign. I’m in shock. Thanks for the call, Senator, and #ImAllIn. #LetsDoThis. #Warren2020. pic.twitter.com/w6ylSZcnCQ
— Damon Bethea (@damonbethea1) March 4, 2019
Warren’s calls have also gotten others online wondering why they haven’t received a call. And it could be inspiring FOMO and getting others to donate in hopes of hearing from the senator.
She called me. It was such a shock! But completely fun and genuine
— Brandon Noel (@The_Mongrel) May 22, 2019
Wait, why hasn’t @SenWarren called me yet? I’m a COMPLETE MESS.
— Libby Hill (@midwestspitfire) May 21, 2019
13-40s: my crush hasn’t called me
40+: neither my crush nor Elizabeth Warren has called me
— Nina (I Stand With the WGA) Bargiel (@slackmistress) May 21, 2019
This is also a way for Warren to remind people about her commitment to steering clear of high-dollar fundraisers and calls to major donors. She has staked much of her career — and her campaign — on casting herself as being on the side of the little guy and up against Wall Street, big money, and corporate interests.
She’s hosting “pop-up” meetings where a select group of supporters in certain areas get invited to meet her in small settings. She’s done those events in places such as Denver, Brooklyn and Harlem, and Alabama. Those pop-up gatherings, along with the calls, reiterate her no-big-money point.
“It’s definitely cheesy, but in a way that feels true to her and that over the long haul will absolutely pay off,” Litman said.
You won’t be shocked to learn that Warren is talking policy
Since announcing her presidential bid, Warren has rolled out a litany of policy proposals on a wide range of issues, including abortion, tech consolidation, agriculture reform, opioids, and the revolving door at the Pentagon. She is outpacing her fellow 2020 contenders in terms of policy. And in calls with supporters, she appears to be reminding them of it. (When supporters don’t pick up, she leaves a message.)
And I thought this day couldn’t get any better! I had a great convo w/ @ewarren about abortion rights, gerrymandering & the stacking of state legislatures n AL, GA, etc. She LISTENED to me talk about how I feel helpless as a CA voter to help my sisters in other states…
— Karen Tongson (@inlandemperor) May 15, 2019
On the phone with Elizabeth Warren who called to thank us for our campaign support, AND, we talked a few minutes about child care policy. VERY IMPRESSED WITH HER. pic.twitter.com/Qe6MzKfIhg
— Matthew Tapscott (@TapscottMatthew) February 27, 2019
Jessica Ellis, a Los Angeles-based writer whom Warren called on Monday, told me that Warren thanked her for her support and discussed her proposed wealth tax, which would put a small tax on Americans with a net worth of more than $50 million. She also talked about her student debt plan, which would cancel debt for millions of Americans and invest in debt-free college. (She says she would pay for that with the wealth tax.)
“She emphasized that she really, truly believed she could win, and that if she does, she knows she can address our worst problems,” Ellis said.
Ellis told Warren she first saw her on The Daily Show in 2009, years before she was elected to the Senate, when Ellis was watching with her mother. “We both said, ‘That woman needs to be president,’” Ellis said. “She laughed and told me to send my mom her best.”
update: it wasn’t
— Jordan Schreiber (@jordanschreiber) May 22, 2019
So, did Jon Snow being a Targaryen really even matter?
The nicest thing I can say about the Game of Thrones series finale — and even its final season — is that a lot of things happened.
“The Iron Throne” included the murder of Daenerys Targaryen; Jon Snow returning North to a Night’s Watch that doesn’t seem to have a reason to exist; and Tyrion Lannister plotting his Queen’s death, avoiding execution, and then being installed as Hand of the King by Bran Stark, the newly minted ruler of what is now the Six Kingdoms. Sansa Stark became the queen of the North, ruling over an independent Winterfell. And Arya Stark set off on a ship in search of a new adventure.
Though a lot happened in the finale’s 80 minutes, it feels as though the show ended with plenty of unfinished business that couldn’t be addressed in even a feature-length episode. Here are 20 thorny questions we’re still wondering about.
1) Does Tyrion know how awful his sister was?
When Jon Snow visits Tyrion — who’s being held by the Unsullied for treason against Daenerys — Tyrion states that Daenerys is completely mad because her body count is so high after destroying King’s Landing.
In support of this, he cites that his family, particularly his father and his sister Cersei were truly awful people, but never leveled a city. But Cersei did bomb an entire church in season six, leveling a section of King’s Landing to take out the High Sparrow and the Tyrells:
While Tyrion might not know his sister was behind this, Game of Thrones presents him as a voice of reason and logic. Remembering how Cersei bombed the Sept of Baelor for personal reasons, are we then supposed to take Tyrion’s speech to Jon about assassinating Daenerys skeptically? If so, is Daenerys really more of a “Mad Queen” than Cersei?
2) Where does Arya stand on the “sanity” front?
Throughout Game of Thrones’ eight seasons, Arya was trained as a face-stealing assassin, devoted years of her life to exacting revenge on her enemies, and at one point created human pies out of Walder Frey’s family and fed them to Frey. Going by the rubric that Game of Thrones applied to Daenerys, wherein revenge and vindictiveness are signs of irredeemable madness, shouldn’t we, and Arya’s friends and family, be more worried about Arya?
3) Was Maggy the Frog’s prophecy really just about Daenerys?
In season five, Cersei received a prophecy from Maggy the Frog, foretelling that “another — younger, more beautiful — [will] cast you down and take all you hold dear.” Many Game of Thrones fans understandably thought that Maggy was talking about Daenerys.
But there were also fan theories that the prophecy wasn’t as simple as Daenerys coming in and killing Cersei. Some suggested that Jaime would kill his sister, or that Sansa or even Tyrion might. Or was Maggy talking about Bran (definitely younger, but maybe not as beautiful) since he’s the one who ultimately took control of the kingdom?
4) Did Game of Thrones forget the casualties Daenerys’s army suffered at Winterfell?
In season eight’s third episode, “The Long Night,” Daenerys sent her Dothraki army into the darkness to fight the advancing Army of the Dead, which resulted in mass casualties. During the same battle, the Unsullied held formation outside Winterfell’s gates, and many sacrificed their lives to protect the forces of the living during a retreat.
But in the series finale, Daenerys’s army still seemed to be pretty huge:
So, exactly how big was Daenerys’s army to begin with for it to withstand an epic death toll from the Army of the Dead and still look so massive?
5) What was the deal with Arya’s white horse?
At the end of Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode, “The Bells,” a white horse magically appeared before Arya, who’s barely evaded death. She rode it out of the crumbling King’s Landing following Daenerys’s assault on the city. Her triumphant exit suggested that Arya riding this horse would be significant in some way. But at the start of the series finale, Arya was … hanging around the burned-down city again, the horse nowhere to be found. What happened to the horse? Did she just ride it, like, 20 feet before coming back?
6) Why didn’t Daenerys have more of a security detail after winning the throne?
As the new queen of the Seven Kingdoms and most powerful person in Westeros, it seems unlikely that Daenerys would want to wander around without security, especially after she decimated King’s Landing, a move that likely made her the enemy of anyone who survived. Yet she approached the Iron Throne on her own — albeit with a dragon keeping watch outside. This gave Jon Snow the chance to come in after getting past her one fire-breathing guard, who seemed to trust him, and to use his and Daenerys’s relationship to get close to her and then kill her. It was a dramatic turn, but one that seemed sloppily executed, given the circumstances.
7) Where did Drogon take Daenerys’s body after he melted the Iron Throne?
Did he drop her off somewhere (Dragonstone, perhaps)? Or is he just flying around with a decomposing body in one of his talons?
8) Who dry-cleaned Daenerys’s outfit?
In the penultimate episode of the season, Daenerys has a full day of torching innocent people and inundating King’s Landing with dragonfire and terror. Her outfit is a mess and she’s covered in dirt, grime, and ash from the incinerated human bodies. But somehow, after the siege (presumably the same day) she’s cleaned up and her outfit is neatly pressed when she gives her big villainous speech. Which Dothraki or Unsullied dry cleaner is responsible for reviving the outfit? And where did she go for what appears to be a relaxing and rejuvenating spa day?
9) Why doesn’t Bran just tell Arya what’s West of Westeros?
When Arya tells Jon and her family that she’s going to go west of Westeros and explore what’s beyond where all the maps stop, couldn’t Bran just have warged into a sea bird and saved her a trip?
