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CFO Insider

Over a Quarter of Businesses Plan to Relocate Outside the UK 

Better amenities, talent pools, tax breaks, affordable real estate and increased odds of success are just a few of the reasons businesses choose to relocate. A new address has the potential to improve profitability, provide access to new markets, increase employee happiness and even lower the overall costs of doing business. With Brexit uncertainty in […]

The post Over a Quarter of Businesses Plan to Relocate Outside the UK  appeared first on CEO Magazine.

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Bold Moves: How Three Companies Recruit In A Tight Labor Market

In a tight labor market, the best strategy for luring top talent is to brandish an exciting culture of innovation. Oh, and sunshine doesn’t hurt, either—at least according to three top business leaders from Universal Orlando Resort, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) and AdventHealth.

The post Bold Moves: How Three Companies Recruit In A Tight Labor Market appeared first on ChiefExecutive.net.

Instagram’s IGTV copies TikTok’s AI, Snapchat’s design

Instagram conquered Stories, but it’s losing the battle for the next video formats. TikTok is blowing up with an algorithmically suggested vertical one-at-a-time feed featuring videos of users remixing each other’s clips. Snapchat Discover’s 2 x infinity grid has grown into a canvas for multi-media magazines, themed video collections and premium mobile TV shows. Instagram’s […]

In-car commerce startup Cargo extends Uber partnership to Brazil

Cargo, the startup that brings the convenience store into ride-hailing vehicles, is making its first international expansion through an exclusive partnership with Uber in Brazil. Uber drivers in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will now be able to sign up for Cargo and potentially earn additional income by selling products to passengers during their […]

MIT and US Air Force team up to launch AI accelerator

The Pentagon is one of the largest technology customers in the world, purchasing everything from F-35 planes (roughly $90 million each) to cloud services (the JEDI contract was $10 billion). Despite outlaying hundreds of billions of dollars for acquisitions though, the Defense Department has struggled to push nascent technologies from startups through its punishing procurement […]

Robin picks up $20 million Series B to optimize the office

Robin Powered, a startup looking to help offices run better, has today announced the close of a $20 million Series B funding. The round was led by Tola Capital, with existing investors Accomplice and FirstMark participating in the round, along with a new strategic Allegion Ventures. Robin started as part of an agency called One […]

Clinc raises $52M Series B as it marches toward IPO

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Clinc is today announcing a $52 million Series B. The company behind the conversational AI platform netted cash from Insight Partners, DFJ Growth, Drive Capital, Hyde Park Venture Partners and others. This round of financing brings Clinc’s total amount of funding to $60 million and will help Clinc scale its conversational AI […]

Myneral.me wins the TechCrunch Hackathon at VivaTech

It’s been a long night at VivaTech. The building hosted a very special competition — the TechCrunch Hackathon in Paris. Hundreds of engineers and designers got together to come up with something cool, something neat, something awesome. The only condition was that they only had 36 hours to work on their projects. Some of them […]

Starbucks’ Chinese nemesis surges 20% in public debut

Shares of Luckin Coffee jumped 20% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq stock market. After opening at $17.00, shares of the Chinese Starbucks competitor climbed as high as $25.96, or more than 50%, before settling back down to $20.38 at the market’s close. The company has a market cap north of $5 […]

Credder offers Rotten Tomatoes-style ratings for the news

In an age of online misinformation and clickbait, how do you know whether a publication is trustworthy? Startup Credder is trying to solve this problem with reviews from both journalists and regular readers. These reviews are then aggregated into an overall credibility score (or rather, scores, since the journalist and reader ratings are calculated separately). So […]

Under the hood on Zoom’s IPO, with founder and CEO Eric Yuan

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Kate Clark sat down with Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of video communications startup Zoom, to go behind the curtain on the company’s recent IPO process and its path […]

Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann is coming to Disrupt SF

It’s a busy time for Postmates . The logistics and delivery company is prepping for its IPO on the back of a fresh $100 million raise in February. However, founder and CEO Bastian Lehmann is still carving out some time from his schedule to join us at Disrupt San Francisco in October. Before Postmates, Lehmann […]

Superstore’s finale changes everything. Showrunner Justin Spitzer explains.

Jonah and Amy fight a lot in this episode — until they don’t.

“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.

Todd VanDerWerff

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.

Justin Spitzer

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.

SuperstoreTyler Golden/NBC
Mateo is in trouble as season four ends.

Todd VanDerWerff

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.

Justin Spitzer

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.

Todd VanDerWerff

Did you do research into actual ICE raids to figure out how this sort of thing might happen?

Justin Spitzer

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.

Todd VanDerWerff

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.

Justin Spitzer

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.

Todd VanDerWerff

It felt like the meeting the Others on Lost to me, honestly.

Justin Spitzer

[laughs] That’s a good thing. Yes.

Todd VanDerWerff

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.

Justin Spitzer

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.

Todd VanDerWerff

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.

Justin Spitzer

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.

SuperstoreTyler Golden/NBC
Amy and Cheyenne work to help Mateo escape the store.

Todd VanDerWerff

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?

Justin Spitzer

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].

Todd VanDerWerff

You really bring back essentially every major character in this episode. I think only Amy’s ex and daughter are missing.

Justin Spitzer

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.

Todd VanDerWerff

What prompted your decision to step down as showrunner?

Justin Spitzer

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.

Todd VanDerWerff

You did leave them with a pretty significant cliffhanger to resolve.

Justin Spitzer

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.

Superstore airs Thursdays at 8 pm Eastern on NBC. The first four seasons are available on Hulu. Season five will air in the fall. I promise you that you’ll like this show if you watch it.

Companies Lose Millions by Side-lining Procurement Teams, Research Shows 

Businesses failing to use procurement specialists to ensure they get best value from Third-Party Logistics suppliers (3PLs) are potentially losing millions, according to the latest research from leading supply chain and logistics consultancy SCALA. SCALA surveyed a selection of the UK’s best-known businesses and 3PLs (whose revenue runs into the billions and whose number of clients run into the thousands) […]

The post Companies Lose Millions by Side-lining Procurement Teams, Research Shows  appeared first on CEO Magazine.

Vox Sentences: China’s national pork crisis

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what’s happening in the world. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

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

 Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • 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]

Miscellaneous

  • 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]

Verbatim

“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]


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Abortion in America, explained in 10 facts

An activist with the Handmaids Coalition of Georgia stands outside the Georgia Capitol after an event protesting the recently passed “heartbeat” bill on May 16, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia.

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.

Positive feedback from Twitter is reportedly all Trump needs to push policies

President Donald Trump.

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.

Texas may pass a “Save Chick-fil-A” bill

Drive-through customers wait in line at a Chick-fil-A restaurant on August 1, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas. 

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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There’s a record number of women vets in Congress. They just formed their own caucus.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), one of the members of the women veterans House caucus, on March 18, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

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.

Brand names have gotten weirder. A professional namer explains why.

Who comes up with these names?

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.

 Rachel Bernard
Rachel Bernard.

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.

 Vitamin Water/Facebook

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.

 War Paint

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.

 Impossible Foods

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.

 Dunkin’/Facebook

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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Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is ramping up stablecoin support around the world. Customers can now trade USD Coin (or USDC for short) in 85 countries — USDC support was only available in the U.S., excluding New York. You can trade USDC on both Coinbase and Coinbase Pro. The company has been aggressive when it comes to […]

Tempo Automation raises $45M Series C for its turnkey circuit board manufacturing solution

Tempo Automation, a San Francisco-based startup that helps shorten the time from prototype to production for electronics manufacturers, announced today that it has raised a $45 million Series C led by returning investor Point72 Ventures. The round also includes new investor Lockheed Martin and existing investors Lux Capital and Uncork Capital. The company’s turnkey solution […]

EV startup Rimac scores $90M investment from Hyundai and Kia

Rimac Automobili, the European EV startup that landed an investment from Porsche last year, has again gained the backing of traditional automakers after Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors jointly invested €80 million, or around $90 million. Beyond the significant cash infusion, the three parties said the deal includes “a strategic partnership to collaborate on […]

Healthcare booking platform DocPlanner scores €80M Series E

DocPlanner, the Poland-founded healthcare booking platform that now processes 1.5 million bookings every month globally, has closed €80 million in Series E financing. The round is led by One Peak Partners and Goldman Sachs Private Capital, with existing investors Piton Capital and ENERN Investments also participating, and brings total raised to date to around €130 […]

Pleo, the multi-card business spending platform, closes $56M Series B

Pleo, the Danish fintech that offers a “business spending platform” that lets companies easily issue employees with cards and manage expenditure, has raised a hefty $56 million in Series B funding. Leading the round is Stripes, the New York-based growth fund, with participation from existing investors, Kinnevik, Creandum and Founders. I understand that the new […]

Vox Sentences: The far-right White House guest

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what’s happening in the world. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

Trump meets with Hungary’s far-right prime minister; Sri Lanka imposes its third social media ban following the Easter bombings.


Trump welcomes Hungary’s authoritarian leader

 AFP/Getty Images
  • President Trump welcomed Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the White House today, and some are worried that the president is adding another authoritarian to his list of allies. [NYT / Benjamin Novak and Patrick Kingsley]
  • The Trump administration has characterized the meeting as a strategic attempt to reengage with Central European countries as Russia and China attempt to interfere in the region. [NPR / Joanna Kakissis]
  • Orbán is a controversial figure because of his attempts to erode democracy in Hungary, such as blocking independent media and putting limits on elections. He’s also staunchly anti-immigrant and has erected a fence to keep migrants out. [Bloomberg / Margaret Talev and Zoltan Simon]
  • Orbán’s last meeting with a US president was with Bill Clinton, and back then, he was still a young centrist. Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both avoided meetings with Orbán. [PBS / Layla Quran]
  • Some have expressed concerns that Trump is welcoming another leader that further isolates him from America’s traditional, more liberal, allies in Europe. [CNN / Kevin Liptak]
  • Orbán’s “soft fascism” — a system that stomps out dissent without taking hard measures — could also be a chilling guideline for Trump and the GOP if their desire for power trumps their respect for democracy, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp writes. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]

Violence in Sri Lanka sparks a social media ban and curfew

  • Sri Lanka blocked social media for the third time since the Easter bombings, and imposed a nighttime curfew following incidents of anti-Muslim violence. [BBC]
  • It’s been three weeks since Islamist militants targeted Sri Lanka on Easter to set off bombs that killed more than 200 people. Since then, religious tensions have been growing, and anti-Muslim riots have been happening for the past two days. [CNN / Rishi Iyengar]
  • The government will temporarily ban apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Viber (a popular messaging app in the country) in hope of curtailing hate messages and false information. A nationwide curfew is also imposed from 9 pm to 4 am. [UPI / Ed Adamczyk]
  • The new restrictions follow a series of violent incidents against Muslims in parts of North Western Province, which include attacks on mosques and damage to shops and businesses run by Muslim owners. [Reuters / Alexandra Ulmer and Omar Rajarathnam]
  • Authorities believe the attacks were sparked in part by a Facebook post from a Muslim shopkeeper. Local Christians from his town of Chilaw, who interpreted the post as a sign of imminent violence, sacked the man’s shop and vandalized a nearby mosque. [Guardian / Michael Safi]
  • Some have praised the country’s efforts to shut down the spread of misinformation through social media during hectic times. But others have expressed concern that the country, which is already incredibly restrictive of the media, is expanding its reach to social media as well. [BuzzFeed News / Pranav Dixit]
  • People are also pointing out how this incident fits in into the troubling trend of violence against Muslims following the Easter bombings. [Al Jazeera]

Miscellaneous

  • An Australian university’s library was evacuated after staff thought a pungent smell indicated a gas leak. Turns out the culprit was durian, a very smelly but delicious fruit. [CNN / Jack Guy]
  • Electric scooters are a fun way to get around the city. They’ve also led to hundreds of injuries, both big and small. [Chicago Tribune / Mary Wisniewski]
  • Scientists have long thought that the radiation from the Chernobyl disaster wreaked havoc on the wildlife surrounding the area. There are growing voices, however, that claim the contrary: The ecosystem seems to be thriving in a land completely void of humanity. [Wired / Adam Rogers]
  • A Danish politician decided to reach out to constituents by taking out ads on a rather unconventional platform: Pornhub. [Politico / Paul Dallison]
  • With just 80,000 koalas remaining in Australia, the Australian Koala Foundation says the species is “functionally extinct” and at risk of not being able to sustain future generations. [Newsweek / Christine Adams-Hosking]

Verbatim

“I know he’s a tough man but he’s a respected man. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s OK. That’s OK.” [President Trump on Hungary’s Prime Minsiter Viktor Orbán during a photo op before talks began this morning]


Watch this: How Game of Thrones uses costume design to show power

Costume design links Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister. [YouTube / Genevieve Valentine, Gina Barton, and Bridgett Henwood]


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People say they care about privacy but buy devices that can spy on them anyway

Would you trust a smart fridge? What if it’s really, really convenient?

Experts explain why people are giving mixed signals about smart tech.

Many of us are in unhealthy relationships — with tech companies.

The makers of some our most omnipresent technology like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have continually jeopardized user trust by tracking or sharing data they weren’t supposed to, either on purpose or through hacks. And yet, incident after incident, we keep them at the center of our digital lives.

A new smart device survey by Consumers International and the Internet Society highlights this seeming contradiction. Some 63 percent of people find connected devices to be “creepy,” and 75 percent don’t trust the way their data is shared by those devices, according to a survey of people in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom.

That hasn’t stopped them from buying these devices, which through an array of cameras, microphones and other sensors, have intimate access to our lives.

Nearly 70 percent of survey takers said they own one or more connected device, which include smart home appliances, fitness monitors, and gaming consoles. For the study, smart or connected devices were defined broadly as everyday products and devices that can connect to the internet using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and include things like Amazon’s Echo speakers, Google’s Nest smart lock, and Furbo’s pet camera/treat dispenser. Mobile phones, tablets, and computers weren’t included.

Indeed, sales of smart devices increased 25 percent last year, according to marketing research firm IDC, and are expected to have double-digit growth for the next four years.

A March study from voice-tech blog Voicebot showed that even those who said they were “very concerned” about the privacy risks posed by smart speakers were only 16 percent less likely to own one than the general public.

“People who say they’re concerned with security will do a lot of very insecure things,” Robert W. Proctor, a professor at Purdue University’s Department of Psychological Sciences, said. “It doesn’t match up very well.”

Even pinning down exactly what bothers people about smart devices is difficult, according to Liz Coll, head of digital change at Consumers International. “People use words like ‘creepy’ or ‘it’s like living in The Matrix,’” she said. “There’s not a shared language of what it feels like to be part of a technological society.”

Still, why would people buy and use devices in the presumed privacy of their homes if they don’t trust them? It’s complicated. Here’s what the experts have to say:

People don’t understand the extent of data smart devices are collecting

The amount of data that smart devices collect is vast, but what exactly they’re collecting varies from one device and terms of service to the next.

Consider an Amazon or Google smart speaker voice assistant. It knows where you’re located, what you buy, as well as your taste in music and movies. It knows when you’re home, what your voice sounds like compared to, say, your roommate’s — and, if you’ve paired it with other smart devices, some of what those devices are sensing. In short, it knows a lot about you.

Ostensibly, these data points are used to make your smart device experience better and more personalized. In the wrong hands, it’s a treasure trove of personal information.

“Most smart home devices give first-party vendors a view into the device’s location, performance, operating state, and the frequency which a user is interacting with it, and in what ways,” according to IDC senior analyst Adam Wright. “For third-parties, it becomes a bit murkier,” he said, referring to, for example, what data voice assistant Alexa (third party, in this case) might know about the smart lightbulb (first party) it’s controlling.

Knowing when you turn on your lights or whether you do so with a switch or through a voice assistant might sound like pretty banal data to give up. But even anonymized data can be used with other troves of available information to figure out other personal details about you. The fear is not only that this information could fall into nefarious hands, but that it might be sold, or shared at all.

“I don’t think most people realize even if you have an independent account where your privacy is pretty well protected that if people get multiple accounts they can figure out who you are,” Proctor said. “But trying to understand and convey that to people gets really complicated.”

Usually, the only way to figure out what these devices see and share is to read their terms of service.

“I find that the terms of service agreements are difficult to wade through/ambiguous most of the time,” Wright, an expert on smart devices, said.

A selection from Facebook’s Supplemental Portal Data Policy

“You have to put in a fair amount of effort to go in and understand it,” Proctor said. “If I can’t understand it and don’t know what the risks are, I’m not going to want to do that.”

Even people who are tech-savvy have a difficult time finding and understanding this information, said Steve Olshansky, internet technology program manager at the Internet Society, a nonprofit that, among other services offers tips on smart device privacy. He gave the example of a technologically well-versed friend who was “tearing her hair out trying to find a baby monitor that was good for security and privacy.”

And that’s in the best-case scenario.

“A lot of people are not tech-savvy. They might not know how to find that information. They may not see the privacy terms until at home. They may not understand the 55-page [terms of service], which is meant to be difficult to read,” Olshansky said.

That’s by design.

By the time you get the device home and set up, people are disinclined to return it, even if they find and comprehend privacy flaws they don’t like.

“If you’re unhappy with what your IOT [internet of things] device is doing, are you going to go back to the shop, read the manual, change the settings, complain to a consumer organization or the government?” Coll said. “Or are you going to say, ‘I’m not quite happy’ but just keep using it.”

The tradeoffs are worth it

“A lot of consumers have just decided it’s the world we live in: ‘If I want the benefit and convenience and features, that’s the price we have to pay,’” Olshansky said. “It’s the same way we make that bargain with social media.”

Whether it’s to conserve energy, monitor a baby, or to make sure your front door is locked, smart devices can have a lot of utility.

“Yes, privacy is a concern, but convenience is king — as too is cost savings,” Wright said. “So for many consumers, the promise of enhanced conveniences and reduction in household costs — i.e., connected thermostats, lights [that] can reduce energy consumption — is a big overriding factor that explains why consumers continue to purchase and use these devices despite the privacy risks.”

Coll had a similar sentiment: “Many of these devices offer convenience, make our lives easier, some are fun — people get value and enjoyment from them,” she said. “Sometimes that trumps privacy.”

Voicebot founder and editor Bret Kinsella thinks the calculation is a bit more thought out.

“I actually think most people are making a rational tradeoff decision,” Kinsella said. “They may have heightened privacy concerns but they understand that the risk is fairly low.”

He added that many people have already made that same tradeoff with their mobile phones, and for good reason: “These things enable features people appreciate,” Kinsella said.

Of course, the tradeoff between consumers and big tech isn’t always fair.

“Google and Apple and Philips [smart lightbulb maker] can benefit more in a relative sense from the data by making millions of dollars more,” Wright said. “But Joe Consumer still gets cheaper services, personalized service, better products, cheaper utility bills, etc.”

Consumers don’t have other options

“If you don’t like it, it’s not always easy to choose an alternative,” Coll said. “Most companies are acting in a similar way,” meaning that whether you pick a Google Home or an Amazon Echo speaker, it will likely collect the same information about you.

The reason for this is what Olshansky refers to as “misaligned incentives.”

“When a security breach happens, a lot of the impacts are born by device owners and wider society,” instead of the device maker, he said.

For example, if a thief is able to access your credit card information by hacking into a smart device, you and your credit card will have to deal with the resulting charges, not the maker of the smart device. Presumably, market forces would punish the smart device company, but that’s only if the market finds out.

That said, a privacy-conscious smart device company would fill a market hole.

“The more consumer IOT there is and the more high-profile hacking and privacy invasions that hit the headlines, there could well be a growing sense of worry,” Coll said. “Companies that are already there [in] thinking how they could be more trustworthy … will be in a leading position.”

“At the moment, no one is standing out in the crowd,” she added.

That hasn’t stopped tech companies — especially those least deserving of consumer trust — from tripping over themselves to declare their privacy bona fides.

We’d be remiss here not to mention Apple, which has long been one of the more privacy-oriented tech companies, an ethos that has stayed constant even as it’s expanded into smart tech.

But, despite its head start with Siri, Apple’s voice assistant has been marred by functionality problems. Its Siri-led smart speaker HomePod has just 2.7 percent of US smart speaker market share, according to a Voicebot study in January. Amazon devices lead with 61 percent market share, followed by Google with 24 percent.

Apple, perhaps due to its commitment to privacy, has also been slow to roll out smart devices compared with its competitors and it’s been very select with whom it partners. The result has been a relatively small selection of Apple smart devices.

Apple’s premium price tag is also a hurdle. HomePod, its sole smart speaker, costs $300. You can get a miniature Google or Amazon smart speaker for $50.

People assume the government will take care of it

“People think: I’m sure there are rules companies have to adhere to,” Coll said. That isn’t necessarily the case. Some 88 percent of people in the Consumers International and Internet Society survey believe that regulators should ensure privacy and security standards; 80 percent said it was the manufacturers’ responsibility; 60 percent put the onus on consumers.

Smart device privacy regulation will take some time — three to five years, Coll estimates — though politicians are becoming more focused on the topic.

Even then, the regulation isn’t certain to be effective.

“With regulators, you’re relying on them to understand what it is they’re trying to regulate,” Olshansky said. “In all fairness, that’s not in their wheelhouse. People working in government agencies don’t fully understand the technology and policy implications.”

Future regulation would likely fall under a number of agencies’ purview, including the FCC, FTC and the Department of Commerce. California last year became the first state to create legislation governing smart devices.

For the most part, we’re currently reliant on companies to police themselves. But the economic incentive to improve privacy and security is cause for some optimism.

“They fear what the implications [of privacy breaches] are or inviting regulatory oversight,” Kinsella said. “Secondly, some of these companies think of it as a competitive differentiator.”

We don’t actually care that much about privacy

People tend to be terrible judges of their own behavior. We tend to behave better in theory than in real life.

“Part of it, I think, is when you give people questionnaires they’re not actually having to do anything — they’re set in a fairly abstract manner,” Proctor said. “It’s easy to say, ‘I’m concerned about security’ or ‘I wouldn’t do this’ but those who are actually in the situation often go ahead and do it.”

Even if we care about privacy, we don’t care enough to do something about it.

Alternatively, some people don’t consider the data these devices may collect — maps of your floors, when you turn on your lights, how warm you keep your house — valuable. Their value lies in the beholder. For Amazon, this trove of information helps them target products and services to users. For criminals, this info could be the key to your home.

Admitting vulnerability is difficult.

“When you unpick it, there’s lots going on. People feel a lack of control, a lack of understanding of who’s in control of what’s going on,” Coll said. “They feel like they should know. They believe there are [privacy] options but they’re not using them.”

And at least so far, most haven’t felt privacy consequences from giving their homes over to smart devices.

Despite widespread fears around privacy, Kinsella said, smart-tech privacy breaches are infrequent, meaning that privacy hasn’t forced its way into becoming a top concern.

“We haven’t seen any wide-scale abuse or issues arising around this,” he said. “If there are widespread privacy violations, someone is doing a great job covering them up.”

But every time we learn of another hack — or that Alexa (or an Amazon employee) is listening when it shouldn’t be — it further erodes public trust.

According to the survey, of those who don’t have connected devices, 28 percent cited a lack of trust in the devices’ privacy or security; 63 percent say they don’t have use for them. As smart devices become more useful and their privacy snafus more numerous, perhaps that sentiment will flip.


Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.

Omarosa Manigault Newman seeks to join pay discrimination suit against Trump

Omarosa Manigault Newman, former assistant to President Donald Trump, appears in an exclusive interview on <em>Meet the Press</em> in Washington, DC, on August 12, 2018.

The list of women suing Trump is getting rather long.

Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman on Monday filed documents to join a lawsuit against President Trump and his campaign, alleging pay discrimination on the basis of gender.

“After nearly 20 years inside the Beltway, working for two White Houses and countless political campaigns, I’ve never witnessed such egregious violations as I did during my time under the leadership of Donald Trump and Mike Pence,” Newman said in a statement to Vox on Monday.

She is seeking to join a suit filed by Alva Johnson, a former Trump campaign staffer who says Trump kissed her without her consent in August 2016 and paid her less than white male staffers. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called Johnson’s misconduct allegation “absurd,” and a campaign spokesperson said her claims about pay were “unfounded,” according to the Washington Post.

“The Trump campaign has never discriminated based on race, ethnicity, gender, or any other basis,” Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said in a statement to media. “Any allegation suggesting otherwise is off base and unfounded.”