10) Did Bran know he was going to be king all along? If so, did he just let a bunch of bad things happen (including Jon Snow’s exile) so he could be king?
With his warging power, Bran can see the past, present, and some glimpses of the future. And when Tyrion asks Bran if he would agree to rule over the kingdom, Bran agrees by saying, “Why do you think I came all this way?” — a strange turn considering Bran previously said he couldn’t be lord of Winterfell he is the Three-Eyed Raven.
Did Bran know the events that were going to play out during Game of Thrones’ final season — Cersei not sending her army to Winterfell; Arya killing the Night King; Euron’s surprise attack on Dany; Cersei executing Missandei; Daenerys torching King’s Landing; Jon killing Daenerys; Jon being sent to the North — and decide to sit idly by so that he could inherit the throne by a process of elimination?
11) What age is Bran going to live to? Does his council know the previous Three-Eyed Raven was 1,000 years old?
The previous Three-Eyed Raven said in the season six episode “Oathbreaker” that he had been waiting 1,000 years for Bran to take his place. While I’m assuming that some of that longevity comes from being magic and living in a tree (which Bran will not do, as far as we know), what happens if Bran has a similar kind of power? Does his council know that Bran might live longer than the average human? Do the people he’s ruling over know that he’s going to have an extremely long reign?
12) Why didn’t Grey Worm kill Jon and Tyrion?
Grey Worm is Daenerys’s most loyal soldier. He kills anyone who’s perceived as a threat to his queen. Why, then, would he allow Tyrion and Jon to survive instead of killing them immediately when he found out that Tyrion hatched a plan to kill Daenerys and Jon killed her? Given the way Grey Worm is portrayed — killing Lannister prisoners on behalf of his queen — it seems plausible he would have killed them instantly.
While one could make the argument that the North would revolt if Jon were killed, that doesn’t really explain why Grey Worm would then let a treasonous criminal like Tyrion speak effusively in front of the council later in the episode.
13) Why didn’t the Dothraki bloodriders kill Jon and Tyrion?
The same question goes for the Dothraki: One of the mythologies on the show is that the Dothraki “bloodriders” will avenge their Khal until they die. And in season six’s “Blood of My Blood,” Daenerys mades the entire Khalasar her bloodriders.
“I will not choose three bloodriders,” she tells them. “I will choose you all.”
So, uh, now that their Khaleesi is dead, where’s the bloodrider revolt?
14) Is anyone going to punish Grey Worm for his own war crimes, or does everyone post-Daenerys’s death just get a clean slate?
At Tyrion’s trial, everyone on the council — save for Yara Greyjoy — seems to be in agreement that Daenerys committed horrendous atrocities on innocent people. Well, Grey Worm and the Unsullied were an integral part of the King’s Landing slaughter. Did everyone on the council forget this? Was there a deal made in which the Unsullied would just get to leave instead of receiving further punishment?
15) Why would Grey Worm allow Tyrion to become Hand of the King?
If Grey Worm worked out a compromise with the council and Tyrion for Jon Snow to go North, why would he allow Tyrion to be Hand of the King again — after Tyrion freed his brother Jaime, who would go on to attempt to save Cersei, and encouraged Jon to kill Daenerys? Wouldn’t it be more plausible for him to ask for a compromise for Tyrion as well, one that wouldn’t essentially let him off scot-free?
16) Why is there still a Wall?
In Game of Thrones’ season seven finale, the Night King destroyed part of the Wall with his zombified dragon. Of course, the Night King and the Army of the Dead have now been destroyed themselves, raising the question: is the Wall even needed anymore?
17) Why is there a Night’s Watch that Jon needs to join if the wildlings are at peace with the Seven Kingdoms and the White Walkers have been destroyed?
The Night’s Watch was previously made to guard the crossing into the Seven Kingdoms from the freefolk and other threats, but now that everyone’s getting along, especially the wildings who live beyond the wall, and there’s no great evil to guard against, what does the day-to-day schedule of the Night’s Watch look like? And further, Jon Snow hanging out with his direwolf Ghost and good friend Tormund doesn’t really seem like punishment.
18) Why didn’t Arya or Sansa remember that Daenerys and her army saved the North?
At the council meeting, Yara is taken to task for defending Daenerys, who she says freed her people from a tyrant. Sansa and Arya immediately get snippy, retorting that Daenerys was absolutely crazy. But do they remember that without Daenerys, her dragons, and her armies, Sansa would essentially be the zombie queen of the North?
19) Why is the North the only independent kingdom?
Sansa declared to Bran that the North would be an independent kingdom. How come no one pushed back on that? Why did all the other lords not follow suit? Why wouldn’t Yara, who has asked for sovereignty for the Iron Islands, or the new unnamed prince who’s running Dorne not also want their independence?
20) Why does Jon being a Targaryen — something the show spent the better part of two-and-a-half seasons teasing and revealing — even matter?
At the beginning of season eight, there were two episodes devoted to Jon’s true heritage; Bran and Sam, who were both on the final council with Bran becoming king, both made a huge stink about how the throne is Jon’s destiny. Neither one mentioned it again after that, not even when Jon was being punished for essentially saving the entire world from Daenerys’s mad reign. Was all that buildup — including a scandalous turn toward Jon dating his aunt Daenerys — really just background noise?
With momentum building toward impeachment hearings, the president threw a public temper tantrum.
President Donald Trump held a brief, bizarre news conference in the Rose Garden on Wednesday to complain about Democrats’ ongoing efforts to conduct oversight of his administration.
Trump held the presser after storming out of a meeting with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in which they were supposed to negotiate about an ever-elusive infrastructure bill. Fox News reported that Trump — ostensibly upset with comments Pelosi made earlier in the day accusing Trump of being “engaged in a coverup” — “walked into the Cabinet Room and immediately made his comments to the Democrats in the room. Then, as Pelosi began talking, Trump turned on his heel and walked back to the Oval Office.”
A short time later, Trump reemerged to give a news conference that doubled as a public temper tantrum of sorts. Trump — who steadfastly refuses to release his tax returns or even comply with congressional subpoenas — began by claiming, with a straight face, that he’s “the most transparent president probably in the history of this country.”
“This whole thing was a take-down attempt of the president of the United States,” Trump added, alluding to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign. “I don’t do cover-ups.” (The hush payments made to women during his presidential campaign indicate otherwise.)
Here’s how the news conference ended:
Trump, who seemed to be having difficulties with his mouth, just had a public temper tantrum that doubled as a news conference of sorts pic.twitter.com/Eo6UxfGwY2
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 22, 2019
It was a bizarre spectacle. But Trump had his reasons for putting on a show.
Trump is upset that Democrats are moving toward impeachment hearings
Pelosi’s comments accusing Trump of being “engaged in a coverup” came following a meeting of the House Democratic caucus in which members, increasingly frustrated with the White House’s blanket stonewalling of subpoenas, pushed Pelosi to begin impeachment hearings.
“We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a coverup,” Pelosi said following the meeting, in comments that indicate she’s becoming more open to the idea of holding impeachment hearings and apparently set Trump off.
During his news conference, Trump referred to impeachment as “the big I-word” and indicated he feels it’s impossible to negotiate with Democrats while they’re insisting on fulfilling their constitutional duties to conduct oversight of the executive branch.
“You can’t do it under these circumstances,” Trump said. “Get these phony investigations over with.”
Trump reiterated that sentiment in a string of tweets posted after his news conference in which he claimed “[y]ou can’t investigate and legislate simultaneously — it just doesn’t work that way.” (Trump’s claim is contradicted by the fact that President Richard Nixon signed major pieces of legislation even amid the Watergate hearings.)
….But they really want a do-over! You can’t investigate and legislate simultaneously – it just doesn’t work that way. You can’t go down two tracks at the same time. Let Chuck, Nancy, Jerry, Adam and all of the rest finish playing their games….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 22, 2019
Pelosi, however, doesn’t seem to think her caucus is incapable of multi-tasking. During remarks she made at the CAP Ideas Conference following the news conference, she said she “wanted to give this president the opportunity to do something historic for our country” with an infrastructure bill, and found his decision to blow up the meeting “very, very, very strange.”
“This president is obstructing justice, and he’s engaged in a cover-up, and that could be an impeachable offense,” Pelosi said.