Newman is not alleging sexual misconduct by Trump. Instead, she and her legal team are saying the Trump campaign had a pattern of paying men and women unequally, paying female staffers nearly 20 percent less than male staffers.

The suit could add to Trump’s legal troubles at a time when he faces challenges on multiple fronts. And as the 2020 election approaches, it could bring renewed attention to Trump’s treatment of women, adding pay discrimination to the long list of allegations against him.

Omarosa Manigault Newman says the Trump campaign paid her less than male staffers

Newman served as director of African American outreach for the Trump campaign, and later joined the Trump White House as an assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison. She was fired in 2017, and went on to release recordings of her time in the White House and publish a book about her experiences called Unhinged. Among other allegations, she said in the book that she believed the president had been caught on tape using the n-word, though she said she had not personally heard the tape.

Now Newman is filing documents to join a suit against the president and his campaign in federal court in Tampa, Florida. She alleges that she was paid less than a male campaign employee “whose work required substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility,” according to court documents.

In the documents, Newman also says she believes the campaign paid other female employees less than men employed in similar jobs.

“While I strongly suspected I was subjected to pay discrimination while with the Trump Campaign, I have since seen expert analysis confirming this to be true,” Newman said in her statement. “The numbers don’t lie.”

According to Hassan Zavareei, the lead attorney in the case, the analysis, by economist Phillip Johnson, shows that the Trump campaign paid female employees 18.2 percent less than men.

Newman is seeking to join the lawsuit already filed by Johnson, a former staffer who sued Trump in February, alleging both sexual misconduct and discrimination. Johnson, who is black, said that Trump kissed her without consent before a Florida rally, and that the campaign paid her less than white male staffers, according to the Washington Post.

Zavareei, who represents Johnson, is filing a motion for collective action so his team can reach out to other former campaign employees and invite them to join the suit.

Newman’s effort comes at a time when Trump is waging legal battles on multiple fronts. Democrats and the White House are in conflict over whether special counsel Robert Mueller will testify before Congress about his findings regarding Russian interference in the election. And earlier this year, a judge in New York ruled that a lawsuit by Summer Zervos, a former Apprentice contestant who says Trump sexually assaulted her, can go forward despite the Trump team’s arguments that the president cannot be sued in state court.

Trump and his backers in the Republican Party have long countered allegations of sexual misconduct against him by arguing that he was a great boss for women in the Trump Organization, hiring and promoting them in the largely male real estate development industry. Newman’s suit raises questions about whether his campaign actually treated women fairly.

“This case is about two things: Donald Trump’s predation, and his campaign’s discrimination against women and people of color,” Zavareei said in a statement to Vox.

The American people have heard a lot about the former allegation. They may be about to hear a lot about the latter.

The rapid development of AI has benefits — and poses serious risks

Investing in AI safety could help ward off a big threat to humanity. 

In the past decade, the AI revolution has kicked into high gear.

Artificial intelligence is playing strategy games, writing news articles, folding proteins, and teaching grandmasters new moves in Go. AI systems determine what you’ll see in a Google search or in your Facebook Newsfeed. They are being developed to improve drone targeting and detect missiles.

But there’s another way the field of artificial intelligence has been transformed in the past 10 years: Concerns about the societal effects of artificial intelligence are now being taken much more seriously.

There are many possible reasons for that, of course, but one driving factor is the pace of progress in AI over the past decade. Ten years ago, many people felt confident in asserting that truly advanced AI, the kind that surpasses human capabilities across many domains, was centuries away. Now, that’s not so clear, and AI systems powerful enough to raise serious ethical questions are already among us.

For a better understanding of why AI poses an increasingly significant — and potentially existential — threat to humanity, check out Future Perfect’s coverage below.


Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.

Doris Day was a conservative icon amid a turbulent counterculture. But her life belied her persona.

Doris Day, screen and recording legend, has died at 97.

Doris Day, dead at 97, made a paradoxical, patriarchal ideal of womanhood look effortless.

Doris Day, who has died at 97 in her home in California, was a movie star unique even among other movie stars of her era. Her brand of effortless charm and wholesome femininity made her the embodiment of the ideal woman during the late ’50s and early ’60s. She was simultaneously virginal yet sexy, career-focused yet domestic, elegant yet approachable; she didn’t just “enjoy being a girl” — she presented an uncomplicated, nigh-mythical image of womanhood.

Yet Day’s peppy all-American girl persona belied a career full of hard work that made her far more realistic than she seemed — and even as she represented a vanishing vision of the perfect woman, her own life was an example of just how far removed that image was from reality.

Day was the ultimate paradox of the early 1960s: the sexual virgin

Born in Cincinnati in 1922 as Doris Kappelhoff, Day trained as a dancer as a child but got her start as a recording artist, singing first in local nightclubs and on radio before working with swing orchestras in her mid-20s. By her late teens, she’d chosen her stage name and was working with major band leaders like Les Brown. In 1945, at 23, she released her first smash hit, “Sentimental Journey,” which became an anthem of wartime America. By the mid-’40s, she’d appeared as a singer in several films. In 1948, director Michael Curtiz cast her in his film Romance on the High Seas, because he said “her freckles made her look like the all-American girl,” and her lengthy film career began.

For several years during the period between 1960 and 1965, Day was the top box office draw in the country, garnering an Academy Award nod for 1959’s Pillow Talk, as well as a Golden Globe win and four nominations, and two Grammy nominations for Female Pop performer.

Though she quit the movie business in 1968 and focused on devoting the rest of her life to animal charities, like the Doris Day Animal Foundation, Day remained a popular public figure and frequent guest on talk shows and variety shows throughout her life. She later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 for her work as an actor and activist, and received an Honorary Grammy Award in 2008. Today, her run of iconic postwar films continues to influence women’s fashion, style, and even lifestyle choices.

It’s easy to see what Day’s basic appeal was. Her voice was fresh and vibrant — she was heavily influenced by Ella Fitzgerald’s vocal style — and she had an energy and vivacity that came through even from her earliest roles.

But Day also had the ability to present an enticing, almost fantastical picture of sexual purity. Take this scene from 1950’s Tea For Two: Framed in soft lighting and posed in a setting that seems anachronistically Victorian, Day manages to make the title song, which is about two lovers on a romantic getaway, seem like an innocently suggestive, but not overly sexual, vacation, all while singing to her uncle.

Even in her saucier films, Day manages to evince a combination of sexual appeal and proper womanly chastity — such as in this scene from 1959’s Pillow Talk, where she expresses overt horror and disgust when confronted with a bachelor pad and intimations of out-of-wedlock sex.

Day had the opportunity to play more dramatic parts — she most notably played James Stewart’s wife in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much, where she debuted her signature song, “Que Sera Sera.” But she always turned away from more nuanced roles in favor of sticking to type in frothier rom-coms — or as they were often dubbed at the time, “sex comedies.”

All of Day’s romantic comedies had a distinct formula designed to reward the female virgin for holding out: Time and again, her cheeky, assertive, yet firmly conservative ways would captivate a bevy of roguish leading men — Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, Cary Grant — and ultimately charm them into giving up their playboy lifestyles and proposing marriage. All of this allows for dramatic situations in which things can be titillating, while stopping short of sexually explicit; critic Pauline Kael called it “the Doris Day routine of flirting with bed but never getting there.”

Day was so successful at purveying the image of a winking, knowing, yet “pure” femininity, in fact, that she became something of a cultural joke for it. An apocryphal quote by comedic pianist Oscar Levant — “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin” —sums up the attitude of ’60s-era Hollywood about her public persona.

But off-screen, Day’s life was anything but idyllic

Day’s onscreen model of “classic” womanhood stood counter to rapid cultural changes and upended gender norms — and it was a persona she continued to wear proudly. In 1967, Mike Nichols’ attempted to cast her in The Graduate, in what would have been a career-altering turn as Mrs. Robinson, the sexy older woman who seduces Dustin Hoffman’s aimless 20-something. But Day turned it down, noting that the part “offended my sense of values.”

But Day’s personal life stood far apart from the idealized version of womanhood and married life that she represented. “My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness,” she told her biographer A.E. Hotchner in Doris Day: Her Own Story. “An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played.”

Throughout her life, Day struggled through relationships with violent, abusive, and controlling men; she described her first husband, a musician with whom she had one child, as a physically abusive “psychopathic sadist.” Three following marriages were equally unsuccessful; her third husband and agent Martin Melcher controlled her finances and left her $500,000 in debt at the time of his death in 1968 — the same year her final film, With Six You Get Eggroll, was released. Before his death, Melcher also contracted her — without telling her — to a five-year TV series on CBS, The Doris Day Show, and she subsequently wrestled with the network for creative control in order to pay off her debts.

Day returned to cable TV briefly in 1985 in order to promote her chief cause, animal rights and pet care, through a variety and interview show, Doris Day’s Best Friends. The show aired on the Christian Broadcast Network, owned by the virulently homophobic televangelist Pat Robertson — but it gained notoriety because of its connection to Day’s most famous onscreen partner, Rock Hudson.

Hudson was clearly in poor health during a press conference in 1985, in which he announced his appearance on an upcoming episode of Day’s show, first telegraphing to the world that he was very ill. Hudson and Day completed the special, which aired in July of 1985; that same month, Hudson became the first major celebrity to announce that he had contracted the AIDS virus, thereby opening the doors to speculation about his sexual identity. Day recalled the day of filming as bittersweet: “We kissed goodbye and he gave me a big hug and he held onto me. I was in tears. That was the last time I saw him – but he’s in heaven now.” Hudson died just months later in October 1985.

A kind of “Tom and Meg” of their day, Hudson and Day peddled heteronormativity as classic Americana. But Hudson’s status as a closeted queer man, along with Day’s own stature as a woman struggling to control her own financial and professional destiny, complicated that legacy and the wholesome frivolity of their all-American image.

And then there was the strange, dark twist of Day’s own direct brush with the counterculture, when she reportedly narrowly kept her son from joining the cult of Charles Manson.

Day’s gruesome indirect brush with Charles Manson shows just how complicated the lie of her untouchable femininity was

The story comes to us primarily from Manson trial transcripts and Beach Boys member Mike Love, who writes of the strange three-way friendship that developed between 1967 and 1969 — the year of the murder of Sharon Tate and the Manson family spree killings — between Charles Manson, Love’s bandmate Dennis Wilson, and Day’s son, Terry Melcher.

Melcher was a record producer and a close friend of Wilson. Wilson, who’d gotten chummy with Manson, introduced him to Melcher, and Manson, in turn, hoped to convince Melcher to sign him to a record deal. Though Melcher put off the issue of whether he would sign Manson — Manson just wasn’t that good — he did stay friendly with the Manson family, reportedly even visiting them in the summer of 1969, when they moved to the ranch where they would begin planning their gruesome violent attacks. During this time, Melcher also dated up-and-coming Hollywood star Candace Bergen, who was renting a house in Benedict Canyon house at 10050 Cielo Drive.

Wilson, and frequently Manson himself, visited Bergen and Melcher at the Benedict Canyon house. According to Love, it was Doris Day, who, having become alarmed at the friendship developing between the volatile Manson and her son, convinced Melcher and Bergen to move out of the Cielo Drive house in January 1969. Manson was aware that the couple had moved, but he seemed to have the house fixed in his head as a locus of Hollywood iniquity. So in June of 1969, when Melcher told Manson once and for all that he wouldn’t be signing him to a record deal, Manson immediately turned his anger toward Hollywood itself — specifically, the house on Cielo Drive. He ordered his followers to attack the residence when they began their killing spree on August 8, 1969.

Instead of finding Melcher and Bergen, however, they found Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, and a party of her friends. Melcher, deeply shaken by the entire experience, could only testify at the trial while under sedation.

Doris Day was only indirectly involved in this strange series of events; but it’s a shocking and vivid testament of just how dramatically and drastically the world of Hollywood was changing around Day during her peak stardom — and how much the details of her own life undermined the myth of her persona.

In a period characterized by cultural and sociopolitical turbulence, Day’s iconic style was a fixture, an edifice built on an archaic view of womanhood which left little room for flexibility or reinvention. But that static persona continues to capture something indelibly appealing to us even today; on social media, men still speak wistfully of wanting to marry her.

Day was the archetype of the mid-century modern woman, her head looking towards the future, but with her feet firmly planted in the conservative past. It was an unfailingly seductive depiction of a deceptively simplistic view of womanhood — and by pulling it off as well as she did, even today, she still lures us into believing that the myth is real.

All those rewards apps on your phone are a prime target for hackers

Rewards apps can be extremely vulnerable to hackers, according to a report by the New York Times.

Dunkin’ Donuts, Marriott, and other big brands have had their rewards apps compromised recently.

I was recently conned into downloading a rewards app for a ramen place I go to at most once a year. A sign in the restaurant informed me that I could get a free seasoned egg, or maybe even a noodle refill, once I spent a certain amount of money and hit a certain number of points. This is apparently all it takes for me to hand over my data to a ramen place.

It’s not the only rewards app on my phone, nor is it the only one I’ve downloaded and used just once or twice, if at all. And according to a new report by the New York Times, my thirst for rewards makes me a giant sucker — and possibly a vulnerable target for hackers.

For customers, loyalty apps may make financial sense — it’s like getting free stuff for spending money they were going to spend anyway — and may be more convenient than a physical rewards card. (For what it’s worth, my wallet is full of rewards cards for at least half a dozen coffee shops and restaurants. Sometimes I lose them, which means losing all my hard-earned rewards.) For businesses, these apps are an easy way to encourage customers to spend more money while handing over valuable data on their consumption habits.

But according to the Times, this data may not be as useful as companies think. “They’ve got oceans of data and puddles of insight,” Emily Collins, an analyst with Forrester Research, told the paper. And these oceans of data are apparently extremely vulnerable to breaches.

Loyalty apps, one security expert told the Times, are “almost a honey pot for hackers.” Lots of people (like me!) don’t take privacy or security on these apps as seriously as they would for, say, their social media or email logins.

The result? Hackers can easily infiltrate these accounts, either to use the points themselves or to sell them on the dark web. One hacker prevention group told the Times that an estimated $1 billion a year is lost to reward app hacking.

Last November, Dunkin’ Donuts said a hacker had gained access to information on its rewards app, called DD Perks, including some users’ login information. And in January, Marriott revealed that hackers had breached its reservation system and accessed several million customers’ information, including passport numbers and credit card numbers.

This isn’t the only way hackers take advantage of loyalty apps. Last year, Motherboard reported on the people who buy and sell luxury vacation packages for a few hundred dollars’ worth of bitcoin on the dark web, often by manipulating miles, points, and other rewards programs. “[I]t involves booking with points in a way that makes it indistinguishable to a legit booking,” read one listing on Dream Market.

Some of these listings, Motherboard reported, involve stolen points. One listing for hacked JetBlue points warns customers that “there is no replacement if the account has [two-factor] verification?” because “it’s part of the game.” Motherboard found more than a dozen airlines and hotel chains that may have been targets of loyalty point fraud, including Delta.

Though the Motherboard report focused on airlines, hotel chains, and other companies with big-ticket points systems, the Times also spoke to people whose accounts for smaller purchases were hacked. Customers have had their accounts on the Domino’s Pizza, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Hilton apps hacked, the publication reports.

People who use lots of loyalty apps, like yours truly, would do well to change their passwords and set up two-factor authentication if at all possible. A better solution, though, would be to get rid of accounts you don’t use. There may be more to lose from them than there is to gain.

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Hulu CEO Randy Freer explains why Hulu never promoted its ad-free version

Hulu CEO Randy Freer at the Hulu Upfront in New York City on May 2, 2018.

The more expensive Hulu No Commercials plan was announced in 2015, and almost four years later, the company is finally ready to start advertising that it exists.

For the past four years, you’ve been able to watch TV on Hulu without ads — if you’re willing to pay $12 instead of $6 for your monthly subscription. And while that option is no secret if you’re signing up for Hulu, the company has made a point of never advertising that it exists, CEO Randy Freer says.

“I think what you’ll see now over time is you’ll start to see us probably roll out a little more promotion, a little more opportunity, to bring no ads more to the forefront,” Freer said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka.

So, why was “no ads” not a selling point for so long? For Hulu, which is jointly owned by Disney and NBCUniversal*, the most important goal was to get a lot more people using the service, which Freer said it has done — from 13-14 million subscribers in late 2017 to 28 million today. But the company is still losing money every year; Disney, which owns the majority of the company now that it has acquired former co-owner 20th Century Fox, expects Hulu to be profitable by 2023 or 2024.

On the new podcast, Freer positioned the plan to start advertising the more expensive Hulu No Commercials plan as an appeal to consumer choice — and said he’s fine with people changing their plans around throughout the year.

“About 60 percent still come on board for the ad service,” he said. “I think the most important thing there is choice, and when you give people choice, they are much happier with their opportunity and then, ultimately, their decision … [W]here we’re driving this and why we think now is the time to do this is because we see people moving from ads to no ads, from no ads to live, from live to no ads, from no ads to ads at any given point in time over the course of a year, depending on what their viewing habits are.”

* NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Vox Media.

You can listen to Recode Media wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast. On the latest episode, you’ll also hear a mini-interview with Vanity Fair writer, podcast host, and Game of Thrones expert Joanna Robinson.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Peter’s conversation with Randy.


Peter Kafka: Randy Freer, CEO of Hulu, which is now a partner with Vox Media. We should get rid of that disclosure right away.

Randy Freer: Oh, that’s right.

You guys are going to give my bosses and eventually me, maybe, some money? It’ll trickle down.

Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it. Sure.

That’s how I think about it.

I look at it as you are going to provide us a great opportunity to partner with David Chang and Momofuku and a number of other food content partners providing a show and we’ll pay for those shows.

So Vox Media is going to make a show, it’s going to appear at some point on Hulu with David Chang. Are we also doing a Crissy Teigen show? I was confused about that.

It’s interesting. It is two separate paths. One is with Vox Media Studios for food content, where David Chang is going to curate a number of food shows, the first one being Family Style, which will actually have both David and Crissy in it.

Okay. I didn’t want you to come on to talk about the David Chang show, though I’m happy to talk about it.

That’s what I expect to talk about for the next hour.

I figured we should get that out of the way. What other disclosures should we do? Comcast is a minority investor in Hulu, they’re a minority investor at Vox Media. And I pay Hulu about $45 a month for live TV.

We love that. Thank you.

I’m one of what, a million people doing it?

A few more than that.

Yeah. You had your Upfront presentation yesterday. You put up your numbers, you’ve got 28 million subscribers, that’s up from 25 million at the beginning of the year. So that means you’ve grown quickly.

Yes.

As many people have pointed out, that means you are growing more quickly in the US than Netflix, you’re about half the size of Netflix. I’m not sure that comparing you to Netflix is necessarily helpful, but it’s interesting. And I want to talk to you about everything about Hulu and your experience in TV. You’re a longtime Fox guy, now you’re a Disney guy, post-acquisition, and what the future of TV is going to be like.

Let’s start off with your childhood … I’m kidding. I think Hulu, over the years, has been a really interesting company to cover and that sometimes, it seemed like it was going to go nowhere. The backstory is, this was created by Fox and NBC as a YouTube and Apple hedge and it was that it would fail and it worked tremendously. And then there was a long period where the two — where Disney, which became an investor and programmer, and Fox couldn’t seem to agree on what to do with the product. It seemed like it might go away or get sold. Which is a long way of saying, now it seems like it’s going in a whole different direction. You’ve been at Fox forever?

Yes.

Decades?

Yes, I was there for 20 years.

So you’ve had a front-row seat, right? Both as a Fox employee watching Hulu grow, eventually you were on the board and now you’re running it. Did you see … When Hulu was created, this was, what, 2006-2007, what did you think was going to become of that product?

It’s interesting. In 2006-2007, I was on the sports side, so wasn’t directly involved with the conversations around Hulu or the entertainment. The one thing that did spread was, I think Peter Chernin, as always, ahead of the process and ahead of the game, working with Zucker, Jeff Zucker …

Former … Basically ran Fox for Murdoch.

… and really trying to establish this opportunity to ford, hedge, whatever you want to call it, against YouTube monetizing and monopolizing digital video. What happened in that scenario, what spread a little bit was the internal strife between, ultimately, the cable group of, you’re selling content to someone else that is going to ultimately be the thing that breaks the best economic model in a long time, the cable bundle, and there was that debate. But Peter was pretty strong in his desire to keep it separate and push forward.

Yeah. It’s a core thing that I always think is the most fascinating thing about watching media companies figure out the internet, is that channel conflict, right? You’ve got an existing business, it’s under threat. If you step back, one good way to take on that business would be to radically change your business, but you don’t want to change your business because it’s generating a lot of money, but you can see over the years it’s going to decline. It’s kind of the story of all these different media companies in different industries. But you were specifically saying that the people within the networks thought, but then the programmers would worry that Hulu would undermine their own business. Do you want to tease that out?

Yeah, look, I think when you’re in the cable business and you’re selling your product to cable companies like Comcast and Charter and others, you want to keep that wall up so that …

So you’re selling to Comcast, the world, the right to distribute Fox Network and everything else?

Correct.

And then on Hulu, it’s free.

Back then, it was free.

It was free the next day. You can watch The Simpsons the day after it aired on Hulu for free. It was an amazing consumer product.

Right. So on one side, you have selling this product and then distributors selling it to customers. On this other side, now you’re making it available free with a 12-hour delay and some other hangups there. So clearly, why should someone pay all this money for it if it’s going to be available for free?

And the thought was, “We’ll do that because it’s better us doing it than YouTube doing it.” Right?

Correct.

It’s, again, hard to remember, now that we think of YouTube as a place to get radical misinformation. But for a long time it was considered an existential threat to the media companies, much less so now, that part’s been tamed. But that was Lazy Sunday and all this stuff from the TV is going to show up on YouTube for free and rampant piracy and Viacom’s suing them. And your thought, the media companies’ thought, was, “We’re going to create our own version of YouTube”?

Right.

What did you think of that idea?

Again, I was on the outskirts of it, so to me, I was more concerned, particularly in the sports business, with, we’re selling sports and other properties …

For a lot of money.

… to cable operators for a lot of money, why would we do this on one side for free? But you also saw early trends of how consumers were using media. You saw many of the things that were beginning to happen. I think Peter, again, was prescient enough to know that one of the goals is to stay one step ahead of the disruption so that you can control, you can adapt, you can do things that allow you to move your business forward in a manageable way versus just complete chaos. So we all looked at it and took a deep breath and said, “Okay, here we are and here we go. We’ll also find opportunities to make sure that the voice was heard and here’s this business over here, let’s not do too much to damage it.” And I think that’s …

That was what generated, I think, some of the back and forth with Hulu’s CEO at the time, Jason Kilar. He was at one point, he put up this manifesto, which is basically taking on the networks that owned him. That was quite, it was kind of a Jerry Maguire letter, it was great.

Yeah, it was a bit aggressive.

It was great to read about, great to write about. At what point did you join the board of Hulu?

I joined the board, I believe it was either 2012 or 2013.

Okay, so relatively recently.

Yeah.

In between that, there were a couple different times where the owner said, “We’re going to sell Hulu,” and then would come back, “No, no, we’re going to invest money in there.” And, again, I know you weren’t directly involved, but what was going on there where ABC and Fox were saying, “Someone else, just take this over”?

I really wasn’t involved at that time in those conversations or those decisions, it was more in the grandstand, watching. I think the owners, at that point in time, were trying to determine what was the best path for Hulu? I think they started to see that it was challenging for all of them to come together and really drive that business. Not because they didn’t necessarily agree, but as much because when you’re investing in something like that you want to get the benefits of it. And when you have three companies that are in that mix, it’s hard to go all-in, knowing you’re not going to get all the benefits of that move. I think they were just trying to make what they thought was the best decision for each of those public companies and for Hulu at that time.

Now it seems like … we’ll talk a bit about what Hulu’s future is going to be and you won’t tell me that much, or as much as I want to hear. But it seems like …

I thought you were going to tell me.

It seems much clearer, right? Hulu is now controlled by Disney which acquired Fox so it has the two-thinds ownership, Comcast remains an owner. It seems quite clear to me that eventually they’re not going to be, but Disney controls Hulu. It has a couple different products. There’s one where you subscribe and get access to last night’s TV and other catalog stuff and originals like Handmaid’s Tale. Then there’s this live TV thing that I’m paying you 45 bucks a month for. You guys did this big Disney direct to consumer presentation which was mostly focused on the Disney+ product, but they made a point of giving you a bunch of stage time, so Hulu’s obviously important to Disney’s strategy there. So it’s a thing they’re going to keep and build.

Yes.

Yes. Good for you?

I think so.

Did you have any question about whether you’d be staying on when the Disney deal was announced?

No.

Because you were at Fox at the time?

Yeah.

Or you come from Fox?

I do.

So you’re a Fox guy. Was there a concern that maybe …

I’m a Hulu guy. I’m a Huligan, at this point.

You’re a Hulu guy. But was there concern, “All right, maybe Iger’s going to bring in his own guy for this?”

Again, Disney, or our others, the board can bring in their own guy whenever they want. I think, at this point in time, all signals are that we’re moving in the right directions. They’re happy with the job that we’re doing at Hulu and growing the business. So I haven’t had any conversations about being replaced.

No taps on the shoulder?

No. Look, like all of us, we know that, at any point in time, somebody can come in and say, “Look, we’re going to make a change.” That’s just the nature of the beast.

So the two ellipses that you guys have …

Not exactly where I thought we were going to go today, into my ultimate demise.

I think you’ll be fine. We actually don’t cut anything out. We’ll leave it in there.

No, no, it’s fine to leave.

At the Disney announcement, you guys said, “We’re looking at international expansion and there’s probably” — I can’t remember the hedge word he used — “but we’re probably going to bundle Hulu with Disney+ and ESPN+.” When will that become, first of all, is that clear internally what you’re going to do and you just don’t want to talk about it publicly, or are you guys still thinking it through?

I’ll take the latter first. On our bundling of Disney+ and ESPN+, we are still working through, with Disney, what we believe and they believe will be the best consumer offering around those two, well, three services ultimately, Hulu and Disney+ and ESPN+, so we’re still finalizing what that is going to look like.

Is there complexity there? It seems pretty … because you guys already do a lot of bundling with other people, like I can do … Spotify deal, right?

Yep.

You guys do lots of deals with lots of different people, where if you pay Sprint or Spotify or someone, X, you can get Hulu at a steep discount or free or vice versa.

Yeah, there’s always, one thing you learn very quickly, there’s always engineering work to be done and the more complicated you get in your offers, each one adds a level of complexity for your billing systems and everything else that go along with it. But we certainly figure all of that out.

You get paid to do that.

Right. It’s just really determining what’s the best offer for customers, not only as a Hulu, but I think ultimately, as you saw, Disney+ in particular has pretty impressive service and wants to make sure that when they launch, and when they roll that they are really elevated to a point and the consumers can figure out, “Well, okay, how does that work?” So I think it’s a combination of final determination of what the best consumer offer is.

You say they want to elevate it, that means they want to make it a giveaway or a …

No, no, no. It’s a big product and with a ton of great content on it. It has the ability to stand on its own, it has the ability to be a huge consumer product for anyone, any family looking for video options.

And then the international stuff?

International is interesting. It is a hard challenge to solve, for a variety of reasons. And it is an expensive proposition, depending on which way you’re going to do. The one thing that we have really tried and focused on is having a reason for going international and having something that differentiates us, Hulu, from everything else that’s out there.

In most markets today, there are two if not three or four SVOD services between Netflix and Amazon and then local services in Latin America like Blim, what Claro has, or Rakuten, in other parts of the world, and then individual services on a market-by-market basis. And just chasing to be the third or second SVOD player in those markets is not necessarily, I think, our best option. So we are looking market by market, looking region by region and determining what is our best access point to customers. Might be straight-up, simple ad supported, might be other things that we do going forward. So that’s what we’re in the process of working through now.

But, I mean, I’m assuming that you are going to be international, right?

I think that’s a safe assumption.

Yeah, right, so it’s just a matter of what the product is and then how you go … it’s clearly the driver for Netflix, they’ve made a point. How much of this is just the difficulty in getting all the shows and movies, etc., that you have licensed available in different markets? Again, Netflix has made a point of saying, “Everything we buy from here on out, we’re going to have ownership across the world.” Generally, this stuff is chopped up territory by territory, it’s available on one service in one country, another service in another country.

We don’t see that as a difficulty in acquiring those things. A lot of that content comes from a variety of studios, some of which are owners. In that process, that’s more about the timing of when that becomes available, how much you can get. And it also becomes how important is US content going forward? Historically, it’s probably had a higher level of importance to services than it does today, still super important, still a majority of what is watched in a lot of places, but the local content has a much higher value than it did a decade ago. So it’s a combination of those two things.

Let’s talk about Comcast, let’s get that out of the way. I know that you will not tell me what’s going to happen to Comcast. Can you tell me what life is like with Comcast as a one-third owner today? For a long time, they were an owner but didn’t have the ability to manage Hulu, this is because of a US Department of Justice consent decree. But as of last fall, in theory, they could actually have a voice in the way Hulu was run. What is having them in the room for those discussions like right now?

I’ve been very lucky in my tenure at Hulu. Ownership, across the board — Fox, pre-Disney transaction, Comcast in that window of time — they’ve been super supportive. They have been aligned on investing in Hulu and trying to drive this business to scale and more customers. They’ve continued to be super supportive in that process.

And whatever happens, as it relates to the relationship between Disney and Comcast, we’ve seen nothing on the work front on getting what we need to get done, done, from an investment standpoint, from an alignment standpoint and from general conversations about what we’re trying to accomplish.

I think that the decree ended in late August or early September of last year. Let’s say, end of summer last year.

Right.

Did anything change once they could actually speak up at a board meeting and say, “Actually, … “

Nothing changed around our direction, our strategy, or the alignment of ownership. What did change is officially Comcast had … or NBCUniversal actually had three board members. So it’s a 10-person board including me, but a nine-person board. And they joined us in conversations, and in those conversations, again, they were incredibly helpful, they were thoughtful, and they brought a perspective to the table that had not always been there. Not so much because of NBCU or Comcast, but because of the individuals that have experience and have seen a lot of things over time in this industry that they brought to the table, and they were helpful in that process.

Hulu loses a lot of money. We know this because the owners have basically disclosed it in their public filings for a long time. I’m paying you 45 bucks a month for live TV. I don’t think you’re making any money on that, but that’s not the reason you’re losing money in general, right? You’re losing money because you’re spending a ton on marketing and a ton on buying shows, like you have to pay the networks that own you for the shows as well as creating your own stuff. I think it’s more than a billion dollars a year you’re losing, right?

Mm-hmm.

It’s almost like an Uber-like loss, except for you’re not going public. So how do you change those economics over time?

Well look, I think you … first of all, Disney in the investor call put out this year we were going to apex our losses. I think they put out a number there and turn to profitability in ’23, ’24 is what the goal is.

That’s for all of direct-to-consumer, right, or was it just for Hulu?

That was for Hulu. And we’re on our way. I think we have a good plan in place to do that. But in this business, the most important thing in this window of time is scaling the company. Two years ago or a year-and-a-half ago we had 13, 14 million subscribers. We announced yesterday we had 28 million customers, about 26.8 of those pay, and then some promo subs that come on there that we make money on through ad revenue. So in that window of time we still generate revenue around those promo subs.

So that’s something that we’re going to continue to grow, and we need to get to a place where we’re in 40 million, heading towards 50 million subscribers, and more than that. Because like everything else, once you have that number of subscribers you have a flywheel effect that you can kind of drive. Some of our programming deals have certain caps in expense against subscribers, so that allows us to drive it.

Obviously, you can sell more ads, so that we can drive even the live side of the business in a way that does start to make economic sense in that process. So we feel very good about our strategy going forward, both from the standpoint of scaling and acquiring subs, getting those subscribers to spend time on the service, and then creating economics that allow us to drive the revenue and drive ultimate profitability to the business.

Can break down that 28 million number a little bit? How many of them are people like me paying you for live TV?

We haven’t disclosed that and we don’t …

It used to be … at one point you said there were a million people paying for that. I assume it’s more now.

We did at one point in time. We haven’t disclosed that really since then, but there’s a lot more than that now.

A lot more than that, but I assume the majority are getting the … you can call it the SVOD, right, the subscription video, older stuff plus The Handmaid’s Tale, etc.

Well it’s actually 85,000 episodes of television, so it’s a library plus all of your current broadcast television season programming, past seasons, originals, and some other things, movies and other things as well.

And then you have two tiers there. You’ve got an ad-free and then an ad-supported. I always talk about this. I’m always amazed that people are not paying the extra $4 or whatever it is for the ad-free. What’s the breakdown between that, people getting ads, people not getting ads?

Well, we find today, and it’s about … still a large number. About 60 percent still come on board for the ad service. I think the most important thing there is choice, and when you give people choice, they are much happier with their opportunity and then, ultimately, their decision. It used to be ad serving … or advertising used to be one of our top-three complaints on the service as to why I canceled or why I do this. And just by giving people an option of choosing ads or no ads, that dropped probably down to a top-six complaint in the process.

What’s the price difference between the ad and non-ad?

Right now, $5.99 for Hulu with ads, $11.99 for Hulu, no ads. And what’s interesting there is we have never advertised, never advertised Hulu with no ads. And I think what you’ll see now over time is you’ll start to see us probably roll out a little more promotion, a little more opportunity, to bring no ads more to the forefront.

We look at it as we’ve made a strategic bet and we’re going to drive this to be an ad-supported service, offer consumers both a lower price and a service that we believe has a good customer experience, a great customer experience, because we’ve capped ads at 90 seconds per pod. We’ve set frequency levels both on an hourly and a daily basis on what people can see, as we talked about yesterday. So we think we’ll have the best consumer experience for ads at a price that ultimately people will be okay with, and then we’ll start to drive the no-ads business as well.

So you’ve got this product that actually a lot of people like, that doesn’t have ads, but you have not gone out and told people about it. You have to sort of go to Hulu and find out about it.

Right.

My conspiracy theory has always been your owners make a lot of money selling TV ads and you don’t want to go ahead and undermine that business any more quickly than you have to. Is my conspiracy theory correct?

No, I don’t think … there’s never a conspiracy.

Damn.

It’s always planning. We planned it that way. No. I think that there’s … two-fold on this, there’s two parts to that. One is we needed the economics associated with a dual revenue stream in subscription and ad revenue to drive the business, because we weren’t at a size that really allowed us to go and …

Right, you needed the ads.

But we needed the consumers to choose ads in that part — and we still do, and we still believe that’s a big business for us. It’s something that’s going to drive. Now, having said that, we now feel confident that we can promote … we can bring subscribers in.

You can grow more by … okay, so my conspiracy theory was correct, which is you didn’t want to push the no-ad thing too much, but now you think you can grow by pushing it.

Right. And again, it’s not … but your conspiracy theory was there was some ultimate outside force driving it. I think it was really just the business driving it. The other part of it is, what we’re seeing now is this whole theory of how you manage subscriptions, and where we’re driving this and why we think now is the time to do this is because we see people moving from ads to no ads, from no ads to live, from live to no ads, from no ads to ads at any given point in time over the course of a year, depending on what their viewing habits are.

One of the great things about Hulu and this business, and one of the challenging things, is it’s really easy to cancel. You can do it in seconds, and it’s also really easy to subscribe. And so if you’re thinking about it, we see it every — not every day, but we see it across the year. People come in for live and they come in in September, college football, NFL, others. They’ll drop it in February.

Do the same thing with specific shows?

I think they do, that’s more a live versus … I’m sorry, that’s more an ad versus no ad. If Handmaid’s Tale comes out or some of our other newer shows that are doing well, or a broadcast season, right? So September, October, where all the new shows are going to come in, we’ll see people … engagement goes up. We’ll also see them make some selections around moving to no ads in that process.

So people are very aware of what they’re spending and how to turn … because I’m pretty savvy about this stuff. It takes some work to actually figure out how to manage your subscriptions within iPhone. It’s much easier than calling up Comcast and telling them you want to cancel. But your point is people are very aware of what they’re spending, what the product is. They’re hyper aware of, “I’m spending this much money for this thing, and now I don’t want to spend it because that thing’s not here.”

Well, I think there’s a percentage of our subscribers who are very aware and move into different packages that are right for them at that moment in time, and then there are others that treat it as any other service. They’re going to have it, they like it, and they’ll move through it.

The old-style subscriber?

Right. I mean, what we also see is, in the add-on world, right, obviously we saw a big tick up of HBO subs over the last month because they can add on HBO. You go on and you can just add it on pretty quickly, and you get the next six or eight weeks of Game of Thrones. The majority of those subscribers who add on will stay with that service for the period of time that they want and are willing to deal with that.

But the number of people who are going to turn off HBO after Game of Thrones is higher with you guys than it would be for traditional cable distributors, and that’s the challenge for you guys. There’s more churn.

I don’t know the answer to that question or to that … the number of people who will turn off is higher than traditional pay TV, because I don’t know what their numbers are. But certainly it is easier if you want to, to change your subscription, click. You know, turn off HBO and add on something else, or just roll back to no ads or whatever service you may or may not want in that window of time.

So, ad free, with ads, live TV: those are sort of the main …

Right.

And then you can add on Showtime and HBO. You’re still fundamentally selling bundles of TV, just like you would get through linear TV. You go around in interviews saying, “I think the bundle is going away. I think that many of the smaller networks that are sort of on your cable dial aren’t going to have a reason to exist. They’re going to go away over time.” I agree with you. I just wrote a story that says that, but you’re in the bundle business and you’re owned by a company which is very much based around the bundle, right? Disney is still based around selling a bundle of TV to distributors. So how’s that going to work?

Look, we’re in the consumer business, so our job is to provide the best possible experience for consumers. And I think right now, we’re working towards that. We do a great job today. Rebundling is something that happens all the time. Netflix has rebundled content and created a service and a …

It’s a mega bundle but it’s 13 bucks a month.

Right. One of the things that Netflix has done for customers over the last decade is completely devalue the value of content to customers. Where it used to cost $120 or $100 to get all of this content, all of a sudden it’s like, “Wow, we have enough content over here for 13.” I think what people in this business forget is ultimately it’s not the distributors who create the bundle, right? The distributors want to get customers the best possible product they can for the best possible price. I think that’s the simplest thing that we try and do every day.

And media companies, historically, have been able to combine their assets, and combine their networks in a way, in selling them to us or Comcast or others, that have forced or created this need to carry a bundle of channels and put that out to the consumer. When you go back, even at a $100, $120, historically, there’s only about 50 percent of that cost is in content if you go back to traditional pay TV. The rest of it is some version of set-top box, DVR rental, service calls, profit for these companies, and other things that go into that. So I think the programmers, historically, have been blamed for the high cost of traditional pay TV when they’re not fully responsible for the high cost of pay TV.

I think it was either you or someone else put out recently, when you look at the RSN service charge, the local broadcast service charge …

Right, there’s a lot of …

There’s a lot of stuff in that …

If you have cable TV and you look at the bill, it’s full of gnarly stuff, but the main structure … this is the … I think people are getting more and more aware of, is — and Disney is sort of the prime example here, right? — is if you get cable TV you’re getting a bundle of stuff from Disney whether you want it or not, and the most expensive stuff by far is ESPN. It’s $9. They’re charging Comcast $9 just for ESPN alone, and then they make them get the Disney Channel, etc.

So you end up, with sports in particular, but a lot of the stuff … you end up paying a lot of money whether or not you want to watch the stuff. And you’re out there saying, “I think that bundle is going to go away, or at least change.”

It’s already changing, and I think if you look at the last five, eight years, most of the media companies have in some way, shape, or form narrowed their networks to the brands that matter. At Fox, in that window of time, it was Fox Sports One, it was the broadcast network, it was FX, it was National Geographic, it was Fox News. I may have missed one.

Right. We’re going to not make you take our most extraneous stuff.

Right. And if you think about Disney, they have huge brands in that window. You don’t have a ton of stuff, you have ESPN, you have Disney Channel. I’m sure I’m missing some others, but it’s a pretty robust brand opportunity that they bring to the table as one. I think some of the other media companies that may have 10, 12, 14, 15 different networks, right, they’re rationalizing their portfolio of networks as well.

Viacom is saying, “Now we’re focused on six networks,” etc.

Right. And I think this gets to the bigger challenge that companies have. Look, they’re publicly traded companies. They have shareholders. They have earnings. They have to manage their transition from a very wholesale, very traditional pay TV relationship business, while still supporting their shareholders, still driving their economics, versus other parts of the ecosystem, whether it’s Netflix or — you brought up others in the window that aren’t valued in the same way. So it is a transition. It’s not something you can snap your fingers and say, “Great, we’re going to break it up.

The other thing that’s important there is most research shows — and we’ve done a lot of it — bundling is important. Right? The ability to give a consumer a package of options, a package of channels, or content in this case, is far and away a better value than a la carte. If you have to buy everything you want as a one-off, you are ultimately going to pay more, and I think that’s the transition we’re heading to, where we will be able to rebundle or repackage content programming for consumers that will ultimately allow them to probably shave a little bit of cost and still get a lot of what they want.

Right. I keep … I know that there’s an economic … like a grown-up economics with a capital E argument that bundling can be a good thing for consumers as well. It’s obviously good for the distributors and programmers, but usually when the TV guys talk about this, they say, “Well, if you wanted to get everything you wanted you’d end up spending so much more a la carte.” But I think that assumes that there’s all this stuff that you want, and I think a lot of the stuff you probably don’t want, or don’t want that much or can find free equivalents or can live without. And again, in particular because Netflix and now you guys offer products for 12, 15 bucks a month that give you a ton of stuff plus free things from YouTube, plus free things from Facebook and the internet at large. It does seem like a lot. The bundle will get undermined whether or not you guys want to keep it intact.

I look at it probably in a different way. I think the package of content that we’ll provide to consumers will evolve, and they will end up … and they already have more choice and control today than they had yesterday. It’s really … it’s not a gatekeeper world anymore because consumers can make a choice. You have over 30 million people under the age of 35 that are cordless today, so people get to make choices today. People can buy a traditional, passive, pay TV experience. They can buy an on-demand experience. Or they can just have an ad-supported experience.

There’s lots of choices today. It’s already getting rebundled. They think oftentimes we focus a little too much on this one area, the bundle, because it’s been a very successful economic proposition for everyone. Quite honestly, it’s been a great value to consumers over the years.

Right, but for years …

You think about for $100 a month, you get every piece of television that’s ever made on your …

People of a certain age look at it and go, “That’s great. Of course I’m going to do that,” or, “How could I ever go without it?” You’d always hear people in your business say, “Well, the generation, when we were …” There was a period where people were saying, “The millennials aren’t paying for pay TV now, but they will as they get older, just got to wait.” It turns out they’re not. They’re just getting Netflix and Hulu and free stuff.

But that’s pay TV.

Yes.

You pay and you get TV. Netflix is pay TV.

Yes.

There’s a different version of pay TV.

They’re just not buying that $107 bundle. They’re buying a $13 bundle.

Right, but they’re also, you look at their subscriptions, and you add Spotify and you add Apple Music and you add HBO and you add all this. They’re spending on these products, and they’re spending their money on these services.

They’re just not buying the $107 bundle from the cable distributors.

They’re spending $100 on their entertainment via a package that they think is better for them, right?

Right.

Which I think we will ultimately evolve to, where everyone can have a choice and make their bundle in a way that is efficient for their economic position and what they can afford.

I think we lose sight of a couple things in this process. One is convenience. These services are incredibly convenient. They’re on your phone. They’re in your living room. They’re on your laptop, your computer, your tablet if you want that. They are where you are. They’re mobile, mobile meaning they go with you. If you’re going to a hotel, if you’re going to a game, if you’re going on a commute, whatever it is, they travel with you. So again, it adds that.

There’s a tremendous amount of content in them, quality content across the board, that you can select. You have choice.

Then you get to the user experience, which is, if you look at the history of television, there was radio, there was broadcast, there was cable, there was satellite, then telco. We’ve always defined this based on a distribution mechanism instead of defining it based on the content, which is where the true value is. Now we’ve gone to IP delivered. In all of those prior situations, nothing changed for the consumer. The experience was virtually the same.

Right.

I had the same package if I had Comcast or DirecTV. I had an EPG [Electronic Program Guide] that provided me, where the channel guide was.

Now, particularly with Hulu, you have the blending and the blurring of lines between live and on demand. You have an intuitive user interface that hopefully can get you from one place to another. You have a recommendation engine that can bring you products and bring you programming that you may like, you may not like.

The user experience in this process is another thing that is brand new. It has changed from the history of television being defined by the distribution mechanism. That’s why I also believe that over time we won’t define this as streaming. This will be part of the move to, you’ll define your TV experience based on the content, which is really what the experience is, versus the technology that delivers it to your home.

Yeah. As an aside, I like the fact that in your presentation yesterday you guys said, “We’re bringing back the TV grid.” When you launched the new version of this a couple of years ago, I remember sitting at CES in a suite and they showed me the service. I said, “Where’s the grid?” They said, “We don’t need grids, man. That’s an old paradigm. Old people like grids, but you don’t need them. You just get TV. It’s all coming to you.” I said, “All right,” but I could feel like a nervous scratch that I wanted the grid. You brought the grid back, so thank you.

You weren’t alone.

Yeah.

Look, we probably overestimated the willingness or underestimated the ability for people to jump from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other. We built a consumer experience that probably was where things may end up, or where we get to, but it wasn’t as intuitive as we probably should have built. On top of that, we didn’t give consumers a path to walk with us and get there. You aren’t alone in your desire to have a EPG.

While I’m offering you product notes …

Yeah.

I mostly use you to watch sports and then Top Chef. There was a two-month period where I just turned you on every week to watch Top Chef, and you guys never said, “Hey, Peter, welcome back. Here’s the next episode of Top Chef.” Instead you would say, I don’t know, “Here’s other stuff we have to watch.” Is that intentional, or is it that you want to show me other stuff and you figure I’ll get to Top Chef, or that’s just something you’re going to get to later down the line?

Certainly not intentional. We should be notifying you when a new episode of Top Chef is on. I’ll go back and take those notes to the group and I’ll find out.

Yeah, I was going to say, we can do another hour with my product concerns.

Happy to talk.

Great.

It’s always nice to talk to customers about what they want from the product standpoint. Every morning I get a ton of emails on suggestions as to what we can do.

I’ve said now a couple of times that you spent your life in TV. TV is generally a wholesale business, traditionally a wholesale business. You guys sell stuff to Comcast. Comcast sells it to me. Now you’re in a business where you’re selling me something directly, and I come to you and I complain about the grid. What is that change like for you, running a company that’s direct to consumer as opposed to a wholesaler?

It makes you focus very quickly on the end result. It forces you out of the focus on you. Look, everything we do at Hulu, as one of our core values, starts with the viewer, for us, the subscriber, how they use the product, what they do day in and day out really starts with how are we benefiting that consumer.

For me, coming in from a place where traditional, in the television world, where originally, at one point in time, you had ratings, and that’s what you looked at, then you had viewers. Now when social came into play, you had some direct interaction and feedback, which was always interesting, but still it was pretty much about a rating process. We know every day how many people use the service. We know if it’s up or down. Did they stay longer? Did they stay shorter? That really gives you the opportunity to focus in on it.

The other thing is, for me, coming in, and it took a little while to embrace, the entire company has that focus and you feel it. You feel when you walk into a meeting, you feel when you’re in a conversation that the conversation is not, the first thing that’s brought up is not Hulu. It’s like, “Okay, what are our subscribers doing? What are our customers doing? What does this month look like? What’s engagement look like?”

It’s something that is incredibly exciting for me to walk in every day and see the cultural impact of knowing you have customers versus putting something out to a distributor, who is then going to put it out to a household, and then you’re going to measure that based on what a third-party rating system says you did in a given night on an average minute, versus knowing, very quickly, if you put a show out, “Okay, these people, this group of people watched it. We know that something happened in episode three because that’s when people stopped watching it.” It gives you so much more input so that you can then hopefully make better decisions going forward.

You still have to deal with distributors, except now the distributors in some cases are your competitors. I can buy Hulu through Apple. Maybe I did. Apple is going to have some kind of video service out this fall. Can I buy Hulu through Amazon?

Yes.

Yeah, and I think they sell a lot of it, Hulu probably. You go on down the list. I could buy it through Roku. Everyone has these channel setups where they’re going to sell your service and HBO, etc. How do you think about navigating that world where the people who are selling your stuff are also selling their own stuff and your competitors’ stuff?

Look though, the world’s filled full of the competitors in this process. The current situation, there’s still a device needed, whether that’s a Fire Stick or a Roku or an Apple box or some other version of that, so you have opportunities to package and sell to customers with those two things in a way that creates a relationship with Amazon and others that helps them sell their products, as well.