The House speaker may not quite yet be ready to call for “I-word” hearings, as she reiterated during a closed-door debate with one committee chair on Tuesday. But Pelosi is very much on board with Democrats’ quest to obtain Trump’s tax returns, the unredacted Mueller report, and congressional testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn — and there’s no indication that Trump’s offer to get serious about infrastructure if Democrats give up on investigating him is one she or any other Democrat is taking seriously.
Let’s face it: Infrastructure wasn’t happening anyway
In recent weeks, Trump has paid lip service to being interested in a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, but there’s no indication he’s willing to pay for it. (Democrats have floated the idea of rolling back some of the tax cut bill Trump signed late 2017 as a way to fund an infrastructure bill — a proposal that’s likely to be a nonstarter with Republicans.)
For instance, during an interview that aired last Sunday with Fox News’s Steve Hilton, Trump said he thinks “we’re being played by the Democrats” when it comes to infrastructure because “what they want me to do is say, ‘what we’ll do is raise taxes’ … and they’ll have a news conference — ‘see, Trump wants to raise taxes.’”
Trump gave up the game about infrastructure during interview w/Steve Hilton
“I think we’re being played by the Democrats…what they want me to do is say, ‘what we’ll do is raise taxes’…& then they’ll say, ‘see, Trump wants to raise taxes'”
In short he’s not gonna pay for it pic.twitter.com/dqUztJ2XJW
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 22, 2019
But the fact remains that it costs money to make public improvements, and that money has always been the sticking point. The big questions center on how much the country should invest and where this funding should come from.
Trump, however, seems to be uninterested in putting forward the $2 trillion he’s said should be invested. As Reuters detailed in a piece previewing Wednesday’s meeting, an infrastructure proposal the Trump administration outlined last year “was widely panned” in part because it didn’t involve raising taxes but instead “largely relied on private sector and state funding.”
It’s likely that Trump, to the extent he had a plan heading into Wednesday’s meeting at all, wanted to go down a similar road this time. Pelosi and Schumer understood that type of proposal wasn’t going to gain traction with House Democrats, but wanted to give the appearance of doing what they can to get something done for the American people anyway.
Trump and the Democratic leaders don’t have the best history — and the future doesn’t look rosy either
Wednesday was not the first time Trump blew up a meeting with Pelosi and Schumer. Recall that back in January, he pulled a similar stunt when the Democratic leaders traveled to the White House in hopes of striking a deal that would end what became the nation’s longest government shutdown.
Note how similar the New York Times’s report about how that January meeting went down is to what happened on Wednesday:
Stunned Democrats emerged from the meeting in the White House Situation Room declaring that the president had thrown a “temper tantrum” and slammed his hands on the table before leaving with an abrupt “bye-bye.”
There are indications Trump’s decision to storm out of Wednesday’s meeting may not have been as spontaneous as he wants people to believe. The podium he used for his Rose Garden news conference was adorned with a prepared graphic about the Mueller investigation that misleadingly claimed Mueller found “NO Collusion” and “NO Obstruction.”
Democrats, for their part, aren’t about to concede that their efforts to oversee the executive branch and hold Trump accountable are nothing more than the “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” he claims it is.
As Wednesday’s theatrics illustrate, the two are stuck at an impasse. For instance, during a House Financial Services Committee earlier Wednesday morning, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin indicated the Trump administration is prepared to take the fight over Trump’s tax returns all the way to the Supreme Court, even in the face of a newly leaked IRS memo concluding the Treasury Secretary has no lawful basis for refusing to turn them over to Congress.
In the end, the idea that Pelosi and Schumer could meaningfully engage with Trump on an infrastructure bill while he refuses to let Congress conduct oversight of his administration was farcical to begin with, as this tweet from the Daily Beast’s Sam Stein indicates:
He may be defying our subpoenas, mocking our attempts at oversight, refusing to follow the law on releasing his tax returns, and barely briefing us on the intel on Iran, but we’re still eager to hear his proposed payfors on infrastructure pic.twitter.com/E583qAOrID
— Sam Stein (@samstein) May 22, 2019
Trump, for his part, is doing what he can without Congress. During the aforementioned interview with Hilton, he admitted as much when he bragged that “we’re changing laws as rapidly as we can get them through the courts” — an approach at odds with the reality that Congress is supposed to be in the business of changing laws.
Unwilling to accept the fact that Congress is an equal branch of government, Trump is leaving House Democrats with little choice but to pursue impeachment. But now that they’re getting more serious about it, he’s throwing a tantrum. And all the while the nation’s infrastructure needs continue to go unmet.
Loot, the UK digital current account for students and millennials, enters administration after a potential sale falls through
To celebrate all the people who volunteer their time to help across the country, we spoke to some of the not-for-profit organisations around Australia who rely on volunteers to make a world of difference.
The post Celebrating National Volunteer Week: Scullin Community Group appeared first on Xero Blog.
To celebrate all the people who volunteer their time to help across the country, we spoke to some of the not-for-profit organisations around Australia who rely on volunteers to make a world of difference.
The post Celebrating National Volunteer Week: Sea Turtle Foundation appeared first on Xero Blog.
We’d like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to the Coalition on its re-election over the weekend. The voters have spoken, including the nation’s small businesses. In fact, it’s estimated that one out of every seven voters was a small business owner.
The post What Australian small business wants from government appeared first on Xero Blog.
Motivation, it’s the magic ingredient that takes people and performance from good to great. As part of Xero’s global education video series, Xero Now, I was recently interviewed on how the world of academic research collides with the day-to-day realities of leading an engaged and empowered team.
The post The science of motivation: Five actions you can take to engage your team today appeared first on Xero Blog.
The post Celebrating National Volunteer Week: Clean Up Australia appeared first on Xero Blog.
There are more than 2.2 million small businesses across Australia. And with the federal election looming, the shape of their future is set to be decided in a matter of days.
The post If I was PM: What this family business owner would do differently appeared first on Xero Blog.
“We didn’t have a lot more Mother’s Day stories to tell. This will be good. This is a new place to find a story.”
Major spoilers follow for the season four finale of Superstore.
The last 10 minutes of Superstore’s season four finale, “Employee Appreciation Day” are unlike anything else the show has ever done. The corporate offices of the Cloud 9 chain of Wal-Mart-esque department stores, in an attempt to quash talk of unionizing at the location where the series is set, call in ICE. And when officers raid the store, Mateo (Nico Santos), an undocumented Filipino immigrant, is on the clock. Though his coworkers try to help him evade the officers, he’s caught and taken away.
What’s amazing about “Employee Appreciation Day” is how many different tones the episode blends. The moments in which Mateo, Amy, and Cheyenne race through the aisles of the store while Dina uses security cameras to track the ICE agents have the feel of The Bourne Identity. There’s a big group scene set in the store’s warehouse, which offers some of Superstore’s signature comedy. And the inherent idea that one of the team members could be detained or worse is very dramatic.
And that’s before you get to Amy and Jonah’s shared desire to make sure the union happens.
It’s a big, big swing for what is ultimately a pretty sprightly sitcom. But it also marks Justin Spitzer’s final episode as showrunner. Spitzer, who created Superstore, will be stepping into a consulting role for future seasons, and handing the reins to the series’ other two showrunners, Jonathan Green and Gabe Miller.
It’s not a rancorous departure, but it’s definitely one where Spitzer (who wrote this finale) leaves Green and Miller with a lot of story to untangle when season five begins.
So I wanted to ask him just where the idea for “Employee Appreciation Day” came from, what he’s thinking about as he steps back from running the show, and how Superstore might find new ways to bring conflict to the Jonah and Amy relationship. Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
What was the origin of the idea to end the season with an ICE raid and Mateo being taken away? This TV, so he probably won’t be deported, but getting out of that story is going to be a lot of work.
I don’t think that he would necessarily be deported. In fact, we had originally intended to [tell that story] earlier in the season, and as we were talking about it, we made sure that we had ways to keep him within the world of our show. I know fans will probably see this and figure, oh Mateo is deported. But he is detained, and there is a process to fighting that.
In terms of the decision to do it, it was something that we had in the back of our minds for a while. Mateo’s undocumented storyline, that arc is interesting, but we felt like it was boring to do yet more stories about — Mateo is scared he’s going to be found out. Mateo can’t do something because he’s undocumented. This was the thing that was hanging over him all this time, and it felt like, let’s just see what happens when it actually hits.