While we compete on a content basis with many of those companies, they are also our partners, and we drive their business, they help drive our business. That’s part of the process. Look, all of these are very, very big companies that operate in different parts of the world. You drive as much as you can through their businesses, and then you drive as much as you can on a direct basis as well.

Netflix has gone out and said, “You can still obviously watch us on Apple TV and Apple products, but we’re not going to sell through them.” Apple is basically trying to put together its own TV guide, which has a lot of benefits for Apple and potentially for consumers. Netflix has a lot of reasons to not want to be in that. It seems like you guys could be in that same boat, that you might say, “You know what? We’re better off not being part of this channel offering that Apple is going to provide.” It’s kind of confusing whether you are or aren’t. What’s your feeling about participating in whatever that product is going to be?

Well, Apple today, you can buy the SVOD service on Apple today. You can’t get the live service today on Apple.

Okay, hence my confusion.

Yeah.

I must have paid you directly.

Yeah.

Okay.

Again, we’re the same as we were last month, this month with Apple from the standpoint of, you have an Apple TV, come on the service. You can buy the SVOD service, and we’re moving into being able to offer more services as well. They take their rev share. We get our piece of that. Product is the economics as well. We’re very happy with the relationship with Apple as a distribution partner for the service, as an economic partner for the service. They’ve been an excellent partner for us.

Again, it’s not just distribution, right? Because they’re trying to create this … They have a TV guide product that is kind of good. It will tell me, “Hey, there’s a new HBO, new episode of a John Oliver show up. You should watch it.” “You have Hulu. There’s a new episode of whatever. You should watch it.” On the one hand, that’s potentially really good for you. On the other hand, that gives Apple the ability to feature somebody else instead of you.

Yup. Look, it’s a competitive world out there.

That’s life.

It is. It is. That’s why we have to be great at the user experience. We have to be great at servicing customers. We have to be great at providing customers choice and control of their service and what they can do. On top of it, we have to have the best content.

I think the way we look at providing that content is, the best television ever made, whether that’s Seinfeld or more recent great shows, current season television from broadcast networks and others, other library content originals that have impact and matter, and a live service that allows you to drive news and sports. What we find in live is — again, the majority of the content that is watched inside live is news and sports.

Even the entertainment programming, short of a couple of channels that have a very passive relationship with the customer, when people inside of the live service watch entertainment, they mostly watch it on demand.

I don’t need to watch this thing at 9:00 on Sunday. Game of Thrones is the exception.

There’s nothing live in entertainment, other than a couple of shows, The Voice, American Idol, some of those competitions that actually is live, so we can create … You can still … Look, if you want something to air at 9:00 on a Sunday night because it’s big and you want people to watch it together on on demand, we can still drop that Sunday night at 9:00 and everybody can choose to watch it at 9:00 if they want.

So live is still a big deal for news and sports, but beyond that, the idea of someone tuning in at 8:00 or 10:00 because that’s when the show is on, we’re fully past that period, basically.

Yeah. Look, I think there are exceptions to the rule. The last few Sundays probably Game of Thrones is the exception to the rule. I don’t think that’s a new thing. I think over the last five, seven years, when you look at broadcast television, they moved from a very dominant live window of viewing to C3, C7, you know, 28 days. Most broadcast shows, I would say today probably have as much non-live viewing on Fox or ABC or CBS or NBC, for that matter, than they do live viewing that started at 8:00 on Tuesday night.

Okay. When is the the Vox-produced David Chang show going to run?

We haven’t set a date yet.

I should find out, right?

You should.

Figured I could ask somebody in this building.

Well, as soon as we set a date, you’ll be the first to know.

All right. Randy, this was great. Thank you for coming in.

Thank you for having me.


Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.

Trump might make us miss Watergate

Could Trump really make the country nostalgic for the Nixon era?

In the 1970s, our political system was better suited to meet a crisis than it is now.

We may be approaching the third* presidential impeachment effort of the past half century. There was widespread talk after Richard Nixon’s resignation that the “system had worked” despite the strain of a criminal president. Bill Clinton’s impeachment arguably placed the system under far less pressure; only the most obsessed Clinton haters thought his misdeeds approached the severity of Nixon’s crimes, while there never was a serious chance that Clinton would be removed from office.

Indeed, it’s hard to see any long-lasting legacy of the Clinton impeachment. It probably hurt Republicans in the 1998 midterms. The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal may have cost Democrats the 2000 presidential election, but it likely would have been a prominent issue whether or not Republicans had impeached Clinton. Nor did the Clinton impeachment rein in the executive branch, as Watergate did, at least temporarily. None of the presidents who have followed Clinton have been known for their deference to Congress. The Clinton impeachment may not have been history repeating itself as farce; it now appears to have been like a fearsome storm that howled briefly but left no enduring mark on the landscape.

But it’s Watergate that should most interest us now. Unlike the Clinton impeachment, it ended with Nixon leaving office in disgrace, resigning to avoid certain impeachment and removal. At least temporarily, it marked the rollback of the “Imperial Presidency” that had grown since the 1930s and 1940s. It was accompanied by a wide range of legislation meant to protect the power of Congress. Unlike the case of the Clinton impeachment, few people regretted the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency.

The central difference between our political system and that of the Watergate era is that then political parties were weak but nonpartisan elites were strong. Today, while parties may not be strong per se, nonpartisan elites — the media, the civil service, the bar, Congress itself — have lost much of their prestige. They have also lost much of their political independence.

Unlike Trump, Richard Nixon faced a Congress entirely in Democratic hands. Democrats had control of committee chairmanships and the legislative agenda. If many of those Democrats were relatively conservative, few felt especially warmly toward Nixon, whose presidency had featured numerous attempts to circumvent Congress. Democrats had an obvious partisan incentive to undermine Nixon’s presidency. Given that they had been in control for almost two decades, Democrats felt secure in their power. By contrast, we are in an era of “insecure majorities,” and the new Democratic majority feels vulnerable, especially given how many freshmen come from districts that voted for Trump or Mitt Romney.

But there were also elements of bipartisanship that were critical to Watergate. In the 1970s, American politics was at its lowest point of partisan polarization. Ticket-splitting was at its highest, congressional party unity was at its lowest. This made it easier for members of both parties to oppose Nixon in 1973-74. Many moderate and conservative Democrats played critical roles in Watergate. They couldn’t be dismissed as knee-jerk opponents of Nixon or as sour-grapes McGovernites. Robert Byrd may have been the Senate Democratic whip, yet he was also conservative enough for Nixon to toy with putting him on the Supreme Court. He pressured FBI director-designate L. Patrick Gray to testify at his confirmation hearing that Nixon had sought to involve him in the coverup of the Watergate burglary.

Sam Ervin gained national fame as the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Watergate. But he was also a segregationist and a Vietnam hawk who had little in common with the liberals who came to idolize him during the televised hearings he ran in the summer of 1973. (When the committee began its hearings in May, Nixon’s approval rating was at 44 percent; by the end of the summer, it had fallen to 33 percent). Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) wisely picked Ervin as chairman of the select committee. Ervin’s reputation as a Senate institutionalist and an ideological conservative helped convince Republicans and Southern Democrats to support the creation of the panel. In the end, the committee was approved by a 77-0 margin in February 1973 — when Watergate was still a below-the-fold story.

Moderate and liberal Republicans did even more to bring down Nixon who, in many ways, was one of them. In a ticket-splitting era, politicians could still build reputations independent of their parties. Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-CT), a member of the Senate committee, grilled witnesses in a fashion that enraged the Nixon White House. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused the president’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. In the aftermath of the ensuing Saturday Night Massacre, multiple liberal Republicans turned against Nixon.

Republicans on the bench played a vital role, too. U.S. v. Nixon, the decision that required Nixon to hand over the Oval Office tapes, was credited to Chief Justice Warren Burger, whom the president himself appointed. It was actually mostly written by Justice Potter Stewart, an Eisenhower appointee whom Nixon considered naming as Chief Justice. Even John Sirica, the District Court Judge whose hard-line tactics helped foil the Watergate coverup, was a Republican.

Not only was the 1970s Congress less partisan than today’s, but it was more decentralized and less dominated by leadership. Speaker of the House Carl Albert could best be described as an ineffective alcoholic, and neither Mansfield nor Senate Republican leader Hugh Scott were particularly vigorous figures. The institutional leadership of the Republican Party — Scott, House Republican leader John Rhodes, RNC chairman George H. W. Bush — did not break with Nixon until his presidency appeared mortally wounded in the summer of 1974. Democratic party leadership played important roles in the Watergate investigation, but mostly behind the scenes: Mansfield devising the Senate select committee, House Majority leader Tip O’Neill laying the procedural groundwork for impeachment.

Instead, committees took the lead, first the Senate Judiciary committee, then the Senate Select committee, finally the House Judiciary committee. The confirmation hearings for Gray and Richardson gave members of the Senate Judiciary Committee the opportunity to extract concessions and admissions. Most notably, Richardson agreed to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Watergate. These committees were ultimately characterized by bipartisan cooperation, both among staff and rank-and-file members. A critical group of mostly moderate Republicans and Southern Democrats composed the so-called “Fragile Coalition” on the House Judiciary Committee. Their deliberations helped build bipartisan support for impeachment.

As Frances Lee notes in Beyond Ideology, much partisan behavior is driven not by philosophical differences but by “team” behavior aimed at gaining power. During the early stages of Watergate, Republicans did act as a “team” in support of Nixon. Both House Republican leader Gerald Ford and Senate Watergate committee ranking Republican Howard Baker took action early on to protect the Nixon White House. But as Nixon’s political stature crumbled in the spring and summer of 1974, his support among Republican politicians also slipped. His approval among Republican voters had already fallen from near-unanimity in the wake of the 1972 election to barely half at the end of the 1973.

The mass media, particularly the Washington Post, was critical to keeping the Watergate story going in its early days. The Nixon administration sought to discredit unfavorable reporting as the work of a biased press keen to bring down its sworn enemy.

That argument did not prevent the American public from turning against Nixon. But it might be more effective today. As Jonathan Ladd notes in Why Americans Hate the News Media and Why It Matters, Americans’ trust in the mass media has fallen dramatically over the past few decades. During Watergate, the conservative media was generally supportive of Nixon, but in the coverup’s infancy, media coverage was mostly limited to the National Review, the newsletter Human Events, and a few radio commentators. Almost all Americans got their news from TV network news or newspapers that carefully avoided open political bias. Today, the conservative media has sprouted what David Frum calls the “conservative political-entertainment complex,” and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh attract audiences in the millions. Trump’s message that the mainstream media cannot be trusted finds a more receptive audience than Nixon found, and a more elaborate apparatus to spread it.

Watergate occurred just as Congress was expanding its institutional capacity in the wake of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 and in response to decades of growth in presidential power. Staff was increased, and legislative support agencies such as the Congressional Research Service and the General Accounting Office were beefed up. The 1970s were an era when members of Congress were more willing to defend their institution, even when that meant crossing party lines. By contrast, recent decades have seen the legislative branch steadily lose power to the executive.

What would it mean for the political system to not handle the current crisis well? This could cover a range of undesirable outcomes:

  • A criminal president remaining in office despite committing acts that would justify his removal.
  • An impeachment along narrowly partisan lines, perhaps followed by a farcical trial in the Senate — or no trial at all.
  • A president using the impeachment process to rally his supporters, perhaps also persuading swing voters that Democrats are “out of control.”
  • Congress failing to obtain information that the public deserves to see.
  • Congress continuing to lose power to the executive.

But history does not only offer us lessons to despair. Trump’s narrow, flukish electoral victory bears no resemblance to Nixon’s 49-state landslide of 1972. The 2020 election approaches, with a Trump defeat seeming very plausible. With two impeachment processes within living memory, the prospect of removing a president is far more imaginable than it was in 1974. Donald Trump has frequently shown bizarre political judgment, while Nixon was generally careful in public statements, avoiding anything that would implicate him.

Finally, Nixon had at least some good will from his fellow politicians, despite his poor personal relations with so many of them. He was, after all, the president who opened relations with China, negotiated arms control with the Soviets, and created the Environmental Protection Administration. He was a political veteran who could draw upon relationships that had lasted for a quarter century or more. After the release of the “smoking gun” tape, Rep. Charles Wiggins (R-CA), perhaps the president’s most able defender on the House Judiciary Committee, admitted that the time had come to end the “magnificent public career of Richard Nixon.” Outside of Mar-a-Lago, it’s hard to imagine anyone saying such words about Donald Trump.

* There was talk of impeaching Reagan for Iran-Contra, George W. Bush for the Iraq War, and Obama over the various obsessions of the right-wing fever swamps, but none of these cases amounted to much.

The author wishes to thank Philip Klinkner of Hamilton College for his contributions to this article.

The other conservative news network Trump keeps tweeting about, explained

Trump at the White House last Friday.

One America News Network has quickly become one of Trump’s favorites. The feeling is mutual.

President Donald Trump began his Monday morning by posting a tweet thanking his favorite TV show, Fox & Friends, for a “great show this morning.” Four minutes later, the president posted another tweet congratulating a lesser-known right-wing news network — One America News Network.

“Also, congratulations to @OANN on the great job you are doing and the big ratings jump (“thank you President Trump”)!” he wrote. (It’s unclear what evidence, if any, Trump has that OANN has experienced a “big ratings jump.”)

OANN’s platform is nowhere near as large as Fox News — the network is available via DirecTV and Verizon’s Fios but not most cable packages, and its ratings are reportedly beneath the Tennis Channel — but it is even more doggedly loyal to the president. Trump is increasingly taking notice.

Trump certainly enjoys lots of positive coverage on Fox News, but his recent promotion of OANN is a good reminder that, in an era of ever-segmenting audiences eager to find a point of view they agree with, there’s still a free market of competition for Trump’s media loyalty.

What is OANN?

Herring Broadcasting announced the launch of OANN at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), with president Charles Herring promising that it’d be a “reliable, credible, fact-based” outlet that would “provide a platform where more voices can be heard, voices that are ignored, libertarian and conservative voices.”

But during the 2016 presidential election cycle, the network went all in for Trump. According to the Washington Post, Charles’s father, Robert Herring — owner of Herring Broadcasting — went as far as to ban OANN employees from covering any polls that didn’t show Trump in the lead. In turn, Trump repeatedly promoted OANN’s Trump-favorable polling.

Emails obtained by the Post indicate that shortly after Trump announced his candidacy, OANN executive producer Lindsay Oakley directed staff to “ALWAYS take the trump speeches live in their entirety,” adding that “Trump is being treated unfairly by the mainstream media and we need to provide the other side. . . . Not to mention we have loyal viewers that tune in specifically to see the Trump speeches live because no one else carries them. We also see some of our highest ratings during the Trump speeches.”

Indeed, during the campaign, OANN pushed conspiracy theories about the email hacks of Democratic politicians and operatives that suggested they were an inside job; downplayed a hot mic recording of Trump bragging about groping women; and ran a special about Hillary Clinton titled, “Betrayal at Benghazi: The Cost of Hillary Clinton’s Dereliction and Greed.”

OANN has been just as loyal to Trump since he took office. Its anchors frame news stories with introductions like, “the president keeps another promise, slashing regulations to a historic low,” the network employed former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a contributor for a time, and in March went as far as to cite the fringe conspiracy website Gateway Pundit as a source for a story aimed at establishing that the Obama-era Department of Justice “took steps to infiltrate Trump’s campaign with spies in December 2015.”

In return, OANN apparently expects Trump to help promote the network, as he routinely does for Fox News. At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in March, Trump gave a speech in which he thanked a number of his supporters in the media, but didn’t mention OANN. The network responded with a salty, since-deleted tweet in which it lamented that Trump omitted “a single mention of One America News — one of his GREATEST supporters … @OANN calls bullshit.”

Screengrab via Eric Hananoki on Twitter

A couple of weeks later, Fox News rankled Trump by hosting a Bernie Sanders town hall event. Since that unusual rift developed, Trump has explicitly promoted OANN’s content five times on Twitter. Starting from a bit earlier, in mid-March, Trump mentioned OANN seven times in tweets. Those were the first mentions since before the inauguration.

Trump’s recent promotion of OANN hasn’t come at Fox News’s expense. But it does indicate that Trump is looking these days to amplify other outlets that cover him favorably, and reliably reinforce his talking points.

OANN amplifies right-wing conspiracy theories

One of the five times Trump has promoted OANN on Twitter over the past month was in reference to a segment featuring a discredited conspiracy theorist named Larry Johnson who reiterated an unfounded idea first pushed two years ago about the Obama administration “spying” on Trump’s campaign.

Johnson, the former CIA officer featured on OANN and cited by Trump, has a long history of spreading baseless conspiracy theories about prominent Democrats, and there is still no credible evidence that anyone associated with Trump was improperly surveilled during the 2016 election. FISA warrants were taken out against onetime Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page after he left the campaign, but the warrant applications went through standard processes and were authorized by four judges appointed by Republican presidents.

That tweet wasn’t the first time Trump spread fake news that originated with OANN. In October 2017, Trump — alluding to an OANN piece — tweeted, “Just out report: ‘United Kingdom crime rises 13% annually amid spread of Radical Islamic terror.’ Not good, we must keep America safe!” But the UK Office for National Statistics made clear that the crime data they compiled and released drew no connection between a rise in crime and “Radical Islamic terror,” other than to note that the murder rate was slightly higher because of deaths related to terror attacks in London and Manchester.

“The simple answer is that our statistical release bulletin yesterday made no link between terrorism and violent crime,” a UK Office for National Statistics spokesperson said about Trump’s tweet, in a statement.

Around that same time, OANN repeatedly attacked the credibility of women who came forward to accuse Republican US Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct. More recently, OANN has come under scrutiny for pushing conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood and uncritically spreading Russian disinformation about humanitarian workers in Syria.

Fake news or not, Trump will take whatever help he can get

For Trump, however, concerns about the accuracy of stories he’s spreading take a backseat to whether or not they are helpful to him. And OANN has demonstrated above and beyond anything else that it’s all about being helpful to Trump.

Trump’s latest tweet promoting OANN on Monday prompted CNN media reporter Brian Stelter to wonder if the president might be trying to build a rivalry between the network and Fox News.

It’s worth noting that Fox News is still America’s highest-rated cable news network. OANN, suffice it to say, is nowhere near that level. So in the short run, Fox News doesn’t have to worry about OANN chipping away at its audience.

But also notable is that Trump’s promotion of OANN escalated right after he lashed out at Fox News for giving a platform to one of his Democratic rivals. Whether that’s a coincidence or meant to be a shot across the bow at Fox, what is clear is that Trump is doing what he can to lift OANN from the fringes to the mainstream.


The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

Game of Thrones’ King’s Landing horror fittingly reveals what the show has always been about

Daenerys unleashes her dragon on King’s Landing — and reveals the series’ endgame.

The Dany twist is classic George R.R. Martin.

Game of Thrones’ battle for King’s Landing turned out to be not a battle but a slaughter perpetrated by the once-heroic Daenerys Targaryen — and “The Bells” has been an intensely controversial episode as a result.

But as a statement about what the series has been about all along, “The Bells” was a stunning success.

Essentially, Game of Thrones devoted its climax to portraying the horrors of war, and to a longtime hero becoming a monster. It’s a bold, unforgettable statement — an instantly iconic and shocking late turn to the eight-season saga.

And it’s entirely consistent with the series’ core themes and motifs: the misuse of power, how innocents suffer when the high lords seek power, and the subversion of expectations. That is, it’s classic George R.R. Martin. (Martin, who wrote the Song of Ice and Fire novels on which the TV show is based, revealed his planned ending to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss years ago, and recently said he doesn’t think their ending will be “that different” from his own.)

If Game of Thrones ended with a triumphant Daenerys Targaryen heroically taking the Iron Throne, it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones. This is the show of Ned Stark’s death. This is the show of the Red Wedding. This is the ending it was headed toward all along.

Dany going dark is a far more interesting ending than the other leading possibilities

The choice to veer in this direction resolves many apparent problems with the structure of Game of Thrones’ final season.

The first potential problem was the White Walkers. Simply put: They’re boring. In a series known for charismatic and interesting antagonists, here was a horde of mute ice zombies who simply wanted to wipe out all life. The White Walkers posed the risk that despite all of Martin’s subversions of tropes in the past, Game of Thrones would simply replicate the classic fantasy ending: a big battle of good versus evil, where good triumphs.

Indeed, the initial, Winterfell-focused episodes this season were mainly about admirable characters getting along and working together for the common good — which is not, to me, what this series is about. So I was pleased to see the White Walkers dispensed with halfway through the season.

The second potential problem was Team Cersei. Once the supernatural threat was eliminated, the Lannister queen and her rather one-note set of cronies in King’s Landing became Game of Thrones’ apparent final set of antagonists. Again, it seemed like a simplistic good-versus-evil face-off. And really, after our heroes triumphed over the embodiment of death, were we supposed to be afraid of these clowns?

In fact, we weren’t. What unfolded in “The Bells” wasn’t really a battle against Cersei’s forces — it was a massacre. There was no drama whatsoever about the outcome, because minutes after Daenerys unleashed her dragonfire, it was clear that her forces would win.

And that’s when Game of Thrones truly showed its hand. All along, it wasn’t headed toward a predictable good-versus-evil climax. The ultimate denouement was always going to be about our heroes being torn apart, as a horrific tragedy unfolds at Dany’s hands. It’s an ending that restores the subversiveness that’s been so sorely lacking from recent seasons.

The execution of the aftermath of Dany’s choice was excellent

Since it’s obviously not true that this turn for Daenerys came out of nowhere — it’s been repeatedly foreshadowed in the show and likely planned by Martin since the 1990s — the most common criticism I’ve seen of “The Bells” is that the execution of that turn was lacking. (See, for instance, my colleague Zack Beauchamp’s article here.)

Some of these criticisms are fair enough. It would have been nice if Daenerys’s devolution was a bit more gradual and could have unfolded over a few more episodes. The writers piling tragedy upon tragedy on her in a heavy-handed effort to get her to a place where she’d snap was a bit much. And did it really make sense that she’d progress so quickly to a deliberate massacre of thousands of civilians?

But as soon as Dany made that crucial decision to ignore the episode’s titular bells and unleash hell on King’s Landing, the execution of what happened afterward was utterly harrowing.

Even though I had long expected this dark turn for Daenerys was coming, I was stunned by just how thoroughly Benioff and Weiss committed to it. Indeed, Dany as a person all but vanishes from the episode — for its final half-hour, we only see distant glimpses of her and Drogon. Instead, we get an up-close look at the horrendous deaths of civilian after civilian, from Drogon’s fire and from Dany’s own invading forces (both Unsullied and Northmen).

“In most large stories like this, it seems like there’s a tendency to focus on the heroic figures,” Weiss said in the “Inside the Episode” segment dedicated to “The Bells,” explaining Dany’s absence. “We really wanted to keep our perspective and our sympathies on the ground at this moment, because those are the people who are really paying the price for the decisions that she’s making.”

We see Jon and Tyrion horrified by what’s unfolding, but the true bravura sequences are Arya’s struggle to escape the chaos and her failed attempts to rescue someone, anyone. Even the trained assassin who killed the Night King is lucky to survive the sort of destruction Dany is unleashing.

All of this is consistent with the core themes Martin established for the series long ago. War is hell. Power can turn even a good person into a monster. Your heroes often aren’t as heroic as you might think.

And while I’ve thought Benioff and Weiss have veered too far in the direction of simplistic, crowd-pleasing spectacle in Game of Thrones’ recent seasons, it was unmistakably a bold decision to make the series’ penultimate episode mainly about the horrors of war, even when carried out by the “good” guys. (Fans and viewers are understandably horrified, and that’s the point.)

Maybe Jon Snow will get the throne, but if he does, it will feel awful

I don’t know what will happen in Game of Thrones’ series finale, but my guess is that some combination of Jon, Tyrion, and Arya will move against Dany and kill her, with Jon naturally being the leading contender to end up on the throne instead.

But if this does happen, rather than being a wish-fulfillment ending, it’s going to feel terrible for them — and for viewers.

In their way, both Tyrion and Jon are culpable for what happened in King’s Landing. Jon couldn’t abide by Dany’s wishes to keep his mouth shut about his heritage. Instead, he let out the secret by telling Sansa, who told Tyrion, who told Varys. This fed Dany’s paranoia — and rightfully so, considering how quickly plots were hatched against her once the news began to spread.