The same way, at the end of season two, you’ve got this tornado, and it could pass by the store and nothing happens. Okay, instead, let’s see what happens when the tornado actually hits.
You obviously don’t know how this story is going to shake out going forward, but did you have conversations about what the ramifications would be? You have to keep making Superstore. You have to keep making the sitcom. But this is the sort of thing that has a ripple effect for every single character. Mateo, yes, but also, like, Amy, who’s now upset with corporate. And it has an effect on all of Mateo’s friends too.
That’s tricky, because I know how we talked about [the story proceeding] midseason, but I don’t want to say anything that commits Gabe or Jonathan to anything or imply that they are going to do it in a different way.
It’s a giant change for [Mateo]. It changes our characters too because they have to deal with it, and also the talk of unions will change our characters too. At the end of the [episode], Amy says to Jonah, “What to start a union?” That has a big throw forward to the future.
I don’t anticipate that we are going to be spending whole episodes at the State Department or embassies or anything like that. I imagine that Mateo would not be deported. We’ll have to figure out how he is still part of the world, but the show continues in a slightly new way. But that is worthwhile for a show that has done 77 episodes. We didn’t have a lot more Mother’s Day stories to tell. This will be good. This is a new place to find a story.
Did you do research into actual ICE raids to figure out how this sort of thing might happen?
Yes we did. We talked to Define American, which is an advocacy group for undocumented people. We called a public relations person at ICE to ask him how various raids might go down. For instance, the uniforms would not say ICE. They say HSI. There’s different ways these raids could [go], but we wanted to make sure it was in the realm of believability.
This is weird to think about, but the finale expands Superstore’s mythology in a way. You see the corporate leaders who are making all these decisions that the characters have had to deal with all this time.
In all shows, the world slowly expands. Whether it’s The Simpsons or Parks and Rec, you need more and more people. With us, we met the [Cloud 9] CEO in the season three finale. We went to a managers’ conference midway through this season. We finally got to see what corporate looks like in the second-to-last episode and the last episode. That just sort of felt like the natural progression of the show. I don’t imagine we will spend a lot of time at corporate going forward, but it felt important to establish it.
It felt like the meeting the Others on Lost to me, honestly.
[laughs] That’s a good thing. Yes.
For a while, “Employee Appreciation Day” also hints that it might break Jonah and Amy up, over their fight about the union. But by the end, they’re drawn together more strongly. Tell me about plotting that relationship.
We originally talked about drawing out that conflict over more episodes. Not using [the union] to break them up but using it to create some tension that felt real, but wasn’t tension about whether they were going to stay together or get married, which it felt like we didn’t want to go toward yet.
Over the course of breaking the season, we really didn’t have that many episodes left, and it felt like we still wanted them to have a little bit of that tension, which then gets shattered when they learn what corporate is doing.
So much of comedy comes from conflict. It’s great when you have conflict between your central characters, and it is always tricky to find ways to have conflict where one character is not just wrong or stupid, where you can identify with both characters. [The union fight] felt like that kind of conflict.
It’s placing Amy in conflict with herself, too. She started out on the floor, and something like ICE coming into her store is against her values. But we’ve also seen just how much she likes being the manager. I’m interested in how you view her journey — especially having been on a similar journey yourself, going from a staff writer on other shows to now being in charge of one.
Amy does fight for her co-workers. As soon as she learns that ICE is coming, there is no question that she is on the side of the workers. That’s a bridge too far, and that is the thing that makes her say, “Yes, I am really happy being manager but this is more important. I’m going to give that up.” That is kind of the hero’s journey, when you are comfortable giving up that comfort because there is something greater that you are striving for.
Before [the raid], that is where things get a little complicated and real. She does believe in unions. She does stand by the workers. She’s not super pro-corporate. But she’s put into a situation where it truly looks like there is no point in unionizing because they’re going to shut down the store.
Is she going to stand by and fight this losing battle and give everything up in the fighting of it? Or is she going to do what feels like it makes the most sense both for her and for the workers but potentially compromises her values? Amy’s arc over the show is that she’s gone from someone who was a little more accepting of her lot in life [to someone who’s] learned that she’s a fighter and there are things worth fighting for. Now, it’s figuring out what is the thing that’s worth fighting for. I think in this episode, her priorities change.
Using your set for an action sequence — which sees Mateo and the others running from the ICE agents through the store’s aisles, while Dina shouts instructions at them as she watches the security cameras — was really smart. How did you put that all together? And how did you write it to align with the geography of the store?
We don’t do a lot of big action sequences, so it took some figuring out. We are a show that doesn’t move our camera very much. We’re very static in a lot of ways, so when you have a scene with that kind of dynamism, it changes things.
As for the geography, I don’t think most of our viewers are particularly aware of the geography of the store in terms of what aisle is what. In fact, they couldn’t be, because we change it all the time. We move around the store. There is no true geography. As long as you were seeing it in parts and you see them running past different aisles, you get the sense of it. We didn’t try too hard to ask, what’s the path he follows?
It’s not the kind of writing I am used to, where you look at your page, and your action lines are so much longer than your bits of dialogue. The trick, just like the trick with our show in a lot of ways, is to shoot the hell out of it and make sure to get lots of on-set moments and improv, and then figure it out [in the editing room].
You really bring back essentially every major character in this episode. I think only Amy’s ex and daughter are missing.
Them and Jerusha, I really wanted to bring them back, and we couldn’t for one reason or another. That’s my regret in this episode.
It’s funny, one piece of bringing everyone back wasn’t on purpose, but it was my last episode as showrunner, so I was excited to bring back as many of our people as possible for it. It’s like my own finale, so that felt really good.
But they are just all so great. Bo is such a funny character, Kelly is so funny, the actors are phenomenal. If we had the budget and space on set, I’d want them all to be regulars. This story felt like a good one that they would all have something to contribute to.
What prompted your decision to step down as showrunner?
It’s really two things. On, is a desire to start thinking about a few other projects, some things I have been excited to develop. The other one is just to be home a little more. My wife [Jenna Bans] runs Good Girls on NBC and really does the lion’s share of raising our children. That didn’t really feel fair. I want to be able to help out at home more, and I feel confident that the show is in good hands.
You spend a while when you have a new show trying to figure out, “What is this show? What do we do well? What don’t we do well?” It finally just felt like, okay, we have the formula, and other people can run with it.
I’m excited to see what they are going to do with it. In terms of the creation of Superstore’s DNA, it felt like that was done.
You did leave them with a pretty significant cliffhanger to resolve.
Yes, that was our ongoing joke in the room. I painted them into the tightest corner of all time and then dropped the mic and got out of town.
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Trump unveils his new immigration plan to a lukewarm crowd; African swine fever has led to a national pork supply crisis in China.
Trump’s very vague immigration plan
- Trump has revealed his newest immigration plan, which would favor young, educated immigrants over those with family ties. [Politico / Jordyn Hermani]
- The new “merit-based” system, which was spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, wouldn’t change the number of green cards allocated but prioritizes those who gain more “points” based on age, education, job offers, and English proficiency. [CNBC / Ylan Mui and Eamon Javers]
- One thing that the new plan fails to address: legal status for DREAMers. Despite Democrats’ push for new protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the plan didn’t include it because it is too “divisive.” [Washington Post / John Wagner, Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and David Nakamura]
- Unfortunately for Trump, it seems like his newest plan will be a hard sell, especially for Democrats who want to secure DACA protections and prioritize keeping together immigrant families. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the merit system for being “condescending.” [The Hill / Jordan Fabian]
- Republicans, too, seem wary of the vague nature of the plan. Not only does it leave out legal status for DREAMers, but it also fails to address the “broken” asylum system and the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. [USA Today / John Fritze, Alan Gomez and David Jackson]
- If anything, Trump’s new plan is an attempt to unite Republicans behind a unified message on immigration — an issue that has long caused so much controversy. So far, however, the reaction seems to be lukewarm at best. [CNN / Maegan Vazquez and Kevin Liptak]
Swine fever could kill a third of China’s pigs
- China’s pig livestock industry, the largest in the world, is dwindling at a rapid rate due to the African swine fever. [NYT / Mike Ives and Katherine Li]
- Experts estimate that the pig population will shrink by a third in 2019 — which would be like eliminating all the pigs in Europe and the US combined. Swine fever is so deadly for pigs because it is highly contagious, but the disease does not harm humans. [CNN / Andrew Stevens and Lily Lee]
- The disease has already spread to Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Hong Kong, and possibly North Korea. Experts worry that the swine fever will spread even further to countries that aren’t prepared to deal with the disease. [Science Magazine / Dennis Normile]
- The people of China are already feeling the effects of the soaring prices of pork, which is the staple meat for most of the country’s 1.4 billion people. Last week, China’s inflation rate jumped to its highest in six months for this very reason, and experts are concerned that the situation will only worsen. [South Morning China Post / Karen Yeung]
- The spread of swine fever also points to a larger problem: many Chinese farms have low biosecurity, partially because they cannot afford it. Diseases will continue to threaten the stability of the country’s food supply if this issue isn’t addressed. [South Morning China Post / Danny Lee]
- The impact of China’s struggling pork industry will likely affect US farmers with a sharp drop in demand for feed exports such as soybeans. [Financial Times / Emiko Terazono]
- Pop art icon Jeff Koons sold a sculpture of a rabbit at a record price for a living artist: $91 million. [Reuters]
- This German startup plans to get flying taxis up and running in six years. [CNN / Rishi Iyengar]
- Against all odds, China’s biggest import may be TikTok, the viral video sharing app. Fans say you’d have to see it for yourself to understand the user experience. [BuzzFeed News / Ryan Broderick]
- A couple snatched the deal of the night when they were accidentally served a bottle of wine that’s nearly $6,000. [USA Today / Ryan W. Miller]
- The College Board recognizes that the playing field for college preparation isn’t always even. That’s why they’re introducing “adversity scores” to capture students’ economic and social background. [The Wall Street Journal / Douglas Belkin]
“Democrats are proposing open borders, lower wages and, frankly, lawless chaos. We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages and safety of American workers first. Our proposal is pro-American, pro-immigrant and pro-worker. It’s just common sense.” [Trump during his speech announcing his new immigration plan]
Listen to this:
Brian Stelter is the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, as well as the network’s chief media correspondent. Ezra Klein sat down to interview him about the future of cable news and its effect on the political system in a new episode of The Ezra Klein Show. [Spotify | Apple Podcasts]
As anti-abortion laws sweep the country, a lot of people have questions. Here are some answers.
Four states have passed “heartbeat” bills this year alone, banning abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Alabama just passed a near-total ban on abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
And on Thursday, Missouri moved a step closer to passing a ban on abortion at eight weeks’ gestation, also without exceptions for rape or incest — the bill passed the state Senate and now returns to the House for approval.
As legislation to restrict abortion moves forward around the country, many Americans have questions about the procedure. Some wonder whether abortion is still legal (it is, in every state in the country), whether it’s on the rise (it’s not), and how recently passed laws around the country would affect patients (the answers vary by state).
To help answer these questions and more, below are 10 facts that paint a picture of abortion in America today.
1) Abortion is at an all-time low
Given recent efforts by lawmakers to restrict abortion, you might think the procedure was on the rise. In fact, it’s less common than ever before, as Sarah Kliff reported at Vox last December.
Between 2006 and 2015, the American abortion rate declined 26 percent to the lowest level on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The biggest reason for the drop, experts say, isn’t tougher abortion laws — it’s better access to contraception.
“When contraceptives aren’t available, women use abortion, even if it isn’t legally sanctioned and even if it puts them at great physical risk,” Diana Greene Foster, an associate professor at University of California San Francisco who studies abortion, told Kliff in 2016. “When contraceptives are more available, use of abortion declines.”
The recent decline in abortions may have to do, in particular, with long-acting, reversible contraceptives like IUDs, which work for years without the need to take a pill every day. In 2012, the Affordable Care Act made these forms of birth control, which can have a high upfront cost, more accessible by requiring that most employer-provided insurance plans cover them without a copay. But, as Kliff reports, Americans were already moving toward these methods — and possibly as a result, the proportion of pregnancies that were unintended dropped from 51 to 45 percent between 2008 and 2011.
2) Abortion is still common
Even though the abortion rate has declined, the procedure remains commonplace. According to a 2017 analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, 23.7 percent of women in the United States will have an abortion by the age of 45. Nineteen percent will have one by age 30, and 4.6 percent will have one by age 20.
3) Most people who have abortions already have kids
Pop-culture depictions of abortion, from the 2014 romantic comedy Obvious Child to the 2019 anti-abortion biopic Unplanned, typically feature a single, childless woman undergoing the procedure. The decision is often framed as a choice between having an abortion or becoming a parent.
But in fact, the majority of people who have abortions are already parents. As of 2014, 59 percent of people who had abortions had already given birth to at least one child, according to Guttmacher.
And while abortion is often discussed in the context of teen pregnancy, the majority of abortion patients in 2014 — 60 percent — were in their 20s. Another 25 percent were in their 30s and fewer than 4 percent were under 18.
People who get abortions are disproportionately likely to have low incomes — in 2014, 49 percent had family incomes below the poverty line.
And although religious groups have been some of the most vocal anti-abortion advocates in America, the majority of people who got abortions in 2014 identified as religious, with 17 percent listing themselves as mainline Protestant, 13 percent as evangelical, and 24 percent as Roman Catholic. The abortion rate among Catholic women was about the same as the national average, while among evangelical women it was about half the national average.
4) Four states have passed “heartbeat” bills in 2019, and Alabama just passed an even stricter law
A wave of “heartbeat” bills, which ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, has been sweeping the country in recent months. These bills ban the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant.
The first one passed in North Dakota in 2013, but they began gaining steam last year, with Iowa passing its version in May. This year, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Georgia have all passed heartbeat bills. Some of these have exceptions for cases of rape or incest; others do not.
On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law an even more restrictive bill, which bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Under the law, which is scheduled to take effect in six months, abortion would only be legal if the pregnant person’s life is at risk.
Meanwhile, the Missouri state Senate on Thursday passed a bill banning abortion at eight weeks’ gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Under the bill, which now goes back to the state House, abortion would only be legal in cases of medical emergency.
5) None of these laws are in effect yet
The heartbeat laws passed around the country have all either been challenged in court or are likely to be challenged soon. None has yet taken effect. The Alabama law has not taken effect yet either, and is likely to be challenged too.
Abortion is currently legal in all 50 states.
6) If it does take effect, the Georgia law could have an impact on people who miscarry
The Georgia “heartbeat” law, in particular, generated concern among many after Mark Joseph Stern of Slate reported that it could be used to prosecute women who seek abortions or who have a miscarriage.
At this point, reproductive rights advocates say they’re not sure if the law would ever be used in this way.
“It seems to be a stretch to what’s actually in the law and I’m really confused as to whether or not this would be possible,” Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told Vox.
Some of the confusion may stem from the way the Georgia law and others like it are written. “These are not particularly clearly drafted laws,” Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University who studies the history of the abortion debate, told Vox. “Really the rub is going to be in how these are enforced.”
If the Georgia law does go into effect, it’s more likely that a person who miscarries would be pulled into a criminal investigation of a doctor or other provider, rather than that she would face criminal charges herself, Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, told the Washington Post.
The symptoms of a miscarriage can be indistinguishable from those of an induced abortion, according to OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter. Miscarriages are extremely common, occurring in about 10 percent of recognized pregnancies, as pediatrics professor Aaron E. Carroll writes at the New York Times.
7) Many of the recently passed abortion laws are aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade
Sponsors of several recently passed abortion restrictions have said that part of their goal is to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established that Americans have the right to obtain an abortion. Since the “heartbeat” bills and the Alabama law all ban abortion long before viability, they are in clear conflict with Roe. They either have been or will be challenged in court, and the cases could make it all the way to the Supreme Court, giving the Court a chance to revisit and possibly overturn Roe.
Alabama state Rep. Terri Collins, the sponsor of her state’s recently passed abortion law, has said this is her goal. “What I’m trying to do here is get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe v. Wade can be overturned,” she told the Washington Post.
It may not work. Because the Alabama law lacks exceptions for rape and incest, it is so controversial that the Supreme Court may not want to weigh in on it. However, there are more than a dozen cases involving abortion already one step away from the Supreme Court, and the Court could choose to use any one of them to reexamine Roe. So even if the Alabama law or the “heartbeat” bills don’t end up toppling the landmark abortion decision, something else might.