Meanwhile, Tyrion first decided to tell Varys Jon’s secret — and then to turn on Varys when he tried to act on that information. In doing so, Tyrion demonstrated loyalty to his queen (though she rightly questioned why he talked to Varys about Jon’s heritage before her). But in retrospect, it’s clear that Varys foresaw exactly what was about to transpire in King’s Landing and was trying to prevent a massacre — and for that, Tyrion sent him to a fiery death. (“I hope I’m wrong,” Varys said. He wasn’t wrong.)

Now Jon will likely feel compelled to turn against the woman he loved, and Tyrion will feel compelled to betray the leader he once had such lofty hopes for. It’s a suitably tragic conclusion to a series that’s long been focused on the dark side of power.

Mind the mental health gap: Employees are THREE times more likely to discuss physical ailments over mental health issues at work

The disparity in physical and mental health at work is laid bare in new research from the ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ campaign, as it launches its new Workplace Manifesto1 ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May 2019). A OnePoll survey of 2,000 employed adults reveals that, on average, 42% of employees feel comfortable discussing […]

The post Mind the mental health gap: Employees are THREE times more likely to discuss physical ailments over mental health issues at work appeared first on CEO Magazine.

French special forces rescue hostages in a deadly Burkina Faso raid

Laurent Lassimouillas, Patrick Picque, and a third freed hostage arrive in France.

Two French citizens, a South Korean woman, and an American woman were rescued.

French special forces freed four hostages in Burkina Faso late last week in a raid that left two of the elite soldiers dead.

Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello were killed in the nighttime raid to free two French citizens, Laurent Lassimouillas and Patrick Picque. During the operation, two additional hostages not identified by initial intelligence reports were discovered in the enemy encampment; these hostages, an American woman and a South Korean woman, were also freed.

French authorities said the hostage-takers were terrorists who kidnapped Lassimouillas and Picque, two French tourists, on May 1. The two music teachers were on a safari in Benin’s Pendjiari National Park, an area French authorities have warned citizens against visiting. Their guide, Fiacre Gbédji, was murdered in the kidnapping.

According to the BBC, the kidnappers were on their way to Mali. It is believed they planned to hand over the hostages to the militant group Katiba Macina.

“Once the hostages were in [Katiba Macina’s] hands it would have been impossible to rescue them,” Francois Lecointre, France’s army chief, said in a news conference.

Four of the kidnappers were killed during the rescue and two were reported to have escaped. Although no group has taken responsibility for the kidnapping, authorities said groups tied to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State both operate in the region.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said the two women had been held captive for 28 days, and that despite the special forces troops having US intelligence support for the operation, that neither the US nor South Korea were aware their citizens had been taken.

“The contacts [with those countries] show that the countries were not necessarily aware of their presence,” Parly said.

Both women will be returned to their home countries.

A spokeswoman for the US State Department told Reuters that the US was grateful for the rescue and also offered official condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers.

In a press conference after meeting Macron in France Saturday, Lassimouillas also extended his condolences to the families of the fallen troops, as well as to the family of his safari guide. He also said that he was sorry he failed to heed the government’s travel warning and that he wished he had “avoided that magnificent region of the world that has unhappily tipped into instability.”

French President Emmanuel Macron met with the hostages as they arrived in France Saturday, and honored the soldiers who died on Friday.

“They gave their lives to liberate others,” Macron said on Twitter Friday of de Pierrepont and Bertoncello. Macron announced a formal memorial service for the two men will be held Tuesday in Paris.

Bertoncello’s parents, Jean-Luc and Daniéle Bertoncello, said he’d wanted to join the navy since high school and that they were proud of him.

“What he loved was the esprit de corps … he was doing what he wanted and he always told us not to worry,” they said in an interview with RTL radio. “They did what they had to do. For him it ended badly, for the others, it was a successful mission.”

Rudy Giuliani cancels Ukraine trip amid criticism he’s courting election interference 

Rudy Giuliani at the Washington National Cathedral.

The president’s lawyer wants Ukrainian officials to investigate a call Joe Biden made about corruption.

Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, has called off a trip to Ukraine during which he planned to ask the country’s prosecutors to investigate the origins of the Mueller investigation and to look into ties between Hunter Biden, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, and a Ukrainian oligarch.

With respect to Biden, Giuliani was particularly interested in a phone call Joe Biden made while serving as vice president in which he requested Ukraine’s top prosecutor, who had once been tasked with investigating a company Hunter Biden worked for, be removed from office.

Giuliani’s decision came amid growing criticism that he was requesting that a foreign state interfere in the 2020 election. A number of polls show Joe Biden is currently the Democratic frontrunner, and he could become Trump’s rival in the next election. A scandal could obviously hurt Biden’s chances not only in a hypothetical general election contest, but in the primary.

Democrats and some legal experts were quick to attack Giuliani and his trip. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) called the trip “next level” corruption, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said, “We’ve come to a very sorry state when it’s considered okay for an American politician — never mind an attorney for the president — to go and seek foreign intervention in American politics.”

Tim Meyer, an international law expert at Vanderbilt University, told the Washington Post the trip set a shocking precedent. “This is the first instance of which I am aware in which a private lawyer for the president of the United States has, in his own words, ‘meddled’ in a foreign criminal investigation of a third party in order to politically benefit the president.”

Ahead of the trip, Giuliani argued for asking for Ukrainian help on Fox News, where he claimed that there was “massive collusion” between Democratic National Committee officials, Clinton campaign representatives, the Obama administration, and Ukrainian politicians, who he said lied about Paul Manafort and Donald Trump.

“It’s a big story,” Giuliani said. “It’s a dramatic story and, I guarantee you, Joe Biden will not get to election day without this being investigated. Not because I want to see him investigated, this is collateral to what I was doing.”

Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was sentenced to a total of 7.5 years in federal prison last March. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop reported at the time:

All the charges brought against Manafort by prosecutors related to his past political and lobbying work for Ukraine’s pro-Russian political faction, his finances, or attempting to interfere with the investigation. He has not been charged with any criminal conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 elections.

Manafort was subsequently indicted on 16 additional charges in New York, where he is not eligible for a presidential pardon.

The origins of a Republican Ukrainian conspiracy theory

Giuliani hoped to prove that Ukrainian officials had helped the Clinton campaign in 2016 the same way the Russians helped the Trump campaign. Part of this help supposedly came in the form of documents about Manafort’s Ukrainian ties.

Accusations that Ukraine worked on behalf of Clinton have been floated, particularly on the right, following a 2017 report that a Ukrainian American contractor with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) passed along information about Manafort from Ukrainian officials to members of the Clinton campaign. That contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, told CNN she did give the DNC information about Manafort, but only what she knew about the man from her work as an activist.

“When it was announced that the Trump campaign hired Manafort, many Ukrainian Americans were alarmed and concerned it was an early signal that Putin was trying to influence the US election,” Chalupa said. “At that time, I flagged for the DNC the significance of his hire based on information in the public domain.”

A number of DNC officials involved in opposition research have disputed the claim that the Clinton campaign ever reached out to Ukraine, as have representatives from the country itself. Nevertheless, Giuliani believes there is more to the story.

“All I want the Ukrainian government to do is investigate, and don’t let these people buffalo you,” the president’s lawyer said on Fox.

Giuliani also believes Joe Biden may have acted inappropriately while serving as vice president.

In 2016, Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion from Ukraine unless the country made some anti-corruption reforms, including removing Ukraine’s top prosecutor, from office. As Bloomberg’s Stephanie Baker and Daryna Krasnolutska reported, the threat was made in part to aid a UK investigation into money laundering by Mykola Zlochevsky, the head of Burisma Holdings. The former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, joined Burisma’s board in 2014; in that role, he was reportedly paid $50,000 a month.

The UK’s investigation into Zlochevsky was underway by the time Hunter Biden joined his company, and Ukraine began an investigation into the mogul shortly after the UK launched its inquiry.

According to an official Bloomberg spoke with, and documents Baker and Krasnolutska reviewed, both investigations into Zlochevsky had been halted by the time Joe Biden made his call.

A British court unfroze the mogul’s assets in 2015 after prosecutors struggled to make their case against him; they blamed a lack of cooperation from their Ukrainian counterparts. The Ukrainian investigation, which was being handled by the office of the country’s prosecutor general, was put on hold in 2014. Viktor Shokin, who at the start of the investigation was a deputy prosecutor in the office, and who had become prosecutor general by the time Biden made his call, has been accused by subordinates of blocking the investigation into Zlochevsky. He has also been accused of corruption.

Although Biden has not recently spoken about the call or his son’s work in Ukraine, he did in 2015 tell Bloomberg, “No one has ever raised that with me in Ukraine,” and that, “I don’t talk to my son” about what he does for a living.

Despite apparent issues with timing of Biden’s call, Giuliani hoped his trip would reveal some wrongdoing, and said so in response to Sen. Murphy’s criticism.

While Giuliani’s trip has been cancelled, the issue of Joe Biden and Ukraine may yet remain a subject of discussion in the White House.

In an interview with Politico Friday, when asked whether he planned to task Attorney General William Barr with investigating the Bidens, President Trump signaled a willingness to do so.

“Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet,” Trump said. “It could be a very big situation.”

Trump asked Don McGahn to publicly state he didn’t obstruct justice. McGahn refused.

Don McGahn during the Kavanaugh hearings.

Trump’s request to have McGahn remove Robert Muller was listed as potential obstruction of justice in the Mueller report.

Don McGahn, a former White House counsel named in the Mueller report’s section on potential obstruction of justice by the Trump administration, rejected a request from President Trump to publicly declare that he doesn’t believe Trump obstructed justice.

McGahn, who left the Trump White House in 2018, provided Robert Mueller’s team with 30 hours of testimony over the course of the special counsel’s investigation into links between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign and potential obstruction of justice by the Trump administration.

As Vox’s Aaron Rupar explained, McGahn told Mueller the president asked him to fire the special counsel, something McGahn refused to do:

McGahn told Mueller that in June 2017 — one month after Mueller’s appointment — the president reacted to reports that Mueller was investigating him for obstruction of justice by calling him at home and “direct[ing] him to call the Acting Attorney General and say that the Special Counsel had conflict of interest and must be removed. McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.”

In January 2018, the New York Times reported that Trump ordered McGahn to have the Justice Department fire Mueller the previous June. According to what McGahn told Mueller, Trump reacted to the report by asking McGahn to fabricate evidence that could be used to refute it.

“The President then directed [then-White House official Rob] Porter to tell McGahn to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel,” the report says. “McGahn shrugged off the request, explaining that the media reports were true.”

This incident was further investigated by Mueller, and was eventually included in his report as one of 10 times Trump may have obstructed justice.

Following the release of the Mueller report last month, the president wanted McGahn to publicly state that he did not consider the request to remove Mueller from the Russia investigation obstruction of justice, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal report.

McGahn refused to do so.

“We did not perceive it as any kind of threat or something sinister,” William Burck, McGahn’s personal attorney, said. “It was a request, professionally and cordially made.”

Sources told the Journal McGahn had several reasons for deciding not to make the statement.

First, he felt he had said everything he needed to say on the matter in his testimony to Mueller. Second, he didn’t want to further comment on that testimony, particularly in a brief way. Third, he felt any comment he could have made had already been rendered meaningless by Attorney General William Barr’s decision that the “evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

McGahn is a central figure in a subpoena fight between the Trump and Democrats

One Trump administration request McGahn has honored was refusing to comply with a House Judiciary Committee subpoena last week. The committee wants McGahn to turn over documents from his time as White House counsel.

The White House does not want these documents released to the committee, or anyone else, and Pat Cipollone, the current White House counsel, said that any documents in McGahn’s possession are protected by President Trump’s executive privilege.

New York’s Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee, disagreed with this assessment, and threatened to hold McGahn in contempt of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee has already voted to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt.

“Mr. McGahn is required to appear and provide testimony before the committee absent a court order authorizing noncompliance, as well as provide a privilege log for any documents withheld,” Nadler said Tuesday. “Otherwise, the committee will have no choice but to resort to contempt proceedings to ensure that it has access to the information it requires to fulfill its constitutionally mandated duties.”

McGahn was expected to testify before Congress on May 21, but it is not clear if his hearing will go on as planned.

President Trump has dismissed Congressional investigations into his administration as politically driven and has instructed his subordinates to ignore subpoenas on more than 30 separate occasions.

“There is no reason to go any further,” Trump told the Washington Post. “Especially in Congress where it’s very partisan.”

As a founder, I mistook my work for self-worth

These days, most days are good days. My clients are founder and executives, I set my own schedule, and I live in a city I love. As an executive coach and advisor, I work with founders and CEOs of companies who have raised more than $100M. Like any enterprise, it’s taken a lot of building, planning, and failing for me to get where I am.

Trump wants to change how poverty is calculated — to make fewer people eligible for benefits

It’s all about the prices that people like food stamps recipients pay.

It’s a subtle but important change.

The Trump administration has been incredibly consistent, from day one, about its desire to slash benefits for poor Americans, including Medicaid and food stamps (aka Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). But with the threat of Democratic filibusters and now a Democratic majority in the House, Trump’s efforts to make those cuts a reality have been repeatedly stymied.

That hasn’t stopped the administration from coming up with new attempts, and the latest is subtle but profound: changing the inflation rate used to update the poverty line.

That might sound like a merely technical change. It’s not.

The poverty line is used to determine eligibility for a wide array of government programs. The change the administration is proposing would, over the course of many years, shrink the size of Medicaid, food stamps, free school breakfasts, Head Start, and many, many other programs. To be clear, the administration could certainly change the inflation measure in a way that makes more people eligible — but given its calls for spending cuts, it appears likely it’ll pick a measure that reduces eligibility.

It would not be a big change at first. In its first few years, the policy wouldn’t save much money or affect many people. But make no mistake: seen in the context of the Republican Party’s priorities, this is effectively a cut to government programs. If you think we don’t do enough to provide health care and food assistance to the poor, it’s a bad deal.

The difference between CPI and chained CPI

Here’s what’s happening: Trump’s budget agency has put out a “request for comment” on different ways to adjust the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) for inflation. In other words, it’s essentially laying the groundwork to change how we measure poverty, with an eye toward shrinking the pool of who’s eligible for benefits.

The official poverty measure was developed by the Social Security Administration’s Mollie Orshansky in 1963 and defined as three times the “subsistence food budget” for a family of a given size. As former acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank (then a Brookings Institution fellow, now chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Madison) explained in 2008 congressional testimony:

The subsistence food budget for a family of four was based on the Economy Food Plan developed within the USDA in 1961 using data from the 1955 Household Consumption Survey. It was described as the amount needed for “temporary or emergency use when funds are low.” … If the average family spent one-third of its income on food, then three times the subsistence food budget provided an estimated poverty threshold. This calculation was done for a family of 4, and so-called ‘equivalence scales’ were used to estimate how much was needed by smaller or larger families.

The current poverty line is this number, calculated in 1963 and based on 1955 data, updated by the Consumer Price Index in each year since.

It’s worth dwelling on this for a second. The way we measure poverty is based on a 58-year-old analysis of 64-year-old data on food consumption, with no changes other than adjusting the poverty line for inflation.

That makes the inflation adjustment incredibly important from the standpoint of figuring out who counts as poor.

Currently, the inflation measure the government uses to adjust the poverty line is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). But many economists believe that CPI overestimates inflation — which would imply that the poverty measure has risen too rapidly over time.

What would cause an overestimate? There are several sources, but the most important one in this context is substitution bias. Basically, the way inflation measures work is that they try to estimate the cost of a representative basket of goods at different points in time. The basket’s composition is meant to reflect the goods that consumers are buying — a little bit of housing, a little bit of food, a little bit of electronics, and so on.

But which goods consumers buy change over time, due to their relative prices and capabilities. Take MP3 players. Those were a significant part of US consumer spending in, say, 2004. But as storage on cell phones got bigger, and streaming got easier, fewer people were buying MP3 players, and consequently they make up a miniscule share of consumer spending in 2019. A similar story happened with laptops and tablets. Because tablets are a lot cheaper than laptops, and do most of what many home users want out of a laptop, a number of people have moved toward tablets and away from laptops over time.

But conventional inflation measures like CPI don’t incorporate that kind of substitution. While the details are complex, they usually keep the basket of goods whose price they’re measuring pretty constant over time, updating it only every few years.

In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics introduced “chained” CPI (or C-CPI), which updates the basket on a monthly basis. Chained CPI typically grows more slowly than typical CPI, because it incorporates ways that consumers save money by switching to cheaper goods.

There are other alternative inflation measurement available, most notably the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCEPI), which unlike either the CPI or C-CPI is measured on the business side, not the consumer side, and includes expenses like employer-sponsored health care that the CPI measures exclude. This is the metric upon which the Federal Reserve relies most often in deciding how to control inflation. There’s also CPI-W, which is used for Social Security cost-of-living increases and measures retail prices specifically as it affects hourly workers in cities, and CPI-E, which specifically measures spending by the elderly and tends to rise faster than the regular CPI.

The Trump administration request asks for comments on the usage of all of these measures for adjusting the poverty line. It’s typically neutral on which the administration might pick. But its interest is most likely in switching to chained CPI or PCEPI. Because they rise more slowly, using those metrics would lead to lower enrollment in programs pegged to the poverty line over time, whereas using CPI-E would lead to higher enrollment (and also be a strange choice for programs not targeting the elderly).

Indeed, chained CPI is the likeliest option for the administration to pick if for no other reason than because it was incorporated in the 2017 Republican tax bill. The thresholds for different tax brackets are indexed to inflation, and so this change means that over time more people will be pushed into higher tax brackets, raising revenue. The Obama administration for years pushed for a deal where chained CPI would be applied to both Social Security and taxes, in conjunction with increases in Social Security benefits for longtime recipients (who’d be hardest hit by the change, due to years of compounding).

It’s not clear whether, legally, the Trump administration can make this change on its own. As attorney and liberal welfare policy expert Shawn Fremstad notes, there are several statutes instructing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to update the poverty line in accordance with the CPI — not the chained CPI.

But the use of a request for comment suggests the administration might try to do this through regulation anyway, and fight it out in court later.

Georgetown law professor David Super noted in an email, “To the best of my knowledge, previous discussions have almost always assumed that legislation is required.” He thinks it would most likely be required to make this change too.

How to evaluate the proposal

It’s hard to get a measure of the impact of this change, but in the near term switching to chained CPI would not do a whole lot.

In 2013, the CBO estimated what changing to chained CPI across the government would do to spending. This would be a broader shift than simply changing adjustment of the Official Poverty Measure. The biggest budgetary savings would come from applying chained CPI to Social Security and the tax code, neither of which are included in the current Trump proposal. The CBO concluded that there’d be a $28.5 billion reduction in health spending over 10 years — but that includes changes to provider reimbursement that wouldn’t be affected by a poverty line change, and even if all of it came from a reduction in Medicaid eligibility, it’d only represent a cut of 0.6 percent of the $4.4 trillion in Medicaid spending the CBO projected over those same 10 years.

All that said, the cut would be very concentrated. It would cut some people off from Medicaid and food stamps entirely, while leaving most people on the programs unaffected. That means a small average effect, but an acute effect on the small number of people getting kicked off.

Defenders of the idea argue that what Trump’s proposing, beyond saving money, would simply make the poverty line more accurate.

I’m sympathetic to that argument; as an intellectual matter, a chained price index strikes me as clearly superior as it more closely tracks how the prices of goods people actually buy are changing — though as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Sharon Parrott notes, inflation might be higher for low-income families, in which case moving to chained CPI would arguably be a loss for accuracy.

But this is fundamentally a political decision, not a technical one; we’re not debating “what is the best way to measure the cost of living” but “are too many people getting Medicaid and food stamps, or too few”?

One could answer “too few” and still support using a more accurate price index, if it’s paired with an increase in the overall level of benefits. But that’s not what the Trump administration is doing. It’s seeking out ways to cut benefits over the long run, not attempting a recalibration of government metrics for greater accuracy.

In 2016, the conservative American Enterprise Institute conducted a big poll on poverty asking Americans, among other things, how much money a family of four — two adults, two kids — would have to earn to qualify as not poor. The median response was $30,000. By contrast, in 2016 the poverty line for a family of four was $24,300. The American people appeared to want a threshold that was 23 percent higher than the existing threshold.

It’s also important to think about this in the context of broader political goals. Do you support Medicare for all, or otherwise providing health insurance to all Americans? Then narrowing Medicaid is a move in the wrong direction. Do you support a basic income or other policies to expand cash benefits or cash-like benefits to the poor? Then shrinking food stamps, which are quite similar to cash, is a move in the wrong direction.

In any case, you can’t come to a conclusion on the merits of this idea just by thinking about the technical details of inflation measurement. It always comes down to how big or small you want the welfare state to be.


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How DNC Chair Tom Perez plans to avoid the chaos of the GOP’s 2016 debates

DNC Chairman Tom Perez speaks to a crowd of supporters at a 2017 Democratic unity rally in Salt Lake City, Utah.

With 21 candidates running so far, Perez is staring down a big logistical challenge for the Democratic debates.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez has the unenviable job of figuring out exactly how the summer DNC debates will accommodate a 21-candidate field that is growing by the week.

Out of that massive group, 18 candidates have so far qualified for the first two debate stages, according to their self-reported numbers (spiritual author and little-known candidate Marianne Williamson just announced she’s the latest to do so). All are jockeying for 20 highly coveted spots on the stage, and they have new DNC requirements to meet this year — 65,000 grassroots donors in a certain number of states, in addition to garnering a certain polling percentage in national or early state polls.

These new requirements were deliberate on the DNC’s part; a move to be more inclusive of grassroots candidates, after some argued the party tried to stack the deck for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But national Democrats also may not have anticipated this many candidates jumping in. With just 20 available spots, the committee recently released detailed guidelines for how it plans to cull the herd.

Thinking back to the chaos of the Republican debates in 2016, Perez already has a few ground rules: there will be no varsity and junior varsity stages — candidates will be chosen at random. If there are 20 qualifiers, 10 will go on one night, and another 10 the next. And there will be absolutely no discussion of hand size.

“It was all too frequently a circus on the Republican side where they were simply engaged in name calling and distractions that didn’t allow viewers to understand what they stood for,” Perez told me during a recent interview. He doesn’t plan on letting the Democratic debates devolve into the same thing — but with 20-plus candidates, anything could happen.

Since Perez was elected chair in 2017, he’s embarked on a larger effort to try to mend fences after a bitter 2016 primary fight between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. That was the impetus for Perez scrapping the DNC’s so-called “superdelegates,” party insiders and state Democratic officials who could pledge to support a certain candidate before the party convention. Though their votes didn’t necessarily count more than regular delegates, their presence loomed large, especially when a number threw their support behind Clinton over Sanders.

Perez calls 2016 the “perfect storm,” complete with Russian hacking, exposing the committee’s own “shortfalls” in how it was treating the Sanders campaign.

“And all of these acts had the impact of making the process a lot more problematic as sowing seeds of discord,” he told me. “We wanted to restore trust in the DNC, that we’re not trying to put a thumb on the scale for one candidate or another.”

Whereas 2016 was the battle between Clinton and Sanders, 2020 is a much different scenario that presents its own challenges. There’s no clear contrast to draw between any two candidates yet, because there are nearly two dozen of them.

“If we’ve got 20 candidates in the field, 19 aren’t going to make it to the mountaintop,” Perez said. It’s his job, he added, to try to make sure everyone thinks the nomination process is fair in the meantime.

I recently talked with Perez about the DNC’s changes to debates and superdelegates, and why the party banned Fox News from hosting any debates. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Ella Nilsen

I wanted to start off by talking about the new debate requirements. What was the impetus behind these changes?

Tom Perez

Well, the impetus behind everything is we want to make sure we create a fair process, an inclusive process, a process that gives every single person the chance to articulate her or his vision for the American people.

I have had the privilege of working with the vast majority of the candidates, and they’re really great people in their own right. I want to make sure the American people get to see what I’ve had the privilege of experiencing. So, fair shake for everybody and inclusive process. That equals more participation and an energized electorate, and that translates to victory for Democrats.

Ella Nilsen

Looking at how these changes are playing out so far, have they satisfied that original goal? Are there any trade-offs?

Tom Perez

We wanted to make sure that we returned power to the grassroots. When we undertook reform of our rules last year, we limited the role of superdelegates on the first ballot. And that superdelegate reform was designed to return power to the grassroots. We engaged in other reforms of our primary and caucus processes, so now there are going to be six states that had a caucus before that will have a primary this time. Why is that desirable? Because more people participate.

Then the grassroots fundraising threshold for the debate participation, that was designed with an understanding that if you want to win the presidency, you’ve got to have a grassroots strategy. And so I’m very excited about the fact that I believe our protocols and requirements have catalyzed further engagement with the grassroots by a number of candidates. And I think that’s great for our process.

Ella Nilsen

I know a few Democratic candidates have gotten a bit creative with the ways that they’re satisfying these requirements. I’m thinking specifically of John Delaney promising to donate his own money to charity [per number of donors]. Do you think this is gaming the system at all?

Tom Perez

I look at what’s happening in the aggregate. And what we have seen, overall, is a lot of engagement that I don’t think would have taken place otherwise. The fact that we have catalyzed this conversation and catalyzed action among every campaign, I think that’s good for the Democratic Party. Our nominee is going to be that much more capable of winning because they’re going to be that much more engaged with the grassroots.

Ella Nilsen

Since you brought up superdelegates — and since Vox is an explainer website — could you explain the DNC’s superdelegates changes in plain English?

Tom Perez

Sure. Superdelegates were put in place in 1984 by the DNC. And superdelegates are a group of people: They are elected officials, they’re members of the DNC. They’re technically called automatic delegates, but the reason they’re called superdelegates is because they had certain authorities that were, I think, colloquially referred to as superpowers.

The challenge I think ensued with superdelegates is best illustrated through an example. Let’s assume we’re two weeks away from the Iowa caucus, so nobody has cast a vote yet. Nonetheless, if you watch television in the run-up to the Iowa caucus, whether it was 2016 or 2012, or 2008, you’ll see a ticker, which has delegate counts to the convention, and it’ll say ‘Candidate A’ has accumulated 400 delegates to the convention. People would ask the question — ‘How could someone have accumulated 400 delegates to the convention if nobody’s voted?’

The answer was superdelegates had signed up for ‘Candidate A’ before there had been any voting. Candidates aggressively courted them during this process, because they wanted to create a momentum going into the voting. So that was the effect of having superdelegates. And by the way, superdelegates never in fact affected who won the Democratic nomination. What our new superdelegate rule says is that superdelegates will not be counted on the first ballot unless and until you have one person that has a majority of the delegates to secure the nomination.

The concern about [superdelegates] was it created a perception before anyone had ever voted, that one candidate had an upper hand over another. We wanted to restore trust in the DNC, that we’re not trying to put a thumb on the scale for one candidate or another. As we were contemplating the enactment of these rule changes, we ran an exercise where we applied these rules retroactively to prior conventions. So in 2016, if these new rules had been in place, Hillary Clinton still would have won on the first ballot because she won three or four million more votes than Sen. Sanders. Same thing with Barack Obama in 2008.

While superdelegates had never actually decided who the nomination went to, they certainly affected people’s sense of fairness of the process. If people don’t believe that a process was fair, then they’re not going to be enthused about the outcome of the process. And one of the things we’ve tried to do from jump street in my tenure, is to make sure that we’re working hard to earn the trust of voters … making sure that power returns to the people and candidates and their supporters feel like they got a fair shake. Because if we’ve got 20 candidates in the field, 19 aren’t going to make it to the mountaintop.

Ella Nilsen

I know you weren’t chairman back then, but why do you think there was so much mistrust in 2016? Do you think there had been past years where there had been similar mistrust in the party and party officials, or did 2016 set this new mark for that?

Tom Perez

Well, in 2016, we had a perfect storm that created all sorts of challenges.

You had Russian interference. You had the hack of the DNC, the hack of senior officials in the Clinton campaign. You had shortfalls in the DNC. You may recall, there was a moment in time where the DNC cut off access to the voter files for Sen. Sanders. And all of these acts had the impact of making the process a lot more problematic as sowing seeds of discord. There was a strongly held view among them that the primary debate calendar was set with an eye toward helping one candidate over another, and the reality is, whether that was perception or reality, it absolutely impacted people’s sense coming out of the convention, of unity. And as a result, we had challenges that I’m trying to address day in and day out.

We’re working exceedingly hard, and I have from the outset, to earn trust in everything we do. We announced the primary debate calendar long before we knew who the entire field would be. We are going to do random selection for the first two debates, so if 20 people make it to the stage, we’ll do 10 one night, 10 the next and we will do random selection of the candidates who are going to appear the first night the second night.

Ella Nilsen

Thinking back to 2016 and how chaotic the Republican debates were, what have you learned from that about conducting debates with a crowded field?

Tom Perez

We’re not going to have JV/varsity because I don’t think that works. We have worked very vigilantly with the networks to ensure that they’re focused on the issues. We’re not going to be talking about hand size. We’re going to be talking about health care, we’re going to be talking about climate change, we’re going to be talking about how we ensure that people who work a full-time job can feed their family and live a stress-free life. We’re going to be focused on the issues that matter to people.

There was, I believe, no questions or maybe one question or reference to climate change in the 2016 [Republican] debate cycle. That is mind-boggling to me. Those are the lessons I learned from the 2016 cycle. It was all too frequently a circus on the Republican side where they were simply engaged in name calling and distractions that didn’t allow viewers to understand what they stood for. At the end of this debate series. I am confident voters are going to be in a much better position to differentiate candidates from another and figure out who their preferred candidate is.

Ella Nilsen

Since the DNC announced a ban on Fox News hosting debates, there’s been this interesting debate on whether Democrats are ignoring a wide, and certainly ideologically different audience for their ideas. Especially with candidates like Bernie Sanders going on Fox town halls — and in Sanders’ case, there was this interesting moment on Medicare for All with the audience.

Tom Perez

I go on Fox News pretty regularly, I’ll continue to go on Fox News. I encourage the candidates to go on Fox News and I wholeheartedly support the Town Hall format that they have been using with candidates.

A debate with all the candidates on the stage is one of the most important parts of our primary cycle. And while I will continue to engage with Fox News in all the ways I’ve just described, I think it’s one of my responsibilities to ensure that our debates are substantive, that they focus on the issues. And when you look at all the media accounts for Fox News … Sean Hannity, that’s not news, that’s just the peddling of propaganda.

I mean, that’s disturbing enough. But what was even more troubling for me was the fact that the senior people were putting their thumb on the scale of the news division. Donald Trump getting questions in advance from the 2016 campaign. You look at recent media accounts about Fox News and the aftermath of Sen. Sanders’ appearance. Apparently, Trump tweets and he uses the term ‘we’ referring to him and Fox News. No, they are not supposed to be one and the same, but they are and so many reports that speak to the inappropriate, close relationship between Fox News and the Trump administration.

So I have an obligation as the DNC chair to ensure that at Fox, that every single debate is going to be a debate on the issues where I don’t need to worry about distractions or other things that undermine our North Star principle, which is making sure that all of the candidates have their chance to articulate their vision to the American people. Holding a debate with the stakes as they are, I just don’t have the confidence at the moment they are up to the task.

Ella Nilsen

Is there anything at this point that they can do, like issue an apology or say that what they did was wrong, that would potentially change your mind about debates with them in the future.

Tom Perez

I haven’t seen anything at the moment of that nature. And that’s what makes it very difficult for me in these circumstances. I continue to have an open line of communication with Fox News. I also have a continuing obligation. We’ve got 10 more debates that we haven’t finalized arrangements with media partners. I’m going to make sure that every single one of those debates, I have 100 percent confidence they are going to proceed, and I am not going to have a pit in my stomach about something happening during the debate that I’m either going to learn about afterward or during that undermines my goal, which is to give the candidates the opportunity to put themselves in front of the American people. That’s my job.

Ella Nilsen

There are a historic number of women candidates, and candidates of color in this field. But so far, national polls show white men are dominating the fields with candidates like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg, who comes up as a rising star. I’m curious what you think this says about where the Democratic Party is at right now?

Tom Perez

I think that there’s a host of candidates, including women, who are actually quite competitive. You look in recent polling and you see Elizabeth Warren has been steadily moving up. Kamala Harris throughout has been competitive. This is the third mile of a 26-mile marathon. And I used to be a marathon runner, I can’t remember who was the head in the third mile of the marathon. It’s all about who will win in the end, and I think it’s incumbent moving forward for us to make sure that all of the questions we ask and all of the approaches that folks in the media take reflect an understanding that we are in mile three.

And we want to make sure that we treat all of the candidates with the fairness and inclusion that I believe they have all earned. Today, there are people who may be pulling 2 percent. Sen. Klobuchar, who may be taking off in states that will reap dividends months down the road. I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is we have a bumper crop of candidates, and we’re certainly working our hardest to make sure that every single one of them has a chance to articulate what they believe in and what they’re going to fight for.

Ella Nilsen

Lastly, with candidates jumping in so early this year and the interest around town halls that we’ve seen so far — even though the debates are being held at the same time they have been in past years, is there a sense that it’s almost too late for the debates? Is there any talk about moving the debates up earlier in the schedule, just because of how early this is all happening this year?

Tom Perez

No, we haven’t had any discussion about that. I think the way we’ve placed these has been actually quite good. I think it’s really helpful before we have everybody on one debate stage or two debate stages for the first two debates, to give people that one-on-one opportunity to introduce themselves to the American people, and that’s exactly what’s happened in recent months.

We’re six weeks or so away from the first debate. And by that first debate, people are going to have had a healthy introduction to the candidates. But I think that introduction is going to whet their appetite, not only to hear more about their views, but then to see them in the interaction stage where they are going back and forth, toe-to-toe. Because one of the questions I’m sure voters are going to ask is, does this candidate or that candidate have the capacity and strength to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump down the road?

We look forward to not only these first two debates but then a debate a month for the last four months of the year. And then four more in the run-up to Iowa. We look very carefully before we set the debate number and the debate schedule. And I think we have settled on a pretty good timeline.

South Africa’s ruling party ANC wins reelection

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his ANC party win reelection in South Africa’s 2019 elections.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will have to tackle corruption and the economy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his party, the African National Congress (ANC), have won reelection in South Africa, maintaining its control of government.

The ANC, which has led South Africa’s government since the fall of apartheid in 1994, was expected to prevail in these elections. But corruption and the country’s stagnant economy tested the party’s standing. In the end, it won slightly more than 57 percent of the vote — the first time in 25 years the party has failed to win at least 60 percent in national elections.

Even though the ANC still has no serious challengers — the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, came in second place with just 20 percent of the vote its dip in support is notable.

The ANC is unique in politics because of its history as the party of liberation in South Africa. The majority of black voters identify with the party, and it has dominated the political landscape since South Africa became a full democracy in 1994.

Yet the election indicates that a least a share of voters — which likely includes black South African voters — may be losing some trust in the ANC.

The ANC won, but Ramaphosa has tough challenges on corruption and the economy

South Africa’s 2019 election shaped up to be a referendum on Ramaphosa’s promise to clean up the government and his party, and deliver a “new dawn” for the country.

The 66-year-old leader came to power in February 2018 after the scandal-plagued former President Jacob Zuma was forced to resign.

Ramaphosa himself remains fairly popular, and campaigned on the anti-corruption message that he first embraced when he took office in 2018. That may have helped limit ANC’s losses, as South African voters appeared willing to give Ramaphosa a full five-year term to make good on his reform efforts.

But he will face challenges in his new term on the major issues for voters: that anti-corruption push and the economy.

ANC officials tainted by scandals remain in government, and some officials within the ANC are less enthusiastic about his reforms. The damage done to institutions by his predecessor, Zuma, won’t be easily fixed.

South Africa’s economy is also struggling, and Ramaphosa has promised to tackle its current challenges. The unemployment rate is currently 27 percent, and it’s one of the world’s most unequal countries: White South Africans, who make up less than a tenth of the population, still control most of the country’s wealth.

Voters were willing to give Ramaphosa and the ANC another chance to tackle corruption and the economy. But, as experts pointed out, voters — especially younger voters — may have limited patience.

Kealeboga Maphunye, chair of the department of political sciences at the University of South Africa, told me on Wednesday that South Africa’s younger generation, which grew up after apartheid ended in 1994, is more likely to vote “with a sense of caution and concern” not quite shared by the older generation, which lived through the struggle for liberation and are deeply connected to the ANC.

These younger voters, Maphunye said, “are not so optimistic that the future looks bright, that the ANC will deliver the goods.”

The ANC doesn’t face any significant challenge to its power. But these next five years will be a test.

The ANC continues to dominate politics, and the results were mixed for the opposition party and smaller parties that also sought seats in South Africa’s National Assembly.

Ahead of the election, the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, tried to capitalize on some of the disillusionment with the ANC. It embraced a far-left platform of state control of the economy and revolutionary rhetoric, and it has managed to push the ANC left on economic issues, including the thorny issue of land reform.

The EFF won a little more than 10 percent of the vote, That’s a big jump from its first national election (6.35 percent), but its 2019 showing fell short of some predictions.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), won more than 20 percent of the vote, a decrease from 2014. The DA made big gains in local elections in 2016 under the leadership of Mmusi Maimane, the party’s first black leader, who took charge in 2015. But the party still has an image of mostly attracting liberal white voters, and though it’s changing, internal squabbles over that transformation have hampered the party.

But the DA may have also lost votes to a right-wing, conservative, and mainly white party called the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), which received about 2 percent of the vote. The party more than doubled its support since the last election.

Support for the FF+ likely grew over the issue of land reform in South Africa — programs that would redistribute land owned by the white minority, which many see as critical to remedying South Africa’s economic disparities. The issue has become a pet cause for the alt-right worldwide, and FF+’s small surge mirrors the rise of the right-wing in other countries in Europe and elsewhere.

These smaller parties, like the EFF on the left, or FF+ on the right, are influencing South Africa’s political landscape, at least for now. But the ANC remains strongly in power — though the next five years will be a test for it, and its leader, Ramaphosa.

Correction: An earlier version of the post incorrectly stated the name of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+). It has been corrected, and we regret the error.

India’s most popular services are becoming super apps

Truecaller, an app that helps users screen strangers and robocallers, will soon allow users in India, its largest market, to borrow up to a few hundred dollars. The crediting option will be the fourth feature the nine-year-old app adds to its service in the last two years. So far it has added to the service […]

The House Offers a Small Step Forward on Retirement Savings

The U.S. House of Representatives will soon consider the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019, introduced by House Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and cosponsored by a bipartisan cohort. The Senate Finance Committee has introduced a similar bill, the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2019, but has […]

Connecticut Payroll Tax Proposal Raises Difficult Questions

With less than a month remaining in the legislative session, some Connecticut lawmakers want to go bold, eliminating the income tax for many taxpayers and replacing it with a new payroll tax. And while it has the support of some key legislators, many important details have yet to be worked out. The proposal seems straightforward […]

Science2Startup Symposium Convened Close to 300 Academic Researchers, Venture Capitalists, Entrepreneurs, and Pharmaceutical Executives, Creating Connections to Advance Scientific Innovation and Entrepreneurship

 Science2Startup (S2S TM), an invitation-only symposium, convened close to 300 members of the biotech ecosystem at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard on April 23, 2019. The Symposium featured 12 university researchers and first-time entrepreneurs who presented their work to an audience comprised of biopharma investors, industry executives, and fellow academic researchers. “Science2Startup aims to equip exciting young startups in […]

The post Science2Startup Symposium Convened Close to 300 Academic Researchers, Venture Capitalists, Entrepreneurs, and Pharmaceutical Executives, Creating Connections to Advance Scientific Innovation and Entrepreneurship appeared first on CEO Magazine.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is teasing alternate universes. But there’s a catch.

Spider-Man and Mysterio in S<em>pider-Man: Far From Home.</em>

How much should we trust Mysterio?

Fans always knew Spider-Man: Far From Home was going to take place in a post-Avengers: Endgame world. They just didn’t know what exactly that world would look like until, well, Endgame hit theaters — and even then, that movie offered more of an endpoint for this phase of the MCU following the death of Tony Stark, the retirement of Steve Rogers, and Thor’s new adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy than a hint at how the world changed after the Avengers undid Thanos’s snap.

But this week, we finally got the first glimpse of that post-Endgame Earth in a new clip from Far From Home, featuring Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) talking nerdy about how the MCU’s new reality is just one dimension, timeline, or world that is part of a bigger set of dimensions, timelines, or worlds. In comic-speak, a multiverse exists:

“There are multiple realities, Peter,” Mysterio tells Parker. “This is Earth-616. I’m from Earth-833. We share identical physical constants.”

For Marvel fans, those numbers, especially “616,” are like sirens. They’re direct references to the comic books that Marvel’s movies are based on, which have their own rich history of parallel universes, altered timelines, and all kinds of reality manipulation hijinks — the kind of stuff that could be clues for where the MCU is going next.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s one villainous catch.

Why the MCU being referred to as “Earth-616” is a big deal

To fully understand the “616” reference requires knowing a couple of basic things about Marvel’s comic book world: Its primary universe is called Earth-616, and there were multiple other universes depicted in separate comic books; the attached number is a way to tell the different dimensions apart.

To use an example from Spider-Man’s comic book lore, the Peter Parker story we’ve grown accustomed to — bitten by a radioactive spider, the death of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy — happens in 616. Miles Morales, who becomes Spider-Man when Peter Parker dies, lived in an alternate timeline known as 1610, where many of the same characters exist but have different personalities or powers or moral alignments. A story arc called “Secret Wars” later brought Morales into the main 616 timeline.

In fact, 2018’s fantastic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was entirely about Morales and the concept of different universes colliding:

The concept of an alternate timeline also appears in Endgame, when the Hulk talks to the Ancient One and is warned that if the Time Stone is not returned, it will spur a new timeline and new reality.

Marvel’s alternate timelines and universes add context and color to what Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio is saying about the “multiverse,” the concept of all these alternate, but sometimes very similar, universes existing independently of one another.

Essentially, the MCU that we’ve watched over the past 11 years is the main universe — but it isn’t the only one.

And since Mysterio says he’s from a different Earth, his appearance introduces the possibility of other characters from alternate timelines showing up — possibly opening a window for, say, Morales, or even a different version of Thor or Steve Rogers or Tony Stark. It could also possibly be how Marvel will introduce its recently acquired X-Men and Fantastic Four characters.

But Mysterio is an unreliable witness

The big catch with this theory is its source in Far From Home. Mysterio is a classic Spider-Man villain who, in the comic books, is a master of illusion and deception and really cannot be trusted. (Also, his code name is literally a riff on the word “mysterious.”)

Further, the two Spider-Man: Far From Home trailers thus far point to a bait and switch: Mysterio is portrayed as heroic and trustworthy, but there’s something about him that just doesn’t sit right (again, his name is Mysterio). Saying that he’s a hero from another version of Earth adds to that bait.

Still, a multiverse theory (likely triggered by Stark’s snap) would be a fun way to introduce fan-favorite characters into the fold. It’s a cool enough concept that fans may hope Mysterio isn’t lying about it. But that theory could all be a complex ruse from Marvel.

We’ll get to the bottom of this when Far From Home opens on July 2.

Alibaba-backed facial recognition startup Megvii raises $750 million

One of China’s most ambitious artificial intelligence startups, Megvii, more commonly known for its facial recognition brand Face++, announced Wednesday that it has raised $750 million in a Series E funding round. Founded by three graduates from the prestigious Tsinghua University in China, the eight-year-old company specializes in applying its computer vision solutions to a […]

Pass-Through Businesses Discussed

Pass-through businesses are the dominant business structure in America. Pass throughs file more tax returns and report more business income than C corporations. Pass-through businesses are not subject to the corporate income tax, but instead report their income on the individual income tax returns of owners. This blog will address some frequently asked questions about […]

Facebook sues analytics firm Rankwave over data misuse

Facebook might have another Cambridge Analytica on its hands. In a late Friday news dump, Facebook revealed that today it filed a lawsuit alleging South Korean analytics firm Rankwave abused its developer platform’s data, and has refused to cooperate with a mandatory compliance audit and request to delete the data. Facebook’s lawsuit centers around Rankwave […]

How Cersei’s hired army, the Golden Company, could make or break Game of Thrones’ next battle

Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 5: the Golden Company stands before King’s Landing

The Golden Company may not have their elephants, but they’ll still be hugely important to Cersei’s impending fight against Daenerys.

At the end of Game of Thrones’ seventh season, Cersei Lannister revealed to her brother and lover Jaime that she’d secured a massive loan from the Iron Bank to hire the Golden Company, a massive army-for-hire from Essos.

In season eight, it’s become increasingly clear that Cersei has literally bet everything she has on this legion of mercenaries to help her keep the Iron Throne. But what is the Golden Company, and was it really worth staking the Lannister family fortune — and the lives of the citizens of King’s Landing — on their ability to defeat Daenerys and her allies?

The short answer is: Yes, because the Golden Company’s fighters are legit. But this deal doesn’t come without risks.

The Golden Company may not have elephants, but it’s still formidable

The Golden Company is made up of 20,000 trained swordsmen and 2,000 horses, along with a few elephants. However, much to Cersei’s disappointment, when she sent Euron Greyjoy to fetch the army in season seven and ferry them back to King’s Landing, he wasn’t able to fit the elephants on his boats for the trip across the Narrow Sea.

 HBO via cerseilannisterdaily/Tumblr
Cersei really wanted those elephants.

Per George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Golden Company was originally founded about a century prior to Game of Thrones’ present day. After a rebellion that escalated into civil war and sent many Westorosi fighters fleeing east across the Narrow Sea, they banded together and marketed their collective fighting experience. We first heard about them in the show’s fourth season, when Ser Davos suggested that Stannis hire them to assist in his invasion against Joffrey. But that didn’t come to pass because Stannis was a bit of a snob about letting hired fighters mingle with his loyal army.

The Golden Company’s current commander is “Homeless” Harry Strickland. As you can see, he looks quite different in the books — where he’s described as portly and bald, “looking little like a warrior” and “sound[ing] like an old woman” — than he does on the show:

 Artwork by oznerol-1516 for ASOIAF Wiki; photo courtesy of HBO
Harry Strickland, how you’ve changed

This above photo of Harry comes to us from recently released promotional photos for season eight’s fifth episode, which show the company lined up outside the gates of King’s Landing. Jon and his northern allies, standing together with the remnants of Dany’s Unsullied and Dothraki forces, seem to be at least evenly matched — if not outnumbered:

 Courtesy of HBO
Let’s get this party started!

Cersei isn’t relying on the Golden Company purely because of their skill in battle. One of the reasons they’re well-regarded is that they’re famous for never breaking a contract. This principle is built into the army’s name, and its motto: “Our word is as good as gold.” That means no switching sides in the middle of a fight.

But in this particular battle, Cersei’s choice to align herself with the Golden Company isn’t entirely risk-free. After all, the Golden Company’s fighters have never gone up against a dragon before. Plus, it’s comprised of individual sellswords like Bronn.

And as we saw in the most recent episode of season eight, “The Last of the Starks,” a swellsword’s allegiance can shift pretty darn quickly if a better offer comes along. Though the Golden Company may have a reputation for never breaking a contract, since they’re a hired army, they don’t have any loyalty to a cause, or even to each other. In fact, in Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, a point is made of noting that they’re “armed strangers.”

We wouldn’t blame any of them if they saw Drogon and immediately rethought their priorities.

Daye, a startup developing a ‘cramp-fighting’ tampon, raises $5.5M from Khosla, Index and Kindred

Daye, a “femcare” startup developing a new type of tampon that uses CBD to help tackle dysmenorrhea, has quietly raised $5.5 million in funding from high-profile investors in the U.S. and Europe, TechCrunch has learned. Backing the seed round is Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, along with London’s Index Ventures and Kindred Capital. The investment sees […]

Vox Sentences: The most restrictive abortion ban yet

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what’s happening in the world. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

Alabama may soon pass the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation; South Africa’s ruling party is projected to win the elections, despite declining support.