8) Some recently passed or proposed bills loosen restrictions on abortion
As abortion opponents back increasingly restrictive laws at the state level, abortion-rights advocates have been supporting legislation to loosen abortion restrictions and shore up abortion access. In part, they’re preparing for the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned, giving states the right to regulate abortion as they see fit. Abortion-rights supporters want states to pass laws protecting abortion so that if Roe falls, residents of those states will still have access to the procedure.
One recent example is New York’s Reproductive Health Act, which passed in January. Among other provisions, the law allows abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is non-viable or if there is a risk to the patient’s health. Previously, most abortions after 24 weeks had been banned in New York.
Another recent effort to loosen restrictions happened in Virginia, where state legislators proposed a bill that would have broadened the circumstances under which someone could get an abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy. That bill was eventually tabled after sparking nationwide controversy, which started when the bill’s sponsor said in a hearing that the bill would allow an abortion if a patient was going into labor.
The sponsor later said that she misspoke, and Dr. Kristyn Brandi, an OB-GYN and board member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Vox, “patients do not request abortion when they are in labor and doctors do not provide it.”
But controversy around the bill continued when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, asked about the bill during a radio interview, said that if a mother was in labor, “the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Some took these comments as an endorsement of infanticide. A spokesperson for the governor said he was “absolutely not” referring to infanticide, but his comments led President Trump and others to claim, repeatedly, that doctors in America are killing babies after birth and that legislation is needed to stop it.
9) Abortion laws do not allow infants to be killed after birth
In reality, no abortion law — not the Virginia bill, the New York law, or any other — allows doctors to kill babies after they are born. This is already illegal everywhere in the United States.
10) The majority of abortions happen early in pregnancy
Though much conversation recently has focused on abortions that happen later in pregnancy (“late-term abortion” is not a medically accurate phrase), more than 90 percent of abortions happen within the first trimester, or about the first three months.
Only 1.4 percent of abortions happen at 21 weeks’ gestation or later, according to Planned Parenthood.
Patients who seek abortion later in pregnancy may have recently found out about a serious fetal abnormality, some of which are not discovered until 20 weeks or later. Others may have had trouble getting to a clinic.
“I’m at a center where I’m the referral center for the state, and so patients that are seeking care elsewhere may get referred to me and I’m often hours away from where they initially sought care,” Brandi explained to Vox earlier this year. “So it takes a while for them to get up to see me, and that includes not just the time it takes to come up here but also making sure they have child care for the children they already have, getting transportation. There’s so many different types of barriers that are created for health care in general, but specifically abortion care.”
A petition to remake Game of Thrones’ 8th season offers a revealing glimpse of wider fandom backlash
More than half a million fans are asking HBO to remake Game of Thrones’ final season.
More than half a million fans are demanding that HBO “remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers,” just days before the season — and series — finale. While the online petition has rapidly racked up signatures since it went viral just one day ago, the number represents a small fraction of Game of Thrones’ immense fan base. But what it does provide is a stark glimpse at just how fierce the larger fandom-wide backlash over this season has grown.
A Game of Thrones fan created the petition on Change.org a week ago, on May 9 — several days before the cataclysmically divisive, penultimate episode of the series, “The Bells,” aired on May 12. But the petition didn’t pick up traction until it garnered media attention on May 15. At that point, it was gaining steam and had almost reached an earlier target of 15,000 signatures. As of this writing, on May 16, that number has leaped to nearly 500,000 signatures.
The rate of signatures seems to be slowing, and Change.org petitions are typically performative and rarely actionable. It’s also hardly a significant number next to the average viewership of Game of Thrones, which has typically drawn around 17 million viewers per episode so far this season. But the fact that so many people are angry enough to ask for a complete do-over indicates that the fandom’s overall level of discontent is very high indeed.
Throughout the season, fans and critics have admonished Game of Thrones’ showrunners for everything from poor character development to bad pacing and rushed storylines, and for production issues ranging from dark lighting to wayward coffee cups. “The Bells,” however, helped crystallize much of this fomenting dissatisfaction around a hugely polarizing twist in which Daenerys Targaryen effectively morphed into the villain of the series, after a full eight seasons of being presented as an unconventional savior and heroic figure — even a feminist one.
“Justice for [Daenerys’s] character assassination and the characters’ poorly rushed story arcs,” exclaimed one of the petition’s signatories.
“It’s the fact Season 8 was rushed with so few eps,” wrote another. “[E]verything just felt so sudden and fast with no build up! It was just Bang Boom White Walkers beat, Bang Boom suddenly Danny is the Mad Queen!”
The request for a do-over may seem entitled at a glance, but perhaps it’s not that unreasonable, especially considering that we’re living in an age when superhero franchises reboot themselves every few years or so. Rebooting or releasing a new adaptation also happens often with anime, especially if the manga a show is based on goes somewhere different than its initial anime did. It’s very plausible that this scenario could come to pass if George R.R. Martin ever finishes the Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novel series on which Game of Thrones is based, considering how much time the author has taken to release each installment thus far. So the idea of a remake that attempts to capture some of the threads and characters that the show omitted isn’t entirely out of left field.
But even if HBO were to reboot the series, there’s a good chance fans would take issue with the new vision of the series, too. That’s because at this point, Game of Thrones fandom is a fractured fan base, not a united one. Viewers include die-hard book fans who’ve been in the fandom for more than 15 years at this point. There are also Targaryen loyalists who have built their fandom around the idea of Daenerys as a feminist queen. There’s a whole subculture of fans who still want Stannis Baratheon to be king (seriously).
Some people are mainly watching because they’re invested in certain ships; and then there are casual fans who don’t have any deeper attachments but want to see their favorite characters get happy endings. There are hardcore show fans who refuse to go anywhere near the books or spoilers, and hardcore book fans who obsess over the differences between the show and the novels. Entire forums have been devoted over the years to tracking down, discussing, and analyzing spoilers from upcoming seasons and individual episodes, to the extent that Game of Thrones spoilers practically have their own sub-fandom.
In essence, whenever you have a fandom this big, the culture of that fandom will be divergent and multifaceted. Game of Thrones fandom is, in essence, like a microcosm of the internet at this point — something as far from a monolith as civilization itself.
So while it can be fun to watch the petition’s number of signatures go up, it’s worth remembering that Game of Thrones fans don’t exactly have a unified vision of how their beloved show should end. What is clear, however, is that while fans may not all be mad about the same things, many of them are definitely mad. After eight seasons, Game of Thrones is going out in a blaze — but maybe not of glory.
Twitter isn’t real life, but it still influences the president’s policies, according to a new Politico report.
For avid Twitter user President Donald Trump, social media is more than just a means of communication. It is also a guide to policy.
That’s the main takeaway from Andrew Restuccia, Daniel Lippman, and Eliana Johnson’s Politico profile of Dan Scavino, Trump’s long-standing social media guru and newly promoted senior adviser for digital strategy.
Trump is interested in data — but only his version of “Trumpian data, which means it’s a little bit of cotton candy and it’s not grounded in reality,” Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien told Politico.
Scavino uses these data points to reassure the president that he and his policy choices are beloved, Politico reports. He’s always by Trump’s side, answering questions about how Trump’s tweets are doing or providing feedback based on what he’s heard on social media — and, in some cases, using that feedback to guide policy discussions. In one eye-catching anecdote that Restuccia, Lippman, and Johnson recount, lawmakers were trying to convince the president not to follow through on his plan to withdraw US troops from Syria. Trump reportedly “responded by calling in the man who oversees his Twitter account”:
“Get Dan Scavino in here,” Trump called out in the middle of the meeting earlier this year. In walked a man in his early 40s with close-cropped brown hair.
“Tell them how popular my policy is,” Trump instructed Scavino, who, according to two people with knowledge of the exchange, proceeded to walk lawmakers through the positive reaction he had picked up on social media about Trump’s Syria decision.
The sudden pivot from geostrategy to retweets and likes surprised the lawmakers. It was a remarkable moment given that not long ago Scavino was managing Trump’s golf club. But for Scavino himself, it was just another day on the job.
In an interview with Politico, Trump downplayed Scavino’s actual influence on policy, saying that the aide did not want to get too involved. But based on Politico’s report, Scavino is at least one of Trump’s “closest confidants.”
Once the general manager of Trump’s golf club in Westchester County, New York, Savino has now been described by the president himself as an essential piece of his reelection campaign.