Alabama’s abortion ban is delayed — for now

 Mark Wilson/Getty Images
  • Alabama’s Senate was on the brink of passing the nation’s most restrictive abortion bill on Thursday when it decided to table the vote until Tuesday. [AL.com / Mike Cason]
  • The new Alabama bill would be a near-total ban on abortion with few exceptions and a penalty of up 99 years in prison for doctors who perform the procedure. The bill is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. [NPR / Laurel Wamsley]
  • The vote was delayed after some Republicans tried to take out provisions that would allow abortions in the case of rape or incest. A shouting match erupted when Democratic lawmakers realized the exceptions were hastily removed without a roll call vote. [NBC News / Elisha Fieldstadt]
  • With this new change, the only exception to the abortion ban would be cases where pregnant women face serious health risks. [Reuters / Daniel Trotta]
  • Democrats said they want a roll call vote so the names of lawmakers who don’t support abortion exemptions are public. [Washington Post / Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Ariana Eunjung Cha]
  • Alabama is one of more than a dozen states that are trying to heavily restrict abortion rights. Most recently, Georgia’s governor signed a “fetal heartbeat” bill that bans most abortions after six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant. [Vox / Anna North and Catherine Kim]
  • These states have been emboldened by the conservative realignment of the Supreme Court following Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and are hoping that the Court will redefine the limits of reproductive rights in their favor. [NYT / Alan Blinder]

An uneasy win for South Africa’s main party

  • The African National Congress, a party riddled with corruption scandals, looks likely to win the South African elections — but the victory was not an easy one. [BBC]
  • ANC is projected to win by around 57 percent, its worst performance since the country embraced democracy. Voter turnout also dropped from 73 percent in 2014 to 66 percent — which is low when considering that black South Africans only gained the right to vote a generation ago. [NYT / Norimitsu Onishi]
  • ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, has led South Africa since the apartheid ended in 1994. Public trust in the party, however, rapidly fell during the reign of President Jacob Zuma, who was eventually forced to resign in 2018 due to corruption scandals. [Guardian / Jason Burke]
  • Cyril Ramaphosa, also of ANC, took over afterward and will most likely continue to govern for the next five years. He has tried to tackle corruption in the past, but he still has a tough road ahead of him. [Bloomberg / Michael Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto]
  • Younger voters are especially wary of the ANC. While older generations have a personal connection to the ANC because they remember the struggle for liberation, voters born after apartheid are less optimistic and embrace a more progressive platform — leading to the steady growth of far-left parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters. [Vox / Jen Kirby]
  • Although Ramaphosa may win the election, the real battle begins now. He will have to grapple with the country’s failing economy, an intense debate over land reform and growing inequality during his tenure. [CNN / Euan McKirdy, David McKenzie, and Deborah Bloom]
  • Some say ANC’s low numbers in the election might actually be a good thing for Ramaphosa since it will justify his plans for radical reform within the party. One thing is clear: The people are giving him one last chance to prove that the ANC can return to its glory days. [Daily Maverick / Ferial Haffajee]

Miscellaneous

  • Instagram is banning hashtags used to spread anti-vax hoaxes, such as #VaccinesCauseAIDS and #VaccinesArePoison. [BBC]
  • Passing the ballot measure to decriminalize hallucinogenic mushrooms in Denver may have been the easy part. City authorities are now struggling to hammer out details on how to implement the policy. [CityLab / Lindsay Fendt]
  • A California teacher was on medical leave for cancer treatment. On top of her medical bills, when she went over her allotted 10 sick days, she was forced to pay for a substitute teacher out of her own pocket. [CNN / Michelle Lou]
  • Prepare to be mesmerized: Kacey Musgraves stars as a cosmic centaur in her new music video. [NPR / Joshua Bote]
  • France is holding an international competition for a new design of Notre Dame’s spire. Some designers are letting their imagination run wild: think diamonds, glass, and gold. [NYT / Alex Marshall]

Verbatim

“They are saying to women, ‘We don’t trust you to make these deeply personal decisions.’ It can be very confusing — what is real and what is not. And we’ve been hearing from concerned women as these bills bubble up.” [Staci Fox, the Atlanta-based president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Southeast, on the recent attempts to limit abortion]


Watch this: The real experiments that inspired Frankenstein

When Mary Shelley published her iconic novel in 1818, raising the dead seemed to be the near future. [YouTube / Coleman Lowndes]


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65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, school segregation is getting worse

A rally protesting unequal education in New York City schools on October 7, 2015.

A new report finds that the historic school segregation ruling has been undermined in recent decades.

May 17 marks the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, which determined that segregating schools on the basis of race was “inherently unequal” and thus, unconstitutional.

But a new report finds that decades after that historic ruling, the phasing out of older programs to foster integration and a lack of new policies to take their place has left America’s schools increasingly segregated, especially for black and Latino students.

The report, released Friday by UCLA and Penn State, looked at federal student enrollment data and other research on school segregation. It found that students across America are increasingly attending racially isolated schools, with black and Latino students in particular attending schools that are predominantly nonwhite.

White students, meanwhile, are attending schools that are less white than they were in the 1950s and 1960s, but these schools still have far more white students than their share of the student of the actual student population.

“Since 1988, the share of intensely segregated minority schools—schools that enroll 90-100% non-white students, has more than tripled,” the report authors note.

The research suggests that efforts to desegregate schools have been undermined by a series of factors, including most notably, residential segregation.

As a result, the gap between black and Latino students and their white peers is growing wider, creating schools that are not only racially segregated, but economically segregated. Students attending predominantly black and Latino schools have less access to beneficial programs than their peers, the study found.

“As we mark [its] 65th anniversary, the promise of Brown appears a distant vision in our dangerously polarized society,” Gary Orfield, co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project and one of the report’s authors, said in a press release. “We have to do more.”

Much of the progress of the Brown ruling has been rolled back in the past three decades

The Brown case focused on states that that intentionally discriminated against black students, many (but not all) of which were in states that had also employed Jim Crow laws. And while that called attention to the most egregious offenders, it also allowed school segregation to continue in other areas beyond the South.

This was further compounded by a 1974 Supreme Court ruling in Milliken v. Bradley, which determined that districts that had segregated schools but did not intentionally separate students by race could not be forced into desegregation plans.

These decisions, and the fact that desegregation enforcement largely stopped in the 1990s thanks to Supreme Court rulings that integration plans weren’t supposed to be enforced indefinitely, produced a situation in which white and black students largely continue to attend different schools, often with widely varying access to resources.

But a major difference now is that further demographic changes in the US have also changed what America’s student body looks like, meaning that the school segregation is no longer a white/black issue, but one that includes other racial groups.

Here’s how the report describes the issue:

Although white students still comprise the largest racial group in our nation’s schools (23.9 million white students), after nearly a half-century of decline in the percentage of the overall enrollment, it is notable that white students no longer account for the majority of public school students (48.4%) in the United States. This is not because of a significant growth of the share of private schools but an impact of birth rates and immigration changes.

The Latino share of enrollment has been growing tremendously such that more than half of the students of color in the United States identify as Latino (13 million students). Black students account for the third largest racial group (7.5 million) followed by Asian students, multiracial students, and American Indian students. This is a multiracial reality quite different from those existing at the time of the Brown decision.

So when we talk about school diversity in 2019, we are discussing a student body that looks far different than what it did in 1954. Yet the demographic makeup of our schools doesn’t fully reflect that new reality.

Instead, the report notes that it is common for black and Latino students to be largely concentrated in schools together, while white students, and to a lesser degree Asian American students, attend schools with larger white populations.

And this sort of segregation is not just about race: The report finds that black and Latino students are also more likely to struggle with what it calls the “cost of double segregation of race and poverty,” with students from these groups being disproportionately likely to live in lower-income households and attend schools with fewer resources.

White and Asian American students, meanwhile, are more likely to attend more affluent schools with more resources.

The report argues that increasing school integration is absolutely necessary

The UCLA report acknowledges that there are some nuances it doesn’t fully dig into. For one, while the report looks at four main racial categories of students: white, black, Latino, and Asian American, it doesn’t really grapple with the varying subgroups within these communities, particularly when it comes to the diversity of Latino and Asian American populations.

It’s possible that a closer look into these distinctions might reveal differences. The data, for example, might find that there are certain Asian communities more likely to attend schools that are predominantly black and Latino.

But even with this data missing, the report does paint a convincing picture of the ways that school segregation remains an issue across the country. The report notes that the states where black students are most likely to attend intensely segregated schools include places like New York, California, Maryland, and Illinois. The states where Latino students are most likely to attend racially segregated schools include California, New York, Texas, and New Jersey.

And while some high-profile cases, like the ongoing battle over admission into New York City’s selective high schools, highlight the fact that school segregation remains a serious problem in urban areas, the report notes that school segregation has also become a rapidly intensifying problem in suburbs where there was never an explicit mandate to not segregate.

As more people of color find themselves living in these areas, suburban schools are seeing white families move away, demand new zoning, or even attempt to create new predominantly white school districts. This has all been in motion for decades, and underscores the fact that school segregation is largely influenced by segregation in other areas of society, including most notably residential segregation.

The report authors write that they are concerned that the increasing isolation of people to certain schools and communities will negatively affect how students learn and their later lives, a concern that is supported by a growing body of research that has shown that the quality of public education has a serious impact on a child’s future.

There’s an argument that rather than focus entirely on racially integrating schools, there should be more schools focused on exclusively serving students of color, or that low performing schools should be given more support and resources.

The UCLA report focuses its recommendations on integration, including training teachers and school officials to better work with diverse student bodies, increasing the number of teachers and faculty from different racial backgrounds, and using a more expansive understanding of diversity that takes into account not just race, but how that intersects with language and economic differences. And it also argues that addressing school integration must become a more important priority for lawmakers and local communities.

“School segregation is not simply an educational issue that stands out in certain communities, or regions, but an imminent social issue that seriously threatens the cohesiveness of our nation,” Jongyeon Ee, an assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and an author of the report, said in a statement. “Segregation exacerbates our differences, fueling division and tension across our schools, communities and nation.”

Why Jaime will definitely kill Cersei on Game of Thrones

Jaime Lannister now fully sees through Cersei in <em>Game of Thrones</em> season eight.

We’re pretty confident that Jaime is riding toward King’s Landing with a very specific mission in mind.

In the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth season, one of the most startling moments in an episode full of them came when Jaime Lannister left Brienne to travel to King’s Landing, shortly after the two finally consummated their slow-burning romance.

“The Last of the Starks” saw Jaime initially plan to stay with Brienne in Winterfell — a pretty huge decision for him, considering his not-so-harmonious past relationship with some of Winterfell’s residents. But then Jaime and Tyrion received a visit from their old frenemy Bronn, who showed up to threaten them with a crossbow because Cersei has put a price on both their heads. Bronn negotiated with the pair, agreeing to accept two swank castles in exchange for their lives. And then next thing we knew, Jaime was cruelly leaving Brienne in the dead of night, offering up his own spin on that old breakup classic, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

In their goodbye scene, Jaime explains to Brienne that for most of his life, his primary motivation has been to return to Cersei’s side — and that’s why he’s chosen to leave Brienne now. Even more heartbreakingly, per the episode’s director, David Nutter, Jaime coldly informs Brienne, “I don’t love you anymore,” as the camera focuses on her face, though we don’t hear him say this. Her tearful reaction upon hearing it is what we see onscreen as Jaime rides away.

Setting aside what sounds like a pretty sadistic approach from Nutter in terms of how the scene was filmed, Jaime and Brienne’s exchange contains a lot of implications for Jaime Lannister himself. He tells Brienne raggedly that he has to return to Cersei because “she’s hateful — and so am I.” But what does that mean? Is he going back to join her because he misses her, or because they’re two of a kind? Is he going to try to reason with her before she does anything to hurt his new comrades from the North, who are already traveling south to kill her? Is he going to try to defend Cersei by fighting against them?

When I first viewed this scene, Jaime’s motivation seemed obvious to me: He’s going back to King’s Landing not to reunite with Cersei, but to kill her. However, after talking to other Game of Thrones viewers in the days since the episode aired, I’ve realized there is by no means a general public consensus on what Jaime’s plans are.

With that said, there are plenty of clues we can pick up from Game of Thrones itself about what’s to come. I stan a conflicted, redeemed, self-loathing hero, not an incestuous fuckboi, so for anyone in doubt, here are all the reasons I’m confident that Jaime will try to kill Cersei.

1) Jaime initially left Cersei because he’s seen how sociopathic she’s become

When Jaime left Cersei to ride north in the season seven finale, he did so for a number of legitimate reasons. Not only did Cersei fail to tell him in advance that she was planning to lie about sending support to the north, she also failed to tell him that Euron Greyjoy was in on the plot — and that Euron was still looking to marry her. She also accused Jaime of conspiring against her with Tyrion, and told him he’d be committing treason if he joined the fight against the White Walkers. All of this underlines just how much the couple’s once-solid relationship has deteriorated.

Crucially, right before Jaime left, he pleaded with Cersei to recognize that she’s lost all her allies except for him — but she rejected that idea too. “I’m the only one you have left,” he told her.

“There’s one more yet to come,” she replied, referencing either Euron’s return from Essos or their unborn child, who may or may not exist. Both options would be bad news for Jaime, and it’s clear that Cersei thinks — or is least is acting as if — she no longer needs or wants Jaime in her life.

It’s important to remember just how frustrating that conversation was for Jaime. As it unfolded, we saw him realize just how despotic Cersei had become, and how willing she was to betray or throw over anyone and everyone who might challenge her quest for power. None of his appeals to her humanity caused her to even flinch — not even his reminder that their unborn child could be vulnerable to the then-impending threat of the army of the dead.

While he was trying to get her to care about saving all of civilization, she was thinking about how to take out one of Dany’s dragons. Jaime had hoped that now that Cersei had the throne, they might finally build a happy life together. Instead, she showed him just how thoroughly her entire focus had shifted staying in power.

And delusional, single-minded power grabs? Well, that’s just not something Jaime — the man who killed a king because the king was planning to destroy the whole city — is here for.

2) Hello, he just learned that she hired Bronn to kill him

The scene before Jaime leaves Winterfell involves him finding out that Cersei has sent Bronn to kill both him and Tyrion. Not only does she send Bronn, but she sends him — hilariously — with the same giant crossbow that Tyrion used to kill their father, Tywin, at the end of season four. The message Cersei is sending is that she views both brothers as having betrayed her and the Lannister name.

Cersei couldn’t bring herself to kill Jaime when he left her in King’s Landing in season seven. So somewhere in his mind, up until now, he’s probably been telling himself that she still has at least a smattering of love in her heart for him. But sending Bronn, a man who’s saved both Tyrion and Jaime’s lives repeatedly, with the giant traitor weapon is the kind of gleeful cruelty that Jaime knows Cersei tends to reserve for her worst enemies.

So when he decides directly after his encounter with Bronn to abandon Brienne and the happiness they’ve just found together to ride back into Cersei’s lair, he’s probably not doing it with the expectation that Cersei will welcome him with open arms.

3) Cersei may have nothing left to care about except power — and Jaime may have figured that out

Cersei’s supposed pregnancy has been a source of confusion for many viewers. For starters, at the beginning of season five, we saw young Cersei receiving a prophecy from a witch, who told her she would have only three children, each of whom has already died. Though there’s some indication that the pregnancy, which she learned about at the end of season seven, was a real thing — and that Jaime was the father — season eight has seen her tell Euron the baby is his, while also drinking wine, from which she’d abstained when she appeared to believe she was pregnant.

Whether or not Cersei’s pregnancy is real, all of this spells bad news for Jaime. When he left Cersei to go fight the army of the dead at the end of season seven, Jaime clearly believed Cersei would never kill the father of her unborn son. So when Bronn showed up in “The Last of the Starks” with marching orders (and the promise of cash) from Cersei to off both Tyrion and Jaime, it was probably a clear signal to Jaime that the status of Cersei’s pregnancy has changed. (However, it’s interesting, given the fact that the two brothers were together in this scene, that Tyrion clearly still believed Cersei was pregnant when he pleaded for Missandei’s life.)

From Jaime’s point of view, Cersei hiring Bronn to kill him could mean that she lied about being pregnant to begin with, or that she’s since had a miscarriage. Either way, Jaime understands better than anyone that with no future child in the picture, there really is nothing Cersei cares about at this point except holding on to the throne and striking down all her enemies, which makes her a threat to, well, everyone.

4) There’s a prophecy in the books — one the show has referenced — that says Cersei will die at the hands of her younger brother

The aforementioned prophecy was given to Cersei by a witch named Maggy the Frog. Maggy the Frog also appears in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, on which the series is based — and in the books, the prophecy is more extensive than what we saw heard of it in season five’s opening episode, “The Wars to Come.”

In Martin’s novel A Feast for Crows, Maggy delivers a prophecy about Cersei becoming queen; she also foretells that Cersei will have three children. That part is repeated practically word for word on the TV show:

But on the show, the scene ends before Maggy’s last sentence in the book, which is, “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”

“Valonqar” is a High Valyrian word meaning “little brother.” Cersei has clearly always interpreted this prophecy to mean that Tyrion will kill her, and it definitely explains her longstanding hatred and mistrust of him. But Jaime is also her younger brother. Though they’re twins, Cersei is the elder — and that means Jaime could also be a candidate for the job. Additionally, Cersei probably isn’t thinking about Jaime as her potential killer, which makes her more likely to fall victim to him, as she would no one else.

So there you have it: a pretty strong case that Jaime riding off not to bask in Cersei’s arms, but to attempt to do what no one else can: remove her from the throne once and for all.

But if you’re anticipating a joyous reunion between Jaime and Brienne after he’s killed Cersei, not so fast.

The fact that Nutter had Jaime tell Brienne he no longer loves her when directing “The Last of the Starks” is a clear indication that Jaime believes he won’t be seeing her again, which means he’s probably anticipating a hell of a fight to get to his sister. (Remember, she’s protected by the Zombie Mountain.) That means that by the time he makes his way to Cersei and is able to deliver the fatal wound, he could well be wounded himself.

You may remember that he once told Bronn (in season five’s fourth episode, “Sons of the Harpy”) that he wished to die “in the arms of the woman I love.” It seems he may, ironically, be getting that wish granted far sooner, and under different circumstances, than he’d hoped.

Uber had a terrible first day as a public company. It might not matter at all.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange moments before the first trade as the ride-hailing company Uber makes its initial public offering on May 10, 2019 in New York City.

Friday was bad. But how’s Monday?

Uber’s agonizingly difficult first day as a public company was a cold shower for Silicon Valley’s hottest company, a dousing that drenches both the euphoria of selfie-happy Uber investors and maybe the hopefulness of other startups preparing to follow it to their own IPOs.

But Silicon Valley should wait a few months before flooding itself in its tears and dire premonitions.

To be sure, it was ugly. Uber closed its first day of trading down more than 7 percent — a costly fall that sent Uber shares below its already scaled-back IPO price and tumbling toward a market capitalization of merely $70 billion, lower than the valuation in its last private round of financing. And more symbolically, Uber’s sell-off was embarrassing for an IPO process that is typically so carefully produced and stage-managed, especially given that Uber has been the iconic startup of its vintage in Silicon Valley.

The average US-listed tech IPO since 2010 has “popped” — the uptick in a stock’s price on its opening day — by about 23 percent, according to Dealogic. In fact, Uber’s decline makes it one of the eighth-worst performing US tech IPO that raised more than $1 billion of all time, per Dealogic data.

About one-quarter of US-listed IPOs since 2010 have ended up underwater after their first day, Dealogic says.

So, yeah, it was bad. But how much does it really matter?

For starters, most of Uber’s prior shareholders cannot sell their stock for six months due to what’s called a lock-up period, meaning that while their shares might be underwater on May 10, 2019, it’s purely a theoretical consideration. It’s not as if they could sell them for a profit if Uber stock had spiked on Friday. So if Uber crawls around in negative territory from now until November, then employees are in their rights to grab the pitchforks.

Some argue that Uber’s troubles on Friday had little to do with Uber specifically. The S&P 500 had its worst week of 2019 amid US-China trade tensions. Competitive companies like GrubHub, Uber’s chosen parable of Amazon, and Lyft all fell in Friday trading, with Lyft continuing its post-IPO malaise by declining by 7 percent, just like Uber did.

But there’s also a long list of companies who totally flopped on their public market debuts only to have the long, last laugh over the next few years. The exemplar is Facebook, which basically closed at its IPO price — and $4 less than its opening trade — in 2012, a performance deemed to be disastrous in advance of a year considered rough and tumble.

Today, Facebook is a $540 billion behemoth, and trades at over three times its stock price from its IPO woes.

Things weren’t prettier at Google, which “had to lower its offering price to $85 in the face of a deteriorating stock market and the skepticism of institutional investors,” as the New York Times described in 2004. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is now valued at more than $800 billion.

That’s a long way of saying that while the IPO day is often compared to a college graduation — signifying a startup’s maturation to a fully independent, adult public company — let’s remember that more than a few among us are not fully-independent adults when we graduate college. There is maturation still to go, and thankfully we are not judged by our first jobs or first apartments — nor are our obituaries indelibly written based on our graduation-day accomplishments (or lack thereof).

There is a tendency to hyperbolize and draw broad conclusions about a company’s future based on things like a company’s IPO price range, or the IPO price it lands upon, or its performance the first day of trading. But Uber’s value will be determined by things like whether it can ever hit profitability, whether it can keep growing market share in ride-hailing or in frontier areas like food delivery and freight, and by the future of US public markets amid increasing tensions with China. That stuff doesn’t get settled in a day.

So while that offers little consolation to those who funneled $8 billion into Uber on its opening day — and now immediately are licking their wounds — it’s more a black-and-blue mark than a broken bone. No surgery required. Just time.


Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.

Marijuana is legal for medical purposes in 33 states

Thirty-three states and Washington, DC, allow marijuana for medical purposes, although their approaches can significantly differ.

Some allow medical marijuana dispensaries and home cultivation. Others only allow home cultivation. And some allow dispensaries but not home cultivation.

There’s a growing body of research supporting marijuana’s use for medical purposes. Some studies and anecdotal evidence suggest marijuana can be used for various medical problems, including pain, nausea and loss of appetite, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

But a review of the evidence from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found little evidence for marijuana’s ability to treat health conditions outside chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms.

Several studies show legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries can lead to fewer opioid painkiller deaths, making medical marijuana one potential way to help fight the opioid epidemic. The rationale for this is simple: Studies show medical marijuana can effectively treat chronic pain, which opioids are commonly used for. But unlike opioids, medical marijuana cannot cause deadly overdoses. So medical marijuana could supplant some opioid use and save some lives.

Medical marijuana legalization also has a lot of popular support: A 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that 73 percent of American voters back medical marijuana, including 80 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans.

But the federal government doesn’t recognize marijuana’s medical potential, largely because the studies have been small so far, and there have been no large-scale clinical trials proving pot’s medicinal value.

Behind that judgment, though, lies a bit of a catch-22: It’s long been difficult to conduct thorough studies on the medical uses of marijuana because of the drug’s prohibition and the need for approval from a federal government that hasn’t been very interested in studying marijuana’s potential benefits. So the federal government is demanding scientific research proving marijuana has medical value, but the federal government’s restrictions make it difficult to conduct that research.

For legalization advocates, getting the federal government to acknowledge marijuana’s medical value could be a significant step forward. For one, it would push the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana from a schedule 1 to a schedule 2 substance, which could relax some of the restrictions on the drug. That alone would amount to a huge symbolic shift: After decades of scheduling marijuana in the strictest possible category, a downgrade could be taken as an acknowledgment by the federal government that its old policies have failed.

The controversial abortion bills sweeping the country this week, explained

Activists on both sides of the abortion issue protest outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2019.

Bills in Georgia, Ohio, and Alabama show we’re in a watershed moment for the abortion debate.

The governor of Georgia signed into law one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. The sponsor of an anti-abortion bill in Ohio made headlines by falsely claiming that it’s possible to transplant an ectopic pregnancy into the uterus. And the Alabama state Senate erupted in shouting after Republicans removed exceptions for rape and incest from an anti-abortion bill.

All these developments happened just this week, a new level of activity in a year that has already seen a raft of abortion restrictions pass — and some states move to shore up abortion access in response. Anti-abortion groups and legislators have been backing more aggressive restrictions since President Trump’s election, but their efforts have ramped up in 2019.

Four “heartbeat” bills, like Georgia’s, that would ban abortion as early as six weeks, have passed this year alone, and total bans on abortion are under consideration in Alabama and elsewhere. Meanwhile, supporters of this kind of legislation have stated openly that their goal is to challenge Roe v. Wade.

“The gloves are off” among abortion opponents, Kristin Ford, the national communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, told Vox. “They feel like they have the wind at their backs and they don’t have to dance around their true intentions anymore.”

Abortion rights supporters have backed legislation of their own, including efforts in New York and Virginia to lift some abortion restrictions. These efforts, too, have generated debate as state abortion laws become an increasingly visible part of the national conversation.