Scavino collaborates with the president on tweets and keeps up with Trump’s order to keep a tally of all of his followers across multiple social media sites — all without trying to constrain him. It is this “let Trump be Trump” attitude that has secured his position in the White House, according to Politico. It also means that he will most likely continue to help Trump use social media as a way to justify his most radical policy ideas.
Twitter, however, isn’t representative of real-life American voters. Even discounting that Trump’s followers may be more in line with his views than most social media users (US Twitter users are younger and more Democratic than the general public, according to an April survey from Pew Research Center), the feedback he’s getting from social media probably still comes from a limited pool. That same Pew survey also found that just 10 percent of users create 80 percent of tweets.
Social media sites are nevertheless, according to Politico, one of Trump’s most important pools of info on American voters.
The bill would prohibit the state government from refusing to do business with companies because of their religious affiliations.
In March, the San Antonio City Council voted to remove a proposed Chick-fil-A location from its airport concession agreement, citing the fast food chain’s record of donating to organizations that discriminated against LGBTQ people. Now, conservatives in the Texas state legislature are trying to pass a law that would ensure something like that never happens again.
On Wednesday night, the state Senate passed a bill that would forbid the government from penalizing businesses (and individuals) on the basis of their charitable giving or religious affiliation, the Dallas Morning News reports. The bill, which supporters call the “Save Chick-fil-A bill,” now has to pass in the state Senate once more before moving to the House.
If it passes, the bill would prohibit any government entity from taking “adverse actions” against an individual or business for their “membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support to a religious organization.” It’s impossible to not see this bill as an explicit defense of Chick-fil-A, which continues to make headlines for its charitable donations to organizations that discriminate against LGBTQ people, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a religious organization that requires its employees to refrain from “homosexual acts.” In March, ThinkProgress reported that Chick-fil-A continued to donate to such organizations despite claiming it would no longer do so.
The bill’s supporters say it’s a way for the state to protect the rights of businesses like Chick-fil-A. “I think you’ll find this is a reasonable response, this is a legitimate approach to defending First Amendment speech,” state Sen. Bryan Hughes told the Dallas Morning News.
But the bill’s opponents say it would give legal cover to those who discriminate against others based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. State Sen. José Menéndez told the News the bill wouldn’t just protect Chick-fil-A, but also hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. “These are the groups that we worry about getting protection in your bill,” Menéndez said. “These are the people who openly espouse their hatred for our citizens.”
Chick-fil-A, for its part, has claimed in the past that its donations to groups that discriminate against LGBTQ people shouldn’t be interpreted as homophobic. In March, a Chick-fil-A spokesperson told Vox that the “sole focus of our donations was to support causes focused on youth and education. We are proud of the positive impact we are making in communities across America and have been transparent about our giving on our website. To suggest our giving was done to support a political or non-inclusive agenda is inaccurate and misleading.”
In other words, Chick-fil-A wants to be able to continue to donate to the organizations it supports without being punished for it. The proposed legislation, meanwhile, would punish government entities for refusing to do business with companies that choose to align themselves with discriminatory organizations.
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Four House of Representatives members want to tackle the issues unique to women service members and veterans.
A record number of women service members and veterans — four in total — are serving in the House of Representatives.
Even that small number is a sign of a changing US military, as more and more women are now serving in the US armed forces, national guard, and reserves. Which is why these four women veteran representatives just founded their own House caucus.
The Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus, which officially launched Wednesday at a press conference outside the Capitol, is the first caucus dedicated to the issues that women service members and veterans face.
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), an Air Force veteran elected in 2018, will chair the caucus. Her fellow female veterans and co-founders, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) will serve as vice chairs.
Houlahan told me Wednesday that her staff alerted her to the fact that, after the 2018 election — which saw a historic number of women elected — the number of female veterans doubled. While you’re still able to count them on one hand, she said, it was “a realization that we needed to do something with our doubling in size.”
In total, about 50 House members have joined the bipartisan caucus to support the goals of the group. “We four women will lead from our lived experiences serving this country and are flanked by men and women, Republicans and Democrats,” Houlahan said during the press conference on Wednesday. “We have a mission to serve the women who are and have served this country.”
The caucus will work to shape and influence policies for those women serving or who have served. That includes everything from medical care and treatment for women, improved access to child care, finding ways to help women advance in the military, and uniform and equipment issues. The caucus will also tackle issues around sexual assault in the military. A recent Pentagon survey showed that there was a spike in assaults against female service members in 2018.
Houlahan, during the press conference, brought up her own struggles with finding child care in the military, which ultimately derailed her service. She gave birth to her first child 27 years ago, when she was a lieutenant in the Air Force. The on-base child care had a six-month waiting list; the cost of private child care was too high.
“There I was with a new baby, a mission dealing with ballistic missile, no viable options for childcare and working within a system that had not caught up,” Houlahan said during the press conference. “So I decided to separate from the Air Force.”
Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate and member of Hawaii’s national guard who deployed to Iraq and later Kuwait, said during the press conference that women now represent about 16 percent of enlisted forces and 18 percent of the office corps, with more serving in the National Guard and reserves. That share is expected to only increase.
Even so, the voices of women in the military are not always heard, or accurately represented, Gabbard said. To remedy that, this caucus will “look at the complete arc of the experience of women who serve,” in their recruitment, training, time in the service, and, finally, as veterans.
Dunkin’, Disney+, Impossible Burgers: Who comes up with this stuff?
For a while in the early 2010s, every brand name seemed to contain an ampersand. The product didn’t matter — it could be jewelry (Stella & Dot), athleisure (Kit & Ace), makeup (Smith & Cult), lingerie (Me & You), perfume (D.S. & Durga), watches (Larsson & Jennings), shoes (Mara & Mine), hair care (Original & Mineral), eyeglasses (Sheriff & Cherry), swimwear (Kopper & Zinc), or teen clothing (Pull & Bear), okay, you get it. The ampersand, it was thought, added a cutesy, homespun touch.
It also didn’t matter where you were shopping; You could be in a crowded department store or behind your computer screen and these brands at least sounded like they belonged in a charming boutique just off Main Street.
These days, you won’t see a ton of ampersands anymore. We’ve moved on to other things — simple, conversational phrases like “Hello Fresh” and “feelings” words like, say, “impossible.” Naming trends, just like design trends, come in waves, and they typically respond to those that came before them.
To keep up with this constant zigzagging of which forms of English can sell, brands hire people like Rachel Bernard. She’s had some extremely cool job titles, like the Director of Naming and Vice President of Verbal Strategy at major agencies, and is now a freelance creative strategist, where she helps companies determine product strategy.
I spoke to Rachel, who comes from a background in linguistics, on how companies land on names for everything from pants to pizza, how AI is changing the way we name stuff, and why becoming the “Kleenex” of a category is actually a kiss of death.
How’d you get to become a professional brand namer?
It’s kind of a funny story — I have a degree in linguistics and classical languages, and I wanted to move to New York and started working retail until I could figure it out. I was working at the JCrew in Rockefeller Center and any time a woman that looked remotely successful came in, I would ask them “What do you do? Do you like it? Do you think I might like it?”
There was one woman who actually took pity on me, and I said, “I have this linguistics degree and maybe I can be a copy editor for legal documents.” She said, “You seem like an interesting person and that sounds phenomenally boring. Have you ever heard of branding?”
I originally came from Kansas, I didn’t have much of a network in New York, so I was working my network as hard as I could and got my first job at Interbrand in the verbal identity team.
You’ve had some really cool job titles, like the Director of Naming, Vice President of Verbal Identity — what does someone like that make?
If you’re working at a branding agency and you’re consulting and solving bigger challenges, that’s $100,000-plus territory.
There are lots of people that you’ll find on LinkedIn that are namers and they’re just churning out big lists of names in their basement. The way I would look at it is the difference between a creative director and a freelance designer.
What’s a name that you’re really proud of coming up with?
Most businesses or most brands don’t want to admit that they couldn’t do it themselves. There’s that origin story of, “We were a brand built in a garage and were walking by campus and saw an apple and thought, ‘Why not just call the business Apple?’” Everybody is craving that origin story and nobody wants to admit that they didn’t name their own baby. My NDAs are pretty tight.
What comes first, the design or the name?
If you work in consumer packaged goods, most of those people came to creative director positions through design. A lot of them want to start with a design and then treat naming as an afterthought, and I think that’s one of the most significant pitfalls when it comes to naming. A name’s trademark makes it super precious and really valuable, versus design, which doesn’t have that trademark process unless you’re talking about a logo. The design can work around a name, but the name can’t work around the design. I’ll look at brands on the shelves and be able to recognize that they started with a design and had to slap this name on it at the last minute. They have no relationship to each other.