The Georgia ban, like others of its kind, will likely be challenged in court. But the fact that it was signed in the same week that nationwide controversy broke out on restrictions in at least two other states is a reminder that the abortion debate has reached a place that’s unprecedented in recent memory, with multiple states poised to outlaw the procedure as the federal protections enshrined in Roe hang in the balance.

State legislatures around the country are introducing stricter and stricter anti-abortion laws

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. So after he took office, abortion opponents in state legislatures began passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws, attempting to ban the procedure at 15 weeks or even earlier. They were responding to the prospect of a friendly Supreme Court, as well as Trump’s appointments of anti-abortion judges to lower federal courts.

After Justice Brett Kavanaugh, widely seen as a potential deciding vote to overturn Roe, was confirmed in October 2018, restrictions began to proliferate even more. “State legislators around the country are taking signals from Trump being in the White House and Kavanaugh being on the court,” Rachel Sussman, the national director of state policy and advocacy at Planned Parenthood Act, told Vox in April.

The result has been a growing number of bills around the country that would ban abortion in almost all cases, subjecting doctors and, potentially, women themselves to criminal prosecution. Some of these bills go further than ever before (at least in recent memory) in restricting abortion, while others may be based on inaccurate medical information. They’ve generated not just intense debate but also some confusion as residents and even advocacy groups try to figure out what the bills would actually do.

Here’s a breakdown of the abortion restrictions that have captured the most attention in recent days:

Georgia’s “heartbeat” law

With Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature on Tuesday, Georgia became the fourth state this year to pass a “heartbeat” bill, which bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This can be as early as six weeks’ gestation, before many women know they are pregnant. The bill contains exceptions for medical emergencies, as well as for rape and incest, but someone who wanted to obtain an abortion after rape would have to file a police report.

The Georgia law became the focus of nationwide attention prior to its passage, when celebrities including actress and #MeToo advocate Alyssa Milano spoke out against it. Several TV and film production companies have responded to the ban by announcing they will cease operations in Georgia, which had become a popular site for filming due to its tax incentives, according to NBC News.

The law also gained added attention on Tuesday when Mark Joseph Stern of Slate reported that it could lead to criminal prosecutions for women who perform their own abortions using drugs, who miscarry, or even who travel out of state to have abortions.

But reproductive rights groups aren’t sure if the law would in fact 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.

Though some anti-abortion lawmakers, notably in Texas, have recently called for criminal prosecution of women seeking abortion, most anti-abortion groups have historically been against the idea. For example, the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life opposes “the use of the criminal law to punish women for any acts during pregnancy toward their unborn child,” Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel for the group, told Vox.

He called the notion that the Georgia bill could be used to prosecute women “ludicrous,” arguing that “there’s a long tradition in Georgia law that women can’t be prosecuted for abortion.”

Meanwhile, some abortion rights advocates say the bill is concerning enough regardless of whether women can be charged under it.

“We know that doctors could face serious jail time; we know that women would have to have this police report if they were claiming an exception,” Ford said. “There’s a lot to be really concerned about on the face of the bill.”

Ohio’s ban on insurance coverage for abortion

A bill recently introduced in Ohio in April would ban most private insurance coverage of abortion. It gained added attention this week when Jo Ingles of the Ohio radio station WOSU reported on an unusual provision: The bill allows insurance companies to cover “a procedure for an ectopic pregnancy that is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman’s uterus.”

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube rather than in the uterus. Such pregnancies are almost never viable, and the only reliable treatment is an abortion, as Kayla Epstein reports at the Washington Post. It is not possible to remove the egg from the fallopian tube and reimplant it into the uterus. If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can be fatal.

It is not clear why the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. John Becker, chose to include a provision in the bill for coverage of a procedure that, as Epstein points out, does not exist. Becker has not responded to Vox’s request for comment.

But the provision may speak to a larger issue with the bill. Because it bans coverage for “drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum,” reproductive rights groups say it could eliminate coverage for some forms of contraception, like birth control pills or IUDs.

Becker told WOSU that his bill was not intended to target birth control.

“When you get into the contraception and abortifacients, that’s clearly not my area of expertise,” he said, before speculating that “if it were true that what we typically know as the pill would be classified as an abortifacient, then I would imagine the drug manufacturers would reformulate it so it’s no longer an abortifacient and is strictly a contraceptive.”

As New York Times editorial board member Lauren Kelley noted earlier this week, the Ohio bill isn’t the first anti-abortion measure to stand on shaky medical ground. Eric Johnston, an attorney who helped draft the Alabama bill, told AL.com in March that “a man and woman can have sex and you can take her straight into a clinic and determine an egg and sperm came together.”

In fact, as Kelley has written, the most sensitive pregnancy tests cannot detect anything until about a week after fertilization. And some reproductive rights advocates see comments like Becker’s as part of a larger trend toward more aggressive language and legislation by abortion opponents.

Ford sees this trend as inspired in part by Trump, who said on the campaign trail that he supported punishing women for getting abortions (a position he later walked back).

“With Trump sort of at the head of this movement, there’s just this level of cruelty and this sort of terrifying ramp-up of the rhetoric,” she said. “Every time you think it can’t get more extreme, it does.”

Others argue that the increased pace of restrictions has to do with public opinion — “I think we see American public opinion moving in favor of pro-life and against abortion,” Forsythe said.

In general, a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. But public opinion has grown more polarized over time, with more Republicans opposing abortion rights and more Democrats supporting them.

Alabama’s abortion ban

Last week, a bill that would ban abortion at any point in pregnancy passed the Alabama House of Representatives. The bill would not punish patients who get abortions but could send doctors who perform the procedure to prison for up to 99 years.

The bill got national attention last week when state Rep. John Rogers, a Democrat, made inflammatory comments denouncing it. “Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or kill them later,” he said. In a follow-up interview, the legislator implied that backers of the abortion bill were being hypocritical in wanting to punish abortion providers when other actions of the Alabama state government, like hospital closures, were leading to the deaths of residents.

This week, the bill went to the Alabama state Senate, where debate ensued over whether it should include an exception for rape and incest (the House version did not include one). When Republicans attempted to remove such an exception without a full roll call vote on the issue, shouting broke out on the Senate floor.

“There was no motion from the other side,” state Sen. Bobby Singleton shouted, objecting to the lack of a roll call vote.

“I know you all are for this bill and I know this bill is going to pass,” Sen. Vivian Davis Figures added, according to AL.com. “You’re going to get your way. But at least treat us fairly and do it the right way.”

After the disagreement, the Alabama Senate decided to delay a vote on the bill until next week.

If it passes and is signed by the Alabama governor, it would be the most restrictive of the anti-abortion laws passed this year, according to the New York Times.

Like the “heartbeat” bills in other states, the Alabama bill is in violation of Roe v. Wade. But more than a dozen cases that could pose a challenge to the landmark abortion decision are one step away from the Supreme Court, and the number could grow at any time. And as Forsythe pointed out, advocates on both sides of the issue are trying to pass legislation in preparation for a post-Roe reality.

“Both red and blue states expect the Supreme Court to overturn Roe,” he said.

Efforts to restrict abortion rights — and to shore up abortion rights in blue states in anticipation of a loss of federal protections — are likely to continue until either the makeup of the court changes or the Court revisits Roe.

The latter might not be coming soon. “The Court has indicated that they’re going to go slow on the abortion issue,” Forsythe said, citing a decision late last year not to take up two cases involving Planned Parenthood funding. The decision didn’t directly involve abortion rights, but some observers took it as a sign that the Court was unwilling to litigate abortion so soon after the battle to confirm Kavanaugh.

But with new legislation on the issue coming at a rapid clip, abortion is capturing the public conversation in a way it hasn’t in years, which could lead to more attention on each state initiative. The Georgia ban, in particular, may have been a turning point, Ford said.

“Georgia has sort of ignited the public conversation, so now people are paying more attention to things like Alabama at the national level,” she said.

While a total ban like Alabama’s would have gotten attention in any climate, other abortion restrictions might once have flown under the national radar. But now, when state lawmakers take action on abortion rights, Americans around the country are watching.

The fight for Trump’s tax returns just escalated

President Donald Trump waves as he walks to the White House in April 2019.

The White House won’t hand over Trump’s tax returns. Democrats just subpoenaed them instead.

In April, House Democrats asked the IRS to hand over President Donald Trump’s tax returns. After missing two deadlines, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin officially denied Democrats’ request, prompting Democrats to subpoena them Friday — the next step in another protracted legal battle between the administration and Congress.

“I am informing you now that the Department may not lawfully fulfill the Committee’s request,” Mnuchin wrote Monday a one-page letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA). Mnuchin added he had discussed the request with the Department of Justice, which said it couldn’t lawfully furnish Trump tax returns due to possible privacy violations.

At the end of the week, Neal announced that he plans to subpoena the returns — a request the White House will likely deny, as it has denied all other Democratic subpoenas. Neal first put in his formal request to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on April 3 asking for the president’s tax returns from 2013 to 2018. He invoked an obscure 1920s law that authorizes the Ways and Means Committee to get from the Treasury Department the tax return information of any taxpayer.

“While I do not take this step lightly, I believe this action gives us the best opportunity to succeed and obtain the requested material,” Neal said in a Friday statement, adding that he wants to see Trump’s returns by next week.

But now that Mnuchin has made it clear he has no intention of handing over the returns, the fight is just getting started. There was some speculation last week that Neal would go directly to court because the Trump administration is aggressively fighting other subpoenas Democrats have issued. He will probably still have to do that, but by going through the subpoena process yet again, Democrats are establishing a paper trail to build a stronger case when they ultimately end up in front of a judge.

According to CNN, Neal told reporters in April he “wanted to make sure that the case we constructed was one that stood up under the critical scrutiny of the courts.”

Trump officials have been obstinate on tax returns from the beginning. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in an April interview with Fox News Sunday called the Democrats’ request a “political stunt” and said they would “never” see Trump’s returns. “They know they’re not going to get this,” he said.

In other words, the fight over Trump’s tax returns is going to last for a while.

Democrats used a 1920s law to make this request

Democrats invoked Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, a statute dating back to 1924, which authorizes the Ways and Means Committee to request from the Treasury Department the tax return information — personal or business — of any taxpayer. Treasury, theoretically, has to comply, and since it hasn’t, that’s where the legal battle would likely come in.

University of Virginia law professor and former Joint Committee on Taxation chief of staff George Yin laid out the process in testimony before Congress in February. He explained that congressional authority to request tax return information was added in 1924 as a co-equal branch of government; before that, only the president had such authority to request and disclose tax returns:

Section 6103(f) does not place any conditions on the exercise of the authority to obtain tax return information by the Ways and Means Committee. Moreover, it provides no basis for the Treasury Secretary to refuse a request. I believe both features were intentional. Since the president at the time had unconditional access to tax returns, Congress wanted to give its committees the same right.

Congress made some changes to the law in 1976, including eliminating the ability of the president and any congressional committees not related to tax to disclose tax information to the public. But a handful of tax committees, including Ways and Means, can still lawfully request someone’s tax returns.

Democrats have been building their case for a while

Democrats will have a better shot in succeeding in getting Trump’s tax returns if they can build a strong case for why they want them and show that they’re pursuing them out of legislative and oversight duties, not as part of a partisan fishing expedition.

Neal in an April 3 statement on his request laid out the Democrats’ argument. He said the Ways and Means committee has the responsibility to conduct oversight of the federal tax system and “determine how Americans — including those elected to our highest office — are complying with those laws.” He also said the committee needs to make sure the IRS is doing its duty in properly enforcing tax laws. The IRS has a policy of auditing all presidents and vice presidents, and Democrats want to make sure that’s what they’re doing.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who has been making the case for pursuing Trump’s tax returns under Section 6103 basically since Trump was inaugurated, in an emailed statement earlier this year said he believed evidence indicating the president “has abused our tax laws is plentiful.” He cited a New York Times investigation into Trump and his family’s tax practices that suggested the family for years engaged in a number of schemes to avoid taxes, and leaked pages from Trump’s 1995 and 2005 tax returns; the 1995 ones show a nearly $1 billion loss.

“Americans have a right to know if their president has paid his taxes, if he has followed the law, and if he is free from financial conflicts of interest,” Pascrell said. “The law is clear. Under 6103, the Ways and Means Committee chairman is entitled to request Trump’s tax returns — and the Treasury secretary is obligated to deliver them. That’s all there is to it.”

The White House has no interest in complying

Even before Democrats put in their formal request for the president’s tax returns, the signal from the Trump administration was they were not interested in cooperating.

Mnuchin in testimony before the House of Representatives in March suggested he would seek to keep Trump’s tax returns under wraps. “We will follow the law and we will protect the president as we would protect any individual taxpayer under their rights,” he said.

William Consovoy, Trump’s personal lawyer, sent a letter to Treasury Department general counsel Brent McIntosh arguing against releasing Trump’s tax returns. He said that the tax code “zealously guards taxpayer privacy” and that Neal’s request “flouts … fundamental constitutional constraints.”

He said the Ways and Means Committee has “no legitimate purpose” for requesting Trump’s tax returns, and even if it did, it doesn’t matter. “Even if Ways and Means had a legitimate committee purpose for requesting the President’s tax returns and information, that purpose is not driving Chairman Neal’s request,” Consovoy wrote. “His request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and his speech.”

Jay Sekulow, another personal attorney for Trump, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week a few days after Neal’s original letter, also dismissed the Democrats’ request.

“This idea that you can use the IRS as a political weapon, which is what is happening here, is incorrect both as a matter of statutory law and constitutionally. We should not be in a situation where individual’s — individual private tax returns are used for political purposes,” he said. He also said that the president hasn’t asked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s tax returns.

As the New York Times notes, Trump’s lawyers’ thoughts on the issue don’t really make much of a difference one way or the other, but they’re indicative of the Trump team’s stance on the issue.

Democrats getting Trump’s tax returns doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll get to see them

Even if Democrats are able to get the president’s tax returns, there is debate over whether they can legally be made public.

Even if the Ways and Means Committee gets Trump’s tax returns the easy way, it could then vote to have some or all of the tax returns released to the rest of the House of Representatives, so all members would have access to it. But then it’s unclear if it’s legal to make that information public. Now they would have to go through a lengthy court battle even before they get to that step.

Ken Kies, the managing director of the Federal Policy Group, testified before Congress in February that it would be a felony for a member of Congress or staff to publicly disclose tax returns, punishable for up to five years in prison. Others, however, disagreed. Yin argued that, if the committee votes to release them to the full House, making the tax returns public would be allowed.

That debate — and the conclusion to it — is still a long way away. This fight is going to play out for quite some time.


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This new short-story collection from the author behind Arrival is sci-fi at its smartest

Cute robots, time portals, and digital memories mingle in Ted Chiang’s Exhalation.

The go-to cliché when a critic is reviewing a particularly lovely collection of short stories is to say that they are “jewel-like”: that they are elegant and discrete little gems of story, shimmering away on the page.

Exhalation — the newest short-story collection from Ted Chiang, author of the novella that was adapted into the 2016 Amy Adams movie Arrival — is not jewel-like. It’s closer to a grand machine. And this machine is made up of intricately connected parts, all moving in a pattern of such complexity that you can’t always be sure that you’re following it. But you can always trust that the machine’s inventor has plotted out that pattern with exquisite precision.

Chiang writes what could be loosely described as “thinky sci-fi.” His stories tend to introduce a single scientific idea or paradox, and then dramatize it. “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” imagines a time machine that obeys Einstein’s theory of relativity — essentially a doorway that you walk through from the present, emerging on the other side a fixed period of time into either the past or the future — and riffs on ideas about predestination in an Arabian Nights-inspired nest of stories. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” imagines a software product that works as a kind of digital memory, always exact and always precise, and puts it in parallel with the way the technology of reading and writing has already shaped human memory.

Chiang is thoughtful about the rules of his imagined technologies. They have the kind of precise, airtight internal logic that makes a tech geek shiver with happiness: When Chiang tells you that time travel works a certain way, he’ll always provide the scientific theory to back up what he’s written, and he will never, ever veer away from the laws he’s set for himself.

But Chiang is just as concerned with the human beings in his stories as he is with their technologies. He’s not necessarily interested in how human beings interact with one another (a few of his stories contain romantic subplots, and they are noticeably less compelling than anything else he writes). Instead, he focuses on how human beings interact with and are shaped by their technologies, like he’s writing a particularly utopian episode of Black Mirror.

That’s why “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is so effective: The story lands not only because Chiang has sweated every detail of how a digital memory would function, but because he shows us a human being who is trying to decide whether a digital memory is a good thing or not. If we can remember everything as it really happened, Chiang points out, then we lose the ability to let our traumas and our quarrels get fuzzy with time. What does that mean for our abilities to forgive and forget, to move past horror? And what does that mean for our tendency to recast the past to hold our present selves in the best possible light?

The longest and most ambitious of the stories in Exhalation is the novella “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” which is Chiang’s take on the robot story. Chiang’s robots are AIs called digients, developed to be digital companions, and as the story opens, the digients seem to be part robot, part pet, and part toddler. The digients are convincingly adorable on the page — “Jax spinning lying din!” says a digient named Jax as he teaches himself to roll down a hill — but for most of the world, they’re a passing fad.

Eventually, the company that programs the digients goes bust, and then the protected software platform where they “live” becomes obsolete. The few humans who haven’t abandoned their digients are left struggling to protect them from the wilds of the internet, where robot sadists and sex toy companies with an interest in robots roam.

As “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” goes on, it becomes clear that the early ambiguity of the digients — are they robots, pets, or toddlers? — is the key to the story. In order for the digients to survive, their human companions must decide whether their digital friends are robots, in which case it would be okay to shut them down; pets, in which case it’s the humans’ duty to protect them forever; or children. And if they’re children, their human companions have a duty to push the digients to evolve and grow as much as they can.

In its 110 pages, “Lifecycle” manages to be sweet, heartbreaking, and deeply thought-provoking. The other big robot book of the spring, Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me, comes off as clumsy in comparison, and after reading Chiang, McEwan’s infamous dismissal of most of sci-fi as “traveling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots” seems even more tone deaf than it did before.

The stories in Exhalation are a shining example of science fiction at its best. They take both science and humanism deeply seriously, which is why it’s so satisfying to watch Chiang’s shining, intricate machine at work: You know that whatever the machine builds, it will tell you something new about human beings.

Against the Slacklash

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Pass-through businesses are the dominant business structure in America. Pass throughs file more tax returns and report more business income than C corporations. Pass-through businesses are not subject to the corporate income tax, but instead report their income on the individual income tax returns of owners. This blog will address some frequently asked questions about […]

Clean.io raises $2.5M to fight malicious advertising

Existing approaches to blocking malicious advertising aren’t working — at least according to digital ad veteran Seth Demsey. That should resonate with anyone who’s ever encountered an ad that immediately redirected them to a website filled with annoying gift card offers. And it’s the issue that the startup Demsey co-founded, clean.io, is working to address. Today, […]

Docpack offers a simple, enterprise-friendly way to share documents

Docpack is offering businesses a simple way to share their documents — particularly with customers at large enterprises that may block services like Dropbox or Google Drive. Founder and CEO Rurik Bradbury said he encountered this issue while serving as the head of conversational strategy at LivePerson (he’s also been an executive and/or co-founder at […]

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Base

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Pass-Through Businesses Q&A

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SaaS management startup Intello scores $2.5 million extended seed

Intello, the New York City-based SaaS management platform, announced a $2.5 million extended seed round today, along with some product enhancements. The round was led by Resolute Ventures . Harrison Metal and Magnetico Ventures also participated, along with various individual angel investors, including Zane Lackey from Signal Sciences, Chris Smoak from Atrium and Zach Sherman […]

Reliance on Social Insurance Tax Revenue in Europe

A recent report on tax revenue sources shows that social insurance taxes are an important revenue source for European governments. In 2017 (the most recent data available), social insurance taxes were the second largest tax revenue source in Europe (27 countries covered), at an average of 29.7 percent of total tax revenue. Only consumption taxes were […]

Vox Sentences: The pope wants whistleblowers on sex abuse

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what’s happening in the world. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

The US and China have limited time to strike a trade deal; Pope Francis takes a radical step toward addressing the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis.


Trade talks with China resume

 Artyom Ivanov/TASS via Getty Images
  • Trade negotiations between China and the US resume today — and the stakes are high. [Bloomberg / Jennifer Jacobs, Alyza Sebenius, and Shawn Donnan]
  • The two countries had been in talks for months to negotiate a trade deal that would lift tariffs on each other’s goods, and until last week, it seemed like a final deal was imminent. [NYT / Alan Rappeport and Ana Swanson]
  • The relationship began to sour when China suddenly asked for substantial changes to the deal that would water down its commitments. An angered President Trump threatened to raise tariffs on Sunday, and the US filed paperwork on Wednesday to raise tariffs on Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent by Friday. [WSJ / Lingling Wei and Bob Davis]
  • Experts say China’s sudden change in attitude came from its perception that the US economy is weak –– despite growth numbers proving the opposite –– while its own economic situation has been improving. [CNN / James Griffiths]
  • Talks begin today at 5 pm, and the delegates have only a few hours before the tariffs kick in at midnight. Trump suggested earlier today that an agreement could still be made and hinted at a possible phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. [Financial Times / James Politi and Pan Kwan Yuk]
  • The stakes are high if China and the United States fail to strike a deal. China has vowed to take countermeasures if the tariffs go into effect, and the escalating moves could damage both countries’ economies. [Washington Post / David J. Lynch and Damian Paletta]

New Catholic law to combat sexual abuse

  • Pope Francis issued a groundbreaking decree that would require priests and nuns to report sexual abuse and cover-up by clergy at any level — an effort to curtail the global sexual abuse scandals that have shaken the Catholic community. The new standards will apply retroactively as well. [Al Jazeera]
  • Under the new law, called “You are the Light of the World,” whistleblowers will be provided with protection and churches must set up a system to receive confidential reports within a year. [NYT / Jason Horowitz]
  • As part of an effort to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable, the law also details preliminary investigation procedures if a senior church authority is accused. [NPR / Merrit Kennedy]
  • The pope had been under immense pressure to provide leadership and a solution to one of the most pressing issues that shadowed the Catholic community. When he was elected in 2013, he had called for “decisive” action against sexual abuse. [BBC]
  • Advocates and victims of abuse say these measures aren’t enough because they don’t involve law enforcement, allowing the old system of church officials failing to report abuse or looking the other way to be upheld. [USA Today / Lindsay Schnell]
  • The law can be applied retroactively, so nuns and priests could report incidents from years ago. The Vatican may experience a dramatic surge of sexual abuse and cover-ups in the near future. [AP / Nicole Winfield]

Miscellaneous

  • China is testing a risky new treatment for opioid addiction: brain implants. [AP / Erika Kinetz]
  • A Mongolian couple at raw marmot, which is believed to have health benefits. Instead, they contracted the plague — long thought to be a disease of the past. [Washington Post / Allyson Chiu]
  • After a “manufacturing error,” there are now 46 million banknotes in Australia that have misspelled responsibility as “responsibilty” — three times per bill. [USA Today / Ryan W. Miller]
  • Kim Jong Un is known as a die-hard basketball fan. New reports reveal he wanted the US to send famous basketball players to North Korea as part of a cultural exchange deal prior to the Hanoi summit. [ABC News / Tara Palmeri]
  • The name of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s baby, which “unites US and UK”: Archie. [Vanity Fair / Katey Rich]

Verbatim

“People must know that bishops are at the service of the people. They are not above the law, and if they do wrong, they must be reported.” [Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor, on the new Catholic law that makes reporting sexual abuse mandatory]


Listen to this: Why Washington can’t escape The West Wing

When The West Wing was on the air, during the Clinton and Bush years, a lot of liberal viewers were pining for a Democratic president with a strong sense of right and wrong — someone like President Bartlet. His fictional administration made for great entertainment, an idealistic vision of what politics could be. But the show’s idealism was decidedly white — and mostly male. It also obscured a very real partisan divide.

In the first episode of Primetime, a new Vox podcast, critic-at-large Todd VanDerWerff looks at the show’s lasting, complicated legacy. [Spotify]


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Cisco announced today that it was open-sourcing the MindMeld conversation AI platform, making it available to anyone who wants to use it under the Apache 2.0 license. MindMeld is the conversational AI company that Cisco bought in 2017. The company put the technology to use in Cisco Spark Assistant later that year to help bring […]