How do you know when something’s a good name?
What separates people who do this for a living from people who don’t is you have to be really flexible in your voice. When I hire, I’m looking for people that can write in super technical European automotive speak and switch into something that’s very conversational and consumer-y.
The name that is most successful is the one that fits the strategy, and that strategy is going to be really different. Sometimes the project calls for a descriptive name and it needs to be really boring. But sometimes they need to be crazy and disruptive because there are tons of people in this category and in order to stand out, you need a really unique name. Both of those can be really successful.
I’m just looking for believability. Things that are ultra-contrived, where the spelling is tortured or it has that nineties dot-com [sound], where I just put this random word together with this random word, like “BlueRocket” or something, those don’t get very far.
Tell me what you mean by descriptive versus disruptive names.
Vitamin Water is the most descriptive name that exists. It really is tied to an expected functional benefit of the product. If you’re in water or hydration, anything that talks about purity or crispness or a source, those would be more descriptive. Something more abstract would be either completely made-up and coined, or it has little relationship to the category itself, is disruptive.
When you’re looking at whether to go with a descriptive or disruptive name, is that one of the first conversations you have?
A lot of times you would use a disruptive brand name to mitigate risk, so if the corporate company thinks it makes sense to go into this business but it’s maybe not aligned to what their corporation stands for, it’s almost the naming version of creating a shell company.
If you really want to separate in order to protect an asset, you would do that. So Google, when they created Alphabet, it set the stage at a corporate level of saying “Google is a really highly valuable asset and what that has done for us is take this spirit of being courageous and making bold business choices away from us,” because the risk to Google was so tremendous. What it does as a brand is incubate those discussions. So there’s Google, which is a little less risk-averse, that’s doing all of the things that you expect Google to do, but the parent company has freed itself up to make bolder, riskier choices.
Could it work the opposite way? Say someone wants to start a brand but they’re not quite sure about the viability of the industry, so they gave it a really vague name so that they could then pivot to something else?
For sure. I think if Apple had to do it over again, they would not have named their streaming platform iTunes. They would’ve named it “Stream,” or named it after a river, where it was more tied to the benefit of a streaming portal, versus music.
You gave the example of BlueRocket, which is really funny. How else do you know when something is a bad name?
First and foremost, the names I see on every list: Mosaic, Apex, Forte. Those are the type of names where I can really tell somebody went straight to the thesaurus. The other — and I think we talked about this is contrivance — anything that’s too tortured in its origin but also really hard to say or pronounce.
How do you decide on a masculine-sounding or feminine-sounding name?
That’s changed a lot, which is really exciting. Masculine and feminine used to be something that would appear on a clients’ creative brief in early days of my career and it was easy to understand what that meant. Feminine was soft and liquidy sounds, like “ooh” and “aah” or lots of vowels. Masculine sounds were always going to be hard stops, rougher edges, or shorter. And now, they’re just not useful. Culturally, we’re expanding a lot more in what our definition of femininity is and what masculinity is, so they’re just not as useful as they used to be.
I did work on what was supposed to be an energy drink for women and I fought and was not really successful in preventing them from saying “energy drink for women” on the can. It’s one of those messages that’s better left unspoken. That’s always my guidance to clients.
I imagine you have some strong feelings on the new line of makeup for men called War Paint?
I do. I have a group text with all of my namer friends [about it]. I feel like they didn’t do a lot of consumer research. If you’re already participating in that category, you’re already interested in it, you don’t need to over index on “war” or overcompensation.
Where do trends in naming come from?
They happen in the same way design trends happen; it’s just catching up with the culture. Wherever there’s economic opportunity, marketers are going to follow that. The other thing that happens a lot is there can be technology or trademark factors that constrain naming more than other marketing fields. For example, we used to have all of these really abstract names like Dasani or what Kraft did in becoming Mondelez and that’s 100 percent a tactic about overcoming trademark hurdles.
The other factor coming up a lot more is voice recognition and AI. Names that are spelled weird or might have a tough time pronouncing is not a trick you can use anymore. As a compensation, we’re seeing interesting symbolic language or metaphors, like calling your makeup Herbivore, because it’s plant-based makeup. It’s a real word, easy to spell, a lot of people know it, but it’s just kind of slightly outside the category that it makes it ownable, but it also helps with the constraints that technology is presenting.
Also podcasts — it’s a cool throwback thinking about how your brand would sound on an audio medium versus television. I think those are two really interesting factors that are emerging and I don’t think we’ve had a really good solve for it yet.
Is there a naming trend that you have very strong feelings about?
Faux origins, like Haagen-Dazs, which appears to be German. The ampersand, Williamsburg, Brooklyn brand, like, Stanley & Kerr, that faux-heritage “random-word-ampersand-random-word.” I hardly see any of that anymore, thank goodness.
What are some naming trends you’re noticing right now?
Everybody read this marketing and branding book called Start With Why, which is about why you exist as a company, and [companies] took it literally, like naming your brand Method or Ethos or Impossible. There are only so many of those thinking or feeling words, so what I do see is people playing in more symbolic territory. Don’t just give me the dictionary definition of what your purpose stands for, come up with a symbol that encapsulates that or represents it.
We’re also starting to see a lot more banal, conversational names, like Hello Fresh or a convenience store called Yes Way.
What’s causing a lot of head-scratching is voice activation and the role names that are said and not seen. Are you going to say, “Alexa, order some detergent,” or is there a word you could use to force the brand back into that conversation, whether it’s Tide or Gain, so being top of mind and almost being associated with the category itself. Typically, that’s not a good practice in naming. That’s how you lose your trademark, like Xerox almost losing its trademark because it became category generic.
Are you saying it’s bad marketing for brands like Xerox and Kleenex to become shorthand for the entire category?
There’s a technical term for it — “generified” — and I have a lot of clients that say, “I want to be Kleenex! I want to be Google!” But for every one of those, there are hundreds and hundreds that have actually lost their trademark. “Trampoline” used to be somebody’s trademark, but through that process, they eventually lost it. It’s a cautionary tale that I have to tell lots of clients, but everybody is optimistic and thinks they’re going to be Google and not “trampoline.” It’s very hard to police consumer language.
Have there been any naming controversies recently that you can recall? I’m thinking of the one episode in 30 Rock where they name GE’s new pocket microwave the “Bite-Nuker” and it turned out to be a swear word in French and Dutch.
Oh, sure. In addition to trademark screening, we always do linguistic screening before we present names to clients. I’ve never worked on a naming project where there isn’t something on the list that is really offensive in other languages. It’s just the nature of language that there are only so many syllables and sounds that you will more likely than not find something that sounds offensive.
The one thing that makes me cringe right now is I worked on a project for the [Japanese] retail brand Rakuten. Many years ago, before they made the move to the US, they were planning on expanding globally and they wanted a linguistic disaster check. I helped them with it, and it means the c-word in, I want to say, Norwegian. I checked with multiple native speakers living in the country and they all said yes, it is an obvious association. I’m very curious if they’re marketing it in that part of Europe.
Another thing we’ve seen a lot of lately is brands tweaking their name to something more general, like Dunkin’ Donuts dropping the donuts, Domino’s Pizza dropping the pizza, and Weight Watchers going to WW. What’s that about?
That’s future-proofing your brand name. Name ambitiously and name for what you think your category might likely evolve into. Pizza Hut really tried to make the “Hut” happen because they find themselves in the same scenario that other pizza brands do: It’s a declining category, and what made sense was to have a descriptive name in the beginning. But that’s not going to serve you in the long haul. Domino’s is a much easier name because it has a really ownable element, compared to Pizza Hut. But you will never overcome the hard work of what comes next, which is credible standing for something more than pizza. People aren’t knocking down their door to get a sub.
Dunkin’ is going to kill it. They’re doing a great job, because people already call them Dunkin’. There was nobody calling Weight Watchers WW, and that’s where they are struggling. Consumers give you your nickname, not the other way around.
Lastly, what’s your favorite brand or product name of all time?
I’m going to give a shoutout to Impossible Burger. I just love that name, I think it’s such a bold choice. It’s accessible and passes my believability test. I also just love the guts — if you’re going to name it something like that, you better have a product to back it up.
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